As one of those who is known to still vent the occasional rant at 4e, let me chime in to explain why it’s not just pure wickedness and hate behind why I and others who find fault with 4e don’t just “shut up and go away.”
I think what happened in the 3.5e->4e transition is clear to everyone who has analyzed the edition change to any degree. In short, a significant number of 3e and other legacy D&D players who enjoy simulationist play feel mostly left out in 4e as the rules changed to not support that playstyle well. The point of this post isn’t to debate this truth (go here for that); I think at this point it’s pretty much accepted among both 4e fans and detractors.
Which is fair enough. D&D play styles have been diverse over time; certain editions have supported different styles better, there are other games out there, etc. No playstyle is the “one true way,” it’s all personal preference.
However, besides the nostalgic cachet to the D&D trademark, there’s no denying that WotC is the 900 pound gorilla in the RPG market and D&D is the most played game. More support material is published for D&D than anything else. This means that the change in playstyle support has other secondary effects felt outside the printed pages of the PHB.
Some people – experienced gamers with a knowledge of the larger RPG landscape – pick the game system they rationally prefer. Many, many others are led into a default play style by the game they pick up first, the game that is on every bookstore shelf and the majority of people play – in this case, the majority of gamers are led to 4e by virtue of its market dominance and then get “molded” into the 4e style by playing it.
I think it’s clear that not all that market share is a clear case of “people have specifically chosen gamist tactical combat as their preferred mode of gaming;” with any new edition most sales are driven by “this is the new version of that popular thing.” But players begin, consciously and unconsciously, adhering to its default metaphor.
As we all know, gaming is a social hobby, and it can be hard to find gaming groups and, on the publishing side, get sufficient critical mass to get “fringe” products produced.
As a result, there is significant incentive for me and others who prefer a different type of gaming to continue to advocate for D&D to (re-)adopt our mindset (in 5e, if nothing else). Because when your style of gaming is marginalized outside D&D, then your ability to find like minded gamers and get products that suit your needs is severely degraded. Thus, even if I don’t play 4e, it affects me negatively by affecting the larger gaming ecosystem. (Note that me house-ruling to accomplish simulation in 4e doesn’t reduce any of these secondary effects, and is therefore not a useful solution).
This ecosystem effect is obvious. It’s why Microsoft pushes Windows – it’s not just for the dollars from Windows sales but from the effect on the resulting computing ecosystem that works against Mac, Linux, etc. on multiple levels. It’s just an effect, only good or bad from the point of view of which side of the ecosystem you play in.
It’s traditional that the majority doesn’t understand the concern of the marginalized – why be angry? Go with the flow! Nobody’s telling you what to do! But in the end, it’s not that simple (ask any minority group). It’s not anyone’s intent to marginalize simulation gamers, but intent has nothing to do with the actual results.
And that’s why I personally plan to continue to agitate for changes to D&D to reintegrate the simulationist banner within the game. Doing so produces:
- the ability for me to play the best-supported and most-played RPG
- the network effect of producing other games and gamers who are fluent in simulation play
Make sense? It’s not about an “edition war.” No one’s giving out a medal for “objectively best version of D&D.” It’s about “we want this kind of gameplay actively included in the world’s most popular role-playing game ™”. The discussion isn’t “over” because the latest version doesn’t support it; there will always be another version. In fact, it seems somewhat offensive and self-serving to tell people who don’t like 4e to “just go away, then” – our input into the development of D&D is just as valid as we’re still potential new customers.
I don’t begrudge anyone enjoying 4e or not liking simulation play. These effects are not any of your “fault.” However, in aggregate, the effect that D&D 4e has of supporting and predominating products, gamers, and gaming groups that are simulation unfriendly results in marginalization and therefore measurable harm to my enjoyment of the hobby.
And I don’t think that continuing to advocate for this is totally in vain, either. Wizards certainly changed their tune some on the whole GSL/OGL thing, and I like to believe that change was facilitated by the press and critique that people, including myself, brought to bear.
Given all this, I hope the intelligent readers out there in the community will realize that this is the core problem that all the common retorts to criticism of 4e totally miss – “Well don’t play it then,” “House rule it!,” “People just fear change,” “4e’s out, it’s over, give up,” “Why don’t you complain about other games,” “I like 4e better because…” All valid thoughts, none of which come logically to bear on this problem. There are other RPGs I “don’t like,” that aren’t open, that only cater to one play style or another. But this is the one that pushes the entire industry in its direction, so both as a habitual D&D player but also as a RPG gamer in general, I have a vested interest in its course and desire input into it.