Role Review

I was poking around the homebrew forum over at Giant in the Playground when I noticed this post on role design for a custom system inspired by 4th edition D&D.  I got a into how each of the roles turned out and what functions they ended up serving, so I figured I’d relay that here.

Strikers in 4e are the only strictly offensive role in game as their focus is strictly on reducing the enemy team’s time to defeat. They are especially good at delivering damage precisely where they want it. This makes focusing fire easier for them as well as making them good at landing finishing blows. Note that high offense and ease of targeting are independent but synergistic features, with ease of targeting often being accomplished by some combination of ranged attacks and mobility.

Leaders in 4e help their group stay at full strength by helping allies recover, acting as a kind of life line for those running out of hit points. This helps mitigate focused fire somewhat as it let’s the group shift defensive resources to anyone who’s being focused on. Since the need for this is small when the party is at full health, leaders often have secondary jobs as well. If fully defensively oriented, their secondary focus will be on providing protection to mitigate damage before it happens. If they’ve got a somewhat more offensive bent, they’ll act as an enabler, making allies better at performing their jobs.

Defenders in 4e actually seem to have discouraging focused fire as their unofficial job. Their high hit points and defenses make them unappealing focus targets. By itself, this would just result in their allies being taken out first. However, their marking mechanics let them counter that by making themselves more appealing targets to an enemy of their choice. In effect, this lets them peal a specific foe of the group that might be trying to achieve focused fire. The selective nature of marking and punishment mechanics make them less “everyone attack me” like classic “tanks” and more about making sure attacks are distributed around the party so nobody falls. From there, they tend to mirror leaders somewhat by either proactively setting up protective measures or increasing their offense. The main difference being that these defensive and offensive boosts tend to be self oriented as opposed to the leader’s more ally oriented focus.

4e controllers are bit of mess in that their focus is split between acting as artillery and manipulating the opposing side’s options with few class features directly supporting either. Granted, either of those can be made to support the other. For example, if the character was primarily artillery they might want strong manipulation options as back up plan for when limited targets cuts their total damage output. On the flip-side, area attacks can be used to discourage grouping, making it a situational way of altering enemy plans. From what I’ve seen, the online community tends to favor the focusing on the manipulation side, with the artillery side mainly used as a way to distribute control effects over multiple enemies. One side effect of the system is that “minion popping” became a secondary job of the role due to the availability of multi-target powers for this role. It’s interesting to note changing enemy plans overlaps with defender’s deciding who attacks them, which lead to occasional comments about defenders being a specialized type of melee controller.

On a side note, things have been pretty busy over here.  I started a new job in a new city this year, which is admittedly part of why posting has dropped off.  That being said, things are getting a bit more stable now so as time frees up I may start putting more things up here.

Published in: on January 7, 2016 at 10:40 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Fortified Mastery Update

Hi folks.  There’s been a lot of changes this past year, including moving to another state.  However, last christmas I did get enough down time to start a new project.

The action-rpg “Titan Quest” has long been a favorite of mine that I find myself returning to often.  This winter, I finally took the plunge and started on a mod to shore up the weaker skills in the game and support more varied builds.  I actually got most of that done over the winter break and am now working on more systemic issues for a second pass.  The full discussion can be found here.  Up to date download links can be found on that page as well as my portfolio page.

That isn’t to say I’m not still doing some table top tinkering.  In fact, I’ve been introducing my eldest to the hobby.  She’s already played a little Risus and Gamma World, so I’m considering streamline some other systems and letting her have a run at those.  Hero Kids has been very solid on that front and a lot of fun to boot.

Published in: on February 25, 2015 at 5:47 am  Leave a Comment  

Character Contributions, take 2

As I’ve mentioned before, a character’s role within a group can be defined by the services they provide. This time, I’d like to look at some of the common properties of combat oriented services.

It seems that the most useful combat services manipulate at least one of the following:

  • The output or effectiveness of one or more participants.
  • The actions of one or more participants.
  • The conditions and/or environment where the conflict takes place.

Output Manipulation

In most games, combat centers around pushing every opponent into a state where they are no longer a threat. In effect, this means dropping the enemy’s contribution to zero and keeping it there for the duration of the conflict, if not longer.

This makes threat elimination the core service of a combat force. In fact, this service is pretty much required as without it you can’t force opponent in the losing state, which in turn makes winning a difficult proposition. This drive to push enemies out of the fight forms the core of various offensive effects.


Offensive services make enemies drop out of the fight more quickly. Direct offense covers abilities that can take an opponent out of the fight on their own while indirect offense relies on additional actions to deliver their final payload. Classic examples of indirect offense include making an allied attack deal more damage or making an enemy more vulnerable.

The most forms of direct offense are abilities the outright inflict a persistent “can’t fight” condition. However, in most games such one-shot knock-pouts are usually deemed to potent to be used as is. The most common ways of toning this down is to use “save or die” or damage effects instead.

“Save or die” effects can outright drop an opponent with one use, but only have a limited chance of doing so. Each save or die attack give the target a chance of escaping a KO and many even have a chance of avoiding harm entirely.

In contrast, damage effects spread the knock out over multiple shots. Each shot basically adds a little more damage to the target and when a certain threshold is reached, they drop out of the conflict.


The counterpoint to trying to drive enemies out of combat is trying to keep the same from happening to your own side. As with offense, defenses can be either direct or indirect.

One way of doing this is by reducing the effectiveness of enemy attacks. For example, a save or die can have it’s chances cut down while damage dealing attacks can have that damage reduced. I’ll collectively refer to these kind of defenses as dampers.

Another approach is preventing the knock out condition from ever occurring. I’ll refer to these KO blockers as lifelines. These effects usually involve a certain amount of damping as well. However, some focus more on adjusting or redistributing an attack’s impact instead of outright reducing it. For example, a lifeline couple spread damage over multiple allies to keep the original target from dropping.


Note that just as defenses counter offense, other abilities can counter these defenses to raise enemy offense. In fact, this cycle of counters can be taken a few steps further if desired, though few systems go beyond the first few levels of counters.

We can collective refer to many of these counters as maintenance effect as their purpose is minimize the enemies ability to lower one’s offensive or defensive ability. It’s worth noting the the importance of these effects depends on how frequent and power the target ability lowering effects the are.

Action Manipulation

Another useful service is controlling the actions or tactics of combatants. In games, this kind of control is usually directed at enemies, but pushing allies toward certain actions can be useful at times. These manipulations usually take one of the following forms.

  • Blocking or preventing certain actions.
  • Making new actions available to the target.
  • Changing the cost of the target action.
  • Changing the results of the target action.

With enemy actions, this usually means preventing action, making them more costly, or making them less effective. In contrast, allied can be given new actions or have their existing options made cheaper or more effective.

Note that action manipulation usually has offensive or defensive side effects. After all, with enemies you usually want to shut down their strongest attacks (defensive effect) or counter their defenses (offensive effect).

By the same token, you want to give allies strong attack or defense options that as strong or stronger than the options they already had, which tends to mead a net increase in their offensive or defensive abilities.

Situation Manipulation

That leaves manipulation the environment and conditions to swing things in the groups favor. The final effects of these services tend to overlap the other types of services (output and action manipulations), so I won’t go into too much detail here.

Wrap Up

It looks like the three most prominent services types are offense, defense, and control. I’ll look into these and how they apply to various roles in later posts.

Published in: on May 12, 2011 at 10:42 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Vacation Time

I’ll be out visiting family until August 8th. As my internet access will be limited, I might not have anything up here until I get back. On the other hand, there’s a good chance I’ll be able to polish up the playtest doc for Mezzo while I’m out. I may even be able to get in some preliminary testing with my siblings. Until then take care and game on.

Published in: on July 29, 2010 at 4:08 pm  Leave a Comment  

Delver Rest Breaks, part 2

As I mentioned in the last design update, WotC has started posting previews for its Essentials series. One interesting outgrowth of this is that players started thinking about what the game would be like without daily powers. In fact, there’s an interesting thread on on the topic.

The biggest complaints about dailies seem to be:

  1. Missing with such a limited use ability is annoying.
  2. Daily powers encourage the 15 minute work day pattern.

The first point can be mitigated by minimizing the effect of attack rolls on those powers. In fact, most dailies in 4E already have those kind of mechanics built-in.

The second point is a trickier one. As I mention in the last post on rest breaks, this has a lot to do with the cost of rests being low and the benefits being high. This leaves us a few ways to counter this problem:

  • Increase the cost of frequent rests.
  • Decrease the benefits of frequent rests.
  • Add restriction to force rests further apart.

Of those, adding restrictions is probably the most artificial feeling solution. It also works poorly if the party faces a difficult fight and is greatly in need of rest afterwards.

Increasing the cost to rest works more smoothly. In fact, this is probably the frequently suggested solution for DM’s. Such suggestions usually take the form of adding time limits or letting the monster build up strength if the party rests.

The tricky part here is that these tricks are somewhat adventure dependent. After all, you need reasons for time limits and they don’t readily account for things like a run of bad luck. Enemies building up forces also makes less sense if you’re in a scenario where enemies are less inclined to communicate with each other.

Decreasing the benefits of rest gives us a less situational answer. Replacing dailies with something else would do make it so rests are only needed when out of healing surges. The tricky part here is that in doing so we’ve lowered our tactical options a bit. After all, exhausting yourself can be an interesting calculated risk if handled right.

Next time I’ll post up some ideas on how to work around these issues.

Published in: on July 15, 2010 at 6:40 am  Comments (3)