Thursday, January 19, 2012

Reflections on editions and changes over the years - D&D Fourth Edition

By 2007 I had been running 3E games almost continuously since 2000 with a pretty stable group of players and I was seeing more of the flaws in 3rd Edition than I liked. Monster stat blocks were incredibly dense and I found that they had more abilities than I was ever going to use (assuming I could remember to use them in the first place), plus many of them were pointless things for an enemy designed to be killed off in 10 rounds or less. Building new opponents was more complicated than I liked, too much so to do it on the fly and it was limiting my reaction time. The final straw was when people started finding numerous errors in the WOTC monster statblocks in their own monster manuals – if you’re going to come up with a complicated system for monster building for your game then at the very least you should stick to it in your official supplements for that game! If your own design team can’t keep up with it then maybe that’s a hint that something’s wrong! Now looking back, I will grant you that a dragon missing 3 points of Craft skill is not really a problem but by this time I was burning out on 3E in general and these kinds of things only fueled the fire.

So when they announced 4th Edition I was happy to hear it. I felt like we had gotten nearly a decade out of 3rd and I assumed 4th would be a refining and clean up of what had gone before. There was not as much pre‐communication as what we had before so things were a little murky, but what I was hearing sounded good. I preordered the books and waited. Then once I got them I read part way through the Player’s Handbook and hated it, totally and completely. I put it back on the shelf.

Time passed ...

The main reason I picked it up again was my kids. They were old enough to play  so I got them started on the old Moldvay Basic set and we had a really good time. Later,  I decided that as much fun as it was, why load them down with the baggage of all the previous versions of the game? Why not give the “modern” one another try and see if we could have fun with it and let them have their own game instead of making them play mine. So I looked at it again with a new perspective and found some strong similarities to the design approach used in the oldest editions of the game ‐ not 3rd‐ and finally had a breakthrough – I’ve been happy with it ever since.

Now there was a pretty big backlash with 4E. Actually there was a pretty big backlash with 3E and a lot of older players bailed out then, sticking with their 1E/2E/BECMI games, but a lot of people forget about that. There was at least as much change in the 2E to 3E transition as there was in the 3E to 4E transition, and quite a few people hated that – and there’s nothing wrong with it. Any edition change for any game gives people an opportunity to say “I’m done” and bail out. I think a lot of 1E players bailed out at or during the changeover to 2E and went out and played other games. By the time 3E was released, and after hearing that it was good, at least some of them came back in. With 4E I think a similar thing happened – people were unhappy with the change and saw a reason to go play something else. This time there was also the new wrinkle of Paizo’s Pathfinder, giving current players a new option somewhere between standing pat and moving to a new edition and it remains to be seen what the long term impact of that is – we know it helped divide 3E players when it came time to move to 4E, but time will tell how it will factor into this new edition.

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