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"Goodbye, Jean-Luc, I'm gonna miss you. You had such potential. But then again, all good things must come to an end."
- Q, Star Trek: TNG

Game Day: Our Last 4th Edition Game

by Ken Newquist / August 29, 2008

Today is the last day of our D&D 4th Edition playtest campaign. After adventuring across two Alternative Material Planes and Sigil, City of Doors, we've decided to leave the game with a bang. We've advanced our heroes from 2nd to 9th level to try out some higher level play as they liberate the ancient ziggurat of Tal-Zek from the undead menace that's occupied it.

The end of the campaign also means the end of our experiment with 4th Edition as the group voted not to convert our regular campaign to 4E. There were many reasons for the collective no vote, but in the biggest one was simply that the group felt that the changes in 4E Edition are just far too sweeping to be compatible with the spirit and style of our long-running World of Greyhawk campaign.
None of us, 4E proponents included, could imagine replacing the archmage Mordenkainen’s 40+ spells per day and vast library of arcane spellcasting knowledge with the handful of at-will, encounter and daily powers that even a 30th level wizard gets in 4th Edition. But more than that, our Greyhawk has evolved a certain level of detail, a certain level of customization that 4E can’t match, and likely never will. While I know that 4E will become more robust as additional supplements are released, our problems with it are structural. The diminished skill list, the loss of Vancian magic, and the greatly-reduced multiclassing options are all changes that were made on purpose to 4E's rule set. This is simply the way they do things now, and while that may work for some games, the general sense is that 4E would reduce our Greyhawk campaign to a shadow of it’s former self and transform it into something we wouldn’t want to play.
This vote doesn’t come as a surprise to me. Three weeks into the playtest we already had two players who simply said they wouldn’t play 4E. By week three we’d lost one of our 4E playtesters to disinterest. Given that we’d decided before the playtest that we’d only convert if we had a unanimous vote, this state of affairs pretty much guaranteed that we wouldn’t switch editions.
It wasn’t just the new rules though. Wizards of the Coasts approach to promoting the new edition ahead of its release, talking up 4E while trashing 3E, rubbed a lot of us the wrong way. The preview books talked about dropping skills like "craft" and "profession" that no one ever used, adding that if you did use them, you weren't in a fun game. Considering they've almost always had a roll in our games, that stung. While some are ho-hum over the loss of the barbarian, bard, druid and monk classes, those are all classes that are actively in use in our campaign. Indeed if I upgraded our Dark City campaign to 4E, I'd have to stop playing my half-elf bard Thom Silverbow. Hell, I couldn't even play a hack of him as a rogue, since 4E doesn't have any sort of Performance skills!

Moreover, the way they decided to kill the classes, by consistently and repeatedly beating up the bard as an unfun character class, and lamenting the cleric's  need to constantly burn spells on healing, etc., infuriated those of us who prefer a non-combat, diplomacy-oriented or support-style characters.

It felt like Wizards was saying "3E is unfun. 4E is fun. Play 4E. Comply." I can understand wanting to build up your new game before a release, but tearing down a much-loved old one, especially one played for 8+ years by your most dedicated fans, was a bad move. It prejudiced a good chunk of our group against the new edition before it was even released.

We all tried to put aside those feelings prior to the playtest (some more successfully than others) but ultimately the rules were just too much of a disconnect for a majority of our players.

That said, there are a number of us who liked 4E (and at least one or two who loved it) and we may continue our Planetorn playtest campaign as a series of one shots. We're interested in seeing how the game plays at the paragon and epic levels, and indeed, tonight's game will be a setup for those later playtests. For my part I plan to keep up with the game. I'll likely buy PHB 2, the Eberron campaign book, and perhaps one of the martial or arcane supplements, but I have no expectation of playing it on a regular basis.
As for what our group is going to do next -- there's a lot of interested in a Pathfinder playtest, and I expect we'll be running some one shots of Paizo's sucessor to D&D 3.x in coming months. We also plan to run a playtest campaign once the final ruleset is released in August 2009.

There's a lot of time between now and then though, and what we've decided to do is to quickly wrap up things in our D&D 3.5 Dark City campaign, and then do something entirely different: a year-long Star Wars: Saga Edition campaign set in the Knights of the Old Republic era. All of us liked the new Saga Edition (hell, if 4E played like Saga, I bet we'd be converting) and it was the one game everyone was excited to play.


I'm not sorry at all to see 4e get voted down. I just don't feel its a very compelling game.

I have played D&D all the way back to Basic (the Red boxed set). Every version. Most of the variants (even with Skills and Powers for a while). 4e scores the lowest out of any of them, IMO. I would rather play ANY prior version of D&D than 4e.

And I've played a ton of other systems, too. I'd also mostly prefer to play those other systems instead of 4e.

There is a great 'dumbing down' occurring in our general culture. I've always been proud that in geekdom things tended to go the opposite way, getting more complex, more intricate.

I don't necessarily fault WotC for wanting to appeal to a broader audience. It is, after all, how you make money. But I'm not part of that broader audience. And I lament that there are fewer and fewer people of like mind ...

"if 4E played like Saga, I bet we'd be converting"

Hell yes we'd be converting! Instead we're going to put D&D on hold for a year.

A year without D&D! Staunch supporters of the brand, going away for a year to do something else!

I sense a great disturbance in the Force, as though 6 or 7 Geeks all cried out at once ....

I don't think a reduction in complexity between editions a sign of the impending intellectual collapse of America (or geek sub culture).

After all, 3E was considerably less complex than 2E in terms of core mechanics (Thac0, Weapon speeds, Save vs. Paralyzation anyone?). Hell, the simplification of those mechanics was a big reason for us upgrading (never mind that it had four rules for everything because of its iterative rules base). Yes, complexity was added in other places, but overall, I think 3E was streamlined ... but streamlined in a way we liked.

And if they had gone the Saga Edition route, things would also have been simplified. Getting rid of the rough spots of 3E, after all, is what both Saga and 4E are about, and their approach to that was streamlining the mechanics.

But honestly, after 2+ months of playtesting I don't know that 4E really is any less complex than 3E at the table. The reduction of individual character complexity is offset by the shear amount of "stuff" flying around (e.g. marks, powers triggering maneuvers or healing surges, conditions, etc).

Out-of-combat options are greatly reduced, and there are no cool new mechanics to encourage role-playing at the table (unlike, say, Cortex and Battlestar Galactica or the various story games), but net-net, I think it's still one hell of a complicated game.

As much as I dislike doing so, I'll hold my nose and agree with bob. Not that I disagree with ken, all the 'stuff' involved in even a simple combat (say 6 or 8 goblins or kobalds or orcs or skeletons or brigands) does seem to get to be alot of complex fast, but it's a "everyone gets a whack at the pinata" complexity. The system bogs down in its inclusiveness and loses its heroic feel.

Maylock, you haven't agreed with anything I've said in the last 20ish years!

I'm writing this down in my daily journal! :p

"3E was considerably less complex than 2E in terms of core mechanics (Thac0, Weapon speeds, Save vs. Paralyzation anyone?). "

I call bullshit! :p

Some core mechanics were streamlined so that they worked better or just removed, like the ones you mention: THACO, weapon speeds and saves.

But from a character creation standpoint and combat options standpoint things got a LOT more complex.

On the character side:
1) Feats!!!
2) Skill points
3) Expanded character class abilities
4) Wide open multiclassing
5) Prestige classes

and on the combat side:
1) Attacks of Opportunity
2)Combat maneuvers: bull rush, grapple, charge
3) Combat conditions (ie sickened, shaken, panicked)
4) Damage reduction

and on the magic side:
1) 'stack' effect rules
2) item creation rules

You've floated the 2e/3e was as drastic as 3e/4e argument before and the more I think about it, the more I disagree. If 4e hadn't completely ditched the magic system used (and tweaked) for the last 30 years, then I might be inclined to agree.

The incremental change approach is always less of a change than the reboot approach.

"I don't think a reduction in complexity between editions a sign of the impending intellectual collapse of America (or geek sub culture)."

You've got the causality wrong. The signs of impending intellectual collapse are all around us in every aspect of culture and have been for decades now. The signs are nigh indisputable.

I don't mean to be rude, but if you don't think so, then your circle of acquaintances isn't large enough. Not that there's anything wrong with that! I certainly attempt to isolate myself from the masses as much as possible!!

But the general intellectual decline of American Culture is, at this point, a fairly well-established theory. You know, like the theory of evolution.

As for the impact on gaming, we've all read the designers statements. We've all read the books. We've all talked about how to grow the 'geek culture' (and find new gamers). And we've all acknowledged that the market for reading intensive, complex games with a steep learning curve is a shrinking market.

That's why 4e made the choice to make a non-reading intensive game with a much flatter learning curve. I won't say that it's incredibly less complex in play. But it it considerably less complex in character development.

Call it what you like, but you've got to admit that 2E had a bewildering array of choices for character creation from the core rules to supplemental "guide" books with their myriad broken kits to "Tome of Magic" to the much-discussed "Player's Option" books.

When you have six characters at the table, and each was built using a different set of rules, all of which are legal, IMHO that means that you've got one crazy-ass complex system (and very broken one).

3E fixed that by distilling what worked in 2E, and combined it with some inspired game design that I happily admit yielded a huge diversity of characters. But each of those characters could come to the table and still *work* because the rules they were based on were part of a coherent whole.

Finally, my point in comparing the 3E and 4E transitions is not to say that they were equally radical changes -- they weren't -- but that each had its major upheavals. 4E's may be an order of magnitude larger, but 3E's were still pretty damn big.

[[shrug]] Honestly, the thing that frustrates me most about 4E is arguing about it. I'm going to be very happy to finally turn the page on the whole thing and move on to something else.

One thing that I do think it's important to note is that everything is not necessarily cool and froody with 3.5 either. We've got a least two people in the group who are frustrated with that edition, perhaps frustrated enough not to want to play it.

For my part, while I personally like D&D 3.5, I am ready for a break and have been for a while. I'm not thrilled with how that break came about, but I'm looking forward to a year of something other than D&D.

I think it's going to be a great opportunity for all of us to recharge our gaming batteries, and spend some time playing something very different from the campaign we've known and loved for the last decade.

[[shrug]] Honestly, the thing that frustrates me most about 4E is arguing about it. I'm going to be very happy to finally turn the page on the whole thing and move on to something else.

This is what Moths was always frustrated with. Now that I've tried 4e for a while, and ok with it as an alternative game I completely agree. After a year of debating and arguing about the game it's going to be nice to put it to the side and play something different until the dust clears. I just don't want to argue with the various members of the group anymore.

"I just don't want to argue with the various members of the group anymore."