Saturday, June 19, 2010

I'm That Player

I mentioned a few times that I'm a player in a 4e game. It's the only roleplaying I've been getting to do as a player recently. During this campaign I've been complaining all along about the effectiveness of my character and the oddness of the rules. Finally last night my character died, the first to die in our campaign. When talk began about what character I'd make next, I said I didn't want to make another character, that I'd probably just drop out of the campaign. One friend said I was a poor loser, bad at dying.

Sounds horrible, I know. Let me give you some context.

First it is incredibly hard to die in 4e, I think that the only way it was possible was that we were pretty strongly outnumbered/outmatched and I was unlucky in my rolls.

Some of getting into this situation were probably mistakes on our part, but I had invisibly scouted the two possible paths in a cave we were exploring. One had monsters, the other a weird girl having a tea party. Obviously, being down in a cave, we new she wasn't normal, but then she wasn't openly hostile. In trying to ask her about a magic door we were searching for we apparently pushed her too far and were suddenly surrounded by waves of spiders.

There were only 3 of us playing so we probably should have hesitated to get into danger. But in our defense we did hire men-at-arms. And bless my DM's heart, he actually had us roll on my hireling trait table. It wasn't quite the same though-- spiders got initiative and all 7 hirelings were dead before they got to attack, haha.

I actually try to play very cautiously/defensively; I enter combats invisible if I can and because I lose that when I attack, I deployed a magical candle that grants invisibility to anything in a small radius. So I try to snipe things from within my protective blind. Because of this I was actually the last to go down. Both my party members went down. the first time I revived one, but he was quickly dropped again to be revived by the other player who was then dropped himself. The problem was there were spiders everywhere and it was hard to move around without getting opportunity attacked (I thought that was a feature people hated in 3.5? hmm).

So in saving my buddies I lost my hidey hole and was laid low pretty quickly. My teammates actually both managed to flee and live to fight another day.

So could we have made better decisions? Maybe, I'm not sure what they would have been though. Could we have prepared better strategically? Maybe, but again, other than waiting for a session when more players could be present to enter the caves I don't know what we could have done.

So why not roll up a character an jump right back in? The thought just makes me tired. I can't figure out this rule system. I don't know what the designers expect me to do. You might say, don't worry about that just roleplay, but that's how you end up as spider-snack.

See, I like magic and tend toward playing characters of the mage variety, but in 4e the wizard seems completely useless. It's hard to explain if you aren't familiar with the rules, but characters have different "powers" that they can use more or less frequently depending on, well, how powerful they are. Your standard peeshooter attack you can use "at-will." Other attacks you can use once a battle and finally the most powerful attacks you can use only once a day.

So, my character is, was a 7th level wizard and his daily powers, presumably the most deadly, are:
  • Sleep
  • Fireball
  • Stinking cloud
  • Bigby's Icy grasp
  • Summon Fire Warrior
Looks pretty impressive, right? The problem is you have to roll to hit for everything. Have you ever missed with a stinking cloud? I have. I cast fireball in the spider fight, an area of effect spell 3' x 3', and missed. The spiders ended up taking half damage which was something like 9 hit points and these things had well over 50. Woohoo, glad I can only cast that thing once a day.

How about sleep? Well you have to roll to hit and if you miss, the targets are slowed, which is pretty much useless because they're already standing in your face wailing on you, they don't need to move. If you are lucky enough to hit the creature with your magical sleep dust they are slowed and if they fail a save they fall asleep. They get a save every combat round after that to wake up.

Ok, is it me or is that the nerf of all nerfing? Once a day>if you hit>if target fails save>they sleep.

I really hate to be that guy at the table, the one that brings things down and makes it less fun for the DM. I hope my jokes and banter made up for any complaints I made, but it's just really frustrating to not be able to figure a game out. I think it might be doubly frustrating because the game looks like one I've played but if I play it like that game I don't do well.

The friend that said I was just a sore loser said maybe I just didn't build my wizard right, I'd made the wrong choices in character creation. That kind of irked me and I challenged him to make a 7th level wizard any way he wanted and I'd fight him with an elf two levels lower and win.

I said that because most of the party is elf or elf-related. They get to do things like teleport during combat and their daily powers tend to be about doing more damage rather than just putting effects on foes. I have a sinking suspicion that the wizard is meant to be "Crowd Control." Somehow constraining monsters or funneling them like in a MMO. But none of the effects my spells create-- slow, daze-- can actually prevent a creature from attacking. And even if I could somehow manipulate where monsters moved or attacked how would that change a battle, the elves are all attacking with all their might anyway?

So, again, I can't figure that system out and because of that it is frustratingly unfun.

And because of that I don't want to play it. I enjoy the socializing. We did some creative roleplaying, but once we entered a battle I new it would be at least an hour of frustration. And battles were inevitable.

Anyway, that's my rant. I'd be fascinated to hear from anyone who's successfully played a 4e wizard, or from a DM familiar with both 4e and older versions of D&D that could weigh in on the differences in approach required to be successful.


  1. The rules (as you pointed them out) seem to be caught-up in the same old BS about spell-casters being too powerful, so we have to hobble them in order for the hick with a stick to be able to dominate play. Yawn. It's so much crap. And it's not fun to play, either. Missing with a fireball or a stinking cloud? Really? If you can be surrounded so that any movement gives the monsters attacks of opportunity on you, then they are so packed that you can't reasonably miss with an area effect attack. Period. This sounds like something was wrong either in rules, interpretation, or implementation. Sniff, sniff--I smell BS.

  2. Having played in a 4e group for about a year and a half, I would agree with you that the wizard is probably the second weakest of 8 players handbook classes (the warlock being the weakest of the 8) and I feel your frustration with the ruleset. The was to make the wizard work really depends on your teammates ability to cooperate with you and help you get the most out of your daily powers. At first level, a wizard who casts flaming sphere needs allies that can push enemies into the flaming sphere and keep them there, for example. In 4e, it's less about making a good character as it is about making a good party. That's what irks my the most--your character is not your own; you can't play whatever character you want because he needs to work well and synergize with the rest of the group.

    I feel your pain though. If you like being a wizard in old school games, you might want to consider the warlord or fighter. Really. Out of all the 4e class, these are the only two (from my experience) that don't feel like they are just there to hit something or heal somebody. They are very tactical classes that have interesting and important choices to make every round. My 4e experience vastly improved once I started to embrace the tactical part of my mind and created a warlord. Some good rollplay during combat is fun to--I think that's how I lasted as long as I did.

    I hope everything goes well, I'm sure it will eventually.

  3. 4e ruined spellcasters, IMO, but I do like the Warlord class. In the brief 4e campaigns we played, I was a human warlord (Crassus Maximus, a Roman centurion type) and then a half-orc rogue (which played like a fighter/assassin in AD&D, which is nice as I was trying to see how my longest running AD&D character would look in 4e). Both were a lot of fun but we never got above 3rd or 4th level so keeping track of all he powers etc. might become a drag. If someone has the character program which prints your cards that makes things much more manageable.
    I think you hit the nail on the head too about just roleplaying not working so well in 4e, you'll be useless baggage and drag the whole party down since the rules seem to assume everyone will use their characters to maximum efficiency, which means you really need to embrace your inner munchkin, if you still have one, to enjoy 4e.

  4. Thanks for these comments, it made me feel better, like I wasn't totally insane with my frustrations.

    @NetherWerks: yes, I think this is a case of the rule mechanics being so abstract that they start breaking my suspension of disbelief. Unless fireballs are some baseball-size thing, but then why the are of effect?

    @mikemonaco: We do have the cards printed and cut out, not sure how people would play without them. I definitely have a min-maxer inside, and would probably try a fighter or warlord but . . .

    @Ian, you hit the nail on the head, this game is strange in that it's all about how the team works together but I have no clue what the other players' powers are. It's like team chess and the other players on your team won't talk to you.

    I've made a few attempts at coordinating tactics, but it's hard. It seems like every battle a player will whip out a power that would have been much more useful at some other time. Like the way our warlord uses his power that gives everyone else a bonus to damage at the end of battles! (probably because its a daily and he doesn't want to waste it or something).

  5. 4E is a different game. It shares some of the same words as games you are familiar with, but it is a different game and those words mean different things in 4E.

    Starting from the end and working forward, if the other players are not working with you, that is a problem with the players, not the game. As pointed out by Ian, 4E is a team game and the character classes are designed such that teamwork pays off and granstanding tends to create TPKs.

    Side Note: Warlord requires a good understanding of what the other players can do and what will benefit the group tactically. If the other players are not sharing what their characters can do, they handicap your ability to help them to do it better or more often. Read up on it before making one.

    Wizards ARE crowd control in 4E. If you want to do damage with an arcane spellcaster in 4E, Warlock is your class. Make sure you know how the curses work and which one benefits your playstyle.

    In 4E, you can always make a 5 ft shift (1 square) as a move action without suffering an attack of opportunity. If the DM was making AoE on shifts (as opposed to moves), then the DM was in the wrong, not the game. If the DM did not tell you you could make 5 ft shifts safely again, that is an issue with the DM. If the DM threw so many spiders that you could not shift only move, that sounds like a balance issue on the DM's part.

    The loss of 7 hirelings before they could attack sounds...odd. I don't have enough data to discuss that beyond pure speculation, but that sounds suspicious. That plus a cave full of spiders that appeared out of no where inclines me to believe there is a game balance issue in play, and that rests on the shoulders of your DM.

    You will notice that most of my response is tactically based. There is a reason for that - 4E requires you to be on your toes if the DM is pushing the tactical aspect of the game. It also requires you learn how it plays, not try and apply how previous versions played.

    4E is a different game.

  6. Amen to everything you said.

    Well, except maybe the DM error stuff. There may a have been some, but I think you may be underestimating how bad things can go when players are playing 4e like its an older version.

    I just wish that it was called by a different name and used different terminology.

    This game is actively trying to lure people by associating itself with years of play and experience, when those years of play and experience are actually detrimental to having fun with this new game.

  7. I hear that, All I can recommend is to play some good old fashion AD&D or some 3.5 and remember why you love the coolest class in the damn game >:P