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I am very new to 4e, trying to wrap my head around it, and to be honest I find it a lot less structured, oddly enough, than 3.5. Because each class is compartmentalized, with little overlap, I find it difficult to figure out common trends.

One thing that I have gathered from discussion and comments, but haven’t been able to fully plot out in my head, are math fixes. I understand what they are and why they exist, but I’m not familiar enough with the items and feats, much less the history, to know where “math fixing” has been applied.

What I’m interested in doing is rolling math fix items and feats into default character progression at the appropriate places, and then eliminating the specific math fixes (so you can’t double up on them). This worked very well for me in 3.5, where I often banned items that gave enhancement bonuses to abilities or resistance bonuses to saving throws and made those things part of character progression, since those were just basic progression items that everyone had to get.

So, triple question:

  • Is this a good idea in 4e?

  • What should the progression look like?

  • What feats and items would it replace?

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@waxeagle has a better answer so I'll move this into a comment. I'll see how thorough the recommendation is but the Dark Sun campaign setting has some suggestions for eliminating "required" magical enhancement bonuses. –  Wesley Obenshain Jul 8 at 21:04

1 Answer 1

OK, there are two areas where math fixes are applied.

  • Enhancement bonuses. There are three areas here. Weapon (attack and damage), Neck Slot (Non AC Defenses (NADs)), Armor (AC). This can be alleviated fully by implementing the Dark Sun variant rules for automatic scaling bonuses (called intrinsic bonuses). Basically every 5 levels you get a +1 to each of these. It's classed as an enhancement bonus and so you get it whether or not you have the right items, but it doesn't stack with the items, so you can keep them in play (and if you have an over-leveled item you get the bonus from it.

  • Feat bonuses. These are much trickier to deal with. And I'm going to break into sub bullets here:

    • To Hit. This one is the biggie, nearly every class will benefit from taking an expertise feat (they all have "expertise in the title). In the early days of 4e, this was an easy one to just scrub, grant a scaling +1 to hit per tier and be done with it. However, Essentials and later supplements all stacked a feature on top of expertise that made the feats not simply a tax and most of them are a really solid supplement to the builds that take them.

    • NADs. Again an important one, since Armor now scales much more rapidly (thanks to masterwork being automatically implemented), its important to patch your Non-AC defenses. The easy way to do this is to take Improved Defenses which is +1 all NADs/tier. You could grant this to all your PCs no problem. The problem is that this leaves a whole set of feats in the lurch a bit. Superior #defense feats are quite powerful, and provided additional benefits beyond simply a slightly larger bonus to your chosen defense (an extra +1 over improved defenses, they wouldn't stack though). For instance, Superior Will provides a before turn save to Dazed/Dominate/Stun, Superior Reflex offers CA on your first turn and Superior Fortitude provides a resistance against ongoing damage. The superior all require 15 in one stat relevant to the defense in question, though there is a scaling bonus feat (without the extra clause) that is available to your players if they don't qualify (the Iron/great/Lightning set of feats). If you want to roll in the math fix, but keep the Superior feats around, you could allow them to be taken as a non-scaling untyped +1 bonus.

    • Damage. The weapon focus line of feats provides a scaling bonus to damage. These have never really been worked on, because generally they are good enough that builds that use them just take them. They've never had the same kind of air of being feat taxes. It's a good bonus and something that is optional. The only thing this removes is that there are numerous feats that provide scaling feat bonuses to specific damage types, as long as you prevent these from stacking, the feat ends up providing a flat +1 or +2 to damage of the specific type (no scaling).

That's the main set of classes of "feat taxes"/"math fixes" in the game. While I think it makes sense to play with intrinsic bonuses, at this point in the game's life, I'm not sure granting free expertise or improved defense feats is a great idea since they offer significant bonuses besides simply the improvement in defense and offer real choice/opportunity cost beyond simply "you must take this feat (for defenses, do I burn 3 feats, or 2...or maybe just the 1).

Some of these (Superior Will) for instance, would be solid stand alone features, and would be great features on a good many builds (Divine Oracle Cleric and Superior Will for instance). However, many of the add on features would not be worth the feats by themselves. For instance, the Heavy Blade expertise feat is "+1 to all defenses against opportunity attacks while you wield a heavy blade". That's a nice get if you're getting something else, but it's not much when you would have to spend a whole feat on it. I'd say 90% of expertise feats, the add on benefit doesn't merit selection, with the Superior defense feats it's cloudier and the benefits are much better.

So to answer your bullets:

  • yes in some areas, maybe in others, but you should understand what feats you a removing first.

  • for NADs, damage and to-hit feat bonuses, the scaling bonus should be +1/tier. For Enhancement it should be +1 every 5 levels (following the progression of magic items, +1 at L1-5, +2 L6-10 on up).

  • Basically you would replace all magic weapons, armor and neck slot items (or at least make them much rarer). You would replace weapon and implement focus feats, weapon and implement expertise feats and Improved/Superior/Iron/great/Lightning defense feats.

I generally see no problem with rolling these math fixes into the system. Some of them (like masterwork armor) have already been fully incorporated as part of the essentials line, and others (intrinsic bonuses) are already presented as variant rules in source books. Ultimately, it's not a bad idea, but with some of the essentials feats, your players may lose the opportunity for some cool powers and combos (in particular, Superior Will is a great feat).

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Does, say, Superior Will stop being a great feat if the math fixes it applies are made default, and the feat only gives its add-on effects? Throughout your answer that was a question I kept having, which I'd like to see addressed. –  KRyan Jul 8 at 20:23
    
@KRyan I added a paragraph to address that. The answer is that yes, the superior defense feats are probably worth it (definitely Superior Will, Superior Fort is pretty darn good, and Superior Ref is nice but meh, I wouldn't spend a feat slot on it). The Expertise feats have much more niche benefits that can help the builds they go with, but generally aren't worth a feat slot on their own. –  wax eagle Jul 8 at 20:38
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Part of what makes the math fixes in 4e less onerous is that when they aren't automagic they are mostly rolled into cool options like the Expertise feats and so enhance the character creation/advancement minigame rather than making it more tedious. –  BESW Jul 8 at 21:35

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