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My thoughts on 4e so far

When I first heard about 4e being released, I was quite apprehensive.

That didn't last long. After all, I'm blindly optimistic, right?

Well, not quite. It's probably more accurate that I tend to see the successes of companies I like more than their failures. So, although Wizards have had disasters like the Tome of Magic, DMG2 and the Map Folios, the joy I've gotten from their successes: Magic Item Compendium and Magic of Incarnum has far outweighed the bad.

Hey, what? Merric doesn't like DMG2? Yeah. Well, it's not really a disaster - it just has a lot of stuff in it that is completely irrelevant to my games. There are few things of interest, but they generally add more complexity to DMing, so they get ignored.

Much the same way that the PHB2 Affiliations, interesting rules that they are, have required more work than they're worth. If my players don't get engaged by something, then it's not likely to be used. Paizo did a nice set of affiliations for Savage Tide. The players chose them in the first session... and we haven't revisited them, because they don't actually impinge on the adventures. Heck, most of the time the PCs aren't anywhere near where their affiliations might be!

At various times during the last seven years, I've been running up to 3 campaigns - often, one Homebrew, one Adventure Path and a Living Greyhawk game. I'd normally spend about 8 hours a week Dungeon Mastering 3.5e. This has dropped down to 4 hours a week recently, but it'll probably go up again in 2008. So, I've had a fair bit of experience with 3.5e. Paizo's "Age of Worms" gave me the chance to run a campaign up to 21st level, and I'm very grateful to Erik and everyone else at Paizo for that chance. I hope to do it again with Savage Tide.

However, it was during the play of "Age of Worms" that I really became aware of the problems faced by some people with 3.5e. Unlike my homebrew campaign, the players in the AP game are more casual. Well, you've got one or two who are fantastic at building characters and finding the best supplements. (Craig's effectiveness at building a druid was eye-opening). But you have the other end as well: the players who are fantastic role-players, but are... challenged... when it comes to rules knowledge.

High-level combats also became challenging. In truth, it wasn't a rule-related thing. It was the Handful of Dice syndrome, and the inability of some of my players to add quickly. Craig's PDA, which had the diceroller installed on it, made things a lot more bearable.

The other thing that really started to bug me was how difficult it was to send groups of enemies against PCs. There are a few levels and monster-types where it works. There are far more where it doesn't. High-level monsters were too complicated to run easily at high levels, and the less said about a group of 20 Lizardfolk attacking a 4th level party the better. (They couldn't touch the party!)

(I've posted before about how the power curve in 3e is a bit too steep for my liking; that's why).

So, here comes 4e, and obviously, it'll fix all the problems I have with 4e. Right?

Heh. Who knows? I certainly don't.

There's one thing that has been very nice throughout the 3e era: I've felt like I was Wizards' target audience. Not always, but for most of it. Of course, they occasionally got my tastes dead wrong - there'd be a lot more adventures from Wizards if they were aiming directly at me, and a lot of Greyhawk ones at that! - but ruleswise? Nice going.

The biggest thing about 4e for me is the potential it has to fix the problems I've had with 3e. The biggest disappointment? The way its publicity has been handled.

If there's one thing that really makes me cringe, it's that "teaser" video displaying the "problems" with the previous editions of D&D. Now, I - and most people familiar with 3e - can relate to the problems with Grappling in 3e. (Incidentally, I don't have a problem running Grappling, I just have a problem with how powerful it is with large creatures). However, the problem with AD&D is... you don't know what mini stands for which monster? Huh? How on earth is that a 1st edition problem?

4e got off to a bad start, and things haven't gone smoothly since then.

Gleemax? Urg. Now, I'm an early adopter by nature, and I've been using the site, but it manages to fail Merric's Usability Test in a number of matters:
* It logs me out repeatedly, meaning that some longer "blog" posts will be killed
* Horrid navigation
* Too many small graphics. (Heck, too many graphics).

That last is really important: With web design, Less really is More. If I have to wait 5 minutes for the site to load... sorry, forget it. This is also a problem with the main Wizards website.

I'd love to be upbeat about gleemax, I really would, but...

...guys, go visit BoardGameGeek.com. It does a lot of what Gleemax should do. And given it may soon be expanding into RPGgeek.com as well? You've got competition!

Meanwhile, back on the D&D side of things...
...stupid Dragon & Dungeon magazine online rollouts!

Again, here's something I really, really want to support. Much as I like Paizo's content, my one year as an international subscriber to both magazines was not a really happy experience. The magazines came late. I've got a feeling that one issue of Dragon never arrived. Urgh. (Paizo's customer service may be great, but I really don't want to have to contact them!) An online magazine makes a lot more sense for me, and it'd also be substantially cheaper for me.

However, it's struggling under poor information and lacklustre articles. What will be the eventual cost of subscription? We don't know. Will we be forced to take the entire package, even though we've got no use for Dungeon magazine? We don't know. (That last really worries me - I want Dungeon magazine, but many people won't, and being required to pay for it with the rest of the DDi subscription? Urg).

There's been some things giving me hope - not all the articles have been bad. Some I've found really enjoyable. However, I'd so like it to be better!

Finally, we come to 4e, and the things that have been announced for it so far. There are things I like, and things I'm not happy about. Tieflings in the core book? Please, no! Simpler monsters? Great! (I love the way monsters are handled in MM5). More complex PCs and faster advancement? Uh oh...

I like the idea of PCs getting something at every level. It's a real joy to not have "dead" levels. However, then I need to think about the role-players of my Savage Tide campaign. Does this mean more complexity as well? If there's faster advancement, will ability pile upon ability so fast that my players won't be able to get used to the new ability before more complexity is added to the character?

And what about NPCs? Monsters can be made simpler, but NPCs?

So, I'm concerned. I hope for the best, and fear the worst.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 25th, 2007 04:38 am (UTC)
I might have to take your title as ENWorld Optimist :) (better than getting branded as WOTC Fanboi). 4E and D&DI all look pretty shiny to me.

I'll agree that DMG2 was less than fantastic. It seemed very uneven. And the PHB2 affiliations, great idea but... for Savage Tide, I had one player a little interested in the Seekers- it fit with his character, but it has affected much one way or the other. I recall when reading through Shattered Gates of Slaughtergarde, by the time you'd get any real benefit from the affiliations, you'd be done with the adventure.

Groups of enemies- I remember the lizardmen very well- I buffed them up a little and they still sucked. And I'm seeing it again in Pathfinder; lots of fights which are against one major foe (who, even with a few levels on the party, is still one character acting once per round vs. four or more characters), or groups which by the book should be a challenge, but in play are anything but (my Pathfinder 2 review on RPG.net goes into more detail; suffice to say I'm calling it the "Give the PCs free XP and gold" encounter).

I just don't see the problem people had with the video- I thought it was goofy fun. Something cheesy to grab the crowd's attention; the real meat came once Chris and Bill walked out on stage.

Gleemax- yeah, it can use some work, but it's getting it. But, I'm glad they opened up the Alpha so that we the gaming population can have some input. I expect some major improvements in the months to come.

For Dragon and Dungeon, I've been fairly happy. I don't see much difference in the quality of the articles here than I've seen in the last few issues by Paizo. But, it'll be something to watch in the months to come.

I'll disagree with you on the tieflings- I'm fond of the race, and I'm looking forward to one that can be played from the start. However, I think it'll be pretty easy to excise it if desired.

Character complexity- this might have changed, but what I recall from the GenCon seminar I attended, it sounded like they were wanting a player to make one decision per level and that it would be harder to screw up a character (less feats requiring long prereqs for one). There was also mention that a 20+ level character would not have 40+ abilities to choose from; characters complexity should stay fairly consistent throughout their careers.

So, if you need some rest, I can carry on the banner of optimism for a while; I'm pretty confident that the game we're getting in June is going to be an improvement over 3.5. And if not, well, I've got a shelf full of stuff that still works.
Oct. 25th, 2007 02:42 pm (UTC)
It's always interesting to see how the divergent experiences of different players and DMs will so affect their perspective on the provided products. For example, I've long since had to come to terms with the fact that my view of the playability of the 3.5 game is a little skewed by the fact that I use a laptop and DM Genie for all my DMing. It takes a lot of the micro-managing out of the system, but adds new levels of minutia in its own right.

I absolutely adored the DMG2, by the way.

That being said, it fascinated me to learn that 3.5 had so many convoluted issues that affected its playability. That isn't to say that I didn't have any problems with them... but rather that I hadn't been recognizing them as such. Like I'd imagine to be the case for many gamers, I just kind of assimilated the complications as best I could and worked around the things that I couldn't. I know that I made a conscious decision not to ignore any of the rules of the game... but in retrospect, my players and I seem to have made a habit of skirting around the edges of the rules/concepts/options that unnecessarily complicated play. So strangely, the announcements concerning what they intend to redress for 4E took me by surprise, but after a week or so of careful consideration and casual observation at my gaming table, I was impressed.

I am very enthusiastic about the design philosophy they seem to be espousing, if not precisely everything they seem to be doing with it. (I, also, find that I'm particularly disturbed by the tiefling as a core race, despite the fact that I am quite fond of them. They just don't belong in the PHB... of course, I kinda feel similarly about the fey race they're including, about the core pantheon I've seen them discussing, about what they're doing with the core planar cosmology...)

Oh... and one of the potential downsides of being a laptop DM (particularly when you run 2 or 3 games a week)... new rules in new products generally required that I add the material manually to the software I'm using, so such things had to be really important to go through all the trouble. Mind you, I've made a couple of rather extreme decisions in this regard... I've run a couple of ARCANA UNEARTHED/EVOLVED campaigns and a few D20 MODERN games, which both required a massive amount of data entry and scripting, etcetera, etcetera.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )