Tuesday, February 14, 2012, 6:42 PM
Many times I have heard people comment on how wizards were much more versatile in older editions compared to 4th. "They didn't just have combat spells!", "The spells were more versatile!", "The older spells don't translate into 4E powers!", and the like. I decided to do a bit of research, because I know how the goggles of nostolgia can play tricks on us all.
I looked at the list of 1st level wizard spells from 2nd edition, first to see how many of them were present in 4th edition. The word in the parentheses, when in bold, gives the form the spell takes in 4th edition. If the word is not bolded, it is the form it would take, or at least what I think would best represent it, as well as a basic explanation of how it might function.Affect Normal Fires (ritual)
Armor (utility power, daily power that gives the wizard an armor bonus to AC for the encounter)
Audible Glamer (at-will cantrip, renamed ghost sound)
Burning Hands (attack power)
Cantrip (at-will cantrip)
Change Self (utility power, renamed disguise self)
Charm Person (utility power, renamed fast friends)
Chill Touch (attack power, melee touch, deals necrotic damage and weakens)
Color Spray (attack power)
Comprehend Languages (ritual)
Dancing Lights (ritual, but I could also see a version as a utility power)
Detect Magic (part of Arcana skill)
Detect Undead (at-will cantrip, detects the presence of undead)
Enlarge (utility power, makes the target bigger, weapon damage increases)
Erase (ritual, same function as in 2nd edition)
Feather Fall (utility power)
Find Familiar (feat)
Friends (cantrip, renamed suggestion)
Gaze Reflection (utility power, gives a bonus to defenses vs gaze attacks)
Grease (attack power)
Hold Portal (ritual)
Hypnotism (attack power, the effect is much more limited)
Identify (automatic in 4E)
Jump (utility power)
Light (at-will cantrip)
Magic Missile (attack power)
Mending (ritual, renamed make whole)
Message (cantrip, same function as in 2nd edition)
Mount (ritual, renamed steed summons)
Nystul's Magical Aura (ritual, same function as in 2nd edition)
Phantasmal Force (utility power, renamed spectral image)
Protection from Evil (utility power, gives the target a bonus to defenses against evil elementals, immortals, and undead)
Read Magic (part of Arcana skill)
Shield (utility power)
Shocking Grasp (attack power, melee touch, lightning damage)
Sleep (attack power)
Spider Climb (utility power, warlock power)
Taunt (attack power, causes the target to move toward you and grant combat advantage)
Tenser's Floating Disc (ritual)
Unseen Servant (ritual)
Ventriloquism (at-will cantrip, renamed ghost sound)
Wall of Fog (utility power)
Wizard Mark (ritual, renamed arcane mark; you can also make one using the at-will cantrip prestidigitation, but it only lasts 1 hour)
So of the 45 spells, 34 of them exist in 4th edition (75%), and the remaining 11 have clear applications in 4th. The first complaint (that older spells are not represented in 4E), is clearly erroneous.
Next, I looked at how the uses of the more free-form (less combat oriented) spells have changed over the editions:Affect Normal Fires:
same uses throughout all editions. 4th
is actually the most useful, as it lasts for 8 hours, and doesn’t end if you extinguish fires.
Alarm: same uses throughout all editions. 3.5 and 4th let you set a mental alarm as another option. 4th allows creatures to avoid setting off the alarm by making a stealth check, but also allows the caster to know exactly where the alarm was triggered should it go off.
Audible Glamer/Ventriloquism: same uses throughout all editions. 4th reduces the volume you can create with the spell, but also combines the two into a single spell.
Cantrip: same uses throughout all editions.
Change Self: same uses throughout all editions. 4th adds the ability to mimic a specific individual.
Charm Person: same uses throughout all editions. 4th adds that the target answers any questions you ask truthfully, and clarifies that the target will not risk its life or property for you.
Comprehend Languages: same uses throughout all editions. 4th adds the ability to write and/or speak the language as well, if your arcana check is high enough.
Dancing Lights: same uses throughout all editions.
Feather Fall: same general use, but 4th is much more limited. Can only target one creature, and can’t target objects.
Friends: same uses in all editions.
Hold Portal: same uses in all editions
Hypnotism: 2nd lets you give any brief and reasonable-sounding request, 3.5 is the same, 4th limits it to a single target, you either force the target to move or make it attack one of its allies
Jump: same uses in all editions
Light: same uses in all editions.
Mending: same uses in all editions.
Mount: same uses in all editions.
Phantasmal Force: 4th has much reduced size of the illusion, but you can also include sound
Spider Climb: 4th is most limited, as it only lasts for 1 round. Otherwise, same uses in all editions.
Spook: 2nd and 3.5 make a single target run away. 4th lets you use arcana in place of intimidate, so more uses.
Tenser’s Floating Disk: same uses in all editions. 4th lasts longest
Unseen Servant: same uses in all editions. 4th and 3.5 last longer. 4th can carry the most.
Wall of Fog: same uses in all editions
Out of the 23 spells, 12 have the same uses in all editions. There are minor differences, but these are often things that make the spell more useful in 4th (unseen servant can carry more, floating disk lasts longer).
Of the remaining 11,
3 are much more limited in 4th (spider climb only lasts 1 round, hypnotism is limited to a single target, and you can only make it move or attack an ally, feather fall can only target a single creature and can't target objects)
4 involve some loss of versatility along with some gains: spectral force is a far smaller area in 4th, but you can also make sounds, ghost sound combines two spells into one, but doesn't let you create as loud of sounds, alarm can be avoided by a stealth check, but you also know exactly where it was triggered if it does go off.
4 are more versatile in 4th: Spook lets you do anything you could do with intimidate, rather than simply forcing a creature to run away, comprehend languages allows you to write and/or speak the language if you get a high enought result on the arcana check, change self allows you to mimic a specific individual, affect normal fires lasts much longer, and doesn't end if you extinguish a fire.
So it turns out that the second part of the complaints (that spells in 4E are limited to simple, combat-oriented applications) is also erroneous.
Spells and Powers in 4E are just as varied and versatile as they were in older editions. The difference is that 4E streamlined the mechanics and used a uniform template so that it was quick and easy to figure out what a power did. Just as you don't need rules for roleplaying, you also don't need rules to tell you all the things you can do with a power. The mechanics for a power simply tell you the rules for attacking with the power, or using the power in a default way. They in no way are telling you that it is the only way to use the power, or that you can't try to think up creative uses for the power.
Tuesday, February 14, 2012, 5:53 PM
Reflavoring has always been a part of D&D. Players are encouraged to make their character unique, to break the mold, to change descriptions of spells and abilities to fit their concept. However, the extent to which the rulebooks explicitly encourage such reflavoring has not been constant.
In 2nd edition, there was very minimal explicit mentions of the subject. The chapter on races contained the biggest and most obvious:
"In many cases, broad statements are made concerning the race in general. Players are not bound by these generalities. For example, the statement that "dwarves tend to be dour and taciturn" does not mean that your character cannot be a jolly dwarf. It means that the garden-variety dwarf is dour and taciturn. If player characters were just like everyone else, they wouldn't be adventurers. Make your character unique and he will be more fun to play." (2nd edition PHB, Chapter 2)
However, given the minimal flavor with little to no link to mechanics present in the spells (see my other blog below for more on this subject), it seems clear that the expectation was for Players to add their own flavor to spells and reflavor as they wished.
In 3.5, there was much more open discussion of reflavoring, making it clear that reflavoring was an accepted and even encouraged aspect of the game.
The section on Race mentions that each race writeup can give you cues as to how your character interacts with the world, with other races, their motivations, etc. It then adds, "Remember, however, that these descriptions apply only to the majority of each race's members. In each race, some individuals diverge from the norm, and your character could be one of these. Don't let a description of a race keep you from detailing your character as you like." (3.5 PHB p11)
The section on Class mentions that each class contains a description of how the class interacts with the world, and the role it plays in the party. It then adds, "These descriptions are general, individual members of a class may differ in their attitudes, outlooks, and other aspects." (3.5 PHB p23)
The section on Customizing your Character's Skills and Feats: "You can call your skills, feats, and class features whatever your character would call them. Lidda, the halfling rogue, talks about "foodpaddin'" rather than about "moving silently," so her player writes "footpaddin'" down on her character sheet to stand for the Move Silently skill. Ember, the monk, calls her Move Silently skill "Rice Paper Walk."" (3.5 PHB p110)
The section on Customizing your Equipment: "Your equipment can look the way you want it to look to match your character's style. One wizard's quarterstaff might be a plain, straight length of wood, while another wizard's is gnarled, twisted, and engraved with mystic runes." (3.5 PHB p 110)
On items that aren't on the weapon list: "If it's not on the weapon list in Chapter 7, try to find a weapon on the list that seems equivalent. A katana (samurai sword), for example, is not on the weapon list, but you could equip your character with a katana and just treat it like a masterwork bastard sword." (3.5 PHB p110)
Spell Names: "The first line of every spell description gives the name by which the spell is generally known." (3.5 PHB p172, bolded for emphasis)
Finally, the DMG contained the following advice on describing spells:
"A magic missile could be a dagger-shaped burst of energy that flies through the air. It could also be a fistlike creation of force that bashes into its target or the sudden appearance of a demonic head that spits a blast of energy."
"For dramatic flair, however, you could describe the lightning bolt as being a thin arc of blue lightning and the fireball as a blast of green fire with red twinkling bursts within it."
"You can let players describe the spells that their characters cast. Don't, however, allow a player to use an original description that makes the spell seem more powerful than it is. A fireball spell that creates an illusion of a dragon breathing flames goes too far." (all on page 34 of the DMG).
4th edition resembles 3.5 in this regard, with one notable exception. The advice on reflavoring powers has been moved to the PHB:
"A power’s flavor text helps you understand what happens when you use a power and how you might describe it when you use it. You can alter this descrip- tion as you like, to fit your own idea of what your power looks like. Your wizard’s magic missile spell, for example, might create phantasmal skulls that howl through the air to strike your opponent, rather than simple bolts of magical energy." (p 55)
Tuesday, February 14, 2012, 5:08 PM
One of the complaints I see often about 4E is that there is no more flavor: powers are just mechanics. In addition, people will say that the little flavor 4E does have is not linked at all to the mechanics. I always thought this was odd, given the fact that every single 4E power has flavor text, and it does indeed seem to match the mechanics of the power! But I always assumed that people just meant less flavor than there was in the past, and that flavor in the past was completely interwoven with the mechanics. Well, I finally got around to looking in my old books to see how much flavor spells had back then. Given the sheer number of spells, I limited by research to the first 200 spells.
First, here is what I found from 3.5:
Only 56 contained any flavor text at all. (Note: I am not counting the name as part of the flavor, because the book specifically mentions that Players are free to change the name. In fact, in the description of each Bigby's Hand spell, it mentions that Clerics call the spell after their god, such as "Pelor's Grasping Hand".) The remaining 144 spells only discussed mechanics.
Of the 56 spells with flavor text (28% of the 200):
16 have only a vague visual description. Examples: bank of fog, small orb, energy field, ray of energy, magical vibrations, swaying motions and music. No mention of color or appearance, or even what pose the caster strikes when casting the spell.
5 create invisible effects. Presumably up to the Player to decide what they look like for those who can see invible things.
1 only mentions the sound: the ringing of a handbell.
18 give a short visual description. Examples: your eyes glow blue; multicolored explosion; hand glows blue; yellowish green vapors; shimmering emerald barrier; you are surrounded by dark, wavering energy; pale blue, green, or violet glow; acorns or holly berries.
3 have a description of the caster's pose. Examples: the spell comes from your fingertips, the spell originates at your hand.
7 have both a short visual description and a description of the caster's pose (two also mention the sound the spell makes). Examples: vivid cone of clashing colors springs forth from your hand; thin, green ray springs from your pointing finger; you point your finger and release a black ray of crackling energy.
4 leave the fluff up to the player. One of these also links the fluff to the mechanics.
1 leaves the fluff up to the DM.
1 uses the default fluff for diseases listed in the DMG.
Not a lot of flavor, and for the spells that do have flavor it is surprisingly similar to that of 4E.
Next, here is what I found from 2nd edition:
Only 67 had descriptions of flavor; this is a slight improvement over 3.5 (34% compared with 28%). The remaining 133 spells only discussed mechanics.
Of the 67 spells with flavor text:
8 have a description of how you cast the spell. Examples: single gesture; gestures and droning incantation; advance threateningly; slowly turn in place; originates at caster’s hand. The description is never detailed, and sometimes leads to questions, such as in this case: “The caster must spend the time purifying the items and removing influences that would corrupt or blur their magical auras.” There is no explanation of how to purify or what sort of corrupting influences those might be (or even what effect they have if still present).
51 have descriptions of the spell’s effect. Examples: loud ringing; field of force; hand glows blue; invisible barrier; misty vapors; cloud of glittering golden particles; magical arrow; opaque sphere of any color; invisible cone (fear); faintly shimmering sphere; phantom watchdog.
A few of these are very detailed; for example, phantom steed is described as a quasi-real, horselike creature with black head and body, gray mane and tail, and smoke-colored, insubstantial hooves. Its eyes are milky-colored. Leomund’s Secret Chest is the other one, describing in detail what materials to use (for example, if the chest is made of wood it must be ebony, rosewood, sandalwood, teak, or the like…whatever “or the like” means).
One struck me as having very cool fluff: Minor and Major Creation. They are described as the caster pulling wisps of material from the Plane of Shadow and weaving them into the desired item.
8 have a description of how spell is cast plus the effect. Examples: magical energy from fingertips; point finger and release black bolt of crackling energy; magically loud shout from your mouth. Fun fact: Color Spray is described just as it was in 3.5 and 4. "vivid spray of clashing colors spring forth from your hand."
The most detailed is Burning Hands: “When the wizard casts this spell, a jet of searing flame shoots from his fingertips. His hands must be held so as to send forth a fanlike sheet of flames: The wizard’s thumbs must touch each other and the fingers must be spread.”
As with 3.5, very little flavor overall, and the flavor that is present is mostly very simple.
Comparing 2nd, 3.5, and 4th, you find the same amount of flavor within a spell. While the older editions did contain a few spells with a lot of flavor, the majority of spells had no flavor at all.
Most spells with a moderate amount of flavor in the older editions matched flavor from 4th edition. For example, compare these two sets of descriptions:
"A brilliant line of ravening green energy bursts from your pointing finger. Where the emerald beam touches, flesh and bone disappear in a puff of gray dust."
"A thin, green ray springs from your pointing finger. The target is entirely disintegrated, leaving behind only a trace of fine dust."
"The wizard causes a vivid, fan-shaped spray of clashing colors to spring forth from his hand."
"A brilliant blast of flashing colors springs from your outstretched fingers, knocking nearby enemies senseless."
"A vivid cone of clashing colors springs forth from your hand, causing creatures to become stunned, perhaps even blinded, and possibly knocking them unconscious."
"The spell creates a thin, green ray that causes physical material touched to glow and vanish, leaving traces of fine dust."
In both cases, the first description is from 4th, the second is from 3.5, and the third is from 2nd. The spells are color spray and disintegrate.
It is now possible to examine how interconnected flavor was to mechanics. Looking at both 2nd and 3.5, it is clear that there is little connection, and the connection that exists is mutable. For example, consider the following descriptions of flavor:
"The caster's hand glows blue"
"The caster's eyes glow blue"
"The spell springs from the caster's hand"
"The caster places his thumbs together and spreads his fingers apart into a fan..."
The first two give no indication as to what the spell is or what it does. In addition, the color has nothing to do with the effect. In both cases, it is clearly just an example of what it looks like when you cast the spell.
The third is just a simple description of how you cast the spell. Would having the spell come from your eyes change the mechanics at all?
The last one is the start of the decription for burning hands from 2nd edition, the spell with the most detailed flavor of the ones I reviewed. Even that one is clearly just an example. Changing it to a blast of flame that the wizard breathes out would not change the mechanics in any way.
The flavor in 2nd and 3.5 was just as fluid and changable as the flavor from 4E, and had just as little to do with the mechanics.
Lastly, take a look at some examples of flavor text from 4E. I feel that they are very evocative of what the power does, relating to the mechanics very nicely.
"You launch a ferocious attack at your enemy, allowing one of your allies to safely retreat from it." (Covering Attack, allows an ally to shift away from your target if you hit.)
"You strike at one foe, allowing your momentum to carry you forward into a second strike against another enemy." (Passing Attack, allows you to attack a second target if you hit the first.)
"You spin beneath your enemy’s guard with a slashing strike, and then sweep your leg through your foe an instant later, knocking it to the ground." (Spinning Sweep, knocks your target prone.)
I think if people actually take the time to read the flavor text, they will find that the vast majority of the time it does a good job of describing what the power does.