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D&D 4.0 - Brilliance from Sean Reynolds

I've copied this from the comments in seankreynolds's entry on 4E and the "revised" archons, simply because it's so utterly brilliant, and because it completely expresses the way I feel about the apparent design decisions in 4E. It's down a ways in the comments, but I encourage you to read all of the comments.

I don't dislike 4E - but I have a lot of cognitive dissonance every time I play. I have to deliberately sit myself down and remind myself that this is a whole new game, and not D&D as I've known it for 30+ years. I still get that jarring "step off an unexpected curb" sensation dozens of time per game, as core concepts kinda leap up and moon me with either their radical changes or complete disappearance.

The game has intrinsic value and playability, but the only reason it's called D&D is because that IP is owned by the people who put out the game. Any other similarities appear to be entirely coincidental.

Sean says:
Let's say I like muscle cars, the Chevy Camaro in particular. I've been buying a new Chevy Camaro every 10 years because I know the company, I know the machine, I like how it handles, I like the slight upgrades. Then 2008 rolls around and Chevy is trying to get me excited about the new Camaro (though they sold me one just three years ago). Except this "Camaro" "muscle car" is actually a Geo Metro that they stuck the name "Camaro" on.

A Geo Metro has very little to do with a Chevy Camaro. They're both cars, sure, but one is a muscle car, and the other is a highly fuel-efficient lightweight supermini. Heck, the Metro isn't technically a Chevrolet, it's a Suzuki.

I, as the long-term, brand-aware Camaro buyer, is pissed that they're calling this new car a Camaro. It's not a damn Camaro!

You, as the relative newcomer to the car scene, may have driven a real Camaro before or at least ridden in one, but you don't really car, you just want a car you can drive. You try out and like the new "Camaro" (i.e., Suzuki), like it, and buy it. You wanted a light, fuel-efficient small car, and it's perfect for you.

My CDs play in my car and your car. I can even hang my fuzzy dice from your rear-view mirror. We both drive using the same general rules of the road, though my acceleration, mileage, seating capacity, and crash survivability may be different than yours.

I'm not stupid for liking the original Camaro.
You're not stupid for liking the new *choke* Camaro-Suzuki.
But Chevy is stupid for trying to call its new non-Camaro car a Camaro and expecting its existing customers to swallow that one whole. If they called the new car a Cappucino and stopped producing the old Camaros, you'd still have angry fans of the old Camaro model but you wouldn't be insulting their intelligence by insisting that the supermini was really a Camaro.


I'm not stupid for liking 3e.
You're not stupid for liking 4e.
Wizards is stupid for changing so many things in D&D to fit their definition of what D&D should be, ignoring that the existing players have been playing D&D the previous way for 30 years and might not want to change that.



Jan. 19th, 2009 04:42 pm (UTC)
I like the stepping off the curb analogy. I found that some of my friends who were at first gung-ho on the 4E bandwagon are now not so gung-ho. Time will tell.
Jan. 19th, 2009 05:45 pm (UTC)
I'm sorta there myself. Before it came it out, mostly from what I heard online, I was against 4e. Then after playing it I became a fan, so much easier to prep for when running a game. But now that I've had time to sit with it awhile, I find that while it is a fine game and all it's not what I go for when I want to run a game. It feels too contrived maybe, like I'm constantly aware of the game part of it rather loosing oneself in the gaming experience, if that makes any sense.
I still have problems/concerns with play in 3.0/3.5 especially at high levels, but I guess when it comes down to it, games like 3rd edition or Chaosium's Basic Roleplay, are just more my style when it comes to Fantasy RPGs.
Jan. 19th, 2009 06:48 pm (UTC)
You know, it's funny, before browsing the flist today I just wrote about how I am liking 4th so much better than 3.5 (and why). Maybe, I don't know, I felt preserving the "inherent D&Dness" was not inherently important if you could make a fun game out of the basic principles of such.

In a way, and I'm not meaning insult but observation, it's weird to see an argument about preserving inherent D&Dness coming from you. I dunno, I seem to recall that you felt playing a game that wasn't quite D&D was better than playing a game that was wholly D&D, since there's something lowbrow implied about the act of playing D&D (as compared to, say, a more agile indy type game).

Off to actually read that comments thread now though, it looks interesting.
Jan. 19th, 2009 07:25 pm (UTC)
Heh. I'll have to go read your entry.

Yeah, I know what you mean about it being odd to see this argument from me. In general I'm much more interested in faster, lighter, less in-the-way systems. It's not that I think D&D is lowbrow... it's just that there's so much else out there that I think people are missing if they never look beyond D&D.

I have a long-time love/hate relationship with D&D. I've been playing since the red/blue box days, and have had pretty serious objections to the mechanics all along. 2nd edition was too patchwork and inconsistent - it left me saying "You can't apply logic to D&D" because, well, you couldn't. I was initially thrilled with 3rd edition because of the clear and deliberate internal logic. I also loved that the dev team (brilliant folks all - my endless admiration for them) sat down and seriously examined the elements that made D&D D&D and not something else, and incorporated those with a better mechanic.

None of which made me like endless combats with the D20 whiff factor, or that low level characters were too incompetent (You know you're low level when your animals fight better than you do) and it became almost impossibly difficult to challenge characters after 14th level or so. I wasn't thrilled that 3.5 "fixed" so many things that I had to look *everything* up. One of the things I liked about 3.0 was that I could pretty much learn the formulae and know how things worked.

I'm conflicted about 4E. On the one hand, I like the engine. It has an elegance and relative simplicity that I admire. As a GM, that's a gift. It looks like generating encounters (and challenges) is a piece of cake. Combat is a *little* faster (we are, after all, still learning how things work). It's more like the kind of system I like - streamlined, speedy.

On the other hand... it's just not D&D. As Sean was saying, other than the name and some very broad tropes, all of the history that made D&D what it was has been disregarded if not deliberately chucked.

Dammit, clerics heal people, turn undead and draw others to their religion. Wizards cast spells; Fighters kill things; Thieves (rogues) are sneaky, deal with traps and can get in and out of things - and steal things. That's D&D. Everything else is extra. D&D is a class/level based game with well defined class roles.

The fact that none of these things (except fighters killing things) seem to be present drives me nuts. Which is a short drive in a fast car.

To be fair, a good GM can build a world and story despite any system. It's best, in fact, if the system stays out of their way and does its job in the background. Your game is an excellent example (my fit about exp lag aside - personal problem, not yours).

However... I agree with the commenter who said that combat takes them "out" of the game. I would so much rather spend my time interacting with the other characters and environment in character instead of counting squares and figuring out if NOW is the time to use that daily power that will suck rocks if it fails... It seems to me that the system enforces that approach - it's a strategic wargame at its heart, and role playing and all are fine, but not important.

Which leads me to my final, somewhat circular point... I suppose that 4E may actually be "purer" classic D&D than any of the interim iterations. D&D came out of wargaming, and the central principle always was and still is: Kill things and take their stuff. (the absence of most of the iconic D&D tropes aside)

I guess some of my nostalgia isn't for D&D per-se, so much as it is for the kinds of games we played with it. It feels like the new system is trying to force me to play the wargame it is at heart, not the game I want to play.
Jan. 19th, 2009 08:00 pm (UTC)
OK, I'm going to annoyingly focus on one thing.

Your objection to the 4th ed cleric.

1) Clerics heal people: well, they still do this. It happened in the game yesterday as a matter of fact. Only difference is they use that person's own healing surge. This may seem like "they aren't really healing that person then," but really it's just a different way of balancing the limitations of healing. I like this, though I suppose in some part the reasons I like it are unrelated to any inherent DnDness of it, and more because this makes it much easier to create drama in a world with clerical healing. (Oh, and, duh, edit: you get the standard CLW, it's just at level 2. I think the only thing annoying about this which I'll definitely grant is that you have to actually choose between CLW and Bless; both of them seem like they're standards and it sucks you only get one or the other, hm.)
2) Clerics turn undead. They can still do this too. It didn't happen yesterday because it's apparently only useful as a close burst, which means in a big open area like we were in turn undead was kind of a 'meh' choice of action. That's OK. It's not terribly useful in 3.5 either. Unless you're like six levels above the guys and get the 'turn to dust' option on them, it's almost always a wasted move. It's particularly useless against incorporeals as we all know now. It's so not-terribly-useful that 3.5 has devised about a million ways to use the turning attempts for other, more useful things, as if they were a kind of power point reservoir. Look at how many powers say "spend a turn attempt to..."
3) Draw others to their religion - seems to be happening with some regularity in our game. Of course I've changed the setting to make this more fun to do, so if I tweaked cleric at all this is where I did it.

Perhaps it's also because the only 4th ed game I'm a regular PLAYER in has the same situation as my game - a lot of homebrew on the setting - that I'm not having much dissonance. The problem on the blog you linked seemed to be mostly setting/lore stuff that I'm ignoring anyways, so he probably has a point.

I AM really glad you're enjoying the game despite being lukewarm on the engine, since I know you have some damn high standards.

Edited at 2009-01-19 08:40 pm (UTC)
Jan. 19th, 2009 10:13 pm (UTC)
Hey, Empress! Couldn't resist wading into this one a bit.

So, the funny part about reading this and Sean's post is that when D&D 3rd Edition came out, there was a lot of backlash from the fanbase about the "dumbing down" of D&D for a video gaming, attention-deprived audience. The contention was that the streamlining of the engine somehow took away a bunch of things that were important to the "flavor" and "verisimilitude" of D&D. The internal logic you point to as a feature was, for some people (including some of my friends), a terrible, irreparable bug - that strange quirkiness made the game for them.

I see the developmental path of D&D as an attempt to get further and further away from trying to be "the end all and be all of fantasy roleplaying", and for me, your comments about 4E being the "purest" incarnation so far ring very true to me. It's an extremely complicated Red Box. It's Chainmail on crack. It exchanges, in many places, game logic for "setting" logic - clerics who heal their allies by *hitting someone else*? What?

I can totally see where that thing can alienate people. I'm sympathetic to those feelings. I have a crap-ton of nostalgia built up in this hobby.

On the other hand, though, I look back on a lot of my previous D&D campaigns, and it occurs to me that we very seldom used the system for the kind of play it ideally supported in the first place. So many settings I used to dig - Ravenloft, Planescape, Dark Sun - would have been better suited for different systems, given their stated foci. We used D&D anyway, because frankly, it was what we had. There wasn't ever a question of whether or not it was an "ideal" choice... it was D-and-frickin'-D, for God's sake.

I think 4E's design makes a definitive statement about that kind of drift. It *is* more targeted, it *is* less flexible, it *is* laser-pointing you toward a very specific kind of play experience. In so doing, I honestly believe it's gained as much as it's lost. If in the final analysis, a particular gamer decides that 4E really isn't the game for him or her, I might potentially argue that perhaps D&D never has been... it just used to be easier to ignore the system before, to cobble together what we wanted from various pieces-parts.

And of course, Pathfinder is still out there. And I personally don't even ponder a d20 game without thinking about Green Ronin's True20 immediately. So I guess my biases are pretty pronounced. :)
Jan. 19th, 2009 06:54 pm (UTC)
i'm still working on wrapping up my 3.5 eberron campaign, so i haven't had the chance to play 4e outside of one test session. that said, all the gripes about 4e still sound familiar, since a lot of them were voiced about 3e. "too much mechanic", "too simple", "too complex", "stupid changes", "WHAT THE HELL DID YOU BASTARDS DO TO MY PLANESCAPE, ARGH GNASH VIOLENCE", etc.

also, camaros suck anyway. :)
Jan. 19th, 2009 07:42 pm (UTC)
I like fourth edition.
I like third edition.
I like second edition.
I first started playing with first edition, and I liked that, too. (both AD&D as well as just D&D)

I like each game for different reasons, and sometimes, while I am playing one edition, I miss some other edition. To carry your analogy with you, it is like me missing the first car I ever drove (a 77 Caprice Classic, which got about 7 miles to the gallon of oil, and God alone knows how many gallons of gas to the mile) while attempting to drive in a wild snow and windstorm in my little 93 Ford Escort. Yes, I am fundamentally opposed to driving any car during the decade in which it is constructed.
Jan. 19th, 2009 09:41 pm (UTC)
I don't like 4e. I think it sucks (rest of color commentary left off as the youngins might be listening). I started out saying, yeah, it's a fine game, it's just not D&D. But now I just hate it.

It seems like arena football versus football. Some people like arena football, but I think it sucks and is innately not football.

4e seems like they tried to make World of Warcraft or Everquest into D&D. If they appeal to that computer gamer market, awesome for them. But to try to sell it to me as an old time gamer with the beloved and revered name of D&D. No, that was wrong. I now despise the firm that owns the rights (and yeah, I can't keep up with who owns them now and I don;t really care).

However, I think it is absolutely fine that other people like it. Good for them. I like people having fun. I just am not going to play it again, but I hope everyone that does has a blast!


Jan. 20th, 2009 01:37 am (UTC)
Well, this is the thing. Based on information developed today, it looks to me very much as if one of the two historical horror roleplaying games I've been involved with is going to tank in 2009. I'm just sayin'....when the head of the company says that they're not going to support a living campaign next year, that's kind of a sign.

So: apart from renewing my dedication to the OTHER historical horror roleplaying game (and if the guys falter, I'll kill them, and I think they know me well enough to know that anything is possible, and if not, Thenodrin might be able to bring them up to speed) anyway: the only other game in town so to speak is LFR.

Looks like I'll have to crack open the books and see what it's all about if a low level can get in at this stage. I'll just have to keep bearing in mind that it's not a Camaro.
Jan. 20th, 2009 06:43 pm (UTC)
Oh noooooessss! (WRT your campaign comment)
Jan. 21st, 2009 06:14 am (UTC)
Hhrmmmmmmm. /grumble /rumble

Ok, well, now I gotta backpedal an inch. I still need to give LFR a chance because two of the folk involved are awesome and if they are involved, there is likely some good roleplaying to be had.

But I still hate the 4e system.



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