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Hacking D&D 4E

Important note: this article discusses the use of CBLoader, a Windows program of questionable legality, to modify the core character generation rules of D&D 4e. This application reverse engineers the data used by the no longer supported offline character builder, and can be used to download fan versions of the D&D material released since the Essentials books, an action that may be viewed as being illegal depending on your country.

As a follow up to my thoughts on D&D Next, I started exploring methods of changing D&D 4e so that it had some of the aspects of Next, namely Bounded Accuracy and more emphasis on skills and less on combat.

While on paper, this can be an easy exercise, in reality, the sheer number of feats and powers mean building characters with these changes is difficult, and as such, I decided to try and edit the offline character builder to see if it could do these changes for me.

 

Bounded Accuracy

A big selling point in D&D Next is bounded accuracy, the idea that characters don’t automatically improve as they advance in levels, and magic items are not essential to a characters ability to hold their own in a fight. Dark Sun in 4e actually made the first step towards this, relying on the inherent bonuses rules, whereby a character can either gain a benefit from a magic item, or automatically gain the same numerical benefit to attacks or defences at a given level.4$e monster maths, while still slightly broken post the MM3 changes, kinda relies on the character improving, so in order to replicate bounded accuracy, I would turn inherent bonuses on, and only give a magic item when absolutely deserved.

However, one of the core pieces of maths in 4e is the 1/2 level bonus, accounting for a +1 increase to attack rolls, skill checks, defenses, passive perception/insight, and initiative every 2 levels. This rule is what essential means every character in 4e remains balanced, so that even if you are not trained in a skill, you continue to improve and can be useful to a party.

Its also incredibly easy to change!

In the 02-base.part file used by CBLoader to define the base rules, you’ll find a <statadd name=”HALF-LEVEL” value=”+1″ /> in the rules for every even numbered level. Simply removing this line, saving the file and running CBLoader removes this 1/2 level bonus. In the heroic tier, its removal is barely noticeable. By level 10 your defences, skills and attacks will only be 5 less, and is likely to only change the odds of you hitting from roughly 2/3rds of the time to 1/2 the time. By the end of epic though, a +15 discrepancy will ensure that epic tier monsters like Orcus are a truly terrifying threat!

 

Skills

An accusation that has constantly been levelled at 4e was that it was too focused on combat. With only a small percent of utility powers being designed for out of combat use, no backgrounds in the original rules etc, and no ‘crafting’ system in the skill list, it could be considered a fair accusation. But then gain, OD&D didn’t even have a skill system in the core rules, so people who claim 4e is not really D&D because of its combat focus can go fuck themselves…

Backgrounds in Next might or might not be part of the core character generation, I don’t think Mearls L&L articles have made that clear yet. Since they exist in 4e, lets make sure people select them! Personally, I find backgrounds as presented in PHB2 and after pretty boring – gain either a skill as a class skill that you can choose, or a +2 bonus to the skill, or gain an additional language choice. Luckily, they re not the only type of background released for 4e.

The first ‘adventure path’, Scales of War, introduced the concept of backgrounds in 4e, and started with a handful of flavoursome choices, which included a crafting system. Many of these were a +1 bonus to two or more skills, or a +3 in certain situations, or the ability to change the rules themselves like it taking four failed death saves to kill you. These backgrounds have conveniently being ignored by WotC in favour of the phb2 boring kind, whereas for most of my pre-gens for UK D&D Tweetup events, I use these originals. And I suggest you do too!

But given we’ve reduced skill enhancement with the bounded accuracy change, what else can we do to make skills more important? Again, WotC have already done half of the job, bringing us Skill Powers in phb3. Given how most utilities are combat focused and the game itself is combat focused, skill powers have been a fairly unpopular choice. However, its a fairly simple change to the 02-base.part file rules to force the selection of a skill power at level 2.

We could either make it the only choice (thus limiting the number of overall powers), or make it an additional choice… For now, we’ll presume the latter, and add <select type=”Power” name=”Skill Utility 2″ number=”1″ Category=”$$LEVEL,Skill Power” />

(NOTE: inside the character builder, it will allow you to select a skill power, but the description in the list of powers will say <Lose A Power> – something to do with a hardcoded limit?)

Another option, would be to allow an additional feat, say at level 4, to give skill focus. For this change, I created a new file 50-SkillFocus.part, and copied all the skill focus feats from the 09-Feats.part file. I then added a necessary header and footer tags, and <RulesElement name=”Skill Focus” type=”Category” internal-id=”ID_INTERNAL_CATEGORY_SKILLFOCUS” source=”Core” ></RulesElement> to the top of the file, and <Category> ID_INTERNAL_CATEGORY_SKILLFOCUS </Category> in every skill focus feat. Finally, I added <select type=”Feat” name=”Skill Focus” number=”1″ Category=”ID_INTERNAL_CATEGORY_SKILLFOCUS” /> to the level 4 rules section of 02-base.part.

Another option, would be to grant a +1 bonus to all the characters trained skills, and I’ve chosen to do this at levels 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30. For this change, simply add the following block into 02-base.part to the level rules section you want to grant it in.

<statadd name=”Acrobatics Misc” value=”+1″ requires=”Acrobatics Skill Training” />

<statadd name=”Arcana Misc” value=”+1″ requires=”Arcana Skill Training” />

<statadd name=”Athletics Misc” value=”+1″ requires=”Athletics Skill Training” />

<statadd name=”Bluff Misc” value=”+1″ requires=”Bluff Skill Training” />

<statadd name=”Diplomacy Misc” value=”+1″ requires=”Diplomacy Skill Training” />

<statadd name=”Dungeoneering Misc” value=”+1″ requires=”Dungeoneering Skill Training” />

<statadd name=”Endurance Misc” value=”+1″ requires=”Endurance Skill Training” />

<statadd name=”Heal Misc” value=”+1″ requires=”Heal Skill Training” />

<statadd name=”History Misc” value=”+1″ requires=”History Skill Training” />

<statadd name=”Insight Misc” value=”+1″ requires=”Insight Skill Training” />

<statadd name=”Intimidate Misc” value=”+1″ requires=”Intimidate Skill Training” />

<statadd name=”Nature Misc” value=”+1″ requires=”Nature Skill Training” />

<statadd name=”Perception Misc” value=”+1″ requires=”Perception Skill Training” />

<statadd name=”Religion Misc” value=”+1″ requires=”Religion Skill Training” />

<statadd name=”Stealth Misc” value=”+1″ requires=”Stealth Skill Training” />

<statadd name=”Streetwise Misc” value=”+1″ requires=”Streetwise Skill Training” />

<statadd name=”Thievery Misc” value=”+1″ requires=”Thievery Skill Training” />

 

Expertise Feats.

How many of your players or pre-gens take a weapon or implement expertise feat at level 1 or 2 to ensure that they keep up with regular hitters like the slayer? By level 2, its very easy to have a slayer with a +14 attack roll, while a mage might still be hanging back with a +5 or +6. And like i’ve said before, players hate to miss. So an expertise feat is often the first choice a player, gaining that extra +1 and another benefit.

For probably 2 years now, i’ve let my players take an expertise feat for free at level one. For some classes, such as the hunter, this is slightly overpowered, since they already gain an expertise feat as part of their class features, but on the whole, its a change that means that characters can use their other feats for more interesting choices – especially feats like the Disciple Of… added in the Essentials books.

Putting this into the character builder is a similar change to the skill focus listed above. The way I have done it is to create a new 51-ExpertiseFeats.part file, containing the necessary headers/footers, and a copy of all the Expertise feats from 09-feats.part. I’ve then add <RulesElement name=”Expertise Feats” type=”Category” internal-id=”ID_INTERNAL_CATEGORY_EXPERTISEFEATS” source=”Core” ></RulesElement> to the top, and <Category> ID_INTERNAL_CATEGORY_EXPERTISEFEATS </Category> to each feat. Finally, I added <select type=”Feat” name=”Free Expertise” number=”1″ Category=”ID_INTERNAL_CATEGORY_EXPERTISEFEATS” /> to the level 1 rules of the 02-base.part file.

 

Weapon Choice

One thing I should really have included in my list of likes in D&D Next is the fact that weapon proficiency stats have gone! Weapon proficiency, an aspect of the attack roll, is now directly tied to class, and makes weapon choice not dictated by the weapons accuracy, and instead only by its damage and coolness factor. This has been a major issue for me in 4e, because I have some really cool minis i’d love to use, but statistically, they suck!

This is a change i’m still trying to perfect, but my idea is this: Defenders in 4e should always have a +3 proficiency with a weapon. Strikers should be dependent on the weapon, i.e. as it currently is, while leaders should be +2, and controllers, who are generally non melee, such as the mage and sorcerer should be +1. This isn’t perfect though, because the Bladesinger is a melee controller, and classic magic user weapons like the staff, dagger and sling should be +2 imho. Anyway, for the moment, I’ve only granted the bonus to fighters/knights/slayers, by adding the following line to the grants rules section of 11-fighter.part. <statadd name=”weapon:attack” value=”+3″ type=”proficiency” /> The reason this works is because the offline character builder is hardcoded to use the highest bonus if multiple are available, and so it will always choose the +3 bonus, and as such, this makes setting it to +1 for controllers impossible as far as I can tell.

 

Making the Human Rock

It might have got nerfed in a recent Next playtest, but for several packets, the human has been designed to be the best stat’ed, with it getting +1 to all stats, AND +1 to one additional stat.

This is easy to replicate in 4e, by simple adding the following six lines below the humans <select type=”Race Ability Bonus” number=”1″ /> line in 06-races.part.

<grant name=”ID_INTERNAL_RACE_ABILITY_BONUS_CHARISMA” type=”Race Ability Bonus” />

<grant name=”ID_INTERNAL_RACE_ABILITY_BONUS_DEXTERITY” type=”Race Ability Bonus” />

<grant name=”ID_INTERNAL_RACE_ABILITY_BONUS_CONSTITUTION” type=”Race Ability Bonus” />

<grant name=”ID_INTERNAL_RACE_ABILITY_BONUS_WISDOM” type=”Race Ability Bonus” />

<grant name=”ID_INTERNAL_RACE_ABILITY_BONUS_INTELLIGENCE” type=”Race Ability Bonus” />

<grant name=”ID_INTERNAL_RACE_ABILITY_BONUS_STRENGTH” type=”Race Ability Bonus” />

Given the power of this change to humans in 4e, I personally wouldn’t do this!

 

Die PC Die

One aspect of D&D Next is a much lower hit point total, where a level 1 character can survive about 2 average hits, compared to 4 hits for a 4e level 1 pc. Given a slightly higher average damage output in 4e, I personally wouldn’t change it to Nexts level of hit points, but it’s a simple change to take it from 10 + cons stat, to 10 + cons mod. Replace <statadd name=”Hit Points” value=”+Constitution” type=”Level 1″ /> with <statadd name=”Hit Points” value=”+ABILITYMOD(con)” type=”Level 1″ />.

2 comments

  1. BlindGeekUK

    Other changes:

    These changes are not linked to Next’s methods of character advancement and more just general changes…

    Initiative:
    I tooke out the half level line in level 1 rules of 02-base.part, and instead, replaced it with , meaning you either get your Int mod or your Dex mod as a bonus to initiative.

    Focus Feats:
    Everyone complains that 4e fights take too long, so lets up the amount of damage someone can do… Focus feats give the pc a +1 bonus to damage per tier. +1 is pretty pointsless, and its fairly easy to change these to be, say, a +3 damage bonus per tier…

  2. Mark

    Where would someone find these fan based links for updating the un-updateable character builder?
    Thanks,

    Mark

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