Wherein I debate 4e and call Healing Surges realistic

So I was rolling around the RPG Bloggers network, and came across a post on The Labyrinth regarding asinine statements about 4e. I agreed with him that the statement was asinine, but for very different reasons than originally stated, and we discussed it for a bit.

So Labyrinthian, who runs the blog, decided to put forth his points, and air all his dirty laundry about the system, to get my responses on it.

Many of the points, I had heard before. I tried to answer all of them as best I could.

But, as I am wont to do, my comment in reply to him ended up something like 8 pages long.

As such, I’m posting it here, and leaving Labyrinthian a link to it. It… it’ll just work better this way, I think.

Go read his post first (as I don’t feel comfortable copying his questions here without permission). Then read my responses below.

Well, since you asked for my answers to these points, here they are, as best I can give.

Callin gave some great answers, too, by the way.

Problems with the Books and Rules

1) Dumbed Down

Yes, the game is simpler and easier to play than 3e and prior editions. I’ve never understood why this is a bad thing, however. Why does something need to be difficult in order to be worthwhile?

Complexity is fun, sure, but it’s also a barrier to entry. Start with a simple system, and you can add complexity on top.

In addition, not everyone thinks complexity is fun. To appeal to the broadest audience, that additional complexity has to be optional. In 3e, most of the complexity was part of the core system. In 4e, they just made it optional, added complexity.

It’s a different design philosophy, and it won’t please everyone, but it makes it easier to expand their customer base.

2) Core Races

Tieflings and Dragonborn/Half-dragons were hugely popular in 3e, especially with the younger crowds.

Aasimar didn’t make it because they weren’t as popular, and as evidenced by your own post, nobody could remember how to spell (or pronounce) their name. They eventually made it back in, in a fashion, as the Deva.

Eladrin were included in order to have a split between the Galadrial-ish high elves and the Legolas-ish wood elves, as those two races have very little in common. This is basically what the 3e Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting did, as well. They just bumped it to core.

Gnomes got delayed… well, this is actually a kinda interesting story of deadlines and creativity:

See, gnomes have always been a bit weird, as a PC race. In some settings, they’re fey-ish tricksters. In others, they’re tinkers. In others, they’re short skinny dwarves. They never really had a set role in the world.

When designing the 4e PHB, they wanted to give the Gnome such a set place. But the deadline for the PHB was fast approaching, and they didn’t have time to finalise it all.

The deadline for the Monster Manual was a month or two further away, though, and they had already decided to include PC races in the monster manuals, so they hammered out the gnome’s place in the world (fey trickster), and included them in there with playable stats, with a full PC treatment in the PHB2.

Half-Orcs may have been a similar situation, but I’m less clear on that one. Suffice it to say that they did explain in no uncertain terms why certain races were left out of the PHB, and it wasn’t as simple as making people buy more books.

3) Classes

Similar for some of these, but also partially due to page count. With no classes charing the same spell list any more, adding a new class to a book doesn’t just take 2 pages for basic class features, and a reference to the spell list at the end of the book, anymore.

The Bard wasn’t a core class until 3e anyways, and sucked there, so it was delayed until they felt they could do it justice and make it worthwhile (PHB2).

The Druid was basically a nature Cleric with Wild Shape in 3e, and they again wanted to differentiate it more, but had a number of options to do so, with no clear direction to take. Again, they delayed it until the PHB2.

The Sorcerer was similar to the Druid, but needed to be differentiated from the Wizard. Again, they needed more design time to figure out just how t do so, and again, PHB2.

(All three of these classes ended up being very cool and unique in the PHB2, so I think they put that extra time to good use, and I’m happy they took it. The Bard and Sorcerer are my two favourite 4e classes.)

The Monk is a bit different. My guess is that, early in the 4e design process, the idea of the Monk being Psionic (mind over matter, and all that jazz – see most of the 3e Monk’s special abilities) came up and took hold with the design team, but they knew they didn’t want to introduce Psionics this early in the game. So it got slated for the PHB3, where Psionics came in.

(Aside from that, the Monk was always an outlier class anyways. Some people absolutely hated the idea of an asian-inspired class being part of their D&D game, just as some hate Psionics. It probably shouldn’t have been in the 3e PHB1 either.)

3 Again) World of Warcraft

…I’ve never quite understood this criticism.

Aside from the concept of roles, nothing in 4e came from WoW.

And even then, we’ve had those roles in D&D since 1e. But back then, we called them “Fighter, Wizard, Cleric and Thief”, or the “Core 4”.

4e only brought in names for those roles, and made it so that they weren’t tied to those specific classes. In 4e, nobody had to argue over who will play the Cleric (because EVERY group needs a Cleric). If nobody wants to play a Cleric, we also have the Bard, Artificer, Warlord, and Shaman to fill that role in the party.

Sorry, but I’ve never found someone (and believe me, I’ve asked), who could explain to me how 4e is like WoW in any satisfactory manner.

4) Skill Merging

You have a very valid point with respect to Searching vs Listen/Spot. But most of the other mergers make sense. Stealth, for instance: while there may be times when a player only cares about one, for whatever reason, these are the exception, not the rule. If my thief is invisible, but really loud, he’ll never be able to break into the bank. If he’s silent, but out in the open, same problem. For 99% of uses, you need to use both. As such, 99% of the time, a player will want to be trained in both. And for those situations when you only need to use one? Just roll for one. Nothing about the skill says you have to be using all of its finctions at one time.

But the biggest reason for skill streamlining was Rogues. In 3e, if you were the party Rogue, you were expected to be trained in:

  • Disable Device
  • Open Lock
  • Sleight of Hand
  • Hide
  • Move Silently
  • Search

Without these, the party would generally be disappointed, as you weren’t following their expectations as the skill monkey.

And it would have also been nice if you could have:

  • Disguise
  • Bluff
  • Forgery
  • Climb
  • Tumble
  • Gather Information

With all of those skills, you could be an effective Thief.

3e Rogues got 8+int skills. They would need an 18 Int just to get all of these skills, and still wouldn’t have any points left over for their own skill choices.

In 4e, you are expected, as a Thief, to be trained in:

  • Thievery
  • Stealth

Search, acrobatics, athletics and the social skills can be covered more easily by other party members, and you still get 5 more skills to choose, if you want to pick up one or two of them.

Did they simplify too much? Maybe. But 3e was a mess in the other direction.

5) Tactical Minis

Yeah, 4e does rely on minis somewhat more than 3e, but that was actually a calculated choice as well. WotC did surveys and focus groups, actually, and they found that the majority of people they talked to used minis with their games. As such, they embraced it somewhat, and the way they did it didn’t work for everyone.

There was also a shift towards tactical play, rather than strategic play (strategic play being things such as the Wizard planning out his spell usage for the day). This, again, won’t be for everyone, but it’s another thing that lowers the barrier for entry.

In strategic play, you need to worry about what may or may not come up later. As a new player, that’s hard. In tactical play, you mostly only need to concern yourself with what’s happening now. This is easier for most people to do.

6) Art

I personally like much of the art. The inconsistent stuff I’ve found has mostly been pieces reused from prior (3e) products. There are problems, but yeah, like you said, subjective.

But OMG, YES, the Pathfinder art is beautiful!

7) Book Layout

The book seems diaorganized at first because we’re used to the disorganization of prior editions. Both are organized, but they are so in different ways. For example, everything to do with a class is all together, rather than 3e’s placement of spells together at the end of the book. Honestly, most of the book’s organization hasn’t changed from 3e, just the amount in each section.

The index… yeah, the index is pretty shit. The TOC was pretty good, I just wish that had carried through.

8 ) Labels

See above about WoW. We’ve had these labels forever, we just didn’t have the same names for them. WoW stole the concept from us and defined it better, so D&D stole it back from them. Good game design is good game design.

As for this defining your character? Not a bloody chance! Was a 3e Rogue defined by the fact he could do +4d6 sneak attack damage? Did that make the game all about his DPS? Hell no!

The roles are guidelines to help you in choosing a class, and to assist you in designing new powers for said class. Nothing more. They say “Oh, you want to play a Ranger? Well, he’s a striker: a mobild, high-damage, low-defense character. That’s how you’ll end up in combat. Is that what you’d like?”

And if that’s not what you’d like? You take your character concept over to a class that does fit what you want out of your character.

There was nothing worse than deciding to play a swashbuckler as a 3e Fighter, and then realising at level 5 that you seriously gimped your character because you don’t view your character as wearing full plate and holding a shield. The roles just tell you what to expect from the start.

As for classes of the same role playing the same, I can tell you, from a group that has had 3 Striker characters in it at the same time (Barbarian, Avenger, Monk), none of them played the same. All three had a simila mechanical effect on the game, but they were all very distinct in their play, and never stepped on each others’ toes.

9) Resource Management vs At-Will

This goes back a bit to the Tactical/Strategic point I made earlier, and also to the point I made on the other thread.

  • Strategic play is harder to get into as a newbie. Most new Wizards blew all their spells in their first combat, and were then stuck using a sling.
  • Not everyone enjoys resource management. I know about half of my old D&D groups actively avoided playing casters in 3e, because they didn’t like the resource management. When half of your audience (likely more of your potential audience) avoids more than half of your classes, you have a problem.

For a low-level Wizard in prior editions, you would cast a couple spells, and then resort to firing a crossbow or sling for the rest of the combat.

At-Will powers are the 4e Crossbow. But unlike the crossbow, you still get to feel like a mage, using magic, when you use them.

In other words, you get to feel like the character you made. A mage.

10) The Mage’s Versatility

Yes, Mages used to be the epic swiss-army-knife of the adventuring party.

For why they’re not now, see above.

  • Many (possibly even most) people don’t enjoy the amount of micromanagement required for such a character.
  • When you get it right, it felt great, but when you mis-guessed (or your DM was being an ass), you were now the most useless character in the party.
  • The amount of experience required to be able to get it right a majority of the time was a huge barrier to newer players playing those classes.

I had one player who decided to play her first Cleric. She took spells such as Speak With Dead, Calm Emotions, Bless Water, Comprehend Languages, and Endure Elements, because they sounded useful. Unfortunately, the module I was running didn’t have a lot of use for said spells, and she got pissed off at the game, because she wanted to take these in case there were times when they would be useful, but that precluded her from taking more universally-useful spells like Bless amd Protection from Evil. We eventually got around it using scrolls, but she never enjoyed the spell system in 3e.

For a lot of players, having to make those decisions up-front is terrifying. As such, they’ll prepare generally-useful combat spells, and buy scrolls for other situations.

In 4e, they’ll choose their powers, and buy rituals for other situations.

That said, the ritual system is less than perfect, by far. They could have done a much better job with that.

But yes, Mages are less versatile in 4e. Non-mages are now more versatile. My Fighter can now do more than just “hit it with my sword”.

11) Casters vs. Noncasters

I think I explained this well in my previous post, but I’ll reiterate.

If a player in 3e, who has only played Fighters, wants to try a Wizard, what is required? Learning no less than (and probably more than) 5 new rules subsystems.

  • spellcasting mechanics in general
  • vancian magic and spell prep
  • save DCs and which spells call for them/require attack rolls
  • spell penetration and caster level checks
  • what all of their spells known do (for Divine, what all of the divine spells in the game [up to their level] do)
  • and potentially spell failure and somatic/verbal/material/XP components

For vice versa?

  • Um… heavy armour slows you down.

If a player in 4e, who has only played Fighters, now wants to try a Wizard, what is required?

  • what their new powers do
  • the Wizard’s Daily spell prep (far simplified from prior editions)

For vice versa?

  • what their new powers do
  • marking

It allows for more movement between classes, especially for new players.

But also, as Callin said, why should Mages be the only ones who get to be special? The only ones who get to have fun and versatility?

Honestly, majority of people I saw hating 4e at the beginning were huge mage fans, while the majority I saw loving it were huge Fighter fans. I think that should tell us something about how the classes were in 3e.

12) Healing Surges

Callin’s a bit off, here. Actually, the concept of damage hasn’t changed at all. Back in AD&D, Gygax had said that hit points are an abstract measurement.

But that’s not going to help in this situation.

You say that people don’t regenerate “just because”? You say that healing surges aren’t realistic? I would like you to follow me on a real-life example.

Do you go to the gym? Do pushups? How many pushups can you do? For sake of argument, lets say you can do 30 pushups at once.

Alright, now do 90!

Try to do 90, and you’re down for the count, aren’t you?

But wait, we know you can do 30 at once, right?

So how about doing 30, taking a 5 minute break, doing 30 more, 5 minute break, and then 30 more? Doe that seem possible? Damn straight it is.

Those 30 pushups you can do are your hit points. They’re how much of a beating your body can take at one time.

The 5 minute breaks are where you recover. They’re where healing surges are spent, gatorade is drank, and you get ready to do it again.

So if you say the concept of healing surges is unrealistic, I say bullshit. The concept of hit points without such a thing as healing surges is far more unrealistic!

13) Magic Items in the PHB

Magic Items are in the PHB because players like to look at them, and often (in many games) buy and sell them (or craft them, at which point they need their stats and market price). There is no reason a player should ever need to have a copy of the DMG in his hands. This also applies to summon spells and the monster manual.

A 3e player need the PHB, the DMG occasionally for items, and the MM occasionally for summons and animal companions. A 4e player needs the PHB and nothing else.

14) Combat Focus

False, false, false, and yet I keep hearing it.

Yes, the 4e books and system focus the vast majority of their rules on combat. But the game (in play) does no such thing.

How can this be? Well, it’s simple.

You don’t need rules for roleplaying!

We didn’t need rules for even Bluff checks and diplomacy back in AD&D. In AD&D, there was even more of a combat focus in the rulebooks than there is in 4e.

My last game session was 4 hours long. 3 hours of that were roleplaying, with a few skill checks. Don’t anybody try to tell me 4e limits roleplaying.

…can you tell this one bothers me a bit? :blink:

(Can I also say that I’ve watched that video review a while back, and the amount of stuff that he assume and/or doesn’t seem to have any idea what he’s talking about… y’know what, never mind. Those reviews are aggrivating, not because he dislikes 4e, but because he can’t seem to be unbiased in his reviewing of a product. Maybe that bias is what people go to him for, I don’t really know.)

15) The Feel

And here we get to the most valid reason not to play 4e.

If it doesn’t feel right, then don’t play it. Plain and simple. 4e will not be the game for everyone, I have no delusions about that. And, having talked with some of the designers about this specific topic, neither do they.

Just keep gaming, keep having fun, and keep introducing new players into the hobby (while trying not to instill prejudices against any given system, in order to allow them their omn opinions on it all), and I’ll wish you all the best.

Problems Wizards of the Coast

1) The Joke

Actually, this was never said.

“Sadly the advice is still wrong. As was stated above, the “no 4E” did not come from any dev, but from an ORC at that time. So no, the devs had not said “There will be no fourth edition”. A forum moderator said he was not aware of any 4th Edition. But just as the cleaning lady does not really know what’s going on in WorldDomination Inc. so does an ORC not know what’s going on inside of WotC’s development circles. ”


This keeps getting passed around as something the developers said, but it was not. The question was asked to somebody that wouldn’t have known about it, and it was answered as best he knew (he hadn’t heard anything about it).

2) Splat Books

The PHB2, DMG2, amd MM2/3/4/5 all started in 3e (Monster books before that).

The books are being released as PHB2/3/4/5/whatever instead of Complete X in order to cement the idea of new material being core, yes. This is for two reasons, however.

  • to encourage DMs to not disregard material their players like just because it’s “from a splatbook”
  • to encourage a higher standard among development. When the books are all core, the quality standard has to be higher. There is no such thing as allowing a broken-powerful class into the game, just because it’s in a splatbook.

Grand total, though, they’re just splatbooks, and only the PHB1 is necessary to play the game. If you dislike splatbooks, then treat them as such.

3) Wizards vs. Technology

Yeah, the Tech stuff around launch was a clusterfuck. However, they are getting better. Then character builder was good, and the monster builder is spectacular.

As for the game table, I don’t know who you have saying it’s all but abandoned, but word from the horse’s mouth is that they were really embarassed at launch, and as such they’re continuing work on their tech projects more silently from now on. Running their mouths off about what they’d have available got them in trouble, and they don’t want to do that any more.

The word is, it is being worked on, it will come when it’s ready, and it won’t really be discussed until it’s ready to be announced and released.

4) Condescension

Not sure what you mean here. From what I read of Races and Classes, I didn’t see this (didn’t bother reading the Monsters one).

5) Character Conversion

Callin nailed this one. While 2e and 3e had some major mechanical differences, characters still relied on the same basic systems.

2e to 3e conversion was basically:

  • What class are you?
  • What race?
  • What level?
  • Alright, here’s how your spells changed.
  • Now choose skills and feats.

3e to 4e has a much greater distance between the two conceptually. While the core mechanic stayed mostly the same (roll a d20, add numbers, compare to a DC), characters changed drastically. The power system, the skill system, even the feat system, and especially the multiclass system – all of this changed in major ways.

A direct conversion guide for 3e to 4e would be like a direct conversion guide from 3e to GURPS. Possible, but horrendously complex and not all that helpful in the long run. The best advice truly is to build a new character of the appropriate level, trying to capture the same spirit of the old one.

  • 7) Don’t blink or You might miss the New Edition

Okay, firstly, I’d like to remind everyone that WotC themselves never actually said there would be no 4e.

Now, yes, you’re right, when 3e came, people were clamouring for a new edition.

But you know what else was happening at the same time? TSR was going bankrupt.

One big thing that WotC has said they wanted to do for 4e was get it out when the time was right to do so, rather than wait until they were in the same position TSR was in.

I can’t really blame them for not wanting to end up like TSR.

Additionally,just how short the release schedule actually is has been addressed elsewhere. It’s an interesting read.

Re: the part you liked

Bloodied was a great addition to the game. They had actually tried the AC/attack penalties “condition track” in Star Wars SAGA edition, before 4e was announced. It worked, but it was cumbersome to keep track of for every NPC, and people often overlooked it.

They kept the basic principle, however, in the Disease rules.


So, Labyrinthian, I hope I’ve answered all of your questions satisfactorily. I hope you have a bit of newfound insight into just why some decisions were made, and why we like the game that you don’t.


WolfStar76  on April 4th, 2010

A terrific overall rebuttal, if I may say so.

Alas, I do have one correction to give you. While I can’t speak to the un-named ORC (formerly WizOs) speaking about 4E being an in-house joke, the devs DID claim there was no 4E.

At D&D eXPerience 2007 (Feb/Mar of 2007) there was an R&D conference. I was in attendance. Someone raised his hand and asked very plainly “When can we expect 4th Edition?”

I had been on the forums a while, and I rolled my eyes. I knew there was no 4E being made.

Sure enough, the dev team confirmed this. “We are not working on 4th Edition” was the answer.

Come GenCon 2007 – a scant 6 months later, Sagamore Ballroom was cut in half. Advertisements in the GenCon catalog, and on all the hotel room keys in town myusteriously said “4dventure” – and 4th Edition was announced.

Now, I *love* 4E, and after actually hearing out the announcements made at GenCon I went from feeling upset/betrayed to REALLY looking forward to 4E (sampling/testing 4E at DDXP 2008 help even more).

However, I can still sympathize with people who feel they were misled by WotC on 4E. While I sympathize with WotC not wanting to announce or talk about 4E when they were asked at DDXP07, the correct answer would have been “no comment” or to at least dodge and say “We’re still working on a lot of 3.5 material”.

To say they weren’t working on 4E (when they later announced they’d been working on it for 2 years) wasn’t a move that gained them any trust.

For what it’s worth.

mudbunny  on April 4th, 2010

Is it possible (and I am just playing devil’s advocate here) that the person who was talking at DDXP had no idea that 4E was being developed? From what I understand from the Wizards Presents books, 4E was held very tightly to the chest for quite a while.

WolfStar76  on April 4th, 2010

I doubt I recoreded it in my notes from the time but it was someone who’d have been in the know. I want to say it was either Mike Mearls or Andy Collins – but it’s been too long for me to pin it down as such.

Again, I totally sympathize with them not wanting to announce anything, I think it was just a knee-jerk “we weren’t really ready for that question” reaction to deny it.

Put simply, it was most likely (IMHO) an honest mistake to word it as they did – but it does give critics a sticking point, much as I’d prefer it didn’t.

Labyrinthian  on April 4th, 2010

Hey Graham. First just wanted to say that I love the site!

Second, thanks for your responses to my concerns regarding 4th edition. As usual your well thought out and lucid counterpoints are a breath of fresh air in an era when most would rather just post a quick, rude and often childish insult.

While people may never agree on what constitutes a good system I do think that we could all do with a little more understanding and a lot more tolerance. I certainly feel more informed about 4th edition than in the past, with more insight than ever about why those who play it love it. Though gamers will likely never all agree that one system is best we are still on the same side on one issue. We all want the hobby, not only survive, but to thrive.


Graham  on April 4th, 2010

@WolfStar76 –

I’ll trust you on that, but I have no idea. I’ve never seen anybody point to a specific source, even notes on the convention from that time. (Critical Hits didn’t cover it either, it seems.)

Was it too early? Probably. Monte Cook said it well, it seems:

” To be blunt, 2007 would be too early–sales would not be as good, and the finished game would likely have been rushed. It would be very bad news for the game, for people working on the game, and likely for the rpg hobby as a whole (remember, so goes Wizards…)”

It wasn’t the doom and gloom he predicted, but it did affect reception.


@Labyrinthian –

Thanks. I got the kickass Gully Dwarf art from a webcomic artist I did coding for.

Man, you can always get good, well-thought-out comments if you know where to look for them. Myself, Critical-Hits.com, and the ChattyDM will all be willing to give you a good, well-thought-out discussion, if you want to talk more about editions. Or anything.

Feel free to email me at the address I left you, or the link at the top right of the page, if you ever want to discuss more.

Not only will people never agree on what system is best, they shouldn’t! Having multiple systems and multiple points of view is always a benefit for the hobby.

The tolerance, however, has been lacking in the past few years.

Personally, I went with 4e for two (related) reasons:

– It addressed some major issues I was having with the system. Primarily, the 5-minute workday, the spell system (and the problems teaching the spell system to newbies), the fact that mages overshadowed everyone at high levels, and the fact that my Cleric player was feeling useless, as she couldn’t spend her spells on anything but healing. Oh, and save-or-die spells. And the immense amount of work involved in creating new monsters (which would have also been solved by older editions, true).

– The lower entry barrier, as described above. In all my games over the past, say, 5 years, I have not once played in a group where at least one person wasn’t brand new to D&D. 4e made it far easier to bring these new people in.

For people with old, established groups, that one is, obviously, far less of an issue.

Honestly, I think you’d probably enjoy a game of 4e, if you played with a good group/GM. Just as I’d probably enjoy a game of Hackmaster with the right group/GM. Neither of us would likely convert to the other for our home games, but that’s not the point, now, is it.

I’d be willing to attempt this experiment with you, it you’re coming to Gencon. =)

Cheers as well!

faustusnotes  on April 5th, 2010

I’d like to add to your response to just two of the questions.

5) tactical minis
I’m sorry but all D&D has been about tactical minis. In the 80s all the gamers were obssessed with using them and always looking for ways to fit them in. D&D3.5e explicitly used them, and it was really horrible to play with people who were picky about using all the rules for facing, occupied squares, etc. So this is not a “new” 4e phenomenon.

9), 10) and 11) about casters
Players of earlier editions and fans of Vancian magic systems are fond of the notion of “intelligently” using spells at early levels, to make the wizard powerful. In practice there’s no “intelligent” way to use a single spell that does as much damage as a single hit from a fighter. There are actually very few spells at early levels that can be used intelligently and most of those are quite restricted, and depend a lot on goodwill from the DM (I’m thinking especially of the illusion type spells). In my experience the same types of DMs who love Vancian magic and minis in 3.5e are the ones least likely to tolerate any creativity with those spells… plus of course you only get to be creative once a day, whereas the other characters get to be brutal as much as they want, or be creative with traps and stealth as much as they want. The Vancian magic system was terrible and should have been ditched long ago – it’s the first thing people house rule away and no other system restricts wizards to the extent that D&D does. Strong advocates of the earlier systems “as written” need to recognise that they’re in a significant minority of gamers in their regard for Vancian magic.

Graham  on April 5th, 2010

Hi faustusnotes.

5) While minis have indeed been a part of the game since the beginning, there is really no arguing that 4e was a shift more towards a tactical way of playing the game (as was 3e, but 4e goes further). Minis are also harder to extract from the game in 4e than they ever were.

9/10/11) I don’t know that those who used Vancian magic as written were the minority. Those who were never frustrated by the limits of Vancian magic are probably a minority. But even with my frustrations, I pretty much used the spell system in 3e as written. I just didn’t see a better alternative at the time.

Maybe spell points would have been a better option. I don’t know.

Graham  on April 5th, 2010

Also, I’d just like to say how pleased I am with everyone here.

The original thread over at the Labyrinth (in no part due to Lar, as he presented a largely reasonable and non-angry post, and didn’t stir the pot in the comments) quickly turned into a 20-comment rant about things not being D&D, hatred of 4e, and even some personal attacks against those who like the game, all interspersed among, and detracting from, the reasonable opinions on both sides of the discussion. Here, there have been no such things.

Maybe this post got missed on the network my most people? Maybe the old-school audience is just still more angry and confrontational about the whole thing?

…Maybe it’s because I posted this on Easter, and the hatred is still to come? (I hope it doesn’t.)

Regardless, I am once again proud of my readership.

(Well, also for the fact that they came out of the woodwork so quickly again after 3 months of non-posting!)

Graham  on April 5th, 2010

Oh, I should also note, the quote I gave from Monte Cook above was stating that a RELEASE in 2007 would be too early, whereas an announcement in 2007, with a release in 2008 would be expected. Having the release in early 2008, as they did, was probably borderline.

Though it could also be that the anti-4e crowd is just more vocal this time around. There was an anti-3e crowd, too, despite TSR going bankrupt and people clamouring for a change.

WotC did sell out of their initial 4e print run before launch, after all. The release date couldn’t have affected sales all that much.

Stripes  on April 5th, 2010

You said all 4e got from WoW was the role concept.

The 4e devs directly compared the new marks system to WoW’s taunts/aggro managment system. Personally I think it is a great addition.

Some folks think the magic item system is WoW derivitave, I’m unconvinced. Except for set bonuses. Those had to be borrowed back from WoW.

There may be others, but I don’t think “that was WoW derived” is at all a useful way to evaluate how fun or balenced a rule is. Plus I don’t think a game is bad because it is derivitave, or good because it is novel.

(for the record I play 4e and enjoy it, I like the more 1e RP in it, it inspired me to break out my blue box set… But I also like a lot of non WOTC/TSR games)

Grendelwulf  on April 5th, 2010

Graham on April 5th, 2010
The original thread over at the Labyrinth (in no part due to Lar, as he presented a largely reasonable and non-angry post, and didn’t stir the pot in the comments) quickly turned into a 20-comment rant about things not being D&D, hatred of 4e, and even some personal attacks against those who like the game, all interspersed among, and detracting from, the reasonable opinions on both sides of the discussion. Here, there have been no such things.

Out of 20+ comments, you happen to pick three things listed in my two posts. Thanks for misrepresenting me.

1. Different systems are, to me, different games. I stated such at the Labyrinth. 4E is not D&D. For me.

2. I never said I hated 4E. I play it. It has a different style of play, which in spite of not being D&D, is still enjoyable.

3. I personally would have preferred WotC to have been brave to call it a new game and not just slap a “brand name” on it for sales. I called the WotC designers either “delusional” for a new game by an old name. Again, my opinion. I never name-called players of 4E. I am one of them too. Again, my opinion.

I agreed the most important thing in the RPG community was that it thrived. I share the same interest & oassion about gaming as anyone else here. I already elaborated enough in my response to your last post criticizing me at the Labyrinth, so I will go no further here.

Now, as you say in this blog, you like to debate 4E. Fine. Allow me to do so as well if you mean what you say.


Graham  on April 5th, 2010

Hi Grendelwulf –

Yes, you were the one who called it “not D&D”, and called anybody who thought differently “delusional”. But the hatred came from a few others.

4e was called an “abomination” by Yoo Hoo Tom, and was hated on by a Angel_Falls and Anonymous. It was also called “not D&D” by WhiteTower.

So no, I wasn’t specifically targeting you, though you were part of what I was talking about. Sorry if it seemed otherwise.

As far as name-calling 4e players, I addressed this in my reply on the Labyrinth. You did call us delusional, even if it was unintentional. Not knowing the intent, it was pretty insulting.

I do mean what I say, and I enjoy discussion about this sort of thing. But the “It’s not D&D” argument has been hammered into the ground too much for too many reasons to have any intrinsic meaning any more. Without further explanation, I have nothing to instantly go off of to debate, unless we get into an “it’s not D&D” “it is D&D” back and forth.

So I’m happy to talk about this stuff with you.

Just give me more to go off of.

Grendelwulf  on April 5th, 2010

“…as do a LOT of D&D players”

So I did. My bad afterall. Focused on the “guys at WotC” so much, I lumped everyone together.

For that insult, I apologise. I guess my milk & cookies weren’t agreeing with me.

I certainly don’t want to waste our time with “it is/it isn’t”.

I’ll be more careful with my wording in the future. I do look forward to discussing more about 4E.


Graham  on April 5th, 2010

Repost from the other thread (perhaps we should keep the discussion to one of the other):

No worries. It’s obvious now that you didn’t mean it.

As for the “not D&D” argument above, it’s a personal pet peeve of mine. Perhaps you have good reasons why you believe it doesn’t feel like D&D to you, but I’ve seen it so many times as a broad, sweeping statement, that it’s hard not to get annoyed when it comes up, without other arguments backing it up, as it always seems to.

For the record, I’m completely fine with the statement of “It doesn’t feel like D&D to me”. That’s opinion.

But when it’s stated that “4e is not D&D and shouldn’t have been called such”, then it’s being stated as a fact, as though it’s indisputable. (Combine that with the perceived insult from before, and I hope you understand why I was getting irritated, and assumed you were borderline-trolling.)

I’m happy that I was wrong.

Full-Spectrum Thoughts: The Traitors Among Us : Critical Hits  on April 6th, 2010

[…] arguing  and debate mind you, this is necessary and healthy for all creative fields.  I mean that while my good friend Graham occasionally gets on my nerves with his long-winded defences of D&D 4e, I find that he does it […]

user@example.com  on April 7th, 2010

“The 4e devs directly compared the new marks system to WoW’s taunts/aggro managment system. Personally I think it is a great addition.”

(I’m not arguing with you here)

Yeah. Looking at WoW and D&D, fighters (and other defenderish fighter subclasses and the like) desperately needed something aggro-like. In earlier editions, short of physically blocking a narrow chokepoint or doing enough damage to be a bigger threat than the squishies, they had no way of actually defending anyone for more than a turn or so without being very lucky and fighting a single enemy.

The thing is, WoW’s aggro mechanics kinda suck, as do those in most MMOs. 4e took the idea of a mechanic to force monsters to focus on the defender, but didn’t take the actual mechanics – the devs came up with a much better method than the “AGGRO METER HIGH, ATTACK!” method MMOs tend to use. When you look at the way defenders defend, they not only use a different method than MMO tanks, they use multiple good and effective methods, which despite being different for each class all work well and have different tactical implications. That’s a brilliant piece of game design – recognise a flaw, take the basic idea someone else has used to fix it, and build a whole selection of new and improved fixes for players to choose from. Which don’t suck.

Now, hopefully MMOs might figure out a way to steal and improve on 4e’s mechanics, so 5e can steal and improve on something even better, and we’ll get a positive feedback loop of good game design going.

darjr  on April 7th, 2010

Gary Gygax himself liked a less complex rules system than 3e or 3.5e. Was he playing a ‘dumbed down’ version of D&D?

I’d say that he was not.

Geek Ken  on April 7th, 2010

I used to play AD&D and stopped after high school. Loved the game. Ate it up. I had an opportunity to jump into a 3.5 game and found my interest sort of waning. Yeah, all the crunchy bits were there, but at the heart of it was a game that punished players till they hopefully advanced enough to about 3rd level to be able to actually do something.

No thanks. I like how 4E empowers players with options and grants them some ability to actually do something, rather than hope they don’t get whacked by a critical hit (let’s not forget the whole ‘save or die’ bit). I guess some folks find it ‘challenging.’ I call it bad game design. People can still cling to their old editions and play the game. I’m glad WotC has dumped much of that philosophy and made a fun RPG with 4E.

Graham  on April 7th, 2010

Re: marks and WoW influence –

Good points, both of you. Though I do wonder if there might be a game that is closer to the 4e marking system than WoW (whether an MMO or not) that we could make a better link with.

@darjr –

Very good point. Perhaps better is to remember that, while he preferred other systems and was never afraid to say he didn’t care for 3e, he never called any 3e fans “wrong” or disparaged them for liking something else. (Despite early, very tasteless claims that he’d be rolling over in his grave over 4e.)

As he said before:

“I would like the world to remember me as the guy who really enjoyed playing games and sharing his knowledge and his fun pastimes with everybody else”

(That article’s a good read, btw. He even talks about how even minis games have inherent roleplaying to them, which is one of the common anti-4e arguments.)

Federico Figueredo  on April 8th, 2010

Combat Focus
False, false, false, and yet I keep hearing it.
Yes, the 4e books and system focus the vast majority of their rules on combat. But the game (in play) does no such thing.
How can this be? Well, it’s simple.
****You don’t need rules for roleplaying!****

The ruleset for D&D 4th focuses heavily on combat. This is a design decision (and not a bad one per se.) Other games will have rules that deal heavily with acting or telling a story to the detriment of combat rules. This, also, is a design decision.

We don’t need rules for role-playing as much as we don’t need rules for running combats. Rules regulate the interaction with and production of fiction and each ruleset encourages (and discourages) certain behaviours.

Graham  on April 8th, 2010

@Federico –

Valid point, though I can’t think of many RP-focused games that are rules heavy. Most present a basic framework to work within, and then leave adjudication up to the GM. (If you have an example of one that really structures it, I’d like to hear it.) So while the combat rules are probably a lot less than 4e, the non-combat sections aren’t necessarily longer.

Now that I think about it, though, 4e’s non-combat rules are just as thick as 3e’s, and probably more structured. Sure, they dropped some noncombat spells, and replaced them with rituals, and they lost the Profession/Craft/Perform skills, but they added Skill Challenges.

With Skill Challenges, the non-combat conflicts in 4e got significantly more structured than in 3e, and the level of combat/noncombat rules stayed about the same.

So yeah, I still don’t really understand the complaint, at least as far as comparisons to previous D&Ds are concerned.

Nicholas  on April 8th, 2010

“Sorry, but I’ve never found someone (and believe me, I’ve asked), who could explain to me how 4e is like WoW in any satisfactory manner.”

I agree with your rebuttal, and do like 4E quite a bit. However, while I do not believe any comparison between WoW and 4E is a negative, I can see where people get such ideas.

1) The idea of “special attacks.”
While yes, you can just make a basic attack, for the most part you use your at-will powers, which often have a special flavor to them. This is very similar to the attack powers in a game like WoW. Sure, you can auto-attack in WoW, but you also might use a Cleave or Heroic Strike, etc.

2) “Cooldowns.”
In a game like WoW, besides your basic special attacks, you also have “cooldowns” which are usually more powerful special attacks or utility powers that have a longer delay between uses to balance their extra potency. These can clearly be construed as analogues to Encounter and Daily powers.

3) Racial Powers.
In WoW, each race usually had some special benefits, some were passive, and others were active, such a the War Stomp of a Tauren or a Night Elf’s Shadowmeld. This idea also exists in 4E, where besides passive bonuses, many races are given Racial Powers, usually Encounter powers, which are also similar to what you’d see in WoW. A racial ability with a 3 to 5 minute cooldown is pretty similar to an Encounter power, given the average encounter in WoW would probably be over before the ability recharged.

4) Metagame rules.
4E is not a simulationist game anymore, and I like that. The rules are more “meta” now, and by that I mean that they describe things to us, the Player, more than they inform the Character.

For example, a sword swing, or cast spell, was probably translated in-game nearly 100%. The game rules of earlier editions are like the physics of the world that the Characters would understand. In other words, you can easily Roleplay the rules.

In 4E however, the rules are not easily roleplayed. A Fighter doesn’t memorize or “rehearse” a particularly devastating swing, such that he can only do it once a day. That is kind of silly. Instead, we as Players understand that the Encounter/Daily type powers are apportioned for game balance reasons, and do not accurately represent how our characters view their world. Or at least I hope people don’t roleplay that way! 😆

So yes, while the analogy is perhaps somewhat overwrought, I do not think it is completely baseless to suggest that MMOs and 4E share some characteristics. But again I do not see this as bad. Who are the younger generation of gamers that D&D needs to attract? People who have grown up playing Computer RPGs. Chances are you ask someone young what an RPG is and the first thing that pops into their mind will be a computer game. So I think that creating cross appeal is not a bad strategy, intentional or otherwise.

EDIT: Also as noted above the Marking system is similar to aggro management rules in MMOs.

Nicholas  on April 8th, 2010

@Graham: Rules Heavy Roleplay games are probably more likely going to be your experimental games, and the kinds that you will see talked about at the Forge, where they are heavily invested in game mechanics.

For example, Dogs In The Vineyard is a game wherein the roleplay and mechanics are heavily connected, because it was created in the spirit where if its in the game (such as RP) it needs to be mechanically supported, or else why is it there? Likewise, extraneous rules should be purged.

Graham  on April 8th, 2010

@Nicholas –

I’m still not 100% convinced, there.

1) No special attacks in WoW are at-will, anyways. Most have short cooldowns, but that’s still a different concept. As for at-will ranged magical attacks (as Wand users in WoW can do), Diablo 2’s wands beat WoW by a while. Encounter/Daily, well…

2) We’ve had powers with Daily cooldowns since OD&D, so not those. Encounter powers are newer, but are also a fairly natural progression. In WoW, the cooldowns are usually very short (2-30 seconds), allowing you to use them multiple times in a big encounter (sometimes only once in a random battle, but I don’t think trash mobs are the standard to compare against).

Really, the thing that limits how many times you can use powers in an encounter in WoW is mana (or rage or whatever). In a huge boss battle in a raid, you’ll be fighting that battle for 10 minutes. 99% of WoW powers have recharge times under 30 seconds, so they really don’t fall into encounter powers. Or at-wills, for that matter.

So yeah, MMOs really played on short cooldowns, but I’m pretty sure other tabletop games dealt with per-encounter (or per-scene) abilities before 4e (I’m thinking Mutants and Masterminds, but could be thinking of something else). It’s much easier to trace it more directly to them.

3) This one is borderline. All 3e races gave passive bonuses, and some gave per-day special abilities, too. The earliest example of such a “racial power”, to me, is the AD&D elf’s detect secret doors ability. 3e Drow had Darkness/etc spell-likes, Aasimar had Light and such. However, WoW did popularize and codify the concept of a racial power.

So influenced by? Sure. But invented by? No.

4) While 4e is less simulationist than 3e, 3e wasn’t horribly simulationist itself. If we’re assuming that to be simulationist you need to be able to view the world through the mechanics, I doubt 3e characters saw the world as save DCs and ability scores (OOtS notwithstanding, of course).

That said, if we take the most simulationist games out there (GURPS, for example), I doubt we could do the same, either.

If, on the other hand, we view simulationism as an attempt to accurately model a given setting/genre, I think 4e is just as simulationist as 3e, 1e, or whatever. Given, it’s modeling a more heroic fantasy than previous editions were (speaking mainly of competence of PCs), but none of them modeled anything horribly realistically. 1e in particular attempted to, in its many optional table, but fell on its face as often as it succeeded.

As far as encounter/daily powers go, all that affects is how often the characters in your heroic fantasy fiction get to use their cool moves. Unless you’re trying to model a specific magic system, this doesn’t affect simulationism in my mind.

In fact, due to 3e and prior’s insistence on Vancian magic, they were very limited in their ability to model any non-Vancian subgenres of fantasy. 4e, on the other hand, has difficulty with Vancian, but is better at a number of others.

So yeah, there are analogues you can draw, but when you get down to it, the analogues are usually hazy at best. Note as well that I don’t think similarity to WoW is an intrinsically bad thing. Good design is good design, after all.

But when the broad negative argument of “4e is just WoW on paper” comes up? Well, that’s just bull. Some things definitely took influence from the better design aspects of WoW, and other things are similar to, but distinctly different from, aspects of WoW, but to claim it is heavily influenced, and that denying so is a “futile effort”, well, let’s just say I disagree. =)

I should also say, my response to this one was less frustration about Labyrinthian’s statement, and more about this argument (and the extreme “4e is just WoW” version) coming up again and again.


Re: rules-heavy roleplay-focused games

I was under the impression Dogs was a rules-light game. Is it not?

lookintomyeyes83  on April 8th, 2010

Hmm, didnt get a chance to read all the way through, but I do see some of the peeps reasons for not liking 4e.

1) The art. It sucks. I LOVED how the 3e books like old tomes. The 4e ones…look like graphic novels for teenagers. I admit wholeheartedly to hating them.

2) “Labels” names. I liked cleric, thief, etc. The new names confuse me no matter how many times I hear them. I think this is largely though because I am more of a roleplaying person and really don’t care what my char’s ‘main goal’ is. In my head, they are there to live in the world thats created around them, and have fun with it.

3) Definitely more mini-heavy. I admit, I LOVE minis, esp ones that look like my char, but again, having to use them to plan tactics makes me go ‘sigh’. Probably because I like area-effect spells better than “push a char X spaces forward/back”

That said, I DID enjoy some things in 4e:

1) Being a cleric sucked a hell of a lot less. You mean other people can heal THEMSELVES?! AWESOME. (Enough said.)

2) Combined skills. Yeah, perhaps it’s cheating a bit, but I enjoy having a char with lots of skills, and it was very difficult with 3e. Its easier with 4e because you can do the same amount with less of them.

And to be fair, I should also comment on things I like about D&D in general:
1) Roleplaying!
2) Die rolling!
3) In a good game with a good DM, you can ‘flavor text’ your char into what ever you want it to be. Turns out for me, being a spellcaster and flavortexting my char into a ‘druid type’ with magic based spells was WAAAY closer to what I wanted than the actual druid class (which wanted me to transform into animals, and i had little interest in).

Finally a note to Graham: Do you still have my char sheet for the cleric that you remembered what spells and rituals I took? (I thought I got it back, so if you don’t still have it, WOW, good memory!)

Graham  on April 8th, 2010

Hey Birda,

Yeah, the art is all subjective. I think we talked about this when 4e came out. Personally, I enjoy the graphic novel sort of look, and as such I like the influence it’s had on some of the 4e art.

But remember the last adventures we ran in 3.5e? The pathfinder ones? The Pathfinder RPG is full of that kind of art (some copied from those same adventures, but whatever). It’s freaking beautiful.

As for the role names/labels, they’re there to use or ignore as you see fit. You’re still a Cleric. You’re just also a Leader, if that term is something that helps you. It won’t be something that’s useful to everyone, but I’m happy it’s there for those who like it, and it especially helps from a DM’s perspective (prepping a challenging encounter for a leader, a defender, and 3 strikers is a lot easier than “a druid of some sort, rogue with an unknown focus on skills vs combat, and fighter who may have decided to focus on a bow, or maybe not”).

But the words have no in-game meaning, and no mechanical benefit to caring about them, so they’re easy to remove to suit playstyle, at least.

The minis, yeah, it’s more mini-heavy for sure. But having played with minis in 3e too, I’m just glad we no longer had to try to fit a round fireball on a square grid anymore. 😀


Re: your 3 things you like about D&D in general –

Yay! I’m a good DM!

At least the 4e Druid only forced the single “turn into animals” power onto you, and the rest were optional. That’s a weirdly-designed class.


And no, I don’t have your character sheet. At least, I don’t think so. I just remember random shit.

I could even tell you what spells my first Gully Dwarf Paladin, Blurp, had! Though that one’s easy. He had none, because his Wisdom was only 6. =)

Honestly, though, I don’t usually refer to sheets or rulebooks when I write posts. TJ was right when he labelled me a Rules Whore. 😀

Federico Figueredo  on April 13th, 2010


RE: Saying that D&D 4th Ed is combat focused compared to earlier D&D editions doesn’t hold water.

I agree wholeheartedly (though I reckon I’m not an expert in the matter.) My point was merely to address the statement that “we don’t need rules to roleplay.”

As far as games that have a dense ruleset for certain roleplaying scenarios I’m going to take the easy blow and mention Burning Wheel, a system which boasts a “persuasion system” (if you’d like) almost as complex as it’s fighting mechanics.

OFF-TOPIC: Sorry but is your Gravatar a red mage lying on the floor?

Graham  on April 13th, 2010

@Federico –

Oh, understood, no worries. I was just going off on random tangents. I do that.

As far as Burning Wheel goes, doesn’t it actually use the exact same mechanics for social conflicts as combat conflicts? Or is burning wheel different in that than Mouse Guard? I know Mouse Guard just has a “conflict resolution system” that you then apply to all conflicts.


Damn straight! 😀
It’s the “dead” sprite for a FF1 Red Mage.

Nicholas  on April 20th, 2010

@Graham: I was only arguing that you could find similarities, not that there was some unbreakable link between 4E and MMOs.

As for “At Will” powers, they too have a cooldown, which barring an Action Point spent is wait until next round :-p

And while there were a handful of “daily” cooldowns in OD&D, such as the Paladin’s ubiquitous Lay On Hands, that was usually an exception based part of the rules, not an intrinsic standard which 4E uses with its At Will/Encounter/Daily system.

But at this point we are debating minutiae. I’m confidant that there is a good argument for cosmetic similarities between the two games, but who cares? It isn’t relevant to whether 4E is a good game or not. I do not believe you can argue 4E = WoW.

I think we also may have a slightly different take on Simulationist. To me, Simulationist at its basic is that you try and have rules that adjudicate specific instances of action. For example, a Climb check to see if I scale the wall or fall off of it, or an attack roll to see if I hit with a sword are both simulationist. They do exactly what they describe.

A Gamist perspective might be more abstract. So, you have say, the 4E Skill Challenge. You need to make X Successes before Y Failures. The Skills you employ have to make sense in a Narrative sense, but not necessarily on a one to one basis. So a Skill Challenge might be something like “Break out of Jail.”

For the Simulationist, “Break out of Jail” would require dozens of die rolls, possibly hundreds. Every scaled wall, every lock picked, ever Hide check, every Stealth check, every Listen, every Spot, every Bluff, every attack roll if faced with a Guard, etc. is played out specifically. Whereas a Gamist Skill Challenge in 4E can narratively accomplish the same with 4-6 simple skill checks.

So even though 4E still uses Attack Rolls, most Powers incorporate a number of elements that are still abstract compared to the simple analogy of attack roll = sword swing.

As for Rules Heavy/Rules Light… Dogs in the Vineyard has fairly simply mechanics, but they are used for EVERYTHING.

In that game, Roleplay is not something you do between encounters, or to add fluff to the system. If two PCs have a disagrement about whether they should go right or left it is resolved using the exact same mechanic as if you wanted to shoot an NPC in the head with a shotgun, or chase someone down in a foot race.

It is a really interesting game concept based on the idea that everything should be controlled by the rules, and the rules should be as lean as possible.

Graham  on April 20th, 2010

Re: WoW

Agreed in general. It’s the “4e = WoW” crowd that irritates me.


Re: Gamist/Simulationist

Ugh. This is why I hate GNS theory. It always complicates things.

Besides, there’s a far better threefold model that I prefer.


Re: Dogs

Cool. I should really play a game of that at a con one day. Also Burning Wheel.

dreadgazebo  on April 21st, 2010

This is the single best, most well organized, thoughtful and unbiased defense of 4e I’ve yet to read. Great work.

Jeff Rients  on April 21st, 2010

The Bard appeared in the 1st and 2nd edition PHBs. If you want to argue it wasn’t “core” in 1st edition AD&D, I’ll grant the point seeing it was a weird proto-prestige class in an optional eppendix in the back of the book. But Bard’s have been core since at least 1989.

Graham  on April 21st, 2010

@dreadgazebo – Thanks.

@Jeff Rients –

Good point. I’m not all that familiar (unfortunately) with the 1e/2e PHBs, but I did know that one (and forgot about it while writing this), and should have addressed it as such.

Regardless, it was weird as hell in its implementation, eh?

Honestly, the bigger reason was just that the 3e Bard was largely considered to be a shit class (though I loved it, personally), and they just wanted to give it a better treatment.

Also, I just realised I called the Bard a “core race”… WTF? Fixing…

The 4th edition debacle « The Dread Gazebo  on April 22nd, 2010

[…] thoughts on the subject and I feel I have to put my two cents in on the hobby as a whole, although Graham’s rebuttal to above linked post couldn’t have been put any better in my opinion I’m choosing to still get […]

faustusnotes  on April 22nd, 2010

racial powers were clearly invented in the old editions of D&D, and even if they were largely passive in the PC races, they were active in the non-PC races (Deep gnomes, drow, duergar, etc.) which entered into role-playing lore before 1991.

The daily/encounter/at will power thing was also in 2nd ed at least – all Demons had these, as did a great many other more powerful creatures. Remember Dragons had 3/day breath weapons – it was a well established mechanic. Lots of characters had it too: i can remember at least 3 (cleric, monk, paladin) and I suspect more (bard, druid) had it.

The original roles of striker, tank, healer and controller were also all in the original rules. It may not be written as such but the first level mage’s spells are clearly intended as a controller’s – sleep and charm person, anyone? Confusion, dominate monster, feeblemind, gaseous cloud? Clerics were clearly envisaged as heal bots, and rogues and rangers had a striker role. D&D was new so they didn’t have the language for it (which came later) but even the idea of a balanced party was old in the 90s. WoW was influenced by D&D, not the other way round.

D&D 4e just systematised a bunch of stuff that was developed willy-nilly in earlier implementations, and dropped earlier D&D’s single most despised point – the magic system. It may not be to everyone’s taste, but the criticisms of it are smoke and mirrors.

Nicholas  on April 27th, 2010


“Re: Gamist/Simulationist

Ugh. This is why I hate GNS theory. It always complicates things.

Besides, there’s a far better threefold model that I prefer.”

I am hardly married to GNS, but sometimes it makes it easier to expalin a point. I am not sure how linking me to some rant about GNS helps the discussion.

I would be tickled pink if you could take the very example I gave you and explain it in simpler terms.

You suggested that 3.5 was not simulationist, I provided an example between editions. I made the mistake of using terminology that you dislike. You ignored my point completely in favor of a “talk to the hand” link. Wow, you showed me! :-p

I don’t think any label or style of game one happens to come up with is better or worse than any other. They have their own merits and people play what they like.

However, since gaming is a subject that people do like to wax philosophically about now and again… such as your blog here… I am not sure why having some ideas or terms to discuss is in any way inappropriate.

The Forge people get carried away. No argument here . :-p

Graham  on April 27th, 2010

@Nicholas –

I just realised how bad that line came off. It wasn’t meant as a “Ugh, why is he bringing up GNS?”, but as a “Ugh. I shouldn’t have started arguing GNS. It always becomes finicky and complicated, and based on opinion.”

The link wasn’t meant as a “talk to the hand” but rather as a non-sequitur to something amusing.

As for GNS in general, nothing against the use of the terms (though, as you said, some people get carried away). It’s just a topic that I like to avoid, in part due to not knowing just who will get carried away with it, and in part just due to a distaste for some of the community and arguments surrounding it.

However, I seem to be very bad at avoiding it, and usually am in mid-discussion before I realise that I started talking GNS again. As such, I clumsily attempted to break the conversation with some humour.

Stupid attempts at humour, not translating well into pure-text media. *shakes fist*

Nicholas  on May 20th, 2010

@Graham – No worries, all good :p

Lluewhyn  on May 22nd, 2010

Ugh, I can safely say that I agree with almost none of his arguments, and unfortunately find them quite common in the anti-4E crowd. 4E does have its problems, but seldom do you find reasonable arguments for or against it from the perspective of game design.

A lot of these arguments end up being speculative, such as the WoW argument that “obviously” these changes were done “solely” from a marketing perspective to attract younger players.

IMO, they tend to also often speak from a theoretical standpoint rather than an actual experience(or their experiences are drastically different from me and mine). One of these is the suggestion that “proper balance” is characters being relatively equal in playing ability through the life of a campaign than during any given session. Great in theory, but I personally didn’t see that many campaigns last from 1-20 for everyone to be balanced. Kind of like the old 1E and 2E arguments that although humans were completely weaker than other races, their one main advantage was being able to play any class all the way to 20, while many demi-humans could only advance to 10, or 13, or whatever. Personally, I’ve never witnessed any campaigns where players of such demi-humans were content to sit at their level cap while the rest of the group getting higher in level. This is a specific example though, so I’ll go through the same arguments as above.

1. Dumbed down. Depends on your perspective, I suppose. There are less sub-systems, but characters can still be plenty challenging to play. A new player has an overwhelming array of options for their characters. I like the fact that the game is more *consistent*. I like the fact that 3.0 got rid of the clumsy Petrification/Polymorph, Rod/Staff/Wand, etc. saves from 1E/2E and replaced them with the far more intuitive Fort, Reflex and Will. I like the fact that now all desired rolls should be higher(non-proficiency checks used to want lower rolls). Now with 4E, I especially like that these saves changed to defenses, and now it’s consistent that the attacker rolls against the static defense all of the time. Now, it does get a bit wonky that the icy patch of floor is “attacking” you, but, hey…. 🙂

2. Along with the classes, some races just didn’t get introduced until 10 months later with PHB2. They wanted to introduce a few new things along with the repackaged old ones, so that’s just a marketing decision, take it or leave it. I’m not fond of the Tiefling or Dragonborn, but that’s just me. I’m glad that they revised the Half-Orc to no longer have to be the child of a rapist, gnomes are a lot more distinctive now(they never really stood out much to me before) and halflings are a little more realistically sized to be threatening. I don’t care much either way for the Eladrin, although I guess they wanted to have a more distinct difference between the races of elves.

3. Classes. Like races, they wanted to mix mostly old stuff with a few new ones, and they didn’t have room to include ALL of the old classes. I’m very happy that Druids now have a proper place in the storyline, as before, they meant that Druids were the servants of “Nature”, which never really was represented well in the storylines or books(they always referenced gods instead). I’m still not terribly happy with the mechanical differences between Wizards and Sorcerers currently, as a Sorcerer just seems to appeal more to players who like randomness than a distinct difference between learning magic naturally and learning via high-concept theory and abstractions(compare learning to play music by ear versus compositional theory). The concept of being born into it suggested by both editions also seems a bit weird to me when some classes can multi-class into Sorcerer later in life.

3. Again. One of the easiest ways to get a 4E player’s goat is to say that “it’s just like WoW”. Really, what they’re saying is that WotC changed the rules just to appeal to a market segment overly popular with juveniles and lacking in manners rather than actual gaming routes.

4. Skill merger. The obvious one is Stealth vs. Hide and Move Silently. Honestly, since the PCs were the ones usually moving into enemy territory, the goal was to have to move and to do it without the enemy noticing it. Although there may be a few instances of PCs needing to move silently without having to hide, there were very few times when PCs needed to hide without having to be quiet. Many of the other skills were also just to specific.

5. Minis- Yes, I do miss the days of being able to sit around playing on couches in an apartment rather than in front of a battle-mat on a table. However, those days were 2E, as 3E would be harder to play just narratively describing it versus simulating it with minis. Yeah, 4E requires it more, but it hasn’t changed the habits in my household switching from 3E.

6. Art. Subjective. I liked a lot of Larry Elmore’s artwork from 2nd edition, but don’t really much care either way. I will say, however, that I don’t much like the little introductory blurb given out about each class, like “You’ll have to fight me first, dragon!”. Blah.

7. Layout. I don’t like the layout either. In keeping with 4E’s philosophy, I think it would have made more sense to introduce the rules first(as the general), and then the classes and races later(as the exception). As it is, it’s very tricky to learn because you start reading about a lot of things which have bonuses or effects to certain things which you won’t read about for another 200 pages.

8. Labels
Just used to go by different terms, as you said:
Fighters- Most consistent damage dealers overal and takers with little resource management.
Wizards- Highest damage dealer for a given opponent, physically weak and needing defenders.
Rogues- Poor face to face damage dealing and taking, but could dish out larger sums of damage from behind.
Clerics- Healers and utility belts.

In practice, a few problems emerged. It’s interesting to me that people bring up things like WoW, because earlier fantasy video games were more like older D&D in this model, and then changed the model when they realized the flaws. Fighters wanted to have something more interesting to do, Rogues wanted to be useful in situations other than just backstabbing, Clerics wanted to do more than just heal, etc.

Also, the earlier systems didn’t have the same abilities to “control aggro”, to borrow the MMO terminology, or a way for the front-line fighters to keep enemies from killing the softer guys in the back apart from just physically standing in the way. The idea of giving defenders more options to protect their comrades wasn’t a concept stolen from WoW, but has its origins in the Attacks of Opportunity. Heck, even 1E had a stab at this with the old classic SSI Gold Box games which had characters attack enemies who just walked past them to attempt to kill the guys in the back. I happen to actually like the 4E way of doing it, as still giving the enemy a choice of who to attack(albeit with consequences) rather than a simple hard-wired decision ala the MMO Aggro or the 3.5 Knight’s Challenge.

9. Resource Management…..ugh. This is one of those ones that I consider more theoretical than reality-based. Perhaps the proponents of this played in games where they were able to gain a lot more information going into an adventure than I did. For my part, although you could maybe make some decisions in general(such as knowing that you’re going into an old crypt, or after an arch-wizard, demon, etc), a lot of spells were useful but wouldn’t likely be known at the time, such as wandering into a basilisk in a dungeon or having a spell to counter a Harpy song in the jungle. If you memorized a spell like Hold Portal, or Stone to Flesh, odds are it wouldn’t get used very much. As a result, mages typically memorized a variety of attack spells and then picked up a few scrolls for those specific instances.

My step-son played a Sorcerer for the first time. He often blew his spell-tree early on, and then wanted to rest(the classic 5-minute work day, a problem I’m still not convinced 4E has solved). When the rest of the players suggested that he conserve his spells more and just fire a crossbow or something, he said “I’m a sorcerer, I’m supposed to be casting spells”. It was kind of hard to argue with that logic.

As an aside, I’m not sure that using Raistlin Majere as an example is the best idea. For the first couple of books, he *wasn’t* that terribly useful, and typically only casted 1-2 spells per battle before running out. Due to the low-magic setting, the other party members were actually impressed by him using spells like Sleep and Friends.

10. Versatility. Depended upon your level. Mostly, wizards became more “versatile” because they had a collection of wands and scrolls in addition to their spells. However, yes, 4.0 Wizards do have less options.

11. Casters vs. Noncasters. Once again, the theoretical argument that balance is achieved if each character gets to feel more or less the same level of usefulness during the span of the campaign. However, not all campaigns(or even most, IMO) ranged from 1-20.

In my 3.5 campaigns, when characters were being created at 1st, more people were wanting to play fighter-types. When new players came in when the campaign was at higher-levels, they were more willing to play wizards and sorcerers. However, one player who started a 10th level sorcerer later fudged his rolls to let his character die at one point when everyone was around level 12 or 13 because he felt that the character was too powerful and outshining all of the others. He knew then that it was only going to get worse, and didn’t want to make it a one-man show.

As I said above, demi-humans used to be more powerful than other races because they would have a lower-level cap. Maybe fine in theory(or not), but seldom worked in practice. As a result, 3E had to tweak the Human to make the race much more palatable. 4E keeps most of these changes so they’re a fully playable race, although not as specialized for certain classes as others.

12. Healing Surges. A bit of a rough mechanic, but functionally fine as far as game balance. Just keep in mind that the player characters are *not* usually suffering severe wounds. In 3.X, we used to graphically describe every hit. In 4.0, that’s somewhat inappropriate, as Hit Points are not an actual log of serious wounds received, but rather an abstraction of luck running out and fatigue setting in. One example I like to think of is the fight between Inigo and Wesley in The Princess Bride. Once Wesley starts fighting right-handed, Inigo starts getting badly beaten until the point he’s disarmed. You can actually see him start to fight more and more wildly, as his parrying gets less effective, even though he hasn’t actually suffered a wound. I like to think of the “Bloody” state of the point where the audience realizes he’s soundly being beaten and the point where he’s disarmed is when he runs out of HP(this also somewhat uses HP as an abstraction for parrying, as there really isn’t a built-in system of thrust, parry, counter-thrust, etc. in the system). At that point, Inigo is completely defeated, not just from the lack of his weapon but also partly from being worn out and partly from being completely rattled. From this perspective, it’s easier to visualize a Second Wind or Warlord Inspiring Word.

13. Magic Items in the PHB vs. DMG. Well, if you are playing in a world where the PCs can buy them(and 3.0 mostly started this), it’s much easier this way. Otherwise, the DMs have to pointlessly create magic-item lists for every shop(or Enchanter), or allow the PCs to read the DMG, at which point it’s better to just have the items in the open. Honestly, I prefer the idea of having Enchanters custom-making items rather than large stockhouses of enchanted goods. Having the magic items be available makes it easier for the PCs to figure out what they want to buy without having the DM needing to get involved. If the DM doesn’t like an item, they can always veto it.

14. Combat Focus. Yes, the game is combat-focused. All of the editions pretty much were. The actual story segments pretty much stay the same. What they took out is charts for mundane aspects of the game, such as random weather conditions, travel distances, and the cost of a sheep vs. a duck. A lot of that stuff is better left to DM fiat than having to consult obscure charts, IMO.

However, I dislike the argument that RP has nothing to do with the mechanics. It is true that a player *can* RP regardless of the game mechanics, but I think that ignores human psychology. For example, I think that in some ways 4.0 tends to encourage more RP when it comes to encounters because the players know that they’ll still get the same xp from solving an encounter diplomatically as they would slaughtering everything. In previous editions, there would often be temptations to “not be good aligned” because you wouldn’t miss out on XP and loot from being nice to everything. For a counter-example, however, 4E having a larger focus on minis and the terrain as mapped out I think tends to get the players less engrossed in the world.

15. The feel- too subjective to argue for or against.

To be fair, I had said previously that I think that there *are* problems with 4E. Some of the bigger ones:

1. Combat can take too long. Yeah, there are ways to try to adjust for this but it’s still a persistent problem. Everyone has too many HP for the damage dealt out, and it’s easily possible to have a fight with a foregone conclusion drag on for another 30-60 minutes. Also, in my experiences, unless you have special encounters that can separate party members, it’s harder to have the risk of a PC dying without risking a TPK. Generally, as long as the group is still up and fighting, a PC seldom has a risk of dying unless just about everyone else falls or their group sucks.

2. The monsters attacks and defenses all increase by one for every level. The PCs’ stats only increase by one every two levels. Essentially, the game assumes that you’re taking every stat bonus in your main stat, you have Expertise, have the proper magic items for your level, etc. It leads to a bunch of weird situations where you have attack bonuses to power abilities at certain levels just to keep up(such as the Dragonborn breath), or that you have to buy higher “level” versions of items like Flaming Oil to successfully hit creatures of your level. As a negative effect, it means oddball situations like a non Ranger would seldom carry a bow or other ranged weapon past the first few levels as they couldn’t hit anything with them, Clerics and Paladins have to seriously consider whether to take both Implement and Weapon powers because it will require them to maintain additional inventory, and that territorial effects of objects are higher level based upon their location(so a bookshelf in a Drow city has a much better “attack bonus” to push over onto someone than the same-sized bookshelf in a hobgoblin camp).

Graham  on May 24th, 2010

Uh… wow! Thanks for the massive comment.


7) While I can see the argument, the first part of the PHB is “You want to play a character? Here’s the info you need.” while the second half doesn’t need to be known before playing. If I don’t know hoe to Bull Rush or what Dazed does, I can still play.

So I can see why they split it as they did. Dropping 50 pages of rules into the book for newbies to read before they got to be imaginative in character creation probably would have been a bad idea. As long as the DM knows those rules, you can start playing.

9) That is a brilliant example of why vancian magic was removed in 4e. The limitation of it just doesn’t make much sense to someone who isn’t already used to it.

As for using Raistlin as an example, you are correct that he didn’t cast very often. My main point was that he never did anything besides cast, either. He may have used his dagger a couple times, but most if not all were out of combat.

14) I actually made good use of the “cost of a sheep versus a duck” tables in 3e. I once played a “Chicken Mage” – a Wizard who (with his extra gold) bought as many chickens as he could afford. They followed him around, and he used them as additional material components. His fireballs were quite disturbing, and punctuated with a loud, terrified clucking.

…I didn’t say it was a tasteful use of the table…

Now, re: yours.

1) Combat is long, though no longer than 3e in my experience thus far. It might be worse at higher levels.

But I have not had any problems putting a single character at risk of death without risking a TPK. My party will vouch for the number of times a character has hit the end of a day with 0 surges and single-digit hit points, while the rest of the party is beaten, but not broken.

2) Alchemical items in particular have some strangeness to the math, yeah.

As for Paladins/Clerics, I’m a big fan of weapons that function as holy symbols. I’m considering allowing divine characters to use their deity’s favoured weapon as a holy symbol for their powers, for this exact reason.

And for bookcases, nah, your level 16 Ranger just pushed the bookcase a whole lot better than he did 15 levels ago. 😛

Or, y’know, something like that.

Lluewhyn  on May 25th, 2010

“So I can see why they split it as they did. Dropping 50 pages of rules into the book for newbies to read before they got to be imaginative in character creation probably would have been a bad idea. As long as the DM knows those rules, you can start playing.”

I can’t remember if it was the 2nd or 3rd edition DMG, but there was actually a section where a 3-member party(2 fighters and a cleric) traveled through a dungeon. The brief narrative was separated by expanded discussions of the rules, so you got to be introduced to the rules a little at a time and see how they would come into play.

I was imagining something along those lines, where you gradually expand the discussion of how the game works and what you would expect a typical character to be doing, and then lead into different types of characters near the end.

Lluewhyn  on May 25th, 2010

A few more points, more or less in order. They’re also not necessarily arguments, but some reflections.

Raistlin(and Dragonlance mages in general) were set to represent very fixed aspects of the game as it existed back in 1st edition, such as the idea of alignment, limited weapon selection for mages and memorized spells. When the game editions changed, there were a lot of awkward fixes to the game to explain it.

Unfortunately, the story didn’t even perfectly reflect the rules as they were back then. Gilthanas multi-classing as a Fighter/Wizard is more similar to 3E or 4E than the Hybrid-style of multi-classing back then.

Raistlin’s style of Vancian magic was slightly different(and more logical and useful) than the actual rules allowed- for example, he seemed to have every spell in his spellbook memorized at any given time, but he was limited by the physical taxation of casting spells and the fact that he could cast each one only once before having to study. This contrasts with the actual rules which allow you to memorize the same spell multiple times but only keep a limited number of spells memorized.

Before we switched to 4E, I was pondering a way of completely revamping the spell system to make it more open-ended and similar to the skill-based system, where each spell school was a different skill that you could put points into. Thus, a Specialist would not be a distinct class but one who focused more points on a given school than others. You could also attempt to cast any spell you wanted or try different things only limited by your imagination. However, the DCs and consequences for failing may discourage you. Finally, the “taxing” effect would be subdual damage. Sadly, I never got the idea finished because it would not work at all under 4E.

As far as livestock, I once read a Dragon magazine article(maybe 2nd Ed?) where a cleric spent all of his remaining funds on sheep(they were something like a silver apiece), and simply flooded the dungeon with his flock, crushing the monsters or strongly hampering them. This was a convention game, and the DM was reportedly very annoyed.

Graham  on May 25th, 2010

@Lluewhyn –

Re: order of the book

Interesting idea. Would be great for an “intro to the game” book, for sure. Less useful as a reference book, though. Maybe we’ll see something like this in the upcoming Essentials “Red Box”.

Re: variant magic system

I actually used this exact system in a d20 Modern/d20 Future/Phantasy Star playtest game once. It was heavily ripped off of the d20 Revised Star Wars game. It worked well enough, and was fairly fun, but the game never got past the playtest stage for various reasons.

Nicholas  on June 1st, 2010


Interesting stuff! On Raistlin’s magic style, IIRC the rules for Dragonlance play were the same Vancian as regular D&D (plus the changes they made to the Magic User class vis a vis Black vs Red vs White etc.) and the mechanic you describe was one they used in the novels as sheer literary license, because let’s face it, Vancian Magic just sounds goofy if you try and play it too literally in a narrative.

Personally, I am a fan of a clear separation between Narrative and Mechanics. Why? Because it is very very hard to have one thing do both. People who favor very literal play have denounced 4E to me based on arguments such as that it is “stupid” for Fighters to have Encounter/Daily powers – What they only know how to swing a sword extra hard once every five minutes? And I would agree that if you tried to explain the Game Rules as the narrative laws of physics, you’d end up with Erfworld, rather than Lord of the Rings :-p

So I would much rather rationalize the narrative /around/ mechanics then rely on having mechanics that needed to make “sense” if examined under ‘real-world conditions.’

I also believe that 4E is much more relaiant on the metagame than D&D ever was before. Effects such as Forced Movement, for example, and the synergies between Roles rely on it. There is no “real world” justification for why a Warlord hitting an Orc with a Sword could make the Wizard’s Lightning Bolt do more damage… You just have to accept it as a result of teamwork synergy and describe it as best suits the scenario.

Lluewhyn  on June 1st, 2010

Well, I wish they would have taken that literary license and changed the rules, because Raistlin’s way of doing it was a more viable and interesting mechanic to me.

Oh, and because I omitted the clarification earlier, I was referencing Gilthanas because he is a “dabbler” in magic. 1st and 2nd edition envisioned multi-classing as being a complete hybrid or choosing a completely new career. The ability to just take a little bit of a class’s abilities while concentrating more heavily on your primary class didn’t come around until 3rd and 4th editions.

Warlords probably wouldn’t fit well in any literary narrative because their powers make more sense as a leader of a decent-sized cohesive fighting unit, not a small group of rag-tag adventures.

Apart from that, I think 4.0 would work VERY well with a narrative, provided you weren’t forcing the character to reuse the same powers over and over again, especially martial-based. 4.0s powers work somewhat on the “Rule of Cool” concept, where you can do a cool thing at will, an even cooler thing a few times a battle, and a show-stopping dramatic move once or twice a day.

Legolas can shoot arrows very, very fast(At-Will, similar to Twin Strike).

Or, he can shoot two arrows at once to hit two different targets(At-Will, or possibly Encounter)

Or, he can stab an enemy with an arrow as a melee attack, and then use said arrow to shoot another enemy(Encounter)

Or, he can jump on a shield allowing him to move quickly down the battlefield while still firing arrows all the while(Daily)

Or, he can climb an Oliphaunt, cut its harness, ride the harness all the way to the top as it’s falling off, shoot several arrows into the oliphaunt’s brain(see the multi-arrow ability above), and then jump off gracefully as the oliphaunt falls over dead(skill challenge)

The only problem with this is the fact that, mechanically, the game wants you to use the same move over and over again instead of doing special moves to fit the scene. One, that keeps the game from bogging down more than it already does, and two, it lends to the ideas of “builds”.

DonMoody  on February 23rd, 2011

I know this post was quite a while ago but I just stumbled upon it and have to comment.
The “30 pushups” analogy is pretty false.

Let’s take a more realistic view of combat and damage.
You get in a knife fight and take damage.
The damage you would incur in such a fight is the type that would require stitches (for confirmation on that point, just ask any emergency room health care professional).
OK – so you’ve just gotten stitched up.
Now for round 2 of that knife fight.
Sorry but you are *not* as good as you were before you needed to be sewn back together like a piece of cloth.
And if you are not careful, you will rip your stitches and be *worse off* than before.

The problem with the abstract aspects of 4e (or any RPG) is someone will make false analogies like the above ‘doing exercise is like getting hurt in combat’ to try and justify what is, from a realistic point of view, unjustifiable.
Exercise is not combat; taking damage is not like a workout at the gym.

The game plays faster and simpler if you let players quickly heal between fights and fully heal after a single night’s rest.
But making record keeping easier for the player’s and the GM is exactly that and nothing more – certainly that has nothing to do with how actual human beings incur damage and recovered from that damage.


Graham  on February 23rd, 2011

@DonMoody –

Ah, but then you hit one false assumption: that hit point loss, and the subsequent regaining, means physical damage and blood.

Since at least AD&D 1e, stated in the books themselves, hit points have been an abstraction to represent endurance, ability, luck, and, yes, damage. This is the same thing in 4e.

A common assumption among the 4e community, for those who want to apply realistic-ish logic to a situation, is that the attack that bloodies you is the first serious attack that lands.

When you sit down between fights and recouperate, however, it’s not necessarily the physical damage that’s being restored. It’s the endurance, skill, and luck portions of the hit point abstraction, too.

In any case, yes, it’s an abstraction that makes it easier to play. I’ll never argue that.

My main point was really just that a hit point system that doesn’t let you recover some of that abstract endurance, skill, and luck during a rest is no more realistic, and I’d even say is less realistic, than one that does.

Good discussion, regardless.

4e D&D Plays Like a Video Game, and That’s Awesome. « The Dread Gazebo  on April 11th, 2011

[…] the game flow along nicely. I do understand hit points are abstract and that there are a ton of plausible ways to view healing surges from an in-game perspective if there is a need for such thing, but I truly don’t think there […]

The 4th edition hot button « The Dread Gazebo  on April 15th, 2011

[…] thoughts on the subject and I feel I have to put my two cents in on the hobby as a whole, although Graham’s rebuttal to above linked post couldn’t have been put any better in my opinion I’m choosing to still get […]

UriK  on August 20th, 2011

I have a different way of justifying healing surges. I like to say, “remember when Boromir got hit by half a dozen arrows, looked as if he’s about to die any minute now and then got back with double vigor and killed a million more orcs? This was a healing surge.”

Uri K.

Graham  on August 20th, 2011

Hey Uri,

Yeah, that’s definitely another way to go. I’ll have to remember that as an example of Second Wind.

DocRyder  on October 28th, 2012

Just found the post.

Great article! Good discussion!

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