Oct 2, 2009

Hybrid characters, too much of a good thing.

Two weeks ago, I dropped out of my 3E Age of Worms campaign and joined a 4E game as a player. Having never PLAYED 4E before, I was ecstatic. FINALLY! A chance to see things from the other side of the screen!

Immediately, I was inundated with choice. I can't express that enough, so for some perspective, we'll bring in Webster's guns.

Main Entry: in·un·date
Pronunciation: \ˈi-(ˌ)nən-ˌdāt\
Function: transitive verb
Inflected Form(s): in·un·dat·ed; in·un·dat·ing
Etymology: Latin inundatus, past participle of inundare, from in- + unda wave — more at water
Date: 1590
1 : to cover with a flood : overflow2 : overwhelm phone calls

Even this word doesn't quite say it all. I can only assume (asses and all) that I am not alone in this. What to play? I tried to chhose based on role...okay - a striker. Eventually, I decided to concentrate less on role than what I was comfortable driving around. I tried to narrow it down further, with little success. Finally, after creating no less than 6 complete characters, I settled on three. A half-elven monk, A dwarven hybrid sorceror/Rogue, and a Minotaur hybrid Fighter/Cleric. After my rather forgiving DM and group allowed me to swap back and forth a bit, I think I will stick with the minotaur.

One thing that I noticed when going through the myriad of choices an 11th level hybrid character has, I found myself wondering if it is possible to have TOO many choices. While the hybrid multiclass mechanic is lightyears ahead of the previous edition's mechanic - mostly in level appropriate choices for powers and abilities - I found that it was ridiculously easy to still make very poor power combination choices. I also noticed that the temptation to try and become a swiss army knife was quite difficult to fight.

In combat, and also during RP, things worked out reasonably well - 24 STR and a +3 Greataxe tend to smooth out most of the rough spots :-) After a "test drive" through the first few encounters of the King of the trollhaunt warrens adventure, I am finding that I am thoroughly enjoying myself - and am being thoroughly humbled by losing my DM screen for quick reference.

Any of you out there buried by the cubic-ape-assload of choices at Chargen? Create a character good for little more than bad running jokes? Please tell me I'm not alone :-)


Kameron said...

No, but then we started at 1st level, rather than Paragon, and stuck with a subset of races and classes (PHB 1&2) rather than everything under the sun compiled by the DDI tools. I can certainly see how overwhelming it would be for a first time player to jump right into the middle tier of play and be presented with every variant ever published.

I've never been much of a multiclasser, and only one of my players have expressed an interest in multiclassing. However, after looking at the rules, he decided it wasn't worth it.

Saragon said...

You are definitely not alone in this -- in fact that's one reason that the D&D 4E Character Builder has quickly become one of my favorite things to putter around in when I've got a few spare minutes.

The hybrid character option, however, definitely gets too complicated for me. While I appreciate that WotC brought back the mix-and-match option that 3.x's class system offered, the amount of information one has to juggle to create a hybrid character is enormous.

I've found that the best way to handle really complex 4E characters starting above 1st level - and this is with or without the Character Builder - is to take character creation one level at a time. Don't do stats, then feats, then powers, then paragon paths or any other similar progression. Create the first-level character your PC "started" as, fill in everything, then level it up one level. Pick your level two feat and utility power. Then level up again. Rinse and repeat until you're at the level you want to be at. Use retraining appropriately as you level up.

It's a slower process, but it really helps keep you sane as you create your character. More than that, I've found that the end result is a little more organic and believable, since you're doing a lot of "hey, that feat would go well with the power I'm getting at this level" processing.

Equipment unfortunately has to be saved for last, but I sort of think of that as toppings on a big cup of ice cream. Extra flavor, lots of fun, but the real substance of the end product is already in place.

Swordgleam said...

Oh hey, you're alive again.

I don't have DDI and thus no idea what you're going on about with hybrid classes. That said, I think half the problem is that all the classes in 4e /work./

In older editions, you knew better than to play a mage at low levels because you'd be worse than useless, and rogues never really did much for anyone. But now, every class is a viable option. So instead of having 4 viable classes per 8 classes offered, you have 8/8. Even if you're only choosing from the same number of classes, your choices have doubled.

Donovan said...

Greetings, and thanks for coming back after my liyyle vacation :)

@Kameron - Agreed, totally. Starting at Paragon was definitely Trial-by-Fire. If not for the experience DMing, I would have been overwhelmed. Some combos and strategies (build-wise) evolve naturally with the character's RP and development. Trying to visualize them on the fly was...challenging :)

I have always gravitated toward single or double-dip multiclassing as a means of character development - and as in life, there are many times that a swiss army knife really comes in handy :)

@Saragon - Welcome! Don't think I've seen you around here before. Glad to see I'm not just a n00b :)

I still prefer it to the current "standard" to multiclassing, as it allows, IMO, a much better concept of strategically picking abilities that are level relevant, while allowing the freedom to dip as far as you want to. Very useful for building a fighter that fell on hard times, joined the local thieve's guild, and slowly sank into roguish depravity.

Without character builder handy, I wouldn't be doing it. The complexity of the levelling and power selection is a wee bit higher.

Ice cream toppings, indeed :)

Donovan said...

@swordgleam - If you havent made use of a free demo of the character builder, I HIGHLY reccommend it. No schilling here, just a nigh-indispensible aid.

Sign up for a single month - update, plunder the dungeon and dragon archives, cancel and you dont have to do it again unless you see a newer product that you also want to goodies from :)

I'm cancelling mine today, and will re-up when they release Dark-sun.

In any event - and back to our regular programming :) At this point, I look at it like this; characters are so much like Magic: TG decks that it isn't funny. Luckily, I love the game, so it works well for me :)

That said, while it's nice to not have to worry so much about "suboptimal" builds and dead end prestige classes, it DOES make it harder to really stand out. What was it he said? "When everyone is super, then no-one will be." So you really have to watch your power selection to make sure you have something that you REALLY excel at.

Graham said...

@Donovan -

While the sign up/plunder/cancel might work fine for the character builder, it may not work for the magazines.

I don't know if it's implemented yet, but I know they have talked about only giving you access to Dragon and Dungeon (the full articles) for months in which you were a subscriber.

Donovan said...

@ Graham - howdy! You're right. Just noticed this morning :(

At least the client software still works with all cumulative updates. Still worth it - to me :)