January 18, 2011

4E Starting Power Scale

1st level 4E characters start out being more powerful than previous editions and this is a good thing, but not for the obvious reasons such as survivability. Instead, for me, I like the fact it gives the game some wiggle room at the beginning. If everyone starts at 1 hp and does 1 damage at level 1 you can not do a lot to customize a character without upsetting balance. By having a broader range at level 1 it allows for more options without breaking anything.

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.


The Red DM said...

I find an odd kind of irony in the power "increase" that characters have had over the years; while it goes without saying that characters have more hp and more options than ever at 1st level, I think the monsters have increased even more, making the net result that there are actually fewer creatures the PCs can face off against now at level 1.

Callin said...

For me that is a matter of just adding more monsters. It seems to me that most designers do not design level 1 monsters. Part of the problem is that level 1 monsters are not long term opponents. For some it is hard to justify having the players fight a monster at level 8 that they fought at 1 (even if it is jacked up stat-wise), so something like a kobold loses its campaign longevity.

Ecology might also play into this. How can a level 1 monster survive when there are monster races of a much higher level running around?

Also, even with more powerful characters, a monster designed with some interesting attack can still unexpectedly wipe a party, so monsters are kept simple. After that it is hard to introduce a new low level monster that is different than the others without introducing a TPK mechanic.

Overall I think the issue is no one is designing interesting and "realistic" low level monsters.