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D&D 3E
4E conjecture and commentalism 
30th-Oct-2007 09:25 am
This was originally posted at Enworld.com, in their forum on 4E stuff. I seem not to have posting rights there, and wanted to comment about it to somebody...

"Jennifer Clarke Wilkes has a post up on her Gleemax blog about Paragon level (11-20) playtesting. It's short so I'll quote it all here, since some people don't have DDI accounts:


So I decided to push my at-home playtest group up to the next level of the D&D experience. We've been playing pretty steadily for the last little while and have become reasonably familiar with the new game. I decided to bump the PC levels up to 12th and see how it felt to take on a bigger challenge.

The party consisted of five characters: a tiefling warlock (infernal, naturally), a halfling rogue, a dwarf fighter (polearm specialist and opportunity attack monster), a human cleric, and an eladrin wizard. I put them up against a Large black dragon in a murky grotto. Then we had at it.

Obviously I can't say a lot about mechanical details, but the black dragon has a schtick that is truly dangerous--keeping the PCs on the defensive a lot of the time. It was able to hold out for seven rounds against an entire party and caused them to use up pretty well all their limited resources. Its ability to respond immediately to PC actions was a nasty surprise as well for those used to earlier-edition dragons.

I'm looking forward to more paragon-level play at our office playtest group next week. I wonder what Chris will throw at us..."

On Enworld, they're all commenting about dragons & warlocks & power levels & stuff, seem, to me, to missed the crucial point here: The PHB is supposed to be finished. The rules are supposed to be done. All but the final finishing touches, which they're going to smooth out over the next four or five months, then send it off to the printer.

They are only now starting playtest of the rules from 11-20th level, and the core rules go up to 30th.

This bodes not well for their publishing schedule, and very not well for game balance at the upper levels of the core rules.
30th-Oct-2007 02:42 pm (UTC)
Past experience suggests that higher levels have never been playtested very well. That's why high level 3e games are the way they are. So really, I'm not all that surprised.

Also, we don't know what is going on with the solicited playtesters--its possible that the designers are only starting to playtest the upper reaches now, but that they have lots of playtesting going on by volunteers who can't say anything because of NDAs.

Finally, in theory if you have the numbers right, then it is easy to expand to higher levels while retaining the same probabilities. I know one of the designer blogs had mentioned stuff about distribution functions, so at least someone is taking that into account. As long as they don't try to break those numbers, things could be okay. Again, theoretically.

Not that I don't agree with you--it seems like they should have had the system pretty much down when they announced the thing (and I'm much, MUCH more worried about the fact that it looks like people are playtesting a set of "iconics," rather than letting the testing have a go at the material and try to break it). But it's possible it will work out.

Maybe... *worry*
30th-Oct-2007 02:52 pm (UTC)
4E has the words "critical miss" written all over it so far. With the total redesign of the system to cater to the MMO crowd (the break down of core classes smacks of "City of Heroes" to me).

To put it bluntly Slavesick comes off as a complete idiot on this one. Why they chose to base D&D on the same mechanics as the Star Wars game is beyond me: that game still has to solidify its core rules (given how many times they've revamped it). It's over simplification and power amplification taken to the extreme.

It also sounds like they're making the assumption that DMs can't think for themselves or are unwilling to take the time to put some effort into playing things intelligently -- hence all the extra powers for creatures. The rumors about rules for social situations (and grappling) are evidence of this.

All in all, I'm sticking with 3.5. I've never seen a company reach out for a new market at the expense of potentially alienating their entire existing audience.
(Deleted comment)
30th-Oct-2007 04:46 pm (UTC)
Actually, they alienated many 1st Edition players when they published AD&D 2nd Edition.

I do agree with you, though. They are cocking up the rules, particularly with respect to the way they are handling monsters. I much prefer being able to scale them on the same stats as players. Why did they decide to go back to the AD&D 2nd Edition way of statting monsters?
30th-Oct-2007 07:49 pm (UTC)
I think I can answer this, though I don't promise it'll be an answer you accept or appreciate. For players, options are the best thing in the world. New rules, abilities and ways to ramp up the character are fun and add variety to the game. The same doesn't hold true for DMs, particularly those who don't have a lot of time to prepare for the game. The more rules they juggle, the harder it is to maneuver each NPC through combat. 3.0 gave us the "monsters are characters too" philsophy, which made terriffic sense. They all inhabit the same world and can grow and progress in many of the same ways that PCs do. However a player has ample time to pick over the minutiae of his character, a DM does not have the same opportunity for each NPC. Maybe you do, but I know I sure don't.

And if they can fix CRs then who can complain?
31st-Oct-2007 09:10 am (UTC)
yup, by the time my campaign hit epic levels I was just hunting through books and magazines for reasonable stat blocks, filing off the serial numbers and describing the monsters to my players as what I wanted them to be. In particular character class levels took a long time to apply to monster and if you wanted them to be effective in their choice of spells and feats, well, no way I could compete with the time my players spent on crafting their individual characters.
31st-Oct-2007 05:51 pm (UTC)
Actually, I do appreciate this answer, and no, I don't necessarily have a lot of time to prepare monsters. That said, the monsters scaled on the same stats as PCs does streamline the rules a bit IMO in so far as you know that an ogre has a Strength 23 and a Base Attack Bonus of +3, for example. You don't have to do a lot of extra work to prep a monster for a game. You can use the default stats in the manual in which the creature appeared. The other stuff is optional. So, why then, did they remove the concept of monsters having abilities, skills, and feats in favor of a step back in the development line? While I can appreciate the sentiment behind the abbreviation of the monster stat block, but making a separate scale by which monsters are measured doesn't seem to do it for me. Couldn't they have fixed the CR bugs without dropping vital information from each monster's stat block?
31st-Oct-2007 06:30 am (UTC)
I think they have pretty much admitted that they are looking for a new audience with this edition. They think that people who have invest so much time in the previous editions are a lost cause and they can tap into the potential that is the video game market.

The problem is that there is no video game to table top gaming and no matter what you do to try and make people imagine the most SPECTACULAR situation will never pan out because this generation needs to see it. This might be a huge bust, but they are going to try it anyway...
30th-Oct-2007 04:49 pm (UTC)
I will say this about the playtesting schedule, since I work in publishing of technical documentation. Playtesters' review comments would be roughly equivalent to subject matter experts' comments of a tech writer's documentation, and they are usually done after a complete draft has been produced. This tends to be fairly late in the schedule but with enough time for the writer to react by making corrections. However, it is normally expected that corrections won't take a lot of time to make since all the writer is doing is making fixes and tweaks to an existing document.
30th-Oct-2007 04:52 pm (UTC)
Depending on how the proofs for the PHB are rendered, changes this late in the game may not be as big a problem as it sounds; we don't have a whole lot of insight into their development/playtesting/publishing process. I'm not saying one shouldn't worry, but four or five months is still a lot of time, esp. in the digital era.

Personally, I think trying to craft a system that's balanced from 1 to 30 is crazy. Systems have thresholds; attempting to scale a given system past those thresholds will break the system.

Consider the classic example from D&D itself - fighters v.s. wizards. The latter grow in power much more quickly than the former, even though fighters start off with some signifigant advantages (in damage and survivability). Some suggest that this makes the two classes balanced against each other, but observing balance over the entirety of character development fails to acknowledge power imbalances at any given point in time. If you were creating a character for a one-shot scenario, how much would that choice change based on the power level? (Note that this assumes your choice is based heavily on combat utility - given the heavy focus of the rules on combat, I think it's a fair assumption to make.)
30th-Oct-2007 07:39 pm (UTC)
Wait I replied to you accidentally this is supposed to go on the main post :V

I don't like the comm scheme for this reason.

Sorry. :V
(Deleted comment)
30th-Oct-2007 07:38 pm (UTC)
I see the token '4e is gonna suck' posts are already here; so I'll jump in with the opposite! :V

Like highbulp said, the post is probably an after the fact thing. (HTML my bad.)

And even if it wasn't, it's not like oh lawdy lawd they're still in alpha. What they're doing probably is the finishing touches. Playtesting to see if all the little changes aren't butt.

Also all the bawwing over 4e reminds me of the 'TF2 sucks' crowd. Sure it's simpler, but that doesn't make it worse.

PS for the record I like every plan for the classes and the simplification because needing a calculator to make my character is also butt and should never happen.
30th-Oct-2007 08:06 pm (UTC)
I honestly don't know what to think about 4e, and I'm trying to think about it as little as possible until it comes out. That said, I'm not terribly optimistic, and I expect to remain a 3.5 man for a good long while. If (and that's a big "if") 4e has some good stuff in it, I'll consider houseruling it into games I run and play. If 4e turns out to be good across the board, then not only will I be very surprised, I will even consider buying it.

I don't know much about the industry, but it does seem somewhat odd that they are only now playtesting it. Then again, if the changes can be put in fairly quickly... I just hope the upper levels aren't broken this time, heh.
31st-Oct-2007 09:15 am (UTC)
what Jennifer said there is she just decided for her at-home playtest group to move them to level 12 and see how it felt, doesn't mean other people have or haven't tested those rules already. I think you're reading a little more into it than what she said. :)
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