Confession: I never gave Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition a fair shake.
I didn’t read enough into it at launch, and was probably overwhelmed more by the things I heard about it from other players. When I finally got myself a copy of the Player’s Handbook, their nagging overpowered my reading. All I could see was the sacred cows slaughtered, the new system which mimicked video games to the Nth degree, and the fact that despite all the clever new approaches it wasn’t D&D.
9 Months later, I’m taking a chill pill and diving back into it. It’s had some time to get some new products going, some support from the community and after doing some honest, open minded reading I found out a lot of the problems I had with it were non-existant, just ill informed. On top of that, my current project of completely breaking down the d20 system and rebuilding it without the classes, the levels, and revamping the magic system has kinda given me some insight into what the current developers were thinking.
I’m not wanting to re-hash a review of what all has changed in D&D 4E vs. its previous editions — you can find that scattered over the net in droves. But I will say I’ve been corrected on a lot of my own beefs with the system, and the concepts that I originally criticize are now ideas I love after hearing feedback from close friends and their personal experiences.
For starters, I originally felt the new Monster Manual was rubbish and a step backwards for giving us blunt stat blocks for creatures. 3E was so awesome because you never had to encounter just a Kobold; it could be a level 2 Rogue or level 5 spell caster, or it could just be the 1 hit die low-AC fodder. Now we’re back to generic stat blocks and all monsters are the same blah blah blah. Only, it’s not that way. Maybe if I had read the Dungeon Master’s Guide a bit more than glancing at it and saying “Oh, it’s the usual how to run a game rubbish followed by the important XP and encounter tables” I would’ve noticed a section entitled Customizing Monsters that gives some pretty straight forward and easy to crunch rules to turn that standard Ork into an Orkish Warlord, quite possibly infected with Vampirism.
Character development and leveling was another subject with me. Multiclassing is a bit more restricted and toned down…and the career paths that the classes level into remind me too much of an MMO leveling scheme. But looking at how the classes function now, I see their drive. I think a bit more insight to how the classes function deserves looking into Mike Mearls’ previous work, Iron Heroes, which was a d20 system that toned the magic elements down and focussed more on the classes functioning on a more tactical manuever level. The character class system gives everyone a selection of powers and abilities to branch into a certain style, and maintain a specific role that not only benefits them but benefits the party as a whole. It is literally more teamwork focussed now….which if that ruins your narrative for your solo player-killing drow rogue/sorceror/cleric hybrid, whatever.
And speaking of those powers, the way they’re written out and the fact that the game pretty much encourages the use of keeping your abilities on cards isn’t the hinderance I thought it once was, but instead is a major plus. Whether it’s writing them down on note cards, printing them out with your character sheet or making your own crafts project out of it….it seem to be a big plus for players to have a quick referrence to their powers than having to stop and flip through the pages of the handbooks.
I think the final thing that has convinced me to give 4E another go is their online service, DNDInsider. Originally I wrote it off as nothing more than an additional cash sink that will only try to sucker players into buying more books. The only thing that appealed to me from their subscription service was the 3D Game Table they had planned, which wasn’t available at launch and from the appearance of things may have fallen off the face the planet for now.
However, the tools that ARE there, now, 9 months later, seems worth the price. For 7 bucks a month, or a year subscription equal to the cost of two of their hardcover books, you get full access to every freaking race, class, spell or item published via their online compendium. You get a character generator program that works really well, and frequent updates of all new races/classes and addons downloaded to it. On top of that, you get it presented in a way you can print out for yourself or other players. And if that’s not enough, you get access to the complete archive of Dungeon and Dragon magazines in PDF format (at least, all of the ones pertaining to 4th edition.) So, in all honesty, Wizard’s service seems more like a Frugal option for players who can’t afford all the books but want access to the new rules and add-ons.
So are you a total 4E convert now?
Fuck no. I’ve just decided what the community now dubs as the “edition wars” is stupid. All editions of the game cater to different crowds, different groups and different play styles. I’m still a rabid fan of the d20 scene for many, MANY reasons. The largest being the OGL license: The 3rd edition/d20 system rules, thanks to their open sourced nature, continue to receive publisher and community support that will keep that edition alive for years to come. We’re seeing new products on the horizong that will introduce new players to that system and still be compatible with all of the existing work that has come before it.
The 4E GSL license comes off rather fascist, but that’ll keep the D&D name brand in Wizard’s hands. Most companies don’t even put out systems and settings with 3rd party licenses, so really I can’t hold it against them much this time around. In no ways am I promoting one system over the other; use what you want to play has always been the golden rule of any gaming scenario.
Just for me, 4E does have some cool features that I over looked, and I’m perfectly willing now to put my prejudices aside to provide a fun game for my friends.