There’s been a lot written about D&D 4E and why is it superior/inferior to all other editions. I really don’t care about those arguments. This is my blog and I’m going to write MY thoughts. :p
(In other word, the following post is my OPINION and does not reflect a judgement upon anyone. If you find a game to be fun, then play what you like!)
I love playing D&D, regardless of edition. That doesn’t mean I like all editions equally. The title of this blog is How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love all D&D, and even though I tried (I think the dozen or so sessions of D&D 4E with a mix of adventures from Dungeons and adventure I wrote myself counts as having given it a fair shake), I just can’t love 4E. I’m going to stop short of saying I’ll never run/play it again, but it is not my edition of choice.
First of all, I don’t want a debate with 4E-lovers. Let’s just say it doesn’t fit my GMing style and leave it at that. The real answer is more complicated than that, but as long as you can accept that personal preferences do not have to be the same for every person who plays the game, then we’re good. There’s just something about it that rubs me the wrong way as a GM and I just don’t enjoy running the game like I have with other editions. I think part of it is the tactical combat. The more tactical combat is in a game, the less I seem to like it. At first, when D&D 3rd edition came out, I was totally on-board, but the more I played it, and through the transition to 4E, I just found combat tedious.
4E has it good points, to be sure. The online tools work pretty well as much as I used them and certainly made my game prep easier. Far easier than it had been since 2E and the Core Rules CD-Rom. The tools made it dead easy to convert classic adventures (Basic D&D and AD&D) as long as you know how to build 4E encounters. I learned that you can’t rely on the Encounter Builder’s estimation too much, because it makes assumptions that my group didn’t always meet (it was rare for us to play with more than 4 player-characters, for one, and we did not have a perfectly balanced party of Defender-Striker-Controller-Leader all the time).
My background in D&D starts in 1982 with the Moldvay/Mentzer basic sets (my friend had one and I had the other). I moved on from there to AD&D and spent much of my gaming “life” playing AD&D 2nd edition. I played a lot of 3rd edition and really liked it, but always felt 4E moved too far away from what I was used to. To me, and I stress this is MY opinion and not meant to infer that everyone should share my opinion, it feels like Fantasy Superheroes, far more so than D&D 3.X ever did. My last session with the system really cemented that with character making vertical leaps from standing that really, probably, should’ve been physically impossible, though I will admit I didn’t stop the game to look up jumping rules, so maybe I just screwed it up.
We’re moving on (some might say backwards) to Pathfinder. Time will tell how I feel about it. I spent a lot of time running D&D 3.X, but I’ve only run one Pathfinder game. Maybe it’ll be too complicated for me (I suspect I’m going to find combat too tedious and complicated since it’s just an evolution from 3.x). I’ve said before (in this blog or elsewhere) that the older I get, the more I prefer rules-light systems and I think we can all agree that D&D 3.X, Pathfinder, and D&D 4E are anything but rules-light. I’m curious to see how much game prep is involved in running an adventure path. We’re going to start with Skull & Shackles. I’m hoping the chance to be pirates will allow my players to indulge in some of their more anarchic tendencies and by the time we’re finished with it, they’ll be ready to play the heroes they’ll need to be for adventures like Rise of the Runelords. To further add to the anarchy, the PCs will be goblins (at least until/if they die; I won’t restrict races for replacement characters).
Who knows? By the end of the year, I might swear off modern D&D/Pathfinder altogether and go back to my beloved AD&D 2nd edition and play other games like Savage Worlds and various FATE-based games. Or, I might finally grok the rules-heavy games (I haven’t felt I had a system mastery of an RPG since I left AD&D 2nd edition and the West End Games Star Wars d6 behind). Time will tell.
I asked my long-term players (of varying levels of experience) to write up some of their thoughts about D&D 4E (as I did with Basic D&D). Here is what they had to say (names have been altered to protect the innocent):
Theirastra’s Player: “[4E] is too complex and takes the fun out of the role playing aspect of the game. And in an effort to please everyone, there are zillions of races [and classes], which are not really necessary. I liked Basic better. Haven’t played enough Pathfinder to compare to it.”
Mercutio’s Player: “After running a campaign and playing in this short one, I think that 4E reads better than it plays. In practice, while our powers all have different names, they all come off on the gameboard like pretty much the same stuff. The numbers are a little too sterile for my taste, if that makes sense. There’s no “swing” on rolls. Little sense of risk/reward, in that you don’t feel in danger with all those hit points and surges and heals and stuff, and you don’t get the satisfaction of smashing your enemies into tiny bits, since most of them take 3 or 4 hits to fall down. Even a crit isn’t terribly satisfying in this system, and that seems kind of wrong.”
I won’t go so far as to say that I think D&D 4E is a bad game. It’s OK. It does what it’s trying to do well, but it’s not what I am looking for when I play D&D. It’s not what I think the game should have evolved into. If my opinion on that offends you, then you really need to take a closer look at your life, your passions, and your priorities. To those who love 4E and think it’s the best edition yet: more power to you. I’m glad you’ve found an edition you love. It’s just not the edition I love.