Saturday, September 20, 2008

Lipstick on a magic-user

I wanted a second opinion on 4e, one not biased by the war waged on the net between the haters and the fanbois. But it needed to be someone who looked at games and GMing the same way I did so that we’d be looking at the same things. So I did the sensible thing and used a Spell of Summoning to summon myself from 2003.

Oz 2k3 looked around for a moment, slightly confused by the small differences in the living room. He seemed more interested in the home theater set-up and the expanded DVD collection than talking to me.
“Okay, I’m in the future and you’re future me,” he said. “Damn, we got skinny. We must have a hot girlfriend in the future.”
“It’s not the future, it’s the present.” I avoided informing him that the last girlfriend he had was still my last girlfriend. Even if the spell would erase his memories of the future when he went back, no sense in getting him depressed.
“Did you really summon me six years forward to argue temporal semantics with yourself? The spell must not have been … what the hell is that?” His gaze was focused on the coffee table where between the comic books and science magazines was the pile of 4e books.
“That is why I summoned you. WotC put out a new edition of D&D and I wanted an unbiased look at it.”
“Cool.” Oz 2k3 plopped down on the couch in my usual spot, picking up one of the books. “So is this going to make the growing pile of books we have obsolete?”
“For the most part,” I admitted, sitting in my GM chair. “They are radically changing the game, so most stuff won’t mesh. I had to reboot the campaign world to make things fit.”
“So does that piss you off, that all of our books are going to be useless?”
“It’s 2008, right? That’s five years, I guess it’s not unreasonable for there to be a new edition, and it’s not like a bunch of our second edition stuff is compatible with 3.5.” Oz 2k3 looked up from the books. “Let’s make a character. That’s help me get a look at the basics of the system.”
“Great. They’ve done away with rolling for stats, you can pick an array or use the point buy system on page 17.”
“Cool, I haven’t been a fan of rolling for stats in ages. Seems like some people are too lucky and it sucks to be the guy stuck with crappy stats while everyone runs around with multiple 18s. I think I’ll make a monk, that’s one of my favorite classes.”
“Um yeah, they don’t have monks yet. They might be in PHB2.”
“PHB2?” Oz 2k3 scowled. “What’s up with that?”
“Well, they didn’t have room in the first PHB for everything.
“Fine. I’ll make a druid. They’re a big part of our campaign world.”
“No druids yet. They’ll be in PHB2.”
“No druids? What the hell?” Past me began to look irritated. “Okay, how about we build Bjornoff. I had a lot of fun with that barbarian/bard.”
“No and no. Both are going to be PHB2.”
“Do they have rangers? I thought I saw rangers in here.”
“Yes, they have rangers in the PHB.”
“Okay, let’s make Pug in the new system. There was something gratifying about playing a half-orc with a dire flail. Pug clomp!”
“No half-orcs, they’ll-“
“They’ll be here Tuesday?” Not many besides me would get the Star Trek Generations joke.
“Yes.” Maybe I should have waited a year to summon myself.
“Okay, let’s just make a basic fighter. Nice and simple to get things started and figure out what they didn’t gut out. Is it still a good deal to play human?”
“Yes. Humans still get some good benefits. They don’t get quite as much in stats, but they still get the extra feat and skill plus some extras in the new stuff.”
“Great.” Oz 2k3 flipped through the PHB, muttering how they left out half-orcs and druids to make space for dragon-men and tieflings. “Okay, fighter… what the hell?”
“Why the hell does it take 13 pages to cover fighters? What are all of these powers?”
“All classes get powers. It’s really balanced that way as all of the classes work off of one chart regarding gaining powers.”
“You’re all playing effing magic-users.”
I leaned over and looked at the book 2k3 held. “No, you have it open to fighters. Fighter powers are martial exploits, not spells.”
“All of these classes are magic-users. You can call it exploits or spells, they’re still magic-users, it’s like putting lipstick on a pig. It’s still a pig.”
“Yeah, we’re going to want to steer away from that saying. There’s no magic involved in fighter powers.”
“When you had a player that wanted to play a simple character either because they were new to the game or just it’s what they were in the mood for, what did they play?”
“A fighter.”
Oz 2k3 angrily gestured with book, and then started to flip through it. “This fighter is not ‘simple’. All of these classes are the same; they all use these ‘powers’.”
“The powers are different for each class.”
“Bah. They look the same to me. And how the hell do you multi-class? Never mind, I found it. You spend feats to swap powers? Are you serious, you burn a feat so that you can stun your target instead of shift a few squares? And this must be a pain without minis and a battlemat.”
“I improvise to get around that part. I only break out the minis for something complicated. Do you want to play through a scenario? If you see the system in action you’ll see how the balance works out and the mechanics flow.”
“Naw. It must flow decent since you’re going to so much trouble to defend it. Besides, I think those glowing motes mean the spell is almost over and I’m going back to the present. Maybe you can summon me in year when PHB2 comes out.”
The PHB fell to the table when Oz 2k3 disappeared. We didn’t even get to minions or skills getting gutted, but I had a lot to think about as I chewed on the notion of 3.9.

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