Sunday, February 24, 2008

D&D 4 Rogue Preview

This is the first bit of "crunch" we've seen for D&D4. It was posted in the online version of Dragon by WOTC designer Bill Slavicsek. There's a more extensive writeup in (on?) Dragon.

"You look surprised to see me. If you’d been paying attention, you might still be alive."

Role: Striker. You dart in to attack, do massive damage, and then retreat to safety. You do best when teamed with a defender to flank enemies.
Power Source: Martial. Your talents depend on extensive training and constant practice, innate skill, and natural coordination.
Key Abilities: Dexterity, Strength, Charisma

Armor Training: Leather
Weapon Proficiencies: Dagger, hand crossbow, shuriken, sling, short sword
Bonus to Defense: +2 Reflex

Hit Points at 1st Level: 12 + Constitution score
Hit Points per Level Gained: 5
Healing Surges: 6 + Constitution modifier

Trained Skills: Stealth and Thievery plus four others. From the class skills list below, choose four more trained skills at 1st level.
Class Skills: Acrobatics (Dexterity), Athletics (Str), Bluff (Cha), Dungeoneering (Wis), Insight (Wis), Intimidate (Cha), Perception (Wis), Stealth (Dexterity), Streetwise (Cha), Thievery (Dexterity)

Build Options: Brawny rogue, trickster rogue
Class Features: First Strike, Rogue Tactics, Rogue Weapon Talent, Sneak Attack

This says a lot. The first thing that struck me were the hit points. First level characters are clearly built to be more resilient, which should help low level play. I decided in 3E that 1st level character play is no fun and all my future games would start higher. 4E appears to solve that. There's also a set hit point progression per level rather than rolling a die. This is better for organized play and it also takes out one of the stupider dice rolls in the game. Yes, rolling for your hit points is tradition, but it's a bad tradition, the RPG equivalent of female circumcision. I already allow my group to choose the average hit points rounded up rather than potentially nerfing their character with a poor hit point roll.

Weapon and armor proficiencies are greatly reduced, down from entire categories of available gear. It reminds me of previous editions. We'll see some additional proficiencies based on race and possibly some defaults. I think their goal is to create more iconic characters by limiting choice. We'll no longer see a rogue doing a sneak attack with his trusty quarterstaff (sorry Anders).

Skills reflect a lot of consolidation. Acrobatics includes the infamous tumble, along with often ignored balance and related skills. Stealth does the same. The key here is you no longer have to micromanage whether you want to choose between such things as Hide and Move Silently. You also don't have to choose between such iconic skill packages, all rogues get Acrobatics and Stealth, with the options mostly being in the flavor skills.

This adds flavor without nerfing the rogue. In the past, if you wanted a charismatic rogue, you often had to do without a core function, like Stealth or Acrobatics. "I'm sorry I can't scout ahead for you," says the social rogue, "I'm not that kind of rogue." The new skill method seems to establish a baseline character, rather than the open toolbox of previous editions. Some people will like it, others will feel "railroaded" in their choices. DM's can breath a sigh of relief, knowing that all rogues will be able to handle certain challenges.

This also goes back to the 4.0 design philosophy that no longer gives rogues a buttload of skill points in exchange for combat prowess. They get combat prowess equal to everyone elses (in their own way) and a normal selection of skills.

Here's the Enworld discussion link for this.

My answer to players who want a more diverse rogue: multiclass.


  1. "The new skill method seems to establish a baseline character, rather than the open toolbox of previous editions. Some people will like it, others will feel "railroaded" in their choices."

    While I understand the feelings of players being railroaded, D&D was never the game for them in the first place. The toolbox approach of 3rd (and it really only existed in 3rd, choices in prior editions were more limited) merely allowed you to jump the tracks and wreck yourself in spectacular fashion.

  2. The concept of "class" is a strong characteristic of D&D and 3x went a long way towards de-constructing class as a loose collection of abilities. This thrilled the min-maxers to no end, but it broke a lot of the character of the game. Like you're saying, there are other non-class based RPGs that are better suited for this purpose.

    As for establishing a baseline, we've all seen fighters that can't fight, rogues that can't open locks, wizards specializing in worthless schools, neutral clerics who can't heal, you name it. This should go a long way in fixing those kinds of problems.

  3. Exactly. The toolbox approach was meant to allow roleplayers to create the exact character they wanted to play, but the end result was often characters that were overpowered (min-maxers) or characters that were underpowered (roleplayers). Plus, the system was designed to deal with parties that could fulfill the four classic roles, and the flexibility of character generation nearly ensured that one or more of those roles would be missing.

    The emphasis on the four basic roles by the current design team indicates that they really "get it" as far as how D&D works.

    Now, I don't really care much for a system that requires fixed roles to work, but for those that don't mind that, D&D 4th should be great. Plus, the fact that it will simply work better will make it more fun for me to play, even if it wouldn't be my first choice for a game.