A Message From Thom, Part 2

Here's the second massive correspondence between Thom and myself. It took quite awhile to go through it and answer everything, and its possible that I might have missed something (or failed to fully respond at length to certain parts). Seriously, it took a long time to get through all of this. His messages are in bold, my responses are not.

Please understand, my relationship with any people involved in the development of any product mentioned before or after this is strictly personal, and I in no way represent them or their interests. I have worked in the gaming industry on shipped titles, (that I do not feel at liberty to discuss here) and I felt that your blog was spreading misinformation based on personal bias, hence my initial outburst. However, I take this very seriously and I hope any bad blood can be avoided for the good of all.

Except for the misinformation part, same here on all accounts.

Classic art from Larry Elmore is on the cover of the box, and is always a plus in my book; but I admit that I may be a bit biased.

I have a preference for Wayne Reynolds and Michael Komarck, who incidentally does his work digitally.

B.) The classes and races in this product are nods back to the classics from the D&D of yesteryear. Even though this boxed set utilizes 4th Edition game mechanics, I can still easily visualize what each of them is supposed to be doing, and certain powers and abilities have been altered. This may not seem like much at a glance, but it's important. Fighters hit things with weapons, thieves steal, clerics heal, ect ect. If I were to actually step into this world I can easily tell what's supposed to be going on, and as an avid role player, that's the only reason why these sorts of games appeal to me. Having done work on video games, the magic of weird powers and unstoppable heroes has been lost on me long ago. I like a hint of realism even in the fantastic.

This is something that needs elaboration, as all of the races in Heroes of the Fallen Lands were represented in Player’s Handbook and very little—if anything—was changed, it’s just the latter featured dragonborn and tieflings. As for the classes, their fundamental purpose hasn’t changed: fighters (and knights and slayers) all hit things, rogues (and thieves) can still rob people (as can anyone with a good enough Thievery check), and clerics (and warpriests) still heal. The function is identical, and again the only thing that changed is that knights, slayers, and thieves simply modify their basic melee attacks via stances and tricks, and in exchange lose their daily exploits.

Positing the usage of daily exploits (and to a lesser extent, encounter exploits) as “narrative control” makes it easy to imagine their execution in the game world, and I’m still going to cite the rogue special abilities that they can pick up starting at level 10 in 3rd Edition (which I believe was continued in Pathfinder).

C.) It's cheap enough for anyone to buy, even a kid trying it out for the first time. I spent the last decade filling my shelf countless hardcover 3rd Edition books, and I saw no reason do do it all over again just because the last edition wasn't being supported any more (Which is a large factor in the popularity of the Pathfinder RPG.) But, 20 bucks for a boxed game that I can play by itself isn't bad.

I agree that it’s very cheap, despite it’s softcover. I like the look and layout of it, though I think it’s starting to separate from the binding. L I used to have almost 100 books for 3rd Edition, perhaps more. When 4th Edition was announced I entertained the idea of trying to convert stuff, but ultimately sold it. I wanted to keep it around for nostalgia’s sake, but had absolutely no way to store all of it, and knew that I’d never use them again as I had a similar sentiment with my 2nd Edition stuff for years after 3rd Edition was released.

This is one of the issues I take with Pathfinder: the purported backwards compatibility. They claim that your 3rd Edition books are still usable, but are basically re-releasing the same content that you already had, with some changes lumped on. Fighters are basically the same as they were before, just with more feats to choose from that allegedly fix (or partially bridge) the power gap at higher levels. Ultimately, it’s a big enough change that I couldn’t use my old books without modifying any class that they haven’t published already, but not enough to fix the issues in the system.

D.) Wizards of the Coast has actually come forward and reached backwards to fans that they may have lost for whatever reasons. Previously, the tone of 4th Edition's marketing campaign has felt forced to me and many others. The slogan of 4th Edition could have been, "It's new and you'll like it." With the Red Box the slogan could be "Here is what you want."

I see that as the same message with different wording: here is a product, it is something you will enjoy. As a nitpick I find the former more honest than the latter. “Here is what you want”? Really? It’s obviously not what a lot of people want, if grognard blogs are to be believed. Frankly, I find it surprising that by slightly restructuring a small part of a few classes and using new box art that it is sufficient for the turn around. I’m glad, just surprised.

“E.) The adventure feels classic, even cliched; but in the best way possible.”

We didn’t get all the way through it. I just used a different Wizards adventure, albeit heavily revamped, with the Essentials stuff and monsters where I could swap ‘em. It’s been a fun ride, but one of the new players wants to “graduate” from the thief to rogue after hearing all the various stunts that Liz’s rogue could pull off.

“F.) It's possible to buy this product and then ignore the rest of 4th Edition. I call it the ‘Jar Jar effect.’”

I call it personal preference. It’s possible to utilize the 4th Edition system and omit many options, including races and classes. If you don’t like something, you and your group can always mutually agree to drop it. The next Essentials book—Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms—will contain warlocks, tieflings, and dragonborn, which if that doesn’t sour one’s opinion, I have no idea why it would of the initial 4th Edition line.

In a nutshell, I guess what I’m saying is that it’s possible to ignore (or change) any part of 4th Edition at any time, just as has been the case will all D&D editions.

G.) I'm tired of typing bulletin points, I just get a good vibe from this product, isn't that enough? I don't really need a reason to love the things I love.

It’s good you’re getting a good vibe, and you don’t need to explain why, I’m just curious. J
I don't want to speak for Larry, so I won't; I will just say that he the gang were not playing 4th edition D&D the first time I first attended his Art Class in Kentucky a couple years back. The games we did play and talk about were of the more classic nature. He often recounted stories of the the good old days at TSR, like times that Clyde Caldwell's character was turned into a woman, or when Jeff Easley blew everyone up with a fireball because they were all standing in a 10x10 room. I never heard anyone say "Man, that mechanics of this game sure screwed us all over, thank God they've finally fixed it." The best parts of D&D were always the wacky things that just sort of happen when people sit down together and talk about Hobbits and Yodas and stuff for prolonged periods of time.

While playing 2nd Edition I was really young and didn’t have access to many games. Hell, I didn’t get a PC until I was 16, and didn’t know a thing about game design. I knew that some games were fun, others frustrating. In some games, I’d find a powerful option or combination that made it easy to win (or be beaten by an opponent). Mostly, I think that a lot of people had problems with the game, but didn’t know why, or created houserules to resolve the problem. For example, one DM allowed wizards to wear armor, but they took a 10% spell failure chance per point of AC it provided.

Thinking back, my responses to a lot of stuff that I balk at now (save or dies, permanent ability score loss, level drain, etc) was, “Damn, this sucks, but it’s the way it is.” There are games that do a lot of this stuff differently (or don’t use them at all), and even the newer editions have gradually phased those things out.

I do know that the people at Wizards did talk with Larry and other "old timers" about how to make the new Red Box feel like the old Red Box and I believe that they mostly succeeded.”

Not wanting to go in circles, but I just don’t see it. Not much actually changed. A few classes now modify their basic melee attacks with other at-will elements, and daily exploits were culled. That’s it, and doesn’t strike me as anything major. I mean, look at cleave and cleaving stance: they do the same thing, the mechanics just apply themselves differently.

The heyday of D&D occurred a long time ago, back when a media frenzy made everyone think it was satanic or something. That's when it was all over the news and people were eager to find out more about it. The broadcasts of celebrities playing 4e D&D today are mostly just marketing stunts by WotC's PR department, it's good business after all. But, MMOs stole D&D fire about the time that World of Warcraft came out, which is sadly more recognizable to the kids these days. Somebody at TSR or WotC really dropped the ball when it came to the MMORPG market, but that's a long-winded rant for another time. ; )

In the instances where Wizards specifically invited the Penny Arcade crew, Scott Kurtz, and Wil Weaton to play, you could say that it was a PR stunt, but they play a lot on their own. Gabe has updated the site to showcase various things he has done in his campaign. Other, lesser known internet celebrities like Noah Antwiller (from The Spoony Experiment), Angry Joe, and LordKat have also posted session podcasts. From my personal experience, I’m finding more and more mention of it on the internet nowadays than I was before.
A sad fact is that Hasbro doesn't even regard D&D as marketable most of the time. They'd probably like it if WotC would just drop it all together and churn out more Pokemon card games. I do know from personal information that the call came down from on high to change something because 3rd Edition books weren't moving fast enough, which is probably part of the reason 4th edition why was released the way that it was.

This is something I’ve heard before, and would be interested to learn where people are getting this sentiment from.

There was a point where I felt like I was just robotically purchasing 3rd Edition books for completion’s sake. I didn’t use a lot of them, they got a good deal of negative feedback, and a lot of my friends were feeling burnt out on the game. I totally believe that 3rd Edition wasn’t selling as well as they would like, and to keep going on with the game as it was would have been a very, very bad idea. Some people kept claiming that they could/should have kept going for another 5 years, but I didn’t see it last more than one or two. A new edition was needed, and I’m glad they pulled out all the stops when designing it.

But, the action-adventure fantasy genre really isn't their own. There have always been other games and things that are miles ahead of D&D in terms of fantasy action-adventure. D&D is just the quintessential tabletop RPG and WotC really just needs to focus on this rather than trying to spin it in new directions. ( The D&D movie comes to mind while I'm typing this. )
I meant design a game that did what it was needed to do, without worrying about constraining themselves to past traditions. For example, fighters that could only make melee attacks, wizards that could only cast spells a limited number of times each day, and limiting healing to divine classes (well, except when it was bards). I think that 3rd Edition was a way for them to test the waters and design a game that mostly adhered to the past, just more intuitive and organized, while 4th Edition adheres to the genre and more modern design tenants.
I always ignored the race-only rules in my own games. You have Gary Gygax to thank for most of that stuff. He didn't even like the idea of introducing any campaign setting other than Greyhawk. I don't want to start another flame war, but it always seems like the company that holds the rights to D&D at the time is the worst enemy of it's fans.
Nah, I think 4th Edition is a blast. I liked past editions as well, but nowhere near as much.
I personally felt like WotC threw the baby out with the bathwater when they released 4e. I don't want to play a balanced game, I want to act out a story. D20 was always better about allowing dungeon masters to look over a vast array of books and pick and choose what they wanted like a salad bar, and that really appealed to me. For instance, old-timey guns play a big roll in a lot of my games; as do called shots, real-world religions, and inner-party fighting. I found rules for everything from all over the place, some from 3rd party publishers but most from Wizards themselves. I really don't know how I could do the things that I wanted to do from the rules that 4e gave me. I'd have to go back and scrap 4 or 5 of my existing campaigns and rebuild them all over again.
As game balance and narrative are not mutually exclusive I don’t see why you couldn’t have balance and act out a story. The primary focus of my D&D campaigns is a story, while the players are faced with challenges that they attempt to overcome in whatever ways they think up. Some players might limit themselves to cleanly defined actions on their sheet, but that’s no different than a wizard looking to his spellbook for solutions in older editions, or fighters just jonesing to smack things with a sword. To me, it hinges on player creativity and benchmark arbitration. 4th Edition makes it very clear where to ballpark your numbers, which is handy when players throw suggestions out from left field.
I won’t go much into the usage of “old-timey” firearms or called shots, as those existed previously as optional or third-party material, but using real-world religions? That’s very, very easy. That being said, firearms have been printed in several third-party works, and it would not be a stretch to create called shot rules as mentioned in the 3rd Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide.
Some of the most fun game's I've run have involved parties of evil characters who spent the entire time murdering and blackmailing each other, and I am not at all shy about killing a character at the table due to poor decisions or bad luck. There are chapters in the 4e handbooks that says this is wrong, and that the game should only be about players working together to complete adventures as they are written. I disagree with that, and prescribe more to the philosophy of the following clip. ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1jJS1-v_nLA ).
When I was young that sort of thing happened often, mostly between players with real-life agendas against each other. I’m curious as to how a party that spends its time trying to off each other gets anything done in the larger picture, unless that’s the aim. I’ve never pegged D&D of any edition to be a competitive one, though it’s only suggested in the rules, not enforced.
I watched the video clip, and I gotta say that that guy (the first one) just sounds like a terrible DM. I don’t write adventures and run campaigns just to have them devolve into bouts of interparty backstabbing and pointless in-fighting.
Again, I disagree. I never asked for balance and I don't know why these companies keep trying to force it on every game that comes out now. When everybody is that same, why even have a class system? They might as well have just used a point-buy system and have a single class called "Adventurer."

Game balance is something companies strive for in their games, and there are multiple reasons why. It’s kind of surprising that after claiming to have written shipped titles to question it.

It’s not about being the same, but potential usability. As characters grow in power, each player, no matter what they are playing, should have the capacity to contribute most of the time in a meaningful manner. In past editions, fighters would get rendered obsolete, while wizards (and clerics and druids) were capable of doing anything the fighter could, just better and with more options. This is very bad game design, especially when you don’t tell the player that, by the way, you won’t be necessary after 5th-level when the druid can turn into something that can charge and make like, five attacks with poison.

Additionally, the claim of being “the same” is exaggerated in that it is very obvious that the 4th Edition classes aren’t the same.

Now, that's all fine well and good if  that's the sort of game that you are looking for. In my case, I like it when players have to struggle at times. The players shouldn't win every battle, it's all part of the drama. If I wanted to make the PCs feel more powerful, it'd be a simple matter of letting the players start at a higher level and toning down the difficulty because that's part of the job of being a Dungeon Master.

Balanced character choices doesn’t mean that they can’t or won’t struggle. It also doesn’t mean that they won’t succeed. This has always been the purview of the DM. If you want to make them struggle, throw harder things at them, or place them in a disadvantageous situation. If you want to defeat them, then throw insurmountable odds at them. You know, things that you could do in older editions.

I honestly just don't think digital art looks as good. Most digital art looks the same these days, and I hate that feathered Photoshop look that is cropping up everywhere. Companies turn to digital art because it's faster and can be done in-house with less trouble. However, a computer file will never look as good as a real painting, and maybe it's just the way that it seems more old-timey that makes non-digital art fit in better with D&D to me. Many of the "old school" artists who work in more classic mediums feel that they are a dying breed.

I disagree. I think that whether you use digital or analog, the quality of the art piece is determined by the viewer and not the materials. Computers are easily able to accurately emulate brush strokes, and I think that artists use it because it’s cheaper (for them) and easier to store, transmit, copy, and alter later. In other words, it’s much more practical.

I'll agree to disagree with you, but I personally felt that D&D's art quality hit its peak sometime around the launch of the Dragonlance books, and dropped back down again sometime around the launch of 3rd edition and has steadily continued to drift off in the opposite direction from my own personal tastes.

I’ve had more of a fondness for Tony DiTerlizzi’s works, especially in the Monster Manual and Brom. After that it was Todd Lockwood and Sam Wood, before Wayne Reynolds caught my eye in the early splatbooks with his black and white art. Michael Komarck is also badass (though it took me awhile to figure out who he was).
You are correct, in Races of the Dragon for 3rd edition. I didn't like them then, and I like them even less in a Player's handbook. I feel like they're a nod to furry fetishists and it just doesn't make sense to me why they aren't in the monster manual if they had to be included at all. I don't want to "Look like a dragon." because I really don't see the appeal.

Half-dragons originated in 2nd Edition, either in Council of Wyrms or in some odd web supplement that didn’t make the cut. I think it was a way for players to play something dragoney without worrying about the physical constraints. This made its way into 3rd Edition with the half-dragon template, which was very popular for both mechanical and aesthetical reasons. You might not see the appeal, but enough did to warrant its inclusion for the starting lineup. Just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean it’s anymore for “furry fetishists” than drow are for “emo-lonewolves”.
I wouldn't know that from looking at the cover. She's a magic user of some kind... granted. I just don't feel that the cover of the 4th edition Player's Handbook is lacking when compared to other iconic Handbook covers. It just doesn't say "This is D&D." loud enough to me. The cover of the Pathfinder Core Rulebook says that much better in my opinion.

Going back over some past book covers, perhaps the Character Sheets would have been a better option? It looks virtually identical to the Pathfinder one (Wayne Reynolds and all), just mirrored.
J I will say, however, that the covers did vary quite a bit. Sometimes you had people milling about, sometimes they were fighting a dragon, and sometimes it was just people doing stuff. In the end it’s a matter of taste.
True, but not in the 3e Player's Handbook. It may be a personal quirk, but I think that Dragonborn, Eladrin, and Tieflings were poor choices to represent iconic D&D races. They were chosen simply to appeal to certain player demographics. (http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/editorials/op-ed/7242-The-Truth-About-4th-Edition-Part-One-of-Our-Exclusive-Interview-with-Wizards-of-the-Coast.3 )

Sounds like a personal preference, and I see no reason why Wizards shouldn’t try to appeal to people who want a more “traditional” selection, as well as some new stuff. Personally, I’ve been a fan of tieflings since 2nd Edition, but why is it a big deal that they used them to appeal to existing demographics? Sounds like they’re giving people what they want.

In my experience, those demographics are made up mostly of awkward teenagers and the sorts of people who I don't want to play in a game with. With these races right there in the Player's Handbook it's doing a fine job of broadcasting that players can play an over-sexualized lizard woman, or a leather clad demon-goth. It's what I like to call "substitutional roleplaying". It's when players select a stereotypical fantasy trope and then act it out as if it's their own creation. The worst example of this I ever lived to see was the flood of angsty scimitar wielding drow outcasts that just happened to appear at every gaming table right after R.A. Salvatore released the Drizzt books.

Really? My early experiences playing with “awkward teenagers” were players picking classes and races that appealed to them. Usually they just kind of played them as they themselves were in the situation, though occasionally they would try and branch out. I didn’t care, as the point of the game isn’t to perform award-winning acting or writing, but to have fun. If players want to play an over-sexualized anything they will, and the edition doesn’t matter.

There’s a difference between evoking a popular racial stereotype, such as a dwarf that drinks, and completely plagiarizing another character. Your “substitution role-playing” can occur in any edition with any race: if a player wants to play a tiefling with anger issues, a dragonborn with an ancestral sword, or a halfling that likes to steal shit, more power to them. I don’t expect characters to come up with revolutionarily unique characters every time (or ever).

The worst that such a player could do with the Red Box races would be speak with a bad Scottish accent while playing a dwarf, or name their elf "Legolas." In the past I have forced players to just shut up and play a human.

So, it’s okay to use some racial tropes, but not others?
Not so in my experience. I still don't know what a "healing surge" is or why Fighters can only use certain powers only once during an encounter. Here's a good article that explains exactly what I'm talking about. ( http://www.thealexandrian.net/creations/misc/dissociated-mechanics.html ) When people go to the hospital for injuries, doctors don't talk about medical care in terms of healing surges; they just aren't a thing.

I’ve read the article. He claims that Wizards is “on public record” claiming that the only thing they care about is what goes on during combat, but doesn’t cite his source. That seems contradictory in that they provide hard rules for skill challenges and arbitrating non-combat skills for out of combat scenarios.
His main claim is that he “doesn’t get” daily martial exploits, and describes them in a way that supports his claim as opposed to trying to rationalize them in the context of the game mechanics. For example take trick strike, which is a level 1 rogue daily that basically lets you move a target each time you hit it. It only works on one creature, and you can only do it once per day. The argument is “why does a swashbuckler have a limited number of feints [per day]?” The answer is that they don’t.
Look at some at-will rogue exploits:
Clever strike lets you “turn even a minor distraction into an opportunity…”.
Duelist’s flurry lets you slide the target when you hit, shifting after them, and then let you deal Sneak Attack damage even if you normally couldn’t.
Sly flourish causes you to make a “distracting flourish”, dealing extra damage.
Each of these seems to demonstrate a rogue’s ability to continuously use feints and distractions in order to gain an edge against his foes. Of course, this author doesn’t bother to explain away daily non-magical abilities from other games. Here is a list of some abilities taken from Pathfinder:
For example, why can rogues only try and roll with an attack once per day to reduce damage? Do they just “run out” of agility? They can also “somehow” gain temp hp, but only once per day. Sounds like second wind.
Why can half-orcs only keep fighting for an extra round after being dropped below 0 hit points once per day? Do they get less durable?
Why can a barbarian non-magically heal themselves once per day, no matter what level? Do they regenerate, or do they suck it up and just keep fighting (like 4th Edition second wind)?
Why can rangers only use Master Tracker once per day against a given favored enemy type? Do they just “forget” how to follow tracks?
Let’s see…you can only use Spellcraft to ID a magic item once per day. Hours of analysis reveal nothing new, but the next day you can try again and discover everything if you roll well enough? The various Improved save feats give you a single reroll each day. Monks can only stun people a specific number of times each day. I guess they get shitty at hitting things. Arcane tricksters can Sneak Attack just once or twice per day (its not magical, so I’m guessing they forget how to do this or some shit).
The list goes on. I don’t expect you to back this up, just understand that daily non-magical abilities have existed before, and exist even in Pathfinder. Note that I don’t have a problem. I “get it”. It’s not hard to explain any of this stuff—even in a narrative sense—when you don’t think of it as the character actively declaring its usage.
Not all 4th edition powers and abilities bother me; just most of them. ; )

Which is only a problem because it seems like a selective issue in that it’s a problem with 4th Edition, but not when you read it out of Heroes of the Fallen Lands or Pathfinder.

For one thing, the Defensive rolls in Pathfinder are an optional ability that is for rogues only. It's localized to one class and there's still a chance that it could fail. Boxers and other martial artists are trained in real life to roll with punches, but I know from experience that no matter how well you roll with something hitting you it will eventually wear you down. So once a day, I could suspend disbelief long enough for a mythical hero to handle taking half damage from a battle axe... but twice? Not likely, I don't care how nimble they are.

The point I am making here is that daily non-magical abilities have existed before, and both adherents of past editions and haters of 4th Edition fail to justify that. What this mechanic does is say that it’s okay for a class to have a daily non-magical ability. Also, why can you suspend your disbelief long enough for a rogue performing what you perceive to be a difficult feat of skill and expertise, but when a 4th Edition class does the same its suddenly a problem? A rogue player declaring that they are going to roll with impact is a player exerting narrative control.

I know a lot of 4th Edition abilities work under similar principals, and those are fine in my book, but there are a good number of them that just don't make any sense to me. Healing Surges are right at the top of the list, as they don't seem realistic at all. Every class can use them and many abilities in 4th edition revolve around the manipulation of Healing Surges. I just don't like the slant that they place on the game.

Healing surges don’t do any one set thing, but represent a limit to the amount of healing a character can undergo within any given day. Barring feats, magic items, or something else, every class can spend most of their turn using a second wind, which lets you use one to heal themselves: a hero calling upon inner reserves, getting an adrenaline rush, or whatever is a common cinematic trope and not at all hard to rationalize. Think any time the hero is on the ropes, getting his ass handed to him, but gains the upper hand and wins the day (victory is optional as sometimes the hero loses anyway).

In the past, healing magic was treated like a great miracle that only a select few could call upon from the gods or what-have-you. Now, everyone can heal themselves just because the rules say they can. I know that this a personal quirk of mine, but a lot of people share it with me, so it's a valid point. I know that monks and barbarians and others in Pathfinder have limited self-healing abilities too, and that's fine because it's explained to me in a way that makes sense and it doesn't mess with the spirit of the game.

Divine healing was treated as a miracle, but any character could gradually restore hit points over a prolonged time via resting or just quaffing healing potions. In 3rd Edition spells became more commonplace, and hit points were easier to get through mundane resting. Perhaps they wanted to remove the necessity for a cleric or other primary healing class in order to get by, but I’d still say they failed. 4th Edition is the first game to allow players to readily survive without a primary healer (aka, leader role). I’d read through Pathfinder again, as neither the barbarian’s nor the rogue’s self-heal are explained, though I would explain them in a similar vein as a second wind. So…there’s that.

Most of this is beside the point. I didn't like the 3rd Edition covers at all (though I do own the leather bound limited edition ones). The cover of 4e just doesn't look like D&D should look. Larry's Red Box dragon art looks much better at conveying the feel of D&D, as does the Pathfinder Core Rulebook by Mr. Reynolds. Personal opinion again, yes, but then that's where I choose to spend my money.

Fair enough, but I disagree.

I use them all the time in my games, in fact certain trademarks of my campaign depend upon them. Horsemanship, seamanship, dancing, gun smithing, and more. I understand that these may be less important in certain games, but they are very very important in mine. Clever characters should be rewarded for ingenuity and simulation skills not only allow them to show better means to deal with a problem, it also shows creativity.

Ultimately it comes down to game play. I’d be interested in seeing several of your adventures, just to see why and how so many of your games “use them all the time”. D&D is primarily an action-adventure game, so understandably those skills aren’t typically going to see much use, and I don’t see the point in taxing a character for a potential future function. I won’t begrudge you for using them, but using them is not by itself indicative of creative thinking or role-playing. If players want to try and build something, I can have them make an Intelligence check (if any at all) for it. If a characters background has relevance, then the DC can be reduced.  Officially, Thievery can be used to repair a wagon or create a hidden compartment.

A friend of mine is a professional dancer in real life and she likes to implement this into the characters she plays in my games. It takes time and work to get that good at something and it's unrealistic to assume that the player is simply good at everything that comes up outside of combat. Some people can sing but not dance, or vice versa, which is why I favor the skill point systems in Pathfinder / 3rd Edition.

It’s also unrealistic for a character to become spontaneously good at a skill. For example, a level 6 bard with an Intelligence of 14 could instantly dump 10 skill points in Perform (dancing), which is more than three times the bonus she just had, assuming a base Charisma of 17. Rogues can do these even worse thanks to their 8 skill points/level. The important thing is that Craft, Perform, and Profession skills require individualized bonuses that make them hard to keep paced in addition to “normal” adventuring skills, and it’s not worth it to ramp on one of many skills on the off chance they’ll see usage. Owning Dungeon issues from #114 and up, I can’t even think of an adventure that hinged on, or even “commonly” used any of the Craft, Perform, or Profession skills. That says something.

My complaint with 4th edition isn't the fact that they focused more on combat, in fact, I give a point in its favor because of it... I just don't know why they couldn't have worked out both combat and skills.

Clarify. They have worked out a system that officially allows you to utilize skills in and out of combat, and even created a system by which you could level up by entirely going through skill challenges. The only thing they removed were a few categories of skills that didn’t see regular (if any) use. I know that you claim that such skills were used all the time, perhaps even pivotal to your games, but the majority saw it as a pointless background tax to mechanically justify your characters pre-adventure trade. Skills weren’t necessary before 3rd Edition and players managed to create farmers-turned-fighters just fine.

As a disgruntled D&D fan myself, I hardly see much difference. The man clearly wants my money and has taken steps toward achieving that goal in an honest fashion.

What was particularly dishonest about creating a D&D edition that did what the designers wanted it to do? They didn’t lie or steal anything from anyone: the game follows the exact same genre as it did before.

Read the articles again. He specifically mentions working with Monte Cook (who wrote an introduction in the Pathfinder Core Rulebook explaining exactly why Pathfinder was made) and why he respects Paizo. ( http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/columns/writersroom/8115-Complete-Mike-Mearls-D-D-4th-Edition-Essentials-Interview.7 )
"One of the things I like is what Paizo does with Pathfinder, is they have these adventures about Path that are very identifiable." - Mike Mearls

I only read through Rise of the Runelords, The Curse of the Crimson Throne, and some of Second Darkness. I didn’t find them particularly identifiable or different from other adventures, with the exception that some of the writers like to unnecessarily pad them with extraneous information that would never see use. I kept going with Pathfinder at the start because I figured I could convert them all, but in the end found them fairly typical. Monte Cook also appeared to be a fan of the system mastery approach, which is indicative of bad game design.

True. The internet is full of trolls, and it's something we have to live with in a free-speech society. People can know almost nothing about a topic and still rant about it. I gave 4th edition a chance before I said anything. I read the core handbooks and watched a couple games being played before making my judgments.

I’d recommend actually giving it a shot instead of just reading and/or watching.

Not so, 4th edition is not supported by the Open Gaming License like 3rd Edition and the Pathfinder RPG. ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_Game_License ) Anyone who wishes to produce D&D 4th edition material must first go through WotC themselves who can choose to edit or even deny 3rd party publishers the rights. Wizards has even been known to take legal action against fans who have posted 4th edition SRDs of their own. ( http://www.wizards.com/d20/files/4E_GSL.pdf )

Which is fine by me, because it
s their property. I see nothing wrong with Wizards telling someone that no, you cannot write up a Book of Erotic Fantasy for 4th Edition. I’m sure they would have had no problem with Paizo doing adventures for their system, or even their own campaign setting. I’ve done reviews for numerous third-party publishers before, from cities (Scarrport) to new class options (warlock pacts, druid theme feats) to entire campaign worlds (Amethyst).
"I'm a monster rawr" isn't funny.

But it’s not a smear campaign.

Many people are still playing games based on the D20 System. I chose to go with Pathfinder because it's a superior product that I feel is carrying D&D in a fun and logical direction. Since its launch Paizo has released many new game mechanics and classes the likes of which were never before seen in D&D. I suggest you check out the Advanced Player's Guide they just released, which really goes to show what they're doing with the game. The new combat maneuvers alone have changed the pace of my games, Dirty Trick being my current favorite. 

And I disagree. To me 4th Edition is the superior product that best evokes the feel and pace of the genre, and provides many distinct, flavorful, and meaningful options that aren’t present in older editions. The summoner preview that they put up was enough to remind me why I stopped playing 3rd Edition and keep me clear of their products. Perhaps the alchemist or whatever is better, but I’m not going to read every single thing they put out. Even if it’s good, it won’t be enough to have eclipsed all the bad that I’ve experienced.

In my experience, people will buy 4th Edition products simply because it is titled "Dungeons & Dragons." They know the name, so they buy it hoping to find the gaming experience they expect from it. The Red Box is a good choice for those types of people because it's trying to emulate that feeling, which is a big part of the reason why I like it so much.

In my experience, people buy and play 4t Edition because they like it. I don’t know of anyone that purposefully buys things that they don’t like, or that delivers a subpar experience when something just as convenient could be had. Its not like they’re driving down the road and have to pick between a limited selection of fast food chains. If I liked 3rd Edition more, why the hell would I sell all my books and buy into 4th Edition? I don’t play games I don’t like. Again though, products from the Essentials line aren’t changing much, and I do not believe that your only beef is solely limited to martial dailies when those exist in older editions as well.

The spirit of a game is just as important as (if not more than) the mechanics.

Which in my experience and opinion, 4th Edition is evoking much better than other games are.

So, if I am correct, what you are saying is that enough people voted to award a game you called "holy fucking shit" the Game of the Year in an open election?

I didn’t call the game holy fucking shit, that was my reaction to seeing Paizo’s big book o’ house rules. I also don’t follow or vote for the ENnies because it’s not an indicator of the player base at large, and it’s not going to change my mind as to what I find entertaining or consider to be a well-designed game.

I don't have a problem with people playing whatever they want to play; hell, I'm sure someone out there even enjoys the FATAL RPG. My problem was with the tone of your review, and your attitude towards the people who made the game you were reviewing.

Let’s be serious: no one fucking plays FATAL. My stance that Pathfinder seems very much so a money grab by Paizo remains the same, because they are selling you the same shit you bought 10 years ago. A book with more classes, a monster book with goblins and the tarrasque (the second book will have hippogriffs), a book of more spells, etc. That doesn’t sound backwards compatible to me.

Some of those people also do work for Wizards of the Coast and 4th edition D&D. They chose to do work on Pathfinder because that's they sort of game that they wanted to play.

I’m not aware of any designers who worked on both 4th Edition products and Pathfinder, not counting adventures or art. I checked Pathfinder RPG to make sure, and I couldn’t find a list of writers for Advanced Player’s Guide, but I somehow doubt that any of the major contributors for D&D added anything to it.

Paizo also has a very vibrant digital market for its products. Ultimately, an RPG's popularity can be determined by the movement of its core handbooks. (Player's Handbook, DMG, Monster Manuals.)

Really? D&D has many “core” books, but the original core set isn’t far behind Pathfinder despite being released more than a year before and costing twice as much. Additionally, with the exception of the DM’s Kit and Dungeon Tiles, all of the Essentials books and Gamma World are selling better. While Wizards no longer deals in pdfs, they do have a very excellent suite of digital tools. Since those contain all the crunch of all the books, it is possible (and likely) that people might not buy the books, especially if they are casual players. While this doesn’t discount the possibility of people only buying a Pathfinder pdf or through Paizo’s own store, it’s really the only numbers I can find.

I don't want to argue the finer points of which game system is seeling best in which market. I think we both have better things to do than that. Both D&D 4th Edition and the Pathfinder RPG are selling very well and making the people who sell them lots of money. I had to wait a long time to get my hands on a copy of the Pathfinder Advanced Player's Guide because it kept selling out.

And people had to wait because the core books kept selling out for the initial 4th Edition launch.
I never said it was a perfect recreation of back-in-the-day. I'd much rather there be a D20 compatible logo on the cover.

Is it because you’d prefer it to be 3rd Edition, or have an open license to do whatever you want with the system?

What the new Red Box is however, is a simplified version of 4th Edition that is at the very least attempting to say "Hey, I'm still D&D!" and delivers an adventure designed to help new people play the game. And, in case you haven't noticed, I'm giving a 4th edition product a thumbs up; and I don't even like 4th edition.

But it’s not a simplified 4th Edition. The rules are exactly. The. SAME. The only change is that a small niche of classes has some abilities removed and others added. They removed cleave as an at-will attack, but so what? They replaced it with cleaving stance, which does the same thing. They removed daily exploits only to give them power strike, which lets you deal extra damage one or more times per encounter.

4e feels like an MMO partly just because of the art, partly because of the goofy powers that make no sense, and partly because of the lack of skills that people do in real life but not in video games. These changes were intentional because they were made to appeal to an MMO playing demographic. The mechanics of the edition are the lesser part of the problem, I just don't want to play the game. Can't "you people" just accept this fact?

I’m going to skip over the powers argument, because I tried to explain it again earlier. In that case, I think 3rd Edition is like a MMO because in Final Fantasy XI all I made were melee attacks over and over again and it had Craft skills (which virtually every MMO has). Also, 3rd Edition is like that Star Wars MMO where you could stand in a bar and dance on a table. See how this works? It is kind of confusing that in order to “appeal to the MMO crowd” that they would remove such skills, even though they are in those games. Seems kind of counterproductive.

4th edition doesn't feel right to me or all the people who didn't buy it, vulcan logic be damned. Sales indicate that it's a fair number of people who "jumped ship" to Pathfinder, and if WotC is smart they'll cater to us or stand to lose our money.

Can you cite the sales differences somewhere? Is there proof that they lost more money than they would have gained by continuing on with 3rd Edition? In any case I wouldn’t hold my breath. The mechanics are too different, and if they just started reprinting their line from 2000 then it would be people clamoring money-grab all over again. Wizards is doing a smart thing by going forward instead of sideways or even backwards.

Because the artists, writers, ect will be better served by multiple paychecks. People like me might buy the Red Box, but not a 4th edition handbook. Money talks, opinions are cheap.
Artists and writers—such as Eva Widermann and Nic Logue—have already been drawing and writing for both systems. You aren’t explaining why they will be better served by a game in which a few classes differ slightly from the typical class construction and advancement mechanics. You are telling me that “writers”, whoever they may be, will jump on D&D now that two books feature a handful of classes that have slightly different mechanics? That doesn’t make any sense. That’s like saying people would jump on D&D because they added psionic classes. People who dislike 4th Edition for the mechanics will still dislike it, because the core mechanics aren’t changing.
If you can give me some numbers to support your claim that D&D is being enjoyed now more than in the early 80's when it had a cartoon show on the air and every kid in America actually knew what it was, please do.
Can you do the same?
Well I like nothing from 4th Edition and virtually everything from Pathfinder. Which one of us is writing reviews on their own blog now?
While I like 4th Edition, this blog isn’t just for that. I review products from other companies as well, such as a handful of digital games and numerous third-party products given to me. I also do reviews of materials without being asked.

A troll by any other name will blog just as angrily.

Actually, I was wondering what your thoughts would be. Scoping out several “old-school” blogs, they seem to regard it as a failed attempt to garner their attention (and money).

Done and done.

I know that this is a pro-4th edition blog written by someone biased towards 4th edition. If any of my original message comes through all this it should at least includeinclude that...

A.) Larry Elmore is an excellent artists and a friend of mine, everyone should go to his website and order lots of prints of his work.

B.) The Red Box is a good product, go buy it.

C.) I choose Pathfinder, not 4th Edition. Deal with it.

And that’s it for the second message.


  1. Wow. Lots of Nerd Rage Bubbling to the top there. A few comments.

    1. Larry Elmore is a great artist. I like a lot of the other artists out there, but his stuff always evokes that 2nd edition "D&D" feel. Personally, I've liked the art for pretty much every edition of D&D that's come out so far. The early 3rd edition books had a few that were terrible ("Animate Dead created THESE skeletons.")

    2. I haven't played the Red Box, but I like what they've done with the Essentials line so far. I'm a big fan of "creativity through constraint", and I really like the idea of playing limited classes to evoke an old-school feel. I think Essentials accomplishes that task very well. That said, I'm not going to force my players to use it. It's an option, and I know most of them aren't interested in it.

    3. Pathfinder holds little interest for me. I don't begrudge other people who like it, but if I wanted to be playing 3rd edition, I'd be playing 3rd edition. My overall feel about it is that if one of my friends wants to run a 3rd edition/Pathfinder game, then I'd be happy to play in it. However, I'm not going back there as a DM again. Too much prep work, too little payoff. I actually had this conversation with one of my players at our last session. He's a big pathfinder fan, and his suggestion was: "don't like the prep work - buy the adventure paths!" That doesn't sit well with me. At any rate, I just don't have the hours required to write 3rd edition adventures anymore, so I won't be going back there.

    I do think the edition wars are out of control, though. If a friend of mine really wanted to run a Pathfinder game, I'd play. I liked 3rd edition, even with its flaws. I also like switching things up, and I won't be running 4e for my next campaign (probably going to give Burning Wheel a shot). At any rate, I can't stand the edition wars. Gamers are a small minority of the population. Can't we all just play the games we want without giving other gamers shit about the games we're playing?

  2. Outstanding work, cow. Hope you're getting the appreciation you deserve.

  3. Sorry man, you're going way to easy on this guy...

    I do know that the people at Wizards did talk with Larry and other "old timers" about how to make the new Red Box feel like the old Red Box and I believe that they mostly succeeded.”

    -Really? Because I can tell you it feels nothing like the old red box or any of the 78-83 Basic Sets. I played them then, and I played with one of them this summer teaching my kids to play D&D and there is no comparison. No character generation, no equipment, and one level of advancement is nothing like those old sets.

    "I always ignored the race-only rules in my own games. You have Gary Gygax to thank for most of that stuff. He didn't even like the idea of introducing any campaign setting other than Greyhawk."

    An old schooler slagging Gygax? Seriously? They didn't release another campaign setting until 1987 by which he had been gone for at least a year. This sounds like someone who came in during 3E decrying the change to 4E but calling back to older editions for some reason.

    "I don't want to play a balanced game, I want to act out a story. "

    Then D&D may not be for you. In any edition. It's a game, not an exercise in amateur theater.


Powered by Blogger.