A Few (Hopefully) Considered Words About 4E

Anyone who reads this blog knows that I have complicated feelings about 4E. Parts of 4E make me really happy as a gamer – and I’m not one who is opposed to the tactical combat element. At the same time, parts of 4E make me crazy – honestly, the way the game has grown up as it’s life cycle has gone on. My reasons for this are many and having written about them before, I considered staying out of the recent surge of 4E unrest that I’ve noticed spreading around. Maybe this is craziness, but I suppose this is my reasonable as possible contribution to the spreading rhetoric…

For those who read here and might not have seen some of the rest of it… What I’m responding to/adding to here are the following: a couple of sarcastic/angry posts from Greyhawk Grognard and Geek Related who throw down some pretty hefty rhetoric (and hey, if that’s what they want to say, that’s their call, I’m not one to talk). Level 30 Yinzer also had interesting things to say about 4E and seems to have reached a similar level of frustration to my own. And Big Ball of No Fun adds his own somewhat sarcastic (and in my opinion not very accurate) contribution. A lot of this comes from a recent announcement from WotC concerning a new Organized Play program.. But even beyond this, I’ve heard some rumblings concerning all the Essentializing of 4e from people I’d considered reasonable and pro-4E writers like Neuroglyph Games. And even a casual perusal of the 4e forums will show the craziness that Essentials is causing for everyone.

So… what do I have to add to this? Well, I’m not sure, but I didn’t feel like sitting in the middle of it and say nothing. I’m really not a fan of the new Organized Play program — when I saw the announcement myself I admit freely that I was disturbed. But the reason I was disturbed comes mostly from my perception that this is an ongoing process with 4E. I am a reasonable human being and reasonably intelligent (I like to think) and I realize that this one OP program is not all of 4E. But my personal perception of what’s going on with 4E is that the game is moving (mechanically speaking) toward front-loading the experience into character building and appealing to the optimizer more than the casual player. If that’s intentional, then good for them, but it will keep me away from the game. I see this OP program as problematic because it further reinforces a perception of where the designers thought processes may be turned.

Further though, my biggest frustration comes from playing the game for the first two years — taking a year off — and now that I gave a look in because I was considering a return to 4E, I find myself frustrated by facing off against a game that no longer seems to have an identity. Whether you stand with the crew that says Essentials is all the same as Core 4E, or you believe in the “Stealth Edition” the one thing you can’t ignore is that the Essentials flap has created another rift in a gaming audience that was already fragmented by 4E/Pathfinder to begin with.

Also, as much as I appreciate the idea that WotC is paying attention to their game (in the name of balance — potentially a good thing), I don’t want a game that is changing all the time. I don’t want the books I buy to be invalidated so easily, I don’t want a return to the days when we had D&D and AD&D on the shelves at the same time (that’s how I see Essentials and Classic 4E). I don’t want a game that requires me to use the digital tools to keep up. I like the digital tools, but with 4E it’s a huge pain to make characters now without the CB — and then to create such a limited version of the CB and ask me to pay for it — unfortunate. When I stopped playing last summer I kept my DDI subscription because I wanted to keep reading Dragon and Dungeon… but now they don’t even compile the magazine anymore. Hell, it’s not even an online magazine anymore, just a series of postings on their webpage that fit under a heading.

I’ve been a fan of 4E since release and I hope that 4E can right the ship and figure out how to get back to being the great game it had the potential to be. But I probably won’t be playing it again — at least not anytime soon. And right now, what am I playing? Pathfinder. Not because I’m interested in edition wars, not because I’m a 4E hater. But because 4E stopped giving me anything I wanted as a player and started giving me a lot more frustration than joy — at the table or away from it.

So, yeah, I really hope that WotC gets it together, finds a unified vision and can rebuild the 4E name… or at least not keep spiraling until 5E comes out… but right now, they seem to be making inexplicable choices that continue to alienate players. And that’s too bad.


8 responses

  1. Huzzah for considered words!

  2. You know, I’ve always found it strange that complaints about 4e so often have to do with the complexity of character creation and such considering the long involved process that is character creation in 3/3.5e. Not that I’m particularly an expert or anything–while I *like* playing D&D, I’ve only ever been in one RPG campaign that didn’t fizzle out a few sessions into it. Every time I create a character in 3/3.5 I struggle with the rules and remembering all the bits I need to do. Combat is horrendous. I’d probably be better at it now, mainly because of the 4e game I was in, but still, it’s very complicated and not at all suited to my way of thinking or roleplaying. I really like 4e (although I seem to be among a very minor minority among my friends in this) because although the character creation process was complex, it wasn’t nearly as tedious as 3.5’s. The ‘skill challenges’ were perfect for my style of play, since I’m the type of player who plays for a story and characters. Combat was made much, much simpler for me to understand, and I found myself even enjoying combat! The system 4e has made it easier for me to remember how movement and actions act in combat turns. (Er. that sentence makes some sort of sense, right?)

    I’d actually say this might be an easier system for a casual player to pick up. Not nearly as easy as “Swords and Sorcery” of course, which by the way, is fantastically awesome and fun, and original D&D would probably be easier to understand as well, although in both cases even a casual player might want a bit more complexity.

    Look at me, acting like I know what I’m talking about! TL;DR: I like 4e. So there. 😛


  3. It occurs to me on second readthrough that you’re talking more about the alterations Wizards have been making to 4e. I don’t really know much about the changes, so I don’t know whether or not my earlier comment is even applicable. *le sigh* My apologies.

    1. Maggie,

      Your comments are certainly not off-base. I think the place where you misunderstand me though is not that I think 4E Character Creation is overly-complex, but rather, since the content in the books is constantly changing/tweaking/revising, it becomes more and more difficult to just sit down with the PHB and make a character for a game you want to join. As another writer (and I don’t remember where I read this exactly but it obviously isn’t an original thought on just my part) put it — if I get invited to join a game and I sit down with my PHB and make up a Cleric, then show up at the game and show my PC to the DM, then depending on how much that DM keeps up with the changes to the game, I might have to revise the whole character. The current Templar change is not the only change done to cleric powers over the last three years.

      The reverse is also true. If I sit down and make up a cleric with the CB and then come to a table where the players aren’t using the digital tools or Essentials content, then I’m going to still have a conflict… and there are shades of difficulty in between those two points.

      Does that make my position more clear?

  4. “I’ve heard some rumblings concerning all the Essentializing of 4e from people I’d considered reasonable and pro-4E writers like Neuroglyph Games.”

    Now, now… I’m still pro-4E. And I’m pro-Essentials, but I don’t like what adding Essentials content has done to D&D. Like you, I’m unhappy with the changes being made to original material in PHB, seriously invalidating published works. And your comment about 4E now having an identity issue is true, all because (IMO) content is being retroactively brought into line with the Essentials design paradigm.

    I really wish that what we were all told about Essentials at GenCon 2010 was the case: Essentials was just going to be a simpler version of the game to act as an on-ramp to 4E content. If that had been the truth rather than just a spin to calm the gamer community down from fears over a “stealth edition”, then the old content would not have needed any changes, errata, renaming, or facelifts.

  5. @Neuroglyph
    I apologize. I made an error in my writing. That should have said, “I’d consider” instead of “considered.” Important distinction. I realize that you are still pro-4E. Heck, I’m still pro-4E in theory. But I’ve been really disappointed with the constant shifting and tweaking and changing and poking and prodding… and, well, just about every business decision WotC has made concerning the 4E line and the game itself.

    As I mentioned — I appreciate a gaming company that looks out for errata and issues that they can correct for fans/players. However, I think 4E has drawn the line in the wrong place and they aren’t publishing errata or fixing problems — they are actively changing content from books they continue to publish and leave on store shelves — while at the same time reducing the utility of their online tools, even though these tools become more and more vital to the game — just as a means of keeping up.

    And the diffusion of different abilities now… I stopped playing the game actively in July of 2010. Now in May of 2011 I barely recognize the game. Pretty much a year and we’ve had Essentials, Themes, Fortune Cards, and lately, this Class Compendium stuff. And using the new character builder doesn’t really help the issue, because if you tell it you want to make a character for a “home game” it doesn’t present choices between Essentials and Core content in a clear manner… especially for someone who did not come to the changes organically, but is seeing them all at once.

    It is… frustrating. I see a game that I started out hating (when it was announced), learned to love (by reading it), got two great years of play out of as both a player and DM but eventually became so frustrated with that even when I consider going back to it — it just seems too… frustrating. Especially because it’s pretty much impossible to say what’s coming next.

  6. This may be one of the better written analysis of the current 4e situation I’ve read. I agree with it 100%.

    1. Thank you. I think the identity issue is one that WotC needs to rectify fast — but instead it just keeps getting weirder.

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