Falling off the learning curve

steves-notesSteve forgot his character sheet for last night’s game. Usually this would be an issue to say the least, but, rather wonderfully, technology saved the day. Steve had previously e-mailed his character out to all of us, so 2 mins on my netbook got him his original mail. Then he cracked open the character builder online and ported everything over to there. He already had his power cards in his dice bag, so we were ready to rock n roll.

Now, some say that 4e is simple to play and run. One on level I agree, check out Steve’s ersatz sheet he used last night, there’s almost nothing to it. I think it’s got loads of little complications under the hood though. Myself, Danurai and Julio are now running PHB II classes, and they are tricky beasts to master. My invoker is difficult for me to get my head around. Partly this is because of a lack of archetypes. I know what fighters, clerics and wizards do, almost instinctively. I managed to get my head round rangers and paladins 25 years ago (Robin Hood and Sir Lancelot, right?). These new classes don’t have the same genealogy, well some of them. Warden? Invoker? Avenger? What are these guys supposed to be exactly? and what examples are there in movies and books? It would really help me  get a handle on them in play.

The other reason I find it hard to ‘grok’ them is in the powers lists. These things are increasingly annoying me. They are written in legalese, which you would think makes them clear. Not so, it makes them easy to rule on, but not necessarily to visualise in game. Using my invoker as an example, he has a feat, scouring wrath. Feats don’t even have the benefit of flavour text, so in the heat of the game you’re left with either using your memory, looking it up on your sheet, or trying to extrapolate from it’s title. When you do read it you realise it keys off another ability, covenant of wrath, which has exactly the same issues. Powers are worse. One of my at wills is avenging strike which is a basic attack. Essentially it’s a ranged laser, but it does more damage if the target has a bloodied ally of mine adjacent to it. Read that last sentence again, just how many conditions and keywords are in that? I wrote it in natural english too, the book has it in longer form. Once you’ve worked out whether or not the special damage applies, you then have to work it out. It turns out to be worth 3 points for me. Hardly worth the time and trouble.

I realise that this will all come with practice, and that actually it will be second nature soon enough. When you consider that there are 5 players, all with powers and abilities in double figures, with a near constant stream of new powers coming with every level, add to that the DM who has his own monsters to run ( and they change every encounter!) you can see why it can become a headache.

It used to be that the DM was the font of all knowledge, as well as the arbiter of all rules. There’s no way that can happen today. I spend more time on D&D than I ever did on my degree (law, ironically) and I can’t keep up with all the player options. That means you have to rely on each player to become master of their own character, whic means there are multiple voices of authority at the table. Which is an insight worth it’s own post perhaps…

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