May 8, 2009

A 4E experiment - and a fatality.

I finally got to go back and continue playing in our ongoing Age or Worms campaign. It was brutal. If you recall, me evil six-and-a-half foot tall lumberjack was killed while raiding the last wing of the "three faces of evil" adventure. I loved playing that toon, but his death allowed me to try something else.

Thus was born Kearnan - Chosen of Bahamut. An Aasimar Paladin / Favored soul and quite incidentally, the 197th third nephew (by marriage) to the great platinum dragon himself. HE managed to annoy the party even better than the homicidal sociopath that he replaced, and died while valiantly defending the party from Kyuss spawn.

Yes, while the party ran away in supernatural terror, He stood firm - protecting their worthless asses :) Even while the worms crawled into his brainpan, and began feasting, his greatsword swung still. Finally, with green foam boiling forth from his ears, he fell. And then the party ran way as HE rose up to consume them! Karma is a bitch eh?

So onto 4E. I have been dinking around with this engine for a little while, and I feel somewhat like old notions of what is right and proper in a fantasy RPG is holding us back. I am going to run a trash game this weekend to see if one can actually strip classes altogether from the game. Over here I commented on a very thought provoking article, by invoking Conan. You know, Conan the Cimmerian. Conan the Barbarian?

I suffer from this horrible GM malady that causes you to stat and class up all kinds of shit you just randomly come across in a day's toils. Conan has always been a weird one. You see, he was born into a "barbarian" tribe. He was raised in their culture, and stolen away by raiders to be toughened up by life as a slave, and then trained for war by master swordsmen. He was a successful gladiator for a portion of that life as well. (I am basing this on the more widely disseminated movies angle).

Throughout the length of this epic, we see him infiltrate a temple complex (Twice!), seduce a dirty priest (shiver!), keep his very roguish (though QUITE handy with a sword) woman away from his jewels (when he feels the need), and is generally able to have a somewhat intelligent conversation (Krom!). In fact, I don't seem to recall a single time when he uses anything that would be considered a "barbarian" ability or power in any form. Now discard notions of class. Does he do anything barbarianish at all? Running around mostly naked doesn't count. No greataxe. No frothing rage giving him the strength of 5 men. No "intimidation is my ONE social skill, and god damn I WILL use it! In fact, were I making a 3E character, I'd say almost straight fighter build.

With 4E though...Human fighter, multiclassed at 1st into barbarian. Emphasis on tactics and swordsmanship above meat shield-ish smash fests. One feat used to purchase stealth. Or would it be Barbarian multiclass fighter? Instantly the flavor and the buold options change. And not little changes, pretty big changes. See for yourself, Barbarian with a half cup of fighter? Or Fighter with a half-cup of Barbarian.

Lets put it another way. Striker with a little defender? Or Defender with a little striker? Wanna still be able to stand your ground, while occasionally taking off an arm or leg? Or would you rather be a walking cuisineart, that can occasionally hinder an enemies maneuvers? Both offer a very different set of option, builds, and RP value.

We can take this a step further with other build options. Striker Controller? (Warlock/ Wizard) or Controlling Striker? (the converse). Ninja? Rogue with a dash of wizard perhaps? Though, mechanically, a dash of warlock works better - it's the flavor that suffers :)

Paladin / Rogue blackguards? Bard / Barbarian Skalds? Invoker / Sorceror mystic Theurges?

What if we could do with 4E what Exhalted TRIES to do. What if you could cherry pick your powers across the spectrum of two power sources. Could you mash together the powers of a fighter and Sorceror and have something unique and interesting? Or will it be a sub-optimal swordmage, hobbled by his lack of an aegis?

This very well may not work at all :) Honestly, thats half of the fun. Being able to truly make classless characters that mesh well within the system they are built would be awesome. A fighter "type" that has been inducted into the rogues guild. Is he a rogue? Is he a fighter? No, he's both! In fact, I would go a step further to say that the current multiclassing doesn't go far enough! As it stands, you really are better off not multiclassing. C'mon! An at-will from the new class becomes an encounter power!? Your paragon path tossed out so you can have an at-will THAT IS 4 LEVELS LOWER!?

Well, we can work on that as it develops. Instead, lets look at the current to do list:

Breaking all the powers down by power source - wait! It's already done :)
Separate all the feats by source, including racial specifics - Wait! It's already done :)
Balance everything out to keep the munchkins at bay - Wait! It's already done :)

All within the confines of the most modular rule system I've had the privilege to work with.
The only thing I haven't decided yet is how to apportion surges and skill points, as they are class specific at this point. It should be relatively simple; Beaters, Blasters, and Doers? I'll figure it out.
In the meantime, I can choose for my martial guy whether I want him to be defender-ish or striker-ish. Do I want to mark or pursue quarry? Do I want to go arcaney and use an aegis? Do I want to gish out with a sorceror / Barbarian type of build? A Dragonblooded Thane? Decisions, decisions...

I'll tinker with this a bit, and let you know if I find any glaring weaknesses. If you already see one, please feel free to ridicule me :)


Ameron said...

Looks like we're all toying with the possibilities of mixing roles and classes.

At Dungeon's Master we talked about Redefining Character Roles yesterday and The Fighter as a Striker today.

And over at Greywulf’s Lair he talks about Separating Class from Role.

I think we're going to see a lot more on this topic across the blogsphere in the next few weeks.

Donny said...

I sure hope so. One of the things that STILL irks me is how rigig the roles are. I imagine over the next couple of years, we will see that loosen up, but still - what about right now?

We've been playing classes within roles since the olden days of OD&D. It wasn't a problem then, because we were never "forced" through lack of options to accept a role for our character we didn't want.

So how does one play a martial controller? The monk will likely assist with that, but how cool would it be to have a goliath with a warhammer that literally flings people around the battlefield every round?

I feel that the happy medium is to allow two roles to a character. Their primary, and backup. Hence why I have been so obsessed with Multiclassing :)

greywulf said...

Great minds and all that!

4e is a multi-classer's dream. Mix and match, baby! For extra funnery, make the character a half-elf and you can make a character who is effectively a triple class character at 1st level. Make it a Half-elf Bard and the multiclass potential goes through the roof.

That's what I'd do. Make Conan a Half-Elven Bard. And a thousand Barbarian lovers would cry themselves to sleep.

Donny said...

But would they sing great songs about it?

greywulf said...

I give you..... CONAN THE BARD!