Boppin’ and Blog Hoppin’: Day Sixteen

Don’t get it twisted! This is a scenario with an endpoint, and even with things like romantic weekend obligations, work, and all these Orks to put together, the posts’ll get where they need to. Other posts also crop up occasionally, through blog hop answers or other things. Anyway, Question 16!

Do you remember your first Edition War? Did you win?

My first edition conflict was probably the 2e-3e conversion I discussed in the last blog hop. However, I’m not sure I’d consider that a “war,” since I was the DM and there was therefore not much conflict. When we made the switch it corresponded to social scenarios shifting–as they so easily do in high school, even one in a town of 12,000 people–and new nights opening up for new gaming priorities. I was playing under my PCs, so it was less a war and more a passing of the torch (especially since I’d started playing with those guys when I was a…sophomore?…and they were 7th or 8th graders).

The only edition war I’ve ever seen myself fighting, inasmuch as I deign to get into a conflict like this, is the profound backlash 4e engendered. Engenders, apparently, given the comment on my last post.

The specific complaint…the one often at the heart of accusations that 4th MMO-ified the game (as though that was somehow a bad thing) and the like…is that 4th manages to suppress/penalize/discourage/prevent/impede roleplaying. It’s an argument I have never comprehended. I so wholly fail to understand it that when faced with it I make a significant effort to step back and remind myself that people play in different ways, and see different things in the rules. I have to do this.

Because the alternative is to fire back with my gut response, which is that whomever is complaining is not very good at roleplaying.

I mean, I think that I can see how someone might look at having a slate of powers to choose from, and the streamlining of characters vis-a-vis both maximum attainable levels and class mixing, and think that this limits things. Since I hate high-level games, knowing I can’t get past 30 has never been relevant to me; I’m not likely playing past 10th, and given how much of my gaming’s been on message boards a particular character might never actually see a level, or even a combat. Hybrid-classing came late in the game, and it wasn’t exactly the simplest system…but shit, I came up in 2e, so I learned dual- and multi-classing under those auspices. The class system in 4e actually felt more OSR to me than anything prior. Even the original multiclassing system struck me as a great way to show a dabbler who could gradually get more devoted to his craft. I admit that the feat tax was considerable, if not outright prohibitive (unless you considered it from the perspective that you were paying in feats to buy new powers, often rangey/healey/elementally powers you’d otherwise never have access to). I was definitely a fan of the excellent work At-Will presented with an eye towards reducing that burden, and also think that the official books improved as they went on in terms of what you were offered with multiclassing. Some of the limitations on strikers bummed me out and created headaches (as in, the restrictions on how your extra damage options could be applied and cross-applied to powers from other classes) but that was even more pronounced with Hybrids, and once the latter system was introduced I was all for relaxing the limits with multiclassing.

So it could be that the problem was one of system complexity, or perceived complexity, or perceived limitations. That’d all be well and good if that’s the complaint I heard uttered, as opposed to “4e kills roleplaying.” Or the terrible pun I won’t repeat, the pun that was used to justify that fucking card-based Dragonlance system back in the day. (See? I have system prejudices too!) All I know is that I wrote, and ran:

  • A gnoll in a Lankhmar-inspired campaign. A former house-slave of a decadent wizard, the gnoll (Jik’tel Gu) found himself pledged to and occupied by Ygs the Fecund, an entity that spread throughout his body as a multitude of tendrils. He continually sheathed his body in a sort of paper mache comprised of this foul substance, leeching life directly from the flesh of his foes while steadfastly refusing to die. Infernal Warlock MC’d into Fighter. I put that shit together about 3 months after the game released, with limited tools available.
  • A hard-bitten street youth who fled employment in House Deneith only to fall into a sort of Mirror’s Edge vigilante criminality. She combined brutal knee and elbow strikes with masterful use of improvised weaponry, focused on hitting hard enough, fast enough, that taking one enemy down was enough to dissuade his friends from joining in. Hybrid Monk/Rogue, specifically built to take advantage of the Rogue build that added bonus damage to attacks with clubs and maces and focused on intimidation.
  • A dwarf who’d seen things…terrible things. Taken by the Daelkyr, twisted and toyed with, flesh stretched thin and tied into new shapes. Fereldar was a raspy-voiced mercenary, willing to do the jobs with terrible odds because every day in his resilient new shell was a curse. Druid with the swarm build, but everything was flavored as his basically being a dwarf-shaped shoggoth whose “natural” form was little more than a ring of teeth.
  • Blordik, who I’ve discussed before. Dude grew as a person, as a soldier, as a leader, and as a theologian. Lost friends, lost allies, dropped a fucking bridge on a damn dragon and ripped the soul out of a traitorous orc shaman to fling it into the teeth of his angry god. Full-on Wizard, no special builds, just used the staff of defense mastery from the PHB. Again, this was a dude who continually did things like Thunderwave himself across pits, rip the arrows out of enemy quivers as a minor action with Mage Hand, and use Religion and Arcana to build on-the-fly rituals to tear souls out of people.
  • Flotsam, the remnants of a crashed pirate ship which had animated themselves as a teleporting, cannon-firing, shadow-walking construct of murderous violence. Assassin/Monk hybrid, using the old-school Assassin variant, built on a Warforged race chassis.

I could go on, but the point I’m trying to make is that I found 4th to be full of tools to create crazy characters, and crazy stories. I also found combat considerably more dynamic, since even fighters had something to do each round other than “I swing my sword.” Pathfinder–which, I should note, I’d probably have trumpeted instead of 4th had I played it first, though on the whole I think 4th does more of what I want from a game–does something along these lines with how it integrates multiple attacks and combat maneuvers to offer some narrative options in fighting; I swing, then trip, then swing, etc.

The other hinge I could see people slamming a door on 4th by would be skill challenges, and how that, at least theoretically, mechanizes the skill-based element of roleplay. Again, though, I found that it encouraged those approaches rather than penalizing them. By mechanizing the application of skills, tying that directly into CRs and exp values, and providing metrics for pass/fails, I found skills becoming much more seamlessly integrated into combat. It suddenly made perfect, justified sense to throw a Diplomacy into the jaws of a conflict. There were some changes I made to the skill system too; Intimidation, in particular, made almost no sense as a skill where you got worse odds of success as you beat the shit out of your target.

I’m currently in a Pathfinder game, running through the Carrion Crown adventure path. The game’s great, the group and DM are incredible, but what stuck out was that after an early session, where we talked to people in town and investigated things and set traps and made inroads with the townspeople, the DM didn’t throw us xp for all of that until I suggested it. I explained that paying for it encouraged players to feel that doing that–discussing, exploring, turning over rocks–was as worthwhile as punching skeletons with the corpses of other skeletons. Within a few more sessions, our characters were pausing in the midst of exploring a haunted, ruined prison for a thrilling foray into forensic accounting. That’s not sarcasm, either; we really were pumped to be working out payroll discrepancies and so forth.

That fits with what I constantly did in 4th games. My Runepriest, Napan Bhartu, was a mean hand with his fullblade. He chopped many things into smaller things, and he was fully willing to cut down a sharp-tongued villager who questioned his military wisdom. But he spent about as much time researching obscure texts, or giving rousing speeches, or drinking. Dude did a lot of drinking. We resolved significant conflicts with a combination of drinking and rousing. Spirits were roused as HELL.

I recognize that, ultimately, the experience you have with 4e, or any e, is a combination of your DM, your fellow players, your interests, and your skillset. I like having options, because that lets me play. For me, 4th was the chance to have this huge candy store of reasoned options…like 2nd’s Skills and Powers but more legible and balanced…and put it together however I liked. My favorite thing to do in a game is play a character that is none of the things people think he is: my psion who thought he was a mage with a piece of the Abyss where his soul should be, love of his life eternally suffering therein except when he summoned her forth; the murderous Chaotic Good rogue and the charming Lawful Evil monk who were my buddy-cop experiment; that time I only spoke through the rat companion of my 30+th level God of Nightmares. I found that 4th–with the flexibility it provided in power sources, weapon use, companions, and  so forth–offered a previously and since unprecedented, equalled, or excelled opportunity to make exactly the kind of character I wanted.

Guess I’m still fighting this particular war.

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3 thoughts on “Boppin’ and Blog Hoppin’: Day Sixteen

  1. welp. guess I’m the target of this. I’ve been playing since 1978 and I know how to roleplay.
    you mentioned lots of characters and what they could do. not what they believe.
    you think all characters should all get the same skills?
    madness.
    keep on playing 4th. go nuts. but don’t be surprised when most of the community disagrees with you.
    bring on 5th Ed!

    1. I was going to respond to your previous comment with a link to the post once I had it written, but World of Tanks waits for no man. I made it pretty clear that I’ve had -many- conversations with people about that specific complaint re: 4e, but that your comment made it a relevant topic. The rest of your response on this comment, though, isn’t really conducive to conversation.

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