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D&D 4E: Role Plays/Take me to your leader.
polar bear 2
Yes, it's more random rambling about Dungeons and Dragons. I keep wanting to post reviews of the other books that have come out but I keep getting distracted by tangents about the new system, so I figure I'll just post a tangent and get it out of the way.

When the fourth edition core rulebooks came out, one of the things I was most suspicious and dismissive of was the assignment of "roles" to the character classes: defender, striker, leader, and controller.

First of all, since the modern descendants of each of the original core classes fits a different role, my first thought it was just a reworking of the AD&D category system but with the names changed to make it seem like the new classes weren't just reworkings of old themes.

Second of all, it just reminded me of how "video gamey" the new system seemed, especially since some of the roles shared names with character classes in City of Heroes... and the fact that a superhero game had desired combat role as the top-level category for character creation had always bugged me, so anything that reminded me of that did, too.

Third of all, by drilling characters down to their combat role, they seemed to be saying that this was all that mattered, and indeed the new system has way more detailed rules for combat than anything else. By labeling Rogues "strikers" and defining "striker" as a character who inflicts massive damage with precisely targeted attacks, they seemed to be saying "what makes a Rogue a Rogue is the ability to do lots of damage." Since one of my perennial complaints about D&D pre-3rd edition (and not completely gone then) was that the classes amounted to variations on "Fighter" and "Person Who Fights Using Magic", this seemed like a step backwards.

And finally, the name "leader" for Clerics bothered me. The rulebook stressed that a leader character wasn't necessarily the party's leader... so my reaction was "Why call it that, then?" I thought they should just call it a healer or buffer, since that's what Clerics were, obviously.

As I got to know the system better, though, I saw what they were doing. The fact that they had at least two examples of each role (except controller) in the core Player's Handbook helped me get past the third objection, because a Warlock, Ranger, and Rogue are all strikers, but they aren't remotely the same character.

The Warlock's curse and the Ranger's hunter's quarry abilities might seem like different flavors of the same mechanic (extra damage against designated targets), but the Warlock's version ties in much more deeply with the character's core concept and the two characters play way differently.

There are more superficial similarities between the Rogue and the Ranger, as both are martial characters, but sprinkled in with their special attacks Rogues do have abilities that let them use thiefy skills in flashy way in the midst of combat or high-pressure situations, whereas Ranger utility powers include things like being the typical know-it-all mentor type.

Realizing that helped me overcome the first objection. Even though Fighters are defenders, Rogues are strikers, Clerics are leaders, and Wiards are controllers, the role categories aren't just Wizards of the Coast creating genericized synonyms. Rogues are strikers, but not all strikers are Rogues. Under the old school categories, Warlocks would have gone with Wizards and Rangers with Fighters. Those old buckets are much closer to the new power source categories: Martial, Arcane, and Divine, among others. They define not what your character does so much as how your character does it.

I still spent a little time thinking that the old system of organization was better because it made so much more sense in-game... but of course, the of roles aren't an in-character concept. They're a tool the designers doubtlessly used to help balance each character class, to make sure each one was useful in a party, and they chose to present this information to players so we could see how different characters could work together.

But even as I came to embrace the role categories as a useful innovation, the "leader" one still irked me, which is sad, because it really is one of the masterstrokes of 4E.

Before, every party pretty much needed a Cleric because Clerics were the healers. There was no need to make Clerics cool because somebody would end up playing as one regardless. Some people liked Clerics, which worked out well for everybody... but even if nobody wanted to be Cleric, you had to have one (or some equivalent) in the party.

The original conception of the Cleric was a battle priest, which meant that when nobody needed healing or you were out of healing (and there was no undead to turn or you were out of that power) you could still hit things with your arbitrarily restricted mace in your role as The Fighter Who Isn't Quite As Good A Fighter As The Fighter.

4E weakened the importance of the Cleric's traditional main line by giving everybody the ability to heal by using a Second Wind once per encounter, and giving most front-line fighting types access to special abilities that heal some damage or give temporary extra HP or negate an attack/reduced damage. In doing so, they broke the chains that were shackling the concept of the Cleric, leaving them free to reinvent the class.

So, what else did Clerics gave going on besides healing? Mostly they "buffed"... i.e., cast protective and bonus-giving enchantments. They also had a smattering of attack spells, but they couldn't have too many... that was Wizard territory.

But in 4E, there's no more "cast twenty spells before going into combat and then try to win before they wear off or somebody dispels them." To keep things dramatic, most bonuses last for a single round or even a single action.

This doesn't mean there's no buffing... it just changes the nature of it. Instead of doing that one thing at the start of combat and then hanging around to heal as needed, a buffer has to decide what to do each turn... and with two At Will options and a repertoire of once-per-encounter and once-a-day selections, they have to coordinate what they're doing with what everybody else is doing.

And thus the "leader" is born. Each of the leader classes unveiled so far has an almost-identical special healing ability they can use twice per encounter, flavored for the particular character class, but they really are so much more than a healer.

We didn't have a leader in our party the first time we tried playing 4E because we didn't yet understand the role and we figured that with everybody being able to heal themselves a little, having a Paladin's healing ability was enough.

We didn't do so hot in combat.

Later on we made new characters to improve the party balance and I made a Warlord. I was thinking of the Warlord as "a fighter type", classing them with Warriors and Paladins and Rangers. I was thinking that this would boost our offense, which was what I figured was lacking. I soon realized that the Warlord's attack powers weren't actually all that devastating... but that the advantages using them conferred on my teammates made a lot of difference. Pretty soon we were building our combat strategies around the Warlord.

In each game since then, it's gone like that, though it's usually been a Cleric instead of a Warlord. I mentioned before, in a post about 3 Seas, how ridiculously awesome (and ridiculous and awesome) my Eladrin Swordmage character is. It's totally true... she is awesome, and she has pulled off some incredible moves in combat. But it's our party's Cleric who is the cornerstone of the party's combined combat efforts. Everybody else's actions hinge on which powers she uses.

The same thing happened in the game I DMed, with a different player playing a Cleric. I haven't yet played or DMed a game with either of the leaders from the second Player's Handbook, the Bard or the Shaman, but I'm dearly looking forward to a chance to play a Bard, as I recognized the potential for 4E to do the class justice the first time I played a Warlord. I went from thinking "why is there another warrior type?" to thinking "hey, this is basically a butched-up bard." In fact, considering that Bard had been a core class in 3rd Edition and seemed conspicuously absent from 4th Edition, I first wondered if they'd given up on the class, if the Warlord was what was left of the Bard with the new, more focused approach to character class design and the systemic focus on combat.

But no, they hadn't given up at all... and good thing, too, because as of 4E, the Bard has officially arrived. I said in a comment on an earlier approach that as far as I'm concerned, the Bard is a brand new class because no previous edition of D&D could have handled it. No longer a weak hybrid of Fighter/Magic User/Rogue with some lore and/or music-flavored abilities to remind you that it's supposed to be a Bard, the character is now Bardic through and through, inspiring allies and confounding and enraging enemies, supporting and upholding their side.

The power system... whereby each character class has a whole spellbook worth of unique abilities to choose from... means that everything a Bard does in combat is at least a uniquely bardic spell and is more than likely phrased as a song, satire, refrain, etc. The leader role gives a place in combat for somebody whose strength is making sure the other PCs are where they need to be, making sure they're protected, making sure they hit... a place for a character who makes the most of everybody else's abiliies, in other words.

The next character I play as... assuming it fits into the campaign and the party... is definitely going to be a Bard. Possibly a Human Bard, for the extra At Will power (that extra versatility is a great asset for a leader character) and the extra feat (as I'll probably be multiclassing to Wizard with the Arcane Initiate feat right away... being able to throw a thunderwave spell once per encounter is useful and fun), though Gnome is also an option. I really like the way Gnomes came out in this edition... not just another short race edged out by Halflings and Dwarves, but genuine wee folk.

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I really like role, it gives a general idea what sorts of things you should be doing in combat to be most effective for the group. It's not a straitjacket, and most classes shade into at least one secondary role (frequently more, depending on build). It has nothing to do with what you do out of combat, or how you roleplay the character.
You can completely ignore the role information and still have a good game, but it's basically a shorthand that explains what you need to include to have a well-rounded party.
I really like the classes in PHB2, I'm having particular fun with an Invoker. They are, at least so far, more Controllery than Wizards were on release (and WotC admits that Wizards had issues, which appear to have been helped by Arcane Power).
Every class so far has unique flavour, which is helped by every class having an entirely unique power list.
So far I've played a Rogue, a Fighter, and an Invoker, and I've had lots of fun.


One of the things i thought they did with this edition was, with the combat, say "oh here, let us take care of this for you." Meaning, that it makes combat very clear cut, and gives more room to be creative with the role playing side of things. I've had two DM's so far in 4th ed. and one of them runs with the rp in spurts and the other one was using a mod, so he ended up ignoring the rp aspects.

In addition, the DM's rule is still the most important, as long as the DM says okay,you can do it.

In a one shot mod my first DM ran, i was allowed to hit a bugbear in the nuts with an evil hand-on-a-stick we'd been trying to kill in a fire, (which actually was on fire at the time) The character was a halfling, so my DM could have said no.

And this was rp as much as it was combat, because i had to hit him in the nuts to i could reach his eyes, (i was trying to blind him with the firey hand)

Oh, I agree... and they took care of it in fine style. Combat's a lot more fun for me now, with the varied monster roles and the strategic elements and the built in flashy stuff (with room for more, DM allowing.)

Roleplaying's still roleplaying, and no rules or mechanics can take the place of it. A book with guidelines or suggestions for demeanor (like the "mannerisms", etc. section in the Player's Handbook) can give jumping-off points for players who are inexperienced or unsure, but no system of rules is a substitute for roleplaying. In the sessions I've played with my friends from out of state, we frequently spent half the time on non-adventure interactions.

off topic hound for MU degree

hiya A.E it's me Jeebus agian :P bugging you for an update on whats going on with the MU degrees (it's ok you haven`t sent them life tends to fuck with people who have shit to get done)
just looking for another status report

p.s sorry bout the subscription fail, banks are assholes

Re: off topic hound for MU degree

Man, nobody ever has to explain to me about banks being assholes. Ever since mine got bought out I've had nothing but trouble from them... I'm working on getting stuff switched over to a new one, but in this economy they're all assholes.

Anyway, I have pretty much had holes in my brain lately. I don't know how else to explain it, but it has made it hard for me to get shit done. I've been sleeping every night since Thursday, though, and I'm starting to get a better handle on things. I'll be making a big status update announcement on the degrees Wednesday. Why Wednesday? Because the news will be better on Wednesday. :P

Re: off topic hound for MU degree

my bank didn't go under cause it's Canadian:P.
but..it's a collective asshole while still Canadian :P

Wo0t for updates upcoming! -hugs for A.E-

My friends discuss how roles interact in the rules and how they don't do what the designers say they do

The problem is that 'Defender' and 'Leader' are the same thing. They both throw out random things which interrupt the enemies' ability to do damage. Oh, and they do damage.

Strikers throw out random things which do damage. It isn't a role, so much as 'target', since everyone does damage. And what does damage do? It interrupts the enemies' ability to do damage.

And Controllers... I don't even get that one, aside from 'I can kill minions.' Their type of damage - spread out instead of on a single target, like strikers, don't mix. Killing one target faster reduces damage, but damaging many targets doesn't help that goal.

Critical existence failure. The ultimate way to limit damage in D&D.

Of course, 4e has lots of things that bug me. No world outside of combat is really the biggest. There's many ways to resolve combat, and 4e's thousand little abilities (some with the same name!) isn't my preference.

I'm afraid I have to disagree with your analysis.

Defender and Leader aren't nearly the same thing. You can sum them up with the same one line description that you used... and in fact you can sum up all the characters with "does damage to kill monsters before they kill you"... but by the same logic a Cleric is a Fighter, and they're both Rogues and Wizards, too. That clearly isn't true.

Strikers don't just do damage, they do more damage faster. The three Player's Handbook strikers each have a special ability that lets them add damage dice to their attacks. The Barbarian has an At Will power that does 1W + Strength mod + 1d8* (edit, that's what I get for trying to remember game mechanics first thing in the morning when I'm on sleep meds) damage. Since the standard "Big Ass Barbarian" does 1d12 damage (and most two handed weapons do in that neighborhood... 1d10, 1d12, 2d6), that's effectively double damage. For an At Will attack. Their At Wills with debilitating side effects do full damage with Str mod, where most classes have At Wills that either do full damage plus modifier, or less damage and an effect.

Simply put, the Strikers do a shitload of damage. As you've pinpointed that the ultimate way of disrupting an enemy's ability to do damage, I don't see how you can deny that this is an important distinction between them and the other classes.

So why doesn't everybody do a Striker? The goal is still to get the bad guys on the ground faster than they can kill you, so why not pick the mega damage classes for the whole party?

Because 4E combat is not Party Vs. Monster, it's Party Vs. Monsters, and even the highly fragile minions can inflict serious damage if left unchecked. This is where Controllers and Defenders come in. Defenders "interrupt the enemies' ability to do damage" by engaging with them directly in combat. Controllers throw out area effects, they have "crowd control" powers, they manage the battlefield. Between them they can 1) kill minions quickly to blunt the monsters' initial advantage, 2) keep the monsters from overwhelming the squishy party members, and 3) get monsters in position for overwhelming attacks.

And then Leaders... Leaders have varying ability to interrupt the enemy, but their real strength is in what they do for their own party. At Wills that do a little damage plus give the Striker a hit bonus or the Defender extra HP (or give those to whoever needs them), every turn. Encounter and Daily powers that let them shift the entire party into position or concentrate fire on a single enemy.

Played properly (with varying enemies to match the varying roles, it makes combat into a strategic experience with many and varied roleplaying hooks compared to the standard "roll, hit, roll damage. Roll, miss. Roll hit, roll damage." since individual monsters are more distinctive and distinct things are actually happening each and every turn. Having minions in a fight is a great way of pumping up the menace without making the fight unwinnable, and it simulates the "reality" of heroic fantasy a lot better (where you can charge across a battlefield, downing the minor orcs with every slash).

And I don't even know what "no world outside of combat" means. There's no world included in the core rulebook, no. If you mean the game doesn't accommodate non combat play... we usually go half a session before we hit an encounter, and we play all night. And yeah, there are many ways to resolve combat, but without a heavy strategic element where each player's actions shapes what follows, you might as well reduce it to a single die roll at the start of combat because it all comes down to statistics.

Edited at 2009-05-03 04:19 pm (UTC)

Having read through those threads...

It never ceases to amaze me how many people who are probably perfectly good DMs outside of combat think that running combat means you're playing a war game against the players instead of roleplaying the monsters with attention to their motivations, their knowledge (as opposed to your knowledge of game mechanics), drama, and the other stuff that always goes into DMing.

I mean, if the first time the players met the Sekritly Evil Grand Vizier, he announced, "Well, I know you're the heroes and I've arranged to meet you in this room which negates your divine and arcane abilities, and you don't have your weapons. Now you're dead.", everybody would agree that is a shitastically shitacular piece of shitty DMing.

But the same people who would agree that's shitty DMing feel free to reduce combat down to barest game statistics, then play it out... well, like I said, like it's a war game of them (the person) vs. the players. They rely on their knowledge of game statistics and mechanics and claim anybody who doesn't is "going easy"... gah. That's missing the point by a wide margin. In the games I've played and the games I've DMed, combat has always been challenging, winnable, and fun for everyone (with the exception of the half-session we spent before we figured out what we were doing).

I find it funny that some of the 4E bashers are laying the lack of balance at the feet of Gary Gygax... it's true, and it has a lot to do with D&D's war game roots where an army consisted of units that weren't meant to be balanced against each other... but their complaints reflect the fact that they're still viewing D&D combat the way he did, as a war game with each player controlling a single unit, instead of as a "simulation" of heroic fantasy.

The existence of roles and the implicit preference for having all bases covered in a party is supposed to give DMs a way to build encounters where the average party will have something for everyone to do, something to be useful. A DM who's going "LOL U LOSERS HAVE A PALLY INSTEAD OF A 2ND LEADER AND I CAN IGNORE YOUR DIVINE CHALLENGE AND WALK RIGHT PAST U TO KILL THE WIZARD RIGHT AND THEN CONCENTRATE ALL MY ATTACKS ON THE ROGUE AND THERE'S NOTHING U CAN DO ABOUT IT." isn't evidence of a broken system, it's evidence of a broken DM.

The DM should be thinking about what the Divine Challenge is, how the monster responds to being called out like that... and above all, he or she should be thinking about the narrative of the game, which the roles bring to combat. DMs aren't meant to ignore things like Divine Challenges routinely.

AC? Damage Per Round? Mummy Lords don't know shit about those things. They just know a hated servant of the vile gods of light just got up in their face and laid a challenge on them. It takes a terrible DM to ignore something like that.

I'm not saying DMs need to make the monsters line up in neat rows in the most convenient order for the players to mow them down, but if the DM doesn't realize that the roles are cues for them as well, if the DM persists in playing the combat out as if it were a PvP encounter instead of a PvE one with the DM playing the role of a sophisticated scripter to keep combat interesting and immersive, then it doesn't really matter what the combat system is.

This might be something of irony, but allow me to try and use the roles from City of Heroes to make a point.

On the blue (heroic) side of the game, there's a role called the Controller. Fittingly, this is a class whose basic calling in life is the same as the wizard. No massive damage output, squishiest of squishies, and conceived of by the developers to be a team oriented role- you're not intended to be able to play solo very well, if at all.

So what's the class do? Well, it varies to some degree dependent upon your specific abilities, but they all break down to the same two ideas: deal damage and debuff enemies in a given area. The damage isn't equal to that of a Blaster or Scrapper, the debuffs aren't generally as good as a Defender's. But you can do them over a wide area, consistently, and it makes life easier for everyone else.

For instance, there's the group immobilize powers- something that's pretty well a universal tier 3 Controller power. Does it do a lot of damage? No. Does it stop the enemy from attacking? Nope. It makes them stand still, and does a little damage over time. But that extra damage helps, and immobile enemies makes it easier to take on large groups piecemeal. You'll never win an encounter solely through use of the power, but damn if it isn't useful to make the enemy engage you on your terms.

Controllers aren't walking nukes anymore- although in the Druids' cases it was never really that way to begin with. Now they're something akin to the Leader, only with less of an emphasis on assisting allies directly.

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