Is D&D 4e Really Role-playing?

There’s a lot of discussion about this all over the place. I hesitate to answer, but I would like to shed some light on some of the terminology in use and mention some bits where I think people may be being unclear.

According to the old Threefold Model, which is a seminal attempt at theoretically classifying approaches to roleplaying, there are three (natch): Gamism, Simulationism (or Immersion), and Dramatism (or Narrativism).  Usually people don’t come purely from one approach or the other but some mix of them, although you usually see consistent leanings into one of the three approaches.  Would you like to know more?

“Gamist” usually means a focus on playing the game for the rules, with clear challenges and victory conditions and metagame goals. Often in games this means combat, but skill and interaction events are also gamist if pursued with a “rules first” mentality. Some people like the gamist approach. Gamism is what people are complaining about when they say “D&D 4e plays like Magic/RoboRally/a board game/a tactical minis game/etc.” Gamists like to “do what will win.” People don’t use the old terms “munchkin” or “powergamer” much any more, but they were deprecating ways of referring to gamists, since they worried about their character’s build or loot more than a realistic in-game motivation.

“Simulationist” usually means a focus on “becoming” the character inside a realistic game world. RPGers like to use the big word “versimilitude,” which means “Yes I know magic isn’t ‘realistic,’ but the game world can still behave realistically according to its own rules from its inhabitants’ point of view.” Simulationists like to “do what their character would do.” Metagaming, or making decisions about what the character does using information not obvious to the character, is heavily frowned upon. D&D was extremely simulationist (with a side plate of gamist) up through 3e; a lot of the reaction to 4e is its movement in the other directions.

“Dramatist” usually means a focus on the storyline from an artistic sense. Dramatists like to “do what is cool” or “do what makes a story that’s most like a novel.” Games that wholeheartedly embrace a specific genre or show (the Buffy: The Vampire Slayer game is an example) are dramatist. D&D 4e has added some dramatist elements previously completely missing from D&D – for example, “encounter powers” and being completely healed overnight are somewhat gamist, but also somewhat dramatist because they are causing the game flow to follow a narrative structure – “the power ends when the scene ends, not at some specific time.” Now, admittedly, they are more gamist than dramatist because though they follow a narrative structure they don’t specifically seek to advance a narrative, but it’s definitely mixed in there.

In one sense, all of these are “role-playing,” in the sense that the general body of role-playing games consist of some mix of these elements. But some of the time, when people say “role-playing,” they mean a strongly simulationist approach, in the sense of “no really, taking on and playing a character as a role.”

Many people claim that the game rules don’t have anything to do with “whether there’s role-playing or not.” From one point of view (all three approaches are valid RP) that’s true. But from an understanding of RP as simulation, that’s definitely not true. RPGs have sets of rules that can lightly or strongly encourage each of the approaches. Now, it is true that it’s hard to make rules (as opposed to “advice” in a game book to roleplay) that specifically advances simulationism – but you can easily make rules that detract from it. Rules that specifically serve gamist or dramatist ends by their nature involve some metagame consideration and thus are harmful to pure simulationism. You have to take yourself “out of character” to decide what is the most clever plot twist or what super combo you can pull off to take out that beholder.

Interestingly, gamism and dramatism can meet, especially in games that have rules that are heavily prescriptive to story elements. Like the Star Trek: The Next Generation RPG, which had a “Random Technobabble Generator” chart and explained how to set up the game to mimic the dramatic structure of a normal Next Gen episode.

D&D 4e is a lot more gamist and a little more dramatist than previous editions. And it also flirts with the conjunction of gamism and dramatism with the encounter powers and healing surges and whatnot. I think this is what simulationists perceive as the “bad thing” about the 4e rules. Many of the rules are just fine from a gamist POV, like the “magic items sell for 20% list” or “marking” or “movement in squares.” They are, however, harmful to the simulationists. People who aren’t simulationist don’t understand this, because to them role-playing is either a) playing a RPG, duh, it’s in the name or b) a code word for “acting,” which is sometimes dramatist and sometimes just funny voices.

This is where people say “You can roleplay just fine in 4e!” It’s true in the same sense that you can roleplay in Monopoly – you can make the little doggie act up. But you can’t really do simulationist Monopoly (and its rules are disjoint enough from real-world that versimilitude’s impossible). Similarly, it’s harder to do simulationist D&D with 4e. Not impossible of course, just made harder by the rules and the core conceits behind the rules.  It specifically prescribes things like defined quests that are effectively metagame considerations and therefore counter to a simulationist’s expectations about their activity in the game world.

But don’t you “just need more imagination?” Perhaps. Imagination is what helps smooth over rough points in the imperfect nature of simulationism – it’s “suspension of disbelief” and finding a reasonable in-game-context explanation for things that seem to break simulation. But there’s a continuum of how much people can tolerate/how much work they want to put out to make the simulation happen.

My personal preferred approach is simulationist, with a dramatist streak, low on the gamism.
As a result, 4e doesn’t meet my expectations as much as previous editions have. And sure, they’ve all been a mix – 1e used “inches” as movement, but that was generally understood to be a holdover from its more gamist origins as a tactical wargame, and the evolution of D&D has largely been towards simulationism (although some argue removing complexity worked against that, I tend to disagree – those weapon vs armor type charts may have arguably had more realism to them, but they made you spend much more time focusing on rules and so were overall a detraction). I think the change in direction from “moving from gamism to simulationism” to “moving from simulationism to gamism with a side of narrativism” is what’s throwing a lot of people who liked the previous direction.

I’m not saying that 4e is “bad” and I’m not saying the non-simulationist approach to RP is bad.  But everyone sees the anti-4e furor, and those that don’t understand this say “Oh, everyone’s always afraid of change” and other such meaningless dismissives.  The deal is, that there’s a lot of people who lean simulationist out there, and were used to D&D evolving down a simulationist path, and the fact that the new edition takes a direction away from that approach is surprising and unwelcome to those people.

All this is just so you understand what the real issues are when someone says “4e sucks donkey balls because it’s not a roleplaying game!” What they usually mean is, “I like simulation and am used to D&D catering to that approach! This new D&D doesn’t and thus it fulfills my needs less!”  You may not have those same values or concerns, but that’s what the fuss is about.


87 responses to “Is D&D 4e Really Role-playing?

  1. Excellent analysis. That’s exactly why a lot of us gamers are disliking 4th ed. Because it has taken ‘a step to the left’ to be more gamist. Care in point – battlemaps. Running a battle in your head with all these movement affecting powers in place will be very hard. And how lucky that it encourages use of further products(tm).

    Also I suspect there is a big grain of truth in the idea that the system was made more this way to make it more online pay to play friendly – eg nobbing off illusion spells and making spells that would be heard to replicate in a tactical situation (arcane lock) to strategic instead.

    So yeah. I am a simulationist through and through. And I feel like they took that away from me.

  2. I think the shift is especially painful because 3e catered the most towards verisimilitude of any previous incarnation of D&D. Older versions of D&D are rife with little game-isms, like not allowing elves to be druids or forbidding thieves to use bows. 3e had the most flexible character creation rules, allowing you to finally make that sword-swinging wizard or courtly knight. It even carried it over to the monsters, so that you might face a gnoll ranger or a goblin monk.

    3e had other issues, I think, especially economic ones at higher levels, and it required some serious houseruling if you wanted a magic-light campaign (though you could also just by the Conan RPG if that was your desire, so huzzah OGL!).

    In the end, the rules did get in the way of my enjoyment, and I went back to houseruling older editions. But I’m also heavily into simulationist play, so I can certainly understand the complaints against 4e in regards to issues of verisimilitude.

    And I damn near spit Coke all over my keyboard when I read, “Would you like to learn more?” ;D

    – Brian

  3. Star Wars the Next Generation? Isn’t technobabble primarily a Star ***Trek*** feature?

  4. @Karl – whoops, mistype, changed it.

    @Mikey, @Brian – yeah, great points. Though 3.0 was far from perfect, it was the highest point in simulationism and also had gotten people to expect that the visioned direction of D&D is to “get better at simulationism” since 1e->2e->3e was a series of enhancements in that regard. So 4e moving in a different direction isn’t just disappointing because “4e isn’t as good at simulation,” but also because “simulation is clearly not what’s valued over in WotC R&D any more” and thus the expectation would be that other subsequent products and revs will be moving even farther from it. So 4e may not be objectively worse at it than some previous editions, but the fact that it’s a clearly directed trend in another direction means that’s not “accidental.”

  5. I began reading this blog when the D&D 4th review started, which I must say was the best I have read so far.

    But this time the author writes an article based on a wrong and disproved “theory of gaming”. A waste of time IMHO.

    Making articles using GNS assumptions is like building a house with no foundations.

    And all the next comes down to can be resumed to “some people don’t like 4th edition because it does not deliver what they want”.

    I think we all knew that already.

  6. That’s why I went to C&C. Even 3E was a headache to run for me and my players spent more time moving minis and trying to get AoO and catching people Flatfooted then actually getting into their rolls.

    I think C&C carries the simulationist banner now and D&D is just a jumped up pen and paper videogame. Someone mentioned that 4e is too all the other editions what Frag:the boardgame is to FPS games: a pale imitation of the imitators to the original (kind of like the new Indiana Jones movie, actually, is there some sort of mental disease going round?).

    In the end though, my group mainly plays WFRP, which is also very simulationist, and the good news is that, as it was their first RP experience, I doubt seriously that they’d ever want to play something like 4e. Most of them would probably think: why play this when I can get on WoW and not have to crunch the numbers myself…

  7. I don’t think anything about the threefold model is “disproved” or “wrong.” I’m not a fan of Ron Edwards’ more froofy replacement of it, but beyond that I think that the three terms definitely do a decent job of describing most people’s approaches to gaming. I know it does mine – in general my attitudes towards running a character in a RPG tend to fall into the categories of “the rules and optimizing my character,” “getting immersively in-character and roleplaying,” and “making an entertaining story.”

    And it is “doesn’t deliver what they want,” but it helps to use more specific terminology so people can understand *exactly* what people wanted it to delivery and *why* it’s not delivering that, even though “it’s a RPG.”

  8. That last one was to edsan. To Luther, yeah – I have C&C and think it’s OK, but don’t really like the (comparative to 3e) lack of character options; I played a low level priest in a C&C one shot and was as displeased as I was back in 1e days with my two spells for the day, one of which was “Light.” I’d love a game that went for streamlining and eliminating all the minis parts of the rules but still was a litle more “powered up.” At least for D&D. I don’t have a problem playing a powerless wino in Over the Edge, but I guess even I like a little gamism in my D&D 🙂

  9. The SEIGE system of Primes and the ability to basically roll for any skill the DM thinks you should know (you’re a fighter so, no, you can’t pick a pocket, but I will let you try and suss out the enemies tactics) makes up for the limitations of that for me. Because now, I can put non-combat challenges into a dungeon that match the class instead of the specific skills a character might have, allowing the more limited classes to be more useful.

    For instance, the wizard is short on things to do if he is treated as mainly a spell caddy. But if you put some arcane text to read or ‘scientific’ or ‘metaphysical’ process for him to identify, suddenly he has more use. He’s kind of the Sherlock Holmes of the adventure (not to mention, in my games he’s probably the only one who can read).

    A lot of people say that there is little to set one character apart from another, but I find the system of Primes does that admirably. A fighter can be a strong fighter, a dextrous (ranged) fighter or even a charismatic fighter (leader/warlord), with all the skills that go along with those primes.

    And, to keep with the discussion, I think that these two factors alone encourage a more simulationist view of your character than the tweaking every single iota of ability that drove me bonkers in 3e and even more so in 4e. YMMV.

    But even I am going to do a bit of house-ruling, but I find that this system really lends itself to that without breaking the game. For instance, my magic using classes won’t be ‘fire and forget’ in the classic Vancian mold. They’ll be more like 3e Sorcerors, in that they’ll know whatever spells/prayers they learn and can cast them as many times as they have appropriate leveled slots. Fighters will find their Combat Dominance improves with levelling. And finally, I’ll allow everyone to get full HP at first level (if I want down and dirty deadly I’ll go WFRP).

    I’m really starting to sound like an advert here, so I’m gonna stop now : ). Suffice to say, I’m really pleased by what I’ve found in the SEIGE engine as it really plays to my Simulationist leanings and it is ideal for allowing bothe the GM and the players a great deal of freedom to RP without having to worry about the ‘game…’

  10. I’ve always thought that people who complain about other people being too much of a powergamer are just not intelligent enough to do it themselves; this makes them angry and therefore they lash out.

  11. Whilst I lament the reduction in emphasis on ‘Simulationist’ side of the game, I believe 4th Edition will suit our gaming group more.

    And that, I believe is what most groups should look at in the long run. What suits them, and what are they happier with, on the whole.

    Our group surprisingly has more female players than men, and the ladies tend to be the players who’s eyes light up as soon as the DM says initiative. Their hands fire into the dice pouch and figurines (also known as their ‘babies <_<) are eagerly placed on the map.

    Conclusion, go with what your group wants and will enjoy more. At least with Pathfinder (essentially 3.75) and 4.0th Edition we do have some choices to cater.

  12. I wouldn’t say 3rd edition was favoring simulationist approach, in fact when it was released I disliked it due to too much of gamism.

    When you build a character from a tactical perspective, instead of checking who he / she is or was, that is gamism.

    While we can argue about elves and druids there we can point to their religions and say there are reasoning behind this limitation, as well as for saying no dwarven mages.

    But old 2nd edition multiclassing said: Elves start older, they are somewhat magical and fantastic, lets see a way to model it in game.

    In 3rd edition it is picking up a class instantly that can normally mean years of education. That isn’t simulationist.

    If we see community limits for money, that wasn’t simulationist: no houses can be “bought” in a village is hardly simulationist.

    Squares aren’t simulationist.

    Some modifications to the world, the magic moved away from simulationist approach. With 3rd edition the plan was to move towards older feel, a more gamist feel.

    Some liked the changes, 3rd edition was a far more modern basic system than 2nd edition, with some problems of “collectible data” like feats, etc. and some modernization could help simulationism in a few cases, and for some it can be celebrated. BUT the goal and the direction wasn’t simulationist.

    It was intented to be gamist.

    And as a pure gamist persective you end up where MMORPGs and CRPGs can excel. Wizards said they are so good, and they try to copy their values.

    As a reason many players and potential players either became disappointed or moved to MMORPGs and CRPGs. People listened to Wizards and believed it is good, and wanted to believe their choice at moving to D&D 3 was good. As a result people either lost to the whole RPG scene, or moved to 3rd edition and began to like it, only a small minority decided to stay behind. We bought the marketing from Wizards.

    But potential players bought it as well, and learned other games are better than RPGs and Wizards is trying to copy them, the RPG market became smaller and smaller, and Wizards never done anything against that, never explained where RPGs are better and stronger.

    With 4e, we got more simplicity and more gamist approach. And wizards still say they copy some values imperfectly and doesn’t say why RPGs are better.

    If I want gamism, I buy a board game.

    If I want to buy a roleplaying game, I want to have something that doesn’t work with Board Games, CRPGs, MMORPGs with less efforts and better results. If I want a Dramatist approach with limited freedom? There are excellent point and click adventure games. I want to enjoy the areas where RPGs excel, then I need freedom, and to have freedom you need some simulationism, and the game should have focus on this.

    For 3e the goal was to move to an almost fully gamist system, but even with all of it, some of the changes could helped others too (depending on what would you like). With 4E not only the goal is to focus on gamist approach, but the game focuses on it.

    And to the point where it is significantly easier to throw the whole system out than to try to fix it by suspending disbelief. Even with playerbase, D&D Insider and everything it is clearly a bad investment if you want simulationism.

    And if you don’t want simulationism, there are better games than RPGs for you.

  13. @TheElf – I largely agree; 3e wasn’t the best or most simulationist RPG ever. It did advance in several important ways over 2e, although did err in making some things “too easy” – magic item crafting and multiclassing being two of them.

    Now, just having rules isn’t gamist, so I disagree that simply having feats etc. is a sign of gamism. A simulationist doesn’t eschew rules, but rules are there to model the characters and world in a realistic way.

    I’d disagree the initial 3e focus was gamist. Ihelped launch 3e as a Living Greyhawk Triad in 2000 and the general feedback was that it was better than ever before – the multiclassing, item crafting, economy etc. weren’t perfect but were better than any other previous version of D&D, and all the minis focus and “squares” were not in it yet. 3.5e is a different beast, however, and the focus did clearly change during the eight year life of the version.

    But I agree that chasing gamism in an RPG is probably a bad plan, as it focuses on the one area that can be completely replaced by computer games/board games.

    Some would say this is a good financial move. On the one hand, both computer games and, nowadays, board games are much more lucrative than RPGs, so I would not be surprised if they are just going to sacrifice D&D at the altar of branding and focus on those rather than its role-playing roots. But on the other hand, it’s a mistake to try to do that just by bastardizing the RPG; that will satisfy no one. This 10% change isn’t going to suddenly pull casual board gamers or CRPG-only players into the fold.

  14. I rather like the fact that the game is rather geared toward combat and such physical exploits. To my mind, that’s what rules are for, to present a reasonable set of guidelines for resolution of conflicts. I don’t like it when there are extensive rules for social interaction aside from such extraordinary things as magical or supernatural influences.

    The more fluff in the books and the more social-interaction is referreed, the less free I feel to make the game my own.

    3e fixed a number of issues, but both went too far and not far enough. As it was it became a curious sort of hybrid between Point-Buy and the more classic Template-Method. It either should have gone all the way toward such Point-Buys as HERO or GURPS, or not gone as far as it did.

    4e by comparison is still firmly a template system, but still has a lot of flexibility. I know longer need umpteen sourcebooks just to make the character I want to make. And despite the “limited to 2 classes” function of multi-classing in 4e, it’s really not true. All I need to get someone who’s a good thief is to skill train Thievery, I don’t even need to multiclass.

    If I want someone like Drizzt Do’Urden, all I need is to make a Ranger with Student of the Blade and Ritual Casting (to represent his limited knowledge of arcane magic presented in Crystal Shard).

    Conan: Fighter, skill training: Thievery, Multiclass to Warlord.

    Miyamoto Musashi: Two-bladed ranger, build up armor feats that no longer limit a ranger.

    Gandalf, Wizard, Longsword proficiency.

    In there own article on converting, they say that your 4e class is based more on your flavor and attitude than on your 3e class. A rogue in 3e might convert to a rogue or a ranger in 4e. A 3e cleric might be better played as a paladin. A Paladin in 3e might be better played as 4e.

    What’s more, the classes are mechanics terms, they are not social ranks. You do not look at two people and know one’s a warlord and the other is a fighter. No, more likely they both are called warriors.

    A wizard and a warlock for all intents and purposes can both be called mages.

    Most of fiction type characters are much easier to do now, all I have to do is bend the flavor text.

    For example, the current 4e conversion for monk is to play a modified 4e two-weapon ranger with 1d8 unarmed strike with off-hand capability and a renaming of various powers to be more monk-like (this is the stop gap until they can print the official monk).

    My only difficulty is that as soon as I use a power, everybody knows what sort of class I am and to a degree what I can do, which makes characters like Jhessail Crackstone more difficult (since part of the fun with her is hiding what exactly she is from the other players).

    All in all, 4e has freed up a number of options which in the 3.5 system were so convoluted that they proved ineffective. Among other things, home-brew game-worlds are much easier to produce now…much easier.

    As far the loss of things like set-to-receive-charge that the crybabies complained about, that’s what house rules are for.

  15. When I heard about 4E, I said, no way, not going to go with another system. When the game came out, I bought it because, well, I’m a roleplayer and I’ll pretty well buy anything to read. I set up a game with my group and we loved it.

    Combat is very boardgamy (is that a real word?), but it played quickly and lo and behold, the wizard didn’t suck anymore. Lets face it, D&D was always a combat system with extra stuff thrown in. By 3.5 it was so complex, the DM was making most of it up as he went along, at least I was.

    We went to town and all the players roleplayed exactly as the did in 3.5. Skills were easier to use, especially when one of my guys, (he’s not the smartest guy around) who plays a INT 17 Wizard needed to figure something out. We used the new, Succeed 6 times before failing 3, did some reasonable roleplaying and it worked well.

    I am very pleased with the new system, and so are my players. I didn’t find the players roleplay any differently than they did in 3.5, and combat is more fun for everyone as they can all do something.

  16. @Vincent – I wouldn’t expect the level of roleplaying to suddenly change in an existing group. Group dynamics largely overshadow game rules per se; our group tends to RP the same whether they are playing D&D, HERO, Feng Shui, Fading Suns, or Unknown Armies. The question is what the game itself supports, where it will place new players and where it will lead experienced players over time.

    3.5e got very complex. But don’t be decieved – 4e is not less complex. Their exception based rules approach means it’s just as complex; you have only three books to content with at this moment in time but that will change later. Is the 4e PHB less complex than the 3e PHB? No. There’s more pages of combat rules, as one metric.

    No one’s saying “4e is so bad it’s impossible to roleplay in it.” But it’s clearly making a statement, that one can only assume will be borne out by later releases and adventures, of valuing game rules over immersiveness. One can always put more work, “imagination,” and the like into crossing the gap, but the game itself is widening the gap. That’s all I’m saying in this piece.

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  19. Lovely, read the the post, see the point.. etc.

    I still am fine with 4E. Of course my group is heavy dramatist. It’s more to us like the encounters are a break from story plot, not the story plot is a break from adventures. And yes I say story plot, not adventures.

    Here’s a fact: There’s already a game out there fom simulators. It’s 3.E. And it has an extensive library by any means of books that are going to reduce in price for their convenience. Meanwhile, I’m enjoying 4e and it’s break from ultra realism to be able to do what I consider TRUE roleplaying, which is to say escapism, fantasy and intrigue. I love to stay in character and such, and I don’t see this as a suspension of disbelief. For my character this would be the way this world works. What’s to disbelieve in that sense?

    But like I said, I do see your point, and I still say, that’s why there’s 3e. I’m sure there are going to be many enough communities remaining dedicated to it. It wasn’t a bad version, and I wouldn’t call it worse or better than 4e. Just different.

    Thank you for the enlightening article, and I hope I don’t come off sounding.. ermmm… well.. b****

  20. @Mea – you make some good points, well taken. I wouldn’t object if all 4e had added were the more dramatist bits like minions. Unfortunately it added way more gamist dreck on top. I’m glad you’re able to not have any of it attack your suspension of disbelief… But it still seems a pale shadow of other games, more dramatist games, where combat doesn’t have to be a “break from the plot.” Feng Shui and Spirit of the Century are two games where the plot doesn’t stop for a combat “minigame.” In media (movies, etc) the plot is ideally advanced through an action scene, not sidelined for it.

    And there is indeed still 3.5e for simulators, and even though it’s not supported by WotC any more, Pathfinder will carry that torch. So we’re not left out in the cold – just left out in the cold by Wizards, who we’ve all supported for these many years, so it’s natural we feel like they’re being dicks.

    But I’m not sure why 4e is better for dramatists (except for the small dramatist bits added – encounter timing, minions). It doesn’t have *less* rules – the rules that exist are just less satisfactory simulations. Like selling magic items – the rules aren’t less complicated than 3e, just more retarded. And there are *more* combat rules by page count. They didn’t really take much out – Craft and Profession skills, some classes – they just changed it a lot.

    I totally agree a strong dramatist approach is less affected by rules. I had a good time over th 4th, I saw an old friend and I ran a solo adventure for her 2e character, and we got back in the mode of being much more freewheeling and dramatist. But the older editions were more friendly to “the DM’s going to declare what’s dramatically appropriate over what the letter of the rules might say.” You’re lucky in that your entire group is currently bought in to dramatism, but over time if you cross-pollenate with other 4e players I think you’re going to have a lot of rules lawyering come up because the edition really sells itself as “rules first.”

  21. Note: This is not meant to be argumentative, I am merely displaying counterpoints and am in no way trying to state anyone is wrongful in their oppinion. Just expressing mine.

    Alright, so the first issue you brought up that I’d like to adress with my side of things is rule lawyering. Rule lawyering doesn’t exist because of the rules, it exists because some people are jerk. The number of jerks in the game realm is not going to change because of the rules or how efficiently they work or don’t work. Rules lawyers just want to nitpick everything, and if there were less or more rules, they’d nitpick saying “Well there’s not a rule against it so I can”. Rules lawyers in my oppinion, ar a non issue when comparing editions because of that.

    I think your saying that the number of rules being more counters the game being simpler, but in my oppinion after playing 3.5 and never quite getting this or that mechanic down, its not the number of rules, but how simple they are to apply. It’s kind of like.. let’s say 4+4+4+4+4 or just 4*5. Less rules means nothing if not everyone can grasp them, or feels like taking the time to do so.

    And you also say that this edition leans towards rules first. I disagree because

    1) The DMG states in it that the rules are up to the DM to interpret.
    2) There is a section about house rules, who’s very existence speaks contrary.
    3) Who’s really going to push for the rules to be strictly adheeded to BUT the rules lawyers, who are just going to do it anyways.

    That all out of the way, I look forward to cross pollenating, as you put it, because I feel that the only reason a group wouldn’t enjoy a more immersive plot is if the plots they had been exposed to before sucked, or they were too new to care about anything other than just “not looking stupid” because they didn’t know the rules.

  22. Reply to the first post “Is D&D 4e Really Role-playing?”

    I just say, I totally agree with you, and our group is so confused what to do to reduce the metagame thinking and enlarge the simulation. Every game session we have we all feel it miss a very vital component to make it fun. This Post I found here really points at it. Any ides to make the 4edition more simulation oriented would be nice to see, we are working our head boiling hot to make out game more simulation without ruin the system, cos I like 4edition game system it just dont cooperate with simulation at all except in nonecombat or none skillcheck situations, like shitchatting in the local Inn is still Simulation but the inner picture of the situation in each players head get totally messed up with the combast rules and the battlegrid. “/Sigh”.

  23. @Lordsson – Hmmm, yeah, they’ve made it kinda difficult. The core mechanic is sound. A lot can be house ruled, the main difficulty is the powers, and to a lesser extent the extremely “cookbook” monsters.

    What you’d want to do – besides overhauling skill challenges, which everyone’s working on – is to really overhaul the powers and, via description, mechanic change, etc., to seem like real fantasy-guy powers and not board-game powers. Depending on your bar for success, this may be difficult. If you’re mainly trying to get rid of the gamist element I think it’s doable; if you’re also concerned about the narrativist elements (encounter powers, minions) then I think it would be much harder than taking 3.5 and updating it with the 4e core mechanics.

  24. Yeah, we had a wild discussion today if we should acually go for 3.5 and use the battlesystem from 4.ed. The combat rules are almost simular so it would be easy to just go by 4.ed combat rules straight of. But we dont need to bother about powers anymore in 3.5 and thats good. However, we wanted to give 4ed more time, we only hav had 3 game sessions so far. Maybe we oldschool gamers need to orientate ourselfs in the new edition and maybe we can handle it. Cos we know what we miss, thereby we also know what we want. But getting there seems very hard. Anyhow, next game session: saying the name of the power you are using is banned. You describe what you do and we, I “DM” put totally trust in my players that they use the power they intent to do even if they dont tell me. Then it will atleast sound more and describe for of what happends than if you just do you Swing strike, or Split the tree power or whatever. It just sound to none Roleplaying. Like my brother said, its a boardgame like monopoly, “-make a will save or go straight to jail without passing GO”. I also skip the multiple skillrolls for skill challanges. I compensate my players by good roleplaying instead so they still get some XP more than from killing monsters. Just one or maybe 2 skillchecks are required for such a situation that needs it, if you dont gonna climb a high mountain or something ofcourse, but long skill challanges like that I see very rare. Also cut the starging money for LvL 1’s to half ,so the Paladin cant’ start out with the plateMail. Thats just so bad. Any well balanced quickfix ideas or solutions about the weak weapon list and armor list ? Why would you ever want to wear a chainmail instead of a scalemail, look at the armorlist and figure it out, I just can’t. And the versatile weapons and the natural 2 handed weapons. Bah, in 3.5 the weaponlist was so clean and perfect. You could find a reason to have any weapon you wanted in front of any other almost. Each weapon had its strength, now I dont see the same clean and interesting weaponlist, flaw from my point of view. Well well, we see how it goes next time. One more thing, the new players who get introduced to roleplaying today dont know the simulation yet so they dont know what to miss. Ohh poor oldschool, years and years of training and now we get tought to not think anymore. The “use your imagination” time is over. Now everything is ready for you, you dont need to think anymore, just choose a class and follow the red thread to the finish line. Hurray 😦 Did Wizard know about this and did pick the call to say, okey we skip that part, look “Miniatures” sell much better so we go the gameish line. Easier to play & easier to understand = sell more. Bah, gush I*m frustrated.

  25. I just picked up the 4e rule set, and while I am still DMing a heavily modified and powered-up version of 3.5 with my group, I think they will like 4e quite a lot. In my opinion, if you can’t make 4e simulationist enough for your liking, you aren’t doing your job as a DM, which is to completely disregard what the rulebook says when it doesn’t make sense. For instance, the 4e DM’s guide actually suggests having the players make a wishlist of magic items that they want to receive so that you make sure they only get treasure that they really want! I know I for one will certainly not allow anyone to just buy magic items for their listed prices, or hand me a wishlist! This is gamism being forced down a DMs throat, and you don’t have to take it. How in the world would a character know what magic items exist in the world before he or she encounters them, let alone somehow meander directly to the dungeon that houses the item that would best optimize their fighting abilities?
    4e strengths are much more functional low level characters, thanks to healing surges and encounter powers (no more “my 1st level wizard would lose a fight with a housecat” complaints), the ritual magic system which allows any class access to useful magic if they spend feats to gain training in arcana or religion and in ritual magic casting, and in general, the simplification of multiclassing by simply using feats to perform this function. This, as pointed out by Luke Green above, really makes it possible to easily create almost any character type that you can imagine without being restrained by artificial class restrictions. Several changes I will make when I start using 4e with my group: 1. No combat grid or miniatures, you can keep track of combat just fine without these props, thank you very much, and they just encourage the gamist overemphasis on how many squares you can move, etc. The abundance of powers that deal with shifting or pushing can be easily adapted to this approach; disregard the strict one square equals five feet and have some descriptive fun with these powers! Knock monsters backwards with dramatic descriptions and elegantly leap out of danger instead of pushing or shifting. 2. I will allow any spells from 3e to substitute for encounter or daily powers as desired by magic using players, subject to my approval and a common sense placement of them according to their power into the 4e system of level ranked encounter, daily and utility powers. If there is any one thing truly lacking in 4e it is the neutering of magic to become two dimensional; either blasting an enemy or protecting yourself or an ally. Between the 3e players handbook and tome of magic, there were so many options available to magic using characters who wanted to do more than just blast away, it would be a shame to not allow these resources into 4e. 3. I will allow and encourage players to “train” in skills that are not part of the 4e skill set by finding masters in that skill to train under, or by simply practicing on their own. This will definitely encourage true roleplaying, and I see no reason to set level based limits on how many skills a person can train in or how far they can advance in this skill; if a first or second level character spends months or years apprenticing under a master musician or artisan, they should be able to compose and perform music or carve sculptures or build a house or do anything else that they can dream of! This will go a long way towards encouraging players to think of their characters as more than just dungeon-crawling , monster-killing machines, and even gamist players will appreciate the versatility this allows their characters.
    As far as the complaint that the powers themselves prohibit simulationist roleplaying because they are more like computer rpg combat maneuvers, I think one of the things that 4e is stressing is that the player characters are far from normal people, they are one in a million individuals, truly heroic and epic in power, and if you accept that you should not have as much trouble playing 4e with a simulationist mindset. If you do not want to be playing a high powered campaign where the players are true heroes in the epic sense of the word, then perhaps 4e really isn’t for you. But that does not mean that you can’t have good, simulationist roleplaying fun with it, you just have to except the premise that the players are truly special and have special powers.
    Game on!

  26. Gnash, I understand the concept behind what you’re saying, I just don’t think it’s worth all that work. I’d find it easier to port the stuff I like to another game (ritual casting for C&C in my case) than to change all the things you mentioned in 4e to make it playable. It’s like trying to retune and restring a sitar to play like a normal guitar.

    And the problem with playing 4e simulationist is just that. Yes you can throw away whatever rules you want, but there are a lot of rules that presuppose and actually funnel the players and DMs into a particular style of strictly defined, ‘the rules are everything’, gamist type play. The more rules there are, the less likely the group is to ‘think’ their way through problems instead of ‘roll’ their way through them, i.e. the rules heavily emphasize ‘roll’ over ‘role.’

    It is what it is and trying to make it into something a simulationist would find palatable is a waste of energy, IMO. I’ll just find something else that does that job out of the box…

  27. Luther – I guess I am just used to heavily modifying every addition of dungeons and dragons I have ever DMed so I don’t see it as that much work. In my particular case, the group I am playing with now all are heavily into Final Fantasy XI and I made a bunch of changes to 3e to satisfy their hunger for more powerful characters, so 4e will actually be less work to change for me! I do think that the style of the DM and group has more to do with how the group deals with problems, in terms of role vs. roll playing, than the rule set. I personally don’t allow any shortcuts like just rolling your way through a skill challenge rather than actually digging the information out through careful investigation or inquiry, and the players only roll the dice when the DM says to do so. I think the big problem with 4e as pointed out by someone above is not that it is impossible or even that difficult to adapt by an experienced DM and experienced players, but that because the rules all heavily slant towards this “roll playing” approach, new players and DMs who don’t have experience with any other way of doing things will miss out on the joys of truly role-playing an encounter rather than just relying on a toss of the dice. That being said, I think it really isn’t much work to just ignore the parts of 4e that don’t make sense while using the (IMO) very flexible system of character creation and leveling and the powerful combat system. I have pretty much never relied on rolling dice to adjudicate skill challenges or a players abilities to perform outside of the combat setting in general, so I don’t have to make any changes to my DMing style in those regards; I will just continue to use common sense to referee whatever the players say they are trying to do. But I understand that not everyone is comfortable doing this, and many people like rules for these sorts of things which do more than just say you have to get x amount of good rolls before you get y amount of bad rolls.

  28. @gnash – I think the message is yes, you can fix 4e if you work on it enough. But there’s plenty of other games that get you that without extensive fixing, so why bother?

    The mindset of “D&D’s the only game in town, you must use it!” went out with the 1970s. A little house ruling and all that is fine, but if you’re rewriting, then use your own system or one of the 100 better systems out there.

  29. speaking of the “100 better systems out there”, what would you recommend? I had never heard of Feng Shui before reading your post, but I just checked out a website devoted to it ( and it sounds pretty cool, definitely epic and exciting to play. I have pretty much always just played D&D and done whatever I wanted to the rules, running campaigns ranging from high powered, high magic sword and sorcery to old west gunshooters, oriental martial arts action to futuristic cyberpunkesque escapades, so I guess my D&D experience would fall closer to the “use your own system” side of things; I mostly just keep the attributes, some of the character creation and core dice rolling mechanic parts of the rules and change everything else, but if there are some other publishers who have done that work well I guess I would be into checking them out.

  30. I’m a huge proponent of Castles & Crusades. It has the freeform style of OD&D, the races & classes of 1e and the unified d20 system of 3e. In all the game is what 3e should have been, IMO.

    A particular example of the OD&D approach is their SEIGE system which has no skills or feats to buy. The DM adjudicates, based on your background and archetype, what you would or would not know how to do, in effect, what you can make a roll for and what you apply your level to. This can range from the specific (fighters would know how to brawl, so they can add their level to their rolls in unarmed combat, wizards can’t) to the general (your background says you were raised as a desert nomad, so you can’t swim).

    Feats are handled in the same way. The character describes what they want to do and the DM decides if they can do it, how hard it is and what effect it will have. So a Cleave in C&C is available, in my judgement, to fighter types (Fighter, Barbarian, Knight, Paladin) and depending on whether or not the conditions were correct (space to cleave and so on) I’d say that if they can kill the first enemy within 5′ with their attack at -1, then they can attack an adjacent enemy at a -3, and if they kill them, the next is hit at a -6, etc. In another situations, with different factors I might judge otherwise.

    And going back to what I was saying, the way this is handled encourages the players to come up with cool ideas, not to just say the name of their ‘power’ to activate it like some demented anime character (‘RYUUUGEN!’). My players and I can also play without power cards, a ton of different tokens to keep track of states, a battle map and minis, a character sheet more than a single page in length, or the need to look up something in the rulebook every 5 minutes. And as an added bonus, because the rules are so simple, I can houserule to my hearts content to make the rules more or less granular, without fear of breaking them and causing play issues, unlike the highly balanced house of cards that the rules of 4e represent.

    So really, IMO, the rules do make a difference, not matter how good a DM/GM you are, because they create a mindset the moment you read the books. And again, if your goal is to run a good gamist tabletop battle game which is precise and balanced, then 4e is the way to go. It does what it sets out to do extremely well (although I prefer Descent). If, however, you want a more simulationist type game, you could rip out the innards of 4e and try to wing it, but it would probably be easier (and cheaper) to find a game that caters to that type of play (as C&C does for me).

    By the way, Gnash, I appreciate your discussing this so even-handedly. You make some good points and raise the level of discourse in what has been a very charged debate. Good on ya! And for anyone who would like to se ea really good definition of old school gaming, there is a really good treatise on it here (and it’s free):

  31. Yeah, good discussion! On the “better systems” I guess it’s what you’re looking for. If you’re looking for:
    1. a generic system to use for many genres
    2. a traditional high crunch system like 3e/4e D&D
    then I’d say GURPS or BRP, but there’s a lot of other options depending on your specific desired genres and crunch levels. Feng Shui rocks, and is much more rules light than 3e/4e. If you value the D&D “feel” then of course there’s Basic/1e/2e/3e and all the retro clones that are popular now. If you like a build your own system toolkit there’s FUDGE. Heck, if you like D&D 3.5e there’s Pathfinder. If you like d20 in general but not the heavy tack it’s taken in 3.5e/4e then True20 is good.

  32. I’m an overly optimistic person, I guess, since I’ve started a 4th ed game in the last month or so. So far, we haven’t had any real hitches with it, but my gaming group includes a game writer, a few seasoned playtesters (like me) and a few people who have less experience but a good feel for the dramatic.

    My opinion so far?

    4th edition is fine for seasoned gamers who are firmly of the simulationist/dramatist bent and are so used to bending the rules, not for “winning”‘s sake, but for plot and drama, that they do it instinctively.

    4th edition is also going to corral a number of new gamers into the gamist mindset, despite the futile efforts of their struggling DM. The only way this won’t happen is if experienced gamers outnumber the newer gamers at the table and the new gamers have the brains to take the wiser players’ lead.

    So mxyzplk is correct that this is a poor direction for Wizards to be going (primarily in leading new gamers awry), but I think gnash has a serious point that mature useful gamers can “fix” any system within a session or two.

  33. Oh and most “fix” the system without actually making a million notarized house rules. They just use feet instead of squares, “move a little without getting attacked” instead of “shift”, etc.

    I agree that the new lingo is hard to get your head around, but I remember a time when “tank” meant “vat” or “large metal-encased vehicle with attached mobile-artillery” and when “DPS” and “MMORPG” didn’t exist at all. Just because terminology is new doesn’t mean people won’t get used to it, despite how weird it is.

  34. luther – I think the SEIGE system you are describing (although I have not read the C&C rules so I am relying on your description) sounds an awful lot like what I have always done, which is to just use common sense as a DM to tell the players what their modifier is on a skill check or special maneuver and whether or not they can even attempt something, based on the background and previous experiences of the player. I will have to check out C&C.

    steve- yeah, that was pretty much the point I was trying to get across when I was saying that it really isn’t that hard to fix/ make 4e work- it is really easy to just translate all the 4e combat rules involving squares and shifting et al into descriptive terms without relying on a rulebook, and experienced players and DMs will pretty much just do it automatically, and I have always encouraged my players to describe the effects of an attack or spell rather than just saying its name and rolling the dice.

    One problem that I have with 4e that I did not mention in my previous posts is that I find the DM’s guide a complete waste of money – if you already know how to be a DM, it contains very little useful information. You can play the game in its entirety with the player’s handbook and the monster manual, pretty much everything from magic items to experience point totals is covered in these two books. Where previous editions placed the always important collection of magical items available in the game in the DM’s guide, (hopefully) safe from prying player’s eyes, 4e sticks it in the player’s handbook. Where the 3e DM’s guide provided prestige classes and a very useful selection of pre-made NPCs for quick reference when the players decide to attack that 10th level mage that you had intended them to parlay peacefully with, 4e provides nothing of the sort. Not only does the 4e DM’s guide seem to be nothing more than a primer on how to be a dungeon master rather than a collection of useful information for the DM that is not found in the other core rulebooks, but the particular ways that the DM is advised to run his or her game (treasure packets? advising PCs what skills will be required in an upcoming challenge before they even get a chance to TRY to find out on their own what they need to do?) only strengthens the arguments advanced above that 4e is overwhelmingly gamist in orientation. I guess the templates for customizing monsters could be considered a useful DMs tool, but I think that information would have been better placed in the monster manual as it was in 3e.

  35. luther – I just read the “quick primer to old school gaming” that you provided a link for, and it pretty much sums up everything I have been trying to say- except for that I think it is possible and maybe even vital to take the same approach (the DM IS the rulebook) in the modern games as well, not just first edition D&D.

  36. I’d have to disagree with you about the DMG, gnash, and to tie it into this thread a little more, I’d say that it provides the most push in the direction of a simulationist game. It does have all the beginning bits for new DMs, true, but it is also true that when you first start out in 4e, regardless of previous gaming experience, you really only need a sense of narrative, the PHB and the MM. Once your characters start getting higher level, start meeting serious and/or recurring foes, there are a whole wack-load of things in the DMG to make those ideas of “I want to make a hobgoblin king…hmmmm…” into a character that can either be negotiated with or attacked.

    And interestingly enough, most of the info in the DMG is actually written in the order that DMs are going to use them. They start with standard fights, find ways to make those fights interesting, use different combinations of troops/monsters, move away from combat, start seeing the world your characters used to just fight in, then gives you some neat templates to overlay on monster stats so you can level up, class up and elite up any villain you want to drive your characters farther into the STORY.

    I think it’s the best of the 3 core books since it is the sole hope that 4e will rise from being a grid fighting game for new players because their DM might have actually read the book that is specifically labelled for him.

    Oh and mxyzplk, nice website. I just found it yesterday and liked the discussions so I just jumped in.

  37. One thing that I find strange about 4e is HP. On one hand they never really say that HPs are about purely health, but it’s not empasized since it’s way back in Chapter 9 of the PHB. This is the best simulationist part of 4e since they’ve actively dissociated “damage” from actually striking. After all, warlords “heal” people by letting them use surges. But their power is purely martial, so there’s no flash of light or the warlord running over and punching you in the right spot to staunch a wound or anything so silly.

    Instead it’s purely based on your “umph” to keep on fighting, with a little bit of actual wounds thrown in so the cleric can do some healing too 🙂 But HPs were always so screwy with previous editions since they weren’t purely damage, but they weren’t described properly and everyone got them back by being “healed”. By putting healing in the hands of every character and giving a martial class the role of “healer” (or leader, but we know that’s dumb), they’ve actually taken a step towards making the game feel more like an epic story-telling device, rather than just “take 10 hp, you get healed for 5 by your cleric”, etc.

    The last session I ran, I explicitly stated to my players that I was going to use that as a guideline for my encounters since I thought it was silly for every character to be pulling 3 or 4 crossbow bolts out of them when most people die of getting hit by one. So I had a crossbow bolt nick someone’s neck, but it unnerved them enough that they took 8 points. Our ranger was “struck” by a goblin’s critical hit, which was described as a near disembowelment in which he took 7 points. It was a little jarring at first, but I think this is a strong suit of 4e.

    It’s just a shame they didn’t push this aspect of storytelling.

  38. I like what you point about about the shift in emphasis in HP towards more of an indication of the will to fight rather than sheer physical damage. This has to be the case for the second wind and healing surges to make sense, and it also is a huge improvement in the simulationist sense over every previous edition where a mid level fighter could literally take enough damage to kill an elephant and keep fighting!
    I still feel like the DM’s guide is very lacking, the only specific thing Steve mentions as a plus is the templates for monster and NPC advancement, and I mentioned that as a plus in my post as well. What I feel is lacking in specific is any sort of indication geared towards the novice DM that it is okay to play the new ruleset in a less roll oriented, gamist fashion. Even a few pages similar to the introduction to the old-school gaming guide linked to by Luther above would give a new DM the idea of how to run a game without relying on the heavy-handed approach to skill challenges emphasized by 4e. And this problem goes beyond the skill challenges and expands to the detailed rules for how to create encounters that are always winnable but still challenging – come on, what kind of a world is it where every fight you pick turns out to be a close fight where you have the edge? This is hardly simulationist, and encourages PCs to just hack to death everything they encounter because they know that the encounter has been hand-tailored to be something that they can handle! This sort of balanced encounter makes the emphasis all about the combat itself and optimizing the tactics of the group, rather than the advancement of the story (in my opinion at least). I find that unbalanced encounters, especially throwing in truly bad-ass monsters and villains that the players could NEVER hope to defeat in open combat is an awesome way to get them to think outside of the combat box, and really gets the story going, not to mention making them think twice about running into every encounter metaphorical guns a blazing. Another weakness is the emphasis in the treasure and magical item section of the rewards on GP value and getting players magical items that they can use and that maximize their capabalities; for an example, contrast the descriptions of gems in the treasure sections of the 3.5 Dm’s guide with the 4e and you will see how painfully obvious it is that treasure is just an excuse to get the player’s the GP they need to buy their next coveted magical item (and who ever heard of “buying” magical items, anyway?). Even the section on houserules, which would seem to be a golden opportunity to mention ways in which a DM could make the game less tactical combat and roll oriented and more simulationist role oriented falls flat on its face. Examine the two sample house rules and you will see my point; the first is the infamous critical miss on a natural 1 on an attack roll, and the DM’s guide suggests simply giving all opponents combat advantage until the end of the next round. How dry and boring and gamist is that compared with the alternative, where the DM gets to decide what the result of the 1 is and describe it, which in my experience has created some of the most memorable combat sequences my groups have ever had! It is good to hear, however, that you found the DM’s guide to be the strong suit of 4e. I think the single biggest thing that ticked me off was the decision to include the magical items in the player’s handbook, because this basically makes it impossible for a DM to prevent meta-game thinking. I don’t understand how a character is supposed to know the names and powers of every magical item out there in the world, let alone how much gold it would cost to buy it or to have a reasonable expectation of being able to buy it at all! Maybe I have been too harsh in my criticism of the DM’s guide, I would be interested to hear if other gamers share Steve’s perspective that the DM’s guide actually advances the simulationist side rather than the purely gamist.

  39. I agree it’s jarring to have the magic items in the PHB, but when they say that you should ask your players what magic items they want, I don’t think the characters are supposed to have a wish-list. It’s the player/character divide that many people have difficulty with, that as long as your character doesn’t act like they have a wish-list, it’s okay to actually have one. Call it their destiny or whatever, but it could keep some people happy. Personally I like a little randomness, but I haven’t seen a DM that hasn’t had to roll about 3 times every time they roll for just one magic item. And they do say explicitly that finding a magic item marketplace is nearly unheard of except in the City of Brass or other extraplanar places. The values are for making the item using the ritual.

    In terms of the DM guide, I mainly think it’s the best of the bunch in trying to coax the gamist to think out of that box. It’s not perfect by any means, but I guess we’ll see in the next generation of gamers if their DMs clued in and started them towards simulationist/dramatist games.

  40. It’s a natural progression – as D&D has effectively demanded more and more metagaming over time, the DMG has largely dried up. It’s now just “advice for noobs”. Heck, our group joked that the only reason we ever opened the 3.5e DMG was for the XP tables, the magic items, and the p-classes. And all the expansion books were “for players” and had better magic items and p-classes, so really the XP table was the remaining point of the whole big ass book.

    I haven’t thoroughly read the 4e DMG, but the PHB has set everything up in so gamist a way that it’s got a hard row to hoe in terms of coaxing out simulation. Perhaps I’ll do a chapter-by-chapter of it now, after I did the PHB I was so demoralized I didn’t bother.

  41. Glad you liked that primer, Gnash. I, too, wish it were part of the standard GM section of most RPGs in the same way that the ‘What is Roleplaying’ is for the player’s section.

    I’m also a big fan of ‘encounters that make sense, not an even fight,’ but then I’ve been playing WFRP for 20 years.

    I always thought it ridiclous that dragon’s never raised their heads to attack towns, giants never rampaged across the countryside and the Tarrasque never showed up until your PC’s were high enough level to handle them. I had this image in my head of a bunch of monsters waiting out of site behind a mountain, checking their watches and complaining ‘I’m starving! I wish those dudes would hurry and level up so we can raid that village over there!’

    HP were always a sore spot for me, but the revelation of them as more than ‘health points’ came long ago in some other game (and I do believe they were explained this way by Gary himself at one point) and I think the only reason this new manner of handling them is considered so revolutionary is that RPGs have drifted so far into gamist territory that those old ideas were forgotten as successive generations took over. So it isn’t a new idea, it’s an excavated one from the original old school playstyle.

    Indeed, a lot of the old D&Disms that folks make fun of now had a real purpose (some of which I have only now discovered). Gold for XP, for instance, was originally intended to inspire the players to focus on getting to the really big treasure hoard by working quickly, avoiding unnecessary fights and thinking their way around monsters, not just mindlessly butchering every one they come across for a few coppers.

    As for the 4e DMG, there was really only one part I liked, and that was the section on creating random dungeons and encounter card decks. But while the latter is actually a pretty neat idea, the former is already available to me in a ton of other products I own (The AD&D Dungeon Builders Guidebook, C&C’s Engineering Dungeons and, of course, the 1e DMG) and all the other stuff is strictly for new players and mostly gamist in approach. And again, as we all seem to agree, newbie DM’s are not being encouraged to think outside the book, here.

    I have to say there is one book, however, from the 4e library I’ll probably be purchasing. Module H3. While the rules move farther afield from what D&D is, the new adventures seem to be moving in the opposite direction, trying to recapture that crazy inventive atmosphere of the old school days. You can read a really good review of it here:

    I’m thinking of expanding it into a 20 level, old school mega-dungeon that the players get sucked into at the beginning of their careers and then spend years getting out again. It has some truly weird ideas and a great backstory that can hold up against almost anythign you decide to throw at the players…

  42. Luther – I didn’t mean to give the impression that HPs as not-just-damage was a revelation to me. I was just impressed that they’ve embraced it. Again, I wish they would’ve emphasized that element more.

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  45. I am seeing all of this from a different point of view. I played and DM for over many years AD&D 1st Edition. From about 1979-1987. I missed out on 2nd Editon, 3.0, and this year just started RPG’s again with 3.5 saw how much the game had left the story driven game I had remembered. I saw game tabletop and thought what has happened? But I adapted and learned to have fun . Then played 4.0 and said ok it’s a board game really now. I do play it at conventions but look at it as my last choice.

    I even decided at St. Crispin’s Hobby Day in Anaheim California to add 4.0 to one of our event’s. It has been very popular and even one guy had only ever played 1st Edition and swore he would never play anything else likes it. He said it’s like D&D lite. Then we have even now Ravenloft 3.5 and now Pathfinder Society or even just Role Playing using the Beta test 3.75 to role play . I see what has happened D&D has broken into camps and from time to time players move to one camp then back to the other. Or they stay with a version they prefer. Myself I really ,really enjoy Pathfinder and for the player of imagination and the mind like Pathfinder and 1st edition AD&D .

  46. D&D 4E sucks **** for basically destroying RPGs and remanufacturing them as copies of MMOs.

    Would never touch it with a barge pole. Basically the people who liked old-stykle rpgs have not been able to continue the practice/gaming honestly as they have aged and computer games have taken over more, so WOTC has simply cut them loose.

    Without realising it (but they should know better), most old-style players are being shoehorned into something that disrespects them, no actively insults them. Still the decision was completely economical and geared entirely to the WOW player/boardgamer.

    Old-style RPGrs really have only themselves to blame for being so lacadaisical and noncholant toward playing their games, though many I presume have been disillusioned by the games shifting from under their feet (such as with 4e)

    make no mistake: 4E is not D&D or an RPG, it’s a WOW/computer game copy with the most asinine rule system from a traditional RPGer POV

  47. Nice analysis, I completely agree with (even if it is based on that old model).
    For those still complaining about 4E being WoW some way: yes, you’re all true. But it’s not good or bad just because I (or one of you) like playing it or not. If I or any geek like the thingie, they can play it. Period. As far as they spend their freetime relatively peaceful (or even constructively), it’s not that bad, really. And I am still not a hippie.
    Good gaming!

  48. For more recent news on this, Uncle Bear has an excellent blog post about his 4e experience and why he feels it’s not for him.

    Even though you “can” RP with 4e, its default settings make it unlikely, especially for a new group that just gets into D&D from reading it. So when you go try to interact with other gamers at a con or in other settings, they are less and less likely to be into RP in the traditional sense. You can, but it’s like trying to be a violin player who plays in rock bands. You’re going to be short on gigs.

  49. Here’s a really good post about “Dissociated Mechanics” that explains further my point in the OP.

  50. A lot of articles this week about people who started in on 4e and have, after a year of play, discovered the underlying issue of making immersion difficult.

    What’s Wrong With MMOs? D&D 4th Ed Has Answers from

    Stargazer’s World also comes to the same conclusion after reflection

  51. I know its been a while, but i thought i would point this out: 4E addicts, an interactive blog have recently given up support for 4E after the year an a bit of gaming in its confines.


    • Becoming increasingly common. I don’t remember *anyone* giving up on 3e after a year and going back to 2e.

      • To be fair, mxyzplk, I didn’t buy any 3rd ed stuff for years until 3.5 was out simply because I liked 2nd Ed better. The difference is mainly that I didn’t purchase the material, I just ignored it until I ran a game where skills were more important and 3.5 became a necessity (since between thieving skills and proficiencies, 2nd Ed wasn’t adequate). I also heard a lot negative views from my fellow gamers about 3rd Ed, so I ducked out of D&D for a while because of that.

  52. The biggest problem that I have with 4E is that it is definitely tailored to Power Gaming and Munchkinsism. Role play is possible in 4E, but it naturally tailors itself much more to ROLL play than all previous editions of D&D. While this is not a problem within itself (I always say, play what you like), neither is power gaming a necessarily a bad thing if you have a good group with a common interest, but, it only serves to enhance the problems that are probably already present if you have known Munchkins within your gaming circle who clash with other gamers and the style the DM would like to run.

    My group isn’t so ideal that 4e has not caused major strif. Out of 5 regular players we have 1 known Munchkin, 2 known power gamers, one who borders on being a Munchkin (It seems like at times when known Munchkin #1 is experiencing his more extreme episodes of Munchkinism, Power gamer #1 too feels he has to compete). Power gamer #2 (ME) who is more concerned with role playing but likes to have a specialized character, 1 good all round veteran role player who generally likes to take a supporting role and 1 newer character who we are trying to bring along who at times gets overwhelmed and negatively overshadowed by the 2 Munchkins. It got so back with 4e, that a majority of us decided we didn’t like the way our gaming sessions, or our Munchkins attitude was trending so we decided that going back to 3.5 better fit our needs. Mostly because our DM doesn’t have the time he once had to sift through Mr Munchkins character constantly in a new system, which he is not all that familiar with. In 3.5 he is much better versed with all of the rules, and nuances and can keep a better handle on the Munchkin. Well of course, this has started a feud that is pretty much ripping our gaming group apart, as Mr Munchkin took all of this as a personal attack on his epeen, so for a while he has been purposely trying to ruin games and waste everyone’s time instead of being a man and understanding where the DM is coming from. What makes the situation worse, as is sometimes common among gaming groups, is that we are all friends IRL. It is about to blow up and blow up big.

  53. @Joe Segal: Been there done that. Your not the only one who has found that 4E is not filling the gaming void as well as it should do (at least in the minds of people who “traded up” from 3.5).

    There has been a fair amount of internet traffic recently about 4E & not much of it has been positive. A lot of people who had been cheering for the pro 4E side have been dropping the system, in exchange for something new (be it 3.5 or something else completely).

    Heck i was a member of a interactive blog called “4E addict,” back when i thought 4E was worth trying to save. The blog owners posted a final message this month stating that they were giving up 4E & the blog because it wasn’t filling the groups need for gaming.

    I think as time goes by 4E is going to become a whole lot less popular. Sure it will keep its die hard fans (anybody who says “i only play 4e D&D” is a die hard fan), but the inability of 4e to deliver deep roleplaying (without a whole heap of unnecessary work) or give players heaps of player options is going to eventually cripple it.

    This happens with all systems eventually, but we are already starting to reach that point & we haven’t even had this system for 2 years yet.

    • Quality wins out. They made a lot of assumptions about what gamers wanted that my experience says isn’t true; a lot of people wanted to trust them on that and jumped in whole heartedly but yeah, now after a couple years the thrill has worn off and they’re realizing “Oh. A board game with gimmicks. Uh, yay.” There’s a reason most people don’t play the same board game week after week, year after year – but that’s the pattern RPGs depend on . They fell in love with the CCG/CMG pattern of “dump a bunch of new stuff, they’ll buy it and become addicts for the next bunch of new stuff” but it doesn’t work the same way. A new card you can use immediately; a board game you’re OK with buying, playing a couple times, and letting it sit in your closet. But RPGs take a lot more work and processing to consume, set up, and play, and generate a deeper investment. Hopefully they (WotC) have learned their lesson.

  54. Nope. They haven’t learnt. They’ll do it again, you watch.

    Heck even Chris Perkins (D&D Line manager) admitted that 4E was an attempt to compete with computer games, as a way to attract WoW-kids. Problem is RPG’s can’t compete, heck they shouldn’t even try.

    RPG’s should focus on the things MMO’s can’t do: Indepth story, easily designed encounters, character interaction & design flexability.

    What RPG’s should not do is try to compete directly against the strengths of a computer game & thats exactly what 4E tries to do.


  55. Interesting thread.

    It was with great hesitation and sadness that I took the step towards purging my library of D&D 3.5E books and supplements. I was torn: do I embrace gaming by being loyal to D&D and supporting the new mechanics that 4E offers? Or do I stay true to my love of roleplaying by regressing with the D&D of yesterday and stand strong and continue playing 3.5E?

    Of course, the distinction between 4E and 3.5E isn’t that cut and dried, but that’s how many sort of contrast the two. Gaming versus roleplaying, D&D of today or D&D of yesterday. However you look at it, I had to do something in solving my ever-growing collection of D&D books, even though I like both aspects of the D&D editions, and for the very reasons I generalized. I knew I had way too many source materials for the system I got quite used to, but I also knew I needed to make room for my 4E books.

    But when Pathfinder came out, all my problems were solved. I could clean off my 3.5E collection and essentially make room for a smaller 3.75E collection. I could still stay loyal to D&D with 4E and stay true to my roleplaying nature with Pathfinder.

  56. to me it felt like 2e was a mess (THAC0, WTF?), 3e sorted a lot of things out, most of the gamers in our group loved the revamp of our characters, we even had an ingame plane shift where the paladin looked more shiny and shadows more deep and sinister. We tried converting some of our characters across to 4e and some if them plain simply didn’t work. my high level fire cleric simply couldn’t be created without house ruling him to hell.
    3e tended to take the combat rules and then stretch them further into everyday encounters, you wanted to know how much sway you had in court with a nobleman? you had a reliable system that you could roll against rather than an arbitrary dm’s “nup, he hates you”. generally RPing would grant bonuses or penalties to the result, most of the time the rolling wasn’t even done, but if someone had a problem with the dms ruling, you could always refer back to the rules.

    If someone didn’t like the rping (we had a really shy guy in our group who wasn’t verbose but still was included in everything) but loved rolling dice, this gave him a way to take on a role (a bard funnily enough) that allowed him interaction with people in the game world without having to make himself feel embarrassed or put on the spot. every successful roll that he made we reacted as if he had done that thing in real life, whether it was a witty joke or a sombre tale that made you weep.
    3e- plethora of options in any fashion of RPing you wanted to do (combat orientated, diplomatic conflict resolution etc), create any world you wanted to create
    4e- min/max your combat abilities like everyone else, no rules for creating towns beyond NPC waiting around to give you quests, no conflict resolution beyond hit it with your sword
    to me every rule was a springboard of opportunities to RP. when the only rule seems to be “hit them with a sword”, it just doesnt cut the mustard
    /end rant

  57. i just liked 4e because the people i played with were A holes and made ovepowered spell casters and when i made an overpowered fighter they freaked out and the DM specifically tried to kill me for being “cheap”. 4e balanced everything and made the game much faster and far more enjoyable for me. point is if you play with people who like to play differently then you play 4e, if they mostly just want everyone to have a good time then 3e is great. i love RPGs for every type of way you can play, i don’t want a game that’s all gamism or all simulationism, i want a game with a little bit of what ever i’m in the mood for.

  58. While I agree with a lot of this article and think 4E certainly baffled the simulationist crowd that makes up the majority of D&D players, I think the worst part of 4E was actually taking simulationism to the extreme.

    The combat game controls like a tractor trailer. Probably the most noxious part of the marketing campaign was the claim that 4E “really sped things up” and “made it more accessible to new players.” If their new players are undergrads at MIT, I guess that makes sense. The number of things that need to be tracked by everyone is ponderous, and this is a direct result of targeting the gameplay at WoW fans. Everyone is (in the MMO parlance) carrying dots, buffs, and debuffs, plus all the skills being grouped by different “cooldown” lengths.

    Then there’s the turn lengths. This was sold as making the game more exciting, by giving players more to do in their turn. In reality, the effect is the exact opposite, putting 4 players to sleep while one player’s turn drag(onborn)s on. The players this was supposed to help – tanks, casters low on magic – were already fixed by the (IMO awkward) symmetrization of abilities.

    And the elephant in the room is that none of these changes were in response to a demand or a novel idea. They were just a rework – begun shortly after 3.5 was on the presses – for the sake of outdating everyone’s books and making them buy new ones. I always maintained that Wizards regretted not capitalizing enough on the popularity surge of gaming when 3.0 came out. I’m all for making money, but you can’t expect your core customers to sacrifice their own enjoyment for you to market to a new audience. Self-interest blows both ways.

  59. @myself above: after reading further on the concepts, I can see I misunderstood the term “simulationist.” My bad.

    • Heh yeah I was gonna say simulationist doesn’t mean complicated, it just means (to a first degree approximation) ‘realistic’.

      And yeah, if 4e delivered on the simplified/quicker thing it would be one thing, but combat is an endless slog with fiddly details.

      I like Feng Shui, which is not very simulationist, it’s about cinematic combat – but it makes the combat actually fast and fun and colorful, so it hits a sweet spot. 4e appears to have hit the sweet spot of “people who don’t know other games exist because they don’t show up at the Barnes & Noble in Spokane.” Which, admittedly, is still decent market share, but it’s such a missed opportunity.

  60. @mxyzplk Thats why i get annoyed when 4E players try to sell me on the concept of “4E being the best game ever.” To which i can only say “how would you know, you refuse to play anything but D&D. You only played 3E & then 3.5 & now 4E. Try playing some other game for goodness sake.”

    I don’t dislike 4E because i like 3.5, i dislike 4E because its not very good. You show me a quality game and i’m happy to enjoy it, but i don’t enjoy 4E, so please will 4E players stop trying to sell me on it: I’m happy with 3.5 for my D&D needs.


  61. Well written! Congratulations on a superb article. I disagree with a points…

    For example, I’ve seen and read corporate documents from Hasbro about D&D the word “power gamer” was used liberally…one of the documents goes out of its way to promote a gaming system that would cater mostly to power gamers. That system by the way was 3e.

    Anyway, my point is the term is still used liberally in the industry. I also think you categorization missed a vital category: “the social gamer”. This is a gamer that is not invested in any style or system, they are invested in the social component of gaming. This is also a category of gamer I’ve seen Hasbro identify and attempt to address.

    4e was not an attempt to cater to any of the groups categorized here. 4e had one focus: make the game more like an MMO. Make the mechanics more like what your average MMO player has been introduced to. The idea was that this would also improve D&D’s success in the digital arena once the Atari contract expired. It was also believed 4e would appeal more to younger gamers. D&D’s demographics are skewing badly on the old side. That worries marketers a lot and 4e attempted to grow a younger fan base. It was assumed the older (established) customers would simply go along.

    I also, dislike 4e. And I can tell you it has had miserable returns for Hasbro. It has hurt D&D’s bottom line a great deal. There was discussion even o abandoning it. But Hasbro is sticking with it at least until 2012. Their hope is their living encounter and living campaign systems, as well as their online gaming tools will eventually win people over.

    Personally I find that “official” systems are less and less relevant. With the emergence of some splendid tools and wonderful resources, I can pick from an array of hybrid/custom systems. I don’t need more systems, I have more than I need – and now I can just shop for the one that suits my needs best.

    For me, a simple 1e hybrid, that uses some of the best aspects of 3e’s (armor class, attack-of-opportunity and the multi-class rules), is what works best.

    I welcome any intelligent discussion on RP.

  62. So, how about DMG2?

    Honestly, I am an avid roleplayer and have been for the past several years. I played WoW, and roleplayed in it for three years. My approach to roleplaying has always been in a world where roleplay isn’t governed by rules – you make those up yourself, and you only bother asking the game to handle your combat skills.

    The rest is about your writing skills and creativity.

    That said, D&D 3e and 3.5e bothered me. A lot. I couldn’t get into it. I am a simulationist by your definition, mind you; I love getting into character, deep into character, creating those in-depth stories feeling like I am actually part of the game, not just playing the game. So much of 3.5e in particular (the edition my friends played and some still play, primarily) revolved around the game and its rules that I was always upset when I couldn’t do this thing or that thing (perhaps because I wasn’t trained in the skill), I couldn’t make my character a certain way (either because it would be bad and hurt the party, or because it simply wasn’t possible) and all these roleplay possibilities that I always would have considered part of a character’s backstory that existed just for flavor were actually mapped out numerically in a table on my character sheet labeled “Skills.”

    I, as an avid roleplayer and simulationist, felt completely limited by all the rules the game threw in my face about what I could and could not roleplay. Not only that, but with the abysmal class balance (from a game design perspective) a lot of choices were ruled out because you would be retarded to even bother looking at them, and other classes were so overpowered that they needed to be outlawed by the DM. Creating a character was about min/maxing because min/maxing was so available, and the differences were huge. The player at the table who knew how to build his fighter in just the right way and pick all the correct feats up to level 6 would charge into every battle and completely dominate. You could blame this on the DM making encounters too easy – but if the DM makes the encounter hard enough for the fighter, the rest of the party gets wrecked and you’re looking at a TPK. If the DM outlaws some of the Fighter’s class/feat choice decisions, that Fighter has much less freedom, and his character is now governed by the DM.

    That isn’t roleplay, that is rollplay, through and through. I didn’t feel like I was roleplaying when I was playing 3.5e. I felt like my character was strictly defined by numbers on a page. “Well I want to-” “Did you train Play Lute?” Why the hell should I train that? I can pick up a lute when I damn well please and teach myself to play it if I have to. Or my dad taught me when I was seven. What difference does it make?

    More recently, I started DMing. Around the same time, I was introduced to 4e, and did some research. I liked what I saw, personally. The combat rules were beefed up (but much simpler, honestly – no more of that “do I get an attack of opportunity for this?” “how did he get an OA on me?” “am I within range?” “what is blocking my line of sight?” especially with a battle grid) and the roleplay rules were almost cut away entirely. The skill list wasn’t packed with nonsensical flavor skills that I would either gimp my character to train so I can play how I want or give up the chance to roleplay.

    My friends, however, were staunchly against it.

    Now I, as a WoW roleplayer, take offense to the comparison. I recognize where D&D tried to stand up to MMORPGs, and I agree that it failed. However, it provided what I consider a bare-bones system for roleplay. I’m sure there are “lighter” things out there, and I openly admit that D&D is all I play – because it’s what my friends are exposed to, and learning a new system would go against the grain with some of them, I don’t want to cause conflict. That, and I like D&D.

    But what a lot of “oldschool” D&D players don’t seem to understand is that you don’t need rules and numbers to come up with creative ways to use your character’s flavor skills (which I hope you elegantly displayed in your character’s backstory that you wrote for me) and roleplay adequately. 3.5e is so “inside the box” it hurts. 4e gives me exactly what I want: A robust, interesting combat system with lots of choices (and really, there are) and good flavor (no “I roll to attack” “You miss” “I roll to power attack” “You hit” “I deal damage! Yay!” but powers that are tactically interesting and varied, and come with descriptions to give a basic idea of what the character is doing, or could be doing – so the player can decide how their character acts out this move) along with a fairly wide-open roleplaying aspect. The PHB should not be focused on telling you how to roleplay. That creates limitations, both real and fabricated, in everyone’s mind that really hinders the creative qualities of roleplay.

    I, personally, feel that 4e does a much better job of creating the simulationist feel than 3.5e – because it leaves it up to the DM and players to create it, rather than trying to impose it through gamist rules.

    That said, back to my first line: DMG2 actually has a lot of awesome resources for the story-driven DM (like myself) and has good advice on how to make combat encounters relevant to plotlines and foster roleplay at the table, as well as basic writing pointers like story arcs and how to play an episodic game. I don’t see how you can attack WotC for being anti-simulationist (or moving in that direction) when they produce the DMG2 for 4e, which contains practically all resources that even a new-to-roleplaying DM would need for creating immersive gameplay.

    A friend of mine told me that she believes having a low stat makes for better roleplay, because it introduces a limiting flaw of your character that you have to account for. Since when did someone’s stat page have anything to do with roleplay? These sorts of ideas are borne out of experience with 3.5e, where the numbers make the character you roleplay for you, rather than the numbers being for combat and the character being what you write. (After a prolonged discussion with her, she changed her mind. She was a 3.5e fangirl who wouldn’t touch 4e until it was forced, and she now greatly prefers 4e.)

    Maybe we just have different definitions of roleplaying, but I would like to hear your thoughts on my points so far. I don’t want this to turn into TOO much of a rant, so I’ll end it here.

    • You are of course welcome to like what you want. The DMG2 may well be lovely, but I gave up in 4e way before that.

      First, I have a hard time with “a skill system is so bad!” because the vast majority of other RPGs in the world use skill systems. And sure, you can always just say you can play the lute – until it is not just “color commentary” but useful in the game. Want to beat the Devil at a lute contest? So, do you just say “I win!”?

      Following on to that, your dichotomy of “the numbers are for combat and the character is what you write” doesn’t really make sense. It fosters the alienation that 4e (and sometimes, yes, 3.5e) can bring in that you “do a little story, then stop and play the combat board game, then 5 more minutes of roleplay, then time for the board game again.” I don’t see any support – AT ALL – to claim that 4e is more rules light than 3e, and it seems a strange claim. 4e is even more obsessed with rules and balance. Again, to split the two is to “make the little doggie act up” when playing Monopoly. If the game rules and the roleplay have nothing to do with one another, then why have the rules? And sure enough, that’s what players will learn over time. “Don’t bother with that, it’s not really part of the game.” Because the game, now, is all combat. Other skills, noncombat spells, etc? Bah, pointless, get rid of them! You only need rules for the sweet sweet killing.

      In closing, I think the relative quality of the adventures for 4e and for Pathfinder speak to the suitability of the systems for story.

  63. If your DM wants you to beat the Devil at a lute contest, your DM should very well have already devised a system for you to roll on it. It’s a good opportunity for a multi-roll skill challenge and it’s a very personal event for the character that you picked this challenge for – because you, as the DM, knew the player took the time to add lute-playing to the litany of flavor skills he added in his character’s background and this is a chance for him (or her) to put that to the test.

    Having a defined skill set of non-combat flavor instills the idea that the character is limited to that list of non-combat flavor, and cannot come up with their own, because all those little things have already been mapped out! Someone built the sand castle for you already, so you’re less motivated to make little additions to it, even though you can. I believe it’s more effective to give a player a sandbox with a bucket and shovel than a built sandcastle – I want them to build the sandcastle their way.

    As for the “combat board game” – I believe that this is a failure of the DM in both cases. All combat should be relevant to the ongoing story and the mission of the characters (whose motivations are, hopefully, well thought-out) and thus be an exciting roleplay event for the players. I agree that the game can fall into that mode, and it’s very negative when it does so. I do not, however, agree that this is more prone to happen on 4e; it’s equally prevalent in either case, simply because it depends almost entirely upon the DM, not the system in place (in my opinion).

    4e may not be rules light – as you mentioned, it certainly has more pages devoted to combat rules than previous editions. These rules are easy to understand and add a lot of excitement to previously boring “I roll, I miss or I hit, next turn” combat. I don’t view this as a bad thing; I mean, combat is part of the game, so why not make it interesting and varied? It is on the roleplay side of the coin that 4e is rules light. As you pointed out, a lot of points of roleplaying that were staples in previous core books were not even addressed. This sheds a lot of the baggage that players would otherwise go into roleplay with – the idea that it has to be done a certain way, or “well, the book said…” The lack of text addressing roleplay elements for the players leaves it more up to the DM to inspire roleplay, and lets the players (baggage-free) make up their own minds about what it means to roleplay and what is “good” roleplay (versus bad).

    To address 4e obsessing over rules and balance further, I would go on to point out classic examples of old 3.5e classes being bad or overpowered in combat. Respectively, I would look at the Rogue and Monk; I have heard countless complaints about how the Rogue is “so cool” but really stinks in nearly all combat situations, while the Monk dominates almost everything after a certain level (though that level varies based on who is talking). In 4e, the standardization eliminates a lot of these gaps and makes every character choice viable to have an active, engaging role in combat scenarios – which is exactly what you want, so you can use combat to further your story instead of falling into the habitual boardgame-roleplay-boardgame-roleplay scenario you detailed. It’s a lot easier to get out of that rut if all of your players are interested and involved in combat situations, and they all feel effective.

    Classes were standardized while retaining their flavor, leaning to the side of standardization slightly. I would rather them lean slightly toward flavor, but no system is perfect. Standardized classes are good for ANY (role-playing) game that involves playing with other players; it needs to be balanced so everyone has the full array of choices available to them without feeling gimped or like they’re letting their team down by playing something sub-optimal. (Especially at those earlier levels – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard about how terrible the Druid is until X level, when s/he gets this cool ability that makes him/her awesome! But until then, you’re bad and you should feel bad.)

    The player’s books focus on the rules, almost exclusively – as it should be, IMO. They could stand to include a little more on roleplay, if only to briefly explain the general idea of roleplay and to encourage creativity out of all those players who are used to seeing everything their character is capable of doing aligned on a skill sheet. It’s the DM’s job to foster the correct amount and the correct kind of RP from their group of players – the same game will rub everyone a different way, and you can, using D&D 4e, run an easygoing hack-and-slash social get-together just as well as you can an in-depth story full of mystery, intrigue and drama, with ample amounts of character development. The latter is what I run. And you know, I really have no trouble with it, and neither do my players.

    Now, I’m not faulting you – “the same game will rub everyone a different way” undoubtedly goes for different editions and game systems as well. But I do urge you to reconsider what you believe to be role-playing, and 4e’s apparent lack of it.

    Nobody should need a book to tell them to roleplay, or how. Nobody gets into tabletops to play hack-and-slash; as many commenters have illustrated, there are better venues for that. They play to get together and have fun, usually while roleplaying. If you get into D&D and don’t know what roleplaying is or how to do it, you’re probably playing the wrong game.

    That said, 4e presents an easy-to-understand and intuitive game platform to foster roleplay without constantly looking in the rulebook or associating numbers through metagame with every little action your character wants to do, along with an entertaining and tactically-focused combat system to appeal to both crowds within your gaming party – or, both sides of the whole, because I think we all have an inner-gamist and an inner-simulationist.

    I have a lot of both, and both sides are quite satisfied with D&D 4e.

    • Two things – one, I didn’t realize there was a reply button, or that would have obviously been better. (Until now, of course; I found it.)

      And two, I forgot to thank you for your response. It’s been a few months since your last comment, and I appreciate the quick and thoughtful reply.

  64. @rick: Actually i’d like to address your statement “If you get into D&D and don’t know what roleplaying is or how to do it, you’re probably playing the wrong game,” because i think it says alot about 4E. As much as 4E fans claim that 4E is better at roleplaying, i would claim that its hypothetically better, in that the roleplaying rarely ever happens.

    The problem with the 4E core books is that they are devoid of any flavour text & since players only care about the PHB & MM the DMG goes unread. The core books have to little to base real roleplaying on… Heck i’ll use my old example of the druid.

    Look at the amount of fluff in both editions for the druid. At the end of reading the 3.5 druid you know exactly who, what, where & why it is, not just what it does. At the end of reading the 4E fluff for the druid (all one paragraph of it), all i know is that the druid may be awesome to play & thats it. Sure as a 3.5 player i know what a druid is, but the new generation of players have no clue, unless they’ve played WoW (which of course is no help at all to actual D&D players).

    Heck don’t even get me started on the actual rule mechanics in 4E, that are just a waste of time/space & for the most part dont make any internally logical sense, like rituals & alchemy.


    • Yeah, to me that’s the thing – if you have played earlier versions of D&D and “know” you’re supposed to roleplay, you can certainly do it. Their plan appears to have been to shed the majority of their old customers and get a bunch of new ones, though, and those don’t have any idea. If you take the 4e PHB as an artifact unto itself, and say “if I was a new gamer, and this was all I knew, would it even occur to me to roleplay?” I think the answer’s no.

  65. heck try reading that interview done with some of the gleemax development team & you’ll see how right you are.

    As i see it, Essentials is WotC last chance to make 4E work. From what i’ve heard, the sale numbers for 4E haven’t been so great this quarter. Thats what happens when you drop you main demographic in hopes of attracting a target audience known to have an attention span that can only be measured in… oh look a shiny object.

    Can’t see we didn’t see this coming.

  66. “If you take the 4e PHB as an artifact unto itself, and say “if I was a new gamer, and this was all I knew, would it even occur to me to roleplay?” I think the answer’s no.”

    I guess I wonder how far back are you pulling? I mean… is someone approaching it as “This is a game” or “This is a role playing game”. How much inexperience are we going with? I find myself to close to the subject mater to ever really think of not understanding at least the basic concept of role playing in approaching the game.

    @Mike Lane, I know this is from an old comment but I kind of wanted to address it “Try playing some other game for goodness sake.”

    Personally, I have. I’ve played DnD from basic to 4E, World Of Darkness games (various Old and New flavors), Gamma World (multiple editions), Alternity, Earthdawn (first and a mish mash of the two post-FASA editions), Shadowrun (various editions), Mutants and Masterminds (um, the d20 version), Ghosts of Albion, Pathfinder (started running when they put out their alpha, ended the game a few months ago), Spirit of the Century… and those are just games I’ve actively played or ran. I’ve owned and/or read a decent amount of other ones too. Now, that all said I won’t try to convince you 4E is the best game ever, because that’s pretty subjective. I /might/ try to convince you it’s the best version of DnD since for me it is, but it has it’s warts. But just because someone is a fan of DnD4E doesn’t mean that they’ve never seen anything else.

  67. Pingback: Mike Mearls Admits D&D 4e Blows | Geek Related

  68. “simulation is clearly not what’s valued over in WotC R&D any more, and thus the expectation would be that other subsequent products and revs will be moving even farther from it.”

    I don’t think there’s any reason to assume that. The transition from 2E to 3E to 4E doesn’t show any sort of “master plan” in Seattle. 3E was more simulationist, and we thus assumed WotC was heading in a simulationist direction. Eight years later, they deked us out by going in the exact opposite direction with 4E.

    For all we know, the pendulum will swing back the other way with D&D5. They could decide to just use the 4E rules to build computer games and then go back to trying to make the tabletop gamers happy with 5E.

    • They could but at this point it would be pretty pointless. Piazo is whoopin’ WotC arse all over the place. For every mistep WotC makes & they’ve made a lot Paizo steps in & takes over. 4E happens, Paizo brings out Pathfinder, WotC cancels there mini’s line Paizo brings out an identical line, WotC makes Gamma World pazio does… well nothing, but thats because the product was so bad they couldn’t figure out a way to make itworse without feeling like you were beating on the disabled kid.

  69. This is not an analysis, it’s a rationalization for rejecting a new take on an old game because you have too much – emotion, system-mastery, shelf space, whatever – invested in the last one to have an open mind.

    • But it’s not. I have bought hundreds of RPGs prior to 4e and I’ve bought dozens since. As I mention in the article (not sure any commenters bother to read it any more) I have played many different games. Sure, if I had been brought up on 3e and never played anything else then “FEAR OF CHANGE” would be a likely cause. But when I stack 4e up against Pathfinder, Savage Worlds, Alternity, and a host of other games – yuck.

  70. Pingback: D&D Next Playtest Readthrough: Eh, It’s OK | Geek Related

  71. Nice write-up. It’s a good assessment of something I already knew, but couldn’t quite find the words to describe. /subscribe

  72. I think it’s a decent summary. I’ve described 4e as “the bastard love-child of World of Warcraft and Hackmaster.”

    As you said, you can, technically, roleplay in Monopoly. Heck, you can roleplay in chess (“I AM the King!”). And you can roleplay in D&D 4e just as easily. But the game engine has little more in the way of rules support for roleplaying than Monopoly or chess do. Some games go to extremes in rule-support for roleplay (White Wolf, I’m talking to you!). 4e went the opposite direction.

    Skill challenges were broken out of the box and never really got fixed. Not only that, they were OBVIOUSLY broken—so obviously that it took me less than 5 minutes of reading the Skill Challenge rules to see that they wouldn’t work. This told me that they were just an afterthought: a token gesture to roleplayers. WotC hadn’t bothered to playtest them, or if they had then they hadn’t paid a whit of attention to playtester feedback.

    We saw more of this in the streamlining of the skill system (no longer could a character really excel at anything but combat), the removal of most non-combat spells and abilities, the gutting of multiclassing, and a dozen other changes large and small. All of these were aimed, in earlier editions, at customizing characters and providing hooks for roleplay. 4e changed D&D from a roleplaying game to a tactical combat simulator.

    Many defenders of the game responded to these criticisms with “Just house-rule those things back in if you want them.” However if I have to extensively re-write a game to make it what I need it to be, then the people who wrote that game have not justified the money I spent on it. If I pay for a game, and if they tell me “Just re-write the parts you don’t like” then I’m going to find someone more accommodating unless the tweaks I need to make are very minor.

    Ultimately, though, 4e has been judged by history. Nearly all the criticisms in this article and others have been justified: 4e was a commercial failure. Pathfinder pulled off a large part of WotC’s market share by continuing to support 3.5. WotC tried to save 4e with Essentials, but now they’ve finally admitted that it didn’t work and gone back to their roots with D&D Next.

  73. I’ve DM’d (GM’d) quite a bit in the past with 2nd edition and Wraith. Then, I stopped gaming altogether for a while. I’ve recently gotten back into gaming and bought a large chunk of 4e products. I’ve been running a 4e campaign for about a month now and have gotten quite a bit of feedback from my players concerning the edition. Overall, if you take it for what it is, a simulation-light wargame; then, the game is A plus in that regard. Honestly, if you really wanted a simulationist game, just go with Castles and Crusades. With the Pathfinder/C&C split, you can get a D&D themed game thaqt will suit pretty much anybody. Given that, I really cannot see what all the fuss is about; other than the D&D trademark being used for something that doesn’t feel D&D to purists. Really though, it is Wizard’s game now. And they are free to do with it what they will. If I suddenly feel the urge to play a simulationist game, I’ll run C&C. If I find I want to purely dramatist, then I’ll run Wraith again. Right now, a wargame is really all I have time for. And I’ll admit, I LOVE the minimalist prep time that goes into a 4e session. Prepping for Wraith was a nightmare because it was ALL story based.

    • “Given that, I really cannot see what all the fuss is about; other than the D&D trademark being used for something that doesn’t feel D&D to purists.”

      By purists i assume you mean those people who expect a D&D game to be well… a D&D game?

      I mean you can put the holden brand on a couch & it might be the most comfortable couch you’ve ever sat on, but it doesn’t magically become a car.

      “Really though, it is Wizard’s game now. And they are free to do with it what they will”

      They sure can. For instance they can run it into the ground & then try to fix it a year into its shelf life & then a year after that announce an entirely new edition to try to recapture the audience that abandoned it for the sinking ship it clearly was.

      An frankly, i don’t see 5E doing any better. WotC seems certain that what players really want is a jigsaw version of D&D, with piece from multiple other versions of D&D.

      My prediction for 5E is that a year in & Pathfinder will still be kicking WotC’s on sales for the product lines.

  74. This is how I see it: if you’re the DM, then you keep or change any rules you like. I just started learning 4E, and I’d like a good combination of gamism, simulationism, and dramatism, therefore I will incorporate them all myself. As every DM’s Guide since AD&D has stated, it’s my call if I want to do that, so when I hear the annoying complaints about 4E, what I hear is “They didn’t package the game that I expected, and I can’t think for myself”. To those gamers, I say this: think for yourself, like a true DM.

    • If you’re a true DM, you won’t want to spend more time than you have to modding the game system to get the experience you want. Why would you use 4e and have to change 50% of it when you could use something else and change 10% of it? This seems to come from some imaginary land where 4e is the only RPG you can buy, which is obviously so far from true – it’s not even the most popular one, any more.,

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