The State of D&D: Present

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The State of D&D: Present

Examining the ghosts of RPG past, present and future.

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Speaking of Old School Renaissance, here's a great article by James Maliszewski in 2009 (at The Escapist of course) on A History of the Old School Revival with a lot of great links to related sites. The whole Days of High Adventure series is a good read for all classic and new pen-and-paper and tabletop fans alike.

Another special mention: Retro Clones

Personally, I could have forgiven the majority of the rules changes brought about in 4E(though I never really got into miniatures play). But I think that R.A. Salvatore touched on what bothered me most about the new edition. The new WotC had no respect for what came before. They weren't building upon a legacy; nor were they mending long neglected flaws. They were just changing things. While specific changes to the crunch can be argued for or rationalized, the jarring, often nonsensical alterations of some of the game worlds(specifically, the Forgotten Realms) reminded me of a television exec making disastrous changes to an existing show he just inherited either to make his mark or to intentionally make it crash and burn so that he could start a new project.

I'm not saying that I wouldn't sit down with a group to play the game if offered, but that group would have to get me up to speed, because I'm not spending any money on the D&D 4E(aside from the original core books I bought at launch). I've got Castles & Crusades and FATE for now. I might get around to trying Pathfinder one of these days.

Anyway, my own personal feelings aside, this article series is coming along quite nicely. A fair treatment overall. Oh, and since you're doing this anyway, how about making this a regular thing. Not D&D specifically, but just overall coverage of the PnP world. If they all got treated like this series, it would be a great thing to read.

Such an odd thing, pleasing D&D fans -- thinking about from another's perspective, I can understand why getting feedback out of me would be a bitch, too. My principle complaint about 3rd edition is that any realistic problem can be solved by a wizard. My principle complaint about 4th is that it's a crackerjack combat system and NOTHING ELSE. I actually rejoiced when they started printing the race books -- actual setting! And so cheap to own!

I see it in many games -- pleasing Legend of the Five Rings fans is a bitch, too, because half of them are anime fans who love Naruto and Bleach, and half of them are of the '70's action flick pedigree and want stuff like Yojimbo and the Seven Samurai.

How does one strike the balance?

I think this article really summed it up and gave great insight by quoting a lot of folks in the business. I think the Old School Renaissance should be embraced by curious tabletop gamers and just experience all of them to see where the logic was going. 3rd edition definitely had the issue of "wizard spells trump skills" and generally got crazy with all the feats, and 4th edition is an extremely competent combat system that doesn't differ in feel as you progress in level or play as different classes. Knowing the history and flavor of the editions would be fun for customizing the feel of a game by picking the best edition for the job.

One of my friends had a group that went from 3 to 3.5 to 4 and hastily to Pathfinder. He said that if he wanted grid-based combat that demanded use of figures he had Descent: Journeys in the Dark for that, which he felt did it better. He doesn't see much point in combining roleplaying stuff and boardgaming stuff into a single product inferior to his favorites of each genre.

I was a fan of 4th edition until I realized that my group wasn't actually roleplaying anymore; we were instead playing a miniatures game. After they, we went back to Mutants and Masterminds (and DC adventures) and Pathfinder, both games strike a good balance of combat and roleplaying.

huh i wouldnt mind playing a game of D&D maybe 3.5 but i dont know anyone at all who plays and P&P at all

I enjoyed 4e a lot while we played it, and it is true that the game system is very 'game-y' and doesn't encourage roleplaying all that much. That being said, neither does 3.5. D&D has always been the system we played when we wanted to throw dices and abuse game mechanics... all 4e did for us was make the system much more balanced and added the combat grid - which as wargamers, we enjoyed.

If I want to play a roleplaying game however, there are much better system than D&D - no matter what the edition - out there. But if I have to go back to D&D, let it be 4e.

I'm a bit disappointed that this article doesn't have more solid numbers (I understand it's not the writer's fault, but I would still have loved to see some sales number)... I always believed that 4e was a good selling system, but that's all anecdotal evidences.

I guess I just don't understand why 4E is so "bad for roleplay". I've played 3.5, 4, and Neverwinter Nights multiplayer(which is 3.5-based but performs in a radically different fashion), and all of those games only provide as good of roleplay as the DM/s can provide. There is absolutely nothing about 4E, including the grid, that actually restricts RP when compared to 3.5. I have never experienced the feeling some people in this thread have mentioned; that 4E makes you feel like you're just playing a board game as opposed to a roleplaying game. But I guess I'm not surprised. People have been hating on 4E since before it was released, as the article points out--an incredibly biased, negative article, at that. One way or another, D&D and tabletop gaming at large will survive.

Called it.
Predictably one sided, focusing quotes from detractors and rivals, and a guy who got fired. I'm sure it will be great chum for the 4e hate brigade, but you should have declared your clear bias instead of pretending to be an observer.

And yeah, anybody who thinks that 4e detracts from roleplaying clearly isn't very good at it.

I don't know much about 4E or 3.5 D&D, all I know is my brother and I got that Starter Box and had no clue what to do with the game after we went through the included adventure...

What bugs me about this article is that Wizards honestly seems to believe that their target audience is MMO players. I'm a tabletop gamer who grew up during that renaissance that the D20 system sparked off, and I can honestly say that while there is some overlap between MMO gamers and tabletop gamers, it's very much not a 1:1 ratio. Tabletop gaming takes a different mindset than videogaming does, and frankly, the kind of people that enjoy D&D are more likely to be hardcore strategy gamers than hardcore MMO players, if they play videogames at all[1]. It's no wonder the old audience got angry when 4E came out; it was aimed at a completely different demographic.

[1] For that matter, they're more likely to play historical FPS games than MMOs. Maybe it's just my local tabletop community, but in my experience they tend to be more into games that have something to do with military history than games that are made by Blizzard.

happyelf:
Called it.
Predictably one sided, focusing quotes from detractors and rivals, and a guy who got fired. I'm sure it will be great chum for the 4e hate brigade, but you should have declared your clear bias instead of pretending to be an observer.

And yeah, anybody who thinks that 4e detracts from roleplaying clearly isn't very good at it.

Ak, okay then, not just my imagination. I was bothered by the over-emphasis on the importance of the OSR movement relative to WotC, Paizo and other professional business models. There are no companies or publishers...no monolithic entities at all....publishing OSR content, just a handful of guys (myself included) who are in turn supported by the dollars and interest of a few hundred other internet people who like what the OSR offers. I'm pretty sure that any given 4E or Pathfinder book deals with sales figures in the thousands or tens of thousands; I'm 100% sure that all but the most noteworthy OSR books like Swords & Wizardry Complete and Labyrinth Lord are looking at numbers in the low 100's (and that the aforementioned S&W and LL may fall in somewhere around a few thousand copies sold to date, just my speculation based on what I can gather from both Frog God Games and Goblinoid Games' sites). I at least partially base this on other known sales figures, including those of my own OSR books.*

Don't get me wrong: I think that the OSR movement is important, but I don't think it is more than fractionally as relevant as it seems; its just one shard of the much bigger issue which is the fragmented base caused by the 4E/Pathfinder split.

Put another way, if you had ten gamers in a room, 5 of them will like D&D 4E and 5 of them will like Pathfinder or 3.5, while a missing eleventh guy is off on the internet posting about how much modern games suck while buying OSR stuff. Then there's all the other gamers out there playing Runequest, FATE, Burning Wheel and not caring about all this D&D flak.

*One huge plus of OSR sales for online PDFs: OSR people buy their books, they don't pirate them.

happyelf:
And yeah, anybody who thinks that 4e detracts from roleplaying clearly isn't very good at it.

Well, I can roleplay even in chess. The problem is, rules of chess don't provide mechanisms for roleplaying.
And no, I don't hate 4E for that. It's a a solid tactical combat game, and it's great at what it does.

And now that WotC has sacked the guy behind Tome of Battle, Red hand of doom, complete arcane and other great 3.5 books (and now that Monte Cook is apparently in control of the new edition) I fear that they will never produce a good game again.

I hope Richard Baker gets picked up by Paizo. Can you imagine a Tome of battle like book in pathfinder? That would be a dream come true.

I definitely think that 4e can be fun, but it just feels less serious to me that 3.5 or Pathfinder. I think my main problem is that the daily/encounter power system in 4e, while certainly balanced, seems a little unrealistic (in a game with elves and dragons, yes, I know) in the sense that the uses of the "encounter" powers is essentially unlimited. whereas in 3.5/Pathfinder, pretty much all class abilities and spells tend to be daily allotments (except in the Tome of Battle, but let's not go there). This gives the player the freedom to meter out their powerful attacks from fight to fight, or save them up and just go nuts in one of the fights, or somewhere in between. For example, as a wizard, you could use your magic very conservatively, instead using a ranged weapon for much of the fights and probably being one of the least useful members of the party, but when you get to the last room of the dungeon and start dropping fireballs and cone of colds every round I know I, personally, get a tremendous feeling of satisfaction from my foresight and general damage-spewing awesomeness.

All that being said, any game with a good DM and good players can be fun, and if people like playing 4e more that other versions, I'm definitely not going to discourage them from taking up D&D. As someone who is in the process of teaching 3.5e to three new players with no PnP RPG experience, I can certainly see the value of a system that's faster to pick up and get playing.

D&D will never again be a homogenous whole and every time they release a new edition the D&D community gets a little more fractured. Nobody is at fault. If you give people greater choice it stands to reason that people will have different preferences when it comes to that widened selection of choice. The shortest route for WoTC to rebuild goodwill with the D&D community would be offer their complete back catalogue of printed products all the way from 1st to 4th via a print on demand service. The advent of .PDFs has for a large part made the forced obsolescence marketing strategy itself obsolete. At this point they're only robbing themselves the chance to sell a glossy rulebook to guy who is willing to print them out himself on office paper.

happyelf:

Called it.
Predictably one sided, focusing quotes from detractors and rivals, and a guy who got fired. I'm sure it will be great chum for the 4e hate brigade, but you should have declared your clear bias instead of pretending to be an observer.

And yeah, anybody who thinks that 4e detracts from roleplaying clearly isn't very good at it.

Guess we read a different article. Seems balanced to me, including as it does the design talent behind 4E, major 3PPs like Paizo and Green Ronin as well as the hobbyist OSR. As for "fired" WotC employees, that does seem to account for most of the major players if you keep track of these things. Those who are still at WotC generally don't talk about things. Was he just supposed to sing the praises of 4E? Whatever your choice in games / editions it's obvious that 4E did not make everyone happy by a long shot. No new edition ever has, but 4E left a wider swath of annoyed gamers than any previous release. And, as Tito points out, they had alternatives thanks to the OGL. I'm curious to see the next part myself, presumably the future of D&D...

GrayJester:

happyelf:
And yeah, anybody who thinks that 4e detracts from roleplaying clearly isn't very good at it.

Well, I can roleplay even in chess. The problem is, rules of chess don't provide mechanisms for roleplaying.
And no, I don't hate 4E for that. It's a a solid tactical combat game, and it's great at what it does.

I never thought I'd see the day when "more freedom to create and do whatever you want" was a bad thing.
I remember that was actually one of my main complaints back in my early teens reading 3.5 rulebooks. It tried to stifle my creativity at times with rules and ick. No, I don't actually have examples, I just remember a feeling, and that's why it was so difficult for me to ever get into it.
4th Edition really opened the door to me.

But maybe that's just because I used to play with other DMs, and they'd call me out on any rule tweaks. Oh, well.

Intensifizer:
I guess I just don't understand why 4E is so "bad for roleplay". I've played 3.5, 4, and Neverwinter Nights multiplayer(which is 3.5-based but performs in a radically different fashion)

Neverwinter Nights is based off of 3.0, and Neverwinter Nights 2 is based off of 3.5. Oddly enough, Neverwinter Nights is the superior game, while 3.5 is the superior RPG system between the two.

The changes made to Neverwinter Nights and Neverwinter Nights 2 were based on the limitations of the way the game engines were built.

Greg Tito plays 4th edition. It's highly unlikely he's bashing 4th edition if he still partakes of its rules.

TJ Johnston:
I was a fan of 4th edition until I realized that my group wasn't actually roleplaying anymore; we were instead playing a miniatures game. After they, we went back to Mutants and Masterminds (and DC adventures) and Pathfinder, both games strike a good balance of combat and roleplaying.

Thats because you are a man of great taste... I did exactly the same. I tried 4E, but the issues i had on day 1 didn't disappear, they just got worse... The lack of roleplaying was one of them... Why roleplay anything when you can just skill challenge & its done. 4E was a lazy mans roleplaying game.

An i too went across to MnM 3E & i haven't left since. I've done a little 3.5 retrospective gaming, but those two seem to be it for the time being.

fun fact: Paizo has had higher sales in the last fiscal quarter on PAthfinder then WotC has on 4E, though this excludes digital sales (because we don't have access to those sales numbers).

Intensifizer:
I guess I just don't understand why 4E is so "bad for roleplay". I've played 3.5, 4, and Neverwinter Nights multiplayer(which is 3.5-based but performs in a radically different fashion), and all of those games only provide as good of roleplay as the DM/s can provide. There is absolutely nothing about 4E, including the grid, that actually restricts RP when compared to 3.5. I have never experienced the feeling some people in this thread have mentioned; that 4E makes you feel like you're just playing a board game as opposed to a roleplaying game. But I guess I'm not surprised. People have been hating on 4E since before it was released, as the article points out--an incredibly biased, negative article, at that. One way or another, D&D and tabletop gaming at large will survive.

4th edition focused on combat to exclusion of everything else. It resulted in great combat that gets the party working together effectively, but it sacrificed a great deal to do so. Skill challenges and rituals are rather poor substitutes to the capabilities of previous editions.

Basically, it's "bad for roleplay" because characters have so few capabilities outside of combat. There's a divide between hack'n'slashing and roleplaying and many people equate combat to the former. Therefore, 4e is "bad for roleplaying."

In my opinion, the mechanics that were replaced weren't very good in the first place. Spellcasters eclipsed other characters quite dramatically (if designed semi-intelligently) past low-mid-levels in terms of capabilities. The skills system was quite lacking, and there were a variety of other problems too. It requires a good DM to secure a fun experience from those mechanics, but if you already assume a good DM then you might as well work from the more barebone out-of-combat mechanics of 4E. And in doing so, the DM makes combat much more enjoyable and easier to run.

Scars Unseen:
Personally, I could have forgiven the majority of the rules changes brought about in 4E(though I never really got into miniatures play). But I think that R.A. Salvatore touched on what bothered me most about the new edition. The new WotC had no respect for what came before. They weren't building upon a legacy; nor were they mending long neglected flaws. They were just changing things. While specific changes to the crunch can be argued for or rationalized, the jarring, often nonsensical alterations of some of the game worlds(specifically, the Forgotten Realms) reminded me of a television exec making disastrous changes to an existing show he just inherited either to make his mark or to intentionally make it crash and burn so that he could start a new project.

I'd agree here. It would bother me more if I felt particularly strongly about any D&D settings (ignoring the technically defunct Planescape here), but some of the changes just got intrusive. Cramming dragonborn and tieflings into every setting, changing their lore, and gutting the previous planar cosmology (I think I like the new, not-so-alignment-focused ones a little better than the old, but that still didn't warrant the slashing and burning).

But I'm not that angry about it because I've just gotten a bit jaded about fictional settings that have so much material from so many authors crammed into them; I've come to expect rather little from such enterprises. Too many cooks spoil the broth, I suppose.

Scars Unseen:

Anyway, my own personal feelings aside, this article series is coming along quite nicely. A fair treatment overall. Oh, and since you're doing this anyway, how about making this a regular thing. Not D&D specifically, but just overall coverage of the PnP world. If they all got treated like this series, it would be a great thing to read.

I concur.

It's funny really. Most of the complaints on page one were complaints I had when 3rd edition first rolled around.

2nd edition fo life nigz!

Draconalis:
It's funny really. Most of the complaints on page one were complaints I had when 3rd edition first rolled around.

2nd edition fo life nigz!

I can get behind this! 2nd Edition AD&D was top dog for me, still the best edition of the game I have ever played.

camazotz:

I can get behind this! 2nd Edition AD&D was top dog for me, still the best edition of the game I have ever played.

Bro-fist inc!

*action here*

Magical Crab:
I never thought I'd see the day when "more freedom to create and do whatever you want" was a bad thing.

Seriously, you don't get that? Why even play a game if that's what you want? Why not just roleplay the combat and have a collaborative storytelling session with your friends.

Not that there would be anything wrong with that, but some of us like to have challenge and structure in our encounters, non-combat included. We may even want to play characters that are more eloquent or intelligent than we are. You just can't really do that effectively without dice rolls, and 4e doesn't provide the means for that sort of play.

I guess the problem I have with 4e is that you have to be a really, really good roleplayer, or just not do it at all. There is no in between. If you're just okay, or you're inexperienced, or even if you have a group of good roleplayers that are used to having die rolls to settle disagreements, you're shit out of luck with 4e. There are no tools to help you with roleplaying. You get combat and that's all.

pffh:
I hope Richard Baker gets picked up by Paizo. Can you imagine a Tome of battle like book in pathfinder? That would be a dream come true.

NO NO NO NO!!! Tome of Battle was a patch on the existing 3.5 system and seems to me a early test of 4E mechanics, I don't want that shit in my Pathfinder

4e plays better than previous editions, in combat.
There are a few outstanding issues, such as battles dragging on and on when they are close ... which makes me miss the decisiveness of combat in 3.5e, but I guess when you design a game to have low lethality grinding becomes a possibility.

I do have some qualms about power creep, with each new book tipping the scales in favour of the PCs ... and item rarity had to be brought in as (effectively) a ret-con in order to rein in the madness.
(And no, it's not option creep, it's power creep. If your mid and high level characters' equipment and feats look increasingly similar, meaning there are fewer and fewer actual choices to make - such as the feat tax that was the expertise feats they added in 'cos the fundamental maths was borked, it's power creep)

Outside of combat, the mechanics of skill challenges are, for lack of a better word, ass.
4e played without skill challenges, where interactions are mostly free-form with an occasional die roll, functions IMO better than accumulating points for success or failure (regardless of how well it's masked; the mechanic itself is retarded).

The main issue I find a lot of people have with 4e is, it doesn't feel awesome.
See, the powers and combat grid pretty much tells you exactly what is happening, and it's often a case of using up your resources to underwhelming effect.
The vaunted game balance even limits your improvisation options to mechanics that deal equivalent damage as expected for your level.
So, at the end of the day it comes down to having slightly different methods of chipping away at your foes.

Which brings me to why wizards (among other things, wizards are just the easiest example) are OP.
'cos being able to manipulate the battlefield to an extent where daily powers can effectly be "I WIN" buttons, whilst having access to some of the highest damroll modifiers in the game .. which gets disgusting when used to multi-target ...
The game balance is actually not present if you're any good as an optimiser. And unlike previous editions, cracking down on charop in 4e equals telling your players that you would rather waste their time with lenghty unsatisfying grindy combat.

Danceofmasks:
Which brings me to why wizards (among other things, wizards are just the easiest example) are OP.

The martial/caster disparity you're describing is referred to as Linear Fighters, Quadratic Wizards.

I recommend Pathfinder it's pretty good. Has that classic D&D feel to it, but not too classic.

Expanding on the combat mentioned earlier in the thread, I find that compared to 4th ed's combat system I prefer the combat system of 3.5 ed. To me that was the best of all the combat systems D&D offered (during the 2000 - 11 timeframe). It was quick, decisive, and depending on the DM very lethal. This of course made it fun for the players as they risked their lives even in the first few levels of play. With 4th ed, combat took forever. My group couldn't take it so we went back to 3.5 ed. So I guess what they mentioned about 4th ed having better combat doesn't apparently apply for everyone, either that or we're too accustomed to playing 3.5 ed.

Swny Nerdgasm:

pffh:
I hope Richard Baker gets picked up by Paizo. Can you imagine a Tome of battle like book in pathfinder? That would be a dream come true.

NO NO NO NO!!! Tome of Battle was a patch on the existing 3.5 system and seems to me a early test of 4E mechanics, I don't want that shit in my Pathfinder

Tome of Battle is one of the best 3.5 books to make playing a melee fun. It doesn't quite fix the linear warrior quadratic wizard problem but it gives the fighter type something else to do than just "full attack again".

I can't really speak to how 4th edition trashed old traditions, because I never played the older versions. I can say that it largely met its goals when it came to the newer players. The group I game with now are all professionals, they don't have time to read the rules before they play. So the power cards are great, because players don't have to know how things work before gametime. So I see the 3rd vs 4th edition stuff as kind of a tabletop mirror to the hardcore vs casual stuff, with many of the same (valid) points to be made for either side.

(I do agree with some of the stuff Salvador said about the cosmology though. Its not as well developed as it could be. Then again that just feeds into what I was writing above. Nobody I game with would read a book on the lore of the world, so it can't play a fundamental role in our game.)

The biggest argument for 4E hampering roleplay seems to be that there's less to do out of combat/skill challenges. Honestly, if that is the case for you, I suspect you might just have a bad DM. In one session I can recently recall, we went 3 hours without a lick of combat, and only one(admittedly monumental) skill challenge. The rest of it was intrigue, information gathering, and deduction--and it was a fucking blast. Even the skill challenge, as the DM went about it in such a way that we had to use the power of imagination to figure out what skills we actually needed for it. If you don't get RP out of 4th Ed, don't just go blaming the game system. The only REAL step backward for utility is the lack of a spellbook, but the trade off is making spellcasters way, way easier to pick up and making a DM's life way, way easier.

Ultimately, it's a preferential thing, and it doesn't bother me when people play 3.5 over 4. It does bother me when they play it once with a crappy DM and immediately turn around to say "All of my suspicions are now confirmed, this game is made of butts and farts."

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