Hop skip jump scribbles

Specialized viewing only: three D&D players working up the details for their 4E characters, because the DM wants to do a level jump, from 3rd to 7th. Even though each has looked through the books, this is a significant accounting/build task, so – only if you’re interested.

It is, however, actually interesting. 4E – like a lot of games with this heft – is basically a ‘port of Champions, and since I’m now deep-diving into Champions (again), it’s a genuine test case of “how someone else did it.” And regarding 4E for its own sake, this is way more oriented toward characterization and coolness than toward mere combo-building; I maintain that the latter serves the former to a stronger degree than most games.

We’ve instituted a “followers” concept that I think fits well. The rules already have coherent mechanics for how to play such characters, but this is a framework for how many you can have at what levels of their own.

Given the crazy superhero design trilogy I seem to have generated, this game’s on hiatus, but doing this was a lot of fun, and I hope it’s not the endpoint. I’ve got more psychedelic mazes to turn into dungeon vortices, and there are too many excellent monster builds to turn away from now.


7 responses to “Hop skip jump scribbles”

  1. An hour of me whinging about Ardent Daily Powers

    So I've finally thought of somethings potentially worth saying about this, and justifying all that complaining about boring daily powers (or rather all the powers with the best flavour are at level 9).

    I understand that one of the things people complained about with 4e was that all classes have powers and they all feel the same to play. I imagine at least some of this is probably also due to the vocabulary – certainly when I first looked at the game I bounced off the various shifts, pushes, slides etc. I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of the commentary online that talks about optimised builds and such like probably ignores alot of this too.

    So my first thing to say is that you have to actually play to make any sort of sense of the powers and have any way of evaluating them against each other. And then as Ron's previously pointed out they are very contextual, as they interact with the other characters and monsters powers and the colour / fiction. Planning towards that sort of interaction was what I was finding frustrating with the power selections, I wanted something that will be as fun and effective as the Visions of Death power in the confrontation with Ksekks Id. Clearly I need to suck it up as I suspect part of the fun is these things coming up unexpectedly. 

    My second thing is that I've been surprised by how 'monky' the monk powers and stuff feel. I wasn't initially very excited about hybridising with the monk, it seems a bit too gamery, but I found the way the flurry of blows, powers and the movement aspects in particular very fun in play and it seemed to me they felt markedly different to the other classes, especially James's Barbarian. How have the rest of you found this? I suspect in part this is because the Monk and Barbarian are the most clearly defined classes, with some sort of fictional basis beyond 4e. Does anyone have a view on how the other three classes are faring in this regard in our game?

    • Good discussion topic.

      Good discussion topic.

      I’m lucky because I don’t have to get invested in a class/class/race choice as well as a build, in addition to the ongoing build. I can enjoy each one’s particular tricks as well as his or her “well, that’s what you get for being a [whatever]” moments across all of them, as a smorgasbord.

      Putting in a “jump four levels” version of the ongoing build is way more stressful than I’d anticipated, for people playing their own characters rather than me tinkering with fun-to-look-at, but unplayed ones. Apparently it’s just not possible to say, look, relax, pick some cool stuff and we’ll run with it, without a stress-out which I associate with constructing killer-decks in Magic: the Gathering.

      Also, I guess I’d thought of the setting as promoting a certain color-first, crazy freedom at that point – yes! I am now riding a pterodactyl! – but there really isn’t any substitute for the causal quality of actually having suffered confrontation and fire-forged friendship with the beast, and not having planned the outcome of becoming inseparable companions, rider + mount as a team, but arriving there through events.

      To focus on your last point: I love all the class/race impact on play, and from my all-character vantage point, I think all of them are pretty good. The Barbarian and Monk stand out in our construct of play, not because they’re intrinsically or mechanically distinctive, but because everyone has to be one or the other, so effectively, we are seeing those two all the time, and the other three only on-and-off.

      It’s possible that the Ardent gets effaced a little bit by the hybrid requirement, as the class by itself is already a kind of balanced this-plus-that concept. It’s certainly one of my top choices for playing single-class out of the box some day. But you’ve played Ezhelya toward the psychic/raw side of the concept rather than the outright leader-charisma side, and it seems to have been plenty vivid to me.

      I don’t suppose it’s surprising that I think all the claims that “every class is the same” are flat bullshit, but I don’t think that will be evident to anyone who hasn’t played something like what we’ve done, or like the Heretic Ecclesiastic set I made available behind the wall at the Patreon.

    • Regarding the level jump

      Regarding the level jump process, my sense was that we were fighting competing impluses to not introduce stuff that wasn't fictionally backed up – James very obviously going for the "butler" that arose from his earlier interactions, but also not being comfortable bringing in new fictional content. I was also further struggling with the prospect of doing it again and jumping to paragon tier; wanting to choose powers etc that would hopefully set up events in the game that would then make any particular paragon path seem fictionally justified. I kind of feel if we had jumped straight to level 11 the overhanging weight of all the implied but undefined history would have left the levelled up Runt, Enemy and Ezhelya seeming like totally new characters.

      Not that I think the process is impossible, but as you say a bit more emotionally taxing than might be expected. Also where it differed from MtG is I don't think we were particularly looking at optimising mechanically – but maybe we just aren't very good at Stepping Up.


  2. Practicing beforehand

    As a side topic to Ross' discussion above, here are some mockups that I'd played with during the development of the rules-set we used. Their relevance here is that I already knew the jump-up could be done, whereas the players were simultaneously learning that it could be done and doing it. With the effect that the former was seriously impeding the latter.

    Anyway, this is one of several second-level characters I made up (again, this precedes the characters used in play and was not shown to the players):

    Kurashim at level 2

    Kurashim at paragon (level 11)

    And Cavos at level 1, with a couple of notes for level 2 – my paragon version is on paper only and too scribbly to scan. I'd like to present him here as an exercise for others to try it with.

    • You’re just taunting me with

      You're just taunting me with yet more opportunities to make 4e characters now Ron, I've already had to stop myself from creating ones for your Heretic Ecclesiastic setting several times.

      It seems to me we are seeing the same phenomena you mentioned about champions – a 300 point character is very different to a 250 point character with 50 xp earned and spent over 10 – 15 sessions of play.

    • The Champions / D&D4E

      The Champions / D&D4E comparison is significant. I point especially to the first-generation Champions feature of reserving a small subset of skills per character from a very short list by the standards of any other game, and to the hidden or at least learning-based methods of modifying what looks like a rigid/boring ordering mechanic.

      The more I think about it, the more it seems Autoduel Champions (the only Hero/SJG crossover product) is the right entity to examine.

      However, I don't think the point/advancement topic you mentioned applies fully. D&D4E has fixed options for what to do with your advancement. They're subject to some interesting fiddling, especially retraining, and to the multi-classing option, but the whole tapestry does flow out ahead of your character on paper. Furthermore, the improvements are level-based, which in practice means one or two adventure arcs.

      By comparison, the unknown yawns uncomfortably ahead of one's Champions character even two sessions henceforward, let alone five or ten. I agree with you that events of play and "discovered" personality and goals play a bigger role in 4E character development than a reading of the text would imply (let alone a hostile reading), but in Champions, those events and their point-based effects are constant, not graded in jumps.

    • Yes, I was really just

      Yes, I was really just stressing that in our 4e game the link between advancement and fictional events was more evident and felt more important than maybe we expected. I wonder if when trying to do this level jumping which complicates that, that getting together to do it might be an important way to give each other permission to imagine that there is some fictional thing that justifies these choices, even if it's never defined either by the group or individually. So not that the players get together and agree what adventures happened, but that I, for example, say "Ezhelya has a pterodactyl now" and we all nod and think it must have been an awesome adventure that led to that, and we all move on happy.

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