Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Has it really been five years since 4e "ruined everything?"

This occurred to me the other day: D&D 4e came out in August 2008.

Really? That long ago?

It's been almost four years since I got frustrated, halted my 4e campaign, and sold all of the books.

4e pissed me off! I'd been deceived by WotC! They said it'd be better that 3.5e! They said the mathematics would "even out" and no one's character would get overpowered! Even worse:

I wasted about three months running 4e, and it turned out that myself nor my players liked it!

The outrage! The deceit on WotC's part! I'd spent a few months promoting 4e, thinking my players would enjoy it. I bought all three of the corebooks, an equipment guide, and even subscribed to DDI. Man oh man did I feel burned when the paradigm shift came during one session:

I don't like this game. It's really hard to challenge player characters because characters are hard to kill. Once the players realize this, then what's the point of playing? 

This revelation came after a 4-5 1st and 2nd level characters trounced a 7th or 8th level black dragon straight from the Monster Manual, a solo creature. The PCs trounced the dragon. About half ended up bloodied, but that was easily fixed by "second winds" and magical healing. Then they went on their merry way. The dragon had been a random encounter in swamp, something (in older editions of D&D) they should have run from.

What happened? My die rolls were decent but the dragon just couldn't match the overwhelming combined powers of the PCs. Not even its acid breath weapon had much effect. Something similar had been going on in other encounters. The monsters and PCs would "dance" around the battle mat, using their powers to "push" or "pull" each other for about an hour like WWE wrestlers, then the PCs would win.

Sure, 4e pretty much took care of the "15 minute adventuring day" (which I'd never experienced, by the way), but ended up making characters hard to defeat. The initial fun we had playing 4e, trying out the new system, lapsed into boredom once the players figured out how to combine their powers to always defeat the monsters with little risk to themselves.

After taking another look at things, I realized that 4e is about as opposite from my philosophy on gaming as one can get. I don't think you're supposed to create your own adventures with 4e. I don't think it's meant for that. Sure, DMing is somewhat easier than 3.5e, but only if you handed what you're given by the published books. Even worse, because of all its concern over balance, it encouraged what I call passive gaming, where all participants just sit back and wait to be entertained, instead of being proactive and making their game their own.

I'll go into more about passive gaming and why it can have a negative impact at the tabletop in a later post, as well as better defining the term and what I mean by "negative."

I'm not upset anymore. My group when back to playing 3.5e. I'd have rather run AD&D 2e or one of the many retroclones out there, but that wouldn't come until the last year or so.

Overtime I realized that 4e just wasn't for me. After running that abortive 4e campaign, no amount of marketing or persuasion could get me run or play 4e again on a regular basis. I did play a session of D&D Encounters a little over a year ago. I had fun, but I felt like I'd just played a fast-food version of D&D. Still, it was better than not playing anything. 

Now 5e is on the horizon. At some point, I probably will try it. WotC is certainly trying to "unite the clans" buy saying it'll work with any edition of D&D. But there's so many other options out there now where I can get my d20 fix. Swords & Wizardry is one, and recently I've "upgraded" to DCC RPG, both of which align pretty much with my philosophy of gaming.

Have I ever explained my gaming philosophy of gaming? If I did, it must have been in one of my earlier posts on this blog--which I can see few people read. But that is a topic for another time.

In the five years since 5e came out, things have moved forward. Just as they always will. For some, 4e did ruin everything, fragmenting the hobby. But out of all that the OSR really took off as did Pathfinder. Players started questioning the fundamental reasons why people play D&D and what exactly is D&D?

And I think that is a good thing.


  1. Wow, I just realized while reading this post it's been about five years since I bought anything from WOTC.

  2. Several years back, I did some work for a local game shop, getting me in some pretty good graces; one day, I receive in the mail some pretty sweet swag; the two Forgotten Realms 4E hardcovers. Now, bear in mind that both I and my players were perfectly happy with 3.5 (a Dragonlance campaign at the time), so we were really not interested in "upgrading".

    Then I read the sourcebooks.

    Keep in mind that they were absolutely, completely, 100% free.

    I felt cheated and wanted my money back.

    Considering that at the time I had every single 3.X FR book printed, plus a significant percentage of 2E and 1E stuff... plus a binder fool of photocopied of the Dragon Magazine articles... I looked at the prices on both books and wept.

    Still wanting my money back.


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