The New Oral Tradition

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The New Oral Tradition

Explaining how to roleplay is tough to do on paper, but that didn't stop Wizards of the Coast from trying.

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You guys REALLY need to spread your Roleplaying Wings a little, DnD doesn't have a good guide for "Roleplaying" because it's always been more about build optimization and tactical combat than it is about fleshing out a personality for a character. Sure you can roleplay, but it's purely freeform, Roleplaying itself isn't part of "the game" like it is in some other products, the new Dresden Files RPG and the Mouseguard RPG come to mind.

The article is accurate I'm sure, which makes it all the more depressing that 4th Ed. D&D is such a load of crap.

The title of this article is more accurate than the article itself. There is no "right" way to roleplay. Powergaming, or diceless. Third-person or first-person speak at the table. It all differs between groups and it mostly comes down to where you started.

One of the great things about roleplaying is that groups evolve based on the tendencies of their members and shared experience. Let's not try to codify that, because it would take away a great deal.

Regarding a roleplaying guide, I think I did see the Roleplaying (or was it D&D?) for Dummies guide.

I think the "...for Dummies" series is pretty decent. They contain a wealth of information that doesn't confuse newbies, and yet is informative enough for those more experienced to use.

Gotta see if I actually have a copy...

A player's guide to powergaming... How sad. This is the kind of thing that's kept me out of 4th edition- Apart from the incredibly 'MMO' style of rules, the way they're marketing the thing is just so insidious. Any day now they'll be coming out with Player's Handbook 4, with one new class and a variant elf that live on volcanos, or some such. I don't condone powergaming, but at least before you had to talk to some people, check out a website, have a sense of community about the whole thing. It's more disappointing than what Wizards is doing to Magic...

Version 3.5 has a dungeon masters guide II, which also explains several types of player personalities(Tactician, outcast and supercool being a few). I've always been a powergaming kind of player, myself, anyway. It fit in with my wizard character type(Power hungry, knowledge obsessed maniac).

Interesting read (finding most of your articles interesting though). And I share your wish for a good solid guide to roleplaying (with a focus on table-top roleplay). Seems almost every system has a few lines on them, but they always forget some part of the explanation or fail to see the bigger picture.

Personally I am engaged in Exalted roleplaying on a weekly basis, and while theres always room for powerplaying, the focus in our group has always been on roleplaying. The cause of this is ofcourse that all group-members are actually experienced roleplayers, that have learned the ropes from someone before joining the group. That said, I can see how people that just pick up the system will most likely forget a lot of the possibilities for deep and engaging roleplay, and solve everything with a show-off of the Exalted powers.

If only there was a book people would enjoy reading, that gives some guidance on how to be a contributing player in basically any campaign or setting. Guides for dummies are great, but except for the basics, they don't really hold that much depth, which might drown new roleplayers in a lot of more or less shallow information. Besides, the dummies guides dont really have the image (at least here in the Netherlands) of being good guides, and players are more likely to skip on that and just learn the system.

PedroSteckecilo:
the new Dresden Files RPG

Coincidentally enough a few of us did spend last Saturday night rolling up characters for Dresden Files. Although I admit the process did make me yearn a little for random dice and pick a class 5 minutes character creation, a full session and we still were not quite finished. We had just completed a Spirit of the Century one-off to gear up for trying this though, so we should be able to dive right in once we get passed the character and city generation hurdle.

My goodness the title of this article has so much sexual innuendo its hilarious.

You are so right about Paladins being essentially required to be a dick.

Forced to be lawful good, forced to stop any evil act he/she is aware of, unable to work with an evil character (limits the rest of the party substantially), and if you stray from these rules you get your ass nerfed unless you evil you way through to Blackguard.

Want to have some fun, maybe break a few heads, put the scare into some people, maybe abuse that Leadership feat a bit? Just lost one of your warriors and anti-evil spellcasters.

It's an eternal struggle: Roleplaying vs Rollplaying.
And then there's the argument of Powergaming vs Good Strategy and development.
An effective party is not always one that has been metagamed and twinked beyond control; I had a D&D 3.5e game where I played a monk who happened (no conspiracy) to befriend a Priest of Kord (deity of heroic feats strength and competition.) and together we rocked face because we covered for each other's weaknesses nicely.

Compared to the typical Chaotic Neutral (solely to avoid Holy Weaponry and spells) Grief Assassin who abuses every possible chance to either mindfuck or backstab the party. You know the type; that guy/gal who always plays the "not-evil" evil prick whose sole job is to derail the game.
Betrayal for in character and plot reasons is fine. Maybe even as a prank every once in a while.

But I've seen groups where it happens every game. Or players whose sole existence is to abuse loopholes within the game logic (Leadership, Divine Metamagic stacking, Warlock crossovers, Bag-of-rats-Fighters...) only to screw things up.

My last concern is with tokenism. I literally had a player who "figured out" the spellist for 3.5 to the point where he would berate or question anyone who deviated from it.

My point in all of this: Powergaming is addictive.
Keeping a careful balance of power and risk in your games is a lot harder than it looks if you're the DM.

DON'T YOU BE DISRESPECTING LIDDA! Lidda is awesome!

versoth:
You are so right about Paladins being essentially required to be a dick.

Forced to be lawful good, forced to stop any evil act he/she is aware of, unable to work with an evil character (limits the rest of the party substantially), and if you stray from these rules you get your ass nerfed unless you evil you way through to Blackguard.

Want to have some fun, maybe break a few heads, put the scare into some people, maybe abuse that Leadership feat a bit? Just lost one of your warriors and anti-evil spellcasters.

Those are lawful stupid. It's a stereotype, accurate most of the time I admit. And if your DM nerfs you that easily, he's stupid stupid. I prefer to think of paladins as being good lawful, instead of the other way around. It's a big change.

I haven't payed attention since 4E (spent too much on 3.5 to change), but I bet the guys on the WotC character optimization board could beat everything in that book in their sleep.

I agree and I'm happy that it's getting recognition - the 4E DMG is outstanding, finally a handbook more than a rulebook. I know most of those advices have been circulating on forums and third party stuff like Robin's Guide, but this really is the most accessible and comprehensive collection of them.

And I really don't see a need for a rollplaying vs. roleplaying argument. I'm a dedicated powerplayer and I still create a 5-page psychological analysis for all my characters.

EDIT: Oh, right. Me and my friends will begin a new campaign this friday, and three of them have characters that the Strategy Guide quizzes suggested to them. I'm interested to see how that goes. The book is kinda cute, though it basically repeats what our group has been discussing the last few years in after-session talks, and I suppose many other groups have as well. Still, nice to see other players have a shortcut to the knowledge, especially in such a user-friendly book.

Crunchy English:
The title of this article is more accurate than the article itself. There is no "right" way to roleplay. Powergaming, or diceless. Third-person or first-person speak at the table. It all differs between groups and it mostly comes down to where you started.

One of the great things about roleplaying is that groups evolve based on the tendencies of their members and shared experience. Let's not try to codify that, because it would take away a great deal.

amen!

I have to agree with the article's praise for the 4E DMG's description of "player types" - it basically summed up the psychological insights that took me a decade to accumulate on my own back in the 1E-2E days. I hadn't seen the Strategy Guide, though - it sounds unfortunately narrow in its conception of strategy (although there will doubtless be a Strategy Guide 2 in the works to correct this deficit since there can never be enough rulebooks/editions/ways to squeeze more dollars from RPG players).

Frankly, optimal "builds" etc has evolved with each edition of D&D, it's always been there. The first iterations were a optimal mixing of classes, spells etc. Now, with feats, epic levels etc, it simply becomes a more involved process. Personally, I feel that codifying it is both a good and bad thing. It can be a handy tool to provide clarification to the player and DM on the synergies of choosing feat A with feat B. Smart players can figure this stuff out anyhow, so clarifying it, isn't necessarily a BAD thing. Given the tactical nature of D&D at its core, it's a natural evolution. The bad part is it may encourage players to put themselves in these conveinent videogame like packages versus mixing/matching feats/powers based on character background etc, aims.

Also, don't get me started on how poorly Paladins are typically handled by the system and by a lot of DMs (and players as well). I don't even use the stock Paladin rules in my game, I call them Templars and use a mix/match of Paladin rules and my own to give them a wider range of acceptable play. WoTC really should stop shoe-horning the class.

As far as the anti-party, party-member. That needs to be 86ed by the DM quick. Sure, there's time where goals don't align etc etc but if its a every session thing, the other players will grow tired of it and it just makes things un-fun.

Thanks for the shout-out, Greg! I have to quibble with this part, though: "The Player's Strategy Guide offers a few tips on how to be a good roleplayer, but, in contrast to the DMG, there are just a few pages and they feel tacked on at the end of the book." What, no love for the Getting Into Character or Characterization Builder sections at the start of the book? (Perhaps I should be less eager to claim credit for the latter pun.)

Re: guides to roleplaying in general, I definitely think there's an imbalance between the many resources to help DMs vs. the relatively few for players. I highly recommend Graham Walmsley's Play Unsafe, a book about using improv techniques to make roleplaying more fun and unexpected. His advice is useful both for players and GMs and not specifically aimed at any particular system; in Fight On #8 I did an essay about how his approach meshes well with the randomness-based improv of old-school D&D, with its wandering monsters, morale checks, and reaction rolls.

Re: codifying play, for sure the ideal is to expose people to a lot of different ways of doing things so they can make an informed choice about what works for them. Podcasts are a great way to do this that's an extension of the oral tradition and offers some unique advantages; Zak has a blog post at D&D with Porn Stars that I can't put my finger on right now where he talks about the great virtue of hearing or watching other people's actual play is that you get to see how other gamers roll in a way you couldn't even by playing with them at a convention or whatever, since your presence in the game would change it.

The first edition of AD&D specifically spoke out against powergaming, and recommended to the DM that if one of the players powergames too much (they didn't call it that but the meaning is the same, i.e. take everything with the best stats and ignore role-playing) then to use his discretion to take the player down a few notches.

Times change.

I knew Wizards had gone all-out ridiculous MMO-style with 4th edition, but cover art by that guy from Penny Arcade?? Lawls... Ugh.

Anyway, I'm not sure discussing whether or not Wizard is sending conflicting messages with these two books (roleplaying vs. rollplaying) is fruitful, because obviously their only motivation for releasing this Strategy Guide can be boiled down to "$$$". I really don't think contradicting themselves on the style of the game trumps more money.

This is a great article and it does make a pretty good point, but please allow me to ask a question.

Why do you care?

Let me elaborate. D&D is what most people who aren't into RPGs think when you tell them "roleplaying". This is how it has always been, this is how it is and this is probably how it will continue to be until Wizards does something majorly stupid and fucks the whole thing up.
However, we (and by we I mean people who are into tabletop RPGs) are not "most people". There are tons of RPGs out there, pretty much anything for any taste. Some are good, some are not, but in general if you look for a while you'll find something that fits you. As such, why do you care that new people who get introduced into the hobby via 4th edition will think like a powergamer? Will YOU be playing with them? I won't. If I do, then I'll play like a powergamer and treat this as a video game too. Or I might show them some other RPG and say "hey guys, why don't we try doing it this way for a bit?".

Anyway, this is turning into a rant. My point is - there are other RPGs out there besides D&D. Let Wizards do what they think is best. If you like it - play it. If you don't - well find something you DO like and play that!

red_tok:
I knew Wizards had gone all-out ridiculous MMO-style with 4th edition, but cover art by that guy from Penny Arcade?? Lawls... Ugh.

Anyway, I'm not sure discussing whether or not Wizard is sending conflicting messages with these two books (roleplaying vs. rollplaying) is fruitful, because obviously their only motivation for releasing this Strategy Guide can be boiled down to "$$$". I really don't think contradicting themselves on the style of the game trumps more money.

Your ignorance is showing.

That's ok though, so is the author's.

I've never understood the "4E is an MMO" line, so I'm going to ignore it, because it's patently stupid.

The Player's Strategy Guide is not a "guide to powergaming". Sure, it has useful information, but nothing a player with experience doesn't already know. These races have good stats for this build of this class, while these other races have good stats for this other build. Then right underneath there's an explanation for why you might want to play against type. There's lists for "How to...." but they're not suggesting "take all of this crap so you can be overpowered!", they're merely offering up examples of items or skills that can do what you seek. There's a lot of basic, simple explanations of things experienced players already know, like why it's a good idea to beat up on one or two monsters instead of spreading your damage out as a group. It's basically a thinner, easier to understand version of the player's handbooks for NEWBIES, not powergamers. There's nothing new presented here, just basic concepts for in combat (because days can go by in a wave of a hand in D&D, but one minute of combat takes an hour, even if people are pretty snappy with what they're doing) and out of combat.

Your false dichotomy of "role" vs. "roll" is also patently stupid. Perhaps you should learn what the Stormwind Fallacy is. I'll summarize: Min maxed characters can be roleplayed effectively, and non-min maxed characters are not inherently better or more interesting. In fact, I'll take it one step further: to even be, say, a Fighter, at level one, means (and always has, if you read the books) that you are significantly better than the average person at what a fighter does (fighting). Therefore, if you make a fighter, but you're really shitty at fighting because you thought it'd be "interesting," you're the one who's doing it wrong, and you don't deserve your level of fighter. Now, when I play, I don't min max to the extreme, but naturally, I make myself pretty good at my core function. I know HOW to min max though, and this allows me to put my character at the exact power level appropriate for him or her.

But beyond all of that, a good chunk of the book is devoted to roleplaying, and planting seeds for how to come up with backgrounds, or explain your powers, or how to act your alignment, and how to work as a cohesive unit with your group. Try picking it up, instead of assuming you know what's in it. What was that old adage about book covers and looking at them instead of the book itself? Meh, I can't think of it. I'm sure it'll come to me eventually.

Also, side note to the people bantering about Paladins, 4E has no alignment requirements for Paladins.

From now on, any new player I encounter is getting this book to guide them, rather than all the players handbooks, and all the Power supplements to thoroughly confuse them and turn them off. But then again, how dare Wizards make D&D approachable and easy to understand? Bastards! Amirite?

Korhal:

snip

I've noticed that's a common complaint for 4E; catering to newcomers, which is a nicer way of saying LCD.

Fucking. Bastards.

I have a question for the author though. I had been reading comments for some ZP videos and had noticed an unusual complaint that making main characters primary forces in the narrative is a "narcissistic" problem that has plagued games forever. I could see the same being said of having a story focused on PCs. What are your thoughts?

sleepykid:

I've noticed that's a common complaint for 4E; catering to newcomers, which is a nicer way of saying LCD.

Fucking. Bastards.

Yeah well it's not lowest common denominator, there's just less annoying bullshit in the game. And I wouldn't say it caters to newbies, but merely that it makes the first steps easier. It's also a more consistent product, and more focused, which somehow is considered bad.

As per my comments on the article in this series about the stigma of roleplaying, it's self-imposed, by looking down on anyone who doesn't "get it" and viewing new players as anathema just because they don't know the ins and outs of your deliberately confusing and uninviting ruleset, or scoffing at people who like one ruleset over another just because it's not 100% their playstyle.

Podunk:
A player's guide to powergaming... How sad. This is the kind of thing that's kept me out of 4th edition- Apart from the incredibly 'MMO' style of rules, the way they're marketing the thing is just so insidious. Any day now they'll be coming out with Player's Handbook 4, with one new class and a variant elf that live on volcanos, or some such. I don't condone powergaming, but at least before you had to talk to some people, check out a website, have a sense of community about the whole thing. It's more disappointing than what Wizards is doing to Magic...

Again, the MMO reflexive "insult" that has no basis in fact. Like I said in my last post, it's not a guide to powergaming. Greg simply made a poor choice of words after probably flipping through the book once or twice. But even if it were, how would any official "powergamer" book be bad, inherently? Unless you just wanted to hate it already, that is.

Korhal:
Again, the MMO reflexive "insult" that has no basis in fact. Like I said in my last post, it's not a guide to powergaming. Greg simply made a poor choice of words after probably flipping through the book once or twice. But even if it were, how would any official "powergamer" book be bad, inherently? Unless you just wanted to hate it already, that is.

Barring the fact that they raised the 'level cap, there's quite a lot of contributors. We have powers with cooldown times, items you can't use until you are a certain level, re-skinned enemies (Perusing the monster manual you will find low-CR red scorpions and high-CR purple ones, unless I have them reversed. It's pretty sad in a game based on boundless imagination that they want you to reuse existing character models.) If it quacks like an MMO...

Furthermore, I suppose I don't have an issue with powergaming as much as powergamers. As a whole they are usually selfish, entitled metagamers who don't care about anyone else's fun and want to steal the show from the other players whose primary goals are to have a good time rather than 'win'. It brings a bad tone to the game and is often taxing on any kind DM who likes believability in the game. ("So... Why did your Paladin become a bard?" "For the saving throw bonuses!"

I haven't read the book, obviously, and thus my comments are colored by my exposure to it, the relative panning done by a professional journalist. Y'know, as in the article you're commenting on right now. If the guide is a book on how to make colorful, flavorful PCs that provide fun and interesting interactions between the player(s) and the DM then that would be one thing. But that's not what I've been told, therefore that's not what I would assume it to be. You know, unless I really wanted to love it already, that is.

Korhal:

I've never understood the "4E is an MMO" line, so I'm going to ignore it, because it's patently stupid.

Well, in their quest to provide easier access through simplifying the system, Wizards of the Coast have in essence, turned the classes into WoW stereotypes. They even use a thinly disguised set of lingo like WoW does to describe the class roles (which is nothing new to gaming, but the fact that they blatantly came out and said it in the core rule book strongly suggests an appeal to the video gamer crowd).

The parallels between 4E and the online megahit are numerous.
The specific build path/tree for each class strongly resembles the logic behind WoW's talent builds.
This is not necessarily a bad thing. My biggest problem with WoW is how it wastes your life with grinding, if you're grinding in a table top, there is something horribly wrong going on. However, the similarities are there, and they are just a little too dismiss as coincidence.

This is all irrelevant though. Really. Just give the system another year's worth of milking/"official expansions" and the game will start snowballing down the Munchkin Mountain just like 3.5 did.
Remember; adding new features to the game means adding variables or factors to the balance equation.
Even back in 3.5, the Core Material started becoming strictly worse or outmoded the instant the Complete Mage/Divine hit shelves. There's a difference between "additive" and "replacement".

Korhal:

Yeah well it's not lowest common denominator, there's just less annoying bullshit in the game. And I wouldn't say it caters to newbies, but merely that it makes the first steps easier. It's also a more consistent product, and more focused, which somehow is considered bad.

As per my comments on the article in this series about the stigma of roleplaying, it's self-imposed, by looking down on anyone who doesn't "get it" and viewing new players as anathema just because they don't know the ins and outs of your deliberately confusing and uninviting ruleset, or scoffing at people who like one ruleset over another just because it's not 100% their playstyle.

In case I didn't make it clear, I was agreeing with you on the approval of 4E being more accessible, given how it seems near-impossible to become self-initiated. Sorry, I don't always have the most tact on the internet.

I think the stigma has other, more important contributors, though the allure of being in an "inner circle" definitely helps. First there's just the overall nerd stereotype, exclusive mainly to games like this due to how the mainstream nature of video games shed the label. People see the stereotypically socially stunted and wonder if the hobby correlates with the behavior. There's also the suspicion that in pretending, you are doing so in the most indulgent fashion possible. I really wanna be that half-elf knight! And I can see how amateur narration/play-acting can be off-putting. I know when I've role played my vocal and emotive range wasn't exactly audio book material.

Regarding playstyles, I think it can be more complicated than that. A normal person probably wouldn't mind if someone liked McDonalds more than his fine cuisine, but he'd probably not be off-the-mark for claiming his more nutritious. While it may sound really arrogant to claim your edition/game to be more creative or meaningful, I can see why passionate advocates might esteem their games objectively better.

Podunk:
Barring the fact that they raised the 'level cap, there's quite a lot of contributors. We have powers with cooldown times, items you can't use until you are a certain level, re-skinned enemies (Perusing the monster manual you will find low-CR red scorpions and high-CR purple ones, unless I have them reversed. It's pretty sad in a game based on boundless imagination that they want you to reuse existing character models.) If it quacks like an MMO...

Furthermore, I suppose I don't have an issue with powergaming as much as powergamers. As a whole they are usually selfish, entitled metagamers who don't care about anyone else's fun and want to steal the show from the other players whose primary goals are to have a good time rather than 'win'. It brings a bad tone to the game and is often taxing on any kind DM who likes believability in the game. ("So... Why did your Paladin become a bard?" "For the saving throw bonuses!"

Don't hate on paladins of the Muses.

Dumb jokes aside, I wouldn't go to the Monster Manual if you want boundless imagination. That's a pretty standard crutch, at least it was when I DM'ed. Monster making is *hard*. I admit thought that I've never understood how making D&D more "gamey" or like an MMO was necessarily a bad thing. Hasn't the combat aspect of it received a lot of praise? I know MMOs conjure up images of grinding, and immersion-breaking repeat instances. But they could just have easily adopted some of the likeness for its familiarity (there WOTC goes bringing in outsiders again), balance, or any number of positive traits cynics don't like to admit those games have. It's not like gamers carry a plague we don't want tainting our sacred past-time. I'm sure there's quite a few who, now and again, get the itch for something more human and dynamic. It's a good move to reach out to 'em.

I'd like to think most people do the powergaming thing only in theory. No reasonable DM lets Pun-Pun see the light of day. It's a great way to flesh out a character concept without making your PC dead weight.

Atmos Duality:

This is all irrelevant though. Really. Just give the system another year's worth of milking/"official expansions" and the game will start snowballing down the Munchkin Mountain just like 3.5 did.
Remember; adding new features to the game means adding variables or factors to the balance equation.
Even back in 3.5, the Core Material started becoming strictly worse or outmoded the instant the Complete Mage/Divine hit shelves. There's a difference between "additive" and "replacement".

Munchkin Mountain made me laugh. I agree that WotC does do their share of the milking. I remember how if your cleric was of Pelor, there wasn't a compelling reason for him not to prestige class as such, give or take a point of BaB. Still, the blame for munchkining can only be placed squarely on the shoulders of the munchkins. The ability to make character concepts viable can only be made easier with additional source books, expensive though they may be. Besides, isn't balance a primary criticism of 4E? Many aren't happy that their wizards are performing at the same level as everyone else.

sleepykid:
Don't hate on paladins of the Muses.

Dumb jokes aside, I wouldn't go to the Monster Manual if you want boundless imagination. That's a pretty standard crutch, at least it was when I DM'ed. Monster making is *hard*. I admit thought that I've never understood how making D&D more "gamey" or like an MMO was necessarily a bad thing. Hasn't the combat aspect of it received a lot of praise? I know MMOs conjure up images of grinding, and immersion-breaking repeat instances. But they could just have easily adopted some of the likeness for its familiarity (there WOTC goes bringing in outsiders again), balance, or any number of positive traits cynics don't like to admit those games have. It's not like gamers carry a plague we don't want tainting our sacred past-time. I'm sure there's quite a few who, now and again, get the itch for something more human and dynamic. It's a good move to reach out to 'em.

I really don't mind 4th edition as a roleplaying system. I just choose not to play it because I feel the changes made were meant to cater to DMs and players who want to play the game differently than I do. That's cool, I can respect that. Its 4th edition as a product that I mind the most, because it really feels like Wizards is trying to screw over it's new customer base that don't really know any better or maybe just don't care. The way it's being marketed leaves a bad taste in my mouth. If anyone wants to play 4.0, then that's fine. GURPS, Vampires, Werewolf, Shadowrun, whatever your pen-and-paper game of choice is I think they all have their individual merits, and none are so diverse we gamers can't get together to swap tales of our character's exploits. The feel and dynamics of 4.0 just aren't for me. The majority of my D&D group have played D&D for only about a year now, and many of them have played 4th edition, but they're happily playing 3.5 along with me. And that's enough for me.

...Bedsides, playing 3.5 means I don't have to buy all the books again, amirite? ^^

Podunk:

I really don't mind 4th edition as a roleplaying system. I just choose not to play it because I feel the changes made were meant to cater to DMs and players who want to play the game differently than I do. That's cool, I can respect that. Its 4th edition as a product that I mind the most, because it really feels like Wizards is trying to screw over it's new customer base that don't really know any better or maybe just don't care. The way it's being marketed leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Would you care to elaborate a bit? I'm not calling you out, let me make that clear- yours is probably the healthiest dissent I've seen- I'm just curious about what 4E offers or doesn't offer to you as a roleplayer.

Also, I'm interested in what you take issue with in WotC's customer treatment or marketing. Not because I disagree, but because I know literally nothing about it; I didn't even know D&D stuff was advertised, aside from in the backs of other D&D supplements (naturally), and D&D Online, which I see advertised everywhere, this page included.

For the record, I'm not bashing 4E or even the PSG very hard. I think both are natural extensions to the game and roleplaying in general. Something that Andy Collins said in his interview with us a while back was that times have changed. We, as humans, have less of a tolerance for not understanding how games and systems work. If a game company released a supplement that was as difficult to understand as the original Dungeons & Dragons books were, they would be laughed out of business. So simplifying and writing guides like the Player's Strategy Guide are necessary and good. That's where the comparison to MMOGs come from, unfortunately, but I think if WOTC does more to dissociate D&D from that, the better.

That being said, I wasn't reviewing the PSG from an objective standpoint. This is a roleplaying column and it is my opinion that the book caters too much towards one style of play. Yes, all players should be aware of how to optimize their characters. But I'd like to have more guides come from WOTC about the other parts of roleplaying. How to build a cohesive group through inter-party relationships. How to roleplay a compelling argument with a guard or a lord. How to dungeoneer beyond "I roll a Dungeoneering check." (There are non-game mechanics things you can do in many situations, such as using a ten foot pole or a donkey to test for traps.)

I'd also really love a guide that handles more stuff around the table. How to deal with an abusive DM or a player. How to take good notes and keep treasure lists. How to use counters to track conditions and that sort of thing.

To be honest, some of this IS touched upon in the PSG, but so much of the page count was about optimization that I was put off by the book as a whole.

I want a book that proposes a viable theory of roleplaying. I have no idea if such a book will sell well, but I think that it's an important topic that I would love the premier company in the industry to publish.

sleepykid:

Munchkin Mountain made me laugh. I agree that WotC does do their share of the milking. I remember how if your cleric was of Pelor, there wasn't a compelling reason for him not to prestige class as such, give or take a point of BaB. Still, the blame for munchkining can only be placed squarely on the shoulders of the munchkins. The ability to make character concepts viable can only be made easier with additional source books, expensive though they may be. Besides, isn't balance a primary criticism of 4E? Many aren't happy that their wizards are performing at the same level as everyone else.

It's true, the munchkin can only blame himself for what he does.
In Wizard's case though with their new book of min-max, they are not only arriving at a knife fight with a briefcase full of firearms, but they are strongly implying that their players should buy one.

It's stuff like that that annoys me.

For example...
Back in 3.5, there was another class published called Ray Sniper. If you took the Sorcerer class, then there was absolutely zero reason you should not take all 5 levels of Ray Sniper; it was strictly better than Sorceror and did not hamper your spellcasting or skill development in any way.
The developer's note said that every arcane spellcaster should at least consider the class regardless of build. While that isn't strictly true (suppose I want to gimp myself for story purposes and go, oh, Dragon Disciple?), the notion was there.

I still believe that all this material has a place. It's just up to the DM to decide what sort of power level the game should run at. I was just personally tired of having to say no a thousand times during character creation because a couple of players kept whipping out new material on me or (rarely) going behind my back because "Wizards said it's official, so I can use it. Why won't you play with official rules like everyone else?".

TheRocketeer:

Podunk:

I really don't mind 4th edition as a roleplaying system. I just choose not to play it because I feel the changes made were meant to cater to DMs and players who want to play the game differently than I do. That's cool, I can respect that. Its 4th edition as a product that I mind the most, because it really feels like Wizards is trying to screw over it's new customer base that don't really know any better or maybe just don't care. The way it's being marketed leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Would you care to elaborate a bit? I'm not calling you out, let me make that clear- yours is probably the healthiest dissent I've seen- I'm just curious about what 4E offers or doesn't offer to you as a roleplayer.

Also, I'm interested in what you take issue with in WotC's customer treatment or marketing. Not because I disagree, but because I know literally nothing about it; I didn't even know D&D stuff was advertised, aside from in the backs of other D&D supplements (naturally), and D&D Online, which I see advertised everywhere, this page included.

I don't mind at all. As I mentioned before, the 'MMO' style of play just isn't my kind of fantasy game. Arbitrary level requirements to use/wear different items, cool-down times on your character's attack/magic abilities, movement represented solely and specifically in squares that implies you have to buy some of their conveniently cross-promoted miniature figures, the game just seems too combat-heavy. Focusing on the hacking and slashing that worked alright in the previous iteration, with as much if not more excitement and fun if your DM is into dramatic combat sequences (like me).

As for Wizards marketing, they just seem very intent to wring as much money as they can out of their customers. In previous versions of D&D, for example, new sourcebooks would be released after a time to inject some freshness and new ideas into the game. These were grouped by class. Are you a fighter-type, or are your players? Check out the Complete Warrior for some new directions to take your martial characters in. Cleric? Complete Divine. Mage? Complete Arcane, and so forth. For 4th edition, however, it feels much more like they've taken the same content and tried to divide it up and spread it as thinly as they could, which is why you need the Player's Handbook 1 and 2 just to get all of the core classes from the 3.5 PHB. Rather than group content by relevance they would much rather throw a few classes/races into a book at one time at put it out on a shelf. You would be hard-pressed to convince me that the Players Handbook 3 is the end of it and a PHB4 isn't already in the works. Aside from the proliferation of core rulebooks, the other largest issue is the insidious tie-ins. The miniatures(to function in their square-based world, as noted above), the official dice, the dungeon tile sets(which actually I use because they are pretty cool), they are for want of a better term pimping the hell out of this thing. I could probably go on for a while longer, but looking at this wall of text I think I should wrap things up.

Hopefully this has been educational, or at the very least, interesting.

Atmos Duality:
For example...
Back in 3.5, there was another class published called Ray Sniper. If you took the Sorcerer class, then there was absolutely zero reason you should not take all 5 levels of Ray Sniper; it was strictly better than Sorceror and did not hamper your spellcasting or skill development in any way.
The developer's note said that every arcane spellcaster should at least consider the class regardless of build. While that isn't strictly true (suppose I want to gimp myself for story purposes and go, oh, Dragon Disciple?), the notion was there.

Well, you should consider the class if you really care about rays, want to waste one of your precious few feats on the prerequisites, have a level in rogue and want to hamper your Base Attack Bonus more than it already is. I think that's a fair bit of trade-off, don't you?

As for hampering yourself for story purposes... My current character is a mute mage who had his throat torn up at a young age by a displacer beast, curative magic barely unable to keep him alive and unable to restore his vocal chords. Does it suck having to use the Silent Spell metamagic feat on all my spells? You bet it does. But I wouldn't have it any other way.

Podunk:
I don't mind at all. As I mentioned before, the 'MMO' style of play just isn't my kind of fantasy game. Arbitrary level requirements to use/wear different items, cool-down times on your character's attack/magic abilities, movement represented solely and specifically in squares that implies you have to buy some of their conveniently cross-promoted miniature figures, the game just seems too combat-heavy. Focusing on the hacking and slashing that worked alright in the previous iteration, with as much if not more excitement and fun if your DM is into dramatic combat sequences (like me).

As for Wizards marketing, they just seem very intent to wring as much money as they can out of their customers. In previous versions of D&D, for example, new sourcebooks would be released after a time to inject some freshness and new ideas into the game. These were grouped by class. Are you a fighter-type, or are your players? Check out the Complete Warrior for some new directions to take your martial characters in. Cleric? Complete Divine. Mage? Complete Arcane, and so forth. For 4th edition, however, it feels much more like they've taken the same content and tried to divide it up and spread it as thinly as they could, which is why you need the Player's Handbook 1 and 2 just to get all of the core classes from the 3.5 PHB. Rather than group content by relevance they would much rather throw a few classes/races into a book at one time at put it out on a shelf. You would be hard-pressed to convince me that the Players Handbook 3 is the end of it and a PHB4 isn't already in the works. Aside from the proliferation of core rulebooks, the other largest issue is the insidious tie-ins. The miniatures(to function in their square-based world, as noted above), the official dice, the dungeon tile sets(which actually I use because they are pretty cool), they are for want of a better term pimping the hell out of this thing. I could probably go on for a while longer, but looking at this wall of text I think I should wrap things up.

Hopefully this has been educational, or at the very least, interesting.

It's a lot of both, thanks for sharing!

I think I can understand where you're coming from, especially about spreading content thin- if it's true. I honestly can't speculate; I saw a 3.5 Player's Handbook once, and couldn't begin to recall how many races, classes, options and what have you it contained. If you say 4E sourcebooks don't stack up (and, resultantly, start to stack up), I defer to your greater knowledge.

One thing I can say is that it definitely isn't the different PHB's anyone should be upset about, if they're looking to get their ire up over something. To be frank, I think the races, classes and feats presented in the three PHB's give a wealth of flexibility and diversity, and with both Paragon Paths and Epic Destinies taking the place of Prestige classes, that, tied with both multiclassing and now hybrid classes, and now Skill Powers, there are now officially too many options for me to ever keep up with in the primary sourcebook canon alone, though I'm certainly no munchkin. (Good news! Monk is finally here. More good news! It ROCKS SO HARD.)

It's the Power Source books (Martial Power, Divine Power, etc) that stick in the craw of the finance-minded roleplayer. They're considerably thinner than the main sourcebooks, yet without being proportionally cheaper, and if you wished to make a case for milking the franchise dry, they are certainly a good starting point. The truly irksome thing is that they actually do contain a lot of interesting content: feats seem the driest areas out of the main PHB's, but a great crop of them are present in any and all of the Power Source handbooks, along with one or two new class features for all the classes available at the time, pages of new powers, more Paragon and Epic paths and destinies, and, happily, lots of fluff background for people like me interested in the setting details. Did you know, for instance, that Bahamut isn't himself a dragon, at least in 4E? Wouldn't have seen that coming. But damn, is it a lot of money for those things.

I don't quite understand the complaints about the minis and game grids, but this, again, is from my own lack of knowledge about both how things are and how they used to be. I got the impression that minis and grids had always been the norm, at least in 3.5, but all the squawking about them now seems to contraindicate that. My question for you is this: it seems like in 3.5 people just used graph paper maps and pins or paperclips or whatever for players on the stage if they chose not to go the minis and grids route, so... why doesn't this work just as well for 4E? From what little I remember about the 3.5 handbook, isn't it, too, a world of 5x5 squares? Didn't fighters have to mind where they stepped, where all the enemies where before, fields of vision and effect, areas for mage's and clerics spell effects, and what have you? It just seems to me like if grid paper maps and odds 'n' ends for characters worked for all that stuff in 3.5, why wouldn't it work today? What makes the cardboard battle grids and minis seem so essential today? Or am I completely off the mark? Please help me out on that one.

I can certainly understand where you're coming from, seeing 4E as a completely different sort of vehicle for both combat and roleplaying. I've seen every praise and criticism for every aspect of both 3.5 and 4E, and I, a poorly nub, am not going to be able to add to or clarify any of it. If you want to know the opinion of an ill-informed madman, though, I think 4E sought to separate the rich chocolate of the roleplay from the creamy peanut butter of the combat. A lot of people say this is to simplify both sides of the equation to make them more accessible, and a lot of people say that it is an attempt to abort the former from the latter, for the latter's favor. To be fair (read: noncommittal) I think the intent was to go the first route, but poor presentation makes the second route at least seem like what they ended up with. Some people point to the relatively rules-light approach to all things non-combat and the copious amounts of abstract coaching in the new DMG, and call it a countermeasure against the perceived creeping scourge of overly-simulationist roleplay, making it more roleplayer-friendly, especially given its codifying of Rule 0.

And then you have the side that interprets the massive amount of pagespace given to numbers for combat and options and the live-and-die aspects, and interpret it as a casting off of roleplaying conventions in favor of crawlier, brawlier non-adventures. Although I'm inclined to side with the first group, the presentation of the material, I think, is what gives the second group its worries: that's all new players are going to see, so that may be all they come to know of tabletop without the able guidance of experienced roleplayers and good DM's, an invaluable resource to new players of any system, and this I must acknowledge as a well-justified fear, as those sources of knowledge are painfully scarce even in systems not currently having fire and acid rained on it by purists and old schoolers who desperately do NOT want to shell out good money for a whole new library of books, and God I do NOT blame them for that. :P

I know a lot of 3.5 (and previous edition) devotees take great umbrage at all classes functioning similarly now except for class features and role focus, and I see this as one of the most black and white issues of the schism, which is both good and bad. On one hand, I see it as an elegant solution to the 'linear warriors, scalar wizards' problem that D&D has always had, and homogenizing the workings of the many and diverse classes greatly increases accessibility for players who want to try new things without unlearning and relearning the whole system. On the other hand, if you already knew and liked the functional diversity and power spread of the previous generations as they were, well, y'all are plum out of luck, and I'm just grateful we BOTH have systems we can have a good time with.

*sugh* Why can't we just roll a d20 and see once and for all if 4E is good?

One correction for you, though: there is no level requirement for any equipment. The PHB goes out of its way to make this clear: a Lv1 Fighter can wield a level 30 Broadsword of Ubersplortch. The item levels are just there to provide a discrete set of stats for different strengths of the same kinds of enchantments, and to give a general idea of what level character they're intended for, ie, you wouldn't give a Level 5 3.5 character a +5 Longsword of Dayruining (unless you're trying to make the other players jealous), just as that level 1 4E fighter would definitely only have the Level 30 Broadsword of Ubersplortch over his DM's dead body. The only level restriction is that you can't create magic items of a level higher than yours, which, to me, seems fair and logical.

If I had to point to one thing 4E, without reservation, has over 3.5, it is accessibility. Yes, yes, I know, pandering and dumbing down, and whatnot, but I think of it this way. I have here beside me the newest version of Shadowrun. The setting is remarkably well-imagined, and offers an unbelievable amount of leeway in what you can do with your character. Do you want to be a Spanish vampire with chaingun arms that astrally projects as a winged lobster? Well, you can do that,. There is practically nothing the setting does not allow for, and the adventures you could have in one city alone in Shadowrun 4th equal a plane's worth of adventures in D&D, and I will never ever play this system because its sheer density of numbers and rules and exceptions, tables, and everything else is so mind-crushingly traumatic that I can't even bring myself to read, much less comprehend, even half a page of the book at a time, and there are those who think of me as a bright person.

I had a similar trouble when my brother first brought home some 3.5 books about a year before the launch of 4E, which he had got from a friend who didn't play anymore. I read through the PHB, but found it similarly confusing. I saw great potential in the setting and the system, but I didn't know anyone at all that could help me ease into the system and I knew I'd never make it on my own, just feeling my way through it all on my lonesome. When he got a 4E Core set from that same player, though, everything just seemed to click: all the rules made sense, the books were easily readable, even *gasp* pleasant. Flying in the face of what I came to be told about it, the paths and destinies, even just the build options themselves gave me near-boundless inspiration for too many characters for me to even recall- and I don't just mean their powers and feats, but where they were born, what made them become an adventurer, and what it would take to make or break their spirit once and for all. There was still a definite learning curve before I was able to even begin to put together an abominable wreck of a character sheet, but the important thing is, it got made, and left me with a desire to jump in and play. If 4E can do that for other folks, too, it's alright by me, warts and all. Damn shame I've never gotten to play.

Thanks again for enlightening me.

Greg Tito:
snip

Well the MMO analogy is complete garbage. Take WoW, everyone's favorite bash target. WoW is extremely complex. There's tons of numbers and rolls going on behind the scenes, there's oodles of talent points to distribute, mostly among really mundane things like "1% extra critical strike on one or two moves!", and there's lots of choices to be made in terms of which gems or enchants or glyphs to use, or which stats to stack. WoW merely has the look of being simple because they allowed mods. Mods which told you the damage you were doing, mods which told you your threat generation, mods which yell at you to get out of AoEs, or when your CC targets were escaping, or when your allies had debuffs you could dispel,, or strategy guides that tell you "use this spec and rotation or be gimped"... But I'd wager that over 95% of players do NOT understand what's happening without these mods, and would find the game impossibly hard without them because of said lack of understanding. But all these mods, all the wowwikis, all the strategy guides had to be figured out by SOMEONE, someone who understood the game, and did days and weeks worth of calculations way back when, to figure out how much DPS a point of Agility is worth, or what your miss chance is, or at what threshold you'll steal aggro from the tank.

So no, MMOs are NOT simple, and thus calling a pen and paper RPG "MMO-like" for being consistent and presentable is off the mark by an infinite degree.

Sure, the book caters a bit more to slayer type players but not by a lot. Chapter 1 is a primer on core game mechanics, what to expect, and how to understand what is happening around you in game, in combat or out, and yes, that includes some optimization so you don't let your party down by sucking at your role, but it also opens with how to deal with other players, how to give your character the proper motivations, and how to develop a basic outline of a backstory. Chapter 2 is a chapter on building a cohesive group (exactly like you said you wanted!), and playing to each other's strengths and weaknesses, and understanding everyone's capabilities. Chapter 3 is basically the in action rules of combat and skill challenges, told in simple terms so as not to intimidate. Chapter 4, while the shortest chapter, has not a word about mechanics and discusses characters, stories, and how to roleplay, though it does discuss things like equitable distribution of treasures. It's not perfect, but everyone roleplays differently and you never could make a primer on it entirely. It's something everyone has to come into on their own, from their own perspective, and with their own comfort zone. And even if they did write such a book, if you didn't write it yourself, you'd probably disagree with it for those very reasons. Even still, the whole book is lined with roleplaying tidbits, and how to understand what you're doing not through the eyes of optimization, but in character. Or check in some of the "Tell Us About Your Character" sections for tidbits that you seek.

Side note: The "How To" sections you complained about... 18 pages out of 160. And considering that each How To is 2 pages long.... well, you get the idea.

So, how do you do a dungeoneering check? You don't. The DM does, in secret, and tells you what you know. Or maybe you do, and it's just real quick like, and the GM interprets your result for you. Or maybe you don't even make mention of attempting the check, so the GM just takes your passive (yes, every skill has a passive for just these sorts of moments). No matter which way is chosen though, this can be an acceptable break into out-of-character. There's nothing wrong with "You see such and such. Give me a quick nature check." "23" "Ok you recognize such as such as THIS, and...."

Frankly, I think you've done your readers a disservice by misrepresenting the book, and you've done the book a disservice for the same reason. You want a roleplaying primer? Perhaps you're better served picking up a Theater 101 textbook. But if you want one that's done through the filter of the most popular RPG on the market, the 4E Player's Strategy Guide is an awesome place to start.

sleepykid:
snip

Roger that, I thought you were trying to go for the lowest common denominator dig. My apologies. In light of your follow up posts, I think we're generally in agreement. One thing that does irk me is that in the same breath some people will decry 4E as too balanced, and too munchkin-ish. Haters gonna hate, I guess.

Atmos Duality:

It's true, the munchkin can only blame himself for what he does.
In Wizard's case though with their new book of min-max, they are not only arriving at a knife fight with a briefcase full of firearms, but they are strongly implying that their players should buy one.

Boy, oh boy, oh boy, oh boy. Just... see above. And maybe try reading the book for yourself ok?

Sure, I enjoy 4E, and it's my favorite version of D&D. I've been playing RPGs for about 14 years now, and I've played a lot of them. D&D is not even my favorite RPG. I encourage anyone to play whichever game, whichever genre, whichever ruleset appeals to them the most. I just get sick of the insults, infighting, and flaming like there's only one right way to play and one right game to play. Unless you like FATAL or Worlds of Synnibar because then you're obviously wrong.

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