System Mastery and Options Clutter (Jul 2, 2012)

My Monday night group just broke Paragon. What I mean to say is, just entered the Paragon tier. But it feels like a big deal worth a metaphor. My thoughts turn toward the last time I ran an adventure in the Paragon tier, and the short time I ran a Paragon character. It’s been a while but I remember some of the struggle.

It’s difficult sometimes, to build a character that meets the needs of the party who participates in the game to the degree that also makes you happy as a player. You’re inundated with character options, and without necessarily knowing or understanding the contributions of the party, developing a character can become a nightmare.

It’s for this reason that I believe it is generally preferable for the game to allow a player to develop their character’s abilities “horizontally” rather than “vertically.” One example of this would be allowing more uses of a power (extra turn undead, extra smite, extra rage, extra wild shape, more Power Strikes, more Disruptive Shot, etc.).

Another example would be fewer limitations on the power, or its application to a broader range of targets, such as charging without provoking opportunity attacks, new targets for sneak attack (constructs or undead, where previously they were off-limits), or extra targets with each use of a power (one extra magic missile per two levels).

These things expand a player’s abilities without burdening them with new mechanics. You get “more” or “better” of something you already have. Periodically gaining “all-new” powers is still encouraged, but I think Fourth Edition showed us that there is easily such a things as “too much” with encounters, dailies, utilities, and item powers.

Especially when some things are required for success.

I like feats (or “perks,” depending on the game) but I think they’re largely a “patch” on an otherwise broken game. I feel that for the most part, skill trees are the same way. Skills, proficiency and anything else that “improves with use” is pretty much the same. Scaling power is a different concept. Level advancement is different.

Ideally, everything falls into careful balance. Every choice provides a player equal benefit compared to other choices inasmuch as there are no “sub par” choices. There may be better choices, but not worse ones. In a story-driven game, there should never be such a thing as a “bad” ending. Not in a story-driven game with choice.

Lateral choices. That’s what needs to happen here. You’re allowed to have “more” or “better,” but not “worse.” I think we’ve evolved beyond that point.