Aug 22, 2008

Wizards didn't "kill" 3.5, it was assisted suicide.

So, the more and more I keep reading about 3.5's faults (perceived or not) the more I wonder how they (the problems) managed to hang on so long. One can't help but wonder if the Wizards playtesters ever played a high level game with non "single dip" multiclassing. The problems are painfully obvious

Thing is, multiclassing is fun. wicked fun just as it should be. I have always been a fan of quirky character builds. Need a Paladin/Sorcerer? How about a Ranger/Cleric? Fighter/Wizard? I choose these examples because they all have one thing in common...multiclass spellcasting. These builds have awesome role-playing potential, but in reality suffer from, "Piss poor fighter, crappy spellcaster" syndrome.

At 15th level, the average AC to hit is what? Close to 30? Riddle me this, what is the BAB of a Paladin8/Sorcerer7? 11. Add a decent set of buffs, gear, and STR make that an adjusted +18 to hit with your chosen pig sticker. That gives you a less than 50% chance to hit in melee. Lame huh? Add to that, most creature you will be fighting at this level also have DR AND SR. Caster level check...Aisle three...cancel that, YOU'RE DEAD!

This brings me to the supposed savior of the 3E neo-grognards...Pathfinder RPG. I have a lot of hope this product will make it all better, but I am not seeing it yet. Having reviewed the systems latest (and final) beta playtest, I can assure you that the same issue are still alive and well. The classes themselves have been re-tooled to smooth out power creep, but the multiclassing system is the same as it was. In fact, aside from hearing from the editors and designes how much high level play sucks, there has been VERY little improvement in any of the core issues that make playing anything but a single class core character impossible. This sucketh the mighty teat of lameness. I LOVE 3.5, but it has always been despite it's flaws.

I would opine that WotC knew this was a no-win scenario. The rules overhaul required to make the late game playable as the early game was simply not something they wanted to do. This was why they chose a completely different route for the new edition, abandoning the canon, and backwards compatibility. It is a bit daunting to know that they abandoned this ruleset instead of try and fix it, as I think a "fixed" 3.5 with skill challenges, condensed skills, and healing surges sounds like the game I would rather play.

The problems are intrinsic to the core mechanics, IMO, the single biggest problem? The way classes stack. A Fighter10/Wizard10 has a LOT of options. Especially if said player is smart enough to specialize in conjuration or abjuration. Against a CR20 (with party of course) encounter made up of tons of lower level (CR10-13) monsters, this build would shine like the sun! Against a solo CR18-20? Dogmeat. You're to hit is too low, and so is your effective caster level.

I could sugar coat it by saying that you could relegate yourself to support casting and aid another checks, but you know what? I came to this M*therF**king dragon's lair to kill a dragon, not be a cheerleader. If I wanted to cheer, I'd have made a bard! Besides, this particular problem is only a problem if you are a multiclass spellcaster. A Barbarian/Ranger or Fighter/Rogue doesn't have these issues (to that extreme anyway).

So where exactly is the problem? Is it class design? Monster design? Encounter design? What? Is there a unified mechanic that can simply and effectively allow multiclassing for more than 2 levels? Some PrC's help a bit with this, but this shouldn't be an issue in a core game...and thoughts, ideas? suggestions? Houserules even?


Jonathan said...

[lights Molotov]
[throws flaming Molotov]

Maybe 4E is the new ODD.

Maybe the intent was to bring back the Easy.

Here's a possible line of thinking: OK, look at 3E - the shear number of options has driven away new customers; but makes the core gamers happy. Then look at 1E - everyone was a new customer. It was EASY to learn and EASY to play. Sure, it didn't 'make sense', but it was hella' fun time. 2E improved on 1E by adding more detail, making more options, making 'fantasy realism' come to life. The fan-base wanted more complicated rules, more options. Enter 3E. At the end... 3E was a mess with 'options' trying to explain D&D to new player was like giving a Chinese Restuarant menu with 500 items on it to a person who had never eaten chinese before and saying : "Choose whatever you think is good. Its all good, well, most of it".

The new 4E has only 4 things on the menu. New customers are very likely to taste something decent. Next spring, once the new customers come back to eat-out again, their going to add a few more things to the menu.

Donny_the_Dm said...

Jonathan! Long time no see! I agree completely. I just have a problem with not "liking" either of my currently available options.

4E is "too" easy. It feels like a step back...cross bred with a horrid boardgame. It's fun, but it doesn't feel "right". I am hoping it will grow on me.

3E is rich with options, but high level play is difficult - Impossible if you tried making a character that casts with an even multiclass split.

I dunno. I am going to try and take that into account with Assault on the Lightless Depths, but that's a long ways down the road.

Gotta just wait and see...while gaming in the name of "playtesting" of course :-)

As always, thanks for stopping by!

Graham|ve4grm said...

One of your points raises a good question.

What is "too easy"?

How can something be "too easy"? Especially when that thing is not supposed to be the challenge in the game.

Sure, the game should be challenging. But why should it be challenging to play?

All of this leads me back to the game FATAL. The authors claimed it was the most complete and difficult game around. When the reviewers complained that the game didn't make sense and was hard to follow, let alone do anything with, the authors claimed that just proved they were right. "Have you ever seen a more difficult game?" they asked, as if this was somehow a positive point.

For another person's perspective, look to Shamus Young. He talks more about video games, and a process he calls "DIAS", or "Do It Again, Stupid" gaming, where the game makes the levels super difficult, thus making you repeat each level 10+ times in order to continue. This supposedly increases the playability by increasing the game time. But if that game time is frustrating, it's hardly a good thing. Difficulty does not equal depth.

I'm rambling on your comments again. But my question remains.

What is "too easy"?

Anonymous said...

Personally, I think that many of these problems are the proper result of multiclassing. Jack of all trades, master of none. I discourage multiclassing in my games, as those decisions should be tough to make (sword vs. spells). One of my PCs is a ranger who really wants to be a mage, and the roleplaying involved is hilarious. He can ritual cast, and can use magic missile as an encounter power, and that's perfect.

Anyway, my two cents.

Donny_the_Dm said...

OhNoes! Graham is back!

Lol! Welcome back to my umble, if ever changing lair. Hmmm...Called on my rant, lets think about this.

I chose poorly when using "easy". I was referring to the board game quip following it. I'll expound a little though as your question is still valid.

I'll be honest, I'm having a hard time playing 4e. Running it is fine, but playing it has been hard. It's all the little things...the squares as movement, the at-will repetition...It's been hard...Feels like a board game, and being an RPG snob, board game = easy/kid stuff.

Running it is an elegant experience. I haven't been with it long enough to run into monster repetition issues yet. With creation so easy, I don't think this will be a problem as long as I change critters out at every campaign start.

I am in agreement with you on your last point. Broken repetition is a waste of everyones time.

@anonymous - THAT is an interesting class combo...Brings back fond memories of my most broken character ever! A Paladin/Monk/Sorcerer. Was a role playing juggernaut, but had crap for hitpoints, a terrible BAB, and was dependent on far too many ability scores. He is still my favorite character ever though! Thanks for coming over, come on back anytime!

Graham|ve4grm said...

the squares as movement, the at-will repetition...It's been hard...Feels like a board game, and being an RPG snob, board game = easy/kid stuff.

I keep hearing references to squares as movement and at-will repetition as evidence of the "dumbing down" of 4e. But weren't these a problem in 3e as well?

If my barbarian wanted to charge someone, he needed to know how many squares 40 feet was. Counting "5, 10, 15, 20..." is no different than "1, 2, 3, 4..."

Unless you were charging diagonally. Then is was annoying. :P

If I'm playing my Barbarian-type in 4e, I have a number of choices each encounter. And once I use up my encounter and daily powers, I still have two attack choices (ignoring basic attacks), plus whatever the hell else I might want to do that isn't covered by the powers.

With the same character type in 3e, I had one melee choice, followed by 10 minutes of math while figuring out how much power attack I wanted to use, what attack bonus that put my 4 attacks at, and how much extra damage I got for it.

I really have a hard time seeing how "at-will repetition" is a new problem, though. Two options that are quick to implement (and the option to apply Power Attack to either) versus one option that takes 10 minutes.

How does 4e possibly lose on this one?

Note: I am aware that this is different for casters, of course. But in 3e, casters suffered from the opposite problem. Instead of having no choices, they had too many, and players (IME) frequently hit the "Paradox of Choice" wall, where every choice looks good, and they have trouble deciding. Turns once again took 10 minutes.

Unless they were clerics. Clerics suffered "Paradox of Choice", taking 10 minutes to decide that none of their spells were worth using, since they "needed" to save them to heal instead, and then ended up attacking in melee like the barbarian. Worst of both worlds, here. :P

What 4e character are you playing, by the way?

Donny_the_Dm said...

@ Graham - For some reason my darned blog won't update since last posted, but luckily, I have the e-mail option in place :)

My current character is an unaligned Dwarf Paladin. Going with the "broken by the loss of his clan" trope. His 5 year mission? To seek out any surviviors of clan Brokenaxe.

Been having a decent time, kinda wish I had gone with the warlord, but as Pallys are my favorite core class, I thought i'd try and stick with the familiar.

In 4 games, I haven't made a single "normal" attack. I have always used an at-will or other power. How often do you make "normal attacks? Is it just me?

As to the rest, I know! I know! It's silly niggling details. I feel like I am one of the "They got rid of THAC0!!" guys. It's getting better, I'm just getting used to the new paradigm.

What are YOU playing?

Graham|ve4grm said...

How often do you make "normal attacks? Is it just me?

See, that's the problem. You just need to get used to the idea that at-will powers ARE your normal attacks. "Basic" attacks are only usually used for ranged attacks (if you're melee) or melee attacks (if you're ranged), and for Warlord powers.

But this is also what makes a Paladin not just play like a Fighter in 4e.

What are YOU playing?

Actually, believe it or not, nothing yet. I have yet to start our 4e campaign. At game day I played a Goblin Cleric (the goblin from KotS, Splug, became endeared to our group when he saved our Warlord's life, and when another DM took over, I grabbed Splug.)

We will soon be starting our 4e game, run by my fiancee while I finish my university. I will be playing, as I think I said before, a Gully Dwarf Paladin/Warlock.

I will note, though, that the Paladin is the least inspiring class to me, mechanically. This may also be where you're having some issues. Yet I'm playing a Paladin, still, because the specific fluff of it is just too good to pass up.

Donny_the_Dm said...

QFT - The fluff is what always allowed me to overcome the "shortcomings" of the classes crunch.

I am considering running my adventure path project through 4th edition, for future posterity as well as getting a new ruleset internalized.

My other choice would be a striker - say, a ranger. Always liked their flavor as well.
My poor wife is stuck waiting for PHBII for hers.

Always good to have you over. How's your PFRPG game going? Sounds like you are getting burnt out on 3.5. I don't blame you there! Will be looking for an update over at your place.

Graham|ve4grm said...

Still enjoying the Pathfinder game, though it isn't PFRPG, just 3.5e. Getting irritated by needing to look mechanics up, as well as by stupid mechanics (An aura that deals 1d4 Str, Dex, AND Con damage? Per round? Who thought that was a good idea?).

Still enjoying the story, though, which is good. If you ever run those adventures, they go like the Star Trek movies. 1, 3, and 5 are great. 2 and 4 are meh, for the most part. 6... well, we'll see. :-)

What does your wife want from the PHB2? Bard? If she wants Druid, we're making a Druid for our game, of the "Elemental Fury" variety, based on the core Wizard class. I'll be posting about it in a little while.

Graham|ve4grm said...

(Sorry, I should have said the inverse to the Star Trek movies.)

Donny_the_Dm said...

Lol, it came through.

She wants a barbarian. A big sweaty ugly half orc barbarian.

Yeah, 3.5 has issues with overcompexity. I usually just wing it for the most part. I let them roll whenever the players demand it (with 5 second retcon rights) and stop only to fight, though with the "me vs. them" vibe I give battles keeps them from bogging too badly.

I said it once, and I'll say it again, 4E is the DM's friend! And yes, d4 ability damage per round to three stats is pretty lame. 1 point with no save would be much cooler!

Graham|ve4grm said...

Well, for half-orc, use the Orc racial writeup in the MM.

You can do a very good Barbarian with either the two-handed Fighter or the TWF Ranger, depending. Power Attack helps the feel.

But for true "rage" abilities? Yeah, PHB2 for that. For now, though, it can just be flavour.

Donny_the_Dm said...

good call, she is working a "savage" fighter. I beleive the barb was going to be a striker though...can't remember for sure.

It'll work out though, we all need practice - there's a lot to learn again.