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4th Edition D&D

Inspired by John Kovalic’s post on the new D&D books and his request for us to share out thoughts, I posted the following as a comment on his blog. By the time I got to the end, I figured I might as well just make it into a post for my own blog as well. Here we go:

I haven’t played yet so my opinions are just from reading and talking. I started out fairly worried because the way the rules seem in print they’re exactly what I don’t want to be dealing with in play. If I want to play a dwarf fighter with e big axe, I want to just wade in with my big axe. The new system seemed to put a lot of fiddly book keeping and decision making back on the table for every action…now it’s not just a matter of swing and attack, it’s do I want to use this power or that power, which of my companions should get the bonus buff, etc. I lamented that under 3rd edition there was a zillion ways to build your character “wrong” when you found that your ideas didn’t match up to the optimal builds or that you screwed your character out of being able to advance into something because you didn’t start with that in mind. They did seem to address that problem in the 4E design but my big concern has been wondering if I’d be facing the same thing on a round by round basis (Oooh, you shouldn’t have used your X attack and buffed Joe, you should have used Y and activated your once per day power! Now we’re screwed!).

That said, I’ve been reassured after talking to some folks who have been playing the game under NDA for a long time that it actually plays out better than it reads. I’m not passing judgment. :) I also recognize that even if my own personal concerns aren’t addressed, that’s not a criticism of the game, just of my own preferences. I know now (and have always known) I’m not necessarily the target market for D&D. I didn’t start gaming with D&D the way virtually all of my peers did, and I was often involved in what I discovered were actually some avantgarde circles in my professional career. Just like it was a surprise for me how hard it was for some gamers to get into Ars Magica’s ideas of shared characters and rotating storytelling duties, there are guys who look at me and puzzle why I would have concerns about keeping track of optimal builds or tactics.

It’s taken many years and a lot of discussions with other people in the game industry to come around and be comfortable with the idea that I’m a different kind of gamer than so many of my gaming peers. I always knew that starting with Ars Magica as my first roleplaying game set me apart but I often traveled in circles where ArM was accepted if not beloved and definitely wasn’t seen as some crazy thing. However my recent conversation with GAMA Executive Director Anthony Gallela at Book Expo reminded me again how different my gaming life has been from most gamers of my generation. My favorite games and game experiences don’t revolve around GURPS, Champions, XD&D, or Traveller. My first game was Ars Magica. I moved from that to getting in on the ground floor of Vampire: the Masquerade. One of the most exciting and fulfilling campaigns I ever played in was an Amber Diceless Roleplaying game (and thus Amber was the game I wrote about in Hobby Games: the 100 Best. My other professional work has been for games like Over the Edge, Earthdawn, and Everway. Among the games I’ve played just for fun and enjoyed the most were Jorune, Castle Falkenstein, Feng Shui and (here’s the shocker kids) Battlelords of the 23rd Century.

I feel a little like I’ve had an art house upbringing without realizing it and I kinda missed all the big summer blockbusters that the other kids grew up on. It’s not really the same going back and trying to “get” those games out of context, though I can appreciate and enjoy many of them anyway. Looking at 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons, I’m still not sure how it’s going to fit with me but I’m willing to buy some popcorn, sit down with it, and find out.

48 comments to 4th Edition D&D

  • My (limited) play experience with 4E has me confident that the game will continue to run just fine for groups that bend it this way and that, so those without much interest in optimization should still be able to have a great time with a lot of the game’s powers. Optimization, though, is clearly something the system is designed to reward in a big way by default, which is probably good for attracting a certain audience.

    I think, though, that 4E rewards little doses of tactics better than 3E did. In 3E, your dwarf could wade in and do damage. In 4E, he can wade in, find a happily coincidental spot to stand, and watch as he sends dudes flying.

    The culture of 4E is skewed toward optimization (I’m fascinated and repulsed by this phase of the game’s release at EN World), but I think the game isn’t as dependent on it as it might seem. Finding a formidable interaction between two powers can be fun and easy in this system — the pressure to find THE BEST COMBO EVAR is illusory.

    • It’s kind of reminding me of how Magic: the Gathering evolved into a competitive game of optimizing for the best combos and killer decks versus how I played (and enjoyed it) in its early days. I *can* figure out some killer tricks and whatnot but I don’t enjoy it. I end up feeling stressed about making the “right” decisions instead of making FUN decisions. When M:tG started attracting the really hardcore math nerds who were super, super competitive (often combined with really awful social skills, like mocking and deriding the people they beat) I gave my cards away and stopped playing.

      Thankfully I can’t see D&D ending up going that far down that road!

      • The big difference is, in my experience, mechanically, Magic got far more complicated as it went along.

        At least that’s how it seemed to me, trying to learn a new edition six years after I’d first played the game…

        • Having gotten out of Magic around Ice Age, and gotten back in around Kamigawa/Ravnica, I think the perceived complexity is somewhat higher than actual complexity, except in certain edge cases. Some things got quantified that weren’t before (but everyone ignores the exact process except in tournament play – and even then, short-hands things down to their bare essentials, unless you’re playing with a pedant or aspie). Interrupts (and all their amusingness…) went away, order of event resolution changed a little, some things got more formalized, but I didn’t find it all that hard to pick up the basics of.

          There’s some tricks with the Stack that are a little counter-intuitive if you’re not used to it (putting things on the Stack in different orders can result in substantially different outcomes), and a few other things in the system itself, but that’s not where the complexity lies, really, I think.

          The complexity is in card interactions. With twenty-five some-odd thousand different cards in print – and thousands available for Standard play, let alone casual or Extended (or shudder Vintage and Legacy), there’s a lot of really weird “sooner than instant death” and “not infinite but might as well be” engines out there that can be exploited (combos and killer tricks, to use Nik’s phrasing).

          Me? I’m with Nicole. I like Magic. It’s a fun game, when everyone is on the same wavelength. It’s not so fun when some people have brought casual decks, and others have brought highly tuned, very expensive tournament decks that are 80% likely to have generated a kill on turn 5 – or won’t until turn 10, but it doesn’t matter, since you won’t be doing anything either. Combo engines can be fun to play, once in a while, and several of my decks have the tools to build one or another of them. But when your deck can be run by an Eliza script, it’s not so much fun any more, and except for decks built specifically for competition, my decks rarely rely on killer combos – they’re more likely to be toolkit decks, or theme decks.

  • My (limited) play experience with 4E has me confident that the game will continue to run just fine for groups that bend it this way and that, so those without much interest in optimization should still be able to have a great time with a lot of the game’s powers. Optimization, though, is clearly something the system is designed to reward in a big way by default, which is probably good for attracting a certain audience.

    I think, though, that 4E rewards little doses of tactics better than 3E did. In 3E, your dwarf could wade in and do damage. In 4E, he can wade in, find a happily coincidental spot to stand, and watch as he sends dudes flying.

    The culture of 4E is skewed toward optimization (I’m fascinated and repulsed by this phase of the game’s release at EN World), but I think the game isn’t as dependent on it as it might seem. Finding a formidable interaction between two powers can be fun and easy in this system — the pressure to find THE BEST COMBO EVAR is illusory.

    • It’s kind of reminding me of how Magic: the Gathering evolved into a competitive game of optimizing for the best combos and killer decks versus how I played (and enjoyed it) in its early days. I *can* figure out some killer tricks and whatnot but I don’t enjoy it. I end up feeling stressed about making the “right” decisions instead of making FUN decisions. When M:tG started attracting the really hardcore math nerds who were super, super competitive (often combined with really awful social skills, like mocking and deriding the people they beat) I gave my cards away and stopped playing.

      Thankfully I can’t see D&D ending up going that far down that road!

      • The big difference is, in my experience, mechanically, Magic got far more complicated as it went along.

        At least that’s how it seemed to me, trying to learn a new edition six years after I’d first played the game…

        • Having gotten out of Magic around Ice Age, and gotten back in around Kamigawa/Ravnica, I think the perceived complexity is somewhat higher than actual complexity, except in certain edge cases. Some things got quantified that weren’t before (but everyone ignores the exact process except in tournament play – and even then, short-hands things down to their bare essentials, unless you’re playing with a pedant or aspie). Interrupts (and all their amusingness…) went away, order of event resolution changed a little, some things got more formalized, but I didn’t find it all that hard to pick up the basics of.

          There’s some tricks with the Stack that are a little counter-intuitive if you’re not used to it (putting things on the Stack in different orders can result in substantially different outcomes), and a few other things in the system itself, but that’s not where the complexity lies, really, I think.

          The complexity is in card interactions. With twenty-five some-odd thousand different cards in print – and thousands available for Standard play, let alone casual or Extended (or shudder Vintage and Legacy), there’s a lot of really weird “sooner than instant death” and “not infinite but might as well be” engines out there that can be exploited (combos and killer tricks, to use Nik’s phrasing).

          Me? I’m with Nicole. I like Magic. It’s a fun game, when everyone is on the same wavelength. It’s not so fun when some people have brought casual decks, and others have brought highly tuned, very expensive tournament decks that are 80% likely to have generated a kill on turn 5 – or won’t until turn 10, but it doesn’t matter, since you won’t be doing anything either. Combo engines can be fun to play, once in a while, and several of my decks have the tools to build one or another of them. But when your deck can be run by an Eliza script, it’s not so much fun any more, and except for decks built specifically for competition, my decks rarely rely on killer combos – they’re more likely to be toolkit decks, or theme decks.

        • Having gotten out of Magic around Ice Age, and gotten back in around Kamigawa/Ravnica, I think the perceived complexity is somewhat higher than actual complexity, except in certain edge cases. Some things got quantified that weren’t before (but everyone ignores the exact process except in tournament play – and even then, short-hands things down to their bare essentials, unless you’re playing with a pedant or aspie). Interrupts (and all their amusingness…) went away, order of event resolution changed a little, some things got more formalized, but I didn’t find it all that hard to pick up the basics of.

          There’s some tricks with the Stack that are a little counter-intuitive if you’re not used to it (putting things on the Stack in different orders can result in substantially different outcomes), and a few other things in the system itself, but that’s not where the complexity lies, really, I think.

          The complexity is in card interactions. With twenty-five some-odd thousand different cards in print – and thousands available for Standard play, let alone casual or Extended (or shudder Vintage and Legacy), there’s a lot of really weird “sooner than instant death” and “not infinite but might as well be” engines out there that can be exploited (combos and killer tricks, to use Nik’s phrasing).

          Me? I’m with Nicole. I like Magic. It’s a fun game, when everyone is on the same wavelength. It’s not so fun when some people have brought casual decks, and others have brought highly tuned, very expensive tournament decks that are 80% likely to have generated a kill on turn 5 – or won’t until turn 10, but it doesn’t matter, since you won’t be doing anything either. Combo engines can be fun to play, once in a while, and several of my decks have the tools to build one or another of them. But when your deck can be run by an Eliza script, it’s not so much fun any more, and except for decks built specifically for competition, my decks rarely rely on killer combos – they’re more likely to be toolkit decks, or theme decks.

      • The big difference is, in my experience, mechanically, Magic got far more complicated as it went along.

        At least that’s how it seemed to me, trying to learn a new edition six years after I’d first played the game…

    • It’s kind of reminding me of how Magic: the Gathering evolved into a competitive game of optimizing for the best combos and killer decks versus how I played (and enjoyed it) in its early days. I *can* figure out some killer tricks and whatnot but I don’t enjoy it. I end up feeling stressed about making the “right” decisions instead of making FUN decisions. When M:tG started attracting the really hardcore math nerds who were super, super competitive (often combined with really awful social skills, like mocking and deriding the people they beat) I gave my cards away and stopped playing.

      Thankfully I can’t see D&D ending up going that far down that road!

  • My (limited) play experience with 4E has me confident that the game will continue to run just fine for groups that bend it this way and that, so those without much interest in optimization should still be able to have a great time with a lot of the game’s powers. Optimization, though, is clearly something the system is designed to reward in a big way by default, which is probably good for attracting a certain audience.

    I think, though, that 4E rewards little doses of tactics better than 3E did. In 3E, your dwarf could wade in and do damage. In 4E, he can wade in, find a happily coincidental spot to stand, and watch as he sends dudes flying.

    The culture of 4E is skewed toward optimization (I’m fascinated and repulsed by this phase of the game’s release at EN World), but I think the game isn’t as dependent on it as it might seem. Finding a formidable interaction between two powers can be fun and easy in this system — the pressure to find THE BEST COMBO EVAR is illusory.

  • My (limited) play experience with 4E has me confident that the game will continue to run just fine for groups that bend it this way and that, so those without much interest in optimization should still be able to have a great time with a lot of the game’s powers. Optimization, though, is clearly something the system is designed to reward in a big way by default, which is probably good for attracting a certain audience.

    I think, though, that 4E rewards little doses of tactics better than 3E did. In 3E, your dwarf could wade in and do damage. In 4E, he can wade in, find a happily coincidental spot to stand, and watch as he sends dudes flying.

    The culture of 4E is skewed toward optimization (I’m fascinated and repulsed by this phase of the game’s release at EN World), but I think the game isn’t as dependent on it as it might seem. Finding a formidable interaction between two powers can be fun and easy in this system — the pressure to find THE BEST COMBO EVAR is illusory.

    • It’s kind of reminding me of how Magic: the Gathering evolved into a competitive game of optimizing for the best combos and killer decks versus how I played (and enjoyed it) in its early days. I *can* figure out some killer tricks and whatnot but I don’t enjoy it. I end up feeling stressed about making the “right” decisions instead of making FUN decisions. When M:tG started attracting the really hardcore math nerds who were super, super competitive (often combined with really awful social skills, like mocking and deriding the people they beat) I gave my cards away and stopped playing.

      Thankfully I can’t see D&D ending up going that far down that road!

      • The big difference is, in my experience, mechanically, Magic got far more complicated as it went along.

        At least that’s how it seemed to me, trying to learn a new edition six years after I’d first played the game…

        • Having gotten out of Magic around Ice Age, and gotten back in around Kamigawa/Ravnica, I think the perceived complexity is somewhat higher than actual complexity, except in certain edge cases. Some things got quantified that weren’t before (but everyone ignores the exact process except in tournament play – and even then, short-hands things down to their bare essentials, unless you’re playing with a pedant or aspie). Interrupts (and all their amusingness…) went away, order of event resolution changed a little, some things got more formalized, but I didn’t find it all that hard to pick up the basics of.

          There’s some tricks with the Stack that are a little counter-intuitive if you’re not used to it (putting things on the Stack in different orders can result in substantially different outcomes), and a few other things in the system itself, but that’s not where the complexity lies, really, I think.

          The complexity is in card interactions. With twenty-five some-odd thousand different cards in print – and thousands available for Standard play, let alone casual or Extended (or shudder Vintage and Legacy), there’s a lot of really weird “sooner than instant death” and “not infinite but might as well be” engines out there that can be exploited (combos and killer tricks, to use Nik’s phrasing).

          Me? I’m with Nicole. I like Magic. It’s a fun game, when everyone is on the same wavelength. It’s not so fun when some people have brought casual decks, and others have brought highly tuned, very expensive tournament decks that are 80% likely to have generated a kill on turn 5 – or won’t until turn 10, but it doesn’t matter, since you won’t be doing anything either. Combo engines can be fun to play, once in a while, and several of my decks have the tools to build one or another of them. But when your deck can be run by an Eliza script, it’s not so much fun any more, and except for decks built specifically for competition, my decks rarely rely on killer combos – they’re more likely to be toolkit decks, or theme decks.

  • I’ve been having some interesting reflections with friends lately about how we see our niches in the gaming ecology. I’m not sure that “art house” is the term I’d use – though I like it and have swiped it for my lexicon. It’s closer (IMHO) to a humanities/sciences split, that overlaps with the very original division between players following the Gygax-Arneson evolution from wargames to roleplaying and the population that came from genre fiction fandom to roleplaying.

    • I think “art house” came to mind because I was thinking about the Seattle International Film Festival this weekend, which I am missing thanks to my unexpected refrigerator replacement a couple weeks ago. I also hesitate to embrace the science/humanities split because I’m sensitive to appearing like some sort of fluffy-headed girl who hates/can’t do math or something. :) Seriously, there’s plenty of book keeping in Ars Magica and Jorune (despite its pretty pictures) isn’t all hearts and flowers and touchy-feely but people are quick to latch onto my experience with things like OtE and Everway and draw the wrong conclusion (ala Nisarg and his fixation on what he thought was my involvement in Blue Rose).

  • I’ve been having some interesting reflections with friends lately about how we see our niches in the gaming ecology. I’m not sure that “art house” is the term I’d use – though I like it and have swiped it for my lexicon. It’s closer (IMHO) to a humanities/sciences split, that overlaps with the very original division between players following the Gygax-Arneson evolution from wargames to roleplaying and the population that came from genre fiction fandom to roleplaying.

    • I think “art house” came to mind because I was thinking about the Seattle International Film Festival this weekend, which I am missing thanks to my unexpected refrigerator replacement a couple weeks ago. I also hesitate to embrace the science/humanities split because I’m sensitive to appearing like some sort of fluffy-headed girl who hates/can’t do math or something. :) Seriously, there’s plenty of book keeping in Ars Magica and Jorune (despite its pretty pictures) isn’t all hearts and flowers and touchy-feely but people are quick to latch onto my experience with things like OtE and Everway and draw the wrong conclusion (ala Nisarg and his fixation on what he thought was my involvement in Blue Rose).

    • I think “art house” came to mind because I was thinking about the Seattle International Film Festival this weekend, which I am missing thanks to my unexpected refrigerator replacement a couple weeks ago. I also hesitate to embrace the science/humanities split because I’m sensitive to appearing like some sort of fluffy-headed girl who hates/can’t do math or something. :) Seriously, there’s plenty of book keeping in Ars Magica and Jorune (despite its pretty pictures) isn’t all hearts and flowers and touchy-feely but people are quick to latch onto my experience with things like OtE and Everway and draw the wrong conclusion (ala Nisarg and his fixation on what he thought was my involvement in Blue Rose).

  • I’ve been having some interesting reflections with friends lately about how we see our niches in the gaming ecology. I’m not sure that “art house” is the term I’d use – though I like it and have swiped it for my lexicon. It’s closer (IMHO) to a humanities/sciences split, that overlaps with the very original division between players following the Gygax-Arneson evolution from wargames to roleplaying and the population that came from genre fiction fandom to roleplaying.

  • I’ve been having some interesting reflections with friends lately about how we see our niches in the gaming ecology. I’m not sure that “art house” is the term I’d use – though I like it and have swiped it for my lexicon. It’s closer (IMHO) to a humanities/sciences split, that overlaps with the very original division between players following the Gygax-Arneson evolution from wargames to roleplaying and the population that came from genre fiction fandom to roleplaying.

    • I think “art house” came to mind because I was thinking about the Seattle International Film Festival this weekend, which I am missing thanks to my unexpected refrigerator replacement a couple weeks ago. I also hesitate to embrace the science/humanities split because I’m sensitive to appearing like some sort of fluffy-headed girl who hates/can’t do math or something. :) Seriously, there’s plenty of book keeping in Ars Magica and Jorune (despite its pretty pictures) isn’t all hearts and flowers and touchy-feely but people are quick to latch onto my experience with things like OtE and Everway and draw the wrong conclusion (ala Nisarg and his fixation on what he thought was my involvement in Blue Rose).

  • While D&D was my first RPG, we quickly left it behind for others. The best campaigns I’ve played in have been Amber, Warhammer, and Vampire, and the majority of my D&D playing was with 3.x. My group played everything but D&D when I was growing up, and like you, I like/am proud of my art house background. :)

  • While D&D was my first RPG, we quickly left it behind for others. The best campaigns I’ve played in have been Amber, Warhammer, and Vampire, and the majority of my D&D playing was with 3.x. My group played everything but D&D when I was growing up, and like you, I like/am proud of my art house background. :)

  • While D&D was my first RPG, we quickly left it behind for others. The best campaigns I’ve played in have been Amber, Warhammer, and Vampire, and the majority of my D&D playing was with 3.x. My group played everything but D&D when I was growing up, and like you, I like/am proud of my art house background. :)

  • While D&D was my first RPG, we quickly left it behind for others. The best campaigns I’ve played in have been Amber, Warhammer, and Vampire, and the majority of my D&D playing was with 3.x. My group played everything but D&D when I was growing up, and like you, I like/am proud of my art house background. :)

  • Running Amber for three or four years made me a better game master.

    Playing Amber online (at AmberMUSH) introduced me to a then-unknown writer named Jim Butcher who, in turn, introduced me to the woman who would become my wife.

    So I have a great deal to thank Amber Diceless (and Roger himself) for. :)

    And as for 4e, so far it doesn’t feel much different to run the thing than it did with 3e. I suspect a lot of that is a background in games that tell you it’s OK not to be beholden to rules all of the time.

  • Running Amber for three or four years made me a better game master.

    Playing Amber online (at AmberMUSH) introduced me to a then-unknown writer named Jim Butcher who, in turn, introduced me to the woman who would become my wife.

    So I have a great deal to thank Amber Diceless (and Roger himself) for. :)

    And as for 4e, so far it doesn’t feel much different to run the thing than it did with 3e. I suspect a lot of that is a background in games that tell you it’s OK not to be beholden to rules all of the time.

  • Running Amber for three or four years made me a better game master.

    Playing Amber online (at AmberMUSH) introduced me to a then-unknown writer named Jim Butcher who, in turn, introduced me to the woman who would become my wife.

    So I have a great deal to thank Amber Diceless (and Roger himself) for. :)

    And as for 4e, so far it doesn’t feel much different to run the thing than it did with 3e. I suspect a lot of that is a background in games that tell you it’s OK not to be beholden to rules all of the time.

  • Running Amber for three or four years made me a better game master.

    Playing Amber online (at AmberMUSH) introduced me to a then-unknown writer named Jim Butcher who, in turn, introduced me to the woman who would become my wife.

    So I have a great deal to thank Amber Diceless (and Roger himself) for. :)

    And as for 4e, so far it doesn’t feel much different to run the thing than it did with 3e. I suspect a lot of that is a background in games that tell you it’s OK not to be beholden to rules all of the time.

  • Quick curiosity

    Have you ever written a review of Battlelords of the 23rd Century? I’d be interested in reading your comments on the game. Thanks!

  • Quick curiosity

    Have you ever written a review of Battlelords of the 23rd Century? I’d be interested in reading your comments on the game. Thanks!

  • Quick curiosity

    Have you ever written a review of Battlelords of the 23rd Century? I’d be interested in reading your comments on the game. Thanks!

  • Quick curiosity

    Have you ever written a review of Battlelords of the 23rd Century? I’d be interested in reading your comments on the game. Thanks!