Friday, March 23, 2012

Complexity vs. Ease of Play

The great thing about 4th edition is that all the characters provide players several options. Whether you play a wizard, an avenger, a bard, or a fighter, you can choose between a number of resources with varying cost on your turn--usually graded along the spectrum of abilities that can be used every round, once per encounter, and just once a day.
The 3rd edition rule set, building on the concept of non-weapon proficiencies of 2nd edition, introduced hard-coded options into every character class via skills. Players with wizards and fighters alike chose skills during character creation, though usually they chose different ones. (Skill selection is, of course, also part of 4th edition.)
1st edition characters used a core set of rules and a matrix for determining the success of attacks and saving throws, but for the most part, characters of one class didn’t necessarily access their abilities like characters of another class. The game mechanics behind how a wizard cast her spells were in no way similar to how well a thief could hide in shadows, for instance.
With that brief overview in mind, now consider how many options a given class has when compared to the complexity of other classes within the same edition. In other words, compare the complexity of a fighter with a ranger, or a wizard.
For example, a 1st edition fighter essentially chose a weapon and armor and was good to go. On the other hand, a 1st edition paladin could detect evil, had bonuses to saving throws, could lay on hands, cure disease, and so on. A 1st edition rogue could draw upon a specific set of abilities described on a table to pick pockets, open locks, find/remove traps, and so on. Wizards and clerics could choose daily spells to prepare, while most other classes had only a few, if any, daily resources.
Ultimately, the philosophy on character complexity between older editions and the current one is starkly different--earlier editions gave some classes far fewer options than other classes. Such classes are generally regarded as easier to play, or from another point of view, more open to improvisation. On the other hand, 4th edition classes are superbly and obviously balanced against each other, and though no class is easier to play than any other by a large margin, each class does provide every player with a robust list of choices for engaging with the game.
What do you think? Choose each one you agree with.
Every class should offer the same number of options as any other.
Some classes should be easier to play than others.
Fighters should be the easiest class to play.
Fighters should have as many options as a wizard.
I wouldn’t mind seeing a class even more complex than the wizard.
I have a different opinion (comment below).

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Iconic D&D Cleric

This’ll be my last blog about clerics for awhile, so let’s end on a broad question, and one that doesn’t require too much set-up: What does the iconic D&D cleric look like?
A lot of people would say a cleric is an armor-wearing mace-wielder who can heal his allies, cast divine spells, and of course turn undead. A cleric also provides moral leadership, intercedes at the temple on behalf of the group, and of course, can channel messages from on high.  This was true for many editions, and I’ve certainly seen many clerics that fit this archetype.
Things changed in 2nd edition with the introduction of the priest. It then become possible to choose a robe-wearing holy man who was less concerned about wearing armor and swinging a mace then calling down holy fire on the foes of his deity. This specialty priest served far more as a sort of semi-avatar of a particular god than earlier and more recent clerics. This style of holy character fills a somewhat similar role as the armored cleric, but trades melee for whiz-bang divine abilities, and specialization for more broad exploration and roleplaying opportunities.
Essentially, the specialty priest opened up the archetype to a much wider interpretation of what it meant to be a cleric. Is the concept of the cleric wide enough to include both, or should the iconic cleric focus on just one of these archetypes, and if that’s the case, which one?
QUESTION: What does the iconic D&D cleric look like?
The cleric is an armor-wearing mace-wielder who can heal allies, cast divine spells, turns undead, and is (perhaps) a moral authority.
The cleric is a robe-wearing “prophet” who focuses on divine spells, has special god-granted powers, and is almost like a mini-avatar of his or her god.
The cleric concept is wide enough to encompass both choice one and two.

We’re actually talking two classes here, a cleric and a priest. Do them both!