25 Apr 2011

Stuck in the Middle

Blog 53 Comments

Honestly, I don’t want to even start this discussion. This post might bruise some feelings and make some folks feel I’m unjustly picking on them. But I think I need to sort out why I feel the way I do every time I encounter a rough spot in the rules. And if these rough spots seem to source from the same players every time, well  it’s a credit to those players. They are invested in the game and demonstrate their mechanical mastery on a regular bases. So here we go:


So last week, I played in a paragon-tier game and we fought a particularly nasty solo. The combat tested our abilities and in the end, it wound up claiming two PCs who fell from the tower’s top to their deaths. My character, sadly, was among the dead. Near the encounter’s end, the villain finally bloodied, a player, late to the game, dropped certain justice on a solo it had previously hit with knightly intercession. By a strict reading of the power, the villain was dazed and weakened until the end of the encounter. I wasn’t running the game, so I could only benefit from the effect. Yet it annoyed me all the same.

Why? Why on earth would that potent combination bother me? Should I not celebrate the player’s ingenuity, the careful analysis that led to what could have reshaped the entire encounter and probably saved my character’s life had the player arrived earlier and dropped it at the start? Should I not just chill the hell out and let this stuff go? Are these combinations not meant to be used?

I’m bothered because every loophole like this is a failure in game design and development. Each broken combination like this weakens the play experience. And because 4e is exceptions-based, there’s no telling how many of these combinations just wait for exploitation. The problem is not confined to what lives inside of a single class’s options. I’m sure there are troubling combinations that arise when two or more classes work together, to say nothing of feats and magic items. There are potholes all over the place and each time we fill one, another lies in wait just a few yards down the road.

So what’s the problem with certain justice and knightly intercession? Knightly intercession interrupts an enemy’s attack, pulls the enemy to a square adjacent to you, and lets you make an attack. If the attack hits, the target gains your divine sanction until the end of the encounter. On the surface, this seems fairly reasonable. However, closer analysis reveals a few small problems.

1)     This interrupt will cancel an enemy’s melee attack and may cancel an enemy’s ranged attack since the trigger is hit and the effect is a pull. That alone is tasty.

2)     At the end of the pull, you make a 2[W] attack against the target with no miss effect. If the attack hits, the target gains a mark that lasts until the end of the encounter.

It may be that this power is already too good. Immediate action powers deliver less damage than their level specifies. As a close power, you don’t have to see the target to use the power. As a close burst 10, the power covers most battlefields. These mechanics alone make the power worth a level 9. But add to this the roughly 55% chance that the paladin will also deal 2[W] damage and bestow an end of the encounter mark and you have something that may be suspicious. This said, I have no problems with this power. End of encounter marks are not unknown (however, the paladin didn’t have any end of encounter marks when Champion of Order was written). Lasting threat from Martial Power can put the same hurt on the bad guy, so this doesn’t bother me all that much.

Paired with the red 11 power from Champion of Order, we now have a problem. What’s frustrating is that certain justice was even revised once in ’08 and yet it still doesn’t work. See, the power is already super-accurate, being a weapon attack, Strength + 4. That plus 1[w] is just right for a level 7 encounter and a hair under a level 11 power. If, however, the target is marked, the target is dazed and weakened until it is no longer marked by you. Think about that. Oh sure, who cares if the combination hits a standard monster? It might even be acceptable for an elite target. But a solo? A pre-Monster Manual 3/Monster Vault solo? Plus, we really don’t want effects from encounter (red) powers to live longer than a round, especially dazed.

The net result from this combination is that the DM must provide key monsters with an “end daze, stun, dominate” power every time. Action Recovery works nice for this effect since they are paired effects and I’d argue dropping dazed would also drops weakened. If not, the combat is sure to drag out for ages as the solo deals 1/2 damage. Alternatively, the solo either has to flee the fight (which it probably wouldn’t be able to do since it is dazed) or surrender until 5 minutes passes and combat can resume. 3[W] damage and the fight’s over. OK. Yes, the combination does require two attack rolls to pull off, so it won’t happen every adventuring day, but I imagine an accuracy-focused character will manage this enough that it will cause problems.

Another nasty combination I’m dealing with every other Sunday is the +7 bonus all the characters have to death saving throws. The combination is legit and only requires a feat (the name escapes me) and a class feature available to the Sun domain warpriest. On the surface, this sounds awesome. The result, however, is that the warpriest is less inclined to use healing word in combat since dying characters spend a healing surge on a roll of 13 or better and only gain a skull on a roll of 1 or 2. Until the player drops the feat (which won’t happen), the characters only fear death if this PC drops.

All of this takes me back to the days when I played Magic the Gathering. In the mid-90s, we played the hell out of this game. Some of us were casual players and built decks based on themes, cool (though not always potent) effects, and so on. Others played to win and scoured the secondary market for the cards they needed to create auto-win decks. When you played these guys and lost everytime it was no longer fun. The game was no longer interesting because your opponent was just going to win, either by stealing all your monsters, firing off channel and fireball, or punishing you every time you drew a card. And when the game was no longer interesting, I stopped playing.

At some point, perceptions about Dungeons & Dragons have morphed. The game is now winnable. Mechanical selection enables players to create characters that operate well-beyond the expected boundaries and have the means to trivialize the opposition, thus forcing DMs to eliminate options and look further afield for challenges to test the player characters. For example, the first battlerage vigor rules in Martial Power turned minions into temporary hit point batteries to fuel what were, in effect, unkillable characters. Optimal character construction has almost become the equivalent to the Ur-decks of Magic, and such combinations make the game no longer fun to play or run.

So what’s the solution? Closing the loopholes is not unlike playing Whack-a-Mole. Loopholes keep popping up and smacking one down sends another jumping up. Plus, optimizers do what they do because they enjoy the challenge and live to show off their creativity and, in some cases, their mechanical genius to everyone they play with. Coming down hard on these characters is either blatant punishment or just incites these players to look for even more superior options. Nuclear escalation continues.

Aside from just walking away and finding a new group, the solution, as I see it, comes from both sides of the DM’s screen. The players need to understand that even though an optimized character can be an asset to the party, it can also make impotent the challenges the DM creates. After a dozen toothless encounters, the game grows stale and eventually dies. Rule 0, when it comes to character creation (and I’ve said this before), if it smells like poop, it probably is poop. If you find some mechanical nugget that eliminates a rather sizeable chunk of game play (such as death) or wipes out a category of monsters (solos, minions), think carefully before choosing that option. As well, reverse rolls with the DM (who is also a player). As a player, you wouldn’t enjoy a game where every session, you have to spend one encounter dazed and weakened from start to finish, right? Why would the DM?

On the other side of the screen, the DM must understand his or her players, and accept players make these mechanical choices for a reason. They do it to feel special, to contribute in a meaningful way that gives them a bit of spotlight. Rather than shatter “awesome” characters, embrace them and create situations where they can shine. In the case of the champion of order, build challenging encounters into the game where the player will want or have to use knightly intercession early and then you save the big solo, set-piece encounters for times when the PC has exhausted this power.

You might also create ways for villains to overcome crippling conditions. Give every solo the Action Recovery trait or bolt on no action triggered powers that wash the battlefield with damage on becoming dazed, weakened, stunned, or something else. For example, maybe a dazed or stunned solo loses the ability to control its magical energy and whenever it suffers a crippling condition, it gains aura 5 dealing 10/20/30 psychic damage to enemies that start their turns in the aura.

In the case of the +7 bonus to death saving throws, have some monsters attack dying characters. If a fallen PC has a high chance of spending a healing surge at the end of his or her next turn, the monsters ought to realize the only way to keep the characters down is to make sure they’re dead. It’s brutal, but doing so should drive the player to be more liberal with healing word and not rely on a feat to get fallen PCs back on their feet.

This post has gone on long enough, so I turn to you. How do you deal with game-breaking mechanics in your game? What sorts of things have you encountered? How did you solve the problem?


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53 Responses to “Stuck in the Middle”

  1. Matt James says:

    How to solve game-breaking mechanics? The Rule of the Golden Phallus, my friend.

  2. Hunterian7 says:

    My solution would involve pitch forks and torches- do away with Core and start over with Essentials. This will keep the 3000+ feats from Core buried in the past. The designers have now 3 plus years of experience with 4th. Let’s turn the page and get the best game going with Essentials.

    That said, my group will sometimes optimize. But they warn us and we build a delve to challenge them. Greg will inform us his new character will be a fighter that has the highest hit ratio. Cool. He does this once every four characters or so and let’s us know ahead of time.

    My Group is big enough with players that we have sent cheese optimizers packing- but only the worst offenders.

  3. Stuart says:

    Back when we played the RAGE CCG we got around the nuclear arms race of deck building by having everyone pull cards from the same deck. (Sort of like how regular card games work)

    Maybe Clone the PCs and have them fight against themselves. :)

  4. Kilsek says:

    The first time in 4e I had that “this ruins the game” feeling about 4e was when I was running elite and solo monsters early on in the edition. They lacked enough offensive punch and their total actions were easily reduced by just a few powers from the party. The end result? Like your experience, Rob, annoying and boring.

    Like you said, the DM’s a player too, and it’s not any fun to play perma-dazed or perma-stunned monsters every time, especially in the ultimate fight scenes. It’s a fine balance celebrating PCs’ powers and capabilities – made even tougher at times by the power gamers and tacticians – while still enjoying the game from the DM’s side of the screen. It’s hard to be engaged when every move by the monster is foiled or substantially minimized.

    This is one reason I’ve turned to the encounter environment or features of the area for help and inspiration. For that magical wonder and bizarre element of danger and wild cards in an encounter. Between this and using only MM3 and Monster Vault monsters, I’m definitely enjoying combat encounters more – they just feel more dynamic, dangerous and fun to run as a DM compared to early 4e.

  5. Drew says:

    Speaking from a CharOp point of view that the opposite is also true. Many players build mechanically terrible characters that are a liability in combat and can also result in character death. There are loopholes that can make characters super powerful, but “most” players won’t abuse those rules at the table. Those that do are not true CharOp and are just powergamers out for themselves.

    The CharOp board in general gets a bad rap but we are there to help players make choices that will make their characters more fun and not suck. We don’t go in with the intent to break games or auto end encounters. The more experienced CharOpers know what level of optimization to play with in their games and also work with DMs to make sure their characters are not overshadowing the party or the story.

    I think the MTG example is a poor choice because it is a strictly competitive game. You are there and playing to win. A lot of people who play MTG play for the competitive nature. D&D is supposed to be coop. If a player is overshadowing others because of his character power, ask him to tone it down.

    That said, the example you posted doesn’t seem outside the “expectations”of the game. He locked down a solo. Another way to describe a Defender is a melee controller and that is exactly what that player did. Lock down control has existed from the very first days of 4th with the Orb wizard. The problem isn’t with character design but with overall monster design. That was the reason for the MM3 revisions. Solos still shouldn’t be encountered solo and that has been true from day 1.

  6. Joshua says:

    I’ll second Drew and just add that the “co-op” part extends to the DM, too. D&D isn’t an arms race between players and DM, it’s a collaboration among everybody at the table to have fun. It’s true that the DM needs appropriate tools to challenge the players in order to achieve that goal, but approaching game design from the perspective that DMs and players are competing against one another is doomed to frustrate everyone in the end.

  7. The Id DM says:

    Hmmm . . .

    A few thoughts, which may not be completely organized quite yet.

    First, I play in a group with several experienced gamers whom have played every edition of D&D over the past 25+ years. One of my players, and also the host of all the games, is a power gamer. He has spoken fondly of finding combinations in previous editions that have “broke” the game. He’s posted his builds on forums, which have led the creators to post errata to fix the “glitch.” So if there is a loophole or combination that will cause the DM headaches, then he will find it.

    Currently, he’s playing a fire-based Tiefling Wizard. Between powers, items, feats and racial abilities, it seems like he is taking six actions every round. I have to rule police a bit more with him, but 99% of the things he does are legal. He is just very optimized and efficient with his choices and combinations.

    But is this wrong? I don’t think so, although I found it troubling that an encounter, which I meant to be easy anyway, got totally destroyed from the Wizard teleporting the entire party 20 squares past the main line of defense. I would like to find those great combination of powers for my Dragonborn Rogue, but I don’t put in the time (or am not smart enough) to figure them out.

    Second, the one thing I keep coming back to is that the party members do not have control of the combat encounters. They can assist in world-building and even offer, “We want to hunt werewolves,” but the DM is ultimately responsible for the number and threat level of the monsters in the game. The PCs are fighting those unknown monsters every session, so it makes sense that they would load up on the best skills possible.

    It’s in mind my each time I design an encounter or set of encounters for a session, “It’s in my power to kill one or multiple PCs during any encounter.” My goal is to find a good balance of PCs feeling challenged and threatend but not to the point where the ONLY outcome of an encounter is a TPK. As my players continue to mold their PCs into death-dealing machines, I have to react accordingly. More monsters? Higher-level monsters? Environmental effects that “nerf” certain PC traits?

    It’s a balancing act. You made the following comment,” On the other side of the screen, the DM must understand his or her players, and accept players make these mechanical choices for a reason. They do it to feel special, to contribute in a meaningful way that gives them a bit of spotlight.” I disagree with this in some ways. The players don’t know that you’ve spent two weeks planning for a really cool encounter. They just want to keep their character alive and continue to the next fight. Sure, some players – probably including the Wizard in my group – want the spotlight, but that’s not a bad thing. Again, if you’ve spent time building a PC, playing that PC for a year or so, then you want to do all you can to keep him or her alive. You want to increase the odds of survival as much as possible.

  8. pdunwin says:

    Yes to enticing them to use powers early. Yes to changing expected monster tactics.

    I believe nearly all such problems can be mitigated by making combat about something other than the exchange of hit points. Give the monsters a goal other than survival at the expense of the PCs. DMG2 talks about this. More such talk is arising in the blogs and message boards, but could use official support.

  9. Erik Nowak says:

    Yes to everything in this post! I have a serious optimizer in my home game who finds and exploits combos like this – and does it with M:tG even moreso. While I appreciate his ingenuity, playing a couple games against his white millstone deck that allowed me to do nothing while eroding my deck at an alarming pace led me to tell him, “Nice job, that deck is a killer. Those were also the worst, most boring games of Magic I have ever played.” (He has since reined it in a bit.)
    It’s nice to have characters who are good at what they do, but there definitely comes a point where effectiveness becomes over-effectiveness. Like, if you know you’re going to have a sword fight, go ahead and train with your weapon and get the best, quickest, sharpest, most well-crafted sword you can find. But don’t show up with a smirk and a gun and go all Indiana Jones on your opponent. Where’s the challenge in that?

  10. Wally says:

    I think you have to decide whats right at your table. If you do not like something talk it out. At my table the staff expertise feat is banned. I do not think a wizard should never take an opportunity attack jsut for 1 feat.

    @Hunterian7 That feat is an essentials feat that makes the game way too easy. Also, the problem with essentials as martial characters have no choices while wizards get a ton. I guess dumb players can only play uninstresting classes and only the smart guys get to play wizards. Sorry, that is what is wrong with essentials.

  11. Siliconwolf says:

    Interesting article, and I have seen my share of broken combos, but then I have seen some powers that in the right player’s hands are devastating as well. For me, I run an assassin, the original shadow stepping one, and she is a solo crusher. With Mark of Death, a level 1 daily, damage ramps quickly. And if you are making an exciting encounter with dynamic terrain (like you should with a Solo), Executioner’s Noose is an at will with a pull effect I have dropped dragons without breaking a sweat. Point is there is a lot out there that can ruin a Solo’s day

    So this makes me wonder, and you touched on this in the article, is the problem not combos or classes or powers or feat, but the concept of the “Solo” in 4e. The number of hoops and upgrades and changes the designers have had to go through to get a Solo to work I think really points to this. I’ve run a few Solo encounters, and the solo itself…dull. And you can make it ridiculous with extra attacks and trigger powers, and whole extra turns in init, but it all points to the fact that really you should just be using more then one critter rather then trying to make one work like five. Whole articles are written with suggestions on how to make a Solo encounter interesting and memorable. But it is all just forcing what may be a poor concept for this system.

    So really, is it a daily + encounter + shutting down all other marking for a big benny the problem, or is the problem the concept of the Solo in a game with powers and effects like 4e has? Personally I am getting tired of everyone trying so hard to make Solos work and having everything else need special handing for them.

  12. Hunterian7 says:

    @Wally It may be an essentials feat but isn’t divine sanction core rules? Specifically Divine Power? The Cavalier is the only Essentials class I haven’t played. If so, then the Essentials feat is fine until
    Mixed with Core- thus reinforcing my feelins about killing Core.

  13. Joe says:

    That combination is one I use all the time. And it doesn’t even require Knight’s Intercession. Simply make sure you have Persistent Challenge for those times you might get stunned or immobilized (or …) away from your target and this is an almost permanent daze on a creature.

    However, as powerful as it is, these days it is less powerful after the advent of “can end one effect on it” kinds of monsters. I don’t even think that it is a broken combination anymore because there are so many ways to get out of it.

    However, because of its power, I do tend to use it sparingly and notably in fights where there are a lot of crazy powerful monsters/NPCs that such control is needed for the party to gain its footing. Or recover it. Your friend may come from a similar school of thought … or he may just have forgotten about it.

  14. Eric Sanuels says:

    I lurked on the CO boards for about 6 or 7 years during 3rd edition. It changed the way I player, but after a while I realized that finding the balance between powerful and over powerful was the key to keeping the game fun. It also led to why I eventually switched to 4th edition: too many loopholes that would break the game. Unfortunately because of the unbalanced nature of 3rs it was sometimes necessary to use a few loopholes to get the character to fi what you wanted.

    I think 4th has done a much better job in creating a game where the loopholes aren’t needed. Unless you simplify the game to a RISUS level there are always going to be loopholes. The magnitude if them in 4th is no where near as bad as 3rd, so I agree that its just a matter of a gentlemans agreement not to make characters that ruin the enjoyment of the game.

  15. Grayson Davis says:

    One problem I have with 4e is that there is really no ‘core’ set of books, and I think that makes the game harder to manage for the DM, and to some degree for the players.

    Now, in 3e, there were plenty of incredibly overpowered characters, and 3e became somewhat notorious for complex, OP characters cobbled together from half a dozen sourcebooks. And certainly, even in the core books there were some major balance issues. But even then, a DM could still restrict players to the core books and perhaps one or two supplements (subject to DM approval).

    Meanwhile, in 4e, it’s nearly impossible to restrict play to the core books, in part because the idea of ‘core’ has changed. Even if we assume that the ‘core’ books are merely numbered PHBs (i.e. PHB1, 2, and 3), that is still a whole lot of content, and chances are that you have to throw in a campaign Player’s Guide as well. Furthermore, when you use the character builder software, it becomes a hassle to filter out certain content.

    I think the end result is that the players and the DM must manage a very large amount of content. Even though 3e had a lot of content too, it was much easier IMO to filter out content you didn’t want. No doubt this is part of the appeal of the Essentials line, but still, in a hypothetical 4.5e, I would love to see a more focused set of ‘core’ books, and then use supplements to provide content for gamers who want to explore the system more deeply or experiment with CharOp.

  16. Douglas Kilpatrick says:

    This specific example has been known as a potential issue for … well, it feals like years. It’s been in the “Overpowered?” section of “The Handbook of Broken” since I first created it (Octover 15, 2009).

    In general, the Character Optimization boards are full of people who are willing to help you identify these and similar issues. You just have to be willing to put up with the standard problems of internet forums (being anonymous begets poor behavior), and actually be willing to listen and engage in dialog.

    The larger issue is really “what is the goal of the game?” I’d like to link my old blog post on the subject: (http://bit.ly/fxst4O … it’s on community.wizards.com). The one scenario I don’t really cover is “everyone wants to play D&D Tactics, not D&D.” If that’s your situation, then you’ll have to house rule a lot. And I’d seriously suggest looking at the handbook-of-broken (http://bit.ly/h45U6w) for the known issues.


  17. greywulf says:

    Knightly Intercession + Certain Justice is definitely a killer combination, and there’s no way to read it otherwise. Both powers are clear in their details, and what they do together will leave the poor foe both Weakened and Dazed for the rest of the encounter, with no save. Ouch. That’s a solo beater, right there.

    I’d argue that they are present in every version of D&D (and possibly every RPG, ever), but it takes a certain kind of player to find and use them (I still have nightmares about what one of my players did with Reverse Gravity and Teleport spells in AD&D). From the GM’s perspective, there’s two way to approach these kind of game-breaking effects, aside from nerfing them. I feel that Yet More Errata is entirely the wrong way to go about the game, especially for what are basically powerful corner cases.

    One way is to provide a get out clause, either by providing a way for the Solo to shrug off Dazed & Weakened effects, or by giving another foe a way to aid him. The former solution is likely to be the obvious route, but I prefer the latter. If the Big Ugly Villain is clearly on the ropes, perhaps the Big Ugly Villain’s Apprentice Teleports him away to live to fight another day, or has him switch locations with a Demon Lord for a while. Or the Apprentice has a Want of Instant Recovery which cancels any effects on the target. The PCs will certainly want that in their treasure pile – if they live that long!

    The second way is to make it tough to get those killer combo powers in the first place. I ask my players to let me know ahead of time (say, half-way through the level) what powers, spells, etc) they want so that I can set up how they get their abilities into the game. If they don’t, they only have the PHB to play with when it comes time to level up. This allows me to let them find hard to decipher scrolls, spell books, magical pools and arms masters, as well as check there’s nothing I should worry about in future. If there is, I’m prepared for it. At least, that’s the theory.

    Of course, sometimes you just have to say: “that combo, it’s too lethal” and ask the player to swap it out for something else. Give them a chunk of treasure as thanks, and make a note to disallow that combination in future. If all else fails, all of those Solo monsters might just gang up on him one dark night and beat the living poop out of him.

    It’s only fair, after all.

  18. Dan says:

    Well lets see… where to begin…

    I am the player with the +7 to death saves in Robs game, and I am the DM for the game with the mark/weaken/daze combo, so I have do have a unique perspective on Rob’s troubles.

    1st my characters defense…
    I am playing a Dragonborn Warpriest (not optimized)
    with a 18 wisdom (was 17 til 4th level) (not optimized)
    wielding a hammer, without the stats to get get cool hammer feats later (not optimized)
    who happens to worship the goddess of fate and lets people put their lives in the roll of a dice more often than at the hands of my healing (not group optimized) (although I do weigh the dice in our favor as much as possible)

    If this was a dwarf, with a 21 wisdom (at 5th level) using a pole arm to attack from 2nd ranks who had the pacifist healer feat… ok maybe it would be over the top…

    2nd in defense of the player in my game…
    My solo’s do not hold back, they are not wussies, and for the most part they are all converted by subtracting 25% of their HP and adding 25% more damage on hits (to get old ones in line with new ones). I also tend to make sure that they can act more than once per round. My players have seen this for 14 levels (although excellerated levels I will admit) and know that I am not one to pull a punch (at least not that they see very often all though it does happen). All that being said, when our Paladin (who was newly created due to a change in the campaign storyline – the past was altered by the party and that caused subtle and not so subtle changes in the players characters) busted out his big smile – I knew he had something crazy for me and when he hit me with it I was shocked, but not suprised, that he did it or that it exists in the rules… and to make sure he knew he only won the round and not the fight (hehehe) my bad guy with his next attack pushed the pally off the top of the tower (he missed his save of course) where he was bloodied and out of the combat for 3 rounds. Good guys won the fight (one that had a parlay and a theft option instead of fighting – they failed the parlay and did not think of theft). All that being said, I dont like the combo, but I personally am happy to work around it because the player is more than happy to work around me by rewritting his 14th level character to suit my story that changed… and he would drop the combo in 1 second if I asked him… knowing that he would do that is enough for me to let him have it for the once in a level that he will get it off on a boss monster.

    Ok – now onto comments about comments…

    1. I agree on the essentials comments to this point. Essentials alone is not broken, Essentials with Core allows for brokeness to occur.

    2. @ wolf – very interesting points about the Solo… I have done like most and tried to manipulate them into being more interersting (after having a 4 v. clay golem fight go on for hours one night) and maybe the solution is to run more elites and less solos… or solos that are below the party level a bit but have lots of help, or even a 2nd solo with them.

    3. MTG reference… I see the link in end game but agree with the post that it is not a great comparison as you are playing that to win (not to mention that my land kill deck back in the day would absolutly piss people off.. hence why I only played it at tournies and not in the home games) (and the same reason that I did offer Rob that I would drop my +7 to death saves… all he had to do was give me the word… he said not to worry about it)

    4. When you play in a game where you have as many non-op-char’s as you do optimized ones the optimization can be a matter of life and death… and that is the case in both the game I run and the one I play in. The optimized character tend to live longer and do more (no shit huh?) and end up in the long run saving the lives of the non-op-char’s more often than not.

    Lastly (I hope), if everyone was playing just to do the most DPR or Heal the most, or take the most turns I would be 1st in line to break that group up and kick them all in the balls (or other painfull area if they are married and no longer have balls to kick)… but since that is not the case in either game that Rob references I dont share the bile that Rob does for these characters.

    PS – my characters have spent an entire combat held by vines (barbarian) so I could not attack, most of a combat stunned and dazed and immobilzed by Grell and Grells buddies (warden/pally hybrid), and eaten alive by a swarm of broken neddle fang drakes (cleric), shot in the face and knocked to my death by four archers with readied actions (warden/pally hybrid)… and it does suck… it sucks alot – but it is part of the game I choose to play and my complaints have been minor, and shall stay that way… if I dont like the game I will not play… I do like it so I do play… even with all of its faults.

    now back to work so I can make money and buy heros of shadow….. maybe in there I will find a goodie that Rob wrote that I can annoy him with … he hates that the most :)

  19. Hunterian7 says:

    We use solo creatures a lot in our delve. The issue with solos comes because DMs sometimes fail to understand they are equivalent to a standard encounter. It’s a standard package wrapped in one.

    So, no, I empathically state it’s not the solo creatures fault. A standard encounter isn’t hard for a party to defeat. It shouldn’t be unless you have a party being defeated by standard encounters all the time. Even solo hard encounters are easy to knock off at times. No, the problem lies within the damn functions of Stun and Dazed. They need to be nixed from the game mechanics of 4th. At least from the PCs hands. Or make someone dazed slowed and subject to -2 to attack roles.

    Also, we have done away with Extended rests. Daily powers are now level powers. This has resulted in the primacy of Encounter powers but F it. We want a challenge. Save the solo for the end. Wear down the party and save him for last. Raise him 4 levels higher than the party. If the party tries to rest- send them a message- have the solo attack them before they rest.

  20. Alphastream says:

    With home games I have few problems. If there were one, the players are great and I’m sure a brief side discussion would result in a change amicable to both sides. The change would likely be a voluntary one on the PC’s side so as to not force me to change the game itself. I would speak to them in a friendly non-combative way and probably start by saying something like “So, that power combination… do you think it works well? Is it balanced?” I would always have an open discussion because changing things behind the scenes (all solos get xyz to compensate) then invalidates the player’s choices and can be passive-aggressive.

    I judge a lot of organized play. You never know what you will find at your table. . In general, my level of 4E experience can compensate for most cheese. I can step up the tactics and compensate. But, sometimes you can’t. When that happens I generally pause play and have a conversation. I recall one time running an adventure I wrote. The adventure is heavy on one type of damage in the thrilling final encounter. The table had two guys I know well and their friends. I knew going in they were optimizers. They drop Mass Resistance (pre-errata) in round one. I run for a round and it is clear that the encounter cannot challenge them. “So, guys… I’m looking at the situation and Mass Resistance won’t allow me to challenge you. I’m ok with that if you guys are, but we can consider options if you want this to be run as intended. We could step down the resistance a bit… I could compensate on my end. What do you guys want?” We had a good frank discussion. I didn’t want to take away their “win” if it was enjoyable. I also didn’t want to deprive them of their experience of what the mod intended. In the end we decided to keep it as it was because it was at the con and they felt they had been challenged thus far and were enjoying the adventure. We finished with no bad feelings and some of them said it was one of the top adventures they had played. I had a great time, in part because I didn’t take it personally or seethe behind the screen.

  21. Ashardalon says:

    I hate to say it, but I blame D&D.

    Not just 4E but 3E as well.

    D&D rewards optimized tactical play. It you spend most of your time in combat, and the game gives you a toolkit for optimizing combat focused characters, and the game is structured to throw tactical encounters at your players, and by optimizing you are better at overcoming these tactical encounters… then why is it the fault of the players for playing the game?

    Please pause for a minute before you write me off or attack me. I love D&D. I grew up playing it starting with 3E.

    My friends were always more focused on emergent story, drama, and roleplaying. But as we grew up, we grew apart as we moved to different towns. But I kept playing and I’ve joined several local gaming clubs and often frequent conventions. Most of the players I’ve encountered are tactical players. They love optimizing character builds. And when I described how my friends and I used to play… they told us we were playing wrong. At first, I disagreed. But the more I play, and more I play with more people, the more I think I was wrong and they were right!

    In D&D 4E, whenever I did anything that wasn’t tactically sound but was dramatic or in keeping with my character… I realized I was letting the group down. If I’m focused on roleplaying over tactics, and everyone else is tactically trying to beat the encounter… then I’m being the jerk! At first I was like, well we just have different play styles, but they are the ones playing by the rules.

    If you don’t want people to optimize their character builds, then first off, get rid of the whole “character build” language. The game now has this whole optimized tactical thinking baked into the language and psychology of the game. Words matter. And the words point to an experience that promotes optimization and loop hole exploitation.

    Also, I’m not saying D&D 4E has become Magic the Gathering because I don’t think it has but it has moved more towards requiring miniatures or tokens, maps, and the game has been designed so that it is easier to play with power cards, and now you can even spend more money to buy Fortune Collectible Cards to optimize your character even further. Which is all aimed at focusing on tactics and winning. So why not optimize? It’s like telling a kid not to smoke while smoking as a parent. Do what I say, not what I do. D&D is leading by example.

    If you want there to be less focus on character optimization, why not have characters build by answering story related questions? Tell us about who your character is, where they have been, what they do, and where they want to go as a way to generate the character’s statistics. If you can choose any feat, regardless of if it makes sense for who your character is, then you are going to move towards making decisions based on optimization. It doesn’t work well to say, “being tactically optimal is ok, just don’t go too far.” How do you measure that? If you are thinking optimization, there is no such thing as too far. That’s what the rules are there for. The rules limit us. If you want them to make decisions differently,

    If you want a different game, design a different game.

  22. Alphastream says:

    A few thoughts on responses.

    - Essentials will be more broken given time and supplements. It is the nature of the rules system. To prevent this we need either solid education (in the printed rules) on how to adjudicate broken, such that every DM and player knows the deal, or we need some high-level limits on what can be done. You can’t address all the issues this way, but I do think the Warhammer RPG’s concept of a limit on how many sources can stack is a good one. I think they use a limit of 3. That prevents ridiculous damage/save/hit/etc. values.

    - Char Ops boards do have many people that understand the impacts on the game. However, the ratio of caution to danger is insufficient for my tastes. The emphasis is clearly on “this build wins, you want it” and not on “here is how to take this concept and be balanced at your table”. It is routine for an increasing number of players to start the character building process by checking out the boards. It leads to many problems. The Char Op community could do better. (I do thank those that work to keep things balanced. Thank you!)

  23. Alphastream says:

    I will also agree on various levels with Ashardalon. The game is written to encourage cheese. It is clearly part of the allure and marketing of the game. That’s fine, but it is overdone. Just as the 4E rules do not do a good enough job of describing how to avoid creating a “boring 5 monsters in a plain small room” encounter, the rules do not do enough to describe fun RP play. Essentials does a a better job of this, pointing out logical choices based on flavor, not just mechanics, but there is still an overwhelming bias toward synergistic play.

    Fortune Cards are a great example. They could have been flavor and RP with a touch of mechanics. Instead, the flavor is practically nonexistent. Compare to the Harrow Deck or better yet the Savage Worlds / Deadlands deck ideas. Those decks are usually RP-rich. They aren’t about picking some combo to yet again increase your power level. In the same way, most RPG core books are written about making a cool character concept instead of a statistical build. Turn down the “if you chose stat X as your primary…” and turn up the “If you see your PC as being a master of….”

  24. pdunwin says:

    Another way to approach this is that DMs can try to step away from any idea of what a given encounter is “supposed” to be. We like to have stories and increasing excitement in our games, but nothing about that is hard-coded. We want the final fight to be the hardest, but what if it isn’t? So what? We want a monster to do its cool thing, but what if it doesn’t? We want the PCs to have a relatively easy time with a certain fight, but what if they don’t? If a cherished character dies at the hands of a mook, so what? The game is not scripted and that’s supposedly what we like about it, the fact that anything can happen.

    Realistically, the problem is that we spend time thinking about what we’d like to see happen, what we think would be cool, and when something else happens it’s less immediately clear what’s cool about it. Overall, it should be that “anything can happen” aspect of the game that’s cool. It’s unlikely that anyone would deliberately design an encounter that immobilizes a melee character the entire time, and while it’s happening it’s probably pretty hateful for that player, and maybe the whole table. Probably the DM should pause things and work out a way to make the encounter “better,” but I bet everyone reading this has a story about a time when things went horribly wrong, the DM stuck to his guns, and the PCs still won and enjoyed it all the more as a result. Heck, when I was running Encounters a few weeks ago, the PCs just stuck their defender in the gap and there seemed to be nothing I could to about it other than run my monsters into the blender – until I got lucky on some bull rush rolls and a player suggested having the monsters scale the walls. What if the dazed, weakened monster just said “Screw it?” and repeatedly attacked or charged the controller? Sounds like it managed to do pretty well in that case anyway?

    Improvising is hard, especially when your weeks of planning have just been dashed. I suggest though, that – no matter what precautions you plan to the contrary – you always give a thought to how the encounter will run if the PCs were to trivialize it or overcomplicate it. You don’t even have to change the monsters.

  25. Mark says:


    I just wanted to respond to this subject briefly because your insights tie in, somewhat, to your comments made about Feats the other week. In my mind, both subjects are the result of a game rules environment that has already grown too large for 4th Edition.

    Or put in another way: D&D seldom *seems* to be viewed as a game rules system that will grow over the course of its life cycle. When the game first releases and there are few rules… there are few problems. As the years tick by and products are released, more and more powers, feats, and game interactions are loaded onto the heap and — no matter how well they are playtested — will eventually break. There’s just too many ingredients in the sauce.

    We already saw this happen with Magic, the Gathering in the 90s, which directly led to the creation of “formats.” It makes sense. Fewer cards in the current environment meant fewer broken interactions. More importantly, fewer cards meant that players could concentrate on those fewer interactions to choose from and create optimized (tournament) decks. That activity is both good (because it creates interest and retains customer interest) and is bad (when an unforeseen / “broken” combination pops up), but at the very least, it became manageable. 2,000 cards seems to be the max. for a “full” environment. Go past that and things start breaking down. So MtG has a built in reset button to “re-shrink” its rules set.

    Looking back at 3rd Edition, many customers left by the time 3.5 rolled around because there was just “too much” of everything, even from official, WotC products. There’s too much to remember, too many variables, too much customization… and the concepts, monsters, powers, spells that are supposed to be “core” begin to lose their meaning.

    Bringing it all back to 4th Edition: I think we’re already at this point. WotC’s breakneck speed on releases coupled with the unnecessary Feat and Powers bloat means that we simply have more rules content that we really need. I will go on record and say that I think Essentials has it right. Players really don’t need so many powers to choose from (although they *think* they do), and there certainly doesn’t need to be as much rules content out there as there is. Just 3 years in and the rules environment is already hit its “2,000 card max.”

    Personally, I don’t see any way to fix it shy of releasing a revised version (which would be bad for the product but good for the game). WotC needs to keep publishing content (all game companies do), and that includes adding more rules, powers, feats, etc. makes each new release attractive. Maybe I’m wrong, but it doesn’t seem like there was an eight-year plan for the line. Everyone expects a new edition at some point, but each edition should last 8-10 years… and from what we’ve seen, there was too much rules growth in the first 3 years already.

    So, that was a long way of saying I agree with you completely for both articles… but that the cause of both problems is due to rules bloat.

  26. Douglas Kilpatrick says:


    Yes, the folks on CharOp tend to be a directed bunch. If you ask “How do I win D&D”, you’ll get responses that talk about winning D&D, not responses that try and point out that it’s a team game.

    If you ask “what’s broken in D&D”, as someone who could actually fix things, you’ll get Plenty of suggestions about things to fix

    If you assume that everyone in that forum is a cheating munchking cheesehead, and never bother to talk to them at all, you’ll get to be annoyed when your players bring in tricks that are clearly outside the power parameters you were expecting.

    So my point is: talk to the CharOp folks. If you engage them, you’ll get the benefit of the crowd behind you. If you ignore them, you’ll just get that same crowd working to break your game … simply because there’s nothing they can do to work to fix it.

  27. Sakari O. Lahti says:

    I think errata is the best way to handle this situation at this point, and I have been happy with the amount of errata WotC has churned out. I think errata is not to be feared but embraced. It is an essential component of any complex game these days. It’s utterly unrealistic to expect that the designers can get everything right from the start.

    I had similar experiences with Magic in the mid-nineties. I enjoyed the game when the cards were wild and unbalanced. The game became too sterile after it became competitive and serious. I dropped out in 1997.

  28. Dan says:

    @ hunterian7 I agree 100% with daze and stun – they are so far worse in action than they appear to be on paper – ands its just as bad on either side of the screen. and making daily powers into per level powers is sorta sexy also… not sure I could pull that off this far into this campaign but maybe for the next one.

  29. Alphastream says:

    Doug, I know I can get good comments/thoughts from the Char Op community if I seek them out. But, I also know that the sum effect of Char Op is not one of balance. It is of crushing optimization. While optimization for the intellectual/fun exercise of it is awesome (it is!), the positive or negative net effect of it on the game is debatable.

    I would argue 4E plays best when the table is balanced and not optimized. The average guide book on Char Op forums does not push for ‘balanced’ as a goal, nor does it state some premise of ‘intellectual exercise’ vs. actual play. Too many lists of what is broken also end up being lists of what to use. You can see the broken elements in the suggested builds on the guide books. Conversely, if you listen to forums you would think that the Runepriest and Seeker are unplayable. They aren’t at all! They lack equal footing for optimization but are completely playable and fun to play as well.

    I completely accept the good intentions of many on the Char Op forums (myself included), but I don’t think the overall effect is where it could be. It is kind of human nature. Exploring how to win and be strong is easier, faster, and more seductive than exploring how to be balanced.

    The effect is pronounced. In 3E days at Living Greyhawk RPGA tables you would see plenty of cheese. But, a lot of it was individual takes by individual players. Seldom was a build one you could name. There was a limited amount of sharing on the Yahoo groups. Now I can often name the builds I judge. Everyone seems to know the same terms and builds. And, you can see the players rebuild if and when the nerf bat is swung… right to the next strongest build. I don’t find the effect or the mentality to be positive for organized play. I don’t see it creating more fun. It isn’t anywhere near the biggest problem we face, but it is something with which I struggle.

  30. James Auwaerter says:

    There are definitely some different views on what constitutes a problem. If a sun warpriest isn’t healing his allies during combat and counting on the death saves to keep them going, those allies are effectively stunned for a turn (since they’re making death saving throws at the end of the turn), then dazed for a turn (need to stand from prone) – and that’s still only happening a third of the time! The sun warpriest hands out temps with his healing, and those are only useful during combat.

    To me, it looks like that warpriest is using bad tactics as a result of having that feat. How does it pose a problem for you? Attack the folks who aren’t dying, and you’ll probably get close to a TPK. The tactic of attacking dying creatures could have an adverse effect, as he tries to maximize the damage people are taking before bringing them up again.

  31. Douglas Kilpatrick says:

    (Hm. Should we take this to 4e General?)

    My point is that what you’ll get out of the community is a function of how you engage it. Because we’re not told the expected guidelines, we can’t provide “X is too good, Y is too bad” feedback.

    So what can we do? Well, the obvious thing to do is to see how far you can push the system.

    Even then, I see people putting asterix by Spark Slippers, or Kulkor. “Don’t do this, it breaks the game”. So I think the characterization that we’re all dirty munchkins trying to break the game is horribly unfair. But it feels like that’s the characterization that Dev has, and thus the completely and total lack of engagement, outside of one thread.

    I’ve maintained the Handbook of Broken for a year and a half now, as basically your one-top-shop of things that need to be nerfed. And most update cycles go by without addressing any of the most important issues. So … since I can’t help fix the game, what can I do?

  32. Dan says:

    @ James – ‘bad tactics’ is in the eye of the beholder. When you have a group of 8 level 5 players (mix of about 4 opt and 4 non-opt imho) with 6 heals (two being daily) to go around; at some point a leader will need to decide “do I heal the guy who is still next to the bad ass who dropped him and will most likely just get hit again and go down again (wasting the heal), or do I save the heal to get up someone after the bad ass has moved on? And if I stand close enough the guy who is down, he might just get lucky enough to heal himself as a bonus” just one example… and honestly tactics good or bad is not really the debate here as I see it, but I could be wrong (it has happened once or twice LOL)

  33. Alphastream says:

    Just to be clear, “the characterization that we’re all dirty munchkins trying to break the game” is not one I hold.

    When it comes to Dev, I can to an extent see their point. Spark Slippers are great… until you then move stuff all around that PC. They aren’t meant to do that. I suspect Dev just wants the issue to go away and for a ‘perfect’ world where no one chooses to combine anything and achieve broken. I also don’t see their point, in that Dev should know better… they developed this and started it back with kits and skills and powers. Part of it may be that they tend to favor home games and until recently did not see much wider play where you can see how the game is being played by many (and what people want). I don’t think there is a perfect answer here.

    My comments aren’t meant to be condemning. You personally rock. So do most in the community. It is more about the effect things have. Cha Op on the WotC forums has far and away more posts than anything other than the catch-all 4E General. It receives incredible emphasis… and thus influences the game in that direction. I don’t have an answer at all, despite being an opinionated person. I just scratch my head. I don’t know what is best here. I can think of ways to handle it at the table, but I don’t have a vision for the bigger issue.

  34. mellowship says:

    Speaking as a longtime COer, some of your examples don’t really hold up to scrutiny, and your conceptions of what constitutes an appropriate power level are a bit off.

    The Knightly Intercession + Certain Justice combo is indeed encounter-breaking, but the root of the problem is that Certain Justice is thoroughly broken. If the dazing and weakening lasted only until the end of your next turn, it would be fine for an encounter power. Note that there is a Strength+4 1W encounter power in the PHB. It’s a level 3 fighter power, Precise Strike, which hardly any fighters ever take. And Knightly Intercession is not overpowered for a level 9 daily. Dimensional Vortex, a level 3 swordmage encounter power, is much worse; it wouldn’t be out of place as a paragon-tier power.

    As for the +7 to death saves build, if a party is having to make a lot of death saves on a regular basis, they’re doing something wrong.

  35. Kerrus says:

    I think Doug has hit the point on the head, as it were.

    Back when I first joined 4E back in 08, I would occasionally run into broken combos, or issues with the game balance. I was an enthusiastic young neophyte to 4E back then, and I happily joined the WotC official forums, posted in threads about things that needed to be fixed, and watched errata cycle after errata cycle go by with no fix in sight.

    Conversely, I learned that the 100% surefire way of getting something that was clearly broken fixed was to make a wildly popular thread about it in Charop, putting together a build that abused that specific interaction to utterly destroy the game as we know it.

    And 100% of the time, those threads have resulted in a prompt- dare I say even immediate errata to fix the relevant problem.

    I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who feels that Dev “only cares” if the impression is given (via thread popularity) that EVERYONE will be using this wildly broken theoretical combo and that it is a clear and present threat to the stability of the game.

    So meanwhile, there are issues that have not been responded to, looked at, or solved that have been issues since the very inception of the Edition.

    So on the one hand, it seems that R&D has this conception of us as cheesefocused cheaters who are 100% committed to destroying the game as a fun and engaging system, and who will not stop until everyone knows how awesome we are.

    On the other, we- or at least I- have this conception of R&D as a bunch of guys who- while doing good work- are too aloof to bother to read their own errata forums, or even touch any of the dozens of offering by concerned fans. There’s a very real sense that R&D either doesn’t care, or is prevented from even addressing real issues (Insert Habsro bashing here).

    I mean, do I know or not that there’s a guy in a suit from Hasbro that unplugs your computer if you so much as look at any of the problems the charop community has identified? No.

    Common sense and experience tells me that this is extremely unlikely to not be the case.

    But that leaves us with a rather limited set of options.

    The definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and ever again and expecting different results. WotC has long since established that (for whatever reason) they do not read the Errata forums. Full stop.

    WotC has also long since established that the moment someone comes up with a wildly popular theoretical build that abuses rules interaction involving clearly broken game elements, and that thread gets five or six pages worth of comments, that there’ll be a nerf coming down the grapevine when the next cycle of errata is posted.

    So tell me: Which of these two options is the best choice for getting WotC to address the broken or bent game elements that need to be addressed?

    I’ll give you a hint: It’s the one that actually works.

  36. Kerrus says:

    Err, I seem to have mixed up my double negatives. Just to clarify: I do not think that you have a guy from Hasbro who unplugs your computer whenever you attempt to use the resources the community has made available to identify and solve loopholes and other issues.

    And I’m sure he’s laughing that I don’t believe in him.

  37. Greek George says:

    Do you see Alpha? How much fun I could have at Comicpalooza if Robert would just come visit Houston…tsk tsk tsk… ;)

    May 27th – 29th – I wonder if we take some broken stuff and use them on Chris Perkins table, will he still whomp us?

  38. pdunwin says:

    One of the biggest problems with “encounter breaking” game features is that I tend to feel as though the inability of an encounter to provide challenge is a reflection on my intelligence, even if I wasn’t the one who crafted the encounter. If I could get over that feeling and get to where I can cheer on the people who beat the encounters it wouldn’t matter as much how “broken” anything was.

  39. Bobby says:


  40. Alphastream says:

    George, I think Chris Perkins will still kill you softly, with his words. (Like the Fugees, but with less song and more RP). Cheese cannot defeat story, because story has no mechanics.

    True story: For the third Ashes of Athas adventure my two strongest optimizers kept asking me for details on a distance. This was a clear indication to me that I could not name it. After some thought, they agreed. The adventure therefore specifies that the distance is left undefined and never sufficient to use any power or to close the distance on foot.

    Yeah, Rob, you should come to Comicpalooza next year! And everyone else should go this year!

  41. Newbiedm says:

    I find it odd that nobody has sugested that perhaps they need to stop releasing so much stuff that’s bloating the game and concentrate on fixing whats already out there. There is more than enough material to play the game with for years without needing new feats or powers every month.

  42. Kerrus says:

    @Newbiedm: We have. They’re not going to.

  43. Alphastream says:

    Besides employing Rob (and many others), new material is actually desired by a lot of people. Over time, that drops. None of us have handles on the actual sales, but judging by what I see and hear at tables, the demand seems to still be there.

    For me, I like new material. Sure, I could play for years with just one book… I do this for most RPGs I play. I also like collecting tons of books and playing with whatever just came out last month. It keeps the game fresh, provides new ideas, and extends the design and play space. I reached the end of my desire for 3E material right around the time the Complete series of books started to reiterate (Complete Mage in 2006 after Complete Arcane in 2004…). I don’t feel that way with 4E, though I am sure opinions differ.

  44. Hunterian7 says:

    @NewbieDM. Nope. I love new material. All the more, all the better.

    Besides- Wiz a Biz. They need to make money.

    Isn’t the slow down in production enough? Less
    Errata so far.

  45. Dan says:

    @ Mellowship – have you seen what Rob gets put into print? Those who play in his game get all the stuff to nasty to be published, multiply that by 10 because we rag on him constantly, and then you might get close to visualizing the horrific reasons that we do make our share of death saves

    (ok Im done being defensive – back to just being a smart ass!)

  46. Get Yer Final Fantasy out of my D&D! « The Evil GM says:

    [...] Schwalb had a very interesting post over at his D&D blog. I linked to it through my Facebook and Twitter, but I think it deserves [...]

  47. Bubba Brown says:

    With “Breaker Combos” I have to place the blame upon the foundations they are built on. Players will always find those combinations, either subconsciously or consciously. I know from designing games that if your designs allow for such dangerous combinations, they’ll be created. In a Euro card game I’m designing, someone found a combo to absolutely shutdown another player for the entire game. Not something I wanted at all, so I investigated the mechanics fixed a few loopholes and provided better mechanics to prevent it from happening again.

    Players always optimize. The desired factors for optimization might differ, but they are always optimizing. So, if a breaker combo exists that isn’t costly enough, it’ll eventually draw them. In exception based games, you have to be extremely careful with the exceptions. The exceptions have to have costs associated with them that balance what they are doing. The trouble is that I don’t think DnD 4th Edition had a very well established design economy. I don’t know if the value of certain abilities were broken down to raw numbers and exposed for what they are. A lot of routes for Breaker Combos become very easy to see when you look at the raw statistics. Despite the quirks, DnD 3.5, in the beginning, felt it had solid economics charted out. That started to change drastically much later, but the core rules anchored the process.

    I can’t count the times I ran into Breaker Combo Magic decks. I just stayed away from those decks after a certain point, then resided to playing old edition Magic between friends.

    The only way I can think of fixing such issues is for the designers to sit down and establish what kind of game they want players to have and, more importantly, what aspects of the game that need to be protected from exceptions. It’s a situation where it is not what you allow, but what you don’t allow that counts. A master list of commandments that can never be excepted does a lot in protecting a game. Hell, I’m just imagining the amount of things that could be fixed in Magic just having a list of basic, mandatory mechanics a player shouldn’t be punished for doing by card effects.

  48. Jack Bane says:


    I think what you’re feeling is what any creator or artist feels when they discover someone using what they’ve created in a manner that they did not intend.

    One thing I’ve noticed about the publications so far for 4E is that most of them are written with the sense that they exist in a vacuum. It seems very little consideration is given to how a new rule element would interact with existing material, nor to how future material might impact the effectiveness of something. Not to mention the impact that imprecise language or implicit references (instead of explicit examples or clear meaning) can have on a feat or power. Primarily this is a sin of Dragon magazine articles that assume the material will be used with full knowledge of the related article and in a fashion similar to how they were intended.

    With where we are in 4th Edition, the sheer number of feats and powers is daunting. Having to parse it all and figure out what no longer works as originally intended and patching it to be compliant with the existing system would be time consuming and problematic. However, there should be a check against earlier material to avoid duplication and obsolescence.

    While I won’t say that this particular instance could have been avoided being as problematic as it would seem to be to Rob, I do think that if the design and development staff of WotC used those materials which were freely available within their community things like this would happen far less frequently. The Errata Forums never seem to be put to use in their assumed purpose. Change that, and you’ll probably catch a fair bit of problematic and unforeseen interactions. WotC doesn’t have the staff to be doing an adequate number of playtests or experimental builds for all the material that exists, so use the body of the community that is willing to put in free man-hours to do that for you.

    As to the discussion about character optimization forums and their notoriety: It is not the fault of those who write the builds and guidebooks that the material they put forth is used by those with unscrupulous motives. Generally, such folk as employ the breaking builds aren’t participants in the community but are more often transient petitioners for assistance or lurkers who find what they’re wanting without giving anything in return. Much like a firearm’s manufacturer isn’t held responsible for crimes committed with their products, or the scientists in the Manhattan Project being blamed for what was done with the atomic bomb, CharOp shouldn’t be held culpable for those who use their theorycraft in application.

    Also, can there be a little love given to those classes which were in Player’s Handbook 3, and the other under-supported classes and builds? One of the reasons a lot of builds use a disproportionately narrow set of elements is not merely because they’re the best at what they do, they’re also largely the sole element to accomplish part of the goal of the build. If every class had its near-equivalent choices, then one could assume that largely they would take that choice over having to expend additional resources to get the other option.

  49. Guest Post by The Ultimate DM: Power Gaming Insight & History | The Id DM says:

    [...] enjoyed reading a recent article by Robert J. Schwalb on the effects of power gaming and optimization at the table. I responded to the article in the Comments with the following: My goal is to find a [...]

  50. Ultimate DM says:

    This one is pretty easy actually.
    If the paladin is unconscious, Adios Mark.. Adios Combo. Bull rush the Paladin off the edge of the tower.
    Second option is bad guys runs away.. returns in 5 minutes.. Adios Daily power.
    Third option, be a bit smarter as a DM, and don’t throw a solo at a group who has this potential.

    I have very little issue with the Combo, it’s a brilliant move. It’s something he can pull off ONCE daily.
    If he runs into a second SOLO mob that day he’s Screwed. Part of being a good DM is preparing for these nasty combos. Part of being a good player is knowing when to use your nasty combo.

  51. Zach says:

    I am one of those Mechanics breakers. My current character is one of those Damage monkies, but I try to balance it out a little: the Dual-Wielding, Battlerage Vigor Fighter-Dreadnought-Admantium(probably SP but eh) Soldier may shrug off status effects, and have swords bounce off his face but he will NOT back down from a fight, even a losing one. It’s just his nature, which makes sense. He also finds ranged weapons distasteful, so he doesn’t use them. Thus he may be nearly indestructible in close combat, but in a ranged encounter he is a sitting duck. He also isn’t much useful for skill challenges unless it’s Endurance, Athletics, etc. Basically he exists to beat things into the dirt, and he does it rather well, but that is all he does.
    Probably works best because the rest of the play group is a Warlock, a Cleric, and a Ranger (of the archer variety.) Which leaves a lot of room for the Damage monkey to be a damage monkey: He’s, for the most part, the only one available for the job.

  52. strony web says:

    Problem in matter of gun control is responsobility of people.
    People should be More responsible for their

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