It Is Not the D&D I Know and Love

 

Edition Wars IV: A New Hope

For the carnival, I wanted to avoid mindless, repetative Edition Wars over which version of D&D was best so I set a challenge. Play a version of D&D you have never played before and write about that. Anything from original D&D to 4th Edition and including all the D20 variants. By chance, for the last few weeks, our Thursday night game has been D&D 4e – Keep on the Shadowfell.

This is the first time any of us have played 4th edition and the introductory nature of Keep on the Shadowfell works well. As an adventure, it is a classic “not a great module but it teaches beginners the system” module. This is perfect as it allows us to focus on learning the rules and this has been surprisingly easy. Overall I’ve been impressed by the mechanics. They are more streamline than 3.5 (or indeed any previous version) and flow more logically in most places. I have a few quibbles with the typography and presentation of the books but generally I’m impressed with the game.

Read This Before You Start Flaming

I’m now going to talk about what I don’t like and I just want to make a couple of points clear.

My dislike of 4e is a personal thing. It is about me, not the game. My opinion of the game should make no difference to how much you enjoy 4e or any other version of D&D. You are free to play whatever you want to play in whatever way you want play it. What happens around my dinner table on Thursday nights has no effect on your life.

Secondly, the mechanics of the game and why Wizards created them that way are not important. Or at least, not important here. If you want to discuss those issues, there are more meaningful places to do it than this article.

What is D&D?

What defines D&D and sets it apart from any other fantasy roleplaying games?

Practically everything in D&D, up until the time Gygax left TSR, is based on books. Gygax, Arenson and everyone else in those early days of TSR looted ideas from fiction ranging from the tales of King Arthur to the works of H.P. Lovecraft. By doing this they created a universal generic fantasy setting that pulled all these ideas together. This allowed anyone playing the game to find a corner of it which suited them. If you want to be Merlin – play a Magic User; El Cid – play a paladin; the Gray Mouser – play a thief and so on. Whatever fantasy trope or meme you wanted to play, there was a good fit for you in the rules.

These tropes extend all the way through the rules. From the Sword in the Stone to Star Wars, the idea of the humble farm boy becoming a great man constantly reoccurs in fiction. In early D&D the characters all started off like that farm boy – weak but with a lot of potential. By surviving adventures they grow, gather prized magic items, and become powerful. The narrative of a story demands that the characters change over time and D&D captured this requirement in the levels system.

Another common narrative device that early D&D borrowed was stereotypes and poor characterisation.

Many of the books Gygax and crew used as a basis for D&D were not literature. The characters are two dimensional and never develop much as believable people. To help the reader identify with the book’s characters, the authors pander to stereotypes. Fighters are big and strong, wizards are weak but can access strange power, dwarfs are tough and stoic, evil monsters are always evil. Everyone had their strengths and everyone had their weaknesses and out of these stereotypes we get the D&D classes and alignments. These mechanics, crude as they were, allowed players to quickly make their character distinctive. On top of these crude foundations, good gamers could develop their character’s personality and move away from the stereotypes.

Early D&D was a game based on fantasy fiction and predominately played by the people who read at least some of the same books as the game designers. Combined with familiar and effective tropes, this produced a game that encapsulated the essence of fantasy fiction.

Why 4e is Not D&D (To Me)

As D&D developed it moved away from its fantasy fiction sources. Instead trying capture the fantasy worlds of our imagination, the rules books became more focused on making a better D&D game. A game that was more balanced, made more sense and was easier to play. This started in 2nd Edition and 4e is just the logical next step in the process. However each step has taken D&D further from its sources and 4e is a step too far.

The core of the problem is the obsession with balance. All character classes has the same number of powers and do roughly the same sort of things. In our Thursday night game, we have a Dwarven Fighter, a Half-Elf Warlock and a Tiefling Rogue. A fairly traditional party mix for D&D and one that should give the party a fair variety of abilities. However, it is hard to tell the characters apart in combat. We all have similar hit points and we can all do similar amounts of damage. Sure the Warlock calls it an Eldritch Blast but its chance of hitting and the damage it does is very similar to the fighter hitting something with his big hammer.

Compare this to early D&D. A fighter would have twice or three times the hit points of a magic user and was miles better in straight combat. But once in while, the magic user would cast a spell and it would be devastating. It wasn’t balanced and it sometimes meant the guy playing the magic user did nothing during the combat, especially at low level, but each character was made distinct by what they did. In 4e they may call the powers different things but they are all basically variants on a theme.

Delayed Gratification

Somewhere down the line, some one at Wizards decided that players of 4e could not wait to gain powers. Gone is the idea of the humble farm boy slowly mastering his skills. Now everyone starts with a range of powers and gets more at a steady, predicable rate. Show me where this happens in any fantasy book? Or for that matter any book? The story line “Competent hero gets a bit more competent” might make a good mechanic for a skirmish game but it is useless as a narrative device.

There used to be real pride in getting a magic user to 5th level. Surviving those early adventures where a syphilitic kobold with blunt spoon could kill you was an achievement. Not getting bored after you had used your one spell for the day was equally significant. But it was all worth it once you had third level spells and could open a world of pain on the monsters. In contrast, fighters got relatively less powerful at higher levels.

Each character class had its own distinctive feel and sweet spots as the levels progressed. In 4e, one class is not allowed to be better than another. Everyone gets the same number of powers with roughly the same capabilities at the same time.

This is not just misty eyed nostalgia but the hard science of Reinforcement. How often and how significantly you reward people effects how attached they become to the behavior. Variable, erratic reward systems, such as early D&D’s level system, build the longest lasting and strongest behaviors. This is why gambling is highly addictive.

By granting instant rewards and gradual liner advancement, 4e takes a significant step away from the the mechanics that made D&D such a desirable and enduring game in the first place.

Whose World is This?

Early D&D took ideas from everywhere, so much so that it got into trouble over copyright a few times, but it produced a gestalt world everyone was familiar with. Over recent years, Wizards have deliberately included more of their own material and less of other peoples. The most obvious sign of this can be seen in the heavens. Gone are all the gods looted fro
m mythos around the world and in come D&D’s own set of gods. The Teiflings, Dragonborn and the other new races are another example of this drift from a generic fantasy world to a specific D&D world.

But the whole point of D&D is that I get to play in a generic fantasy world. If I want a specific fantasy world I could play Warhammer or Runequest. What D&D gave me and my friends, that none of those other games did, was that we all each got a bit of what we liked.

If role-playing games were pizzas, early D&D would be pick-your-own-topping whereas Runequest would be the vegetarian pizza and Warhammer the meat feast. Fourth edition is still pick-your-topping but it always comes with free anchovies. Great if you like anchovies but if salty fish aren’t your thing, the pizza’s ruined.

Unfairly Harsh

I am being rough on 4th edition. It is not its fault I was playing D&D before the trees it’s printed on were even planted. In many ways it is a great system but I grew up reading fantasy novels and 4th edition has moved away from that source material. There are people for whom 4e clearly resonates, presumably because they share the same culture references as the game’s designers.

But I don’t have those culture reference.

4e has no more meaning to me than any other fantasy game system. I enjoy playing 4e and could even grow to really like the system, just as I have done with other games. And this is the problem in a nut shell. D&D should not be just another fantasy game, it should be THE fantasy game and this is what 4e has lost.

61 comments

  1. Your point about all the classes being the same is the exact same thing I’ve been trying to put my finger on for months now. It’s been on the tip of my tongue but every time someone asks me why I prefer the older editions I stutter a little and them mumble about it just not being the same.

    In the same vain I know my brother absolutely hated the fact that his mage was useless for anything other than RP for the first few levels where as my warriors stole the show ever time until he got his hands on the fireball spell.

    Horses for courses as they say.

    Bob´s last blog post..Start At The Beginning

  2. @Bob – I had a similar attitude to your brother except regarding fighters. I hated the fact that in early editions fighters just stood there and once a round, rolled a D20 to see if they hit. BORING!

    Starting in 3.0 and accelerating in 4e, the designers gave us what we thought we wanted. Low level mages with more than one spell and fighters with all sorts of special attacks.

    Funny how this turns out not to be what we actually wanted.

  3. WOTC have missed the point:What they have done reminds me of the goals of a computer game where you expect solo play and so characters must be able to do everything.

    Classes balanced against each other shows their focus is on the wrong thing; the classes are supposed to have to work together to ensure success because D&D is a social game!

    Each class is supposed to have its weak spots – they are mitigated through the /party/ team work, giving each player something unique to do. E.g. fighters are vulnerable to magic and do well to have a mage or cleric with them to deal with that.

    The Recursion King´s last blog post..High character turn over rate

  4. I agree pretty much everything that has been stated here. I tried 4e. I read through all the books, and and first I was excited to try a new system, and I really wanted to give it a chance! I really wanted to like it, and I was trying to not let the edition wars sway my opinion one way or the other. So I cracked open the book and started reading through the races… And paused.. Ok…. No negative modifiers on races.. Only +2 to two different stats.. Alright.. sooo.. There is no chance for a low stat.. No chance for role-playing that into your character (albeit low stats do suck, but make for interesting RPing)

    Then I went to classes, started reading cleric and though ok.. Cleric has been changed, has a bit more viability out of being a healing pez despenser. Then I read further and realized like you stated, that all the powers did the same damage or pretty much the EXACT same thing, just a different name..

    I remember when I played 2e, you didn’t choose what class you wanted to be, you rolled first and that pretty much determined what you were going to play (which is why some groups I was in was comprised soley of fighters, rogues, and MAYBE a cleric if we were lucky.. MAYBE a mage).

    I also don’t like that the book describes in detail what every power does. True that 3.x does that with magic, but there is also room for change, and I suppose you could do that with 4e, but when I have played, I find it more often that the players just read their power card, discard it, and move on.. If I want to play a card game, I’ll play Magic, but I want to play DnD.

    I love 3.5 and am really excited about Pathfinder coming out because I’m hoping that it will send a message to WotC. Till it keeps coming out I’ll keep playing 3.5 and I’m actually starting Savage Worlds now for a nice rules lite system that seems to be open and fun.

    Sorry for the long rant!

    wrathofzombie´s last blog post..Looking for some Savage Worlds feedback

  5. @The Recursion King

    Just because the characters are balanced doesn’t mean that they aren’t dependent on eachother. Sure with healing surges you can save your ass *once* per encounter without a healer. A party’s going to have a vastly harder time though without a leader, or just any other missing role unless the DM keeps that in mind building the encounters.

    The classes still have things they’re good at and their weakspots. They’re not quite as stark as they were before. (Soloing IS much more reasonably done now than before.) But a balanced party is still gonna have the easiest time by far.

  6. @wrathofzombie – No need to apologize for ranting – this is what blogs are for!

    @The Recursion King – Whilst I agree that classes should work together, I’m not sure designers should think about this that much. The classes should focus on being a great class in its own right. Part of the fun of the game is trying to put together a party of dis-separate abilities.

    @JoeTheLawyer – Thanks

    @Stuart – Savage worlds keeps popping up on my radar as well. It is one of those games I would like to give a go.

    @neoookami – One of the surprises I found with 4e, after all the talk of Leaders, Strikers etc, is how little it matters. We just played whatever we wanted to play, ignoring the roles, and just got on with gaming. I’m not sure whether the concept of roles is just pointless or with highly experienced players we naturally fall into them.

  7. This whole thing is weird for me. I mean, I’ve been playing DnD since the mid eighties, so it’s not like I’m some whippersnapper or anything and yet I never quite feel like I played the same game as a lot of the “old school” folks seemed to have played.

    I never liked low level games, it wasn’t until I hit 5+ that I started to feel comfortable with the character and have real run. The very reward system you point to as making DnD “desirable and enduring game in the first place” is part of the reason I stopped playing. I guess I don’t really have nostalgia for those first years of gaming like so many others do.

    In the group I currently play in we have a dragonborn fighter (me), a dwarven cleric, a elven ranger, and an eladrin wizard. I don’t think I’ve ever felt like I had trouble distinguishing the characters, or feeling unique or what not… in fact I’ve never been so happy with playing a fighter.

    Now. I don’t think 4E is the end all be all of gaming. I’m still kicking the tires and debating it’s merits and flaws as to if it will be the system I run when I run again in a couple of months. But I do think it’s fun, I do think it’s DnD, I think it fits (most of) my fantasy gaming needs, and I’ve found it an improvement over pre-3E DnD.

  8. I really enjoyed the article. I’ve only dabbled in 4E but it did feel flat to me. I’m a fan of 3/3.5 and I’d like to experience the thrill of THACO one of these days, but I’m not sure what would make me pick up 4E again.

    Beth´s last blog post..Spell: Atonement

  9. @Mike – However d&d is still what you make of it, that’s whats its always been and i think that’s what it will always be.

    I think D&D has been whatever you make it but I’m not sure that 4.0 sticks to that idea. The inclusion of things like Dragonborn and Tieflings make it harder to adapt.

    @justaguy – Different games appeal to different people and very often it is the circumstances & players in a group rather than the game itself that make the difference. Some people love 4e and to them I say “go out and play it”.

    @Beth – Thanks for kind words. We will probably play 4e on a fairly regular basis but when we want to play D&D, it will be 3.5

  10. yea, I remember how I started DMing with the introduction of 4e and was having fun for the first few months, then I came to the internet where nerd primes the world over explained in extreme detail the myriad of reasons how I was not actually having fun.

    then patted each other on the backs in agreement.

    kaeosdad´s last blog post..Edition Peace

  11. @kaeosdad I remember when people would post on their own blogs about frivolous stuff like what games they liked and which ones they didn’t… and then nerd primes would take the time to post comments telling them to stop. Yeah, I remember those days too. ;-D

    Stuart´s last blog post..Powergamer: The Descension

  12. I’ve been playing D&D since 1978. I love 1E because it was the start, the one and only game in our collected gaming universe. I tolerated 2E. It fixed a few things with 1E but not enough. I fell in love with 3E and quickly switched to 3.5 when it was released. I am a 3.5 loyalist. You couldn’t pay me to play 4E.

    I am also looking forward to the final Pathfinder release. Have you seen the Wayfinder fanzine?

    Tetsubo´s last blog post..Patterns in the Sand (Book Review)

  13. Curious – I have to disagree with almost everything you said here. In a friendly way, of course. I’m not exactly sure why many long-time players of D&D have made virtues of many of the things that, to my mind, are serious flaws in early versions of the game.

    Dungeons and Dragons never “encapsulated the essence of fantasy fiction”. Fantasy fiction has never involved dungeon-crawling, Vancian magic appears in very few books, and although the zero to hero effect is a common theme (one that relates a lot more to mythology than fantasy fiction), fantasy fiction heroes are rarely zeroes for long – only until they get their lightsaber at level 2.

    On Balance:
    D&D has always been a game, and has to be looked at as a game. Anything else is silly romanticism. You don’t read a D&D session, you play it. And for it to be a good experience for everyone, it has to have a good framework of rules that are understood and agreed on by everybody.

    When D&D was created, it was startlingly new and innovative. Combining narrative elements with wargaming rules to create an overarching story and strong player participation was great. And the guys that created it were brilliant and creative in their way. But they were also amateurs, bad writers and fans of some pretty terrible novels.

    They created a system that uses markedly different mechanics, terribly unequal mechanics, for different classes, with no thought to long-term playability or player enjoyment. They playtested by playing – after the fact, in many cases. Ugly, clunky designs that were hard to use and turned people off the hobby became so embedded in the system that they are now “canon” and thus sacred.

    Games, especially games with a number of players, should be mechanically balanced. This is to allow an interesting thing called skill to be a factor. And I don’t mean the kind of skill that comes from building a 3e paladin that can do 240 points of damage before rolling. I mean the kind of skill that comes from using your skills and character to the best of your ability.

    Board games have been doing this for a long time – everyone starts on an equal plank, and luck and skill take you from there. And before you start shouting that D&D is not a boardgame, you’re right, it should be so lucky. The kind of things that you submit are “virtues” are part of the reason that D&D is a poor cousin of board games, languishing in the basement in terms of popularity.

    On Delayed Gratification
    Um, I don’t even know where to start here. Fantasy heroes get into books because they are heroes. And getting to the part of the book where they are heroes takes maybe a couple of hours. Well, a couple weeks for the Wheel of Time, but otherwise… It does not take weeks and months of desperately casting Magic Missile and running from the kobold with the horrible spoon. That is not fun, not cool and not good for the game.

    And the fighter. Would you call his d&d experience delayed fuckification. Cause if he plays for a while, he’s a weak sister and gets to stand around and watch the wizard play. Or better yet, guard him while he sleeps. Boy, isn’t playing a henchman fun, after delaying all that gratification earlier?

    And as for moving away from the things that made d&d “desirable and enduring”, I would argue that they are moving away from things that made d&d “inaccessible and obtuse”.

    Whose World is it?
    It’s mine. It’s always been mine. I’m the DM, so it’s mine. While I agree that the new incarnation of D&D is a bit more specific in some senses (although Points of Light is a great concept for a starting point of a campaign, I think), there have always been the Blackmoors, Greyhawks, Faeruns and Eberron’s to play in. The fantasy elements here are no more or less fantastic than anything previously encountered in D&D. It’s just different, and you can pick and choose what you want, just like you always could.

    Are you Harsh?
    It’s weird – I also started playing D&D in the eighties, and I also grew up reading fantasy novels. But my taste in games changed over time, as did my taste in fantasy. Weis and Hickman were great when I was 12, and 1st edition D&D was too… Now I like something a little more complex, nuanced, and refined – in my RPG’s as well as my fantasy novels. So for me, it’s Steven Erikson and 4e. If the old ways of doing things are what you like, that’s cool, but I can’t agree that it’s a step in the wrong direction.

    Most of the ideas and issues you’ve brought up – lack of balance, massively delayed gratification, a more unique-feeling base world – are things that I think have turned people off of D&D for many years. We’re well shut of them, says I.

    wickedmurph´s last blog post..Incorporating High Level NPC’s

  14. Much how I feel about 4e, very nicely put.

    justaguy- I like 3.x at about 3rd level and up too. 1st level play has never thrilled me. But I found the overly aggressive “game balance is supreme” mantra of 4e design a little off-putting.

    4e is a good game, but, like for the author above, it is not my game.

    Sean Holland´s last blog post..Plans, Plots and Notes – Organizing a Game

  15. Nice work. Like you, my dislike of 4e is just a personal thing. I accept I may be in the minority for what I want out of D&D. But in terms of style, in terms of being able to stomach the company producing it, and in terms of gameplay, it isn’t what I want.

    The power level and special abilities of even starting characters remind me of a quote from the movie The Incredibles:

    Helen Parr: Everyone is special, Dash.
    Dash Parr: Which is another way of saying no one is.

    Zachary´s last blog post..Traveller Followup: Freebies

  16. I’m gonna be the bad guy here and jump to the defense of 4th edition. I fail to see how it takes the roleplaying out, since all that roleplaying can still happen if you work for it. I always imagined it as this, a group of semi-skilled adventurers get together. A 1st level 4e character is the equivalent to a 3rd level 3.x character.

    You simply just can’t include the farmboy mechanic anymore if you want it to be logical, there are millions of other backgrounds to choose from, IE. trained mercenary, Arcane Student, Burglar, etc. My latest character who while she’s still a first level rogue has worked as an assassin for several years. I find this a whole lot more realistic then some random peasant picking up a sword and somehow knowing how to use it. Of course this is not mentioned anywhere in the books but it’s a call I have made personally. D&D isn’t supposed to be a novel, it’s supposed to be a game. It’s not fun dying.

    Also, have you looked at the monster stats? Monsters are incredibly different then PCs in 4th edition, there are no more goblins with 4hp. Just like there are no more wizards with 4hp. There’s a whole lot more diversity monster wise, and every player can do different things.

    Here’s my point on the class thing:
    Damage is not the be all end all.

    Some attacks knock enemies prone, others shift allies, move enemies around, others have lingering effects that do something. Not all of the classes have these. In fact I think only bard comes close to doing this.(I haven’t looked at them much so I may be wrong) If you can’t tell the classes apart your not playing 4e right.
    Barbarians for example: They do massive amounts of damage, have massive amounts of hitpoints but they can do little else. My second level barbarian’s only ability beside smashing things is moving really fast. She can’t do much else and still is in my head just the same as a 3e barbarian. The big burly fighter who can pick up the other players by the ankles and use them as improvised weapons if they wanted to.

    What’s wrong with deviating from the classic fantasy world? I think the idea of a actual D&D world was very present in the 3.x books as well. But here’s the element that D&D stresses more then anything else, It’s your world. If you don’t like the idea of Tieflings and dragonborn, don’t use them. If you think two classes are to similar get rid of one of them. House rules can be your best friend with things like that, don’t like the +2 bonuses to two stats? Put it back the old way!

    4e is the DM’s dream, I honestly find it more a lot more fun then 3.5 because my father (who is my dm most of the time) is very slow and methodical when it comes to starting combats and figuring out the rule behind something. What used to take him 20 mins only takes him 10 now, and when I DM I can do things at lightning speed. I draw the battle map and boom! Ready to go encounter!

  17. it’s supposed to be a game. It’s not fun dying.

    The feeling of reward from succeeding at a game is proportional to the challenge you needed to overcome in reaching that reward. Losing* in any game isn’t “fun” but without the chance for loss there’s not much satisfaction in winning either.

    It might not be fun to lose at chess… but getting an easy victory by playing against a 3 year old isn’t going to feel very rewarding for most people either. A more evenly matched game would be more fun even if you end up losing.

    * This is assuming you see character death = losing, which isn’t always the case. Depending on your motivation for playing an RPG and the context of losing your character it could be very rewarding.

    Stuart´s last blog post..Powergamer: The Descension

  18. We have been playing 4.0 for a few weeks now.
    What I don’t like about it is the encounter structure. In 3.5 you could send a thief in to a room and he could make a backstab and take a guard monster out quietly, and then scout the area. In 4.0 there is no chance of this happening, the thief will stab the monster the monster will go “Ouch” and 3 rooms come alive with other monsters. There is no way of withdrawing (as the monsters are more often faster than you), it just ends in a big tactical battle no matter what you do (Kill or be killed). I feel that a big part of D&D has disappeared with the quick kill, and the inclusion of large static encounters. It just seems to lose some of the thrill of D&D3.5.

    Paul´s last blog post..Logging in to Dingle’s Games

  19. @Tetsubo – I’m enjoying playing 4e but I don’t think about it as D&D. It is different game entirely.

    @Sean – I think we are very much on the same wavelength.

    @Zachary – I was going to use that very quote in my article but in the end it didn’t quite fit with everything else I was trying to say. But yes, the quote is exactly how I feel about 4e Powers

    @Stuart – Exactly – rewards with risks are not rewards. It is a noticeable truth in RPG games that the more complicated it is to create a character, the more reluctant players are to face death. This is natural, the more time you invest in a character the more concerned you are about protecting that investment, but I wonder how much game designers consider it? D&D (from about 2.0 onwards) has moved away from instant death traps (and monsters) at roughly the same rate as the character creation has become more complicated. Whether this is good thing is debatable.

    @Paul – It does seem that the 4e (or possibly just the adventure we are playing) is built around carefully prepared mass combats.

    Chris Tregenza´s last blog post..It Is Not the D&D I Know and Love

  20. @wickedmurph – Thanks for taking the time to respond so fully.

    Much of what you said about the design of pre-3.0 D&D is spot on. It is badly written, clunky, amateurish and often had players tearing their hair out with frustration.

    And yet, between 1974 and the end of TSR (1997) it went from being played by a handful of people to being a household name played by millions. Not bad for such a rubbish set of rules and something far better written roleplaying games have never come close to achieving.

    I argue that it was the obtuse nature of the game actually helped spread the game.

    Games that require a high level of commitment to master, develop longer lasting fans at the expense of putting off those less able or less willing.

    A good example is the difference between Chess and Checkers. Checkers is simple to learn and you can become a fairly decent player fairly quickly. Chess is hard to learn and incredibly difficult master. Despite this, Chess is hundreds (thousands?) of years old, is covered by quality newspapers and generally held in high regard.

    It is a fallacy to think that a game that is easy to learn and easy to play will be more successful than one that is hard. In general, the most appreciated games, hobbies, sports and activities are valued precisely because they are hard.

    On Balance:

    Games, especially games with a number of players, should be mechanically balanced.

    This is true for board games which have a finite play area and finish conditions.

    But RPGs are not finite. Their whole attraction is their infinite possibilities. A GM can throw ancient dragons against 1st level party. A party can consist of a paladin with 15+ in all his stats and a weedy thief who’s highest stat is 13. This is not balanced but it can still be fun and rewarding to play.

    It is up to the GM and the players to balance the game – to weight up risk & reward, fun & seriousness, personal gain & party gain.

    Yes rules need to be sensibly written and play tested but that doesn’t mean everything has to be fair and balance.

    Delayed Gratification:

    In early D&D, the rate of gratification is different for each class. This allowed players to pick classes that suited their personality. The slow cautious player will tend to pick the classes that slowly build up where as the more rash players will want to be to run in and hit things straight away. Both players go away happy.

    From 3.0 onwards, the trend was towards balance and all classes progressing at the same rate. Now the players choice over which speed of gratification they want has been removed. This has some upsides (especially for new players) but it also has downsides. Which approach is best is a personal choice.

    Of Books:

    The idea that fantasy books “never involved dungeon-crawling” is simply wrong. Heroes have been searching ruined temples and lost cities for well over 100 years. e.g. Conan. So much so that Terry Pratchett was making fun of this cliche in the early 80s.

    Yes, taste changes and Dragonlance is great when you are twelve but Dragonlance was inspired by a game that was inspired by books so of course it is derivative. Compare it to Fitz Lieber’s work or even Conan, the worlds and concepts they deal with are far more complicated.

    And then there is Lord of the Rings. A huge source inspiration of for D&D, written by an English Professor based on anglo-saxon stories and language? Regularly voted one of the greatest books of all time. Is that “complex, nuanced, and refined” enough for you?

    Whether the direction 4e has taken away from these books is a good or bad thing is a personal thing. If you like 4e, go out and play it, get all your friends to play it and shout about it from the roof tops. But to me, it is a bad a thing.

    Chris Tregenza´s last blog post..It Is Not the D&D I Know and Love

  21. @Rachel – What you say about DMing 4e is exactly what our GM says. 4e has made it a lot easier. I also like the aspects of combat that involve knocking people over and clever moves. It is a good set of combat rules and a good RPG.

    But it is the general spirit of the game I think that has been lost. Slowly, through a thousand cuts, the game has changed over the years and 4e is just a continuation of that trend.

    This is a personal thing and no reflection of 4e merits. It is like preferring original coke, over diet coke. They are basically the same drink, but I prefer the one with all the sugar and other junk in it.

    Chris Tregenza´s last blog post..It Is Not the D&D I Know and Love

  22. Hrm, some of what you say is true. As far as the expansion of Dungeons and Dragons by millions of gamers between 74 and 97, I would argue that this happened despite the rules, not because of them. It was and continues to be a wonderful, timely idea. I give Gygax and Arneson et all great props for visionary work – truly we stand on the shoulders of giants.

    Of course, the guy that invented the steam locomotive was a brilliant visionary, too. Trouble is, we don’t still use steam locomotives. We improved on them, over time. And we can do the same with rules.

    It’s curious that you would use chess as an analogy for Dungeons and Dragon’s development. I would also use chess, but I would call 4e the chess of D&D. Easy to learn, difficult to master, balanced, with a deep strategic element. Older versions of D&D are more like Senet – “The actual rules of the game are a topic of some debate, although historians have made educated guesses”.

    I agree with you that “the most appreciated games, hobbies, sports and activities are valued precisely because they are hard”. But just because something IS hard, does not make it valuable. I understand that FATAL is pretty freaking hard to play. By this yardstick, it is surely the best RPG ever, yes?

    Back to Balance:
    There is a difference between board games and rpgs. And if it is in fact “up to the GM and the players to balance the game”, why play a game that actively and structurally makes that process harder? I mean, you say right here that you have to balance things somehow – so what is the problem with having some of the heavy lifting done for you? I’m not saying that everything has to be equal all the time, but in a game where you devote hundreds of hours to playing, isn’t it better if everyone has at least the opportunity to always contribute meaningfully, without necessarily bending over backwards to achieve some retroactive “balance” not supported by the game system?

    Delayed Gratification:
    The older versions of the game never told you that you better be a slow, cautious player if you played a mage. And varying the returns over a long period of time between different players is a suck-tastic method of keeping people interested in the game. Hardcore players will sit through the horrors of a lv 1 mage to get to the level 7 goodness, but more will say “frack this, I’m rolling a fighter” and several may say “funk this altogether, I’m playing WoW”.

    Of Books:
    I’ll grant you that there is a little dungeon-crawling in some of the books in Appendix N. But really, give me an example of a Conan story where he spends the entire time killing stuff underground? Or a Fritz Leiber? The Labyrinth stuff by Jose Farmer doesn’t count… If anything, those are 1-room tombs with an encounter inside (4e-esque). Some of the more recent Conans by Robert Jordan had a bit of that stuff, and Lovecraft’s books contain more exploration of the unknown themes, but c’mon, dungeoneering is a D&D thing, and evolved as a way of containing the game to a manageable size.

    Lord of the Rings is complex and nuanced, yes. Of course, I’ve seen Gygax quoted as saying that it had little influence on their development of D&D – except maybe stealing a few fantasy tropes, which Tolkien took from the anglo-saxon (and norse) mythology he studied. D&D in all it’s forms has always been a “crib notes” of great fantasy books, and I think it’s now a totally different form of entertainment.

    And I’m cool with you thinking it’s a bad thing. For me, I think it’s a better game generally, and I think striving to improve and innovate is never a bad thing. I just think that you are mis-representing the strengths of older versions of D&D, and under-estimating the strengths of the new game.

    wickedmurph´s last blog post..Incorporating High Level NPC’s

  23. @wickedmurph – You make some fair points but I think we are at cross purposes.

    I’m not saying that, as a game, old D&D is better than new D&D. There is no doubt 4.0 is technically the better the set of rules.

    What I’m saying is that 4.0 has lost ‘the spirit of D&D’. This is a personal and entirely subjective opinion. Your millage will almost certainly differ.

    The steam train analogy is a useful one.

    Yes, steam trains have been replaced but which stirs the soul more – A steam engine pulling a train or a diesel / electric engine?

    For some reason steam trains capture the imagination in a way that modern locomotives don’t. This is why there are so many clubs and societies dedicated to renovating and restoring steam trains yet few relating to more modern engines.

    Pre-4.0 is the steam train of the D&D world. A piece of history that still inspires and excites, that is kept alive by the dedication of fans and I’m happy to be one of them.

    Does Best = Winner?

    Moving away my original argument, something we have both touched on (and fascinates me) is on the technical quality of a product and how successful it is.

    As noted 4.0 is technically equal or better than any other edition but this does not mean it will be successful. Plenty of great products have lost out to simply good products – VHS over Betamax, Windows versus GEM, IE versus Netscape. The technical quality of the ‘winning’ product was only one part (and possibly a very small part) in the equation. Obviously big things like advertising budget play a part but I’m always interested in the subtler human elements.

    Imagine there are two burger joints next each other. One is a Big Chain restaurant, the other is independent operation. The Big Chain is fast, efficient and clean, whereas the independent is slow, inefficient and a bit grungy.

    Logic dedicates that the big chain will get more customers and be more profitable but this doesn’t always follow.

    The independent might be slow because the staff take time to chat to the customers. Or maybe the owner plays an eclectic mix of music in the restaurant and all the cool kids hang out there.

    Either of these will drive some customers in to the big chain next door but those who stay, stay because they really love it. These true fans tell their friends about it and take their dates there. They spread the word and the independent restaurant ends up being the more profitable.

    D&D was that independent restaurant. Its quirkiness helped generate legions of true fans who spread the word.

    It does not mean the quirkiness will always win (service might be slow because the staff are rubbish) but quirkiness can help build a core audience; a group of true fans who can spread word of your product all the over world, faster and cheaper than any advertising campaign could.

    This is how D&D grew from nothing to a household name because of, not despite of, its rule set.

    Chris Tregenza´s last blog post..Keep Players Under Control with an Altoids Catapult

  24. I really don’t get the whole balance thing, especially given how many other RPGs go through lengths to make sure everything is balance, whether it be through some kind of point buy for features, or some other esoteric means. Why should D&D be any different? Pre-3.x ended up being balanced for the most part, but 3rd ed. is only really balanced if you make it.

    On the other thing of balance, I fail to see how the classes are all the same. I mean sure everything works on a unified mechanic now, but so do a lot of other systems. In nWoD, I roll a bunch of d10’s for everything, in Shadowrun I roll a bunch of d6’s for everything, in D&D I roll a d20 for skills and attacks, but magic it suddenly changes? Rituals go against the idea of a unified mechanic (even if you need to make a skill check occasionally), so the old idea of casting is still kind of in.

    A paladin is different from a fighter is different from a swordmage is different from a warden. They may play similarly, but that’s ’cause they’re all defenders, they’re based around the concept of holding monsters to them, but they do it very differently. And comparisons to older editions! I mean lets take the fighter, paladin, and ranger from 3.5 for example. Sure they may work differently, but at the end of the day they make full attacks as their main discourse. Wizard and sorcerer are in the same boat, I mean sure their way of learning and storing magic are different, but they still cast spells for everything (hell, they even use the same spell list!).

    Balance in 4e isn’t about being weak one second and suddenly scary the next, it’s about everyone doing an equal amount of work. If two things are of the same level, they should be of around the same ability. This is not an outrageous idea.

    I also don’t get the idea behind “delayed gratification.” To start, this idea was never really incorporated in D&D to begin with. In AD&D, your average person was a 0th level character who could never advance to 1st and get a character class. In 3rd ed. NPC classes were much weaker when compared to PC classes. 4e has gone back to the idea of 0th level characters (more or less). More than that, it’s been established that your character at 1st level has already undergone significant training. Casting magic just doesn’t happen, a wizard spends almost the entirety of his youth just to be able to perform simple magic, and a cleric spends a good chunk of his young adulthood learning rites before he’s granted magic by his deity. Even fighters spend some time as soldiers or guardsmen, and thieves would spend their youth picking pockets and evading the town guards. The important thing is potential. The fighter, whether through natural ability or dumb luck, has become a talented warrior and wants to become an adventurer. He’s not some farm boy, he’s a master of hand-to-hand combat (at least compared to the vast majority of the rest of the world). And the best part is: he’s only gonna get better. There’s never been this idea of learning things after 1st level. Most importantly, I’m playing a game. A game. I wanna play some hero from the get go, not a wannabe with a sword who’ll be better 2-3 months down the road. I’m pretty sure that’s why people get into D&D to begin with.

    As for inspiration, there’s a lot of things that inspired 4e. Mike Mearls himself talks about what inspired 4e classes here: http://forum.rpg.net/showpost.php?p=10601163&postcount=11Nothing's made in a vacuum, and there shouldn’t be anything wrong with taking from things that aren’t books.

    @Zachary- Y’know, ever since the edition wars I’ve come to hate that quote. I mean by quoting it, what are you trying to say? That certain classes should be better than others? That all characters should be varied to the point of having wide margins between them? Other games are incredibly balanced, or at least strive to be balanced, and those characters are special. Everyone should be special, everyone should get their chance to shine in their own way. Hell if I’m playing an adventurer, I’m already leagues ahead of everyone else in the world, that’s pretty special.

    @Paul- Can you explain? I can’t see how the scenario changes from edition to edition.

    @The Recursion King- Wow, have you ever actually PLAYED 4e, so much as look at it?

  25. @Panda-s1 When talking about the game balance, I’m not talking about the game mechanics of which dice you roll. My point is that classes where radically different in abilities in early editions but over time they have become ‘samey’.

    In 1st ed., a cleric could take ‘Command’ and in many cases there was no saving throw and when followed up with a coup-de-grace, it was a death spell. Even without the follow up killing blow, it was a powerful spell with lots of options and absolutely distinctive to the cleric.

    However, this was unbalanced because no other caster could do anything like it until much higher levels. So it was toned down in later editions and disappeared in 4e. But was this unbalance a bad thing?

    Out of the 12th 1st level cleric spells from 1st edition, only one was also cast by Magic Users (‘Light’) and one partially by a druid (‘Purify Food&Water’ / ‘Purify Water’). Out of the twelve spells, 9 or 10 (druids got CLW at a later level) where absolutely unique to the Cleric. Other classes simply could not do what the Cleric did.

    Compare this with 4e. 9 of the 12 1st level cleric powers do straight HP damage. For a rogue, it is 11 out of 11, a Wizard is 13 out of 14 and a fighter 9 out of 10. Whilst the powers have different names and there is a small variance in the damage they do, they are all basically attacks that do damage.

    Sure it makes the game balance, but what are the real difference between the classes if all the of them just attack and cause damage?

    Chris Tregenza´s last blog post..Keep Players Under Control with an Altoids Catapult

  26. Hi Chris et al. As one of the other Thursday night gamers Chris plays with I thought I’d throw in a couple of point that I do not feel have been discussed as yet (and repeat a few I suspect).

    Like Chris, I was very resistant to 4E. I still feel I have a lot of minor gripes about it but I also feel it has a lot of merit.

    What I find amusing to ponder is whether or not it achieved the ambitions of the WOTC authors. I believe the aim was to extend the balance 3rd edition started. I’d tick the box here (although I have some sympathy with it “losing colour”). I think it was intended to cash in on the success of World of Warcraft by reflecting the structure and approach. Although not a player of WOW I am lead to believe it does reflect the structure and approach of WOW – 30 levels, cooperative gaming by complementary characters (striker, defender etc). I know it did not make it seriously into the online gaming platform but that was down to the inefficiency of the publisher I believe. One question I’d love to see answered is how many WOW players now play D&D 4E. Sadly I doubt it would get published and whilst a poll of readers of 6D6 would be interesting I suspect it would not answer the question since many of us are veterans or D&D players first.

    Specifically on the subject of 4E. For the GM its strength is ease of creation as I think Beth mentioned. The structure, balance and monster stat blocks mean creating encounters is painless and speedy. This in theory allows more of the creative juices to be spent on plot and role playing hooks. The downside from my point of view is the areas of the game that might stifle creativity. My example is religion although there are other areas. The religions are done for you and tied into certain characters, feats and powers. If you are creating your own campaign world and want to create your own gods you will have to do quite a lot of tweaking or just drop certain classes, powers or feats. No doubt WOTC will publish more in the future to help with this if they have not done so already. For this reason alone, if I were planning my own campaign world I’d use 3.5 purely because it feels more open to manipulation and we are all used to cherry picking the system.

    As a player I have found the most interesting aspect is perhaps the most obvious. As the system is so balanced, every encounter concludes with me feeling we had a tough, close one. This is a good thing, but I’m not sure it is always desirable. It means you are really going to struggle to play 3 or more encounters without a long rest or whatever you call it. This is fine until you want to play a scenario out where the characters have to keep going – like a battle (consisting of one encounter after another) for example. I don’t think you could but I’d be interested to read your views on this subject. Also, emotionally I like the fear of the near death encounter or the jubilation of delivering the odd ass-kicking with little or no effort. There are few surprises as yet in 4E for me.

    One really important point to make here is the player cooperation objective I believe WOTC spoon-fed us. 4E parties are stronger if the collaborate and complement each other with powers and roles that enhance each other. Synergies used to be an aspect of skills, now it is a group issue. I’ve found myself talking to Chris and Paul about what they are going to take as their powers at next level to actively look for new methods of working together. This “feels” like gamesmanship but it is important. Ultimately it is an aspect I don’t really like too much because it is necessary to be effective but like a previous writer pointed out, it discourages you from handicapping your character for role-playing or personal reasons because you will directly and adversely hamstring the whole party to some degree. I think I resent being compelled by the authors to cooperate all of the time with all the other players. The system is intruding on how I want to role-play Perhaps I am being a little harsh here because I am sure the rewards of party teamsmanship have always been there in previous editions. Perhaps like many of the key aspects of 4E it is that it is spelled out in huge bold letters tattooed to my forehead.

    I think 4E has to be played a certain way and doing so it is fine. I believe you should play every aspect (including using the character traits in character generation). You should play your character through ideally to 30th level (or the end of the campaign) and retire them. Next game, pick a new class/race and do it again. I don’t think classes have any replay value but I don’t think that was WOTC’s objective. I’d get years of entertainment out of 4E with this method.

    I think 4E is a great game but not one which engenders passion or love like the earlier editions seem to. Ironically, it might still be the best one.

    Anyway – great debate and let’s have more of these

    Rob

  27. In some sense, what 4th edition is trying to do is mimic what a multiplayer massive online RPG game does. If you look at the game mechanisms and how what various class abilities do are similar to their computer counterpart. If you take a game like Warcraft and break down what each class and their abilities does in terms of game play, I think you’ll find that the classes will have similar abilities for the most part. The blast of a mage’s fireball is going to be similar to that of a special ability of a fighter.

    Here’s the problem: in a video game the graphics, special effects, and how fast the action goes obscures what actually is going on. There’s no such obscuring going on in a typical D&D game. And it really drags the game on far more notably than in a 3rd edition game, even though you still have such things.

    I think if Wizards had tried not to make their game seem like Warcraft like, they could have made their changes and still be successful. I’d like to see a move away from Vancian style magic system, whatever the hell that means. There are some small changes — like how they swap some of the Dragonmark abilities in the 4th edition of Eberron amongst the races — that they’ve done a real good job in tweaking. It’s just that their major changes were too radical. Wizards went too far in their changes.

    And of course, this means 5th edition will start capitulate some of the problems that 4th edition is having.

  28. I like a lot of things about 4e. For the most part, it is a very clean and well thought out game. It is easy to run as a dungeon master, so I know our DM appreciates that. The game was created in a similar style to MMORPGs, so the different class roles resonate for MMORPG players like myself.

    I appreciate the old style of D&D as well. I long to play in the old settings like Dark Sun and Ravenloft under the old systems. But the new D&D doesn’t take the fun of those older games away from me, it just gives me another type of fun to play with.

  29. I think the simplicity of 4e is a bad thing. I have only played dnd for about a year so I don’t know all the rules and I enjoy finding some obscure item and using it. I think it’s fun to try to make your guy as unbalanced as possible and then try to compensate for that in-game. I also enjoy screwing the Dm by using spells etc. in a peculiar way because it isn’t thoroughly explained.

  30. It looks to me that we are getting to the core of the issue on 4th ed.

    Computer games are getting bigger and better all the time. The more sophisticated these games get the harder it would be for WOTC to persuade anyone to go to the time and trouble needed to develop an adventure setting. This has got to be scary for them – they want to keep their jobs so they have recognised that they are playing to a subset of the computer games market and worked out something that will enable them to sell plastic figures and paper product over an extended period. I don’t think there are enough of us 20+ year veterans around to support them and many of us are tighter than a gnats wotsit when it comes to spending our money anyway.

    Thus I believe that 4th is a reflection of the marketplace that exists now. Like many things, we get what we deserve. If we don’t buy enough broadsheet newspapers then we get tabloids. If we don’t turn out when politicians speak at hustings then we get spin doctors on network news. 4th ed is D&D for our times and any discomfort with it is comparable to any analysis that includes the words ‘these days’ in it.

    This is not to say that the product cannot be put to good use. The trouble is that veteran players are unlikely to be appeased by the Keep on the Shadowfell scenario. All you can really say for it is that by playing it, both the DM and the players will become familiar enough with the mechanisms to be able to put them to better use in the future. A ‘Jack and Jill’ primer can’t be expected to entertain a literary critic but it is a good way of learning a language. I am fairly confident that I could develop 4th ed scenarios which do not tie play to a rigid encounter structure but before I can do that I need to do the groundwork. Us veterans often think we can pick up a game and go straight to 11 on the 1-10 scale but lets be honest – thats mostly a vanity 🙂

    Ultimately the entertainment value of any rpg is dependent on the enthusiasm and effort of DM and players. The acid test will be looking around in about a decades time at the worlds and characters that have been created. Until then I think we are attaching too much significance to mechanisms and not enough to our own creativity and imagination.

  31. @wickedmurph

    You criticize Appendix N of the DMG as “some pretty terrible novels” to defend a game system where the ranger class was based on a character in the Forgotten Realms novels?

    Wow.

    I’ll play a game inspired by Robert E. Howard and Fritz Leiber, and you can stick with one inspired by R.A. Salvatore. Different strokes.

  32. Wow, what an interesting debate!

    I’d just like to add my thoughts.

    When I read the initial article, it gelled with my thoughts and articulated reasons for my dis-satisfaction with 4E.

    However, I would like to agree with some commentators that 1st Edition was not the bee’s knees – although most of us didn’t realise that while we were playing. At the time it was THE (only) FRPG and I, for one lapped it up. Second edition tweaked it a little but it was still very much the same game, made a little more politically correct by the removal of Assassins. It wasn’t until 3E came along that I realised that although the original D&D was a great idea, it had not been implemented well.

    I feel 3E and later 3.5 fixed a LOT of problems of the original. I didn’t always feel that way. When 3E was first announced I was very reluctant and thought it was too different. After reading the books and trying it, I believe it fixed much of the clunkiness – the classes WERE better balanced, low levels WERE less boring and combat was better defined and the rules were clearer.

    Now to 4E; I haven’t played alot of 4E, but I have played it and there are some good points. It seems to be easier to pick-up and play, which I believe WoTC was aiming for. The simplification of the skills system gets a big YES from me. But to me, it is a different game. It is okay and I will play it again, but it somehow isn’t D&D for me. My 18 year old son agrees with me.

    I remember when first flicking through the 4E players handbook, none of the classes excited me – I couldn’t find one that I really wanted to play, whereas usually I have trouble narrowing my choice down.

    I believe that the game has been ‘over-balanced’ a different term but meaning all the classes have become too similar, as Chris says.

    Enough rambling for me – just one last comment to JR:
    I’m not going to comment on whether the 4E Ranger is based on Drizzt (certainly Rangers have been around for a long time) but I can state that I think he is a character worthy of such an honour. I’m old school and I have read a lot of Fantasy, both new and old, good and bad and Drizzt Do’Urden definitely rates among (if not at the top) my favourite fantasy heroes.

  33. A worthy debate, to be sure.

    Several points to consider:

    4th ed. is almost a reset of DnD, just like the recent Star Trek movie was. Though it’s the same, it isn’t. Many hardcore fans of the previous do not care for the newest incarnation even though they may have tried it and appreciated it for what it is. A new take on a old game. Wotc has tried to reach a new market for their product by changing it up. To expand their market, they need to reach soft-core players who may have liked the game the odd time they were dragged by their D&D buddy to a game, but didn’t like all the time involved in creation of characters, adventures, etc. Now, 4ed. is almost a plug-and-play.

    Combat Style:
    Admittedly, I have only played a handful of sessions of 4th, and have only played the pre-gen characters, but the style of play isn’t to my liking. Combat feels too structured. Everyone has a purpose throughout the entire combat, removing the necessity of the DM to involve everyone. Previous editions required significant amounts of imagination to combat the ELWS that happened to low-level casters once they ran out of spells and conversely for fighters once their mage friends become all-powerful at later levels. It feels as if they tried to take a lot of imagination out of wierd combat tactics by telling you what they are. Granted, one makes of the situation what one puts into it, but that was my impression of combat. Too clean. These are the tactics you can use to accomplish the goal.

  34. After having been a DM in 3.0 for years, I’ve now switched to playing 4.0 (and DM’ing 4.0 occasionally).

    I will, beyond any doubt agree, that D&D has changed by a LOT going from 3.5 to 4.0. It is not the same game, for sure. I would never try converting a pre 4.0 adveture into a 4.0. I’ve done plenty so into 3.0 fromboth 1st and 2nd.

    But, as a whole, I am convinced 4th is a much better game than 3.5 ever was. The characters may seem more equal at first glance when you look at the powers, especially since everything uses the same base mechanic. But after a couple sessions, and using the imagination a game like D&D by definition takes, all the characters do feel very different from each other. My three favourite chars in our campaign, my warlord, the fighter and the wizard all do have some ways of dealing damage but the look’n’feel is totally different. I for one would not go back to AD&D or 3.0 or 3.5 having tasted 6 levels of 4.0.

  35. 4E is not D&D. It’s a fantasy heartbreaker called ORCUS that three guys named Wyatt, Heinsoo and Collins came up with by sitting in a room with a whiteboard. Unfortunately they weren’t very competent designers and their goals were ill-chosen, so here we are. The crying shame is that the good name of D&D has been tarnished by their poor judgement. Hopefully the financial crisis will result in ORCUS 4E being canned sooner rather than later.

  36. Our group was heavily invested, both financially and temporally, in 3.5e. I believe we had if not all,then at least most of the books published under that title (including several which we re-purchased after the errata they passed off as a new edition from 3.0 to 3.5). We had a lot of fun playing it, but now I could never go back.

    Why? The campaigns feel the same in terms of adventure and story. Our DMs haven’t changed, the story lines are just as cinematic as before. But combat is now something fun in and of itself, rather than a necessary evil. The most recent battle of our long running 3.5 game featured a 17th level fighter standing on a bridge and taking five foot step/full round actions every turn as he clove through minor demons (effectively 3.5 edition of minions, since they generally died in one hit). Meanwhile, the 17th level fighter/sorcerer (who used to suck equally at fighting and sorcerer..ing until we found a prestige class and some feats that let him cast as if he were a much higher level sorcerer than he was), was flying around, throwing fireballs, turning invisible, and generally being dynamic. Guess which player was bored?

    Now the fighter and the spellcaster both have more options. The number of wizard spells available each level seems smaller at first glance, until you realize that all the non-combat spells have been moved into the rituals chapter. Suddenly the fighter has meaningful choices to make besides “Do I charge or take a five foot step and full attack?” Suddenly the wizard gets to play during the whole battle, not just until he’s used up his magic missiles and has to start taking wildly inaccurate shots with his crossbow.

    Are the classes too similar? Anyone that’s played a wizard and a fighter will tell you they are two completely different classes, with different goals. While the wizard is looking at the entire battlefield to strategically control terrain, enemy movement, wear down minions, the fighter is paying attention to his position relative to the monsters, trying to close up holes in the line to keep people from killing the wizard.

    For a DM, its delightful as well. For the first time in combat, I feel free as a DM to actually play the monsters like they wanted to win. There’s no more unspoken gentleman’s agreement of trying to make the players feel like they’re in danger without actually putting them there. No more trying to think of reasons why my orcs don’t simply walk around the guy in armor and cut down the guy in back healing him or the puny guy in robes throwing magic at them. Suddenly the players have ways to defend themselves, and that frees me up to actually put them in danger.

    Adventure prep has been made easier as a DM, which gives me more time to actually focus on the personalities of NPCs and the complexity of the story. Skills have been simplified, leaving characters more free to rp the basketweaver backstory (using the background system if you absolutely must have it codified mechanically) without wasting precious resources on Profession: Basketweaving.

    4e fixed things about previous editions of D/D that we ignored out of love of the game. We were in love with the characters, the story elements, the thrill of leveling up and fighting evil on a scale that went from minor to epic. The fact that wizards went from sucky to godlike wasn’t what made us want to play a wizard, it was something we put up with because we wanted to play that Gandalf/Merlin/mysterious mystic archetype. We’d play paladins because we wanted the rp of a holy crusader, despite the fact that a fighter with the feats to look like a knight would be far more effective than a featless fighter than can detect evil at will, gets a free horse, and can eventually cast outmoded cleric spells.

    Just as we put up with Thac0, exceptional strength, the bend bars/lift gates charts, and all the other ridiculous aspects of 2nd edition that were replaced in 3rd edition. We loved the game for its themes, not its mechanics. Only now do we have a game that can be fun on its own mechanical merits as well as its story. When your game could stand alone as a board game (the dungeon delves make fun little amusements if your DM is gone), that’s a solid base. The rest, the story,the flavor, the rp, the themes, is to be built up by your DM and is independent of which edition you’re on.

  37. “We loved the game for its themes, not its mechanics.”

    And they’ve been completely stuffed up. Between dragonpeople, blink elves, warlords, and other random crap that wotc have foisted on the game as their idea of what’s cool in the implied setting, the game is this weird anachronism that is unrelated to the kind of fantasy D&D is supposed to cater for. For many, this isn’t D&D, and nowhere have Heinsoo, Collins and Wyatt screwed the pooch more than in terms of the thematic side of D&D, which also happens to be the most important aspect of it.

  38. As opposed to the books and books of random races and classes that have been coming out for dungeons and dragons since its inception? How are dragonborn ‘screwing the pooch’ anymore than desert elves, water elves, flying elves, or any of the other dozens of subraces that have popped up in D/D? How do warlords not fit into a fantasy setting, but it was okay for 3.5 to have ninjas? Dungeons and Dragons doesn’t cater to any specific kind of fantasy, its always just given a lot of options and let the DM choose the ones he likes. You don’t want dragonborn or eladrin? Boom, there’s none in your campaign. Just like there weren’t any half-celestial minotaur ninjas in my 3.5 campaign. Just because the rules are there doesn’t mean you have to use them.

    To say that 4e was the first edition to introduce strange thematic elements is turning a very blind eye to the past several years of splatbooks..
    .-= Gavilan´s last blog ..Trip to Bordeaux and External Happiness =-.

  39. “As opposed to the books and books of random races and classes that have been coming out for dungeons and dragons since its inception?”

    None of that was in the PHB, and therefore non-optional and assumed to be present in every world by default.

    Face it, they screwed the pooch.

  40. I have to say that I agree with Gavilan the most. As someone who has played D&D from 1st edition through to 4th as both DM and player, I believe 4ED is the best mechanical implementation yet. I understand the Steam Train vs Electrical Train analogy and totally agree that there are some people who may not ‘feel’ that this D&D is for them… Frankly, Gavilan explains it the best: 4E is all the crap from previous versions of the system removed. Gone is: OK, I’m at 4HP, so at level 10 the next time I am hit by anything I will be instantly dead, so I had better sit out this combat until I get heals. Gone is: Hm, I’m a rogue. I’m fighting undead. They’re immune to critical hits. I guess my backstab damage, which is the only thing that makes me useful, is negated. (Please note, I had to endure an entire level 9 campaign being useless in combat because we were fighting undead 90% of the time). I can go on.

    4ED is a clean mechanical implementation. The ‘sameness’ of classes is something we noticed too, but very quickly with the version 2 and version 3 PHBs coming out we noticed that D&D 4E is avoiding that as best it can. Please compare the 4E Psionic Defender ‘Ardent’ with a 4E Martial Defender ‘Fighter’ and a 4E Primal Defender ‘Warden’.

    Now you can have an entire party whose power source is, say, Divine, without having to compromise. Paladin, Cleric, Avenger and Invoker – bam, full ‘feel’ of a D&D party, but none of the mechanical crippling, as you can have everyone come from the same religious background and be ‘Divine’ characters without having to compromise on the effectiveness of the party in combat. Now, of course, combat isn’t everything, but by balancing this kind of measurement (having 1 of each role in a party), the game automatically becomes easy to DM. You no longer have to say, ‘weeeelll, this party doesn’t have a Cleric, so their healing potential is reduced, and so I really need to adjust the monsters in this party’. Nope, now you can say, ‘ok, 4 players, level X, that means they can take a 2000-2700XP encounter – let me just pick out enough monsters to fill that nr of XP’.

    So… In summary I guess – the ONLY valid argument against 4E D&D is from people who don’t think it ‘feels’ like D&D. This is fine. However, I’m not sure how you thought 3.0 or 3.5 ‘felt’ like D&D, because that was a MASSIVE change. Throwing out THAC0 and the 5 saving throws (Poison/Paralysis/Death, Wands, etc, etc, fuck, I can’t even remember them now, although I spent a decade relying on them) and replacing them with an ‘attack’ bonus and ‘Reflex, Fortitude, Will’??? I can’t even imagine functioning without those 3.5 saving throws now, and all they did in D&D 4E was move them from active defense (you roll to stop the attack) to passive defense (your ‘AC’ vs that attack).

    I really think that the anti-4E movement is a reactive ‘meh, it’s not the same’ rather than a valid criticism of the system…

  41. Referring to posts above about delayed gratification, D&D was originally a game where heroes were made, not born. This is clear from a reading of the original booklets, the classic/basic D&D sets, and first edition AD&D. D&D was its own fantasy genre from the very beginning…it was basically an expedition-based game, not an epic fantasy game. A group would start out as a bunch of townies with some skills, only a step above a common peasant. Clerics didn’t even have spells at 1st level until AD&D if I remember correctly…they certainly don’t have them in the B/X set by Moldvay/Cook which I prefer.

    Games were originally intended to be almost like camping trips involving monsters. You would buy your supplies, journey to a mysterious area you heard rumors about, and have all kinds of strange encounters. At the end of the day, the survivors would limp back to town with their spoils and prepare for the next excursion. Along the way to the dungeon and back there might be some wilderness encounters or interesting hooks for future adventures. Balance wasn’t an issue, because characters should use their heads. A trip through the forest and a wilderness encounter roll might have a group of low-level PCs stumble upon a green dragon…a merciful DM would allow them to remain hidden, and perhaps they could watch and gain clues to its lair for a future adventure once they are more powerful. If the players choose to rush the dragon with 20 collective hit points, well then Darwinism ensues.

    The game was deadly, and players had to use their wits and heads. It was only after they reached 4th or 5th level that they’d be considered ‘heroes’, and local ones at that. At 9th level, they were usually well established to the point of become leaders and heroes on a more cultural level. Eventually they would become legends, if they survive.

    The point is that this wasn’t all spoon fed to the players with checks and balances in place. It was a more deadly, grim, and tough game. Characters died often at low-levels, but it wasn’t such a big deal since it only took 10 minutes to make a new one! I’ve heard of players waiting until 4th level to even NAME their characters, just because it wasn’t worth the investment until then. The heroes weren’t the characters who were rolled, they were the characters who survived due to luck and player skill.

    The original game was about dying young and paying one’s dues. It might not be to everyone’s taste. At some point D&D became more like a comic book…the characters are all special snowflakes with superpowers at level 1. This is how D&D is now, and that’s fine, but that wasn’t the original intention of the game, nor was it intended to emulate epic Tolkienesque plots. You were an adventurer, it was your job, and you went out there and risked your ass to bring home some gold. Chances are someone was going to die there in that hole in the ground, hopefully it wouldn’t be you (hopefully it would be one of the henchmen you just hired!).

  42. @BlackDougal and @Cacotopos

    Thanks for taking the time for such thoughtful comments. You both raised many valid points.

    What comes out of this whole discussion is that 4e is a very different game from 3.5. This has it’s good points, as @Cacotopos points out, having themed parties is much more playable. But that difference also alienates some people, myself included.

    I do still think that 4e is a bigger jump in “feel” from 3.4 than 3e to 2e or 2e to 1e.

    Someone used to playing D&D in the late 70s would recognise many of the spells, races and magic items in 3.5. I’m not sure the same could be said about 4e.

    This does not detract from 4e as a standalone game. What many, like myself, don’t like is its break from the history of the game.

  43. Gavilan makes an interesting point about 4e being solid as a stand-alone board game. That surprised me, since that’s actually part of what I don’t like about 4e. Cacotopos’ statement points to why I don’t like a good boardgame under my fantasy roleplaying game: “Hm, I’m a rogue. I’m fighting undead. They’re immune to critical hits. I guess my backstab damage, which is the only thing that makes me useful, is negated.”

    This just isn’t true in my games. A thief is only useful for their backstab? In combat, maybe, but are the games y’all are playing only combat? No rooftop escapades, stealthy catburglars doing B&Es, backroom dealings in shadowy dockfront taverns? When you mention thematic games and clerics, I don’t think “clerics fighting”, I think “a game focused on religion”.

    4e takes all the classes that used to represent a variety of ways of solving problems—fighting, stealth, trickery, knowledge, mystical control—and turns them all into fighters.

    My solution to the problem of the thief whose “only useful thing” is backstabbing isn’t to make the thief better in fights (that’s what fighters are), but to put more than just fights in the game.

    For everyone who does want a solid boardgame under their roleplaying game, though, 4e is great. It’s just not what I want to play.

    Though, on that note, a more valid comparison is between D&D 4e and FFG’s Descent. D&D 4e is possibly the better boardgame.
    .-= d7´s last blog ..A comment on POD and shipping =-.

  44. I first got into dnd just as they launched third edition. I immediately loved it and during my time playing i looked at a lot of 1e and 2e material. I have just looked at the Phb, Dmg, and MM for 4e. I think the whole thing is money oriented. There was no need for a 4e so soon. So much of it is based around selling minitures.
    I agree about class sameness and instant gratification. So many of the changes to monsters are ridiculous and so many of the classic monsters have vanished.
    What the hell are Eladrin and dragonborn about?
    I like the core rulebooks to give me the basics and fantasy classics and then i can work and create from there.

  45. As a grognard that only ever played 1e (not even with UA), 2e, 3e and 3.5e all passed me by. I started playing 4e as part of a group – and have to say that I actually love it. I got back into D&D and have piles more material for 4e than I ever did for 1e.

    I think part of the 4e hate from many quarters is psychological. Many people just like to be in their own comfort zone (including me – I liked the fact I could play 1e without reference books or much thought). Other people seem to glean gratification from being associated with an older, more archaic or OOP edition. The bare fact that 4e is clearly very new, and bears a lot of the imprints of computer RPGs just fuels the fire. I prefer to think of it a different way – for years, products like Blizzard’s Diablo took D&D, put it on a PC and they made millions. It’s now time for D&D to take Diablo back. Its often said that 4e is a completely different game that shares just the name – maybe so, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

    Like so many other products, discussion will always end up with a certain group disliking newer editions or updates – but by my reasoning, there wasn’t really anywhere else for the publishers to go. Very few RPGs and RPG companies have survived in their original form from the 80s, many of them have spent decades flirting with bankruptcy. So now WoTC want to ensure they have a bankable product with a proper business plan – what’s wrong with that? Previously, D&D books were possibly the best value entertainment you could ever buy – one book each for the players, three or four for the referee and theres hundreds if not thousands of hours worth of entertainment – there was no incentive to ever buy more products, and the RPG population wasn’t really ever going to grow past its height, especially now with the overwehelming popularity of PC RPGs. New editions are more a less a must to keep RPG companies in business. Its not good enough to just print new modules, as they only get bought by the referees. Also, new editions must be sufficiently different from previous ones to make upgrading worthwhile. TSR was done in by the change from 1e to 2e being more or less meaningless from a mechanical point of view, the game played more or less identically, and referees didn’t need 2e books to play 2e modules. For me, WoTC are trying to not repeat the mistakes of countless RPG companies that have fallen by the wayside and become minority publishers.

  46. Matt – I started with 1e back in the 70s and I disagree.

    First – money oriented? You can get the =entirety= of 4e with a single month’s subscription to DDI. Download the character builder with all updates, get Masterplan with all monsters/treasures, and you have everything you need to play 4e =forever=.

    Second, the classes actually play completely differently from each other, with strengths and weaknesses tied to the idea behind the class. the ‘at-will, encounter, daily’ breakdown is the extent of the similarity.

    Monsters… ah, monsters. As a DM, 4e monsters are =great=. I get a total oldschool thrill from busting out a beholder, or carrion crawler, or gelatinous cube – and the joy of it is there’s zero prep time. Flip through the book, grab a few things that look good, reskin/tweak them if necessary. And that old school flavour is supported by the system in a way that was much less so for the older systems – goblins feel different from hobgoblins feel different from kobolds feel different from orcs.

  47. I agree that 4e is a much better system mechanically, but with one important distinction for me: character customization. I loved the change from 2e to 3e because it opened up tons of doors as far as really rolling up my sleeves and getting dirty with character building. My last character that I played (I’m DM’ing for the group right now) ended up as a Ranger 3/ Paladin 3 / Survivalist (variant fighter from dragon mag) 4 / Templar 2 by the time the campaign was over and he retired. I used mithral breastplate armor, dual wielded a bastard sword and a spiked shield, had retardedly high saving throws, and was pretty fierce in melee combat. I roleplayed him as a knight-errant, a mixture of the independence and nature lore of the ranger with the rigid moral code and questing nature of the paladin. Because the ranks of Mielikki are not exactly flush with paladin types, I felt really distinctive. For me, the character build prompted the characterization.

    I really have no clue how I’d play this kind of character in 4e. I could play a human paladin who venerates Mielikki, but I’d still wear full plate armor (sorry, fighters) and be mechanically exactly the same as the stereotypical paladin of whatever stuffy god you desire. I could intentionally not wear heavy armor, I think I could dual wield, I’m not sure about the skills. I’m not very familiar with 4e in that regard. In any case, I would be intentionally gimping myself to create a character, instead of making a solid, halfway optimized character and then roleplaying it. If I rolled up a half-orc ranger (btw fuck you WotC for splitting the races and classes into two PHBs), and put stats in the best amounts within the limitations of the point-buy, and took the abilities that didn’t suck, my character is mechanically identical to every other half-orc ranger out there. The only difference is in roleplaying, and how different are identical twins, usually?

    The comparison between 4e and WoW strikes a chord with me, because I played WoW extensively since release, and quit right around the time the Argent Dawn started getting frisky in Icecrown. Each class has different ability trees, called talent specializations (“Specs”). Lets stick with paladin here, as that’s what I mostly played in WoW. I preferred the defender role, so I took Protection spec. There is one correct way to spend your points among the available talents. I’d read people’s math and experiments on maintankadin and elitist jerks (two optimization websites), and spec accordingly. Each piece of gear in the game has a ranking from best to worst for its slot. For protection paladins, there are certain ways to enhance your gear, through inserting magical gems, that are better than others. Same for applying enchantments to your gear. If you want to do raids (large groups of players completing challenging content; imagine 25 PCs wading through Undermountain or the Temple of Elemental Evil) you simply have to have the correct spec, gear, gems, and ‘chants. If you do it right, you are functionally identical to every other protection paladin. If you do it wrong, you suck and nobody plays with you. You can roleplay your character however you feel like, but mechanically you have one million identical twins.

    D&D 4e feels the same way to me. The only way I can play truly unique characters is to play one that sucks from obvious bad mechanical choices. A challenge for you: Make an elf ranger in 4.e that is mechanically different from Legolas or Driz’zt.

    For what it’s worth, I quit WoW because content is continuously being made less difficult in order to pander to the lowest common denominator. With every expansion, WoW becomes more gorgeous and mechanically balanced (see the constant balancing act between protection paladins, feral druids, protection warriors, and every death knight spec) and less and less rewarding to play. For those who’ve played, compare the rush of racing to open the gates of Ahn’Quiraj or 5-man Upper Black Rock Spire to the mindless tedium of yet another fucking Naxxramas-10 clear. I fear the same process has taken hold of D&D. I like many things about 4e, including the ease of encounter generation, tactical combat, and the out-of-the-box playability, but I feel it lacks many things that made D&D special for so long to so many.

  48. As a 90s kid barely out of high school, I’m proud to say I’ve played nearly every edition of DnD, including some from books twice as old as I was at the time. I agree with a lot on both sides of the equation. I believe that over the years, D&D has become more mechanically solid, but also much different.

    I have to agree that 4e feels a lot like an optimization game. There are only so many abilities you get, so you have to choose the right combination or suffer for your bold choices. Just like in today’s popular MMOs, there are really only a handful of builds for a given class. It almost feels like 4e should come with a strategy guide. However, I do love WoW. Nothing beats jumping into a party and raiding a dungeon together. This means that everyone will have to be able to pull their weight, so there is an expectation to meet, but once you realize what that expectation is, you quite easily fall into the encounters and enjoy yourself. While this does lead to a very limited type of character to play, it is still a fun way to do things. Fourth edition has become so much more tactical, it doesn’t feel the same. That’s a good thing. If 4e was the same as 3e, there’d be no incentive to switch, just like if WoW and The Elder Scrolls were the same. They are different beasts altogether. I see the argument about 4e not being D&D, though. You wouldn’t make The Elder Scrolls into a WoW clone and still call it The Elder Scrolls, but all the editions are guilty of this. Third edition was nothing like first and second, either. The brand name of D&D doesn’t really have a meaning anymore, because it could mean any of many different game types.

    Third edition was vastly different, as well. It had a fairly solid set of rules, but just offered too much. With dozens of books to buy, you literally had hundreds of classes, feats, spells, and more. Third edition was unique in that regard. I really feel 3e was the roleplayer’s choice. With all the vast choices out there, you could quite literally be whatever you want. Sure, that means that you have “half-celestial minotaur ninjas” somewhere out there, but that shouldn’t be a bad thing. If anything, the fact that the game’s ruleset even allowed for this shows a truly adaptable set of rules that any GM could tweak to their liking. The problem with this is that some people take the wrong mindset to this. That’s not to say there is one right mindset, but when you purposely make an absurd combination of classes just to output the most damage, it really feels like it ruined the feel of 3e. I played in a group of these people. Sure, my friend’s bard had +40 to diplomacy and we basically befriended every creature known to man, but it just wasn’t fun for me. The real excitement of 3e, to me, came from designing a character in my head, then knowing the rules support it. Of course, someone will come along and combine two classes and utterly demolish my character in sheer power, but that wasn’t the game I felt I was playing. The imbalances did exist, but it felt like the GM had to step in at some point and just deny a player from munchkin-ing the rest of the party to death. If anything, 3e showed that there was more than one way to build your character, and you didn’t have to be awful because of it.

    First and second editions collectively felt even more different from those two. The older editions, agreed were awful, mechanically, but provided a grim sense of mortality. It seemed more the thinking man’s game. There are dangers out in the game world. Survival is not guaranteed, and knowing when to run, fight, or just stand and die was as much part of the game as anything. There was an element of danger around every corner that really highlights the dungeon crawl feel. That said, balance was way off. Race/class combinations were positively a nightmare to deal with, and trying to attack something without an 18/00 strength proved very difficult. Classes were very strict. You couldn’t really play much of a hybrid of anything. Everyone had their own role to play and developed at different rates.

    To tie all my thoughts into the article presented, I have to agree with the claims made. Fourth edition does not have that classic D&D feel. It’s not really made to possess that quality. It’s a shame that the later editions are branded under the same name while being totally different games altogether, but there’s not much that can be done about that. To many, fourth edition is the game they need. Others find that in third edition or second, or first. Does it really matter? They are three different types of games. Play the one you like. It doesn’t mean that the other games are bad. They are different. I find enjoyment in each of the systems, even though I’m sacrificing certain elements for more of another element. If I want to change it up, I’ll play a different game depending on my mood that session.

  49. I agree that there’s something most not D&D about 4th and, for me, its how the system is an overall detriment to the narrative. Many compare pen and paper systems to their descendants, video games, noting how the former has picked up on the elements of the latter to adapt to the times. Well, at least in my view, such a comparison and conclusion is fundamentally wrong due to an ignorance of the essential difference between the two.

    Video games have a set narrative designed for ONE person, the player. Take WoW for an example, with the exception of an odd word or name interchanged here and there, all players everywhere will experience the exact same text, quests, and story. This a function of both the manner in which they are constructed and their intended design. There’s absolutely no way to change anything on the fly. Ultimately, all video games are nothing more than an elaborate set of rigid and immutable rules, that are designed to give an illusion of choice. Said rules focus more on each individual action by a character than on the total narrative.

    Pen and paper, on the other hand is a shared group narrative that is specifically tailor to a small group of individuals. While the DM does ultimately have the right to cancel out any attempt, he cannot stop you from making it. This small difference makes things dramatically different from the video game. No longer are you experiencing a story that someone else has completely set in stone, you are now actively creating it on the fly.

    Let’s say the DM wanted me to negotiate a treaty with a king, he can create conditions such as rewards and punishments to help influence my willingness to cooperate with his intention of the narrative but he cannot make it so that is my only option outside of walking away. I could decide to spend the time juggling for no reason, seducing wenches, or even just straight up stabbing the king in the face simply cause I wanted to. While he can make me fail at all these things, he cannot prevent their attempt and ramifications. Thus, even in failure, the narrative must change from its previous course.

    It would be more accurate to compare books to movies. Books and movies both convey a narrative, but in movies all the details are set in stone when their actual filming took place. The imagination is more or less dormant for them. However, books give us the general outlines of appearance and plot but, if done right, coerces our own imaginations to fill in the pieces. So, while both medium achieve the same goal their methods are not the same. Books and pen and paper are mental mediums in essence, while movies and video games are visual ones. Thus you cannot use one technique from one medium in another without the risk of changing it so its no longer the same as it was intended to be.

    Ex. While their plots and acting can be argued as contrived and done with no skill, most would admit that Michael Bay films are both captivating and, to some extent, entertaining in a visual sense. But, let’s imagine if you wrote a book in that manner, in every other page one of the following is gonna occur over an over again till the book is over:

    – The main character says some sort of phrase that is considered an “hip, urban phrase”, then the location changes.

    – Some female character with no real personalty or practical bearing on the story takes off some article of clothing.

    – Random outside force (aliens, gangs, etc) attacks for random pointless reason.

    – Random group attacked by an immigrant gang, possibly even another immigrant gang, retaliates.

    – The hero get his family threatened in some manner.

    – Random racist stereotype does something racially stereotypical, generally causing more trouble for the hero.

    – Something randomly blows up in a giant fireball. Note: This would happen at least once a paragraph. Also logic is not a factor here, a cup of water can just as easily turn into a fireball as a cup of napalm in the Bay-verse.

    I could go on, but I don’t want to ruin “Bad Boys 7: Even Badder and Less Boyish!!!” for you. But the point is, what can be an acceptable choice in a visual medium would be trash for a mental one.

    Now that I have gotten my hatred of both Bay and a flawed comparison off my chest, it is my belief that 4th’s shift to towards the adoption of MMO-esque tenets (the potential of a classes to handle any role in some capacity, the ability to heal ones self solo in some manner, and the doling out of good rewards very often) leads on a fundamental lack of options when comes to creating a very specific role/character compounded by an overall homogenization of character function that is detrimental to the development of the narrative.

  50. Bah, no method of editing… I meant to say, in the intro to the 5th paragraph, “It would be more accurate to say pen and paper is to video games as books are to movies.”

  51. i would just like to start off by saying that i’ve never played a dnd game or wow. the biggest reason being for both that i just couldn’t jump into them. dnd always kinda interested me because i love role playing games. but there was just so much content and so many different rules and classes and races. none of it felt like a cohesive world i could wrap my head around. i picked up the 3.5 phb at about the same time i picked up 4.0. both for something just to read on my days off when i was bored. and i have to say i love alot about 4.0. i have a couple of gripes but it feels like something i could actually explore, something worth spending my time on.

    my biggest gripes are the loss of the schools for the wizard because i love the ability to focus your character around a specific magical study. oh and i absolutely hate the bard now. i really wanted to play a bard in 3.5, but it’s impossible to truly weird out a bard character, no matter what you do it’s always gonna be a cleric/rogue. that annoys me. but on the other hand, the build for the warlock is so outstanding that it completely makes up for that loss.

    i don’t have all this history with the game biasing up my opinion. i mean whats so effing wrong with the teifling and the dragonkin. i think the teifling are really cool. i mean for god’s sake it’s nice not having to choose your race depending on how tall they are or if they have pointy ears or not. and whats so romantic about spending days thinking up a cool character and giving him a backstory and putting your heart into fleshing him out and making him real and then having him die on your first time taking him out for a walk. that completely disregards the most important aspect of this game the role playing.

    i guess the bottom line is i love role playing for role playings sake, be it on a computer or on a table. and though i’ve never played dnd in the years i’ve had friends playing it around me, i now own every 4th edition book i can find and am actively looking for a group to put my new teifling dark pact warlock to the test with. thats gotta tell you something.

  52. I realize I’m coming to this post and comment debate a long time after it initially started, but I’m very curious as to why NO ONE has brought up the massive changes in the alignment system from 3.x and its predecessors to 4e? The 9 character alignments were the flourishes that truly made the character come alive, but in 4e I get… 3 choices? I’m either Lawful stupide Good, True Neutral, or Chaotic Evil? I can’t be an evil mastermind? I can’t be a druid with a strict adherence to nature, irrespective if my actions come across as evil or good? I can’t be the whimsical due-gooder that doesn’t play by the rules?

    I have a fairly established pedigree when it comes D&D; I was born in the 80s and have played several multi-year-long campaigns with gamers who recall playing Chainmail (back when you wouldn’t even name your character until a certain level because they were disposable). The comparison to 4e and an MMO is accurate, but WoW may be a bit off the mark… 4e is more akin to LOTR Online; every class has a colored power, red power, yellow power, green power, blue power, and if we use our powers effectively then we win the encounter. It was pedantic and pandered to the lowest common denominator. And while this may be a great business strategy initially to bring in fresh blood, alienating your long-term player base by removing the soul of the game will only hurt your bottom line in the long run.

    It was myopic, and even only after a year later I’m starting to see more players turn away from 4e and go back to older editions/pathfinder.

    Also, to the people who commented about a fighter being useless late game… who the hell plays a straight fighter to 20th level? They’re called P-R-E-S-T-I-G-E Classes. And with d20 using an open license there were classes in spades! Sure, you could be a sword-and-board tank who wantonly bashed in every door, but you could also develop a finesse and specialization with your character that is decidedly lacking from 4e.

    Sony recently ran into this EXACT problem with their latest Final Fantasy Release. FFXIII was, on its own merit, a decent platform adventure game… however it stepped away from the “open world” exploration and leveling that was the cornerstone of the Final Fantasy series. It forced the player to play only a single way with no true customizations and the fans of the series nigh-unanimously rebuked it.

    And people who claim that the jump from 2e to 3.x was vastly different and should be seen in the same light as 3.x 4e had obviously never spent any legitimate time playing 2e. THAC0 had to be revised because the mathematics of a negative integer system were needlessly complex and the positive integer AC was a welcomed change. It smoothed out glaring flaws in the mechanics without inhibiting the creativity and openness of the D&D world. I still play 2e from time to time, and I still bust out my charts (98% chance to hit with a Guisarme vs. Scimitar, remember those tables?) but I still believe that the 3.x is the best iteration of D&D available.

    I’ll close with this last statement: FFXIII was a great game on its own merit, but don’t call it Final Fantasy. Likewise, 4e is a great fantasy RPG boardgame… but don’t call it D&D.

  53. This is what I love about 3 vs 4 discussions:

    Each drawback for 4th is also a good point.

    We can all agree that 4th is a very different game from 3.5. Lets just leave it at that.

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