Wednesday, March 05, 2008

A Ronin Reviews D&D 4.0

Via the Velvet Dicebag comes word that Chris Pramas of Green Ronin, the classiest guys in RPGs, has posted his thoughts on D&D 4.0. He has a lot to say, and most of it is thought-provoking. Just to prove it, here are some actual thoughts:

I really felt that 3.5 was just more complicated than it needed to be and I hoped that 4E would simplify things. While it does fix many of the ongoing issues with 3.5, my feeling after today's session is that it's just complicated in a different way. It's not something I think experienced gamers will have a huge amount of trouble with, but it does seem that 4E may be even more unfriendly to new players than 3.5 was. It looks like 4E requires newbs to make too many choices and track too many things to make it truly accessible. Since D&D has always been the entry point for most RPG players, this is my most serious concern.

This is pretty serious stuff. I’ve heard that WotC is planning a beginner’s boxed set. Hopefully, they’ll be able to simplify things enough that new folks don’t have too many issues. Moldvay’s Basic was complex enough for me way back in 2nd grade. That should be the level of complexity they shoot for.

And since the rules seem to have been tailored to provide a very particular experience, I don't think they will make as good of a base for the variety of campaign settings D&D used to see. It's pretty clear that WotC realizes this, which explains why they felt the need to advance the timeline and have an apocalyptic event in the Forgotten Realms. I don't think many of the old campaign settings will transition over without a lot of cutting, spindling, and mutilating.

I’m very curious what he means by this. So far, I haven’t seen anything that would make 4.0 a bad fit for Forgotten Realms, Greyhawk, or even Spelljammer. If you ignore the fluff, you ought to be able to make it fit even Planescape fairly well. But he’s played the game and I haven’t, so maybe he knows something I don’t. And if he does, what does that mean for Paizo and Pathfinder?

What I think WotC is going for here is what Marvel managed to pull off with their Ultimate line of comics: take the core of the IP and redefine it for a new generation. There will certainly be some longtime fans disenfranchised by this move, but I don't think there will be enough of those folks to hurt 4E. (I do think, however, that there will be enough of those for a third party company to carve out a good business for itself catering to them, but that's a topic for another day.)

Heh… Remember, this is the guy who has True20 in his stable, and the soon-to-be-released A Song of Ice and Fire RPG. So it’s not like he doesn’t have a dog in this fight.

That said, I think he’s right. I also think Green Ronin, with its stable of literature-based games and experience converting the settings of novels into settings for RPGs, is well-positioned to lay a claim to the fantasy storytelling terrain that WotC appears to be abandoning. Whether they achieve that through promoting True20 or the system they create for ASoIaF, they’ve got a good head-start on everyone else in the industry. And with the roadblocks that WotC has cast in the way of 3rd party developers so far, Green Ronin might very well find themselves forced to pursue such goals, simply from being shut out of doing anything for D&D 4.0 over the next year.

Viewed from this perspective, WotC’s marketing campaign appears hell-bent on shooting their corporation in both feet. First, by dragging their feet in getting the licensing info out to third-party publishers, they’re almost forcing those companies to compete with the release of 4.0, either by putting out new product that is unrelated to D&D, or, even worse, by continuing to support the older editions. Second, by insisting that older versions of D&D are not fun, they seem determined to drive a wedge between the players who adopt 4.0 and those who stick with older editions.

UPDATE: Mr. Pramas has continued to play with 4e. His after action report here, and my brief take on it here.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

I've been poring over the books for the last couple of hours, and let me tell you -- this is the Death Knell for D&D, imo. This system looks and feels like it was designed by video gamers for video gamers. Daily Powers? Party Roles? You HAVE to be kidding me. I personally am going to get rid of this hideous pile of shit known as the 4e PHB in a fire and dance on its ashes.

Anonymous said...

Honestly i have spent about 3 days looking over just the players handbook while went to Books a million and read it over (to be sure weather i wished to shell out the money for the books). The further i read the more sick to my stomic it made me. I mean i am a gamer in alot of respects but like the other anonymous said it looks more like a video game than a paper and pen RPG. I started D&D back in 3.0 and didnt get deep into it till 3.5 but i have alot of the old books from family. Even though i personally plan to stick to 3.5, I'd sooner go back to the stuff in AD&D or something then touch 4th edition.
From a complex and readability standpoint i found the way it was written i had to read things over and over and the general layout was poorly put together.

Tiberius said...

I started playing 3.5 about four years ago. I wouldn't claim to know the 3.5 rules perfectly, but I know a lot about how combat works. I would certainly be able to successfully DM a campaign. My friends and I are now testing out a short 4.0 campaign and I have to say that I don't like it. The game mechanics seem to be kind of unbalanced.

It is true that there are a lot of things that make the system simpler, but they're all really attempts to fix something that isn't broken.

Combat is much less interesting. You can no longer hustle, which in 3.5 allows you double movement in one move action and is limited only when used over a specific long period of time (much more than one encounter). Removing hustle dramatically reduces the number of options you have during combat, and thusly makes some tactical strategies (such as attempting to flank an enemy) very hard to execute or even plan. There is a poor substitute for hustle which allows for a small addition to speed at the price of an AC penalty. One could argue that EVERYONE's speed is reduced, and therefore combat remains the same, but after playing it is undeniable that combat is less tactical than in 3.5.

Furthermore, the new 4.0 rules completely butcher skills. Ranks no longer exist. You can increase your skill modifier by becoming trained in it which adds +5, and by using a feat to get a skill focus which adds +2, however, there is no further graduation of skill enhancement that I know of. This means that your character cannot choose to be very good at one thing, and instead can only have an array of skills that are moderately useful. Skills are less important, and min/maxing them is no longer a strong option. This also subtracts from the number of tactical options available in combat. In 3.5 you are welcome to attain high ranks in tumble to avoid attacks of opportunity, or possibly intimidate to stop your enemies before they can even swing, but in 4.0 the diminished control of skills prevents such combat strategies from being equally useful options.

I also miss 5-foot step, which does not exist in 4.0 the same way that it does in 3.5. I believe that some characters have some sense of 5-foot step, but it isn’t available to everyone. I know that Kobolds have some kind of similar ability.

To conclude, I can’t claim to be an expert on the new rules, and thusly I can’t judge them in their entirety. I have only played about 10 or 11 hours of 4.0 so far, but my experience has not been a good one. Unless someone can show me what we’re doing wrong and teach me how to enjoy the new rules, I plan on playing more 3.5 in the future.

Tiberius said...

Again, this is only my experience so far, it may turn out to be better than I have yet observed, however, I feel as though that isn't likely.

Anonymous said...

I've been playing D&D for about 13 years now. I like to consider myself a bit of a veteran of the game, and it has been a huge inspiration for a lot of things in my line of work (author). I've got to say that I don't like 4.0 in the least bit. I was psyched when we were told multiclassing would be easier and a lot more fun. I feel let down in that. So you sacrifice a few powers for other powers, and you use these powers less, that doesn't make things easier. God knows I've made hundreds of multiclass characters. I feel as though I can't make the same calibur of characters as I used to. I agree whole heartedly with the previous poster, in that this is a video gamers D&D. Personally, I feel as though WotC has betrayed their fan base.

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Montovan said...

I've loved D&D since 2nd editions....

what i saw looking through the books...

WoW... on paper.

boo