My stance on D&D 4th Edition

D&D 4th Edition When you read some of my older post you’ll notice that I praised D&D 4th Edition on numerous occasions and recently I have become more of a critic. For quite some time I wanted to write a post about that issue, but feared it would lead to another edition war. That is not my intention, so please try to be polite in the comments and remember that what is fun for you must not necessarily fun for everyone!

When D&D 4th Edition was announced, I was pretty excited. A lot of the changes they’ve made in Star Wars Saga Edition were pretty good in my opinion and I was excited to see what they would do to improve D&D. D&D 3.5 Edition was a pretty good game, but there were a few things bothering me.

From the moment of the announcement I was in full fanboy mode. I ordered the “Wizards Presents” books, read every article about D&D 4E, listened to the official podcast an told all my friends about how cool D&D 4E will be. When I finally got the books I was blown away: awesome artwork, cool classes, a lot of interesting changes. The reliance on miniatures bothered me a bit, but since I already had enjoyed the D&D Miniatures game, I thought this wouldn’t be such a big deal.

A friend of mine, who is the D&D expert in my group offered to run D&D 4th Edition for us and so, I created my first 4E character. That is, I actually created a Warlock and a Wizard. but when the first session came I decided that a Dwarven warlock would be much cooler than my Eladrin wizard. We played a couple of sessions and it was not uncommon for a player to ask the GM if he could give another character class a try.

But it was not exclusively the wish to experiment with all those shiny new classes, but at least in my case,  something else had been bothering me all the time, although I just couldn’t put a finger on it. I thought that I just wasn’t comfortable with the class I’ve chosen. At one point we discovered that playing without miniatures was harder than we initially thought, especially since the Warlord of the group had a hard time making use of his powers when you only had a pretty blurry picture of the combat situation in your head.

Then I realized what has been bothering me all the time. For me, combat in D&D 4th Edition always pulled me out of the game. As soon as we started putting miniatures on a battle mat, immersion was gone. I stopped thinking about my character as my alter ego in the game world but it became that small plastic miniature on the game table. And I believe that a lot of the powers even reinforce that feeling for me. I just have a hard time imagining how certain powers are supposed to fit into the game reality. And that reduced my enjoyment of the game tremendously.

Shortly after that I started to realize that D&D 4th Edition is not the game I’ve wanted it to be. I tried so hard to love that game, but then it turned out very different from what I’ve expected, I just had to be disappointed. For a time I blamed D&D 4th Edition for it, but that’s definitely not fair. D&D 4th Edition is a good game, even if I don’t have fun playing it.

Perhaps I will give it another try in a few months or years, when the initial frustration has waned. Or I will just continue to focus my attention on other games. It’s not as if Wizards mysteriously destroyed all alternatives. If I want to play D&D I can still use my D&D 3rd Edition books, have some old-school fun with Swords & Wizardry or check out Pathfinder.

And again I want to remind you I don’t want to start another edition war. D&D 4th Edition is a great roleplaying game but it’s just not my cup of tea right now. So, if you enjoy the latest edition of D&D, don’t get angry at me when I don’t. And when I criticize the game, please remember that I don’t do it to take away your fun! Feel free to comment on this post as usual, but please keep it civil and polite. Thanks!

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.

58 thoughts on “My stance on D&D 4th Edition”

  1. Excellent post, like so many others, my friends and I are of similar sentiment.

    We played 4th edition for almost a year before deciding to go back to 3.5.


    …we found that 4th edition had solved many of the problems of 3.5 and we were left unsatisfied with both editions, often stating that 3.5 is better because of this and 4th edition is better because of that.

    After some debate in our group we decided to work some of the fantastic mechanics that 4th edition introduced into the our 3.5 house rules, like I am sure many likeminded gamers have doneto some degree.

    I was so satisfied with the results that I decided to publish some of them here…

    1.) Base attack from similar progressions stack. ie: a level 1 Bard/ level 1 rogue would have a base attack of 1.

    2.) Saves equal 1/2 your total character level and you get a bonus of +2 to any 'good saves' your class has. 'Good saves' do not stack when multiclassing, You can get a maximum of +2 to a save from your class.

    3.) We adopted the 'Best of 2 stats for bonus to saves' rule. Enabling you to play a calculating fighter with a high INT, giving you lots of skillpoints and a resonable reflex save, but lacking the keen initiative bonus of a combat hungry DEX based fighter.

    4.) Synergy bonuses were nerfed so that they do not stack. Seeing a Level 2 character with 14 in Diplomacy was somewhat scary…

    5.) All characters received a bonus of 4 to INT for the purpose of calculating skillpoints. Cross class skills no longer cost double but were still limited to 1/2 the ranks of other skills.

    The purpose of all these changes was to remove the double penalties 3.5 characters often suffered. Classes that had no use for WIS were usually left with a low progression on the WILL saves and classes that had no use for CON were usually left with terrible FORT saves. The same was true for INT and skillponts. Characters that did not have Spot as a class skill were not only destined to have a lower score than classes that did, they were also forced to pay double for the few ranks they did buy.

  2. Sorry guys, but I disagree with you on so many levels. I DM a group of 6 guys and we started playing 4th edition about a year ago (new campaign i wrote up) after playing 3rd then 3.5 for years and I must say we are having the most fun we have ever had! I think some people (specially older people, which research has indicated DO NOT adept to change as well as younger people – ei set in their ways) just can't get over the fact the game has changed – Where all classes do things on each turn. I have found players who played over powered classes in 3.5 (specially late level wizard players) dislike 4th edition the most, as they lose their power so to speak over the player group (all this can't Roleplay thing and can't get into character thing in 4th ed is ridiculous!).

    Just my two cents, give 4th a try (more then one night!), we did, and we will never look back! (who would ever want to play a 3.5 fighter ever again?)

  3. Most of us think that 4th edition is a fantastic game.

    The heavy reliance on miniatures, however, does remove a lot of what my group assosiates with Pen and Paper roleplaying since we tend to fall out of character once we are pulled from the narrative and faced with a tactical combat grid. (Admittedly this is our own shortcoming.)

    I know that many people have used combat grids for years and for the majority of such players the transition to 4th edition has understandably been euphoric.

    Each to his own. ^^

  4. Nice post. I also have problems with 4e. They became really apparent when I was reading the Voyage of the Princess Ark again and asking myself, repeatedly "How can I do that in 4e ?"

    My main problem is I don't judge a RPG from game balance, but from world coherence point of view. As a system designed with game balance as central concept, which leads to :

    – Prices set to manage PC power level, not creating a game-world economy that makes sense

    – Classes that are not balanced by strength and weaknesses, but same overall possibilities.*

    – Action film-like HP management

    – Character possibilities so different that most of the previous edition background becomes difficult to use, if not obsolete (at least for DM like me who view handwaving as an attack against logic).

    *Numerous threads have been made about overpowered druids, wizards, etc. Theses problem exist, but there are less extreme ways to deal with them. The first IMO is to teach players not to be jerks.

  5. There's really a lot that could be said about 4e. But really it comes down to it being a miniatures game at heart, not a roleplaying game. Combat destroys immersion for you because there is no immersion. Roleplaying is a thin vaneer on top of what is essentially a miniatures battles system.

    If they'd based 4e off the Book of 9 Swords, which I was really hoping they'd do, the system would have been a lot better than the simplified lot we got, which is essentially being able to pick one of four options to use every round in combat.

    It would make a great video game, I think.

  6. Both 3.5 and 4th editions have serious issues with high level characters. 1st and 2nd edition were much more functional at higher levels.

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