If Wishes Were Horses, I’d Rewrite 4E

So, I’ve been participating in a discussion of sorts about the state of 4E D&D, now that we are nearly two years into it. As anyone reading this blog knows, I’ve come to be quite frustrated with D&D, quite frustrated with DMing for D&D, and quite frustrated with playing D&D. I’ve been on vacation for a week, so I haven’t been around my books, my games or anything else, but coming home and pulling things out again, reading up on the forums and discussions I’d missed while gone and just, getting back into blogging mode has made me really think about… “What I’d Have Done Different.” Or something grandiose and annoying-sounding like that.

Over my next few posts I’m going to consider the state of 4E at the two year mark, consider my own approach to re-writing some parts for my own enjoyment (I’m sure Mike Mearls isn’t calling anytime soon to ask my opinion), and see if I can’t salvage my initial joy I had with the game… We’ll see.

Until then, I’d love any opinions from readers about what they’d have done differently, what they wish was different, how they’d change the game, and any suggestions for something I should focus on.



5 responses

  1. I’m eagerly awaiting your posts.. Just finished up DMing the group’s first 4e campaign a few months ago.. (1 to 30 started the day the PHB came out).

    It was a good campaign for sure, but it certainly had a lot of bumps along the way (especially in epic). It was also, without a doubt, one of the most detailed and yet abstract campaigns we ever had.

    When it came down to combat and skill challenges… we had rules, rules everywhere. When it came down to everything else.. we sort of just played it by ear and made stuff up (Like the warlord becoming a king, the rogue forming his own interplanar merchant guild, etc.). I guess the game (3.e or previous) really ever had rules for anything like this (except maybe Affiliations from 3.5 PHB2)… but with 4th edition you for some reason expect everything to have a rule or something your character can do.

    I’m not sure why.. but character sheets became lifeless… they were just collections of items, feats, and powers… all designed and chosen to be used in combat.

    Shrug… I’ve been trying to come up with talking points for months now to bring to GenCon with me… but I’ve been having a hard time really formulating a solid diagnosis of “What is Wrong with 4e?”

  2. I definitely see what Derik said about character sheets being lifeless – for some reason, my D&D 4e characters haven’t seem as interesting as ones I’ve created in other systems. But for me, I think it’s partly because I have fun creating characters on the Character Builder and I spend so much time tweaking them that they no longer seem like a character, but an efficient fighting machine – but that’s more of a personality flaw than something wrong with 4e. 😛

    My main problem with 4e has been the length of the encounters. For encounters that I have ran and ones that I have played in, the minimum it seemed to take for a single encounter was 45 minutes; most of them stretched to an hour and half or more. For a single battle, 45 minutes seems fair, but longer than that really pushes it – after about that mark the players get bored and distracted, which makes the encounter run even longer. I’m not sure if you can fix that within the confines of the 4e rules though – if you change the balance of the monsters, you will run into the problem of either making it too easy or having a total party kill.

    I’ve toyed with the idea of saving full blown encounters for ‘bigger’ enemies – forgive the video game terms, but for ‘boss’ encounters. For smaller encounters, I have been trying to think of a way to adjust the skill challenge mechanic to solve it (since it’s useless for anything else). I don’t know – having two ‘battle’ systems would probably annoy players more than the longer encounters.

    I guess I’m really annoyed at the way the encounters seem to grind any action that was happening to a halt – when that’s the exact opposite of what an encounter is supposed to do.

  3. @Derik M

    Congrats on finishing that game. It sounds like it was a ton of fun. Your players seem to have really stepped up and made it awesome.

    To address the issue of why the sheets seem lifeless, I think you are asking fundamental questions about game design. I mean, why have so much focus on combat when its clear that the things your players were doing socially were so much more interesting/important?

    Without delving too deeply into that, I think one problem is the one area where D&D4E clearly broke one of its own design tenants, and one area where I see the video game accusations being somewhat true.

    In the early stages of 4E design, I remember reading that players would be far less dependent on their gear/magic items than in any previous edition. Clearly, they failed at this, because instead of magic items being occasional, special bonuses they got on adventures, the basic, fundamental math of the game assumes that by level 27(ish) everyone will have a +6 weapon/implement. And that swapping of gear for the “next tier” is also very Computer RPG.

    I’ll be the first to admit, that the sheer weight of necessary items dropped from 3.5 to 4. I would argue though that the necessity of those items became even more tightly ingrained in the game.

    This may be the first thing I write about for what I’d change. The DMG2 already has some solid suggestions for working with this idea… and I have some small ideas for expanding on those suggestions.


    Encounter length is still one of the most hotly debated 4E topics going.

    And the issue of tinkering with characters in the CB until they’re “perfect” shouldn’t make you feel that bad either. In a strange way, the CB (which I do think is a wonderful tool) has allowed 4E to fall prey to the Aberrant Math phenomenon.

    Oh, and you know this, but I agree that skill challenges are a waste of everyone’s time. I wouldn’t use them in a 4E game again, except perhaps in the most limited ways possible. Ever.

    4E has a very narrow design space, rules-wise. That doesn’t have to limit your play-space, but I find that if you stick to RAW, which I advocate, 4E turns out not to be the game for me.

    And that gives me an idea for something else to write about… dang.

    1. Okay, here’s a post I’d like to see. WHY the emphasis on sticking with the rules as written? Aside from the “common language” you mentioned in another post (and you could expand on that as well, of course), why the resistance to changing the rules in order to bring them in line with what you want out of your campaign? It seems to be a theme with you, and while I don’t have the same feelings, I’m not trying to knock it – I’m just curious if there are more reasons for it than what you’ve stated so far, or if you’d be interested in going into detail on it.

      1. I would also like to see this post. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a game where we played exactly by the RAW. Some rules just don’t work for certain groups, even game companies recognize this. Wizards and White Wolf have both released books made entirely or mostly of possible house rules for their games (Unearthed Arcana and Armory Reloaded respectively). I can understand wanting to stick to the rules, but I would like to know why they can’t be tweaked to your liking.

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