Sunday, October 4, 2009

Don't try to frighten us with your sorcerous ways

[FYI: This post has been sitting on my hard drive for a week, thanks to a nasty cold my son has which spread to me.]

Magic-Users are up next in my run-down of classes. I've been putting it off a bit, because, well, I haven't really done much to change Magic-Users. The biggest change is a result of the 20th level cap. The spell progression chart looks much more like that of 3E, although with more low level spells when they get up there (but I guess any 3E Wizard will have an Int in the 20's by then, so they'll have bonus spells which likely makes it very similar...). I've also decided on the Holmes rule for crafting scrolls (you can write them at 1st level, if you've got 1 week and 100gp for each spell level you want to scribe).

But thinking about M-Us, and then reading this thread over at Grognardia got me thinking about the last two characters I've played. Both of them Magic-Users. First was Valentio the Pungent, in my friend Paul's BECM/RC game about two years back. Next was an unnamed 'Human Wizard' pregen in the brief 4E test scenario we ran with my board game group about a month or so ago.

Valentio's highest ability score was his Intelligence, a whopping 13! And I decided, on a lark, to take the second best spell, Charm Person, instead of Sleep. I also loaded up on a variety of dungeoneering equipment, since I had the starting gold and the carrying capacity. In the first adventure, I managed to charm the chieftain of the kobolds we were about to face off against, preventing what would have been a bloody battle. If I'd taken Sleep, then I would have likely used it on the first wave, and the second wave would have then caused lots of death and destruction.

So Valentio saved the day. I also soon came upon a wand of fear with a few charges left, and became the group's potion-keeper, doling out a supply of healing potions as needed. Paul was also generous in allowing potions and scrolls to be purchased at not so high a price, so I gained a bit of magical use after scoring a few treasure hoards. But for the most part, it was my experience as a player, especially in old-school dungeon crawling, that really made Valentio useful to the group. I always had that rope, 10' pole, mirror, or flask of oil that they needed.

I made it up to 3rd level before my son was born, for which event my wife and I to move to Korea (her home). His second 1st level spell was Protection from Evil, which saved me from some living statues. Then when I hit 3rd level I took Phantasmal Force which really allowed me to have fun as we stared in on the orange cover B3 Palace of the Silver Princess. Unfortunately, we were in the middle of that odd-ball module when I had to move away. So ended the brief but memorable career of Valentio the Pungent.

Now, I know it's not a fair comparison, since I played Valentio in about 5-6 sessions, and I only played the 4E pre-gen in one session, for about 2 ½ hours. But I'm gonna compare them anyway.

I didn't take the character sheet home, but this Wizard had some pretty good ability scores. I guess it was the 4E standard array, but of course I had 18 Int, and my lowest score was I think an 11 somewhere. Everything else was a bonus. As were the stats of everyone else's characters. Slight digression, but what's the point? It seems like you can choose which of 2 stats you want to use for just about anything in 4E, so does everyone really need every stat above average?

He had a slew of at will powers (3 or 4, mostly quite similar—roll to hit, do some damage), and an encounter power (roll to hit, do some damage and slow the target IIRC) and a choice of two daily powers (Sleep, and Acid Arrow—I guess I can remember these two since they've been around since before 2008). I chose Sleep. Seemed the no brainer, but afterwards I was thinking I might have been better off with yet another 'roll to hit, do damage' effects, since it had bigger damage. Sleep allows victims a save every round until they recover. File this one away with energy drain and rust monsters, I guess.

Anyway, back to my pre-gen Wizard. I'm supposedly the “Controller” who plies the battlefield, cutting off routes of attack to our foes, and cordoning them off into easily managed units for the tanks—I mean Defenders, and Strikers. But looking at my list of abilities (damage one target x3, damage a small group x1, slightly incapacitate and annoy x1), there really wasn't much I could do most of the time except try to hit things for damage, just like everyone else.

The battle played out like this. Waves of goblins attack, mostly minions, but a few with staying power, including a few hidden snipers. Most of us are just going through a select power, roll to hit, roll for damage routine. Not really different than a D&D combat in any edition, with the exception of everyone having to take a minute or two to ponder 'powers' like spellcasters often do in older editions.

Then we spot some more mook goblins up the path, and a goblin spellcaster with guards beyond them. Well, I'm supposed to be the controller, right? And I've got 15 hit points at 1st level, and a fairly decent AC (my Int being better than my Dex, that got added—so why do I need Dex? Oh yeah, already mentioned that above. Sorry!). I figure I can move up, Sleep the spellcaster and guards, then play defensive until I can get away from the mook goblins and back to the relative safety of the party.

I manage to put the caster to sleep, and one or two guards, but the other guards are unaffected (slowed, I guess, but it didn't matter). One of the warrior types, also realizing as I did that the spellcaster is the biggest threat, sets off across the battlefield to attack him. I get swarmed by mook goblins and taken down to negative hit points (but of course not dead...I got better!).

The goblin spellcaster stayed asleep for a round or two, and his guards all woke up the round after I cast the spell. So when the warrior got there, he got taken down to negatives, as well. Meanwhile, everyone else is finally mopping up the last of the beginning ambush forces, while the goblin spellcaster is hiding in a magical cloud of smoke and blasting magic missiles at us, and I'm barely recovered at 4 hit points and crawling away. That's when we ran out of time.

Now, all of us were new to 4E, and a few people in the group were new to RPGs all together. Sure, our tactics sucked. And 4E combat is apparently all about having the right tactics for your characters through their choice of powers (pleasantly different from 3E, where it's about having the right strategy for character building). If we get around to playing 4E again, hopefully we'll have a better sense of how to work effectively as a team, using our powers to aid each other, rather than mostly acting in a vacuum compared to the other players.

But what really got me was how different Valentio was to play compared to the pre-gen Wizard. With Valentio, I had to think all the time. Should I cast my Charm Person spell now, or save it for later? Should I risk another charge from the Wand of Fear, or will that be the last one? Should we spike this door shut, or will we need a quick escape? Should I go first to probe with my 10' pole, or stick behind the guys in metal clothing?

With the pre-gen, other than my choice of when and who to hit with my Sleep spell, there was only one other consideration. Can I hit multiple targets? (mini-fireball) Can I hit only one? (magic missile)

I definitely prefer the thinking man's Magic-User over the walking Arcane Kaster-47 Wizard. With one, I had only one 'power' (to begin with) but used my head to find stuff to do in the meantime. With the other, I had a slew of 'powers' that were more or less identical, and nothing to do except just keep blasting away.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, I still prefer the old vancian magic, although I suppose they kept some of the flavour by having the daily and encounter powers.

    4E has really downplayed resource management.