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Rule-of-Three: 11/14/2011
Rich Baker

You've got questions—we've got answers! Here's how it works—each week, our Community Manager will be scouring all available sources to find whatever questions you're asking. We'll pick three of them for R&D's Rich Baker to answer, whether about the about the making of the game, the technical workings of our DDI studio, or anything else you care to know about… with some caveats.

There are certain business and legal questions we can't answer (for business and legal reasons). And if you have a specific rules question, we'd rather point you to Customer Service, where representatives are ready and waiting to help guide you through the rules of the game. That said, our goal is provide you with as much information we can—in this and other venues.

1 When are we going to see the final material for the arcanist playtest?

I spoke with producer Greg Bilsland, and here's the scoop: Our review of the arcanist playtest feedback prompted us to take a more comprehensive look at zones in the game. (The arcanist, for those of you who don't know, is our name for the wizard subclass described by the PH1 wizard. It's useful for differentiating the PH1 wizard from the Essentials mage.) Anyway, our developers are working through that task right now. We expect to include the final updates to the arcanist in our upcoming December rules package.

2 Did the martial practices work out as expected from the Martial Power 2 book? Can we expect to see more of them in the future?

Mechanically, I'd say that they turned out much as we intended. We knew what we wanted that system to accomplish, and I think it hit most of the notes it was supposed to. However, I just don't see any evidence that Practiced Study (the martial practice access feat) is actually showing up on players' character sheets. I was the lead designer for Martial Power 2, and I was really pretty excited about a system that might let your character explore the limits of human endurance if you wanted to make a modest character investment to do so. I had dozens of examples running through my head—marathon runners, extreme distance runners, pearl divers who can go down hundreds of feet on a single breath, read the ground with the unbelievable skill of a Sherlock Holmes or Prince Humperdinck (you know, from the Princess Bride—"there was a mighty duel"), and more. For whatever reason, the system just hasn't caught on with the audience.

I think the biggest reason the martial practice system failed to see more use was that we set too high a cost on it. A single feat choice doesn't seem like much of an expense, but most characters are seriously feat-constrained for the first ten levels or so of their career. Practiced Study competes against things that add to your attack bonus, your damage, and your defenses. You don't know when it will ever matter that your PC can run three days without dropping, but you know that you'll miss the slight improvements in your combat stats every time you swing your sword or a monster swings at you. Choosing Practiced Study imposes a fierce opportunity cost, and by the time you have the feats to spare, you're in paragon level and those amazing displays of pure skill and endurance aren't as cool as they used to be.

A few months ago, I set out to build a slayer for Steve Schubert's "we're all roguish fellows" campaign. I decided I was going to be a bounty hunter. I pored over the martial practices system, and I wanted to take Practiced Study so bad. My character could track anyone, run people down across endless miles of wilderness, all that cool stuff. And then I took Master at Arms instead. If I couldn't sell myself on those abilities being worth a feat choice, I guess I can't expect the audience to disagree.

Oh, almost forgot … Would we publish more martial practices? Well, if the right article proposal comes in, then sure. We like the system just fine. Our only complaint is that it doesn't seem many people are waiting to see more of it.

3 In the last Rule of Three, you talked a little about roles existing in earlier editions but being codified in 4E. How do you think having these roles has affected the game? Is there anything you would change or anything you've learned from this design choice?

Well, the first thing I think we've gained from codifying roles is that party construction is streamlined quite a bit. In previous editions, if a player said he was playing a bard, a warlock, a bow ranger, or a monk, you weren't quite sure what that meant for the party mix. Did you still need a front-line fighter in the party, or would the monk take care of that? Was the bard enough of a healer to see you through, or did you still need a cleric? Could the warlock really replace a wizard, or not? In fact, some class choices could actually result in characters that totally failed to do what other players expected them to do. For example, in 2E, you could build a specialty priest with no real ability to throw out the heals other players might count on. (I personally like the fact that the leader role diminishes the specific need for a cleric; some players want to play healing or support characters that don't come with the story assumptions of the cleric, such as allegiance to temples or patron deities. Players who want to run healers have a wealth of viable archetypes to explore in 4th Edition.)

As far as lessons learned, I think we've learned quite a bit about the striker role. I mentioned last week that the striker was essentially new to D&D in 4th Edition. It came into existence as we were casting about for some understanding of what the thief, the monk, or the light-armor ranger was supposed to do in combat. Clearly they weren't as tough as heavily armored fighters, but what were they gaining in return? In 4th Edition, we answered that question by setting them up as high damage/low defense, as compared to the defender's high defense/low damage. That definitely made it cool and powerful to be a rogue or ranger—perhaps a little too cool and powerful. The primary functions of the leader, defender, and controller revolve around damage mitigation … and the best damage mitigation of all is killing stuff before it attacks you. Moreover, the striker is an essentially selfish role. Your only concern is to maximize your own fun, and in a smart, well-played party, everyone else should be trying to maximize your fun, too. 4th Edition is, for better or worse, a striker's game.

One more lesson learned: It's harder to customize a character or play against type when the class is built to serve a specific role. If you want to build a wizard who behaves like a striker by putting out a ton of damage on a single target, you can't really do it; you need to build a warlock instead. Similarly, if you want to build an axe-throwing fighter, you'll find that the fighter offers darned few ranged weapon powers; it's hard to make the fighter into a character who fights well at range. You have to create that character by figuring out which class makes that concept work (slayer or ranger, perhaps) and call yourself an axe fighter while using the chassis provided by a class in the "proper" role. Role insulation helps to guide players into building effective characters, but it also limits creativity. It'd be nice to give players more control over which role their characters were filling, or even if they were filling a role at all.

How can I submit a question to the Rule-of-Three?

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