Tag Archives: Dungeons & Dragons

On Class Selection

Blaugust Post #12

Q: You can excise one class from every future game. Which? Why?

A: Warrior. Replace with something more interesting than ‘guy who hits people with sharp objects’.

Thalen wrote the above this morning, and it inspired this post. A while back, the developers of Mass Effect revealed various statistics about how people play their games. (Some spoilers for ME3 at that link.) It turns out that a very large number of people play the game as the basic Soldier, which was somewhat disappointing to me. In a game that has 6 class options with varying unique abilities, the one that “just shoots people” struck me as utterly boring. It remains one of two classes I haven’t played a Mass Effect game as (at least single-player).

Unexpected Brilliance

Mass Effect 3 wasn’t just a single player game; it has one of the best multiplayer experiences I’ve ever played. It wasn’t quite so good at launch, but by the time I actually got into the game a year later, they’d added so much to the multiplayer that it was nearly unrecognizable. You have the same selection of classes from the main game, with a stripped down selection of abilities at the start (and honestly I don’t think I like most of the starting ability sets). What later patches brought was the ability to unlock additional characters with varied power sets. They’re still divided into Soldier, Engineer, etc., but some of them are different races with different strengths and weaknesses, and even the human unlockables tend to be pretty non-standard. The differences are pretty extreme in some cases, with the N7 Shadow infiltrator having a shadowstep and being more about murder with a sword than a sniper rifle (although it can do that too).

This brings me to my earlier point: Some of the soldiers in the multiplayer bring variety and interest to what would otherwise be the most boring class. (They’re still the class about shooting things.) There are two variations on slow, unstoppable powerhouse types in the Geth Juggernaut and the N7 Destroyer. The Juggernaut is large and slow with well above average health and shields, but comes with an immunity to instant kills and the highly damaging Siege Pulse power . The Destroyer is a mobile weapons platform, with the ability to slow its own movement in tradeoff for increased damage and accuracy, while also launching homing missiles at things that come too close. At the other end of the spectrum is the jetpack-equipped Turian Havok, capable of using its stimulant pack ability to run around the battlefield faster than any class that can’t teleport (i.e. the aforementioned Shadow and almost all of the Vanguards).

Lessons to Learn

I feel like certain other games are learning from examples like this. D&D5 comes to mind immediately, with subclass-like options for all of the base classes. Even Fighters get in on the game, with options I’m going to call “Standard”, “Battlemages are fun”, and “I liked 4e’s Warlord”. (On a semi-related note, there are a bunch of ways to make a character that can both hit things and cast spells, which one is primary mostly depends on what class you’re using to start.) I’d kind of like it if other games could use a bit of this, and make the “basics” not always so basic.

On Placeholders

I was going to write about Hangeki, a game I enjoyed much more than RefleX, but I find myself away from my computer and that one deserves screenshots. Instead, you get more D&D.

A Dragonborn Paladin isn’t the most original of characters, but I think it’s what I’m going to play. I like lizard people, and I’ve honestly liked Dragonborn since the 4e Player’s Handbook. (I play Argonian in the Elder Scrolls games by default.) I like the “otherness” that races like that represent. The stereotypical class for Dragonborn is the paladin, and with the new options it’s finally a class that appeals to me. A new system seems like a good time to try something “standard”, so this is what it’ll be.

At the same time, I don’t want a stereotypical background. Unless I’m given a strong reason to do otherwise, I’m going to take the Outlander background, representing a character that grew up away from society. I want to break from the idea of the trained holy warrior because I dislike zealots. I liked the Guardian in GW2 for similar reasons. I still need to finish my character’s background, but I have a fairly good idea of where it’s going.

On Min-Maxing

There’s a certain mentality when it comes to pen and paper RPGs, the drive to “win the game” as it were. Kodra speaks about this in his preface to his post from two days ago, and I want to expand on it a bit. (For the record, I think the big winner in Wizard schools is Conjuration.)

Optimization is not Bad

There’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting your character to be better. Kodra and I occasionally talk about this sort of thing, we spent a lot of playtest time trying to figure out what was “broken”. When it came time to actually play the game proper, we mostly shied away from these things. Also, our usual DM probably would have murdered one or both of us if we brought in a triple-class character with an AC of 22 and 4 attacks per round at level 6.

But even in play, there’s no reason not to make informed decisions. While it might be fun to have a Monk with high strength, one with more dexterity will usually be better. While Rogues are proficient in clubs and longswords, class features are more effective if you use a rapier or dagger. If you’re a Wizard, you should probably try to have an intelligence of more than 8.


Roleplaying is Good

How much is too much depends on the playstyle of the group. An adventure that is a straight dungeon crawl may call for characters that are more combat-focused. If your adventures mostly require dealing with people in town and rarely getting into combat, then that wizard with 8 int might not slow you down too much, and will provide amusing RP possibilities. (You may also want to explore roleplaying systems that aren’t D&D; many others are better at this sort of thing.) Most groups will be somewhere in the middle, it depends on what your group finds fun.

When I feel it goes too far is when winning the game becomes a primary character goal. It can cause problems when not playing the same game as everyone else and rolls Pun-Pun when the rest of the party is more-or-less standard. There are more reasons for this than just roleplaying, an unbalanced party makes encounter design somewhat challenging. Things that challenge the super-character would crush the rest, and things that would challenge the rest are brushed aside handily. I think it’s better to come up with characters that fit the direction of your campaign, and see where it goes from there.

For more posts about… everything, check out the Blaugust Initiative.

On Terrible Ideas

D&D had always been fairly good at allowing this, but the new edition does seem to have a lot of potential for amusing bad ideas. The new edition is no different, and maybe even better. A lot of these were in playtests or teasers, so I hope there’s no problem with me posting them here.

My personal favorite by far I mentioned yesterday, the Wild Magic Sorcerer. I’m not the biggest fan of tables for loot, but this table for wild magic effects is awesome My personal favorites are “07-08 You cast fireball as a 3rd level spell centered on yourself” and “53-54 You are immune to being intoxicated by alcohol for the next 5d6 days”.

Also worth of mention is the overchannel feature for Wizards specializing in Evocation that reads as follows:

…When you cast a wizard spell of 5th level or lower that deals damage, you can deal maximum damage with that spell. The first time you do so, you suffer no adverse effect. If you use this feature again before you finish a long rest, you take 2d12 necrotic damage for each level of the spell, immediately after you cast it. Each time you use this feature again before finishing a long rest, the necrotic damage per spell level increases by 1d12. This damage ignores resistance and immunity.

This is the only printed way of accessing the maximize spell effect. I know at least one player who would abuse this, mostly to their detriment.

An Honorable mention goes to the Warlock class, for being entirely based on a questionable idea. I feel like this class is just asking for your DM to inflict you (and your party) with a variety of unfortunate encounters courtesy of (or tangentially related to) your choice of patron.

For more posts about… everything, check out the Blaugust Initiative. I’m a slacker and don’t have another post to highlight for today.

On D&D Next

For those who have not heard, the Player’s Manual for the new edition of Dungeons & Dragons released yesterday. I don’t know what the official term for this edition is, but since they’re no longer calling it D&D Next I’m just going to call it 5e. I played a bit with the playtest packets that were out near the end of last year, but there were some balance issues there. I look forward to giving the full rule set a bit of a workout.

Something Old

5e is a return to the ways before 4e in most cases. There’s a mostly familiar set of classes (Warlock is the only class that wasn’t in the 3.5 Player’s Handbook), although there are some changes I’ll mention later. Gone are the encounter/daily/at-will powers from 4e, returned are the concepts of spell slots and spell levels (although these don’t work exactly like they used to either). Also gone are fort/ref/will defenses, but the saves that they were replacing are a bit different now. It’s a return of familiar things, without just being 3.5++, like Pathfinder.

Something New

A completely new concept (for D&D anyway) is the advantage/disadvantage system, where you can roll 2 d20s and take the higher or lower of the two depending on which one you have. Things like Sneak Attacks and various bonuses and penalties were reworked to use this system. The action system is also changed up a bit, in that (generally speaking) players get to take an action and a bonus action per turn, with movement being separated from that system. (This means that you can do things like move in between attacks if you have more than one, or move, attack, and move again, etc.) Advancement is also a bit different, since feats are semi-removed from the normal level progression.

Something Borrowed

A concept from 4e that did stick around is the concept of class variants. Most classes get to make a decision at level 3 that affects the rest of their progression; A few classes (like Clerics) make this decision before then. There’s a lot of variation locked in these, including an option for the Fighter that adds spellcasting progression, a Druid option that makes wildshape far more powerful, and this Sorcerer option which looks like a terrible (but awesome) idea.

Something Blue

I’m a bit sad about the staggered release of the books, since the player’s handbook doesn’t contain much about magical items (probably in the Dungeon Master’s Guide) and had only a tiny list of creatures (which is unfortunate for both Druids and DMs). I like what’s there, and I especially like the variety of class options available, but I just with there was a bit more.

For more posts about… everything, check out the Blaugust Initiative. For an interesting look at what solving an ARG is like, check out Kodra’s post about The Secret World launch ARG.

On Things That Turn Into Other Things

Everyone has their preferred character archetypes. In D&D terms, everyone is familiar with the traditional Fighter, Mage, and Thief, so most games try to provide player characters with options along those lines. Other games expand a bit more, with a healer archetype (sometimes a variation of the mage) or an archer archetype (sometimes a variation of the thief). More classes are usually created by combining these in some way. The Barbarian is a combination of the swiftness and light armor of a thief with the power and strength of a fighter. My favorite archetype is a different sort of combination: the shape-shifter.

In a way, shape-shifting characters are usually a combination of the thief and mage archetypes in that they are (usually) magic-users with tools to adapt to a variety of different situations. More generally, it’s characterized by the ability to switch between archetypes. The stereotypical example is the Druid, which is usually given a variety of nature-based spells to heal or harm, and the ability to turn into animals when spells aren’t an appropriate solution. There are other characters that fit this archetype that aren’t the druid, like the lead character of the Breath of Fire series, who turns into a variety of dragons.

There is the lesser example of things with a single alternate form, like most depictions of werewolves. In games, this usually manifests as some sort of temporary power up or super mode (which I like a bit less), but it’s sometimes an alternate form with different strengths and weaknesses from the “base” form. League of Legends likes this model a lot, using it for Nidalee, Elise, and Jayce (sort of).

Balancing this character type has historically been difficult, and for good reason. If one person can duplicate the jobs of three or four at a moment’s notice, it risks eliminating the need for the more focused characters. The traditional tradeoff for this is usually decreased effectiveness at any one role, but this leaves the shape-shifter marginalized in any situation where a single task is valued. “Alternate form” types tend to fall into this trap especially often, where the strengths of one form do not sufficiently cover for its weaknesses, leading to use of only one. (Nidalee in League is perhaps the best example of this.)

Some games balance the ability to do everything by forcing a choice of role, and decreasing the effectiveness of other forms or roles. WoW is the best example here, but D&D Next seems to also use this approach. An alternate approach is limiting the ability to transform in some way. Breath of Fire 4 has both a transformation and a perpetuation cost, so you can’t stay a dragon forever. (I think BoF1 only had a transformation cost, but I haven’t played it in a while.) These have shown to be acceptable ways to balance the power level of this type of character, and I wish more games would use them rather than declaring it too difficult and leaving my favorite archetype out.


As a final note: It’s the final day to make donations for The Run, influencing what jobs two members of SDA will use when playing through FF5. I’m still working my way through as well.