I was looking at the recent Escapist interview with Mike Mearls, and the following piece caught my eye.
(speaking of 4E D&D, Jason) Alexander damned the powers mechanics and marking system in 4E because they were not simulating anything that happened in the game world. For example, why could a Rogue only pull off his fancy Daily power once per day? The only answer was because those were the rules of the game, not because that was how combat ought or should work in the fantasy setting.
As I said in yesterday’s post, I don’t think there’s One True Game. Each system appeals to different people for different reasons. But I feel that this is missing the point of what the power structure of 4E is trying to represent.
Let’s look at Trip.
In 3E, Trip is a maneuver that anyone can use at any time. You might not have a great chance of pulling it off, but you can try it. Of course, when you do try it, there’s a complex set of calculations, but that’s more realistic. You can use feats and special weapons to make your character a master of tripping, and you could spend an entire combat tripping people.
Is this realistic? Absolutely. I knew a police dog trained to trip people, and if he wanted you on the floor, you were staying on the floor. Which, frankly, made hanging around that dog kind of annoying… but that’s another story.
In 4E, there is no Trip maneuver. Either I have a power that trips, or I don’t. If I do, it’s probably an Encounter Power – and also, if I hit you, it just knocks you down, with no other rolls.
So: I can trip you once. Why can’t I trip you again? It’s dumb. It’s artificial. It’s rules interfering with my simulation. Right?
In my mind, the issue is that if you’re looking for a realistic simulation, you’re in the wrong place. 4E isn’t trying to be a documentary about martial arts, realistically showcasing what can and can’t be done. Instead, it’s a Jackie Chan movie. In the typical Jackie Chan fight scene, he performs a crazy assortment of over-the-top martial arts moves. He’ll grab a mop and then knock three people down with it… and then drop it to do something else. Wait a second – why doesn’t he hold onto that mop? Why doesn’t he do the same thing over and over and over again? He’s a trained martial artist. That move was great. He COULD do it again – so why doesn’t he?
For me, this is exactly what limited-use powers are. If my adventure is a movie, they are the moves that only get used a few times in the movie – the cool movies that ad some flair and excitement to the scene. This is tied to what I mean if I call 4E “cinematic” – because when I say cinematic, part of what I mean is that flavor is more important than realism. I don’t storm out of the Jackie Chan movie saying “Why didn’t he just trip that guy?” – because I know going in that realism isn’t what he’s aiming for.
The article also criticizes Marking. While there may be ways to improve the mechanic, I have to say that the CONCEPT of Marking is something I really like. From the beginning of D&D, the magic-user has been the soft squishy guy and the fighter has been the good-AC, high-hit-point tank. But a persistent problem I found in many editions was the fact that any creature with the brains enough to recognize what the wizard is will ignore the fighter and go for the wizard, because the wizard is potentially far more dangerous than the fighter and can be brought down far more quickly. So from a purely mechanical standpoint, I like the fighter having a way to ACTIVELY defend his allies – to draw attention away from the wizard. With that said, why I prefer the current marking system to the MMORPG Taunt or the the save-or-fight-me Challenge of the 3.5 Knight is that it leaves the tactical decisions in the hands, of me, the DM. Unlike the 3.5 Knight’s Challenge, it doesn’t FORCE me to attack the knight, which I find dull and unrealistic. Instead, it presents me with a tactical choice. I still CAN ignore the marking character; there are simply consequences for doing so. As for what it represents, to me it highlights the fact that the fighter is, frankly, a better melee fighter than any of the other classes. If he’s got his eye on you and you drop your guard or turn away, he’ll make you pay for it. The rogue may know where to hit to do more damage – but the fighter is the one who can force your attention; give him an opportunity and he’ll take it.
Anyhow, my real point here is that I feel someone who criticizes 4E D&D for not being realistic is missing the intent of the game. It’s not SUPPOSED to be realistic, any more than a Jackie Chan movie. The emphasis is on colorful action. If what you want is realistic simulation, it’s the wrong game for you – and hey, that’s OK.
With all that said, I will note that in the vast enormous tide of powers and feats that have come out for 4E, there are an increasing number that lack any sense of flavor and concept of why they do what they do. I’m not trying to defend that. I’m saying that the concept of limited-use powers in and of itself doesn’t bother me – but I still want the power to have some flavor.
Furthermore, I’ve been testing the following house rule: All Powers Are Reliable. If you miss all targets with a power and it has no automatic effect or miss effect, you keep it. If it’s an encounter power, you can try it again. If it’s a daily power, you can’t use it again that encounter – but you can try again in the next encounter. Note that if the power is reliable on it’s own (as many fighter powers are), I’ll let you use it again in that encounter; this is specifically for the normally unreliable powers.
If the power DOES have an automatic effect or miss effect, you can choose whether to take that benefit and lose the power, or accept it as a complete and utter miss with no effect whatsoever. If you’ve already used an effect of the power before you find out if you miss – for example, Otherwind Stride, where you attack people as you teleport – you lose the power, since you’ve already benefited from the teleport.
I haven’t played with this enough times to see if it’s balanced, but I do hate the anticlimactic feel of a player using a daily power and missing. Following my movie metaphor, I’m fine with a character having a trademark move that he only uses once in the movie – but sooner or later, I expect to see him actually do that move.
Again, looking to the post yesterday: Every system appeals to different playstyles. 4E isn’t a realistic simulation, and as I look at it, it wasn’t supposed to be. If that interferes with your enjoyment of a scene, it’s the wrong game for you – and there’s many other systems that can give you what you want.