Wait, What Does That Power Do?

A lot of focus in the rulebooks for the 4th Edition of Dungeons and Dragons is on combat and powers.  This doesn’t mean you have to turn your game into a glorified board game or mini-wargame though.  The books can only cover so much, and with the new power system, there’s just not any room for a lot of playing around.  This has unfortunately led many to compare the new edition to an MMO without a computer.  Perhaps this is a function of the number of new players, but far too many are playing it like an MMO, seeing non-combat encounters as just the thing to get through to get to the fighting.  It’s really a shame, because there are so many opportunities in D&D 4e for so much more.

It’s surprising how much color and character can be injected into your game and your characters with just a few tiny little changes in your feats, classes, and powers.  If it doesn’t have a game-related function, anything else can be changed.  It’s just window dressing.  As long as it’s a hole in the wall and has glass, it doesn’t matter what sort of curtains and blinds you use.  It’s still a window.  A word of warning here, though.  Always talk with your DM about this, as it can throw off more experienced 4e players and DMs if you go around renaming everything.  Make sure everyone knows exactly what is going on to avoid confusion and to make sure you’re not changing something that actually affects the game.

For classes, all you need to take into account is power source and role.  Your role defines what you do in combat, while your power source defines how you have that ability.  Beyond that, it’s completely up to you to change what’s written to suit your concept and your Dungeonmaster’s campaign.

Your ranger doesn’t have to be a clone of Strider or Robin Hood.  Twin weapon builds can be a swashbuckling pirate or two-sword wielding samurai.  Archer rangers can take a cue from John Woo movies, subbing a bow and arrow for double-fisting .45s.  The charisma-based rogue seems to be made for the Errol Flynn swinging from chandeliers sort of fighting.  A modernized version you can draw from is Spider-man, who jumps and swings around making wisecracks in the middle of a fight.  If you want a completely different example, though, look to Evil Dead and Ash.  No one on this planet with that collection of one-liners (or that chin) while still kicking that much ass could be said to be anything less than a charisma-based rogue.  Many popular literary wizards come from all over the spectrum.  Gandalf the Grey and Merlin are the stereotypes, but we recently have Harry Dresden from The Dresden Files, Willow and Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and of course Harry Potter.

Powers are even easier to customize.  I want you to take a look at a power block with new eyes.  Grab your Player’s Handbook and open to any random power.  I will bet that you looked immediately at the name, then the to-hit modifier, then the damage and effects, then maybe back up at the keyword section to see what keywords are part of the power.  Did you see that little bit there at the top in italics?  Nope, I bet you skipped over that entirely.  That’s flavor text, which tells you what the power looks like and does.  It has absolutely zero game effect and you can change it to anything you want without ruining game balance one iota.

Let’s play with one of the powers, specifically the wizard 1st level at-will power Cloud of Daggers.  The flavor text and attack description talks about a mass of glowing energy daggers whipping around everywhere for a turn.  But why does it have to be daggers?  Why are they in a cloud?  Why are they “whirling”?  They don’t have to be.  You can change it as you wish to anything else as long as you keep the same – Area 1 square within 10 squares, force damage, cast through an implement.  The form beyond that is meaningless.

Say your backstory is that you’re an Eladrin who comes from a long line of swordmages, casting using the Eladrin Sword Wizardry feat in Arcane Powers.  Why wouldn’t it be a cloud of swords then rather than daggers?  Or even a single sword whipping about?  If you do so, the name Cloud of Daggers no longer fits, so you have to rename it Sword of the Arcane Master or something like that.  Maybe you’re a bookworm tome mage who focuses on summoning but lacks for an at-will that does damage.  Turn it into a swarm of flying books of force smacking anyone who steps into it.  Now you’ve gone from Cloud of Daggers to Librarian’s Revenge.  From a game standpoint, it’s the exact same spell with the exact same effects that does the same damage and same damage types, but it is light years more appropriate for your character.

The problem with these sorts of customizations is making sure that the keywords don’t change.  For the aforementioned summoning wizard, the cloud of daggers cannot be changed to a creature holding a dagger because power that have the Summoning keyword have specific rules associated to them which do not apply to simple force conjurations as this.  If you’re a pyromage who focuses on fire, you can’t just change the cloud of daggers to a pillar of flame.  Fire has a specific meaning involving vulnerabilities, resistances, and feat-based increases, which is different from force.  You could change it to force-based “fire”, but you have to be careful it doesn’t step into the realm of Illusion, which is another keyword.  So some of them may take more imagination than others, and remember to consult your DM.

You can do the same with feats, but since feats take such a backseat in 4e to powers, it’s usually not worth modifying or renaming them unless there is a power associated.  In some cases, it may be more important for you to change the feat name.  You’ve created a sword-and-shield fighter who takes Shield Push, but find that name far too boring for a highly-trained warrior as yourself.  Your backstory has you training in a specific school of combat, which probably created lofty and impressive names for each of its techniques.  Why call it Shield Push when you can call it Breaking the Line or (for a more Eastern feel) Ox Pushes the Wagon.

It may not seem like that big of a thing, but making just minor changes to character theme and renaming a few powers and feats will go a long way to making your character feel more unique and powerful without actually changing a single game mechanic.  Suddenly, your boring 2nd level halfling rogue isn’t as boring anymore when she becomes an archeologist rather than another thief.  With the at-will attacks Laughing Shot and Cutting Remark (Sly Flourish, with the ranged and melee options for the power each having their own name) as well as Mobile Strike (Deft Strike), encounter attack Stab n’ Swap (King’s Castle), daily attack Not in the Eye (Blinding Barrage), and encounter utility Superfluous Backflip (Tumble) plus the feat I’m the One with the Gun (Two-fisted Shooter); the character suddenly becomes less Bilbo Baggins and more Lara Croft.  Sure, it’s a bit hammy and lame, but you’re running around pretending to be in the middle of a Tolkien novel slaying orcs.  Have some fun with it!

Published in: on December 22, 2010 at 6:00 AM  Comments (1)  
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  1. […] what you want it to do?  Take that goblin in Monster Manual 3 and call it a kobold.  I wrote an entire post about reskinning before I even knew that was the name for it.  It’s both a roleplayer and a […]

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