Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Alternate classes in Player Essentials: No daily powers, controller overhaul

D&D Essentials class previews

Previews for the Dungeons & Dragons Essentials line (to be released in september) start this month, and Mike Mearls has written a very insightful article (check it out, it’s not DDI exclusive!) that sums up much of what we already knew - the product breakdown, and the philosophy behind the new books - as well as hinting at some interesting news.

A major point that wasn’t totally clear up to now, is how Essentials meshes with the existing D&D material. Many players (myself included) thought, from the early announcements of this line of products, that it would be a 4.5 edition in disguise. Later previews suggested that it wouldn’t necessarily be so, but some uncertainties remained - would it include all new stuff, or reprint, and maybe revise existing material? Would it obsolete previous books, or exist in its own, not-quite-compatible space?

From Mr. Mearls' explanations, the answer to these questions is the best we could expect. Yes, there will be new stuff, and specifically builds and powers (among other very intriguing things we’ll discuss below!) for 4E players. Yes, it will be compatible with what we have. And most importantly, it won’t make you rework your character sheet, since none of the existing material has been rewritten - rather, we get all new options to take in addition to what we have.

The burning question, then, is what the new classes and powers will be like. To recap, we will be getting at least one new build for the four most iconic classes (Cleric, Fighter, Rogue, Wizard), to be featured in Heroes of the Fallen Lands, and later for other classical ones (Druid, Paladin, Ranger, Warlock) in Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms. The major races also seem to be getting new options. And, although we don’t know the specifics yet, there will be some pretty radical stuff.

To begin with, the new builds break with the existing power progression of encounters and dailies. Inspired by Player’s Handbook 3’s psionics (which were apparently received with much love, even though some of us feel that the power point thing didn’t quite work out), the designers decided to do away with daily powers while simplifying encounter powers.

This is a huge leap, and it’s not entirely clear how it will work out. I don’t think the game can really afford to grant too many extra encounter slots, but there is no doubt that players should be getting something in exchange for the lost dailies. I guess there will be some kind of encounter recharge mechanic, perhaps to be triggered a limited amount of times per day. As for the encounter simplification, my bet is that they’ll do away with levels and classify powers by tier - that removes a lot of redundancy, and effectively gives players much flexibility without needing to print that many powers. But my guess is as good as yours.

With the dubious precedent of the psionic power source, I can’t help but be cautious at this new twist for the resource system. On the other hand, I’m really excited at the prospect of brand new versions of the archetypal classes, backed by the experience of two years of design for the new edition. I guess we’ll soon know, for better or worse, since the DDI content calendar shows that this friday we’ll have a first look at an Essentials class: the cleric.

One final, but nonetheless remarkable discovery is the one that affects the Wizard class, and presumably the whole controller role. It appears that the Essentials books will bring a single update to apply retroactively to existing characters, though I doubt many players will complain. Through some kind of rules update, wizard encounter spells will get miss effects now, which is amazing, and sorely needed! The article cites Burning Hands as an example, as getting half damage on a miss, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see other kinds of effects for non-damaging spells. At any rate, controllers had long been missing a defining role feature, and this looks like it could fit like a glove!

1 comment:

  1. Holy mackarel! This sounds awesome. I'm a huge fan of the idea of getting rid of daily resources-they force a DM to use an Encounters Per Day style of gameplay, which just doesn't mesh well with certain narrative styles. And improvements to controllers sounds awesome.

    Though, frankly, I'm not sure they need it-anyone who's ever used a build that can basically move-lock enemies perpetually knows that a well designed controller actually has way more effect on an encounter than a decent striker.