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On 4e and Ephemera

By Shamus
on Saturday Jun 28, 2008
Filed under:
Tabletop Games


I now have my hands on D&D 4th Edition books. This WowCraft stuff is killing my productivity, so I probably won’t have my thoughts on it anytime soon. But Chatty DM has reviewed it. His thoughts echo what I’ve read elsewhere, that the books offer “radical new changes” which are also “good”. These two things that almost never overlap for people in this hobby.

Chatty DM is also having the one sentence NPC contest. Check that out if you’re the sort to Master your own Games. Actually, there’s some good worldbuilding theory there so it’s worth a read even if you’re not up for the whole “contest” thing.

And now I am going to:

  1. Write some comics.
  2. Get started on next week’s posts.
  3. Straighten up my office.
  4. Ignore the previous 3 items and fire up Warcraft.

Comments (58)

  1. Patrick says:

    Can’t agree that it’s good. The changes take the game in a very focused new direction, and it doesn’t leave a lot (or any, in fact) room for anything else. It tends to wind up being played like a wargame crossed with an MMO (think Disgaea) and it’s just kind of bland.

    It’s not bad. It does what it does well. It’s just very limiting. It’s the kind of game that we might have gotten had there never been any RPG’s except Dungeons and Dragons. But these days I expect a little more, and for what I’m getting here I might as well just pull out 2nd edition or 3rd edition.

  2. D&D 4e really is bringing a lot of emotions out of people.

    I played it a few times and I liked it so far. Heck, I just played with my 6 year old and he loves it… and roleplays a lot more than my 35-45 year old buddies.

    The game needs to be played at least once… it’s deceptively fun, but it is not a ‘RPGs for all tastes, even less than previous editions I’d say.

    But the game needs to be judged against other, starting/core level games, not the mature games that 2e and 3e were at the end of their cycles.

    Thanks for the links Shamus!

  3. Nilus says:

    I think the reason for the hate is clear. Its too soon. We have had three different editions of D&D in less then a decade. There was an 11 year gap between 1st edition, 2nd edition and 3rd edition. I don’t mind upgrading books every 10 years. But 3.0 came out and then 3.5 which was just different enough to warrent all new books. And then 4th. I don’t care how great it is I am not dropping more money on it.

    I have played D&D since the original AD&D and every version has been am improvement. I just don’t see 4th edition as being any more improved, it just seems to be different for different sake. Plus I can’t shake the feeling that its being altered to appeal to all the World of Warcraft players.

  4. Lukasa says:

    I love what has happened with 4e. I realise that it’s treason to say this publicly, but really, I do. It has taken roleplaying out of the hands of the dice, and ensured that only combat/skills remain dice based.

    The powers system ensure that everyone has something cool to do, all the time (at least in combat), and they allow interesting tactical decisions to be made. I enjoy the class clarifications, and the addition of the Warlord class is a sensible one, allowing for a non-divine alternative to the Cleric, much like the Paladin/Fighter dichotomy.

    The really interesting thing I’ve seen is that some people are complaining that combat has been made ‘too simple’. I don’t understand how this can possibly be a complaint: 3rd Ed had complicated combat, and it was just beyond boring. I either want to hit something, or play my character: I don’t want to reference the book for the turning rules for the 5th time this battle, or to have to check the Bull Rush rules just because my fighter suddenly discovered it could be fun.
    Now, the MMORPG criticism: I’m not sure how this one works. I’d love to have it explained to me, because as an MMO player I can’t see it. The only change that seems to be in that vein is the widening of the ‘core’ levels to encompass 21-30, which does somewhat pander to the progression-focused. But the addition of powers for all classes simply ensures the fairness in terms of ‘cool’ abilities. Mid-level campaigns in 3rd edition were always centered around letting a spellcaster do his ‘cool’ move; I was thrilled that 4e has managed to move this focus so effectively.

    My final reason to like this game is simple: the fighter. Being honest, Fighter was THE worst class in 3rd edition. Only suckers played single-class Fighter beyond 8th level, because their power level was just gone (ask Order of the Stick!). Having a class you can only play half the game is ridiculous, and the improvement of Fighter appears to last the entire game.

    I admit it’s not all gravy: the Dragonborn still sit oddly with me, and there still seems to be an absurd reliance on the d4, but frankly, I never expected it to be perfect. But I’m amazed it’s as good as it is.

  5. Cascadian says:

    I don’t think it was too soon if you see 3rd edition and 3.5 as one edition. Then it works out to roughly ten years per edition (1978 to 1989 to 2000 to 2008)–though admittedly the last “ten years” was only eight.

    And I think it’s justified to jump the gun a little, as 3rd edition had some major problems that weren’t obvious when it first came out. 3.5 was an attempt to fix the problems, but it actually just killed my interest in the game–I stopped playing around that point. Now, I’m actually interested in playing again and I feel like while the rules are radically different that the feel of the game from reading the rules seems more old school. We’ll see how I feel once I actually play the game though.

  6. I agree with Nilus that it’s too soon… however, the mistake was 3.5 IMHO.

    I’m actually sure that trying to get MMORPG players to play tabletop RPGs is not what the 4e design team was going for. I think they are gaing after the Collectible Card/miniature gamers… The new D&D feels a lot like these types of game.

  7. Nilus says:

    If 3.5 were just one book updating some rules I would feel it as just a fix. But they redid all three books, plus a large number of the supplements. So I feel it counts as a new edition.

    I don’t think 3rd editions problems were any worse then 1st or 2nd editions. My personal opinion is Wizard of the Coast only thinks they can make more money by publishing new rule sets. 1st and 2nd edition survived on making rules option books and campaign settings. How many new campaign settings have we seen for 3rd edition. Eberron is the only one. Seems to me they should focus there efforts on new settings rather then new rules. But then again maybe I am in the minority.

  8. neminem says:

    I haven’t been all that interested in pen and paper RPGs these days, but I know people who have, so I hear things. I definitely get the impression that 4e is, let’s say, polarizing. Mostly, though, I find it amusing that you’re procrastinating looking into it for WoW, cause everyone around Mudd is calling it WoW and Dragons. Apparently, those of them who’ve played both, say playing 4e is pretty much like playing WoW, except turnbased and on a grid.

  9. Morzas says:

    I’m playing 4e because my group’s switching to it. Originally I was one of the nay-sayers and I bitched hard about all the things they took out and changed, but I’ve realized now that my friends and I could play any system (except possibly poorly designed games like FATAL) and we’d still have fun because the fun comes from the people playing the game, not the game itself. Also, the new system has encouraged people in my group who’ve never DMed to try it out, with great success. I’m trying out character types that I’ve never tried before because of how different they are. 4e probably isn’t for everyone, but I think anybody could benefit from trying it out at least once rather than denying it completely based on what the naysayers think.

  10. Teppesh says:

    I think one thing that may have caused the MMO comparison is the creation of a formal, codified aggro mechanic. At the same time, there is one key component that Dungeons and Dragons will always have that will always set it completely apart from just about any MMO: Role-playing. One thing 4e does well, is that all classes get chances to shine, and party make-up is no longer a slave to “Fighter-Wizard-Cleric-Rogue” dynamics, so you can mix it up a bit, and each class can do things in combat. What’s not to like about that? Yeah, it’s definitely been simplified quite a bit, but that may not be a bad thing. I’ve been going through the books, and so far, there’s a lot to like. I think more people will warm up to it more as we get to know more about the default world, and other settings. Meanwhile, if it isn’t your cup of tea, no one is holding a gun to your head, forcing you to move to 4th edition.

  11. scragar says:

    I have never understood how a computer RPG can ever be compared to a real tabletop RPG. The best part of an RPG is the freedom, even if you never use many of your possible options for opening a door they are there(check for traps? look through the keyhole? look for light under the door? knock? kick it in? open it slowly? what about characters working together? why can’t another player shove open the door and a magic-user/ranger let loose a few attacks before anything has a chance to even noticed the doors open?), even the best computer RPGs can only ever capture a very mild sense of freedom, and even then it is almost always linked to the map, and not to options and interaction(not only would this make the controls needlessly complicated, but it would add about 200 times the time and effort to code and plan everything).

    I’m in agreement with the timing is terrible thing above, I’m sure it has some great advantages and equalizers in gameplay(own up, who, as a GM, hacked the rules after half way through a game to even up the balance between the different classes(it’s unfair for a warrior to go off and pick another class after they have 7 levels under their belt, they clearly don’t want to switch)), which I would be happy to experience, but only recently I purchased several 3.5 books(second had scenarios, hard to find anything DnD 2nd hand near me :()

  12. Shawn says:

    Despite my complete lack of interest in 3rd ed, I’d like to give 4th a shot, as a player, not a GM. When I run games, i really prefer something faster and simpler like Savage Worlds or WoD. I really dig the default setting from what little I’ve seen, and the combat in 4E looks pretty cool.

  13. Dustin says:

    I picked up the Player’s Handbook the other day and I’m kind of disgusted with how spellcasting is now represented. I’ve always tackled the wizard on the grounds that… all of the other classes can deal damage- the wizard can do everything else imaginable. In 3E and 3.5 I would bar myself from evocation and necromancy, just to keep myself from being another damage-dealer in the group. Now though? It seems like that’s all the wizard does is blast. Where’s all the charms and compulsion spells? Where’s the illusions? Where’s the buffs? I’m really not liking this magic system…

  14. Nilus says:

    Agree with Shawn, When I run something I prefer Savage Worlds. But that is another debate for anther day :)

    As far as 4th edition goes. My group has decided to stick to 3.5. I have tried 4th edition a couple times already(there was a minicon at my FLGS a few weeks ago and played 2 4th edition demoes). I just don’t see what it does as an improvement, like I said it just feels different.

  15. Cthulhu says:

    WoW and dragons is a good name for it, it plays like an MMO in terms of the party tactics and focus on combat. This is my big complaint with it: while it has made combat much more fun and interesting, everything else seems to fall by the wayside. Also, I HATE binary skill systems, some of us actually find skills interesting.

    Rolemaster FTW.

  16. Andy P says:

    Interesting to read people talking about the WotC business model and getting it completely wrong.

    “1st and 2nd edition survived on making rules option books and campaign settings.”

    No – 1st and 2nd Edition did not survive at all, not after about 1990 anyway. It was TSR at the time, who were in such bad financial straits they got bought out after haemorraghing staff, twice (WotC bought TSR, then were themselves bought by Hasbro). This despite D&D being the canonical RPG (and very successful in the 70s and 80s). In fact their fiction publishing was way more profitable for them than D&D for nearly a decade before the first buyout.

    I don’t play D&D any longer (and haven’t in more than ten years) but the RPG business model in general is a suicidal one. Each group of six to eight people needs – between them – one rulebook (£25), a handful of dice (£10) and a few pencils and paper (practically free). D&D has separate rulebooks for the GM and the players but that’s a minor detail; you’re still looking at an average spend of about £4 per player.

    For the CCGer or tabletop wargamer, that £4 gets you practically nothing. CCGers probably spend £25 each on average (some a lot more), wargamers £100 minimum investment. This makes them better long-term business propositions.

    Yes, some groups will buy the campaign and expansion packs, and that will push up the average spend; but many won’t. I don’t know anyone who’s ever bought a quest/scenario book, for example – it’s just as easy to make up your own, more fulfilling for the GM, and more likely to be well-suited to your group.

    If you want to make money out of RPGs, frequent rules releases are the only way of doing it, and WotC are probably right if it’s true that they only “think they can make more money by publishing new rule sets”. I’ve not bought 4e and I don’t intend to, so can’t comment on whether it’s “good” or not, but if we’re talking business models? It’s inevitable.

  17. Phlux says:

    Listening to the Penny Arcade / PVP D&D podcast is like crack to me, and I’ve never ever played a tabletop RPG game. The only tabletop games I’ve ever played are boardgames and half a game of Magic the Gathering.

    I wish I had a group of friends who were D&D gamers, I’d love to join, but I’m not so much into playing with a bunch of strangers.

  18. J Greely says:

    4th Edition has two significant advantages over 3 and 3.5: first, everyone has something to do during an encounter (no more, “yeah, I guess I’ll hold my action again”), and second, low-level parties don’t have to run back to town before noon when they run out of healing and damage spells. Combat is both faster and more entertaining for everyone, freeing up time either for role-playing or more combat, depending on the group’s preferences.

    Rules are still scattered all over the place (although there’s very few in the DMG), the supplied character sheet is both user-hostile and blotchy, and the promised online tools that they’re relying on to generate revenue probably won’t ever work, but the core game looks pretty good. We’re playing again today, and all looking forward to it.


  19. Robert Conley says:

    The combat system in 4th edition is tactically rich in the way GURPS, Rolemaster and other rules heavy systems are tactically rich.

    The big difference is that Wizards has learned from Magic the Gathering. How make a tactically rich system that is usable by everyone not just the hard core grognard. The key is the exception based power system and the fact the power tell you everything you need to know how to use is. Like Magic the Gathering all the players has to memorized is the definition of some keywords.

    The combat system is just that the combat system. The rest of 4th edition is a returned to older editions like AD&D 1st. Where the DM is expected to be a referee and use her judgement in resolving situations. The significant out of combat rule system, skill challenges, are a FRAMEWORK for a DM to create a set of rules to resolve out of combat situation with die rolls.

    Skill Challenges do have a bias and it is towards allowing players to apply different skills in different ways to resolve a situation.

    For DMs 4th edition greatly ease prep time by making it easy for DM to figure out how to make the right type of combat encounter to challenge players. Unlike previous editions you don’t have to have a lot of experience to get it “right” so that you don’t make things too easy or wipe parties. (Note: The CR system of 3rd was a good attempt but didn’t work all the time).

    Part of the rigidity people complain about is that D&D 4th focus is different than 3rd. In 3rd edition a main focus was flexibility in creating characters. While still preserving the class system 3rd edition made it easy for people to make the exact character they wanted by combining classes.

    In 4th edition they took that away and replace it with a focus on combat. Easier prep, making sure everyone has something to do, easier to learn. The side effect of this new focus is that now classes feel more iconic than any previous edition including OD&D the white box set.

    Because 4th edition took something away (more flexible character development) people are going to hate with a passion.

    In the end 4th edition is not D&D as represented by OD&D to 2nd and 3rd edition. However it is well designed to continue D&D’s mantle of the world’s most popular RPG. Like OD&D it borrows elements from a variety of sources to make a fun playable game.

    Rob Conley

  20. Coldstone says:

    4th ed has a lot going for it, but I feel like my character’s direction has been decided for me. That bugs me, because I don’t feel like I have the same say over what I can and can’t do.

    The mechanics are awesome, and well worth the effort of getting the book, but the flavor seems somehow diminished.

  21. Joshua says:

    “No – 1st and 2nd Edition did not survive at all, not after about 1990 anyway. It was TSR at the time, who were in such bad financial straits they got bought out after haemorraghing staff, twice (WotC bought TSR, then were themselves bought by Hasbro). This despite D&D being the canonical RPG (and very successful in the 70s and 80s). In fact their fiction publishing was way more profitable for them than D&D for nearly a decade before the first buyout.”

    Yeah, I heard that one of the main things they looked at in developing 3rd edition was the fact that all of the different campaign settings were acting as a NEGATIVE to overall brand equity, so they decided to streamline things and have less settings in 3.0 and beyond.

    I’ve only glanced through the 4th edition Player’s Handbook, and it looks interesting, but somewhat detailed. I believe that the reason why people are linking it to MMOs is the role-classification of “controller/striker/etc.”, the idea of “aggro”, and last, but not least, adopting some of the improvements that MMOs have made to improve on the original D&D concept.

    On this last subject, the main ideas that I’m thinking of are removing the reliance on the X/day skills(which kill pacing and make it harder for DMs to run certain adventures where the PCs don’t have the luxury to “retreat back to town”) and the greater flexibility of having different character classes in the group. 1st Edition started the whole concept of having Fighter/Cleric/Wizard/Thief, and although later editions have tried to allow more flexibility, they still made it hard to adventure with groups that break the mold. Now, in 4th edition, you don’t HAVE to have any one particular class, just a particular representative of a role. And even if you don’t have that, you may still be alright.

    Also, I like how they’re going with multi-classing. 1st and 2nd edition had multi-classing be too powerful and too confusing(trying to determine which class at any given level gave you the best X bonus, constantly dividing and rounding HP, etc.). 3rd edition tried to make multi-classing make more sense with the character level vs. class level concept, but also made multi-class characters usually weaker because their powers wouldn’t be as good at the higher levels. 3.5 tried to compensate for this by having Classes and Prestige Classes that essentially emulated multi-classing while giving you the full benefit of your character’s level(Eldritch Knight, Beguiler, Arcane Trickster, Duskblade, etc.). Now, 4th edition makes you one class but allows you to use up feats to gain certain powers of your choice from other classes, which allows you to flavor your character better. We’ll see how well it works.

  22. Nilus says:

    I dislike them getting rid of multiclassing and prestige classes. Multiclassing was the one of the main reason I loved 3rd edition. It worked well and was well balanced. A huge change from what 1st and 2nd edition multi/dual classing was.

  23. J Greely says:

    I think most of the extra character-flavor options will be appearing in splatbooks as new paragon paths and epic destinies. The old prestige classes were a minefield for a DM, capable of completely derailing a campaign; it will be much easier to evaluate the impact of using a new paragon path and its associated skills. The daily/encounter action limits and “respec” rules also rein in a player’s ability to dominate the party by switching into some goofy unbalanced path.

    While designing my replacement character sheets and combat cards, I thought it was interesting that even an Ancient Green Dragon only has a total of eleven possible combat actions, including the aura. They all fit on half a page, and it’s clear how to apply them to send a high-level party running for their lives, while still making it a winnable fight.


  24. guy says:


    Stop playing WoW and get back to work!:P

  25. Daosus says:

    To be honest, I had no doubts as to the quality of the game since I heard Mearls was going to be on the team. My main issues with 4.0 are:

    1. Too soon after 3.5. An obvious money grab which leads me wary of buying in lest I get burned again.

    2. Too high magic. I like a lower-magic game. Not really a problem, just not my thing.

    3. DDI. Yeah….not really looking to do the online thing. If I were, I’d go boot up EVE or WoW, since they do it as well or better. Or, I’d boot up Fantasy Grounds II, which does it without subscription fees.

    4. Yearly “core” supplements. Yeah, just like #3, I’m not really into the whole subscription model.

    Note that I’m fully aware that WotC is owned by a publicly owned company and must therefore do whatever is necessary to make money. I just don’t have to buy their product if they try to make money by screwing me over.

    Of course, from a business point of view, their decisions are brilliant. The yearly core book supplements mean they can have huge print runs and high margins, after all. That, and if they get DDI up and running, it’ll essentially be printing money.

  26. BenTGaidin says:

    I like the way 4ed looks; I’d like to have a chance to play it with some of my friends. I’m not so sure I’d enjoy an extended campaign, though – my general complaint about the new system is that it very much sets things on rails. Not _necessarily_ a bad thing (I like the way it standardizes the classes and gives everyone interesting abilities) but it seems like in wanting to make things easier for DMs, it really removed some fun options. The largest example is the lack of any permanent world-changing abilities (wall of stone, polymorph, major creation, etc) which I could live with (just add in new rituals for this), but it’s obviously a conscious design choice and one I don’t agree with… and when added to things like your complete inability per RAW to sell non-magical arms and armor, or spells, it makes me uncomfortable. A lot of this seems like rules to protect DMs from their players actually changing the world, and I’d like to be able to do this. (Seriously, do the NPCs just all have a very strong union or something? Why am I flatly forbidden from selling some slightly used bandit swords?)

  27. OM3G4 says:

    I have to say I am loving 4e. not only is it a lot eaiser to DM now, but for the first time in a long time I was actually having a lot of fun playing

  28. Joshua says:

    I haven’t liked the direction D&D went after 2e. The newer rulesets seem to be more focused on the characters becoming godlike superpowered world-savers wearing coats of magic and wielding swords forged in the plane of pwn.

    2e seemed less about that and more about just being loose and fun. There were more instances where ‘just ask the DM how this might work’ came up. It was more about being at a table, having a vague set of guidelines, and going with it.

    And the newer editions are so freakishly high in magic. I run a campaign with almost no magic.

    2e rules, 3e drools, 4e shouldn’t exist. That’s the way I see it.

    I haven’t played the original versions of D&D, but I would really like to. My ex-girlfriend said her dad gave her the fabled ‘blue book’ but she was only six or so and they wound up nigh destroyed. I was sad.

  29. Jabor says:

    4e…what can I say…

    IMO, it’s completely different. 3.5 is probably more similar to d20 Modern than it is to 4e.

    It’s a love-it or hate-it thing, really. My personal preference is 3.5, but we’ll see. I do like some of the changes (particular with level 1 mages – man, first level can be rough), but there are a lot of changes I absolutely hate. I’m sticking with the older version for now, but I may do some 4e on the side. We’ll see.

  30. guy says:

    Did you know 15 first level wizards are nearly guarnteed to kill a 30th level wizard demigod? people have done the math for that.

  31. A Gould says:

    I’ve played four rounds of 4E (we had a convention last weekend), so I’ve got a few observations:

    – Everyone has interesting things to do in combat (I emphasize interesting – as in beyond “I attack”). Fighters were knocking people off bridges, clerics were setting up attacks with their ranged attacks, rangers were taking out masses of minions with burst attacks… It was like everyone was a wizard – choices and choices.

    – The change in diagonal squares makes a lot of things simpler (everything is squares and cubes), but it feels a bit cheesy. For advanced groups I’d be likely to switch back to 1.5 squares.

    – There’s a major shift away from the equipment and magic items. With the built-in scaling from the “1/2 level” bonuses, the +1 sword is a nice bonus, but not a defining one. Feats have also been downgraded – they’re mostly passive effects (small bonuses and the like). You’ll be glad to have them, but the definition of your character will be your choices of powers (and starting types, for classes who get to pick).

    – All the DMs I talked to vastly preferred the 4E combats – monster stats were simple to use, and all creatures had some sort of nifty trick to play with (even kobolds become an interesting combat, because their “shifty” ability lets them snipe very well).

    – The classes seem more balanced this time around (granted, I’ve only played up to level 2). There was a lot of “wow, I wish I could do that”, but nothing that screamed “wow, I’m useless compared to you”. Even at tables with two rangers, or two paladins, the feeling was “cool, double coverage” rather than “oh, you’re better than I am”.

    – The aggro thing isn’t as big a deal as people are making out. All the mechanic does is encourage the monster to attack the guy who “marked” it. (“Aggro” doesn’t appear in the rulebook). And other classes have similar mechanics – rangers have quarries, for instance.) It still feels like a tabletop game, for sure.

    – Overall? It’s far more cinematic than 3.5 – it’s built to be simple, and have cool characters doing cool things. I’ll still run 3.5 for grittier fantasy, and GURPS for more general/modern fare. If anything, 3E diehards are going to have a harder time with 4th than newcomers – enough things changed in subtle ways (5-foot vs shifting, you can charge through difficult terrain, saving throws, to name three that bothered us on the weekend) that 3.5 players will find themselves stumbling.

    – Minor note: the PHB is far more self-contained in 4E – players won’t need the DMG or MM anymore (particular kudos to whoever decided to put the magic items in the PHB), but each player needs a PHB far more than in 3.5 – unprepared players will hog a copy for the entire adventure while they look up abilities (the index cards worked for me). We bought the slipcase, and then another PHB for the wife (because we were flipping the first copy back-and-forth too much).

  32. Yahzi says:

    I just don’t like the flavor of 4e. GURPS has your gritty realism, and D&D has your crude abstraction of demigods. But 4e has powers where you can move other characters around on the game board.

    It’s just too much abstraction and not enough flavor for me.

  33. Winter says:

    Not all of the problems with 2e were the game mechanics at all. A huge part, in fact, wasn’t. Yeah, they had a lot of settings–but the settings they had were better than anything that came before or since. I wouldn’t be so pissed about the settings if they had chosen good ones, but they didn’t. They chose bad ones and then (for no good reason) completely hosed what little the settings had going for them.

    Now in 4e the two settings are (again) FR and Greyhawk, ignoring the (good) 3e setting: Eberron.

    Anyway, a huge problem with 2e was the management of TSR. For a while, management banned any playing of D&D inside TSR (including playtests, etc) because they hated role playing and thought it was useless.

    The reason D&D has been doing so well lately is because WOTC knows gaming and put people who knew gaming on the projects instead of intentionally screwing everything up. That’s gotta be the #1 reason, by a huge margin. (Of course, you can feel the tentacles of Hasbro wrapping around D&D with 4e… but hopefully that won’t become a real problem.)

    (For instance, one of my favorite things about D&D was how free you were as a player to do what you wanted. If you wanted to do a party of evil characters you could, and there were even rules and the like for that; if you wanted to do a party of monstrous characters you could; and so on. In 4e they’ve introduced a lot of “play it our way” rules/mechanics to push you into only doing what they think is fun. I know Shamus has complained about this sort of thing before, and i’m really disappointed to see it in D&D.

    Of course, it’s all getting stripped out–actually a lot of stuff is getting stripped out–in my games.)

  34. Coyote says:

    I love what has happened with 4e. I realise that it's treason to say this publicly, but really, I do. It has taken roleplaying out of the hands of the dice, and ensured that only combat/skills remain dice based.

    I dunno… it feels like it’s heresy to admit to NOT being too pleased with 4E these days. I guess coming out with a strong opinion in either direction draws flames these days.

  35. ehlijen says:

    I don’t like the look of 4E at all. Character creation has gone from virtual total freedom to ‘here’s your feat trees’, binary skill system and no multiclassing. While yes, 3.5 could have done with improvement, it was at least a fountain of choice for the players (even counting only the core books). But apparently a few people incapable of letting others have fun have made it necessary to ‘make everything more balanced’ even if that means ‘more bland’ as well. There is one major difference between momorpogers and TT gaming that 4E seems to have forgotten: In momorpogers, players you don’t like and that abuse their higher power levels can’t really be kicked off because no game server owner is going to kick out a paying subscriber without legal backing (the kind that saying ‘he was mean’ just doesn’t provide). In TT gaming on the other hand, you can choose to only associate with those people who will respect the right of others to have fun, or at the very least the DM can try to reign them in, if necessary with the threat of expulsion from the group.

    A group intent on having fun together does not need a perfectly balanced rule system as much as it needs freedom of choice for the players. A good DM can find something to do for any character.

    4Es step from freedom to controlled balance was therefore, in my opinion, a step backwards. A step to cater to a crowd that has come to accept certain behaviours that many groups (most of those who cared anyway) have learnt to keep out of their games to begin with. And those groups are now being asked to give up the freedom of the game they have come to enjoy in favour of the game becoming more appealing to those who either endure or commit the behaviour types they have worked hard to keep out of their game because they do not enjoy them. And pay AUD$40-50 for that privilege per book.

    It may be a good game, but it’s not the game I’ve come to like anymore.

  36. Attorney At Chaos says:

    From what I’ve heard, the profits from D&D come mainly from selling miniatures, not books. So analysis of profit motives should certainly take that into account.

  37. Adamantyr says:

    I’ve been gaming since the box set days (which I still have on my shelf), and my brother, who does tabletop gaming as his primary hobby and plays or runs games at least once a week. We both love 4th Edition.

    First off, it is NOT too soon for a new edition. If tabletop gaming is to survive, the publishers and creators of those games have to listen to their fans, study the market, and make the appropriate changes. I would have been angry if 4th edition had just been a thinly-veiled 3rd edition with a few changes here and there, much like 3.5 was, but it isn’t and so I’m very pleased with it.

    One factor of 3rd edition that was apparent to me after awhile was it was really just 1st edition with better rules mechanics. The design team for it tried to preserve a lot of sacred cows, probably fearing what’s occurring with 4th edition. I don’t blame them; the time wasn’t right then. And it had a good run, but with so many more players than prior editions, the problems became apparent quickly.

    The sneering at them emulating MMO’s annoys me because if anything, MMO’s demonstrate the dangers of an open design. If you’ve played any popular MMO in the last ten years, you’ll know what happens when rules are indiscriminately changed or added without proper testing. The powers of 4th edition show signs of having been carefully thought out in an object-oriented design method. This organizes the abstract elements and makes it easier to keep things from getting put together to make imbalanced combinations.

    Multi-classing and prestige classes were good ideas on paper but failed in practice. Multi-classing is really just a weak attempt to introduce a custom class system, but the combinations are unpredictable, especially when new classes are added to the mixed. Prestige classes make it worse, since they were more powerful than standard classes. When players spent most of character creation plotting out at what level they would take this prestige class, and don’t focus on having fun NOW, at 1st level, you have a flawed system.

    Another factor was putting all the classes on a level playing field. For years, clerics and wizards have had too much power in D&D. This was the case in OD&D (the box set rules), 1st edition, 2nd edition, AND 3rd edition. They tried to mitigate the issue by making the other classes stronger in 3rd, but by 12th level it was painfully obvious.

    In fact, the cleric outshines everyone in 3rd edition, just like they did in 2nd edition, where you had parties mostly comprised of specialty priests. In 3rd they were the best magic item creators as well, since most of the “good” items required their spells, and they could have any spell in a day. Most 3rd edition games usually lead to the party mass-manufacturing scrolls and wands to increase the amount of adventuring time between rests by relying on expendable magic items for attacks and healing.

    My final point, though, is this… if you don’t like 4th, then don’t play it. Your old books work as well as ever. And Gygax himself, while not partial to the newer editions, never criticized it publicly or condemned people for playing it. Would that more old gamers emulate the old man of gaming in that respect.

  38. MissusJ says:

    @Attorney at Chaos: I don’t see that many D&D miniatures when I’m in stores- here or in another state. I see Reaper mini’s everywhere, but not brand name D&D ones. So unless Reaper is owned by WOTC, I doubt it’s all that huge. Maybe they just don’t sell minis in the South though, I don’t know.

    I have played 2nd Ed… once. maybe twice- I died real quick the second time. I would like to play more, especially as I do other gamer/geeky things- console games, painting minis, reading the comics, etc. I do these things with my husband, even. We have some 3rd ed. books, and I was reading them, and it sounds like fun, but also sounds a little complex for little not-good-at-math me. I like the idea of making things less complex, and I think a lot of other gamer-curious women would too. After I knew what order things happened in during combat, maybe I would like something else, in which case we would already have the books.

    It seems to me that the people who are trashing 4th ed. are the experienced gamers who have the way they like things and perhaps don’t want to change that. The people who want things less complex and at least some DMs are liking 4th ed. more, and those are two things D&D needs to continue. You can’t have a game without a DM, and you can’t continue to game forever if no one new comes to play. I am heartened by the guy who said he played with his 6 year old. I think my 7 year old would like roleplaying too, and I know I would. Maybe this would get my husband to DM? Isn’t that what’s it’s about- gaming together?

  39. My big problems with 4th Edition:

    (1) The non-combat portions of the game have been gutted. Whether you’re talking about spells/powers, equipment, or skill uses, the non-combat support has been significantly reduced.

    (2) The dissociated mechanics make it far more difficult for me to do the things I enjoy doing with a roleplaying game — i.e. immersive roleplaying and world-building.

    (3) The range and flexibility of the system has been significantly reduced.

    – Although you can now go from 1st to 30th level, the scale of actual power wielded by your characters is significantly smaller than it was in previous editions.

    – You have far less ability to customize your character.

    – There is a much narrower range (an almost nonexistent range) of play-styles supported. In previous editions there were huge differences between how a cleric, fighter, rogue, and wizard played (for example). This led to some “balance” problems if a particular group’s style of play catered more to one style of play over another, but it also meant (IME) that different players gravitated towards their preferred style of play and (if they got bored with that style) could switch to another style and keep the game fresh.

    4th Edition, on the other hand, only offers different gameplay within the context of combat. And, even there, the differences are not as significant as they were in previous editions.

    Basically, if everyone in your gaming group has the exact same tastes and if those tastes happen to match exactly what the 4th Edition designers liked, then you’re good. For me and mine, that isn’t the case.

    (4) It’s not D&D. I started playing with the BECMI rules, went to AD&D, moved to AD&D2, and then D&D3 and D&D 3.5. There were many changes between those various editions of the game, but they still all played fundamentally the same. Playing a wizard in 3.5, for example, still felt like playing a wizard in BECMI.

    There was a streamlining of the rules and the addition of new and different options, but it was like playing different variants of Chess: They were still all recognizably the same game.

    Based on multiple playtests, this is not the case with 4th Edition. It’s like they slapped the name “Chess” onto a Stratego box. Chess and Stratego may both by abstract representations of warfare using playing pieces on a board divided into a square grid, but they’re fundamentally different games. Similarly, D&D and 4th Edition may both be paper ‘n pencil roleplaying games that involve exploring dungeons and slaying dragons, but they’re fundamentally different games.

    If you like Chess, it would be kinda hard not to resent someone coming along and saying, “Nope, Chess is now this completely different game.” Similarly, I liked D&D.

    (5) After multiple playtests, I have found only one thing about the new rules that excites me: There is now a defined skill use with the Intimidate skill that allows the PCs to force an opponent to surrender. Since that’s the only thing I’ve found to actually be an improvement, I’m pretty sure I’m just going to appropriate that into my 3rd Edition campaign and call it a day.

    (To be fair: The new rules for death and the rules for rituals would be more interesting to me if I hadn’t already been using similar rules for the past 7 years.)

    Based on the preview material and the hype, I was expecting — if nothing else — a huge paradigm shift in combat. After multiple playtests, this paradigm shift has yet to appear. Although the mechanical content has been shuffled, combats still largely play out the same way they did in previous editions.

    Contrary to reports from others, mobility has not been noticeably increased at my gaming table. People claim that full-attacks resulted in 3rd Edition combats where people stood and beat on each other, but that was never my experience: It was the desire to avoid attacks of opportunity which tended to lock opponents together (although this never stopped people from doing a lot of maneuvering). Opportunity attacks are still in the game and, predictably, people are still trying to avoid them.

    Forced movement adds a new dynamic to the game, but we have not found its inclusion to be particularly revolutionary. (This is something that I’ll admit may change at higher levels when forced movement starts being more than 1 square at a time.)

    And, personally, I’ve been running combats involving large numbers of NPCs for about 20 years now. We did see a greater ability to run such encounters as 1st level characters, but that has more to do with 1st level characters playing more like 3rd level characters from previous editions than anything about the combat system.

    (Caveat: Minions didn’t impress us much in our playtests. However, the fact that there’s little difference between a 4th Edition minion and a 3rd Edition goblin with 5 hp probably has something to do with this. At higher levels, the minions might make a difference. However, one of the problems my players had with them was that there was little sense of accomplishment in killing a minion. I found that disappointing (because I like the concept of mook rules) — but their conclusion was that they’d rather triumph over smaller groups of meaningful opponents than larger groups of non-meaningful opponents.)

    So, for me, this is the bottom-line: D&D4 is a different game than the D&D I’ve played for the past 20 years. It offers less utility and flexibility than 3rd Edition’s core rulebooks and (for the moment at least) has far less non-core support. Nor does it seem to be offering me anything that 3rd Edition doesn’t already deliver. I gave the game a fair shake and multiple playtests to convince me. It didn’t.

    4th Edition seems like a decent enough game (even though it plays more like a skirmish miniatures game than a roleplaying game), but I’ll be sticking with 3rd Edition.

  40. Adatur says:

    From my experiences, it seems that the main division in the love 4e/hate 4e crowds is the combat focus.

    If you love combat and tactics, you’ll probably get more enjoyment out of 4e.

    If you love roleplaying and storytelling, you’ll probably see 4e as failing where previous editions succeeded.

    This also might be due to the fact that you or your DM would try running a 3.5 game in 4e, where you are expecting certain things that you’ve grown accustomed to. 4e is good at what it does, but it doesn’t do the same things as the other editions.

    More ramblings can be found at my blog:


  41. Von Krieger says:

    Re: 33

    I could’ve sworn that they’re making FR the default setting, giving Greyhawk the boot, and putting out Eberron next year?

  42. Zukhramm says:

    “If you love roleplaying and storytelling, you'll probably see 4e as failing where previous editions succeeded.”

    Well, I am an exeption in that case. I allways considered combat boring, and the comapaigns I’ve played have had vary lttle of it. I do not see the new rules affecting our roleplaying in any way. But if the boring combat is made more fun, then: The same roleplaying but more fun combat = more fun overall.

  43. Craig says:

    Has anyone here played Exalted? I really like 4e, but I couldn’t help notice they used a lot of the same background concepts as exalted. Feywild? The Void? The Primordials forming the world out of chaos, then warring with the Gods, who won? I know that its not all exactly one for one and that a lot of this comes from earlier sources, but they could’ve used different terminology at least.

  44. I’m disappointed that they’ve brought out a new edition “so soon,” as I’m running my first v.3.5 campaign -right now.- But having looked at 4E, I think it will also be my last. Sorry, shelf groaning with 3.X stuff, but I wanna move on.

    4E reminds me of the red Basic Box, which was 1) my intro to D&D, 2) fun, and 3) easy to learn. We barely had -any- options for customizing our characters back then, and it was still fun.

    But it all comes down to the group you’re playing with. My people and I think that 4E feels like “real” D&D, and we rarely reach for the dice for roleplaying encounters in v.3.5, so the “combat focus” of 4E isn’t really an issue. (Not that D&D’s mechanics have ever encouraged storytelling; honestly, the new quest mechanics seem like the most positive step in that direction in a long time.)

    I’m inclined to agree with Zukharamm: easier, more-fun combats will actually help to DE-emphasize the fights so we can concentrate on the story. YMMV.

  45. The Lone Duck says:

    I read the PHB 4th ed in a book store. The combat is streamlined. On one hand, that sorta limits creativity. But a good GM can reward or punish creativity as the need arises. (Sometimes you just need to bonk a goblin on the head.) On the other hand, the less time combat takes, the more time you have for: A, roleplaying or B, more combat.
    What strikes me as limiting for character creation is the way skills are set up. For example, in 3.5, you could make a scholastic rogue, who didn’t know a thing about hiding or traps. At the moment, it is not in the rules to make a character like that in 4th edition. I don’t think those limitations are necessarily bad. One can make creative poetry while limited by meter. One can make creative characters while limited to archetypes.

  46. Adamantyr says:

    Re: 41

    Forgotten Realms is not the default setting, nor is Greyhawk, or Eberron. The setting presented in the core books is called “Points of Light”. It’s a non-specific world where cities and civilization are scattered and small, with the last empire of note having collapsed nearly a century before. They’ve stated that NO definitive maps or geography will be provided, because as a setting it’s not meant to be rigid.

    I like this a lot, it reminds me of the Known World setting originally created in the box sets, although by the Expert rules they had to have some stability to release modules on. I love settings as much as any gamer, mind you… I have nearly every KW product and map, I laminated most of the maps and had them stuck to my walls at one point!

    But over time, I came to realize that settings can easily become a crutch or worse, a trap. They’re useful for DM’s who lack the time to create whole regions or cultures, but an experienced DM uses what he likes and doesn’t allow the material to directly dictate their adventures.

    Consider Sembia in the Forgotten Realms. In the original box set from 1st edition days, it was an undefined country, left deliberately blank for the players to fill in. When 2nd edition rolled around, they had to give it more definition. A necessary task, perhaps, but it felt like part of the Realms was lost to literary tyranny.

    Another problem which I’ve seen with unsupported settings is DM’s who are obsessed with “filling in” details, a simulationist paradigm. The players at that point become irrelevant. When he starts telling them how they SHOULD be, rather than letting them define the setting by their actions, it ceases to be an interactive fun experience and becomes a rather unpleasant trip.

    Concerning the Realms, from what the prologue and the “Countdown to the Realms” posts have told us, FR is being retro-fitted to fit the “Points of Light” scenario. Rather like squashing a square to fit a round hole in some ways. Still, if it makes FR more like it was in the grey box days without every little niggling tiresome detail defined, I’ll give it a shot.

  47. Joe_W says:

    Hm. I leafed through it and discussed it quite a bit with some friends (my DnD 3.5 Iron Kingdoms group), finally, we tried it. We agree that it is quite nice, provided you are a tabletop gamer or maybe a WoW player and want to stick to this type of game. Since I am neither I cannot tell, but it feels like “Hero Quest 40k” (dunno if this game was also published outside Germany and if, under which name), basically a grid based tabletop combat system. It does not fit our style of gaming, so we’ll not introduce it in our group.
    Oh, and for having über-powers: try Exalted. It also comes with “minions” called “extras” that go down if an exalted merely touches them…
    I think 4e is nice, but not DnD as I like it to be.
    And to the next re-write of FR: to hell (or maybe the abyss) with it! I’ll stick to my version…

  48. Tallarn says:

    I’m DMing and playing in 4e and I love it.

    For those that have looked at the game but not played it – a phrase that’s been handed around is ‘looks bad, plays great’. I don’t agree that it looks bad, but 4e absolutely does play great. Combat is fast-paced, full of incident (“I shield bash the hobgoblin into the sarcophagus!” “Great! It breaks, the lantern drops into the oil inside and sets him on fire!” at first level) and the classes are balanced against each other so the Wizard and Cleric no longer dominate.

    4e FTW, for me.

  49. ehlijen says:

    Joe-W, do you mean star quest? If so, it’s called Space crusade in the english original. Either that or Space Hulk, a similar game.

  50. Kevin says:

    While there are a few small items I’m not satisfied with, overall I really like the new direction for the game. Our group has always included a fair number of people who don’t like all the rules minutia and complication that had come to dominate 3.5, and so far they’re REALLY digging the changes. As a DM I groove on it because the simplification allows the mechanics to take a back seat to the actual game. Our only “rules crunchy” player seems happy too, although I’ve heard different things from different folks of this ilk.

    The only person I’ve come across who is decidedly unhappy is a player who doesn’t even want to try it. She is more of a “traditionalist” and feels heavily invested in the old game. (Plays the same character in every game, which will be difficult for her to duplicate in the new edition.)

  51. Axcalibar says:

    As for me, I’m sticking with 3.5 because:
    1) I have more important things (like bills & family) to spend money on than different rules to a game I already own which are totally incompatible with the old rules.
    2) The new mechanics cater to the philosophy that D&D is the type of game you aim to “Win”. It is awfully limiting for the sake of balance and treats the DM like he needs WotC’s gospel to play the game right.
    3) WotC/Hasbro is screwing everyone from consumers (book prices/DDI/Dungeon and Dragon magazines) to publishers (GSL). They will not be seeing any more support from me on account of their (lack of) business ethics.

    >>While yes, 3.5 could have done with improvement…
    Since it hasn’t been mentioned yet:

  52. Gabriel says:

    After reading through and then playing about 3 different sessions of “testing” I’ve concluded the game has about 10% really good ideas (it has done a lot to make the fighter more appealing) somewhere in the 10-20% range of uninspiring but necessary legacy ideas, and the rest basically is about as impressive mechanically as Heroscape.

    If you want a game that you can sit down and start playing after 10 minutes of character creation, D&D 4e will do that. There’s really no good way to play combats out without miniatures and battlemats, to an order of magnitude greater than 3.5.
    If you like that, that’s great, if you don’t you will not like this game.

    If you like greatly configurable, non-level-based characters, you’re not going to be playing this game anyway. Further, this is not the game if you have even a shred of desire for realism. Leave that at the door. If, like me, you have trouble with the thought of ANYONE getting hit repeatedly with a deadly weapon and continuing to fight on with no problems, you’re going to hate this game. It is a Hit Point grinder, with lots of different abilities giving you different ways to do MORE hit points worth of damage, but there’s really no way to escape the “High Magic Zone”

  53. Penn says:

    The point of the D&D rules is basically a robust fantasy combat system that you can build a campaign around. All the other parts of tabletop gaming (roleplay, social time and the like) are pretty much system neutral.
    4e is a much, much better fantasy combat system, and I say this as someone who owns almost every 3.5 book ever published by WotC. 4e is just better. It’s not as expansive yet, but give it time.
    I ran 35 hours to D&D4e over the weekend at Origins game convention in a demo setting (the D&D Delve from the RPGA to be precise), and had almost no bad comments from the estimated 150 players I ran for.


  54. Grue says:

    Great discussion guys. I think Justin Alexander hit the nail on the head when he mentioned dissociated mechanics. The new combat rules look very interesting tactically and probably play great, but they do significant damage to immersion, consistency, and imagination.

    The Justin’s link has some good examples. My favorite is some of the healing powers that require you hit an opponent. Exactly what kind of hit is that? Pretty silly. (The DMG even feels it necessary to clarify that you can’t just bring a bag of rats into combat with you, and kill a rat every time one of your opponents is low on hit points. I laugh whenever I visualize a party trying this strategy.)

    It’s basically a gamist vs simulationist debate. Do the practical gaming advantages outweigh the damage to imagination-land? In my case I’m not sure. As Adatur says above, it probably depends on your taste for combat vs storytelling.

  55. Jeff says:

    In this version of D&D, it’s now possible (legally) to shoot magic missiles at the darkness.

    Also, the gnome. Rawr!

  56. Anon says:

    Okay, so 4e fixed the combat bugs and shishkabobbed everything else to chrunchy charcoal

    thumbs down

  57. Andrul says:

    My group is finishing up Shackled City in 3.5 before starting on 4e. I really can’t give a final answer until I’ve played at least to 15th level but my initial impression from reading the rules has been somewhat negative. As I whipped out multiple characters without breaking a sweat I got the feeling the system is dumbed down to be a “starter” system to attract folks who never played before. Makes me wonder if they’ll be releasing Advanced D&D 4e in the future.

  58. Lionday says:

    I really like 4th ed then again I’m very young (15) and I’ve never played 3rd or 3.5 (I have played 2cd ed and i love that two). But I like how 4th ed has more Classes, Races and more ability’s. As for money wise my DM bought most of the books (All the PHB and the DMG and a MM and now he’s bought most of the extra player material). The game is fun its simple and it still allows for clever ideas. (This i tested when i became a skill monkey havering a 6 or 7 in ever class).

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