Monday, August 11, 2008

Preliminary review: D&D4

I'll keep this short, in order to prevent it becoming a rant.

First, the pros: what I like about the new edition.
  • I like the separation of spells into quick-casting combat stuff and longer, component-using rituals. I think the idea of rituals is great, and I completely approve of the concept.
  • In-play complexity has genuinely been reduced. What WotC began in 3E, they have culminated here in reducing virtually everything to a single mechanic. If that's your thing, this should be pretty good for it.
  • There are no bards.
Now, in as short a space as possible, the cons:
  • The whole damned thing is focused on, catering to, and obsessed with combat, and especially combat "balance." One of the ways complexity has been reduced is by removing essentially every single rule or mechanic for non-combat... anything. The skill set has been drastically curtailed, the skill rules have been neutered to refer only to "Trained: yes or no," virtually all genuine utility or out-of-combat spells have been removed or recast in combat roles.
    Look, WotC, let me say this once, and say it clearly: you are NOT going to displace WoW or steal any of its success by trying to turn D&D into a succession of exclamation-point-bearing questgivers and dungeon crawls. It won't work. WoW does and always will do it better. Don't try to be WoW, because you aren't.
    Each class has been stripped of its interesting and unique features, progressions, and abilities, and has instead been turned into just one more cosmetic applique on top of a bunch of damage-dealing. There is now no substantive difference whatsoever between a fighter and a wizard except in what the DM is supposed to describe when they kill a monster, and perhaps in the specific minutiae of how their damage is distributed.
  • In furtherance of the previous point, they've gone so far as to explicitly say that I am correct in my impressions of the feel, by stating outright that no experience is gained for anything except 1) killing, and 2) completing fetch-and-carry quests. This makes me very, very angry.
  • Also in furtherance, they've... oh, fuck it.
  • The new "healing surges" essentially kill any remaining verisimilitude (not realism, mind you; it's a fantasy game, so realism isn't the point) by allowing characters to almost constantly renew themselves to full health, and by allowing the healing of any and all wounds with a single good night's sleep. In fact, this is yet another example of... well, you know.
I guess the short version is this: Dungeons and Dragons Fourth Edition is Wizards of the Coast attempting to steal market share from Blizzard by shamelessly ripping off the feel and mechanics of World of Warcraft. It is a highly polished, highly balanced, and fairly streamlined product, so it's good in that regard; if what you really, really want is to get together with your friends and play WoW without computers, then I guess this is the game for you. Otherwise, steer clear. Way clear.

In a completely unrelated subject, anybody want to buy the 4E core rulebooks? I, uh, happen to have an extra set. They're in perfect shape. Never really been used.


Lois said...

Okay, I want to email you. I dig the blogs and there is too much to say. I study evolutionary psychology with fervor, and am enamoured too with Carl Sagan. Some of my heros are show on my page at I too am dysthymic, and Im interested in why we dysthymics are so damn creative, intellectual, and tortured. I could steal most of your words, post them as my own, and feel they are authentically mine. :)
Hope we can be friends.

Ross said...

Preach it, brother!

Having played D&D for many moons, I've appreciated the (previously) slow march towards simplicity. 2nd ed brought about a whole new world of I-Dont-Have-To-Look-That-Up-On-A-Chart!, while 3rd ed was a freaking dream of mechanic simplification. (I mean, c'mon, THACO? 15 entry saving throw columns?) 4th ed? Well... you've said it all already.

In the possible defense of 4th ed: d'you suppose it could act as a gatweay drug to the lower editions? 4th ed seems like it'd be easier to hook somebody on; there's a lot less to explain. And then: "if you liked that, you'll really like this. It's called edition three, and it wants you to do a thing called "role playing..."