D&D 4th Edition ships without the thing everyone thinks it is

Well, okay, what everyone seemed to think it would be, back when 4E was first announced with all the tantalizing screenshots and online play noise. I guess we can give WotC PR due credit for successfully reassuring the world that D&D would, in fact, continue to be playable on un-augmented, analog tabletops… of course, it helps that the online playtable still doesn’t exist. Nor any of the other D&D Insider components besides the online Dragon & Dungeon magazines. D&D Insider News has this to say on its scheduling, and nothing more: “In April, the creators of the 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons Roleplaying Game traveled to various cities across the United States to meet with reporters, talk about the new game, and unveil the suite of online tools that will be available to D&D Insider subscribers later this year.” (Emphasis mine.) Hate to say it, but my Master Tools sense is tingling. To be fair, I’m looking around for past promises that the playtable would be ready for 4E’s release and I can’t actually find one right now (help would be appreciated – by me, not WotC, I’m sure), but this strengthens my conviction that the main flaw in the playtable plan is they got too ambitious. A 2D product would likely have shipped quicker and cheaper, and wouldn’t have introduced as much OMG-it’s-a-video-game confusion early on.


  1. Mike, I gotta tell you that I feel that some groups will desperately want that digital tabletop. Not because they want to play online, but because 4E is super fiddly. Once you reach mid-level characters everyone of every class is slinging all sorts of effects that put all sorts of temporary status effects on all their opponents. Some last one turn, some last longer.

    I may join a playgroup to try the game out, and we’re already talking about making custom status markers in different colors for every player so that we can figure out whose status effect is on which opponent to figure out when they expire, etc.

    Also, WotC should have definitely released a box of Powers Cards with this edition. Huge mistake not to. They are just going to have half the players out there photocopying 20 pages of the rulebook each by the time they get to making mid-level characters just to keep track of the effects of all the powers characters get.

    This is not exaggeration. Look at WotC’s own website:

    The picture of this character’s play space looks like an out-of-control, handwritten CCG playtest.

    Very interesting game. Very fiddly. Lots of referencing. Definitely would benefit from electronic play aids.

  2. Agreed, Lee. Thats the exact reason why I canceled my pre-order for 4e and instead bought a print copy of the beta version of Pathfinder when it comes out. I got a copy of the infamous leaked PDFs of the main books. It took me two reads through to understand what was going on and that I would have been buying a glorified tactical miniatures game rather than a roleplaying game. No thanks.

    For those of you who are going to jump on my case: show me that you can make a non-combat character under 4e that is capable of adventuring with everyone else and not be handed an immediate death sentence. Show me how you DO NOT need a battlemap and miniatures using the new mook rules and that four-on-one or more combats can be abstracted. Tell me why four classes and two races that were in the previous edition chopped out and that I won’t need to buy one or two more future PHBs to get the same content that I had before.

  3. James, I generally agree with many of your complaints.

    That said, I think this version will keep all players more involved at all times than in previous versions of D&D (you’ll never totally run out of all your powers and abilities). I’m going to reserve judgment on playability until I see it in action. I did blunder into D&D Insider’s note that there’ll be an online tool that can be used to produce Power Cards, although that’s not live yet, that fact is not advertised (to my memory) in the PHB, and it’s unclear whether that feature will be available only to paid subscribers.

    The single biggest sin of the 4E PHB is 100+ tri-color pages of powers that look very much alike and for which there is NO BY-NAME POWER INDEXING AT ALL!!!

    The game very much is a glorified tactical miniatures game. The status effects that characters sling around are actually similar to an advanced tactical miniatures game or an MMORPG.

    Re: non-combat characters, that’s been true of 3.0 and 3.5 as well. I picked up Atlas Games “Dynasties and Demagogues” for 3rd ed just to see if anyone had any flavor for non-combatant characters. This edition has, in my opinion, even less of a role for non-combat-oriented characters. Then again, except for you and me, James, I’m not sure how much of D&D’s core target audience cares about romancing maidens and cracking ancient ciphers as opposed to whacking things with a sword and slinging fireballs. Certainly that limitation in scope doesn’t seem to hurt the World of Warcraft marketshare.

    If they are competing with the MMORPG market, then if the online character visualization tools and online play tools are worthwhile, they may well compete in that marketplace, because the game definitely has the vibe of an MMORPG.

    As Mike said, I for one am REALLY puzzled as to why the D&D Insider tools aren’t ready, because, honestly, that’s all the focused on in their public relations campaign for months.

    As a parting note to James, I can tell you why classes seem to be left out. They take a LOT more space than before to describe (particularly for the non-spell slinging classes). Paper costs a lot right now, and I think that this book is a little smaller than the 3.5 PHB (don’t have one in front of me for comparison). Space per class plus paper costs means that the volume likely had to be edited down to keep the price point at a commercially viable level. To hit those page limits, they probably cut classes that seemed more fringe in favor of classes which seemed more popular to the development team at WotC.

    I am really interested in seeing how much of D&D Insider is going to be available free of charge, and how much you’ll be getting for the reported $15.00 per month. That’s clearly competing with MMORPGs, and I’ll be interested to see how much of the player base takes their campaigns online.

  4. “It took me two reads through to understand what was going on and that I would have been buying a glorified tactical miniatures game rather than a roleplaying game.”

    Wait….then what the heck was 3.5????

  5. I 100% disagree. Heck, the DMG has 6 pages on Social Conflict…how is that not introducing more role-playing than 3.5 managed to introduce in 40 hard cover books? I sold 80 sets in 30 hours, and in store-reaction has been incredibly positive in the 9 tables that have fired off here over the past two days. But to each his own, James. I don’t see your point, but I am happy to respect it.

  6. …wouldn’t have introduced as much OMG-it’s-a-video-game confusion early on.

    From what I read about the game prior to release I thought they were really going for the video game feel not because of the online tools (after all, there has been software to facilitate online tabletop role-playing for years) but because of the direction they were taking the game. And after flipping through the books today I was hoping to be proven wrong, but alas, no, that’s exactly what they’re trying to do right down to even some of the naming conventions.

    Few mechanics seem organic, most have a very video gamey feel to them. Take the whole ‘bloodied’ mechanic. You lose 50% of your hit points and suddenly you can use special powers?

    I’m willing to bet dollars-to-doughnuts that the concept of 4E was hatched when a bunch of WOTC execs got together and realized that the PnP RPG market has constantly shrunk over the years while the MMORPG market continues to grow. “So how do we tap into that market?” “Why, we make our tabletop game like the computer games!”

    I’d be interested in knowing some of the age demographics of people playing 4E. I have a feeling it’s skewed towards the under 25 crowd, with 25+ gamers sticking with earlier editions or other RPGs.

    Gary must be rolling over in his grave right now…

  7. Chris wrote:
    “I 100% disagree. Heck, the DMG has 6 pages on Social Conflict…how is that not introducing more role-playing than 3.5 managed to introduce in 40 hard cover books?”

    Chris, I built my first character last night, a wizard. Almost all the first level social spells and enchantment options were gone from the Wizard list. I managed to get a Comprehend Languages ritual. It takes 10 minutes to cast, meaning that it’s generally only useful in advance of meeting people; it is great for travel, but poor beyond belief for meeting people unexpectedly. It’s got a laughable line in the flavor text about the garbled speech of the foreigner in front of me becoming plain. Right, that’s what happens when you don’t speak some stranger’s language and you start drawing circles and ignoring him for 10 minutes — he waits around to talk to you.

    Almost all the spells I had to choose from at level 1 zapped things. Pretty much none (except maybe sleep) were really divination, enchantment, or obfuscatory in nature. The cantrips were useful, but the actual first level spells were just for blasting things. No subtlety. No encouragement toward non-violent resolution (except for sleep).

    Even some of the non-combat skills (professions, etc.) were pulled.

    Chris, 3.5 was hardly a pro-roleplaying system, but I could have built an an enchanter or a diviner at 1st level, heck maybe even something novel like a conjurer. Pretty much the entire Wizard system is now about building evokers that zap things.

    Dynasties & Demagogues — that’s a book with powers and rules on politics, social interaction, subtlety, court intrigues, and interesting non-violent resolution to problems. I don’t have the DM’s Guide, but the PHB hasn’t encouraged me to believe that it’s really for role-playing as much as it is about tactical miniatures warfare.

    That does NOT make 4E a bad game. As I said, I’m going to withhold judgment till I play it. For dungeon crawling, I’m guessing that it’s probably the best version of the game yet. When I’m in the mood for that, it’ll probably be fun. However, when I’m wanting to play a wizard that doesn’t just zap things — well on those days this is the worst version of Dungeons and Dragons yet.

    Re: the thread proper, I really think this version of the game will benefit from the online tools if they are any good.

  8. The encounter format for adventures definitely adds to the emphasis on combat seen in the adventure, and having played a demo scenario the other weekend, my wizard really felt equiped to handle those combat situations. Outside of that I cannot really say, although the first scenario does have non-combat scenes/encounters.

    A quick glance at the character sheet left me wondering where I was going to note the details of each and every power — am I am going to be writing out the most complex of these on an index card?

    I also wonder why Wizards are pushing the use of its D&D Miniatures game for use with Dungeons & Dragons, when it is impossible to go out and buy ready made sets of miniatures for a scenario. And then what about player character pieces?

    As to Digital Tabletop? M’eh.. I mean, that is not the strength of the game and why is Wizards pushing that and not the social aspects of the game?

  9. So, in the prior edition, I could build a character that the actual, in-play rules would completely fail to support, and now I can’t? How is that not a step forward?

    Why are people still shocked that their “non-combat” characters get tooled on in a game that tells you to make a scenario by stringing a bunch of combats together?

    Why will you people not get it together and accept that the tool of D&D was not designed for what you’re trying to use it for? Why not play FATE or Burning Wheel instead if you want to focus a character around social stuff? Why fault D&D for doing what it’s always done, only better?

  10. misuba wrote:
    “So, in the prior edition, I could build a character that the actual, in-play rules would completely fail to support, and now I can’t? How is that not a step forward?”

    The in-play rules didn’t fail to support non-combat characters before, it just didn’t encourage them. I mean, during combat, a non-combat character will have a rough time in any edition of D&D. But at least rules for making and using a non-combat character existed, and made the game a bit easier to become immersed in – not everyone’s an adventurer, and not every adventurer a trained combatant.

    “Why are people still shocked that their “non-combat” characters get tooled on in a game that tells you to make a scenario by stringing a bunch of combats together?”

    Well, the *most common* conflict in D&D is combat, yes, and there’s far better documentation on combat in the rules than any other conflict – kill the monsters, take their stuff, etc. But only a new or unimaginative DM would have nothing but combat conflicts. Religion, race, personality, romantic entanglements – in a roleplaying game, anything can set off interesting arguments, debates, competitions, desperate searches, misunderstandings, and even lead to combat or mass combat, maybe.

    Sure, any player that has his non-combat character wander to the front lines when combat does finally break out… well, he earns an early, messy death, usually. But that’s not what folks are upset about.

    “Why will you people not get it together and accept that the tool of D&D was not designed for what you’re trying to use it for? Why not play FATE or Burning Wheel instead if you want to focus a character around social stuff? Why fault D&D for doing what it’s always done, only better?”

    You still labor under the false assumption that 3.5 and earlier versions were incapable of supporting social character interactions and deep roleplaying. D&D may not build its core mechanics around giving characters life changing, soul searching epiphanies like many of the newer indie RPGs, but rules for social interaction still existed, and with a decent DM, they worked fine.

    As you (incorrectly) imply about all of D&D, it seems like 4e at least may be exactly the wrong tool for roleplaying, at least at this early stage. It’s too bad that at this point, D&D’s already thin layer of role-playing seems to have become even thinner and less flavorful. That’s why Paizo’s Pathfinder RPG looks better and better to freshly-disillusioned D&D players – it still plans to be a “roleplaying game”, not 4e’s “roll-playing game”. Well, that and the familiar ruleset. 🙂

    4e is a new entity taking D&D in a new direction. That’s fine, I guess, and it may be fun to play and very successful for WotC. But maybe it should be called the Dungeons & Dragons Advanced Miniatures Game rather than claiming it’s an RPG anymore.

  11. Ah, welcome to the arguments that are happening everywhere on the Internet…

    I agree with Mike completely on this one. I play and run D&D, and I’ve had a blast with 4e, because the combats are at their most interesting, and most importantly, I don’t have to go flipping through the books on every one of my turns. My different decisions are spelled out on the powers I have. 4e may be called “roll-playing”, but I’d call 3.5/Pathfinder a “rule-playing game.” While others are decrying dumbing down/removing of options, I’m suddenly in the situation where I have over 20 people in the area wanting to play because many of my friends who were turned off by 3.5’s complexity can handle the game.

    I’ve also had no problems role-playing in the games of 4e I’ve been in. But as Mike said, D&D is not my first choice of games if I don’t want a lot of combat. Lots of other systems out there.

  12. Allan writes:
    “But maybe it should be called the Dungeons & Dragons Advanced Miniatures Game rather than claiming it’s an RPG anymore.”

    See, that’s my vibe. That doesn’t make it a bad game (as a dungeon crawl experience). But so many of the powers are now: bonus to hit, bonus to defense, cause damage, reduce damage, heal damage, move 5′, etc., that there’s barely anything other than those types of powers available for selection, particularly at low levels. I don’t want everyone to be a defanged nobody in combat. I wanted some panache and some variety. Read through the Ranger section, and for 90%+ powers you may have to read them twice to find a difference between power X and power Y.

    Mike writes:
    “So, in the prior edition, I could build a character that the actual, in-play rules would completely fail to support, and now I can’t? How is that not a step forward?”

    Um, I have quite successfully played Enchanters and Diviners before. Enchanters could dominate the play field even in combat, and in political adventures they were remarkably powerful. They could force people to carry out their bidding, paralyze people in combat, force people to be wracked with uncontrollable hideous laughter. They had character and were fearsome. They probably got rid of them, because players didn’t want their characters dominated and taken out of the fight from one failed saving throw; they want to get hacked to pieces and then healed.

    Diviners were similarly very strong before. I actually ran a 10th level Diviner before. They were so strong that you couldn’t actually run a mystery adventure around them (maybe why their spells were punted from 4th ed). In 3.5 you picked one school you couldn’t cast as a diviner (like, say, Conjuration) and then you got everything else plus bonus divination spells. You were an information hound PLUS, depending on your selections, a combat mage.

    2nd Edition had a fair bit of support for informtional and political characters with some of their “Kits” in the splat books. Courtiers and loremasters and the like were all supported, and still had a fair bit of combat potential. There was some of that in 3.5 with bards and the like. Still more in 3.5’s third party supplements.

    Mike writes:
    “Why will you people not get it together and accept that the tool of D&D was not designed for what you’re trying to use it for?”

    As I’ve pointed out, my complaint is that I could do some things that were effective, even in combat, with previous editions that didn’t involve just zapping things with bolts of energy all the time. So your claim that D&D wasn’t designed for it, when some of the wizard types I’ve tried to make have been well-supported for the last two editions of D&D. Illusionists were strongly supported all the way back to first edition. If you’re claiming that D&D never supported an illusionist, for example, why was it a separate class with a separate spell section in one version of the game?

    I wanted to do things that WERE supported in previous versions of D&D, but now can’t.


  13. After a weekend of playing and running 4th edition D&D, I am surprised that no one has picked up on the obvious intent of WotC to parse out prior content in to the new game through future books, something they’ve already effectively advertised (PHB2, MM2, DMG2, etc.). For example, I am willing to bet that enchanters, illusionists, necromancers (no necromancy in the core book, I noticed) will all get class write-ups in future volumes.

    My dedicated 2nd edition group (all players over the age of 30, by the way) thoroughly enjoyed 4E, and we are continuing with it, putting our 2E campaign on hold. The primary reason is that the combat is excellent; the game handles tactical battles very smoothly, and it was commented by others in the group that it reminded them of Warhammer Fantasy Battles from back in the day. I have no Warhammer experience, so couldn’t say.

    We all noticed that there is a dearth of real role-playing skills in 4E. As one of my players commented, the game lacks mechanics for playing a lute, or being good at some role-playing-only skill. Still, we all agreed that it would be easy to tack on a “secondary skills” system to the game, and it should in all likelihood be one which adds extra skills to characters without depleting the carefully balanced in-game skill and power sets, since those are obviously tuned to insure each character is “good at what he does” on the battlefield.

    The complaint that you can not have a low-combat, high role-playing character in this game is not new. In D&D 3.5 you could generate plenty of characters with no combat prowess, but such characters were prone to die quickly when combat broke out, unless the player was willing to quietly park himself somewhere safe and kick back for an hour or two while waiting for the battle to finish. 4E is definitely operating under the assumption that it is about characters who are all at least proficient in battle, in one form or another; it’s going to be a perfectly decent RPG for emulating epic fantasy in which everyone is heroic and larger-than-life. It is no longer trying to belong to a more subtle and holistic genre of fantasy, which frankly not even earlier editions fo D&D did very well, either. Instead, I think that more complex and less action-oriented RPG gaming will start to gravitate to other systems, such as True20, GURPS and Runequest. D&D 4E, however, is going to be my staple choice for high-octane sword & sorcery adventure.

    Finally, I think that we can all look at this system and see it as it is witht he three basic rulebooks, but the potential for the game’s future (pending what the SRD allows) could be great; I can easily imagine all sorts of plug-ins and add-ons offered either first or third-party down the road. It’s going to be a very interesting system to watch evolve, which is one of the reasons I am embracing it; WotC’s crew have laid out the groundwork for a new and very dynamic approach to D&D; now I can’t wait to see where everyone else takes it.

  14. Going way way back to the original post…

    I received an email from Wizards on May 20th that states the following:
    “We are planning to launch the D&D Insider beta in early June to coincide with the release of the Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition launch. The initial stage of beta will include the first iteration of the Rules Compendium, and will be open to all community members who are interested in checking out what we have in store. As we move forward, additional D&D Insider applications will roll out as they become ready. When it comes time for us to start beta testing these applications you will be among the first to know.”

    While it’s only the Monday after launch, there’s still no evidence that even the beta of Rules Compendium will be released any time soon, and there are apology posts over on their messageboards basically saying “we’ll roll them out when we’re ready, we’re sorry.”

    They’re pretty much stuck now, having to complete everything they promised at some point (either early and buggy or late and less buggy.) It really is the worst of both worlds for WotC: they alienated some customers by touting the digital tools as a part of the game, and alienated the people who wanted it by not having it.

  15. Allan: any game with Rule Zero is theoretically capable of supporting anything. But in the end, if they leave it all up to the DM and just offer advice, then A) they don’t get credit for it as game designers in my view, and B) past a certain point, you can’t call it support if it’s soft and squishy. (On the subject of game design credit, though, the Social Conflict rules in the DMG are indeed a big step forward as Chris points out, and people seem not to believe they’re even there… maybe because they don’t have anything to do with your character build? I wouldn’t know, but friendly reminder, people: it’s not all about the build anymore.)

    As for the old “it’s not a roleplaying game” canard, it would be more convincing if the term “roleplaying game” had ever had an actual definition that anyone could agree on. (Everyone, please note that that does not constitute an invitation to argue about said definition in this thread. I am starting to think we really do need a good one, though, and may open the subject soon. After all, if we only know it when we see it, doesn’t that make it pornography?) But really, the functional definition of “roleplaying game” in the culture is, tautologically, D&D. It’s an RPG, by definition, because in the eyes of the world it’s the RPG. If we want another kind of game, it’s easier on us in the long run if we start calling it something else. (Ideally something with a clear definition that’s backed up by the rules this time – I’m looking at you, White Wolf.)

    Lee: Enchanters and Diviners do indeed sound pretty broken to me. Brokenness isn’t what I have in mind when I think “in-play support from the rules.” Your point about options in combat, however, is well taken; while I have been hearing from most players about how creative battlefield tactics are getting a lot more support and reward, I can’t vouch personally that they’ve really taken care of the ol’ “I shoot Magic Missile from the rear again, now let me finish my comic book” problem, which I always had as a player of magic-users. I wonder if this flaw has a solution as creative and elegant as some of the other solves in 4E, or if it isn’t somehow endemic to the D&D design space. If the latter, it wouldn’t surprise me to see the traditional robey-beardy wizard archetype entirely missing in future editions of the game, replaced entirely by Vin Diesel clones emanating crackly magic from their fingers, the better to spread the spellcasting around to some people with fighting skills. In other words, the perceived problem of lack of magic-user options is as much semiotic as mechanical.

    Tori: excellent points. Lack of support for something in the core books should not be interpreted as lack of support for something in 4E. They are called the core books for a reason, though: WotC obviously has opinions on what the core of D&D is about, and they’ve expressed those opinions in the form of these three volumes.

  16. The best quote there:

    “The point here is that a flat fee is a disservice to the potential of Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition and the virtual tabletop concept.”

    Add this point to what Dave just posted –

    “It really is the worst of both worlds for WotC: they alienated some customers by touting the digital tools as a part of the game, and alienated the people who wanted it by not having it.”

    – and well, I don’t expect much to happen with D&D Insider. By the time they get it sorted out, those that were excited enough to pay the high price will have moved on.

  17. Lee, Mike: Maybe we are looking at this whole roleplaying thing wrong. 4e lets gamers play roles – they’re just all combatants. 😉

    And the core books, despite Tori’s point about adding rules later on, are what most players will make their judgement on. So far, gamers seem to either really like or really dislike the new system. Or be upset about the state of D&D Insider.

  18. Funny, older editions didn’t have any rules for the roleplaying aspects. The roleplaying is something you just do, without rules. The rules are there to regulate combat and make resolving it clear and fair, same as always.

    And as for the challenge of making a non-combat character in D&D: Are you serious? When have non-combat PCs ever been a good idea in this game? It was never the point, and no, that has not changed. I guess we are supposed to criticize D&D for being too D&D-like now? *shakes head*

  19. Okay, I’m gonna give a bit of my thinking away here: D&D has become a tactical minis game if, and only if, it has become impossible for players to add something to the game-story (“the fiction,” if you prefer) that can then impact and be impacted by the game-play (that is, the rules and interactions with those rules).

    If it’s got that – if you can just make something up that can then be a consequential gameplay element – it is still a story game, and not a minis game or board game or whatever else. Whether it is a member of that specific subset of story games which we traditionally call roleplaying games, I don’t know – that part’s hard. Let’s work on it in another thread sometime.

  20. Allan wrote:
    “Lee, Mike: Maybe we are looking at this whole roleplaying thing wrong. 4e lets gamers play roles – they’re just all combatants.”

    That’s gotta be the funniest thing I’ve heard about 4E to date 🙂

    I think 4E is going to be fun, but I think it’s going to be fun the way Heroclix is fun, not the way Call of Cthulhu is fun. I think it’ll be very good with D&D Insider’s tools IF those tools are any good.

    Mike wrote:
    “And, Lee? Have a look at the DMG when you get a chance.”

    I’ll flip through it at the game store. Even if there’s 100 pages on role-playing, with what’s in the PHB, it’s hard to design characters that do anything mechanically other than blast enemies and mow them down. I think the game is gonna be a relatively fun passtime, but I’m annoyed enough with what I see in the PHB that I’m unlikely to invest in the other books unless the game play takes me by surprise.

    Jack wrote:
    “When have non-combat PCs ever been a good idea in this game?”

    In 3.5 I played a 10th level diviner for a while. With sufficient time I could know almost anything that people weren’t magically shielding from me. Remarkably good in a political game. Very useful in a dungeon. ‘Oh my gosh, we’ll have to search the entire dungeon to find X.’ 2 minutes later the diviner had found it. The monsters were waiting in ambush. With a diviner in your company, you could ambush them instead. Diviners had combat utility. If you chose conjuration as a forbidden school of magic, for example, you could still sling necromantic, transmutation, enchantment, and evocation magic to great effect.

    In a political game, enchanters were incredible. While the 20th level fighter may have a nearly impenetrable castle, if your 10th level enchanter dominates the minds of 2-3 mooks who guard the gates you can waltz right in.

    Jack wrote:
    “Funny, older editions didn’t have any rules for the roleplaying aspects… The rules are there to regulate combat and make resolving it clear and fair, same as always. ”

    Huh? Rules in RPGs are not just there for combats. Heck, most Cthulhu-oriented games wouldn’t last 2 sessions if the players were actively seeking combat with the big bad things that go bump in the night.

    Rules are there regarding game effects that shape the game world. Sure, some of those game shaping effects will be damaging combat stuff. But a lot of them can involve rules for game effects which are more subtle, are related to developing followers, strongholds, political intrigues, economics, etc.

    Previous versions of the game had lots of spells, effects, etc. that were useful in political campaigns.

    Mike wrote:
    “Lee: Enchanters and Diviners do indeed sound pretty broken to me. ”

    You contended broken, Mike. Not me. I contended that Enchanters COULD dominate the field of play and politics. On average they didn’t. On average for every 2-3 spells they cast only one had appreciable impact. About once per adventure enchanters overcame some remarkable threat, and generally they were only really awesome consistently in political campaigns. There were also a LOT of level limits on Enchantment abilities, primarily only allowing them to function against weaker opponents with any reasonable chance of success.

    Diviners crush mystery games. That’s undeniable, and they are not necessarily allowable if you want to run those kinds of game. But they were merely good in combat.

    Enchanters were crushing in combat WHEN their spells worked, but their spells failed about 50% of the time, typically they affected one character when they affected any, and on a failure they did no damage. What Enchanters were was very swingy. If your opponent rolled a 1 on a save throw he was frozen in place, often regardless of level. If he made a Save Throw he ignored you entirely.

    Just talked to some friends, they said they believe that WotC intentionally punted all the mind-altering magic NOT as Mike contends because it was broken, but because they want people to buy the next splat book with the Psion (which will replace the Enchanter).

  21. Lee: There are RPGS and then there is D&D. You respond about RPGs like Call of Cthulhu having rules not centered around combat. I was speaking of D&D, which has traditionally not had rules governing the roleplaying part. That’s just something you do improvisationally in addition to the parts that do have rules. If you want to give examples of how D&D rules prior to 4E did not center around combat, I’d be very interested to see them.

  22. I just want to mention that to Lee that he has been strictly discussing Wizards. I agree that Wizards in 4th Edition have gotten a significant utility reduction. But that doesn’t destroy the roleplaying elements of the game. What it means is you no longer have a plot destroying toolbox of spells, instead now they have rules to use skills and player innovation to complete non-combat challenges. Also 4th edition doesn’t stop you from roleplaying to your hearts content, they even give DM’s suggestions on how to handle roleplaying heavy campaigns. One of my favorite things in the DMG is discussions on how to run City only adventures which before Cityscape (from what I heard it was crap) I hadn’t seen anything on.

    I haven’t played a game yet, I am running my first adventure / first game of 4th edition next weekend, but I actually took the time to cover to cover both the PHB and the DMG and both were very interesting.

    Don’t expect the Wizards to be the only one with abilities any more though, if you do you will be sorely disappointed.

  23. Jack writes:

    “If you want to give examples of how D&D rules prior to 4E did not center around combat, I’d be very interested to see them.”

    Familiars could spy, bards could play the lute, enchanters could charm outside of combat, you could take knowledge skills in masonry, carpentry, or art, you had followers, hirelings, scrying and illusions were usable in purely political roleplaying plots, etc.

    There were lots of things you could do in previous versions of D&D that had more to do with political power-brokering; creating, manning, and expanding freeholds, etc.

    Eric wrote:
    “Don’t expect the Wizards to be the only one with abilities any more though, if you do you will be sorely disappointed.”

    I don’t and I didn’t. I did expected Wizards to be interesting. Instead, Wizards look boring as sin with choices primarily in the range of “what energy type of damage do I want to use?” and to “how many people will I blast?”. I expected rogues to have more special abilities related to thieving and fewer related to how to slash somebody in toe-to-toe combat.

    I expected Clerics to have a lot of distinctions and flavor (like 2nd edition) instead of 1 feat per god to distinguish what they do. 3rd edition had less flavorful priest than 2nd edition. 4E has less flavorful and varied priests than either of the last 2 editions of D&D.

    Eric wrote:
    “What it means is you no longer have a plot destroying toolbox of spells”

    Like summoning an orc? Like have a skeletal servant following you around? Like creating imaginative illusions to distract the enemy?

    These types of things didn’t seem plot destroying to me, but added a lot of flavor. Some of the divinatory magics could be in a mystery campaign. But a lot of the other stuff that was cut wasn’t really that powerful.

  24. I agree with Lee.

    It seems to me that 4e is built to satiate the min/maxers and the power-gamers and leaves much to be desired by those of us who enjoy the utilitarian roles. Clerics are no longer the best at healing, nor does any party need a Cleric at all for any reason.

    In 3.5, nothing could do crowd control better than an Enchanter or an Ilusionist – neither of which are available (nor effective) in 4e. Ongoing effects that could be used to slow down the bigger bads while you take out the annoyances are gone in 4e – No, I do not consider the current version of ongoing effects useful considering everythign has better than a 50% chance of ending any ongoing effect every round.

    With all classes having three major stat requirements, it is almost impossible to have a good character build without playing a race that has the specific stat bumps available for that class. There are a few exceptions, but just try making an effective elven wizard. I don’t see races being able to effectively branch out into different classes very well. If you aren’t playing a race with a class that it’s intended for, you will be in for a very rough time.

    The feats are almost all weaker. The feat you have to blow to get any SEMBLANCE of a domain ability isn’t worth using in any situation, IMO (aside MAYBE from Bahamut’s armor).

    That being said, do I think all changes in 4e are bad – NO. I like what they did with Paladins. Paladins are more playable than they were in 3.5. They changed the rogue entirely and if they had left the bard as a social character with sneaky abilities, I could appreciate more of what the rogue has become. The fighter has some grand improvements. The Ranger can now “Twin Shot” as a standard action instead of a full-round action like in 3.5. Unfortunately, most of the other abilities for a Ranger are focused around two-weapon fighting WHICH ONLY A RANGER CAN DO NOW. All spellcasters have been dulled down and are less effective – I look at the mid-levels as evidence… a 16th level wizard is considered to be doing pretty good with a spell that does 6d6, whereas the Ranger of the same level gets to keep hitting until he misses.

    It seems to me that WotC is trying to force cookie-cutter builds and trying to dumb down the use or need for any type of spellcasting.

    Will I play 4e… I prefer 3.5, but the best place for me to play in is the RPGA. So if the RPGA forces a shift to 4e. then I will be forced to fall into that shift myself. I just wish 4e wasn’t all about the battle mat.

  25. Just a quick follow up after three weeks and multiple game sessions: it does in fact appear that D&D 4E supports role playing at least as well as 1st edition AD&D did….and with the exception of the Warlord class it appears to function in abstract combat just fine (one group I am in does abstract, the rest do miniatures-the warlord class seems much less useful when playing abstract combat due to the fiddly movement bits the character causes by its actions). At least half of all game time over approximatley 40 hours play time to date was spent role playing and story telling, and the other half was the usual combat/traps/roll dice for activity X stuff. So I think it still qualifies as an RPG and not a minis-based game system. In fact, we borrowed the secondary skill system from 1st edition to flesh out characters’ non-combat feel-good skills, and it worked just fine.

    Interestingly, the people who really, really seem to love 4E the most have all been my old grognard friends who prefer the 1st edition of the game and are still sore about the 2nd edition. The only group I know that has barred the game from the table is a regular 3.5 group I play in; no one has yet given 4E a shot to compare and contrast, unfortunately; I think the game sells itself very well in actual play.

  26. without getting into specific scenarios, 4e DND is stil DND. If your 3 most common actions are: attack, cast fireball, heal fighter XYZ, then maybe this is the wrong game for you. Sure it doesnt say, explicitly, what rules you should go by when attending the Royal Ball of the Lord of Greyhawk (or whatever) but it is still roleplaying.

    House rules and the DM should, IMO, be the final arbritor of whatever craziness you are attempting. For me, when i first began playing RPGs ( pen and paer rpgs at that) back in the early 90’s, all we wanted to do is kill stuff (who doesn’t). But as i got older, i realized that, if i were reading this book, we would be super crappy 1 dimensional characters, who only knew how to swing a sword, shoot a gun, or cast magic missile.

    i guess, what i’m getting at is- a combat based DND game isnt the only way to go. Even if rules arent available, there is a structure of rules that can be adapted. Your DM (any DMs here?) should be able to let you try to seduce the daughter of the Lord of Greyhawk, let you launch a campaign to become the Warden of a small town or area ( and if necessary kill all the other competitors) or lock into a game of wits with a Greater Infernal (good luck with that one).

    Just because combat is more structured and more focused in 4th Ed, doesnt mean combat is the only way to play.

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