Sundered Empires Session Report 28

Read the previous play report

In the mists, Kenan-Tal told Long Tom about Claude’s offer.  Everyone talked it over, weighing the risks and the benefits.  Long Tom would bring Lysander back, no matter what and Anika and Cronyan were both willing to take the risk.

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Linear Fighters, Quadratic Wizards…ACKS Style

Great minds think alike, apparently.  I’ve been rolling around a post relative to the LFQW problem for awhile now, and what do I find in my blog roll today but an excellent summation of the problem in The Mule Abides.  There, it is rightly pointed out that LFQW is less of a problem for older editions of D&D because the rules on casters were far more restrictive.  Specifically, casting a spell forbade all movement and any damage at all negated the caster’s spell.  As spells were the most critical form of resource management in a game devoted to resource management, this made sense.

However, earlier editions and OSR games still suffer from this problem.  Caster’s out of combat utility, and the tremendous disparity in the amount of damage they can inflict versus what the martial characters are capable of, make them a far superior class overall.  Yes, they need their meatshields, but still it’s not a big deal as everyone has henchmen.  A flying, invisible spell caster is still a giant ‘win’ button, no matter what edition you are playing.

I was thinking about the level based damage of spells like lightning bolt and fireball and I had an epiphany about the disparity of those effects and what a fighter/rogue can do.  It all goes back to OD&D and Chainmail, interestingly.  In OD&D, you were supposed to use the combat chart from Chainmail to resolve combat and the whole d20 chart was an afterthought.  In that system, a fighter rolled as many d6 for attacks as their level.  So, an 8th level fighter could inflict as many ‘hits’ as an 8 die fireball could.

I’m not really sure how you could bring that back into D&D, or if it’s even desirable to do so (the image of an 8th level fighter rolling 8d20 for attack is kind of amusing to me though).

Optional Thought: Instead of ‘Cleave’ which depends on a character actually killing a target to activate, how about this.  All fighters get 1 attack per level/cleave (so Thieves and Clerics have ½ the attacks of a fighter).  It costs as many attacks as the target has HD to launch an attack against them, with a minimum of 1 attack.  Fighters are considered to be able to move up to their combat move during these attacks so can hit any target.  Attacks are typically made versus lower HD targets first.

So a 4th level Hero with 3 1st level henchmen, runs into a band of 10 kobolds and an Ogre.   The Hero can make 4 attacks versus the kobolds, or one attack versus the Ogre.  The henchmen could make 2 attacks versus the kobolds or one against the ogre.  The Ogre can attack the hero once, or attack all three of the henchmen.

This would be an interesting experiment I think.  I’d love to see how it played out.  Combats versus ‘mooks’ would certainly go faster.  It would make positioning and formation difficult to run I think, which could suit some styles and be a problem for others.

It’s funny.  I’ve been ranting about the Linear Fighter, Quadratic Wizard problem for so long now, that I never stopped to think about how it affected ACKS.  For those unfamiliar, the LFQW problem is the idea that fighter

See, one of the reasons I got so enamored with ACKS was that it tried to fix the Old School Fighter, which is a poorly designed class (though not as bad as 3.X/Pathfinder by ANY means).  The static damage modifier and cleave are a huge hand up to the fighter, and the proficiencies are great.  Not having spells increase the difficulty of saving throws also goes a long way to helping fighters, at least, versus casters.  Unfortunately, they still fall into the Feat Trap.

The Feat Trap is what I call the idea that customization of the fighter through specific moves and abilities of limited scope, while fun and good on paper, never matches up to the breadth and utility of caster abilities.  It’s further exacerbated by the fact that the ‘Fighter’ type proficiencies are not equal in power to the ones available to casters (well, some of them).  One of my players, upon realizing that Precise Shot needed to be taken three times to negate the penalty pointed out how bad that was compared to other ‘one is all you need’ proficiencies.   His complaint made me think about how much of your resources you need to spend to be ‘a really good archer’.  A RAW archer can’t do it until level 6.  That seems an awfully steep cost in resources at a time when the mage is dishing out 6d6 damage with Fire or Lightning.

For example, Weapon Style is a great proficiency for differentiating fighting styles and their advantages, granting a +1 to intuitive, to hit, or damage when fighting with a specific style.  That doesn’t measure up when you compare it to something like Divine Blessing which grants a +2 to all saves, all the time.  What about Apostasy, which grants a caster 4 additional spells to their repertoire, further expanding their options dramatically (see any Cleric with ‘Call Dragon’ on their spell list…).  Black Lore of Zahar grants characters a unique class-based ability (Control Undead).  Ambush is another such proficiency (backstab) which is very potent but denied to core fighters.  I suppose the worst culprit is Combat Tricks, which improves your chance with a single maneuver.  That is so far away from the benefits of magic I can’t even compare it.

Now, I realize that a lot of people might be ok with this disparity and that’s cool.  Certainly the game itself from the LBB days actually states that Mages are supposed to be dramatically more powerful than other characters at high level.  Having recently started a campaign at first level, I can certainly say that it’s difficult surviving as a low level caster, so maybe having the higher levels be your oyster is a fair trade?

However, if you’d like to see the martial proficiencies increase their potency and make your characters, maybe you can try some of these:

Ambush: As written, Ambush only applies to surprise.  Instead, treat it as full Backstab.

Blindfighting: The character suffers no penalty when fighting an opponent they cannot see in melee.

Combat Trickery: This proficiency is not subdivided.  It applies to all maneuvers equally.  Alternatively, a character can focus exclusively on one trick and perform it at no penalty.

Fighting Style: In addition to the benefits as described in the base style, pick either a +1 to attack, initiative, damage, or AC (this cannot be the same as the benefit the style already provides).  When fighting with that style, you gain both benefits.  You must name the style and place it into a cultural context.

(X) Slaying: This proficiency also grants a +1 to damage versus the targeted type of creature.

Precise Shooting: The character can fire into melee at no penalty.

Weapon Finesse: You also gain your Dex modifier to damage rolls with applicable weapons.

Weapon Focus: You score double damage on a 19+.  Alternatively, it can apply to all weapons but still only trigger on a 20.