01 August 2013

D&D IV Post Mortem: Part 2

Let's get this started without screwing around.
A man can dream...
As before, I expect you to take a drink every time I say something you disagree with, and then when you're done reading, to go straight to the bottom and tell me why. Bottoms up!




Ten Reasons Why I Hate 4e, Part Two 

3. Character roles are tightly defined at character creation 

    Or: Why doesn't my character actually learn anything new?
Before somebody shows up to tell me how this is actually the system's saving grace, can it. I completely understand what the system is trying to do, and I think it does a fairly good job at it. The system is set up such that by saying "I want to be the guy who does all the damage," you get to be that guy. And other people will pick other roles, such that you are essentially shoehorning teamwork into a party that might not otherwise have anything to do with it. Additionally, it makes discussing who is doing what very simple. "I am the defender," you might say, "so you be somebody else. We only need so many tough guys here."

But the thing is, this conversation happens already in well-designed games. I have seen it happen in fairly loose games like Mini Six, and in old-school games like Labyrinth Lord. It happened in Dungeonslayers. I even saw it happen in my upcoming Dark Heresy games, where the players came together and assigned loose roles and decided on classes (although they simultaneously all seem to have decided on being strong at melee combat, for some reason.) This happens time and time again because all players hate being redundant, and players tend to work together. If your players do not, that is a problem with your players that cannot be solved within the game. I have heard of 4e groups where there are three strikers and 2 controllers, with no leaders or defenders. I have heard of 4e groups with multiple leaders and defenders. I have heard of group with nothing but strikers. What does this say?

To me, it says that party composition and teamwork is not something you can attempt to enforce, because no matter how strongly you can recommend it and how much of the game you base around it, players and game masters will do as they please. So why is class role selection such a strong focus in the game? What does it add? Why is every character forced into a role immediately on character creation? Why can't you shift into another role over time? It's an arbitrary restriction placed on actual mechanical character growth, and it's galling.

This keys into my next point, which is one of the most irritating of all.

4. Your character does not meaningfully grow

   Or: Why is multiclassing so limited?
The heart of any good roleplaying game are the changes your character goes through. In some games, this takes a very personal turn, as your character becomes wealthy and powerful, or loses and gains friends, fosters a family, or even just becomes more powerful and does bigger and more exciting things.

Pictured: your players in a non-combat session
In 4th edition, you really can't do any of that. Your main source of "progress" is gaining a level, but here's the thing- you don't actually become stronger. Sure, the numbers on your character sheet increase, but so does the DC of the tasks you're doing. And the armor class of the monster you're punching. And the damage he does. After a while, you get the impression of running in place, like a quicksand treadmill.

This continues for your entire 30 level career. That's 30 levels of get loot, kill things, get more loot, rinse and repeat. And make no mistake- setting the maximum level at 30 and then giving each of the players "epic destinies" that then removes them from play absolutely removes any incentive for the players to invest in the outside world.

Gone are the heady days of old oD&D where you might invest in a local temple to keep people back home safe, or save up to build your stronghold once you get to the right level, because you need that money to keep up with your loot level, to continue the quicksand treadmill, to run in place very quickly and keep up with the monsters that are, by the book's default, the best and easiest way to get more experience that lets you fight bigger things.

It's not like that anymore, is it? Gold is gear. Experience is levels. Higher levels means you get more powers, which lets you fight appropriate level monsters, which are, you guessed it, guarding yet more treasure parcels. Congratulations, you gained a level! Now go out and fight more monsters.

If you spend your money on a castle, that's fine and all, but you're wasting your time. Why settle for being a ruler of a collection of hovels and some ignorant peasants when in 20 levels you can be a demigod? Or you can transcend reality and become one with the universe! Why bother founding a temple? That sort of thing is for mere mortals! Keep battling monsters and finding loot, and in a mere 18 more levels you can become more powerful than you had ever imagined!

I'm sure you could limit the game to 10th level or even lower, and then add in a castle building system, a massed combat system, maybe some rules for horses, recruitment, settlement management, and demographics- but at this point, you are creating an entirely new game! You are throwing over half of the rules as written in favor of playing a sort of old-school 4th edition game, and honestly, why bother?

Why not just play a better game?

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