D&D: You’re Wrong, 4th Edition was Great

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4th Edition was great. Don’t agree? Come at me bro…

It’s too much like a video game. It’s Disney does D&D. It came out of nowhere ad changed everything. It was too actiony–there were too many powers. The powers were stupid to begin with. There’s no end to the litany of complaints levied at 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons. In fairness, 4th Edition had its problems. Glut was a real, and fast-pace thing in this edition.

Within two years Wizards of the Coast released the complete core trilogy, a second core trilogy (PHB II, etc.) a splatbook for each of the “power sources” (Arcane, Divine, Primal, Martial) and the list goes on. There were a ton of classes, combos, magic items, various skills and talents to choose from. This edition tried to have it all, but piled it on the plate without thinking about how it was arranged.

rc-golden-corral

Kind of like your first time at one of those everything buffet restaurants…

But even with all that in mind, 4th Edition will always have an important place in the annals of D&D history. Simply put, it’s great. Here’s why:

Evolution

Let’s start by talking about what 4th Edition represents. Role-Playing Games evolve or they die.* Not just fixing mistakes (that’s what errata is for–well, that and giving you a little extra ammunition when going up against the rules lawyer who tries to convince you you’re wrong all the time), but their core ideas and get a little more refined. Even the most grognardian b/x retro clone** still takes modern design into account.

At first glance, 4th Ed. might seem like a wild leap into strange territory that is easy to write off as an experiment/fever dream. Except 4th Edition has a very clear lineage that you can trace back very clearly. 4th Edition represents a shift in design, incorporating ideas that came about from the shift of 3.0 to 3.5, the success of Star Wars Saga edition, and the final few splatbooks for 3.x, including (especially?) the Book of Nine Swords.

Tome_of_Battle,_the_Book_of_Nine_Swords

What if we made playing a fighter fun past 5th level?

So what is 4th Edition’s philosophy? Well it’s definitely more that the game itself should be fun to play. Everyone should have an interesting turn–characters should be about on par with each other (and to date, this Edition has dealt with the disparity between Wizards and Fighters (for example) the best.

No longer were characters bound by differing bonus tracks–the death of BaB/varying THAC0 scores was one of the greatest moves. It let them retool for balance. And while 4th Edition did not have it perfectly, by any stretch of the imagination, this idea helped bring the disparate parts of the game closer together. Being able to reliably figure out player’s attack bonuses and chances to hit meant they could better plan adventures and encounters.

Ease of Use

Speaking of planning encounters–nowhere is this next point more prevalent than in encounter design. 4th Edition is so much easier to use than 3rd. Not necessarily less complex, or that it has less depth, just that it understands that you don’t need certain things to make an encounter work. In 3.x, genning up an encounter might seem like it’s just picking out monsters from the Monster Manual–but then layer in advancing monsters, or trying to have characters fight villains with classes and I hope you didn’t have anything better to do for the next six hours.

g-g-g-ghost

God help you if you tried to do anything with templates (check out the Ghost for an example of what I mean).

 

Even if the only thing that you ever did for your encounters was to pick out preset groups of monsters–do you know the intricacies of every little rule in 3.x? Do you know what it means when it says that a monster has Spring Attack in its list of feats? Okay, but what about monkey grip, or improved trip?

4th Edition took that clutter of rules and distilled them down.Monsters became a little more modular, similar to characters but built on a slightly different engine. This comes back to that design shift I mentioned earlier. It feels like the rules stopped representing painstakingly modeled creatures and more like they started acknowledging the exigency of the gaming table.

tableflip

Pictured: acknowledging the exigency of a gaming table…

It’s why you saw tips like, “use more than one monster.” Or why elite and solo monsters existed in the first place–they were a good way, (in theory) for the GM to quickly and easily judge, “okay this monster is a good threat to my party.” Same thing for figuring out how to develop your character–at least at first.Once the later books came out there were too many powers and magic items (and not enough good ones) but that does bring me to our next point.

Powers

Sure. Yeah let’s talk about powers. They’re the big reason that 4th Edition gets criticized for “being basically an MMO.” And they’re not necessarily wrong–the powers were definitely influenced by games like World of Warcraft, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The key idea behind the powers is “every turn should be interesting.” Even when players have nothing to do but make a simple attack they’re still doing something that feels unique.

The way a Fighter swings a sword is fundamentally different from how a Ranger does–in spite of their similarities. This led to things like powers that moved enemies around, that let you deal extra damage–and every class had some kind of ability they could use once an encounter or once per day (not just Wizards).

A81Lj

This idea originated in Star Wars saga edition, from Force Users, specifically. Any character attuned to the force could acquire a suite of powers that let them make incredible attacks–these include throwing things at people telekinetically, or absorbing and reflecting blaster bolts. When the Book of Nine Swords came along with its expanded rules for martial heroes (including special attacks that seemed cut from the same Saga edition cloth), it amped up the power level of the game, but also made playing a fighting type hero fun.

All this went into making sure that every class had a range of powers available to them so that they could do something cool–and more importantly–still be useful afterwards. No longer did Wizards need to go lie down for the day after 1.5 encounters.

It made fighting monsters much more fun too. And easier. Being able to look at the entries for different sorts of Yuan-Ti and see what all their powers are made it very easy to plan an encounter and design tactics for them to use. And during the actual fights, it was always nice to have more options bsides just “attack them with melee.”

Explicitness

No not like that–though you’d be surprised at how many threads were devoted to the whole ‘do female Dragonborn have boobs’ debate. What I mean here is that the game takes a lot of the unspoken ideas in 3.x and flat out states them. Take the Tiered play for instance. These ideas always existed–you needn’t look any farther than the DMG to find advice that explains in brief the sort of capabilities different leveled parties might have.

The game necessarily changes once you start being able to reliably teleport, polymorph, plane shift etc. So they broke the game up into three tiers and gave an explanation about what to expect from each. Same goes with magic items–they took an opportunity to say “hey everyone’s going to have magic items, we may as well make them useful.” Granted this is probably the biggest misstep in implementing it–the problem was that there were too many that did nothing important (or that had a daily power that you would get questionable value of)–but they were unique.

This is something 5th edition has taken in a different direction. Now magic items are their own unique thing–where and how they interact with combat is chosen very deliberately, instead of the scattershot approach before.

Character Builds

The other big divisive thing. There were a lot of complaints on the various forums when people got a look at the “two ways to make your character” and what was happening to “prestige classes.” They criticized game for limiting you to a specific set of character builds. And while having preset  who you’d pick for your character is a little limiting on the one hand–it also makes it a lot harder to mess up your character during advancement. After all, there have always been certain “best builds,” but they just made it so you don’t have to hunt through the chaff of a thousand different feats.

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Guys, I have some new unarmed feats I wanna try. THIS TIME it’s going to work!

Mostly because they made feats largely irrelevant by giving you a ton that didn’t really matter or that only added a little. I feel like they got it right in 5th, by making them options that add some extra breadth to your character rather than piddling incremenetal bonuses that make sure your math equation is about right.

Anyway, there you have it. Five reasons 4th Edition was great–and while it wasn’t perfect, and I think 5th Edition is objectively the best D&D we’ve had come along in a while, we wouldn’t have it without 4th Edition. A lot of the same conceptual ideas are present, but they are just executed differently. Every character still has plenty of opportunities to take meaningful actions over the course of a fight–but nothing is quite as out of hand as powers could get. The math is still finely tuned (and on purpose) but the numbers don’t go so high or get as ridiculous. The list goes on…but you get the idea.

~What do you think? 4th Edition, unsung hero, or deserved pariah? Was 4th Edition really as bad as the Star Wars Prequels? Let us know!

 


*Well, really they just stop getting new editions but people will still play them. I mean Chess hasn’t had a rules update in how long? And it has a couple of actually pretty good movies (and a musical) out there.

  • AnomanderRake

    As with every single one of these arguments the root of the issue is a false dichotomy. The issue isn’t deciding between a flexible system that’s hard to play (3e) and an easy system that gives the players no choices (4e), the issue is finding a balance between the two considerations. 3e and 4e both went too far to one extreme and both frustrated or annoyed a chunk of the player base that didn’t have the same set of priorities (between choice and easiness); which one is ‘better’ depends on which aspect you’re more concerned about.

    The answer for the people making the game isn’t to have endless arguments over whether choice or easiness should be excised in service to the other one, it’s to find a middle ground where player choices are relevant AND the game doesn’t take an accounting degree to make sense of. Also known as 5e.

    • Damon Sherman

      4th edition should have been used as a core for a Decent kind of board game series. Because it felt very tabletop heavy which is fine.

      I’m pretty sure the current set of board games are loosely based off of 4th edition

      • I believe most of them are. They’re pretty good in my experience. Kind of wish they were a bit more like Hero- or Warhammer Quest with leveling and persistent loot but I guess they figured they didn’t want the extra rules complexity.

    • EnTyme

      Very well said. I didn’t absolutely hate 4e, in fact I preferred DMing in that system as opposed to 3.5, but the character options available in 3.5 was just incredible! While it still has its problems in that regard, 5e has given me back so many options! I’m anxious to see how this edition evolves.

      • The most ironic thing about the development of 5e is that the one, single most unique character type from 4e… the thing that probably epitomizes 4e design better than any other aspect, and which no other edition of D&D before (or since) has been able to do… wasn’t carried forward.

        Mearls didn’t feel that there was enough “design space” in the Warlord to bother keeping it around… in an edition that was pitched from the outset to be the most versatile edition of the game ever.

        It would be sad, if it didn’t piss me off so much.

    • Scharfinator

      I second how great 5th ed is. You can still be fairly nuanced with a character but high level combats don’t take 7 hours.

    • Level1NPC

      Slightly late to the party here, but…

      While I agree that 4E may have taken a far too simplistic approach to its core ruleset for experienced players and GMs, there are two advantages that still place it above all other editions in my mind.

      First, all players classes are essentially on an even playing field. Damage and secondary effects are standardized across similar roles (striker, leader, etc.), so players who prefer melee classes aren’t quickly outpaced by their spell-slinging cohorts as they are in 3E and 5E. “At Will” powers remain relevant regardless of level, and everyone has a big flashy attack they can use to save the day.

      Savvy GMs may be able to work around this issue in other editions by denying spellcasters the chance to recharge, tailoring each encounter to a different member of the group, or by taking a more interactive storytelling approach. Not every GM has the experience or foresight to do this though, and failure to take class progression rates into account can result in players:

      A) Not being satisfied with their character
      B) Wanting to reroll for purely numerical reasons
      C) Wanting to quit

      Nothing can every truly eliminate these risks, but 4E’s “everyone’s the same” core mechanics at least take steps to mitigate B.

      Second, it has the lowest bar of entry. If someone has expressed a desire to learn and they’ve either never seen an RPG system in action or previously had bad experiences, a simplified ruleset is often the best way to (re)introduce a game. Skill checks augmented by multiple bonuses and penalties can quickly become intimidating (as can spell slots, encumbrance, and contested rolls), so from a presentation perspective it makes more sense to introduce these more complex options after the audience has gotten comfortable with simpler core information.

  • 4th edition was way too vanilla and way too streamlined and provided way too few actual choices for my liking.

    However I prefer AD&D and Hackmaster these days so the target audience of 4th edition is not even in the same stratosphere as where I am.

  • Hawt Dawg

    Nothing is as bad as the SW Prequels.

    Nothing!

  • Cergorach

    Mechanically 4E was superior in every aspect of the D&D game. The problem wasn’t the mechanics of 4E, it was the feel and the default setting. The ‘feel’ and the default setting where high magic, far more then even FR, more akin to Eberron and even Planescape. I love Planescape, but as a choice, as something different, not the core setting.

    To many exotic races in the PHB (easy fix, don”t use them), but the powers of even the core classes felt to magical for the kind of campaign we liked to play. Magic was supposed to be special, high level, in 4E this wasn’t the case.

    Then the biggest issue for the DM, it all felt to clinical, uninspiring. Imho it’s greatest weakness. I have most of 4E (almost all of 3E and 2E), I even bought a PHB for each of my old 3E players to rekindle the game. This never happened. At the time Pathfinder was just more our speed, but because it wasn’t D&D, we never actually played it (have some books and paths).

    With 5E we just rolled back into the game, it actually felt like D&D!

    While 4E might have been great for some other fantasy properties, it was almost a critical killing blow to the D&D property. D&D lost it’s first place in RPG land since decades, replaced by Pathfinder, a ‘fixed’ version of 3.5 that did feel and inspiration perfectly. Luckily WotC realised their mistake, they even tried to ‘fix’ things twice during the 4E run, but only succeeded by tossing 4E completely out of the window.

    D&D is like Cola, you buy/drink it for the familiar taste, if they they change the taste completely to ‘improve’ it, it’s no longer Cola and people will buy another drink…

    • I think 3.x kind of ruined 4E with its OGL – at the time of 3.x, it was a great idea. However, it meant Pathfinder could swoop in once 3.x was dropped.

      WotC probably should have waited a bit longer to release 4E. Or maybe done some kind of parallell release thing but that would’ve taken resources and it sort of feels like 3.x didn’t have anything left to release?

      5E does do the retro/OSR thing, which is nice. Sort of feels like the biggest failings of 5E may originate from 3.x but you know personal feelings and all. CR and encounter design is a mess though. 🙁

  • Grand_Master_Raziel

    The statement the author was the most correct about was, “4th Edition will always have an important place in the annals of D&D history.” However, not because of his follow on statement “it’s great.” Instead, 4th ed was the edition that lost WotC a sizable chunk of their audience and made Pathfinder happen.

    Pathfinder was the evolution of 3.5 the player base wanted. Instead, WotC decided to alienate their existing player base in an ill-advised attempt to grab WoW players. What they failed to realize is that WoW players already had a game that catered to their interests – WoW. Anyone with sense should have been able to see that trying to get people to shift from a game they could play anytime by themselves over to a game they could only play when a bunch of other people could be scheduled to play as well was going to be a hard sell, but Wizards bet the farm on it.

    I did play 4th ed a bit – I have a cousin my age who was keen to try it when it came out. It did have its good points – most notably balancing out arcane classes with non-magic classes. It’s major failure, however, was that as a player, you made maybe two or three meaningful choices regarding character build, and you made them at first level – your race, your class, and your path. Everything else was on the rails. Whereas with the previous edition, and with Pathfinder, you could tell ten people “Build a 5th level (whatever)”, and you’re apt to get ten reasonably different character builds.

    You don’t have to take my word for it. Proof is in the pudding. If 4th ed was great, 5th ed would have been markedly similar. Instead, my overwhelming impression when I first read the 5th ed rules was that Wizards wished they’d produced Pathfinder instead of 4th ed, but had to come up with something meaningfully different to avoid copyright infringement. Which is ironic, considering, but also points to Wizards knowing 4th ed was a misstep.

    • Massawyrm

      Ironically, Pathfinder only happened because bigwigs at Hasbro didn’t understand why there needed to be a 4th ed SRD. The designers argued that without one, the 3.5 SRD could be used to create rival product. But Hasbro didn’t understand why other companies should be able to sell D&D products. They went round and round, and as the cutoff date approached, Paizo needed books on the schedule or they were going to have to lay people off. So they made a hard call and went with plan b: expanding their Pathfinder line into a complete 3.5 game. Until that point, the plan was to make Pathfinder product for 4th ed. Had the suits listened to the guys who knew what they were talking about, this would all be a very different conversation today.

      • Luca Lacchini

        So very true.
        Was there during the end of the Dragon/Dungeon magazine licenses, and open test of the PFRPG rules (I still have the softcover beta!).
        The debate over 4th ed. or 3.X custom rules has been on the air for quite a while.

    • As I recall it, the biggest reason 4E was cancelled was that it failed to reach the 100 million goal Hasbro set.

      You may not know this, but no edition of D&D at the time had reached that goal – especially since it seems they weren’t allowed to add franchise-related income (so just the base game). Add to that the dearth of D&D video games during 4E and the online platform [murder suicide] thing and yeah…

      5E is pretty good, and obviously they did some good things with it. They obviously looked at the OSR movement and realized they could probably get a lot of market from nostalgia that felt like AD&D (and sufficiently like 3.x). 4E also didn’t have the same OGL issue 3.x had, or the toxic player base, so 5E didn’t get the same drama or issues. And, you know, 4E had pretty much released most of the stuff it was going to. They could’ve revised the core rules and some of the other books but it felt like it was done.

    • As I recall it, the biggest reason 4E was cancelled was that it failed to reach the 100 million goal Hasbro set.

      You may not know this, but no edition of D&D at the time had reached that goal – especially since it seems they weren’t allowed to add franchise-related income (so just the base game). Add to that the dearth of D&D video games during 4E and the online platform [murder suicide] thing and yeah…

      5E is pretty good, and obviously they did some good things with it. They obviously looked at the OSR movement and realized they could probably get a lot of market from nostalgia that felt like AD&D (and sufficiently like 3.x). 4E also didn’t have the same OGL issue 3.x had, or the toxic player base, so 5E didn’t get the same drama or issues. And, you know, 4E had pretty much released most of the stuff it was going to. They could’ve revised the core rules and some of the other books but it felt like it was done.

    • As I recall it, the biggest reason 4E was cancelled was that it failed to reach the 100 million goal Hasbro set.

      You may not know this, but no edition of D&D at the time had reached that goal – especially since it seems they weren’t allowed to add franchise-related income (so just the base game). Add to that the dearth of D&D video games during 4E and the online platform [murder suicide] thing and yeah…

      5E is pretty good, and obviously they did some good things with it. They obviously looked at the OSR movement and realized they could probably get a lot of market from nostalgia that felt like AD&D (and sufficiently like 3.x). 4E also didn’t have the same OGL issue 3.x had, or the toxic player base, so 5E didn’t get the same drama or issues. And, you know, 4E had pretty much released most of the stuff it was going to. They could’ve revised the core rules and some of the other books but it felt like it was done.

    • As I recall it, the biggest reason 4E was cancelled was that it failed to reach the 100 million goal Hasbro set.

      You may not know this, but no edition of D&D at the time had reached that goal – especially since it seems they weren’t allowed to add franchise-related income (so just the base game). Add to that the dearth of D&D video games during 4E and the online platform [murder suicide] thing and yeah…

      5E is pretty good, and obviously they did some good things with it. They obviously looked at the OSR movement and realized they could probably get a lot of market from nostalgia that felt like AD&D (and sufficiently like 3.x). 4E also didn’t have the same OGL issue 3.x had, or the toxic player base, so 5E didn’t get the same drama or issues. And, you know, 4E had pretty much released most of the stuff it was going to. They could’ve revised the core rules and some of the other books but it felt like it was done.

      • Jay Arr

        I did not know that there was a goal set by Hasbro for 4E. Huh.

  • Robert Lundgren

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. 4th wasn’t bad, I feel it was executed poorly, but I liked a lot of the ideas, and I tried very hard to make it work but it wasn’t for me. But encounter powers are great, I’m kinda mad they aren’t in 5th edition.

    The main problem for me was it didn’t feel like D&D anymore, that probably had a lot more to do with the changes they made to the fluff more that the rules themselves.

    • JPMcMillen

      That sounds like something someone else said to me once…
      “4th edition is a good game, it’s just not D&D.”

      • Jay Arr

        I think one of the biggest reasons for this is because 4th Edition was the edition that broke the strongest from the idea that D&D is meant to simulate a world. They outright had some things that only work because it’s a game…and them admitting that helped D&D overall, I think.

        • That was one of the core things people misunderstood about 4e.

          Previous (and following) editions attempted to simulate a fantasy world. I make no statement on if or how well they succeeded.

          4e did not do this (nor did it claim to). What 4e simulated was heroic fantasy fiction. And it did that extremely well–better than any other RPG, I think.

          One of 4e’s problems is that this is implicit and obvious once you’re aware of it… but nowhere does the game ever actually TELL you this.

          People tried to play 4e the same way they’d played the previous 30 years of D&D, and got angry when it fell flat on them.

          The game wasn’t poorly-designed, as many claimed at the time. Far from it, in fact, but rather was designed to do something different than what people expected of it. That’s a failure of marketing, sure, but not mechanics.

          In effect, people wondered why their new horse wouldn’t walk like they wanted it to, and nobody (including the horse) ever bothered to tell them they were sitting on it backwards.

          • Jay Arr

            Exactly! It was there, but you really had to stop and think about it–but if you figured out that you were sitting on the horse backwards, you could then turn around and find a horse that will not only take you where you want to go, but get you there faster and more intuitively.

      • It’s much more like Chainmail… 😉

    • Jay Arr

      Good news! There are plenty of encounter powers still around–they’re just sort of stealthed in. Any thing you can use after you take a short rest is basically an encounter power. Granted there are plenty of situations where you can’t take a rest in between fights, but, if you look for them, a lot of the ideas behind 4th are still around. 😀

  • James Hall

    I loved 4th edition in many ways, but it worked far better as a tabletop strategy RPG than as a Roleplaying Game.

  • Luca Lacchini

    I was gonna post a rambling, but Damon Sherman, Cergorach and Grand_Master_Raziel already have exposed everything, and way better than I could ever do.

    So I can just stand in the back line and say: AHAHAHAHAH, NO.
    The only good thing 4th edition did was creating a power vacuum not seen since the dwindling days of TSR. The 400-pounds gorilla wasn’t in the ring for a while.
    Not only PF gained a strong foothold, but many rulesets came out and showed a large portion of the gaming public that there is something else out there.

    • Dismissive, hyperbolic answers like that only ever come from people who don’t understand 4e, what it was meant to do, and why it was designed that way.

      So you have nothing of use to contribute to the discussion, and therefore can be safely ignored.

      But I’ll give you a chance to prove me wrong: correctly and concisely explain why healing works the way it does in 4e, in terms of mechanical balance and the “adventuring workday”. Show your work and include formulae where necessary.

      If you know 4e well enough to know that, you might be worth listening to.

  • CthulhuDawg

    My group played 2 all night sessions of 4E before we went back to 3.0 (action points can eat me.) I was raised on 2E and if I’m not doing math all night it’s not fun. That’s just me though and everyone is free to play any combination of editions how they see fit.

  • Xodis

    4e Pros:
    -Balance! Making Wizards balanced compared to the Fighters was amazing and MUCH needed. For far too long Magic classes dominated the weapon classes, and they both needed to find a new center.
    -More Options! This edition threw out a LOT of the “that’s not how it works in D&D” BS. We got to see a lot of new ideas and new implementations (monster races, feats that give class abilities, Taunts, etc..) that were dependant on DM approval become just another part of the game. This showed most “experienced gamers” that change is not necessarily bad, and can still be fun.
    4e Cons:
    -Lack of character. All classes seemed like the same class really. A melee weapon attack shouldn’t be as useful as a magic spell when it comes to things other than direct damage. Sometimes swinging a sword is just swinging a sword.
    -Bad Options. Sometimes too many options is a problem. It’s good to have many different races, it’s bad when every race has its own unique stats when really it should be exactly like the “mother” race with a small addendum or fluffy explaination.

  • Gerhard Jurgen

    For me, 4th edition lacked all the character of the previous editions.
    There is no creative way to use 90% of the 4th edition powers, you just use them.

    As a player who plays almost exclusively non-spellcasters, I never felt that I was left behind the higher level we got in our campaigns.
    Perhaps it is just the style I usually played, but I expected to not be able to warp the cosmos as a fighter. The idea that tue clases need to be balanced against eachother enters a foreign concept to me as a role-player. That you are playing AGAINST anyone but yourself.
    Role-playing for me is great because there aren’t sides. Everyone should be working together to create the best story possible.
    My best D&D moments aren’t when I beat the badguy by rolling well, they are when we used our resources creativily and overcame obstacles together.

    • Zachiel

      Ah, I do agree with you here. 4e was the death of “I will concoct something unexpected and then work hard to convince my Dm and my fellow players that yes, this is how it should work if we connect the little black points together.
      And IMO, it was bot what made D&D 4e look like a videogame (RPGs were all about being able to do what you wanted to do and videogames are the place where you can’t because you’re on pre-programmed rails) and thus the worst part od 4e, but also the best one.
      As a DM, I absolutely hate the kind of player that’s playing the different game of “let’s find the bugs and win by being smart” while ruining the fun for the people who are playing the game that’s described in the book.

      • Gerhard Jurgen

        Heard.
        Though in my years of playing 4th, there were manytimes that that very line was tred.
        The beauty of playing a rpg at a table is that you can make those concensus decisions as a group or a DM. For example, my usualy group found it incredibly odd that Favored Souls had knowledge arcana instead of religion, so we houseruled it.
        For me, the less I used the books, the better, and more immersed I was in the game. Whether that was creating unique races and classes to fit the backround of the story, or simply not having to look at my ability cards to know what my character could or could not do.
        What I am speaking directly to, is that abilities and spells are much more dynamic, and utilitarian in 3rd than they were in 4th.
        You could create clever solutions, without bending the rules in 3rd. You could not do that in 4th, everything had a specific purpose.
        The battles we faced were rarely memorable, we just went out, did our preassigned designation (healer, controller, defender, striker) and if we accomplished that, we probably won.
        Never, ever, was my disbelief suspended when playing 4th.

  • Pedwidge

    I still hope that WotC brings back 4th ed as a miniatures game. Combats were fun and tactical where you had to get the party to work together and find synergy to get through the encounter. with all the pre-painted minis they put out I’m surprised WotC has not tried this yet. Outside of combat 4th ed suffered, but in a dungeon crawl you won’t be out of combat. Seems like a perfect fit.

  • Bert0rnator

    I miss the 4th Ed official char creator

    • Google “CBLoader”.

      You’re welcome.

  • hywelphillips

    I ran a two year 4th Ed D&D campaign which we all really enjoyed. It suited the particular story we wanted to tell: group catapulted deep down into the Underdark, having to escape by wits rather than fighting. But where fighting broke out, it was really edge-of-the-seat are we going to survive this or not?

    The online character creator with printed cards made it possible to keep track of everything- I’d not have wanted to do it all by hand or have to write it out from fresh every time you levelled up.

    But as many others have said, what it made up for in game balance and tactical combat it lost in strategic and creative use of powers and general “feel”.

    Now my gaming group is more scattered and we play one weekend a month rather than once a week, I can see us playing the odd full-on dungeon crawl in 4th edition for fun… but we’ll not use it for another extended campaign.

    In my opinion the real weakness of 4th is there’s just too much to keep track of. Not as bad as 3.5th edition, which was so labyrinthine in its interlocking feats as to require a minimaxing strategy for what you want to have at 12th level before you push open the door on your first adventure. I can see why they went in that direction for 4th, and I enjoyed 4th Ed (especially the second iteration paperback book version rather than the hardback PHB etc) but 5th is a far slicker, far easier to run system.

    • Jay Arr

      Agreed. And there were a number of “false” choices that happened because power creep was all too real with the rapid outpouring that was 4th.

      5th definitely feels a little bit more flexible.

      • 5th had to be more flexible straight out of the gate. We’re two years into it and it’s gotten basically no expansions.

  • 301stFeinminsterArmoured

    The biggest problem I’ve had with 4th is getting people to play it; with 3.x, adapting to TotM-style play. 4th really can’t be played TotM at all, but 5th has no trouble at all, and PF is adaptable. This is why I prefer 5th and PF/3.x over 4th; I can easily get a game and it doesn’t need to be played tactically.

    • That’s a very common gripe.

      On the other hand, I was a wargamer before I was a roleplayer, so the TTGish aspects of 4e were quite intuitive and very satisfying for me. I never liked the ambiguity that ToTM creates, and very much appreciated the concrete tactical information 4e presented.

      I’ve never had trouble getting 4e games together even to this day, but I play with a bunch of other wargamers, so that makes sense.

  • Richard Pennertz

    The only problem with 4E is that it was basically in beta when it was released. 4th Edition at the time of the 3rd wave of core supplements was the best D&D has been. At that point, there were enough options that you had the complexity of build options that 3.5 players liked (except that they’d long since given up on the game), and it still had its best feature–combats were always interesting.

    Other editions of D&D tend to come down to a rush to get into melee combat, then rolling d20s until you get enough hits to take things down. In 4E, you had things like Minions that made you keep moving around the board to deal with them, you had ways to maneuver enemies around, you had terrain attacks you could use that gave you different options than were even on your sheet.

    Early on, skill challenges were underdeveloped and easy to misuse. But this was addressed in the later DMGs, and the system as it ended up was very solid.

    Marking mechanics for defenders was such an excellent part of the game. I loved the variety they put into it, too, so you could see a fighter, a paladin, a swordmage, a battlemind, and a warden on the tabletop and they played *very* differently, despite essentially having the same job. A paladin was not just “a fighter with some cleric spells,” its attacks were genuinely different. And that doesn’t even go into how differently different fighter builds could play. A DEX-based two-weapon fighter was different from a STR-based sword-and-board fighter was different from a double weapon fighter was different from a great weapon fighter.

    • Jay Arr

      Agree with you on the whole skill challenges thing. It was nice to have a little more structure to noncombat stuff outside of “well, you know, just make a roll at a DC.” Love the way those build tension.

  • Ty Barr

    SW Prequels are better than 4th ed D&D.

    The only redeeming quality of 4th, it saved me hundreds if not thousands of dollars by being so bad I bought only 4 books.

  • Doskious

    Fourth Edition seems to me to have been an attempt to dramatically expand the target audience by lowering the bar in terms of the creativity and imagination needed to employ the mechanics of the game while inserting a character management paradigm that would feel familiar to the desired incoming player demographic. It removed choices and customization options, simplified combat mechanics, and abstracted non-combat content to an exceptionally hand-waving degree, all the while presenting a significantly less flexible infrastructure (it felt as though I was being asked to trade in my fully-manual double-clutch Land Rover (3.5) for a Honda Civic (4E) while the dealer assured me in buttery tones that with a little imagination and simple re-tooling I’d be able to do the same things with the latter as with the former…). All this purely in the hopes of capitalizing on the surge of MMO-style gaming that was taking place at the time. This is not the resume of a “great” edition of D&D, I’m sorry. But that’s not the only mark against 4E.

    The author indicates that, in 4E, “The way a Fighter swings a sword is fundamentally different from how a Ranger does–in spite of their similarities.” This is an egregious conceit that is firmly representative of the 4E design: the rules are telling me how to *describe* my character, rather than restricting themselves to telling me what my character is able to do while leaving me to invent my own descriptions. In an MMO, this is an intrinsic and necessary component of the gameplay, since actions need to be resolved in or adjacent to real-time. In a game where a 2-minute combat can take an hour to resolve but a 3-month journey can pass by in 10 seconds, where the context of the game doesn’t necessitate that the player give up some measure of freedom of choice regarding the depiction of their character, this fiat removes any potential for creativity or ingenuity about not only how the action is described but also how it can be used, and is entirely offensive.

    Finally, on a personally frustrating note, 4E by its very existence legitimized the complaints about the power discrepancy between various classes in late-game play. (Note, on this point, while it is true that the Wizard (for example) is uniformly more able to alter the fabric of reality at will than the Fighter (for example), and can be built to be better at the Fighter’s job than the Fighter, the Wizard is actually *most* efficacious in combat when used to enhance the capabilities of his more martial allies and diminish the defenses of his foes to render them more easily defeated by his more martial allies. This has the dual benefit of being better teamwork in a game that’s supposed to be all about teamwork as well as being dramatically less likely to get the Wizard killed (being a source of direct damage usually requires more exposure than being a buffer/debuffer; more dangerous still is altering the fabric of reality in a fashion potentially offensive to a deity). Inasmuch as neither of these benefits is particularly game-breaking from a party-participation perspective, I fail to see any rationale to support the notion that the balance of power is intrinsically problematic. I do see how a certain type of player, when playing a Wizard, could be more disruptive to the gameplay experience by several orders of magnitude than that same player running a Fighter, but this is not a problem for the game rules to sort out inasmuch as the problem lies outside the scope of the game itself…)

    Fourth Edition is a solid Tactical Tabletop Miniature Combat Resolution system. As a Role Playing Game, it ranks well below Doing Your Taxes and Watching Paint Dry, much less the Star Wars prequels.

  • Dan Brugman

    my problem with 4th can be seen in a character a friend of mine made to demonstrate both the rules bloat, and the narrative nonsense it created.
    It was a vampire/vampire/vampire. I don’t recall exactly how he got there but I know it was his race, his class, and some other factor as well, and the whole thing felt really dumb.

    • Your friend was going easy on you. The full extent of that particular bit of nonsense is a Vampiric Vampire Dhampyr Vampire Vampire Noble. That is a Theme, Race, Background, Class, and Paragon Path.

      The shark had long-since been jumped by the point that became possible.

      It was VERY late in the 4e lifecycle–well past the point where WotC had given up on it and was actively developing 5th. They’d stopped caring about 4e more than a year before that particular combination happened, and it can be directly blamed on their attempt to shoehorn in a bunch of unnecessary “3.5isms” during the last year of 4e content.

      Quick rule of thumb for 4e: everything before September 2010 is “real” 4e design and generally better, everything after that is “4.5” when WotC knew the game was doomed and was just trying to milk it. There are exceptions, but not many.

    • Your friend was going easy on you. The full extent of that particular bit of nonsense is a Vampiric Vampire Dhampyr Vampire Vampire Noble. That is a Theme, Race, Background, Class, and Paragon Path.

      The shark had long-since been jumped by the point that became possible.

      It was VERY late in the 4e lifecycle–well past the point where WotC had given up on it and was actively developing 5th. They’d stopped caring about 4e more than a year before that particular combination happened, and it can be directly blamed on their attempt to shoehorn in a bunch of unnecessary “3.5isms” during the last year of 4e content.

      Quick rule of thumb for 4e: everything before September 2010 is “real” 4e design and generally better, everything after that is “4.5” when WotC knew the game was doomed and was just trying to milk it. There are exceptions, but not many.

  • Graham Bartram

    1991 Dungeons & Dragons Rules Cyclopedia… ..the only D&D book I need.

    • Jay Arr

      Oh man. Mystics.

  • Drew

    My experience is only anecdotal, but I can say that for the entirety of its life, 4th ed. killed D&D for my local game group. We played anything else to avoid it. When 5th ed. came out, we came back and love it. ‘Nuff said.

    As an aside, Living Greyhawk also died with the end of 3.5 and transition to 4th, and none of the so-called “Living” campaigns D&D has done since have managed to come anywhere near LG, so I lay that one at the feet of 4th ed., too.

  • Derek Lee

    4th was just too generic when it came to character building. Everyone had a ranged d4 or d6 attack and most classes had one token healing ability. Yeay for balance, everyone can do about everything, but the everybody is more generalized and bland for it.

    The thing I’m most tankful to 4th ed is that without it, there would be no Pathfinder.

    • You echo an extremely common complaint.

      …that is also absolutely, inarguably incorrect and misinformed.

      If you actually care about why, let me know. Otherwise I won’t waste either of our time.

    • You echo an extremely common complaint.

      …that is also absolutely, inarguably incorrect and misinformed.

      If you actually care about why, let me know. Otherwise I won’t waste either of our time.

      • Derek Lee

        I don’t need a lecture from you why you think I’m wrong. If you like it fine. I tried it and didn’t like it. While easy to set up and maintain a grip on what your players can do, like a video game, it eliminates any creativity that you would expect in a game with dice and paper. I don’t have fun ratios or success charts to prove my stance with empirical evidence but I measure the success of the game by how many groups I play with attempt to start another game after one crashes. 4e crashed and burned, people around me stopped playing it, we moved on to Pathfinder, and those who stopped completely started with 5th ed immediately after it’s release. Mine is a commonly echoed complaint because it is commonly felt. Feel free to ignore.

        • I always kind of feel bad for the people who make the “4e allowed no creativity!” argument. Not only does it reveal ignorance of the system, it speaks to a fundamental misunderstanding of what purpose the mechanics of an RPG–any RPG–serve.

          If you need your PHB to tell you it’s okay to be creative, you have most emphatically missed the point.

  • Derek Lee

    4th was just too generic when it came to character building. Everyone had a ranged d4 or d6 attack and most classes had one token healing ability. Yeay for balance, everyone can do about everything, but the everybody is more generalized and bland for it.

    The thing I’m most tankful to 4th ed is that without it, there would be no Pathfinder.

  • I remain convinced that, above all the other little niggles that plague 4e, it had two primary flaws:

    1. The marketing campaign for the game was TERRIBLE. It basically boiled down to “the D&D you’re playing right now sucks, here play a better one”, which the fans of 3.x (rightfully) interpreted as “the thing you love sucks and we’re going to destroy it”. Pissing off most of their fans didn’t do them any favors, and it left the door open for Paizo to complete their Dark Apprentice-to-Sith Lord betrayal by firing back with Pathfinder, which they successfully pitched to fans as “you know that D&D you already love? Here’s more of it but better.”

    To this day Wizards doesn’t seem to have learned this lesson, since they used EXACTLY THE SAME TACTIC when trying to pitch Next/5e to their 4e audience. The difference this time is that there were so few 4e players left that nobody noticed.

    2. The presentation was insufferably dry. For all the game’s mechanical cleverness*, the books were incredibly boring to read. The designers borrowed a page from Magic in designing a rock-solid set of exhaustively-comprehensive rules… which unfortunately–and predictably–meant the PHB ended up reading very much like the Magic Comp rules, which is a 600-page behemoth of a doorstop that nobody not in charge of a PTQ would ever voluntarily suffer through.

    Unlike with point 1, Wizards DID learn this lesson… but over-corrected, presenting in 5e a new game that was positively dripping with atmosphere and invoked plenty of childlike, flashlight-under-the-blankets nostalgic glee in the players, but at the expense of nearly any interesting mechanical design. Fortunately for them, this time around, their attempt to right the ship seems to have fallen in line with audience desires, though that feels more coincidental than intentional to me (that or Mearls has finally actually become representative of the D&D player population at large: a not-as-clever-as-he-thinks-he-is 40-something pining for the wide-eyed wonder of discovering D&D for the first time as a child).

    I don’t think anything could have saved 4e, really. It was doomed from the beginning, because the design philosophy that created it was the same one that pitched it, and without that unshakable (and ultimately misplaced) confidence in their own direction, 4e wouldn’t have been, well, 4e. It would have been Pathfinder: more of the same, with the rough edges filed off. Three-point-five… point-five.

    * – I remain convinced that more people would have ended up liking 4e if they’d DMed it. Nearly all of the mechanical cleverness of the game is hidden behind the DM screen in a way that the players never see, despite interacting with it constantly. Most of the people I know who only played 4e hated it… EVERY SINGLE ONE of the people I know who DMed 4e like it.