Last night, I got to play my first game of Fourth Edition Dungeons & Dragons. Bottom line up front: I fail to see from where all the hate for 4E comes. It’s very similar in its rules foci to 2E or (dare I say it?) 1E. Having grown up on those games, 4E is certainly no paradigm shift to me. The only difference is that with healing surges, the cleric doesn’t have to be the healing battery. And for those who are saying it doesn’t facilitate role-playing—it has skills like Bluff and Diplomacy, which actually puts it a few steps further along the role-play road than its illustrious forebearers mentioned above.
I played a Githzerai Runepriest (both from the Player’s Handbook Three). We started at 6th level, which meant, for a complete newb like me, character creation took the better part of an hour. So many choices, and so many things different than in 3E, it really did feel like a different game.
I recall all the hype about how broken 3E was, and how 4E was going to fix all that. Maybe it did, I don’t know about grapple, but with so many powers and so many situational modifiers and prerequisites for using them, it’s confusing in its own particular way. Likely—as with 3E/d20—regular play would smooth out these difficulties.
And while 4E does try to cover every possible option with a rule, this happened in 3E as well. This is unfortunate, as it tends to straightjacket player choice and stifle creativity. It’s one reason why I’ve been moving to more and simpler systems recently. It’s why I enjoyed Old School Hack, which has 7 pages of rules, and adequately covers everything I need it to in those 7 pages.
So, I found 4E mechanically a very large step away from 3E, yet philosophically close to 1 and 2E. I’m not about to become a 4E disciple, but by the same token, I don’t buy a lot of the hyperbolic denunciations of it.
But would I request this game? Would I ever run a 4E game? Would I ever buy any of it?
No to all three.
I also recently played Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying, third edition, and if I’m going to go crunch heavy, that’s the game I’d play. Yes, Chris wins.
Walking in to a WFRPG 3E game as a newb was pretty easy. I did not build my character from scratch, but I would imagine there would have been a time outlay on the same level as 4E. For those who regularly play WFRPG, I’m sure they can build a character relatively quick, but for a newb, there’s a lot to consider there. The big difference comes in the ease of play and the entertainment multiplier of the WFRPG components.
I did not spend a lot of time considering my actions and deciding on tactics with WFRPG. In 4E, a lot of the powers seemed relatively similar, with very specific—and it often seemed minute—differences in effect. With WFRPG, the different powers seemed much easier to differentiate, and therefore choice seemed easier. With the effects so different, choice became easy based on situation. It’s kind of like a multiple choice question in which two or three answers all sound very similar and correct, with each having only one word different. You can spend a lot of time answering that question, even if you have the required knowledge, while you could answer a similar question with four very clear, very different answers quite quickly.
There’s also a lot to be said for the cards, tokens, markers, and different kinds of dice in WFRG. Everything seemed to be at my fingertips while I played—no referring back to manuals for this power or that attack. The interplay of different kinds of dice for different kind of actions—success vs. banes and boons, stuff like that—seemed both more interesting and—in an odd way—more exciting. It also seemed really intuitive to me, dividing the success of an action from the beneficial or baleful repercussions of that action.
So, 4E? Interesting. It’s fun for an RPG with rules focusing on tactical combat, and it has some very interesting races and classes. It is not visionary enough to be exciting, nor does its mechanics address the kinds of narratives and actions I like to run. It’s not going to be a buy for me, nor would I ever request it. If someone wanted to run a game and asked me to play, I’d certainly join a game. It’s just really not what excites me for RPGs.
One example can illustrate this: the group was getting its ass handed to it by some uber-psionic using dude. We were on the balcony, he was on the ground floor, and the stairs had collapsed. My character jumped down, then tried to catch the floor of the balcony, and swing under, smashing into the foe. I would have expected to get some kind of mechanical recognition for bringing the cool to the game—and everyone, including the DM, agreed this was cool—or at least not be penalized for doing so. Of course, 4E isn’t geared for this, and I got actively penalized for trying to do something different. My Githzerai, of course, failed his acrobatics and then his athletics checks, so he landed on his ass and took damage for the fall.
I want a game that rewards people for characters doing cool things. Action point, awesome point, some kind of bonus, extra dice, something. I want that because it signals to players “this is what we want, bring the awesome!” What incentive do I now have for acting outside of the strictures of my powers? Heck, I could have used a couple of move actions to get to the ground and back into the action, but I was thinking cinematic action while 4E is built for tactical considerations.
I prefer cinematic action, thanks.