Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A new class and new mechanics

Dragon released the psion as its first “official” debut content.  In reality, this seems similiar to the previous playtest content they have released for classes like the barbarian, the artificer, and the monk.  In other words, they are providing one build of the class and a couple of prestige classes to get you start.

In fact, the biggest difference is the layout.  The PDF now no longer contains full descriptions of the powers in the article. Instead each power has a name and a link that takes you to the D&D Compendium for a full description.

This is obviously an attempt to prevent subscribers from sharing the PDFs with other people.  In practice, I found it extremely annoying.  That is all I will say on the subject since I am not here to rant about how copy protection tends to create problems for paying customers while doing little to dissuade pirates.  Well, at least not today.

The psion itself is a controller with the psionic power source.  This is pretty much what most people were expecting.  There were two surprises to me though: one is fluff and the other is mechanical.

The fluff surprise is that they have tied psionics into the far realm.  Well, more accurately it is a reaction to the encroachment of the far realm into the natural world.  Much like the human body will create antibodies to fight off infectious diseases, the rise of psionics is an attempt by the natural realm to fight back against the infection of aberrant creatures.

I am torn on this.  On the one hand, it puts helps explain the enmity psions have against their traditional enemies (e.g. Mind Flayers, Intellect Devourers, etc).  On the other hand, most of these aberrations were traditionally psionic creatures in previous editions of the game.  So putting aberrations at odds with the psionic power source seems a bit odd to me.

The mechanical surprise is even more shocking.  Unlike other classes, psions do not have encounter attack powers.  Instead, they gain new at-will attack powers at the levels where they would normally gain encounter attack powers.  They still gain daily attack powers and utility powers normally.

These leveled at-will attack powers are less powerful than the encounter attack powers gained by other classes.  To compensate, psions have small number of power points.  These power points can be used to augment the at-will attack powers, as listed in the power descriptions.  The powers may have more than one level of augmentation.  If they do, you can only choose one augment per use of the power. 

The psion regains power points whenever they take a short or extended rest.  Since the total number of points is small, basically enough to simulate burning through your encounter powers on a normal character, the additional bookkeeping is not that great or a burden.

I am worried that this new mechanic may be a bit too good.   Having so many at-will powers will add a lot of flexibility the other classes lack.  This is especially true when you add in the ability to augment these at-will attacks as necessary.

I will reserve final judgment on this until after I get a chance to see a psion in play.  I do know that in my characters I tend to favor flexibility over raw power any day though.

As an aside, I couldn’t help but wonder what this system would be like if adapted to the other classes.  I know some of my friends have expressed difficulty with the at-will, encounter, and daily power framework when applied to martial characters.  They cannot see why a fighter should only be able to perform certain kinds of attacks once per encounter or once per day. 

Moving martial powers to this new mechanic might help.  Almost all of their attacks would be usable at-will, but not as powerful as those of the arcane or divine classes.  However, you give them a small number of “Endurance Points” that they could use to augment these powers when they need to.  Its an idea that just might be crazy enough to work.

It is also an idea that would require more reengineering of the rules than I have time to do at the moment.  If anyone else wants to give it a try though, I would love to see it!


Wyatt said...

Hate the changes to the power system with a passion.

I left 3.5 because of gimmicky subsystems, and it's like every Psionic class we've seen has a gimmicky subsystem.

As a DM, I don't like there being 2 or 3 versions of every power practically every level based on what the player does. That's real massive sensory overload, and I like keeping straight what my players can and can't do when I prepare a game.

Won't be playing this or allowing it in my games, but that's okay. None of my players expected me to. I barely allow the PHB2.

As for the changes to DDI, holy crap that sounds awful. I wonder if the full magazine is going to be like that...hell, I wonder if the upcoming Ranger article will be like that. Imagine if every article with class powers from now on is just a bunch of linkbacks to the compendium...

Thanks for notifying me of this, it was a most informative read.

Bartoneus said...

I am continuously surprised how Wyatt and I can be friendly online and yet completely disagree on RPG design as we do. :D

Todd said...

I have to respectfully disagree with everyone on the subject of the link based copy protection. From what I have seen, the majority of people who use the compendium also use "power cards." so it probably won't affect them all that much (though I concede that it could make the initial read annoying). HA! I had you going there didn't I. I hate DRm in all it's forms, even oddly ineffective and unconventional ones like this. I don't think it will be a big loss for me personally, but I do think that wizards needs to look carefully at ways to avoud pissing off their loyal subscribers.

On the other hand, I rather like the way they have tied the psychic power source to the far realms. I think that just because the "things that should not be" are directly opposed by the psion need not imply that they aren't really functioning off much the same power (though I know monsters aren't exactly following the "power source" model). Now don't get me wrong, I honestly don't think that psions are needed, and I have much the same reservations about the crunch that everyone does (see next paragraph), but if you are going to put them in, at least they need an excuse to exist.

As to the crunch... well, I am not an "insider," so I haven't read this yet, but on the surface it sounds like the mechanics were designed to quiet those people who hate 4e because of the powers system. The reason this will not work is that those are largely the same people who always despise the psionic classes to start with. If, on the other hand, this is a playtest for 4.5, I say WTF, again? The system might indeed work well enough on it's own, but I fear that it will give the psion overpowering flexibility. The most limiting factor in many 4e character builds is the fact that most "trick combos" are based on abilities that are only available once in a while. The absolute best ones (polearm gamble+uncanny dodge+heavy blade op+footwork lure) are based on an at will power, which allows them to be in use most of the time (and allows encounter/dailys to make up the differece instead of acting as staples). While this is a potential game balance issue (and sadly one which will grow with time and books),at least your new psion character can say "I can kill you with my brain." God I miss Firefly.

Bob said...

WTF is a power card.....

Tell me these fucking guys haven't figured out how to sell people "cards" for DND

A Hero said...

RE: Tell me these fucking guys haven't figured out how to sell people "cards" for DND

I have been using cards to keep track of my characters powers for awhile now.

At the time of my blog post above, homebrewed cards were all that were available. Wizards of the Coast has decided to create their own cards at this point. They are not randomized collectible cards like those found in Magic the Gathering, but boxed sets which are divided by class.

They are definitely not necessary to play the game. In fact, I rarely use them now. Instead, I tend to track the use of my powers using the character builder.

I have bought a couple of these sets, mostly because I seem to have a weakness for this kind of thing. After all, I bought "Monster Cards" for 1st Edition AD&D and "Spell Cards" for 2nd Edition AD&D.

So I guess these "fucking guys" from Gary Gygax onward have figured out how to sell people "cards" for DND

Bob said...

I went back to find the reference to the cards that set me off and I can't find it now.

I get VERY touchy when Wizards does anything cards... It's my opinion that the fucking magic cards were the final nail in the coffin of DND way back when.. (Given TSR did enough shitty books in a money grab to drive things to that point), but why play a game that required tons of imagination and such, when you could instead sit round trying to fill out your binder with rare cards and such...

I had the monster cards, but all they were, were shrunken versions of the MM entries, nothing rare or otherwise, weren't even really too useful in game, the books were more fun to use, and if I remember correctly the book images were better