Why Complain About 4e? Stop the Edition Wars!

As one of those who is known to still vent the occasional rant at 4e, let me chime in to explain why it’s not just pure wickedness and hate behind why I and others who find fault with 4e don’t just “shut up and go away.”

This entry started as a response to a good post by Zachary the First in response to a Newbie DM article.  It got long and I thought I’d post it here in expanded form.

I think what happened in the 3.5e->4e transition is clear to everyone who has analyzed the edition change to any degree. In short, a significant number of 3e and other legacy D&D players who enjoy simulationist play feel mostly left out in 4e as the rules changed to not support that playstyle well.  The point of this post isn’t to debate this truth (go here for that); I think at this point it’s pretty much accepted among both 4e fans and detractors.

Which is fair enough. D&D play styles have been diverse over time; certain editions have supported different styles better, there are other games out there, etc.  No playstyle is the “one true way,” it’s all personal preference.

However, besides the nostalgic cachet to the D&D trademark, there’s no denying that WotC is the 900 pound gorilla in the RPG market and D&D is the most played game. More support material is published for D&D than anything else.   This means that the change in playstyle support has other secondary effects felt outside the printed pages of the PHB.

Some people – experienced gamers with a knowledge of the larger RPG landscape –  pick the game system they rationally prefer. Many, many others are led into a default play style by the game they pick up first, the game that is on every bookstore shelf and the majority of people play – in this case, the majority of gamers are led to 4e by virtue of its market dominance and then get “molded” into the 4e style by playing it.

I think it’s clear that not all that market share is a clear case of “people have specifically chosen gamist tactical combat as their preferred mode of gaming;” with any new edition most sales are driven by “this is the new version of that popular thing.”  But players begin, consciously and unconsciously, adhering to its default metaphor.

As we all know, gaming is a social hobby, and it can be hard to find gaming groups and, on the publishing side, get sufficient critical mass to get “fringe” products produced.

As a result, there is significant incentive for me and others who prefer a different type of gaming to continue to advocate for D&D to (re-)adopt our mindset (in 5e, if nothing else). Because when your style of gaming is marginalized outside D&D, then your ability to find like minded gamers and get products that suit your needs is severely degraded. Thus, even if I don’t play 4e, it affects me negatively by affecting the larger gaming ecosystem. (Note that me house-ruling to accomplish simulation in 4e doesn’t reduce any of these secondary effects, and is therefore not a useful solution).

This ecosystem effect is obvious.  It’s why Microsoft pushes Windows – it’s not just for the dollars from Windows sales but from the effect on the resulting computing ecosystem that works against Mac, Linux, etc. on multiple levels.  It’s just an effect, only good or bad from the point of view of which side of the ecosystem you play in.

It’s traditional that the majority doesn’t understand the concern of the marginalized – why be angry?  Go with the flow!  Nobody’s telling you what to do!  But in the end, it’s not that simple (ask any minority group).  It’s not anyone’s intent to marginalize simulation gamers, but intent has nothing to do with the actual results.

And that’s why I personally plan to continue to agitate for changes to D&D to reintegrate the simulationist banner within the game. Doing so produces:

  • the ability for me to play the best-supported and most-played RPG
  • the network effect of producing other games and gamers who are fluent in simulation play

Make sense?  It’s not about an “edition war.”  No one’s giving out a medal for “objectively best version of D&D.”   It’s about “we want this kind of gameplay actively included in the world’s most popular role-playing game ™”.  The discussion isn’t “over” because the latest version doesn’t support it; there will always be another version.  In fact, it seems somewhat offensive and self-serving to tell people who don’t like 4e to “just go away, then” – our input into the development of D&D is just as valid as we’re still potential new customers.

I don’t begrudge anyone enjoying 4e or not liking simulation play.  These effects are not any of your “fault.”  However, in aggregate, the effect that D&D 4e has of supporting and predominating products, gamers, and gaming groups that are simulation unfriendly results in marginalization and therefore measurable harm to my enjoyment of the hobby.

And I don’t think that continuing to advocate for this is totally in vain, either.  Wizards certainly changed their tune some on the whole GSL/OGL thing, and I like to believe that change was facilitated by the press and critique that people, including myself, brought to bear.

Given all this, I hope the intelligent readers out there in the community will realize that this is the core problem that all the common retorts to criticism of 4e totally miss – “Well don’t play it then,” “House rule it!,” “People just fear change,” “4e’s out, it’s over, give up,” “Why don’t you complain about other games,” “I like 4e better because…”  All valid thoughts, none of which come logically to bear on this problem.  There are other RPGs I “don’t like,” that aren’t open, that only cater to one play style or another.  But this is the one that pushes the entire industry in its direction, so both as a habitual D&D player but also as a RPG gamer in general, I have a vested interest in its course and desire input into it.

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53 responses to “Why Complain About 4e? Stop the Edition Wars!

  1. So when 5e goes even further away from what they want, will the haters finally give up?

    I’m going to take a wild guess: 5e will be reviled, and the “old schoolers” will yearn for the good old days of 4e.

    Rinse, repeat.

    • And?

      Of course, the longer and farther D&D drifts, the more the sim contingent will move on to other hobbies… Or maybe it drifts back, and they don’t. But it’s barely one year into its new course now, which is why I think giving up on it is a bit premature.

      (“old school” is a term currently in vogue that specifically implies 0e/1e gaming so I am not using that term)

  2. I’ll tell you why continuing to bash 4e to freaking pointless and annoying. Simulationists have a perfectly good version of D&D to play. It’s got a billion expansions, option and modules out the yang, and companies that continue to publish new material. It’s called 3e.

    Complaining about 4e is just that – complaining for the sake of complaining. The elements you want are unlikely to be re-introduced in this edition. I think that’s because they are not fun, but that’s just me.

    I would much rather see bloggers, yourself included, redirect their considerable skills and talents towards… maybe not complaining. Or coming up with neat stuff, characters, campaign settings, cool ideas, that are either generally applicable to all rpgs, or to their game of choice.

    I don’t feel that you, or many other bloggers are meaningfully contributing to a greater dialog about the nature of rpgs. You are complaining because you don’t like something, and you think it’s bad/wrong/no-fun and people should agree with you.

    I don’t.

    • Congratulations on replying without reading, or at least without understanding, a single bit of this post.

      Only a couple percent the posts on this blog are about 4e, one way or the other. So “You 4e complainers aren’t contributing anything else to RPGs WHARRGARBLE” is just you throwing out shit you can’t mean if you have more than 2 brain cells, trying to silence people that don’t agree with you.

  3. Congratulations on replying in the knee-jerk, defensive manner that I have come to expect after posts like this.

    I understand your point, but I think it’s not valid, or constructive, because I think you’re misunderstanding why you’re having trouble finding like-minded people to play the style you prefer.

    I think it’s because the simulationist style only appeals to a limited number of gamers, and a more action-oriented style appeals to more. It’s completely true that many people play the style they were introduced to – at first. But most gamers branch out into a lot of games after that.

    And I made no mention of the content of the rest of your blog – generally, I like your stuff, which is why I come here and read it, and take the time to comment. I don’t agree with you on the validity or necessity of ongoing debate about what you don’t like about 4e. I’d much prefer to read cool stuff about the game you do play.

    • 4e is a perfect example of the “squeaky wheel gets the grease”. People complained and 3rd edition became less complex.

      Well now if there are enough squeaky wheels, maybe 5e will make D&D more than D&D miniatures with some role playing cards! Very simple.

      You cannot write off the point as invalid. It is absolutely valid. I do not think you are correct that most gamers want the cinematic experience. I would say at BEST half do.

      One point you did not address in your reply, is that people are going to go to the gamist style by default. With all the other media out there, D&D is no longer a proper ‘alternative’ it is now a text version of ‘more of the same.’ The term min/max and powergamer used to denote a problem person in the group. Now 4e is making min/max the norm (as well as the design philosophies of later 3rd edition.) So gamers that prefer another style fo game from 4e are going to be faced with a slush of gamers from only the gamist camp.

      WOTC needs to be made aware of the concerns of other customers they have lost but have a chance to regain. though ultimately I would love to see Paizo rise in share, and be as influential as White Wolf.

  4. I can certainly understand your point about wanting to continue with a style of play you enjoy….enjoying the game is what it has always been about.

    I was a oe/1e, and eventually a 2e player who stopped with the release of 3e. I thought it weakened the game and that it took the game in a differnt direction from where I was at. So I can honestly relate.

    I did eventually pick up 3 and 3.5 most likely as you stated due to market saturation….I saw 3.5 products time and time again…so I eventually decided to see what the hub-bub was about. It turned out to be okay…different, but okay and I played it.

    I think that 2e to 3e transistion and all the feelings I went thru then helped me to make my decision on what to do about the 4e release. I took my time looked around at it and evaulated it myself eventually.

  5. I really hope people stop using GNS jargon before 5e comes out. There are more play styles than just those 3 and thinking of game design like that will lead to products below their potential.

  6. @Stuart: We’re agreed there.

  7. Why the hate for GNS? I think it accurately describes major approaches to the hobby, and in this case I think that it is very accurate – all the various discussions about “swords & sorcery or high fantasy,” “gritty vs. heroic,” etc. are not directly on target for the 4e change. It is specifically that 4e is gamist with a side of narrativist and leaves immersive/simulationist play outside. Terms like “old school” and “new school” are of course amalgamations of GNS approaches (that’s why GNS is a triangle continuum, not a “pick one” approach).

    Unless someone has a better way to categorize general play styles, and I certainly haven’t seen one, GNS is the best theoretical model. (Ron’s newer thing is complex and unhelpful.)

    The GNS triangle is like the project management triangle (scope/time/resources). Every game is a combo of the approaches. I have yet to hear any truly different gamer approach than g, n, or s. A “gaming style” like old school or cinematic is a different kind of description – it’s like agile vs waterfall development – different approaches, but both subject to the scope/time/resources PM triangle.

    So I’ve seen absolutely no evidence that the GNS triangle is invalid. Sure, it’s not always the way to analyze, just as the PM triangle isn’t the right analysis to handle every project issue. But in this case, dealing with 4e’s change, I think it’s the best way to demonstrate who got left out. They didn’t leave out “puzzle fans” or “powergamers” or the like, they specifically made rule changes that make character-immersive play and “realistic” simulated world environments very difficult to achieve.

  8. “Why the hate for GNS? I think it accurately describes major approaches to the hobby”

    Because it *doesn’t* accurately describe the major approaches to the hobby. There are more ways to play than wargame, storygame and sim-city-dungeon.

    For example, Adventure Game style (like CYOA and FF) isn’t any of those 3. http://robertsongames.com/role-playing-games/the-adventure-game-school

    • Oh, I totally disagree. Again, the GNS triangle is a continuum – you don’t have to “choose a point.” Adventure game style has elements of all three approaches. I like adventure games myself (Grim Fandango and Phantasmagoria were probably two of my favorites, not counting all the old Infocom games I played obsessively in my youth). That style is “toward the middle,” sure enough – the limited choices mean you have to be a little gamist; the scripted story atop it means it’s a little narrativist, and the attempt to create an immersive, interactive environment (somewhat limited by the first two goals) means it’s a little simulationist. Congrats, it’s a style that is more of a melding of the three approaches than most!

      Sure, it’s not the only axis to use to describe a game system (genre is another, approach like old school or your adventure school is another…) But it can nonetheless be applied with validity.

  9. “Wizards certainly changed their tune some on the whole GSL/OGL thing, and I like to believe that change was facilitated by the press and critique that people, *INCLUDING MYSELF*, brought to bear.”

    Oh yes. It was you who made all that happen. Thank gods that we have sensible people with the voice of reason like you to set big corporations like Hasbro right. I’m sure that your continuous tirade about 4e will make 5e more simulationist than even Rolemaster RPG has ever been. Keep up the good work.

    This is what happens when someone is so full of himself that he’d need a tap in his head to relieve some pressure, boys and girls.

    • You’re welcome!

      I did play some small part in that debate, as it was my article that broke the initial Wizards GSL/OGL debacle to slashdot and I was one of the voices trying to get Wizards to change its tune. Scott Rouse did hear out my concerns. So yes, I believe I had an effect. Of course, Clark Petersen and others had much more.

      And in the end, I know I had more effect than you and the “sit on my hands and hope no one teabags me” contingent. I know that makes you all sad and resentful, but you just need to buck up, little camper!

      • Digby's Crushing Hand

        Sure you did, it wasn’t those other companies telling Wizards to keep their new license terms and shove it, it was Internet bloggers that did it. Oh yes, “anonymous Internet bloggers” was the correct answer.

        As you seem to be pretty gullible with thigs like these – hey, why not start an online petition to stop sale of all 4e material, because those things actually really work. It’s true.

  10. I am disappointed no one has said “tempest in a teacup” or “nerd rage” yet; those are the usual epithets to toss at anyone who disagrees with you about gaming. Come on people!

    • Digby's Swatting Palm

      It seems that it’s you and your comedic sidekicks that are disagreeing with “gaming” of other people the most in here.

      Most of the critics of your comments have been telling you to live and let live, play the game that you like, stop ranting and fighting and making a fool out of yourself.

      • Digby's Longsleeved Shirt

        …as we’re playing games that we like, after all. I don’t feel a bit sorry for you or likes of you if you lot are too retarded (I guess I’m allowed to use that word in here, as that’s the word you like to associate with your blog) and moronic (and that as well, as that’s the one you like to use when talking about people who like different things than you) to lose your marbles for some game that you’re not even playing rather than to enjoy the hobby any way you want to.

        • You can do it! Keep going! You can turn any discussion into a pointless trading of insults! You go boy!

          [For those keeping track, this is Sir Digby Chicken Caesar, already blacklisted for trolling and being a punk. He's madly trying to overcome the WordPress spam filters with only a little success. Poor little mutant.]

  11. I get a chuckle out of seeing people try to tell bloggers what to write about.

    Well spoken. This really gets at a big part of why detractors of the new edition are far from done talking about it.

    Some people wonder why there wasn’t such a continuous uproar when 3e was released, but I can think of four: the changes from 2e to 3e weren’t as fundamental, the internet wasn’t mature or widely-used, gamers were just relieved that (A)D&D wasn’t dead for good, and the OGL was awesomesauce.

    In comparison, the changes from 3e to 4e are fundamental (which some will argue isn’t the case, but whatever), the internet is very widely used by gamers and the means of discussion are more mature, 4e doesn’t have the advantage of saving D&D from the dead, and going from the awesomesauce OGL to the horrific GSL is like downgrading from broadband to a 14.4 kbps modem.

  12. I would find this post more believable if your previous entry on 4e wasn’t titled “Mike Mearls Strangles Realism In D&D Like It’s An Unruly Hooker.” That’s not advocating for D&D 5e to adopt a different playstyle; that’s calling 4e bad. You are not saying that 4e is something you don’t enjoy, you’re saying it’s crappy.

    Which is your right, of course.

    • Consider that 3e and earlier had no problem accommodating both immersive and gamist playstyles. So, yes, there is a rational case to be made that 4e is worse than what went before.

      Given that, there’s nothing inconsistent about saying the current edition is bad and wanting the next iteration to be better, where better = “doesn’t gratuitously break immersion.”

    • I’m saying it is tossing out realism like an unwanted baby in a dumpster. But the point’s the realism. If you hate realism, like some posters here say they do, then it’s not really bad.

  13. At one point in the article, you say this:

    “Which is fair enough. D&D play styles have been diverse over time; certain editions have supported different styles better, there are other games out there, etc. No playstyle is the “one true way,” it’s all personal preference.”

    Then you say this:

    “As a result, there is significant incentive for me and others who prefer a different type of gaming to continue to advocate for D&D to (re-)adopt our mindset (in 5e, if nothing else). Because when your style of gaming is marginalized outside D&D, then your ability to find like minded gamers and get products that suit your needs is severely degraded. Thus, even if I don’t play 4e, it affects me negatively by affecting the larger gaming ecosystem. (Note that me house-ruling to accomplish simulation in 4e doesn’t reduce any of these secondary effects, and is therefore not a useful solution).”

    To summarize, D&D being of a certain playstyle means RPG players start to trend to that playstyle. If you don’t belong to that playstyle, you get marginalized. *You* don’t want to be marginalized, because *you* can’t find like-minded games as easily. All playstyles are equal, but new players should be molded towards *your* playstyle so *your* life is easier. The people that prefer a *different* playstyle? They’re OK to marginalize forever; it doesn’t matter if they have trouble finding games. All playstyles are equal, but only *yours* is equal enough for anybody to care about

    • This isn’t a zero-sum game. Earlier editions of D&D supported all kinds of games without trouble: long epics; one-shot dungeon crawls; political backroom dealings; high fantasy, gritty fantasy; low, no, and high magic settings; heroic, everyman, anti-hero, and legendary characters; high-seas swashbuckling; tactical skirmishing; castle sieges. 1e through 3e could do all of those without house ruling, and without ignoring the majority of the system.

      4e is very narrowly confined to long epics packed with tactical skirmishing, high magic, high fantasy, heroic characters who inevitably become legendary or godlike. Political epics ignore most of the system, as do castle sieges. Choosing to play an everyman isn’t an option, nor is gritty realism. Low or no magic games would upset the balance of power since the system assumes magic treasure as an integral part of the encounter balance equation.

      Nobody is saying that 5e (or whatever) should cater to just what we want. No, we just don’t want it to cater to a single, narrow playstyle like 4e does. We want D&D to again be the premier, super-flexible fantasy system it has been for the last 30 years.

      • That’s a more valid point, although I still think it’s incorrect. Playing an everyman (based off Princeton’s definition) has never been a part of core D&D. I don’t remember rules covering castle sieges in the core either, and I’m almost certain there wasn’t anything about political epics in there either.

        I could easily believe that supplementals added those abilities as earlier editions developed. Remember, what you’re seeing of 4e is a limited picture of what is possible. Not counting campaign settings, 3e and 3.5 had about 70 books to draw from (according to http://6d6fireball.com/games/dd-35e/). 4e, however, has 10 (same site). It is entirely possible that base 4e could expand to cover all of those scenarios when there as 7x more rulebooks as there are now

        • And it would be lovely, if they used supplements to somehow make 4e suitable for roleplay-immersive, simulationist play. In fact, it’s a really good reason to keep doing what I’m doing…

          • All right. That’s actually pretty reasonable. I’ll just close by saying that the original post did not indicate that was what you were trying to do, although I could have just misread it entirely

        • (This is a long comment. I see that you got my original point already, so this isn’t meant to be more adversarial arguing. But, I enjoy writing and some of your points got me thinking. Maybe some of this will illustrate why 4e doesn’t—and probably can’t—do what I wish it could do.)

          Siege damage was a clumsy system, but it was there in the core at least as of 2e, possibly 1e. Political epics weren’t supported mechanically, but they weren’t made more difficult by the mechanics either. There was still some nudging toward that kind of play, though it wasn’t obligatory: the level 9 (“name” level) abilities of 1e and 2e characters were all about establishing holdings, attracting followers, and becoming a political force to be reckoned with. Not everybody used all that of course, but the support was there.

          More importantly AD&D didn’t build characters (nearly) exclusively around combat, so campaigns that didn’t focus on combat were possible without house rules. It could be argued that this is possible with 4e skill challenges, true, but 4e puts most of a character’s mechanical power into combat. A 9th-level fighter in 1e wasn’t so much more mechanically powerful than a 3rd-level fighter—the real power difference was in their greater fame, hirelings, allies, favours, access to powerful people in the setting, and other intangibles that came from all the non-combat stuff that was typical in a 1e game.

          You’re right that enabling people to play an everyman was never a core design principle, but there was support for 0-level characters if people really wanted to do that.

          It’s not really about the number of books or how many rules subsystems were published. It has more to do with what assumptions the mechanics are built around. In 1e and 2e they were built to model a reasonably convincing fantasy world so that characters could “do anything” the player could think of and make it easy to adjudicate it. It was mostly designed that way so that dungeons could be looted without needing a specific rule for every single thing a player might try, but it’s that design principle made for a remarkably flexible and adaptable game right there in the core.

          4e is built around the assumption that killing things and taking their stuff is the primary activity of the game. The modelling of a convincing world was skipped over in favour of directly modelling a killing-and-looting game. It’s a good design for that, and it’s nicely expandable with more mechanics, but it’s not flexible in how those mechanics can be used. The foundations are about killing and looting, rather than a convincing world in which the characters just happen to mostly do killing and looting. 4e can be bent to play in a different style, but it’s a lot of bending and the focus on balance in the core means bending it too far might break it.

          Unlike mxyzplk I don’t really think that supplements to the existing core of 4e can actually add that kind of flexibility back in. The stuff I talk about up-comment are baked right into the exception-based design of the classes and advancement system. Replacing those with something that supported other play styles would make it a completely different and incompatible game.

          • (Also non-argumentative)

            I haven’t played anything before 3e, or maybe 3.5; I can’t remember which. I don’t remember anything specifically about sieges in the 3/3.5 core books, but it’s been a while and I could be misremembering. If I am remembering correctly, siege mechanics is a change from 2e to 3e, not from 3 to 4.

            As for the political epics, I truly do not see how the 4 rules make those more difficult than 3/3.5. As before, I quite possibly am forgetting how 3/3.5 worked, and if that’s the case, then I concede the point.

            As for the ‘name’ level, I think that quite a bit of that is there in the paragon tier. It’s a different name, and I’ll definitely admit that there aren’t any rules or charts that directly address holdings, hirelings, and access to powerful people, but I do not believe those are very difficult to house rule at all. If I were GMing a paragon tier party, I would house rule most reasonable request and turn down the rest. Granted, I have been spoiled by learning Paranoia, with its heavy slant towards making stuff up as you go, but I don’t think it would be hard for a remotely experienced GM.

            You are absolutely right that 4e builds characters with a heavier emphasis on combat, but you’re leaving out some things. The difference between a level 3 fighter and a level 9 fighter is not much, but the difference between a level 3 wizard and a level 9 wizard is very large. I can’t believe you’d say that the difference between a level 3 wizard being able to cast scorching ray once per day and enlarge person twice per day versus a level 9 wizard being able to cast cloudkill once per day and orb of fire twice per day is a small difference. That’s actually one of my favorite things about 4e, that all classes are useful at all levels.

            About level 0 characters: Have you played a level 0 character? Have you been in a game where someone plays a level 0 character? Do you even know of someone who played a level 0 character? I, certainly, have never seen anyone do that.

            I can’t compare 1e and 2e’s ability to model a world against 4e’s ability because I’ve never played 1 or 2. However, I do not understand why 4e could not be used to model a reasonably convincing fantasy world. If you’re using a campaign setting, the world is there in all editions. If you’re using a homebrew campaign setting, why do you need specific rules to be able to make it reasonably convincing?

          • I’m going to spend most of this speaking to your last paragraph about convincing worlds.

            The note about Paranoia is interesting. 1e and 2e were much more like Paranoia in the way they promoted “just make it up” for many things. There were a lot of rules, but they didn’t try to cover every eventuality like 3e did.

            What you’re calling house-ruling was how the game was designed to be used. There weren’t rules directly addressing how you got a holding (just that you were allowed to); access to powerful people didn’t involve tables, but was a matter of exploring the world and gaining influence through character actions and choices; rules about hirelings and followers covered how many, when, and what level they could be, and all the details of actually making that happen was otherwise left up to the imagination.

            I’m not sure I’m really getting the point across. In those editions, stuff just made up that wasn’t in the rules wasn’t house rules, that was just how the imaginative component of the game worked. What people called “house rules” were actual rules that were added into the system, such as creating a Channeling method of spellcasting or developing a homebrewed duelling subsystem. The GM making decisions on the fly and granting or denying reasonable requests was the default, not a deviation from the core.

            You might see now why I emphasise flexibility as an important feature of games I enjoy.

            As for modelling a convincing world, there are a lot of little things in 4e that makes it inconsistent for that. They’re things that you might not notice if you weren’t already sensitive to them from years playing with an eye to making the world make as much internal sense as possible. 1e and 2e weren’t perfect for that—infravision, armour class, and why certain classes couldn’t do certain things were glaring inconsistencies—but AD&D put trying for internal logic ahead of most everything else, including balance.

            As an example from 2e, if you shot a lightning bolt at a pool of water that a bunch of orcs were standing in, there wasn’t a specific rule to handle that but they were most likely all dead moments later. Actually, I lie. Checking the books, I see there are rules for what a lightning bolt does underwater—a “fire”ball of electricity centred on the caster—from which you can infer that lightning bolts are conducted by water. There’s no rule that says that lightning bolts are conducted by water, and there’s no mechanics for the use of that spell in this example, which is an important point of the example. You just did stuff, and the consequences were a matter of what was logical or common sense. If they weren’t needed, the mechanics never entered into the process.

            In 4e, the underlying design of Powers is that they do exactly and only what the mechanics say. The flavour text is specifically not enforceable, so you can’t use any logical consequence. You can house rule that, but there are some weird consequences if you do.

            For just one example of such weirdness, a logical consequence in 1e of shield-rushing a gelatinous cube would be that the foolish fighter would be instant cube-food, no roll required. It’s just how gelatinous cubes work, according to their description, in a convincing world.

            In 4e, I’ll assume the equivalent is Tide of Iron, because the flavour text is all about rushing up and smashing with a shield. Strictly according to the rules of 4e and the description of gelatinous cubes, using Tide of Iron on a gelatinous cube results in it being pushed around. This is weird, since a cube is a few dozen tonnes of dense, paralytic jelly that a 200-pound Fighter hasn’t a snowball’s chance in hell of pushing around even a little bit.

            A 4e DM could make the decision that the Tide of Iron–using Fighter just goes *gloop* into the cube and needs to be rescued, but that causes all kinds of weirdness on the mechanical side. It suddenly makes Fighters much less capable than any other class in that combat, which violates the spirit of the 4e rules. Even worse, a DM making such a decision would make the players (if they haven’t already mutinied in solidarity with the dissolving Fighter) expect that the flavour text of their Powers should be taken into account when fighting the gelatinous cube. Shouldn’t the Wizard’s Ray of Frost cause the cube to get frozen and stiff, slowing it down? But wait, should the Paladin’s Staggering Strike not have a push effect against cubes, too?

            So the result is one of two choices: use the Powers as-written and ignore the illogical results (like being able to push a 30-tonne block of goo); or, be ready to house rule any Power used in the gelatinous cube fight, no matter how much it breaks game balance or punishes certain characters for picking the “wrong” Powers.

            In 1e and 2e, it was really simple to make those decision because the majority of actions had obvious results, or you could work out how something should work based on a common-sense understanding of the game world. 4e makes it really, really hard to do that, and a lot of the core doesn’t make that kind of game-world sense to me.

            (Now, to answer some of the stuff that didn’t tie directly in, but is interesting anyway.)

            About 9th-level wizards and 3rd-level wizards: You’re right, there’s a large discrepancy in power level there. Still, in a straight-up fight the 3rd-level wizard still has a chance, because the 9th-level wizard is going to have between 9 and 36 hp, with an average of 22 hp. The 3rd-level wizard will have 3 to 12 hp, averaging 7 hp. When you’re dealing with such small numbers on both sides in the first place, just one bad roll can mean the other guy wins. The real difference between that 3rd-level wizard and the 9th-level wizard is going to be in their relative non-combat power: the 9th-level wizard will probably have a tower, some apprentices, the ear of the King, a pile of contingency plans to keep their measly 22 hp safe, and allies scattered throughout the land. Meanwhile, Mr 7 HP will have a familiar, if he’s lucky, and maybe a scroll with a good escape spell to be used in emergency situations only. The 9th-level wizard is going to kick butt because the advantage is his; if he loses to a 3rd-level wizard, it’ll be because he was exceedingly incautious and stupid, or the 3rd-level wizard was very, very smart. The stuff that’s not on the character sheet is still the more important stuff.

            On 0-level characters: No, I’ve never played one or seen one played. I brought that up because it was part of the system that supported an everyman kind of play style. Although I never used it, I’ve heard of people playing that style with other systems (that was Hârnmaster), so they exist. Even more to the point, AD&D can do high-fantasy heroic games without sacrificing the ability to do everyman games, which is something that it has over 4e.

            As for political epics: If the game is about politics without any fighting, then levelling the characters is either pointless or distracting, because levelling is mostly about combat stuff. You probably still want the level because it helps your non-combat skills, but you could just ignore all the non-skill powers and feats. At that point, managing the “what do we use and what do we ignore?” question is probably just slightly more work than it’s worth, which is a decent working definition of what it means for a system to get in the way of a play style.

            Besides, there’s also the logic of consequences problem that I wrote about above. Say that, in a fit of rage, you use Own the Battlefield on a courtroom full of courtiers to show them who’s boss… what just happened? It’s not really clear what actions the warlord just took. Did he shout at people? Draw steel and maneouver them? Use fancy footwork to trick them into moving where he wanted them? 4e says it doesn’t matter what the warlord did, the sliding effect just happens. But, what if one of those was illegal to do in court? How would a DM decide which one the warlord did, and therefore whether the King orders the warlord’s execution or just laughs? When that kind of information is more important to the plot than the mechanical effects, 4e falls down.

  14. All playstyles are equal, but some are more equal than others

  15. I’m right about to go to bed, so I’m not going to address half of what you wrote. I will tomorrow, probably, but not now.

    Tide of Iron specifically states that you push the target one square *if it’s a size above you or less*. A 30-ton gelatinous cube is not ever going to fit that criteria, unless you’ve buffed the fighter to be really, really large. Granted, there is still nothing that covers the fighter being absorbed into the cube, but the difference between absorbed vs not absorbed is much smaller than the difference between absorbed and shifting. It’s possible that that was a bad example or that Tide of Iron was errata’d, but I don’t believe it was errata’d, at least.

    As for the court example, I really do not understand what you’re talking about. What would an example from 1e or 2e be? You talk about using Own the Battlefield against the jurors of a court. Own the Battlefield is equivalent to a standard attack in 4e; using a standard attack against jurors makes less sense in 4e than it does in any edition I’m aware of. Wouldn’t a skill or maybe a feat be a better example?

    As for the rest, I’ll get to most of them sometime tomorrow

    • Sorry. Meant to say that using a standard attack against jurors makes NO LESS sense in 4e than in any other edition. Translating using Own the Battlefield against jurors to 3e would be the equivalent of rolling a standard attack + BAB against the AC of the jurors and then rolling for damage. As you said, what just happened? Did he shout at people? Murder the jurors in cold blood, given that he’s a trained fighter and they’re unarmed civilians not expecting an attack? I honestly have NO IDEA what you’re implying with that example. Nobody would ever take a standard attack against jurors as a means of persuading them in ANY edition.

    • It’s a difference of paradigm, I think. Until tomorrow then.

      Some clarifications, so that they’re here for you when you get back:

      For the sake of making the gelatinous cube example make more sense, substitute a Paladin and Staggering Strike for the Fighter and the Tide of Iron. My bad for not looking up the Power before using it in an example.

      For the Own the Battlefield example: I meant a King’s throneroom full of courtiers, the sorts of hangers-on and political shmoozers that always fill such places. Own the Battlefield is just an example of a Power that doesn’t describe how it’s accomplished. It’s ambiguous, and therefore open to interpretation when you’re in a situation where you need to know exactly what the warlord character just did. (And for the record, it’s a utility power, so it’s not obviously “wrong” to use in a social setting. Why the warlord would want to use it, I don’t know, but my point is that he can, and if he ever did it could get weird.)

    • Just to briefly chime in:

      I’m dubious they *can* add in other playstyles to 4e via supplements; I think that would be hard. The kernel of the game doesn’t seem like it can be flexed in some directions, especially not in a lower-power way. But I’d like it if they did figure it out.

      And we used zero level characters! Ah, Greyhawk Adventures, my old friend…

      I ran a five year long campaign, meeting weekly, where the PCs only got to ninth level – high realism, high immersion – and to this day I get “that was the best RPG experience of my life” comments from the old players. Sure, not everyone used D&D to do that, but it could be done; it was generalized enough that you could accomplish just about any playstyle you wanted with D&D. In fact, that’s what allowed the wide variety of campaign settings in 2e – Dark Sun to Ravenloft to Birthright to Jakandor to the historical splatbooks – they made the core flexible and then you could put out a setting or supplement to tune the experience to many different results.

  16. Well, as a 4E advocate to some small degree, I’d like to not flame mxyzplk for bringing this up. I wish that they had at least a core method of adopting more simuationist actions in 4E. WotC did sacrifice variability in game style to draw in the “majority” of players, leaving simulationist gaming in the cold.

    However, I do want to point out one thing. The biggest flaw is that they ARE the biggest fish in the pond. All the smaller companies are allowed to pick their own nich in the GNS continuum, but as soon as WotC decides to redesign their game to pick a niche instead of keeping supporting the broadest gaming styles around, they’re bastards and evil. Well, they are (look at a lot of their policies about the GSL etc), but I think it’s harsh to say that they’re doing a grave injustice to the gaming world by doing what many smaller game companies did. Yes, they’re cashing in on the D&D brand instead of releasing a brand new fantasy RPG, leaving 3.5 as the broad GNS flagship, but that’s mainly a business decision so that they give their new baby a boost. I know it burns that they dropped 3.5 and it’s simulationist aspects.

    And I agree that it is important that people advocate for what they want in 5E, despite that being many years off. Hopefully if enough gamers put bugs in the ears of WotC, they’ll listen and at least give a good solid consideration to re-integrating simulationist gaming into their flagship.

    Also, thanks for the fairly neutral tone of the initial post, mxyzplk. It’s not hubris to hope that you can make a difference about something you care about, which given your blog content you obviously do about this hobby.

    See? A civilized 4E DM! :)

  17. But I WOULD like to see someone use the GSL to develop a simulationist version of 4E. I agree with mxyzplk that that would be virtually impossible with 4E now (nearly every power would have to be rewritten… ugh), but I think that someone could use the power system to make something more simulationist.

    Or perhaps that’s just my ignorance speaking.

    • Hmm; the trouble is the GSL specifically prohibits rewriting/substituting anything with the same name. I was considering if you could do a “d20 Modern” equivalent with 4e but I can’t see how. Although Mongoose has that Wraith Recon thing that is magic specops; normally I wouldn’t be interested but I wonder if they managed to make a more sim power set with it somehow.

      • Well, rename them, since they would be different. Also, you could easily do a d20 Modern version of these things with a simulationist bent. Grenades and explosions are “burst” effects, likely adding in push effects that work from the target square. And that could be done without squares, etc, by just adding in “Targets are pushed 5′ away from the centre of the burst and are knocked prone” instead of using squares. Ranges could be done in feet as well and things like cover and concealment are more collaborative player-DM decisions instead of calculations based on squares and walls, etc. The broad strokes weapon proficiencies would work well for “it’s a gun; take the safety off, point and shoot”, while feats to learn “superior” weapons works well for high end specialist military gear.

        I think a 4E rewrite of d20 modern would be easy as pie to make, particularly with a more simulationist bent to it. It would likely involve a slight reworking of how many powers you get and there would likely be less of those per level to choose from, but that’s just contingent on how there’s only so many unique things you can do with a gun. Actually, thinking about it, to alleviate your issues with some classes being able to do things and others not, just allow people to swap out powers on the fly… but if they try something they didn’t pick when they leveled up, put a -2 or whatever on their attack/skill roll.

        Anyway, just my ideas.

      • Actually, on my last point, just give a -2 to snagging on of their own class’ powers that they didn’t pick and put a -5 on using any other class’ powers. Thus if you took something for blowing people’s heads off and want a non-lethal version of that, you can take one of your own class’ powers that is less lethal or another classes… you’re just less good at it due to divergent training.

  18. Pingback: Addition to blogroll: d7 « Six-Die Samurai

  19. Well said. I don’t know how I missed this – must be getting lazy.

    Also, apologies for my crude behavior in some of your previous posts. This is your house, and if you want to put tin foil on the windows, it’s you right : )

    This would be in better context on the rust monster thread, but I’d rather not go back there again.

    Thank you for putting some context on the angryface that I have kept seeing in a lot of your rants. It makes a difference.

  20. I have to concur with the initial blog.

    I tell you mxyzplk, I can completely identify with what you are saying here. I also find it ironic that one of the most cogent, straightforward and clinical responses I’ve seen on this topic is yet met with flaming and hyperbole by the 4E enthusiasts who mistake it for an actual bashing of their beloved new product.

    I am actually going to post a link to this blog entry elsewhere as a good example of why “us grognards” are upset, despite the initial system nuances and expenses, by the actual ramifications of the cultural pollution and tainting of our hobby.

    It’s nice to see after the initial diatribe flames that there was some real productive discussion here. Kudos to Steve and d7 for that, I enjoyed reading both your responses immensely.

    As an addendum Steve, thank you for being a stark stark contrast to most of your peers. I consider myself a “middle of the road” detractor myself, as I predicted much of what would happen while working for WotC from the 2nd to 3E and then the 3E to 3.5 conversions. I am certain that 5E will take even less time to manifest as the exponentially smaller turnaround times have shown.

    Rarely do I get an opportunity to see (much less interact with) an individual from the other side of the arguement that can abandon the hyperbole and rudely dismissive responses to actually engage in an intellectually stimulating and mutually sympathetic exchange.

    I can readily admit that there are a gaggle of similarly emotionally volatile individuals who can’t express themselves logically on the 3.5 “side” of the arguement. I would like to think that like mxyzplk, I am not staunchly in either camp, but a concientious objector to the business ethics and further downstream ills that the revisions have caused.

    Thank you all (those of you who spoke with actual content) for some definite food for thought.

    • I like to think that there are a lot of 4E players and DMs who do have cooler heads out there… just not all of them post on forums and blogs. Most of my players are a mixed bag. Some of them are gaming enthusiasts who have played since D&D was etched on stone tablets and some are newer to the hobby, but most of them know that there are pros and cons to the new edition. Part of the new edition that people need to get used to is that there are two forms of speech, which is confusing. There is the descriptive portion of the game (“I engage the hobgoblin, feint and roll to the side, slashing at him once I get behind the villain!”) and there is the mechanical (“I use `Hit and Run’ to not provoke an AoO when I move past the hobgoblin and attack him”). Too many people get caught up in the mechanical while forgetting the descriptive. That was true of most editions of D&D, but by adding extra mechanical elements, it encourages a less “RP” approach to the game and combat.

      Anyway, most people who play 4E that I’ve met aren’t firmly in that camp or in any camp. They mainly just want to spend time with friends and play a cool game set in an interesting world, regardless of the system or game company. You can do that with 4E, much like you could with 3.X, much like it’s impossible to do that if you don’t have a good group and a creative DM.

  21. http://paizo.com/paizo/messageboards/community/gaming/dnd/aPhilosophicalDiscussionOfCertainMarketTendenciesOnGamerSubculture&page=1

    There is the place I have reposted the initial blog entry. The reactions were … predictably mixed, with more than a small amount of hyperbole and the usual misinformative and fallacious debate tactics and filibustering.

    That being said, I do hope that our generated discussion has more than a couple nuggets of collective wisdom or points for your edification.

    FYI, my SN there is “VedicDragon”

    • Yeah, I saw the referrers coming in and followed the first three pages or so… Sadly very few people in that thread were able to grasp or debate the actual point made in the post. But that’s par for the course. Thanks for “getting” what I was saying here and generating the interest!

  22. The loss of simulationism removes the entire point of D&D: gaming in a fantasy world that you can suspend disbelief for.

    When the rules break suspension of disbelief so overtly that they don’t even map to a fantasy reality, then the entire reason for playing D&D is removed.

    That this wasn’t even on the designers’ radar is a complete and utter howling wallbanger.

  23. Pingback: Why does dislike for an edition get so heated? « Online Dungeon Master

  24. Well written, and an excellent point regarding the larger gaming “ecosystem” affected by D&D. Thanks for adding it to my thinking re: D&D Next.

    I’ll be interested to see how this idea of game style modularity plays out — does it create a wider spread of D&D playing preferences as individual groups find their “best” style, or will gamers (as a whole) coalesce around one or two primary styles?

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