Chad Perrin: SOB

22 March 2009

D&D: The more things change, the more they change.

Filed under: Geek,Review,RPG — Tags: , , — apotheon @ 09:42

This is part of my RPG series of entries here at SOB. See the inaugural entry in the series for more details.

This isn’t meant to be a salvo in the “edition war”. It’s meant to be a historical meander through the eyes of one gamer (me) and, probably, many other gamers like him (me). In the context of the ongoing “edition war”, however, I hope those who have arrived at different conclusions about how things have evolved will learn something about my perspective, and why I hold the opinions I have on the subject of the comparative benefits of different editions. If you can at least understand my point of view, even if you don’t agree with it, I’ll consider this lengthy ramble a successful endeavor.

Bear with me. There’s a lot of personal history in this.

OD&D

When I first started playing D&D, I used the single-book Basic Set with a green dragon on the cover. It was a very simple and straightforward way to design a roleplaying game, which makes sense considering its evolutionary proximity to the very first publication of Dungeons and Dragons. I didn’t have a copy of the game at that point — I was just playing it with a few acquaintances of my innocent youth in a roller rink on the Hawaiian island of Maui. I also didn’t play that edition for long.

One day, when I got my very own D&D Basic Set as a gift, it was the red box set. Frankly, I don’t recall the differences, other than the fact that the red box game was split into two books — one for the player, and the other for the DM — that came with solid color plastic dice and a crayon for coloring in the numbers yourself. By this point it was probably about 1984. The following sets in the series (Expert, et cetera) followed, each set covering a higher level advancement range than the last.

In those halcyon days, the monsters and an implicit campaign setting (starting in the humble home town of Threshold) came in the same purchase as the rules. Images associated with the Elf Class (there was no difference between race and class then) and the Fighter Class are still vivid in my mind, lo these many years later, as well as the later sets’ variant classes (the original precursors to Prestige Classes, I believe) such as my all-time favorite OD&D class, the Avenger. Alignments were along one axis only (L/N/C, none of this Good/Evil crap). I think I still have those books and that box on a shelf somewhere, but the dice and crayon are surely gone forever.

AD&D 1E

Eventually, I was exposed to the quirky tiny text, narrow margins, and florid prose of the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons first edition. I couldn’t even tell you what year that was; the date is lost in the mists of time. It differed quite significantly from the D&D Basic Set, and the first thing I noticed was that race and class were now separate from one another. What an innovation . . . ! That second axis to alignments appeared at this time, providing a matrix of nine alignments, and spawning far greater debates about what any given alignment meant than ever seen before.

AD&D 1E not only separated player knowledge from DM knowledge, but also separated out the campaign world and the monsters into two more books, and each of them was a separate purchase. The construction of the game mechanics was expanded into what seemed, at that time, a dizzying array of options that could be combined in myriad variations to customize a character. There was a set of core books (PHB, DMG, and MM) that were pretty essential to the game, though I suppose one could squeak by without the MM for particularly abnormal campaigns. Additional books and boxed sets could be bought for more player options as well as premade campaign setting materials.

My first exposure to AD&D was, as with OD&D, via someone else’s books. Eventually, though, I got my own — with the new cover art. The books were all basically identical to the previous cover art version, aside from the cover art (obviously), as far as I recall. There are clearly more substantial differences between AD&D 1E as a whole and OD&D (Basic Set and beyond), which can largely be summed up with the statements that it got more flexible, with more options for the players and a greater attention to fine details that helped to add a lot of color to the game; that it gained a somewhat darker, harsher tone; and that the construction of the game mechanics got more byzantine — that is to say, (at times needlessly) complex. There were a lot of things you could do with 1E that weren’t really presented as options to OD&D players, at the cost of a lot more complexity and twisty turns of thought. A major win for AD&D was the fact that it broke the PCs free of the narrow cookie cutter definitions that limited them to very strict little zones of potential in OD&D.

AD&D 2E

The way different types of rules got broken up into separate purchases, when AD&D 2E came out it seemed to be less flexible and possessed of fewer possibilities than 1E to those of us who had been collecting books for a while. The truth was quite the opposite, though, because the foundation of the game was reworked to provide an even less limiting system for constructing characters based on concepts in the players’ heads, with the various classes, races, and acquired abilities being even less subject to the confines of a cookie cutter array of options. Ultimately, it became obvious to many just how much more flexibility had been gained, and how many more options there were, when the non-core books started rolling out, including the Complete Handbook series that provided examples of how to create class-modifying “kits” to further customize a character.

Then came the Player’s Option books for 2E, which really threw the game open to a lot more variation and customizability. There were so many different ways to do things — different approaches to character creation and development that were compatible and could coexist in the same gaming group — that it boggled the mind. Despite all this, though, 2E also managed to simplify the game mechanics significantly, generalizing from many of the exceptions and (sometimes mutually exclusive) special cases of 1E to create a series of broad rules that applied across much wider swaths of game play. In short, we gained options, flexibility, and customization, and what we “lost” was primarily difficulty and confusion. Oh, yeah, and TSR stepped away from a lot of the family unfriendly material from 1E, including the apparent obsession with chainmail bikinis and the inclusion of such unsavory terms as “demon” and “devil”. Some of these family-oriented changes seemed pretty silly, and even annoying, but the rules changes were largely significant enough improvements to prompt me to overlook the “sell-out” stance on mature themes and cheesecake.

Rules Cyclopedia

I took a brief lateral move into a separate branch of the descendant family tree of the OD&D Basic Set, and started playing some games using the Rules Cyclopedia shortly after it was first published. It integrated the previously separated character advancement levels of OD&D into a single set of rules and, at the same time, overhauled the rules somewhat to provide greater flexibility and customization of characters from the very beginning of play. It offered a refreshing change of pace for a little while, because its take on increasing flexibility and customizability was different from that of the AD&D branch of the family tree, but the available options did ultimately pale in comparison. I tired of it after a while, and went back to 2E.

The Rules Cyclopedia approach was to have a significant effect on future development of the D&D game line, however, as you’ll soon see.

D&D 3E

I’ll refrain from differentiating between 3.0 and 3.5 here. The changes between 3.0 and 3.5 were improvements, but not terribly significant or relevant to this discussion.

Some of the concepts from each of 2E and the Rules Cyclopedia were combined, along with a number of new changes, to produce what the D&D line’s new owners (Wizards of the Coast and, ultimately, Hasbro) called the third edition of the game. They dropped the A (for Advanced) entirely, and simply unified all new D&D game publishing into a single line with D&D 3E. In many ways, it was the best of both worlds, with the glaring exception that concocting high-level NPCs on the fly became a nigh-impossible task for the average DM, because of the incredible number of interacting options present in the game.

Despite this, however, the trend set with the previous editions of AD&D mostly held true, with 3E presenting an increase in the customizability potential and flexibility of the rules, enabling greater ability to make concepts manifest without having to bend them as much to suit limitations in the rules (or make up new house rules just to accomodate such concepts). Obviously, as long as there are game rules that a modern human being can mostly hold in its head and use without the help of a bunch of specialized software, there’ll surely always be some need to bend concepts to the rules (or change the rules), but with 3E the game again reduced the extent of that necessity significantly. It further reduced the problem of cookie cutter character creation, added new categories of options, and while doing so actually streamlined the game mechanics as they’re employed in play.

. . . mostly.

There are some warts on this edition’s nose. As I already mentioned, the increase in available options for character creation greatly added to the complexity of creating high-level characters from scratch (rather than “growing” them from first level through long-term play), which made NPC creation for high-level games damned onerous. In addition to that, there were some parts of the rules that simply failed to achieve much good, such as the truly incomprehensible grapple rules of 3E. For many, though, it was easier to house rule (most of) the warts away than to house rule the kind of flexibility found in 3E into earlier editions. Thus, the trend of increasing flexibility, reducing the cookie cutter limitations, while still making the game mechanics smoother and less unwieldy overall held true.

D&D 4E

4E seems to be where the trend went off the rails, and has really left a sour taste in my mouth as a result. Part of the trend is intact — that of streamlining the rules, generalizing them to produce greater effect with fewer structural quirks and special cases than in previous editions. From some perspectives, the other major part of the trend (that of providing more variations) may appear to have been continued as well, with the “powers” system used for class advantages and the segregation of what is now called “Rituals” from the combat spellcasting capabilities of spellcaster classes providing a more widely usable set of options for realizing customized character concepts in the form of a set of stats. Such perspectives ignore a lot of what made the flexibility and variability of character creation in 3E so appealing, though.

While homogenizing mechanics usually produces a more smoothly playable game, which is generally an improvement, some such changes in 4E have actually homogenized the flavor of the nominally different classes, making them feel less differentiated in some ways. Where they are differentiated, it feels like we have taken several steps backward, as each class has an increased sense of being little more than a cookie cutter used to stamp out largely indistinguishable characters amongst those that have the same broad categorical choices made for them during the character creation process. In fact, not only has the cookie cutter regained a fair bit of its lost prominence in the way the game mechanics are structured, but it has even been more blatantly presented with the “Role” convention as employed in 4E (incidentally corrupting the very term on which this entire gaming hobby is built, “roleplaying”).

Where previously “Leader” was a term used to describe a character to whom other characters defer for decision-making under certain circumstances, largely a roleplaying consideration, in 4E it is now a term used to describe a tactical purpose for a given character in combat. That tactical purpose, meanwhile, is not something chosen as a means of fleshing out a concept or assigned by way of interactions between characters; it is, instead, an inherent part of the choice of class for that character. Gone are the days of the berserker War Priest who wades into battle to lay about him with his battle axe, chanting the thousand sacred oaths of his order to curry divine favor — now the cleric class is relegated tactically to the “Role” of a “Leader”, whose job it is to be an automated “buff/debuff” dispenser.

Gone, too, are the days when you could make a fighter class character, a martial man of arms, whose expertise lay in winnowing enemy troops down from afar using ranged weapons before engaging in melee to lay enemies down with a single blow, aided by allies in tactical coöperation with them — that’s the job of the ranger, a “Striker” with a talent for ranged weapons, while the fighter is relegated tactically to the “Role” of “Defender”, soaking up damage so that others can do the dramatic work. Gone, as well, are the days of the wizard (or mage, depending on edition) whose core competency is in gathering intelligence, plying his trade through illusion, enchantment, and divination to ferret out clues — that task is essentially absent from the game now, and the wizard’s assigned “Role” is “Controller”, managing the tide of battle through area effects and similar broadly targeted spells that do almost nothing but deal damage and make enemies more susceptible to others’ damage.

. . . and what do we gain in exchange for this damage to our ability to customize our characters to suit our imaginations? Apparently, what we gain is rules that have a slightly simplified structure, that might occasionally provide some minor benefit over 3E in terms of the smooth flow of play (okay, major benefit in that regard in the case of grappling), but utterly fail to eliminate the major downfall of 3E as compared with 2E: the onerous complexity of on-the-fly high-level campaign management for DMs. It feels, to many long-time D&D gamers who have grown accustomed to (and perhaps been spoiled by) a venerable trend of improved flexibility and customization supported by the evolving rules of new D&D editions, like one step forward and two steps back.

Pathfinder RPG

Rather than follow the edition increment into a game with the D&D name that lacks what I hoped for in a new edition, I have chosen to take another lateral move similar to that of my brief foray into the realm of the Rules Cyclopedia. This move is likely to prove more permanent, however, as — unlike the case with AD&D 2E vs. Rules Cyclopedia — I actively dislike the branch in the family tree I’m abandoning. Meanwhile, even though it is pretty much compatible with D&D v3.5 (the final Wizards of the Coast revision of 3E) and only introduces relatively minor changes in the rules (minor enough to be usable side-by-side with the previous iteration of the rules, akin to the changes between 3.0 and 3.5), Pathfinder RPG’s changes really do seem to be unmitigated improvements in the core system of the game.

Thankfully, one of those changes involved fixing the train wreck of 3E grapple rules in a way that fits with the overall trend of D&D evolution: it generalizes concepts to produce a more flexible — yet more streamlined and unified — system that provides 100% positive advancement (all benefit, no detriment) over the preceding version. More to the point, grapple rules actually work now.

64 Comments

  1. > I’d rather have a system that involves weakened or flawed effects than effects that are absent altogether.

    That’s partly the direction that the Burning Wheel takes for spell failure. (One of the principles of the system is that failure should be as interesting as success.) Apart from the story effects of failed tests generally, a spell failure often results in the spell mutating into something else. This is especially the case (all spell failures, not just sometimes) with the magic system variant that I described in yesterday’s actual play report.

    > I guess I’ll have to wait and see, then, if I get around to trying it out. At present, though, I’m invested enough in PRPG, GURPS, and developing a system of my own that I don’t know that I’ll have time and inspiration soon.

    That’s certainly plenty on one plate. If you do get the time, Pinnacle has a free PDF of the quickstart rules on their site, which somewhat lowers the bar to check it out.

    > > I don’t actually think they meant to pull a bait-and-switch. I think it’s more that they’re not really very well read on system design and roleplaying game theory.

    > I’m not sure what I think of your theory, in any case. It conforms to the classic admonishment to assume incompetence rather than malice, but it seems like kind of a stretch to think that the designers of the 4E system wouldn’t think of the possibility of a drastic departure from the traditional flavor of D&D mechanics alienating a bunch of players.

    I think that they were so excited about the new edition that they didn’t really expect it to not be a complete hit. I mean, from a design perspective exception-based design is really cool and has so many positive consequences that I’m not surprised they didn’t look at the drawbacks. Especially if, as I suspect, they just assumed that if it worked for MtG it would work for D&D, since that implies a lack of recognition that they’re different beasts. The design cycles are ridiculously short and frenzied at WotC too, which I suspect is part of the motive for exception-based design since it makes mechanical development easier. But, such short cycles also means they don’t have time to think about the drawbacks of their designs.

    > Maybe you’re right about the D&D ghetto, though. I don’t know for sure. I haven’t really had a lot of contact with people who, as game designers, ahve always worked entirely within the D&D world.

    I’m not sure about their designers. I’m sure it’s true for some, but I don’t know to what extent that’s endemic to WotC’s culture. It does seem that their only points of reference for game design are previous editions of D&D, judging from designer blogs and the other glimpses we get into WotC’s inner workings. I would be surprised if WotC ever hired a Forge designer.

    > > Take Skill Challenges: part of the design goals was to mechanically encourage creative choices

    > Are you sure that was what they intended? I’m not saying it wasn’t. I just don’t know that it was.

    It’s right there in the 4e DMG, page 75, first paragraph under the heading Reward Clever Ideas:

    > Thinking players are engaged players. In skill challenges, players will come up with uses for skills that you didn’t expect to play a role. Try not to say no. Instead, let them make a roll using the skill but at a hard DC, or make the skill good for only one success. This encourages players to think about the challenge in more depth and engages more players by making more skills useful.

    Translated, they’re saying that penalising creative uses of skills encourages the creative use of skills. It’s just incredible that this paragraph exists. I suspect that what got them into such a ridiculous contradiction was:

    1. challenges engage players and make them think (Premise)
    2. thinking, engaged players are creative (Premise)
    3. making things hard makes them challenging (Premise)
    4. Therefore challenges make players creative (from 1 and 2)
    5. Therefore making it hard on the players makes them creative (from 3 and 4)

    It seems reasonable, unless you actually sanity-check the conclusion.

    I remember reading back when skill challenges’ math was being raked over the coals at ENWorld that this was a design goal of skill challenges. I couldn’t find the reference again, so I hazarded a glance at the DMG. I didn’t expect to find it so blatantly in the DMG, but there you are.

    Comment by d7 — 6 May 2009 @ 11:33

  2. This is especially the case (all spell failures, not just sometimes) with the magic system variant that I described in yesterday’s actual play report.

    Thanks. I’ll give it a look.

    Especially if, as I suspect, they just assumed that if it worked for MtG it would work for D&D, since that implies a lack of recognition that they’re different beasts.

    That seems to suggest that they just repurposed MtG developers, rather than that they drew on the pool of available lifelong D&D developers and freelancers. Do you have some specific reason to believe that’s what they did (other than the fact they blew it so badly with 4E)?

    The design cycles are ridiculously short and frenzied at WotC too, which I suspect is part of the motive for exception-based design since it makes mechanical development easier. But, such short cycles also means they don’t have time to think about the drawbacks of their designs.

    That’s a good point, and I’m not particularly familiar with the development environment within WotC.

    I would be surprised if WotC ever hired a Forge designer.

    Well, yeah — but I think most of the reason for that is the general disdain for D&D at the Forge. What about people who’ve worked on game development at other publishers, such as GDW or Chaosium (for instance)?

    It’s right there in the 4e DMG, page 75, first paragraph under the heading Reward Clever Ideas:

    Well sure, they say that — but that doesn’t necessarily mean that a core design goal of the Skill Challenge system was to encourage creative choices, any more than Microsoft’s insistence that security is a primary design goal of MS Windows necessarily bears any resemblance to the reality inside the development environment. I rather suspect that security ranks about 100th on the list of priorities, behind stuff like meeting release deadlines and including a feature that makes an icon bounce when you point the mouse pointer at it.

    In fact, the paragraph you quoted just reads like text lifted directly from an earlier edition and paraphrased to make it sound fresh and new (with some advice for “encouraging” creativity by penalizing it, as you point out).

    It seems reasonable, unless you actually sanity-check the conclusion.

    . . . or the premises. The premises themselves are flawed, because each of them assumes a single cause for the consequence in each premise when an even cursory examination should make it clear that this is not necessarily the case for each consequence.

    I remember reading back when skill challenges’ math was being raked over the coals at ENWorld that this was a design goal of skill challenges. I couldn’t find the reference again, so I hazarded a glance at the DMG. I didn’t expect to find it so blatantly in the DMG, but there you are.

    I find that more persuasive than the quote from the book, actually, because I’m inclined to trust your memory of discussion amongst 4E developers more than the words inside the book designed to make people happy with their purchase.

    Comment by apotheon — 6 May 2009 @ 04:12

  3. > > Especially if, as I suspect, they just assumed that if it worked for MtG it would work for D&D, since that implies a lack of recognition that they’re different beasts.

    > That seems to suggest that they just repurposed MtG developers, rather than that they drew on the pool of available lifelong D&D developers and freelancers. Do you have some specific reason to believe that’s what they did (other than the fact they blew it so badly with 4E)?

    As I understand their design team philosophy, each product in the pipe (whether a MtG set or a D&D book) is assigned an ad hoc design team of whoever is free and has the skills they want to bring to bear. Obviously MtG designers tend to work on MtG and D&D designers tend to work on D&D, but there doesn’t seem to be separate divisions. People seem to move around a lot. For such a big project as 4e they probably brought as many thinkers into the design process as possible, including some of their MtG veterans.

    I mean, nobody working on D&D in the past knows two bits about “exception-based design”. That’s entirely a MtG design paradigm. They would have had to bring in MtG designers. That, and the way Powers (what with their mechanics over here and flavour over there, and never the twain shall meet) work just like Magic cards, says to me that there’s no way they could have cooked up what 4e turned out to be without deliberately importing their MtG design paradigm and experience.

    > > I would be surprised if WotC ever hired a Forge designer.

    > Well, yeah — but I think most of the reason for that is the general disdain for D&D at the Forge. What about people who’ve worked on game development at other publishers, such as GDW or Chaosium (for instance)?

    I don’t know. I’ve never heard of a D&D designer coming from anywhere except pulled from the ranks of their freelancers, but it’s not something I can comment on with authority. GDW and TSR had a very poor relationship (they worked on Fiend Folio together, but they had “differences” at the end of its production and it almost didn’t get published), so I would’t be surprised if there was still no love lost and a lack of people moving between them. (Besides the moving and culture barriers that an ocean entails.)

    Certainly, if WotC wants to push into innovative territory with their game mechanics, they’re tying both hands behind their back by ignoring the rolling boil of creative thinking that came out of the Forge. There really wasn’t any such thing as RPG theory before Forge theory led the way.

    > > It’s right there in the 4e DMG, page 75, first paragraph under the heading Reward Clever Ideas:

    > Well sure, they say that — but that doesn’t necessarily mean that a core design goal of the Skill Challenge system was to encourage creative choices, any more than Microsoft’s insistence that security is a primary design goal of MS Windows necessarily bears any resemblance to the reality inside the development environment.

    > In fact, the paragraph you quoted just reads like text lifted directly from an earlier edition and paraphrased to make it sound fresh and new (with some advice for “encouraging” creativity by penalizing it, as you point out).

    Ah. I read that differently because I think they actually believe it. They were so proud of their skill challenge mechanic, despite it being about as innovative as Windows 3.1 would be today. This is the biggest thing that makes me think they’re stuck in the D&D ghetto. Outside of D&D and the other tradition-bound systems, theories of reward and feedback loops within game systems have developed and matured to the point where the ass-backwardness of that paragraph is obvious. I think they just aren’t up enough on the current state of the art of RPG design to know that they did something both inelegant and counter to their goals.

    > I find that more persuasive than the quote from the book, actually, because I’m inclined to trust your memory of discussion amongst 4E developers more than the words inside the book designed to make people happy with their purchase.

    I don’t think the DMG was written with that in mind. There is a lot of good advice in there, and in general I get the impression that Mr. Wyatt believes in the game. Really, it’s not a terrible game, just not as innovative or well-designed as its creators would like to think. Which, really, isn’t surprising. People are rarely objective about their own work, and the people chosen to work on the game would certainly have to demonstrate that they have the “right attitude” about the new design.

    (Unless you’re a 4e Forgotten Realms developer, of course. Apparently they publicly stated that they don’t like the Realms.)

    Comment by d7 — 9 May 2009 @ 01:48

  4. [stuff about repurposed MtG developers]

    Your arguments are quite convincing. You’ve clearly thought through this particular subject quite a bit more than I have.

    It would be interesting to have confirmation from the “inside”.

    I’ve never heard of a D&D designer coming from anywhere except pulled from the ranks of their freelancers, but it’s not something I can comment on with authority.

    My assumption would be that D&D freelancers probably, in at least some cases, also freelance on other game systems, or may even have been directly employed by other game publishers.

    GDW and TSR had a very poor relationship (they worked on Fiend Folio together, but they had “differences” at the end of its production and it almost didn’t get published), so I would’t be surprised if there was still no love lost and a lack of people moving between them. (Besides the moving and culture barriers that an ocean entails.)

    Okay . . . GDW was a bad example. Mea culpa.

    There really wasn’t any such thing as RPG theory before Forge theory led the way.

    Well . . . I don’t know that I’d say that exactly. Sure, there wasn’t much in the way of visible theory, and the Forge theorists certainly gave rise to a certain amount of RPG theory orthodoxy (which in turn helped improve the visibility of academic theory), but that’s not exactly the same as an absence of scholarly theorizing.

    If, on the other hand, you’re talking about “formal” theory in the world of professional academics, I’m not sure the Forge gave rise to that either — because it didn’t draw from the orthodoxies of related academic fields.

    Maybe I’m picking at nits, though.

    They were so proud of their skill challenge mechanic, despite it being about as innovative as Windows 3.1 would be today.

    I suspect part of our differences in perspective are based on the fact that I don’t really follow the mainstream discussion much, so I haven’t seen some of the cultural indicators of what’s going on that you might have seen.

    I think they just aren’t up enough on the current state of the art of RPG design to know that they did something both inelegant and counter to their goals.

    Even without familiarity with the current state of the art of RPG design, it should still look inelegant and counterproductive to a professional game developer. That’s my thought, anyway. I have to wonder what kind of hidebound, slow-witted people are so rigidly oriented that they can’t think outside of that one-dimensional box.

    People are rarely objective about their own work, and the people chosen to work on the game would certainly have to demonstrate that they have the “right attitude” about the new design.

    Good point.

    (Unless you’re a 4e Forgotten Realms developer, of course. Apparently they publicly stated that they don’t like the Realms.)

    Ouch. That reminds me of the public statements by the various game line “Architects” at White Wolf to the effect that they thought the players of the World of Darkness games were a bunch of maladjusted little idiots, back around the time they started publishing Revised Edition.

    I really don’t like FR myself, but I also wouldn’t expect to be tasked with developing FR game materials by the publisher with that in mind.

    Comment by apotheon — 11 May 2009 @ 12:26

  5. Wow. That was…um…vitriolic. For the record, there were 60 occurrences of the word “fuck” in some context or other (“fuck, fucking, fucker”).

    Comment by steelcaress — 1 February 2010 @ 10:41

  6. Um . . . thanks for noticing?

    Comment by apotheon — 1 February 2010 @ 02:33

  7. Greetings,

    I would like to now, (really) what the estimated price is for : basic rules set 1 red and expert rules 2 bleu – both still in plastic brand new (1981/1984)

    Comment by Charlie — 29 March 2010 @ 10:57

  8. I have no idea what it would cost now, I’m afraid. Good luck finding that information.

    My old red box is in pretty sorry shape, and I don’t have an Expert set any longer at all.

    Comment by apotheon — 29 March 2010 @ 10:49

  9. I play with a group of friends who have all been playing DnD together for almost 20 years now. Even before that I played the old Basic Set and 1st edition. We’ve played all editions from 2nd to 4th and we have found 4th edition’s combat to take so long that people are resorting to playing with their iPhones while they wait for their next turn. I think it comes from the increased complexity in the form of combat choices and how to build characters up and up which of course a couple of the guys really love. I believe the difference in perception between editions comes from there perhaps being two types of players: 1) those whose primary goal is to build their character as quickly as possible through combat or whatever other means possible and 2) those who prefer the actual adventuring and discovery side of the game. I’d personally be prepared to play a very simple rule system if it meant that the game would flow better and the feeling of adventure was maintained rather than performing a mechanical hack and slash and get some XP routine constantly. So this is our dilema right now. We are considering all the different editions of D&D (even Basic!) and perhaps some other gaming systems in an effort to bring that feeling back. I’m afraid that for about half of us 4E just doesn’t do it.

    Comment by James — 6 January 2011 @ 04:42

  10. James:

    Sorry to hear about your gaming group’s disappointment with the way combat flows in 4E. Do you notice the problem getting worse as characters gain levels, or is this something that stays pretty constant for you from first level?

    Comment by apotheon — 6 January 2011 @ 09:52

  11. The party levels range between about 7 to 12 at the moment and yes, combat seems to be getting progressively slower. One of us suggested we just halve the hit points of everything including our characters to move combat along (or doubling the damage) but I’d rather a gaming system we don’t have to tweak like that. Anyway, our DM has just posted a rather vitriolic email to all of us detailing what he thinks the problems are and number one on the list is people being distracted and not concentrating on the game. That is definitely a factor but perhaps it is more a symptom of waiting too long for your turn.

    Comment by James — 6 January 2011 @ 03:05

  12. James, My group found the same problem as you. Another discovery we made was that no matter what, playing a Leader class inherently slows you down because you’re reactive rather than proactive. Everything you do hinges on what others before you have done, and what others in front of you plan to do. So, you can’t effectively plan your turn in advance. I play a Cleric and it’s reigned true for me since day one.

    Comment by Keith — 6 January 2011 @ 03:09

  13. It seems kind of ironic to me that the “leader” is the guy following everybody else’s decisions around.

    Comment by apotheon — 6 January 2011 @ 03:44

  14. Our DM has just sent this email out and it would seem to explain our perception that combat takes longer than in other versions.

    “I can’t believe it but I have just actually realised why combat takes longer, and it does.

    DnD 3.0 5th level fighter, 40hp (5d10 plus 15 for Con) Longsword 1d8 damage plus say 5 for magic, str, ability Have two of them fight each other, hit every 2nd round for 9 damage over after 5 hits.
    Even more so at lower levels as each hit is a levels worth of hp’s in damage.

    DnD 4.0 5th level fighter, 56hp (15 plus 17 for Con plus 24) Longsword 1d8 damage plus say 5 for magic, str, ability (Am avoiding the encounter power attacks that do multiple damage) Going to take 6 hits, except there will be ways to use at least 2 if not 4 healing surges which is another 28 to 56 hp means the fight will take 50% to 100% longer! Conversely it will NOT be much shorter at lower levels as 32 of the 56 hp came at 1st level Add a Cleric or Warlord who can dish out healing surges and the fight will go on longer.

    But what about versus the bad guys? DnD 3.0 d8 hp per level Goblin 5hp Hill Giant 50hp Ghoul 15hp

    DnD 4.0 (excluding 1hp minions) Goblin 25hp Hill Giant 159hp Ghoul 63hp

    The maths is the maths. So you are right, it does take a long time.”

    Comment by James — 7 January 2011 @ 03:46

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

All original content Copyright Chad Perrin: Distributed under the terms of the Open Works License