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Dungeons & Dragons Edition Wars: 4e

DandD4The current edition of Dungeons & Dragons is now a year old.  The debate on this new edition of the grandaddy of all RPGs is older than that.  Not a day goes by that some blog or some forum is either loving or hating WotC’s latest version of the most popular RPG ever.

This post is not about rehashing the love/hate that folks have been expressing for 4e.

I’ve bought a good deal of the books and have been impressed with the thought and detail that has gone into this edition.  My kids and I have played this version.  The boys tell me it plays a lot like the pirate MMORPG.  The game play is enjoyable enough but combat takes forever.

When we played at World D&D Day it took us three hours and we just finished the first encounter.  I chalked that up to unfmiliarity on our part.  However, repeated attempts at playing have only reinforced the fct that combat takes forever.

The haters claim this isn’t your Father’s D&D and they would be right.  Does that make it not D&D, no.  This is still gaming in a High-Fantasy setting. 

What I like about 4e: Character generation is somewhat easier than AD&D.  Bards flat out rock in 4e.  The makeover given to this class is outstanding.

What I don’t like: Combat takes forever.

Favorite memory:  Yes combat takes forever, but we didn’t notice the time until we’d finished the encounter.  We did enjoy ourselves.

Your turn:
Please keep the flames out.

June 16, 2009 - Posted by | Legacy D&D, News, Reviews and Culture, RPG | , , , ,


  1. When I became displeased with the high rate of missed attacks in 4e, I made the houserule that encounter powers deal half damage on a miss, and monster Recharge 6 or Encounter powers do so as well.

    With this rule, I saw combats going by at a slightly quicker pace, and people less apprehensive or frustrated about it. This was before the feat tax (Weapon Expertise) for fixing the attack bonuses, but I keep it anyway.

    Another houserule I’m trying out is giving an action point every encounter, instead of every two encounters.

    Comment by Wyatt | June 16, 2009

  2. Oh, and credit to both of those ideas goes to Mike Mearls, who talks about that stuff on his twitter/blog.

    Comment by Wyatt | June 16, 2009

  3. I haven’t tried any edition since 3.0. I would be willing to try this out, but I don’t know anyone nearby who plays it. I have played a bit with the Character Builder program, which is pretty nice.

    Comment by Ruminator | June 16, 2009

  4. “Does that make it not D&D, no. This is still gaming in a High-Fantasy setting.”

    D&D (pre-4e) isn’t always a High-Fantasy setting.

    I think that 4e *is* D&D, but (aside from Trademarks) it’s made me more open to including other games in what I consider D&D as well:

    Ars Magica,
    Blue Rose,
    Burning Wheel,
    Castles and Crusades,
    Dangerous Journeys,
    Labyrinth Lord,
    Lejendary Adventure,
    Middle Earth Role Play,
    Swords & Wizardry,
    True 20,
    Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay

    Comment by Stuart | June 16, 2009

  5. @Wyatt – We haven’t played it enough to even begin looking at house rules. Though I will be looking into your suggestions.

    @Ruminator – Aside from the lengthy combat, we’ve enjoyed our experiences with the game.

    @Stuart – Granted that D&D is NOT always High Fantasy. But that is akin to saying food at McDonalds is not always hamburgers. Yes they both offer more but when mentioned it is what comes to mind.

    Comment by Vulcan Stev | June 16, 2009

  6. I disagree that 4e style High Fantasy is what came to mind when people mentioned D&D from 1974 – 2008.

    Comment by Stuart | June 16, 2009

  7. Two articles worth reading:

    “High Fantasy” vs. “Sword & Sorcery” gaming: the underlying reason of conflict and change in D&D


    High Fantasy vs. Sword & Sorcery

    Comment by Stuart | June 16, 2009

  8. No opinion on rules or game play; haven’t played it.

    Things I don’t like:

    STILL three core books… No wait… More than that if I want to get everything I had in 3.x or even 1e.

    Frill beyond dice. Minis are fun. I don’t like the collectible model, but still fun. I was in my FLGS a few days ago and they had boxes of power cards for each class. Not one big box. Each. Class. I am not made of money. I know, I know… I don’t need the frill. You know what? I don’t need the books either ;p

    Lay out and gloss. I miss the monochromatic days of 1e and BX. Seems like there could have been a lot more content in those first three core books if we got less white page and fewer pretty pictures.

    My other issues have nothing to do with what looks like a very fun game and more to do with what is IMHO a really… unpleasant… business model.

    But through out every edition there is still the thrill of surviving an encounter with a dragon for the first time… That never gets old and knows no “edition.”

    Comment by Dr. Checkmate | June 16, 2009

  9. I like my D&D a little pulpier and lower octane. 3.x is ok. BX is better. 1e/2e are both too… something… frilly? There are too many different mechanics at work. 3.x has that unity going for it, and BX is just a simpler game.

    And I couldn’t get their darned character builder trial to work at all. So, that didn’t impress me.

    Comment by Dr. Checkmate | June 16, 2009

  10. I’m running two separate campaigns in 4E that meet every week for between 4-5 hours at a sitting. I will admit that when we first adopted 4E the combats took forever. There are multiple DM’s in our group and there are a couple reasons that this occurs and we agreed on a few things to speed things up:

    1) In almost all fights in 4E there is a tipping point, a point where the players have gained such an advantage that the enemy can’t recover. The only exception to this are solo fights which we treat as “boss battles”. In any other fight, once you reach the tipping point wrap it up. The enemy knows its going to lose so they will either flee or surrender if intelligent. If not, then just say the players finish them up. This not only speeds up combat but gives players more resources to handle further fights.

    2) Make your enemies easier to hit unless that’s their schtick. Not every enemy needs to be hard to hit. 4th edition lends itself to making enemies easy to hit because with the mass of hit points they’ll be around for awhile. Lower the AC’s or reflexes of enemies to make them a bit easier to hit. Do this unless the enemies whole point is to be hard to hit. This can be fun sometimes, but not always.

    3) Reduce enemies hit points. If a fight is going extra long, just shave some hit points off the bad guys. Do they really need to have 56 hit points each if your group is only doing 15 points of damage per attack? Lower it to 40 and now it only takes 3 good hits to kill it instead of 4. That extra hit shaved off speeds it up.

    4) Know your party. A group that has few strikers won’t do well against enemies that require lots of damage. These fights turn into endurance battles that drag on. Again this can be fun once in awhile, but not every fight.

    Overall, we like the new edition but it takes a lot more thought on encounter design that 3E did. It also takes a different tactic to encounter design as you need to think about what is challenging to fight without being overly long and drawn out as well as annoying. Knowing how your group works helps with this. That takes a bit of time for any DM as the group starts to gel, so we agree that the first two or three sessions will see slow combats but if they are still slow after that it’s our fault as DM’s in not designing proper encounters.

    Comment by Alex Perez | June 16, 2009

  11. @Stuart
    Well, when I started playing in the 80s I don’t think I recognized fantasy types like “high” and “low” so I’ll agree to some degree. But I think High Fantasy became tied to DnD at about the point the Realms became one of the main settings for the game… not 4e as you are (or seem to be) implying by the 08 start date. I certainly considered 3e to be high fantasy friendly, if not decidedly high fantasy.

    @The original post
    Like: Healing is no longer an either/or situation. You can be healing and still do other stuff.
    Caster/melee disparities are much less pronounced.
    Casters can’t run out of spells, everyone always has /something/ they can do besides poking at a goblin with a stick.

    Dislike: Combat does take awhile (Though I find this to be the case with just about every RPG I’ve played).

    Comment by justaguy | June 16, 2009

  12. @justaguy: I’ll stand by what I said — I don’t think that 4e style High Fantasy is what came to mind when people mentioned D&D from 1974 – 2008. Otherwise you wouldn’t be seeing so much reaction to the changes in 4e. 🙂

    Comment by Stuart | June 16, 2009

  13. Somehow I missed “4E style” in your post… though I’m not sure how useful I find splitting high fantasy into segments, nor am I sure how I would even go about drawing those lines. 🙂

    Comment by justaguy | June 16, 2009

  14. @Stuart & Justaguy – In my mind Sword & Sorcery is a sub-genre of High Fantasy.

    @Dr. C. – Agreed on the “pricey” nature of D&D. However, I took my whole family to the theater in the Big City (not our dollar theater) twice this year and killed the better part of a C-Note each time once popcorn and snack figured in. I have yet to spend anywhere near that on 4e. Pricey? yes. More return on investment of my entertainment dollar? yes.

    @Alex – Thanks for those hints about combat. We are trying to find time to get a regular 4e game going. I will be using those tips once we do.

    Comment by Vulcan Stev | June 16, 2009

  15. Not a fan of 4e. When my eladrin ranger was knocked prone by a baby dragon, I spent the next few minutes figuring out which sequence of special abilities/moves would grant me the biggest advantage, rather than dealing with the fact that my character had a few hundred pounds of lightning-breathing lizard sitting on his chest.

    That said, 4e really drives home that hit points do not represent your character’s “structural integrity”. I’m still kicking around ideas to incorporate healing surges into my play.

    Comment by Brian | June 17, 2009

  16. @stev: Yeah. If you play it more than once. I’m not dropping the better part of a c-note on a game I don’t play or might only play once. I used to be able to do that, but not now. And not when I can get everything I need to play a comparable fantasy game for at most half the asking price.

    I don’t buy snacks at the movies. Unless it’s a place that actually serves dinner like Smitty’s back in my old home town. I mean I know that’s the theaters primary source of income, but it isn’t what I’m there for. I’m there for the movie. Not crumby popcorn with artificially flavored grease flavored butter… Did I get that backwards? Sorry, I’m going off on a rant here, but I’ve made the point.

    4e = worth the cash if you play it more than once. If you play it at all. But, it’s still three books in a market where all but there closest competition will sell you a game in one book.

    Comment by Dr. Checkmate | June 17, 2009

  17. Once again, I emphasize, these aren’t valid critiques of the game, but of the way WotC has chosen to sell it to us.

    Comment by Dr. Checkmate | June 17, 2009

  18. @Brian – Healing surges were one of the nicer things about 4e

    @Dr. C – I’m waiting until we have a Movie Bloggers network before I start posting to many rants about movies. 😎

    IMHO there are quite a few bloggers have equated WotC’s business model with a crappy game. Mind you, I’m not dumping you in this category, but I’ve seen quite a few blogs wherein the blogger rants about WotC’s business model and then concludes that 4e is a waste of time.

    Comment by Vulcan Stev | June 17, 2009

  19. “Mind you, I’m not dumping you in this category”

    I’ve had to resist. I’m only just resigned to 4e (Pathfinder helped soothe the beast), and they pull that nonsense with the pdfs. ARGH!

    Actually, I think if one prowled through the archives of my own blog long enough they’d be able to tell me I did exactly that bad business (IMHO) = bad game. Spur of the moment irrationality.

    Comment by Dr. Checkmate | June 17, 2009

  20. Okay. 4e is a good tie-in to what Basic was like but uses its art to draw in kids and old school guys the same way – “Man that looks cool! vs. That Red Dragon is Bad-Ass!”
    It’s Pricey but worthwhile – and no worse than dumping fifty bucks on the Matrix Trilogy or Special Edition Hellboy or the newest WOW expansion. You use both about as much and both are just frivolous fun stuff.

    The Mechanics allow for lengthy combat IF you stand and play Whack A Goblin. Instead Try This – DM’s Explain the terrain or lay it out and include Terrain Hazards and usable aspects while you Players get your thinking caps on and work out how to do the groovy swashbuckling moves that the movies do – Your Character Doesn’t Need Wires to Fight like NEO!!!!! I used a first-level Eladrin Rogue and took on the Dungeon Delve Book!!! On my own!!!! Combat is supposed to take awhile. But it isn’t impossible. Think outside your Collector’s Box guys! Gaming is not printed out as High Fantasy or Swords and Sorcery – WE THE GAMERS transmute their print into entire imaginary worlds and then turn those into our High Fantasy…The key isn’t the books its us and our imaginations. We make worlds and destroy beasts that make other people quail. Why whine about a 3 hour session when in that 3 hour session you get time with friends and family doing a fun activity? My entire extended family set up Game Nights. Ours is a D&D night…and now my niece goes to school wondering if there’s a dragon waiting at the end of this month’s delve.

    Comment by XanWolf | September 9, 2009

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