What 4E Got Right… for me at least.

A post over at KORE RPG, talking about the flaws of 3d6 for stats also discussed a topic I’d considered before — that is, a series of posts about what I’d have done differently in designing D&D 4e. I played that crazy roller-coaster of awesome for the first two years it was out, but then I stopped due to the gradually building frustrations that overwhelmed my joy of the game. Turns out that KORE RPG already did a few of these, and they are good reading, though he’s taken a different tack than I would have…

I ultimately decided against such a series of posts because I was concerned about the ‘trollish-ness’ of the conversation surrounding 4E, but I was also very, very specific in my concerns about 4E… and so it may not have been terribly interesting to anyone else… though reading his posts — and having experienced D&D Essentials and the interesting differences introduced in those products — has led me to wonder if this might not be worthwhile again?

First though, I thought I’d dip my toe in with discussing some of the things I think 4E really does well and then see where I might go from there.

Defenses and Saving Throws
I’ve mentioned this before. I really enjoy the way 4E uses passive defenses and shake-off style saves instead of resistance roll style saving throws. Even though 4E removed a lot of Save or Else kind of effects they made smaller effects more interesting by simply having them work.

If I am trying to dominate you, and I beat your Will Defense, I just succeed! You are dominated (yes, I know, some require multiple failed saving throws — but that’s a different topic). This mechanical formula works better for me than having the mage simply cast a spell and then the opponent just shrugs it off before it effects them. And once you are dominated (or whatever effect) then you get saving throws to shake it off. And some effects have a follow up effect that once you make the saving throw, the power keeps effecting the target until an additional saving throw…

This feels more dramatic, more active, more interesting, and more genre-appropriate to my mind. It’s one of my favorite things about 4E.

When I first heard that the game was going to include tieflings and dragonborn as races — I was thrown, but I looked, and I really enjoyed the way 4E built the races. In the context of the more “fantastic” tone being set by 4E compared to the human/elf/dwarf-centric fantasy roots of the game, these new races set very nicely. It was highly interesting to see races that had interesting, unique abilities that really fit comfortably in the rest of the mechanics of the game. One of the weird aspects of 3.5 was that races never seemed to work really comfortably, and level adjustment was difficult to work with… and as they’ve added races, most have stayed interesting, both from the point of view of mechanics and story.

Toolkit Aspects
This may seem like a weird thing to say considering the nature of 4E, but I found 4E to have an interesting toolkit aspect. The lack of a really established setting and the points of light aspect really worked for me. I ran 4E with many different world-styles from a really Blighted World taking inspiration from a very “swords and sorcery” place to a really fancy high end world. And being able to use the different character classes, based on role (leader, defender, etc) to re-skin into other forms made for great fun. Re-skinning races was even more fun. I realize that you could do this with any RPG, but I found this to be especially fun with 4E. I can’t really say why… I just did.

So, that’s what I enjoyed most in 4E. I still don’t know if I’ll go further with this series… but it was fun to stop in with 4E again… it’s been almost a year since I played and sometimes, sometimes I miss it.

As always, thanks for reading.


5 responses

  1. Good choice – always best to start with what’s right. Looking back I should have probably done the same. Alas that ship has sailed.

    However, I’ll follow suit here and offer one thing I actually love about 4E: The idea of skill challenges. For some reason that concept just screams AWESOME! gaming technique to me.

    I still encourage you (and anyone else) to join me in a seriously look at D&D and what you’d have done different “if they asked you to make 4E.” – heck, isn’t that actually what Pathfinder is? As a game design exercise the idea of trying to take the history and build a better mousetrap with the Intellectual Property is both rewarding and daunting.

  2. Well,

    You’ve just given me my next post… heh. See, if you asked me to make a list of my top three least favorite things about 4E, Skill Challenges would be number two on that list. Go figure. Number one would be equipment… but Skill Challenges are a close second.

  3. Glad I could feed your muse.
    I’ll save my “In Defense of Skill Challenges” for that post.

  4. […] views! And the title was “What 4E Got Wrong, for me…” My earlier post, “What 4E got Right for Me” generated about 230 views, across two days, the day it was posted and the […]

  5. I also liked the Dragonborn and Tiefling races, as well as the Warlock class. But the rules in general seemed implausible. Healing Surges make no sense: they act like a healing spell, but they’re non-magical, since non-spellcasters can perform them. There are bizarre powers where the cause and effect seem unrelated, e.g. I strike an enemy and I gain HP or someone across the room is moved. The overall effect is the destruction of the suspension of disbelief. My inclination is to take the better new races and classes from 4e and adapt them for 2e or Pathfinder.

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