Friday, February 22, 2013

"Middle School"?

Sometimes I feel a generalized anxiety
when I watch "The Wonder Years."
Carl Pinder over on the G+ group OSR came up with a new category: "Middle School" (look under the comments) to describe 4e. Moe Tousignant also had some interesting points that made sense.

So let's go with the argument that 4e isn't Old School and it isn't New School, but Middle School. That is, a combination between Old School and New School philosophies.

I know, perhaps the first thing that comes mind is early teen angst, nightmares of going to the wrong classroom, obnoxious school rules, and teachers that just won't leave you alone. (If you want to learn more about my D&D adventures and minor acts of rebellion in Middle School, read this post.)

Still, I think Pinder has a point.

Upon closer look, 4e tried to appeal to a broad audience, both old and new. If it weren't for WotC screwball marketing scheme that basically said you were a moron for even playing older editions, 4e might have been more accepted. Then again, maybe not. For some reason, I went into 4e thinking it would be more like 2e--and I was very disappointed because I was expecting something more rules lite.

Yet 4e is more rules lite when compared to 3.5e, leaning more toward Old School. Many defenders of 4e often site p.42 of the 4e Dungeon Master's Guide, where basically it says you can "Rule 0" anything.

Still, 4e continues the 3.5e focus on New School character building and optimization but... not to the extend of 3.5e. Once you're on path,"skill tree", or "role," you're pretty much stuck there.

4e also has a weird balance between the abstract and realism. Spells and powers can knock characters around on the battlefield, much like what would happen in a "real" fight. Yet many of these powers work "just because."

Also, 4e is old school because many of these powers have no saving throw. Sort of. Saving throws have been converted into "Defenses". That's "New School."

4e is old school because your low level characters can take on multiple opponents at once. Yet, its new school because your character has more hit points and your opponents are called "minions" with 1 hp. You can take them on by yourself, because you're superman. That's definitely new school.

I still say 4e is "New School," given that the philosophy behind is about balance and focus on character building. Everybody gets something for just showing up and completing "milestones." Nobody gets any drawbacks, and if you just push through it, you'll succeed and complete the story.

It reminds me of playing Final Fantasy all those years ago (not FF1), where if you would just walk through the game, fighting every monster you came upon, you would stand a great chance of winning. Oh yeah, and if you die, you start back at the last save point.

Just like Final Fantasy and real Middle School, once you got the formula down 4e became boring, constrictive, linear. And the game expected everybody to be in the same boat, at the same level of play, balance, balance, balance.

That's all for now, I feel that if say anything more, I'll use 4e as a platform to further criticize this country's public school system. (But I kinda did already, didn't I... )


  1. D&D 4e is more like high school, because WOTC had to be high to release an edition of D&D that would disappoint their customers and drive them to buy a competitors product, i.e Pathfinder.

  2. I really don't think whether a game is "old school" or "new school" really has anything to do with how the very details of the rules are handled. Its more about the overarching design philosophy.

    D&D Fourth Edition is, to me, one of the most "new school" games in existence. And I love it.


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