Jason Bulmahn Speaks about DDXP(His take on the system)

SPECTRE666

Explorer
-Jason Bulmahn Speaks about 4E He works for Paizo. I found this on the WotC forums. Good and Bad points.
[SBLOCK]Jason Bulmahn-He works for Paizo(Whom have not decide if 4e will work for them yet..)

DDXP Roundup

location: Home

mood: contemplative


/6070.html


So, DDXP is done and over with. I had a good time at the show, despite my poor showing in the D&D Miniatures Limited Championship (again... damn you 4th round redraft). The con for me started out on Thursday with the seminar about 4E, followed by both of the preview adventures, back to back. I will go into those, and my observations about the game a bit later. Following those two games, I had a few drinks with friends and wandered off to bed.

Friday was a minis day for me, during which I played the prerelease event for the new D&D Miniatures game. This was my first time playing and it took a bit of adjustment. The new game is pretty strongly based off the 4E rules, but one thing completely threw me for a loop. Pits. In the new game, when an effect pushed a opposing fig into a pit, you reroll the attack that pushed it. If you score a second hit, the figure is destroyed. In the first match, this little rule allowed me to win my game in the beginning of the third round, after being in a loosing position only minutes before. In the second game, my opponent had two figs that could push me, so I lost. In the third game, my opponent had no figs that could push so I won. After that, being 2-1 and feeling a bit dirty about the pit ruling bit, I dropped out. To be honest, until they fix this horribly broken rule, 2.0 DDM will not be the game for me (although I have heard that a change is most certainly in the works). After this, I had way too much beer, and a bit too much Vodka, and I stumbled off to bed.

Saturday was the Limited Championship and I woke with a buzzing skull. Not a good start. Despite this, I still made it to the tournament on time. It started at 9am and I had a pretty good first pull. After 4 rounds, I was 3-1, feeling like I had a pretty good shot of pulling out enough wins to make it to the top 8. Unfortunately, as it happens every year, my second pull was not so great. I had a good mix of figs, but nothing that could deal more than 15 points of damage. After losing my next made, dropping me to 3-2 with terrible tie breakers (I got paired down in round 3), I decided to cut my losses to spend more time chatting with friends and other gamers. More drinking followed that night... a lot more.

Sunday.. ugg.. I slept in. Woke up at about 11 and hung out with folks as the con slowly wound down. I had breakfast with Chris Perkins, which made for entertaining discussions, as always. Chatted with some more people and finally went out to dinner at a great Italian restaurant a couple of blocks away. More drinks were had, including some fine wine, and a great glass of cognac to wash it all down (I love desert liquor.. what a great concept). Anywho... that was all for Sunday. Most of the other folks were flying home, but not me.

By the time I woke on Monday, most of the rest of the con folks were gone. I grabbed a shuttle to head over to the subway to catch a ride to the national mall. I walked up to the capital (photos to come later) and then made my way over to the national gallery. After seeing a veritable art education worth of masterpieces, I made my way over to the Smithsonian Natural History Museum. I had missed both these museums on my first trip and was quite glad to catch them this time around. Great museums... from Van Goghs to the Hope Diamond, how could you ask for a better day. From there, I walked over to 1600 Pennsylvania for a quick photo or two and caught a train back to my hotel. The flights home were long and grueling.. but here I am and not too much worse for the wear.

But enough of all that... on to the real details. 4E

First.. a disclaimer. These are MY opinions. They might not even be good ones. I have not seen all the rules. These thoughts are cobbled together through my limited experiences at DDXP, chats with the folks at the show, and information from previous announcements. So, take them for what they are, the ramblings of one gamer/game designer. If you want to know what Paizo thinks or what Paizo is going to do about 4E, wait for their official announcements on the matter. One last thing, if you are trying to avoid spoilers about the preview events or 4E, turn back now. I am not going to hold anything back.

Intro
So, first I played "Excape from Sembia". In this adventure, I played a tiefling wizard. The adventure itself was pretty straight forward. Deliver a message. When that gets botched, run from the guards and escape the country before they catch and punish you. The adventure featured five encounters, the first of which was a fight against some guards, while trying to deliver the message. The second was a skill encounter (more on this later). The rest were all fights, one against humanoids, one against undead, and one against guards. We had no real problems with this adventure and played through to its conclusion. The second adventure was "Scalegloom Hall", in which I played a halfling paladin. This was a dungeon adventure that also featured five encounters, all of which were fights. The first four were all against Kobolds, while the final combat was against a dragon. The kobolds fights were terribly easy and the dragon fight was incredibly hard. We still won out with no casualties, and played the game to its conclusion.

Observations
Well, there were a number of interesting observations I made as I played the games. Some things I liked and others I didn't. I am going to try to focus on big-picture issues instead of smaller rules issues (although I am sure a couple will sneak in now and again).

- The game was pretty easy to learn. We picked up the basic mechanics with relative ease. That said, some of the finer points of our characters took an encounter or two to figure out. This seems pretty normal to me.

- We all had a class-relative action to take pretty much every round. In 3.5, you would sometimes get forced to perform actions that were not part of your core character concept, such as having the wizard attack with a crossbow. While I consider this a plus, it did lead to repetitive action (something I was hoping 4E would avoid) after you used up your more limited powers. In other words, once I ran out of my per encounter powers, I pretty much used the same at-will power over and over because it was the best option I had.

- Once you face a monster, you know what to expect the next time you face that monster. This was very true in Scalegloom Hall. We faced the same kobolds again and again, and they performed pretty similarly over and over again. Since monsters do not have as many options available to them, they really only have a few things to do. This may be a factor of them being low level, but looking at the Pit Fiend post, I kinda doubt it. There were some variances, due to the room set ups (like swinging skulls and a rolling boulder), but setting those things aside, the kobold slingers did the same thing in every fight we faced them. I am not sure I like this, but there are worse things I suppose.

- Static random rolls are far more common than I would prefer. PC saves are pretty much always an 10+ (unless you have one of a few adjustments). This includes death saves. In addition, monster powers recharge on a random roll, usually somewhere between 3+ and 6+ on a 1d6. When you combine these two, it means that the fights can be very "swingy". If your group fails a bunch of these rolls, while the DM makes his recharge rolls, you are in for a tough fight. Meanwhile, the same PCs fighting the same monsters might have an easy time if the rolls are reversed (this is, I think, why some groups got TPK'd in some of the mods, while others had a breeze). I am not saying that I like things to be predictable, but since these rolls never really change as you go up in level (afaik) it seems a little off. A 30th Lv Fighter should have an easier time shaking off the effects of a simple poison than a 1st Lv wizard. Maybe that is just me.

- I am not sure you can die in 4E. Let me clarify that a bit. I am sure you can die, but it seems to me that you need to throw a vastly overchallenging encounter at the PCs, or you need to be a bit of a jerk. When a character drops below 0, you can go as low as half your total HP below 0 before dying. Each round you make a save to see if you get closer to death (9 or less), remain unchanged (10-19) or heal (20+). You can fail twice before dying on the third fail (the three strikes rule). With monster damage being what it is, I do not see PCs getting knocked that far into negatives in one shot without a crit (and even that is not a guarantee at higher levels). I am not saying it will never happen, the odds just seem slim. So, if that is out, you have to worry about the three strikes rule. It seems to me that any group that groks the system is going to make sure to save anyone before that happens if possible. The only other option left, then, is to gang beat a downed PC until they are dead. This seems highly unlikely to me in a group amongst friends. I generally never used coup de grace in 3.5 unless it was a particularly evil villain or other extenuating circumstances. I do not see myself doing it in 4E either. So.. while I think some PCs will die, I don't think it is going to happen too often. Without the serious threat of death, I feel that takes a big bite out of the excitement. In the games I played, we were never really in danger until the dragon, and that was only because the dragon was a level 4 solo monster against 1st level PCs. The rest seemed like cake.

- More Options, Fewer Choices. Both of the characters I played had a number of options, but in each combat, I found that every round, only one was a good choice (usually an encounter power if I had it, daily power if I needed it, or an at will if nothing else was available). This might just be an artifact of not seeing the whole rules (I hope so), because once a fight got past a few rounds, I found myself taking the same action over and over again. 3.5 certainly suffers from this problem as well to some extent. The difference here is that you would never dare to try and think about what other options might work in the fight because your at-will powers are clearly far superior. As a 4E wizard, I would never use my dagger unless I had too, because magic missile was a better option in just about every way. In 3.5, I might still use that dagger, crossbow, or even do something weird like aid another if I ran out of useful spells. I am not necessarily saying either is better, but it seemed a lot more binary to me.

- Sacred Hamburger. I had to roll to hit with a magic missile. Ugg. I missed a number of times (3 out of 9 times in fact). The guy who played the wizard in my other table did a lot worse, missing 7 out of 11 times. Goodbye Chaos and Law. Bye bye specialist wizards. See you later (like next year.. or even longer) barbarian, bard, druid, monk and sorcerer. No more spells (Wizard and Cleric abilities are called spells and prayers respectively, but they work like every other class's abilities). I have a bad feeling this is only the tip of the iceberg. I hope I am wrong.

- Almost everything revolves around combat. Nearly all my powers and abilities had something to do with combat and dealing damage. Although I was never a fan of the Craft rules, they had a place in the game, as did a host of other spells and abilities that allowed you to do things that did not necessarily involve spilling blood. I heard someone at the show mention that even the Maze ability deals damage now. Maze! If such is the case, I am wondering if there is an encounter power called "Identify" that deals 1d8+Int damage and you learn the power of the one of the target's magic items on a hit. Anyway... Diplomacy is still in there, as is Stealth, and a few other knowledge skills, but it seems like the rest is for killing.

- Skill challenges seemed fun. In "Escape from Sembia" we needed to hide from some guards for a bit. To this end, we each picked a way to do it. I chose to hide, others tried to run, and so on. Once we decided, we had a choice of taking the easy way, normal way, or the hard way. This modified the DC, but if we failed on the easy way, it came with a penalty above normal failure. On the opposite end, if we succeeded on the hard way, we got an extra bonus. While this seemed fun to me, it did have a couple of weird bits I am still trying to work out. Why not just combine it into one system, with benchmarks of success (you made it by 10, you not only hid, but you also learned a bit about your pursuers for example). I can see some advantages, but they seem less to me than the added complexity that drew me out of the moment.

- Everything scales. Damage, Hit Points, AC, Defenses, Attack rolls.. everything scales up at a pretty reliable rate. I can see how this might balance higher level play and that is a good thing. On the other hand, it kinda feels to me like you cannot break away from that curve to excel in anything. When fighting monsters similar to you, the fighter and the wizard have a similar difficulty level attacking it. This changes a bit depending upon what defense or AC you are shooting at, but they are still kinda close (it seems). What this seems to mean though, is that a lot of class niches seem blurred. In earlier editions, various monsters allowed the different classes to shine, which I feel is important to the game. I am shaky on this point, but it did make me wonder why everyone was not playing a cleric or paladin. They attacked nearly the same way as everyone else and could throw around the ability to use healing surges quite easily.

- Power Variety. This is an unfounded fear I am having. Most of the powers of a class all seem to do things along a similar line. Clerics, for example, seem to have a bunch of powers that do radiant damage. While this might work fine for a sun cleric. What am I gonna do about clerics of a shadow god or frost god or nature god? Not all of them can do radiant damage all the time. I hope there are a ton of powers for me to chose from because I really do not want to have to create a bunch to make my pantheons work. The same goes for just about every other class, each in its own way. I need a ton of options, but with every class getting a list of them, I am worried that it means less for those that really need it. I don't know, but some rumors that were going around the show have me a bit worried. This one is a wait and see I guess.

- No reliable coolness. Having to roll for nearly every power means that they miss sometimes. This really sucks when you burn your daily power and have it miss. While many have effects on a miss (I would guess), it is still a big letdown. I don't think I ever hit with my daily powers.

Wrap-Up
I am sure I will come up with a dozen more points in the coming days and weeks, but this is all I got for now. I think 4E is an interesting game and I will certainly be giving it a closer look. I have a lot of apprehension right now though. The games I played were fun, but they seemed awfully rushed to me, showing off a tiny slice of a larger game. I know some changes were made at the show, some of which might get folded back into the core books, which I guess go to the printer very soon. I am full of questions right now... only the GSL and the 4E rules will truly answer them I guess. Will 4E be a good game? I think so. Will 4E be D&D? I don't know. The waiting is killing me.

Static" monsters.
(Relatively) "static" characters.
(Apparently) "static" tactics.[/SBLOCK]


SPECTRE666
 
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ZombieRoboNinja

First Post
Heh, I don't think I've seen a single review from a Paizo guy that wasn't DEEPLY critical or suspicious of 4e... I'll be pretty surprised if they end up dumping 5 grand to become an early developer.
 

Frostmarrow

First Post
I think a lot of the reviewers seem a wee bit disappointed. Some of their gripes are complaints about stuff that has always been a 'problem', just in a different way. So what if you only have 3 things to do as a fighter? It's better than 1 thing isn't it? Or maybe a few options will make you feel more restrained than no options? Strange, the human psyche.
 

FadedC

First Post
The comment about it being impossible to die seemed a bit wierd....I know of quite a few characters who died in DDE, including a number of TPKs.
 

Ktulu

First Post
Interesting. A lot of the things he found to be lacking are things I've been excited about. I ran a game tonight (similar to the kobold adventure, but as a full game, not just encounters) with the party getting in different fights & the warlock only used 2 eldritch blasts the whole time, cleric only throwing out a total of 4 lances, and the fighter only brought the cleave twice. In 3 combats that doesn't seem to me like the players are using the same things over and over. I don't know what it might be like in an extended dungeon, but fighting 10 kobolds in a dungeon seemed to have them try interesting combinations of attacks, rather than just spewing magic missile.

As to the comments on monsters; I can agree with his thoughts, except I didn't ever see much different in 3.x. The biggest difference is that monsters have specific racial powers which really seems to make them different than others. Had I run rooms full of the same creatures over and over, though, I could see the tedium building. (though that's what the different monster roles should be for. The kobold skirmisher & dragonshield soldier sure don't feel like the same creature to me.)

Ktulu
 

fafhrd

First Post
If your group fails a bunch of these rolls, while the DM makes his recharge rolls, you are in for a tough fight.
I can't believe he said that and expected anyone to take him seriously. Yes, when the DM rolls well and you roll poorly, you have a hard time.
 

Frostmarrow

First Post
Ktulu said:
Interesting. A lot of the things he found to be lacking are things I've been excited about. I ran a game tonight (similar to the kobold adventure, but as a full game, not just encounters) with the party getting in different fights & the warlock only used 2 eldritch blasts the whole time, cleric only throwing out a total of 4 lances, and the fighter only brought the cleave twice. In 3 combats that doesn't seem to me like the players are using the same things over and over. I don't know what it might be like in an extended dungeon, but fighting 10 kobolds in a dungeon seemed to have them try interesting combinations of attacks, rather than just spewing magic missile.

As to the comments on monsters; I can agree with his thoughts, except I didn't ever see much different in 3.x. The biggest difference is that monsters have specific racial powers which really seems to make them different than others. Had I run rooms full of the same creatures over and over, though, I could see the tedium building. (though that's what the different monster roles should be for. The kobold skirmisher & dragonshield soldier sure don't feel like the same creature to me.)

Ktulu

Also, D&D has always been about new monsters. You are not really supposed to combat kobolds five encounters in a row. In D&D there should be a new combo of mad monsters behind every single door. Even if it makes no sense at all.
 

Stalker0

Legend
I think some of his points are well taken, but I will say this. I'm getting tired of people mentioning combats being repetitive when its 1st level!!!

I mean a 1st level wizard throws a couple of magic missiles and then is shooting a crossbow (often badly) for the rest of the day. Then fact that character can do 2 or 3 things well I consider a HUGE improvement.
 

UngainlyTitan

Legend
Supporter
Jason Bulmahn said:
-Jason Bulmahn Speaks about 4E


snip
- We all had a class-relative action to take pretty much every round. In 3.5, you would sometimes get forced to perform actions that were not part of your core character concept, such as having the wizard attack with a crossbow. While I consider this a plus, it did lead to repetitive action (something I was hoping 4E would avoid) after you used up your more limited powers. In other words, once I ran out of my per encounter powers, I pretty much used the same at-will power over and over because it was the best option I had.

- Once you face a monster, you know what to expect the next time you face that monster. This was very true in Scalegloom Hall. We faced the same kobolds again and again, and they performed pretty similarly over and over again. Since monsters do not have as many options available to them, they really only have a few things to do. This may be a factor of them being low level, but looking at the Pit Fiend post, I kinda doubt it. There were some variances, due to the room set ups (like swinging skulls and a rolling boulder), but setting those things aside, the kobold slingers did the same thing in every fight we faced them. I am not sure I like this, but there are worse things I suppose.

snip

Jason Bulmahn


When was it ever different? At least the wizard has an actual power to use instead of mucking about with daggers. Also with more numbers in a battle then there should be greater tactical variation in each depending on terrain. I suspect that some DMs will have to learn a little about skirmish level tactics and not rely on the monster stats alone to challange parties.
 

Zinegata

First Post
Interesting.

After reading all of the previews (i.e. character sheets, adventure reconstructions) from the D&DE one of the big questions I also found myself asking was "So... what makes one class unique from one another again?"

While I understand that there are now supposed to be clearly defined roles (i.e. Defender, Striker, etc), I just didn't see a whole lot of difference between most of the classes.

I personally thought that the Halfling Paladin had a striking, game-altering ability with the Divine Challenge (it really forces monsters to go after the Paladin or else they'd suffer a world of hurt). However, the rest of the abilities honestly seem like different variations of minor damage bonuses, or additional ways to do a bit of clever maneuvering (i.e. "shifting" an opponent's position).

Maybe later on with the whole book available we'll be able to see the big differences between each class. But as it stands it seems as though they erred on the side of maintaining game balance (by keeping everyone more or less similar) rather than on the side of giving each class a true sense of uniqueness.
 

Zinegata

First Post
Frostmarrow said:
I think a lot of the reviewers seem a wee bit disappointed. Some of their gripes are complaints about stuff that has always been a 'problem', just in a different way. So what if you only have 3 things to do as a fighter? It's better than 1 thing isn't it? Or maybe a few options will make you feel more restrained than no options? Strange, the human psyche.

Not really. I think the problem he pointed out is the Law of Darwinian Game Option Selection - No matter how many options there are in the game, there are always a few, clearly superior options that will always be chosen by players who are driven to succeed.

(Okay, I made that term up, but what I described is rather Darwinian.)

Which is a bit disappointing since that's really not much different from 3.X. Some choices are still better than others.
 

Zinegata

First Post
Stalker0 said:
I think some of his points are well taken, but I will say this. I'm getting tired of people mentioning combats being repetitive when its 1st level!!!

I mean a 1st level wizard throws a couple of magic missiles and then is shooting a crossbow (often badly) for the rest of the day. Then fact that character can do 2 or 3 things well I consider a HUGE improvement.

I dunno. I've done plenty of creative stuff with level 1 characters. People just have to know to use all of their character abilities - such as Cantrips which are typically ignored by other players.
 


Zinegata

First Post
fafhrd said:
I can't believe he said that and expected anyone to take him seriously. Yes, when the DM rolls well and you roll poorly, you have a hard time.

There are ways to mitigate the effect of good or bad rolling though. Some people choose to make powerful builds. Others employ various methods (i.e. maneuvering) to get some sort of combat advantage (i.e. flanking), although in 3E this kind of bonus is so small that it's generally relevant only at low levels.

Some other game systems require players to roll a heck of a lot of dice - which is one way to smooth out good or bad rolling by simply making sure everyone rolls more.

What the reviewer is likely saying is that these safeguards weren't present, at least during the demo. Decisive dice rolls are few in number so good or bad luck doesn't "smoothen out". In-built character bonuses and bonuses gained by battlefield gymnastics don't seem to yield a lot of dividends either. And that's why it's a cause for concern.
 

Jason Bulmahn

Explorer
fafhrd said:
I can't believe he said that and expected anyone to take him seriously. Yes, when the DM rolls well and you roll poorly, you have a hard time.

Yeah, I can see where that might seem a bit obvious. What I was trying to get across is this. The balancing mechanism for the encounter powers of monsters is a random rechange mechanic. If your DM has a string of lucky rolls in this regard, the fight is going to be much harder than it would be if he rolled an average amount. It would be like the DM rolling 1 for a 3.5 dragon's breath weapon recharge a number of rounds in a row. While this only has a 25% chance of happening each round, some of the monsters I saw had a recharge % greater than this. I am not 100% sure this is a huge problem, but it struck me as a bit odd.

Meh...

Jason Bulmahn
Gamer/Game Designer
 

Zinegata

First Post
fafhrd said:
I'm afraid that it's a basic tenet of life.

Very true, but with just 3 or so at-will choices per character, I was kinda expecting all to be equally useful in most situations. As it stands, I could see one clear "optimal" at-will choice for each character. The others are simply too conditional to be used on a regular basis.

And it's worth noting that in 3.X, the game was replete with highly conditional feats and abilities that saw little use. I was kinda hoping they didn't repeat that in 4E.
 

Kishin

First Post
Zinegata said:
Which is a bit disappointing since that's really not much different from 3.X. Some choices are still better than others.

Welcome to tactics, and for that matter, any situation with multiple options.
 

Jason Bulmahn

Explorer
Stalker0 said:
I think some of his points are well taken, but I will say this. I'm getting tired of people mentioning combats being repetitive when its 1st level!!!

I mean a 1st level wizard throws a couple of magic missiles and then is shooting a crossbow (often badly) for the rest of the day. Then fact that character can do 2 or 3 things well I consider a HUGE improvement.

I do agree with this to some extent. The wizard actually doing magic every round is an improvement over trying to shoot a crossbow poorly. From a purely mechanical perspective, however, if you strip away what the actual action is, you are still taking the same one over and over again. Once again, I am not 100% sure this is a huge problem. It was 1st level and all. It was just a thought I was having.

Jason Bulmahn
Gamer/Game Designer
 

Jason Bulmahn

Explorer
Kishin said:
Welcome to tactics, and for that matter, any situation with multiple options.

I was expecting that, truth be told. I was hoping it would not be so clear cut. If I had more than 1 enemy within a small area, the fire blast ability was the best choice. If not, magic missile was the way to go. There were some mitigating factors some of the time I guess. Hmm... I need to ruminate on this a bit more.

Jason

Edit: Ach.. Zinegata beat me to the same point..... :)
 

Zinegata

First Post
IuztheEvil said:
Yeah, I can see where that might seem a bit obvious. What I was trying to get across is this. The balancing mechanism for the encounter powers of monsters is a random rechange mechanic. If your DM has a string of lucky rolls in this regard, the fight is going to be much harder than it would be if he rolled an average amount. It would be like the DM rolling 1 for a 3.5 dragon's breath weapon recharge a number of rounds in a row. While this only has a 25% chance of happening each round, some of the monsters I saw had a recharge % greater than this. I am not 100% sure this is a huge problem, but it struck me as a bit odd.

Meh...

Jason Bulmahn
Gamer/Game Designer

Actually, I think your instincts were correct in this regard.

It's generally not good to have the game change decisively because of a few dice rolls. You generally want a lot of dice rolls to "smoothen" out the chance that a player will get too lucky. That's why many games such as Risk, A&A, and Heroscape uses tons of dice rolls.

In contrast, letting the game boil down to one roll is generally too swingy and can be highly unbalancing. For instance, in Warhammer 40K, melee is generally considered superior to shooting. This is because in melee, an entire unit can be wiped out by a single bad die roll (a morale check), and destroying a unit entirely nets a huge amount of victory points. By contrast, wiping out an enemy unit by shooting requires a good die roll with each and every shot.

Still, some games thrive on having few die rolls. But if balance was an important game objective (and it seems to be, given all of the emphasis on getting the math right), I'm not entirely sure this was the right move.
 

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