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Observations from the Deep Ethereal

On Class Design and how to Limit Optimization (or why the Fighter Sucks)

Rating: 3 votes, 3.33 average.
Yes. You read that right. Let me explain.

PCs are going to play a class throughout their entire progression, and you can't really change it (barring rebuilding, of course, but that's a whole other bag, and admits that the [insert class here] sucks). This means that their choice is pretty much set--if you've got X levels in class X, you're going to have that many levels in class X until you roll a new character. And the Fighter sucks. No, I'm not even talking about its power, since you can build a really powerful fighter if you go dumpster-diving through feats. The part about it that sucks is that it's a complete newbie trap. Let's take two examples to illustrate this.

First, the cleric. They don't really have much in the way of class abilities apart from their spells and Turn Undead. So a newbie looks over the spells, and thinks to themselves, "Hey--Hide from Undead! That sounds really cool. I think I'll prepare that. And while I'm at it, Remove Fear and Curse Water look awesome as well! Let's go with those." Thus, the first combat occurs, and he finds his spells relatively useless. So the next day, he looks over his spells left, and switches them for things that are better. And every "day" in-game he can look over the spells he has access to, trying different ones, and keeping the ones that were effective in combat while discarding those that weren't.

Now let's look at the Fighter. The newbie sees the Fighter and thinks, "Oooh, feats. Those are supposed to be awesome, right? I mean, everyone else gets only 7 of them unless they're human. Think of how many awesome things I'll be able to do!" So he goes forward and grabs Acrobatic, Endurance, Deft Hands, Nimble Fingers, Persuasive, and Self-Sufficient. He should be just great at all those things--and he's called a Fighter, so he'll obviously be able to fight well! The first combat comes around--and there's very little he can do, since he has feats that don't support whatever shtick he can do. But... there's nothing he can do, unlike the cleric. He's stuck with the feats he picked, and has to suffer them for the rest of his career, as debilitating as they might be.

Thus the newbie trap is born. But it goes farther than this. A newbie might choose feats that suck at every time. But a class should be good regardless of what feats one takes, what skills one has, what spells/maneuvers/powers one chooses, and so on. Think about that for a second. That a class can be good taking all the above feats I mentioned, or even Toughness x10. Think how much min-maxing that reduces--people can be good regardless of the feats they take, and thus don't have to dumpster-dive for feats. But I'll add another prerequisite for class to be good; that any attempts to strongly optimize it are fairly worthless, and it should have very little change in power regardless of what feats one takes, as long as the feats themselves aren't completely overpowered.

Think about that for a moment. Think about the way that could change the game. People might optimize, but characters wouldn't be very different in actual power regardless of whether one optimized or not. People who dumpster-dived for feats wouldn't be much better than those who picked feats at random for flavor. You could pick any stylistic feat without feeling as though you lost a sizable amount of power. Optimization would be almost worthless. People could pick whatever they wanted and still be awesome. Newbies would feel powerful and cool without having to have complete game mastery of the game. And newbie traps would completely disappear.

In this manner, virtually no class published by WotC is good. A wizard can choose crappy spells, as could a cleric or sorcerer, though this is mitigated by the fact that they can get new/switch out spells at a later date. Martial adepts can choose bad feats and bad maneuvers, making them far lower in power than a well-built martial adept. The druid might be the closest thing, since it's got powerful class abilities--but even then, the optimization potential between feats, spell choice, choice of animal companion and choice of wildshape form make it a bad class as well on the "overpowered" side, while bad choices for all of those can make one drastically underpowered.

"But Ghostwheel," you might exclaim. "That's a fantasy--classes like that don't exist! They could never exist! A class that was both balanced, strong, and unable to be optimized? Such rubbish!"

I might have written this blog with hands empty, simply ranting and raving with no actual examples to show. Yet I didn't and will now reveal not one, not two, but three examples of classes that follow these requirements, and explain how they do so.

The first example is the Toxinblade, a class that I made to be a dedicated tank. The toxinblade works by targetting foes, and creating a requirement: they need to damage him, or take damage. Pretty simply, but effective for getting enemies to target him. Simple, really, hit me or you get hurt. On top of that, it has various abilities that allow it to take the damage dealt, while not ignoring it completely. Either way, it does its job well. On one hand, the targeted enemy needs to target the character (upon which the character has fulfilled his job as a tank, drawing attacks away from the squishier party members), and might still take damage, allowing the player to feel awesome, or it target someone else, upon which the toxinblade can continue dealing good damage. Furthermore, the class is well-made in that even a dip is worthwhile, making a tank far "stickier", since the damage scales and is thus a relative threat to a character at any level.

Furthermore, there's no real way to optimize the class much. Sure, you could pick up Stand Still, but that's going to make you slightly stickier, and not change the balance of the class on the whole as much as Natural Spell or Divine Metamagic would on a druid or cleric respectively. And the beauty is that you could take Toughness for all your feats and still be able to be effective.

Another upside to the class is its variable ability dependency. Unlike the wizard who has to have Intelligence, the toxinblade can have Constitution high (if they want to play a blaster-type, targeting enemies at range with Insidious Venom), Dexterity high with Weapon Finesse (if they want to play a fast, sneaky character, perhaps an assassin of sorts), or Strength high for the classic defender-knight. All of these ability scores are viable, allowing you to make a large range of different character concepts using the toxinblade as a base.

Note: some say that the flavor of the class is too specific... but that's just dumb. Flavor is mutable. For more information, take a look at the text under "Adaptation." There are a lot of classes that don't offer near the amount of options that toxinblades do in the number of concepts and flavors available, and no one says they're too narrow.

The second example is the Sharpshooter. From first level the sharpshooter is an effective ranged combatant, being able to hit targets in melee regardless of whether they're in melee, or behind another character. Furthermore, they don't rely on feats for their power--you could take Skill Focus five times and they don't fall far in power compared to a character who picks up Rapid Shot, Point Blank Shot, and Far Shot. Furthermore, it gets all kinds of interesting abilities at ranged combat, rather than the cumbersome, "I full attack... again," that most ranged combatants are forced to do every round. (Or, "I move... and then attack. Again," as it the case with scouts.) They can choose to hit multiple enemies at once, hit a single enemy with a debilitating effects, or boost their damage against a single enemy to try to bring them down quickly. This gives numerous options to players, allowing combat to stay interesting and cool, rather than repetitive and boring.

The last example is the Marshal, a character that can actually be a primary party "leader" all day long. The marshal can boost their allies' attacks, allow them to inflict status effects on enemies, help them resist special attacks, and more. As before, there aren't many feats that are going to boost a marshal much, since a primary cha-based marshal is going to be using just about all of his actions every round. Furthermore, you can play a melee-marshal, investing in str, a light marshal by investing in dex, or a pure cha marshal, and all are viable options. Furthermore, even a single level in Marshal allows you to act as a competent party leader, since the temp HP granted by "Stand Your Ground!" scale as your character level increases. Sure, it's not going to be nearly as effective against a level 20 threat as a level 20 marshal, but you're still helping yourself and your comrades in such situations.

All three of these classes may look powerful--but that's the point. Their class abilities are what makes them powerful, not their feats. Let's compare to a class that can use its feats to make itself stronger.

Let's take a level 9 cleric; he'll take Persistent Spell (Complete Arcane), Divine Metamagic: Persistent Spell (Complete Divine), and Extra Turning a few times. This will let us persist a number of spells at the cost of a few uses of turn. For a moment let's ignore the errata, and use what it says in the PHB; we'll be persisting Divine Favor, Divine Power, and Righteous Might.

(...More to follow, stupid word limit...)

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Updated 03-18-2010 at 12:44 PM by Ghostwheel (Title Revision)

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  1. Ghostwheel's Avatar
    At level 9, compared to a fighter with similar stats, the cleric is going to have +3 to attack and damage (Divine Favor), BAB equal to his character level and +6 strength, as well as a few temp HP (Divine Power), have twice the reach, +8 Strength (stacks with Divine Power), +4 constitution, +4 armor, and Damage Reduction (Righteous Might). And due to feats, these are on all day long (barring dispelling, of course). In this way, the cleric with only a few feats knocks not only the Fighter out of the water, but also the damage-dealing capabilities of both the Toxinblade and Sharpshooter--and that's ignoring all the other spells he has at his disposal.

    Furthermore, to be at the same level of power as the above classes, the Fighter will need to jump through tons of hoops and go dumpster-diving through multiple books for feats that increase his power, a clear newbie-trap, making the class relatively underpowered for anyone but a master optimizer who knows what all the feats are and what book they're in.

    Now, it's true that the above classes are homebrew. Many DMs dislike homebrew because it means that they need to do extra reading, and they've usually got enough on their plate. Furthermore, much homebrew can be unbalanced (just like WotC classes, btw ), and need to be looked at carefully, a task arduous for many DMs who prefer to stick with what they know. However, their character is basically the only thing that a player can control in a D&D game. Everything else is up to the DM. Since it's the only thing that a player has access to and control, and content players are more often good players than angry, upset, or unhappy players, DMs should be more lenient in allowing classes. After all, that's the only thing that the player really has control over, and the only thing that can potentially let them do something interesting in combat and out of it too.

    If you've continued with me thus far, I hope you've enjoyed this blog, and perhaps that I've even widened your horizons a little.

    Tl;dr version: newbie traps suck, but it's possible to make classes that are balanced, good in the hands of a newbie, and not too strong in the hands of a master.
  2. Rodgin Kemph's Avatar
    Ok, time to play devil's advocate, simply because I seem to do that well for you Ghostman.

    Where is the reward for an experience person? Where is the drive for a n00b to learn the system in deapth? Your explanation of the n00b trap is excellently done, and opened up things I'd never have considered. However, that is the price you pay for being a n00b. Best laugh I ever got was when another new player (like myself at the time) ran up and tried to smite the Ettin with his druid's club. It's n00b mistakes that teach you things and make it interesting.

    On the other end, you've removed any bonus for a well built character. If taking toughness for every feat does only slightly worse, there is no reason to pay attention to what you're doing and removing the reward for being a diligent attentive player.
  3. Ghostwheel's Avatar
    What can one get from system mastery? Options.

    A newbie on the edge of a cliff isn't going to have any clue that they can bullrush an opponent. If an enemy has a really high AC, they won't think of tripping them, and don't immediately think about flanking. If there's an enemy between them and where they need to be, trample doesn't really come to mind. If the DM has a special encounter where the party needs to destroy the limbs of creature X before killing it, sunder probably won't come to mind. If there's something that's about to happen, they won't even consider delaying or readying an action. And those are just the options out of the PHB, without adding any of the horizontal enhancement that feats can offer.

    Comparatively, a character is still going to be measurably stronger if built with loving attention to optimization rather than if Toughness is taken a bunch of times. The difference here though is that the difference isn't so big that feels insurmountable, nor is the class that the newbie plays relatively unplayable due to how weak it is. The drive is still there--and people who want to learn the system are going to learn it regardless of whether they can overpower the world with it or not. Most people don't really crave power--what they crave is options, and not to feel worthless. I don't think people really want to lord over others with their power. But they want to feel like they really matter in a game, and for the spotlight to sometimes fall on them.

    So in the end, you're not removing any bonus for a well-built character, but instead limiting it more. Everything in moderation and all that jazz--and the rewards for system mastery are still strongly there, just not to such a degree that newbies are made useless or that optimizers are "overpowered" compared to others.
  4. obtusehobbit's Avatar
    Ghost you make some valid points, but perhaps the issues is not with the classes, but instead with the feats and spells?

    As you pointed out a fighter who takes a bunch of skill feats is useless. That is because some feats are more powerful then others and skill feats are not on the powerful or useful list. Now if feats where all equally useful then it wouldn't matter what feats the fighter took as he would then be effective bases on the fact that it doesn't matter what he choices all are choices are valid. This extends to spells as well the key is that all option need to be balanced. The issue is that with in the current system through out the game Players make choices about their character from what spells to learn/prepare and what feats to take. Now since all the choices are not equal you have a disparity in power level.

    Now there are two ways to handle it.

    Option 1) As you propose make classes that have fairly well defined roles and that no matter what you chose the classes features remain effective.
    Option 2) Use the current system but eliminate/tweak options which are to powerful or to weak so that the choices a PC makes are a matter of personal choice and not about power level.

    Now my issue with Option 1 is that the Players will not feel their choices have an actual impact on their character as once they chose the class their path is set. Where with option 2 they are free to chart their own path, but in the end all paths are balanced against each other.

    Now option 1 is the easiest method to balance and in someways is demonstrated in 4e, but I personally feel that I would prefer option 2. Now in truth it would most likely take a combination of the two to resolve the issues with 3.5
    Updated 03-14-2010 at 12:03 AM by obtusehobbit
  5. Ghostwheel's Avatar
    There are a few problems with that "number 2" option; first, there is that you need to decide "how strong" a feat should be. How do you decide it? What do you comapre to what? Should the fighter's extra feats amount to the power of a druid? A bard? A rogue? Is toughness a good feat? Power Attack? Weapon Focus? Combat Reflexes? Mobility? Whirlwind Attack? You'd have to change virtually all the feats in all the books your players have access to, make each one meaningful and different, up or lower their power, take into account how they interact with each other so that they don't overpower a character, make them equal-ish to class abilities to make the fighter viable, and a LOT more work than just the things I listed. In short, it's not really feasible, and goes so far from what we know of as "feats" that they really aren't anymore. One system that did this successfully is the one introduced in Races of War, but I personally think those feats are too strong.

    Another problem this brings up is specialization. In D&D 3.5, specialization is everything. You need to specialize completely in order to remain competent at your level. Thus, feats would either need to be so all-encompassing that they can help any character no matter what, or pre-picked for a character so that they don't fall behind. (HINT: These are called "class abilities".) Furthermore, it creates a disparity in the power of newbies vs. average players vs. people with an in-depth knowledge of the game mechanics. If the choice is very meaningful, with both the potential to ruin a character build or make it really shine and potentially be overpowered, then that means that the difference in power between newbies, average players, and optimizers will be gigantic, since optimizers will know which choices are the best. Take a look at the fighter as an excellent example. I could either take the above feats (or, if you're making feats better in general, mix both melee and ranged feats, becoming sucky at both rather than good at one) and suck in general. Or I could optimize, dig through two-dozen books, and make a fighter that outdamages, out-controls, and out-performs many rogue-level classes. Relying on feats makes this sort of thing happen. Plus, it's a step towards class-less systems where you simply pick all your abilities as-is, and I've seen that sort of system do horribly wrong without strict restrictions by the DM on what you can and can't take. (Systems that do this that come to mind which can be borked fairly easily include BESM and White Wolf.) That's something that I want to absolutely avoid--a system should be balanced in and of itself, rather than requiring DM intervention to be balanced.

    Now, it's completely untrue to say that players will not feel their choice makes a different. Compare a con-based toxinblade who picks up Ability Focus, Stand Still and Combat Reflexes, to a dex-based one who picks up Weapon Finesse, Dodge, Mobility, and maybe the TWF tree, while another goes str-based with Power Attack, Shock Trooper, Combat Brute and Leap Attack. All of these play differently, yet are all relatively balanced with each other. Do the feats make that much of a difference in the TB's power level? Not really. All iterations are very effective. Yet each one plays completely differently. The first is a battlefield controller who stops enemies in their tracks. The second is a quick, light fighter who uses his many attacks to use IV on an enemy, picking quantity over quality. And the third charges into the thick of battle, attacking people with a two-handed weapon. All of these are viable. All of them can make sense. All of them work. And yet, each one is very different compared to the others. Each one opens up new possibilities, new viable options that can completely change how the class is played.

    Thus, it's very wrong to say that player choices are meaningless with balanced classes. Let me reiterate what I said above. Player choices open up options, meaningful ones that can turn the tide of battle. Let me explain this another way.

    Let's say that against monster X, you are at 100% of your combat potential. Against monster Y, you are 50% of your combat potential. Options can raise the character's combat potential against Y from 50% to 75%, or even to 100%. But they don't push them farther than 100% (or at least, not enough to make a really incredible difference), allowing them to still be balanced against the combat and not outperform other characters completely, making them feel absolutely useless. All characters have weaknesses. Options let you close some of those holes in your character's defense. The first example can help you control the flow of combat on the grid, stopping enemies in their tracks. The second fares better against high-AC targets, since it gets so many attacks that one of them is bound to hit. The third does really well against high-HP, lower-AC targets that they can power attack against. Yet none of them completely make any of the other versions useless or obsolete, and all play very differently. That's my point.

    Retooling feats doesn't work well unless the feats are so all-encompassing that they're virtually overpowered. (At least in my opinion--if you have examples of feats that aren't overpowered for rogue-level play, yet are not bad choices for any character who takes them, please share them?) Having to rely on feats, as with the Fighter, creates newbie traps. It opens the possibility of players feeling useless. It just doesn't work well, and opens up the possibility for extreme optimization, allowing people who know the game well to completely outperform other characters. In short, it just doesn't really work.

    PS: I agree with you as far as needing to retool both classes and feats in order to resolve some of the problems with 3.5--in fact, I wrote a whole blog about it! But since your class defines your character (you're not going to see many heavily armored monks, a wizard that doesn't cast spells, or a fighter who doesn't make any attack rolls), classes are the more important piece of the puzzle.
    Updated 03-14-2010 at 01:10 PM by Ghostwheel
  6. obtusehobbit's Avatar
    Ghost while you are correct that it would take a lot of work, I do not believe it unreasonable for those dedicated to the process. For me the things that makes 3.5 good is feats and the way they allow you to customize your character. Class abilities are all nice and good, but feats are where the players real power over their character comes into play. As you even pointed out it is what allows you to take the toxinblade class and create different versions. So long as the Feat system is broken with some feat/Feat chains being more powerful then others the difference between noobs and experienced players will be large. I am pretty sure that a Toxinblade that takes nothing but skill feats verse one who takes feat chains on par with Improved Trip, Power Attack, and other high end tactics will be drastically different in power. While yes class abilities play a part in the whole of the equation I believe that Feats and Spells are the real culprits. I think Feats need to be more powerful overall, and spells need to be nerfed a bit. I think a proper power matrix would be Feats > Class Abilities > Spells.

    The reason being Feats are a very limited Resources most character get only 7 of them so they need to have a meaningful impact on the character to be worthwhile. Class Abilities are fairly common and well defined so there is little choice in this aspect generally and there for are less valuable a resource. Final spells are like adjustable class abilities allowing you to switch around your power each day and so therefore have less impact then Class Abilities and Feats. Now this would be a fundamental rework of the way 3.5 works but I think overall is a better design plan.

    Now with class features you run into the same issue as you do with feats where to stop. Do you want class features on par with the Druid or Monk? Or are you looking for something in between if so where is that balance. That is a decision that needs to be made whenever you are attempting to balance a system where to balance at.
    Updated 03-14-2010 at 04:37 PM by obtusehobbit
  7. Ghostwheel's Avatar
    It's true that feats will matter. That's what I said a post or two ago. They'll open up options. They'll even give some vertical enhancement. But do they give the amount of power to the toxinblade that Natural Spell does to the druid, Divine Metamagic does for the cleric, Craft Contingent Spell or Residual Metamagic or Arcane Thesis do for the wizard? Or what dumpster-diving does for the fighter? Definitely not. It gives a boost in power--sure. But is the toxinblade as worthless as the fighter, ranger, monk, paladin, samurai, hexblade, hexblade, divine mind, lurk, rogue, ninja, scout, or swashbuckler when stripped of feats? Or as worthless as a cleric, wizard, favored soul, sorcerer, ardent, psion, archivist, or wilder who consistently chooses horrible spells/powers? Obviously not on both counts. And finally, can the toxinblade hold his own and be an effective tank, regardless of what feats taken? Yes. That's my whole point. A complete newbie should be able to pick up the class... and not suck. In fact, he can be quite an effective defender, being sticky to at least one enemy at level one, have the survivability to take the hits by level three, and get more than one foe at a time by level five. Sure, game mastery will up his power--but that's the reward of game mastery, and is a good reason for newbies to learn the game. But newbies who take horrible feats won't suck, won't feel useless, and won't be simply wastes of space in a party of decent characters, even if the other characters optimized (unless the other characters are wizard-level, of course, and then all other characters of lower levels will often feel outclassed).

    As far as the power level I'm shooting for goes, I've already defined where class features are in power for the games I'm in, and am comfortable running, and create classes that are there. It's around tier 3 of the tier system, or towards the higher end of the rogue-level in the balance point system. That means for the most part they'll be stronger than the monk or ranger, about the same in effectiveness as a well-built martial adept, combat rogue, or barbarian, and far less strong than a cleric, wizard, archivist, druid, or artificer. This is a very clear definition, and I explain exactly why I prefer that level of power here. Check it out--it explains exactly why I chose this level. People feel powerful, but don't automatically beat all comers, unlike the batman wizard, for example.

    So no, the how strong class abilities are isn't a problem, since I've already spent a lot of time thinking about which place on the power scale I want them to be.

    Another thing is that you mention that you only get 7 of them, and thus they need to have a meaningful impact on your character. That's true, and I gave a few examples of how they were meaningful. But it's not true that they should be the primary definitions of a character's power, and the feats you mentioned aren't all that strong on their own. Furthermore, see once more all the problems I mentioned above as far as specialization vs. generalization is concerned--creating possibilities that are the primary determinates of a character's power opens up newbie traps, and I've already explained why those are a horribly horrible and stupid part of the game as it is. Plus, it's extremely important to be effective, regardless of whether the class is played by a newbie, or someone who knows just about all the books and the feats within by heart.

    So... for the most part I think I've already covered most of your points above. Please read again what I said above, both in this post and the posts above on why it's a bad idea to make feats the primary things that define a character's power? My design goal is to primarily make it so that complete newbies are not worthless, while optimized users of the above classes aren't wizard-level and ending encounters with an action or two. If you can show that one of these fails, I'll admit that I've failed in my design goal, but from what I've seen so far, the class can be effective in the hands of a newbie, and doesn't completely kill an encounter in the same way that a sculpted glitterdust can, for example.
    Updated 03-15-2010 at 07:25 AM by Ghostwheel (Thought about it some more, clarified design goals)
  8. Aerthos's Avatar
    As hobbit mentioned, you certainly nailed down the "noob trap" quite well, but I would argue that it's not a class issue. If you want classes that are functionally the same regardless of the feats the player took, you are doing one major thing: removing the purpose of feats. The whole concept behind feats was that they were a way to distinguish Character A from Character B, even if they were the same class, same level, same equipment. The different feats they had taken allowed them to do different things with different amounts of skill. So if you want to build your character around combat, you take mostly combat feats. If you want to boost your success with a particular skill, you take feats that help you do that. And so on and so forth.

    Does that create the "noob trap"? Of course it does. And when you boil it down, the trap is created because people want to just jump into the game without actually reading the material on how the game works. Now I realize I may be a little old-fashioned in that I prefer to read the manual for a game (RPG, video, or otherwise) before I actually play the game. That's what it's there for--to tell you not only how the game works but maybe even give you some hints. I think that most reasonably intelligent people who read the PHB could figure out what feats to lean toward for different classes (builds is a more veteran concept). And if you pick something that doesn't give you the flair you wanted? Then you get your first taste at ACTUAL ROLE-PLAYING; maybe that means that your fighter in full plate can make balance checks that other fighters can't make--not a bad thing, but something that can most certainly be a fun part of the game and is a great learning experience for future characters.

    If you want to "fix" the "noob trap", then I think you really need to look at a different system. The D&D 3.x (and Pathfinder) systems revolve around player choices, be they feats, spells, or class abilities. Some choices are better for combat than others; some choices are slightly more flavor than actual function (based on DMing). That is just the nature of the game. Different people aim for different things with their characters, and I would say that the "noob trap" just means a slightly steeper learning curve for those who choose not to read the material.
  9. obtusehobbit's Avatar
    Okay I will conceed that a Toxinblade will not be wizard level unless you use TO level of broken tricks of some sort.

    My point is that if you really want to balance with in the system you need to deal with the feat power discepency as it will still cause issues possibly moving the toxinblade into the Tier 2 or possibly drop it into the Tier 4 depending on the feats taken. Now if you deal with the feat discrepency suddenly you are able to aviod builds like Uber Charge and Other Feat heavy power builds, while making sure you maintain the class in the tier it is targeted to no matter who is playing it.

    Now when you add spells to the equation you run into even further issues that is because currently the power level of spells is greater then Class Abilites or Feats. Which is a drastic issue that needs to be addressed. The issues with that our two fold first the number of spells avialable to a give class and the sheer power of some spells. To fix it you would need to nerf spells demeed to powerful and find a way to limit the spells known of caster classes.
    Updated 03-15-2010 at 03:59 PM by obtusehobbit
  10. Ghostwheel's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Aerthos
    As hobbit mentioned, you certainly nailed down the "noob trap" quite well, but I would argue that it's not a class issue. If you want classes that are functionally the same regardless of the feats the player took, you are doing one major thing: removing the purpose of feats. The whole concept behind feats was that they were a way to distinguish Character A from Character B, even if they were the same class, same level, same equipment. The different feats they had taken allowed them to do different things with different amounts of skill. So if you want to build your character around combat, you take mostly combat feats. If you want to boost your success with a particular skill, you take feats that help you do that. And so on and so forth.

    Does that create the "noob trap"? Of course it does. And when you boil it down, the trap is created because people want to just jump into the game without actually reading the material on how the game works. Now I realize I may be a little old-fashioned in that I prefer to read the manual for a game (RPG, video, or otherwise) before I actually play the game. That's what it's there for--to tell you not only how the game works but maybe even give you some hints. I think that most reasonably intelligent people who read the PHB could figure out what feats to lean toward for different classes (builds is a more veteran concept). And if you pick something that doesn't give you the flair you wanted? Then you get your first taste at ACTUAL ROLE-PLAYING; maybe that means that your fighter in full plate can make balance checks that other fighters can't make--not a bad thing, but something that can most certainly be a fun part of the game and is a great learning experience for future characters.

    If you want to "fix" the "noob trap", then I think you really need to look at a different system. The D&D 3.x (and Pathfinder) systems revolve around player choices, be they feats, spells, or class abilities. Some choices are better for combat than others; some choices are slightly more flavor than actual function (based on DMing). That is just the nature of the game. Different people aim for different things with their characters, and I would say that the "noob trap" just means a slightly steeper learning curve for those who choose not to read the material.
    That's the thing. I don't want all classes to always be functionally the same. Look at my above examples--there's a two-weapon fighting toxinblade, a chargin' toxinblade, and a "caster/warlock" toxinblade. All of them work functionally differently. They are all very different. I'm not trying to make all characters of class X functionally the same.

    Let me explain what a "noob trap" is. Again. Since I feel as though I've done so before. A newbie trap occurs when, due to lack of knowledge of the system, a newbie takes something that looks cool, and then is useless in combat. That's the point I'm trying to avoid. I don't care if they're weaker than other party members, or other classes. But are they completely useless in their "job" on the board? No. They can attract enemies, keep their attention, and take the damage. They can do their job. And they can do it incredibly better than other "tank" classes (fighters, paladins, etc) do out of the box. Furthermore, the above classes (ones I've mentioned) suck at any role without an incredible amount of dumpster-diving for feats. Toxinblades don't need those to be effective. So no, being a straight toxinblade, regardless of the feats taken, is not going to lead someone into being a complete WoS, unlike people who take the other classes I mentioned.

    Furthermore, people should be able to be good without optimization. As I said before, they'll be less good than their equivalents who know the game well--but they should not be worthless, or made to feel that way. Which is exactly what they do, especially at higher levels when the discrepancy between optimized and unoptimized characters becomes really evident.

    Finally, much of the game is based in math. Fairly heavy math at that. Not many people are going to want to do the math as soon as they get the book. (Did you know that much of the time, taking a penalty for Power Attack sucks hard from a mathematical point of view?) So no, people should not be punished for not knowing all the filled in more than a dozen books by heart. They shouldn't do as well as those who do, but they should not suck. Which they can, and do currently. If you make classes that fulfill the prerequisites in the first post (see the very top), you stop newbie traps from occurring, as I detailed throughout this whole blog.

    Quote Originally Posted by obtusehobbit
    Okay I will conceed that a Toxinblade will not be wizard level unless you use TO level of broken tricks of some sort.

    My point is that if you really want to balance with in the system you need to deal with the feat power discepency as it will still cause issues possibly moving the toxinblade into the Tier 2 or possibly drop it into the Tier 4 depending on the feats taken. Now if you deal with the feat discrepency suddenly you are able to aviod builds like Uber Charge and Other Feat heavy power builds, while making sure you maintain the class in the tier it is targeted to no matter who is playing it.

    Now when you add spells to the equation you run into even further issues that is because currently the power level of spells is greater then Class Abilites or Feats. Which is a drastic issue that needs to be addressed. The issues with that our two fold first the number of spells avialable to a give class and the sheer power of some spells. To fix it you would need to nerf spells demeed to powerful and find a way to limit the spells known of caster classes.
    That's just the thing. It won't. Look at the classes in tier 2. The toxinblade, without theoretical levels of cheese, will never be able to match the power of a glitterdust, a mind blast, metamorphosis, polymorph, forcecage, color spray, Psychic Crush, or anything similar. Those are tier 2 powers. There's nothing that the toxinblade can do, with or without feats, that will match that from the power of his core abilities. And the same thing applies to tier 4 characters. By virtue of his class abilities, the toxinblade will never be as bad as a rogue (one who doesn't have UMD, weapon finesse, or the twf tree), ranger, spellthief, MH marshal, fighter, or hexblade. Just using IV on multiple opponents and dealing a number of d6 equal to his class level against all enemies for multiple turns at a time from a single action will put him above those. Just attacking them and applying IV is enough. By the same token, regardless of his class abilities, the toxinblade isn't going to drop below rogue-level. He might be low rogue-level on the range without feats, and high rogue-level on the range with optimized feats... but he'll never drop to fighter-level or rise to wizard-level due to his class abilities.

    That said, I have my own nerfs for spellcasting, but that isn't here or there. This is about making it so that a class, in the hands of anyone, is neither worthless nor defeats a combat all on its own.
  11. Jota's Avatar
    Okay, a few things:

    1) As someone who is playing a toxinblade, a toxinblade is very blatantly tier three, or rogue level if using that scale of balance. I don't know how one could possibly mistake it for anything else. It lacks of the 'save or GTFO' abilities that are typically associated with primary casters as well as the out-of-combat utility abilities, such as fly, teleport, invisibility, whatever, you name it. At the same time, because feats are an addenda (as presumably intended), rather than the core of the class (see fighter), the individual impact of each feat is not so significant.

    2) Regarding this:

    Quote Originally Posted by Aerthos
    As hobbit mentioned, you certainly nailed down the "noob trap" quite well, but I would argue that it's not a class issue. If you want classes that are functionally the same regardless of the feats the player took, you are doing one major thing: removing the purpose of feats. The whole concept behind feats was that they were a way to distinguish Character A from Character B, even if they were the same class, same level, same equipment. The different feats they had taken allowed them to do different things with different amounts of skill. So if you want to build your character around combat, you take mostly combat feats. If you want to boost your success with a particular skill, you take feats that help you do that. And so on and so forth.
    This is true, and yet the intended design fails when certain feats are so good that not taking them means you fall significantly behind other equivalent characters who took said feat. Ideally (from a balance perspective), within a tier of classes, feats should have some impact on power, but only within a certain tolerance. As you mention, part of this may be an issue with the feat, rather than class issue, but like many issues of balance, this could be fixed in multiple ways. Feats could be fixed, or classes could be fixed. The thing is, there's a whole freaking lot of feats, and while making a balanced class might be harder, if you can do it right than it might be less work than attempting to re-balance each existing feat or creating new ones in place of them. Though as pointed out, both could work.

    Quote Originally Posted by Aerthos
    Does that create the "noob trap"? Of course it does. And when you boil it down, the trap is created because people want to just jump into the game without actually reading the material on how the game works. Now I realize I may be a little old-fashioned in that I prefer to read the manual for a game (RPG, video, or otherwise) before I actually play the game. That's what it's there for--to tell you not only how the game works but maybe even give you some hints. I think that most reasonably intelligent people who read the PHB could figure out what feats to lean toward for different classes (builds is a more veteran concept). And if you pick something that doesn't give you the flair you wanted? Then you get your first taste at ACTUAL ROLE-PLAYING; maybe that means that your fighter in full plate can make balance checks that other fighters can't make--not a bad thing, but something that can most certainly be a fun part of the game and is a great learning experience for future characters.
    First, being able to make more difficult Balance checks is one thing, which you maintain is not a bad thing, and to be fair, it's not. I'm sure everyone would like to do that. But given the opportunity cost (what was missed out on as a result of being able to balance better), being able to balance better DOES suck.

    In this case, how significant a hit your character takes is a function of this opportunity cost and the inherent power of your class. At the third and fourth tiers, feats make a difference, one you might even notice if one selection is particularly good or another is particularly bad. But it isn't the difference between a contributing character and waste of space, as can happen at lower tiers, where characters are empowered solely because of feats (such as uberchargers, spiked chain trippers, and so on).

    3) And this:

    Quote Originally Posted by obtusehobbit
    Okay I will conceed that a Toxinblade will not be wizard level unless you use TO level of broken tricks of some sort.

    My point is that if you really want to balance with in the system you need to deal with the feat power discepency as it will still cause issues possibly moving the toxinblade into the Tier 2 or possibly drop it into the Tier 4 depending on the feats taken. Now if you deal with the feat discrepency suddenly you are able to aviod builds like Uber Charge and Other Feat heavy power builds, while making sure you maintain the class in the tier it is targeted to no matter who is playing it.

    Now when you add spells to the equation you run into even further issues that is because currently the power level of spells is greater then Class Abilites or Feats. Which is a drastic issue that needs to be addressed. The issues with that our two fold first the number of spells avialable to a give class and the sheer power of some spells. To fix it you would need to nerf spells demeed to powerful and find a way to limit the spells known of caster classes.
    As touched on before, this (toxinblade in tier two) will never happen. The inherent power in the class is high enough that even poor feat selection will result in a tier three character, while a feat chain based on weapons will never move a character from tier three to tier two. That change in tier is predicated on inherent power. A sorcerer is tier two. A straight toxinblade will never approach that level regardless of which feats it takes. Furthermore, tiers are not determined solely the magnitude of one's power. Breadth of abilities and multi-functionality plays a part as well. The toxinblade's multi-use Insidious Venom (among other abilities) ensures he will always be able to contribute, albeit in a reduced role, perhaps (if the situation is not in keeping with his focus), which is the definition of tier three class.