There’s been some hay made from comments about how 4e is aimed at a younger generation. More specifically, there’s this comment from Mr. Collins about the shorter attention spans of everyone today.
Y'know, it's not even just the new gamers. I've been playing D&D for, well, let's say a lot of years, and my attention span isn't what it used to be either. It's not about youth, it's just about the culture we live in and what we're used to. I can't imagine how the 10-year-old version of me learned basic Dungeons and Dragons from the old blue book games that I got back in 1981. If you handed me that game today, there is no way I would have the patience to learn it. And I'm a pretty smart guy, I do this for a living. But it's just a different time.
Er, yeah, ok. So, because you don’t have the attention span for a single, 64 page booklet (the full length of Moldvay Basic, which included player info, monster list and DM’s section) you had to write a trio of tomes, none of which is shorter than 288 pages.
Ok, I’ll grant you, greater length can be used to create simplified play, but that’s not really what the quote was about, was it? He was saying that he didn’t have the attention span to learn to play the old boxed-set Basic D&Ds.
So what does 4e do to facilitate play right out of the box... er, I mean, book? Does it come with a complete starting town and adventure, like the Moldvay Basic did in B2: Keep on the Borderlands? Not really. It does have that starting village in the DMG, but it’s not complete, and we really don’t get a good adventure to begin with. Besides, how could poor Mr. Collins muster the concentration to read all that verbiage? Much better to have a solo, choose-your-own-adventure style mini-dungeon like in the Mentzer Basic book. We could even teach a whole new generation to hate Bargle.
Only, they don’t have that either.
Don’t get me wrong; they absolutely made the life of DMs much easier compared to 3.x. They transformed how combat works, reducing the number of rule look-ups required. Large combats involving lots of monsters are more fun and less work for everyone. But that’s only after you’ve slogged through these massive tomes of rulebooks. 4e is not for the attention-challenged.
It's still not for us grognards, however. We’re still playing D&D as a strategic, logistical challenge; the history of D&D in WotC’s hands has been a focused campaign of transforming it into what many people assume it is: a game of tactical combat. The games of Moldvay, Cook, and Mentzer handle that sort of play poorly. 4e is all about focusing play on tactical challenges and options. Basic D&D, in all its incarnations, didn’t need skill challenges or social combat, because players were expected to play that sort of stuff out, using their own imaginations and problem-solving skills in situations that challenged the players. 4e requires them because such things can prove frustrating and distract from the tactical combats.
In short, older, TSR-era D&D had quick, simple combat because it was just another strategic challenge, a drain on PC resources that kept the logistical puzzle from getting too simple. 4e minimizes the strategic challenges so they won’t distract from the core play of tactical combat.
(None of which is to say that you can’t roleplay in 4e. The daily powers and treasure system make maintaining verisimilitude nearly impossible, but nothing prevents certain sorts of roleplay, especially the off-the-wall wahoo stuff some grognards seem to prefer. 4e is far more toxic to Silver Age play than to Golden Age.)
From what I’ve heard so far, the new boxed sets appear to be more accurately aimed at the goal Mr. Collins was espousing: fast play right out of the box. If that was the goal of the first trio of core books, they were horribly hobbled by assumptions: that RPGers will only take a game seriously if it’s presented in monstrous coffee-table style tomes, that boxed sets are a financial sink-hole, that more (races, classes, powers, etc.) is more. If that’s the case, then the boxed sets are a second chance to sink the called shot.
Art by Diego Rodriguez de Silva Velazquez and Jean Beraud.