Wednesday, May 14, 2008

4ggravation

Ugh. Just ugh...

Here's the funny thing. I ended up not liking 3.0 much. I gave it a shot, and discovered that all those things I'd said I'd wanted through the years were entirely the wrong direction for me. They buried the fun and made it hard to play D&D. When 3.5 came out, I skipped it, seeing that it was the some in concentrated form. I have no problem that other folks have fun with 3.x, and I know I can have fun with 3.x as a player. But it's not my go-to game for fantasy RPG, and I feel no loyalty to it.

I know 4.0 ain't my cup of tea, either. It's embraced game-isms and balance and neat abilities with only the flimsiest setting-based rationales. And that's fine, too. I know before I've spent a penny that the game won't give me what I want, and I can spend my time and treasure pursuing other games and dreaming up houserules that bring the fun for me and my players.

So I shouldn't care. But WotC marketing is making me care, and not in a good way.

Today they’ve posted an excerpt from the 4e DMG entitled “Economy and Reward”. It’s about the system in place to help DMs make sure that PCs get the “right” goodies and don’t end up “under-equipped... for their level.”

It begins, of course, with the now obligatory explanation of why 3.x doesn’t work in this regard. Again, I’m not a fan of 3.x, and I’m fairly certain James Wyatt is absolutely correct when he points out the failings of the rules in generating loot. Now, I understand the Mr. Wyatt probably wasn’t around when 3.0 was designed, or even if he was, he may have just been a junior pencil-sharpener or something. I understand that it’s not his fault that 3.x is full of broken rules that sabotage the fun. But he works for WotC, the company that published 3.0 with much fanfare. That implies a continuity of responsibility. If 3.0 was such a broken, horrible game that DMs needed to fight against to keep the fun happening, when do we get an apology? When is WotC going to admit fault in producing a sub-standard set of rules? And why should we believe they’re going to get it right this time?

Yes, I know, they’ve got to make the case for abandoning 3.x to play 4.0. But pointing out how they didn’t do that great a job last time is hardly inspiring me to embrace their new offering.

After that, we get to the rules themselves, and there’s a lot to roll your eyes at. Mr. Vogel over at “Kill the Wizard First” says this about them:

In terms of setting and roleplaying, though, it doesn’t make any sense. I haven’t really been one of the people blowing the “4e is World of Warcraft” trumpet, because I think it’s a trite complaint that glosses over the enormous history of video games and tabletop games borrowing (and shamelessly stealing) from each other. But when they import the “Disenchant” mechanic wholesale, they’re making it real hard for me to take them seriously.

“The characters don’t find magic items that are beneath their notice—they won’t walk out of the drow enclave with a wheelbarrow full of +1 rapiers.” So apparently when you level up, so does the whole world, and suddenly everything that’s not on the Approved Treasure Distribution List goes away. I guess that’s one way to keep people from melting down lower-level items and making better ones. An extremely dumb way that makes no sense, but hey, whatever, it’s balanced, right? Also gone - giving NPCs magic items they might actually use: “The 5th-level NPC has a 6th-level item—not because he needs it, but because it’s one of the treasure parcels.” Yes, I can imagine that happening. “Well, I’m off to oppress some more dirt-farming peasants. Just need to pack my random level-appropriate trinket so that any adventurers who drop by to stop me are properly rewarded.”

Treasure parcels? Yes, standard collections of treasure to reward the PCs with. It’s assumed the party will need eight to ten encounters to go to the next level, and so each level is fitted with ten “treasure parcels” for you to seed through those encounters. Here’s what the fifth level parcel list looks like:


Party Level 5

Total Monetary Treasure: 2,000 gp

  1. Magic item, level 9
  2. Magic item, level 8
  3. Magic item, level 7
  4. Magic item, level 6
  5. 550 gp, or two 250 gp art objects + 50 gp, or one 500 gp gem + 50 gp
  6. 500 gp, or one 250 gp art object + 250 gp, or five 100 gp gems
  7. 340 gp, or three 100 gp gems + 40 gp, or one 250 gp art object + one potion of healing + 40 gp
  8. 340 gp, or one 250 gp art object + 90 gp, or 300 gp + 400 sp
  9. 160 gp, or one 100 gp gem + 60 gp, or one potion of healing + 110 gp
  10. 110 gp, or one 100 gp gem + 10 gp, or one potion of healing + 60 gp


And yes, those four magic items are damned near obligatory.
The party should expect to acquire four magic items over the course of every experience level of the characters. By the time they get to this list, they’ll have been through this four other times, which means they’ll have 16 magic items already. Hopefully, some will be of the disposable sort, like potions, because otherwise that’s three per character, assuming a party of five. Want to run a low-magic campaign? Sorry, D&D can’t help you.

In fact, the rules then go on to state how the world is crawling with traveling merchants eager and ready to buy old magic items when “the fighter finds a +3 flaming sword and no longer wants his +2 magic sword.”

Yep, everything annoying about how magic is used in MMOGs is front-and-center in D&D. There’s no real point in detailing the history and creation of the fighter’s enchanted blade because, at the end of the day, it’s just +2, and he’s going to replace it when that +3 flaming sword comes along, and he’s certain to sell that to the wandering trinket-monger when he unearths his +4 frostbite sword.

This really annoys me about D&D these days. There’s no magic, there’s no wonder, and there’s no mystery or allure. There’s just stat and roll bonuses, lists of powers, and dueling spreadsheets beneath the thin veil of your adventure path’s railroad plot.

Grrr! ARGH! Yeah, I’m starting to foam at the mouth again.

/rant


UPDATE: James Mishler brings the LOL:
This one article about the 4E economy distills everything that I've felt was wrong about 4E into one simple chunk to consume. I thought the 3E economic, XP, and magic item "predestination" system was wrong. But this? This system turns every character into the RPG equivalent of the Soviet Five Year Plan.

9 comments:

Ripper X said...

Excellent post! I am glad that critical people are out there right now. I honestly didn't know if I simply didn't like 3e because it wasn't MY D&D. I play 2e and it seems that everybody who learned the game prior all hate it too. So, maybe it was just random bigotry on my part, however, I don't think so.

I like a good, strong DM, I'd rather play in "his" world, then any factory produced fantasy world. The later versions of the game seem to be aimed at strengthening weak dungeon masters, however at the cost of eliminating the strong ones completely.

Reading all of the 4e hype, one can't help but wonder if one should finally update. I am very glad that both sides are out there right now, and it is stuff like what you just brought up that really kills the game. It is clearly aimed at a DM that just doesn't know any better, and while this rule can be ignored, how many exactly like it are also in the game? It is very disturbing to me.

Trampled Dwarf said...

I agree completely, they are taking away the ability to make the game your own (or making it rather difficult to do anyway). I am sure they will have success, but they won't have my money either.

James Maliszewski said...

Until this, everything I hated about 4e could, in the cold, clear right of reason, be dismissed as just a question of style and taste. But this, this strikes me as just plain dumb. Not merely dumb but actually undermining so many elements of what makes D&D the game that it's been for nearly 35 years that I can't help being a little angry at WotC and the designers who created this abomination.

A pox on them all.

(And irony or ironies -- the word verification for this post was "diafw," which any good MMORPG player would know is close to the classic curse "die in a fire." How's that for serendipity?)

trollsmyth said...

In their defense, I will add that it's also the easiest thing to jettison from the rules, especially if you home-brew your own adventures and setting.

Still, it highlights assumptions about how the game is to be played that just leave me cold.

- Brian

Thulcondar said...

Trouble is, all those newcomers WotC is hoping to bring in with this new edition of the game, aren't going to know any better. They're going to see these rules and just assume this is how the game is "supposed" to work.

Le sigh...

wulfgar said...

Here's an important question.

So if the number of encounters, sessions, and treasures found between leveling up are all prescribed, wouldn't there have to be a standard party size to base all of these numbers off of?

So does anyone know what the "optimum" or designed for number of PCs for 4e is?

Good post by the way. I never got into 3.x, but when 4e was announced I was intrigued and came "this" close to preordering with amazon. I'm glad I didn't everything I've heard in the last couple months has made me less and less and less interested.

wulfgar said...

Here's an important question.

So if the number of encounters, sessions, and treasures found between leveling up are all prescribed, wouldn't there have to be a standard party size to base all of these numbers off of?

So does anyone know what the "optimum" or designed for number of PCs for 4e is?

Good post by the way. I never got into 3.x, but when 4e was announced I was intrigued and came "this" close to preordering with amazon. I'm glad I didn't everything I've heard in the last couple months has made me less and less and less interested.

James Maliszewski said...

In their defense, I will add that it's also the easiest thing to jettison from the rules, especially if you home-brew your own adventures and setting.

It all depends on how "hard coded" these assumptions are into the game as a whole. If I ditch the treasure packages system and give my PCs less treasure than expected, how well will they be able to face level-appropriate challenges? What if I give more treasure? What worries me more and more about 4e is that it's looking less and less like a toolkit for playing a wide variety of fantasy campaigns and more like a very specific, very scripted kind of game geared toward a very small set of campaign types. That's cool if you like those types, but if you don't, 4e has nothing for you.

trollsmyth said...

wulfgar:
So does anyone know what the "optimum" or designed for number of PCs for 4e is?

I believe the assumption is a party of 5 PCs. Don't quote me on that, though.

James
It all depends on how "hard coded" these assumptions are into the game as a whole. If I ditch the treasure packages system and give my PCs less treasure than expected, how well will they be able to face level-appropriate challenges?

Well, no, they'd be all out of whack with the leveling system, and you'd have to use the old mark-one-eyeball to pick appropriate challenges, just like we used to back in the day. The rest of the game should work fine, but you'd be off the reservation, which means you'd pretty much have to home-brew everything. Published modules would all be too powerful or too weak, and the treasure listed in them would be tailored to their system and not your campaign.

Now, I'm almost-old-school. I'm used to taking a module and putting a few hours work into it before I play it. So this is no big deal for me. But if you're used to just plucking it off the shelf and running it after just a quick read-through, then the less you stray form the system, the better off you are. Which means, yeah, the game is designed around a lot of setting assumptions, such as lots of magical goodies lying around and all that falls out from that assumption. If you want to play a low-magic game, you're heading pretty far off the reservation, and you'll likely need to houserule a few things. And the way everything hangs together, from what I've seen, doesn't exactly embrace houseruling.

Time, of course, will tell.

- Brian