Gaming My Way

09 Dec

On Dungeons and Dragons 3rd Edition and 4th Edition

Considering that my defense of D&D 4e being a roleplaying game and not a WoW clone was well received, this particular piece may be less so. While I hope that isn’t the case, I’ve got to be honest about this one.

Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition isn’t really D&D anymore. Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s a fine roleplaying game, and it fills the same niche that other editions of D&D filled. It even has the same kinds of monsters for the most part. It still uses character classes and has the four standard archetypes, even if they renamed and retooled them a bit.

The thing is, 4th Edition just doesn’t have the same feel as D&D 3.x or even 2nd Edition. Yes, it still has epic questing through dungeons for fame, treasure and xp, and ridiculous levels of power as you advance. But it doesn’t have the diversity of classes that previous editions had. All classes follow a very cookie cutter approach, instead of the varied classes of earlier editions. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it most certainly isn’t traditional D&D.

Now, that’s not to say all the classes are all the same. They aren’t. However, Wizards, in going for game balance first and variability of powers second, overshot the mark and made the classes much more similar than they are different. Yes, fighter powers tend to be more single target, melee and defense focused, rogues tend to do lots of single target damage, and wizards do lots of AoE damage. But all in all, the differences between the classes have been played down in order to make sure no one steals the spotlight. While an admirable goal, the way they’ve gone about it really changes the game a lot.

In addition to this, previous editions of D&D were more focused on the RPG element, though 3.5 began transitioning a bit more towards tabletop wargaming. However, it was possible to make full use of the rules without having battlemats in 3.5. In 4th Edition, so many powers rely on precise spacing that it’s almost required to have a battlemat, which puts it ever closer to the tabletop wargaming genre than the roleplaying game genre. Of course, as I’ve said before, nothing stops you from modifying things as needed to make the game suit you, but the point is that the design has taken a radical shift away from previous editions in this regard.

Finally, a topic that gets special attention from me: magic. In previous editions, despite magic still being fairly rigid, there were lots of spells, and those spells could be used very creatively sometimes. In 4th Edition, magic doesn’t really cause physical changes the way it did in 3rd Edition. Rather, it now just does damage of a specific type, and causes a specific ailment to the targets sometimes. This leaves a lot less room for creative use of spells that was inherent in previous editions. Perhaps as I play more, I’ll realize this isn’t as much the case as I feel it is now though. I understand why this was done, and from a design standpoint, it was a good idea, though I would have preferred to see non-casters given something special to bring them up to snuff with casters rather than the heavy revamping to magic that happened with 4th Edition.

In the end, this isn’t an indictment of D&D 4th Edition though. Rather, it’s just an expression of the feeling that 4th Edition has lost the feel of D&D, and I would have preferred for it to be released under a different moniker so it would really be understood it’s a highly distinct system that veers sharply away from that which people who’ve played previous editions of D&D understand the game to be. Despite what sounds like a lot of complaining, I’ve had some fun with a couple of short games of 4th Edition, though I haven’t had the chance to really see the system in action over a long campaign yet. It’s a solid system. I just feel it’s different enough to have it’s own brand.


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