January 18, 2011
4E Starting Power Scale
One of the “problems” with earlier editions was the desire to play alternate races, drow being one of my favorite examples of this problem. People wanted to play drow, but it was problematic to create a playable race. Drow have all these neat abilities, abilities that are part of the core of a drow and also were way overpowered compared to a character of a standard race of the same level. Previous editions tried to compensate by adding in such things as more xp required to level or extra levels needed to reach “1st level”. It all felt clunky.
With the new 4E jacked up starting scale, it is easier to integrate new races. With all the races having an ability, a designer can simply replace it with a different ability for a different race. By giving races all bonuses to two of their stats (instead of trying to balance stat gains by adding in stat minuses), it allows for greater options when it comes to stat bonuses. If you think a particular race should be strong and tough, such as the goliath, you can do that now. No longer are races pigeonholed into one stat.
The same applies for feats, items and other things characters have access to at the beginning. Again a greater variety of new abilities can be added through feats, etc without upsetting balance. Whereas before allowing a few extra hit points at first level could double starting hit points, now it only gives an incremental increase. Also some new abilities you would not have even entertained adding at first level can be done without fear of unbalancing the system. For example, in earlier editions choosing a background was a fluff piece (in 2E) or only allowed access to a skill not normally part of your class set (in 3E). In 4E, backgrounds provide tangible benefits. They can get away with this due to the broader starting spread.
I see the larger starting scale for beginning characters in 4E as a means to provide more options without creating burdensome balance issues, and this is a good thing.