Tuesday, October 30, 2012

But I have Skills!

I got the newest version of the DnD Next rules today.  There are some big changes to rogues, which is good, because the old version of rogues was extremely sketchy.  Their combat options were not interesting and their skills were so overpowered that the rest of the party pretty much need not even write down their skill values at all.  In the new version things are toned down quite a bit but I think the people writing Next still haven't truly come to grips with the idea that you can't effectively balance combat and non combat power in a heroic fighting system.

If you look at a system like the World of Darkness it is instantly obvious that they had no intention of creating a balanced system.  It was quite trivial for a thug character with 2 points in Potence, 2 points in Celerity, 4 points in Strength and Dexterity and a big ass sword to destroy 1 or 2 opponents each round.  This level of power can easily be achieved by even a raw starting character.  I get that Cthulu needs to eat 1d6 player characters each round (that is his actual stat from the game!) but players shouldn't be killing each other at quite that rate.  Of course this character is likely entirely useless when the talky guy with Resources, Contacts, Presence, and Dominate is playing a political campaign.  The system is built around the idea that you will get completely destroyed when you are outside your element.

Unfortunately Next, like all DnD, is designed around heroic combat and as such needs some sort of balance to avoid making the intricate combat system feel silly.  It is entirely valid to say that fighters are tougher and do more consistent damage while wizards are frail but have amazing AOE attacks and magical defenses - these both come up and can be reasonably compared to each other.  Rogues on the other hand are sort of like fighters in combat except they are just much worse.  They do drastically less damage (maybe 50% as much at level 10) and have far fewer HP.  They make up for it by being able to add big numbers to all of their skill rolls outside of combat using their Skill Mastery maneuver.  At low levels they are probably adding something like 3-5 to all skill rolls but by level 10 they are adding a solid 8... enough that everybody else can pretty much give up on skill rolls entirely and just watch the rogue do their thing.  It simply isn't fun for every noncombat challenge to be solved by the rogue and for every combat challenge to make the rogue into a liability.

Of course another wrinkle is that spellcasters are again going to be capable of totally dominating rogues in the 'out of combat' department.  Fly, Invisibility, and other such spells still completely demolish any skill check that a rogue might have since climbing walls, being sneaky, and other such skills are pretty pathetic compared to the spell versions.  Unfortunately at high levels you will see rogues once again being a laughingstock in combat and quite outclassed out of combat.  The idea of balancing rogues by making them bad in a fight and supreme out of a fight is old and it needs to go.  If we want to have multiple melee classes we need different things for them to be good at.  Maybe fighters can be tough, and rogues beat down hard, maybe it is something else.  Regardless you can't build a heroic combat system with one class that is hopeless in combat and think that this works.

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