Gil Trevizo (furrylogic) wrote,
Gil Trevizo

D&D 4th Edition... hypothetically

So let's say that I have a "friend" who may have hypothetically downloaded the illegal PDF's of the new Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide, and Monster Manual, because said "friend" thought spending over one hundred dollars to check out a system they're very unsure they'll ultimately use is an absurd waste of money (although I am sure this "friend" would be very willing to pay out for the hardcover books if this "friend" ends up running more than a single one-shot of 4th Ed). And said "friend" may have spent the last couple of days reading through the Player's Handbook, and skimming over the rest. What might this "friend" think of the new system?

A tentative "meh". Not a "meh, this thing sucks but maybe there's a glimmer of hope here" but more of a "meh, the system works but the feel is all wrong for what I want to do with a fantasy setting although there is enough interesting stuff to make it worthwhile to edit it into what I want from it."

  • The core system is very streamlined and intuitive, and should be easy enough to pick up within a single session. I know this from experience based on the 4th Ed games I played at KublaCon.
  • Characters of all classes have a deep set of abilities that allows everyone to have an almost equal hand in combat, meaning that no one need sit by the sidelines waiting to heal characters or for the combat to end to recharge their spells.
  • The dynamic of healing surges, action points, and the difference between at-will, encounter, and daily powers all combine to create a game that gives players a great deal more tactical control over how their characters carry out their action, and this should trickle-down into some degree of narrative control.
  • The model of "points of light in a world overrun by dark forces" makes for a more interesting campaign setting than the usual "you start in a tavern and go from place to place killing things and taking their stuff".
  • Although the core dynamic is simple and easy-to-learn, it is instantly burdened with the plethora of special conditions that power many of the feats and powers. Even with just the core books, there's a lot to keep track of but it should be easily manageable; however, once WotC begins bloating the system with splatbooks, I'm sure that is going to change.
  • That deep set of abilities for all characters also means that no class feels as special as it did in previous editions. When most if not all characters can stand well in combat, heal others, etc. it becomes easy for the characters to become faceless and homogenized based on their stats alone. That last bit is why I don't really think this is much of a con, but I can see it being a culture shock for veteran D&D players.
  • Based on my experiences at KublaCon, it is very difficult to bring a character to a final death as long as they are near still-living comrades (particularly ones with healing powers) and not fighting against unusually bad odds (and have no way to run away). This is not necessarily a bad thing, but the system balances it out by making enemies with greater-than-expected hit points (unless they are mook-like minions) which bogs combat down into a long slugfest of attrition.
  • The art is still the angular "SCA gone wrong" with lots of buckles fetish motif of 3rd Ed, rather than the pseudo-medieval Tolkienesque look of past editions. I list this as a con as I really like the Tolkienesque look, even if it is done-to-death.
  • And my biggest con: starting characters are simply too powerful. I don't mean in stat terms, which is neither here-nor-there, but in terms of their status in the bad-ass hiearchy. A 1st level character in 4th Ed has almost as many powers, feats, and abilities as a starting character in Exalted, where the characters are meant to be superhuman combat monsters capable of levelling whole cities and punching the moon with their big toe. Whereas in previous editions, you were meant to be, at best, a veteran soldier or a novice spellcaster not too long from their bumpkin village roots, in 4th Ed you begin as a great hero with fantastic abilities. Now I suspect in play this does not seem so, as the low-level antagonists also have high hit points and access to superhuman feats; but that actually only makes the situation worse for me, as now you have characters that only look like ultimate bad-asses that end up taking forever to slaughter a measly kobold or two. I like the idea of starting small and building oneself into a paragon full of wonders, but 4th Ed wants to skip that part and get directly into the bad-assitude. That's not necessarily a bad thing (and, as some folks on web forums have pointed out, makes 4th Ed a good choice to revive the old Birthright campaign setting), but that's not really what I've been looking for.
So all in all, "meh"... hypothetically.
Tags: dungeons & dragons, gaming
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