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Fluff and Crunch in 4e

So it absolutely figures that just when I really wanted to respond to a thread over at ENWorld, it's down for maintenance. I mean it's understandable since they were hacked and all, and are still getting back on their feet, but aaargh. I hate digital cockblocking.

In the mean time I'm going to put this here, since it turned out to be a lot longer than I intended anyway.

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"If you want to Valiant Smite, you have to be Valiant, like it says on the fluff*."

Schwaaaaa? That's a totally made-up idea. You can roleplay your valiant strike however you dang well please, fluff or no fluff - this is sometimes implicit in older versions, but 4e outrightly explicates it. It's the assumption that you're doing what is described in the flavour text, but that's only if you don't provide some other idea yourself.

It's not even permanent - for my group, interpreting what power xyz uniquely represented in this instance is par for the course. That attack gave my warden a defence boost? Okay, that's because I didn't hit the enemy directly, I hit the ground to cause an eruption of stone all earthbending-style, and now it's protecting my flank. The ranger I GM for was temporarily granted combat advantage for that attack? That's because he ran up the wall and flipped over the guy's head at the last minute, leaving him totally off-balance, then BAM!

In any case, y'all should stop ignoring the fact that everything in 4e that isn't rules text is yours to interpret, play with, and shape as you will. What you do with it - whether you use everything as written, re-interpret the mechanics to give an altered flavour, or completely rename and refluff every last thing on your sheet - depends on what you find fun.

Since we're talking about paladins, let me share mine, a woman named Marshal. I have a long-standing hatred of god-figures in D&D as well as real life, so when I made a paladin you can bet I wasn't about to make her a pious god-botherer. Instead, I looked at the paladin powers I liked best - big smashy hits like Blood of the Mighty - and the channel divinity feat I wanted (Tempus), and imagined a philosophy that would fit with those sorts of powers. As a unifying theme, it seemed like what she most embodied was swift, remarkable violence.

vFrom that, I decided I had a "problem child" with major rage issues, who had been shipped off to some kind of reform school by her embarrassed noble family. There she gained a mentor figure who realised that she couldn't overcome her violent nature, so instead taught her to use it to her advantage. She learned to regulate her anger and use it wisely, and developed a personal philosophy we referred to as the Ideal of Perfect Violence: if warfare is a necessary evil, you must decimate your enemies as quickly as possible in order to minimise suffering on both sides.

By the start of the campaign, her parents had passed away and she was working as the Second to her mentor, in his mercenary band. He was killed by undead at the beginning of the game, and after inheriting command, her response was to sell off her entire inheritance so she could pay the rest of the troupe to avenge his death. And we were off to the races!

Obviously, nothing about Marshal is a conventional paladin, but she was a good-aligned idealist who followed a philosophy she elevated to divine importance, recognised a darkness within herself and strove to make it a tool she could turn against her enemies, and literally gave up her worldy fortune to go on a righteous undead-slaying crusade. She was a great paladin. She was exciting to play without being simple, motivated in a way that would help push the group forward, and deeply integrated into the story - and her whole concept developed from me interpreting the underlying mechanics instead of obeying the bult-in fluff.

Anyway, what I'm saying is that rewards for playing a character "correctly" should be treated as a tool for giving newer/less-confident roleplayers a simple, archetypical template they can use to play their character. Better and more experienced roleplayers don't need such guidance, and punishing them for having a different concept - regardless of whether or not it causes problems, but simply because it doesn't fit in a WotC fluff writer's mould - is damn near unpardonable as a GM.

And while we're on the subject, I completely oppose rewarding players for having high values in their critical stats. Players already have a mechanical motivation to avoid poor class/race combinations, one which is so prominent that threads like this are rife with "4e made it too punishing to play class/race combo xyz". Syngery is its own reward, and the last thing you need to do is reward the most powerful/best built character with more power. Extra power for good builds is just giving the fat kid more cake - even if being fat is admirable, it's simply not necessary.

Posted

2013-01-24 12:17:23

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