Some 4E myths

There’s a war going on the internet. In blogs, forums, chats etc. players all over the world are entrenched in their positions and untiringly attacking their enemies. The fight is about what edition of D&D is the best. Especially the 3E advocates are using several arguments to attack the 4th Edition of D&D that obviously come from the lands of myths and fairy tales. And no, I don’t want to tell you that 4E is better than any other version of D&D but I try to bring some rationality into the discussion.

  • D&D 4th Edition makes it harder to roleplay your character
    That’s a common argument against the new edition and it’s the most silly one. No game can actively hinder you from player your character. Heck, back in the days, we even roleplayed games like Diplomacy. You don’t need a special set of rules for doing roleplaying.
  • The 4th Edition is just not D&D anymore
    That’s a harder nut to crack. If D&D it’s all about the rules for you, then this is probably true, but I always thought D&D was about dungeons, dragons, brave heroes, swords, sorcery, epic adventures and things like that. And you still can run adventures in the 4th Edition that are about all that and even more. The latest edition also brings back the epic destinies, something that harkens back to the earliest editions.
  • You can’t play 4E without miniatures
    If you were able to play D&D 3.0 or 3.5 without the use of minatures you should be able to pull this off in 4th edition too. Some classes (like the Warlord) for example benefit from using some kind of combat map, but you are not forced to use miniatures. I played in several D&D sessions and we never used aminiatures. 
  • [Enter class name here] is missing from the PHB, it’s not D&D anymore
    Remember the first D&D? No? Then let me tell you that the first D&D had only three classes: Cleric, fighting man and magic-user. When the above is true, the original D&D is no “real D&D” either since classes like the thief, druid, barbarian, paladin etc. are missing. And there’s another point: the “missing” classes will come back in the coming Players Handbook 2. And the barbarian was already released for playtesting.
  • D&D plays just like WoW now
    So you probably never played 4th Edition or World of Warcraft before, when you think this is true. At first it’s obviously the other way around: WoW and other fantasy MMORPGs were inspired by pen&paper and single-player computer RPGs. And even if there were some similarities in the game mechanics, the gameplay is (or at least should be) vastly different. And if it’s not you have a very unimaginative DM. 
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want you to force you to switch to D&D 4E. Just play the game you enjoy playing. If you don’t like 4th Edition, don’t use it. The earlier editions of D&D are great games and especially for D&D 3.5 the third-party support is still strong. But there are a lot of misconceptions about 4E floating around on the internet and I wanted to help clearing some things up. Comments are as always welcome, so please let your voices be heard!


UPDATE: I’ve noticed that someone rated this article 1 star without commenting. If you think I am wrong, it would be great if you could give me some hint what you don’t dislike about the post. Is my logic flawed? Is the writing bad? Please use the comment function of the blog.
UPDATE #2: Wow, I think I really opened a can of worms here. This obviously is still a very hot topic and the discussion in the comments is starting to get heated. What astounds me the most is the hate that some people bring down on D&D 4E, people who actually like it and the people at Wizards. Please don’t forget, it’s just a game!

Michael Wolf is a German games designer and enthusiast best known for his English language role-playing games blog, Stargazer's World, and for creating the free rules-light medieval fantasy adventure game Warrior, Rogue & Mage. He has also worked as an English translator on the German-language Dungeonslayers role-playing game and was part of its editorial team. In addition to his work on Warrior, Rogue & Mage and Dungeonslayers, he has created several self-published games and also performed layout services and published other independent role-playing games such as A Wanderer's Romance, Badass, and the Wyrm System derivative Resolute, Adventurer & Genius, all released through his imprint Stargazer Games. Professionally, he works as a video technician and information technologies specialist. Stargazer's World was started by Michael in August 2008.

32 thoughts on “Some 4E myths”

  1. Have a 5 star to counteract, and because you’re right.

    Everything you said is true. These positions are fallacious and just plain tired. We do ourselves, and whatever edition we choose to espouse (a completely worthless endeavor in my opinion) a disservice when we throw out talking points like these, which instantly degrade the intelligence of the general argument. If we’re going to waste our time debating OD&D vs 4e or 3e Vs 4e or whatever, let’s all be rational about it. These points aren’t rational. They’re like one-liner pickup phrases that get women to slap you. I think you could have gone in-depth on some of the points – such as how the WoW comparison is idiotic on multiple levels, and how saying 4e isn’t D&D is just plain childish and worthless.

    But I digress. Good article, and it’s increasingly annoying to have the grognard gestapo out trolling the internet these days.

    Wyatts last blog post..I’m Doing Stuff, You Just Can’t See It

  2. Great to have you back online and I won’t let the 1 star rating get to me. It’s a sensitive topic and it’s bound to stir some hate/troll in this side of cyberspace.

    I’ve heard most arguments from forums and I generally avoid them because they are a fallanc. Point #4 is what my brother tells me why he doesn’t like the new edition and while I stand to disagree but I guess he meant that he didn’t think it was right to make him wait almost 6 months later to play his favorite class.

    Questing GMs last blog post..My DMing Weaknesses

  3. Thanks, Questing DM. And I can understand where your brother is coming from. I was really looking forward to the new version of the sorcerer class for example. I’ve read about the designer’s idea in the preview book but alas I will have to wait some more months before I can play one. I was also hoping for an updated Eberron book from the start, but as we all know they favored the Forgotten Realms.
    But of course that doesn’t make D&D 4th Edition a worse game and it’s still D&D even if there’s no playable bard, druid, etc.

    About that 1-star-rating: It’s not that big of a problem for me, but I really would have liked if someone would voice his criticism instead of just down-rating the article.

  4. Just to play Devil’s Advocate, I’m not so sure you can say these are wrong. If folks think this way then their opinions are just and correct and valid as anyone else. If that’s their experience, then it’s right for them.

    My own opinions, for example, differ from that of my players. I expected to be disappointed with 4e, but find it to be a much better system overall than I’d anticipated. My players, on the other hand, dislike it intensely. Am I right and they wrong? Nope……

    Here’s my experience overall (taking into account those of my players). Again, it’s either right or wrong, just my opinion:

    * D&D 4th Edition makes it harder to roleplay your character
    No, but the disjoint between “imagination” play and “battlemat” play is jarring to our group because we’re unused to using or needing battlemats and minis (see below). The feeling is that you end up trying to play two different games at the same time – one role-playing, and one a miniatures-based boardgame. That DOES get in the way of the immersive role-playing experience we enjoy.

    That’s perhaps something common to our group and others who never used minis in games before, and not something that folks used to playing with minis will see as a hindrance.

    * The 4th Edition is just not D&D anymore

    Yes, it’s D&D. It’s still about killing monsters and taking their stuff. It’s still class and level based and uses all the funky dice we know and love. It’s arguably more old-school Classic D&D in feel than Third Edition with monsters and NPCs distinct from PCs, faster game preparation and an emphasis on fun over logic.

    But….. like any other version of D&D it’s got it’s own style. Certainly it’s a higher-powered D&D than we’ve seen before, and that might not suit gamers who enjoyed a lower level of play. As I’ve said before, 1st level characters in 4e are more akin to 4th level characters in 3e, meaning those days of playing relatively weak and street-level 1st-3rd level beginning characters are gone. If that’s what you enjoyed, then this isn’t the D&D for you.

    * You can’t play 4E without miniatures
    If by “without miniatures” you mean “without some form of battlemat and tokens using 100% imaginitive play instead” then no, you can’t, and I’ve yet to be convinced otherwise.

    The combat rules are far too tightly wrapped around being able to show precisely where everyone is at any point in time. Translating game effects like Marked, Pushed, Pulled, Shifted and Bursts into imaginitive play is, frankly, too much of a headache – at least for this humble GM. 4e D&D is, at heart, a miniatures-based game for better of worse.

    * [Enter class name here] is missing from the PHB, it’s not D&D anymore
    I agree, this one is silly. D&D was D&D for the longest time with just a Fighter, Cleric, Magic-User and (later) Thief. Give me just those and decent multi-class/blending rules (which 4e most definitely has) and I can create any character I want. Any other class is just icing on the cake.

    Need a swashbuckling bard? Be a Rogue and carry a harp. Barbarian? High STR Fighter and a big axe. Shadowdancer? Rogue/Wizard.

    Sure, having those classes and their own unique abilities is nice, but just because they’re missing doesn’t mean you can’t play those archetypes, and certainly doesn’t mean this ain’t D&D 😀 .

    * D&D plays just like WoW now
    D&D plays how you want it to play (unless you want to play street-level or without a battlemat, of course 😀 ). I like my 4e D&D with a superheroes feel, but I’m weird that way. Certainly, this edition of D&D was designed to target the computer game audience rather than the fantasy literati, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

    The tone of play really has more to do with the GM. Any Edition of D&D can be played as horror, comedy, simulationist ultra-serious or WoW. The game effects in 4e are bigger, glossier and splashier than ever before, and Races like Dragonborn are without doubt a marketing nod toward MMORPG players. How that translates in YOUR GAME though, is entirely up to you.

    Phew! OK, I’m done.

  5. "I always thought D&D was about dungeons, dragons, brave heroes, swords, sorcery, epic adventures and things like that."

    So is MERP also D&D? Rolemaster? Palladium Fantasy? Savage Worlds? Fantasy HERO? I've encountered all the items on your list in those games as well.

    <abbr><abbr>Jeff Rientss last blog post..Surviving the Chaos Wars</abbr></abbr>

  6. @CnD: Sorry, but you’re wrong. D&D 4th Edition is a roleplaying game. It’s no table-top skirmish game. Comparing it to Mordheim is just plain silly. Sorry, that I have to said it so bluntly.

    @Greywulf: You always amaze me. Great comment! And I have to agree that a battlemat and miniatures makes combat easier. We played it without it and sometimes it’s hard to follow the action especially when the DM gets confused himself. 😉
    BUT it’s not impossible to run D&D 4th Edition without miniatures and I remember that the same argument was used against D&D 3rd Edition when it came out by the AD&D crowd…

    @Jeff: Yeah, MERP and other fantasy roleplaying games are about dungeons, dragons and all that stuff, too. And if you disagree with me, why not tell us what D&D really is about? Is it the d20? The AC? When D&D defines itself merely about its mechanics, then it died a long time ago…

    @Ishmayl: What are the things that you disagree with me? Let’s debate it a bit more… 😉

  7. It's the same debate that you see in console games, computer games, new editions of Trivial Pursuit (TM), and when bands release a new album that changes things up a bit. Just because Final Fantasy VIII has flying robots instead of elves, just because Unreal 2k4 uses Quake-similar graphics, just because the "90's Edition" Trivial Pursuit has questions about 90210, and just because a band decides to incorporate some hip-hop into their folksy music, does not make any of those items a "non-version" to their predecessor. It's all about who plays the game, who enjoys the game, and who makes the game.

    The debates will always happen because "some people just can't accept change," or "some people are too willing to let good things change," and neither of those sides are wrong.

    For the record, I disagree with three of your points above, agree with one, and am so-so on one, but that doesn't make your article any less important to me – just as it's a sure thing the subject will always be debated, it's a sure thing that it will always *need* to be debated. 5-star post.

    <abbr><abbr>Ishmayls last blog post..Fantastic Governments</abbr></abbr>

  8. D&D 4th Edition is to older editions of (A)D&D, what Warhamnner Quest and Mordheim were to the actual Warhammer Fantasy RPG.

    Sure you could "roleplay" within those games, but when all was said and done, it was still just a table-top skirmish game and should have been marketed as such. But that was WotC's choice so,….

  9. The game was/is obviously designed for use with miniatures, the game as written has a class based on tactical maneuvering (ie Warlord) and allowing other allies to position themselves for advantageous combat, powers are specified in squares as opposed to feet, yards or any other measure of distance which points to grid style maps for play purposes….etc..

    So please explain what makes it more of a role-playing game than skirmish?

  10. With respect to “The 4th Edition is just not D&D anymore”, it’s true, 4e is still about killing fantasy monsters and looting their stuff. However, for better or worse it is missing some of those archaic, idiosyncratic things that made it D&D. Here’s a short list of things that are missing: autohit magic missile, fireball as an iconic spell and symbol of wizardhood (at least, that’s the way I always saw it), wish, the rust monster and other screw the PC critters (not that I miss them), Greyhawk, random encounter tables, save-or-die effects, and others.

    I love playing 4e. I’ve had more fun playing 4e in two and a half months than I did playing in a 3.5 campaign that lasted years, though that is probably more of a function of the DM than anything else. Nevertheless, it is missing flavor both sweet and bitter from previous editions.

  11. @CnD: Ok, we can agree that D&D’s combat rules are very close to miniature battle rules. And if you check out the D&D Miniatures game you’ll notice many similarities in game mechanics BUT that doesn’t make D&D 4th Edition a skirmish game. That’s just a weak analogy.

  12. @Gary: Some changes in game mechanics are inevitable when you want to advance a game. But even if you like it or not, that doesn’t make D&D 4E less D&D. By the way, Fireball is still in the PHB as a wizard spell (p. 161). And you can still play in Greyhawk if that suits your fancy. I ran a D&D 3rd Edition Greyhawk campaign using the AD&D 2nd Edition books.

  13. It’s my opinion that anyone who says opinions are valid and correct always shouldn’t participate in adult discussions. Ha! Now no one can tell me I’m wrong because of the magical invincibility of opinions!

    D&D, to me, is lower ability score maximums for female characters. It is limitations to nonhuman advancement in all classes except Thief (and in the case of the half-orc, Assassin), because ‘non-human racial stock’ is inferior and fit only for stealing. It is human only paladins, because only pure human blood is worthy of being the special, chosen champion of the gods. It is utterly broken mutliclassing. It is wizards and clerics utterly dominating the game, with both classes being able to fight better than the fighter, a class whose very name is a lie.

    In that respect, 4e is not D&D. And I piss on D&D’s grave and hope to set grognards on fire everywhere.

  14. Ultimately, I think any rules system is merely the framework that the group agrees upon to facilitate role-playing OR combat simulation. Or something in between.

    Most groups, in my experience, prefer either RP'ing or combat simulation. 4e rules readily facilitate combat simulation, but it's up to the DM, the play group, and the story they create together to determine how much of the game is going to revolve around combat.

    Finally, the rulebooks themselves are how WoTC makes money. It is in their interest to sell books. Once you have the books, your group gets to decide which rules best fit your play style. "Let's stop arguing about who killed who" and just get on with the game…

  15. @CnD- SO they have it in squares. I fail to see how that automatically removes it from the realm of an RPG. Multiply squares by 5, and you have it in feet again. Is that all it takes to change it from a minis game to an RPG in your mind?? I have to assume that it is, because that appears to be the only reason that you have given.

    Pushing, pulling?? I say the addition of those things makes 4E *more* like an RPG. It only makes sense to me that people would do that in combat to drive their enemies off-balance.

    Teammates positioning themselves to provide advantages. You are right, that has never been in D&D before. *cough*flanking*cough*

    As for what makes it an RPG, it provides rules for the resolution of social encounters (skill challenges) that really open the game up. All the rules at the beginning of the PHB and the DMG that give instrutions to the DMs and players on how to flesh out the backgrounds of their characters and the world.

  16. Just to observe: the folks who say “4e isn’t D&D” seem to think that certain quirks or aspects intrinsic to 3.0 or 3.5 are what define D&D. I’m sorry for them.

    As to whether D&D is a miniatures game, no. I’d understand an argument that its *combat* is miniatures-based, or at least miniatures-biased. Do you only perform combat in your D&D sessions? I don’t; there’s far more to my games. And those don’t use minis at all.

    Anyway, excellent post. I think 4e is fun and exciting, and my players agree. It’s certainly not broken, it works just fine, so…fine!

    Besides, if 4e really is a disaster, WotC can always change its course and go back to a more 3.0-like game.

  17. Point 1 is silly. Just because you can role play is some sense in Diplomacy doesn’t make it just as good for roleplaying as any other game. If details of the game system didn’t actually matter, then why are you even using a system? You use a system to get support for certain kinds of detailed results, but it’s a brute fact that for some people either those results themselves or the means by which they’re generated will get in the way of roleplaying. Just as some people really groove on the resolution-by-Jenga of Dread, feeling that it really ups the tension for them, for others it’s a deal-breaker because playing Jenga is just too divorced from what their character is actually experiencing (not to mention conflating their own personal eye-hand coordination with the abilities of their character). I’d agree that nobody should be telling you that what you’re doing in 4e isn’t really roleplaying if you think it is, but while 4e may not make it universally harder for everyone to roleplay, but there’s no denying that it has features that make it harder for a significant portion of roleplayers. If you’re one of the people, there’s no reason to take someone seriously who tries to tell you “You don’t need a special set of rules to roleplay.” If you really can’t see why one game or another might be better for roleplaying, or D&D of any stripe might be preferable to Diplomacy, then you’re like a blind man trying to give people fashion advice.

  18. @Joshua: The example with Diplomacy was of course an exaggeration to make a point. Not every rules system actively supports roleplaying but all rules for RPGs should. As Greywulf pointed out, D&D 4th Edition’s combat may perhaps get in the way of total immersion but I don’t think that the game actively prevents you from playing your character.
    Perhaps you can give me some example where the 4th edition makes it harder to roleplay.
    And don’t forget that when I say “roleplaying” I don’t talk about “task-resolution”…

  19. @ Marcel: So you're saying that the change from feet and yards (which was the standard) to squares makes it more of an role-playing game. Uh, huh. And, I'm sure it had nothing to do with a map, 1in square grids or miniatures, it was all about what takes place in the mind without the use of miniatures.

    Oh and if that isn't enough, so if the game isn't designed as a miniatures based game, then why are there small tokens depicting PCs and monsters *included* in the new Starter Kit for the game? I suppose those were included just to have something pretty to look at…

    Hmm I don't ever recall having to tell my DM that I pushed or pulled an enemy in any previous edition, I guess that was the added benefit of previously abstract combat system, that sort of stuff was assumed to occur.

    Flanking, sure. But where was sliding, shifting, fey stepping, and the like? If you can't see that as map and mini oriented then you're obviously not playing the same 4E I am.

    Quote: "As for what makes it an RPG, it provides rules for the resolution of social encounters (skill challenges) that really open the game up."

    Wow, you're actually going to use that as a statement of defense? I know when I role-play social encounters I like to have a rule, mechanic and dice to do it for me, as opposed to oh, say, actual role-play. LOL. Thank you, come again.

  20. "there’s no denying that it has features that make it harder for a significant portion of roleplayers"


  21. @CnD: Uh, you realize that D&D was *designed* as a miniature game variant — a wargame variant, specifically — right? That measurements, eg. ranges, were originally given in inches? 4e’s use of squares is actually closer to the origins of the game than 2e or 3e were.

    Or was OD&D not D&D?

  22. @Scott: Indeed you are correct, but I never said 4E wasn’t (A)D&D in any of my posts, I simply said D&D4E was more of a miniatures skirmish game rather than a “role-playing” game. Thanks for helping me prove that point by pointing out that 4E is closer to the original, and I quote, “miniature game variant”, than 2e or 3e.

    (ie. Chainmail: Rules for Medieval MINIATURES and D&D: Rules for Fantastic Medieval Wargames Campaigns Playable with Paper and Pencils and MINIATURE FIGURES)


  23. @CnD – I looked to see where I said that changing from feet/yards to squares makes it an RPG, but I couldn't find it. Perhaps you could point that out to me?? I am pretty sure that what I said was that changing from feet/yards to squares doesn't make it *less* of an RPG.

    So your DM house-ruled (because those rules were not in the core books) in previous versions of D&D that you could push, pull and slide enemies. How does adding rules and mechanics covering those situations make it *less* of an RPG.

    For minis and tokens?? It couldn't be because the starter kit is designed to introduce people to the game. And for new people, it is easier to figure things out using miniatures and a map?? Nah, that couldn't be the case.

    I notice you have conceded the point about all of the info in the PHB and DMG about the books explaining how to role play.

    It is interesting that you have yet to give a reason for why 4E isn't an RPG that goes farther than "I don't like it."

  24. @ Marcel: Please point out where I said, "I don't like it."

    Not once have I said that, matter of fact, I play a regular 4E game every Fri night, and sometimes on Sat. Not only do I play, gasp, but I'm also a member of the RPGA with 3 Living FR characters.

    But thanks for stereotyping me anyways for having an opinion about the game.

    What I did say, however, is that 4E is more inline with Mordheim and Warhammer Quest; but apparently out of the box comments, even from other 4E players who do enjoy the game aren't welcomed by those who suffer from an atrophy of their dermis.

  25. @CnD – Note, I was unclear in my last post. By it "I don't like it" I was referring to the changes that you have provided as examples of why 4E is not an RPG, as you have quite strongly implied in reply 7, and not 4E as a whole. My apologies for the confusion.

  26. Sometimes I truly think we RPG fans are holding the gun to our own heads. There are over 1,000 published games out there, not even counting the out of print ones, and we argue about two editions of the same game?

    I like 3E. I like 4E. I like White wolf games, I like houses of the blooded – for different reasons. All the arguments, even the “good” ones are simply hurt feelings convulsing to life through internet anonymity. I have yet to hear about a FLGS being firebombed, or even vandalized.

    It needs to stop. Play your game, I don’t even give a fuck WHAT it is, just play it. I’ll do the same, and expect like treatment.

    Unless you play FATAL…that just makes you a sad SOB.

    Good post Stargazer, you haz teh sauce : )

    Donny_the_DMs last blog post..F*** the edition wars. Sometimes you just need to play, Part II

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