D&D 4th Edition – is it D&D?

Players Handbook There are people who believe D&D 4th Edition is not really worthy of the name Dungeons  & Dragons while others say that 4th Edition is more D&D than it ever was. We’ve seen this discussion every time a new edition has been released but it seems the Edition War reached new heights with the release of D&D 4th Edition.

Fellow RPG blogger Robin Stacey aka Greywulf has recently written a blog post where he describes where he stands in this discussion. He brings up a few good points why he thinks D&D 4th Edition really is a worthy member of the D&D brand. He also points out that D&D 4th Edition – without the Powers system – is an “utterly brilliant role-playing engine. It’s lean, sleak and gorgeously put together.

I have to admit that’s true. I don’t like the way the powers destroy immersion for me (your mileage may vary), but the system without the powers is probably one of the most streamlined implementations of the d20 System I’ve seen aside from Microlite20 (which was created by Greywulf, by the way).

UPDATE: You should also check out the interview Andrew Modro recently did with him.

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.

14 thoughts on “D&D 4th Edition – is it D&D?”

  1. Sorry, if I disappointed you there.

    This post was more or less meant as my comment on Robin's post and not a full article in its own right.

  2. I don't play 4th edition D&D but I do play Labyrinth Lord and the D&D mini game, but I was wondering what this might actually mean:

    "It’s lean, sleak and gorgeously put together."

    Lean… as in rules light? Low number of pages in the rules books?

    Sleak.. Rich and stylish sounds about right, I assume that means the source books have nice artwork through them. Definitely a good thing.

    'Gorgeously put together' I assume refers to this art aspect also, or perhaps it refers to the binding of the books themselves. Or perhaps both.

    But … 'without the powers system'. I assume this refers to the healing surges?
    .-= The Recursion King´s last blog ..Using Wizards 4E Miniatures in Labyrinth Lord =-.

    1. If you look at the basic rules, they are actually quite lean and streamlined. What makes the rules quite bloated are the power description.
      The quote “It’s lean, sleak and gorgeously put together.” refers to the rules only, not the books, not the presentation. Perhaps you should have a look at Greywulf's original post, I think he explained it a bit better than I did.
      The Powers system is actually the Powers system (Like in At-Will Powers, Encounter Powers etc.) not the healing surges.

  3. To me, the "at-will" and "per-encounter" magic powers are the most non-D&D element of 4e, completely divorcing the game from its Vancian roots. And Vancian magic was used as a model not only for its capacity to limit spell casters, but because it promated an otherworldly quality for magic that's lagging in 3e and completely gone in 4e. Now, magic is just a commodity, another asset on the balance sheet.

    Also, the alignment system is downright bizarre: if you're going to have only one axis (good/evil, law/chaos), fine, you'll get no arguments from me. But to bolt on half of an axis is utterly foolish…what does Lawful Good mean in 4e anyhow? "More good than good?" Are all the Robin Hoods and freedom loving anarchists really just "good?"

    Other things I don't like: healing surges (cutting into the Cleric's role as Pastor to the party), the Harrison Bergeron-esque obsession with 'balance' (which changes the interdependent relationships of the characters), turning saving rolls into target numbers for attackers (which turns the semantics and flavor of "saving" throws on its ear), the cumbersome nature of skill checks…

    A lot of things, actually, make this a completely different experience from earlier editions of D&D.

  4. Ah, thanks for clearing that up for me.

    My own stance on 4E is that if at some point in future I buy the rulebooks and run a campaign in it (possible) that I would probably drop the healing surges to make battles a bit more realistic. Realistic in the sense that the risk is greater when you go into the /next/ fight already injured. Anyway I think I'm rambling lol

  5. Thanks for the linkage, feedback and comments 😀

    I'll be writing about the Powers system (and why it's not what you think it is) in my next long-term test post later in the week, so I'll keep quiet about that for now – stay tuned!

    When it comes to the rest of the rules, I'd argue that if you take out the Powers system, Magic Items (which are essentially Powers in Things anyhow) and the multi-page artwork you could fit the rest into a 32 page booklet. That's pretty much what the D&D Starter Kit is. What's more, you can explain the rules in under 5 minutes and be running with completely new players in 10. That's no mean feat for a game with such a long pedigree.

    At the risk of inviting the Analogy Curse, 3.5e was like Windows Vista – looked pretty, worked reasonably well but became more bloated and problematic over time. 4e D&D is like Windows 7 – it's taken the best of what's gone before, streamlined it a heck of a lot and is quicker and more pleasant to use by far. Sure, it's not perfect. But it's the best "new" version to date.
    .-= greywulf´s last blog ..He only wanted a hug =-.

    1. I have to admit I liked 3.5E more than 4E (although it had a lot of problems). What breaks the game for me are the Powers. While I like that the Vancian magic system was dumped, I am not comfortable with how the powers work for the non-magical classes. It breaks immersion for me. In 3.5E it was easy enough for me to just ignore parts I didn't like or I made up some house-rules. Alas I can't just remove the powers from the game without removing an integral part of how it's supposed to work.

  6. @Stargazxer The key isn't to remove Powers, but to think of them slightly differently to how they've been presented and perceived so far. Trust me – you'll love 'em by the time I've finished with them 😀 😀
    .-= greywulf´s last blog ..He only wanted a hug =-.

  7. Stargazer, thanks for the link to an excellent post by Greywulf, and a pleasure to see his opinion here. I agree that 4th edition is D&D for all those reasons and more. Change is good, and I understand the whys and wherefores, both from a game design perspective. I tried it and found out it was not for me… I guess that realization was hard because I had an emotional attachment with D&D and breaking that was difficult. Will I play it again, probably, but it’s not for me and my players. I don’t hate it, it was just hard for me to let go of my attachment.

    Getting the emotional side out of the way, powers were not that big of a problem for me as a DM (I know they were for some of my players), what I disliked was the sameness. Let me try to explain it briefly, no matter the level and the bells and whistles all combats felt the same, lengthwise, the danger faced by the PCs. I know 3.5 may be broken is many ways but low, mid, high and epic combat had a different feel. Granted this is my experience, and despite the combat emphasis on D&D I never felt my games were primarily about combat, where as in 4th editions it felt like combat changed the game from a RPG experience to a board game, more so that 3rd edition. Again this are merely my experiences, I won’t qualify this as the absolute when it comes to D&D 4th edition.

  8. I've said it to my players, and I'll say it here…if you don't like the Vancian magic system, you don't like D&D. You like some other game. That's fine, too.

    It's like saying "I like Star Wars, only without that whole Light Side/Dark Side of the Force thing. It would've streamlined things if Luke had just been able to cut the Emperor down." Great; if that's the story you like, more power to you. But you like some other space-faring epic, not Star Wars.

  9. Do folks even realize that these exact same arguments were made back when D&D went form 2E to 3E?

    People said it wasn't D&D anymore.

    People said it was too much like a video game (often referencing Diablo).

    People disliked changes for the sake of streamlining and simplifying the system, because they thought it was simple enough already.

    People claimed it was dumbed down.

    It's like a bad rerun.

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