This isn’t a blanket condemnation of D&D’s 4th edition. Just further realization on my part that D&D just isn’t where I’m going these days with my gaming. This latest revelation was instigated by this description of magic item slots in 4th edition. Apparently, in 4th edition you can’t use magic rings until your character reaches 11th level.
This really rubs me the wrong way. And I know I’m being silly, and I understand why they’re doing this. This is the natural outgrowth of the CR system. In order to accurately judge what sort of challenges the PCs can tackle, the designers need a relatively accurate idea of what the PCs are capable of. Saying things like, “just hand out fewer magical items” doesn’t cut it. If your PCs don’t get the right magical items at the proper levels, they’ll fall out of sync with the CR system. The CR system is a triangle of relationships, PCs to monsters to treasure, that work in tight partnership to ensure proper challenge and proper reward at every stage of the game.
And this is what makes me cranky, especially as a DM. In order for this very cool “aid” to building adventures to work, I have to essentially let the folks in
This annoys me, because we didn’t use to play this way. Please indulge me while I put on my Grumpy Old Man hat. Way back when I got my copy of Moldvay Basic, our models were the myths and legends we read in school. And in those myths and legends, the heroes were almost always horribly outmatched. The cyclops was way outside Odysseus’ safe range of foes. When Sinbad was attacked by a roc, he had no chance of killing the giant bird. The first two billy goats were no match for the troll. Robin Hood was incapable of beating Little John with staves or fists.
So when I challenged third level characters with dragons or a medusa or a handful of minotaurs, nobody batted an eyelash. The players knew they might be faced with foes who could not be outfought, and that not every solution to every problem would be found on their single-page character sheets.
And weeeee liked it!
Yeah, the arbitrariness is nothing new. 4.0's wizard can’t wear rings until tenth level, and my Basic D&D magic-user was incapable of learning how to properly swing a sword. That’s annoying, but that’s not what really turns me off the game. Putting my game on the sorts of rails the CR system requires turns D&D into something I’m just not interested in playing. Does it make it an easier game to DM? Certainly. Does it make it a better “gateway drug” to the RPG hobby? Undoubtedly. But it also becomes a game that’s just not fun for me.UPDATE: Faerie Dragon over at The Velvet Dicebag thinks that the folks at WotC may have failed to hit their stated goals as well.