Saturday, April 25, 2009

Arcane Power: Is the Bardic Ritualist feat too good?

Like Martial Power before it, Arcane Power provides a number of additional multiclass feats for the arcane classes.  Some of these have prerequisites requiring you to already have a multiclass feat before picking them up, but other ones can be the first multiclass feat you take.  Bardic Ritualist is one of these.  The only prerequisite for taking it is that the character have an Int 13 and Cha 13.  For a heroic tier feat, it certainly gives a lot.

To illustrate this, I am going to use my eladrin warlord Almirith as an example.   When Almirith reaches 4th level, I have been considering giving him the Ritual Caster feat.  This would allow me to play up the magical nature of the fey without going the multiclass or hybrid route.  Of course if I went the ritual caster route, I might have to consider taking Skill Training: Arcana down the road, just to make sure I could hit some of those ritual DCs.

On the other hand, I suppose I could just take Bardic Ritualist and get it over with in one shot!  Not only will Bardic Ritualist grant the Arcana skill, duplicating the Skill Training feat, but it grants the Bardic Training class feature as well.  Bardic Training grants the Ritual Training feat, a ritual book with two free rituals, and the ability to perform one bard ritual per day per tier without expending any components.

On top of that, since it is a multiclass feat, you are considered a bard for purposes of qualifying for feats, paragon paths, and epic destinies.  This may not seem like much, but in Almirith’s case it will open up the Feyliege epic destiny.

Now, I am not trying to say that any of this breaks the game.  After all, not everyone wants the Arcana skill or the ability to cast rituals.  So unlike Weapon Expertise or Implement Expertise, this is not the case of a feat that is “too good to pass up”.    However, it does make me wonder why anyone who qualifies for this feat would ever pick up Skill Training: Arcana or Ritual Caster!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Arcane Power: Or how I learned to love the Wizard again.

I think my first D&D character was a magic-user.  I never really got into playing the “guy with a big sword” the way a lot of my friends did.  For me, it was always about playing the smart guy.  The guy who understands the universe so well that he can bend it to his whim.

Wow!  A female tiefling wearing clothing! Wizards in 4E D&D did not appeal to me as much.  They seemed too focused on blasting things.  Fireball chucking wizards were always my least favorite type.  My wizards were masters of the utility spell.  I relished the ability to tip the scale of a battle with a single well-placed Grease spell.  To me, battlefield control was what a wizard was all about.

Well, battlefield control is back with a vengeance in Arcane Power.   First, it introduces two new wizards builds: The illusionist and the summoner.  This  barely matters though, since wizard builds are mostly flavor text anyway.  What does matter is the spell selection that Arcane Power opens up.

The illusion spells offer a wide variety of ways to control or lock down your opponents.  In other words, to put “control” back into this controller!  My favorite illusion spell is probably “Visions of Avarice”.  This spell allows the wizard to create illusionary treasure on a square as a zone.  Once per turn, this zone will attempt to draw enemies towards it, making a Intelligence vs Will attack.  The zone costs a mere minor action to sustain, so it can be used to tie up enemies  for quite awhile.

The summoning spells are pretty interesting as well.  The majority of them are daily powers, but they summon up an allied creature, which will last until the end of the encounter.  These creatures can be useful to shape the battlefield environment by engaging other creatures, providing flanking opportunities, and generally getting in the way of your opponents.

These new battlefield control spells, especially when combined with liberal ritual use, really help bring back the old school feel of the wizard.  I will be the first to admit that a high level 4E wizard is no where near as powerful as his high level 3E counterpart.  That  is probably a good thing though.

Oh, did I mention that familiars are back as well?  Not to mention a ton of new options for the other arcane classes?  If you love playing the masters of the arcane, then this book is for you!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Am I the only person who uses rituals?

I know that rituals have some design issues.  In fact, I have blogged about them in the past.  Despite these issues, I like rituals.  They are necessary to give the “primary spell-casters” an old-school feel. 

The first character I played in 4E D&D was a 16th level Divine Oracle Cleric.  He was a converted 3E character, so I loaded him up with as many rituals I could afford.  While I only got to play a few sessions with him, he gained a reputation as a regular ritual user.

I also recently had an opportunity to play a 2nd level Wizard.  While my choices were far more limited, I chose my rituals carefully and made sure I had enough reagents on hand to cast them as necessary.

Our current 4E game at the Lords of Tyr is the Scales of War game.  Our group contains a wizard, a cleric, a druid, and a bard.  All of these classes get the Ritual Caster feat and some rituals for free.  A couple of them, namely the druid and the bard, even get to cast some rituals without expending the component cost.

No one has cast a ritual in the game yet.

I find this fascinating because I was always looking for the opportunity to use my rituals.   Granted, the game is pretty low level still, with the group just having reached 2nd level last session.  Nevertheless, I would have expected someone to cast at least one ritual by now!

From what I have read, underutilization of rituals seems pretty common in 4E D&D games.  So how common is ritual use in your games?  Do you use any house rules to encourage their use?  Do you agree that rituals are a useful part of the 4E rules, or do you feel they are just tacked on garbage?

I would love to hear your opinion.

PS – To my fellow Lords (and Lady) of Tyr:  Vala, Niles, Tuldil’el, and Hurricane.  What rituals do your characters currently have?  Have there ever been any points where you have considered casting them in the game so far?  Do you have the proper components to cast them?  Or do you have to wait till we cash in at town?  Just curious.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Thoughts on the Greg Leeds interview and piracy.

Greg Leeds, President of Wizards of the Coast, recently granted an interview to EnWorld about the cessation of PDF versions of their products.  If you haven’t read it already, I highly recommend you take the time to read it before continuing on.

I am sympathetic to Mr. Leeds concerns about piracy.  After all, a lot of work goes into these books, and Wizards of the Coast has a right to make a profit on their work.  Unfortunately, I believe that Wizards of the Coast is taking the absolute wrong path by removing PDF’s from the market place.

In fact, I would argue that Wizards of the Coast’s PDF strategy was flawed from the beginning, which is why piracy of their books became so rampant.  The history lesson that the recording industry has taught us is that when the people want something and they cannot obtain it for a reasonable price, they will turn to illegal methods to acquire it.

Wizards of the Coast’s PDF products were extremely overpriced, both on an absolute scale and when compared to the rest of the marketplace.  They charged full cover price for their PDF products, which meant that the PDF’s could not even compete with the dead tree versions of their products available on!  Considering that the PDF versions of their product do not incur printing or shipping costs, this seems like highway robbery.

A more reasonable pricing structure is already being used by many of their competitors in the marketplace.  New releases on PDF cost about $10 less than their dead tree versions.   This price is maintained for six months or so, then dropped by about $5.  Eventually the price settles anywhere between $9 to $15 dollars for older material.

This pricing structure helps them recoup costs in the beginning by selling the PDF at a higher price point while the book is new and demand is high.  Dropping the price over time encourages purchases when demand is lower, an incurs very little additional cost to Wizards of the Coast.

Of course it should not be surprising that Wizards of the Coast did not come up with a reasonable price structure, since they seemed to be reluctant to be in the PDF market place in the first place.  Wizards did very little to promote sales of their PDF products.  They did not promote the PDF versions of their product on their website, which would seem a logical venue.  Another tactic would be to provide a one time code with the dead tree version of there books which could be used for a $5 discount on purchase of the PDF versions.  The opportunities to cross-promote the PDF versions of their product seem endless.  The fact that they did none of them shows where their priorities were.

As I said earlier, when people cannot get what they want at a reasonable price through legal channels they will turn to illegal methods like piracy.  The inverse is also true.  While some people will always engage in piracy, many will turn against it when offered a reasonable alternative.  iTunes and the MP3 Store have proven this in the music industry.  Wizards of the Coast could have turned around their legal PDF sales as well.   Price restructuring, ease of access, and working with their partners to improve distribution channels would have been required.  It would have been hard work, but the payoff would be a robust PDF business.

Instead they chose the easy route.  They have declared the business “too hard” and shut down all legal options for their customers.  I fear that this choice will cost them dearly.  Their customers now have no option except to turn to piracy for digital copies of their book… and trust me, they will.

Friday, April 10, 2009

S&M Barbie indeed.

Just finished watching the Dollhouse episode A Spy in the House of Love.  I have to admit, it was one of the best episodes of the series so far.  Choosing to follow each of the actives through their day after they were imprinted was an excellent narrative device.  It felt natural, yet it allowed them to build suspense naturally.

All of the major characters had character development.  Is it wrong that I am enjoying (former) Agent Paul Ballard more and more as his sanity continues its downward spiral?  I also enjoyed the character development done with Adelle DeWitt this episode.

And just for the record, the scene below is not the reason for the thumbs up.


I know I have complained about the sexual engagements, but damn is she hot.


So to summarize: Great characterizations + Interesting plot developments = Great episode!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Multiclass Take Two

I consider myself a booster of 4E D&D.  I do have some issues with it though.  I consider spell-casters a bit limited, especially with the lack of decent divinations and charms.   I can get a little frustrated with its dependence on miniatures (even though I love painting them).  Most of all, I am disappointed with the multiclass rules.

Part of the problem is that I was a big fan of the multiclass rules in 3E D&D.  3E multiclass had a certain elegance that was lacking in what had come before and what has come since.  It is true that there were some issues (e.g., caster level and dipping), but I felt the good far outweighed the bad.

On the other hand, the 4E multiclass rules have a tacked on feel.  Which is not surprising, because they were!  When 4E was first designed, they made a conscious decision to prioritize single class play, and not to worry about things like dipping.  The multiclass rules were only pursued later, with an eye towards preventing the abuses common in 3E D&D.  Unfortunately, the end result left you with a character who was mostly one class with a mere sprinkling of abilities from another.  A far cry from either the layered multiclass characters of 3E or the versatile fighter/magic-users of old.

Hybrid characters, introduced in this month’s Dragon, are an obvious attempt to fix the problems with the multiclass rules in 4E.  In practice they seem very similar to the 3E gestalt character rules introduced in Unearthed Arcana.  The big difference is that the in 4E rules, where all classes are built around class features and powers, this actually makes a lot more sense.

Hybrid characters are an excellent solution on how to create multiclass characters in the 4E rules.  While they lack the versatility of 3E multiclass characters, the hybrid rules create characters that are very reminiscent of those created using the 2E and 1E multiclass rules. 

In my mind this is a vast improvement over the current multiclass rules for 4E.  Not perfect, but definitely functional.  Now if only they can make some decent charm spells!