Thursday, April 21, 2011

Adding a little Old School flavor to D&D 4e

I can't say that I honestly have much invested in the D&D "edition wars" that seem to be neverending, but I have nevertheless been observing sort of the back and forth between proponents of different systems. For instance, Pathfinder, at least to me, seems to be the system that has been fully adopted by people who didn't want to let go of 3.5, and then there are any number of "retroclones" for the previous editions of OD&D, AD&D, and even BECMI. I see nothing wrong with any of these, in and of themselves, I've even downloaded the OSRIC and Labyrinth Lord free pdfs and have been pawing through them in order to sort of see what the distinguishing features of those clones are, since it seems like even among the OD&D fans, there is dissention over what's the "best" part about that system.

But the property which I think really separates D&D 4e from ANY previous edition is the relative downplaying of magic items (and the devaluation of magic items that comes with 4's very casual dispensation of them) and the emphasis on "class powers" rather than equipment in and of itself. In other words, you've got your At-Wills, Encounters, and Dailies, and if you've built a decent enough character you may never even have to use a basic melee or a basic ranged. And it seems like this level of abstraction is what especially alienated a lot of OD&D fans, who were used to having to account for a lot more details, coming out of specific different kinds of weapons, rather than abstracting so much stuff like weight, length, shape, material, and attack style and just saying "1d6+Str." It doesn't matter whether it's a warhammer, a sickle, or a broadsword. Then even among the "military" or "masterwork" sort of weapons it's just a matter of another +1 or +2 bonus; weapons aren't interesting at all in 4e, they're just a nondescript vehicle through which to deliver (some) class powers.

So I've been thinking about this, especially with regard to 4e "Essentials" and the possibility of a 5e coming some time in the next couple years, and wondering why you couldn't build a weapons "subsystem" into 4e, which is already very modular and easy to modify, and create your own rules for weapons-heavy characters, emphasizing not only the particular qualities of the weapons themselves, but the proficiency with which each class handles those types of weapons. In other words, say you have a dwarven paladin with a particular proficiency in military hammers, which rather than to just simply get another +1 on attack rolls, you could unlock the "proficiency" option on a weapon, at the sacrifice of the regular At-Wills for the class, to instead use the weapon's special qualities.

So using the hammer example, you could swing the hammer in different ways in order to knock the enemy aside, daze the enemy, sweep the enemy's feet from under them, etc. in order to actually be "proficient" with using the weapon, and still get to keep class features, or have the option of turning one at-will or encounter into a "class feature" in order to still preserve some of those qualities. I haven't actually tried to stat out any specific weapons or make a build using this yet, so I'll have to see if it introduces too much imbalance. But I do think that it may be a way to introduce a more "old school" feel to the original game, and remove some of that abstraction that makes weapons by themselves sort of worthless, as well as remove the occasionally very silly and unbelievable class powers that have come out for each class. Though there would be a lot of work on behalf of the DM in order to set this up, it would be a much more satisfying, I think, exercise in the basic striker than what Essentials provides us with the fighter.


  1. I like what you're feeling and the basic concept, but how much different would your proposed idea be than the weapon-specific benefits to 'Power Strike' for Essentials Fighters? Or to the weapon-specific Encounter powers of the PHB Fighter (Crushing Blow, Dance of Steel, etc.)? Wouldn't the At-Will Exploits be the form of basic proficiency with a weapon, and then the Encounter exploits be reserved for the more advanced experts?

  2. You're right, it's hard to redesign the Fighter within the constraints of 4e without ending up sort of broken. If one were to implement a system like this, I suppose you'd have to throw out both the Essentials build AND the PHB build, and then perhaps pick over their bones for weapon-specific powers (such as the ones you've mentioned). I'd think that stances would be right out, except maybe as higher-level Encounter powers within certain bounds; like maybe the Fighter, just for this encounter, assume a certain style which gives bonuses for certain weapon maneuvers, while trading off penalties for others. Sort of like the Wizard choosing his implement, the Fighter selects a weapon and a style for that weapon, which of course would get more advanced with in-game "training" and natural leveling.