I last posted about the things 4E D&D got really right in my opinion. Some things about 4E are pretty wonderful, and it’s a fun game to play, no question — but some things about 4E still make me crazy. Like, face-palm crazy. So here’s the short version of… what 4E got wrong… in my opinion.
When I heard about 4E, and started doing research into the game, one of the design notes I read talked about the fact that characters were going to be all about their powers, not their gear – that the role of magic items was going to be downplayed in 4E. Yes there would still be magic swords, but overall, the game would not really deal with all the craziness that was 3.5 magic. And while this seemed really cool to me, since equipment was one of my least favorite parts of 3e/3.5 as well – in practice – equipment didn’t take a back seat at all.
First off, your attack bonuses from weapons/implements and your bonuses to defenses became inextricable from your magic items. I’ve complained about this quite often, both in person and on this blog, but by natural ability, a 1st level wizard (pick any first level character) is proportionately more accurate than a 20th level wizard… That is to say, at first level, a Wizard doesn’t have a magic implement, so they hit based on their natural ability – but a 20th level wizard, if you take away his wand is going to be 3 to 4 points less accurate for encounters that are on his level… by the time he gets to a +6 implement, well, better hope it doesn’t get taken away… oh, wait, it can’t – the items are so integral to the “fun” and the math of the game, that they don’t even have any disarm rules…
Now, because I’m a fair guy, I do want to point out that I loved the fact that they added the rules later for inherent bonuses, and the people working on 4E, have continued to surprise me with the interesting things they come up with. But the default assumption of 4E revolves around the math, which revolves around having just exactly so and so item at just so and so level.
And don’t get me started on wish lists…
Perhaps the worst bugbear of 4E, forced movement is a disaster. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes it’s not so bad. But once they added forced teleports – well, that was pretty much the point when I dropped out of 4E anyway, so I’m just going to express my displeasure and move on.
“So, wait, we roll initiative and now skill resolution works like combat rounds and everybody’s gotta do something..?” Yep. That’s where skill challenges started. That’s what my first set of 4E players started asking after reading the skill challenge rules.
I’m going to say this. I’ve never, ever, seen a DM use the 4E skill challenge rules and make them work well. I’ve never seen a published 4E adventure with a skill challenge in it that was remotely interesting. I’ve read all of the columns about skill challenges that appeared in the magazines and let me say, respectfully, that if I did anything like what Mearls calls a skill challenge at my table, the players would just laugh and ask when were getting back to roleplaying our game…
Skill Challenges suck.
Except, wait, they changed skill challenges. They’re all different and shiny and freeform now, with revised charts and all that stuff… Well, they are. Basically, I hate to break to all the people who have attempted to defend skill challenges to me, but what Wizards did, well, it’s just this: They took a stab at a mechanical skill resolution thingy. It didn’t work real well. So they changed it… into exactly what every good DM has been doing at their tables since the dawn of RPGs. They said, “hey, maybe players should roleplay using their skills, then the DM will, you know, decide on success and failure, and uh, we’ll call that skill challenges 2.0!”
Thanks guys, been doing that since I was 8…
But honestly, the worst offense of all in 4E is that balance is a dangerous lie, math is tough to make work out at the table, and if you give in to the power-gamers, you ruin it for everybody…
See, when 4E started, PCs were expected to have about a 55% chance to hit a balanced, on level opponent, give or take a little based on the monster’s role. And that was great. We played, we had a ball, it was no problem.
Then this funky thing called Weapon Expertise slipped into the game. And then monster defenses were lowered across the board. Now, it wasn’t all that uncommon to see PCs hitting about 75% of the time. And that kinda sucked. I could think of about a thousand ways to make powers more interesting without ramping up accuracy (well, four or five, maybe not a thousand). We played for two years and never incorporated Expertise into our games – with MM1 monsters too. Guess what? We had fun, we were awesome, and we never missed that stuff, one bit.
I read a post a few weeks back where someone was complaining that the Avenger sucked because it didn’t have any way to do extra damage… that all it got was better to-hit. Well, that’s right. The avenger does kinda suck now, because when everyone locks on like a homing missle, your class feature becomes pretty freakin’ redundant.
But I’m going to leave it there. I’ve written about the math before on this blog, said a lot of nasty things, and the fact is, I don’t hate 4E. I really enjoyed it for a long time and the worst mistake I made as a player of D&D was to spend time on the forums… god I hate gaming forums, especially the WotC forums. Shudder.
So, even though I’ve been writing about 4E a little, I’m actually playing Dragon Age these days, loving it… and I’m starting a Pathfinder game this summer because my playing group just really likes the 3rd Ed style. And the Pathfinder stuff looks great.
As always, thanks for reading.