Monday, December 08, 2008

Wars, Fours, and Curvy Horns

After reading and playing here and there, even DM'ing once, I have some more thoughts on 4th Edition D&D:

I really hate the ram horns and the big meaty alligator tails on the tieflings. Hate. Them. I hate them more every day, especially since they all have them now. For the most part, though, the new background stuff is pretty nicely done. I like their arrangement of the planes, the way demons and devils make sense (always thought the Blood War was silly), the "points of light" assumption, and "just the facts" monster stats. And, I have to say, the pared-down skill list is a thing of beauty. There are several other things that got pretty sensibly streamlined in 4E, and I have several other minor gripes (like the fact that, even at first level, 4E characters are nearly impossible to kill).

By the way, does anybody remember when they were saying that Star Wars Saga Edition might be looked at as a preview of things to come in the fourth edition D&D rules? They did some neat stuff with that game. They cleaned up the skill system in much the same way, so that it actually helps move the game along instead of cluttering things up. They also went with the "defenses" philosophy like 4E, so that armor class and (what used to be) saving throws all use the same mechanic. I think that, with just a little extra work, they could have done away with feats and replaced them entirely with their new class-based "talent trees" rather than leaving them side by side. The interlocking systems get a little tangled, meaning that creating higher level NPC's is the same kind of headache it is in 3.5 D&D, especially for characters with Force abilities. Overall, though, I still think this game is a serviceable way to bring Star Wars to life in your living room.

And that brings us back to 4th Edition D&D. In the Star Wars game, talents are a way of customizing your character, choosing whether your Jedi has more mind tricks or light saber maneuvers, whether your soldier is a brawler or a sharpshooter, or a bit of both. In 4th Edition D&D, you have powers instead of talents. Powers are like the buttons you click to make your hydrocephalic gnome attack in World of Warcraft. Sure, you can do other things in D&D but, most of the time, there's no reason to. Most likely, you're going to do the same thing every time you run into trouble - use your encounter powers, then keep clicking on the at-will powers until the fight is over, because any other action is markedly inferior in game terms. Maybe if the fight's going slow you'll go ahead and use a daily power. Maybe you'll get creative and try something else, but this will upset the other players because you're not living up to your damage potential, and may even throw off the party's numbers by not doing what your class is supposed to be doing on round three.

Which brings up my other main gripe with the game: roles. Sure, all RPG's assume that you'll go for a certain balance of different character types, but I've never felt as railroaded by the concept as I do in 4E. Do you like the way you can customize your character with multiclassing in Star Wars (or even 3E D&D)? Not so fast! There is a form of multiclassing in 4E, but it's not much more than a quirk. You can pick one other class and get a few of its powers, but anything more would be a lethal mutation for the new sacred cow of role balance. How does a character who's a little bit striker, a little bit defender fit into the party? You don't know and, according to the rule books, you have to know. This is actually not as big a problem as it first seemed because I've found that you can ignore it and your players will do fine. They are, as I said, pretty much indestructible anyway. I just rant on because the way they obsess over it rubs me the wrong way. Think of it as another tiefling tail.

So anyway, I don't think fourth edition is for me. I don't hate it, but the style of play it encourages just doesn't agree with me. I've been having too much fun with True20 these days, anyhow.


  1. You know what I don't like about the roles? They encourage metagame thinking. In fact, they practically require it. Your character is a wargame token who you can append a personality to if you wish. I like boardgames, but an RPG should be an RPG first.

    On the other hand, the tiefling accoutrements don't bother me any more than the old wussy horns and tails. I always thought tieflings were stupid goth-bait additions either way ("My blood is tainted by dark forces! Ooooh!"). What bothers me is that there are like a half-dozen kinds of elf, but no half-orc. And why drop the halfling instead of the gnome? Bah.

  2. Good point about the roles. Maybe that's what's been nagging me about them. I agree about the multiple elf types vs half-orcs too. That was a bizarre decision. I suppose what really gets me about the tieflings is that they're standardized now. If they're going to have one set look like any any other race, they should just be called goatigators or something.

    On the halfling/gnome thing, what's funny to me is that they presumably kept the halfling as a nod to Tolkien, but then they made them mischievous swamp people. I'm all for moving away from Tolkien's fat, lazy midgets but, if you're going to do that, why not just use gnomes, which already have a long tradition of D&D-ification?

  3. Hmmm... Goatigator... I may have to work up some stats for that.

  4. I would probably never play a tiefling. But damn, I could roll up a goatigator right now.