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Friday, March 1, 2013

Of #dndnext Rogues and... Terence Hill..!

Hello guys!

Some of you may have noticed I didn't post anything in a long while, and as I had declared on Twitter once, it's mostly because of real life, not because I lost any interest in the hobby.

I actually haven't got any time to play D&D Next recently (#dndnext), but I did examine the latest playtest packet throughout. And I must say that I'm starting to really love what the designers are doing.
And as the title suggests, I'm mostly happy of what they have finally done with the Rogue class.

In all the editions of D&D until the 4th, the Rogue has always been a tough class to play. Which is to say, an underpowered class. I know, it can be the subject of heated discussions, but we're talking opinions here.
Even during 3rd edition, in which the Rogue actually got some good damaging potential, it was crippled in one way or another. And with the advent of 4th edition, it simply became like every other striker class, with a lot of overlap with the Ranger, which could actually do/be the same with just some reskinning.

What I always felt very lacking in D&D's Rogue though, wasn't actually the power level. After all, the players who dig Rogues, will play Rogues even if they're underpowered (although I don't think that's fair).
What I felt the designers never quite accomplished with the Rogue was nailing the flavor of it.

There are two possible Rogue flavors to be nailed, in my opinion:

  1. The sensu-strictu D&D Rogue/Thief.
  2. The real-world/real-fantasy Rogue.

It's nearly impossible to get the first one wrong in any edition: it's actually the model which spawned from the (in my opinion very flawed) designs of the class since the early days. Which is to say the one with a handful of special skills (which could be exclusive or not, depending on the editions), a backstab mechanic of varying degrees of power and usability, and mediocrity all over the rest.

While many people are fine with this archetype, seeing the extra skills of the Rogue as "compensating" its weaknesses, I think that the designers finally understood that it was an Apples & Bananas comparison/balancing act.

D&D Next first solved this "Skills VS Combat" issue by detaching skills from class, getting worldwide acclaim for the move.

But what I'm talking about here, is that the latest D&D Next Rogue is finally beginning to nail the second, and very diverse and all-encompassing type of Rogue. The one that we see in the movies, the books, and even real life, all days. The Rogue that accomplishes amazing actions possibly without even attacking, and certainly without relying on the same old backstabbing and hiding.

I have always had two personal idols in my life, when it comes to roguish characters: Bud Spencer & Terence Hill!! :-D 

The world-famous duo of actors from the 70s are, in my opinion, icons of the ever-under-represented Rogue archetypes. 
Terence Hills's typical characters in particular (which are always more or less the same), are in my opinion the epitome of "roguishness", and yet it has always been IMPOSSIBLE to represent the iconic Terence Hill in D&D, even if the archetype adapts to fantasy tropes just about perfectly.

Terence Hill's Rogue characters are deadly in combat. But they never fight fair, nor conventionally. And many, many times, they are deadly without even fighting at all! :-D 
What Terence Hill does exceptionally well is tricking his enemies into hitting each other, confounding each other, and face painful blows when they get distracted somehow.

The Rogue Scheme called "Slippery Target", combined with some skill tricks such as Taunt, Tumble, and Unassuming Target, make for a perfect Terence Hill type Rogue. He dives into the fray, gets missed, redirects blows of enemies into other enemies, attracts the attention, even defends the occasional ally, and generally causes a lot of confusion (and thus control) over large mobs, even without hitting anybody.

It is the first time in the history of the game, in which we see a Rogue capable of being useful and FUN, without having to actually attack anybody.
I think this is an immense victory of D&D Next, and an entire new path that I hope they'll walk and explore from now on.

Another thing that I like in particular of this new approach towards the Rogue is the exceptional diversity of "tactical roles" (in 4th edition sense, if you want) which the class can cover, by simply changing actions turn after turn. It can control, defend, and strike seamlessly. Only leaderesque aspects are missing, and I think it's perfectly fine, since the Rogue, even when it helps others, does so in ways that are covered by controlling and defending already.

A 4th edition hardcore fan may call "overpowered" by hearing that a class has access to three roles from the get-go, but the catch here is that they will never be able to perform all these tactics in one turn. And that's the only case in which I could see too much power in the many-roles aspect of any class.

Personally, I now hope that EVERY class gets this kind of treatment somehow. I'm not saying that they should copy the Rogue mechanics, but that they should copy the Rogue's potential for different archetypes and variety of roles. The Fighter in particular would feel awesome perhaps for the first time in the game history, flavor-wise, if they finally gave it some meaningful options to be considered on a turn-by-turn basis, and the ability to change tactical role by simply doing something instead of something else.

I'm nearly sure that the direction taken will be followed, because I really can't see anything but praise for this new Rogue. So I think the designers will learn the lesson, and will inevitably end up applying it to other classes, where needed.

Bright days ahead for D&D!!