Role Playing => Role Playing Discussion => Topic started by: avisarr on September 21, 2008, 12:19:49 AM

Title: 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons
Post by: avisarr on September 21, 2008, 12:19:49 AM
A couple of people have asked me what my opinion was on 4th edition D&D. I didn't have a response because I hadn't played it yet. Well, today I got my first taste of it. I was given all the core 4th edition books a couple of nights ago and I started reading and playtesting it today.

We're planning to run another campaign and I was thinking of running it using 4th edition D&D.


After having read about 50 pages of the PH and playtested a simple first level fighter, my initial reaction of this edition is... lukewarm... at best. However, before I pass judgement, I'm going to give it a fair chance. I'm going to learn as much as I can and see if I can get my questions answered. That's only fair. I do plan on posting a full and detailed review of the new D&D system as soon as I've had a chance to dig into it.
Title: Re: 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons
Post by: avisarr on September 24, 2008, 01:09:43 PM
Fourth Edition Review

It’s been a few months since Wizards of the Coast released the long awaited 4th edition to the venerable Dungeons and Dragons game so this review is a bit late in coming. However, I did finally get a stack of the 4th edition books from a friend and have finally had a chance to read and review 4th edition.

Let me preface this by saying that I really WANTED to like 4th edition. I was actually excited last week when I finally got the books. The fact that the books are all high quality, hard bound, glossy, gorgeous prints with wonderful art only made me more excited. Such beautiful books… I was hopeful that the game inside was equally well put together.

Then I started reading…

To be blunt… I hate it.  I hate absolutely everything about it.

Now granted, this is based only on my first impression of the game and I’ve only sat down to take the combat system for a test drive a few times, but I’ve got plenty of things to hate about it already…

I’ve read a few reviews online of fourth edition and it seems that many of us are having the same problem with 4E. Fourth edition is trying to pass itself off as a MMO. Some sort of WoW/RPG lovechild. It’s almost like WotC has tried to create a video game in an RPG format. Clearly they are trying to drag in new players and feel that the only way they can compete with WoW is to make this game appeal to the kiddie crowd that is growing up on the instant gratification of real time MMO action. There’s no single problem that leads to this conclusion. It’s a combination of different things in 4E that give it this “video game” feel.

Here are some of the things that are bugging me:

Character Classes
Let me get this out of the way first. I have always HATED the class system in D&D. I’ve put up with it for years, but have hated it. A skills-based system is a vastly superior way to build an RPG. Basing characters on skills would eliminate the need for classes all together (including all of the desperate attempts to fix the problems of a class system like specialization, prestige classes, new classes, multi-classes, dual classes and so on). The concept of classes restricts what you can do by trying to force your character into a cookie cutter template while a skills-based system lets you build a character than can be truly original and unique. There have been many other games out there (RuneQuest, DragonQuest, GURPS and dozens of others) that were based on skills and were much better than D&D in many ways.

Having said that, it’s no surprise that we’ve still got classes, but now its worse. I don’t really like the new class/ability system in 4E at all. There isn’t much room for specialization with the new class and ability system. It seems that most characters of the same classes will end up looking and acting very much the same. You are “channeled” into specific abilities. This seems less of a problem as you get high level, but the amount of choice you have, especially at low level, felt quite limiting. I like to do very unique things with my characters and I hate being forced into a one-size-fits-all template.

Every edition of D&D has made the concept of skills more important and this is a good thing. I was hoping that eventually D&D might transition into a skills based RPG. At the very least, I was hoping that the skills system would have gotten a big upgrade again. But it’s worse than that. The skill system has been stripped down to a mere 17 skills. Even worse is the fact that they have eliminated varying skill levels! In 4E, you either have a skill or you don’t. There is no more any comparative skill ability. What about one person simply having more training and knowledge in a skill than another person? Outside of ability adjustments, there is no such distinction. Everyone either has that ability or they don’t. So, ability scores and level mean MUCH more in this edition. The idea of choosing where to spend your time training has been tossed.

Communication skills, social skills, art, craftsmanship - pretty much anything that affects actual role playing, has been relegated to a mere footnote. Which leads me to a related problem - the game is now FAR too focused on combat. It seems that everything in the game is aimed at battle now. Anything not related to combat has been dismissed as unimportant and gets very little attention. While combat is an important aspect to the game, it’s just ONE PART of the game. This idea of relegating skills to a minor subsystem really irritates me, because as I’ve said on many occasions, skills should be at the very HEART of the game. Everything your character does is the use of a skill. Skills should not be an afterthought. They should be the very framework upon which the game is based.

Abilities in Combat
The game now grants every character class a host of new special abilities and powers at every level. Indeed, these “abilities” have essentially replaced the skill system. What’s more… these abilities (most of which are combat related) sound like fighting styles from a bad kung fu movie. Every single one has a cute name and a cute description.

”I use my Reaping StrikeTM on him! And then I’ll follow that up with my Steel Serpent StrikeTM and then I shall use my patented, ever-popular FANGS OF STEEL! “ 

“Oh yeah, well I hit you with my Shadow Wasp Strike and you’re no match for my Thundertusk Boar! Hiiiii-yaaa!!”

The problem is that all of combat is now like this. There’s no reason to simply swing a sword when you can use the “Vorpal Tornado” or “Scorpion Strike” or “Dance of Death”. And it’s not like these are actually special ninja moves where you must summon chi or some type of magical energy. Many of these are simply a fancy combat move like a double attack or an attack to the knee or whatever. Which is fine. The problem is that if you can do it once, you should be able to do it again. But they impose arbitrary and unrealistic limits in the name of game balance. The abilities are divided up into At Will, Encounter and Daily. These are just extravagant combat moves but the “daily powers” can only be used once a day and the Encounter abilities are usable once per “encounter” (a fuzzy measurement of time if ever there was one). If it only requires that you have a weapon and it’s simply a matter of knowing HOW to do it… then what’s stopping a person from simply doing it again. According to the rules, if a rogue wanted to use his "Sand In The Eyes" move, he can only do that once per encounter. WTF?!? Why can't I do it again? I've still got my weapon, sand on the ground, an enemy... why can't I use that move again? “Because that would be too powerful” isn’t an answer… that’s just metagaming, that’s just an attempt at game balance. WHY can he only do this move once per day or once per "encounter"? There’s no logical reason. There’s far too much hand waving going on here.

Healing Surges
One of my big complaints in the new system is what they’ve done to the damage and healing system. All classes now have something called “healing surges” which, as far as I can tell, is just a way to let people heal themselves. What I want to know is… what exactly is a “healing surge”? I mean, where does it come from? What rational is there for letting everyone heal themselves? Remember… anyone can be a hero. Countless adventure stories feature a humble, common person rising to greatness. So I will not accept the argument that “well, these guys are hero types so they can do stuff that normal people can’t”. Nope. Not gonna accept that. Your hero is no different than the bartender or the stable boy or the gardener. Anyone can be a hero, so throw that “hero” argument right out the window. There is no reason why a “fighter” can use a heal surge and a common gardener can’t. There must be a REASON for it. So, according to the new system, anyone can heal themselves just by willing it! The only explanation that I’ve heard that even comes close to a sensible explanation is that “hit points don’t represent physical damage”. And yes, the book does say something like “hit points represent luck and resolve”. (How exactly do you quantify luck?) I think it would make much more sense to say that hit points represent a combination of fatigue and aches and stun and bruises and scrapes. So, recovering hit points is really “catching your breath” and “recovering from a stun” and “adjusting to the pain”. And you can go ahead and throw “burst of adrenaline” in there. The bottom line, hit points are an ill-defined fuzzy concept. So, if we accept that giving yourself a “healing surge” is really just “catching your breath” then it’s slightly more palatable. But I still don’t like it. Wouldn’t it make more sense to have a two tiered system of “fatigue points” and actual, physical “damage points”?

Damage and Healing
Let’s look at the rest of the damage and healing system. Not only have they given EVERYONE the ability to self heal, they have also increased hit points and altered it so that you don’t die until you get to negative "bloodied" value. So, let me give you an example. I and friends rolled up some test characters the other night. I rolled up a first level human fighter. At first level, he had 32 hit points and he wouldn’t actually die until he got to -16 hit points (if I recall correctly). So, he can take quite a bit of damage before dying. However, he could also self heal one quarter of his HP value (8 points) and he could do that self heal ability multiple times per day. He can heal in the midst of battle once per encounter. And if he manages to get OUT of combat for a few minutes, he can do massive healing with multiple heal surges in a row. In total, he can heal something like 9 times per day. He could take well over 100 points of damage in a single day.

Another huge problem is the healing rate… In previous editions of the game, you would heal hit points slowly… typically 1 hp per day. In fourth edition, if you go to sleep for six hours, you are fully recharged when you wake up – full hit points and all of your “healing surges” are back to max. So, this first level fighter can withstand over 100 hit points of damage PER DAY every day! And this is a first level runt! Clearly, hit points can’t represent physical damage then, because people don’t heal deep cuts and punctures overnight. And it doesn’t take 6 hours to catch your breath. So, hit points are some ill-defined fuzzy grey area in between. We really need a better definition of exactly what hit points are in fourth edition.

The only thing that really balances out this new “tons of healing for everyone” philosophy is that they’ve made monsters really tough. Even your run-of-the-mill orc or gnoll is now a veritable whirling cyclone of steel and special abilities.

These healing surges that they’ve given all player characters have the distinctive feel of a big, shiny red “HEAL” button on an arcade game. You just keep whacking that HEAL button anytime you need it. It’s right next to the RELOAD AMMO button and the WHIRLING SAVAGE KICK button. Yep, they’ve turned D&D into a video game that you play with paper and pencil. It’s aimed squarely at kids who grew up on video games and have no patience for plot or subtlety.

The Main Problem
The healing surges, super special nifty abilities for everyone and many other things are all bringing me to my main problem with 4th edition… the problem is that all of these feats and abilities and healing surges have no connection, at all, to reality. There’s no justification behind WHY things work they way they work. We are expected to just go along with it because “the rules say so”. I don’t know about other players, but that is simply not enough for me. I realize that this is a fantasy game where magic works, so there is some suspension of disbelief required. But I want the game to be grounded in reality at least somewhat! I love good characters, engaging storylines and high adventure. But this disconnect from realism ruins suspension of disbelief and detracts from the story. I want to play a CHARACTER with personality and goals and history and quirks and humor. I don’t want to play a mere game piece that is only defined by his special abilities and powers. The game should be more than just powers and combat. There should be story at the heart of it. And 4E seems to have tossed the story and characters aside in favor of a min/maxing, “special ability” driven combat simulation (and a bad one at that).

Another related problem with 4E is now that everyone, and I do mean EVERYONE, has an array of these new abilities and powers. Everyone is special. And when everyone is special, no one is. They’ve gone so totally over the top that you become desensitized to truly epic adventure. If every single combat round has super cool special abilities being flung about, combat becomes a blurred spectacle, the exceptional becomes ordinary and nothing stands out above the rest.

Having read other reviews online and having talked to a few gamers, it seems that I am in the minority and most people are just fine with fourth edition. “Because the rules say so” is all the justification they need. And that’s too bad that those guys are willing to be led around like that.

I, for one, am abandoning Dungeons and Dragons altogether. There are better role playing systems out there and Fourth Edition has finally driven me off. I’ve put up with as much from WotC as I can tolerate and I’m done. That’s it. I am moving on to another game system. Or maybe I’ll just build my own since WotC can’t be bothered to create a good one.

But don’t feel bad, WotC. You may have lost a player, but you haven’t lost a customer. I haven’t actually PAID for any WotC product in over a decade. I know that profit is all you care about so don’t fret. You aren’t losing a single nickel with my departure. The truth is I’d rather PAY for another game that get this WotC trash for free.

Is there ANYTHING good about Fourth Edition?


Final Thoughts
Fourth edition should have been an improvement over third edition, a step forward. Instead it feels like stumbling sideways into a candy store and choking on gumballs. Fourth edition should have greatly expanded on skills, reorganized some parts of the system that needed it, streamlined combat, improved the magic system and generally been a better, broader game. But instead they have fixed nothing and made bad problems even worse.

In my opinion, fourth edition is beyond abysmal. It’s a travesty. It’s an insult to those of us who grew up with the game. If they wanted to create an action oriented fighting game with hundreds of special “combat moves” and hokey “healing surges” and WAY too much magic and combat, they should have just created an entirely new game. Or better yet, WotC, make a video game. This train wreck barely qualifies as a role playing game anymore… it’s more like a souped up combat system with pretty pictures and mandatory miniatures. As others have said before me, this doesn’t even feel like D&D anymore. I’m disgusted. And even though the game is dedicated to him, I’m sure Gary is rolling in his grave. Wizards of the Coast, you should be ASHAMED of yourselves.

I would not have believed Fourth Edition could have wrecked the game so completely. It has surpassed my worst nightmares.

Title: Re: 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons
Post by: Delbareth on September 24, 2008, 05:11:32 PM
In my opinion, the 4th edition has at least one major advantage : to turn away some players from D&D gaming system. :-\
Don't regret it David, there are far better systems in the world (and you can obviously create your own)

Eventually I was right, put all that stuff to trash and do something else ;)
Title: Re: 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons
Post by: tanis on September 24, 2008, 09:35:52 PM
I want to see David make his own!!!

Dude you know so much about rping, plus you have a great mind, great imagination, and the understanding of what a good rpg system needs to play well. I think you could make an awesome gaming system that would be streamlined and simple without losing the ability for great depth and variety. And this way you can tie it to Khoras and that'll help out Khoras which I always love. Btw what system will you use in the meantime? I mean most likely?
Title: Re: 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons
Post by: avisarr on September 25, 2008, 10:25:49 AM
Yes, Delbareth, I agree with you... there are better systems out there. For years I've had issues with D&D. I've molded it about as far as I can with "house rules". I think maybe it's time for me to move on. :)

Someone sent me a copy of RuneQuest to take a look at. And at least 3 different people recommended DragonQuest to me. DragonQuest, specifically, has a lot of the things I want to see - skills based system with no classes, very grounded in reality, etc.

I don't have a copy of DragonQuest, but I did find a whole group on Yahoo Groups devoted to DragonQuest and they have the second edition rules of the game in a PDF format. I downloaded it and am reading it now. I like what I've read so far.

And Tanis, I am seriously considering writing my own RPG system. I did start building a system back in the early 90s, and even posted a copy of it on the Khoras site. However, what I posted was only a half finished system and it was very rough and hurriedly assembled. I'm not satisfied with it. That was 15 years ago. With 15 years more experience behind me now, I feel like I've got a much better RPG System in me. It's time to rewrite the Khoras RPG and really polish it. Long term project though. I probably wouldn't call it the Khoras RPG. I think I'd like to make a generic system that you could use with any world. I don't want to force anyone to use Khoras if they don't want to. However, the system would certainly be very compatible with Khoras. And I think it will be fairly modular, so you can drop whatever parts of the rules you don't like without affecting the overall game. What would be a good name for a new fantasy role playing game? Any suggestions? Many years ago, back in Ohio, I knew some guys that were creating a game called "High Adventure". I love that name, but I think they may have copyrighted it. Darn...

Funny thing is, I may not get a chance to use DragonQuest or my own system. So far, NONE of my local players want to stray away from D&D! One guy has fallen in love with 4th edition (he and I are two totally different types of players, which explains why he likes 4E and I don't). Another player wants to stick with version 3.5 of D&D. If I want to drag these guys, kicking and screaming, to a non-D&D system, I'm going to have to really sell it. I think I'm in for an uphill battle. ;)

Title: Re: 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons
Post by: tanis on September 25, 2008, 01:51:19 PM

yeah i agree David you might have to just go with 3.5 so that at least you don't go with 4E.

but yeah i think D&D is a flawed system too. i mean it has always worked better as a video game and that's probably why there are so many dnd games out there.
Title: Re: 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons
Post by: Glenstorm on October 07, 2008, 11:18:25 AM
It used to be that players played a dice-based RPG before delving into an MMO. Nowadays, it's different. MMOs introduce placers to pencil & paper RPGs instead of the otherway round (anybody remember the DIABLO II supplements for D&D?). I won't take offense that the new D&D is heavily influenced by MMO design.


That said, MMOs are very much encounter-based (in opposition to pencil & paper's campaign-based). Very much combat-based. Very much designed for players who want a quick action fix, who want to be able to drop in and play at anytime and have some action.

Old school RPGs are story-based, heavily inspired by people who wanted to play out Lord of the Rings in real-time or live the life of James Bond. And there lies the rub.

WotC has made the game into a hack-n-slash game. All some players want to do is kill things and take their stuff. People like me, on the other hand, are the type of player who spends weeks coming up with backstory to justify his characters stats and skills, who works relentlessly with the DM to tie his character into the overall plot, who wants a fleshed out character, not just a combat machine.

David has it right when he says (paraphrasing) in a world where everyone is a superhero, no one is. Skills and story allow a character to stand out in myriad ways; not just "the guy with the vorpal sword" or the "the guy that killed Smaug" but "the sole survivor from the city that vanished" or "the guy whose who weaves baskets that sell for hundreds of gold" -- you can be those last couple at first level and do more to serve the story and the game than being just another Conan among Conans.

Also, part of the thrill of old school RPGs is the possibility of failure. What will happen if you lose to the lich? In MMOs, you regenerate and just take another shot, but in dice games, the lich might kill your family or you... and permanently. He might take over the world so you're playing in a whole new environment. Again... it comes back to the importance of story to the game. In a world where even the newbies have superpowers and zillions of hit points, where's the struggle? If good (or the players) always wins, who cares?

From the comments, it appears as if WotC has sacrificed the story aspect of the game to lure in MMO players. Is it worth it? Depends on who you ask. Some players like hack n slash. I like story and character to character interaction. But WotC might've been wise to check out White Wolf's EverQuest and Warcraft RPGs which, though far from perfect, kept much of the story emphasis intact.