Friday, January 7, 2011

The Song Remains the Same - At Least Until 4e

I'm enjoying the idea of stealing song titles for blog post headers ;)

Anyhow, after looking at the ever expanding list of Dungeons & Dragons editions and derivatives, I was struck at how the underlying rules hadn't changes much until 4e.

Yes, they were added to, and built upon, but the OGL showed how easy it was to take 3.5e and boil it down to it's base roots. Thus we have the OSR.

4e makes a fairly clean break from it's predecessors, and with the exception of the six core stats, it's hard to draw a direct connection to those that came before it. This doesn't make it any less D&D then the others necessarily, but I can see why those that started earlier then 4e often have a difficulty in making the connection.

Up until 3.5, all versions of D&D were different dialects of the same language. 4e changed to a new language with distant roots. Or something like that. I think I'm still tired from my job's After the Holiday Party last nite ;)


  1. I've been running a 4e game at my local game shop for a few months now, and my last experience with D&D was when the game had an "A" in front of it. My sense is that 4e has a lot in common with the 3rd Edition that I never played, but has been completely rebuilt and streamlined to remove fiddly bits that didn't serve the creative agenda that Wizards of the Coast wanted to emphasize in this edition. The new creative agenda is pure and merciless Gamism, a style of play in which most of what had gone before is irrelevant.

    In fact, much of what remains is still irrelevant. The ability scores, for instance, very rarely factor into play except in a highly-reformulated form. You could pretty much jettison the ability scores and just subtract ten from the Fortitude, Reflex, and Will scores as the bonuses to any action in the game: derive Hit Points from Fortitude, Initiative from Reflex, Perception and Insight from Will, plus any relevant skills.

    There's no way I could use 4th edition D&D to introduce people to the hobby, unless we were using pre-generated characters (as we are in the Encounters game I run). I find that creating characters is a great first step for introducing game concepts in a light and meaningful way, in that it focuses only on mechanics related to the choices at hand, guided by the interests of the player. But building a 4e character is too much for me! I guess that's why so many people rely on the online character builder, but this aspect is a deal-breaker for me as a GM. Compare T&T in which the choices at hand for a new player are simple and contain immense potential without bogging down your limited time with selecting feats and powers sight-unseen. It's the same with leveling up, only on a smaller scale.

    What I like about 4th edition at the table is the implementation of distinctive rolls for each player and monster character. If you must have a game that is mainly about tactical combat challenges, the action taxonomy of Defenders, Strikers, Controllers, Leaders, Skirmishers, Minions, Lurkers, Solos, Brutes, et cetera, is very effective at providing a menu of relevant options for various types of combatant. In T&T, these distinctions are mostly based on how the player chooses to personalize and narrate her character's actions, within combat and beyond, and there is no fixed menu to choose from (that's a feature in my book). For monsters in T&T, it is sometimes fun to riff off the 4th Edition paradigm, and provide them with roll-based powers triggered by spite.

  2. Oops! I meant "role-based powers". I'm actually surprised to find the comment posted, since my browser crashed when I clicked "Post".


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