Monday, October 12, 2009

It Ain't Easy Being Broken

I don't play D&D for a living anymore, but I still play D&D. And my half-orc rogue was recently petrified, so it was time to make up a new character. (We still have a rogue in the party, so I didn't lobby too hard for a "rescue the statue" effort.)

We didn't have a controller of any stripe, and I wanted to roleplay a sophisticate, so wizard was perfect. The party had been dealing with the githyanki all along, so my githyanki orb-of-imposition wizard was born.

I stacked all the save penalties I could find--and there are quite a few. Right now I can impose a -10 save penalty once a day. Give me another level, and I think I'll be up to -14. That's what I call a lockdown, and it makes simple stuff like the sleep spell pack quite a controllerish wallop.

I'm not the only one who's ever discovered this--I subsequently saw the Character Optimization board thread on the Orbizard. This character lets me scratch an itch I've had ever since I worked on the wizard, long before 4th edition saw print, and I wondered whether you could stack the save penalties high enough to make it a sure thing. (Answer: Yes!) Recent additions like Adventurer's Vault and an invoker paragon path make it potent from the early teens onward.

But it's interesting to actually play with a "sure thing" like that obscene save penalty. Playing the character becomes fraught with tension. Because I know I've got such a strong combo, I have to carefully assess each combat situation and really deploy it where it counts. That's often harder than it looks. Right now I have an "I probably win" button, but knowing when to press...that pushes some other skills pretty hard. So it's not as much of a gimme as it appears.

I'm reminded of my days as the managing editor of the Magic: The Gathering magazine, during the Urza block. Until the banhammer came down, there was an extraordinarily strong deck in Type II (Standard) constructed play called "Tolarian Blue" or "Academy" or something similar, depending on whom you were asking. The engine of the deck was pretty simple--throw out a bunch of no-cost or low-cost artifacts, use the Tolarian Academy card to get one mana for each artifact in play, then use Stroke of Genius to either draw a bunch of cards yourself (if you didn't have enough mana or cards to pull off the win yet) or force your opponent to draw so many cards that he ran out. Oh, and you'd use Mind Over Matter and discard a card to untap Tolarian Academy twice in a turn.

When you look at the pieces of the combo, it's not too hard to grasp. It wasn't until you actually built the deck and tried to play it that you realized how tricky it actually was. You had to know how many of the key combo cards were in your library and what your chances were of pulling them with a given Stroke of Genius. In the hands of a Magic Pro Tour regular, not a big deal. But you could beat a lot of ordinary civilians who'd assembled that deck, because it was bah-roken, but it wasn't easy mode.

So that's the feeling I'm getting with my orbizard right now. The question of threat assessment is keeping it interesting for me.

And since I'm crossing the streams anyway, I think there might be a powerful D&D build that uses Magic's concept of graveyard recursion. There are already some ways to get those per-encounter and per-day attacks back into your proverbial hand. Are there enough to be fully recursive? Probably not...yet. But I'll bet that build emerges in another year or two, as more parts of the combo see print.

Out of Context: Brains!
Music: Rodrigo y Gabriela, 11:11

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