Monday, October 5, 2020

An Oversight Addressed

 Good morning,

I realized there is a gaping hole in my coverage. I've never really talked about D&D 4e. I mentioned it in a post on 5e, but that's it. Now, this may seem perfectly natural, given my many poetical waxings on old school nostalgia. D&D 4e is widely regarded as the least D&D of all additions, which by extension should leave it far outside the orbit of old school aficionados. 

I want to go on record here and now as saying, I love 4e. Take that assertion with my usual caveat: I do not have a play group, either f2f or online, so I don't actively participate in any 4e games. Perhaps I would be more accurate in saying that I love how it reads and inspires my imagination.

I have far often been frustrated by characters, both my NPCs and PCs, that aren't supported by mechanics. Put down the torches and pitchforks. I know I'm not the only one that has played a fighter that is conceived of as being this hard-hitting northman with a big axe and bigger attitude. Yet, when the dice hit the table, the thief has a better damage output. Nobody's fault, just the way the dice fall. The thief's player is using a long sword and consistently rolls 7s and 8s for damage while I roll 3s and 4s mostly.

I realize that there is more to being the badass fighter in the party than meting out damage. The fighter has more hit points (or should) and can wear heavier armor. I know those are meaningful benefits, but damnit, fighters should be killing things, not functioning as party meat shields.

So, that is one thing I really like. The powers structure makes your character not simply occupy his niche, he OWNS that niche.

And about the powers mechanic: I love how it makes wizards so much more like their Chainmail progenitors. In Chainmail wizards could become invisible at will and throw either Fireball or Lightning Bolt every turn. BAM! 

Sometimes my mood is on low powered, zero-to-hero stuff. I still love that style and it still has a place in my gamespace. Sometimes, though, I want something more heroic, where the characters are mechanically destined for greatness and where the villains are more than dirt-eating cultists.

One of the things that I love about Chainmail that has never translated to well to D&D is the divide between the mundane and the heroic. In the Chainmail fantasy supplement, a character can't even engage with a true monster, like an ogre, unless they have heroic status. This sort of bakes the role of adventurers in society right into the rules. No version of D&D really captures this. I think, though, that the power structure and mechanics of 4e gives PCs a status and capability far beyond the common inhabitants of the campaign world and could simulate that commoner/hero dichotomy.

That's a smattering of what I like about 4e, at least conceptually.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Subtle Genius

I have long been enamored of the d6 HD/d6 weapon damage paradigm. It essentially models the notion that death is always one good damage roll away. Unless, of course, we're talking about higher level characters. Another windmill I have long tilted at is the, in my opinion, lowly state of the fighter. Judging by XP requirements (in the LBB) , fighters should be very stiff competition, ability-wise. Yet, their only benefit that happens automatically is hit points. The other is use of magic swords, which is dependent upon finding a magic sword (of the appropriate alignment).

If you look at Chainmail, you can see that Heroes are forces in a fight, and Superheroes are wrecking balls. They attack as 4 and 8 figures, respectively, against "normal" opponents. Which essentially means that they attack 4 or 8 times against 1HD opponents using the Alternative system. Additionally, under Chainmail, they were considered Fantastic Creatures, and were essentially immune to attack from less than 4 "normal" figures. It's important to note that in Fantastic Combat, a "hit" equals killed.

That is something I have long sought to bring into my D&D, the "lost" abilities of the fighter vs "normal" types. Just giving them multiple attacks didn't fully satisfy, so I kept tinkering and thinking.

At this point, it seems appropriate to mention, I have always been enamored of the elegant simplicity of the LBBs and it is there that I spend most of my time. I have disdained, in my later years at least, such high-falootin' ideas as variable HD and damage. Then, the other day, the subtle genius of E. Gary Gygax finally hit me (again).

If most "normal" types do d6 damage, and a fighter has d8 HP (per Greyhawk), then "normal" types will have to gang up on a Hero to take him down in one round anyway. Just like in Chainmail. And while they are ganged up on him, he'll be attacking them four times per round, or more. When that realization sunk in, I felt like a weight had been lifted.

Sometimes I forget that D&D combat is all about modelling outcomes. It is all about determining who wins the fight. It isn't concerned with who wins individual rounds, that sort of thing exists primarily for entertainment. D&D is about who wins the fight. I'm no statistician, but I have the feeling that the outcome of 4 "normals" ganging up on a Hero in Chainmail, would come pretty close to the outcome of 4 "normals" ganging up on a 4th level fighter from Greyhawk.