Friday 11 February 2011

Defenses and 4E

As part of our complicated stateside travels, the spouse and I stopped into a friendly local gamestore last night (Fun-n-Games in Blacksburg, VA) and took up an invitation to help make up the four-player quorum in a D&D Encounters session.

I don't think it's a particularly new observation that the Fourth Edition is not The Devil. Indeed, the DM worked a few social skill checks into the lead-up to the combat (defending innocent caravaneers against a flock of stirges) and the system, I think, could be adapted to roleplaying in the classic style with no need for artificial skill challenges. The game does put things out front and center and gives even starting players a wealth of obvious, individual, heroic strategic options, as opposed to having to figure out that in order to survive you must soak a mule in lantern oil, tie a charmed torchbearer to it, and lure the hobgoblin squad back into your ambush point where you roll spiked barrels full of rocks on them. So, it's a beginner-friendly game that more than anything resembles GURPS.

We skulked away clutching our participation prizes, which will be useful as apotropaic repellents should we ever be ambushed by zombified grognards. The Fortune Cards, though, were not as fun to add "in bed" to as fortune cookies.

The 4E system puts the fortitude, reflex and will saving throws on the same mechanical footing as Armor Class (all four are "defenses" against different types of attacks). This does bring up something I have wondered about. In classic D&D, dodging a lightning bolt is a "saving throw" that goes up by level, while dodging a sword swing depends on "armor class" that doesn't go up by level.

This doesn't seem quite right. If anything, the distinction should be between the defensive nature of armor (protects regardless of the wearer's awareness, might not work against beam-type spell effects) and agility (needs awareness and freedom to dodge, but more able to escape spell beams and other metaphysical ills). You can see this ambiguity in how attack-type traps are handled in pre-3rd edition D&D; sometimes a peril like a swinging blade or arrow trap is handled as "survive a hit roll as from a 5th level fighter" while other times it is "save vs. petrification or take 2d8 damage."

The next revision of my own game system will most likely do away with saving throws against physical contact - though things like poison and charm, testing resistance of body or soul itself, will still use them. Instead, effects that depend on physical contact may "ignore armor" (lightning bolts, for example), going against only the dexterity bonus and any magical protections. Or they may include armor (fireballs, for example) and so require some form of hit roll to do full vs. half damage. Dexterity bonuses, of course, will be ignored for unaware, unconscious, or incapacitated victims. This goes hand in hand with my plan to give small dodge-based AC bonuses to rogues (and possibly fighters too) as they go up levels.

I guess the question is, does it matter who rolls the d20 - the bolt caster, or the thief jumping away?

Oh yes, the nonviolence comments inspired me to start work on a whole damn nonviolent adventure generation system, in place of the single nonviolent adventure. That, I swear, will be the next post.


  1. A level based modifiers could be applied to the 5th level swinging blade attack. Anyone of 4th-6th level gets attacked as normal, it's +4 to hit anyone of 3rd level or less, -4 to hit anyone of 7th level or higher.
    A similar mod could range be applied to saves but would work better with -2 and +2 because saves already improve with level.

  2. I like 4E's defenses because they are quick to deal with and easy for new players to grasp—bigger numbers are good? got it.

    I will say, that, as a GM I prefer the bolt caster making the roll, because minimizing player rolls to active player actions as much as possible speeds things along immensely. Any individual player is not apt to act quickly—just my general experience. I've even pushed saving rolls to the GM with newer groups, but I wouldn't do it with more experienced ones without good reason (like one of those players who turns every d20 roll into an occult ritual…).

  3. I think 4e actually holds the secret to simple, interesting psionics-- part of that would be different stats being attacked by different types of powers.

    But mostly I wanted to write that the poor oil-soaked mule scenario had me laughing out loud.

  4. 4e is NOT the devil,

    but all await the prince of Abaddon

    who will be released at the end of days

    5E is scheduled for 2012

  5. I know the "everything is an attack" method is more consistent, but I can't entirely shake off the "Roll a saving throw!" experience ... it's just that dodgey-type saves are the one thing that expose the inconsistency.

    @Clovis: maybe 2012 will not be the end, but a huge reset ... heh right.