As most of the initial hype vs furor wars have settled down there’s some good “what 4e is” information starting to emerge out there. Ones I’ve found the most helpful are:
A Noobian Guide to 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons – A new D&D player gives their rundown of “what the deal is with this D&D thing.” What’s interesting is that even to a noob, 4e is clearly heavily MMO-influenced and half minis board game (the people that deny this are either disingenuous or dumber than chimps) but of course the point of 4e is that WotC wants to market to the people that enjoy that. It’s interesting to read someone who’s new to all of it taking it all in, and pointing out the good (minis are pretty!) and bad (minis are sold in random packs to rip me off!). It’s actually a quite positive review; ironically his analysis of 4e is pretty much factually identical to mine except he likes that kind of thing more, which is fine. Different strokes for different folks, I don’t mind people liking the new 4e paradigm, I do mind them claiming it’s not changed or that there’s nothing about those changes a roleplayer could dislike.
Game Day: Comparing 3e vs 4e DM Prep Times – Basically 4e prep time for the DM is much reduced, counterbalanced by the fact that you as a player seem to have many fewer options. (That’s what people are complaining about when they lament the MMO-ization of D&D – any computer game has to have fewer options, and more strictly defined and less organic options, because a computer has to make all the DM decisions. It’s nothing against MMOs to say that turning a human-run RPG game into that is a massive evisceration). To quote:
Ultimately, this is one of the aspects of 4th Edition that I find so frustrating. From my side of the screen, I find the game to be a significant improvement because at every turn, they’ve made my job easier. Combined with my Three Page Manifesto, I’m able to knock my D&D prep time down to an hour. As a geek dad who never has enough time, that’s a huge deal.
And yet, at the same time on the player side I find the system far more limiting. Powers have made all of the classes feel more generic, and while there’s still a good deal of customization available in the game, I miss the quirky uniqueness that each class had under previous editions and yes, I miss the inherent, amazingly deep 3E crunch factor.
Playtesting Fourth Edition – A very thorough playtest with loads of in depth analysis of each mechanic. Looks like the guy and his group gave it a real runthrough and I’m surprised at some of their findings, like combat’s not faster (“like padded sumo wrestlers” is the quote). This is the most detailed playtest writeup I’ve seen of 4e hands down.
I’m afraid I’ll probably never get to relate prep time between the editions, as it looks like I’ll only be running Keep on the Shadowfell and then moving on (or back, however you look at it) to other game systems, including some variant of 3.x.
I’d like to know how much it knocks down PC prep as well. I’ve noticed much less paperwork and stress preparing for a game on the PC side in 4th edition compared to 3rd edition. Playing a mid-level caster in 3E meant carrying 6-8 sourcebooks with me and perusing dozens to hundreds of spells for the ones that would be “just right” in this situation. In 4E, I can put them all on a dozen notecards and be prepared.
The lack of killer spells/effects only countered by very specific spells/effects also helps. Being a well-prepared caster in 3E could quickly turn into a nightmare of memorizing spells, their counters, and second-guessing what the GM’s most likely to throw at you. As a divine soul (clerical version of a sorcerer) and the party’s main healer, I figured out how many different spells I needed to cure every permanent disability that could cripple a party member. It came out to around 9, taking up over half the spells I could know at the time. I ended up spending half my gold on scrolls to cover everything 3 times, and we still had to avoid combat with a vampire because we wouldn’t have enough Restoration scrolls to counter all the level drains.
And then there was mind reading, charms, dominations, and scryings you had to counter. The Big Bad Wizard could immediately learn your plans & teleport a pack of demons on you while you slept, or make your fighter fail a single roll and go apeshit on the rest of the party, and it was all your fault because you forgot to cast the proper buffs ahead of time or memorize a certain spell. Heaven help you if your GM played his spellcasters competently while your caster was an idiot; the entire party could be TPKed for that. Nothing made me paranoid quite like preparing a caster PC for a 3E session.
Needless to say, having all of the important wards & cures always castable (as long as you have the proper rituals, components, and someone that can actually use it) had helped me quit worrying about handling everything and get back to enjoying the game. (Fewer nasty permanent cripplings doesn’t hurt, either.)
Yeah, I’d like simplicity and prep reduction myself. The way most games handle that, though, is through generalization, not MMOization. Let’s say there was only one healing spell, or even magical skill, that you could use on any malady (poison, disease, etc) but you had to beat the inflicting DC. Or that there’s one “blast” spell, and you can pick damage types at memorize time (for d8/level damage) or on the fly (for d6/level damage). Or even go to the extent of Ars Magica, where e.g. “Create Fire” is a magical skill and you can use it to create ad hoc magical effects.
This still allows flexibility and new stuff without turning the game into a board game. But clearly, joined to the laudable goal of “make the riles simpler to use,” they joined the goal of “and remove all DM and player discretion so that the ruleset can easily be implemented in a computer game.”
I like simplicity, I just don’t want my D&D to be “the world’s slowest game of WoW.” I want it to be more. I play WoW, so I don’t need a slow version.
I’ve made three characters for 4e so far, and I’ve found it a hellish experience. The game puts so much emphasis on the mechanics of teamwork that it’s incredibly difficult to come up with a character on my own; instead of building one interesting character, I’ve got to create one sixth of an effective combat squad.
I’ve got no experience of 3.Xe at all, so I’m not making a comparison, but I do not like the 4e chargen at all.
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