Monday, November 14, 2011

4EMOD: Races, Ability Scores, and Playing

I apologize for being late this week. I didn't sleep well Thursday, and spent most of Friday recovering and playing DnD. Here's the post!

When I first started to play 4th Edition I was DMng and playing (a state of affairs I used to find myself in often), and so I needed to make a character.Oh, I knew what I wanted to play. We were re-creating our first campaign, and so I was going to re-envision my first DnD character: Xenith Amakiir, the paladin of Bahamut. I knew exactly how I wanted to do it this time around, too. I wanted Xenith to be an eladrin, because elves and teleportation together was just too cool for me to not mix. I also wanted to multiclass into warlock with a fey pact, because Xenith's former job had involved... pleasantries... with a fey that could have been called the Summer Queen from the Manual of the Planes.  Xenith was going to keep paying visits to this fey for his usual jollies, while being a faithful follower of Bahamut, right? Right.

But as I read through my Player's Handbook in my first two days of getting it I noticed something that was a bitter disappointment: the character wasn't going to work. For those of you who aren't familiar with 4th edition, here's why:
  1. Both classes are multi-stat, splitting the class powers cleanly between two main attack stats, and rely upon a tertiary stat for the classes abilities
  2. While eladrin do have a bonus to Intelligence, they don't have a boost to Charisma (they do now thanks to errata, but they didn't then).
In other words, a corner case. On the first try. Wasn't I excited? I took a look, and knew that I had a powergamer in my group. Now, not to rag on the guy or anything, but he was a bit.. competitive. This guy (we'll call him James) would turn anything that was cooperative into a competition to see who could contribute more. If James contributed more he would gloat, and if he didn't he'd try to prove that he was important to the team. After four years of playing with James I'd enough.  I knew I wanted to be optimized, so that way I didn't have to hear how much more awesome his character was than mine. But I truly wanted to make something cool and unique, and 4th edition as written can be a bit...restrictive. Now while you may be thinking that I'm too personally involved, I could recount all the tales of people picking a race that benefits the class and who don't think any further about it. The great majority are players let the race's stat bonuses pigeonhole each race into certain classes.

Examples: When's the last time you saw an eladrin swordmage, a class that they're practically made for? Or a dwarf bard? Or a dragonborn spellsword?

The fact that these race-class combos can be made to work is besides the point. People want to take advantage of the good math that's associated with the racial stats. It's rare to see someone work against those stat boosts. And while it does happen the fact remains: people are loathe to go against those all-important stat bonuses. Even though adding more options in Essentials was a nice gesture, it still puts the players in an imaginary straightjacket. What I want to do is remove the straightjacket and let the nuts run loose in the nut-house.

Remove all ability modifiers from all races; no races get a +2 to any stat. Ignore all stat generation rules in the rulebooks. Use these stat generation rules instead.

Stat Generation
Balanced: When generating stats you get an 18, 16, and a 10 to put where you wish. Then roll 2d6+6 "straight down the line" for the rest (see example).

Split Stats: You get two 18's  and two 10's to put where you wish. After that roll 2d6+6 and apply them wherever you like. (see example).

Example of Balanced Stats:  I decide to make a dragonborn fighter that uses hammers. I give my fighter a Strength of 18 and a Constitution of 16. I put my 10 in my Intelligence. I roll 2d6+6 three times: 13, 16, 10. The remaining stats (in order from top to bottom) are Dexterity, Wisdom, and Charisma. I apply them "straight down the line".  My stats are Strength 18, Constitution 16, Dexterity 13, Wisdom 16, and Charisma 10.

Example of Split Stats: I decide to pick an eladrin paladin multiclassed into warlock. A paladin's main stat is Strength (in my houserules), so I give it an 18, and a warlock's is Charisma (in my houserules) so I give it an 18 as well. I decide to put a 10 in my Intelligence, and the other 10 in my Wisdom.  I roll two more times: 14 and 13. Looking at  my character sheet, I see the rest of the stats, and they (in order of top-to-bottom): Constitution, Dexterity, and Wisdom. I apply them wherever I like: Constitution 14 and Dexterity 13. These are the final stats: Strength 18, Constitution 13, Dexterity 14, Intelligence 10, Wisdom 10, and Charisma 18.

These rules will allow any class to be combined with any race for story reasons, as opposed to game reasons. There is almost reason to not use this houserule, period. The benefits of doing this are just too good. I mean, I have a shardmind battlemind who has just as good of stats as the halfling rogue who's also in the same group. These people both picked races and classes they thought were cool, and didn't have to finagle with the character to give them something that worked well. They could both have fun. And that's what's important.

EDIT: I forgot to mention what I was covering next week. Next week will be the first installment of Player's Handbook 1: Cleric, Paladin, Ranger, and Warlock, the V-Classes!