Wednesday, June 18, 2008 - 11:52 AM

Well, the day of 4ed is here, and I have been giving the system a look. I've only run one test session so far, but the rules set is fairly comprehensive, and I believe I have a fair idea how things balance out, at least at the low-mid levels.

First off, I've mentioned this to a few people, but it bears repeating. My advice to people is to stop sitting 4ed next to 3.5. They are different games, almost entirely. Sure, some of the mechanics are similar, but they are just not the same. The power scaling is utterly different, the focus of play is different, and the balancing is different. You're better off looking at 4ed as an entirely new rule set for old material.

Some will say, but wait! DnD is about combat. 4ed is just more tactics and combat. Well, yes, it is. Emphasis on tactical action is pretty much the core of 4ed, though I'll point out that tactics certainly existed in 3.5. The difference here is that in 3rd, it is all about what a character can do, and all the options available to build that character. In 4ed, it's all about what the group can do, and the game revolves around tactical combat. This is further emphasized by the stripping down of skill sets and the compartmentalizing of player character classes into very specific roles. My suspicions at this point are also that in order for a group to be viable at higher levels, they must learn to act as a group. This was not as important in 3.5.

In some cases you can regard this as a natural evolution of the super-specialization that tended to occur in 3.5. With so many options available to customize a character, the usual result is characters focused on one aspect of their abilities to the point of exclusion, building glass cannons which then in turn need a group to function outside of theoretical number-crunching exercises.

In any case, I won't be converting my long-running campaign to 4ed. As it turns out, some sorts of characters simply can't mechanically exist in 4ed, for one. I am going to be playing around with 4ed some more, and I'm looking forward to seeing how it ticks. There are a few items about 4ed that I do not like, however.

First, I have a powerful loathing for the tone of writing in any of the core books, especially the PHB. It is an eye-gouging non-stop advertisement about how awesome the game is and how you should want to play it. Sure, this might be fine for trying to open up to new audiences, but I found it annoying. I'd go into a few specifics, but it is seriously not worth commenting on.

Second, though I applaud the overall balance of this edition, it is very clear what the business model is for 4ed. Limited power sets and cookie-cutter characters ensure that people will be champing at the bit for new power lists when new books come out, and if the designers can keep the same balance after a couple splatbooks, I'll be daunted and impressed, because I certainly have my doubts about that. It will be the feat-glut all over again; when you generate 200+ set character abilities meant to diversify and enhance, you will invariably have a large chunk of them which are simply better to take, and the rest will end up ignored. In 4ed, this is very significant, because mechanical differences in a character concept will be very rare unless people decide to take the subpar powers anyway. But why should you?

This is tied into the notion that mechanics can, in fact, influence the general mood of a game, which is something I strongly believe. But that's for another entry.

Also for next time, but briefly posted here: For all those who participated in the Prince of Redhand dinner party, you all were awesome. Without such good PCs and NPCs, the event would not have been nearly so spectacular. Thank you.


At June 30, 2008 8:09 AM, Blogger MCHossman said...

Thought I might drop in a make a few comments with you. We've spoken at length about the pros and cons we've seen in the 4E system and such. I, personally, skipped out on most if not all of the 3rd/3.5 edition DnD and still have a hard time accepting the new ruleset as DnD. Now, as yet, I've not actually been able to play 4E yet, but it certainly feels/reads different than any DnD that I can relate to.

Each class has roughly 2-4 pages of description followed by 6-8+ pages of class ability powers that they can choose from. The problem that I find with these powers is that because they've tried to keep the descriptions to a minimum (and because they mimic each other) they each read as the same power with a few different adjectives thrown around or an additional +1 here or there. When you do read through all the powers, you do get the sense that they have attempted to usurp the Exalted system of powers only to negate the flare of magic that happens around them when they are put into use.

They do this for the 30 levels of play that a player can achieve, which seems silly to me because they've promised that they'll be putting out the three core books every year or so. Why not just keep the heroic and paragon tiers in the first printing and put out the epic level tiers in a later printing? I know I'm advocating for more books to be purchased but it seems to me that it is only reasonable to start a new system and a new game in at the ground level or at the maximum 3rd level. Ease into it, learn the basics before you start tripping daisies while attempting to give Vecna a St. Cuthberting (or whatever 4E Epic adventures have in store for you).

I like the tactical idea of combat, I'm not so sure of how the powers affect this but I can live with it 'till I get a broader view as to how it works. I also dig the passive skill checks, this tact is so simple and makes such obvious sense that one wonders why it was never thought of/printed before.

I like your comments on the new systems 'reaction' to the super-specialization of 3rd/3.5 and the glass cannon effect. I also see how the 'new' and 'proven' way of gaming companies to stay solvent in printing out rubbish books by packing them with redundant and special powers to supe your character up when all you really need is an artist to add more skulls or fangs/spikes to things.

Jaded enough? It's a Monday, what can I say...


At June 30, 2008 8:11 AM, Blogger MCHossman said...

This post has been removed by the author.


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