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Proposal: Replacing Half Level Bonuses

amnuxoll

First Post
Proposal: You no longer gain a bonus equal to half your level on defenses, attack rolls, skill checks, ability checks and initiative. Instead, every time you gain a new level you gain 6 "level points" that you can spend as follows:

- 1 point = +1 level bonus to one defense (Fort, Reflex or Will)
- 3 points = +1 level bonus to AC
- 2 points = +1 level bonus to all skills
- 1 point = +2 level bonus to a specific skill
- 4 points = +1 level bonus to attack rolls
- 1 point = +1 level bonus to initiative

You must spend all your level points as soon as you earn them. Your current level bonus to any of the above may never exceed 3/4 of your level.


==========

What does this do? At the cost of modicum of additional complexity it allows you to de-vanilla the probabilities in 4e without unbalancing it. Right now your probability of success or failure at *any* level appropriate task in 4e is pretty much fixed at around 50%. It doesn't matter if you're swinging a sword, climbing a wall or ducking a breath weapon. There is a little variability based on class, race and skill focus but not much. For the most part, it's always about 50%. I think that stinks. This house rule gives players the opportunity to make trade-offs and be better at some things in exchange for being worse at others. The 3/4 level limit prevents your base success probability from exceeding 75% so you still can't build a character who is always successful at something.

This also provides some nice mechanical hooks for roleplaying.
Example: The defender who is as strong as (and dumb as) a rock can concentrate on defenses at the expense of attacks, skills and initiative.
Example: The lilting swashbuckler can concentrate on attacks, AC, initiative and Reflex defense but fall behind on Fortitude, Will and skills.
Example: The MacGuyver rogue can maximize skill rolls at the cost of a little defense.

One potential negative: You do lose the guarantee that everyone in a 20th level party is better than a 1st level character at anything. I think the only time that this is a significant issue is with skills. If you wanted to, we could avoid that by keeping the fixed 1/2 level bump to skills and only spending 5 points per level.

FYI, if you balance the distribution of your points evenly you end up just slightly behind a PC who uses the standard PHB half-level bonuses. I figure you pay that small penalty in order to get the greater flexibility.

Just throwing it out there...
:AMN:
 

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Smeelbo

First Post
Whereas I understand your motivation (I was upset by the relative lack of customization in 4E), I think it works against the design of 4E in a way that will have negative consequences.

Let me explain. 4E is based on the premise that characters should be balanced on a linear Level vs Level graph. This requires that all characters scale linearly with level, which is what + 1/2 level does.

One of 3.x's main flaws was that bonuses varied so wildly, that there was a minimal correlation between Level vs. Level. The difference between a character that focused on one skill or attack and more rounded characters is enormous, and rises with level. This gives us three basic cases for a party in a campaign.

1) One or two maxers and the rest rounders
2) All maxers
3) All rounders

Assuming the DM tries to appropriately challenge the party, these cases make his job more difficult. Challenges appropriate for maxers would not be appropriate for rounders and vice versa. It would almost as if they were playing different games, because balance against them is so different.

Worse, in all three cases, the characters would diverge as level increased. The maxers would become much better at their max, and relatively more awful at their mins. Rounders might choose to acquire new abilities instead of increasing their existing abilities, and so their effective power would not rise as fast as their level as they become more and more diverse.

What the 4E + 1/2 x level bonus accomplishes is to minimize the difference between maxers and rounders. This makes it easier for the referee to make appropriate challenges for all the characters in the party. In addition, it makes it easier in theory for Hasbro to publish appropriately balanced materials, whether adventures, or new classes, powers, or magic items.

So your proposed option makes it more difficult for both players (more bookkeeping) and the referee (harder to design appropriate challenges). Further, it is not strictly necessary, as you can already do much of the job already with feats, such as Skill Focus or Iron Will.

If you remove + 1/2 x Level for attack, and replace it with your proposed system, enough players will choose to bump attack rolls each level that the gap between maxers and rounders will render what balance exists null and void. Max attackers will choose + Level for attack, rendering the defense given in the Monster Manual obsolete.

I am greatly sympathetic towards your desire for customization, as I was a great fan of 3.5, but the more I examine 4E, the more impressed I am by its design.

Smeelbo
 

Nifft

Penguin Herder
I would always put 4 points into ATTACK BONUS. Every single time.

Screw skills.
I would have +15 to hit by level 30.

Cheers, -- N
 

RyvenCedrylle

First Post
Maybe not.. but...

I won't rehash Smeelbo's excellent analysis of the situation, but let's not drop the hammer on this too quickly. We already know that you can remove magic items pretty much completely from the game by giving everyone a +1 Awesome bonus to attacks and defenses about every 5 levels. What if you wanted to run a magic-lite game where all of the magic items the characters found did an absurd number of weird things and were just as dangerous as they were helpful? (a la 1E and to a lesser extent, 2E) Every level, you get an Awesome point; apply them as per AMN's system here except that you can hold them over from level to level. Eh?
 

amnuxoll

First Post
I am greatly sympathetic towards your desire for customization, as I was a great fan of 3.5, but the more I examine 4E, the more impressed I am by its design.

Smeelbo

You've pretty much nailed my intent. I too was sick of the rampant character build abuse in 3.5e. But my feeling is that 4E has over-corrected for this. My proposal was intended to dial back on the control a bit without giving away the farm. I'm not convinced that I have not accomplished that here.

In 3.5e one key to a "good" build was synergy between class abilities. This house rule is not reinstating that. Also, point-buy systems have a proven track record in many other game systems.

But yes, I agree this is taking a step back from the design philosophy of 4e. I just think it's a step in the right direction. Thanks for the thoughtful reply!

:AMN:
 

Nifft

Penguin Herder
I won't rehash Smeelbo's excellent analysis of the situation, but let's not drop the hammer on this too quickly. We already know that you can remove magic items pretty much completely from the game by giving everyone a +1 Awesome bonus to attacks and defenses about every 5 levels. What if you wanted to run a magic-lite game where all of the magic items the characters found did an absurd number of weird things and were just as dangerous as they were helpful? (a la 1E and to a lesser extent, 2E) Every level, you get an Awesome point; apply them as per AMN's system here except that you can hold them over from level to level. Eh?
The magic item removal formula is a fixed set of bonuses over the course of 5 levels. You can't skip an attack bonus point and assign it to AC, for example. That's part of the point.

Cheers, -- N
 

Alex319

First Post
I would always put 4 points into ATTACK BONUS. Every single time.

Screw skills.
I would have +15 to hit by level 30.

Cheers, -- N

Actually, you'd only have +7. He said you can only max at +3/4 of your level.

The overall idea of more character customization seems like a reasonable idea. Basically, you'll have to decide, quantitatively, about how many points you want characters to be able to be "off" from the standard. Then you could set up a point system that enables people to trade away that many points.

Another thing to think about is how the customization scales across multiple levels. Let's say you want players to alter their attack bonuses, skills, etc. by 4 points in either direction by 30th level via customization. If you do it linearly by level (like you do in your system) then they would be at +2/-2 worth of customization by 15th level, and it would take them until 7th or 8th level to even get a +1/-1, which might be too slow for your tastes. Instead you might want a system that will let people get that customization in early, but doesn't let players get extremely high boosts at high levels.

I have an idea of how to do this. I don't have time to post it right now but I'll post it later tonight.
 

RyvenCedrylle

First Post
Nifft, I'm going to have to respectfully disagree with you here. Magic and mundane gear is modular. If my rogue chooses to wield a +2 proficiency bonus weapon and burn a feat to get medium armor, he (or she) is down a point of attack and up a point (or two) of AC. Obviously not in the same way, but the effect remains. That's not game-breaking. My tempest fighter could wield two daggers to gain an extra point to attack and drop damage and there wouldn't be a problem there. Furthermore, if I don't have a Cloak of Resistance +1 by fifth level - say I'm playing LFR and I haven't come across a module where that is a treasure bundle - I'm certainly at a disadvantage, but not hopelessly so.

Customization inherently carries with it the opportunity and possibility to be less than optimal. If you want to be able to customize meaningfully, there are going to be ways to paint yourself into a corner. That being said, it's not as offbalancing to replace a modular system with another modular system. It seems clear after many lengthy discussions that dropping the non-modular +1/2 level bonus is a Bad Idea. A modular magic item system replaced by a well thought-out modular point buy system will carry some balance risk, but acceptably so.

As always, YMMV.
 

Alex319

First Post
Well, anyway, here's my idea as promised.

-----

Customization Modifier (CM) System)

Each score (attack, skills, etc.) is given a static bonus, known as the CM (Customization Modifier).

You "purchase" CMs using a point buy system. Each bonus costs a given amount of customization points (CP). The total CP spent must be zero or less; i.e. if you want a positive CM for one score then you must balance it out with a negative CM for another score. Effectively, you "sell back" certain scores by getting penalties (negative CP) and you use those to "purchase" bonuses (costing positive CP.) Of course you can choose not to use the system at all and take zeros for all your CMs.

CP Cost Table:

Code:
Score             -4  -3  -2  -1  0  +1  +2  +3  +4

Attack Rolls      -15 -12 -9  -5  0  +6  +12 +20 +28
One NAD*          -4  -3  -2  -1  0  +1  +2  +3  +4
Armor Class       -7  -6  -4  -2  0  +3  +6  +10 +14
One Skill         NA  NA  NA  NA  0  +1  +2  +3  +4 
3 Related Skills  NA  NA  NA  NA  0  +2  +4  +6  +8
All Skills        -7  -6  -4  -2  0  +3  +6  +9  +12
Initiative        -2  -1  -1  0   0  +1  +2  +4  +6

*Non-Armor Class Defense (fort, ref, or will)
Special Notes for Skills:

You may not sell back (choose a penalty for) one skill or three related skills. If you want to get points by selling back skills, you must sell back all of them.

If you purchase an "All skills" option, you may purchase "one skill" or "3 related skills" packages, and the bonuses stack. (You can also purchase the same skill as a single skill and in a "3 related skills" package. However, it is still limited by the maximum CM you are normally allowed. For example, if you are 10th level, and you have +2 to all skills, the most extra you can purchase for an individual skill is +1.

You can of course get a penalty to "All skills" and offset it with bonuses for specific skills. For example, if you want a -3 to all skills except Diplomacy, you can get -3 to all skills (giving 6 more CP) and then buy +3 to Diplomacy (spending 3 CP).
----

At each even level, you can change your CM allocations without using a retraining option. The maximum and minimum CMs you are allowed at each level is as follows:

Code:
LV  Min Max
1    0   0
2    -1  +1
3    -1  +1
4    -2  +1
5    -2  +1
6    -3  +2
7    -3  +2
8    -4  +2
9    -4  +2
10  -4  +3
11  -4  +3
12  -4  +3
13  -4  +3
14+ -4  +4
 
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Smeelbo

First Post
Heroic Feat: Dabbler, +2 feat bonus to two skills

At minimum, I'd try to remove bonuses to attack from your customizations rules. Either it would become no choice at all, i.e., everyone would grab every attack bonus to attack they could, or else those who did not grab every attack bonus they could would be at an increasingly severe disadvantage in combat, and appropriate encounters would be harder to design.

What about skill points then? Well, except for the fact that a given character can't have enough feats, I'd say Skill Focus is good enough. For example, a Warlock who wants to take advantage of hiding might use a couple feats to Train and Focus Stealth, and even with a crappy DEX, they'd be good enough.

Do you really need skill points on top of that? And if you do give skill points, but not the opportunity to buy attack bonuses, then the combat centered characters will be given something that they may not find useful, while your skill monkeys will use the skill points to max their favorite skills.

Similarly, is there really any reason to mess with defenses beyond what is already available?

The solution might be as simple as something like this:

Heroic Tier Feat: Dabbler
Requires: INT 12+ or WIS 12+
Choose 2 skills. Gain a +2 feat bonus with each of these skills. You may select Dabbler multiple times, choosing different skills each time.

Clean and simple, adds only a single feat to the game, and allows characters to dabble in skills for the cost of a single feat. Might be too good in comparison to Skill Focus, but does not stack with it or Jack of All Trades.

My gut tells me to tinker as little as possible with the rules, until I really understand them a lot better.

Smeelbo

EDIT: I started my post off-line before dinner, and have not yet considered the proposed MLB in detail. At first glance, it at least attempts to address many of my concerns.
 
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Alex319

First Post
Design Notes:

- I based most of the point costs on the point costs given in the OP's initial post. I increased the cost of the attack bonus because that seemed like the one everyone seemed to want.

- The purpose of the diminishing returns for both "buying" and "selling" CMs is to make "min-maxing" less likely and diversity more desirable. (It's effectively the same reason why the ability score point buy has diminishing returns.)

- I added the "3 Related Skills" option because it seemed to fill a gap between the one skill and all skills options. In the OP's system, if you wanted more than one or two skills to have bonuses you might as well just buy all skills.

- The rules for combining individual skills and "all skills" packages may be a little confusing, but it was the only thing I could come up with that was logical, fair, and not easily exploited. The way to think of it is that if you get, say, +2 to all skills, the +2 is the "base" that you've already paid for if you want to buy more for a particular skill.

- The reason you can't get a penalty to an individual skill or 3 related skills is because otherwise everyone would just take big penalties to skills that they didn't plan to use in order to get lots of points to put in other. Also, they could get lots of free points by say, getting +4 to all skills for 12 CP and then selling back all 17 of those skills one at a time for 3 CP each.

- Initiative has a very low "sell-back" value because many characters have little use for initiative, for example back-line characters like wizards and archer rangers that aren't usually the first into combat and often want to wait anyway to see the enemies move up before they attack. These characters would almost always want to sell back as much initative as they can for points if the value was higher.
 

Alex319

First Post
At minimum, I'd try to remove bonuses to attack from your customizations rules. Either it would become no choice at all, i.e., everyone would grab every attack bonus to attack they could, or else those who did not grab every attack bonus they could would be at an increasingly severe disadvantage in combat, and appropriate encounters would be harder to design.

Although I didn't remove them, I did try to make them very expensive. In the current system you can get 8 CP by selling skills, 2 by selling initiative, and 21 by selling defenses, for a total of 31. So even a +2 attack bonus would force you to sell defenses to get it even if you took a -4 to all skills and initiative (And of course initiative is important in combat too.) If you wanted a +3 attack bonus you would have to take -4 to all skills, -4 to initiative, and -2 to all defenses and still be one point short. And a high attack bonus is no help if your defenses are so low that you get killed first.

If you wanted to, you could even tweak the costs a little more - say make the point values for selling skills -6/-5/-4/-2 instead of -8/-6/-4/-2, and up the costs a point or two, so that you have to sacrifice more combat effectiveness to get that point of attack bonus.

Any customization method like this will make parties more powerful, because they could specialize more. For examples rogues could increase initiative so they could get their first strike bonus, defenders could increase AC and NADs, and back-line characters like wizards who don't get hit as much could sacrifice defense for attack bonus. But it is not obvious that all characters would pump their attack bonus, nor is it obvious that characters who didn't would be significantly weakened.

(For an example, note that not all characters take a 20 (18 + 2 racial bonus) in their primary attack stat - many reduce it so they can buy other stats that improve other things like defenses, HP, and skills.)

What about skill points then? Well, except for the fact that a given character can't have enough feats, I'd say Skill Focus is good enough. For example, a Warlock who wants to take advantage of hiding might use a couple feats to Train and Focus Stealth, and even with a crappy DEX, they'd be good enough.

Do you really need skill points on top of that? And if you do give skill points, but not the opportunity to buy attack bonuses, then the combat centered characters will be given something that they may not find useful, while your skill monkeys will use the skill points to max their favorite skills.

Similarly, is there really any reason to mess with defenses beyond what is already available?

Well, the OP did say that he thought that the current feat system didn't give him the level of customization he wanted.
 

Smeelbo

First Post
I am very confused by the MLB proposal. You get +1/2 per level as normal, then apply the modifiers? And do so every even level?

On the face of it, it appears to allow characters to trade away things that are not at all valuable to them for things that are very valuable to them.

When is a penalty not a penalty? When the penalty never applies.

Smeelbo
 

Alex319

First Post
My explanation of the system as a "modified level bonus" may have been confusing.

Basically, you calculate 1/2 your level as normal, then add the CM. You only add one CM - the CM that your character currently has. CM modifier choices do not "accumulate" in any way from level to level.

For example, suppose that you are 2nd level and have a CM of +1 to attack. Then your MLB is +2 to attack, so you use the +2 in place of +1 in order to calculate your attack bonus. So you have +1 more to attack than you would have otherwise.

Now you go up to 4th level. If you don't change your CM (i.e. you keep it at +1), then your new MLB is +3, which is still one higher than it would have been in the absence of a CM, so you still only have +1 more to attack than you would have without the system.

Let's say that instead you dropped the attack bonus CM to zero at 4th level so you use the 5 extra CP to bump all your skills by 2. Then effectively at 4th level you didn't improve your attack (since the MLB stays at +2) but you got to improve your skills more (because instead of the MLB for skills going from +1 to +2, it went from +1 to +4).

It might be easier to think about if you don't think of the CM as modifying the level bonus at all, you just think of it as an extra static modifier that applies to the check.
 

Smeelbo

First Post
IMing the author, I am a little clearer on the MLB concept. The customization is a static adjustment to the +1/2 level bonus. However, I am still not convinced.

For example, my fighter could trade a -4 penalty at three related skills, say Arcana, History and Religion, and -1 at Diplomacy, in exchange for a +1 on attack bonus.

Given a choice, every character will do something similar. Skill monkeys will trade penalties on skills they don't use for bonuses to skills they do use.

More attack is bad for the game, plain and simple. Trading away skill bonuses that are rarely used for attack bonuses is an even worse idea. You can't even buy +1 attack bonus for a feat, let alone an imaginary penalty.

I am sorry, but if I understand this correctly, I think it's back to the drawing board.

Smeelbo
 

Alex319

First Post
I thought I was pretty clear on this that you cannot sell back individual skills or groups of 3 related skills. You can ONLY sell back all the skills at once, so you can't just sell back the skills you don't use. The only reason the chart has values for negative bonuses in those rows is for if you want to sell all skills and then buy back some of them.

I think I might actually change the rules for skills, given how confusing they seem to be.

EDIT: Change is done. See the post for details.
 
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Smeelbo

First Post
Okies, here's the problem I have with this whole effort, beyond the immediate balance issue, and that is, "What is this really intended to accomplish?"

As I read it, it is intended to satisfy the desire for a more customized character. So what do you mean by that, and why isn't what's already available good enough?

Are you saying, "Well, my character concept is that I am a really good attacker, even better than normal, so I need +1 to attack rolls." To which the correct response is, "Get in back of the line, buddy, so are all these other characters. They all want to be the best they can possibly be at attacking."

So being a better attacker is not really a distinctive character concept.

Are you saying, "My character has abilities outside his class?" Then there are numerous feats, especially skill training and multi-classing, that do the trick already.

Are you saying, "My character is willing to have a glass jaw in order to pay for better powers?" Since you point buy your ability scores at character creation, you can already trade off attacks and defenses.

As much as my heart yearns for more customization, I think 4E already provides a great deal of variety. Better, the existing 4E options force significant trade-offs, which is more fair.

Smeelbo
 

Nifft

Penguin Herder
Nifft, I'm going to have to respectfully disagree with you here. Magic and mundane gear is modular. If my rogue chooses to wield a +2 proficiency bonus weapon and burn a feat to get medium armor, he (or she) is down a point of attack and up a point (or two) of AC.
In the case of the Rogue, he's also lost all his powers (since they require the use of a Light Blade), and probably gained nothing (since there is no "Medium" armor, so he'd be throwing away his Dex bonus to AC by going into Heavy, which for a typical Rogue nets out to nothing, or to a penalty for a PC who started with a 20 Dex).

Maybe a different example would better express your point? If you want to talk about the Rogue, your suggestion is not a minor step down, but a leap off the sheer cliff of utility into powerlessness.

Cheers, -- N
 

Starfox

Adventurer
The 3/4 level limit prevents your base success probability from exceeding 75% so you still can't build a character who is always successful at something.

This just inst true and is based on a fundamental misunderstanding.

Letting players vary their level bonus from zero to 3/4 means there will be an escalating difference as they progress over levels. It will NOT "prevents your base success probability from exceeding 75%". If you introduce a special +5 bonus, that will make people go from 50% chance to succeed to 75% chance to succeed. A +5 bonus over and above the normal +1/2 levels in your system takes 20 levels to earn if you concentrate fully. That is, for the first 20 levels, people will have less than 75% chance to succeed, for level 21-30, they will have more, up to just under 90% at level 30.

This might nor be a desirable effect or not - I don't want to argue with your goals here. I just want to point out that limiting the level bonus to 3/3 each level does not give you a 75% chance to succeed.
 

amnuxoll

First Post
That is, for the first 20 levels, people will have less than 75% chance to succeed, for level 21-30, they will have more, up to just under 90% at level 30.
...
I just want to point out that limiting the level bonus to 3/4 each level does not give you a 75% chance to succeed.

You're absolutely right. Thanks for pointing it out.

The thrust of the proposal is to allow a level of customization without unbalancing the game. You could just as easily set a different maximum bonus. I think the original cap is fine, since you won't get above 75% until the Epic tier and you'll never get above 85%.

In a way, this addresses Smeelbo's comments too because it illustrates how these bonuses are too small to be game breaking. It maxes out at +2 over "normal" at the top of the Heroic tier and and +5 at the top of Paragon. And, of course, the cost of getting there is high in terms of lost ability in other areas.

:AMN:
 

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