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So I've had a lot of (arguably too much) time to familiarise myself with Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition this summer (I've been playing in a couple of forum game over on Something Awful, which has a surprisingly good tabletop gaming forum). Not having been involved in any of the flamewars discussions that had been going on on various RPG forums before its release, I didn't have much in the way of preconceptions about it - nor was I familiar with much of the criticism it had drawn.

After reading the books and playing some forum games for a few weeks, it seems to me that 4E is continuing the trend of systematisation that 3E started - beating down the hornet's nest of idiosyncrasies that characterised AD&D and 2E, and leaving behind a more coherent, simpler to play, and simpler-to-run system in its wake.

There has been, of course, a cost to this, but frankly I consider it a cost worth paying. In fact, I was so impressed by my looks through the new Dungeon Master's Guide that I'm actually thinking of redoing my old Triad setting for 4E and running it as a play-by-post game (to hopefully avoid the scheduling issues that killed it the first time), likely over at SA.

Yes, some variety's been excised (though most of that was in the Wizard's spell list, and no doubt a ton of supplemental books will come out that turn most of 3.5's enormous spell list into appropriate rituals for out-of-combat use) Yes, the rules are a lot more focused on combat than they used to be (and basically impossible to run without a combat map now), but that's really just D&D playing to its strengths - it's always been better at running fights and similar tactical challenges than anything else, and it always needed a creative DM to push it beyond its limits and into the more emotionally and narratively fraught areas where the other games dwell. This hasn't changed.

Indeed, I've always thought that combats/conflicts and the use of supernatural powers were what most needed to be addressed by RPG rules systems, because detailed rules for social play aren't always a benefit, and can often be a hindrance to freeform social RP. (though this might actually be the result of my upbringing as a D&D player) To quote myself elsewhere:
The game can provide the rules for combat/skill checks, because that's what it needs to do (well, unless one is running a really hardcore LARP) at the bare minimum - provide a basis for resolution of challenges that would be difficult or impossible to do otherwise.

The rest can be left up to the DM and players- if they want to run a character drama as a motivation for those combats or tactical challenges, and to create a fuller and more coherent story...well, more power to them, but they can do it themselves, and it may well be more fulfilling that way than to have social situations resolved by dice rolls.

What has changed is that those combats are a lot easier to plan, a lot easier to play, and a lot easier to manage for both players and DMs. Not to mention a ton more fun for non-casting characters, due to the necessity of tactical movement. An improvement in one area coupled with a wash in another is a win in my books.



( Walk among 2 shadows — Cast a shadow )
Aug. 11th, 2008 11:24 am (UTC)
As a tactical game, I do agree that it is better. At the same time, the system seems to be build to steer characters towards class stereotypes for the classes in the same fashion as 1st ed rather then individual personalities/customization. I got in to D&D to play interesting heroes in creative fantasy worlds and that is halfway lacking.

*shrug* As a beer and pretzels game or one driven by tactics, it looks excellent. It's simply a more limited game then the one I first fell in love with.
Aug. 11th, 2008 02:46 pm (UTC)
As individual personalities, 4E really just says, "these races' bonuses are good for Class X": it barely addresses anything else with respect to characters as personalities rather than racial or class stereotypes, aside from the requisite page or two of suggestions.

When looking at selections of powers/abilities, you have more of a point, though it seems to me more that WOTC was trying to release what they had and make more money off us when the rest is done than that they were deliberately trying to restrict player ability to customise their characters' powers - again, aside from the requisite page or two of suggested character builds.

Either way, what we have right now is incomplete. Even looking at the classes as a grid (as WOTC seems to do internally), there are holes that will have to be filled, and no doubt the requisite flood of splatbooks will be along in short order to provide more choices of feats, paragon paths, and additional classes/class powers, but I like what I see in this framework so far, because they've managed to make all the choices they present viable ones. All the feats are worth taking, all the classes have their roles, all the powers have their uses: it all depends on what sort of character you want to make, and what you want to do.

A system based on character classes is always going to stereotype character abilities by class, that's the whole point, and the only way around it is multiclassing. I wasn't the biggest fan of 3E's multiclassing system because it was extremely vulnerable to min-maxing (among other problems), but I can understand that it offered exponentially more choice in character builds.

Yes, you're right, it's now a more limited rule system, but the system is better at the less it tries to do, and, IMO, maintains the lattitude to build interesting characters and creative fantasy worlds [i]around[/i] an effective and manageable combat/tactical system. D&D's always been better at dungeon crawling and dragonslaying than anything else, but it's always had the potential to create a more compelling game experience around said crawling and slaying, for those who want to, and for those willing to be creative.

That's why I (and, I think, you) play the game, and that's why I, at least, am happy with 4E.
( Walk among 2 shadows — Cast a shadow )