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.
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
- Move Silently
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:
- 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:
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.
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
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?
(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.
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.