Friday, August 22, 2008

Reading Exceptions

The gleemax thread I referenced in the comments here continues to bug me. The memory of it nags at me and threatens to turn me into an xkcd character. This might be the longest post I've written, but I need to get this off my chest.

4th edition D&D uses exception-based design. Earlier editions use... something else, I guess. What the heck is non-exception-based game design called? I've exhausted my patience with Google and not found an answer. Anyway, exception-based game design requires a different way of reading rules. It seems that one of the most important is recognizing what is an exception and what isn't. This would seem to be obvious, but... well, just go read the gleemax thread (note: I only made it to about page 5 before I thought my head would explode, and as I write this the thread is still expanding at a rate of about a post every half hour).

OK, so there seem to be people who can't agree on what's an exception and what isn't. Since Commander's Strike started this, let's walk through it and see what's what. This is going to be similar to the post by MrCelsius on page 4, but I'm going to try to be even clearer and quote page sources to back me up.

Commander’s Strike Warlord Attack 1
With a shout, you command an ally to attack.

The name, class, type, level and flavor. Stock stuff and meaningless fluff. Let's move on.

At-Will * Martial, Weapon
Standard Action Melee weapon
Target: One creature

These lines are nothing but keywords and types that can be found on dozens of other powers, and have definitions clearly laid out in the base rules. These are not exceptions. The key ones for our purposes are:
Weapon - the power's weapon keyword, which means "[the power] can be used only if you’re wielding a weapon" and "A weapon’s reach or range determines the reach or range of a power it’s used with." (PHB pg 56)
Melee weapon - the type and range of the power, clearly defined on PHB pg 56: "A melee power affects a target (or targets) within melee reach" and "[the power] allows you to attack a target within the reach of the weapon you’re wielding."

So the standard keywords tell us, not once but twice, that the Commander's Strike power works at a range of the reach of the warlord's melee weapon. The Target line tells us that one creature is designated by the warlord as a target, just like with dozens of other "Melee weapon" range powers. This will matter in just a moment...

Attack: An ally of your choice makes a melee basic attack against the target

Here we finally reach our first exception. Instead of the standard "Strength vs. AC" that would mean the warlord makes an attack, an ally attacks the target. There's another exception in here , wrapped in a non-exception. The effect of the melee basic attack is spelled out on page 287 of the PHB. We don't have to spell out an attack of Strength vs. AC or a range of Melee weapon for the ally - these are covered in the definition of melee basic attack and no exceptions to them are called out. However, we also know from the standard Target line above that the warlord chooses the target. Even though the standard target of a melee basic attack is one creature (chosen by the attacker), that target is superseded by the "against the target" exception.

Hit: Ally’s basic attack damage + your Intelligence modifier.

We end with another exception. This line could probably be left off if the warlord's Intelligence didn't modify the damage, since the ally's melee basic attack is defined to do melee basic attack damage (1[W] + Strength modifier damage, Increase damage to 2[W] + Strength modifier at 21st level) anyway.

Whew. Now having done all this digging and research, I also have to inform my warlord player that it clearly states on PHB pg 57 that "ally" does not include you, so she can't use Commander's Strike to give herself a damage-boosted basic attack as an at-will power any more...


Jonathan said...

361 posts when I reached your blog... Gleemax is rediculous. Actually.. most forums are. I avoid them now since i MUCH rather follow people's blog than some thread started my Mr. & Mrs. Forum Troll. heh... 362 posts now...

Gregor LeBlaque said...

Welcome, jonathan, and thanks for the thread update... I think. I recently added The Core Mechanic to my reading list.

I'm with you - the only forum I could ever stand was Monte Cook's Okay Your Turn, and since discovering the RPG blogs that are out there now I haven't made time to even keep up over there.

Questing GM said...

I have long given up on Gleemax because it's too full of trolls and you put my case in point.

Also, Gleemax is such a pain to navigate through.

Gregor LeBlaque said...

I've only ever ended up on gleemax through a google search, so I have no experience with the navigation problems people are always going on about. I've sure read a lot of vague complaints about them, though.

I've heard people say the same thing about the main site, and that's always really confused me. Granted, my navigation of that site ignores their clever menus and crap and usually consists of one click - Under Home on the left there's an Archives link. That sends you here.

A list of all recent D&D-related articles, in reverse chronological order, plus links to all the older ones by year. I scroll down 'til I see something I know I've read, then work my way up, Ctrl-clicking links into new Firefox tabs 'til I reach the top. Then I go through the tabs and read everything.

I dunno if that will work for anybody else, but I'll throw it out there in case it might help someone. If it's really helpful maybe I can throw together a "how to navigate the site" blog post later. This comment is already longer than some of my posts :)

Jonathan said...

bah... just subscribe to the D&D RSS feed from Wizards - same as the archive, but no need to check the page.

Here's the link:

way easier IMHO

Gregor LeBlaque said...

*slaps forehead*
Thanks, jonathan!

I can't believe I never noticed the RSS icon in my address bar at that site.

Never thought WotC would be that on the ball, I guess.