Comments on A Balanced Review

I’m intrigued by what you’re saying here about 4E being so heavy on combat. To me, Keep on the Shadowfell was impressive the way that it handled the NPC interactions during the “interlude” stages. For the first time in a while, I felt like I really knew the NPCs, and could role-play them effectively without having to re-create them in my own head.

True, Shadowfell was encounter-heavy, but no more so than Demonweb Pits.

As far as the combat emphasis and balance question, I’m going to reserve judgment for a bit longer. I agree with you in principle that the classes should be significantly different, but I’m yet not convinced that rules convergence prevents that.

In fact, I’m of a mind that the rules convergence may well prove to be the smartest thing D&D ever did. Think about it: my friend who’s only ever played a paladin because he understands the mechanic can now play anything he wants. That’s a boon to many folks, especially newcomers to the game.

Bob Younce 2008-06-05 13:00 UTC

See my response to both your posts over at Bob’s Blog. I disagree… but that’s not a first now is it? Peace guys.

chattydm 2008-06-05 13:41 UTC

Here’s the core of the point I don’t understand: you rail against balance, then complain that Eladrin teleport is too powerful. I seriously cannot grok how these things go together.

Dave T. Game 2008-06-05 14:06 UTC

(Cross-posted in part to

First adventures for any new system have to be taken with a pinch of salt, and Shadowfell is no exception. It’s a showcase of what’s to come and as is stands it’s not a bad little romp. Sure, it’s unlikely to win any prizes but it does the job, highlighting the changes to the system and easing new players into the game. I’ve no beef about Shadowfell at all, really.

I wish the same could be said of the Core Rules though. They’re a mess, both in terms of layout, and game design. That’s a rant for another time though.

The thing is that I’ve played games where the party is (by D&D’s definition) widely unbalanced. We’ve run entire M&M campaigns where the Hero Team covers the spectrum of powers from street-level ex-boxers to Superman-level, and beyond – and they’ve all had a role to play in the adventures. Balanced? Nope! But sure as heck fun!

A difference in the power-level of a character’s ability is best handled to the GM’s ability to make sure that each players gets time in the spotlight. It doesn’t matter whether the character is a blind cripple or a stalwart paladin – they should each have a chance to shine. 4e D&D does nothing to permit characters with anything less than perfect teeth.

When it comes to convergence, I’m far from convinced. If that’s seen as a “feature”, why not just have one single uber-character class and let the players describe their own game-effects however the heck they want? Who needs classes at all if they’re all the same anyhow?

@CDM: It’s true, you don’t need rules to role-play, but good rules enhance the experience, aid immersion and give a framework to the whole game. Bad rules do the opposite – they hinder the game, interrupt the flow of the session and generally make the whole thing break down.

If you’ve got a character that’s sub-par in combat, give him something else to do while the rest are holding back the horde. Maybe they’ve got to disarm the trap while the hobgoblins are attacking, figure out the arcane codex in a race against time, or whatever. If that doesn’t work, let ‘em change character or multi-class. There’s no shortage of options without letting Balance become all-consuming.

When it comes to the new Edition of D&D, it boils down to this: if you want to play a Fantasy-based game with miniatures, get into Warhammer Fantasy Battles instead. The figures are cheaper and don’t come in random packs :)

Oh, and if 4e D&D was a great game, I’d be shouting it from the rooftops. It’s not, so I see nothing wrong with being negative about it. I was hopeful it was going to be better than this. Silly me. Ah well.

@Dave: The problem with the Eldarin’s teleport isn’t one of balance – it’s a game-breaking ability which makes the game less fun for the other players, and I can see it being abused both in and out of combat encounters. I’ll blogpost about that in more detail, another time.

GreyWulf 2008-06-05 16:20 UTC

“it’s a game-breaking ability which makes the game less fun for the other players”

And this is precisely why I think balance is important.

I think it’s fine that you enjoy imbalanced games, as have I, and you list many great alternatives. But repeatedly calling it Bad Design doesn’t make your case well, and frankly, is insulting.

Dave T. Game 2008-06-05 16:31 UTC

In that case you’re easily insulted :)

Balance isn’t necessarily Bad Design (though it frequently is). The obsession with Balance over anything else is Bad Design, and that’s something 4e has in spades. The Eldarin’s Teleport ability is imbalanced, but that’s the least of it’s problems. Heck, if it were the only problem I wouldn’t mind – there’s nothing wrong with a bit of imbalance in the game :)

The problem is that it’s easily abused, treads on other character’s chance to shine and is difficult for the GM to challenge in a believable way. Here’s a few examples:

GM: A barred door blocks your progress
Eladrin: I teleport behind it and unbolt it

GM: There’s a 20’ (sorry, 4 square wide…) chasm across the path
Eldarin: I teleports across with a rope

GM: The key hangs 15’ (3 squares. :sigh:) above your heads
Eldarin: I…….
GM: Yeh yeh, I know. Teleport.

GM: There’s no way out of this dungeon room!
Eldarin: I teleport back into the corridor
GM: You can’t. Lead-lined room.
Eldarin: What? Another one?

Bye bye clever teamwork, puzzle solving and other things that take role-playing away from being pushin’ toy soldiers around, and into areas which need to use the old grey matter.

Imbalanced, yep. Far worse than that though, it’s feckin’ stupid.

GreyWulf 2008-06-05 17:03 UTC

“In that case you’re easily insulted”

Perhaps, but it’s like you’re not only saying it’s not your thing, but those of us who want it (and I’m pretty sure I’m not in the minority, based on how many people complain about things not being balanced in every edition) are somehow playing a Bad Game. As someone who has spent many years studying game design, I find this a fairly untenable position.

“The problem is that it’s easily abused, treads on other character’s chance to shine and is difficult for the GM to challenge in a believable way”

Again, precisely why I’m in favor of balance.

However, I’m pretty sure you’re right about the teleport ability, and might very well end up being my the subject of my first house rule. But I say that for balance reasons :)

Dave T. Game 2008-06-05 18:29 UTC

S’cool. Good to see we can agree on some things, Dave, even if our semantics may differ. Eldarin Teleport needs nerfing :)

GreyWulf 2008-06-05 18:48 UTC

“GM: A barred door blocks your progress
Eladrin: I teleport behind it and unbolt it”

You can teleport to places you can’t see?!?

Oh, hells, that’s just insane. How long was this game playtested?

– Brian

trollsmyth 2008-06-06 22:47 UTC

About a week, as the crow flies. That’s my theory, anyhow.

Mind you, by the sound of Nitessine’s review, the playtesters weren’t listened to much, so I guess we can’t blame them.

As per page 26 of the PHB, you have to have line of sight, but not necessarily line of effect, so looking under the door or through a crack in the wood is fine. Meaning yes, you can teleport through doors. Just not airtight ones……

GreyWulf 2008-06-07 00:30 UTC

Eh. The playtesters were listened to, but stuff like that can still fall through cracks. The major failures lie elsewhere.

NiTessine 2008-06-07 16:16 UTC

Okay – it seems more like your complaining about DM skills and not the game – and when have the rules in D & D not been about governing (mainly) combat – and a few silly stealth rolls. If you are really so in to role playing – you don’t need any books do you? just sit around and tell stories with a bunch of your friends. Maybe make some smores. I think all of the detractors are really going wild swinging this straw-man bullshit about being combat driven. it always has been. You make a character to kick a lot of ass, and kinda help you envision your new made friend. how much you roleplay is up to you and your GM. Not your retarded neighbors (possible) miss use of a teleport rule. If your gonna roll as the GM, then change it. And besides, the 3.5 rules where okay – but they sucked way worse.

– Anonymous 2008-06-08 01:59 UTC

Um…… ‘kay. If you say so :)

GreyWulf 2008-06-08 09:15 UTC

Dude does no one ever read the rules of a power?? You need line of sight to teleport. Besides other classes get what equates to the same power. Rogues get tumble, does the same thing just 3 squares instead of 5. Fey Warlocks get teleport every time their cursed enemy dies. It’s not broken, just treat it like a 5 square shift, even some other warlords or paladins can get a long distance shift as well.

– Anonymous 2008-06-18 19:54 UTC

I already said that. Look up:

As per page 26 of the PHB, you have to have line of sight, but not necessarily line of effect, so looking under the door or through a crack in the wood is fine. Meaning yes, you can teleport through doors. Just not airtight ones……

The problem is that it’s not the same. Every freakin’ Eldarin can teleport once every 5 minutes should they so choose. That’s a maximum of 288 times per day with no trigger, no skill roll and precious few restriction to use. It’s a 25’ hop across every single pit trap you’ve ever devised. It’s a Power that’s a (literal) get out of jail free card as iron bars aren’t going to hold an Eldarin at all. Broken, very very broken.

We’ve nerfed it back to being a Daily Power instead. It’s much better that way. Having a Power that’s so open to abuse both in and out of combat usable per encounter (and therefore once every 5 minutes) is just crazy.

GreyWulf 2008-06-18 20:30 UTC

Hmm. I’d handle the Eldarin power in other ways.

First, if people aren’t familiar with Eldarin, then the Eldarin deserves a ‘get out of jail free’ ability. This is a great adventure hook in and of itself, especially if there’s only one Eldarin in the party. You don’t have to make it so the Eldarin ports out and immediately has access to the keys to the jail.

Secondly, though, if a group knows about Eldarin, they’ll deal with it.

Eldarin can teleport 25 feet? Put them in a 5’ cage, surround that with another cell wall, and fill the external cell with nasty guard dogs.

Suspend the Eldarin from a hook, hanging over a 25’ acid pit.

Put the Eldarin on a torture table and continuously disrupt the ‘short rest’ that would allow them to teleport.

Watch them, and kill them if they try to escape.

All of these work, and don’t require house rules at all.

Hexx 2008-07-09 17:43 UTC

You’re missing the point. A GM shouldn’t have to work around a character’s abilities in this way. I could toss the same encounter, puzzle or situation at a party of Humans, Elves, Halflings or Dragonborn without changing a thing – but as soon as you’ve got Eldarin in the party you have to stop and think how the Eldarin’s Fey Step ability would impact it, even at first level.

If it was a Daily Power, it’s a non-issue. In that case it’s up to the player whether to burn their Fey Step then, or to save it for later. That’s cool. But to have it available each and every time is too much. It’s just too Powerful and usable far too frequently for comfort.

Sure, you can toss Eldarin powerblockers (your 25’ acid pits and the like) into the adventure, but where’s the fun in thar for either you or the player? Giving them a Power then repeatedly taking it away is just cruel. Better to House Rule it to Daily and move on.

Want more proof it’s grossly overpowered as a per Encounter Power? Compare it with a Ring of Flight. That’s a Level 20 Magic Item that grants Flight for one turn, once per Day. The Eldarin’s Fey Step is comparable, but they don’t cross intervening space, it’s usable up to 288 times per day and it’s right there at 1st level.

I’ll say it again.

Ring of Flight – 20th level, once per day.
Eldarin Fey Step – from 1st level, usable per Encounter (up to 288 times per day), and doesn’t even take a magic item slot.

And why should the Eldarin player gain a “get out of jail free” card when the other races don’t? The Dragonborn has no such advantage. Neither does the Elf, Dwarf, Halfling or Half-Elf. Pity the poor new gamer who’s never played a non-human Race before, eh? I really don’t agree with Eldarin players being given a break in this way.

There’s not much that’s wrong with 4e. But seriously, Fey Step is badly broken as a per Encounter Power.

GreyWulf 2008-07-10 11:02 UTC

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