Thursday, October 13, 2011

Attack - Miss - Done.

I remember playing DnD 2nd edition for many years back when I was younger.  One of the features of that game was that spellcasters got to make interesting, complicated choices on their turns and fighting classes were boring as all hell.  Most fighter turns would go "Attack, Miss, Done." or "Attack, Hit, 12 damage, Done."  Hardly the stuff of legends.  In 3rd edition things got a lot better with the introduction of feats since there were a lot more options for customizing a character.  Brawlers actually had choices like Spring Attack, Whirlwind, Cleave and others.  Unfortunately there weren't nearly enough feats for high level play and if your stats weren't arranged to make certain prerequisite feats available you could easily run out of things to do at level 6.

The big exception was two weapon fighting.  For some reason the designers wanted anyone fighting with two weapons to have to sink tons and tons of feats in to do so reasonably.  Unfortunately none of those feats did anything interesting at all, they were all simply "Attack MOAR."  Not only that but they were all utterly useless unless you got to full attack standing next to the enemy.  If you weren't next to the enemy at the start of your turn you were back to "Attack, Miss, Done."  This is exactly the sort of thing feats shouldn't do - they should give you options or customize one particular type of play rather than be 'always on' bonuses.

Pathfinder (Dnd 3.75) did a lot of good things in this regard.  First, they added on way more feats and made sure to have lots of high level ones that you could look forward to.  The high level feats were also quite powerful and that meant that at any given level there were interesting choices to make and yet still things to lust over.  (Boy, when I get to level 11 I am going to MURDER people!)  Another great improvement is the addition of lots of 'single attack' feats.  These feats let you cleave multiple enemies, make single big attacks, debuff the enemies or take additional movement along with an attack.  This means that for one brawlers have lots of choices to make about what they want to do in a turn and also that they aren't so brutally dependent on starting their turn next to the enemy.  Full attack is still generally the best option but there are lots of things that are close to as good that can be done with single strikes after a move.  I always hated that any time the monster was highly mobile the brawlers were absolute junk; they don't need to be good at everything but there should be options for them to improve in that regard.

Pathfinder also did some really dumb things.  They decided to keep the utterly bloated Two Weapon Fighting chain of feats and even added in a bunch more Two Weapon Fighting with Shield Bashes so that someone using this style can easily sink 19 feats into this style and the basic damage buffs.  That is bad design because with all those feats it is savagely overpowered when they do get to full attack someone and when they cannot they are terrible.  They really need to just make Two Weapon Fighting one feat and find some mechanics that make it work - my feeling is that they should have made it so that any time you attack with a weapon you can attack with both weapons instead with some appropriate penalty.

There is still a lack of variety in feats for casters compared to brawlers.  Casters have tons of selection in their spells and they can spend their feats taking a few of their limited options and then dump the rest into item creation, utility or defensive choices.  Although some casters might want more things to do I feel like overall their flexibility and choice is plenty high enough so having limited feat choices is fine.

The more of Pathfinder I read the more I am impressed with the balance and testing they have put into it.  It isn't perfect by any stretch but it feels a lot more like DnD 4th edition in many ways because although there are dumb ways to build your character you can just take any class, take stats that the book tells you are important for your class, pick abilities that look good and be just fine (a 'normal' character).  The optimized character is going to have an edge, to be sure, but two normal characters should beat a twink handily unlike in 3.0 where it wasn't hard to build a character that could smash three or more normal characters easily.  Having ways to be powerful is good but the difference between a super optimized twink and a normal character should be 50% not 300%.

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