With the close of 2011, we have rolled out our year-end rules updates. Beside including some errata odds and ends, the updates focus on addressing a long-recognized problem in the game: the ability to create a damaging zone, conjuration, or other environmental effect that can be combined with forced movement to deal near-limitless damage. A power often used in such a deadly combination is the 9th-level wizard spell wall of fire. Here’s what the Player’s Handbook says about the fiery wall: "If a creature moves into the wall’s space or starts its turn there, the creature takes 3d6 + Intelligence modifier fire damage." This text means a creature can take the fire damage over and over again, as long as the creature keeps entering the wall. Clever players have used powers like the cleric’s command to slide a hapless victim in and out of the fire, burning the victim to a crisp.
Powers like wall of fire are indeed meant to be used in concert with forced movement, but they are not meant to be must-have effects that can shortcircuit encounters. With that fact in mind, we have updated many powers so that a persistent effect can deal damage only once per turn to a creature entering it. This approach has already appeared in print (see Player’s Option: Heroes of the Feywild for examples).
You might wonder why we didn’t simply change the definition of the zone and conjuration keywords to fix the problem. First, the problem extends to effects beyond zones and conjurations, as shown in the updates. Second, we didn’t want the fix to change effects that aren’t meant to be limited. In other words, we wanted to avoid the unintended consequences that are likely if you change a rule shared by many exceptional elements of the game. Third, we wanted the fix to be obvious to anyone using an affected power; we didn’t want the fix hiding in a keyword definition. We also didn’t want to add to a player’s mental load at the game table, requiring him or her to remember a new limitation. We wanted the change to make itself known when it was relevant and then get out of the way.
The rules update this month includes a few other bits of note. Versatile Expertise, Weapon Expertise, and Implement Expertise now have better scaling; they improve at levels 11 and 21, rather than 15 and 25. In many circumstances, a player will probably be more satisfied taking a more recent expertise feat, such as Heavy Blade Expertise or Staff Expertise, but at least the three updated feats now function on the same scale as the newer feats.
With this update, we are releasing the post-playtest versions of three Dragon articles: "Arcanist Wizard" (Dragon 401), "Tools of Two Trades" (Dragon 402), and "Ecology of the Hengeyokai" (Dragon 404). In the wizard (aka arcanist) article, a number of changes that would have weakened certain powers or features, particularly in the paragon paths, have been softened or undone. The work on these articles, as well as on the other updates, relied heavily on the feedback of you, our playtesters. Thank you not only for your input, but also for your passion for the game.