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D&D General D&D Combat is fictionless

Lyxen

Great Old One
In 4e there is no magical/non-magical distinction in this mechanical sense.

You mean, apart from the fact that there are power sources, which are clearly typed as magical and non magical ? And this, from the Player's Handbook:
  • Arcane: Drawing on magical energy that permeates the cosmos, the arcane power source can be used for a wide variety of effects, from fireballs to flight to invisibility. Warlocks and wizards, for example, use arcane magic. Each class is the representative of a different tradition of arcane study, and other traditions exist. Arcane powers are called spells.
  • Divine: Divine magic comes from the gods. The gods grant power to their devotees, which clerics and paladins, for example, access through prayers and litanies. Divine magic excels at healing, protection, and smiting the enemies of the gods. Divine powers are called prayers.
  • Martial: Martial powers are not magic in the traditional sense, although some martial powers stand well beyond the capabilities of ordinary mortals. Martial characters use their own strength and willpower to vanquish their enemies. Training and dedication replace arcane formulas and prayers to grant fighters, rangers, rogues, and warlords, among others, their power. Martial powers are called exploits.
Come on! It's in the VERY DEFINITION OF THE POWER SOURCES !

There is also a Detect Magic: Skill Check right in the Player's Handbook: "Detect Magic (Trained Only) Your knowledge of magic allows you to identify magical effects and sense the presence of magic."

So no, sorry, there is clearly a mechanical distinction of what is magic and what is not, spells and prayers are magic, exploits are not.

This is part of what pushes the fiction of 4e D&D in a more romantic/mythic direction (I mean, no one in The Iliad thinks that the way to kill Achilles is to get him into an anti-magic shield).

This is the way you wish the rules were written, but they are not, see above. There are games/worlds where there is a continuum, from purely mundane to apparently magical, magical and then divine, for example Runequest / Glorantha. I love this, it is so imbricated together that fiction flows naturally from rules.

4e is not built that way, as demonstrated above, the powers and the classes are tagged by their power source right from the ground up.

Note that it's cool if you play it more romantic/mythic, I would probably love your games, but the system is extremely mechanical and not built that way, including specifically the combat which is the most mechanistical in all the history of D&D. You might not want to get Achilles into an anti-magic shield (which would be pointless since his power source is martial anyway), but you will want to slide him 2 squares into a pit. For me, that is the summary of fictionless playing.

Of course, you can dress it up better narratively, but because you start from something more mechanical, it's for me harder than with a system that is more open and descriptive, using for example Theater of the Mind, like I did most of the time before 3e.
 

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Lyxen

Great Old One
Raise Dead is a ritual in 4e; various Epic Tier abilities also permit characters to come back from the dead.

Yes, and they are all magical, since they appeal to the gods: "You apply mystic salves, then pray to the gods to restore the dead creature’s life."

They are certainly not martial, based only on one own's strength, willpower, training and dedication.

A character in 4e who has the dying condition is not necessarily dying in the fiction, any more than a character who has been hit by an attack in 5e D&D has actually been hit by an attack. In the latter, maybe they cast a Shield spell and so haven't been hit at all; at worst they were nearly hit. In the former, maybe hit points are restored and so they weren't dying at all; at worst they had swooned, like Frodo when the Orc chieftain stabbed him with a spear.

No, I'm sorry, this is not what the rules say: "Dying: When your hit points drop to 0 or fewer, you fall unconscious and are dying."

You obviously want to interpret it differently in your game, and I certainly would support you because I find it cool and would like to play in your games, but this is not what the RULES say, this is not how the game is basically defined.

Frodo was more probably unconscious (the condition) than dying.
 

pemerton

Legend
I am pretty sure that if I say to one of your players "actually, you only thought you were over here, but actually you were over there where the tarrasque eats you", there will be complaints about player agency.
Well given that I played hundreds of hours of 4e D&D, with many creatures with forced movement abilities at various degrees of action economy "speed", I think I know the answer to this better than you.

One of my favourite 4e creatures is the Deathlock Wight. One of its abilities is Horrific Visage: a blast attack (ie it happens only on one side of the Wight, namely, where it is looking) that causes its victims to recoil in horror (that is, it is a push effect with the fear keyword). When I used this creature in an adventure, it was in a room, with an open pit, at the bottom of a steeply-sloping passage. The PCs, leery of the slope, roped themselves together. So when one recoiled in horror from the Wight, and fell down the pit, the players didn't complain about player agency. They congratulated themselves on their foresight, and the player of the dwarf made a STR check to pull his friend out of the pit.

In a skill challenge resolving a difficult conversation with some witches, led by a Pact Hag, I had to narrate a change in the fiction to drive the challenge forward (I can't recall now if it was a failure or just a reframing). I narrated that one of the PCs - stepping across the room under the "direction" (or misdirection) of the Pact Hag - suddenly found the floor collapsing beneath him as the Hag pulled a rope. The player of that PC didn't complain about player agency - he got ready to fight the giant spiders that were advancing on him.

I've played games with no FitM resolution: thousands of hours of Rolemaster; dozens of hours of Classic Traveller. 4e is not one of those games. I don't understand why you would analyse it as if it is. And then engage in special pleading about the 5e Shield spell.

In 5e the following ability would fit right in: Unstoppable: when you drop to zero hp, you may use your reaction to immediately spend a hit die. It could as easily be a fighter or barbarian ability as a paladin one.
 

Nefermandias

Adventurer
But Imagine it!!! Whenever there is an attack, you have to roll to make contact, roll to bypass shield/parry, reduce damage through armor, apply heroic resistance, divine luck, moral (each with its own subsystem) and more. That's make each attack a seven step process but it's a small price to pay for immersion.
That's why we have adopted a really revolutionary and immersive system at my table: Now we simply resolve combat by actually fighting and murdering each other with real sticks and knives. We use a flamethrower and gas grenades to simulate things like Fireball and Cloudkill.

That's the best way we've found out to keep the game true to the fiction. No more dissociative mechanics or turn based nonsense!
 

pemerton

Legend
You mean, apart from the fact that there are power sources, which are clearly typed as magical and non magical ? And this, from the Player's Handbook:
  • Arcane: Drawing on magical energy that permeates the cosmos, the arcane power source can be used for a wide variety of effects, from fireballs to flight to invisibility. Warlocks and wizards, for example, use arcane magic. Each class is the representative of a different tradition of arcane study, and other traditions exist. Arcane powers are called spells.
  • Divine: Divine magic comes from the gods. The gods grant power to their devotees, which clerics and paladins, for example, access through prayers and litanies. Divine magic excels at healing, protection, and smiting the enemies of the gods. Divine powers are called prayers.
  • Martial: Martial powers are not magic in the traditional sense, although some martial powers stand well beyond the capabilities of ordinary mortals. Martial characters use their own strength and willpower to vanquish their enemies. Training and dedication replace arcane formulas and prayers to grant fighters, rangers, rogues, and warlords, among others, their power. Martial powers are called exploits.
Come on! It's in the VERY DEFINITION OF THE POWER SOURCES !

There is also a Detect Magic: Skill Check right in the Player's Handbook: "Detect Magic (Trained Only) Your knowledge of magic allows you to identify magical effects and sense the presence of magic."

So no, sorry, there is clearly a mechanical distinction of what is magic and what is not, spells and prayers are magic, exploits are not.
That's all fiction. It has no mechanical meaning.

Is the Horrific Visage of a Deathlock Wight magical or non-magical? The game doesn't have a mechanical answer to that. It's a question of fiction for the table to resolve.

Note that it's cool if you play it more romantic/mythic, I would probably love your games, but the system is extremely mechanical and not built that way, including specifically the combat which is the most mechanistical in all the history of D&D. You might not want to get Achilles into an anti-magic shield (which would be pointless since his power source is martial anyway), but you will want to slide him 2 squares into a pit. For me, that is the summary of fictionless playing.
I have played a lot of AD&D, a little bit of 3E, and plenty of 4e D&D. 4e has the most dramatic combat, both in visual/cinematic and dramatic terms. It is as far from fictionless as I can imagine. Pushing people over cliffs is not fictionless; blasting demons through walls with Thunderwave is not fictionless; a fighter jumping off a flying tower onto a dragon and pinning its wings so that it crashes is not fictionless; an invoker calling up primeval tidal waters to wash his friends to safety is not fictionless.

I think I must have bought and played a different game from the one you did.
 


Lyxen

Great Old One
Well given that I played hundreds of hours of 4e D&D, with many creatures with forced movement abilities at various degrees of action economy "speed", I think I know the answer to this better than you.

The thing is that what you are describing is not exactly the same thing. Forced movement is one thing, it's part of the rules, but there is a defense to it when it is imposed on you. And it does not negate the fact that, before it, you were elsewhere. It's not "retcon, you were over there the whole time"...

One of my favourite 4e creatures is the Deathlock Wight. One of its abilities is Horrific Visage: a blast attack (ie it happens only on one side of the Wight, namely, where it is looking) that causes its victims to recoil in horror (that is, it is a push effect with the fear keyword). When I used this creature in an adventure, it was in a room, with an open pit, at the bottom of a steeply-sloping passage. The PCs, leery of the slope, roped themselves together. So when one recoiled in horror from the Wight, and fell down the pit, the players didn't complain about player agency. They congratulated themselves on their foresight, and the player of the dwarf made a STR check to pull his friend out of the pit.

I don't see what this has to do with the current discussion. It was a standard power just like Thunderwave in 5e, you fail your save, you suffer the effect. No retcon.

In a skill challenge resolving a difficult conversation with some witches, led by a Pact Hag, I had to narrate a change in the fiction to drive the challenge forward (I can't recall now if it was a failure or just a reframing). I narrated that one of the PCs - stepping across the room under the "direction" (or misdirection) of the Pact Hag - suddenly found the floor collapsing beneath him as the Hag pulled a rope. The player of that PC didn't complain about player agency - he got ready to fight the giant spiders that were advancing on him.

Don't get me wrong, player agency sometimes rubs me the wrong way too, I'm just pointing out the obvious difference between imposing things on players through an effect mandated by the rules with appropriate defenses and just erasing player choices.

I've played games with no FitM resolution: thousands of hours of Rolemaster; dozens of hours of Classic Traveller. 4e is not one of those games. I don't understand why you would analyse it as if it is.

Because you are not playing it by the rules, as demonstrated in my two previous posts. It's not an insult in any way shape or form to say it, it's actually great that you took a game system and made it your own for your own games. But the way it's written, it does not feel at all like the way you are describing it. I have played it for years too, you know, with aims similar as yours because most of our players come from AD&D 1e era if not before like myself.

And then engage in special pleading about the 5e Shield spell.

It's not a special "pleading", you are purposefully mixing up small steps in the mechanical process of resolving one attack with different actions undertaken at different times by different characters.

In 5e the following ability would fit right in: Unstoppable: when you drop to zero hp, you may use your reaction to immediately spend a hit die.

Only 5e does not do it that way, because it does not mix things which do not belong together in the narrative sense. The half-orc has relentless endurance, but it's built properly along the 5e lines, it's all about endurance and grit, and nothing else, and has nothing to do with recovery, because recovery is a completely different thing than keeping going.

Relentless Endurance: When you are reduced to 0 hit points but not killed outright, you can drop to 1 hit point instead. You can’t use this feature again until you finish a long rest.

It could as easily be a fighter or barbarian ability as a paladin one.
And again, this is why I don't like the 4e vision that everything is interchangeable, it gives less character to the races and classes.

The one above is for the half-orc, but paladin heal (recovery) through laying on hands.

And note that the 5e fighter's Second Wind is personal, not for others (so not a commanding speech, just ass with 4e martial power, a reserve of stamina built through training that the fighter can personally draw upon). Still, I don't like it that much personally but there you go, no edition is perfect.
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
There's almost no way to impose the unconscious condition in 4e except as a byproduct of the dying condition.

Then you see a limit of the system, in the narrative sense, as 4e prevents you from describing someone who has been knocked unconscious except at 0 hit points and therefore dying. Note that there is a logic to this because it goes with my "plot protection" perspective, there should not be a shortcut around hit points that define basically how heroically resistant you are.

But if you prefer, Frodo could be stunned and prone instead.
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
That's all fiction. It has no mechanical meaning.

But it has, since the detect magic skill mechanically detects whether something is magical or not, and it goes right back to the power source.

Is the Horrific Visage of a Deathlock Wight magical or non-magical? The game doesn't have a mechanical answer to that. It's a question of fiction for the table to resolve.

The skill use is quite specific actually:
Identify Magical Effect: Standard action.
✦ DC: DC 20 + one-half the effect’s level, if any. You must be able to see or otherwise detect the effect.
✦ Not a Power or a Ritual: The magical effect must be neither from a magic item nor the product of a power or a ritual.
✦ Success: You learn the effect’s name, power source, and keywords, if any of those apply.
✦ Failure: You can’t try to identify the effect again until after an extended rest.

I agree that monsters are not directly linked to a power source (probably because that way there are some monsters that you can use with different power sources depending on the occasion), however, the keywords for a monster can be an indication, for example Undead marks it as clearly unnatural (so not primal) and obviously not martial. After that, as you say, you could probably create arcane Deathlock Wights and divine Deathlock Wights, you have the option. But the mechanics of the game (the skill use above) would force you to choose.

I have played a lot of AD&D, a little bit of 3E, and plenty of 4e D&D. 4e has the most dramatic combat, both in visual/cinematic and dramatic terms. It is as far from fictionless as I can imagine. Pushing people over cliffs is not fictionless; blasting demons through walls with Thunderwave is not fictionless; a fighter jumping off a flying tower onto a dragon and pinning its wings so that it crashes is not fictionless; an invoker calling up primeval tidal waters to wash his friends to safety is not fictionless.

I think I must have bought and played a different game from the one you did.

You certainly played a very different 4e games than I did, but I guarantee that you bought the same one, since my quotations are straight off the player's handbook.

Don't get me wrong, it's great that you tailored the game to do what you wanted, but for us, despite decades of experience with Moldway and all the editions since then never managed to do the above.

Let's take for example the most glaring point for me, the fighter jumping from off a flying tower and pinning a dragon's wings, can you please describe in 4e terms (actions, movement, powers, creatures, grids, etc.) how he did that ? Because it's the example (fighting across the back of dragons assaulting an astral plane fortress, full 3d fighting with relative gravity) that I always take of things that I could easily do in BECMI/AD&D, that I can do again very easily in 5e, which was hard to do in 3e and totally impossible in 4e using its combat system.

Of couse, we could do as you do and ignore parts of the system (like actually being dying when you are in the dying state) when they didn't suit us, but frankly, we were just out of the unbalanced mess that was 3e, we really appreciated the efforts made by 4e to provide a balanced and fully consistent system, and we did not want to start ignoring parts, because when we did it clearly became obvious that it led to consequences in other areas no longer working (which is the drawback of having a nicely integrated mechanical system like 4e).
 


FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
Is it fair to say that you see position on the grid as "locked in" in a way that is different from the attack roll and result in the Shield example?

(This isn't meant as a gotcha in any way. It's meant to try and steer the discussion back onto some of the territory @clearstream was carving out upthread.)
I think so. My fictional Euclidian position is actual fiction and there are many mechanics that reinforce the fictional fact that this is where I am (movement range, attack range, aoe range, cover, obscurement, etc). On the other hand an attack roll isn't fictional, it's a mechanic that gets interpreted into fiction and there are many mechanics that make it clear that the initial attack roll can be overridden immediately after the initial attack roll.
 
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Lyxen

Great Old One
This has absolutely zero to do with the mechanics. 4e doesn't rely on natural language like that.

Wrong:
Identify Magical Effect: Standard action.
✦ DC: DC 20 + one-half the effect’s level, if any. You must be able to see or otherwise detect the effect.
✦ Not a Power or a Ritual: The magical effect must be neither from a magic item nor the product of a power or a ritual.
✦ Success: You learn the effect’s name, power source, and keywords, if any of those apply.
✦ Failure: You can’t try to identify the effect again until after an extended rest.

And if you are only concerned about rules, of course, you will not have fiction.
 

Nefermandias

Adventurer
Wrong:
Identify Magical Effect: Standard action.
✦ DC: DC 20 + one-half the effect’s level, if any. You must be able to see or otherwise detect the effect.
✦ Not a Power or a Ritual: The magical effect must be neither from a magic item nor the product of a power or a ritual.
✦ Success: You learn the effect’s name, power source, and keywords, if any of those apply.
✦ Failure: You can’t try to identify the effect again until after an extended rest.

And if you are only concerned about rules, of course, you will not have fiction.
What I meant is that power source interacts only very weakly with the actual game mechanics. For example, there's no Antimagic Field, Magic Resistance or Counterspell to worry about in 4e. Healing is healing, it doesn't matter if it came from a martial, divine or arcane source. It's almost always just fluff.

By the way, the application of the Arcana skill you just quoted specifies that the magic effect must not be generated by magic item, power or ritual. Why do you think they added that bullet point?
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
What I meant is that power source interacts only very weakly with the actual game mechanics. For example, there's no Antimagic Field, Magic Resistance or Counterspell to worry about in 4e. Healing is healing, it doesn't matter if it came from a martial, divine or arcane source. It's almost always just fluff.

By the way, the application of the Arcana skill you just quoted specifies that the magic effect must not be generated by magic item, power or ritual. Why do you think they added that bullet point?

No, I only copied the section which was relevant to a power effect. But if you want the full description including other effects, like rituals, zone or actually just sensing the presence of magic, I've copied it below.

Note in particular about sensing magic that you sense the power source, if any. So no, the power source is not just fluff, but clearly, although the information is not repeated in the rules (4e being efficient in that respect as with many others), the detection and identification of magic, including the power source (which is critical, because some power sources are clearly identified as magical and others as not magical) is part of the core rules. So I would not qualify this as "weak interaction", it's pretty well codified straight in the PH and in two sections referring to each other.

As for antimagic, although I agree that it does not exist in the core rules (although the support is obviously there, see above, it's easy to make some power sources impossible to use in some areas), I think this is a failure of 4e to lack support for a feature which is so much a part of the genre (Wheel of Time makes a lot of use of it, Sanderson in general, I'm sure I can find other examples if pushed). It is actually well part of a lot of power curves in books in particular, because once the characters become proficient in their magic art, the antimagic is one way to bring the characters back to basic. It might even be a slightly overused trope, but D&D is a lot about this anyway.

It's less true about Magic Resistance but honestly, I again think it's a bit sad. Not only is it a long-time trope of fantasy and D&D, but it also makes for interesting play. I know that 4e does not need rebalancing, but it's also one of the game changers at high level in every other edition of D&D, rebalancing things in favour of non-spellcasters, and making the game more varied.

Counterspell is even less important, but it's widely used in fiction as well, and since we are speaking about this in this thread, I also prefer a system where I can model fantasy tropes easily.

Identify Conjuration or Zone: Minor action.
✦ DC: DC 15 + one-half the power’s level. You must
be able to see the effect of the conjuration or zone.
✦ Success: You identify the power used to create the
effect and its power source and keywords.
✦ Failure: You can’t try to identify the effect again
during this encounter.
Identify Ritual: Standard action.
✦ DC: DC 20 + one-half the ritual’s level. You must be
able to see or otherwise detect the ritual’s effects.
✦ Success: You identify the ritual and its category.
✦ Failure: You can’t try to identify the ritual again until
after an extended rest.
Identify Magical Effect: Standard action.
✦ DC: DC 20 + one-half the effect’s level, if any. You
must be able to see or otherwise detect the effect.
✦ Not a Power or a Ritual: The magical effect must
be neither from a magic item nor the product of a
power or a ritual.
✦ Success: You learn the effect’s name, power source,
and keywords, if any of those apply.
✦ Failure: You can’t try to identify the effect again
until after an extended rest.
Sense the Presence of Magic: 1 minute.
✦ DC: DC 20 + one-half the level of a magic item,
power (conjuration or zone), ritual, or magical phenomenon within range.
✦ Area of Detection: You can detect magic within
a number of squares equal to 5 + your level in
every direction, and you can ignore any sources of
magical energy you’re already aware of. Ignore all
barriers; you can detect magic through walls, doors,
and such
Success: You detect each source of magical energy
whose DC you meet. You learn the magic’s power
source, if any. If the source of magical energy is within
line of sight, you pinpoint its location. If it’s not within
line of sight, you know the direction from which the
magical energy emanates, but you don’t know the
distance to it.
✦ Failure: Either you detected nothing or there was
nothing in range to detect. You can’t try again in this
area until after an extended rest
 

Grendel_Khan

Adventurer
@pemerton As much as I agree with your attempts to frame various mechanics within different examples and genres of fiction, I think there are a lot of gamers who, whether they admit it or not, aren't interested in RPGs generating or explaining those types of experiences. In most systems, including 5e, combat doesn't have a sense of narrative momentum, and it almost never winds up looking or feeling like the fights we tend to love in fiction. And games like D&D create their own unique genre, in a sense, by having groups of adventurers who tend to be remarkably coordinated in their tactics, immune to fear (unless a power hits them, which reads and feels like getting hit by a fear laser, not by a human response to danger), and they often have a combat healer, something that, to my recollection, exists nowhere outside of TTRPGs and video games.

So the Tolkien connections, the references to epic poems, I totally get them...but I don't think D&D is interested in or really capable of pulling any of that off. Not 5e, at least, which generates a very specific kind of experience, but not one that (to me) resembles anything other than exactly what it is.
 

Nefermandias

Adventurer
No, I only copied the section which was relevant to a power effect. But if you want the full description including other effects, like rituals, zone or actually just sensing the presence of magic, I've copied it below.

Note in particular about sensing magic that you sense the power source, if any. So no, the power source is not just fluff, but clearly, although the information is not repeated in the rules (4e being efficient in that respect as with many others), the detection and identification of magic, including the power source (which is critical, because some power sources are clearly identified as magical and others as not magical) is part of the core rules. So I would not qualify this as "weak interaction", it's pretty well codified straight in the PH and in two sections referring to each other.

As for antimagic, although I agree that it does not exist in the core rules (although the support is obviously there, see above, it's easy to make some power sources impossible to use in some areas), I think this is a failure of 4e to lack support for a feature which is so much a part of the genre (Wheel of Time makes a lot of use of it, Sanderson in general, I'm sure I can find other examples if pushed). It is actually well part of a lot of power curves in books in particular, because once the characters become proficient in their magic art, the antimagic is one way to bring the characters back to basic. It might even be a slightly overused trope, but D&D is a lot about this anyway.

It's less true about Magic Resistance but honestly, I again think it's a bit sad. Not only is it a long-time trope of fantasy and D&D, but it also makes for interesting play. I know that 4e does not need rebalancing, but it's also one of the game changers at high level in every other edition of D&D, rebalancing things in favour of non-spellcasters, and making the game more varied.

Counterspell is even less important, but it's widely used in fiction as well, and since we are speaking about this in this thread, I also prefer a system where I can model fantasy tropes easily.

Identify Conjuration or Zone: Minor action.
✦ DC: DC 15 + one-half the power’s level. You must
be able to see the effect of the conjuration or zone.
✦ Success: You identify the power used to create the
effect and its power source and keywords.
✦ Failure: You can’t try to identify the effect again
during this encounter.
Identify Ritual: Standard action.
✦ DC: DC 20 + one-half the ritual’s level. You must be
able to see or otherwise detect the ritual’s effects.
✦ Success: You identify the ritual and its category.
✦ Failure: You can’t try to identify the ritual again until
after an extended rest.
Identify Magical Effect: Standard action.
✦ DC: DC 20 + one-half the effect’s level, if any. You
must be able to see or otherwise detect the effect.
✦ Not a Power or a Ritual: The magical effect must
be neither from a magic item nor the product of a
power or a ritual.
✦ Success: You learn the effect’s name, power source,
and keywords, if any of those apply.
✦ Failure: You can’t try to identify the effect again
until after an extended rest.
Sense the Presence of Magic: 1 minute.
✦ DC: DC 20 + one-half the level of a magic item,
power (conjuration or zone), ritual, or magical phenomenon within range.
✦ Area of Detection: You can detect magic within
a number of squares equal to 5 + your level in
every direction, and you can ignore any sources of
magical energy you’re already aware of. Ignore all
barriers; you can detect magic through walls, doors,
and such
Success: You detect each source of magical energy
whose DC you meet. You learn the magic’s power
source, if any. If the source of magical energy is within
line of sight, you pinpoint its location. If it’s not within
line of sight, you know the direction from which the
magical energy emanates, but you don’t know the
distance to it.
✦ Failure: Either you detected nothing or there was
nothing in range to detect. You can’t try again in this
area until after an extended rest
All true.

Still, power source is more of a descriptive than a mechanically import thing in that edition. It helps classifying things, of course. For instance, Divine classes are usually good at healing even if it's not a Leader. Primal classes get more HP per level than their counterparts of the same role. Arcane classes have elements of battlefield control even when they aren't controllers, and so forth.
Other than that, it's most fluff. Seriously. Just read the Dispel Magic power in the PHB and you'll understand my point.
 

pemerton

Legend
recovery is a completely different thing than keeping going.
Says who? I mean, other than you.

Clearly not the 4e designers - and it was their game that I was playing!

The half-orc ability you describe - which, as I could said, could equally be given to a barbarian, a fighter or a paladin with no departure from th default fiction of any of those classes (in AD&D cavaliers and sohei both had variations on that ability) - could equally be spend a hit die rather than drop to 1 hp and it wouldn't change the fiction.

The thing is that what you are describing is not exactly the same thing. Forced movement is one thing, it's part of the rules, but there is a defense to it when it is imposed on you. And it does not negate the fact that, before it, you were elsewhere. It's not "retcon, you were over there the whole time"...

<snip>

I don't see what this has to do with the current discussion. It was a standard power just like Thunderwave in 5e, you fail your save, you suffer the effect. No retcon.

<snip>

Don't get me wrong, player agency sometimes rubs me the wrong way too, I'm just pointing out the obvious difference between imposing things on players through an effect mandated by the rules with appropriate defenses and just erasing player choices.
I don't think I've ever been rubbed up the wrong way by "player agency" (which I think means players playing the game and impacting the shared fiction). But I don't know why you're talking about "erasing player choices". A FitM approach to narrating forced movement doesn't erase anyone's choices - as @AbdulAlhazred already explained upthread, it's just deferring finalisation of the fiction until all the mechanical effects that contribute to it are resolved.

I'm not 100% sure why it matters, but it's also not true that every instance of forced movement permits a defence. Just looking through the "D"s in Monster Vault, I found that the Savage Displacer Beast can push any enemy who misses with a melee attack, as a free action at will and no attack roll required (it's an effect). The Displacer Beast Pack Lord has a limited use attack called Clear the Path which slides on a hit (3 squares) or miss (1 square). The Doppelganger Infiltrator has an ability called Perfect Replica, which is an effect with no attack roll required and that immobilises its target; and it has an at-will opportunity action Replica Switch which permits it to swap places with an enemy affected by Perfect Replica if they are adjacent and a third party makes a melee or ranged attack against it.

And a couple of final points about forced movement: in the fiction, Horrific Visage is nothing like Thunderwave. The latter is a blast of energy. The former is what it says on the tin: a horrific visage. The reason the character moves is because they recoil in horror (it's a fear effect). I can imagine contexts in which the most apposite narration would be not that the character recoiled at all, but that they never approached - eg if the ability was used as an immediate reaction after having been readied in response to a character moving towards the Wight. That wouldn't negate any player agency. Another, similar example: an Elder Green Dragon has an ability called Luring Glare which slides a target that is hit with an attack against Will; and it has an at-will immediate reaction, Cunning Glance, triggered by an enemy shifting to a nearby square, which permits the use of Luring Glare against that enemy. It would be very natural to narrate the effect of Cunning Glance as the enemy never moving, or moving directly to where they end up, rather than first assuming that the character shifts and then that they move elsewhere.

Let's take for example the most glaring point for me, the fighter jumping from off a flying tower and pinning a dragon's wings, can you please describe in 4e terms (actions, movement, powers, creatures, grids, etc.) how he did that ? Because it's the example (fighting across the back of dragons assaulting an astral plane fortress, full 3d fighting with relative gravity) that I always take of things that I could easily do in BECMI/AD&D, that I can do again very easily in 5e, which was hard to do in 3e and totally impossible in 4e using its combat system.
Here is the actual play report:
So the player made a perception check, assisted by the player of the paladin, and indeed they realised that one of the spires of rock half-buried in snow and wind-blown ice was in fact not a natural outcropping at all, but a 30' tall tower. They made their way in, up the stairs and to the top where the drow made an Arcana check to attune himself to the control circle for the tower. The next round they were up and away.

By this time the giants at the other end of the rift had mostly been mopped up, being beaten up by the dwarf as well as sniped by the ranger and blown up by the invoker, but all the PCs were able to rendezvous for a short rest in the flying tower. As they were resting they were able to see the giants running along the ledges, apparently regrouping in the caves at the south end of the rift. The PCs with range 20 attacks were able to get a few hits in (that's the invoker with Mantle of the Infidel, the ranger with Twin Strike, and the sorcerer firing lightning bolts from the tower), and they killed 7 giant minions as around another 30 or so were seen making it into the southern caves.

Then, before the PCs could plan their next step, from that same southern direction, flying out of the snowy sky, came two dragons - a huge Blizzard Dragon, obviously in alliance with the giants, and an ancient White Dragon being ridden by a frost giant chieftain. At first they thought the White Dragon must have been enslaved (given its natural enmity towards a catastrophic dragon) but then when I read them the relevant lore from the Monster Manual, they learned that white dragons will sell their services for diamonds and meat, and they figured the giants might have plenty of meat to go around.

This combat took the form of an aerial assault upon the tower, where the PCs were all in position on the crenellated roof. The PCs with ranged attacks had the initial advantage, as they alll got a round of attacks as the dragons closed in. This proved bad for the blizzard dragon: having the speed advantage over the white, it was closer, and therefore got quarried first, and proceeded to get blasted by two crits from two Twin Strikes, plus a good blow from the fighter throwing Overwhelm (one of its properties is to be a throw-and-return mordenkraad), plus a dose of Demonsoul Bolts from the sorcerer, who adds around +50 to his dice when dealing thunder damage with forced movement.

It got off one round of attacks before being killed.

The white dragon did better, though. It had an aura 5 of 30 cold auto-damage, which was quite effective as it closed in, and a good initial breath did a bit of damage as well. It got blasted with AoEs by the sorcerer (action point for Blazing Starfall, plus standard action Blazing Starfall, plus quickened Blazing Starfall as a minor action, all admixtured with thunder to do a lot of damage), which hit the giant as well, but I had given the dragon a mount ability, to soak half of any burst or blast damage dealt to its rider, so the giant survived.

One of the Starfalls critted, which from a chaos sorcerer knocks the dragon prone, and also blinds it with a Glimpse of the Abyss. So it fell, but was able to recover before reaching the ground (they were about 300' up, and it succeeded at its DC 30 Athletics check after falling 100'), and then under the guidance of its giant rider was able to come up beneath the tower, gaining total cover from any attacks.

The invoker came up with a plan to blast it out of its cover: he conjured his imp (minor action), had it fly down to the base of the tower (move action), activated his third eye (another minor action: the imp has the Eye of Vecna in it, though now no longer under Vecna's influence, and when the invoker activiates his 3rd eye he can see through his imp's eyes and has LoS and LoE from there) and then spent an action point to attack with Thunderwave (encounter power as a multi-class wizard), the plan being to blast the dragon out from beneath the tower, so the ranged strikers could attack it, and to blast the giant of its mount so it would take 25d10 or so falling down to the bottom of the rift.

The invoker is also a Divine Philosopher (and so gets two attack rolls with an action point) and a Sage of Ages (and so gets to roll a bonus d20 at the start of each round, and substitute that into any roll desired). The bonus roll was a 1, so he ignored that. His two rolls against the dragon were a 3 and a 4. He needed a 12 to hits its Fort, and so was 8 short - but he has a d8 for Memories of 1000 Lifetimes, and a +3 from Insightful Riposte. So as long as he rolled 5 or more on his Memories roll he would still hit. So he rolled that, but got a 2. Then he rolled to hit the giant and rolled another 4, missing it.

So a valiant plan came to naught.

Still under the guidance of the giant, the dragon then - on its free action 10 ahead of its normal initiative - flew out from under the tower, and up the side that the invoker was on, and attacked the invoker. Between aura, a hit and a crit he was well and truly bloodied. Though when the giant attacked him the paladin PC retaliated with Eye for an Eye, and so it briefly became a case of the blind leading the blind.

Then on the dragon's actual turn, with its sight back, it encased the ranger in an icy tomb: stunned, immune to forced movement and OG 60 cold (SE all). Various other attacks - a breath weapon, plus more aura damage - were wittling away at the party and it looked like they might be going to lose. But then the players came up with a plan.

The dragon was flying about 2 squares away from the tower. So the fighter ran and jumped onto its back as a charge. The paladin was then able to blast it away from the tower with Strength of Ten, and the sorcerer used his high level Power Jewel to regain Demonsoul Bolts and used them to blast it further away. This got all of the PCs except for the fighter out of its aura. The paladin also used Divine Mettle to give the ranger a save at +8, which was successful, and so the power of the Raven Queen melted away his icy tomb, and he was then able to help himself, the paladin and the sorcerer with a Word of Vigour.

Around this time the dragon got bloodied, and the fighter did more damage to it with a jackal strike. He action pointed and pounded away (including with a Battle Cry which delivered more badly-needed healing), and there were ranged attacks also. The dragon hit him with its claws (including a crit) and got in a couple of bites too (though both did only miss damage), but his Battle Cry plus a Second Wind (2 surges with Cloak of the Walking Wounded) kept him up.

When the dragon tried to fly off carrying the fighter with it, he hit it with an OA which immobilised it (Pinning Strike feat), and then on his turn he hit it with something (I can't remember what) that knocks it prone. So it crashed, and this time - because it was no longer over the open rift but rather the icy ledge - it had no opportunity to recover before crashing. Both the fighter and the dragon took 26 hp from 50' of falling damage. (I gave the player of the fighter the chance to make an Acro check to ride the dragon down - half damage on a success, 1.5 damage on a fail - but he declined, and so they landed 5 squares apart.)

The invoker's turn then came up in the sequence, and he critted against the dragon with Mantle of the Infidel. It took 50-odd damage and had only 10 hp left after the fall, and so lost its chance to fly to freedom. The sorcerer then retook control of the tower, flew it down to the level of the ledge, and the dwarf hopped back on and they took a short rest.
I regard this as perfectly representative of how 4e plays. Of course at lower tiers the fiction was different - at Heroic there were boats and Goblin warrens and tombs; at Paragon there were hobgoblin phalanxes and Underdark caverns; at Epic the PCs fought demons and destroyed Torog's Soul Abattoir, as well as assaulting the Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl.

The skill use is quite specific actually:
Identify Magical Effect: Standard action.
✦ DC: DC 20 + one-half the effect’s level, if any. You must be able to see or otherwise detect the effect.
✦ Not a Power or a Ritual: The magical effect must be neither from a magic item nor the product of a power or a ritual.
✦ Success: You learn the effect’s name, power source, and keywords, if any of those apply.
✦ Failure: You can’t try to identify the effect again until after an extended rest.
I ran a very large number of skill challenges in which the Arcana skill figured, and magical effects were dealt with. The character of those effects as magical was a matter of fiction. Not a mechanical concept. (Almost no non-PC-generated effect has a power source; rituals do not have power sources; and in any event power source is a keyword and so its presence in the rule you quote is redundant. In our game we focused on the fiction.)

Here are some examples:

In the previous session, the sorcerer PC had been amassing chaos energy to try to infuse it into himself and/or items. This worked - he imbued himself with the Gift of Flame and also transmuted a jewelled horn the party was carrying into a Fire Horn. (Mechanically, this was resolved as an Arcana-based skill challenge while the rest of the party fought off the mooncalves who had been attracted by the chaotic forces.)

He also realised that, as well as the chaos energy leaking from the body of the dead dragon Calastryx (on which he was standing) and leaking from a nearby portal to the Elemental Chaos, there was elemental chaos flowing south from the mountains to the north. And as he stood in his chaotic vortex on the body of Calastryx, the apparent distance between him and the mountains closed, and he could sense the chaos leaching up from the underdark. And he could see a plateau surrounded by a ring of mountains, where an army of hobgoblins was encamped next to a temple to Torog cut into the mountainside - prompting the thought that the chaos energy was escaping because Torog had dug too deep into the world.

Now the PCs have for many levels been fighting against the hobgoblins, and the players have been planning to try and raid the army to the north, and so they decided to step through the vortex and cover the distance immediately, rather than have to spend a week or more climbing up through the mountains. They were a little concerned about arriving in the middle of the army - having only two or three healing surges across the whole party and two or three party members already being bloodied - and the player of the chaos sorcerer was getting ready to make more Arcana checks to try to shift the destination of his distance-spanning vortex.

But the wizard PC decided to use his Sceptre of Erathis (= 3 parts, so far, of the Rod of 7 Parts) to try and master the chaos - which )after a successful Religion check) resulted in the focus of the vortex shifting, to an ancient Nerathi stair at the bottom of the plateau, and at the base of a waterfall. (One property of the sceptre is its tendency to point out lost Nerathi paths and ruins.) So the PCs stepped through the vortex - taking 10 damage in the process, which most could not heal (and which left the ranger with 3 hp).
Another thing that had been planned for some time, by the player of the dwarf fighter-cleric, was to have his dwarven smiths reforge Whelm - a dwarven thrower warhammer artefact (originally from White Plume Mountain) - into Overwhelm, the same thing but as a morenkrad (the character is a two-hander specialist). And with this break from adventure he finally had he chance.

Again I adjudicated it as a complexity 1 (4 before 3) skill challenge. The fighter-cleric had succeeded at Dungeoneering (the closest in 4e to an engineering skill) and Diplomacy (to keep his dwarven artificers at the forge as the temperature and magical energies rise to unprecedented heights). The wizard had succeeded at Arcana (to keep the magical forces in check). But the fighter-cleric failed his Religion check - he was praying to Moradin to help with the process, but it wasn't enough. So he shoved his hands into the forge and held down the hammer with brute strength! (Successful Endurance against a Hard DC.) His hands were burned and scarred, but the dwarven smiths were finally able to grab the hammer head with their tongs, and then beat and pull it into its new shape.

The wizard then healed the dwarf PC with a Remove Affliction (using Fundamental Ice as the material component), and over the course of a few weeks the burns healed. (Had the Endurance check failed, things would have played out much the same, but I'd decided that the character would feel the pang of the burns again whenever he picked up Overwhelm.)

In running this particular challenge, I was the one who called for the Dungeoneering and Diplomacy checks. It was the players who initiated the other checks. In particular, the player of the dwarf PC realised that while his character is not an artificer, he is the toughtest dwarf around. This is what led him to say "I want to stick my hands into the forge and grab Whelm. Can I make an Endurance check for that?" An unexpected manoeuvre!
The relevant mechanical notions there do not include is or isn't magic. This third one combines skill use (though as single checks, not in a skill challenge) and healing:

the sorcerer, cut off from the other PCs by a pack of archons and salamanders and a pool of lava, practically down to At-Will powers, and low on hit points, called upon the ambient chaotic energies of all those elemental monsters. After an Arcana check good enough to succeed at a Hard level 12 DC, he mustered enough chaotic energy to give himself 12 temporary hit points - but it also activiated the sigils of the Queen of Chaos that are permanently emblazoned on the insides of his eyelids (he is a Demonskin Adept), blinding him, and it had the same effect on his Robe of Eyes, so he couldn't see!

<snip>

the blinded sorcerer tried to escape down a tunnel at the other end of the cavern as the remaining archons and salamanders focused on the other PCs, but eventually, having no one else to take on, they turned back to him, pursued him and (in the end) knocked him unconscious. The carpet-borne ranger came to his rescue, and so did the paladin

<snip>

Two archon ash dicsiples and four remaining salamanders (a lancer, an elite firetail and two archers) were killed, but it turned into a standoff - the last standing archon took the unconscious sorcerer hostage with his scimitar to his throat, while the ranger-cleric sat on his carpet with bow drawn and aimed, and the paladin entered into negotiations, picking up the Polyglot Gem that the archon had thrown to the ground for this purpose.

The archon offered the sorcerer's life in exchange for the shard taken from the neck of the Spawn of Bryakus. The paladin stalled for a bit, and then teleported next to the archon with an unexpected Winter's Arrival (a rare event in the lair of the fire elementals!) and tried to interpose himself between scimitar and throat, but was not quick enough and the sorcerer's throat was cut (fatal coup de grace against the unconscious PC).

The paladin wondered what he could do to help his friend. Removing his Diamond Cincture, he tried to imbue its healing energy into the sorcerer. With a successful Medium Healing check by his player, and channelling his own life force through it, he brought the sorcerer back to life (but still unconscious). But the paladin himself fell into unconsciousness, drained of his own life energy, and the diamond is not going to regain its lustre after anyone's Extended Rest - it is permanently drained. (A Diamond Cincture, at 10th level, actually has the same value as the components for a paragon Raise Dead, which made this particularly easy to adjudicate.)

At the same time, the ranger let loose a volley of arrows, but the archon, after taking a last (but non-fatal) cut against the unconscious sorcerer, grabbed the shard from the paladin's unconcsious body and ran off down the tunnel. The ranger dropped the 70' from his carpet (taking no damage, due to his Acrobatis and his Safewing Amulet) and set off in pursuit. He was able to take two shots at long range against the fleeing archon, and one arrow struck true, killing the elemental. He then returned to his two companions and administered potions of healing to revive them. All three are now crouching low on the floor of the cave, below where the fumes pool (ie no Endurance checks required).
The sorcerer conjuring up chaos energy seems magical enough: but is it magic, or will, or faith, that allows a paladin to channel the energy of a magical Diamond Cincture into his friend to save his life? The game does not oblige that question to be answered.

You certainly played a very different 4e games than I did, but I guarantee that you bought the same one, since my quotations are straight off the player's handbook.

Don't get me wrong, it's great that you tailored the game to do what you wanted, but for us, despite decades of experience with Moldway and all the editions since then never managed to do the above.
So one possibility is that you played the game correctly - ie having a bad time - and I mis-played the game - and had a good time. Another is that you misunderstood the game, and as a result had a bad time, and I worked out how the game is meant to be played, and had a good time. Which you think is up to you. I know which I think.
 


Lyxen

Great Old One
@pemerton As much as I agree with your attempts to frame various mechanics within different examples and genres of fiction, I think there are a lot of gamers who, whether they admit it or not, aren't interested in RPGs generating or explaining those types of experiences. In most systems, including 5e, combat doesn't have a sense of narrative momentum, and it almost never winds up looking or feeling like the fights we tend to love in fiction.

It depends on your group. It's true I think in a lot of groups, and often at our tables, but we also played a lot of more free-form games like Amber where narrativism is almost everything, so some of our fights really look they are from a novel, especially those played with TotM.

You can do both, but for us, as soon as you are on a grid, narrativism goes out of the window, it formats our thoughts.

And games like D&D create their own unique genre, in a sense, by having groups of adventurers who tend to be remarkably coordinated in their tactics, immune to fear (unless a power hits them, which reads and feels like getting hit by a fear laser, not by a human response to danger), and they often have a combat healer, something that, to my recollection, exists nowhere outside of TTRPGs and video games.

I think it's one of the strengths of 4e and 5e, that they indeed got rid of the combat healer, or actually even of the healer. There are things which keep PCs going (a lot of them in 5e because the paradigm changed to "this is just to have fun", so things that could cause a player to be bored for hours were removed or changed), but it's not the same thing.

So the Tolkien connections, the references to epic poems, I totally get them...but I don't think D&D is interested in or really capable of pulling any of that off. Not 5e, at least, which generates a very specific kind of experience, but not one that (to me) resembles anything other than exactly what it is.

On the other hand, I rely a lot on novels that I've read for descriptions of what is happening, and so do a good numbers of our other DMs and players.
 

pemerton

Legend
@pemerton As much as I agree with your attempts to frame various mechanics within different examples and genres of fiction, I think there are a lot of gamers who, whether they admit it or not, aren't interested in RPGs generating or explaining those types of experiences. In most systems, including 5e, combat doesn't have a sense of narrative momentum, and it almost never winds up looking or feeling like the fights we tend to love in fiction. And games like D&D create their own unique genre, in a sense, by having groups of adventurers who tend to be remarkably coordinated in their tactics, immune to fear (unless a power hits them, which reads and feels like getting hit by a fear laser, not by a human response to danger), and they often have a combat healer, something that, to my recollection, exists nowhere outside of TTRPGs and video games.

So the Tolkien connections, the references to epic poems, I totally get them...but I don't think D&D is interested in or really capable of pulling any of that off. Not 5e, at least, which generates a very specific kind of experience, but not one that (to me) resembles anything other than exactly what it is.
I can't comment on 5e with any real authority, as I've never played it. But one reason I'm not very keen to play it is that I don't think it will produce the sort of play experience I'm interested in.

Your description certainly fits my experience of AD&D combat.

For me, 4e is a mixture of JRRT-ish romantic fantasy and Chris Claremont X-Men. The fiction is a bit more 4-colour or REH than Helm's Deep; but it's tricky, because the time taken at the table is much longer than the time passing in the fiction, which helps shape the narrative momentum and bridge between the superficially large gap between the two genres I've mentioned. (The cleric-ranger speaking a Word of Vigour is something of a cross between Faramir and Cyclops, genre-wise.)

I can't speak for other RPGers, but the examples I've posted upthread are illustrative of my 4e experiences (there are other actual play posts that are easy enough to find on these boards) and demonstrate what I found to be inherent in 4e combat. It's not great literature, but as a participant I found it reasonably compelling.
 

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