Monday, January 31, 2011

Solo playtesting impressions

I was bored today, and so I decided to playtest a couple of encounters with my solitaire party. The party consists of a Human Staff of Defense Wizard, a Half-Elf Spring Sentinel, an Elf Scout (light blades), and a Dwarf hammer Knight. The first encounter leveled them from 7 to 8.

The Wizard

I've played wizards in 4e only occasionally, despite the fact that they're one of my favorite classes. At least in solitaire sessions, this has largely been because I've always put a Druid in the party as the controller. So some of my Wizard impressions may be a bit of "old news," but nevertheless I'll discuss it.

I love having 3 at-wills, and that was the primary reason why I went with a human (which is a race that I tend not to play that often). Several times during the two encounters I rolled low enough to miss, but high enough that Heroic Effort would have turned the miss into a hit. Drat. I have Winged Horde, Beguiling Strands, and Arc Lightning as my at-wills, and I'm honestly not willing to give up any of them. Arc Lightning is obviously the weakest link from an optimization standpoint, but I just love being able to shoot lightning from my outstretched hands at-will. And besides, WH and BS are both pretty low-damage spells (which is fine since they both offer great control), so I like to have a nice blaster option in my arsenal. Arc Lightning is particularly nice in that the targets don't have to be near each other. I love being able to pop a minion (or finish off a badly bloodied monster) and still soften up another target halfway across the room (or, conversely, finish off two minions/bloodied enemies). It's a nice spell, and making two attack rolls (albeit against different creatures) can somewhat make up for taking a hit in accuracy by not having Heroic Effort (oh, how tending to play Elves has spoiled me...).

Charm of Misplaced Wrath is absolutely awesome. I was leaning toward picking up an AoE encounter spell at 1st level, but decided to give CoMW a try instead. Oh boy am I glad I did. The fact that you slide the target before dazing them means that it's so easy to set up action denial vs a melee opponent, or really screw over a ranged opponent. You can move a melee dude into the exact spot that screws up any chance of it charging, and for ranged enemies just park them next to a couple of your melee allies and see whether they eat several OAs firing at range or waste their turn shifting away. In my first encounter, I screwed over a Gnoll Gorger by sliding him away from the (badly wounded) Scout and left him dazed 1 square away from the only two enemies he would normally have been able to reach. Plus I had him attack himself, and those guys actually deal a respectable amount of damage! My reservations over picking up a single target power just melted away. Just pick out a hard-hitting enemy and do top-notch control alongside near-striker damage. In the second encounter I had very little luck with it, unfortunately. I missed with the control effect, and the Ogre Juggernaut missed when I had it attack itself. Still, that's a rare circumstance now, especially against Brutes (which have low Will...I think I needed like a 6 to hit it and rolled a 2, plus their attack bonus is actually good now with the new monster design, so combined with a still-low AC they're usually going to hit themselves with the effect).

In the second encounter I used Flaming Sphere, because who doesn't love Flaming Sphere? I realized though, that it requires a very specific clumped set up to work most efficiently, and even though I'd effectively get 2 attacks each round (1 an auto-hit on the monster's turn after I moved the sphere adjacent to it), having to use both my minor and move action on it caused some minor inconveniences (large area, I ended up being out of Arc Lightning range during mop-up). Using Beguiling Strands to clump enemies around the sphere would be a reasonable strategy, but the whole point of the Sphere is to make the Wizard actually deal decent damage for the encounter (and sometimes to force enemies to flee from the sphere's tactically-placed location). Beguiling Strands is so low-damage that it's often not even worth it. Now I'm not saying that Flaming Sphere is a bad spell, because it's really pretty great. It's just that I probably would have preferred my other level 1 Daily, Phantom Chasm. The zone doesn't need to be sustained, and I can effectively use Beguiling Strands to repeatedly knock multiple enemies into it, potentially resulting in some very nice control. Plus the initial attack is much better than FS's. The area is kind of small, but it's enemies only and besides that's what Beguiling Strands + Action Point is for.


I've already discussed the Sentinel here, and as well as in the recaps for my current campaign. Therefore, this shall be brief. I was very much able to use Combined Attack to its full potential several times. The Sentinel won initiative in the second encounter, and the first thing he did was walk up to a minion (hyena) while the wolf veered around (2 Ogre Juggernauts and 4 War Hyenas formed a line in front of 2 Gnoll Far Fangs). The Spirit Companion (from Shaman M/C) walked straight up to one of the Ogres in an attempt to lock it down somewhat (encounter OA is the World Speaker's). The Sentinel used Combined Attack to pop the minion and sent the wolf the rest of the way around the front line to attack the nearest Gnoll. Finally, he ended his turn by using Barkskin on the Scout (the wolf was out of range, and the Scout was most likely to need the extra protection). The Gnoll shifted + shot at the wolf instead of using its encounter AoE on the rest of the party (who hadn't acted yet, and were thus still clumped up).

I'll clarify up front that I'm operating under the house rule assumption (which will hopefully soon become an official errata) that Power Strike and Dual Weapon Attack can be used on the same turn. Otherwise, the Scout would quite frankly be terrible, since it would never be a good idea to choose the encounter power over the striker feature (effectively leaving the build with no encounter powers or dailies). So the Scout led off with his typical first-turn nova. The Sentinel had killed the hyena furthest on the right flank, so the Scout was able to walk around the front line to reach the Gnoll that had shifted away from the wolf (with its speed of 8, the wolf got to the archer with only 1 square to spare. Since the Scouts speed is 7, the only reason he made it was because the Sentinel had killed that minion, which otherwise would have gotten an OA against the Scout). Typical turn 1 involves charging, and between Cunning Stalker and the wolf's aura this attack almost always has CA. Sneak Attack (from Rogue M/C) is used, which in combination with the charge + vanguard weapon, and Power Strike. This results in 3D8 + 2D6 + 12 damage (14 if in Aspect of the Lurking Spider) at level 8. And then the turn is rounded out with a Dual Weapon Attack (which also benefits from Lurking Spider). This brought the Gnoll nearly down to 0 HP, and an Action Point finished him off. While that's not as good as a regular Ranger's nova round, it's not bad considering the Scout's at-will DPR is better.

Aspect of the Cunning Fox could be used whenever the Scout needs to hit and run, and this strategy naturally worked really well in conjunction with the Wizard's encounter powers.


Honestly, there's not much to say here. It's a simple build that works pretty brilliantly. He got Shield Block at level 8, and just happened to start the encounter adjacent to the Wizard. When the Gnoll Far Fangs went before all but the Sentinel, the second one used its encounter AoE on the Knight, Wizard, and Scout (remember the first had attacked the wolf, which had penetrated the front line). The Wizard got hit hard by the attack (the roll was too high for Shield to come into play), but Shield Block was able to soften up the hit. Just in case the party gets ambushed (or if the monsters simply roll higher for Initiative) it's probably a good idea for the squishiest party member to be adjacent to the Knight in the marching order.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Red Frogs, Session 2

See session 1 and it's further commentary here. Note that this session was also posted first on the WotC forums, and so there may be some out of context discussion. Copy + paste is just so much easier than re-writing everything though.

Well, I'd planned on posting a little bit more on this thread even though Auspex's character was no longer active. Last week's session got skipped, and this morning we played briefly until my Hunter (and Sentinel) met an untimely end as well (TPK). This encounter was 3 levels above us (I talked with the DM about how level + 6 encounters were a no-no), but alas it ended up fatal.

Encounter Synopsis

With resources stretched thin from the last fight (Albus had used 5 of his 11 surges), we decided that it would be best to try to avoid combat as much as possible. Immeral snuck around and listened at every door as we explored the castle. We avoided doors where he could hear voices, and eventually we'd explored every non-occupied door, finding a hidden door in the fireplace of the kitchen that lead to a trapdoor. Thievery couldn't open it, and it was the only way forward, so we'd have to find someone with a key. We walked down to a nearby door, and bashed it in.

We had walked into a barracks, which contained a gnome, as well as a bunch of humans and goblins. There were 3 goblins huddled together in one corner, so on Albus' turn (he rolled a 19 on Initiative, for a total of 21) he nailed them with Grasping Tide, hitting all of them. Padfoot moved toward another group of goblins to block access to Immeral and Albus through the corridor between the rows of beds. The Gnome went next, and hit Albus with an area attack (a painful one, at that; the Gnome eventually finished off the party when he was the only one left). Next was Immeral's turn (alas, she rolled a 3, still putting her at 16 total), and a Rapid Shot bloodied the goblins that Grasping Tide had softened up (in the DM's own words, "more than bloodied").

Much of the rest of the encounter was a colossal failure. The DM seems to roll 20's far more than the average person (in the last 4e campaign I DMed, his archer Ranger would crit 3-5 times during a single session). Naturally, using his magic D20 the monsters critted several times against us. And I missed on about 2/3 of my remaining turns. With a freakin' Hunter. I did manage to get one more successful Rapid Shot off (taking out 2 goblins and revealing the "real" Gnome after he used a mirror-image type power to make 3 copies of himself), but other than that I kept trying to use Clever Shot to knock one of the Humans prone as he advanced upon Albus, who was blocking a 1 square wide corridor between beds such that if he kept shifting back if the human had stood up + moved forward, he could have "held" the chokepoint for Immeral for several rounds. Well, I missed with Clever Shot 3 or 4 rounds in a row. Our lucky DM kept pounding on Albus, who had to use both Healing Words on himself, in addition to his second wind. Meanwhile, Padfoot was holding off 2 goblins which kept missing him, so while my nifty little damage sink was doing his job tactically, (holding off 2 enemies while the Sentinel + Hunter dealt with 1) it wasn't really helping. Well, it probably delayed the inevitable because of unlucky dice rolling. Oh, and Albus also popped a daily, so there was a Pack Wolf helping out Padfoot for a couple of rounds before I dismissed it to conserve surges (an attack had nearly killed it, which is the perfect time to dismiss a summon).

Meanwhile, the Fighter was taking on a human, a goblin, and that darned Gnome. He too missed more than usual, though he wasn't doing as badly as I was. Unfortunately, he simply couldn't pin down the Gnome, who had a teleport encounter power + his meat shields holding a choke point. The Gnome just kept sniping Albus and Immeral (there was 1 round where I'd forgotten about his AoE and had the two characters too close to each other, and another round where both were cornered, so there were a couple of positioning mistakes on my part).

At one point Albus went down, and Immeral spent a turn administering a potion (it's not like he was ever hitting anyways). For a few rounds, Padfoot was attacking and I got to actually hit stuff! It was really nice to take actions with the companion even though the Sentinel was down. His two goblins eventually dropped, one Clever Shot was successful (allowing either Albus or Immeral to hit the human again, killing it), and then the Gnome dropped Albus, and then Immeral. The Fighter killed the Gnome's last meat shield (with a Comeback Strike!), and moved forward. Padfoot charged forward to help finish the Gnome off, thinking the little midget was finally cornered (Immeral and Albus were both dying, though both had passed their death saves). Then the Gnome shifted back. "Oh crap!" I remembered, the Fighter hadn't attacked him last turn so even though he was adjacent, he wasn't marked! His AoE dropped Padfoot well below 0 HP, and the Fighter was just under 0 HP. Vanquished, with victory so close.


This was a good example of how vulnerable small parties are. When one PC goes down and another has to spend a round reviving his/her comrade, it hurts. When one player keeps rolling really badly (in this case the player controlling 3/4 of the party, including the companion) it REALLY hurts.

I'd like to point out that Immeral needed to roll a 6 or higher to hit the Humans (in Aspect of the Dancing Serpent), which is who I kept gunning for in order to keep Albus alive. I know this because for 4ish rolls in a row (including Elven Accuracy), I either rolled 4's or 5's. The one Clever Shot that actually connected did so because I remembered my action point and got lucky for once with a 6. I cannot emphasize enough how absolutely frustrating it is to keep missing with a character built around accuracy. I'd also like to note that Auspex's build was much better at dealing with that than mine, since Micah had the Noble Adept theme and Heroic Effort. Had I been running Micah in this encounter, that would be 2 rounds where Clever Shot would have hit, saving Albus from taking hits (and dropping), probably saving Immeral from reviving him, and probably allowing us to keep the humans/goblins and focus fire on the Gnome. Oh, and there probably would have been a Healing Word for the Fighter, too, not to mention the fact that a conscious Albus would have been able to immediately revive Padfoot after the Gnome's assault. That's not to say that Human is always a better choice than Elf for a Hunter (after all, Elven Accuracy will usually work to turn a miss into a hit, and Elves also get a Wisdom bump, a base speed of 7, and Wild Step, as well as the passive skill bonuses), but in this case it's interesting to think about how being Human could have possibly changed the outcome of the encounter.

Even though the room was bigger than the last encounter, the beds still made things fairly cramped, and thanks to the large amount of (standard) enemies Rapid Shot and Grasping Tide were both very useful (when they hit). Which reminds me, every time I tried to hold enemies off with Grasping Tide, I would inevitably roll low on the OA to knock them prone. Usually if I catch 3 enemies with that power I'll deny at least one action (if not all 3, which I have done before), but like I said, I was rolling really poorly today (especially considering how well the DM was rolling).

Red Frogs, Session 1 further commentary

For the main recap of session one, click here. This post will be a more in-depth analysis of the difficult encounter, and specifically my impressions of the Sentinel and Hunter classes.

The other Sentinel that I'm playtesting has Tending Strike instead of Grasping Tide, and I think I like Grasping Tide a whole lot better on a Sentinel. Even though I never got a chance to use it to keep enemies glued to the wolf, it was very useful as a source of area damage (especially in combination with the Hunter's Rapid Shot) and it's just so nice to be able to take advantage of the wolf's aura with a ranged attack. I didn't really miss the Shaman M/C that much, but that's largely to do with the playstyle of this DM and his penchant for mapping small areas for us to fight in. There was one instance where Albus was flanked (would have been doubly had it not been for Padfoot being adjacent) and I would have liked to have a SC to cover another side of him, but I was able to re-position myself out of the flank the following round. In any case, the Sentinel M/C would have meant giving up Versatile Expertise and/or Toughness, and given that I was pretty much the tank and that I was rolling really poorly, I wasn't willing to give up either. And given that I didn't even use my Healing Words in combat at all, Mending Spirit would have been superfluous.

I would like to point out that part of the reason why I didn't need Healing Words was because the wolf took a large amount of attacks. I did spend 3 surges reviving him in combat, and two of the attacks that dropped him dealt more than 10 HP more damage than the wolf had HP left. The third attack only overshot his remaining HP by 4, but that alone is over 24 damage soaked just by being dropped. There's also the damage soaked by starting the encounter at full HP (despite dropping just costing a surge), recharging HP after the encounter (he was under 10 HP when the encounter was won), and the extra HP granted by Friends Gift (companion slot item) every time I spend a surge for the wolf. Over the course of the encounter I'd estimate that the wolf soaked almost 50 damage (damage that didn't drain any of my resources), and took 3 surges worth (so 33). Even the damage taken that cost me surges was a boon though, since it was just one more way that I could spend my surges in combat, which is when I need them. Final verdict: I'm very pleased with the Sentinel's performance.

The Hunter, too, was a blast. She probably didn't have the same impact on the battle that the Sentinel did, but she definitely held her own. Rapid Shot is absolutely devastating, but there were several attacks that I missed thanks to the -2 penalty. My rolls were largely pathetic, which didn't help (I rolled 4 or 5 ones, and about the same, if not more, twos). Elven Accuracy helped, but one time I did roll just as bad with the re-roll, and in this instance Heroic Effort would have been more useful. In general I think this is the case with classes that are already very accurate, since I'm hitting on a 5 or 6 usually.

In the difficult encounter I saved a Disruptive Shot for halfway through the battle to remain safe after using Invigorating Stride, and I'm glad that I did. I'd almost used it before that, but decided that Clever Shot's prone would be good enough instead. I would definitely advise any Hunter players to carefully consider situations where the power would be useful: will prone or slow (save ends) work just as well? If so, use Clever Shot instead! There might be a need for immobilizing or dazing later, plus ranged basic attacks will usually be more accurate/damaging thanks to their item support.

Additional Thoughts

It's worth noting that all of this is stuff that I'd previously posted on the WotC forums. The following are insights that I wrote down in subsequent posts. If it seems a bit disjointed, that's why.

"I would like to point out that this evening I realized that when I had Albus use his second wind, I'd forgotten to give Padfoot his free HP. This actually would have only worked out to be 6 extra HP, since I'd just revived him that same round and Friend's Gift got him up to 16 HP. Still, that's 6 extra HP that he would have soaked. I don't remember if that was before he was dropped by an attack that only dealt 4 damage beyond his remaining HP, but if so it would have kept him up an extra round and the next attack would have likely overshot his HP by more than 4. It's funny how 6 HP can sometimes be worth more than just 6 HP.

Also, I realized that Disciple of Stone would be extremely useful for Sentinels. You spend a surge every time you revive your animal companion, meaning that a Sentinel's healing surges are more accessible during combat than those of pretty much any other class. Since Albus was getting attacked in that fight just as much as Padfoot, those THP would have really helped out. I doubt I would have used all of them simply because a lot of attacks missed vs Albus' high AC, but I suspect that DoS would have a greater defensive impact than Toughness. Well, at least in terms of simple math. In truth, Toughness does boost the companion's HP, which could very well be the difference between an attack downing the companion and the companion having a couple of HP left. So it's hard to tell which is better, but most Sentinels probably want to pick up DoS at some point (even if they re-flavor it, as I would do)."

"Actually, another thought just occured to me. When my Sentinel was boxed in and thus couldn't use his Daily without provoking multiple OAs, I could have moved the Wolf such that any enemies adjacent to me took OAs on him, allowing me to safely fire off a ranged attack. Obviously you have to balance taking attacks so that PCs don't have to (soaking monster standard actions), and taking them just to give yourself a tactical advantage (soaking monster OAs), but it's definitely a nice trick to have up your sleeve in an emergency!

I've also been thinking about another aspect of the encounter that we had. We were very much outnumbered after the reinforcements arrived, and from a metagame monster optimization standpoint I couldn't help thinking that if as many monsters as possible attacked a single character we would have lost. Instead, the DM had 2 or 3 guys attacking each member of our party (which was still focus fire, I guess). When this happens, is that an example of a DM "going easy on the party?" That thought was certainly in the back of my mind yesterday, but then I started thinking about how such a set up may have given us an advantage as well. That would require even more clumping of the enemies than we already enjoyed. Between Grasping Tide and Rapid Shot, the enemy forces probably would have gotten mown down pretty fast, assuming that we made sure that we gave ourselves space to shift in order to get ranged attacks off without provoking OAs (Immeral, at least, has Invigorating Stride which makes him difficult to pin down too long). Plus since Albus and Immeral were staying separated, swarming one character would leave the other perfectly open and safe to fire at-will. The first thing that Albus and Padfoot had done when they entered the room was pin the human archers against the back wall, forcing them to fall back on crappy melee attacks (so the enemies didn't really have a focus-fire-without-clumping option).

I didn't think about it at the time, but the enemies actually did a pretty good job of spreading out such that only about 2 were usually in a burst 1 at any given time (at least in the middle rounds of the fight). It's likely that this was either a subconscious or conscious decision on the part of the DM to avoid another round where 6 of the monsters were caught in a Rapid Shot, especially since after they were up the stairs, Albus (who didn't have line of sight to them for that round) would have been able to follow up with Grasping Tide. Rapid Shot's high damage may not help Hunters minion sweep any better than Scorching Burst, for example, but for forcing standard enemies to spread out it's amazing. Even though it doesn't ignore concealment or deal full damage to Swarms, it still has its niche and functions very well in it. Before I actually played the Hunter I was skeptical about Rapid Shot's usefulness, but now I'm convinced that it's a solid weapon to have in your arsenal. Sometimes area damage really is just what the doctor ordered."

Red Frogs, Session 1

Several weeks ago I started a campaign with 2 other players. We hadn't played 4e together for a while (these are two of the players from the Talamhlar campaign that sort of fizzled out), and a lot of new stuff has been released (namely, Essentials). Plus these two players both wanted to get some experience DMing 4e, so we decided on doing a "campaign" where we would all rotate DMing duties, switching at the end of each mini-adventure. With only 2 players and the DM, it was also decided that the players would each run 2 characters. The cast of PCs would also rotate, with each player having a pool of characters (with some even being common to anyone), choosing 2 before each adventure. Basically, they're all in a mercenary/treasure hunting guild, so the characters have a reason for sometimes traveling with different parties.

Because I haven't posted here regularly in a while, I've decided to blog about this "campaign" from my own perspective. This will probably be equal parts session re-cap and class/build analysis. As a player I enjoy reading things like this because it gives me insight into how a class actually plays, even if I haven't necessarily played that class. And even if I'm experienced with a class, it's always nice to learn how they work in the hands of other players, or under different circumstances.

My Characters

Level 3 Elf Hunter
Initiative (with Aspect of the Pouncing Lynx): +13

Str 10, Con 13, Dex 18, Int 11, Wis 18, Cha 8

AC: 18, Fort: 14, Ref: 17, Will: 16

HP/bloodied/surge value: 35/17/8
Number of surges: 7

Attack (Ranged): +11 (+5 damage)
Attack (RBA): +11 (+7 damage)

Feats: Crossbow Expertise (class), Weapon Prof. (superior Crossbow), Improved Initiative

Stances: Aspect of the Pouncing Lynx, Aspect of the Dancing Serpent

Utility Powers: Invigorating Stride, Elven Accuracy

Encounter Powers: Distruptive Shot x2

Albus and Padfoot
Level 3 Half Elf Spring Sentinel
Initiative: +2

Str 10, Con 18, Dex 13, Int 11, Wis 18, Cha 8

AC: 20 (18), Fort: 18 (16), Ref: 14 (16), Will: 16 (16)

HP/Bloodied/Surge Value: 45/22/11
Number of Surges: 11

Attack (implement): +8 (+5 damage)
Attack (weapon): +10 (+5 damage)
Animal Attack: +8* (+8 damage)

*functionally +10 since Padfoot always has Combat Advantage from his own aura

Feats: Versatile Expertise (spear, Alfsair spear), Toughness

At Wills: Animal Attack, Grasping Tide

Utilities: Knack for Success, Verdant Bounty

Encounters: Combined Attack x2

Dailies: Summon Pack Wolf

Session Re-cap

The adventure was a little cliche (somewhat intentionally so), but basically we had to infiltrate a castle and rescue a princess from an evil villain. We were given magic carpets so that we could enter the castle through the skylight, and upon peering through it noticed a small room with just 1 goblin that appeared to be half asleep. The Fighter smashed the skylight with his greatsword, and Immeral and Albus both readied attacks to snipe the goblin as soon as the skylight was smashed (Clever Shot and Grasping Tide, respectively). This was a surprise round, and Immeral easily won initiative and killed the goblin with another Clever Shot. We entered the room, finding three glowing magical doors and one double door that wasn't magical. A nasty lightning trap greeted Albus as he tried to enter one of the magical doors, so we decided to abandon that route. We were told by the DM: "you shouldn't have killed that goblin, he was supposed to tell you how to get through those doors." Oh well, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it I guess. Onward through the non-magical door.

A stairway led into a small room with a human and two goblins on either side of the doorway. In addition to the magic carpets, the party was also given 1 invisibility cloak which the Fighter used to make his way into the room. He quickly revealed himself, using his breath weapon on the two goblins. Albus and Immeral decided to delay their turns until after the human went, because presumably he would engage the fighter and then neither would need to provoke OAs from him. It worked like a charm. Another newbie mistake on the part of our DM: the rooms were very small for 4e combat. All of the enemies were perfectly positioned to be hit by an area burst 1. Albus was first into the room (he got a 21 for initiative on a roll of 19, whereas Immeral rolled a 4 and still had a 17 total), and he positioned Padfoot adjacent to the human. This gave him combat advantage for Grasping Tide, which hit all targets. Then Immeral entered the room, and used Rapid Shot on all targets (again, benefitting from CA vs the human thanks to Padfoot's aura). I can't remember which enemy was left standing after all that, but I think it was one of the goblins (Rapid Shot missed 1, even with Elven Accuracy). Anyways, the Fighter finished off the last target. Cakewalk encounter, check!

Immeral then scouted down another hallway with the invisibility cloak, listening at 3 different doors. He heard voices behind 2 of them, and the other he discovered to be a storage closet (which would later come in handy during a short rest, as I asked whether any medicinal plants could be found in there. Albus was thus able to benefit from his Herb Lore wilderness knack). After Immeral reported back, the party decided to break down the nearest door. The Fighter stood in the hallway, while Albus and Immeral stood back, readying ranged attacks for the first foe that passed into the hall. Unfortunately, the Fighter used his breath weapon to hit 2 goblins, but forgot to shift back. Since he blocked the doorway, that was a wasted round for my two guys. Two goblins descended a flight of stairs in that room (which obviously only the Fighter saw), and 4 humans attacked him. Next round went better, as the Fighter moved out of the way and a human stepped out, only to be immobilized in the doorway by Immeral's Disruptive Strike. Perfect. Bottleneck. Honestly, we could have slaughtered the opposition in this manner but instead decided to take pity on our poor new DM and prioritized engaging the humans before the two goblins came back with reinforcements. Two of the humans were archers, and so didn't crowd the doorway. After the first poor sop was killed, Albus sent Padfoot into the room toward the archers, provoking an OA from the remaning melee warrior. Since Padfoot and Albus use the same move action, and creatures can only make one OA per turn, Albus was safe to pass without provoking. They ganged up on an archer (with Padfoot adjacent to the other one, who was conveniently positioned between Padfoot and a wall), and used Combined Attack. And missed with both attack rolls. Boo. Time to switch out d20's (not that it helped, I rolled terribly the entire time. Thanks a lot Auspex, I think you cursed me, lol). Then Immeral passed through, stood near the stairs, and pummeled an Archer with Clever Shot. The Fighter drew the remaining melee warrior outside the room, which would turn out to be a HUGE mistake.

Reinforcements arrived next round, and it consisted of 4 goblins and 2 more humans. Luckily they all rushed up the stairs at once, and Immeral was able to attack them all with Rapid Shot. Oh, the carnage that ensued. He critted one of the goblins, bloodying it, and damaged all but 1 of the others.

After that, I can't remember the round-by-round synopsis very clearly. The reinforcements poured into the room, with two of them parking themselves at the doorway so that the Fighter couldn't return to us for several rounds. Fortunately Sentinels can take a lot of heat, because Albus and Padfoot got focus-fired on hard. Padfoot dropped 3 times during the encounter, and as Albus was stuck in a corner of a small, enemy filled room, he couldn't even move into a position to summon his Pack Wolf without taking multiple OAs. Immeral was slowly backed into a corner as well, since he kept shifting + firing (Rapid Shot) each turn. I do remember one turn where he rolled I believe 2 2's and a 1, hitting only 1/4 enemies with Rapid Shot. Once he appeared cornered for good, Invigorating Stride allowed him to weave back to safety so he could play the shift + fire game in the opposite direction. Fortunately, at this point half the enemies were dead, and only 1 goblin was bothering him. Disruptive Shot stuck him in his place (literally), and shortly afterwards the Fighter finally made it back into the room and Immeral used Clever Shot and slid the remaining 2 enemies toward him and away from Padfoot (who was low on HP and wanted to remain untouched since his HP would recharge after the encounter anyways) and Albus (who had already used his second wind, plus he was 3 surges down just from reviving Padfoot). One enemy actually died from the Clever Shot that slid him, and the other was quickly dispatched by the Fighter.

We had actually made it through the entire encounter without having to use any of Albus' Healing Words, and in hindsight I probably should have used one instead of having Albus use Second Wind (though the defense buff did help when he was surrounded). The Fighter did use a healing potion when he was off by himself though, but overall Albus took the brunt of the punishment in this encounter. Which was fine with me, because his AC was 1 higher than the Fighter's, and he had I think 3 or 4 more HP (thanks to Toughness, and the fact that the Fighter's Con wasn't terribly high). I asked our DM what the total experience value of the encounter was, and he added everything up and told us 1,300! According to the DMG, that was over a 9th level encounter (given that we had only 3 PCs), which is 6 above our level! Fortunately he had forgotten about some of the enemy's powers and was pretty much using basic attacks, but in light of the difficulty (and the Fighter's mishap) I think we performed rather well!

Monday, January 17, 2011

UP-TO-DATE 4E Video Review

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Most video reviews I've seen are either less-than-objective, outdated (i.e. only consider the original PHB1, DMG, and MM1), or both. While this review does bash 3.5 a little in the beginning (actually, most of part 1 examines the weaknesses of this and other past editions), it's much more subdued than many other reviews (on both sides of the argument).

There were some things that he briefly touched upon that I think are quite important, so I'd like to expand upon them. First of all the updated monsters in MM3, Monster Vault, and the Dark Sun Creature Catalog. The stat blocks are even more user friendly than the original ones, many monster abilities are more interesting and stretch the limits of the rules more, and most importantly the decreased defenses (namely Fortitude) and HP, and increased damage expressions, all go a long way toward reducing "the grind." This all points to something very important, which is that the developers have learned from some of their early mishaps and fixed them. Also, long/grindy combat was probably my biggest criticism of 4e at first (I got around it by arbitrarily house-ruling down HP depending on the monster, and sometimes boosting offense), and the fact that this weakness is so easily patched is saying a lot about the overall design of the system.

Essentials was also only briefly mentioned, and that's likely because that topic is a whole new can of worms that probably could have spawned another 3 part video. Overall, I'd like to put it out there that I like how the 4e system can accommodate classes that are more reminiscent of 3.5 classes. Not only that, but it does them better. For those critics that don't like how Fighters get at-will, encounter, and daily powers just like spellcasters, this is the solution. Martial classes are built around basic attacks, their encounter powers almost all function to enhance basic attacks in some way on-the-fly, and they lack dailies completely. Moreover, their "at-wills" are usually stances (or situational powers for specific weapons in the case of the Assassin, and special movement "tricks" that enhance attacks in the case of the Rogue) that augment basic attacks in some way. The end result is that even though these classes are still just spamming basic attacks like a 3.5 Fighter, there's still a lot of tactical options to work with in combat. These builds have a fresh feel to them, they're still balanced against any other 4e class, and they offer an additional layer of choice/customizability. There are plenty of pro-4e anti-essentials critics who dismiss these builds as merely appealing to "grognards" and taking a step back in design, but I think there's room for all sorts of class builds in 4e and welcome the new guys. Besides, a lot of good things have come out of them. Certain classes have builds that are even more user friendly than they were before (Knight/Cavalier, Thief, Warpriest, Slayer, and Hexblade stand out the most), having recommended stats that make more sense and being overall easier to build and play. Rangers do more than just Twin Strike (archers with really cool effects and Dex-based two weapon wielders that actually play like mobile skirmishers!), and even if they're not quite as powerful as the original ranger can still hold their own and are much more fun and engaging (in my opinion). Animal companions finally done right (oh so right). This is something that 4e sort of failed with at first with the beastmaster ranger (their companions didn't have to fear death as much as a 3.5 companion did, but at the same time they weren't nearly as useful in combat thanks to poorly scaling offensive capabilities). The Sentinel, however, gets a mechanically unique companion that allows it to defy definition within the traditional role system of 4e, yet it still manages to be effective without becoming overpowered. The class has some flaws, but the design is overall very impressive.

Oh, he also mentioned how awful 3.5 familiars were, but didn't really elaborate on how 4e does them so much better. They can never really permanently die in combat, and even if they do drop you don't get these huge penalties but rather just don't get their active benefits (you still get their passive benefits, however). Most arcane classes that want one will just grab the entry feat to get the familiar (IME this is mostly motivated by character concept, but you do get rewarded with some nice mechanical boons for the cost of the Arcane Familiar feat), but for those that really want to emphasize their familiar there are additional feats that can be taken and different powers that use the familiar in interesting ways.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Saturday, January 8, 2011

First Impressions of Pathfinder: The good, and the bad

See part 1 and part 2 of this series. For my final post, I'm basically just going to make a bullet point list of some improvements, and some gripes that I have with the system. These will be more or less random, so bear with me.

The Good
  • Combat Maneuver attack and defense. Finally, random actions like grapple, trip, sunder, etc. are consolidated into a single number.
  • Domains, Spell Schools, and Bloodlines give casters more magic to fall back on at low levels. This is more fun than busting out a stupid crossbow or sling.
  • Some trap feats got fixed. Toughness comes to mind, as it's essentially an extra hit point per level, but the first 3 are front-loaded so first level characters still get a nice boost.
  • The classes are more balanced than 3.x, though they're still not up to the level of 4e classes. Given the nature of the system, it's unlikely that they could be, so good effort Paizo.

The Bad
  • Too. Many. Status. Effects. Dazed, dazzled, cowering, panicked, frightened, fatigued, exhausted, shaken, sickened, nauseated (why is this different from sickened?!), staggered, paralyzed, stunned, pinned, grappled, entangled, confused, blinded, and even a few more. A lot of these things sound exactly the same, and even mechanically could be consolidated so easily it's not even funny. The list in 4e is so much easier to memorize, and reference if you do forget something, it's not even funny. All conditions are summarized on a single page (and it's not even a whole page!). Pathfinder takes over 3 pages to summarize everything, and the print is a LOT smaller. It's bad enough that some spells are several paragraphs of description, but then you have to read even more if a status effect is referenced! Way. Too. Overly. Complicated.
  • Dex mod still isn't added to ranged damage, yet Str mod is still added to damage of composite longbow. News flash: if you get hit with an arrow, it's going to deal damage to you regardless of whether it came from a regular longbow or a composite longbow. The composite will likely have more range, because yes it will launch the arrow with more force. But if you're going that route with the simulationism, you might as well add damage to hits at closer range because the arrow has lost less energy. Point being, the contribution of Str is negligible. Adding Dex to ranged damage makes more sense, because a high Dex character has better aim, and so is more likely to hit a vital area of the body, which would translate to more damage. Even from a simulationist view the 4e system makes more sense. Likewise, weapon finesse should add Dex to damage as well as attack rolls. Rapiers deal damage through technique, not brute strength. Same argument applies; an agile character is more likely to hit an exposed/vital area with a rapier.
  • The skill list from hell still exists. But the funny thing is, Pathfinder consolidated Spot, Listen, and Search in Perception (just like 4e), but didn't consolidate any other skills! It's more a slap in the face than anything, really. That's just more stupid numbers that I have to erase and change every time I level.
  • I only briefly scanned the section on combat, but despite the new Combat Maneuvers system it still looks like grappling is overly complicated.
  • Stat blocks are just as bad as ever, CRs still exist, and the end result is that it looks just as annoying to DM as 3.x ever was.
  • Spells are still walls of text that require a lot of prep work before playing, or a lot of referencing during the game. Summoning is particularly annoying since you need all relevant monster stat blocks at hand.
  • Starting gold still penalizes certain classes. Yeah, I get that I normally won't need to buy a longbow as a Druid, but if I'm an Elf I'd at least like the option to do so.
  • EDIT: Wow, full round actions sure are stupid, especially at 1st level for summoning. Basically, I get to spend my entire turn "casting" (even though nothing is happening), to get a summon onto the field 1 round later, and for only 1 round (at first level, at least). So I sacrifice my turn now to get 2 turns next round. Doesn't make sense, since that's one more round that the enemies are alive and hitting the party. Delayed damage is why the original Assassin is literally the worst striker in 4e. Granted, at higher levels summoning makes sense because you sacrifice an early round for several rounds where you essentially get multiple turns, but from a gaming standpoint that's still not great because it bogs down play. Really makes me appreciate the elegance of 4e summoning/pets. But most importantly, consider this: a round is 6 seconds, and each turn just details what everyone does during that round. It's all happening simultaneously, so a full round should be the same time as a full turn. Why can't my summon just pop up at the end of my turn? I don't give a crap if I can't attack with it until next round, I want enemies to see that it's there so they attack it instead of me! Especially since during that round where I'm just "casting," if I get attacked I can lose the spell if I fail a concentration check. For a game that seeks to be more simulationist that gamist, there sure are some wacky rules.
Alright, that's all I'm going to list for now. I feel like there are a few other things, but I can't remember them right now. I may go back and update this list.

First Impressions of Pathfinder: The Character

For part 1 of this series, click here. Turns out, I lied a little about picking up where I left off (with Druids). First I'll set the stage. After going months without playing D&D with my original gaming group, I have been making plans for some 4e games. Because of schedules, right now only a 1 shot is in the works. Turns out though, they've been playing Pathfinder regularly while I've been out of town, and I broke down and decided I'd give it a shot. After all, they described it as having fixed everything that was wrong with 3.5. Well, we'll see about that. I wonder if a taste of CoDzilla will teach them a lesson (in what few high level games we played, nobody ever rolled a Cleric or Druid, so I'm not really even sure if they're aware of the problem with them).

Unfortunately, the DMs were rotating and the new DM decided to start everyone at level 1. So much for making the 1 man version of an adventuring party. Still, I did my homework on Pathfinder just so I knew what I was getting myself into. Turns out, CoDzilla has for the most part been slain.

The Druid's Wild Shape is an odd middle ground between 3.x (where you essentially became a monster stat block) and 4e (where you keep your own stats and movement modes, but you gain access to beast form powers): You keep your stats, but gain the new forms movement modes (sort of), attacks, AC, and some other bonuses depending on size and level. The end result is that you're effective in melee while Wild Shaped...only if you're built to melee in humanoid form and sacrifice your spells. Uhhhh...ok, that's lame, 4e preserved the feel of Wild Shape (flinging spells as humanoid, being a melee character while Wild Shaped) without making it overpowered. Pathfinder may have reigned in the power level of Wild Shape, but they sacrificed some of the ability's "essence." Would it have been that hard to let you substitute Wis for Str while making attacks? You'd still be using your stats. Whatever. In any case, the alternative is being a full caster and using Wild Shape to turn into a bird and fly around casting spells (because you will pick up Natural Spell). Well, that's what I decided to go with.

Now we come to the Animal Companion. I stopped playing Druids in 3.5 because the DM always went straight for my companion and killed it as fast as he could. He said, "don't have it rush into melee if you don't want it to get hurt!" Well, what am I supposed to do, have it hang back and waste a class feature? As angry as I was about him "screwing me" at the time, I realize that it's more a design flaw than anything (but I still think he was screwing me a little bit too). I'd have to spend the next 24 hours calling a new companion, or else live with not having one for a while. Talk about a buzz kill. Fast forward to the release of Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms, and we get a 4e Druid that gets an animal companion! Best part is, it can be revived whenever you want, for the cheap price of 1 minor action and 1 healing surge! Sure, the healing surge mechanic doesn't exist in 3.x so the animal companion couldn't work like this...but then that's just another reason to prefer 4e, isn't it? Now, some might call this an example of gamism (4e) vs simulationism (3.x), but is it really that unrealistic (from a fantasy standpoint, mind you) for a Druid who has bonded him/herself to a specific animal to be able to heal that animal (using his/her own surges, albeit) at-will? Such a Druid can already heal allies! Just say it's the same type of healing magic, but since the Druid and companion share a magical bond it eats up the Druid's own healing surge. It's elegant, and allows the companion to act like a damage sponge without being at risk of disrupting adventuring. And such a damage sponge mechanic is a unique contribution to the party, and offers an interesting way to "lead."

I've been playtesting the Sentinel, so I thought about this as I was building my Pathfinder Druid. I couldn't go back to the "old way" of doing animal companions. I opted to pick up the Cleric domain instead. I wouldn't have a melee buddy/tank to protect me and flank with me, but I'd get a few extra domain spells to use per day, plus extra domain spell slots. At this point I'd like to take a moment to commend Pathfinder, because they did add a mechanic that really helps casters out at low levels. Clerics (and Druids who choose them instead of the companion) get Domains, Sorcerers get bloodlines, and Wizards get school specializations. All of these class features grant a choice, each of which offers a minor spell that you can cast a number of times per day equal to 3 + relevant ability mod. That's a good number of rounds where you would normally have to pull out a crossbow/sling/javelin and ineffectually pelt enemies because you're out of spells. It's vaguely reminiscent of 4e's at-will mechanic, though obviously it's much more limited since it's still "Vancian" at its core. So Pathfinder did patch the weakness of casters at low levels. They're still not as balanced as 4e casters/non-casters, but it's manageable. From what I've heard, however, high level casters do still dominate non-casters, though perhaps not to such an extent.

Another fun aspect of the Druid class is spontaneous casting, which is the ability to turn any prepared spell into Summon Nature's Ally on the fly. Which is sweet, because summoning is awesome, especially for a Druid who opted to give up the animal companion. It's a source of extra damage, and it's a great source of ally-friendly action denial in this game (enemies beating on summons aren't attacking allies, and you don't even lose healing surges because this game doesn't have them!). This is why I love the Druid's spontaneous casting more than the Cleric's; a Druid prevents damage (equal to the summoned creature's HP + however much damage the attack overshot it by), whereas the Cleric repairs it (with the Cure spells). Plus the Druid gets to deal damage while it's doing this, and it feels more "active." Plus the Druid can just grab a wand of whatever Cure he can afford and be able to patch up his allies just fine. So clearly I like the idea of summoning in Pathfinder/3.x, but there's a catch. You have to reference monster stat blocks all the time. Which you already sort of have to do with Wild Shape. And since I hate looking crap up in the limited supply of books at the table, I'm going to have to either copy a bunch of stat blocks down by hand, or make some kind of electronic cheat sheet using the SRD. Plus I have to do that for all of the spells that I think I'll use regularly. I'll admit that this is a problem with 4e, too, as I write out power cards on index cards by hand. But at least those are concise. A lot of Pathfinder spells, like 3.x spells, are walls of text.

To sum up the 1st level Druid I created, it seems like it'll be a fun character. Pathfinder did make an attempt to balance out the classes, but in doing so made some design choices that don't appeal to me. It annoys me that for full casters, using Wild Shape to fight in melee is not viable. Most of the time. I did manage to get around this, by picking up Weapon Finesse. Seeing as I'm Dex secondary, I can at least hit with my natural attacks, even if they won't be quite so damaging. And since I'm an elf, the feat also helps me hit with the rapier that I carry around for when I run out of spells.

First Impressions of Pathfinder: Introduction

I'm going to take a bit of a departure from my normal subject on this blog (D&D 4e) to talk about Pathfinder. First, some background. I started playing D&D 3.0e, which was actually my first experience with tabletop roleplaying. It wasn't too long before I wanted to purchase books of my own instead of bumming off of my friend's, so I picked up the 3.5 PHB (I didn't know that it had that many changes from the 3.0 PHB). It took a little bit of time, but pretty soon my regular group had upgraded to 3.5. Then I went to college, and there was less time for D&D, not to mention the fact that the few people in my school's gaming club that played D&D played a weird homebrew version where everyone had a pre-selected character: either a really powerful, kick-ass dragon, or a dragon "tamer" with a crossbow and short sword. Guess which type of character I had to be? Guess who never came back after the first session...

After graduating, I worked at Great Smoky Mountains National Park for a summer, and one of my fellow seasonal workers happened to pick up the 4e PHB. I was shocked, for I had no idea that there was a new edition coming out, and upon examining the book I was even more shocked with all of the changes. "This is blasphemy, this isn't D&D, it's a whole different game! BLAH! But I'll give it a try, I guess..." Unfortunately, my pilot session occurred toward the end of the summer, so it was the only session that we ended up playing. But the seeds were sown, even if I didn't know it at the time. Playing it "felt" more or less like D&D, and my melee Ranger was certainly performing better than melee rangers in 3e had. Plus the Cleric was healing people and attacking them, the Eladrin Rogue was teleporting to advantageous positions, and the Wizard...well, unfortunately the Wizard player wasn't at all interested in the game, and whenever her turn came up just yelled "I cast magic missile!" Which is what low level Wizards in 3.x usually did anyways, so I didn't think anything of it.

When I got back home, I started playing a 3.5 campaign. I didn't really have any strong negative impressions of that edition yet, I just recognized that there was another "version" of D&D out there that I'd played. One day I decided to find out more about 4e, so I spent a few hours on the internet researching it, reading reviews, hanging out on the WotC forums, etc. This went on for a few days, and my interest just started snowballing. The whole role systems intrigued me, even though I'd recognized that it had informally existed in previous editions. But this time you didn't need a Cleric! Any leader would do. But Clerics were actually pretty cool now, they weren't just healbots! But what really struck me was the balance between the classes. Everyone started off at roughly the same power level, and nobody blatantly outstripped anyone else as the levels went on. Given that I love playing casters, and that the vast majority of our 3.x games started out at 1st-3rd level and lasted 2 sessions if we were lucky, balance was important to me. I was sick of being weaker just because I liked casting spells better than smacking people across the head. It didn't matter that casters became godly later, because there was never a later for me. I played 1 game where I was a mid-level Wizard and it was the best game I'd ever played. The class had hit its stride, and I was able to be very creative with my spells and remain effective. Our usual DM (who swears by Fighters, even at high levels, for some odd reason...) made this Frankenstein-zombie boss called Stitches, who I decided to take out on my own when I was separated from the rest of the party (admittedly there were only two players...). I solo'd Stitches and won. Not only did I win, but I mopped the floor with this guy. And this DM is known for subjecting us to some pretty nasty bosses. So this is what it's like to be a high level Wizard...

Too bad it never happened again.

In any case, I don't want to write an entire book about the differences between 3.x and 4e. Some people prefer one edition, others the other. It wasn't long before I became a staunch proponent of 4e. Skills were more concise, balance was much better, casters never "ran out" of spells, Fighters had interesting stuff to do, leaders could heal as a minor action, the power blocks were simple, concise, and easy to reference compared to 3.x spells, and, as I later found out when I tried to convert my old gaming group, this edition was MUCH easier to DM. DMing was actually fun! The monster stat blocks made sense! Monsters had levels instead of this bogus CR crap. And page 42, oh how can't say enough good things about page 42.

And finally, once some more splatbooks were released, if I wanted to play a summoner or a Druid, I didn't have to memorize 5 million stat blocks from the Monster Manual, fuss around with templates, etc. Everything was designed to run smoothly. And I'll pick up here in part 2.