Powers and Creativity in 4e

Here's what gets me about powers in 4e: It's hard to use them as tools, as flexible units that you can layer together. I don't mean they're hard to use, but they're very specific, very complete and self-sufficient, and non-utility powers (that's 80% of powers) aren't applicable outside of combat. Yes, getting the players to describe how their power looks gets people into the game more than saying "Radiant Smite hits AC 22 for 15", but I'm talking about a level above that here.

Since powers as written are unitaskers (thank you, Alton Brown), you can't easily repurpose powers like you could with spells and feats in 3.5. Pair that with the lack of Rule Zero in the 4e rulebooks, and I think we have found the main creative limitation of 4e as compared to other versions of D&D.

For example, the Cleric can't cast Weapon of the Gods on the Rogue's sword just before the Rogue's Deep Cut hits - Weapon of the Gods only works on the Cleric's weapon. Nor can a Cleric of Sehanine, patron of Thievery, trade the Weapon of the Gods daily power to bolster a Thievery attempt to pick a lock. I would totally allow that in my game - the lockpicks glow with a silvery light and grant a +5 bonus to Thievery for the next few minutes. If the players want to soak all their daily powers out of combat to get something important to the story accomplished, why should the rules stand in the way of what the players want out of their game?

What happened to casting Create Water in combat to hamper a fire elemental? Or Mending to fix the fraying rope you're climbing as you're being shot at by goblins? Or using your familiar to remotely cast Erase on the scroll the cultist is using to summon a demon? I'm not saying these are impossible in 4e, but cool, offbeat uses of non-combat spells are much harder to fit into the structure of 4e powers.

Is there something I'm missing here, or do powers as written really hem in a player's creativity, especially in non-combat situations?

1 comment:

  1. I have played in a few 4e campaigns and I've got mixed feelings about it.

    One group I was in had a new player that came into D&D and had no real idea of the "old way" of doing things. It was so much easier for him to get up to speed and figure out what to do. The learning curve was really good for him. (Although if we didn't pre-print a bunch of power cards with the info on them, he might have been just as confused by combat and they system in general. Power cards make it A LOT easier)

    For the rest of us at the table, it felt like we totally had been hamstrung with our ability to do stuff. A few of us tried to find clever ways of working off each other, but really, even the game powers seem really only individually based.

    Like you said, outside of combat, there really weren't many powers at all. It's like they took away one part of the game and left a hole. Anything not involving combat was basically ignored.

    I'm all for making the game more accessible for new players and such, but not sure why they couldn't release some supplemental (you know, cause they'd never try to milk more money by releasing additional material) that filled in those blanks.

    Some of the experienced players liked the new system. They said it moved combat along faster. Hours long combats are the bane of a lot of campaigns. Though, even with the streamlined system, those folks that always took a long time in the old system looking through all their stuff still took as long.

    The real issue for those of us that liked the role play, it seemed like they cut off any supporting structure of the D&D system. Maybe that's a good thing ? Keep the two things separate, the story then becomes unhindered by the mechanics and rules of magic ?

    Possible. But if I wield magic and can burn folks in combat, I'd like to be able to make a campfire with the same power if I wanted to. What ? Combat only ? Fine, outside of combat I'm not a wizard, but in combat I am. That makes no sense, maybe I should enter combat with a piece of wood so I can light it on fire ?

    I'm sure you get the drift.

    Simplified combat, separated the mechanics/system from the role play, and really tied your hands in the creativity department as far as I'm concerned.

    I dunno. Maybe I'm just used to the old ways. I liked all the rules and the way they gave you plenty of rope to hang yourself if you weren't careful. I liked the fact my GMs would make additions, or rule bend from time to time when it made sense to the story. A lot of the new stuff simplifies the game for both GM and players, but to what end ? Is it as enjoyable ?

    I used to play an MMO for too long at one point, and it was a challenging game that you had to work at to figure out what to do and to be good at your job in a party. (it was also an outlet for role playing too, so it played to both of my vices)

    Then, they went through a process to make the game easier for people who might not have been great at computer games, and they dumbed it down to make it more accessible to people. Which made it less fun for a lot of us that had played "the old way". In combats, literally you could walk away from the computer and come back a minute or so later and no one would notice and it wouldn't matter. *shrugs* Again, not my kind of game play, and the game become very one sided.

    Though maybe I'm just getting OLD now.

    "Back in my day . . . . "

    I'm now in a True20 game and I'm interested to see how it works out. The characters aren't as black and white as in a lot of systems, and there is room for a lot of creativity on the players/GM part. Is it the best system ? Probably depends on individual opinion, but it feels like I'm going to have a lot more fun with this campaign, and we literally just made characters and had a short combat/roleplay session that seemed to work out fairly well.

    Here's hoping :)