Gorilla Jam! ep2: Good Vibrations!

23 08 2008

We’re picking up the pace in the second episode of Gorilla Jam where we take a look at the makings of a D&D character. Each time we’re moving closer and closer to roleplaying heaven, but before we get there, it’s time to have a little taste of the crunchy D&D cereal bar… remember kids, crunch well to grow up into your paragon years!

This time we tackle the second chapter of the book and have a look at “Making Characters.” Although it should be more accurately named something like “How to Begin the Long and Wonderful Process of Making Characters” I support Wizards of the Coast decision for a shorter and cleaner title. But enough of my rambling, let’s get ready for… eh, more of my rambling!


Feel the Vibrations!... FEEL IT FEEL IT!

Feel the Vibrations! FEEL IT FEEL IT!

In case you have just stumbled upon (no pun intended) this post, here is the idea and some ground rules. I’ll be reading all the core rulebooks for the newest edition of Dungeons and Dragons (that’s 4th Edition) and I’ll share with you my thoughts and experiences as I go through the tomes. Also included will be solo play, group play and even (provided I get some friendly gamers) running the game myself.

After all this debacle I’ll be doing some “house ruling” on the lovely lad to see if we can move away from the cool tactical minis game. Once again, this is not a “D&D is bad” kind of series and although you will see personal comments that might not be flattering that just reflects my thoughts at the time of the reading.

One last thing, the links for all the articles in the series will always be found in the original topic to make sure that you don’t miss any episode. Have fun!

Player’s Handbook

Chapter 2: Making Characters

Alright! Let’s tackle the second chapter of the book where we will hopefully start making our own characters… Notice all the joy and excitement? All the willingness to play along? Well that’s me alright, and I’m about to crash into a schizophrenic book. Let’s see if you can pinpoint the differences, I’ll even give you a little help:

Your first step in playing D&D is to imagine and then create a character of your own.

Chapter 2 | Page 12

You choose a race (…), a class (…), and distinct powers such as magic spells or divine prayers. Then you invent a personality, description, and story for your character.

Chapter 2 | Page 12

No? Nothing? Must be me then, let’s move along. In any case, it’s pretty much the standard fare for the first pages so there’s nothing that we haven’t seen before (well, that’s just for people who have played an RPG before… if you haven’t then let me assure you that what the book is saying is not in any way groundbreaking) although I assume it gets the job done. Well… that’s not entirely true. I have some reservations with things like this…

Throughout this book, we use the word “you” interchangeably with “your character.” As far as the rules of the game are concerned, your character is you.

Chapter 2 | Page 12

The second sentence is what I’m interested in. You see, it might just be my personal history coming to haunt me, but I’ve been basically screwed when playing D&D before by DMs that weren’t too clear on the fact that I am not my character and specifically that player knowledge is not the same as character knowledge. Not only me though, I’ve seen it with tons of people. What I’m talking about is the situation where your “tactical genius” makes mistakes that even a newbie Age of Empires player would laugh at, or when your smooth and cool con man (as in confidence man -as far as I know-) basically fumbles every social interaction just because the player is shy or not good with words.

For you planning on running a game, a word of advice: DON’T DO THAT!

By the way, I do get that the book is putting a little weight in the “Think of the hero you’d want your character to be (…)” and tries to reassure the player that the game statistics are only there to frame that character. However, in the last game a friend run (heavily inspired in D&D -mostly the same but with a home brewed world-) one of the players wanted to be a tinkerer (some sort of inventor), a resourceful guy that was all wits and “none of that hokus pokus stuff” and that didn’t know the pointy end of a sword. Now, believe it or not, it ended up being a great adventure type character (as far as I’m told)… I just want to know what class you’d have told the guy to play in D&D. So get it straight game, if you need to select race and class first then don’t pretend you can do whatever you want… just tell me that I can do whatever I want, within certain precise limits, and it’s freaking Christmas alright?

Ah! I was expecting this part… I’ll let the game spell it for me.

Your choice of character class also determines your character’s role—the job your character does when the adventuring party is in a fight. You should pick the race and class  combination that interests you the most. However, sometimes it’s a good idea to first consider the role you want your character to fill. For example, if you join an existing game and none of the other players are playing a character in the defender role, you would help them out by  playing a fighter or a paladin.

Chapter 2 | Page 14

I bet you thought I was going to criticize that, but I’m not going to. I mean the game is for once getting its facts straight and making some sense. Good for you game! If you were always about killing stuff and tactical battles (you can make a comment to flame me now) it was about time you put your foot on top of it. That doesn’t mean that I like that, but now it’s just a matter of personal choice, nothing wrong with my monkey friend here (I’m being so sweet I disgust myself.)

Next we have a short description of races which clumsily mixes biological features with societal characteristics (but then again, D&D has always done this.) We have 2 different kind of elves now (well technically we have Eladrin and Elves but you get the picture) and, of course, the ever popular “inter-species breeding” poster boys, the Half-Elves. The rest of the cast is what you would expect although I can’t find the Gnomes anywhere (edit: I am told that they’re not in this edition… and that I live inside a freaking bubble) and we have the Tieflings (demon thingies) but apparently no Aasimar (angel thingies?)

The classes descriptions (I’m on page 15 by the way) are… lacking. Let’s have a look at the cleric.

Cleric: Courageous and devout, clerics are holy warriors and healers (…)

Chapter 2 | Page 14

Alright, so we’ll be struggling to keep the faith in times of despair and deal with the loss of hope on our community as the savage world creeps marauding fangs into… oh sorry, I forgot the rest of the description.

(…) If you want to blast foes with divine powers, bolster your companions with healing and magical power, and lead them to victory with your wisdom and determination, play a cleric.

Chapter 2 | Page 14

Ahem… so let me rectify what I’ve said. Alright! It’s time to blast the opposition with shiny disco balls! Sorry, for a moment there I got into the wrong genre. The ‘real’ class descriptions will come later (in the classes chapter) so I’ll just take this as an appetizer. It does a good job of enticing you to play the kind of character you’d enjoy most in combat… which apparently we will be doing lots of. If you think about it, this is another point for the game as it’s being rather clear with it.


Not in the role model way...

Not exactly role models...

We go on to talk about role, and if you’re going to play this game you better pay attention. It’s both an interesting and efficient concept to use (in a tactical minis game.) The idea is that depending on what class you’ve chosen, you not only get your own way to kill stuff, but you get the role that you’re expected to take (and are more proficient at) in combat. This includes the defender (tank and aggro managing), the leader (buffer and party support), the striker (most damage per second -or dps-) and the controller (area nuker but with emphasis on status effects) role, and they are one of the fundamental axis for the tactical element in battles. The description between parenthesis is for our more MMORPG crowd.

Now if I were bitter (but I’m not), I would raise the proverbial eyebrow at having this character -> class -> role thing so hardcoded into the roleplaying game. But since I’m not bitter, I won’t.

On different matters, the distinction between at-will, encounter and daily powers really seems interesting from a narrative point of view. It emulates (or I guess it will emulate, or maybe I wish it will emulate) that movie/book feel that has the sorcerer casting his most terribly dreadful spell at the crucial moment (instead of blasting crates with it at every turn) and the warrior summoning all his prowess for that one last ditch effort that suddenly multiplies his ability and manages to overcome those apparently impossible odds. I mean, we’ve seen those everywhere and they generally work pretty well… it’s pretty much a staple of action anime series for crying out loud.

The next section details the attributes in a very… D&D way. Pretty much it tells you what each one means and when you’ll be using it, as well as telling you which classes use which attributes the most. Also, Strength is still the most relevant thing when it comes to how well you handle a stick. We also have the concept of defenses, which pretty much does away with the old saving throws by providing a passive number for attacks or situations to beat (and hopefully streamlines the dicerolling a bit.) They also do seem to be trying to get rid of the “monk problem”; I’m talking about needing to have a lot of high attributes to be effective (which apparently was endemic to the old monk class), so that’s something right?

As far as mechanics go, I’m not a math genius so you will probably excuse me if I don’t find everyone of them absolutely appealing or appaling. I’m going to read them (of course) but I won’t be commenting on them except if something comes up and bites my behind. So for generating scores I will only say this:

Method 1: The super duper man.
Method 2: Why are there odd numbers again? I mean, they don’t count for anything and the system might as well be calling you stupid if you set your ability score to one.
Method 3: Some people like this, however…

If the total of your ability modifiers is lower than +4 or higher than +8 before racial ability adjustments, your DM might rule that your character is too weak or too strong compared to the other characters in the group and decide to adjust your scores to fit better within his or her campaign preferences.

Chapter 2 | Page 18

Why the heck am I rolling the scores anyways if I can’t have a character that sucks or that is a typical “L337 dUD3 7|-|47 0wnz j00Z” (elite dude that owns you)?

Kodak Moments!

I finally decided to tell D&D how I feel...

I finally decided to tell D&D how I feel...

We get to a juicy part here!

The DUNGEONS & DRAGONS game is, first and foremost, a roleplaying game (…)

Chapter 2 | Page 18

Yeah! Rock on book!

Jaden the 4th-level human fighter is a perfectly playable character even without any embellishment, but Jaden the Grim’s personality—brooding, fatalistic, and honest—suggests a particular approach to negotiating with NPCs or discussing issues with the other characters. A well-crafted character personality expands your experience of the game dramatically.

Chapter 2 | Page 18

I believe I’m going to start naming these things as the FUB moments. Those little pieces of heaven when you can’t help but saying “Fuck you book…” I mean, how hard is it for you to make up your mind? Are you “first and foremost, a roleplaying game” or just a tactical game where you can slap some roleplaying icing on top to “expand your experience of the game“? Make up your mind or get an editor.

Then there’s alignments… I don’t even know by now. I’ve had so many problems and discussions regarding alignments in the past editions that I’m just happy that I can go unaligned and develop a personality during play and then decide if that fits any of the other molds. What I can say is that the alignments provided should have a more practical approach to them and give a set of things that good/evil and lawful/chaotic aligned beings will certainly do and will absolutely avoid. I think the text gives you an idea but there’s a lot of precision missing there (and maybe it’s on purpose.)

We’re getting into god’s territory here at page 20.

Each deity has a vision of how the world should be, and the agents of the deities seek to bring that vision to life in the world.

Chapter 2 | Page 20

Then I think it would have been a good idea for you to have more than one paragraph and 3 bullet points as your description for each deity. Just a thought though.

The game has little gems like this one right here:

Your character needs only a few personality traits that you can use as roleplaying touchstones, key traits that you can focus on and that are fun to play.

Chapter 2 | Page 23

Good idea game, a text that touches upon that is sitting on my computer as an unfinished “Elements of Role-Playing Characters” article. The following sections are very good and provide some useful pointers and tips (both for new players and for some veterans alike) that could help anyone with fleshing and roleplaying a character. They’re not anything spectacular, but it’s like when you go to see a movie you expect to be horrible (not that this is the case) and it has some very nice moments in it, you tend to really appreciate them.

In any case, there are a few moments where the book shoots itself in the foot…

Is your character tall, short, or in between? Solid and muscular, or lean and wiry? Male or female? Old or young? These decisions have no real impact on the game (…)

Chapter 2 | Page 24

Thank you book, once again, for reminding me that you don’t really care about this roleplaying stuff anymore than I care for learning grapple rules.

There’s a big section on the different kind of checks that you can make. It has examples and it’s quite easy to read and follow, another point for you book. As far as mechanics go, you know always have half your level (rounded down, so half your level ups are completely irrelevant in this regard) to your rolls so, you know, you get better at everything by leveling up. I’m still on the fence with this one, I think it works with the ‘feel’ that D&D is trying to give (you get more badass all around when you get higher in levels.)


Ah... Such a guilty pleasure!!

Ah... Such a guilty pleasure!!

Next (page 27) we have the all time favorite! Yes boys and girls it’s gaining levels! Some say we want it more than we want food and everyone agrees it’s better than sex! Alright, alright I’m dropping the cute act. It was just my way of kicking back after the game threw this roundhouse kick my way…

The game assumes that you’ve been learning these powers in your spare time, studying musty tomes or practicing a complicated series of maneuvers.

Chapter 2 | Page 27

Well I guess, it wouldn’t make much sense if you don’t assume those things, would it?

In game terms, though, as soon as you gain a level, you can immediately use your new powers and feats.

Chapter 2 | Page 27

Roundhouse kick to realism and suspension of disbelief! KO! Flawless Victory! Fatality! D&D wins and he is probably pissing on your grave. Another thing that surprised me is that you have a limit on how many of these powers you can use at once, or rather be active on your character at once. Like, unless you’re a human, you can’t have more than two ‘at-will’ powers and things like that. It would seem to me that (even though they could be compromised from lack of use) there would be no apparent reason to limit yourself thus and certainly not a coherent reason within the setting. So all I’m left with is to think that this is some game balance tweak… Any input on this is greatly appreciated.

Retraining is a godsend on the gameplay level, for me at least. I can’t tell you how many times I felt (playing D&D 3ed in an incorrect way I’m sure) that the game was practically laughing at me for choosing the wrong feat/gear/spell and so on. At least you get to try some things out and change them if they’re not your thing. Of course what works on the gameplay level is pretty awkward on the narrative level… specially when we’re talking about skills. I’m sure you can all flood me with ideas on how to make that work, but the fact that remains is that the book as is doesn’t give a damn about that issue.

Finally, I kind of like the “Three Tiers” section. It’s very fluffy (see, I put the word in here… happy now?) and it gives you a good idea of what you can expect from the game as well as enticing you (if you’re into that thing) to crave for more and more MMO… I mean D&D goodness.


So, how do you like this so far? I’m sure I’ve missed a lot of points, especially on the mechanics part. I’m not really DA MAN to be evaluating the game on that front so if you have any ideas or tips, or maybe your own opinion of the game, go ahead and comment on the article. All comments are welcomed whether you agree with me or whether you think I’m a brainless Dodo bird heading for the cliffs. I’ll see you next time with the races chapter which (this time it’s true) will probably be a shorter read.

And remember, if you liked the article you can subscribe using a handy RSS reader or even using your good old e-mail!





7 responses

26 08 2008

I agree with almost everything you write. This is boring. Post something controversial for a change, will you?

The point about daily and encounterly powers possible simulating certain kinds of fiction is a good one.

26 08 2008

I’m so sorry then ( 😛 ) I assure you I will try to make one of the following posts really controversial.

A few weeks ago I read this very interesting idea, but I lost the reference (if you happen to read this, let me know it was you!)… basically the guy said that in order to use your most powerful assets (powers in this case) you had to create a buildup and that said buildup would be mechanically relevant (or enforced, don’t remember which one… most likely enforced.)

The idea was to emulate certain anime action movies/series. If you’ve ever watched those (although this might not be exclusive to them), you’ll see that the combatants never start the fight using their biggest weapons… especially if they have some “nuke” spell or power that they could use to blow the opposition to pieces. Dragonball is a prime example of this behaviour although many others follow the same formula. There is basically a back and forth between the good and bad guys and only after the good guys are put on that “dire strait” (geek reference to the PHB) are they ‘allowed’ to bring out the big guns…

Just a thought…

15 09 2008

Comparing a game to Dragonball is one of the quickest ways to make me choose to play a different game.

I think you may find more controversy arising as a result of these writings at reddit. I submitted both this and your Chapter 1 review to the RPG subreddit, and fully expect some people will disagree with you there — possibly resulting in discussion, and certainly resulting in my submissions getting some downvotes.

Of course, you’ll get some traffic here from those submissions, too. Hopefully the visitors don’t post rude comments if they happen to think D&D 4E is the Second Coming of RPGs.

15 09 2008

Comparing a game to Dragonball is one of the quickest ways to make me choose to play a different game.

Ha! You should be thankful that I did not compare it with Gatchaman! (that comment goes waaay off the nerdy scale and besides Gatchaman doesn’t have anything to do with this.) In any case I used Dragonball since it’s apparently well known in the US (not that I’m from the US though) so I thought it would make an easy to get reference. That is just one example though, you can find another in the early Monkey King vs. Jade Warlord fight in The Forbidden Kingdom (look at what the Jade Warlord does and you’ll get the picture.)

Also, thanks for submitting the articles to reddit. I know this is not the first time you’ve done so (and I sent you an e-mail through your website to thank you last time) and it does provide some traffic (which is especially nice for a place like this, since I don’t have a huge number of visitors yet.) No need to worry about the rude comments, I can handle those very well myself… although is there a negative side for your submissions getting downvotes?


PS: Talk about not having a huge number of visitors. I had the most user activity (ever) last week, and I’m pretty sure it came from your side of the fence (when you placed a link in your article about magic items.)

16 09 2008

No, man — Gatchaman rules. I wanted to be a member of Super Science Ninja Team Gatchaman back in the day. You’re right that most people wouldn’t get the Gatchaman reference here in the States, though.

If I get some downvotes on submissions, my “karma” takes a hit — but it’s not like I can use karma to pay my rent, so I might as well gamble it spreading the word about something I like, such as your 4E reviews.

I had the most user activity (ever) last week, and I’m pretty sure it came from your side of the fence (when you placed a link in your article about magic items.)

I don’t really consider what I get a “huge” amount of traffic either — but it has been increasing gradually over the last couple years, with a couple of nice spikes. My biggest day was 10,000 visits according to WordPress stats, but yesterday was only 167. I tend to get between 150 and 250 a day on most days, I think, though I don’t really pay close attention.

16 09 2008

Chad, the fact that you said “Super Science Ninja Team Gatchaman” has automatically placed you on the super cool people wagon… but cooler, and with glitter… totally manly glitter mind you.

I’m glad that you like the reviews, rest assured that more are coming really soon. Also this one is the offspring of your Dragonball comment.

Talk to you later,

PS: I’m lacking some statistics about average RPG blog hits, or some information about the niche at least. From the blogs that I’ve seen however I would say that while it’s not WoTC it’s certainly a very good number. So if you’re not Chad and you’re reading this, you better check SOB so you know what we’re talking about.

16 09 2008

To the readers . . . if you’re only interested in my RPing related stuff, check out the RPG Category at SOB in particular. SOB as a whole encompasses a bit more, including programming and politics, among other things.

. . . and thanks again for the links.

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