In response to “Failed Perception”

Points of Light gives us a neat series of sketches illustrating of how some people mistakenly view 4e’s powers. I was going to leave a comment over there, but it just got too long so I decided that I’d make my own post about how I see powers.

The first thing that I can’t stand about 4e’s powers is that they are called “POWERS.” This is not a game about super heroes here; the term “powers” just doesn’t seem to mix with the theme of medieval fantasy. All I can think about when someone says “powers” the first thing that comes to mind is that episode of South Park when they get ninja weapons, childish squabbles over whether or not Carman has the power to have everyone’s powers.

The second issue that I have with powers is that they are essentially the same as the much hated 3.5 combat mechanic of “I hit it with my sword [Roll, Rinse, Repeat]” In fact in my first game of 4e, my warlord’s powers were nearly useless because he had all melee buffs and most of the party focused on ranged combat, so I had to rely on the largely pointless melee basic attack. You may say that powers add more flavor, but they really don’t, combat still features the steps of declaring an attack, rolling to hit, resolving damage, moving, next turn. 3.5 had the potential for combat flavor; I had a character modeled after Brad Pitt’s Achilles in the movie Troy, before making an attack I often made a jump check to replicate that signature jump-n-stab move that the movie character had. Sometimes, if I rolled high enough on the jump, I could get a slight bonus to my damage or some such benefit. In my games players are routinely descriptive and we always elaborate on how attacks look and how opponents react to their wounds. 4e has a nifty little pre-made description that discourages adding your own flair to attacks.

My third issue with powers is that they add a large degree of intricacy to combat that serves only to slow down fights. As I mentioned before, descriptive flair can add quite a bit of flavor to combat in previous editions. The conditional bonuses change from round to round based upon who marked whom, whether or not someone is bloodied, ongoing damage/conditions that need a save to end, etc. All of this increases the degree of bookkeeping that the DM and players need to do.

The fourth issue that I have with powers is that they make all characters play like spell casters and spell casters play like everyone else. I have never played an arcane caster in 3.5, my favorite class is fighter with cleric as a close second. I like that fighter and cleric feel distinctly different in play. Every round as a fighter I make multiple attacks, determine whether I want to drop my ability to hit to increase my potential damage or my defenses (through power attack and combat expertise) or if I’d rather go with a regular attack. As a cleric I often spend the first round casting bless, no rolling there, then I move into combat smashing into my foes though being ever mindful of my allies and the damage that they have taken. Arcane casters have a wide variety of damage dealing spells, have to be more mindful of their position relative to enemies due to their low armor class and hit points. Each class has a distinct feel because it has wildly different options. Newbies can pick up a fighter or ranger with no trouble, while advanced players can enjoy the complexities of caster classes even within the same game there are several “modes” to choose from. In 4e, everyone has the same number of options each round, something that can overwhelm new players and leave advanced players wanting more. All the classes play in a similar manner even-though the powers are different the act of playing them is nearly identical.

I know that powers are not activated by the spiky haired character yelling out the power’s name, but I find that calling them “powers” evokes an image of silliness rather than one of “hey that’s a cool thing.” The extra complexity added to combat slows things down while not adding much to the ability to visualize the fight in a dramatic movie scene sort of way. The mechanical aspect of roll, rinse, repeat is still there, it just takes longer because of the added step of pick which power. The flavor that is added could be had by simply adding description to combat in a prior edition. Finally the use of powers has made all characters play in a similar manner, no more simplicity of the fighter and the 6 page character sheets for the wizard. All in all there are some very positive things that were put into 4e, but the focus on powers ruins the whole experience.

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~ by katallos on October 9, 2009.

6 Responses to “In response to “Failed Perception””

  1. Funny, pretty much every one of your points I agree with – except I think they are all good things, rather than drawbacks. Guess there’s no accounting for taste.

  2. This why I refer to them by the source name. For example, I dont call a fighter’s power suite powers, but exploits instead. 🙂

  3. Everyone has a different take on things.

  4. I have absolutely zero of the issues you mention and in fact have practically the reverse opinion of everything you said, except my opinion would’ve have more paragraph breaks. Someday, my shadowy clone, one of us will do battle upon a hill, and I say, I shall be victorious!

  5. Wow, nice big box of grumble flakes for breakfast this morning? Your arguments sound really tawdry. I’m sorry to say but you don’t have to call them “powers” and the fact that you picked powers that gave melee bonuses when your party focused on ranged attacks just means you didn’t pay attention to who was in your party when you created your character, your bad not the games.

    As for combat I don’t understand how it is even close to the same and the 3.5 stand there and swing method. In 4e many of the powers have added effects like pull, push, ongoing damage, knock prone, daze. You can also for many classes pick both ranged and melee giving you many options on how you want to fight.
    I really think you just want to not like the system so you are picking on what ever you can. When your opening argument is all about the word “powers” it really shows you have no ground on which to stand.

    • I read through the list of powers available for my class and picked the ones that I liked, the ones that fit my character concept, and that worked with how I wanted to play. My character did not know his adventuring buddies before the game began, so how could I have payed attention to the party when I created my character. I hate metagaming and powergaming, your character is your own and no one else has any right to say that you can’t pick something because they have that role covered or because it doesn’t mesh with their build.

      Yes, there are additional effects that powers add: push, pull, ongoing damage, etc. but the core action of roll a D20 add up multipliers and compare to a target number is still there. That is exactly the same as 3.5, only there is some descriptive flair added.

      I have given 4e more than a fair chance, I have played every role and found all of them lacking and all too similar. I have played a variety of races and simply did not have fun with any of them.

      I started my argument with a comment about the word “powers” because I do not like the tone that it sets for the rest of the game. There are classes in 3.5 that I strongly dislike because of the flavor that they have.

      I never once said that 4e was a bad system, I only said that I did not like it and that in my experience it was completely unfun.

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