It amazes me that 4th edition is still such a hot button topic. Gamers are a passionate people who will debate, usually heatedly, topics which pull at their heart strings. No game is so dear to the gaming community at large than Dungeons and Dragons. The short little piece I wrote about an editorial in Knights of the Dinner Table has caused a number of comments, and emails on the topic. Most have come from fans of 4th edition who feel that their system is being slandered. Perhaps these people are highly defensive because of the years of fourth edition hate, but whatever the reason it proves that this is an issue that still divides the Gaming Community. While some people descend to petty things like insults and name calling it is good to see people like Graham who provide well thought-out responses to concerns regarding the system. Furthering understanding within the community rather than offering nothing more than scorn. For those of you who enjoy or are curious about 4th edition I encourage you to head over to Graham’s website.
Are we here at the Labyrinth anti 4th Edition? It was never something that I ever stopped to consider. We have three writers here: myself, Revil, and the Professor. All of us have varying opinions on all things RPG and we certainly don’t have any “company line” here. I can tell you that we don’t play 4th edition, have never played 4th edition, and currently have no plans to play it. None us of like the game preferring to play other systems, but does that make us anti 4th edition?
For myself I have read the 4th edition core rulebooks, though not cover to cover, and as I said I haven’t played the game. That having been said I have never written down some of the things that I dislike about the system and have kept me away from it for the last few years. Graham said in my last post that he would be happy to clear up any misunderstandings that I have about the rules so I started listing them, but they quickly became too long for a comment so I thought I would post them and move the discussion to a new venue.
As this isn’t a review of 4th edition I am not listing everything I dislike about the game, just enough to have a civil debate about various aspects of the system. Also, some of my problems are not with the game but more with Wizards of the Coast and how they have conducted themselves in the “4th edition Era.” I felt this is relevant because the way the company has conducted itself has caused me to be very disinclined to purchase their products. I’ve also listed those below.
Problems with the Books and Rules
1. Dumbed down
The game has been simplified, I would even go so far as to say oversimplified. This is because Wizards was attempting to draw in a new audience, a younger generation including those from the MMORPG market, and they felt that a simple game would serve better as an introduction to the hobby in general. I am always in favor of bringing new people into the hobby, but I feel to keep them you have to show them why the hobby is great. I don’t feel that 4th edition does that. Rather I feel it does a poor job of replicating the environment from which they were drawn.
2. Core Races
The Gnome, a staple PC race for many years, has been tossed out in favor of, “Cooler Races.” These races, Tiefling (why not the assamir as well?) and Dragonborn, remind me too much of other cheesy races like Eberron’s ever crappy Warforged. The Half-Orc also got the axe (har-har). Once races such as these were supposed to be exotic, but as core races they merely represent the new bizarre standard.
Druids, Monks, Bards and Sorcerers are out (I’ve only read the 3 original core rulebooks. I haven’t read the PHB 2 or 3, but it was my understanding some of these would appear there.) My theory is that they left out established D&D classes that people liked to ensure sales of later books while replacing them in the first core books with new untested classes such as the Warlord.
3. World of Warcraft
The Game is heavily influenced by World of Warcraft and a few other MMORPGs but WoW is principal among them. People who deny this are just engaging in a futile effort. I have no problem with World of Warcraft, have played it quite a bit and even enjoyed it. But that is a computer game. I expect more from D&D.
4. Skill merging
This is also a problem I have with Pathfinder. In their design notes one WotC writer asked, “Why would anyone want to hide and NOT move silently?” This seems a silly question to me. If one was in the woods and not wanting to move, but rather let someone move past them they would hide without moving silently. Merging skills was completely unnecessary and leads to a problem common in my group’s Pathfinder game, the overuse of a single skill. Perception is used about 87 times a night by each character and it gets old. Fast. I realize the change was to streamline the skill system, but logically why couldn’t a character be better at searching than listening?
5. Tactical Miniatures
Forth edition seem much more like a Tactical Miniatures game than a Roleplaying game to me. In fact, reading the rules I couldn’t imagine playing the game without miniatures. I wouldn't even know where to start.
Not all of the art is bad, but it is woefully inconsistent. A wide range of artists were used and rather than conforming to a single style they all produced works that varied greatly. Second edition was the same way, some of the art was amazing and other parts terrible. The Pathfinder books are a breath of fresh air here. They provide consistent high quality art of a matching style. In the end this really comes down to personal preference, you either like the art or you don’t. I’m one who just doesn’t, but hey you can’t please everyone.
7. Book Layout
The book just seems disorganized to me. Maybe I’m alone on this or maybe it is force of habit i.e. I think things would be in a certain place but they aren’t. The index seems too small to be useful and there wasn’t a glossary in the version I was reading, but maybe the second printing corrected that.
The game tells you what you should be doing by labeling you a certain kind of character. Controller, Striker, Leader, or Protector, terms derived from MMORPGs define what your character should be doing rather than letter you decide that for yourself. The game used to be about characters and stories, now it is about how much ranged DPS your striker Ranger can dish out. Different classes with the same label end up being much the same. Two Striker characters seem like they would play much the same regardless of their character class.
9. Resource Management Vs. At Will
D&D used to be about playing intelligently. Resource management was important for nearly all classes, Wizards perhaps most of all. They had spells, but few at early levels, so they needed to use them intelligently. 4th edition solves that “problem” by providing everyone with at will powers. However, at-will powers seem like they would often be used over and over again the majority of the time, and they seem to have the same basic effect for most of the classes.
10. The Mage’s Versatility
Mages used to make great versatile characters. They could have a large number of spells and study different ones depending on what they expected to encounter that day. This required things like planning, foresight, and intelligence. Now instead of the thirty spells he once had to choose from he has about five power choices. There are rituals, but these are not things that can be used in combat as they take a good deal of time and materials to use.
11. Casters vs. Noncasters
Speaking of the Mage what he used to be able to do made him special, but later in the game more dangerous than his fighter counterpart. That was deemed bad so instead he gets powers, the same number as many other classes. Not only that they function much the same. Since casters no longer have spells but rather have powers just as non-spellcasters it was easy to perfectly balance the game. Many caster powers seem to do things very similar to other characters of the same label. The end result being that what they do is really no longer all that special and there is very little difference between casters and non-casters of the same label. It is balanced though, you’ll get no argument from me on that front.
12. Healing Surges
I don’t like healing surges. They just don’t make much sense to me. I realize that some people felt that the cleric wasn’t much fun since he was designated the healer class by many, but I don’t agree with that. Healing surges are a contrived way to make the game easier, which seems to be a pretty common theme in 4th edition. Dying just isn’t fun for people so lets make it nearly impossible. They just seem to want to take the challenge out of the game, and if so then what is the point? Additionally healing surges just aren’t realistic. People don’t spontaneously regenerate “just because,” and I find it aggravating when WoTC writers write that, “People just aren’t thinking about Hit Points in the abstract.” Thank god I have them around to explain it to me. Bottom line is that I don’t like Healing surges, in fact I hate them.
13. Magic Items in the PHB
Why are the magic items in the Player’s Handbook rather than the Dungeon Master’s Guide? This isn’t a major issue in and of itself, but it speaks to a change in the culture of the game. By placing them in the Players Handbook you are saying that, like the general equipment, these items should be readily available to PCs with the amount of money listed. Another example of high fantasy getting too high for my taste.
14. Combat Focus
This game focuses nearly all of its attention on combat rather than roleplaying, plain and simple.
15. The Feel
The game just doesn’t feel like D&D to me. It is difficult to put into words what that means, but it is really that simple. For this reason above all I just don’t think 4th edition is the game for me.
Problems Wizards of the Coast
1. The Joke
When originally asked about 4th edition WoTC responded that there was no 4th edition, nor any plans to produce one yet. Rather they claimed it was an inner office joke.
2. Splat Books
I don’t like splat books, generally speaking. I didn’t buy any of the awful “Complete” series from 3.5 because they were downright terrible. With 4th edition even the core rulebooks are splat books. Do you really need a Players Handbook 3? The Players Handbook has always been a core rulebook so one might think that the PHB3 would also qualify based on its name, but I have my doubts.
3. Wizards vs. Technology
The books published by WoTC leading up to 4th edition, Races & Classes for example, were the most condescending garbage I have ever read in my life. I really mean that. I realize those were design notes and not actual rules for 4th edition and that is why I have listed it here rather than above.
5. Character Conversion
When third edition was released I was excited. Not just at the long awaited new edition, but at the prospect of converting the characters from our long running campaign using the conversion guide. Second edition and third edition were as different as night and day, but Wizards still provided a conversion guide. Third edition and fourth edition are far more similar yet for some reason no conversion guide was supplied. When asked in an interview about that one of the Wizards reps responded with something that amount to, “Don’t Bother even trying.” You don’t have to tell me twice!
7. Don’t blink or You might miss the New Edition
When 3rd edition came out many people were clamoring for it. There was a large gap between 2nd edition and 3E (11 years to be exact) so few saw the release as early or unnecessary. However, just 3 years later 3.5 was released. This was very early in my estimation, especially considering each book was now $30 rather than the $20 for the 3.0 books. But ok, now all was right, the rules had been patched and we wouldn’t see a new edition for quite some time. No, wrong again. Just four years after 3.5 Wizards announced 4th edition at GenCon. The game was released in 2008 making a grand total of three editions in eight years.
In closing let me just say that I wanted to like 4th edition. Who wouldn’t want to like a new edition of the game they have loved since they were a kid? What possible good does it do me to dislike 4th edition? I don’t know that I hate 4th edition as much as it just isn’t the game for me. If it is the game for you then I am happy, and even a little envious of you. For me, it looks like this is my stop. Maybe I’ll hop back on when 5th edition rolls around. Maybe the pendulum will swing back the other way. Only time will tell.