Most games are what they are. Roleplaying is not like that.
I know that sounds like a zen koan, but most of us look at a game as a singular thing. Most games are a singular thing. If you look at soccer, you don’t think “that’s two games competing for the same space.” This doesn’t apply to roleplaying, however. Roleplaying is an amalgam of improvisational theater and a tactical boardgame. It’s the latter that I would like to discuss today.
The TacLord in my Monday game just hit 16th level. He has the Battle Captain paragon path, which means that he has the following:
Battle Inspiration (16th level): When you heal an ally with your inspiring word, the ally gains a +1 power bonus to attack rolls and speed until the end of your next turn. If you have the Tactical Presence class feature, the bonus equals your Intelligence modifier.
Obviously that’s pretty powerful, given that his feats and attributes allow him to apply a +6 to-hit four times per encounter. I’ve already seen a substantial change in the way he plays as a result of this class feature. The question becomes: is this broken?
I think most people would just say yes without much consideration. +6 is a huge bonus in the scheme of things. I tend to use three criteria before deciding a rules change is required.
- Opportunity Cost: When a power or ability does something amazing, there needs to be a downside. In this case, the cost is the use of an Inspiring Word, which is substantial cost because the person who would most benefit from the healing is not always the person who can make the best use of the attack bonus. Further, my reading of Inspiring Word leads me to believe that you can’t gain the benefit of Battle Inspiration without spending the Healing Surge (because I don’t think you can get the bonus healing without getting the healing). That’s an additional cost, especially when several encounters pass before the characters are able to take an extended rest.
- Unique in Scale and Scope: How does the power or ability compare to its peers? Some games have break points where everyone jumps in power. 4e just happens to have more explicit and dramatic jumps than most. In this case, Battle Inspiration calls out for a change because a +6 to attacks is more in the nature of a daily power that doesn’t do much else than something that you can do 3-4 times every encounter. There’s also the rule of thumb that +1 to-hit = +2 damage. If that were to remain consistent, level 16 class features would have to grant bonus damage equal to twice the appropriate stat mod, something that does not exist.
- Would You Still Take It If…?: My players are somewhat leery of answering this question because they know it’s a sign that I’m seriously considering a house rule. Sometimes powers simply have too much going on. The 3rd Level Battlemind power Lodestone Lure comes to mind here. Would I still take it if it didn’t have the “enemy cannot move into squares that are not adjacent to you” effect? Absolutely. In this case, would you still take Battle Captain if the level 16 class feature was changed to read, “If you have the Tactical Presence class feature, the bonus equals half your Intelligence modifier.”? I’m pretty sure most people would.
Getting back to the original point, one of our responsibilities as GMs is understanding the degree to which our players desire tactical play. The more enthusiastic the players are about the rules, the more attention combats require. The same is also true of the roleplaying aspect of the hobby: the more the players care about the story, the more in-depth it needs to be. It is equally possible to both under- and over-support your players’ needs. I know that I’m a settings kind of guy. I’m aware that there’s often a practical limit to how sophisticated and responsive a plotline can be, but it’s difficult to go overboard describing something to me. Tell me how a city came to be and why it’s set up the way it is and I’m happy as a clam.
It’s an odd coincidence that the very day I’m trying to explain why and how people enjoy this play style, Wizards comes out with D&D Lair Assaults, which are essentially hard-mode D&D Encounters for the rules monkeys. I think that says that Wizards is more than aware of how much of the fan base gets into this sort of thing.