Game Day: Our Last 4th Edition Game

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 un-fun 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 un-fun. 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 successor 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.

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