Monday, July 25, 2011

Bring out your dead!

OK, no dead to bring out, but this is the sort of post that's guaranteed to bring out the trolls.  It's funny, but there are so many people on the internet apparently just waiting for someone to make a negative comment about 4th Ed. D&D so they can sweep in on their pretend moral high horse and castigate someone for having a different opinion and expressing it.  I don't go to 4E players' blogs and complain if they post something negative about Old School games...just don't see the point.  But oh well, bring it on.  I'm gonna get negative again, although there will be some positive as well.

So as I mentioned, there's a guy here in Busan who is putting together a 4E group.  Josh's Gamma World game will be finishing soon one way or the other (only another month before he leaves, and if we don't finish it next month we're never gonna...).  As I mentioned in my comments in my last post, I'm also curious about how the game plays over a longer period than what we, the Board Game Group, tried before.  My old Yamanashi Group got a good long campaign out of it, and had a lot of fun. 

So is it just the fact that a good group of people can have a good time regardless of the rule set used?  Or are my first impressions of 4E somehow skewed?  It's possible that it's the latter.  Pat had us do a few playtest encounters, then ran us through part of Keep on the Shadowfell, a module that has gotten nothing but bad press from what I've read. 

I'm gonna give it another try.  I'm creating a Half-Elf Wizard, specializing in illusions and ice magic (having read the entire Lankhmar series recently, that may be the unconscious inspiration for my guy.  No, he won't be like Khakht (or however it was spelled), but illusions and ice are his theme.

I use the word 'create' above, and bolded it, because I can't say I rolled up a character.  No dice were involved in the creation of the character.  Point buy ability scores, set hit points, pick and choose your class, race and powers.  Not even a roll for starting gold.  Everyone gets 100gp to spend.  Now, I can deal with this, but it's definitely a lot less fun than throwing in some rolls and seeing what you get (and having to work with the consequences, both good and bad).

The next stumbling block for me with character creation is one of tone.  I just can't help but laugh when the rule books give some predetermined arrays of scores that you could create with point buy, and one of the arrays leaves that low 8 as an 8.  Then it says something like, "This character is good in a few areas, but still has a significant weakness in one area."  A -1 to a few checks you likely won't use ever anyway is a  significant weakness

Seriously, they've done just about everything they can in this rule-set to ensure that your character really only needs three good ability scores and the rest are dump stats.  All the defenses: AC, Fortitude, Reflex and Will, are governed by two stats, take your pick of the better one.  Most of the attack powers likewise give you a choice of two or three abilities to use for hit/damage modifiers.  And if you've got a crap stat in that ability, you can pick a different power anyway.  So, as I've done, I've dropped that 8 in Strength.  I doubt I'll be doing much melee as a Wizard, and if I have to take a -1 penalty to any Athletics skill checks, so be it.  It's not crippling my character in the least.  It's a minor nuisance at best to have a slight penalty in an ability score I don't need to use.

Finally, there's the choice overload.  I'm playing a Wizard.  I still haven't looked over enough of the other classes to know if there's something I'd rather be playing.  Seriously, there's a lot of reading to be done there to make an informed decision.  Now, if I were a high school kid out on summer vacation, with plenty of time to dive into the books, sure, no problem.  As a working adult, with a wife and kid, side writing projects of my own, and just general other stuff to do, I don't have time to read through the literally hundreds of pages worth of information on all the various character classes.

Now, the good side.  I downloaded the two Essentials character books, Heroes of the Fallen Lands and Forgotten Kingdoms, and used them to build my character.  From what I did see, especially with regards to the Fighter class, Essentials cleared up some of the suck from the original set of rules.  The Fighter looks much more playable, especially since they're not trying to make it work exactly as the Wizard or Cleric (never looked at the Rogue or the other classes enough to really judge).  No Daily powers, and several general purpose At Will Utility powers at first level so the Fighter can enter each fight with some tactical options besides when to use the Encounter Powers (and hope they hit).

That leads me to the final problem I'm having.  There are tons of errata out there, and I'm not reading any of it (don't really care), but it seems like the DM might.  He's asked me several times now to subscribe to D&D Insider so I can get whatever updates and the character builder program and what not.  Sorry, Enzo, not gonna happen.  I've got better ways to spend my money, and I'm fairly happy with the character I created who mixes IMO the best stuff I could find from the two Essentials character books and the PHB1.  There may be stuff I'd enjoy using from PHB2 and 3...there is a 3, right?...but again I just don't have the time or motivation to scour through another 50 or so pages of Wizard powers just because there might be one power that is slightly more advantageous than one of the ones I already picked (and seriously, there's often not much difference between two powers of the same level, other than what minor secondary effect it might have, or energy type).

So, 4E has not won me over from its character creation stage.  Maybe playing it will grow on me.  If it doesn't, I may be out of gaming for a while.


  1. There is a good game in there somewhere -- I've seen glimpses of it in my year or so of play -- but it's hidden away behind a lot of cruft. If you can hack your way through, you should have some fun. It's very GM-friendly too, so it's no surprise that your GM is so enthusiastic.

  2. Yes, you can have a good game with a good group of people regardless of the rules used. My WotB sky game was great fun. We used 4th rules and despite the fact I'm very much a member of the OSR school of thought, I had fun GMing it. The only reason the game collapsed was that we could only meet once a month.

    Combat was slow because we basically forgot our characters powers between sessions. Once someone calculated that it would take up three to four years to finish the campaign at the rate we were playing, that was the end of that.

    Just throw your preconceptions about class roles out the window though. Wizards are no longer massive-damage, area-effect death-dealing machines, for example. They're all about crowd-control these days. They still get lots of AoE spells, but they do much, much less damage than before. One of my players had a really hard time struggling with the change.

  3. My group sees 4E and older versions of the game as two completely separate entities, almost. They approach the games totally differently. They play 4E as if it was tactical combat interspersed with interactive story, and 3.5/PF and older as if it were interactive story with occasional bouts of tactical violence. You surely can have fun with any rules you use - you're supposed to be having fun with friends. However, sometimes things can bog that down, like rules you detest. But in the end, I recommend sitting back, caring less, and having a blast.

  4. @Kelvingreen: I can't speak for myself, but a few of my friends would really contest your statement that 4E is significantly GM-friendly. I cannot give you all their reasons, since it has been a while since we discussed it.

    I totally and utterly disagree that you can have a "good game regardless of system." That's a pleasant sentiment, but I really believe that SYSTEM MATTERS. I agree with Ron Edwards on that regard. Some systems are better for different types of play. If you are trying to play a Type A game with a Type B ruleset, you're playing with a built-in impediment to you accomplishing your goals (having fun, suspending disbelief, playing effectively).

    The fact is that, no matter how you _try_ to play it, 4E is DESIGNED to play like World of Warcraft on a tabletop. Designers went onto the WotC website and made statements like: "Since the average lifespan of a monster is 4 rounds, we're going to streamline everything"--while on paper this sounds good, it is evidence that all encounters are reduced to sword-fodder and other forms of possible interaction are eliminated from the mechanics and design. Dissociated mechanics make powers and abilities unrealistic for sake of "game balance," hindering suspension of disbelief. Attacks (such as the rust monster's corrosion) are temporary, eliminating the very concept of actions having long-term consequences.

    Ohio Metal Militia pointed it out perfect--"They approach the games totally differently. They play 4E as if it was tactical combat interspersed with interactive story, and 3.5/PF and older as if it were interactive story with occasional bouts of tactical violence."

    To me this makes the game less about roleplaying and more a squad-based Warhammer Fantasy Battle. In some ways this is a return to form--Chainmail. But to me, it's the game evolving in the wrong direction.

    I do not begrudge anyone who plays 4E and has a great time. What gets on my nerves, honestly, is that people approach 4E without even remotely thinking about the game's design philosophy and the type of play the game is designed to facilitate. And that type of play is NOT a successor to 3.5E. I honestly don't think the two games should even be COMPARED because 4E is, to me, NOT A ROLEPLAYING GAME. And if 4E players could hear that and not get insulted, I'd probably not get quite so frustrated.

    I do not enjoy 4E because the system doesn't encourage the sort of play I want. Frankly, I've had more fun playing GURPS, Storyteller, and even Palladium than the times I've tried 4E. If I wanted to play a tactical combat game, I'd have gone and played Warhammer.

  5. hmmm... some good points above there... i invested in all of the core books because i had the surplus cashola... flipped through them, even got the dummies books and it just never clicked. i watched the podcast with the Penny Arcade guys and Wesley Crusher and it seems approachable... didn't have a group then though so never went back to it.

    Gwydz... you should look for the character builder... it's out there or ask Enzo if you can borrow his? not sure if that's possible though. i created 4 characters this weekend toying with builds. i think i will settle on a WF of some ilk soon. why do u think the Fighter in the core 4e book sucks so bad? i have the first digest sized cardback here with me in the ROK... mayhep i should peruse it.


  6. D&D Insider really rubs me the wrong way. If I'm picking up a tabletop game, I want to be able to put it on a shelf and still use it as intended years down the road, not subscribe to it as a service.

    WotC has always bombarded players with tons of errata to keep track of and now D&D Insider muddies the water even further. On top of that, when they pull the plug on the current edition, all of the 4E D&D Insider content will probably be lost to the void. Seems like wasted money throwing it down that rathole.

  7. Dave, I can only speak from my experience, as well as some anecdotal evidence from various blogs. I absolutely hated playing D&D4, but I found it ran quite smoothly, certainly more so than my attempts to run Pathfinder and AD&D2. It wasn't perfect, and fights still took ages, but it certainly seemed to be geared towards making the GM's job easier. Whether that was by design or not, I don't know.

  8. I hate to disagree with @Dave Cesarano, but you can absolutely have a good game regardless of the system.

    At the end of the day, I think 90% of gaming is about the social aspect of getting together with like-minded people (hopefully they're friends, not just "fellow gamers") and setting aside time to engage in an activity that you all enjoy.

    [Note, when I say "you" in the follow statements, I'm using it generically, not specifically calling out Dave].

    If there's a game that you hate that much, then you're either hanging out with the wrong people (who, if they are your friends, you're happy to hang out with and the game becomes fun due to the shared experience), or maybe, as Ohio Metal Militia suggests, maybe it's time to step back, relax, and not care as much.

    Maybe it's just me, but I don't approach playing any game because of the mechanics and rules. I approach it because my friends are getting together and I want to hang out with them and play some games.

    And I will say that I personally also dislike 4E. I would never choose to run it. But, if someone in my game group said, "Hey, I'm getting a 4E game together" I'd be there in a heartbeat just to the chance to play some games with them.

    I'm writing a whole series of posts on my blog called "Fun With Any Edition." It's mainly about looking for ways to maximize the mechanical aspects of each edition to take advantage of what makes it unique, although I should point out that my 3rd Edition post is mainly just memories about what brought me back into gaming in general, so it's a little light on what I liked about the mechanics.

    The posts are here