To 4e or Not to 4e….

If you follow the pen and paper RPG world at all, you would likely have heard that Dungeons and Dragons released their forth edition of the game system over this past weekend. The reviews have been fairly mixed and I wonder, do I actually want to bother? Even with mixed reviews and my own unease, I have a bonus 15% off coupon at Barnes & Noble and want to use it, and this might be the perfect opportunity to do so.

It seems you are on one of two sides of this fence. You either love the system or you hate it. People who like it tend to be newer players who may very well have started no earlier than even 3.5, some 3.0. But the people who tend not to like it are the old-schoolers of D&D, most tend to go back to 1st edition, but often at least to 2nd. It seems that this shift has really pissed off these players quite a bit. Which I must admit, I started in 1st. So just the base chance is that I too will not like this shift.

[amazonify]0786950633:right[/amazonify]The real concerns about the shift are real I think. The game seems to have been oversimplified and over WoW-ified (which really is about the same thing). I give Wizards credit that the game needed to be simplified, but from many accounts they went too far. I don’t necessarily mind that they went to a more centralized power system to avoid some confusion, but at the same time you get this feeling that there really is no difference between spells and powers when you do that, and honestly that seems to be what some players are kind of saying.

I mean think of it this way… say you have a Ranger who is shooting his arrow and doing lets say 1d6 points of dmg from 10 meters (squares whatever) away, and you have a Wizard who is using a spell that does 1d6 points of dmg from 10 meters away. Really what becomes the difference in this system? Now they are both probably going to take the same type of action as well in this system, which really negates any difference.

I know what argument is coming next. Well what was the difference before? To that I have to say that there is a subtle difference between being able to cast a spell 1 time per encounter and being able to cast 7 first level spells that you have memorized for the day. A VERY big difference. One is for MMOs because they don’t have the time to have the player sit and spend 7 hour memorizing spells, the other is far more strategic.

I would also say that it was likely very rare that a Wizard’s spells would do the same dmg as a Ranger’s arrows because they were balanced through the entire game. Rangers could shoot at will, wizard couldn’t therefore when a wizard did, it hurt more. Now for balance sake, they must have either weakened individual wizard spells or strengthened the ranger, or both. I also personally just prefer casting a spell over casting a power as a mage… I mean what is being a mage if you have no spells to cast? I don’t care if it is just a name difference; it takes away the specialness of it.

To me though, perhaps my biggest issue with the game is the miniatures. I remember when I first saw the D&D 4e promotion video, they had the 70s gamers playing with heads attached to forks across a map. I laughed and wondered who played with miniatures. And really, this is an issue. In 3rd edition they didn’t necessarily bring in a requirement to have them, but it sure made playing it easier if you did. From what I hear, 4e makes life much more difficult if you don’t use miniatures.

I remember when miniatures used to be a cool thing that you could just kind of play with from time to time. Battles and such USED to be done in your head. If I can’t do that anymore, why would I want to try? I know some people like it, and yeah it is cool. But I don’t want the extra cost just to play. Though I’m sure this is one reason why Wizards sees fit to push it, I mean if you need to buy miniatures that mean they can sell you some… right? Great more to buy!

That brings us to DDI, or D&D Insider, which is an online set of tools… for the low cost of $15 a month you can get tools such as… um… hmmm… Character Sheets? Ok so that isn’t all you get, but it seems a big part of it. You also get access to this sort of play table that allows you to play D&D with friends online without being there. It also has map making tools and an interactive map that you can use instead of the aforementioned miniatures.

This looks cool and all… but really, why would I pay $15 a month for a game trying to be an MMO when I could just play an MMO…. plus I could also just go buy NWN or NWN2 and get a fully graphical version of D&D that I could play modules with friends online… and I bet I could get either of those games in the bargain bin for $20 at the local GameStop.

This system really seems nothing more than their old $30 PC toolset that you could get when 3.0 first launched, just now you pay half that every month. I liked the idea, but it costs far too much… if it was $15 a year I think it might work better. (They also let you use digital versions of the D&D books, but it is my understanding that it costs an additional $1 to unlock this on top of the cost of the book which is ridiculous.)

There is a larger focus on combat instead of all the other stuff, which I kind of understand, but I think is sad because combat was such a small part of a real campaign and it is a shame that D&D is going to be just focused on a single thing now instead of being about so much before.

There are a bunch of other minor complaints. They ditched gnome, but kept the less interesting and less original Halfling. The new races are much to be desired. The loss of classes (in particular the druid) with no real replacement. No real way to create magic items. No for a lot of things really. They took out a ton in this edition and didn’t really offer a replacement.

I suppose Wizards intends to fill in some of the holes left with this edition with even more supplements than ever before, which is not a good solution. This just tells me exactly what is behind Wizards these days. They want more for each text, they have more editions faster, they have more and more supplements, they add a monthly service to what they gave away at a flat fee previously and they require miniatures. The game gets more and more costly by the year and it’s not due to inflation. It is due to greed, and I want to play the game less and less because of it.

A lot of people say “well you can mix and match what rules you use” and to them I say fooey on you. There aren’t many rules that I am particularly pleased with that make the new edition worth while. I mean really if it were that easy, I could just say to you… well if you wanted easy rules, why didn’t you just simplify 3.5 in the first place and then if you can do that, why do we need a 4th edition? This argument doesn’t really work for either of us. I’m not happy with what I hear about 4th edition, you weren’t happy with 3.5…

I personally think 3.5 was ok. It wasn’t perfect but it wasn’t great. I think at the end of the day, the real reason for the new edition was that A) Wizards was running out of supplements to push and B) Sales were dipping and they needed to bring it up in part because they wanted A to start selling more. Not because they needed to simplify because as people under this argument would admit, the edition wasn’t needed since you can pick what you use anyway and modify what is there.

Others would say “you can stay at 3.5 if you really don’t like it.” You do have a good point here, I could. Though then any new books or supplements that I actually might be interested in I will have to convert into 3.5 which is a pain in the ass and considering the higher price of supplements *I* shouldn’t have to work my butt off to convert. They should. I could also use the… why don’t they release all supplements for both systems? Or why don’t they just release it to the new supplements in 3.5 and let 4.0 users convert since that is the inferior system anyway? I realize this doesn’t work as well as the above reason but there you go.

Overall, I don’t hugely want the new system. But still, I am a game designer at heart and I want to see what they really have done to the system to make it easier to play. After all as a designer isn’t that what I’m doing? I want to see what they did wrong and what they did right. I do think that they would have been better served had they just made a new system entirely and decided to support them both separately.

Honestly, I still miss Alternity. It was a great system, very different from D&D, and easier to use as well. Yet they didn’t support it and it died a miserable death because of it. I realize it costs a lot of money to support more than one product and the genre is dying. But at the same time, this isn’t D&D at all… this is a different product… and it should stand on its own. I know they want to leverage the brand name on this new system… maybe they could take D&D and create a new brand lol.

On the plus side, at least we will see continued support of 3.5 from the Open Gaming License market. Too bad Wizards is requiring developers of 4.0 to abandon 3.5… that is seriously going to hamper some of the better stuff to come out.