Posted by : David Guyll August 10, 2013

One of my criticisms about Next is the lack of being able to make meaningful decisions both when building a character and during level up, as most levels of most classes have predetermined class features.

Sure at 2nd- or 3rd-level you get to pick a kind of theme (which you may not agree with), but this one choice predetermines everything else you get for the rest of the game. This is not only boring, but limits a class to one interpretation of a concept and makes it needlessly more difficult--if not impossible--for a player to build the character that they want.

To better illustrate my point I decided to compare the barbarian class in 3rd Edition, 4th Edition, 5th Edition, and 13th Age.

3RD EDITION
You get fast movement (+10 ft. speed when not in heavy armor) and can rage once per day (bonus to attack, damage, and Will saves). For some reason you cannot read or write unless you spend two skill points. The only thing you can customize here is how you distribute your skill points and where to spend a feat.


An example of several half-orc barbarians.
4TH EDITION
All barbarians gain a scaling bonus to AC and Reflex when not in heavy armor, rage strike (which lets you keep using daily attacks without losing the benefits of a previously activated one if you do not want to), and Rampage (if you score a critical hit, you get to make a free attack).

From there you choose from one of four Feral Might options: Rageblood is your more straightforward beat 'em up type, Thaneborn is if you want to be a leader, Thunderborn have strong ties to thunder-based primal spirits, and Whirling is for dual-wielders. Each class feature gives you a unique ability, and can potentially grant bonuses to certain thematically appropriate evocations.

You also get to choose four evocations at the start: two can be used at any time, one can be used once per battle, and one--the "rage" powers--can be used each day. Rages tend to deal a lot of damage and grant continuous effects for the remainder of the battle.

Like 3rd Edition you still get to choose skills and a feat. Unlike 3rd Edition feats can give you both skills and limited access to features from another class (further expanding customization).

5TH EDITION
Speaking of 3rd Edition, the 5th Edition version is much the same in that you do not get to choose anything, at least at the start: at 3rd-level you get to choose from one of two features that lock a group of five options for the rest of the game (you cannot pick from both trees). Feats are optional, but can add some much needed customization if you use them, and skills are throttled into two "fields of lore".

More half-orc barbarians.
13TH AGE
You start with rage, because all barbarians must rage, but get to pick three barbarian talents from a list of six. The amount of talents you know increases as you level, with levels 5 and 8 adding two more to the list. Instead of skills you spend 8 background points on aspects of your character that make the most sense to you (up to a +5 bonus). They are not linked to ability scores. You get to spend a feat, and while there are general ones race and class talents can also be boosted with them, too.

FINAL VERDICT
3rd and 5th Edition come in miles behind 4th Edition and 13th Age, which are both about the same in my book: I love the amount of options and flexibility that 4th Edition gives you, but the sheer number that you start with and the amount you will end up with can make it cumbersome for some players to keep track of. 13th Age slims down character options, while still giving you almost complete control of the reins, making it ideal for players that want control without all the content.

If you wanted to make things even simpler you could take a page from Dungeon World, having most classes start with the same stuff, but you get to pick what you gain as you level up. We just played our first session of Numenera last night, and building characters was a snap despite being able to actually pick some things. I do not think it is as difficult or cumbersome as it sounds. Why not at least give it a shot?

{ 18 comments... read them below or Comment }

  1. What are you talking about? All of those barbarian pictures are exactly the same!

    ...

    Oh, wait....

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  2. Honestly I felt much more fulfilled with my 3.5 Barbarian than I ever did with my 4e Barbarian. To me the 4e Barbarian (like all the 4e classes to me) where nothing more tan a stack of skills/feats/abilities and nothing else. It felt artificial to me. While the 3.5 Barbarian had less options he felt far more organic in execution and play.

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  3. I am not sure how it could feel more organic when you are not given any options at all, or how why only 4th Edition just seems like a stack of things. How to you differentiate barbarians from, say, the Wolf and Bear clans? What about barbarians from the frozen north or the great forest? Is it organic for two or more barbarians to have identical capabilities?

    In 4th Edition you could at least choose different evocations to emphasize a concept: Tiger clan barbarians probably have evocations that increase their speed (howling strike and swift panther rage) and use two weapons, while Bear clan could stick with lots of high-damage powers (devastating strike and avalanche strike).

    Even if you do not care about those things, 4th Edition still gives you four solid barbarian concepts to work with (and that does not even include the berserker subclass from Heroes of the Feywild).

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  4. yeah, I love the Whirling barbarian form Primal Power, dual wielding will never not work for me XD

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  5. I really liked how dual-wielding actually worked in 4th Edition.

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    1. 4e got me hooked on the concept. Now, I can't read a book with a dual-wielding protagonist without going gaga :)

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  6. 5E scaled it back but did not in any way lessen a person's ability to create the charcter they want. The difference is having everything up front or actually roleplaying your character into a persona. I hear a lot of push back on this idea of "power players" but your grip is exactly what is described as "power player". Which is to say, if I cannot create the whole picture now - then the picture is not worth the effort.

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  7. @Anon: That is not at all what I said, and I have no idea how or why you are associating making choices at a level up as something that (only?) a "power player" wants.

    My point is that 5th Edition, unlike 4th Edition, almost entirely removes your ability to make meaningful choices when you level up. I'm curious why you think that allowing players to choose how their characters grow is power-gaming.

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  8. @David: You did say, "Speaking of 3rd Edition, the 5th Edition version is much the same in that you do not get to choose anything, at least at the start: at 3rd-level you get to choose from one of two features that lock a group of five options for the rest of the game (you cannot pick from both trees)." I am not arguing the mechanic of choosing skills either, I am just saying that there is nothing wrong with scaling the process back. This idea that you have to have all options on the table right NOW is what leads to "power gaming". Always looking for the loop-hole so that you can conquer the world before 5th level. You post is fine...it's an awesome comparison of the editions in relation to the barbarian. It really bring to light, at least for me, how the rpg-gamers are advancing the hobby. As the consumer so goes the product. I guess my biggest grip is the knock on the 5E - in my opinion, it's the greatest thing to happen to DnD after the 4th edition crash and burnned (and for good reason). But, I concur, when you all boil it down whos to tell you how to have fun? Game On!

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  9. They aren't scaling anything back (you still add something new at each level), they are just charging you more ($50 per book) for doing less work. I mean, anyone could just crack open their 3rd Edition books (or use the d20srd) to get the EXACT same 5th Edition experience, but WotC, like Paizo, found a way to just recycle content and make you pay for it all over again.

    I disagree that having more options on the table leads to power-gaming. Maybe in your group players are trying to conquer the world at 5th level or whatever, but I don't see anyone power gaming in 4th Edition, Apocalypse World, Dungeon World, 13th Age, or Numenera, and those are games (a few incredibly simple, at that) where you get to choose something at each level.

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  10. I can't still understand all the hate towards 4e.I'm a fan of this edition but l would never tell to a 5e lover that it's a good thing if it will crash and be burned;it's selfish and unpolite

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    1. @Anon: I don't understand it, either.

      Many of the pro-5E crowd makes me think of the Social Justice Warriors/pseudo-activists/outrage brigade I deal with frequently: if 4E does something like use minis and give non-magical daily abilities, it's a MMO/boardgame/minis-skirmish game, but if 5E does it?

      Peeerfectly fine!

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    2. The 4E gripe is basically this idea that a character must be a demi-God by the 5th level and the players who feel that an rpg isn't flexible, versatile or allowing for personal creativity then it's somehow cheating you. Look, the 5E is much different in play than the 4E, don't kid yourself. If you want to play a video/WWC like rpg on paper go right ahead. People who dislike ie. hate the 4E do so because it is a huge leap away from the fundamental mechanics of where DnD was headed under the leadership of TSR. In a nutshell that's pretty much the issue.

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    3. @Anon: If you think 4th Edition characters were demi-gods by 5th-level, then you've either never fucking played it or have a very strange definition of what a demi-god is. I'm banking on both.

      Aaand there's the tried-and-true (false) claims of it "being a video-game on paper". Don't worry about us: my group and I will just have to I guess keep slogging along, playing D&D with a d20, leveling up, getting treasure, and sometimes using minis like we've done in EVERY edition because you're flat out fucking wrong.

      You hate 4th Edition, but since you're just parroting amateur trollshit I can only guess that the real reason is simply because it's different. In all good ways mind you, but that doesn't matter.

      Frankly you're the one that's kidding yourself.

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    4. @ David. Your attitude proves my point spot on. The only reason for it is because you know I am right. 4E is the video WOWC on paper. I am okay with that - go right ahead and play the way you and you groupies feel more "comfortable". I agree my illustration of demi-god before the 5th level was a bit much, but I was doing what is called "over exaggerating a point" but a point none-the-less. But, I never do expect the sniveling RPG junkies of the 4E to understand much of anything about "roleplaying" - so, no skin off my nose brah! I WAS enjoying a constructive conversation, but since that is beyond you, I guess you can stay jaded. You seem to like it that way, you know, entitled to everything before you actually earn anything. 4E is ridiculous, 5E is making effort to tone it down. Nothing is absolutely perfect, get over yourself.

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    5. @Anon: Translation: I can't actually refute anything you're saying, so I'm going to pretend to be offended in order to try and prevent anyone from noticing that all I'm doing is shitting out walls of text that do nothing but make baseless claims about roleplaying, power gaming, video games, etc.

      Because if you had a point then you would both have already made it AND not had to exaggerate anything.

      You're an idiot who doesn't know what roleplaying or power gaming even is. You don't like 4th Edition, heard some ignorant nobodies on a forum say that it's "a MMO-minis-board game all about kewl powers where no one ever dies" (or some trollshit along those lines), so keep going around parroting it to make yourself feel superior, like you're playing D&D "right" (or even different from people playing 4th Edition).

      How about instead of making uninformed comments on articles that are over a year old under the pretense of being civil, just go play your lazily designed rehash with same-y classes, boring monsters, and "awesome magic items" like +1 swords. I hear 5th Edition even has Forgotten Realms, now.

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    6. David I made my point in the first post. 4E has no sense of progression and the 5E has attempted to tone it down to a level more in line with the original versions of the game ie. before 3.0. or you could even say, before the take over of Wizards of The Coast. You cannot tell me you really think that when someone says "video game-like" you honestly think they mean actual video-gaming? seriously? What is meant when someone likens the 4E to video-gaming is that the progression of power offered to classes moves very quickly and the overall creation of a character requires absolutely NO imagination because the player's handbook spells out every detail - no personal impute needed. I don't feel superior having voiced an opinion. My objection was you harping on a 5E game before it was even available for play. You are right - a year old post and your harping on the 5E and you still have the gall to say that I haven't played 4E enough to have an opinion??? You liken me to an ignorant nobody and you don't even know who I am? hmmm. Look man, I respect your website and MOST of your feedback on roleplaying in general and always will. Not many people have been as involved in writing RPGs (publishable) that are actually decent. I made my point, it was fairly simple and judging from the overall feedback of the 4E, it was pretty well accepted by the public.

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    7. @Anon: Yeah, the whole gaining more hit points and abilities isn't in any way indicative of progress.

      5th Edition hasn't "toned it down". What class features you get can be forgettable, but it's still more complicated than 3rd Edition, and MUCH more complicated than 2nd Edition (both of which suffered from "dead levels").

      No, I don't think that people mean actual video gaming: they just say it because it sounds like a negative thing. Kind of how like calling people a social justice warrior is used to identify someone who pretends to give a shit about other people, but instead of actually doing anything just clicks +1 or like while still feeling morally fulfilled.

      Rapid progression? Yeah, choosing a single new power, maybe a feat (or maybe only a feat) is REALLY overwhelming. You get something at every level in 5th Edition: I'm curious how you cope with so much, so fast.

      No imagination? Wait wait wait, are you talking about 4th or 5th now? Because, your description is ironically 5th Edition: you don't make choices, you just get what you're given, and at 3rd level you can make a single choice that locks in everything else down the road.

      I "have the gall" because it's obvious from your "criticisms" of it the progression being too fast, there being no imagination, and the PH spelling out every detail that you haven't (which is ironically true of 5th), or deliberately didn't give it a legitimate chance. Take your pick.

      The difference is that I DID give 5th Edition a legitimate chance. Go read my play reports: I go from optimistic, to hopeful, to apathetic as the two years of what could laughably be considered development petered on.

      Case in point, how does my criticism of the barbarian differ from the final version? It doesn't: it's still same-y, pointlessly restrictive, and utterly fucking boring.

      I don't need to know who you are. I don't care to know who you are: I'm addressing your ridiculous, hypocritical, and/or uninformed claims. What do you expect me to think when you come here and tell me that the 4th Edition PH "spells out every detail", when in reality it has you make damn near EVERY choice about your character.

      Now THAT'S a legitimate criticism: that 4th Edition has you make too many choices at the start of the game, that it's hard to sit down and get playing withing 15 minutes unless characters are made before hand. Coming here and telling me that you don't use your imagination, or that you don't have to think?

      You sound like a troll, a troll that read some trollshit six or so years ago and just kept repeating it until you believed it.

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