Sunday, November 21, 2010

Domination and forced attacks.

The stunned condition is generally regarded as a bit too effective in D&D 4E, as completely skipping a turn is too harsh a penalty (as well as a potential source of boredom), particularly when applied multiple times, or when it comes as an ongoing effect. However, that pales next to the dominated condition, which is basically an improved version of the stun (that is, about as good as anything can be in this game) which, to make matters worse, is open to a number of exploits that raise it to the status of genuinely game-breaking. Today I’ll talk about these loopholes, and see how they can be fixed so that domination becomes just a stun with a freebie attack.

The problem

Basically, one turn of domination amounts to having an enemy skip a turn and getting a free attack against a target of your choice. This is absurdly strong, particularly when applied on an elite or solo monster, but it’s actually the most fair use of the condition, and the one I’ll try to enforce through houserules (with a small caveat, which I’ll explain later). What are the less fair uses of the condition, then? The ones that worry me the most are the opportunity attack exploit, and the mark exploit.

The opportunity attack exploit is as straightforward as devastating, as it consists in forcing the dominated character to move or make ranged attacks so as to provoke as many opportunity attacks as possible from the opposing team. Since the baseline encounter in 4E has about five characters on each side, this can net you up to a whopping 5 attacks, though 2-3 is usually a more realistic expectation, after discounting enemies that are dazed, out of reach, or just have miserable opportunity attacks. Nevertheless, this is a LOT of damage, and can be well worth sacrificing the dominated creature’s attack in order to run adjacent to as many foes as possible. On the other hand, sometimes you’ll be able to get the best of both worlds, by making ranged attacks with a surrounded dominated character, or charge attacks through a corridor of enemies.

The mark exploit is not without drawbacks, but is a way to squeeze even more damage out of a domination - have the defender mark a dominated monster, and punish it when it is forced to attack not the defender, but one of its own allies. The downside is that the dominated creature’s attack will be less likely to hit because of the defender’s mark, and that marks and mark punishment are limited resources, so you may have to stop defending from other enemies in order to perform this trick. On the other hand, you are assured an extra attack’s worth of damage this way.

Both exploits can be combined, so the most abusive scenario where everything goes according to plan results in the dominated character taking 5 opportunity attacks, getting hurt by a defender’s punishment, and making its own attack against a target of the dominator’s choice. Which, if the unfortunate creature is still alive at this point, can mean itself. But even if we are only getting a fraction of that, we are talking about an insane amount of damage for a condition that provides the ultimate form of control (negating a whole enemy turn) to begin with!

To put things into perspective, the problem is not entirely one of encounter balance, since both exploits are available to either PCs or monsters (though few encounters will actually have a soldier with punishment powers to use the mark exploit). Even if both sides of a fight had equivalent access to dominating attacks, the fact remains that, when abused, domination has far too much of an impact in the battlefield, leading to extremely swingy encounters that are decided by the side who dominates the most (or the first).

A fix

My solution consists in adding the following lines to the Dominated condition:
  • Any movement made while dominated is considered forced movement.
  • Any attack made while dominated is considered a forced attack (see below).

The concept of forced attack is new, and it is defined as follows:

  • Granted by Enemy: Any attack granted by an enemy power or effect is considered a forced attack.
  • Can’t Target Self. A forced attack can not target the character making the attack.
  • Includes Charges. If an enemy power or effect allows a character to charge, the attack made as part of the charge is considered a forced attack, and any movement made as part of the charge is considered forced movement.
  • No Opportunity Attacks. A forced attack does not provoke opportunity attacks or other opportunity actions.
  • No marks. A forced attack ignores the marked condition and enemy defender auras. A power or effect that normally triggers when a character attacks while affected by a mark or defender aura does not work against a forced attack.

Consequences of this houserule

By applying my ruling, neither the opportunity attack exploit nor the mark exploit will be possible, since a dominated creature doesn’t provoke any opportunity attacks whatsoever, and marks are ignored as long as a character is dominated. But there are actually a few additional side-effects that go beyond these exploits and are also worth mentioning.

Dominated creatures can no longer attack themselves. Under the official rules, nothing prevents the dominated targets from attacking themselves, and too often this will be the right choice. I have decided to go against it not because it is all that abusive, but because it is uninteresting. I don’t mind dominated creatures getting a single forced attack, but I think it makes for more compelling gameplay when getting this attack isn’t automatic. With my version, sometimes there won’t be targets within reach, or the attack has to go to a suboptimal target.

This change makes the dominated condition slightly weaker even when not abusing it, but it will still be way ahead of a regular stun, and I think it becomes considerably more fun to use.

The forced attack rule doesn’t only apply to dominated characters. There are a number of powers in the game (mostly, but not limited to, the psionic power source) that force an enemy to make an attack. Significantly, several of them are at-will, and thus more prone to abuse. Although they don’t really dominate an enemy, this kind of attacks usually allows for the mark exploit, meaning that, with a bit of coordination with the party defender, you can use them as very strong multiattacks. This may not completely shatter encounter balance (though it should bend in interesting ways), but it warps the use of these powers - since their effectiveness doubles with the mark exploit, the purpose of the attack shifts from having your enemies attack one another to triggering a multiple attack with the defender’s help.

Examples of forced attack powers affected by this change would be Hypnotism (Wizard at-will 1), Betrayal (Psion at-will 1), Unhinging Strike (Ardent at-will 7) and an old friend of ours, Brash Assault (Warlord at-will 1).

Note that the revision would also prevent some of these powers from forcing a creature to attack itself. Again, this is a downgrade, and unlike the dominated condition these powers aren’t so strong that they can easily afford the loss in strength. Regardless, I don’t think any of them is really crippled by the change - they just become a bit more difficult, and hopefully interesting, to use.

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Thursday, November 18, 2010

DDI Virtual Table goes Beta!

The last months haven' looked good for D&D Insider, what with the delayed updates for Dark Sun and the Essentials books, the release of the controversial new version of Character Builder, the Essential Assassin screwup, and a general feeling of decay in the quality of Dragon magazine content. In this context, it's only natural for fans to be skeptic when the developers promise new online features for an indefinite, but near future. Simply put, there was little faith that the software team had the resources required to put out a meaningful new tool when even routine upkeep was in a deficient state. Therefore, we were pretty surprised when the Virtual Table came out of the shadows and sneak attacked us to death!

This Virtual Table is clearly a Lurker, but of what level?

Yes, there will be a Virtual Gaming Table for DDI! And, from the look of it, it will not be mere vaporware this time (unlike the infamous tool promised for the initial DDI lineup, which never came to be). In fact, it is entering closed beta (meaning we won't get to play it for the time, just to read the impressions of people who do) as soon as this week! Clearly, the final version (perhaps even the open beta) is still months away, but just seeing that it is in such a functional state is an impressive feat.

What do we know about it?

A FAQ page has been provided with basic, but useful information about this new product. This is what called my attention:

  • Editable Map (using Dungeon Tiles)
  • Movable tokens (using graphics from the ones in Essentials boxed sets)
  • Dice Roller
  • Character and monster information (NOT integrated with Character Builder or Monster Builder).
  • Initiative and condition Tracking
  • Text chat
  • Voice chat!
Missing Features
  • Rules enforcement
  • Integration with existing tools
  • (presumably) Support for line of sight, lightning conditions
  • 3D Graphics

Supported platforms: Windows PC and Mac. The application is web-based, uses Java (not Silverlight, like Character Builder!), and will require a constant internet connection.

Unanswered questions:
  • What will it take for me to access the closed beta? (Update: I still don't know, but it seems to involve filling this form)
  • Nothing has been said about pricing plans. Even if it doesn't increase the cost of a DDI subscription, it won't be of much use to players unless they allow multiple users per account.
  • No final release dates are known as of yet.
  • The initial version isn't integrated with the current DDI tools, but it really, really wants to. Nothing is said about future plans in this regard.
  • Will it support custom (i.e. non-Dungeon Tile) map elements?
  • No option for map export/sharing is mentioned. Having something like that, and perhaps preloaded maps for official adventures would be extremely cool.
  • No, really, can I join the beta now? Please?

After a number of failures in a row, this has the potential to be a big hit for digital D&D. I'll be keeping a close watch on this one, and post any news I find about it. One thing is for sure: the policy of not announcing things 'until it's done' has really worked, here. The Virtual Table gets the Surprise Round now - let's see what it can do with it.
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Essentials Assassin WTF?

I was halfway writing a post about the final version of the Essentials Assassin, and how it was a very odd mix of clever answers to player concerns (to the point that all my complaints about the class had actually been fixed!) and blatant screwup in very basic stuff (i.e. breaking the math so that the class no longer really works as an effective striker). The forums were raging all over the update, given how it neutered a class that had shown so much potential in its first draft. It was a strange story, but we have seen worse things come off DDI. Until now, that is.

A few hours ago, Steve Winter (editor for Dragon and Dungeon magazines) explained in the forums how the 'final version' released was, in fact, halfway through development due to a screwup in coordination between the magazine and R&D.

Yeah, it's D&D's version of 'my worg ate my homework'. It is silly and unprofessional. And it's also a remarkable display of sincerity (not that they had many other options at that point, but whatever). Now, I'm pretty sure that in no time we'll have plenty of conspirancy theorists speculating about WoTC inventing stories, or trying to fix the mess after seeing the forum reactions, or something like that. Honestly, I don't care.

The fact is, we had a great class in playtest that, for some obscure motive (likely involving sheer incompetence) was released in a broken form but, rather than staying that way, is going to get fixed in december. Sure, the designers and editors have lost a good deal of credit, but what I really care about at this point is that we'll get a properly implemented Executioner, eventually. And, all things considered, I'm confident that they'll get it right because they were so close this time. Honestly, as much as I liked the original, I really admired the many elegant solutions in this revision - up to the point where the math broke, that is.

Anyway, for those interested in playing the class as soon as possible (and one of the players in my campaing was considering the option), I had come up with a houserule that mostly filled the damage gap that was preventing this version of the Executioner to, um, Execute properly. It goes as follows.

At level 1, add the following feature:

Culling the weak: Your attacks against bloodied targets deal extra damage equal to your Charisma modifier.

This is a significant damage boost, but also a highly situational one, that happens to mesh well with the class theme and mechanics. If you play an executioner with this adjustment, be aware that your attacks against healthy enemies will be subpar - but if you coordinate with your party so that they leave wounded monsters to you, you should be bringing them down as well as could be expected from someone calling himself an Executioner.

Anyway, I'll be eagerly awaiting the December release. Let's hope it survives the editing goblins.
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Monday, November 8, 2010

Essentials Warlock: Conjured swords, simple mechanics, amazing flavor

D&D Essentials class previews

The original Warlock from Player’s Handbook was a flawed class that nevertheless grew on meover time. And the same could be said about the Hexblade, the Essentials take on the class that is included in Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms. Despite the many changes introduced, Hexblades still share some of the Warlock’s strong points (best flavor in the game, soul-collection minigames) as well as its weak points (restricted power selection, aggravated by a wasted at-will slot). However, two year of 4E design experience haven’t been in vain, because the legendary difficulty for building a competent warlock character (at least until later supplements filled in the many gaps) has been replaced with extremely straightforward builds that are playable out of the box. This is a huge improvement, even if the sacrifices in character customization have gone a bit too far.

Starry Transformation is a devastating daily spell unlocked by paragon Hexblades of the Star Pact. It totally looks like this.

Like its predecessor, the Hexblade is a striker of the arcane power source. But, with the addition of their namesake magic swords, they are no longer purely ranged characters, but hybrids that can switch seamlessly between flinging spells from afar, and slashing at their foes in the front lines. The confusing and rarely welcome dual attack attributes have been eschewed in favor of Charisma, which now powers all spells, and is complemented by Constitution, Intelligence or Dexterity, depending on build. And the builds themselves retain much of the flavor and ideas from those of the original warlock: they are called Pacts, are defined by the choice of patron providing the character’s arcane magic, determine first level at-wills, and have a Pact Boon that rewards you when foes are slain. The three hexblade pacts revealed so far match the warlock pacts offered in Player’s Handbook: Infernal, Fey, and Star.

One point about the hexblade that cannot be overemphasized is the quality of its flavor. All Essential classes care about backstory, and have rich descriptions for every game element, but hexblades, like other warlocks before them, take this one step further. You are not some random magic guy throwing colored rays at goblins, but a reckless individual struggling with sinister entities to borrow (or steal!) their unnatural powers. Your sword has names like Blade of Annihilation or Starshadow Blade, and is made up of the essence of dead devils, or by folding molten nightmares in the forge of a star. Where other characters hack away with Adjective Strikes, you have spells like Soul Eater and Blazing Doom of the Void. Humility is not a trained skill for Hexblades, but after reading a couple of pages, one can’t help but think that playing one of these crazy types must be the coolest thing in the multiverse.

It is an unfortunate turn of events, then, that the class mechanics are not up to the awesome expectations generated by their description. For all their pretentious titles and fancy background, hexblade features and powers tend to be rather bland, particularly when compared to warlocks of old. Warlock Curses are gone, replaced with flat damage bonuses. Instead of the excellent Shadow Walk we get improved armor proficiencies. Your pact at-wills feel more mundane than ever, and the encounter slots are usurped by a single attack that you can use multiple times. One of your precious at-will slots is still wasted in the hideously boring Eldritch Blast, now renamed Eldritch Bolt. At times, you feel like little more than a glorified Slayer with a colorful sword.

And yet, it mostly works out. The simplifications may feel excessive (and build customization takes a serious hit), but it all results in a class that is still enjoyable, and can be played safely without fear of the character spontaneously imploding (which happened all too often with the original warlock). There is still fun stuff going on, like collecting corpses for Pact Boons (now working off adjacent enemies, since there is no curse), and some new, brilliant ideas: summoning representatives of your patron, or dual wielding swords and implements (with powers that share weapon and implement keywords, opening a world of optimization potential). And daily spells are still around, so the difference with a classic power stricture isn’t that large.

Ultimately, hexblade players will probably tolerate the unneeded restrictions and enjoy the Fey out of the class, because the character concepts are that cool. As much as the limited options hurt, it would have been difficult to sustain the level of awesomeness (and trust me, it’s pretty high) for an additional couple dozen powers. I still think it would have been more enjoyable for me, had they left a greater number of options for the encounter slot, never mind the at-wills. But that would also brought back the inevitable filler, and might have diluted the good ideas. One thing is for sure: those novice players that Essentials is aimed at should really, REALLY love this one.

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Thursday, November 4, 2010

Essentials Paladin: Defender’s aura, shift prevention, less choices.

D&D Essentials class previews

The preview for the Essentials paladin, or Cavalier has been out for some time now, but I hardly found enough newsworthy material to justify posting about... until now. Some lucky player has got hold of an early copy of Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms, and there’s a thread at Enworld with him answering questions about the book, including stuff about the latest iteration of the Divine Defender. We can now make reasonable assumptions on how it will play out, and though I must say I’m not terribly impressed, it still looks like it will be a solid package overall.

The new paladin is simple enough for a half-orc to grasp

The best way to describe the Cavalier is as a hybrid between an Essentials Knight (from which it borrows most of its defender mechanics), and a classic Paladin. The power structure is very close to the traditional at-will/encounter/daily, but certain slots (such as the level 1 daily, and the level 2 utility) have been replaced by class features, and there are too many fixed choices to my taste (including at-will and encounter attacks). On the other hand, all this streamlining has a very clear advantage, in that Cavaliers just work. All too often, when building a pre-Essentials paladin, one was left with the impression that the class was pulling in too many directions at once, making it impossible to end up with an entirely satisfying character. This is no longer the case.

Originally, paladins suffered from a lack of definition regarding ability score requirements. In order to be fully functional, you needed Charisma for your defender punishment, Wisdom to power Lay on Hands and similar features, and Strength to have a decent opportunity attack. Never mind that, as a defender, some Constitution was also advisable. But attempts to support more than two scores usually ended in disaster. Divine Power mostly solved the issue through new feats and powers, but the fact remained that you had to sacrifice some valuable slots in order to achieve basic functionality. Not only that, but any novice player who forgot to take Melee Training or Virtuous Strike for the Charisma build, or Mighty Challenge for the Strength one, was still likely to end up with a poor defender. Cavaliers solve this problem by dropping Wisdom altogether, and requiring just Strength (for attack powers and opportunity attacks) and Charisma (for defender punishment, and extra effects in most attacks).

Two Cavalier builds are provided, named after two paladin virtues: Sacrifice (focused on healing) and Valor (apparently . Each virtue determines one of the character’s at-wills (the other being fixed) and a level 1 feature called Spirit of Virtue. Judging by the progression table, no other powers or features appear to be linked to virtues at heroic tier. However, we know that each virtue’s description takes about 3 pages, so we can expect at least some paragon path elements tied to them, and maybe some heroic elements that are not evident by looking at the table. At any rate, level 1 Cavaliers of Sacrifice will be getting a very nifty Lay on Hands proxy, with a power that lets them trade their Second Wind for a ranged heal, whereas Cavaliers of Valor are stuck with a flat bonus to initiative and surge value.

The defender features will be familiar to anybody who has seen the Knight class. Defender Aura makes a comeback here, a word by word copy of the Knight feature, clearly meant to replace the marked condition for Essentials builds. And complementing it we have Righteous Radiance, a mixture of the knight’s Battle Guardian, and the old Divine Challenge. As a paladin, the cavalier will still punish offending enemies with Cha-based, autohitting rays of divine light, but they will now have no problem handling crowds (since the ray triggers as an opportunity action whenever any enemy within the aura ignores you), as well as enjoying an unprecedented stickiness: shifting enemies will also get hurt.

Oddly, despite being an almost strict upgrade over regular paladin marks (sacrificing a bit of range, but becoming much easier to apply in return), the whole package can’t help but feel like a cheap version of the knight’s feature, having pretty much the same functionality with lower damage output. In fact, the flat radiant damage barely beats what any knight can achieve on a miss. It does have a niche application in making minions miserable (since they get killed instantly if they try to ignore you), but it’s not like they were much of a threat anyways. To make things worse, cavaliers are notoriously lacking in the forced movement department, so they rely on their allies for repositioning enemies, and collecting them inside the aura (which should be a basic strategy for essentials defenders).

That is not to say that cavaliers are not capable defenders - even if their toys are individually weaker than those of a knight, they do get more. Specifically, they have a feature called Righteous Shield which triggers on an ally taking damage, and lets the cavalier absorb the damage instead (true to the Paladin style) while gaining a bonus for the counterattack. Working once per encounter, this is clearly a tool for emergencies that can’t replace a real defender mechanic - but it complements it well. In addition, it gets better at higher levels (there is a Level 7 feature called Improved Righteous Shield), adding a small, build-dependent effect.

In the power department, having fixed at-wills for each build is a step backwards, in my opinion. At least they managed to get an interesting attack selection... for one of the virtues, anyway. The common, staple attack will be Valiant Strike, a power included in the original PHB that never got the chance to really shine. This time, however, the added stickiness of the cavalier’s defender aura should ensure that groups of enemies stay close to the paladin long enough for Valiant Strike to reach a respectable (about 2-3 points) bonus to accuracy - that’s some cool synergy. As for the virtue-specific ones, Cavaliers of Sacrifice got lucky with Strike of Hope, a healing attack for nearby allies that only gets better in presence of bloodied friends. Its effect doesn’t beat the best equivalent leader powers (i.e. Sacred Flame and Energizing Strike) at the highest levels, but is otherwise very attractive. The same cannot be said about Virtue of Valor’s Vengeful Strike, a respectable damage dealing attack that unfortunately is only useful with nearby bloodied allies. I’m all for conditional bonuses, when well implemented, but turning off one of your two at-will attacks when the condition isn’t available is far from satisfactory.

As for the rest of the powers, the encounter slot is condensed in Holy Smite, a divine version of Power Strike which adds some radiant damage on top of another attack, as well as dazing the target. I can’t say I’m thrilled by the lack of options, but this one is at least solid enough, and actually looks like a significant improvement over Power Strike, which should make up for the class’ shortcomings in other areas. An additional use of the power is gained at level 3, and likely again at 13, like Power Strike. Thankfully, paladins get to choose their daily powers as normal, even though the level 1 slot is missing from the table (perhaps sacrificed in behalf of the Righteous Shield feature?). Apart from that, utilities are mostly unchanged, but the level 2 one has been replaced by something called Restore vitality, which sound very much like a heal-focused utility of some sort.

There’s not much left to say. A mount-related feature at level 4 called Pace of the Virtuous Charger does not actually provide you with a horse, but it improves your riding speed when you do have one. More interestingly, the level 8 feature Spirit of the Virtuous Charger doesn’t really have anything to do with mounts, but provides a significant damage and speed bonus to charge attacks. Paladins lack the mobility to base their tactics on frequent charges, but this is still a very useful tool, for whenever they need to close a distance.


This is not my favourite Essentials class by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s not a bad one, either. Although one of the builds (virtue of Sacrifice) looks compelling enough, the other one strikes me as terribly bland. And the lack of options is almost unprecedented, even when compared to an Essentials martial class: the only build choice a level 1 character is presented is the Cavalier’s Virtue! On the other hand, the core gameplay looks is well thought out: the class will be able to defend all right, with a style that sets it apart from other clases. I really like the Defender Aura concept, even if Knights seem to squeeze more out of it, and just that could be enough to make this worth trying over a regular paladin.

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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Character Builder goes online!

Not everybody loves Dungeons&Dragons Insider, but it’s hard to deny that its Character Builder has been a roaring success. I know I have become an addict to quick, automated character generation, and I shudder at the thought of playing with hand-made sheets for anything other than level 1 games. With this in mind, the latest official announcement about the future of DDI tools will have far-reaching consequences for many fans: the days of Character Builder as a desktop application are over because, starting November 16th, it will receive a major facelift and become completely web-based.

The hard truth.

Regardless of other advantages of going online, I can think of a single real reason for this change: money. The business model of DDI had so far been extremely friendly (some could say exploitable) for consumers, as it was a theoretically subscription-based product that nevertheless left most of its components working even after you stopped playing. As an ex-subscriber, you kept access to all old Dungeon and Dragon magazines (provided you had saved the pdfs), and had a fully functional character editor. Only the Rules Compendium went away, but that is far from the most appealing element. Sure, you wouldn’t be getting the latest updates... but you’d always be able to get a 1-month subscription every 3 to 6 months (or even once a year, if you didn’t mind waiting) and keep mostly up to date for a fraction of the regular cost.

I am not arguing whether this was right or wrong - clearly, it was very convenient for players, but not so much for Wizards of the Coast. And it’s gone now.

What’s it like?

You can find the official announcement here, along with a bunch of screenshots and links to the FAQ. In essence, the Character Builder as we know it (and Monster Builder at a later date) will disappear, and in its place there will be a web application with pretty much the same functionality (minus the ability to work without an internet connection and a DDI subscription). The GUI has received an overhaul for the occasion, and it looks pretty good, so I’m hopeful that the user experience will improve. All character data will now be stored on the server, which will be a boon for those who, like me, have to keep track of characters generated in different places.

The technology it will be based on is Microsoft Silverlight, so you’ll be able to access it from Macs as well as Windows PCs. No details have been given about mobile phone compatibility, which might be possible on certain devices - but not on iPhones. There is no Linux support, either, though I’d be surprised if some kind of workaround didn’t exist for that.

The catch.

With what I have explained so far, there is plenty of material to keep flamewars all over the Internet busy for a good while. But there is one more detail that is likely to infuriate the skeptics, and it’s related with the content updates. The new Builder will go live on November 16th, and it will include material from all books released until October, including Heroes of the Fallen Lands and the much awaited Dark Sun Campaign Setting. Where is the deal, then? Simultaneously, support for the current, offline Character Builder will cease, so the desktop application will never get Essentials or Dark Sun. The only way to build characters from those books, other than by hand, will be by being a subscriber when the new service comes out. So forgetting about DDI and sticking to the old builder won’t be completely possible - I know of many people who won’t miss the Essential books, but Dark Sun has been extremely popular, and its absence will definitely be painful.

What now?

It will be interesting to see how the issue develops in the following months. DDI has now become an all-or-nothing proposition, as there is little point in doing short-term subscriptions anymore - either you intend to be a subscriber for as long as you play 4E, or DDI will hold little value for you. Clearly, there will be a lot of very angry people who will consider this as an act of war and won’t ever touch DDI again, but also a number of occasional subscribers who will choose to go full-time in order to enjoy the full package. I am not sure these numbers will favor Wizards of the Coast, but we also have to take into account whatever new players are brought to the game by the Essentials line. To them, there won’t be an aggravating precedent of an offline Builder, so perhaps they will be more receptive to the new tools.

As for myself, I have to say I renewed my subscription (for a full year) when it ran out last week, so I can’t say the change will affect my economy in the short term. I generally like the idea, as I think the new interface should be an improvement, and I see value in storing all my characters online. But we’ll see.

One last advice, though. Even if you are downright furious for this turn of events, and consider that Wizards of the Coast has somehow betrayed you, I think you should think hard about it, and see if you have the latest version of the good old, offline Character Builder. Because if you don’t, it will only be available for download until the 16th, and even if it lacks the very latest books, it’s still a damn good tool, and well worth a month’s subscription rate and bit of wounded pride.

An intriguing side-effect
As an aside, there is a very intriguing consequence of the shift to online tools, in that developers have commented on the potential use of data mining to identify problematic game elements. So, if too many or too few players choose a certain option, R&D will take notice and take it into account when releasing new content, presumably improving balance overall, and likely using it for marketing purposes. This shouldn't raise privacy concerns, though - according to them, they only get access to the raw data, but not the identity of the users generating it.
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