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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

Wizards launches D&D 4E Test Drive

by Ken Newquist / April 29, 2009

Thinking of trying out Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition, but don't want to layout money for books? Then check out Wizards of the Coast's new D&D Test Drive, a free set of downloads that includes:

  • Quicstart Rules
  • H1 Keep on the Shadowfell
  • Pregenerated characters
  • The free version of the D&D Character Builder (for character levels 1-3)

Quickstart editions are nothing new -- most of the big games out there (and many of the small ones) have such creatures available for download. The nice thing here is that they've coupled the quickstart rules with a full commerical-grade module in the form of Keep on the Shadowfell. Without having checked out the rules or the module, I'll go out on a limb and say giving would-be players a quick-and-easy way to jump into the world's most popular RPG is a good thing for the game and the industry.

My only wish is that they would have tied this into the Worldwide D&D Game Days (of which there are two more, one for Monster Manual 2 on May 23rd and another for Dungeon Master's Guide 2 on September 19th). It seems like a no brainer to me -- hook people with a good Game Day story, then real them in with the free online content that extends that story -- but alas, I don't run that particualar zoo.



Once Again, Bob is right. Such would have alerted them to the negative reaction of many. Of course, methinks the decision to write us off as customers had already been made.

Yeah, I don't quite get the logic of releasing it a year *after* the game came out. I can undersrtand not wanting to cannabalize sales of "Keep on the Shadowfell", but hell, how much effort would it have taken to put together these quick play rules and a different sample dungeon?

Give people enough to play up to 3rd level (wasn't that what the original boxed set did, or was that 5th? It's been so long... I may be thinking of 3rd level spells...) and help augment that initial 4E buzz.

Releasing it now is nice, but I agree it would have been more effective as part of the original release.

I think Evil Genius is saying they should have released it to pump up the initial 4E release, not as a playtest. I don't think they were ignorant of the negative reaction 4E would elicit from some players -- the project was 2-3 years in the making, and I think they were well aware of the sort of reaction they'd get (though I don't know if they foresaw the full intensity of the Edition Wars).

Hard to see, the dark side is. I choose to believe that the marketing dept. at WotC won the argument over those wanting to maintain D+D's identity (i.e. those who played and loved the game) It was believed that more money could be made if they went this way.

I've spent a goodly amount of time listening to 4E commentaries by the developers, both on Wizards site, and elsewhere, and I think the designers are really into 4E (and quite proud of it). I don't doubt they were given directives from on high to make some pretty radical changes to D&D, but at the same time, I think they went for it whole hog. 

If you look at the names on the books, most of the "old timers" are people like Bruce Cordell who were involved in some of the more fringe mechanics in 3E (like psionics). Mike Mearls was brought in, IMHO, expressly because he'd spent so much time hacking on 3E for Iron Heroes (if you squint, I think you can see the reflections of Iron Heroes in 4E, though it is a distant reflection).

The thing is, for plenty of people, 4E is D&D. I've ran into plenty who love the powers system, who find it to be more loyal to the original D&D rules (at least in intent) than 3E, so I don't think it's fair to say that the game's been entirely co-opted by the Forces of Marketing.

[shrug] I've got a column in mind discussing the 3E vs. 4E mindset (not as an antagonistic sort of thing, more of a 3E fans are from Saturn, 4E fans are from Jupiter kind of thing) so I'll save the rest of my thoughts on this particular topic for another day.

I shall Await your article. I shall try to keep an open mind. But, I must say, I cannot see how any right thinking individul can find 4e more D+D like than 3e.

"I don't think they were ignorant of the negative reaction 4E would elicit from some players -- the project was 2-3 years in the making, and I think they were well aware of the sort of reaction they'd get (though I don't know if they foresaw the full intensity of the Edition Wars)."

Interesting. I haven't sought out any info from the designers for several years now, nor have I payed any attention to 4e or the 'state of d&d' in a long time.

Ken, do you get a sense from what you've heard that the designers have any regrets about 4e? That they went to far to 'remake' the game? That it was a mistake to kick out the 'ol'timers'? Or is the attitude just a shrug and callous disregard? (we knew SOME people wouldn't like it....)?

I haven't heard any regrets from designers about 4E or its radical changes from 3E. If they have them, they aren't talking about them publically. They have talked, pretty honestly I think, about the problem areas they've run into with 4E. These include certain holes in the magic item line-up at the epic tier, the wonkiness of minions at higher levels (especially at the epic tier) and initial math problems with skill challenges. 

They haven't talked about the PR snafus leading up to 4E, though I think some of the more recent posts on D&D Insider and the Wizards web site have gone out of their way to connect 4E to earlier editions and the larger tradition of the hobby.

At this point though, I think the designers are all showing solidarity with 4E, and I haven't even heard anything negative from those who've been let go from Wizards (not surprising, given that people generally avoid burning their bridges).

And the thing is, for the most part 4E is working for them. It's been my experience that people who like 4E REALLY like 4E. What they're doing (at least mechanics wise) has been working for their core audience.  I'm sure that they would love it if they could get a few more 3E people to join their band wagon (and I suspect a few did with PHB 2, which introduce primal-type classes like barbarian and druid) but there have been no course corrections that I can see. Mechanically, the game is what it is and while some old favorites have recently returned to the game (e.g. summoning spells and familiars in Arcane Power) they do so in a decidedly 4E fashion.

My guess is that at this point, they're happy to have the 3E diehards move to True20 and Pathfinder.