Dragon 389 - Design and Development: Returning to Athas, Part 2

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DnDi_Large.png   Dragon 389
Design and Development
Returning to Athas, Part 2

By Richard Baker and Rodney Thompson

Once again, we look at the Design and Development of next month's Dark Sun Campaign Setting!  This time, Rich and Rodney discuss the development and importance of themes, drop a minor possible hint of a Swashbuckling setting for the future, the role of the Gladiator (from Martial controller to Fighter build to Theme), how Themes fulfill the old feel of stronger characters in Athas (an extra encounter attack power is like being 3rd Level), list all the themes in the Campaign Guide, and discuss further options for expanding on them – feats, Theme powers (similar to Skill powers), and PPaths.

Talk about this Design & Development column here.

Before posting, why not ask yourself, What Would Wrecan Say?

IMAGE(http://images.onesite.com/community.wizards.com/user/marandahir/thumb/9ac5d970f3a59330212c73baffe4c556.png?v=90000)

A great man once said "If WotC put out boxes full of free money there'd still be people complaining about how it's folded." – Boraxe

I like that you can "upgrade" it by sacrificing higher level slots.
I'm really excited for Themes.

I really really hope they quickly do a Dragon article with generic and pulp fantasy themes for use with Core, FR, and Eberron.

Some Core/Generic/FR themes I'd like to see: Pirate (obviously), Adventuring Noble, True Believer (for divine-inspired characters of any class.), Harper

Some pulp/Eberron themes: Adventuring Archeologist (c'mon!), International Spy, Inquisitive, (And more specifically Eberron: Eldeen druidic sects, Student of the Prophecy, Dreamtouched (like an Eberron version of Wild Talent), and Daelkyr Half-Blood)


On another note, the precedent of giving something for nothing (an extra encounter power), makes me think about other things that should be "free" at character creation. I'm tentatively considering a houserule that allows player characters to take one of the following for free a first level: A Theme, a Bloodline Feat, a Heritage Feat, or (for Eberron games) a Dragonmarked Feat.
Planes Wanderer
I'm glad they made the theme powers something you could just choose, rather than requiring power swap feats.  It makes we wish they'd redo some of the old "theme-ish" choices like vampiric heritage to work the same way.
I'm glad they made the theme powers something you could just choose, rather than requiring power swap feats.  It makes we wish they'd redo some of the old "theme-ish" choices like vampiric heritage to work the same way.



I agree.  Why you have to spend a feat and give up a power is beyond me.
I'm not entirely certain I like the idea of themes being purely additive; there may well be characters for whom there is no appropriate theme, so they wind up a bit behind.  Hopefully they accounted for this somewhere.
Another day, another three or four entries to my Ignore List.
I'm not entirely certain I like the idea of themes being purely additive; there may well be characters for whom there is no appropriate theme, so they wind up a bit behind.  Hopefully they accounted for this somewhere.


Since the article says basically, "choose a theme, get an extra encounter power; don't choose a theme, don't get an extra encounter power," I highly doubt it.
I think there are ways around not being able to find a theme. You could give a free multiclass feat to someone who doesn't choose a theme for instance. Roughly the same level of power.
Planes Wanderer
I think there are ways around not being able to find a theme. You could give a free multiclass feat to someone who doesn't choose a theme for instance. Roughly the same level of power.



This is actualy something that makes a lot of sence.
The only thing that will be lacking thereof are the "free power swaps" of the theme.

If not for a lower number of powers, one could say a theme is almost like you have another class with only one feature - the level 1 encounter power (multiclassing number 3 anyone? - multiclass feats being number 1 and hybrids being number 2).

With this in mind, you can be a fighter mage hybrid multiclassing into a druid with a dune trader theme.

That's 4 souces for powers, with skill powers that's 5.
Aren't we getting a little overboard with the tailoring possibilities?

Personally I'd houserule it "Multiclass as Theme or Feats. Pick One." and give the Multiclass power swap feats for free if you pick it as your theme. But because of the Pick One clause, if you choose to multiclass as your theme, you can't then select another class to multiclass in with feats.

Planes Wanderer
As for there being too many sources to tailor your character with, I disagree.

Back in 3.5, I DMed for a group in Eberron. One of the characters had a pretty complex background. She was a half-elf who's parents were possessed by Dreaming Dark agents, who were assassinate by Kalashtar shadowdancers. The kalashtar took her in and trained her in and raised her in a psionic household. However because she aged differently from her kalashtar peers, she left her home communit to explore other ways of life. She met a House Medani inquisitive, who she apprenticed with. Eventually returning to her kalashtar community, she had a broader appreciation for the philosophies of the Great Light and felt most comforable practicing it a religon.

This character was a Paladin/Psychic Warrior with a dash of Rogue levels to help be an inquisitive. Such a character was easy to pull off in 3.5. Her character was organically built, serving her backstory (rather than backstory serving to justify crazed min-max cherrypicking).

Until very recently, it was hard to update her characterto 4e. She had to sacrifice in many areas to get close to the flavor of her backstory following through strongly for her entire character.

But now in 4e, we're approaching a broad enough diversity in character elements that she can play her character and feel good about her backstory reflecting meaningfully in her array of options to bring to the table. She can be a Chaladin/Ardent hybrid and Inquisitive theme (hypothetically), or a Paladin multiclass Rogue with Noble Adept/Wild Talent theme.

Or hell, even a Straladin Hybrid Two-Weapon Ranger (cause she used to fight two-weapon style in 3e) Multiclass Rogue (For utility powers) with Noble Adept/Wild Talent theme. Or Staladin hybrid TW Ranger Multiclass Battlemind/Ardent/Psion (for utlity powers) with the hypothetical Inquisitive theme. 

Plus, she used to have max-ranks in Tumble, so picking up that one Acrobatics Skill Power that lets you get up from prone as a minor action would let her duplicate this favoite trick of hers.

That covers all bases for her character, down to her preferred fighting sytle. It sacrifices nothing, serving to reflect her backstory entirely. Is it minmaxed? Most definately not, since Half-Elves don't have the stats for Straladins, but is it game-breakingly suck? Not at all.

Honesty I feel like we're getting to the complexity-level desirable for making diverse characters. You can make a straight-up Figher with the Gladiator theme and be just as useful in any given combat as the Fighter/Straladin Hybrid Multiclass TW Ranger with the Templar theme. The level of diversity in options is different for each, but each has its benefits, and each fits into a party equally well.

So yeah, you can have up to 5 different elements inform your mechanical options at the table, but if that allows you to reflect up to 5 different important personality traits or backstory events central to your character, I fail to see how that's a bad thing.

Barring char-op cheese, of course.
Planes Wanderer
I've always been pleased with how you can use feats to flesh out flavor elements that might in 3rd Edition have required active multiclassing. (So you can pick up Evasion and Uncanny Dodge and Skill Training: Thievery and acquire rogue elements without having to actually be a Rogue.)

And now, between multiclassing, hybridizing, skill powers, backgrounds and themes... I think the framework as a whole allows for really finetuning a character. Now, one still might run into specific barriers - until the PHB3 came out, good luck converting Psionic characters, for examples. But I think those are the exception rather than the rule - especially by this point - and the expanded framework grows all the more effective with every single product release.
D'oh! How could I forget feats? Yeah they can also help deliniate your character. Like an Inquisitive might take Skill Training in Insight, Perception, or Diplomacy if he or she was missing one or more of those from his other choices.

But still, you know, it's nice to be able to come at things from many different angles, and that the more complexity you throw in has roughly the same power as more straightforward options. There is a threat of hanging youself on sub-optimal combos (Like inflicting MAD on yourself with Hybridizing+Multiclassing that leaves you with 3 primary stats), but if you're deep enough in the system that you're looking at those types of options, you're fairly likely to have a good enough grasp on the system to prevent thing like that from happening.
Planes Wanderer
greatfrito came up with the idea, in another thread, of letting a themeless character choose an additional 1st level encounter power from his class.  Seems like it'd work.
Another day, another three or four entries to my Ignore List.
That is also a really good idea. Simple and elegant too, which is always a plus.
Planes Wanderer
I haven't examined the Theme powers closely enough to answer this question, but maybe someone else has:

Are Theme Encounter powers roughly equivalent in power to 1st Level Encounter Attack powers from a real class?  If they are, Greatfrito's replacement method is fine.  If they aren't, and are weaker, we hit a roadblock, because then you're giving too much power to Themeless characters (or too little if the opposite is true).

Before posting, why not ask yourself, What Would Wrecan Say?

IMAGE(http://images.onesite.com/community.wizards.com/user/marandahir/thumb/9ac5d970f3a59330212c73baffe4c556.png?v=90000)

A great man once said "If WotC put out boxes full of free money there'd still be people complaining about how it's folded." – Boraxe

IIRC it was mentioned in some article that theme powers occupy a balance point somewhere between at-will and encounter powers.  They do the damage of an at-will but have secondary effects that are on par with an encounter power.  Having played with them in the Dark Sun Encounters, I'd say that sounds about right.
Well, that complicates matters, then. 

You can't exactly just take an encounter from your class extra then.


Theme powers are supposed to be a reward for people who work more on their fluff.  If you really need an option for non-theme users, don't give them the more powerful option.  If you really need one, I'd say let you use a third at-will from your class as an encounter power.

Before posting, why not ask yourself, What Would Wrecan Say?

IMAGE(http://images.onesite.com/community.wizards.com/user/marandahir/thumb/9ac5d970f3a59330212c73baffe4c556.png?v=90000)

A great man once said "If WotC put out boxes full of free money there'd still be people complaining about how it's folded." – Boraxe

My understanding is that a theme encounter power compares to a class encounter power in the same way a skill power compares to a class utility power. In other words, objectively slightly weaker, but potentially more useful if it lets you do something your class can't normally do.

I would suggest that a character who forgoes taking a theme can take a level 1 at-will attack power from either his own class or a different class and use it as an encounter power. In other words, he gets the equivalent of the half-elf Dilettante feature, but without access to any of the half-elf feats that make Dilettante better. That seems to me to be an adequate balance of power and versatility. Obviously, the power chosen should be thematically appropriate for the character.

EDIT: So, basically what Marandahir suggested, but with the option of taking the extra power from another class if it's thematically appropriate.

"My flying carpet is full of elves."