Best solution to this level scaling problem?

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Over the years we've all come up with various ways to address the "math failure" problems of 4e such as house-ruled free feats or bonuses at levels x, y, and z.

What I haven't seen is a good solution to a problem that I feel cuts right to the heart of some of my issues with 4e (which is that namely your set of powers in front of you is the best option).


Consider the following scenerios:

Scenerio#1-A: Level 1 Fighter with an 18 strength (+4). Makes a bull-rush to knock an elite goblin back one square. Str vs Fort of 14. Next action the not nearly as strong rogue (+2 str) runs up and also bull rush's the goblin, succeeding and knocking him down a 20' pit. Cool success!

Scenerio #2-A: Same fighter later encounters a large bat that is causing lots of issues because of it's flight and manueverability. He pulls out his trusty 50' of rope and attempts to lasso the bat and bring it to ground, DM calls for a Dex vs. Reflex. Fighter has a 14 dex so makes a +2 vs. the Bat's Reflex of 12-13 and hits... "knocking it prone" and more importantly causing it to come out of the sky.


Scenerio #1-B: Level 30 Fighter with a 28 Strength (+9) attempts to knock-back a Stone Titan into a pool of Abyssal Lava. With level bonus of 15 it's +24 vs... the Titan's Fort of..ohh... 43 (29 points higher), so the fighter needs a 19 to succeed. Forget about the rogue, he needs a 20...

Scenerio #2-B: A pit fiend is hurling fire down on the group. The Fighter pulls out his trusty magical toughened Rope of Climbing and attempts to Lasso the Pit Fiend..Dex vs. Reflex. .. no chance in hell of this working.


Basically I don't like that at Lower-Heroic (and even Upper-Heroic) you basically have more options than at higher level. Because of the reliance on enhancement bonuses to hit and the necessity of hitting ACs and NADs with ONLY your prime attribute; ANY ACTION which does not use your Primary Weapon AND your primary attribute is basically destined to fail. So while a level 1 (or 5) sword and board fighter can pull out his bow and engage in some ranged combat, but paragon (and espeically epic) this is a fool's errand as your dex won't have improved enough to give you a worthwhile chance of hitting. Even if you keep your bow at the level-approriate enhancement bonus, by end of the game you'd need 20's to hit.

When 4e first came out I was immediately struck by how cool the 3 defenses were and how the interaction of Attribute attack vs Defense could represent all sorts of cool options in the game. Throw in page 42 (if needed) for damage, and I had everything I would ever need to ajudicate cool and fun ideas on the fly.

Our heroic games were full of crazy and fun improv actions like that, or just standard stuff like Grabs, Bull Rushes, etc...used creatively to take advantage of the terrain or situation. By paragon and epic though, it was the same script of Encounter powers each and every fight.... anything else was either a.) not likely to succeed/hit or b.) just flat out worse (not enough damage, or it didn't blind, push 3 squares, and knock prone.. AND do a lot of damage all at the same time).

We've only run one game of 4e 1 to 30 (that first one). We've played a handful of mini-campaigns since then (in addition to Pathfinder) but ALL of them have one way or the other ended up being restricted to the Heroic tier.

Thoughts? 
There's feats and items and powers you can use to push a Titan. There's feats and items and powers you can use to prone a Pit Fiend, even as a Fighter. While most of them won't rank highly on CharOp, they do exist. If you don't like that you need magic items, feats, and specific powers in order to accomplish those things, don't play D&D.

From a CharOp perspective, there's a very good reason there's no builds based on Bull Rushing (though there are builds based on using a Reach 3-5 Flail/Whip/Polearm and Javelins that teleport enemies next to you). Those options, even in Heroic, while they are certainly childish fun, aren't very good tactically or thematically, even if you gave Bull Rush or Lasso an appropriate attack bonus to be able to hit, it would still be an utter waste to do them instead of using the options that do exist to create the same effect.

Also, this thread belongs in Houserules Forum if you don't want more replies like mine that just tell you you're playing the game wrong.
"Invokers are probably better round after round but Wizard dailies are devastating. Actually, devastating is too light a word. Wizard daily powers are soul crushing, encounter ending, havoc causing pieces of awesome." -AirPower25 Sear the Flesh, Purify the Soul; Harden the Heart, and Improve the Mind; Born of Blood, but Forged by Fire; The MECH warrior reaches perfection.
Basically I don't like that at Lower-Heroic (and even Upper-Heroic) you basically have more options than at higher level. Because of the reliance on enhancement bonuses to hit and the necessity of hitting ACs and NADs with ONLY your prime attribute; ANY ACTION which does not use your Primary Weapon AND your primary attribute is basically destined to fail.

The spread does get higher at higher level, as a result of the way the 4e treadmill advances.  If you're already using a tier bonus instead of expertise feats, that helps.  If you use Inherent Bonuses, that'll help a lot, too.  

Using a low stat to attack is always going to be a bad idea, even at low level, and a worse idea at high level.  Here's a couple of possibilities:



  • first, the obvious one for the player, try to use attributes that'll use your primary or secondary stat, so you don't run afoul of the problem in the first place.  Don't try to do things you know you're bad at.

  • as DM, you could be generous about DCs when a player does use a bad stat - lower the DC to reflect that the enemy wasn't expecting a strong-arm play from a dashing rogue or a clever ploy from the half-orc barbarian.

  • alternately, you could emphasise the phenomenon, use it to illustrate how much better PCs are getting at their areas of expertise and talent.  The fighter is /really/ strong not just because it says so on his sheet but because he can bull-rush a titan, while the rogue simply can't (never mind that the rogue can slide the titan 6).

  • If you want to get into house rules you could change the level 4, 8, etc stat bumps to general bonuses to all stats, like you get at 11th and 21st.  Stats'll get really high, but you'll preserve the balance you had at low level.

  • Or, to take that to its logical conclusion, you could do away with stat bumps, feat bonuses, enhancement/inherent bonuses, and just use an accross the board +1/level for everyone.



 

 

 

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Tony,

Your last point is the only one we ever thought of that would seem to work. Eliminate the need for any magic items and essentially flatten out the entire math of the game.  

We just weren't sure what (if any) other reprecussions it would have in the game... but in principle I like the idea... it means that a fighter could still use a ranged basic attack at level 30.. and be as likely to hit as he was when he was level 1. (assuming the target is level 30 as well).
 

We just weren't sure what (if any) other reprecussions it would have in the game... but in principle I like the idea... it means that a fighter could still use a ranged basic attack at level 30.. and be as likely to hit as he was when he was level 1. (assuming the target is level 30 as well).
 


I treat every stat boost level as 11th and 21st level; +1 to everything! I also apply inherent bonuses to stuff like bull rush and grab. (The booster feats give a flat +2 bonus.)

My group hasn't encountered any problems.
I've houseruled the whole game and all monsters to do away with the scaling level bonuses.

In my games there are no enhancement bonuses on weapons, there's a +1 bonus to attack and damage or defenses from masterwork items and a +2 bonus to attack and damage or defenses from magical items additionally all feats that grants a flat bonus to attacks or defenses are outlawed.

Furthermore the half level bonus have been removed completely, if you use monsters directly from the manuals this will cause some additional work (I've never used monster manuals for more than a source of inspiration and have handcrafted all opponents in all RPGs I have gamemastered) so for me this wasn't a problem, if you use monster manual monsters you will have to recalculate their attacks and defenses, however doing so opens up for alot of possibilities when designing encounters, challenging a level 10 party with 2 ordinary level 18 monsters is not really doable in standard 4e, but I have no problem doing so.

Also, a method I have found to make improvised attacks better is allowing my players to expend encounter or daily powers in order to boost their improvised attacks, then I just make the damage and effect of the improvised attack equal to an encounter or daily power corresponding to the level of the power they expend to buff the attack, this gives the players a great incentive to use their surroundings and be creative in combat situations.

The table I use for calculating monster attacks and defenses are as follows:
Show
Artillery:
AC: 15 + advancement
NAD Assignment: 14/12/12 + advancement
Attack vs AC: 18 + advancement
Attack vs NADs: 14 + advancement

Brute:
AC: 14 + advancement
NAD Assignment: 15/12/11 + advancement
Attack vs AC: 16 + advancement
Attack vs NADs: 13 + advancement

Controller:
AC: 14 + advancement
NAD Assignment: 14/13/11 + advancement
Attack vs AC: 15 + advancement
Attack vs NADs: 15 + advancement

Lurker:
AC: 16 + advancement
NAD Assignment: 14/13/11 + advancement
Attack vs AC: 18 + advancement
Attack vs NADs: 15 + advancement

Skirmisher:
AC: 15 + advancement
NAD Assignment: 13/13/12 + advancement
Attack vs AC: 17 + advancement
Attack vs NADs: 13 + advancement

Soldier:
AC: 16 + advancement
NAD Assignment: 13/13/12 + advancement
Attack vs AC: 18 + advancement
Attack vs NADs: 14 + advancement

Advancement means that you add a certain bonus to attacks and defenses at certain levels, advancement table is as follows:
Level 1 - +0
Level 2-3 - +1
Level 4-7 - +2
Level 8-11 - +3
Level 12-15 - +4
Level 16-19 - +5
Level 20-23 - +6
Level 24-27 - +7
Level 28-30 - +8

This advancement factors in that between levels 1 and 4 the whole group will gradually be getting masterwork weapons and armor for their adventuring and in between level 5 and 8 the whole group will be getting magical weapons and armor.
Also, a method I have found to make improvised attacks better is allowing my players to expend encounter or daily powers in order to boost their improvised attacks, then I just make the damage and effect of the improvised attack equal to an encounter or daily power corresponding to the level of the power they expend to buff the attack, this gives the players a great incentive to use their surroundings and be creative in combat situations.



This sounds really cool to me.
In general, I think the page 42 chart was made unfortunately weaker than it should be. As a rule of thumb I would want something like the following:
an improv action that is infinitely repeatable in all situations should be balanced against generic (non-enhanced) basic attacks. IE weaker than at-wills but not totally worthless. For example, tripping would be knocking prone with no further benefits.
For each of the following, scale up one tier:
1) If the improv action is especially appropriate to the situation, scale up one tier.
2) If the improv action is obviously not repeatable, scale up one tier. For example, knocking over a bookshelf onto someone: after doing it the bookshelf is knocked over and can't be knocked over again within the fight.
3) To integrate your idea, if the improv action uses up an encounter power scale up two tiers, if it uses up a daily scale up three tiers.

The tiers are as such:
0) unmodified basic attack
1) at-will attack (or pimped out basic attack like slayers/thieves/etc get).
2) encounter power
3) daily power
4+) ?Super awesome?

So without spending their normal resources, a PC could use a limited opportunity to make a particularly appropriate improvised action and have effects on par with essentially being a free encounter power.
If they spend a power in the process, I would probably consider an appropriate flavoring of how that particular power is used to create the effect to add to appropriateness.
For example, suppose there was a freestanding bookshelf next to the enemy.
If the fighter uses an encounter power that pushes and prones to hit the bookshelf and knock it into the enemy, I would want this to be an effect superior to the normal encounter power. Maybe I would make it so the bookshelf topples onto the enemy and pins them. They are proned, can't stand up (save ends), and take damage based on the power but using a higher die type for [W] (2d8?).
If the wizard, instead, wants to use Fireball and has the explosion center within the bookshelf so it sends out a wave of flaming books, I would bump it up above the standard daily damage/effect. So maybe it gets some dice of untyped additional damage (flying books from the explosion) and ongoing fire damage to those hit. If the wizard wanted to expend a different spell to achieve this effect (say, Sleep) and had an at-will fire spell that could justify getting the fire effect, I might let him do it but with a lesser total effect due to reduced appropriateness. 

Doing something like this might overall increase the powerlevel of PCs, but does so only in relation to the players' cleverness and willingness to improvise. By rewarding improv, you will of course get more of it. As improv becomes more consistantly present in your sessions, you can up the challenge level if you really need to in order to make improv all but necessary. Or you can just let them revel in their victory, whichever works better for you and your group.                     
In general I let improvised attacks have the same power as an at-will power, so a basic trip will be: Whatever stat is appropriate for the kind of trip (usually strength or dex) vs. reflex or fortitude, on a hit it will knock prone and deal damage equal to 1d4 + the stat mod used on the attack roll.

I feel that the players should get rewarded for improvised attacks even when they don't expend any powers on it, discouraging improvised attacks by making them weaker than standard powers does not help your players to get creative.

I can give you an example of an improvised attack from actual play:

Some time ago a group of 5 players of mine were fighting a bunch of goblins, the group were: 1 fighter, 1 barbarian, 1 warlord, 1 sorcerer and 1 ranger. Now the goblins were standing on the first floor of a ruined tower pelting the group with arrows, the ranger and sorcerer had found a broken wall to use for cover while trading shots with the goblins and the fighter, barbarian and warlord (having no good ranged attacks) were hugging the tower wall underneath the goblins to be out of their line of sight.

The tower was pretty big, which meant that the melee warriors would probably have to spend several turns finding the staircase to the goblins and the room they were holed up in, furthermore they didn't know if the first floor had another guardpost that they might have to fight their way through and the sorcerer and ranger were loosing their ranged battle.

Therefore the barbarian opted to use his rope and hook to try and pull a goblin down from their vantage point, after he got that idea the party fighter figured that he might have better success expending an encounter power on the pull, in the end the barbarian chose to use a level 1 daily power to pull down more than one goblin, I deemed that in this case it would be a close blast 3 power that didn't care if the goblins were on a vantage point, the attack would be Strength vs. Reflex, on a hit any goblin would take 2d12 + strength mod damage and would be slid to any square adjacent to the barbarian (falling damage included already in the damage calculation of the attack) on a miss it would knock the given goblin prone and deal strength mod damage. In the end 2 out of 3 goblins within blast were knocked down and quickly dispatched by the melee warriors while the last 3 goblins were shot down by the sorcerer and ranger.

In the end it all worked as intended, this was an average difficulty encounter that still could have caused mayor damage to the party, but as one daily power was expended to make it easier it all ended with only afew healing surges being used on it and the party was after a short rest, ready to head into the tower to clear the cellar.
Yeah, page 42 can be useful but really disourages improvised attacks. I've never considered the possibility of burning encounter powers for augmented improvised attacks, which I think is cool if the encounter power is appropriate -- but I have expanded the page 42 chart, and I do generally treat improvised attacks/moves as encounter-grade effects.

Especially among savvy players, it helps when they know that an improvised attack isn't just a missed opportunity to use an encounter power.
Tony,

Your last point is the only one we ever thought of that would seem to work. Eliminate the need for any magic items and essentially flatten out the entire math of the game.  

We just weren't sure what (if any) other reprecussions it would have in the game... but in principle I like the idea... it means that a fighter could still use a ranged basic attack at level 30.. and be as likely to hit as he was when he was level 1. (assuming the target is level 30 as well).
 

It works fine, at least, it works fine for the Gamma World game from levels 1-10.  ;)

 

 

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