Friday, February 13, 2009

D&D class overview (II): What's wrong with current classes?

In the first installment of this series I gave a list of good attributes to look for in a class. Today we'll explore the opposite end of the spectrum, as I go over the most important, common problems I have found in Player's Handbook classes (plus Swordmage).

As I will prove below, the ranger stands for all that is evil

The following patterns stood out to me:

- At-will attack powers are more sensitive to lack of variety than any other area. Most of a character's adventuring life will be spent using these powers. A pool of four at-wills is the bare minimum to allow for any character customization at all. When one of those fails to do its duty (careful attack/sure strike, I'm looking at you), characters of that class start to look the same. When they split the four in two halves, usually by using different main ability scores, members of each build will actually be the same, barring some clever ability engineering. And don't get me started on the Warlock.

The release of power books, and the subsequent increase in available at-wills, should definitely help in this regard. Unfortunately, Martial Power was very inconsistent in the number of at-wills featured for each class. I hope future books in this series err more towards the four powers given to the fighter than the couple that other classes had. Rangers in particular were a blatant failure, since they had a dire need of new options, yet both new at-wills can only be picked by the Beast Master build.

- Having two main ability scores is terrible. When both builds of a class use different key abilities, there is a sharp divide between them, to the point that they can be considered mini-classes that happen to share a common name and a few features. But there is no overlap in power selection, no common denominator. As much as I have advocated variety, there must be some degree of similarity among class builds, or you'd be better off turning them into different classes altogether. Besides, each half-class is, in itself, terribly monotonous, rare allowing for more than two powers at each level.

As with the previous point, with more published supplements the playability of these classes will improve. Still, they will remain at a disadvantage compared to more focused classes, limiting the freedom for character customization to a fraction of what it could be.

- Implement users don't have as many choices as weapon wielders. This is true at many levels. The most basic one is that weapons have stats that directly affect powers. Implement selection becomes relevant only through magic item powers and some class features. But those factors apply for weapons, too. Worse still, implement feats, or energy type ones, for that matter, are few and far between, and the ones available in Heroic Tier are utterly disappointing. The cycle of damage enhancing energy feats with annoying prerequisites is particularly depressing, when a character with a sword can just take Weapon Focus.

- No class should have less than three combat-related features. This is the average number, and it works fairly well: one feature defined by the role, and a couple others that set the class apart from its analogues. It gets even better if some of them vary depending of a build, or are powered off a secondary ability. But when you don't reach that minimum, it shows.

The two current cases of featurelessness are the wizard and the ranger. The wizard, at first sight, doesn't actually look bad, having several nice, flavorful features. However, only one of them, implement mastery, has any relevance in combat, and neither one has any relationship with the controler function. The class is only defined by its powers, which feels like a waste, and has unfortunate implications with power theft through multiclass.

The ranger, on the other hand, lacks even the cool yet useless features. Other than hunter's quarry and the ability to wield normal weapons in the off-hand, the offer is disappointing: feats disguised as features, and a prime shot that is useless to the melee build and merely marginal for the archer.This, at least, is somewhat solved in Martial Power with the Beast Master. I may still doubt the efectiveness of the pet, but you can't deny its coolness.

Next: An actual (gasp) class overview!

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