Posted by : David Guyll October 09, 2009

My crude visual renditions have generated a small measure of controversy. So...win. I'm also going to respond to it, since what I'm going to say here likely cannot be confined to a mere comment.

I find it odd that a blog labeling itself as a Revised Edition resurgent would pay any heed to a blog that almost universally talks about 4th Edition (I also review digital games, apparently). Buuut, he does have me on his blogroll. So...win?

First Issue
Katallos doesnt like that 4th Edition refers to each class's powers as, well, powers. Its a kind of global label that encompasses the majority of what a class offers (and what makes them unique). To him, the word power just doesnt grok with the fantasy genre. I dont really care since in the narrative people dont refer to them as such, and some classes might not refer to them by their "source name" (exploits, spells, prayers, etc).

I suppose there might be another label for this game mechanic that would work better, but I'd say this is more of a nitpick than anything: his second point is much more interesting.

Second Issue
Often I see this stated as something like, "its like mashing a couple of buttons over and over again," but I'm glad that Katallos is willing to at least make the concession that 3rd Edition had this as well. I'm just going to take it a step further and say that 3rd Edition had it a lot worse.

See, in 3rd Edition many classes, especially those without spells, were basically relegated to a routine of roll to attack, and roll to damage if you hit. Thats it. No kicker effect, few if any conditions (and those were often extremely limited), and not combat dynamics. Once you got your character in melee, be prepared to just stand there and trade blows til someone runs out of hit points. Fighters, low-level rangers, monks, paladins, and more spent almost all of their time making a nondescript attack roll over and over and over.

His complaint? That 4th Edition does basically the same thing. I would agree, except this is false. Well, I suppose its not entirely false since to be fair most of the time in combat you will be repeating one of 3-5 different things over and over. Not necessary in subsequent rounds, but I mean you'll probably end up using something like reaping strike at least twice in the same encounter. At least until you get a few levels under your belt and start getting access to multiple encounter powers. Those do a good job of reducing the time combat lasts and how many times you'll fallback on the at-will stuff.

By the rules, a 3rd Edition fighter can only make an attack roll for damage if he hits. Sure, there are a few other combat actions you can take like grapple or disarm, but those are generally incredibly difficult to reliably use, and even then you would want to burn feats to give it a snowball's chance in hell. The other stuff Katallos mentions can only be done if he takes some feats, allowing you to switch into different modes that dont do anything except subtract from his attack roll in order to increase AC or damage. In the end, he still makes an attack roll to deal basic damage. How does this compare to 4th Edition? Well...

Every fighter in 4E has at least three attack options in a given round without resorting to the use of special actions (grab, bull rush, etc) or feats. Those extra combat actions? Much more reliable and you dont have to burn a feat to avoid getting whacked for your troubles. You get two at-will powers by virtue of being alive, and you can also opt out to use a basic melee attack, which is mechanically identical to 3rd Editions melee attack except that at level 21 the damage dice are doubled (helping to keep it somewhat useful).

Again, not quite the same. At all.

He also claims that in 3rd Edition you could use description in your attacks, such as by making a jump check to leap at an opponent before attacking. You can still do this in 4th Edition with Athletics, so...I fail to see the difference. He also mentions that if he rolled well enough, he could sometimes get a damage bonus, which is a houserule and fairly abusable. By allowing a player to make a non-penalized roll to randomly determine a benefit, you have just created incentive for the player to always make the attempt because there is absolutely no drawback. Just make jump checks all the time and see if you get a little extra. Bad, baaad mechanic! *swat* It would be like letting wizards make Arcana checks to see if they can boost their spell save DC: they'd do it all the fucking time.

Going back to combat narrative, if you think that the at-will fighter exploits somehow detract from it, then just continually use melee basic attack. Its the exact same fucking thing from 3rd Edition. Not that you cant dynamically describe existing exploits in various ways. The existing flair does not discourage, but merely provides a default description that mostly helps explain how the power does what it does. Its just fluff. You can use it or invent your own. Just because they started dropping descriptions in 3rd Edition books for spells doesnt mean that I was forced to use them, just like I dont always describe monsters, magic items, equipment, or locations the way they are in the books.

Third Issue
This I can somewhat agree on, at least for new players. Yes, many powers generate conditions or modifiers. Yes, they can and do change on a round-by-round basis. I think that this adds a dynamic layer to combat that helps make it fun and interesting without overtly penalizing players for the long term with stuff like ability damage/drain and level drain. Honestly if you forget a modifier here and there (and people will do this in all games), its not going to break anything.

Out of his entire post, this is the only point that makes sense to me.

Fourth Issue
Ah, the good ol', "everyone is a spellcaster" argument. Easy-sauce.

What Wizards of the coast did is make all characters follow the same resolution mechanic. This is good for precisely the reasons that you preferred it in the past: system mastery is bad. Players should not have to become heavily invested in the game in order to "unlock" certain elements. If a player wants to play a wizard, why should it be any more difficult or convoluted than playing a fighter? If they are into fantasy and really enjoy magic, its not going to be fun if they have to memorize additional rules and resolution mechanics.

Besides, I never really liked that wizards were only wizards for an hour of each day.

I disagree on your claim that classes play the same. Having played many of the classes and seen other players try them out, I can say with confidence that even classes with the same role do not run the same way: you cannot play a fighter like you play a paladin, and you dont play a druid like you play a wizard. Hell, you dont even necessarily play a ranger the same way you play a rogue, and they are both martial strikers!

When I played a cleric, I mostly hung back and used my prayers to blast monsters and bolster my allies. When I gave the artificer a shot (another leader), I instead relied upon a combination of melee and ranged attacks to grant my allies bonuses and also create constructs and barriers. When I played a warlord, I was up in the thick of melee inspiring people and providing tactical advice. All leaders, none of them the same.

Shazbot is familiar with rangers and rogues, and he can feel free to pipe in on his experiences with both.

{ 6 comments... read them below or Comment }

  1. I"m tired of D&D players being so rigid in their views that what something is called ... not what it does ... can cause an argument? What ever happened to DMs who just did what they please ... that is a rare thing in the post 3rd edition world. If it isn't in the rules ... well .. this game sucks ... they use the term "powers" .. huh?

    Look ... D&D 3.5 or 4E ... its Coke vs. Pepsi people it just boils down to personal preference. Real D&D is Basic and 1st edition ... ever since then ... there have always been people who hate the "new version" of the rules and say things like "this isn't D&D anymore ... its an entirely new game ... they need to change the name!!" The opinions are as strong as the ranting and raving between Republicans and Democrats about the President these days. The endless rants about how crappy 4E is or how great it is are all a moot point. WOTC isn't going to suddenly go back to 4E and despite everyone's efforts to the contrary ... slowly more and more people will bite the bullet and just play 4E. Five years from now 3.5 will still have its small core group of supporters as will Pathfinder ... but those groups will be small in comparison to the 4E majority. I had the same reaction when 3rd hit ... I still really don't care for 3rd or 3.5 and I can't argue that for the most part 3rd was an improvement over 2nd ... I just happened to grow up playing 2nd and had nearly every book for the damn system ... so I was pissed and had nothing good to say about 3rd. I'm seeing alot of the same reaction against 4E. My historical bias aside I can agree that 3.5 especially isn't a bad system, its so customizable and that can be a wonderful thing. My biggest complaint about 3rd is I just always thought they took the mini gaming aspect way to far. 3.5 is a somewhat complex miniature skirmish game if you don't realize that and the role playing is an afterthought in terms of the rules. Its actually quite a bit more complex than Warhammer, Warhammer 40K and Warmachine. I think that this element moved D&D even further towards power gaming. I have seen a steady progression towards power gaming in D&D for the past 15 years. The system lends itself to that ... and for the vast majority of groups out there ... the roleplaying falls by the wayside. My personal opinion is 3.5 was a clunky overly complex system, yes you could do alot with it .. highly customizable. For those who took the time to learn the system well ... it eventually pays off ... but for new players trying to get into the system ... forget it. Its very intimidating and clearly WOTC had that in mind with 4E. Those players out there who don't like 4E should stop bitching though because unlike 3.5 ... 4E is accessible by new players and no matter what system you play ... if pen and paper RPGs are going to survive ... there needs to be alot of new blood. Personally I play games like Spirit of the Century, Savage Worlds, Dogs in the Vineyard, and other indie RPGs that are heavy on the RP and lite on the board game/mini game. However when I moved to a new area about six months ago ... it was much easier to find a local 4E home game than any games (including 3.5) so I took the plunge and while yes ... its simple and MMO-ish ... I didn't dislike it any more than 3.5 ... the group picked it up and got it so easily ... we had more time for RPing and the campaign has been alot of fun. So long live 4E and when 5E comes out the hating can begin again.

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  2. Thanks for the lengthy critique on my response to your previous article. It seems that I have certainly poked the right bees' nest; page views over at my blog have skyrocketed.

    I read your blog and even link to it because I find it interesting. You talk mostly about 4e, big deal, I like reading about it from time to time. I don't like playing, my experiences didn't show that it added anything to play to offset the percieved loss of character flexibility and verisimilitude.

    The thing about the jump check, there were disadvantages, it wasn't always an aplicable technique, as a player I don't constantly try to be as powerful as possible, I take self defeating options when it is appropriate for the character, I guess I should have described it better so that others would know what I was talking about.

    I have nothing against 4e, I just personally do not find the game to be an enjoyable experience. That has nothing to do with others, well except for my group that has to stick to 3.5/Pathfinder on account of no DMs willing to go to 4e for more than the occassional delve.

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  3. katallos, the problem with the Jump check thing is you used it to say "In 3.X I can do this, and in 4e I can't, so 4e sucks!"

    Except you CAN'T do that in 3.X. You can only do it in your own houseruled version of 3.X. I could just as easily throw a houserule into 4e that accomplishes the same thing.

    I'm floored that you even considered using that as a criticism. It's unfortunate that the "3.X Resurgent" crowd undermines its credibility on a regular basis by engaging in this kind of impotent criticism of something they, by all rights, really would be better off just leaving alone. 3.X was a great game, but its most vocal online supporters increasingly appear to have their fingers slipping off the cliff's edge.

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  4. Antioch speaks true...having played both Rogues and Rangers I can say with certainty that they DO play much differently.

    The way to look at martial classes is that they are all basically warriors of a different color.

    Fighters are weapon specialists who know how to get the most out of their weapon of choice, and their exploits reflect this, granting kicker effects based on the weapon used with said attack.

    Rogues are dirty backalley fighters who rely on cunning and trickery to lure their foes into letting their guard for just a second or two, allowing them to deliver the killing blow.

    Rangers are highly mobile skirmishers, commandos essentially. They focus on one enemy at a time, weaving through other foes in order to dice their target to pieces, or perforate it with a volley of arrows.

    Warlords are tacticians and battle commanders, leading the attack from the front lines, and inspiring their allies to greater efficacy.

    One of the most common complaints I hear leveled against 4th Edition is that the classes all feel homogenized, with little distinction between them. On this I call bullshit.

    First, most people draw this conclusion by reading the PHB1 classes, most of whom were designed for people new to the system (as we all were, when 4th Edition came out) Whereas subsequent classes have been increasingly complex, mechanically. But despite this, the PHB1 classes STILL have a lot of depth beyond just their class features. Most of a classes feel come from how their powers are designed and implemented.

    Don't believe me? Try playing a Battlerage Vigor Fighter and a Rageblood Barbarian. Similar concepts (big guys who go apeshit while swinging a big honking weapon) but who still play significantly different at the table.

    See, I keep hearing that 4E is simplified, but it really isn't. One of the core differences between this iteration of the game and 3rd edition is that the complexity of the system has been moved from the character architecture of 3.x to the tactical tableplay of 4E.

    I feel this is a positive change, because the character building minigame of 3.x was exclusionary in nature. Some people enjoyed the system mastery aspect, and more power to them, but I feel that this approach doesn't reward diehard players as much as it punishes newer or casual players, and this is bad for a game.

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  5. By the way, Katallos...

    Where is it that you are from?

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  6. That'll do, Antioch, that'll do :)

    Excellent post. As a DM that is finally getting some playtime, I can also attest to how differently even classes of the same role and power source play.

    Mix up either of those variables, and keep the same playing style, and you will get your ass handed to you.

    Different roles reward different types of play. Just like it's always been. New doesn't always have to be scarybad or cacapoopoo, sometimes it really does work.

    BTW - to Katallos, The one character class I disliked (so far) of the 5 I've run WAS the Warlord. I don't particularly care for the leader classes - I just like breaking things, hence my Rageblood Barbarian as the character of choice :)

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