A 4e/political revelation (perhaps)

The Chatty DM blogged about how Wizards of the Coast … well, just read it, it’s quick. Or not. Anyway, in a reply to one of the replies to his blog, he says this:

I kept seeing, up to last week’s Wizard’s post on monsters ‘how in 3.5 it was just so much harder to…’
To which I answer:
We GET it, OK! Leave 3.5 alone and let 4e live on it’s own merits.

And that seemed very relevant to me. The game should stand on its own merits. When Wizards talks about 4e, they should talk about what makes it fun, interesting, and good … not what makes it more fun, more interesting, and better than 3.5.

In the USA 2004 presidential election, John Kerry’s main message was (or appeared to be) “I’m not George Bush, I’m a better candidate than George Bush, I’ll be a better president than George Bush.” Voters basically had the choice between George Bush and “not George Bush.” It got old. It wasn’t informative. It had no lasting power. And, as history shows, it wasn’t enough to sway enough moderate voters to gain a win for Kerry.

So now we have 3.5 and “not 3.5/better than 3.5.” We get it. You’ve been telling us the flaws in 3.5 for about two years now. Now tell us why 4e is great without comparing it to the game we’ve been playing for 8 years. Tell me why I should play 4e without telling me why I shouldn’t be playing 3.5. Don’t succumb to Hollywood’s problem (“well, this movie is like MovieX, but with drummers instead of cheerleaders,” or “this movie is like MovieY, but with Irish guys in Boston instead of mobsters in Los Angeles,” thus movies greenlighted from major studios tend to be derivative). Sell me on 4e for being 4e.

Yes, I’ve already started to build an opinion on 4e … based on one playtest, one 1st-level game, and all the “compared to 3.5…” marketing. I can set all that aside if you can just tell me why I should play this game.

P.S. And if you’re going to make Dungeons & Dragons commercials for TV, maybe you could show a dungeon. Or a dragon. Or perhaps people playing a game of D&D*. Instead of A beholder waiting for a bus, at a coffee shop, and so on. Because if you want non-gamers to give D&D a look, you might actually want to show them that it’s fun to play this game. With dungeons. And dragons.

* You know, like this old D&D commercial. Look, they’re actually playing D&D! And the characters are in a dungeon! Fighting a dragon!

29 thoughts on “A 4e/political revelation (perhaps)

  1. Things I could say to sell 4e on its own merits (this is purely as a fan);

    4e is a good game for swift-moving action reminiscent of video games and wuxia films. Since many of the mechanics really play into movement, combat in the game is very mobile and really relates to the terrain.

    The game’s mechanics for experience and monster types are really set up to put fire teams of PCs against fire teams of monsters. At-will powers and powers that are renewed every encounter mean that that player characters will probably not run out of cool stuff to do in a fight; I think this makes players feel more effective.

    Widgets in the Dungeon Master’s Guide make the creation of new creatures, and augmenting existing creatures to better challenge the players, incredibly easy and in-line with the Monster Manual’s roster of critters.

    • Yep, that’s pretty much what I would have said, (and probably better put).

      Personally, I’m starting to see I don’t like 4e as much as some other systems (like, say, Mutants and Masterminds), but for cinematic fantasy, it’s a great system.

      (Except the skill challenge system, but that’s avoidable.)

      • I actually like it when it comes to traps. My main problem with the skill challenges is the social situations. Sometimes, players come up with arguments that outright would convince the target, but they may only be 3 successes in to a 10 success challenge or whatever.

        Basically, it relies *too heavily* on the dice.

      • I hope this doesn’t qualify as hijacking the discussion, turning things back towards the endless false duality of whether 4e is good or bad, and it does come close to comparing 4e with prior iterations.

        That said, I really like 4e’s video-game/movie feel, but it definitely isn’t low-fantasy, medieval, and grimy. That need is going to have to fit into another game, which I think is good really. The best comparison I can think of is; “Werewolf; the Apocalypse” and “Call of Cthulhu” are both technically horror games in which PCs discover a very lethal secret world filled with weird monsters, but the PCs and what they can do are very different.

  2. In Soviet Russia, Tiefling Eldritch blasts you!

    (Since when were Gnomes gay and Tieflings Russian?)

    D&D 4/e is quickly approaching SJ’s Toon.

    • Yeah, that’s not a TV commercial, it’s a flash commercial they made for D&D Insider–an established audience of D&D players. And even so, it doesn’t show people playing, it doesn’t show a dungeon, and it doesn’t show a dragon. It’s a big inside joke. Not that there’s anything wrong with an inside joke, but inside jokes don’t attract outside people to become inside people.

      • Yeah, after D&D 2/e was released and I was utterly disappointed with the changes, I pretty much switched to playing GURPS and never looked back.

        I guess I prefer the roleplaying aspect of RPGs over the roll-playing part. When a game system gets in the way of having fun (read: repeatedly rolling dice isn’t fun for me), it’s time to get rid of the game system.

        D&D needs to get back to its roots of fantastic fantasy exercising the mind, not the wrist. Pandering to the rules rapists (“look at my level 1 econo-mage tiefling war-cleric! I get eleventy billion natural talent effects per day that are area effect and passive!”) has just killed the game for all but the most mindless players.

        All IMHO, of course.

    • Srsly, WTF was with the obvious pole holding up the beholder? At least make it animatronic, geez. Dr. Who’s Dalek’s were more high-tech than the beholder in the ad.

  3. Thanks for the link! Using my LJ name because I never got OpenID to work.

    What’s really funny is that contrary to the 3.0 D&D Core books who did refer to ‘previous editions of this game’ the 4e core books don’t seem to do it at all…

    That should have transpired all over the ad campaigns.

  4. The real question: if they wanted to make a commercial for D&D, why didn’t they IMMEDIATELY phone the Dead Gentlemen and get a couple of Gamers commercials? It would have been great for both of them!

    Microsoft was smart enough to nab Red vs. Blue for the later Halo games.


  5. Let me see if I’ve got this right. According to you Sean, fourth edition D&D is a fantasy heartbreaker. I can hear Gary now shouting down from the peaks of Celestia, “It’s the adventure, stupid!”

      • Priority 1: Finish Gods and Magic freelance for Paizo.
        Priority 2: Gen Con.
        Priority 3: Come back from Gen Con and sleep.
        Priority 4: Do some gaming. :)

      • Maybe I’ll have the pleasure to meet you then.

        I’ll be one of the GMs of the MegaDrow adventure.

        I’ll also DM 4 Pathfinder Society scenarios on Thursday and Friday.

        Saturday I’ll co-host a 2 hour GM-Fu panel on prepping and I’ll be a panelist at a RPG Blogger thing.

        Sunday… I’ll probably be dead…

  6. Even as someone who is having a blast playing 4e, I really got tired of the comparisons. Even some of the later ones that weren’t as blatant still got my hackles up due to the earlier ones setting the stage. Ah well.

    Anyhow, I think that 4E’s main benefits are for DM’s and designers – for players it’s harder to accidentally screw your character design up (or “accidentally” not min/max as much as the next guy) and it can have a more easily changing and interesting battlefield. You also get to act more times with less delay between actions.

    For DM’s and designers, the math changes make it a piece of cake to scale and modify things, have a much better idea how much something will challenge folks, and avoid accidentally creating broken (easy or hard) encounters. I can setup 4E games and modify the difficulty of encounters on the fly at a skill level “out of the box” on par with my 8th year of 3e. I’m not sure how things will grow from there, but I see this as a particular boon for new DMs in particular.

    I think the big things 4E sacrificed were some aspects of its sense of realism and a higher level of complexity. As a math and rules kind of guy, I expected the latter to bother me more, but I’m sure it’ll bother me in 8 years when I’m ready for the next edition, or whatever.

  7. i’ve started using 4e monsters for my 3.5 eberron game, and the DM experience is brilliant. my group is fifteen different types of power-level broken, so the XP budget for encounters doesn’t work so much, and 4e monsters have several significant drawbacks within a 3.5 game, but actually running them is a dream.

  8. A comment from Chatty’s blog

    Hey Sean… you posted a comment over on Chatty’s blog that I had a question about, and since it was relevant to this… here I am. Damn LJ requiring me to make a user and jsutaguy being taken… anyways…

    I wasn’t sure what the point of your comment was… regarding how you turned one guts THAC0 thing around on him. Unless it wasn’t specifically in response to my (Justaguy) comment about the 3e hate at the time… but I tihnk it was. I’d in no way meant to imply that it couldn’t be turned around, just hat it wasn’t all fuzzy bunnies and kittens when 3e came down the pike. There was venom tossed around at the time. And, IIRC, wasn’t one of the selling points “4E Doesn’t have THAC0!”… i.e. “THAC0 sucks, do it our way!”. I seem to remember that being on a shirt a friend got from that 3e launch seminar at gencon, which I admit I skipped cause at the time I didn’t care about 3e. I mean, I agree THAC0 sucked, but that’s just as condescending as anything I’ve seen from 4E… it’s just that people who agree with the statement, or are making it, don’t see it as anything other than “Yay us!”.

    Hmm. I’m not sure this has a point now that I look at it… ah well. *wanders off*

    • Re: A comment from Chatty’s blog

      {I wasn’t sure what the point of your comment was… regarding how you turned one guts THAC0 thing around on him. Unless it wasn’t specifically in response to my (Justaguy) comment about the 3e hate at the time… but I tihnk it was.}

      I think it was, too. :)

      {I’d in no way meant to imply that it couldn’t be turned around,}

      I didn’t think you were. :)

      {just hat it wasn’t all fuzzy bunnies and kittens when 3e came down the pike.}

      Right. :)

      {And, IIRC, wasn’t one of the selling points “4E Doesn’t have THAC0!”… i.e. “THAC0 sucks, do it our way!”. I seem to remember that being on a shirt a friend got from that 3e launch seminar at gencon, which I admit I skipped cause at the time I didn’t care about 3e.}

      I still have that shirt and was trying to find a pic online so I could reference it. But yes, the t-shirt given out for free at the seminar that announced 3e had some compare-to-previous-edition stuff on it (obliquely … it had a checkbox for whether or not it was in 3e, and THAC0 was checked “no,” as was “rules you don’t use anyway” and “multiclassing level limits”). So if you consider the back of a t-shirt a “selling point of 3e” then sure … but even so, most of the stuff on that t-shirt were examples of things you could do with 3e that weren’t in the core rules for 2e.

      In other words, there’s a real difference between:
      * you can do all this extra stuff that you couldn’t do before
      * what you were doing has problems/didn’t work/wasn’t fun and now we’ve fixed it.

      • Re: A comment from Chatty’s blog

        Heh, perhaps I was just so far out of the loop that I did consider it the marketing for the game. ;) I mean, seriously at the time DnD wasn’t on my radar as something to play… at all. I think at the time it was… Alternity (watches tumble weeds go by) and Earthdawn.

        I think partly, the point I’m trying to get to is that a lot of the comments are just enthusiasm if it’s for your side of the debate, but if you are on the other its’ condescension. 4e vs. 3e, 3e vs. 2e… the arguments were there. I tend to feel the problem 4e is having is that for 3e the general spirit of the community was “Hey, stop raging on my system… sure it has flaws… that you’re fixing, kinda like I fixed… hey, you’re fixing stuff.. okay, this isn’t so bad.” But currently the community is like “Hey, stop raging on my system. Yeah, maybe it has a couple of flaws, but I’m not ready for you to fix them in a way that means I need to buy new stuff. My old stuff is only a couple of years old. Back off.”

  9. Still haven’t played 4E (and yes, that means the Alliance screen is still sitting unused, and I’m a bad man), so I have no opinions about that. But I can have an opinion about that commercial.



  10. I for one can live with 4e. It’s a different game system. Just like 3e was different from AD&D.

    However, what there is no getting around, is what they’ve done to the Realms. They did it for their own convenience, nothing more nothing less. If you’ve been following what’s going on.. they’re still making the same editing mistakes and contradicting their own canon… sea port cities miles from the coast line!

  11. Haha, ah yes the old D&D commercial! I still love that thing.

    You make some very good points, as did ChattyDM. I suppose it’s just natural that everyone’s trying to compare the two systems. Wizards is trying with every ounce of their power to get people to switch over, so I imagine that’s why they’re trying so hard to make it look all shiny and new in comparison.

    The games are so different in so many ways that they could even go as far as introducing it as a completely independent game. We fear change! They should realize that. Standalone, 4e is indeed shaping up to be a fine game. I think they’re making big mistakes with all this comparison.


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