Characters Paragon Wild

I hear the latest 4e rules update brings a lot of big changes especially in the realm of plugging holes in broken character combos. In light of these updates, Ameron from Dungeon’s Master has retired his broken Sorceror Daggermaster, a combo that used to mix a Rogue paragon class’ bonuses with Sorceror abilities. In the same day Rob Donoghue published a post about the difficulty of reconciling a paragon path’s powers with its flavor and then shoehorning it on to a character. This begs the question: what’s the purpose of paragon paths?

First a little history. Back in 2nd Edition we had class kits which were basically optional builds that were presented in the splat books. The kits provided additional abilities and power swaps, and were generally intended for a specific base class. These were intended to be used at character creation time. So you made a particular type of Paladin (Cavalier) or Rogue (Swashbuckler) from the start. In 3rd, we had Prestige classes, which were optional multi-classes that did not count towards a multi-class limit. Some were meant for specific classes, and some were open to any character that met certain prerequisites. The idea here is that a character would earn specialized levels in a specific organization (The Harpers), handling certain skills or enviroments (an Explorer), or subscribed to a certain philosophy (Assassin). For many of us, we had a particular prestige class in mind when we built a character, and tried to craft a story around obtaining that class. But that generally did not work out very well because either the prestige class’ powers were not as good as taking another level in your base class, or were too overpowered and unbalanced the fun for everyone else.

In 4th edition, everyone gets a paragon path, and with continuous rules updates, it’s harder to build a legal, broken character. The downside as Rob points out is that it is also hard to build a story around the paragon paths. Maybe it’s because I don’t find the paragon paths particularly compelling… they are often based on the unattractive 4e cosmology. Also, I haven’t been considering what paragon path my character will take once he reaches 11th level. I haven’t done this because I don’t know where my character is going (we’re only 8th level) and partly because every month a whole set of new paragon paths come out, changing the landscape.

What I think I want is some set of rules to build a custom paragon path for my character, and is also balanced. For example I’ve built my Psion as a character whose job is to hunt down evil wizards. Ideally I want to build an “arcane hunter” paragon path that gives him powers in those areas, even though this is not at all the focus of our campaign.

What do people think of paragon paths? Do they add to the feel of a character or do they just provide more attacks to choose from?

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6 thoughts on “Characters Paragon Wild

  1. My players haven’t quite hit paragon level yet, so I don’t really have any practical experience with paragon paths yet. I tend to build characters in the Character Builder a lot, and I often level my favorites up to paragon and epic levels, just for fun. I can tell you that, when I find a paragon path that fits particularly well thematically with a character, it makes me smile. Sometimes, though, the mechanics fit really well, but the theme needs to be tweaked a bit.

    And that’s the thing about paragon paths in 4e; because they offer almost exclusively combat-oriented benefits, it can be difficult to reconcile thematic elements with mechanical elements. There’s a paragon path (I forget the name) that allows you to become a spy, but mechanically it just makes you better at fighting in a slightly sneaky way. Not really very spy-ish, but still useful. The opposite is also sometimes true, though; some paragon paths include mechanics that are extremely congruent with their underlying themes, and these are the ones I often wind up liking a lot and mentally filing away for later use.

    I think that, in practice, a player who enters into a paragon path should simply choose the one that speaks to them the most, whether mechanically or thematically, and not worry too much about whether the mechanics and the flavor match up. Flavor can always be tweaked, and mechanics can always be re-skinned.

    In general, I’m in favor of anything that allows players to tell their characters’ stories more effectively; I think that paragon paths can do that, even if not all of them are created equal for that purpose.

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  3. I like the concept of paragon paths and epic destinies as a way to clarify your vision of your character, even if they don’t always work out perfectly.

    Say you had a party with a dragonborn fighter and a human fighter who both became adventurers. During one adventure the party goes through a crumbling Arkhosian temple to stop cultists attempting to create a dracolich, and the dragonborn fighter enjoys having the spotlight on him as he makes up stories about the glories of Old Arkhosia and gives a dramatic speech about not digging up the ghosts of the past to the cultists before he lays into them. Later, while trying to gather information about a traveling warlord the party suspects is a bad guy, the dragonborn fighter contacts a local dragonborn mercenary group and parlays with them for information. By the time he reaches paragon tier the dragonborn fighter’s player decides that being a dragonborn is really important to his character and he wants to keep going in that vein, so he picks the Scion of Arkhosia path.

    Meanwhile, the human fighter is meant to be a very intimidating and determined character, a man of action and not words. The player likes throwing his character into the thick of things and cutting through the enemies, even though he gets in over his head at times. At paragon tier he takes the Dreadnought path to represent his unstoppable nature.

    So, even though those two fighers might have started the game mechanically similar and completely devoid of a backstory, the paragon paths helped them solidify their character. Of course, that’s just in theory. In practice it can sometimes be a pain to find a paragon path that fits perfectly with what you had in mind either fluff or mechanics-wise. Like I said before, it’s not a perfect system, but I like that it’s there.

    As for your psion, I would definitely wait a while before really thinking about your paragon path. You might need to refluff one of the already existing ones, but maybe Psionic Power will be out by the time you hit level 11, or a dragon article with some psionic paths. Hopefully there’ll be a paragon path that fits perfectly with your arcane-hunting PC. :)

  4. One upshot of thinking about all this has been a growing suspicion that 4E advancement is that the speedbumps between the tiers are really much more profound than I’d previously considered. Whereas previously I had thought of them as rough guidelines, I have been wondering if maybe the game is better if you think of them as hard barriers.

    Yes, that’s somewhat antithetical to the general D&D model, but in all three cases, the 10 level arc of advancement is enough to tell a pretty amazing story, and if there’s a desire to bring the same character’s forward then it’s not impossible to do so with a “season break” sort of approach, but I’m no longer convinced of the necessity of it. Better in many cases to simply create characters at level 1, 11 or 21 depending on the needs of the campaign. And when you create the character, the process is a little different since the first choice changes (class at 1, PP at 11, ED at 21) in a way that hopefully says a little bit more about the character,

    Similarly, the narrowed level range should I’d hope. give a campaign a more intense level of focus. Not necessarily great for meandering adventure of the week games, but for folks pressed for time who really wan tot drive towards something hard core? I think it might be a blessing.

    -Rob D.

    PS – Here’s the one other thing I’ve realized about Paragon paths. Once you’ve taken the powers, most of them are pretty forgettable. Your class is a powerful and iconic image. Most (though not all) Epic Destinies are powerful, iconic images. Your Paragon path is….neither powerful nor iconic. It’s just there.

  5. @Rob,

    Even though it never happens, I really want to play out that progression in a campaign. To really develop that character and build up an in-game nostalgia for when we were only chased by kobolds and had to work for weeks to save up for a healing potion. :) What I really would like is something like in Final Fantasy (1) where halfway though the game you get a class upgrade. Prestige classes were kinda like that, except the suck.

    I think with PP, maybe the ones in the book are too specific/flavored. Each of the base classes seem pretty transferrable between worlds, so maybe the paragon paths should be more like that. Some of the martial ones sorta are, i guess.

    It’s true though that the game seems to have a very different flavor at each of the tiers, although I’ve only played heroic.

    @shyDM,

    That’s a good point. Now that we have two defenders and are getting close to 11th, it’ll be interesting to see how the two characters go. I’m going to keep up hope for some new options, but I’m sure once I actually have to make the choice I’ll find something interesting.

    @Brian,
    Interesting. I wish there was a character progression table in Character Builder where you can plot out different options for your character at different levels, but didn’t have to go through the full level-up process.

  6. Three of my four players have their paragon and epic paths picked out. The fourth is new to the group and will decide once he discovers who his character is.

    When the party hits the Paragon tier, I’m going to pull an idea from the DMG II and spend a couple nights running vignettes. Each character will get a custom story about themselves, while each other player will put aside their characters and take an alternate role.

    For example: The Predator Druid is choosing the Blood Moon Hunter path. Thus she will have to fight for her right to it, for there can be only 12 Blood Moon Hunters at a time, and the only way into the club is through dead druid boots. The other players will play her opponents.

    The Dragonborn will have a vision of old Arkhosia where he will re-live and shape a historical event.

    The Tiefling wishes to take a second pact. I plan to tie his session back to Bael Turath in some manner to fit both with his choices for the double pact feat and the Turathi Highborn path.

    Even at “only” level six, these paths are helping shape the characters and the stories we’re building together.

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