Saturday, May 9, 2009

Misdirected Mark

I really don't intend to write a whole bunch more about my 4e experiences on this blog--or turn this into an anti-4e soapbox; these are just my honest, initial reactions to the system--but I just thought I'd share a bit from my second session of the 4e campaign I'm playing in. Last week it was Vicious Mockery that soundly burst my suspension of disbelief bubble; this week it was another bardic power, Misdirected Mark.

We had a chance to do some actual RPing in the town of Winterhaven. I started up a riddling contest the local inn that escalated nicely. Of course, this being 4e, everything was resolved with dice rolls, but the dice were on my side--the rolls went against me at first, thus bringing in more rubes, then I started rolling hot and raking in the cash, finally defeating the lord of the town and earning his goodwill, which in turn led to a contract to go root out some pesky kobolds.

During the subsequent encounter with a group of kobold bandits, I was standing by, ready with a couple hundred "yo mamma" insults culled from the Internet, the better to zazz up my Vicious Mockery. Alas, I only got the chance to get off one zinger ("Yo mama so fat, when she tried to join an eating contest they said, 'Sorry, no professionals.'") before we started getting our asses handed to us.

Things turned around when the party mage cast Sleep and took out most of the kobolds. And here's where things turned south for me again. I was in a position to start finishing off the slumbering kobolds while the rest of the party took care of the remainder, so I looked up the Coup-de-Grace rules.

"OK, I get to use any attack power. If I roll a successful hit, it's automatically a critical. If I do damage equal to the creature's Bloodied score, the creature is killed outright."

(First, what happened to auto-killing a Sleeping monster? That's a staple of low-level D&D tactics! This would be a prime example of what people mean when they say, "Tis a fine game, but sure tis no D&D, English.")

Looking at my available attack powers (including my scimitar, which I have yet to actually use in combat), I see that Misdirected Mark gives me the best damage total potential. But...how the hell, exactly, am I using this power to kill sleeping kobolds? The "fluff" part of the power description says I use my "arcane powers" to fool my enemy into thinking that an attack was coming from somewhere else. (How does that even do damage in the first place? The abstracted nature of 4e's damage system makes earlier editions look like simulationist exercises worthy of Phoenix Command.)

We decided (with much chuckling and laughter) that I was whispering in the kobold's ears, turning their dreams into terrifying nightmares, Freddie Krueger-style. A fine solution, I suppose, but one that, again, left me with a weird taste in my mouth. I wasn't the only one: Alex, the DM, even said at one point, "Fourth edition is turning my D&D worldview upside-down!" 

In the end, we all agreed that, whatever the weirdnesses, 4e seems to guarantee epic and exciting combats, and you really can't fault that it does what it set out to do, and it does it well.
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