January 5, 2010

4E Disconnect

For some time now, one of the complaints of 4E D&D has been the stratifying of character actions, the notion that character actions are now limited by powers. While I can see some worth in such statements I mostly let them slide as being over-reactionary.

Lets take the Prone condition as an example. There are multiple powers that allow a character to knock someone prone. The pundits feel everyone should be allowed to knock an opponent prone with a simple, modified attack roll. However, by allowing everyone to do it, it lessens the impact of the action. By limiting who can do such an action it gives it more meaning and importance. Knocking an opponent prone provides a benefit to the combat, one which allows the person who can do such as action an opportunity to shine, to grab the spotlight and feel important for the moment.

All too often when a player attempts an action that has a side effect, such as knocking an opponent prone, they are attempting to gain a bonus to a regular effect. Essentailly they are trying to "cheat" the system and get something for free. While it is true they are willing to take a penalty while gaining their added bonus, trust me, the player has already calculated that the odds are still in his favor and that he is suffering a non-significant penalty. 4E has provided a system wherein a player can have his character gain benefits to his standard actions and has balanced them within the system.

Some of the WotC design staff have mentioned they feel the 4E system is still open and allows players to have their characters take a variety of non exclusive actions. If a character wants to swing off a chandelier onto the enemy then they should be allowed to. I agree with this statement...up to a point.

My ruling has long been that if a power allows a certain effect to take place, such as knocking someone prone, then the effect is precluded from generic actions anyone can do. My rational is that a player has committed resources (he has a limited number of powers he can choose) and his choices should be important. If a player chooses a power that allows him to cause a certain effect, such as knocking someone prone or blinding them, it would be a disservice to allow someone without a power to do the same effect just by taking a penalty to the attack roll. Why pick a power with a special effect if anyone can do it?

Yesterday, WotC released a new DnDInsider article for rangers that provides some new power selections. The article was really good and added alot of choices to the ranger class. One of the abilities was one wherein the ranger can shoot some arrows into a wall and use them to assist in climbing the wall; essentailly making a stairway of arrows. Cool concept. Such an idea would be cool if a player thought of it and used it. However, if I have a player playing a ranger in my group who chooses this power and then I turn around and allow anyone else with a bow and arrows to do the same thing, I would be doing a disservice to the player who had his character expend a level to pick this ability.

That is why I disallow actions that cause effects that powers cause; to allow a character's abilities to be at the forefront and make a players choices be relevant and meaningful. However, everytime WotC releases a new power there is one less improvisational effect a player can do without stepping on the toes of another player. And that is where my disconnect comes in. On one hand a character should be able to do anything that is exciting and fun and on the other hand is the player who expended limited resources to be able to do the same thing.

I still enjoy 4E very much, but I think there has been a fundamental change that we seeing more and more of as more material is released. It will not change the fun and enjoyment I am having with 4E, but it will change the ties it once held to earlier editons.

For now, I am going to stick to my policy of allowing a character to do any action that is not covered by a class power, but I fear as time goes on the number of these actions will become less and less.
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