Monday 2 November 2009

4th Edition still divides opinion

4th Edition D&D was announced at Gen Con in August 2007 and Published in June 2008. Since that release date this version of the oldest Roleplaying game of them all has divided opinion... at least it has within my gaming group. So at long last I have decided to Review 4th Edition and list what we like & dislike about it. The Evil GM says "In my view, D&D 4e has gone back basics, resembling a skirmish wargame far more then previous editions. The focus is definitely on action rather than roleplaying". I'm inclined to agree, but I don't necessarily think that's a good thing. Here are some pros and cons for 4E.

  • Pros
  • They really worked hard on the behind-the-scenes maths on this edition to ensure the game 'works' at all levels. By their own admission in previous editions the game tended to break down at higher levels. Now the game is underpinned by a hard and fast mathematical framework.
  • There are now hard and fast rules governing monster creation. Prior to 3e monster creation was somewhat arbitrary with designers picking stats that just seemed right. 3e treated monsters as characters which was a step in the right direction but too complicated. 4e recognises they are different to PC's, but still gives a solid set of rules/guidelines to build them with.
  • The level progression has been reworked to give much smoother, even progress rather then the big power jumps you got in previous editions. There is something to look forward to at every level unlike in earlier editions.
  • I think combat has been dramatically enhanced with the whole Powers concept, all characters now have various options to use in combat giving you choices, and all have the potential to be the star in any battle.
  • Combat seems to be far more mobile and tactical that in previous editions, that frequently seemed to bog down into a series of hit and damage rolls.
  • Magic items have been toned down so they take a back seat, just giving extra options or enhancements, rather than defining a PC as often happened previously.
  • The new core races are interesting and exciting to explore but they should have been additions to the existing races rather than replacing some.

  • Cons
  • First off a new edition means new books. The price for the set isn't too bad but when you realise all your old books are now next to useless... If your a GM with lots of sourcebooks upgrading to 4e is gonna hurt.
  • Traditional core D&D races and classes are missing from the PHB. They have been reintroduced in the PHB II but that makes the three book set actually a four book set if you want your legacy options.
  • On the down side the proliferation of choices and options actually seem to blur the distinctions between classes somewhat, making many seem quite samey.
  • There are far less skills which improves simplicity, but often removes differentiations. You can't have an eagle-eyed PC who is deaf as a post for example as both senses are covered by perception.
  • The default game is very magic rich, pretty much every PC has plenty of obviously magic powers making it very hard to run a low magic, low fantasy game.
  • All this emphasis on "getting the maths right" has shifted the focus of the game to combat meaning Roleplaying has taken a back seat compared to earlier editions of the game.
  • Character & Race options are radically different from 'legacy' D&D making this feel like a totally different game from the moment you open the PHB.
  • Skill challenges seem too contrived and the few our group has done just felt wrong. I like the concept of a skill challenge being an encounter in its own right but in reality it just doesn't seem to work.
  • This is both a Pro and a Con - The Digital initiative with "D&D Insider" is a radical shift from the past. Universally our group like the Character Generator but are indifferent to the Compendium and the Digital Gametable. For cash strapped gamers, paying for Insider may be a step too far after you've bought the three (read 'four') core rulebooks etc.
  • D&D has always been a Pen & Paper Roleplaying Game... now it feels (and seems to be designed) like a computer based skirmish wargame.

What I would say in summary is that 4e does exactly what it says on the tin. It is now very firmly an action RPG with focus on combat. It also represents somewhat of a revolution over previous editions, not being afraid to totally redesign or even throw out many concepts found in earlier editions and drawing heavily on concepts from computer based RPG's and CCG's. On balance our group seems to accept that 4e improves and fixes far more than it breaks but it is still a world away from the D&D we grew up with.

Thanks to all the Dagenham Dungeon Delvers for their assistance putting this review together.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you very much: all your observations are most useful.

    One thing that got me was the actual book (PHB) - trawling through the 3/3.5e books was a genuine treat, both linguistically and visually, but it seemes to have been monumentally cheapened for the new version - even to the point whereby the fonts themselves seem cheap (don't get me started on the illustrations).

    That said, however, your combined feedback has made me want to pick it up again and give it another try.

    Thank you.

    - Chris.


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