First: The Rant
So in light of my recent D&D 4th Edition enthusiasm, I’ve been asked if I’m converted from the d20 System/3rd edition rules. My answer: WTF do you mean “converted”?
If you mean converted in the sense of going from hater to fan, yeah sure. If you mean I’m going to go gaga and denounce the older editions, you can bugger off. I’m still a pretty big d20 fan and while 4E is the “new” iteration of the D&D brand, in my mind I feel it’s still rooted in the d20 system enough to be enjoyable while offering something different. I put it up there with Mutants & Masterminds, Iron Heroes, Arcana Evolved and the others. To be honest, I only really loved d20 because of the fact it COULD be morphed and homebrewed and altered into so many different things, yet still keep the same charm to it. 4E is a byproduct of that; and as someone who constantly looked for new variants to play 3E, 4E felt right at home for me.
Now, the Comparison.
I think I figured out how to explain my feelings now on the two games. I keep reading about how people feel the new system limits them in the game they want to be playing. Personally, I subscribe to the school of thought that a good GM will run a good game regardless if it’s Big Eyes Small Mouth, GURPS, RIFTS or RISUS. I will say 4E caters to a particular style and that some settings I definitely wouldn’t consider it.
So which edition is right for your campaign? Well, I’m going to compare them both as if they were cover art.
d20 System, if it was cover art, would fit beautifully on novels of the likes of George R.R. Martin, Terry Goodkind and, of course, the late Robert Jordan. (Hey, what do ya know, two of those authors did have RPG’s based on their work using the d20 system!). It is a work that is elaborate, detailed, and at times realistic. Even when Magic and beasts of fable are involved, it’s very vivid.
Dungeons & Dragons 4E, if it were cover art, would probably embrace the covers of epic Heavy Metal albums. The visuals focus less on details of surrounding and more on details of actions, of raw emotion and the visceral carnage that’s in store. While d20 painted us images of people who are part of the world, 4E seems to put the emphasis that the characters are the world and are really badass right from the get go.
Needless to say, the two styles appeal to two different attitudes. I happen to enjoy them both for their own things. If I was going to run a deep, seriously toned campaign with an emphasis on the details, character development and world events….d20 wins. If I want to run a campaign of Heroics, bad-assery and having my players walking away with the same shit-eating grins you’d see on a couple of Dwarves who just won a pub brawl….4E.