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Powerlevels and Pretension: FatR's own fantasy heartbreaker
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FrankTrollman
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PostPosted: Sun Jul 31, 2016 11:56 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

FatR wrote:
I do not like the idea of narrow-theme classes and probably won't ever like it.


Well, narrow-theme classes are unquestionably the way to go, and you not liking them is simply an impediment to you designing D&D good. And no, I'm not kidding.

The purpose of a classes and levels system is to give people a "total package" where they have a shtick and a playable character. While there is certainly room for layers of customization in that (the game should certainly be able to handle your Ranger being an accomplished seamstress or sailor or something else entirely), the class and levels system is there to provide the certainty that you can tell the other players that you are playing an 8th level Ranger and that this conveys information and that they will be able to depend on your character for their 8th level Ranger related needs and that you'll be able to play the game.

The bigger the lists of customization that you go through to make an 8th level Ranger, the less information is conveyed by the fact that you are playing something called an 8th level Ranger. And also too, that the range of competency of your character will be larger. The smaller the lists of customization that you go through to make an 8th level Ranger, the more like a platonic ideal of an 8th level Ranger your particular Ranger will be.

But beyond that, large ranges of power customization create optimization incentives which are bad. And you can see that very clearly in the way the two most customizable classes in 3e ended up: the Fighter and the Wizard. Simply put, the different powers you select can either Voltron together or not. You could imagine a scenario where you delicately thread the needle of synergy and independence, but realistically you aren't going to. Either the powers you select are going to be judged on their synergy or they won't be. And we know how that turns out: the synergy Fighter is optimized when all of their their feats Voltron together for a narrow purpose and the best Fighters are one trick ponies like the Trip Star and the Gatling Archer. Meanwhile the non-synergy Wizard gets maximum benefit from getting a spell that has the least tactical overlap with the capabilities they already have, such that an optimized Wizard is tonally and tactically discordant to the point that even describing the capabilities and tactical role of an optimized 10th level Wizard to the other players at the table takes nearly fifteen minutes.

Let's not fool ourselves: both of those are design failure states. The goal of class design should be that the optimized character has a diverse set of thematically tight abilities. And a class and level system can easily provide that, but it can only do that by providing thematically tight classes in the first place. Both the One Trick Pony Fighter and the Incoherent Pile of Good Spells Wizard are design failure states that come directly from the game becoming too close to a points-based system and not providing sufficient thematic guidance from the class itself.

And yes, that means that you're going to end up needing a Classplosion. You are going to need an Assassin, a Rogue, and a Ninja. You're going to need a Knight, a Samurai, and a Paladin. And yes, you're going to need a Necromancer, an Illusionist, and a Druid. That is how you leverage the advantages that Class and Levels systems have. Not by making the game less like a Class and Levels system, but by making there be more Classes to choose from.

-Frank
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Emerald
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PostPosted: Sun Jul 31, 2016 10:18 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

FrankTrollman wrote:
You could imagine a scenario where you delicately thread the needle of synergy and independence, but realistically you aren't going to. Either the powers you select are going to be judged on their synergy or they won't be

[...]

The goal of class design should be that the optimized character has a diverse set of thematically tight abilities. And a class and level system can easily provide that, but it can only do that by providing thematically tight classes in the first place. Both the One Trick Pony Fighter and the Incoherent Pile of Good Spells Wizard are design failure states that come directly from the game becoming too close to a points-based system and not providing sufficient thematic guidance from the class itself.


Setting aside the various other problems with Tome of Battle, how do you feel about its maneuver prerequisite system as an attempt to thread that needle?

The One-Trick Pony Martial Adept isn't really a thing because the highest-level maneuver prereqs are just "any three to five other maneuvers from this discipline" instead of "seven specific weak feats you don't care about and an 18 in a dump stat" and maneuvers don't stack or have other explicit synergies with same-discipline maneuvers, so a martial adept can invest in two or three combat styles without spreading himself too thin. The Incoherent Pile of Good Maneuvers Martial Adept isn't really a thing either because (barring the prerequisite-less Stone Dragon 9th-level maneuver) a martial adept can't just pick the best maneuver at each level up the way an all-fire-Evocations-all-the-time wizard can suddenly learn Otto's irresistible dance on a whim.

It seems to me like you could institute that system for all classes' selectable abilities, and then if you want a thematically narrow character you build a "beguiler" by making a wizard focusing on the Enchantment and Illusion schools with a handful of Divination spells, build a "ninja" by making a rogue focusing on the Infiltration and Acrobatics talent trees with a handful of Shadow tricks, build a "samurai" by making a fighter focusing on the Two-Weapon and Archery disciplines with a handful of Mounted maneuvers, build a "druid" by making a cleric focusing on the Animals and Weather spheres with a handful of Plants spells, and so on, whereas a traditional any-spells-you-want-with-no-flavor wizard or cleric would mean investing roughly equal depth of spell selection into several different schools or spheres instead of cherry-picking random spells.

What benefits does a system of thematically-narrow classes provide compared to a setup like that?
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Mask_De_H
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PostPosted: Sun Jul 31, 2016 11:48 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

With a system like Weeaboo Fightan Magic, you still are heavily encouraged to spec in whatever maneuvers are synergistic (the ones Rogues stole from Shadow Hand that buffed SA, Blood in the Water + Hydra Slaying Strike + the other attack engine abilities), creating One Trick Ponies. You are also still able to make an ability jumble character, you just have to also keep the build constraint of having X powers of a given type in order to cherry pick the good shit.

It doesn't actually fix the problem, as I understand from Frank. You're still getting a bunch of fungible rules pieces dumped in your lap and being told to make something out of it, which naturally leads to either extreme.
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FrankTrollman
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PostPosted: Mon Aug 01, 2016 5:24 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

I think Warblades probably count as a narrow class. A Warblade starts their life with 3 maneuvers and has only 9 to choose from. Well aside from the fact that some of those maneuvers aren't good, it is impossible to have a party of Warblades without maneuver overlap.

In abstract, Boosts are a synergy effect that encourages one trick ponyism, while Strikes are standalone effects that encourage dissonant characters. But in specific, there just aren't that many ways to make a Warblade and there are only about two or three builds that people seriously consider. If someone tells you that they are a 5th level Warblade you know that they have a single 3rd level Maneuver, and you could probably make money betting that that maneuver was White Raven Tactics. Because honestly, what else would it be?

-Frank
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FatR
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PostPosted: Mon Aug 01, 2016 4:31 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

I have to disagree with your thesis on pretty much every level, Frank.

First, to deal with your faulty example of desing failures. Every class in 3.X (not considering the highest levels of optimization which I never saw in actual play) was at its peak when built for maximun synergy of abilities. A wizard who dedicated his build to delivering metamagic'd Orbs of Fire/Enervations/Flesshivers was way better than the one who merely concentrated on a single school, and that one was still a good deal better than the one who went for the maximum breadth of tactical options. It is just wizards were so damn powerful that they could win DnD without bothering with synergies, and so flexible, that despite concentrating their limited character resources on one trick they still could possess reasonably (or very) effective options for dealing with things who tried to blindside them. While fighters were unable to keep up even when foregoing all options for the sake of a single trick. Simply put, wizard and fighter were in different positions because arcane spells were good and fighter feats were bad, and because wizard had easier time correcting bad choices, not because the "synergy vs. independence" slider was set differently for the character building resourses those two classes possessed.
That's not the only and not the most important factual fault in your argument. You said that both Wizard and Fighter were the worst designed classes because they were the most customisable. Yet rare was the Wizard who even approached the number of spells an average Cleric - or even Druid - had on his list thanks to the full list access. In terms of theoretical options Wizard was only in the third place. And yet, what Cleric or Druid were going to do in the party was almost as predictable as what Fighter was going to do. Because actually viable combat options largely pointed to beating faces (or making your pet eat faces), and higher-optimized Clerics just had loads of persisted spells on them while doing so. Despite having a long list of utility, recovery and edge case spells, giving them a lot of options in adventure Clerics had to specialize and exploit synergies and did not have many distinct options in combat until getting well into two-digits levels (Druids in 3.X - but not in PF - were more flexible thanks to Wild Shape being overpowered). And this points us at the fact that Wizards could learn a scattering of disparate, unfocused options and still be powerful because they not only had many choices, but because so many of these choices were powerful individually - arcane spells simply were the ultimate power in the world. As noted above, sheer power obviated the need for synergy.
Finally I'd like to note that handing a strictly-defined list of options to a class only obviates the choice between synergic and disparate abilities insofar as it is pre-made by a designer.

Now about the benefits and drawbacks of a class/level system. You see locking characters onto a single path of development with minimized flexibility as an actual benefit. That's an opinion to which I do not subscribe. Career lock (more or less hard) is merely an acceptable tradeoff. For it I buy: (1)Level framework, that allows characters remain roughly on the same playfield as far as they key stats and acquisition of powers are concerned, without the situations when in any given sitation some party members are entirely incapable of contributing, typical for attempts to make a skill-based high-power game; (2)The ability to gracefully provide different characters with different resource management mechanics; (3)The ability to suggest to players wide archetypes, which they can adapt to their character concepts; (4)The ability to cut the overall mass of powers existing in the game into more easily digestible packages. So, I'm pushing the slider between "freeform construction of a character from scratch" and "ready-made character" to a certain point.

I find your reasoning for pushing that slider much farther, if not all the way towards the latter, unconvincing. Please note, I assume that in the version of DnD you're pushing for, character customization past selecting a class is as insignificant as your own example of "being a seamstress or sailor", certainly nothing remotely approaching in importance selecting 3.X' feats alone. If it is not so, then your Classplosion is just Complexity Explosion, where one particular starting choice can be super punishing if made poorly, and you can practically forget about judging a character's competency from its class and level alone - in actual play, the magnitude of disparity between Tordek and Bigleap Ubercharge is obviously worse than the latter's disparity with Batman Wizard.

So, keeping that in mind, we have classes that are very much not customisable and very narrow. The difference between Assassin, Rogue and Ninja narrow. Let's list the most obvious reasons why I don't believe that to be a good thing:

-First of all, people, myself included, actually like customization. As it seems, a lot of people even like sifting through like five separate resource management systems to build a perfect combo every time they level up, as evidenced by homebrew traditions of GitP and Paizo forums, also the fact that Pathfinder still sells. I do not count myself among this number, but in reasonable dozes I like to be able to tweak my character. I like not just get about one new thing per levelup, but to select that thing. The idea of making every significant choice at character generation (and then possibly suffering if you choose wrong) is not appealing.

-As you've mentioned before yourself that non-linear power development is bound to introduce situations when at a certain level a power sucks, and then it rocks, which is bad for obvious reasons. The same, and to a much higher degree, applies to classes, because when you select a class with little meaningful customization, which has a range of shitty levels, you're stuck on your course to suffering, and analyzing 20 levels worth of distinct powers is much harder than reading through 3 permutations of a spell. The same applies when you've just selected a wrong class for the range of opponents you're meeting in your campaign. Likelyhood of which increases the narrower your classes are. The idea of making every significant choice at character generation becomes even less appealing, when the thing I select is really complex.

-Being certain about what Ranger 8 does is easy, when Ranger is one of 11 classes, and it actually doesn't do much beyond hitting people to start with. When it is one of, like, 30? When classes in those 30 tend have to unique class abilities on most levels? Not so much. Just now I was unable to remember what the fuck, say, 3.X Dragon Shaman or Warmage exactly do. In fact I mostly remembered about their existence as I searched for Dread Necromancer to remind myself again how and why specialist caster classes of late 3.X were not an example to follow but bullshit to avoid. The ability of people to remember hundreds of distinct powers won't improve just because you nail those powers to classes.

-And speaking of Dread Necromancer. It only simplifies the play insofar as it has much harder time blindsiding GM with plot-bypassing magic or outright gamebreakers. It still has a grab-bag of powers with no stronger unifying theme than "this looks suitable for an evil mage". Yes, it gains ALMOST its entire spelllist and class ability package with one choice (let's forget feats and magic items for a second). No, that actually doesn't make it simple, easy to generate on the fly, or easy to run. In fact, as a GM I would rather choose (and had chosen so far) to make an evil sorcerer or necromancer cleric. To create something whose capabilites at 10th level can be described to a player not knowing 3.5 spell list intimately without spending 15 minutes on it (and if a player does know that spelllist, you won't need 15 minutes for Wizard either), as seems to be your goal, Frank, you need still cut and cut powers from this already-narrow concept. Given that Dread Necromancer already is not particularly strong as a class by 3.5 standards...
Let's now speak about the theoretical Necromancer which in your opinion I should have. First the Dread Necromancer model for it, with the class having class abilities to every level, sometimes more than one, AND a spell list, can fuck right off, and doubly so in the supposed Classplosion context. DreadNec has fucking 15 distinct class abilities (14 if you discount the "plunder more spells" one). Multuply that by 30, even by 22 (its reasonable that the supposed Classplosion should at least double the number of classes compared to Core 3.0, right?) and oh crap, our class ability list is already approaching the size of the overbloated 3.5 spell list, while the latter is not going anywhere either because any class that is not shit needs also to have spells (or equivalents). (Again, the ability of people to remember hundreds of distinct powers won't improve just because you nail those powers to classes.) Therefore, we have three possible models of power acquisition - and if I don't want my new class to make me to stab my eyes out as much as recent Pathfinder classes, one of them has to be absolutely dominant and provide like 90-95% of the class' power and complexity. These model are (1)class abilities nailed to levels, (2)a list of (relatively) class-agnostic abilities which are pre-selected by designer for us (i.e., a fixed limited spell list in Necromancer's case), and (3)a list of (relatively) class-agnostic abilities which are selectable by player. As (1)offers no actual advantages over (2), the only real choice is between (2) and (3).

-Now let's talk, why I'm choosing (3), besides the fact that people, again, like a reasonable amount of choices. Thankfully, the example of Necromancer is quite useful here, because making people your bitches (undead or otherwise) is an inherently very strong ability, therefore if a character engages in any sort of tactically useful necromancy, he is likely to be high level material. So, speaking of such characters, what powersets of Orochimaru, Alucard, Aji Tae, Cross Marian, Gecko Moria and Kai (I can drop a bunch more names, but hopefully this is enough to make the point) have in common? Oh right. Next to nothing, except for being really strong for their series. Necromancy proper is not their sole ability, sometimes not the defining one, despite being among the strongest. Unless all you plan your Necromancer class to emulate is the Necromancer from Diablo II... actually scratch that, that Necromancer also had abilities that don't immediately come to mind when one says "Necromancy", such as raising golems. Fire golems at that. The point is, high-powered characters in fiction are a quite diverse lot. And abilities of a single character may well be too diverse to be covered by a single definitive header like "Necromancy" - note that when I talked about thematic continuity before that was related to single powers, not entire power sources for character concepts. So if you set character abilities for a particular mid-to-high level character type, like Necromancer, in stone, the probabity of your mental image of that character type diverging from the one with which a particular player sits down to generate his character becomes very high. Having a list of selectable powers for a concept does not solve this problem, but at least mitigates it. Also, writing new spells or maneuvers is infinitely easier than writing a new class whenever someone wants to play a new riff on the same concept.

-And finally. No, I don't need Rangers, Ninjas, Assassins, Rogues and Knights in my game. There is no good reason to shit up the class list with the concepts which bring the baggage of only being good in the conceptual space that occupies 2 bloody levels. In fact, any concepts rooted in mundane mortal realities, such as Assassin or Knight, should be feats/talents, if that. I need Paladin and Trickster, though, because "fighting with holy powers" and "fighting sneakily" are valid concepts even in the world where every warrior of note eventually learns superhuman martial arts.


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FrankTrollman
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PostPosted: Mon Aug 01, 2016 6:48 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

FatR wrote:
A wizard who dedicated his build to delivering metamagic'd Orbs of Fire/Enervations/Flesshivers was way better than the one who merely concentrated on a single school, and that one was still a good deal better than the one who went for the maximum breadth of tactical options.


I have to head you off right here, because this is a dangerously wrong idea that will seriously hamper your design strategies if you believe it. The Wizard who hyper-specialized in delivering massively metamagicked scorching rays was a character who was discussed more on charop boards, not actually a character that was better than a vanilla Wizard or even particular good over all. It got more discussion on charop boards because it put up big numbers a couple of times a day and had clear criteria for tweaks and suggestions to get judged against.

But the best 9th level Battle Mage wasn't a one trick pony who comboed out for huge piles of fire damage or whatever the fuck. The best 9th level Battle Mage was a Swiss Army Knife who had a spell that would pretty much win no matter what the opposition actually was. So rather than than fill your high level spells with metamagicked up scorching rays and hope that the next encounter was something you could win with really large amounts of single target fire damage, you'd pack charm monster, Evard's black tentacles, finger of agony, ice web, cloud kill, and wall of force. And then if your opponents have low speeds they just lose, and if they have poor will saves or fortitude saves they just lose, and if they have low strengths they just lose, and if they have no special movement modes they just lose, and so on.

That kind of thing was hardly ever talked about on charop board discussions, but that is what optimality in 3rd edition actually looked like. You had a pile of good spells and you selected the most appropriate of those good spells for whatever task was at hand. And since a good and appropriate spell made you fucking win the entire encounter, you pretty much just single handedly won the game all the time forever.

And from a game design standpoint this is really important. The charop boards generated lots of discussion about the best way to tweak out the fifth best type of Wizard. Because synergy collections are the kinds of things they like to talk about. But that has nothing to do with what is best or even what is good. Combos are fun to talk about in a charop context, while discordant piles of individually powerful standalone things are not. But that doesn't mean the discordant pile isn't objectively better.

To use a Magic: the Gathering example, right now the best card in Standard is Collected Company, which gives you a huge advantage in tempo and value if and only if you happen to fill the rest of your deck with 3 cost creatures to combo with. But this time last year, the best card in Standard was Siege Rhino, which doesn't combo for shit but is simply bigger and better than anything else at that price point and also did half its work just coming into play so you didn't even cry when they spent resources to kill it. Charop discussions for D&D would babble on indefinitely about Collected Company combos, but would have nothing at all to say about Siege Rhinos. That difference in discussion volume would nothing to do with which is actually better.

Bringing this back to D&D, the entire WotC/Paizo strategy of nerfing whatever the fuck it was that generated the most gibbering on the charop boards is doomed. It's doomed before you even start asking what the fuck those assholes are talking about or contemplating what possible nerfs there are. Because actual real ultimate power is to just learn and prepare fear once you already have other spells to handle those encounters you can't instantly win with a large area mind affecting save-or-lose.

-Frank
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Kaelik
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PostPosted: Mon Aug 01, 2016 7:44 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

FrankTrollman wrote:
I have to head you off right here, because this is a dangerously wrong idea that will seriously hamper your design strategies if you believe it. The Wizard who hyper-specialized in delivering massively metamagicked scorching rays was a character who was discussed more on charop boards, not actually a character that was better than a vanilla Wizard or even particular good over all. It got more discussion on charop boards because it put up big numbers a couple of times a day and had clear criteria for tweaks and suggestions to get judged against.


You are way behind on the absurd metamagic damage optimization game, like, all advancement stopped in 2008, but you are like, 3-4 years behind that.

Even without bringing in Chaos Shuffle Racial Weapon Proficiencies or Elder Evils or Otyguh Holes into Chaos Shuffle, or Chaos Shuffle at all or any other of the absurd numbers of ways to get way too many feats, a Wizard with Arcane Thesis (Orb of Fire) Energy Admixture, Energy Substitution, Invisible, Sanctum, Black Lore Moil, Maximize, Searing Spell, Piercing Cold Spell would do 88 "untyped" damage and 44 fire and 44 cold and 18 negative energy at level 9, and that's just a Wizard 9. Presumably you will take levels in classes that give you more feats which can be used for even more feats that lower meta costs and more feats to increase damage.
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FrankTrollman
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PostPosted: Mon Aug 01, 2016 9:04 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Kaelik wrote:

You are way behind on the absurd metamagic damage optimization game, like, all advancement stopped in 2008, but you are like, 3-4 years behind that.

Even without bringing in Chaos Shuffle Racial Weapon Proficiencies or Elder Evils or Otyguh Holes into Chaos Shuffle, or Chaos Shuffle at all or any other of the absurd numbers of ways to get way too many feats, a Wizard with Arcane Thesis (Orb of Fire) Energy Admixture, Energy Substitution, Invisible, Sanctum, Black Lore Moil, Maximize, Searing Spell, Piercing Cold Spell would do 88 "untyped" damage and 44 fire and 44 cold and 18 negative energy at level 9, and that's just a Wizard 9. Presumably you will take levels in classes that give you more feats which can be used for even more feats that lower meta costs and more feats to increase damage.


And this is exactly why the "pile of spells" Wizard is still better. All that optimizing and optional content leverage and at the end of the day you still shoot your wad at a giant and it doesn't quite die. That's a perfectly reasonable contribution in a giant encounter, and you'll be the MVP I guess, but nowhere near as much as if you'd cast charm monster and took a greater than fifty fifty to just fucking Pokemon the boss. And if failure rates are a thing you worry about, the very small chance of you up and missing or whatever the fuck with your tiger uppercut is always going to be more than the 0% failure rate of wall of force followed up by cloud kill.

You can go all in on damage combos if that's what you want to do. But that's still not as good as just taking a diverse list of individually strong spells.

-Frank
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Kaelik
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PostPosted: Mon Aug 01, 2016 9:24 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

FrankTrollman wrote:
And this is exactly why the "pile of spells" Wizard is still better. All that optimizing and optional content leverage and at the end of the day you still shoot your wad at a giant and it doesn't quite die. That's a perfectly reasonable contribution in a giant encounter, and you'll be the MVP I guess, but nowhere near as much as if you'd cast charm monster and took a greater than fifty fifty to just fucking Pokemon the boss. And if failure rates are a thing you worry about, the very small chance of you up and missing or whatever the fuck with your tiger uppercut is always going to be more than the 0% failure rate of wall of force followed up by cloud kill.

You can go all in on damage combos if that's what you want to do. But that's still not as good as just taking a diverse list of individually strong spells.

-Frank


A CR 10 fire giant has 142 HP. That spell does 194 damage to it. It's a level 4 spell that on a Wizard 9 who didn't even take Prestige classes (which can easily give it more feats for more damage) and it already one shot kills the big dumb lots of HP brute.

And you are bragging how you can spend two 5th level spells to for sure kill it, even though it's still just one dumb brute monster, and being able to kill a brute monster with two 5th level spells is not impressive, especially when those two 5th level spells won't kill lots of other enemies you face.

Meanwhile, this is still a 4th level spell that one shot kills this monster and every other CR 10 or lower monster in the game. Allowing you to spend all your 5th level slots on Teleports or Cloudkills, or whatever you want, because you can kill 6 things a day no save no matter what they are on your own with just that spell. (Before you PrC and get empower spell and Cooperative Spell and then your fourth level spells do another 11d6 at level 9 and then you get Twin and Repeat and Quicken, and whatever else as you level up.)

EDIT: Oh wait, it actually does way more damage, because Piercing spells do double cold damage instead of +50% to creatures with the Fire type. So it even more blows the monster up. So it does 194 damage to creatures without any resistance, and if a monster has the Cold or Fire Subtype, and no resistance to the other type, it does 236 damage.
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Ice9
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PostPosted: Mon Aug 01, 2016 10:26 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

FrankTrollman wrote:
But the best 9th level Battle Mage wasn't a one trick pony who comboed out for huge piles of fire damage or whatever the fuck. The best 9th level Battle Mage was a Swiss Army Knife who had a spell that would pretty much win no matter what the opposition actually was.
This depends heavily on what type of opposition you face. If you're facing from-the-book enemies within a few CR of yourself, like an unmodified adventure path may have, then yeah, Mailman tactics are overkill and just picking a bunch of individually good spells will carry the day.

If, however, your whole party is optimized, and so the DM starts using foes of significantly higher CR, and/or who are optimized themselves, then that falls apart. You're going to win with Black Tentacles and Charm Monster? Good fucking luck, serious foes have high-ass saving throws and Freedom of Movement / teleportation. Whereas a big pile of untyped damage smashes through all those defenses and kills things.
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PostPosted: Tue Aug 02, 2016 12:47 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Ice9 wrote:
FrankTrollman wrote:
But the best 9th level Battle Mage wasn't a one trick pony who comboed out for huge piles of fire damage or whatever the fuck. The best 9th level Battle Mage was a Swiss Army Knife who had a spell that would pretty much win no matter what the opposition actually was.
This depends heavily on what type of opposition you face. If you're facing from-the-book enemies within a few CR of yourself, like an unmodified adventure path may have, then yeah, Mailman tactics are overkill and just picking a bunch of individually good spells will carry the day.

If, however, your whole party is optimized, and so the DM starts using foes of significantly higher CR, and/or who are optimized themselves, then that falls apart. You're going to win with Black Tentacles and Charm Monster? Good fucking luck, serious foes have high-ass saving throws and Freedom of Movement / teleportation. Whereas a big pile of untyped damage smashes through all those defenses and kills things.


This is all true. However, I think in many ways it actually supports the anti-flexibility and customization argument rather than the reverse.

At the current point in time 3.X and PF games have two independent power sliders. So when you pitch a game to players you not only have to decide what level you want to play at (the traditional power gauge) you also have to decide what optimization level you want to play at, which is a whole other power gauge and that is not, on the balance, a positive development.
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PostPosted: Tue Aug 02, 2016 5:31 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Kaelik: it is exhausting arguing with you. First of all, I would point out that 88 + 0 + 44 *1.5 + 18 is 172 not 196. Also, a 9th level Human Wizard gets only 6 feats. I'm not going to try to figure out how you got to the amount of damage you claimed, but it's plain as day that the amount of damage is sufficient to drop the Fire Giant if they don't have any cold resistance up, and insufficient if they do. Try to keep your bizarre claims in the realm of the real. I strongly suspect that you're relying upon weird optional rules from Unearthed Arcana that no one really uses to get extra metamagic feats.

Ice9 wrote:
If, however, your whole party is optimized, and so the DM starts using foes of significantly higher CR, and/or who are optimized themselves, then that falls apart. You're going to win with Black Tentacles and Charm Monster? Good fucking luck, serious foes have high-ass saving throws and Freedom of Movement / teleportation. Whereas a big pile of untyped damage smashes through all those defenses and kills things.


But a McLargeHuge pile of single target touch attack damage doesn't reliably get through a concealment miss chance or the opposition showing up with 2 (or twenty two) bodies. There are counters for everything, and the DM can use as many of them as they want whenever they want. An arms race with the DM is something that you cannot win.

When you have a diverse set of attacks, the DM needs to use a laundry list of shenanigans to shut down your ability to steamroller any encounter. With a specialized specialist, the DM only needs to use one weird trick. The super damage blaster could face "four Ettins" and then "some Invisible Stalkers" and so on and so forth and never really end up being that dominating or even that good. But to keep the guy who just prepares a different good spell in every slot from dominating the scene you have to craft elaborate scenarios with teleporting Golems and shit.

The Damage Specialist, in short, can be wholly and effectively contained with level appropriate opposition right out of the fucking Monster Manual. The Pile of Spells Wizard cannot be. To hold the Pile of Spells Wizard down, the DM has to really go apeshit and it becomes very obvious that the DM is tweaking encounters specifically to deal with your character. And since the DM an't actually lose an arms race, the closest thing there is to winning an arms race with the DM is forcing the DM to admit that there is one. That makes the Pile of Spells Wizard the winner.

-Frank
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Kaelik
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PostPosted: Tue Aug 02, 2016 5:52 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

FrankTrollman wrote:
Kaelik: it is exhausting arguing with you. First of all, I would point out that 88 + 0 + 44 *1.5 + 18 is 172 not 196.


Except that as I explained, and as anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the feats listed would know, Fire Giants, by virtue of having the fire subtype, would normally take 150% damage from cold, and since 88 damage is cold (half of which ignores cold resistance and immunity) that would add up to 196.

But additionally, as you could discover from reading the rest of the post, Piercing Cold causes cold damage you do to do 200% damage to creatures with the fire subtype.

So if you had either read the feats or my post at all, you would have been saying at a minimum that the damage is 196, (2whatever if you actually read the feats).

FrankTrollman wrote:
Also, a 9th level Human Wizard gets only 6 feats.


Yes Frank, if you just declare that all possible ways of getting feats don't exist, then no one can get feats. On the other hand, if you adventure on a Dead Magic Plane permanently, then those poor Wizards just aren't as good as Fighters.
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Emerald
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PostPosted: Tue Aug 02, 2016 6:32 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

FrankTrollman wrote:
I think Warblades probably count as a narrow class.
[...]
But in specific, there just aren't that many ways to make a Warblade and there are only about two or three builds that people seriously consider.


Ah, I see; the way you were talking about tight classes with limited customization, I thought you were suggesting that most classes should be on-rails classes like the Fire Mage or Tome Barbarian. If warblade-level customization is your baseline, the classplosion plan seems much more reasonable.
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FatR
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PostPosted: Tue Aug 02, 2016 8:10 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

You seem to forget that I also have played in high-level DnD games myself, Frank. Of course, my experience is subjective, but so is yours. In my experience the chance of a GM allowing Arcane Thesis abuse is actually pretty good, but the chance of a GM allowing Charm to work as a better in all ways version of Dominate is pretty much zero, and I'm not very fond of Charmed bosses switching to attacking my party without pause, whille shouting at me that I, as their friend, should stop supporting those terrible people.

Anyway, I did play a high-level wizard who cast Freezing Fog, and Feeblemind and Walls, and Fear, and Black Tentacles, and Finger of Death in a game where we all deliberately tried to play gamebreaking characters (with, IIRC, the sole social contact restriction being not bogging resolution down by abusing minionmancy), and the feeling I got was that I should have had the balls to play, say, Incantatrix and make an Arcane Thesis combo, because more than half the time I was merely stalling opponents and unable to permanently knock them out by myself without burning through an insufferably large portion of my spellist, and I was regularly stuck playing a guessing game about what a monster we face isn't made immune to by its template, while our Divine Metamagic Persistent Spell cleric just reduced everything to atoms. And importantly, over half of my battlefield control and SoL arsenal would have worked just as well, except that I would have had a certain kill (case in point, Kaelik's damage combo, one-shots all CR 13 3.5 monsters, supposedly bossfights for an entire level 9 party, except gelugon and storm giant, 19 times out of 20, thanks to their shitty touch ACs and the fact that it disregards SR) attack at my disposal. While my diverse array of disparate and powerful options from 3.5's arcane spell list made me powerful, exploiting synergies would have upped my overall capability a good deal.


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Mask_De_H
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PostPosted: Tue Aug 02, 2016 8:57 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Exploiting synergies would make you more powerful in addition to just having a pile of good spells, just as the DMM Persist Cleric could conceivably do something besides waste things with their $TEXAS damage. That's just obvious.

If you're given a choice between good option A and good option B, choosing C: all of the above is always going to be better unless there's some sort of anti-synergy between the two. The idea is that if you're forced to have only one A+ trick or several A- tricks, the A- tricks are going to be the better deal due to an increased chance of something working in all situations.
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FatR
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 11, 2016 1:14 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

And speaking of designing a Monster Manual first. That's how monster statblocks look like so far, using the most common first opponent of low-level adventurers as an example:

GOBLIN
Small Humanoid <1st level NPC class?>
Hit Dice: 1d10 (6 hp)
Initiative: +2
Speed: Land 3
Fortitude Defense: 10 (+2 breastplate, –2 size), internal 8
Reflex Defense: 14 (+1 humanoid, +1 Dex, +2 size)
Will Defense: 10
Base Attack Bonus: +1, Str maneuver bonus –2, Dex maneuver bonus +4
Attack: Long bow +2 ranged (1d6+1/x3), or saber +2 melee (1d4+1/18-20x2)
Full Attack: Long bow +2 ranged (1d6+1/x3), or saber +2 melee (1d4+1/18-20x2)
Special Attacks: Scary to Man’s Friends +1 vs. Will/Extreme critical vs. Will
Special Abilities: Fire Resistance 5
Senses/Stealth: Low-light vision; total stealth modifier +8 <modifiers are supposed to be specified is something in the charsheet modifies the basic attribute check>
Attributes: Str –1, Dex +1*, Con +0*, Int +0*, Wis +0, Cha –1 <* designates favored attributes>
Skills: Climb (Dex), Stealth (Dex)
Talents: <To be inserted>
Environment: Anywhere
Organization: Scouting band (1–4), picket (a small troop), a raiding band (a small troop plus a 2nd level commander), or a militia (a medium troop plus 2-4 2nd level commanders and a 3rd level warlord)
Challenge Rating: 1 <?>
Advancement: By character level


COMBAT
Statistics above describe an average goblin raider. Goblins are fairly well-armed and attack doggedly, driven by both loyalty to the clan and desire to distinguish themselves, so despite their small size they are dangerous opponents in battle. When their ferocity and inexperience don’t overwhelm their common sense, they attempt to start a battle by ambushing their foes and continue by loosing volleys of arrows from a distance.
Scary to Man’s Friends (Ex): Any dog or horse who smells a goblin (usually this means coming without close quarters range) is automatically subjected to an attack against its Will Defense (+1 to hit). Animals hit by that attack are shocked for 1 round. If an extreme critical against Will Defense is confirmed, the animal becomes frightened for the rest of the scene. Only one attack from this ability can be made against an animal per scene, regardless of the number of goblins present. The attack value is Constitution-based.
Dogs also invariably refuse to follow goblins’ tracks.

GOBLIN PICKET
Small Troop
Hit points: 18
Attack: Long bow +6 ranged (1d6+5/x3), or saber +6 melee (1d4+5/18-20x2); Scary to Man’s Friends +5 vs. Will
Special Qualities: Troop
CR: 4


One thing that so far keeps me in doubt is the treatment of feats (now "talents" to more accurately reflect what they are). Maybe I'm just burned by Pathfinder where everyone and their mother have a ton of them past the lowest levels, but I increasingly question whether monsters even need them. Now, player character classes should have talents, although certainly not 11 as a base and probably not even 7 - something like 4-5, so you can become a mounted lancer at 1st level and then a griffon rider at 5th, and then valkyrie at 10th, etc, without having a whole class written for you in each case (power level of talents is supposed to be on par with good 3.X feats). But monsters, at least those not generated as classed characters, already have schticks determined for them by their nature. Being able to swap that nature for something else is sort of retarded. Having extra lines on charsheet so that a monster can be provided with necessary numbers or penalty-negators to successfully do its schtick runs counter to the purpose of simplification. Having extra lines on charsheet so that GMs would be able to suddenly make a monster, like, twice as strong by swapping bad or non-synergistic talents for good ones with good synergy... well, I had enough of that in PF, customizing things is all good fun for a GM until he finds customization necessary to make monsters keep up at high levels and himself lacking time. A well-built monster should be able to operate efficiently as written.

Another thing that makes me wonder - given that a trained and talented warrior is the absolute bottom of the PC power, it is clear that some creatures, like dogs, and cobras, and quite possibly average goblin mooks simply cannot be a fair match for even a single level 1 PC, but still pose a conceivable threat without forming up into a mass combat unit. I can remember objections against factional CR on the Den and wonder if CR of 0 and possibly -1 would be a more reasonable solution.


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FrankTrollman
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 11, 2016 9:52 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

FatR wrote:
Now, player character classes should have talents, although certainly not 11 as a base and probably not even 7 - something like 4-5, so you can become a mounted lancer at 1st level and then a griffon rider at 5th, and then valkyrie at 10th, etc, without having a whole class written for you in each case (power level of talents is supposed to be on par with good 3.X feats).


This is a truly awful idea. I literally wrote the book on "big feats" and it was a bad idea. The only thing I can say is that it seemed like a good idea at the time. But it really really wasn't. Yes, it is true that people want big feats. But like many things people want that aren't actually good ideas, the fact that it isn't a good idea should weigh much more heavily with you than the fact that people think they want it.

Big feats even have obvious utility. Having a single feat for three levels that has a large impact lets you tell the other players "I have Shock Trooper" or "I have Purple Dragon Baron Ascension" or whatever the fuck, and have that convey real information about what your character's capabilities are without taking up a lot of table time. It's appealing for the same reason that having a character class be "Necromancer" rather than making everyone a Wizard with twenty five meaningfully distinct spell selections is appealing. But that is in fact wrong. And the reason it is wrong is because Feats (or "talents" or "perks" or whatever the fuck you elect to call them) are personalized developments of your character acquired during play.

Whatever options you allow the player, there will be better and worse configurations. That is simply a fact. Anyone who claims all options are equally viable is blowing smoke up your ass. Feat selection is a personal choice that reflects personal preferences, and therefore you want whatever fucking choices are made to still be in the penumbra of "playable builds." You won't ever be able to make them all equal, but you could plausibly hope to make them all playable. But the only way you're ever going to be able to do that is if the feats are individually kind of small. If feats are big, then making the "wrong" choice is making a big wrong choice.

Further, you're going to have "feat taxes." You can (and should!) fight against this tendency, but it's fucking going to happen. Some character concepts or strategies or builds or whatever you wanna call it are going to require certain selections to do their thing. Basilisk riding ain't gonna work without blindfighting. Dread Necromancers are required by law to take Tomb Tainted Soul. That Griffin riding in your own example isn't going to last long without the mount resiliency granted by the Mounted Combat feat in your example. You can tell yourself that you won't have feat taxes, but that's bullshit. There are going to be things that go together like chocolate and peanut butter, and those things are going to be expected of player characters. All you can do is choose to have those "mandatory" selections be a larger or smaller amount of the player's total selections to be made.

Small numbers of big feats is something people think they want. But the reality is that they do not want to live in a world where you have to wait three more levels before you get to pick a new feat, and they don't want to live in a world where picking a feat because it sounded cool permanently gimps their character. The only real question is whether getting one feat every level is often enough. And I would submit that it is not.

-Frank
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Schleiermacher
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 11, 2016 10:12 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

I hear what you're saying, Frank. But then you need a ridiculous number of feats for people to be able to make meaningful choices for 20 levels worth of (at least) 12 different classes. Like, one per class per level at the absolute minimum -yes, Rangers, Barbarians and Paladins want many of the same feats but in the minimalist scenario that's where choice comes from. And that raises two problems.

A: You want monsters to be using the same mechanics as PCs, and you want to keep the level=CR equivalence. But you don't want every monster to be running around with one feat per level.

B: If you avoid the various missteps of the 3E/Pathfinder feat paradigm (endless feat chains with diminishing returns which encourage one-trick hyperspecialization, bullshit "just make it a feat" taxes on making combat options viable, and boring numerical buffs ala Improved Initiative and Iron Will) what will you fill that design space with? Which 240 abilities are of the right "size" and kind to be feats?
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hyzmarca
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 11, 2016 11:29 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Schleiermacher wrote:
I hear what you're saying, Frank. But then you need a ridiculous number of feats for people to be able to make meaningful choices for 20 levels worth of (at least) 12 different classes. Like, one per class per level at the absolute minimum -yes, Rangers, Barbarians and Paladins want many of the same feats but in the minimalist scenario that's where choice comes from. And that raises two problems.

A: You want monsters to be using the same mechanics as PCs, and you want to keep the level=CR equivalence. But you don't want every monster to be running around with one feat per level.

B: If you avoid the various missteps of the 3E/Pathfinder feat paradigm (endless feat chains with diminishing returns which encourage one-trick hyperspecialization, bullshit "just make it a feat" taxes on making combat options viable, and boring numerical buffs ala Improved Initiative and Iron Will) what will you fill that design space with? Which 240 abilities are of the right "size" and kind to be feats?


I would suggest just ripping off the Perkus Maximus Skyrim mod.

It's not difficult to build hundreds of unique abilities.
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Kaelik
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PostPosted: Fri Aug 12, 2016 12:09 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

hyzmarca wrote:
I would suggest just ripping off the Perkus Maximus Skyrim mod.

It's not difficult to build hundreds of unique abilities.


I recommend not doing this, because any plan that starts with "Rip off this shitty product" isn't going to end well.
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maglag
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PostPosted: Fri Aug 12, 2016 12:34 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Allow anyone to learn low level spells with feats one by one. Stuff like light and prestidigiation and cure minor wounds at first level then spells that wizards were casting 4 levels ago. You get lots of options without mattering that much since your class abilities should be outright superior to old spells.

Optionallly round up the weaker spells and make them into said.mini feats.
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PostPosted: Fri Aug 12, 2016 1:52 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Instead of focusing on how the feats are big or small or whatever, why not focus on a system that at least kinda-sorta works: Wizard spells. Not in the "I took your spell book so now you can't do prepare anything" bs, or even specifically how they prepare spells at each spell level, but on how you can seriously find a level appropriate ability hiding in a slain manticore's nest. Not happy with how lightning bolt is working out for you? Go learn deep slumber. Tired of taking damage in melee? Search out Stone Skin. For all of how Frank posits that a pile of narratively disparagate abilities is a bad thing, that is exactly what everyone wants the feat system to be: a method for players search for flavorful and narativly relevent abilities, procure them, learn them, and use them between level ups.
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FrankTrollman
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PostPosted: Fri Aug 12, 2016 5:15 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

A pile of narratively dissonant abilities is indeed a bad thing for your character's core competencies to be. The advantage of a class system is that you can make characters quickly and explain characters quickly. If one or more of the classes presents "pick 18 unrelated powers from a list of hundreds" as their core competencies, that is neither quick nor coherent. Also essentially impossible to balance in any meaningful way. If you were tempted to go down that route, you would be objectively better off going full point-based. And of course, there is a reason we aren't seriously suggesting GURPS or Fantasy Hero as a model to emulate.

But minor personal touches? Go fucking nuts. Minor personal touches should be numerous in number and acquired frequently during play. Because fucking obviously.

-Frank
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FatR
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PostPosted: Fri Aug 12, 2016 10:02 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

You know, Frank, I've wanted to rhetorically attack your argument I would have built my response about asking how the fuck big feats that you disparage are in any way different from classplosion of low-to-no-customization classes that you advocate. Both are essentially the same thing: pushing the slider between "few important long-lasting decision during character generation" and "many decisions of individually little importance during character generation" towards the former. Just in one case big decisions happen when choosing a class and in another when choosing a feat.

But I'm rather genuinely interested in thinking of other people. So instead I'll ask: what exactly is the benefit you're seeing in in preferring many small decision to few big decisions?

You're essentially saying that choices should be small for the sake of minimizing the impact of individulal wrong choices. This reasoning does not hold water due to things you've mentioned in this threat yourself - choice taxes, choice chains, synergy - as well the thing you have not mentioned, namely the fact that making options small while keeping character competency the same naturally expands the list of options.

You argue that making choices small would allow Timmy Casual's character to be more competitive with Max Netbuilder's character, compared to making choices large. I'm left wondering if you simply had played solely with Maxes for far too long. Indeed, one of the features of 3.X/PF, attractive to many people, is that the huge amount of character customization choices allows to compensate for making some choices suboptimally for the sake of style, and then pulling more power from other areas, as long as you're optimization-savvy.

But this in no way applies to people just slapping characters together without good understanding of the system. Indeed that naturally worsens their situation. Correct me, Frank, if I'm wrong, but haven't you recently wrote in the Pathfinder thread that you cannot any longer make heads or tails of the current Pathfinder caster optimization because the number of mutually influencing fiddly options is too great? If there is an argument for why in the world of choice chains and synergies, small optimization errors would cancel each other out, instead of gradually accumulating and aggravating character ineptitude, you haven't presented it. But it is clear to me that actually making optimization errors would be far easier if Timmy Casual is presented with an array of 100 choices every level than if he is presented with an array of 20 choices every 5 levels. If you have any idea on how to make choices small without expanding their overall number, feel free to present it.

And yet another point on the problem of small choices, now applying specifically to 3.X' feats. Why do you (or anyone else) here think there were so many feat taxes in 3.X, and why fighting men in particular were reamed with them whatever they tried? Putting sheer malice aside as an explanation, the most obvious reason was characters, and fighters in particular, having far too many feats. Designers couldn't make feats into really big game-changing options without shattering their comfort zone of fighter-rogue-blaster wizard-healbot cleric party. Particularly not when one class had a shitload of bonus feats as a class feature. And the design space for small, not-that-important, feats was and is inherently limited. Thus so many feats which provided piddly shit numerical bonuses and so many feat taxes when you had to take certain feats - and sometimes whole chains of 'em - for minimal competence in an area, came into existence. Making feats numerous led to making them small (save when authors accidentally produced something better than they intended), and making them small naturally led to feat taxes and feat chains.

A question may arise: why not make feats numerous AND individually strong? In this case I'd like to remind about my previously stated (in the very first post, in fact) intention to provide every single PC class with a power schedule of either spells or something comparable (maneuvers, manifestations), and the clarification that 90% of class power is supposed to come from that schedule. You know, like was the case with 3.X Wizards, who, particularly if played according to your advice above in the thread, didn't really need feats much - Spell Focuses and Spell Penetrations were just gravy for a full caster who disregarded synergies and simply dropped good spells as appropriate to the situation. Feats/talents are not going to be the core source of power and customization here. They were never intended to be. They are supposed to simply provide a way for a character to declare who he is in a particular tier of play, and a give a noticeable but not world-shaking mechanical bonus to go with his identity. That is, of course, why I consider omitting them entirely for monsters, who already have a strong identity provided by their species.
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