Legends & Lore: Still Getting With The Times

A lot of people are overjoyed that Wizards of the Coast is going to offer a kind of "basic" Dungeons & Dragons as a free pdf. Content-wise it is nothing special: it goes from levels 1-20 and covers the same arbitrarily "core" races and classes that you expect out a generic fantasy game. But then, did you expect more from the game company that is trying to sell you yet another rendition of the Forgotten Realms and oh-look-another-campaign-with-Tiamat.

I want to ask why they could not come up with anything better, but then this is the company that actually paid someone to write "gems" like Keep on the Shadowfell and Thunderspire Labyrinth so, yeah...

would wish this was being done for a better game, but then there are already better games that offer up their rules legally for free, and at least this way I will not have to pay them anything just to vindicate my expectations. Really this is less a bold/positive move for WotC so much as it is them still just trying to catch up with the times, but I am surprised; after all the antiquated mechanics they recycled during the two fucking year "design" process, Forgotten Realms, and Tiamat this seems uncharacteristically progressive of them.

Something that I found interesting was the statement, "Your feedback and steadily increasing approval in our surveys showed that we were on the right track."

Back when 3rd Edition came out I was excited by all the strides forward that the game had made with whatever you would have called the "D&D" system at the time: you just added bonuses to a d20 roll, and you always wanted to roll high, every ability score had the same modifier, every class used the same XP table, multiclassing was really easy to figure out (even if it rarely worked out well for you), I guess they tried to balance classes better, etc.

It was still glaringly flawed, but you could see the improvements, and the same thing happened with 4th Edition: Hit Dice were removed, attack rolls were always made by the attacker (instead of being sometimes made by someone else), martial characters were actually viable at high level, clerics were no longer mandatory, and encounter difficulty was insanely accurate. There were still problems, like boring magic items and magic that made absolutely no sense, but it still evolved.

No so with 5th Edition: among other things Hit Dice are back, clerics/druids with healing are again necessary, saving throws are sometimes a thing, encounter difficulty is unreliable to say the least, lots of stuff is based on the day, and I have to ask why? I know that WotC wants to make as big a profit as they can, so I do not believe that they would lie about survey results, so this is not a why to them but to the gamers that actually lobbied for this shit: why do you want something like Hit Dice or pseudo-Vancian magic?

Do you—the people that wanted Hit Dice and pseudo-Vancian magic—think that Hit Dice are the best possible way to express a character's toughness? Is pseudo-Vancian the best way (or even a decent one) to express a magic system, despite not making any sense or being at all like the fiction that purportedly inspired it? I do not think so, and none of the 5th Edition fans have been able to explain this to me. They just say "its popular", "its D&D", "if it ain't broke, don't fix it", or go off on a tangent about MMOs and player entitlement, as if that addresses the question or is all the validation it needs.

For all of its flaws,4th Edition feels like Dungeons & Dragons, and better yet a Dungeons & Dragons that does what it is supposed to do, with minimal fuss: it is easy to build whatever party you want, build/scale encounters and monsters on the fly, and you do not have to fret so much about what they can do or their resources. Hell, even Dungeon World feels more like like Dungeons & Dragons than Dungeons & Dragons: sure, the magic system needs work, but it does not have you rolling for stats or hit points, your class determines your damage, and you only need a handful of XP to level up.

5th Edition reminds me of Dungeons & Dragons, but for all the wrong reasons: the Hit Dice, saving throws, nonsense magic, mandatory magical healers, limited resources, pacing issues, and swingy encounters. It reminds me why I started to grow disenchanted with the game (which at the time was 2nd Edition), and try out other games like RiftsPalladium Fantasy, Shadowrun, and plenty of others. In a way I suppose I should be thankful, as 5th Edition has caused me to put more time into other RPGs like Dungeon World, The Dresden Files, and even a brief stint with Numenera.

So...thanks Mike. You have shown me that I do not need to play Dungeons & Dragons to scratch my fantasy-adventure itch: there are better games out there that do the same thing, at a fraction of the entry fee (when they even have one).


  1. Something tells me that the only way you'd accept D&D 5E at this point is if they announced that it had secretly been in development all along by Evil Hat and was now an indie game.

    1. @Nicholas: Right, because it is the company I secretly hate--despite supporting them for over a decade and having an initially positive response to 5th Edition (to the point where I converted Keep on the Shadowfell, most of Thunderspire Labyrinth, and made some homebrew content for--and nothing at all to do with the mechanics. Mechanics that I have criticized and explained my stance behind for months, now.

  2. "Do you—the people that wanted Hit Dice and pseudo-Vancian magic—think that Hit Dice are the best possible way to express a character's toughness?"

    As far as imaginary numbers used to represent a character's ability to withstand damage go I like Hit Dice as much as any other system. That said, it's my preferred way to understand how durable my character is because I like an escalating number of hit points to show that I've improved over time. Some people prefer the bullet points of systems like CoC and WoD but it's just never been as satisfying for me.

    "Is pseudo-Vancian the best way (or even a decent one) to express a magic system, despite not making any sense or being at all like the fiction that purportedly inspired it?"

    I like the resource management side of it. It adds tension to the game and causes my group (with me playing) to really plan our actions out. We've never been the sort of people who allow the 8 minute day (or whatever bullshit term people are using for it now) to take hold. Our Wizards run out of spell, they pick up an axe and start swinging.

    1. @Charles: I suppose I should have clarified that I was talking about the differences between Hit Dice/random hit points and 4th Edition's static hit point accumulation. I am totally fine with hit points, but I know a lot of games houseruled taking the average.

      If resource management is what you are after, the game could still rely on spell points/mana/fatigue/"true" Vancian to deliver tension, with the added benefit of it making sense.

      I am curious about what you mean by "we've never been the sort of people who allow the 8 minute day". In my experience, most adventures do not do much to prevent you from leaving the dungeon, and if the wizard (or more importantly cleric) runs out of magic, then why prevent that? It is a reasonable course of action to take.

      You label it as a bullshit term, but it is something that groups I have played with and run have done out of necessity (especially at low levels where hit points and healing are scarce). Case in point, our 5th Edition campaign: they basically had just enough to get through two encounters of bandits before having to sleep.

      Sure, they could have gone into the dungeon part underneath the fort, but they would have likely been killed (which is another reason I am against per-day magic).

  3. In my experience anyone who loved to munchkin broken vancian wizards in 2nd and 3rd hated 4th ed. I had a friend who completely checked out mentally of roleplaying our multi-year campaign because his wizard wasn't brokenly more powerful than my meelee assassin or the party ranger. He was used to being able to toy with reality at 14th level not just kill more minion ghouls per round. People like him who fondly remember their glory days in vancian systems voted for their return.

    I also think what happened was people who didn't like where they percieved system was going lost interest, and gave less feedback. After a few rounds of test packets I know I gave up on 5th-next-special-ed. The people that stayed were the ones that liked what they were doing. So as time went on, the more they catered to those desires the happier those people were, the more other people stopped giving negative feedback because they stopped giving feedback altogether.

    1. @Adam: Someone in the comments mentioned survivor bias. I think, to a meaningful capacity, that 4th Edition fans realized that the game was rolling back regardless, so there was no point in trying.

      My group was patient enough to endure the playtest, but disliked the system pretty much every step of the way. Even Melissa, a new player, was bored to tears by the monk, since she never really did much "monk stuff".

      I recall that magic in 2nd Edition was not as bad as 3rd, because wizards had severely throttled spell slots (like, just one per day at 1st-level). Again though, there is the fact that in almost every adventure I can remember there was nothing stopping us from going back to town and resting up.

      Combine this with 3rd Edition, where wizards get lots of spells and can do lots of things (despite wizards in fiction not doing nearly as much), and it eventually became a recipe for disaster, usually sometime between levels 5 and 10.

    2. The survival bias would probably be a realistic issue were it not for the fact that the survey group actually grew over time, rather than shrank. So, as much as some people left due to not liking the playtest, so more people joined as they found the new output to be more their liking. In any case, the number of people who liked what was happening, increased, rather than decreased, as is generally the case with survivor bias.

  4. You know what I'd love you to post? An article comparing all these games that you deem "better", like FATE, 13th Age, and *World (which lets be fair, comparing any of these to D&D is an unfair proposition anyway). All good games, yes, but bunching them up as if they all delivered the same play experience and were all developed using the same design conceits, while holding 5e to a different standard seems disingenuous to me from your end.

    Show us what 4e does, that FATE does and *World, when compared to 5e's last playtest packet. 13th Age feels similar in tone to me to an older D&D (which 5e is hoping to invoke), so I'd like to see what they are doing right, that you would bunch them up with 4e and Fate, and not give 5e a chance.

    If you're going to hold up Fate and 4e in the same sentence as something to compare against 5e, you better make a damn good argument to get there, because otherwise I'm going to think you have no idea about what you are talking about.

    1. Or... You could give him the benefit of the doubt, based on his other posts and the rest of his blog where he has discussed 4E, 5E and other systems at length; and take home the bits of his posts that enlighten you. Crazy, I know.

      I don't agree with most of David's posts, but I am not going to start saying he doesn't know what he's talking about. And I will say, even disagreeing, I can understand where he's coming from, and his posts have some value for me.

    2. @Anon: Pretty much what Moranar said. I mean, I suppose I could make a post that compares how each of those games handles a dungeon crawl game, but I have talked at length before, comparing mechanics and ways that they would better serve the tone and feel that Mike claims 5th Edition evokes.

  5. Personally, I was considering running Basic 5e for one-shots (because we normally run Pathfinder and learning a new Pathfinder character for a few hours of gameplay is a pretty steep curve). So I guess I'm glad I'm getting it for free now?

    My experience with the playtest suggests I'd be better off with something else, though, or even just sticking with Pathfinder.

    For me, it largely comes down to the monster design. The best of their monsters look like they're pulled out of the Rules Cyclopedia, which is a totally legitimate monster design but isn't something I'd brag about.

    But, with hyper-simple monsters like that, half the point is being able to use a ton of them. Which, if anything gives advantage/disadvantage, becomes a chore. Similarly, monsters and classes with multiple attacks are a pain to deal with once you throw advantage into the mix.

    And, for all the iteration on the player side, DMs just got serving after serving of the same poor monster design and wildly inconsistent monster math.

    On your topic of feedback: by all reports, the sorcerer and warlock are going to be in the PHB. After the complaints surrounding their release, they were pulled from the playtest and never returned.

    We'll see what the final versions look like, but the arc of those classes exemplify the playtest process to me.


    1. My greatest complaint about the 5e playtest was the lack of general balance. More than half the problem was the monster math that remained mostly static for the entire playtest. Mearls and Rodney kept saying they'd do the monster math later because it is easier that way.

      Baloney! Monsters and Player Classes are essentially two interlocking parts that determine how the other functions. A competent game designer would figure out the mathematical basis of the game mechanics first and then playtest them to fine-tune their balance and presentation.

      The playtest we got was backwards, both in what it was testing and how it was testing it. All those surveys really measured was which game mechanics looked and "felt" the best on paper. WotC never tried to find out why some were more popular than others either. The general assumption was that if something was popular it's because it was in the spirit of D&D, if not then it must not "feel" like proper D&D.

    2. Monsters were something I often complained about. They have been tested rigorously and the tests were super boring but got to the point of what was needed. I am liking where they are at so do my players. You will see them soon.

    3. Unless there was a major overhaul, I doubt it. In my 5th Edition campaign I had built a dwarf stonespeaker from scratch for the characters to fight. Rather than try to fend them off, he ended up having to run, and got taken out in 2-3 rounds. It was incredibly underwhelming, which sums up pretty much every aspect of 5th Edition I have observed.

      In 4th Edition, without having to resort to houserules or fudging, he would have at least put up a decent fight.

    4. @David -- I'm not sure that's the fault of the 5e system. I've done the same thing with the 4e monster builder WotC provided. I built a whole team of dragonborn with varying special powers/traits to take on the party at 6th level.

      Instead of a really challenging fight, it was a bit of a cakewalk for them. Debuff powers kicked the shit out of their opponents (powers that added prone, slow or daze effects, mostly). I was pretty disappointed in that even though I had carefully tried to set an appropriate encounter level, and spend a lot of time on the monster powers, it made a little difference.

      Encounter balance is a tricky thing, especially when much of it may hinge on the roll of a d20 which can disable a major opponent quickly.

    5. @Marty: I try not to account for the characters' capabilities (one of the benefits of 4th Edition: I don't have to worry about what they can/cannot do when designing challenges and encounters), and yes, sometimes they roll well or use abilities that sync well together and can mess up a fight.

      The difference is that it is smart thinking on their part and/or lucky rolls. I don't fault the game for that. With 5th Edition it was just them making normal attacks (since that is all characters can really do), and using flaming sphere as you would.

      And that was basically every encounter in 5th Edition: they ran into a monster, and it was dead in one or two rounds, even the ones that were supposed to be adventure finales. Not because of any clever strategies (because, again, most characters have only one thing they can do), but just by looking at a spell and using it.

      In the third session of Epiro, one player used entangle to destroy a bunch of skeletons, and the paladin killed the undead wereboar king in a couple hits.

      In 4th Edition? I guarantee you there would have been more back and forth. There would have been some actual tension. The goddamned undead wereboar king would have gotten in more than ONE hit before going down. :-P

    6. @Benjamin: Well said. Monster math, especially as it intersects with player math to generate encounter length, has effects throughout the whole system.

      A healthy number of spells when you're looking at 1-2 round combats starts to look very sparse if we start having 3-4 round combats... unless you drastically cut back on the number of encounters in a day, which has its own effects on balance and gameplay.

      I feel like reviewing things mechanic-by-mechanic doesn't help in the long run, for a lot of reasons like that. Even the best mechanic can be an extremely poor fit for the system its in and the dumbest mechanic can shine in the right place.

      @Frank: I hope so. I'll take a look at the basic monsters when they come out and see how much better they look than the last playtest.


    7. @Kinak: It also has effects on adventure pacing.

      In 4th Edition characters could confidently go through a number of encounters before having to take a long rest.

      In 5th Edition? They could maybe get through two: after that the healer was usually out of healing, which doubles as their Keep-Adventuring-o-Meter since Hit Dice require a healing kit to use (for some reason, despite hit points not being meat points).

      5th Edition would have been a lot better if they sat down and established what the tone and feel of the game is supposed to be: is it gritty, realistic dungeon crawling? Is it more adventurous fantasy? One of the reasons 4th Edition is so good is because it decided to make characters actually competent and do what they were supposed to.

      With 5th Edition? I have no idea what they thought it was going to do, but my elevator pitch--going off of my 5th Edition campaign--would be, "A game in which you clear a couple rooms in a dungeon each day".

    8. Yeah, I don't remember them even touching on how many encounters per rest they were expecting... maybe it's two?

      I actually wouldn't even mind if they decided to say "okay, 15 minute day, you win" and designed around one set-piece encounter per day. But it's hard to know if anything's working as intended if you don't know what's intended.

      Hopefully they'll tell DMs what they expect in the actual books; D&D's resource management really hinges on that answer.


  6. I think bits of 4th edition had its merits, but I don't think that the wholesale hatred at the things many people like is completely necessary. I agree that some of the 2E/3E stuff coming back is a little arbitrary, but that is what I like about it. When I played 4E the characters were certainly balanced, but to the point of boredom. Every character felt exactly the same to me. We played parties in 2E/3E up past 20th level, and always had a good time all the way through. Our focus was always on fun. The bit of randomness that things like hit dice add were sort of nice. They gave you a non-combat situation to be excited about dice rolls for, and differentiated people. Classic characters don't always work in 4E. Raistlen would have very similar hit points to someone who was just a bit healthier.

    We also didn't find clerics / healers strictly necessary in earlier editions either. What it changed was how we handled encounters and our role playing. Some characters were much more cautious without someone around who could heal.

    Lastly I would like to touch on Magic. I think both systems have there merit. I prefer the 2E / 3E system, but one place that 4E made a smart move were the low powered unlimited use powers for magic users. I think it was brilliant to give them unlimited magic missiles.

    Overall I think the facts you bring up are good discussion points, I would find it a better read without so much venom in your tone though. Healthy discussion from both sides is how we get better games, even if we have to use a lot of house rules to get there. Thanks for the post, I wish I was more inclined to write such things.

    1. @LittleJohn: I have no idea how "every character" could have felt exactly the same. Even characters with the same power source and role (like rangers and rogues) felt and played very much differently.

      I don't understand what you mean when you say that your "focus was always on fun". The aim of the game, even in 4th Edition, was to have fun, too. In 3rd Edition there were plenty of factors that made that difficult, like a guy that rolled a halfling sorcerer that had lots of summons. The problem? Everything he summoned got destroyed in a round. Another player made a bard and took Improved Familiar, but it only served as a narrative way to get around since it was incredibly fragile and would have drained XP on death.

      There are so many things in 3rd Edition that do not work as advertised, which is a detriment to fun because what you envision in your head ends up being worthless, possibly merely ineffectual.

      We never ran into that with 4th Edition. Want to play a halfling dagger fighter? It works, and you don't have to take the "right" feats, multiclass into rogue, and take a prestige class down the road: you can just be a halfling fighter with daggers. Want to make a half-orc bard that is more akin to a skald? It works! Even better, they made feats that allowed races and classes to evoke tropes (like, again, eladrin wizards with swords, or dwarf warlocks with hammers).

      You can play a frail wizard in 4th Edition by simply having your Constitution be 8. Your Fort defense is going to suck (-1), and you will have some pretty abysmal hit points.

      I also have no idea how you survived 3rd Edition without having a cleric, favored soul, or somehow purchased lots of healing potions/wands of cure x wounds. I ran Burnt Offerings before it switched to Pathfinder, and in the first encounter with goblins the party was nearly wiped, and they did not make it through the second one.

      You talk about being cautious, but what about the times when characters have no idea as to what is in the next room, or what it can do (especially since, in 3rd Edition, monsters can have classes and templates)? In Age of Worms, the party was almost wiped by three wolves. The next encounter had a swarm of acid beetles, which would have wiped them if they had not gone back to town and rested.

      In my 5th Edition playtest, the party BARELY slogged through a band of bandits (and I was using the encounter guidelines, going easy). The druid ran out of healing magic, and was still unable to heal anyone, and if they had not rested before going underground, one or more would have died.

      This is why I greatly preferred 4th Edition's healing surges. When every character has a reservoir of self-healing independent of a healer, it helps a LOT with adventure pacing and party composition. If healing surges existed in 3rd Edition, they could have continued for a bit longer in every case.

      You say that both magic systems have their merit: why? What does pseudo-Vancian magic do that another system could not do, with the added benefit of making sense?

    2. I think the thing with 4e isn't that AEDU was bad. I, personally, like it more than 2e "Vancian" casting.

      I personally don't play Vancian PCs and often rework Vancian NPCs. Similarly, I'm not going to play an AEDU character.

      The difference is that "not playing a Vancian character" just means picking a different class. "Not playing an AEDU character" means picking a different game system.

      Granted, all my 4e experience is pre-Essentials, which apparently added some non-AEDU options. But first impressions were very "AEDU or GTFO."


    3. This is a good(ish) thing, though, as it meant that a good chunk of your resources were based on the encounter unit, instead of the day.

      When almost all of your resources are replenished after a day (or more) of rest, it becomes difficult to pace an adventure, because one or two bad rolls can deplete you, and if you are partially depleted then it could be disastrous.

      This is made even worse when you consider that, in the nonsense-psuedo-Vancian magic system, spellcasters have to choose what they do with their bizarro spell slot energy packets: do you entangle a bunch of skeletons, or save it to heal someone?

      In 4th Edition, only some of your resources were replenished by the day, namely healing surges. As you adventure you gradually lose them, so players have a better idea of when they should press on and when they should stop.

      It also gives you an alternate way to hinder them: instead of effects that deal hit point damage, you can deal healing surge damage.

      Finally, classes with healing capabilities always had ones that they could use each encounter, and they were not reliant on a global magical pool that for some reason could not be interchanged. This meant that, as a healer, you did not have to choose whether to do something useful, or save it for when combat was done: you could do both.

      I say that this is a good-ish thing because, though it made the game much easier to run and pace, I do not think that every class HAD to use the exact same resource management system. Like, it would have been nice to see wizards deal with fatigue from arcane spells, clerics have to deal with faith, fighters and rogues having a kind of stunt system.

      Stuff like that. AEDU works, and works exceptionally well, but I think that with some diversity and costs it would have been even better.

    4. That might help the classes feel more different too, which littleJon mentioned. However I think that also falls on the player and their roll playing. In 3.5 classes have far less diversity in my opinion, except balancing. Except perhaps the disparity between casters and non-casters

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    6. @David I just wanted to call out "Like, it would have been nice to see wizards deal with fatigue from arcane spells, clerics have to deal with faith, fighters and rogues having a kind of stunt system." as being exactly the sort of thing I wish had happened with 4e.

      Somewhat ironically, I always use Iron Heroes as my example for the design direction (never really getting finished aside). If I saw more of those elements surviving the 5e playtest, I'd be way more excited.


    7. I own Iron Heroes, but unfortunately never got a chance to play it.

      I recall there were a lot of tokens that could be gained and used, which sounds interesting.

      I have been playing a lot of Descent 2nd Edition, and a lot of it is stuff I would use as a framework for a RPG: you have character flexibility (there are themed "class" decks that you can pick from), a global fatigue system, and leveling up just gets you a new move.

      It is simple, fast, and class "powers" makes sense!

    8. I very much liked 4E as a DM. I think it did a lot of things right. But I'll say that my players tended to agree with one of the posts above, that the 4E classes felt very "samey". I have to attribute it to the fact that their mechanical systems were so similar. There must have been 30 different powers that did the same thing with different names for different classes. Want to attack someone at range and push/pull/slide them? Pretty much every class could do it, but with differently names powers. Want to do damage to every character adjacent to you or adjacent to a certain square? Most classes could do it, just with different named powers. Want to do the same attack but with 2W damage? Use an Encounter. Want to do 3W damage with reliability? Use a daily. Doesn't matter which class, the rules were much the same. The classes looked different at first glance, but once you became familiar with the structure, you would see the elements repeating over and over (sometimes with the only difference being which stat modified the damage), particularly within roles, but also within classes. I don't care as the DM, I just want my players to have fun. And for the most part we had fun with 4E. There were lots of odd complaints about things like surges, but nothing that couldn't be easily fixed. I had one player who went through a lot of surges and it caused problems because then lots of the healing stopped working. You'd have healers with valid healing spells who still couldn't heal because the hurt characters were out of surges. The players never liked that. Also, the biggest complaint was simply how long encounters took. Part of making sure that bad guys always got to attack more than once is making them more durable and leaving less to the vagaries of the dice. But in doing so, you actually remove some player agency, because what they do matters less. Who wins and loses is ultimately just a result of how the game math was designed. And it was designed to heavily favor the players. To get the right challenge level for my players (challenges that would risk killing at least one player on major encounters), I had to design Level+4 encounters. And while that DID achieve the goal of truly threatening the players, it also took a very long time to resolve those encounters. And because so many resources were encounter based, the pacing of slowly whittling down players over time is mostly removed from the game which my players really hated to see go away. The only resource to slowly whittle down was healing surges, you couldn't really whittle down their output.

      I'm curious how you feel about the similarly pseudo vancian magic system of 13th Age. They had similar (but much smaller) playtests and they pretty much came to the same conclusion as 5E designers, that being, gamers want some semblance of vancian magic in their D&D style game. In fact, one of the biggest responses from my players is that 5E feels/plays very much like 13A. I think that's a true statement. The systems are very similar. Both have backed away from some things in 4E that gamers thought when too far. And both have embraced some things in 4E that the game clearly got right.


  7. With regard to 5E (and 13A) decisions, I really do think it comes to be as simple as sales. As much as I loved 4E (I own every 4E hardback that was released), I have to admit the sales were dismal and player rejection was unbelievable. I'm still at a loss for the anger and hatred that 4E generated. I, more than most, wanted it to succeed. I love the game and was heavily invested in materials.

    I went online and defended all the good points of 4E for years. But to no avail. People simply wouldn't be convinced. I eventually refused to DM any other D&D system, which kept us in 4E for more than 3 years (apparently people hated DMing more than then hated 4E!). Yet, even I had to come to the conclusion that it was a failure in the market place.

    To this day, I"ve owned 5 different 4E PHBs bought over the years and used/seen countless more at game days and cons. I have never seen one that didn't say "first printing 2008" in the inside cover. Even books I checked at B&N as recently as this past fall were still 1st printing. The edition just never took hold. I think Pathfinder is on something like its 9th print run! WOTC had no choice but to unmake the changes that were rejected.

    They tried to do it WITHIN the edition with Essentials but the darn 4E crowd rejected that, such that nobody wanted it. Not the old schoolers and not the 4E people. Had the 4E people at least been accepting of Essentials, they might have kept the edition alive. But once Essentials was rejected by those it was trying to save, it doomed the entire edition. :(

    1. @mbeacom: My group used almost every 4th Edition class, and we never got the "samey" vibe. I mean, most of the non-Essentials classes had the same number and type of the powers, some had similar effects (one of an equal level might let you move 1 square before or after, while another allows you to move 2 before the attack), and the damage could be roughly the same if the power was the same level and affected the same area, but even then they had their differences.

      Classes with the same role also never felt samey. Like, even though the fighter and paladin are both defenders they played and felt differently from each other, and same goes for the rare instance where two classes shared the same role and power source: the rogue player never felt like she was just playing a reskinned ranger (even when both used melee weapons).

      That being said, even if two classes had a push/pull/whatever move...so what? How many different ways would you expect them to be able to phrase "you hit someone so hard that they fall on their ass"? You said there were 30 powers that did the same thing (they probably had their mechanical differences), but even if that is true when there are thousands to choose from: it is still better than 3rd Edition's "make an attack roll, deal damage on a hit" that pretty much every character was limited to.

      I would only negatively criticize them if they just whipped up a "move then attack" power and pasted it across the board, whether or not it made sense. Then it would feel "samey", cheap, lazy, pointless, etc. If it makes sense for two or more classes to have a "powerful strike" move, then I would expect them to have it (though, again, from what I saw they still would have some mechancial differences).

      As for healing surges, my understanding is that when you heal someone with a power that requires them to use a healing surge, they still get the bonus hit points, so a cleric could still heal you for 1d6 + Wis modifier. The only time it does not work is with something like a healing potion. Even so, it still makes more sense than pseudo-Vancian magic, works better for overall pacing, and avoids having a mandatory cleric on tap just to keep going.

      Speaking of pseudo-Vancian magic, I checked out 13th Age and it looks about the same as 4th Edition, which means I still hate it. I have no idea why anyone would want pseudo-Vancian magic except for nostalgia's sake, and if D&D is doomed to be saddled with it for all time it makes me glad that I have started playing other fantasy games.

    2. Oh, I do wholeheartedly agree that combat in 4th took too long, which is why I started axing hit points on monsters and stopped giving two shits about XP. As with pseudo-Vancian magic, I have no idea why anyone would want to have to track thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of XP.

  8. Let me be clear. I was not the one complaining about samey characters, although I'm a little more understanding of it than you are (As the DM I frequently found myself explaining how a power worked based on how another very similar power worked). With regard to having thousands of options, I actually think that was a deficit, not a benefit. It made the system feel unwieldy, resulted in an enormous amount of errata and made an online character builder a necessity instead of a bonus. In any event, the results were the same, the market rejected the changes that you and I liked. I think it was mostly due to bad publicity combined with an inability to work around the actual flaws (lowsy combat math early on and overly long combat times). But whatever, as you and others have said, there are some awesome alternatives out there. We're currently playing with 5E rules (my players like them) but will be playing Dungeon World very soon. (I like it). We may eventually go back to 4E to just put on the finishing touches of our 3 year campaign (that has been on hiatus for about a year).


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