Review of D&D 4th Edition

This entry was posted by on Sunday, 20 July, 2008 at

Well friends, it’s time for my uber-geeky D&D post. I figure that if you can bear listening to me blab about version control software, banjos, and canned tuna… you can listen to my review of the new 4th Edition D&D rulebooks that came out this summer.

My affair with D&D has been on-and-off my whole life. I played 1st edition in 2nd and 3rd grade, then lost interest. I somehow missed the entire 2nd edition of the game completely. When the 3rd edition came out in 2000, I had just gotten back into the game by playing in NASCRAG touraments, so it was like learning the game all over. And now, eight years later, it’s time for the owners-du-jour to do another round of tax collection: everyone buy new books, relearn the rules.

As usual, the internet is full of people screaming about how the game has been ruined and destroyed, how Wizards of the Coast is evil and greedy and oppressing the freedom of gamers everywhere, forcing us into a treadmill of upgrades. Just like what happened back in 2000. 🙂 This time around, the biggest screams have been “OMG they dumbed it down into a video game!” There’s a grain of truth to the accusation, but I decided to give the new rules a good sincere try before condemning them. So I invited some friends over. Everyone rolled up a character, and we did a three-hour test game.

The verdict is: I really like 4th Edition. It was super fun. And everyone who played was raving about it as well. We’re talking about continuing the game now. The common quote was how somehow the new rules (with all the “powers”) essentially made 1st-level combat feel like 5th level. No more 1st-level magic users with 3 hit points and 11 AC expending a single magic missile, then hiding in a closet until the next morning. Nope, the 1st level wizard was kicking ass just as much as the paladin, and having a blast!

The new edition seems to be mainly a rewrite of combat rules, and done such that combat is much much much more fun. Not less complex, but way more entertaining. No more endless rounds of “I swing my sword for the 17th time” — it’s all about doing funky ‘powers’ each round, which keeps things interesting. (The comparison to World of Warcraft is justified here!) However, my players weren’t spacing out when it wasn’t their turn — instead, they were on the edge of their seats to see what kind of crazy stunts their allies were going to do. When was the last time you saw that happen?

The other big change is that using a battlemat and miniatures is sort of a requirement now. In 3rd edition, the board-game aspect was an optional enhancement, one which made combat more visually accessible and strategic. In 4th edition, many powers are described in terms of the grid (“explodes in a radius-3 burst”), so it’s kind of hard to not have one now. Maybe this doesn’t bug me, because I’ve always used a battlemat anyway.

If anything is to be criticized, it’s the writing and artwork in the new rulebooks. The art is cheap and cheesy looking. Imagine the worst fantasy art you can, and then take it down a notch. It’s almost like the cover paintings on bodice-ripping romance novels. And the writing is horrible as well: a much bigger font, with writing style apparently targeting 9 year olds. I think it’s noble that the new owners want to indoctrinate a “new generation” of roleplaying gamers, but in the process the books have turned into what reads like a cartoonish self-mockery of the entire genre. For example, here’s a lovely excerpt from the new Player’s Handbook:

“Imagine a world of bold warriors, mighty wizards, and terrible monsters […] ancient ruins, vast caverns, and great wild wastes where only the bravest heroes dare to tread. Imagine a world of swords and magic, a world of elves and goblins, a world of giants and dragons […]”

Gag me with a spoon.

Ultimately, though, if you’re an experienced D&D player, this corny writing doesn’t matter at all. There’s nothing stopping you from running a dark campaign, creating characters of real depth and motives, and doing serious roleplaying as you’ve always done. The only “new” thing here is excitement of combat; the storytelling and improv acting hasn’t been taken away.

As I was reading the rulebooks, I took notes as I went. You can read my notes here which compare the old and new rules. I hope they’re useful to people thinking of trying out the new edition!

I’m off to OSCON in Portland tomorrow, and Fitz and I are scheduled to give four joint presentations. I’m sure I’ll have blog updates forthcoming!

23 Responses to “Review of D&D 4th Edition”

  1. Andre

    “I cast a spell on you…”

    14 years and 2 kids later, nice to know some things haven’t changed since college.



  2. The D&D folks recorded a series of podcasts with the Penny Arcade creators and another webcomic artist whose name I’ve forgotten playing through a dungeon, and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed listening to them.

  3. joe

    Sorry but 4th Edition is not Dungeons and Dragons, not even remotely close. Sure they have added some niffty fluff to the combat sequence, but like anything else it will all too become nothing more than mundane in a short time. First of all if people are playing Dungeons and Dragons for nifty little tidbits and powers they are doing themselves a disservice when they could get far better “crack” out of a video game. When the combat in this game grows stale (and trust me it does after a several gaming sessions) the fatal flaw of 4th edition is that it is more restrictive than any other system besides basic. Once you grow tired of doing the same powers every encounter there is really nothing to fall back on especially for players who aren’t of the mindset of the hack and slash warriors. Hack and slashers should not miss a beat and should actually find more longevity in 4th edition. Not trying to sound elitist, but some players simply enjoy more than just being the burly tank. Every group needs hack and slashers but gone now with this rendition is the opportunity for players who enjoy a less restricted atmosphere to apply their creativity and immagination. A wizard is nothing more than Magic Missile thrower now, and their versatility out of combat is also gone. The same goes for the Cleric who has been given the most raw deal of all. Clerics are now superfluous with the new way that hit points and regeneration works. Out of combat they are as severely restricted as the mage.

    They say the game is balanced, but it my opinion it is balanced to the point that it is broken, and when it grows stale the only alternative at this juncture, is not to try out a new class (because they are virtually all the same as far as mechanics) but to wait for WoTC to come out with supplemental powers and freshen ups to keep the game interesting. I believe their intention was that all along and they will be trying to sucker people in with expansion packs like they did with their miniatures game. In any edition be it first, AD&D, 3.0, 3.5 there were enough options and customization abilities available to play with the core rules and never need to purchase anything else if you didn’t want. They have set 4E up like an online MMORPG where if you don’t get the latest content (which will no doubt include those new powers and pixel crack to freshen up the game) you will be extremely limited in what you can do. As it stand now, Any Fighter is just like any other fighter, any Rogue like any other rogue, and so on and so on.

  4. Dan

    I have to agree with Joe. I have been playing 4th Edition all summer long, and each time we play we like it less and less. You hit it on the head when you said it was like a video game. My character is a wizard, so it is difficult to complain too much because wizards do kick alot of ass at low level. one thing that we did learn is that as far as the “strikers” are concerned, thier is no good reason to be a fighter. The ranger and the paladin are just plain better. The fighter is acctually the worst at close combat. It looks to me like the makers decided a ranger and a paladin is a fighter with extra abilities. I also can’t stand how magic items work. I cannot understand why you can only use one Items magic power per day, isn’t the magic in the item? The game leaves no room for costomization and very few options. for example, why are there no potions other than healing potions? Why can’t you make a scroll of feather fall? Why do all the magic items suck? Feather fall is a spell that I imagin will never be used again. as a wizard, why would I memorize a spell like that when I could choose a combat oriented spell? In other editions I might have done so, or keep a scroll on me, just in case, but now the game is so combat based it would be a waist. oh-well. I am very disappointed with the new system, and I have been playing it for several months, so if it was going to grow on me it would have by now.

  5. The Ocupant

    I am a newbie to the wonderful wold of pen and paper rpg’s, and yet there wasn’t exactly much to like about forth edition. Sure hacking monsters into cubey sized bits was fun for a while, but soon it felt like, no not WoW, Gauntlet Legends in fact. I am right now engaging in a open playtest of Cure of the Crimson Thrones, and so far it has been much better.We completely went around the written encounters, and avoided 90 % of the combat, and yet it felt much more satisfying. I was actually ROLE playing, not just roll playing. I understand there is a tendancy ( I have seen it in myself) to call the new bad and the old and comfortuble good. I hope i am being honest with myself when I say, 4e is a lot of fun for a while, but it doesn’t go anywhere special.

  6. Jeff Anderson

    For a bunch of “Seasoned” players who feel that they are experienced enough to review of the new edition, some of you seem to have forgotten the most fervent of Gygax’s rules.

    If you don’t like something… CHANGE IT.

    Put a limit on things like magic missiles…
    Cut the damage that they can do…
    FORCE the PLAYERS to come up with new ideas & strategies. Or KILL them.

    A poor DM will reply to an overbalanced party with overbalanced enemies.
    A good one will plan a strategy to lower the party’s strength at the same time as bringing up the monsters powers.

    If you’re any kind of DM…
    MAKE it YOUR game.

    The inside covers and borders of my oldest books look like davinci’s notebooks. hahahaha (**maybe** a little less talent)… New Items, new skills, new campaign ideas.

    I’m gonna desecrate my new 4th edition books too. 🙂

    The whole point of D&D was to exercise your brain. I don’t feel shackled by the new “rules”, I feel inspired to keep it as simple as the new rules are, but add in the cool things that made D&D the game I loved 25 years ago.

    I am invigorated to play the new “system” and can’t wait to see how it goes over with my players.

  7. summand

    My group and I have playtested the new system and it is indeed fun. A good tabletop wargame. But it is not D&D anymore. They changed the mechanics so much, it’s a completely different game.

    While you might say, thats not a valid point, things have to change, I am not sure I like this development. 2nd ed -> 3rd ed was a “minor” change compared to this. Things got cleaned up, crappy stuff like THAC0 was removed by a better system. Spells got reworked (I always hated old stoneskin). But basically, the system stayed the same.

    Anyway, what I want to say about 4th ed: “Interesting system, but why the heck do they call it D&D?”

    There are some really cute ideas in there but it doesn’t fit for me.
    just my 2 cents…

  8. Ilikegreen

    I’m with Jeff Anderson. If you don’t like the way something works, then clean it up and make it work for you. My 3.x edition rules have been almost completely revamped; I have almost half a gig of of information that detail my changes to the system. Saying that 4th edition isn’t D&D is not accurate at all. D&D is a world of roleplaying. The monsters are there, the deities are there, the races are there, the classes are there–the basics for the world are the same. It is the responsibility of the DM and PCs to create their own world together. It IS D&D. It rolls, plays, and feels the same. The only thing that I see that could remotely justify the “it’s not D&D” comment is the removal of the Vancian casting system. But the new system allows inexperienced players (and DMs) to use magic in the game without having an exorbitant, intricate knowledge of the internal workings of the magic system. It isn’t oversimplified, just practical. I don’t understand how anyone could say that the combat system “becomes repetitive” when melee combatants in 3.x just roll the same thing over, and over, and over. There is variety here that improves as the characters improve. I’ll be honest. At first, I disliked 4th edition. But now that I have really experienced the game–as a DM and a player in multiple gaming groups–I have found that I really enjoy it. The combat is far more tactical and the party can be broken against a smart group of monsters and a DM who can adequately utilize tactical advantages for the monsters. It forces PCs to work with one another to ensure victory. I’ve said enough.

  9. I thought I’d give my own comment. I’ve been designing pen and paper as well as computer games for more than 15 years and I have to say that I’m always critical and sceptical about a game revamp. I know how companies sometimes make decisions purely based on economics and don’t take into account the players. After buying the books, reading lots of reviews, using DNDInsider a bit, and DMing a session with my friends, I have to say that 4th Ed is totally AWESOME.

    Not because it is flawless. Because it is elegant, simple, and WotC took care to use one of my fav design laws: make the game fun, not necessarily realistic. Truth is, the more realistic a game is, the more complicated it is, and often invites players to argue rules alot.

    Make the rules simple, balanced and easy to use, invite players and DMs to use creativity to do funky stuff in a way that it nonetheless doesn’t break the system basics, and you got something. That’s what 4th ed is IMO.

    Of course, as a DM, I do have my gripes, especially the way magical item powers are activated and limited. But I figure I’ll either find a pseudo-explanation for my gaming group for that, or change the rules so that both me and the players are comfortable using them without complaining, and without breaking the rest of the balance in the process.

    The beauty of DND is that the DM is GOD, and the rules are just suggestions. I frankly cannot stand even looking at 3.X stat blocks anymore. They somehow seem sooo complicated. Especially since most of my inspirational storyline and module materials are 2nd ed. Right now, I’m excited that I can play these old modules for the story by very easily plopping the 4th ed encounters I like in there without the need to analyse every detail of a monster and understanding its myriad abilities/spells/stats/followers etc…. I can focus on the story and know that the challenge to the players stat-wise will be fine, and peek at the stat block of the monsters I put in there a second time only a minute before the battle starts.

    The necessity to use the battle mat seems like a bit of a pain, but that never stopped me from NOT using one even in very strategic situations. Why do you need to use a mat if powers say Burst 3 ? Its an area spell just like a 20 ft radius fireball isn’t it, and you didn’t always use your ruler and a mat to calculate if the monster had to do a reflex save or no… you just decided he was in range or not if you weren’t using the mat to keep the flow of the storytelling etc…

    Believe me, less is more. With a simplified system in which players feel they can always contribute to the party in encounters no matter the bastard skill/power/feat/race/class combos they come up with will keep them happier than a complex system where one min/maxer player dominates combats while the others get beaten up by the demons you put in place just so that it isn’t a cakewalk for the uber guy.

    Let the mechanics make everything equal, but let the players differentiate each other through their creativity, and use of the house rules and WotC rules, with a good DM at the reins. 🙂

  10. Darkmessiah

    ok now dm for 30 years played 200+P&p Sessions 1st edtion played loved it 2nd edtion loved it even more looked into 3rd edtion starting to accept it ,4th edtion burn it burn it burn it .anything that gets to close to a video game should be banned theres enough games on there to keep you entertained till you dead.pen and paper games as well have a varity but the orginailty of D&D was it’s complexity sure there where thousands and rules and things to keep in mind but i read them manuals over and over again and i would only adopt what worked and kept the game flow but having so many options gave me alot inspiration to try out and revamp my own games and sure you can do that with the new editions but only buy praticing and learning them rules till they where embded in your head could a dm be a true god so really it just seems like people out there have become lazy in challanging there minds ok so you might lose a little life over it and you might even think there is no room for more roleplaying just sitting around rolling dice in every situation true however if you kept the dice roll to a minimum and concentrating on winging it you be surprised how you can keep the game flowing oh and as far as magic user go sure weak in the beggining one magic missle spell not the case if you play the game like me alway give them starting off with a few magical items that there mentor or they created themselves i usally gave a staff with magic missle of some other spells so many things you could do some dm really if you just let tem go into a dungeon with 2 fighters one cleric and a Mu aremed with a dagger and ac 11 com on !!!! no sense of fun and balance there but give them something in par with the fighters then problem solved and there low hit points and ac sure was tough but thats what makes them ever so challanging as well as usally intended for more advance players.i loved 2.0 it was complex thac0 is not that hard to understand but changing it in 3.0 it seems worthy but a minor change i agree with if your going to change something do it for the better but dont fix something taht is’ent broken and it sounds like that in 4.0 actually i if your a gary gygax fan then you whould be shocked to see your beloved creation get rammed up a cows ass and spat out as the new improved Bah! if you a true fan you would have had a problem with them even droping the advance they should have kept it this way 2nd edtion is Advance d&d so it makes sense to me more complex good think they took that title away in the later edtions because its exatcly right its Dungeons and dragons and if you are an old player you would remeber the D&d back in the 70s and 80s it was basic just like todays revised edtion for 9 year olds i mean they should have kept them seperate Advance for the more adult players and D&d for the youth my point is this Gary GyGax has been booted from the creation his idea has truned to a pre maddona sell out and the orginal seems nothing but a memory if you love D&D then go to the roots.if you love all this shit they now bring on then go play computer games you dont belong to the realm of the educated challanged roleplaying tabletop player where you whould to actually take the time to study them rules so much that you could rewrite the book yourself only then can you really say to yourself that damn i love this game until then your just another noob so get with it sell your soul to the wizards of the coast or repent to the true meaning of D&D and start from the orginal and become a true Master.

  11. Razz

    Seriously? What the hell. Why do people keeping saying the same bullcrap just to defend 4th Edition:

    “D&D is what YOU make it.”
    “D&D is about roleplaying.”
    “D&D is different to everyone.”

    Ilikegreen is among these people and, sorry, you make no sense. That’s not what D&D is. That’s what EVERY Tabletop RPG game. Again, what separates D&D from the others?

    To me, it’s been two things: The Story and The Sacred Cows.

    D&D had a Law vs Chaos, Good vs Evil thing going, with Neutral also as a force. D&D has Paladins that must be LG, Monks that must be Lawful, Chaotic Barbarians, etc.

    D&D has elves that live for centuries. (not 200 years!)

    D&D has demons in the Abyss, not Elementals in the bottom of Elemental Chaos.

    D&D has Elemental Planes, not Elemental Chaos.

    D&D has 17 Outer Planes, Ethereal, Shadow, Astral, demiplanes, and other miscellaneous planes the the Plane of Faerie, Mirrors, and more. Not just 5 planes all mangled together (Shadowfell, Astral, Feywild, Elemental Chaos, Abyss?)

    D&D has 5 iconic metallic dragons which are Brass, Bronze, Copper, Gold, and Silver…not REPLACING Brass and Bronze with Adamantine and Iron!

    D&D had REAL MAGIC. One spell was capable of having multiple uses depending on creativity, even the combat spells, and didn’t take an 10 minutes to an hour to perform.

    D&D had REAL MAGIC ITEMS. Not items that work once or give some piddly crap modifier for an encounter.

    D&D treated monsters as characters in 3rd Edition. BRILLIANT! I was able to get a baseline for a creature and tailor it to my own way! Instead, I have 4th Edition giving me 50 versions of the same creature, with various distinctions between them that gives me no room to tailor other than throwing a template or two on them. I just want ONE or two version and let ME fix them the way I want them. Why do I need 50 versions of goblins with 20 dozen different abilities? What makes a goblin a goblin? I can’t tell, since a Goblin Lurker has the same abilities as a Bugbear Lurker of the same level.

    D&D had better customization and options (3rd Edition D&D anyway) than 4E ever will.

    I can go on and on, you get the point. They destroyed 35+ years of lore and history, slaughtered almost every sacred cow, and made the game into “World of Warcraft on Paper”. They alienated their loyal fanbase to attract a new generation of instant-gratification and simple-minded youngins to play their game, but any kid, teen, or college student worth a brain cell can easily see they’re better off jumping onto something less tedious and more visually stunning and faster like an MMO.

    D&D 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Edition was what made it D&D to me. It was entirely different and unique from any other game. Now that it’s similar to every other game on the PC, I see no D&D in it at all.

  12. giantjoe

    Well said Razz. I’ve only been an avid pen and paper gamer for about 10 yeers now. I can’t deny 4th ed and say its not DND, if WOTC wants to stick a big DND sticker on the cover than that is what it is. But I can say I wont be playing it anymore. I’m extremely dissapointed in the customization options that are available. O yes I perfectly understand the concept of “change something if you dont like it” but that would require me to revamp nearly every rule and implement too many new spells to keep track of. Id also have to tell my pc’s that what they want to do with their characters is possible or not, so to save time, headaches, and the fun DND experience, Ill just stick with 3rd ed, or ADND if Im feeling nostalgic.

  13. judemusic

    I don’t understand all of the controversy. The new rules are simply a system to role play over. Maybe I DM and play with a much more creative group of people than most. I don’t know. But every edition has always played out the same. You role play every action and do checks where needed. My players role play combat and roll their powers and attacks. The new books are easy to understand and are a great way to get into the game. All the new “Powers” actually seem to inspire my players to be creative. I think the edition wars all stem from what people really want out of the game. Because ultimately, that is what decides how you play it.

  14. Borrowed the 4th edition books. The horrible art put me off to the point that I did not crack them for weeks. The problem, for me, with the lame writing is that I spend a lot more time flipping through the rule books, especially the monster books, than I ever spend playing the game. Never tried WoWC, no interest, for me the game is about creating fiction in my mind, but the 4th edition seemed a little less fun in that regard. When I game, I always use a mishmash of 1st and 3rd editon rules anyway, but it would be sad if the DnD franchise moved in this direction to an even greater extent next time they release a new edition…it would loose all of its charm. The problem, for me, with the battle grid is that it keeps the DM from reclining on the couch, as the players slump into chairs, loud music and dim light, sharing a story….never much for the gaming table with the flourescent lights overhead…sober players and all….

  15. bhaube da elf

    i find it amazing that people keep stating that D&D has all this lore and history when, truth be told… it doesn’t.

    seriously. you’re deluding yourself with all the books you have.

    core D&D? D&D at it’s most basic, PHB, MM & DMG, is some of the most stereotypical and overused tropes smashed together and put in a book. the books usually stay purposefully vague and generic so to let DMs either make their own setting or use a published one. i know i created my own setting and used what was written as a suggestion rather then a hard rule. especially since there isn’t a “core” setting to speak of.

    the races being different… i have a dark sun box set from ’91 that would like to have a word with you in that dark ally over there. the races and what they were like are honestly setting-dependant. you can moan that “they changed it” but honestly, D&D has been bastardizing itself for years from the inside.

    the great wheel was generally unusable IMO unless you jumped through several hoops. very few GMs i know ever made full use of if, i know i ignored it in 2nd ed as i had no info on it and the info in 3rd just made it sound too tedious to work with. those that i’ve played with that did use it normally focused one or two of the few planes that didn’t seem entirely uninhabitable (IE: 3rd ed plane of positive energy, where you gained so much temp HP you potentially died from it). not that the older DMGs really went into much detail (at least in my 2nd ed book, the black cover, tsr dragon-shield logo, 3 ogres bursting through a door). the planes seem like an afterthought in that one. with a few blurbs and notes describing only the very basic ideas behind the planes.

    the various law-chaos/good-evil thing… how is it gone? alignment no longer has a mechanical effect on the game and truth be told, at least now i don’t have to put my character in a vaguely described box, play him for a while only to have my gm scold me for playing my character how i want to since it doesn’t match his view of the vaguely described box. i don’t need to have that LG to say my character is loyal to his friends and allies, trustworthy to a fault and a caring fellow who goes out of his way to offer aid to others. if your GM wants to focus on story aspects of law-chaos/good-evil axis nothing is stopping him. as for “chaotic barbarians” my true-neutral barb wants to smash you with apathetic rage for that comment, if he could ever make up his mind 😛 . for a lot of players the alignment restrictions made little sense. to me a paladin is generally viewed as the sword-arm of his deity, the crusader who marches forward against those who would oppose his fellow faithful or have them forcefully stray from the faith. clerics are the voice, paladins the weapon. i don’t see why a more brutal deity, like gruumsh, can’t have his equivalent of paladins. why are only LG characters able to have the will and fervent devotion to be paladins? why can’t the CE orc fully devote his life into expanding the will of Gruumsh by sword arm, crushing his enemies and hearing the lamentations of their women in a show of pure divine power, loosing himself in the cries of his enemies in a conquest of faith and bloodlust?

    if you want your “sacred cows” you can easily have some of them in the new edition as they really aren’t that hard to put in, especially since the only people missing them are already familiar with them enough to miss them. to new players they aren’t concerned with those.

    me? i’ve fired up the barbie and i’m making sacred hamburgers. anyone want one?

  16. DM

    Say this like the dread song: Numb, Numb Numb Numb. Numb Nu-Numb Numb Nuuuuumb. Numbed down and dumbed down. When reading the Player’s Handbook, I got the feeling of reading a children’s book. Mary had a little lamb, little lamb, little lamb, Mary had a little lamb that’s… sucked so bad it suuuucked.

    Anyone that says 4th edition just needs to be modified by the DM to make it ya ya blah blah, needs to think again. What’s the point? Why would I spend that much effort and time fixing something that shouldn’t have been broken in the first place? WOTC over-reached. They screwed the pooch. Bye Bye D@D. I’m saving all my TSR Advanced D@D books. They are worth a lot more money now. Thank You WOTC!

    I’m glad I downloaded PDF’s of all this crap instead of wasting my hard earned money on this crock. Much easier to hit SHIFT-DELETE than SELL-NOW.

  17. I’ve been ‘into’ many MANY games over the years – I got quite into the new 4th Edition of DnD (more of that later), but its been many a year since I’ve been ‘in love’ like I was with AD&D 1st Edition.

    Sure the paper wasn’t particularly high quality, and the Artwork was comical (sometimes deliberately so) but at the end of the Day with AD&D you had FUN (and lots of it, even my Mrs used to play regularly – pesky kids Lol)! 1st Edition was fun to DM and Fun to play, and even if your lacked confidence when DM’ing it still wasn’t beyond the pale anyone having a go.

    Then came along Second Edition, it took me a LONG time to switch over. I don’t think I really changed over until Planescape came along – and I admit I ran it and played it too – BUT I wasn’t too keen on it kwim? When Gary Gygax sold off his controlling share in TSR it heralded a big change for AD&D.

    Compared to AD&D 1st Edition 2e was very ‘hollow’ for me – I don’t know if you’ve ever had this experience, when you date a girl. You like her, really fancy her – but its not right – KWIM?; and you trundled on – till eventually you split up purely because of total apathy – and pretty much that’s how m DM’ing went. I lost more and more faith with the AD&D 2e rules I drifted away from them and started running Shadowrun and Earthdawn instead.

    2nd Edition Kits were always a big issue for me (and Chris as I remember) , it made gamers lazy – rather than making the effort to craft their characters persona – looks, gear, personalty, little quirks that make them different. Jason, who loved playing Ninjas Lol had a Magic User who when she cast Magic Missile a little silver crossbow appeared in midair beside her and fired the magical bolts. We all did things like that in those days, its what made our characters all different. You see it in literature, Frodo would have been classified as a Thief. But he wasn’t a criminal, rather his natural talents gave him an edge in certain Areas. Both Aragorn and Robin Hood would be Rangers – but two more different Characters I cannot imagine. It was the CONCEPTS that made them different, not Kits and such.

    At various times in its history, D&D/AD&D has received negative publicity – in particular from Christian groups; generally for alleged promotion of such practices as Devil Worship, Witchcraft, Suicide, and even Murder. Also the showing of naked breasts in drawings of female humanoids in the original AD&D manuals (mainly monsters such as Harpies, Succubi, etc.) caused them problems (also from narrow minded individuals).

    These controversies led TSR to remove many potentially controversial references and artwork when releasing the 2nd Edition of AD&D. Many of these references, including the use of the names ‘Devils’ and ‘Demons’, were reintroduced in the 3rd edition (one of the FEW things WotC got right).

    Kits in 2e seemed like the lazy mans way to uniqueness (and a way for post Gygax TSR to sell heaps of Books) – but it breaks down really quickly. Its WAY TO tempting to take those kits you like time and again – rather than make the effort with a new Character, who might me YET ANOTHER 1st Edition Magic User – but will be different because you don’t want to repeat mistakes of character creation and personality etc.

    The came the dreaded 3rd Edition . . .

    I had a dalliance with. And really REALLY wasn’t keen, and didn’t really buy anymore books (I got the Core books, the screen and the Psionics Book) till 3.5 came out – and even then it was all much of a muchness. Feats you see, not keen – I never really liked them.

    I always believed that heroic acts & deeds should come from the players imaginations, and its then up to the DM to facilitate them (hopefully, should the Dice Gods allow).

    As Gary Gygax himself remarked – “The new D&D is too rule intensive. It’s relegated the Dungeon Master to being an entertainer rather than master of the game. It’s done away with the archetypes, focused on nothing but combat and character power, lost the group cooperative aspect, bastardized the class-based system, and resembles a comic-book superheroes game more than a fantasy RPG where a player can play any alignment desired, not just lawful good” – I personally think there was no real bitterness in that statement, and I have to agree with him totally.

    Then there is the constant obsession with Skills in DnD, I DM’d for years with no real skill system – it was a real shock when I started running Call of C’thulhu and the like, and to be frank (for the most part) I find purely skill based game decidedly ‘unheroic’ and, well – dull.I’ve bought and read LOTS of Games. The worst being the Avalon Hill Runequest – a bigger and duller pile of donkey plop I have never read!

    The BIGGEST problem with 4e is the fact that its designed as a product, pure and simple. Thats why all the combat rules are designed to be used with miniatures to facilitate the sale of more product.

    Those of you who like 4e (or 3rd or 3.5 for that matter) Edition, have to realize they might be playing a Fantasy RPG with some elements of D&D/AD&D – but they AREN’T Playing D&D/AD&D – its a derivite.

    D&D/AD&D was written/created by Dave Arneson & Gary Gygax. Anything else (even products that might hold the license) created/produced not under the direct control of those two very missed individuals is NOT D&D/AD&D.

    Its like reading a Discworld story not written by Terry Pratchett, it might be ABOUT Discworld – possibly even legally and professionally produced. But its NOT from the mind of Terry Pratchett, so it can never be truly Discworld.

    Modern D&D is a Miniatures Game with Roleplaying elements built in. You can put as many rules and systems in place as you want, but all that does is make the whole shibang overly complicated and inter-dependant upon other products – which AGAIN facilitates the sale of more product. WotC are rapidly becoming the Games Workshop of the RPG world.

    They have withdrawn ALL PDF’s (even the older stuff) from Sale. Saying they aren’t happy with the current DRM in place. That was done a fair few months ago now – and I see no sign of them releasing PDF’s with any new form of security.

    4e is designed as a Table Top MMO, the rules are very ‘online game’ in style. Trying to temp people to buy the books – once again, the aim is just to sell more and more product. Treating an RPG property as some form of cash cow is never a good idea, and what happened to TSR is a good example of that.

    TSR tried the same marketing tactic with Second Edition AD&D (all the different Character Class Handbooks, Modular Monstrous Manuals, Cards, players screens and loads more) and in the end it cost them the company. Destroyinh TSR’s cridibility amongst the RPG buying customer base and leaving D&D free to be brought out by WoTC.

    I actually bought a LOT of 4e stuff, and was on the verge of starting up DM’ing the new Edition when something struck me – the constant churning over balance meant that (pretty much) all the character types were becoming the same. Sure the descriptive text is pretty, but ALL the mechanics of Feats/Spells and the like meant everything pretty much worked the same way – wheres the fun in that.

    Back in the ‘Old Days’ balance came from the Dungeon Master. If something was too powerful, he countered it with something in the Scenario or something ‘unexpected’ in the Game World. If a Character was rapidly becoming dominant within a group, generally it was because of his natural strength of personality – not because of the rules of a game, dice rolls, or character he chose to play (think ‘Colin’ Lol – every group had a Colin, he was always the bully of the group).

    As Don Turnbul (he used to be head of TSR UK) once said to me at a Con (all those years ago), “don’t rely on the rules too much – always try to make some of it up as you go along; both you and your players will have more fun that way”.

    The current RPG market is made up of sterile recycled overly complicated rulesets – and D&D 4e is at the top of the list. Its decidedly ‘new school’ mimicking the online MMO’s.

    But, upong saying all that I have. Tom had it right “Who cares? Just play it if you like it like it, don’t if you don’t” – now whilst I do care, as the new (not) D&D is a bland ‘idiot proof’ set of rules – now whilst I don’t imagine idiots will play it (it requires a certain amount of intelligence to run and play RPG’s) I don’t believe for a minute it is as good as its progenetors (D&D/AD&D).

    D&D/AD&D had it right, unfortunately MOST people either can’t see it or are too stubborn to admit it.

    Keep Rollin’ – Drew

  18. Drew, I have to admit you’re right. One of my big frustrations about 4e is that everything is just too ‘normalized’ — it basically doesn’t matter which class you choose at 1st level, your overall Power will be identical to every other starting character. Just like MMOs. I miss the imbalances and the creative ways DMs and players worked to get around them.

  19. Chris

    So let me see if I am getting this right… 4e gives us:

    Race name changes… ie still same degree of variety… just the particulars have changed… [is this a NO-OP?]

    Class progression one-Dimentionalization… ie fewer permutations, less variety [no no variety just less]

    Alignment one-Dimentionalization… ie [Really Good, Good, neutral, Bad, Really Bad… I may have the spelling wrong I admit… Really Good was spelled L a w f u l I think right?]

    The ability to pre-compute your BAB so you dont have to look it up based on on Class and Levels… wait… were we not supposed to do that before? Oops… my bad.
    Ah and then we have Skill homogenization. Nice… seems there really are only 10 kinds of people in the world, those that understand binary and those that do not. Seriously, everyone having the same training in some feild of +5 or not +5 cannot be considered a good thing… can it?

    Powers… are they not just effectively the same as we have always had?
    Cast a spell… daily power, Swing a sword… at will power.

    Healing? Ok everyone can cast a new spell heal-self… sure takes a load off the cleric, nice.
    We dont want to overwork/actually need the cleric do we.

    Saving throws are now ‘defenses’, and are considered parts of opposed checks. Was that not the case before? Of course the opposed roll was a 1d0 which I admit has a pretty consistant result but 1d0, 1 d20, 1d its all just a matter of variability… and you only need ONE die roll for variability.

    Action points… so like… a Haste power, right? Or a “do more” power if you dont like the word Haste.

    Seems to me from this article that 4e can be summed up like this:
    Mechanics are changed and some capabilities are altered but the main difference is, there are spoons.
    Powers basically spoon feed you with ideas for novel things to do so an actual imagination is less critical.

  20. Jeramiah Campbell

    First a bit of history for those out there “new” and “seasoned” in Dungeons & Dragons.

    Dungeons & Dragons 1st Edition (D&D1E) was at worst very unwieldy, at best the most powerful gaming experience in terms of the insane amount of resource from the very core books. You get the most bang for your gaming dollar. The downside is the college level learning curve, the hard to imagine monsters, and the difficulty (Tomb of Horrors, anyone?) was the most challenging by far. However, pros and cons aside this was Dungeons & Dragons – the beginning (after ‘Chainmail’) that made fantasy role playing available. It is, it has, it will be the best gaming experience ever.

    Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition (AD&D2E) revamped the system with a cleaner, user friendly core rules that was easy to master. The upside is that a 2nd Edition game could use the campaign worlds from a vast variety of authors (Greyhawk, Dragonlance, Ravenloft) and all of them had the clean look the core books did. The downside, they slowly let the demi-races into the fold more and more. They had restrictions, however, not every single player was a multi-classed elf. For all it’s warts of slowly allowing the “anything goes” it was a fairly good system. I still love it, to play or DM, yet I know and understand its flaws.

    Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition (D&D3E) was so bad initially they made a 3.5 edition in record time! The upside was this radically changed system that eventually took the gaming world by storm. I’ve never seen so many D20 books out there! The good thing was the ease of access for players, the bad was the settings! Every other fantasy setting was non-middle ages based ideas. Instead of a valiant knight, you had the most historically inaccurate fighter I’ve ever seen! Oh sure we could simply sweep it under the rug and “fix” it as DM’s, but wow, it just wasn’t worth it. 3rd Edition wins for it’s clean books, fails for it’s style and approach.

    Then finally Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition (D&D4E) came out and I was slobbering at the idea of all the “fix’s” for the base core rules. But it was Warhammer 40,000 with more figurines! The upside was the near basic level of role playing, there simply isn’t a reason to bother in D&D4E, it’s more restrictive than any edition by far! I saw nothing but the creator (evil/greedy Wizards of the Coast) wanting a fast cash in with a market flooded with “enhancement” books, miniatures, and combat-mats. It’s not role playing, it’s playing with toys! What’s worse, every class and race combination is allowed, making the human fighter a thing of the past. When I say this is no longer Dungeons & Dragons, I mean the heart and soul of the game was ripped out of dear Gygax for profit. It started with 3rd Edition, but ended with 4th Edition. The new systems are dead to me and I will stick my head in the sand and pretend 4th Edition was never released. It saddens and sickens me to see my favorite hobby die. It’s like watching an old friend grow up and become a rich banker who would sell his heart, soul, and mother for money. I hate 4th Edition – and I’m unapologetic in that sentiment. One can call me the old fart who likes old things, but that isn’t the case. If I wanted to play the style of D&D4E I would play The Elder Scrolls IV Oblivion, World of Warcraft, or some other video game hack and slash adventure. Wizards of the Coast fails and lost a customer.

    All in all, it is NOT a problem of using the Gygax method of throwing out rules you don’t like or inventing new rules. I do use this method. Instead of using the entire 4th Edition book: I threw it out and replaced all of it with prior editions. It’s not worth the headache when the games system itself is so flawed. Why spend hours fixing and repairing the harm Wizards of the Coast did when one can simply play and earlier edition? That’s what I intend to do, in the tradition of Gygax “If you don’t like a rule, throw it out!”

    I’m throwing 4th Edition out. Far, far away from me. It is an insult to veteran role players everywhere.

    Sorry if I offended anyone with my opinion – but I hate this system, and had little patience for those that defend it.


    Dungeons & Dragons is dead. Cause of death greed, Wizards of the coast, and D&D4E. Rest in Peace my friend.

    *cast True Resurrection on D&D1E*

  21. Harper

    I’m sorry, but the people crying “It’s Not D&D!” were probably saying the same thing when 3.x came out.
    It’s a new system, but it’s still D&D. Dungeons & Dragons was the first fantasy tabletop RPG, and is the iconic (and oft-clichéd) fantasy game. 4e is no different from 3.5 than 3.x was from 2e.
    I’m a veteran RPer. I’ve played every edition of D&D, plus dozens of other games – some so obscure most of you probably haven’t heard of them. I’ve even written a game-that-will-remain-nameless.

    If you think the rules changes make it too much like an MMO, you have a fair point.
    The new rules are streamlined, more simplistic, and easy for new players to jump into. I have my problems with some of them, but overall I like the system. It’s not bad for what it is.

    If you have problems roleplaying with 4e, it’s more likely a lack of imagination on your part than a problem with the system.
    The power descriptions are just suggested “flavour text”; they aren’t set in stone any more than the descriptions from 3.x or 2e spells. My group just uses the mechanics, and we each describe the power in whatever way seems appropriate for the effect (just as we did for 3.x). My warlock’s Shadow Step, for instance, looks as if he steps through a ‘tear’ in reality & through the Feywild before appearing on the other side. How hard is it to actually RP, really?

    Bashing the art is laughable, because… well, look at 1st & 2nd edition art. It’s terrible. 3.x’s art was decent for the most part, but some of the books still looked like the artists had no sense of perspective or proportion.
    I fail to see how this:
    is worse than this:

    But you know what? It doesn’t matter which version, if any, of D&D you like. They all have their good and bad points.
    1st edition D&D/AD&D has the nostalgia factor. It’s not a great system, but it was the only one for a while… and it’s amazing for that.
    2nd edition was better, but then Lorraine Williams got hold of it. She prided herself on the fact that she knew nothing about D&D, and outright despised it and the players. 2e sank because TSR made too many expansions, overreaching themselves to appeal to too many markets (Birthright & Spelljammer, anyone?).
    3.5 is still my favourite, because it has less math than 2nd edition (I have mild dyscalcula) and is more flexible and “heroic” than previous editions.
    4e feels very heroic, and the system is inspired by Monte Cook’s “Pathfinder” rules for 3.5. If you haven’t played Pathfinder, I highly recommend it – it’s a good compromise between the two.

    I have fun with 4e, and so do a lot of players – young and old, new and veteran.
    I also still have fun with 3.5, and will likely never stop playing that, either. I see no reason to drop one for the other, or to decide that my opinions should be viewed by everyone as undeniable fact (and that WotC should be sainted or hung at the gallows, depending on said opinions).

    TL;DR – If you like 4e, play it. If you don’t like it, don’t play. Just don’t gripe because other people are enjoying something you don’t, and stop acting like D&D either is dead because of 4e, or was only crap before 4e.

    It’s a freaking game, for crying out loud. It’s nothing to start a crusade over.

  22. Paul

    Sorry but 4e is waaay different than all the other versions. So much so that it should have been called something else. It IS okay to have other rpgs. I have just started getting into 4e, and honestly the conversations and blogs that are”so similar” to previous versions might as well be in mandarin. I cant understand half of it. strikers and such, what happened to fighters thiefs clerics and wizards?