I roll to disbelieve.

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If there is a book I have bought more often than the Player's Handbook, I'm not sure what it is.

Understand, it's not that I've bought the same book multiple times. Mostly. The original Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Player's Handbook I did, of course. I wore two of them out, and later I got a PDF of the thing. And I think I bought a couple of Second Edition over time. But stepping away from that, I've gotten pretty much every new edition that they've thrown in my direction.

Which has sometimes been a joy, mind, but as often -- especially recently -- it's been an obligation. I'll admit it. I never really cottoned to either Third Edition or "3.5." And it's made me wonder sometimes if somewhere along the way I actually grew old.

And that's something of a digression.

Dungeons and Dragons has been a part of my life for essentially all of my life. Some of the things I bought when I first got into the game -- in the seventies, mind, with the Dragon Box Dungeons and Dragons that was simultaneously a precursor to Advanced Dungeons and Dragons and Basic Dungeons and Dragons -- were for the original three book set that Gygax and Arneson put out long, long ago. I've read that original set (I own facsimiles of that too) along the way, and locked well away I have myself Gods, Demigods and Heroes -- one of the cool Original D&D supplements, bought back when that kind of thing could be found on hobby store shelves, over by the Judges' Guild supplements, near the Traveller, two shelves down from the Avalon Hill wargames and across the aisle from Boy Scout supplies, model rocketry kits and balsa wood. My earliest dice wore down into marbles. I have dozens of RPGs I've never come close to playing. I own some of the least useful AD&D products ever developed -- I own both the Dungeoneer's Survival Guide and the Wilderness Survival Guide. New books for the ol' D&D -- especially when they were hardcover instead of perfect bound -- were a happy find for literally decades of my life. Softcover could be cool, but a D&D hardcover book was an event.

Third Edition wasn't like that for me.

It had been some years since my last Second Edition campaign had ended as all campaigns do -- by people gradually finding other ways to spend their weekends. Oh, I still had an interest -- but GURPS and Hero and White Wolf products had long since filled the casual "devour the book and distill the concepts into my understanding of the roleplay omniverse" gap that once had puzzled out Nonweapon Proficiences and Weapon speed factors. When I moved out to Seattle, I moved in with a hardcore GURPS fiend. And Seattle in the 90's wasn't exactly a mecca for the old school. The cool kids didn't make graph paper maps and wield +4 halberds. The cool kids made Ventrue and Malkavians and dressed in vintage clothes and tried to score with Goth chicks, and while I liked White Wolf that wasn't really my scene, and over time I fell out of some of the old habits.

And then I came back to this side of the country, and the cool kids stopped being so cool and there was a resurgence of the old school aesthetic and then there was third edition -- one for the new millennium. And like everyone else who once rolled twenty sided dice for twenty six hours in a row, I snapped it up.

And... my brain just didn't glean it. It seemed like a mass of numbers to me. Part of the problem was the graphic design -- some moron at Wizards of the Coast thought it would be a good idea to print black text on brown backgrounds, reducing contrast to the point where reading these things invited headaches. And there were feats and prestige classes and THAC0 was gone only there was something else and....

...well, I got used to it. I had to. By now, I was actually writing stuff, and d20 was the order of the day in a lot of ways. And that was monumental too -- Wizards had opened (most of) their rules up, so anyone could develop for them, and a lot of people did. And I got the hang of d20, and d20 Modern, and d20 Future, and Superlink, and True20, and lots of other variations that sprouted from the giant oak of Dungeons and Dragons 3rd Edition. When the v3.5 Players Handbook came out, I was a little disgruntled -- hadn't I just bought one of these? -- but I sucked it up and bought the thing. And when I read through the rules -- even the ones that were hard to pick through or that broke my brain -- I could still see the game that had formed part of the foundation of my life, all those years before. I could still figure out exactly how I'd adapt my game world (ah Arthe. How I miss you) for this new setting. And when the good folks hammering out OSRIC and other open source versions of first edition AD&D started doing things, I felt old stirrings in the back of my brain. Sure, I was old now and I couldn't get excited for these things any more and there seemed like way more bookkeeping now and man, really, 3.5 but at the very least, I could be nostalgic.

And like a lot of people, I looked at the prospects of a fourth edition warily at best. The developers proudly talked (in at least one case) of how much they hated the old 1st and 2nd edition rules, and it wasn't until 3rd edition that they really began to like this thing. We heard the rumors -- this was going to be a backport of World of Warcraft. They were going to abandon the foundations that have made the game! Magic users would be remade from scratch! Gnomes were being consigned to the Abyss! All was chaos! All was chaos!

Hell, look at the masthead. I changed it to "Protected Gnomish Habitat since 2008" some months ago, after I heard about the Gnomish exile. That's the kind of thing an old man does, when he finds out what those damn kids were up to.

And that... well, that's sort of what it all felt like, to me. Punk kids -- most of whom weren't alive when I was running extensive campaigns -- had taken the reins of Dungeons and Dragons, and clearly didn't care about folks like me. And why should they? Galavanting around the Flanaess is a game for the young, Doctor. Leaving us relics behind was just part of the cost of doing business.

Most galling of all, however, was this sense that this was going to be a new game -- not an update or a new edition, but something entirely new, seeking to tap into those millions of people playing World of Warcraft. They talked about how the new game would follow MMORPG conventions, all the better to make the tabletop experience a seamless transition from their computers. And no one seemed to care about what was being lost, not when there were new markets to tap.

But, I kept mostly quiet about these fears. I wanted to see what would come of Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition. Would it be D&D in name only?

And now I've seen it. I have read the books. I know the new edition. I now know who was right -- the fans rabidly anticipating the new books, and the fans dreading and castigating it as a false pretender to the throne.

And interestingly enough... they're both right.

I am reminded, in a way, of White Wolf in 2003 and 2004. Having gotten themselves so choked with continuity cruft that one couldn't throw a stone on a street without hitting three or four supernatural monsters with dark intent and angst-ridden hearts, they decided to take their various Worlds of Darkness and end them once and for all, publishing both sourcebooks for individual storytellers to run Ragnarok and novels detailing the "official" end of the world for each of their game lines. And, once this was done, they released a new World of Darkness, with entirely new rules and a new setting and new basic tenets and emphases. White Wolf hoped their players would come along for the ride, but they had little intention of bringing the characters into this new world.

So it is, in the end, with the new Dungeons and Dragons.

The core of the game is simplicity. The rules are at the least familiar, but character progression is now standardized -- almost cookie cutter. Classes all progress in abilities at exactly the same rate. Level one character from 1 to 20, and you can level any character from 1 to 20. Powers are broken down by the rate you can use them. At Will powers can be used every time it's your character's turn. Encounter powers can be used once an 'encounter.' (Essentially, once in any given battle against a specific set of foes.) Daily powers can be used -- you guessed it -- once per game day, like spells used to be. So, while a fighter's at will powers involve specific maneuvers where they hit people with metal things, a ranger's at will powers involve shooting arrows into their enemies and a wizard's at-will powers involve things like magic missiles. As promised (or warned), the roles of the different classes are far better defined -- and do indeed follow MMORPG standards. Fighters and paladins are defenders, who draw the attention of their foes and have the fortitude to withstand the most deadly of blows. In other words, they're tanks/tankers, and their job is aggro management while other people kill things. Clerics and Warlords are leaders, who "inspire, heal, and aid the other characters in an adventuring group." In other words, they're the buffers. Rangers, Rogues and Warlocks are the strikers. They do the damage to single targets, hitting them with massive blows. (Warlocks at range, Rogues up close, and Rangers one or the other depending on what they specialize in.) By any other name? They're DPS. And Wizards are controllers, locking down enemies and laying down damage over groups instead of individuals -- so, area effect damage plus debuffs plus holds. The press materials promised that all party members would have something to do every time play comes to them, and that much is true -- the balance of at-will, daily and encounter powers inside the above roles means there's always something to do. And it feels like nothing so much as click powers in a tray in an interface.

A lot of the names are the same, but that doesn't mean the characters are. For example, Paladins can be any alignment now, and any race now. In a game where once it was insisted (by Gary Gygax himself) that there was never a reason to champion chaotic evil and so there would never be an official anti-paladin NPC, we now have chaotic evil paladins. Rangers are, as mentioned, strikers. They can lay down immense damage and all their abilities center around that fact. Which is good, because there's no real wilderness powers at all. They don't even need to take wilderness skills if they don't want to. (Amusingly, Belkar from Order of the Stick is now a perfect ranger -- he can be evil, he doesn't really have any of those tracking or wilderness skills, and man can he lay down hit points of damage.) Warlocks and wizards, far from having to manage their daily spells and utilize them when they'd best be appropriate, can fire off eldrich bolts and rays of enfeeblement every time their turn comes around if they want. Heck, it's going to take some folks some time to adjust to the idea that the fighter doesn't do the most damage in melee combat.

And let's not kid ourselves. This is a game of combat -- as much as the original D&D was, if not more so. This is not a game of out-of-combat nuanced roleplay and complicated social mores. This is a game where your character is an optimized killing machine. Yeah, you can take intimidate or bluff if you really want to, but honestly, you have a charisma score, do you really need more than that? Especially when most of the time, your intimidate skill will take a back seat to your Riposte Strike at-will power or a well timed Shadow Wasp Strike. Your characters will feel most at home in a darkened corridor, decimating all around them.

And honestly? That part right there seems like perfectly good Dungeons and Dragons to me. Yeah, not every DM did the dungeon crawl thing, but the dungeon crawl is the essence of the original game. Purple worms and beholders and kobolds alike existed to be slaughtered for their treasure and their bellies full of sweet experience points.

At the same time, one fear raised up is unquestionably true. This is not an update to Dungeons and Dragons. This is an entirely new game that happens to be called Dungeons and Dragons, and the sooner you get your head wrapped around that idea, the happier you will be. You may have played the same character since 1979, moving from Basic to Advanced D&D, then doing 2nd, 3rd and version 3.5 with him, painstakingly converting him each time. Shake his hand and put him in a drawer and wait for the next time someone wants to play one of those earlier games, because if you try to 'upgrade' him to the new game, you're going to find yourself with an entirely different character with entirely new powers and abilities that don't work the same way, and it can only frustrate you.

And, of course, if you play one of the classes that's absent from this version of the game, you're out of luck. Thieves are now rogues and are way better at killing than thieving (there's nothing that even says you need to take thief skills). Bards? Gone, with no real sense of whether or not they're going to return. There are 'power sources' in this game -- Martial for 'natural' heroes, Divine for Paladins and Clerics, and Arcane for Wizards and Warlocks -- with more coming, but none of them's going to be music. In fact, the ones we know about are psionic, elemental, ki, primal, nature and shadow. There will come a day that monks will be kicking ass again, barbarians and druids will return to the game and do that voodoo they do so well, and we'll even get fire types if we want them.

But... it makes sense, now, that the gnomes are absent from the game right now. In the older game, their best trick was being illusionists... and there is no illusionist, and unless 'shadow' will be an illusionist power source, there's not going to be. Illusions don't really fit the structure of the new game -- they're not used much as it is, and they don't fall into the same role structure as the others.

That's one of the hardest things to work out in this new game with the old name, really. It's not the changes to the rules -- it's the necessity of letting go of the past, as completely as possible, if you're going to embrace this game. Really, the two sides of this little dichotomy are best shown in something Scott Kurtz said over in the blog attached to PVP:

Guess what? Your 3.5 edition stuff did not disintegrate into a pile of black dust today. Get over yourselves. Nobody gives a shit that you committed all the old books to memory and figured out the math of the rules to totally max out your character. Nobody wants you at the table. We only invited you because you got all the books and so many goddamn miniatures.

As happens with Scott Kurtz, I was amazed at how many sides he managed to evoke all at once. On the one side, I completely understood why he said that -- he was taking a lot of crap from people because he was enjoying the game he had been playing, and he wanted to throw some cold reality on them. He's right. There's no reason anyone who wants to play an earlier edition can't go ahead and play an earlier edition. Hell, thanks to the Open Gaming License, development on the old edition proceeds apace in a number of places -- perhaps most successfully at Paizo, where the Pathfinder Role Playing Game is cheerfully revising the 3.5 rules into the next edition of the older game concept. And there's no excuse for trashing someone because he happened to like a game in practice that you despise in theory. None of our opinions are natural laws, after all.

On the other side... honestly, not everyone's ready to be philosophical about this stuff. Telling someone that his ten, or twenty, or thirty year old campaign world can't be effectively upgraded to the new edition of a game he's been playing for most of his post-pubescent life and he should "get over himself" is... well, cold. Callous. And only adds more misery. And misery begets misery.

As for me... I'm on both sides of it. Arthe as it has always been simply doesn't fit this new game. I couldn't revise it into the new rules if I wanted to. My old books haven't disappeared -- I could run an Arthe campaign tomorrow, but I can't do it in Dungeons and Dragons. I can only do it in Pathfinder, or Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (first or second edition). Dungeons and Dragons has left that world behind.

But on the other side... 3rd edition (and 3.5) did nothing for me. They were masses of badly contrasted text that I had to force my brain to follow. The things I really loved (Savage Species is a downright great book, for example) were rare. The game didn't excite me. I was old.

But this new Dungeons and Dragons is cool. I loved reading the books. I wanted to dive in and make characters and generate dungeons and get a group together. I want to play this game.

Reading these rules, I want to dream. I want to imagine. I want to build. And I want to fucking massacre me some kobolds.

Reading these rules, I am young.

And that makes me think that maybe... just maybe... it was D&D that was old. And like the phoenix, it could only rebirth itself in fire.

I don't know, man. All I know is, I can't wait for the next hardcover to get published. These three books just aren't enough.

31 Comments

4th edition is made out of gnomes! GNOMES!

Great article, Eric. I'm currently playing in a 3.x and a 4e game, and loving them both.

You know, I've noticed something. I've seen a lot of blog posts saying "4e looks neat! I want to play again!" I've seen very few people (Prodigal, above, is a notable exception) say "4e makes me want to play it rather than (or even in addition to) the 3e game I'm playing now." Which makes me think that 4e has done a great job of pulling in newbies and oldsters who didn't like 3e or 3.5e, but a very poor job at giving current players a reason to even look at the game.
I'm also struck by this:

And there's no excuse for trashing someone because he happened to like a game in practice that you despise in theory.

Which is a nice double weapon, hitting both those who put down Kurtz for liking 4e, as well as Kurtz himself attacking 3e players.

Okay, Get out your red pen, because therre are a number of factual errors that I feel I must correct.

>Thieves are now rogues and are way better at killing than thieving (there's nothing that even says you need to take thief skills).

Actually, all rogues are trained in Thievery and Stealth. And they've been rogues since 3e and thieves were part of the rogue "overclass" in 2e.

>Bards? Gone, with no real sense of whether or not they're going to return.

Bards are in the first Forgotten Realms sourcebook and I think will be reprinted in the PHB2 next year. They are arcane leaders. Also, druids, barbarians and possibly monks will be in PHB2

>Gnomes were being consigned to the Abyss!

The Feywild actually. And the Monster Manual, Because they're monsters. (RAWR!) There are also stats for playing them a PCs.

While 4e is definitely a different game than what Gygax and Arneson created, there is a clear progression from one to the other. The evolutionary links you may not be familiar with are the Book of 9 Swords supplement and the recent Star Wars Saga Edition RPG.

You have talked about in the past how comics need to pull in new young readers instead of relying on the same aging fanbase. D&D is in the exact same boat (with almost the same fanbase) and 4e is designed to do that. I know if I had to choose between a 15 year old customer and a 40 year old one I'd pick the younger 9 times out of 10.

Well... interesting.

The thing that bothers me about the change has nothing to do with the ruleset, it's the stigma of hitching your horse to the "MMORPG" wagon -- I like some of the games. I thought WoW was fun, I'm still pretty enthusiastic about City of Heroes (back after a year of exile!) but the "RPG" part of the game means something... vastly different. Heck, these days game designers are just calling them "online games" and taking out the "RP" portion altogether.

And *that's* the part that carries over for me, in a bad way. And it's not a fair reaction, because the truth is that sitting down with good players and a good DM means that there will be roleplaying regardless of the ruleset. Still, that stigma lingers...

... also, their pricing scheme ("You can get the COMPLETE players handbook in a four-volume set for only $40 each!") really pisses me off. But that's just the way it is...

Like Mr. Wright, I also dislike the fact the game is shifting over to the computer game/MMORPG model. It was one of the massive things I hated about Edition 3.5, which took a spell originally used for scouting and the like, Invisibility, and turned it into a quick "run away" spell with no real value (and likewise did the same to every ability-boosting spell out there).

If I want to play Diablo 2, I'll boot up the old XP-running computer and play it on the computer. I don't need to play Diablo on pen and paper. (Tried that when they came out with the early rules adaptation for 3rd edition, found it wasn't nearly as much fun as the computer game.)

I've not played a RPG in a couple years, after a divorce sundered my old gaming group. But if I were to start gaming again... I think I'd find a group of like-minded people and pull out the old 2nd or 1st edition books. The old school is in many ways the best school. I don't need Feats and Skills and constant roll-playing to have fun. D&D is about roleplaying, first and foremost.

Rob H.

Hmm - making me set up a Typekey account to comment for the first time. Liked the post, Eric - I feel for the loss of your home-brew world.

Regarding 4th edition, I love it. I got burnt out on 3.5 last year, and the new game is full of win in every form. Not only did it steal some smart ideas from other games, both online and pen&paper, it also feels much more like D&D than 3E did. Tight, smart rules, lots of options in combat, melee classes that actually matter past 10th level (my personal favorite, since I play melee classes) . . . all kinds of awesome stuff.

Re: Gnomes and Illusionists - as said above, gnomes are in the monster manual, and they're actually cool to play now - instead of a bad racial stereotype, gnomes are now awesome, tricky, stealthy fey creatures. Illusionists have been promised as a future class, based off the Shadow power-source.

In addition, in the 2 weeks I've been running and playing in 4E games, I've seen no reduction in role-playing, and even a slight increase, since the fighter is no longer doomed to auto-fail when he rolls diplomacy or bluff.

Christopher-
I've always held that the best systems for role playing are those with very few rules focused on actual role playing. That said, there is a very neat (and deeply flawed in the current rendition, expect to see a major update/errata for it) mechanical system to support role playing out complex scenes in the DMG. The skill challenge system is a mechanical framework that can and should be used to support and guide RP (as well as all sorts of other things.) As it stands, it expects the work to work together tactically (the whole of D&D 4.0 makes things much much easier for groups that play together as a cohesive if not unified whole. Reading people's play reviews of the H1 module, it seems that the success and failure of each party hinged mostly on how effectively they worked as a team. If you used the 3.x style a bunch of folks fighting independently in the same room play style, you were fubared. And if there were no leader classes, you were fubared. Leaders are incredibly important in this rendition.) even in non-combat situations. (That said, in the hands of a DM who isn't wanting to put the effort in, it makes skill checks a series of dice rolls without context. Here's what is probably my favorite take on and analysis of what needs changin in skill challenges: http://gloomforge.livejournal.com/12135.html


Eric-
I love the idea that each Deity has his or her own devoted champions who draw their might from their devotion. I've really wanted to play with the concept of a Paladin of Vol ever since I bought the Eberron setting. (Actually I do like the idea of a Lawful Good paladin of Vol too.)

I turned out to have more to say on this, so I posted it to my own blog:
http://cnoocy.livejournal.com/71500.html

My reaction to 4e has been, essentially, "That's nice, dear," in that "humoring a spouse or child" sort of tone.

I mean, it looks nice enough, but I've never been a big fantasy gamer. I played D&D because it was a sort of lingua franca of gaming, but always gravitated towards things like V&V, Hero, Marvel Super-Heroes and so forth. I lost interest with 2e, but gave it a shot with 3e and enjoyed it (although I quickly leaned towards weirder settings like Dragonstar).

Then 3.5 came out and "fixed" a lot of the things I liked about 3.0. But at the same time, Mutants & Masterminds came out with a much more radical take on the 3.0 rules, and I cleaved to that.

So, yeah. 4e seems a nice enough fantasy combat system, but I've got a D20-based SUPERHERO combat system sitting on the table next to my computer, and I'll stick with that, thanks. :) I don't really care if you can't make a Bard (despite playing one in 3e a lot), because Bards and Monks and the like were just stand-ins for supers as far as I was concerned. And if I want heroic-level stuff instead of superheroic, there's always Feng Shui....

other factual errors - there are in point of fact rules for out of combat challenges, or during combat challenges that are non-combat actions -

currently they're slightly draconian, but Skill Challenges are constructed in such a way as to simulate a social win/fail condition or chase or what have you.
anything the battle grid isn't going to really deal with.

also: gnomes are expanded upon in the forgotten realms book.
http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=dnd/drfe/20080616&authentic=true has rules for illusionist powers for the wizard. they are brutal.

and we (and by 'we' i mean those who's jobs require them to seek out something else to think about) knew the bard was back baby because one of the writers posted a love letter to it (well, it was technically about the new 'leaders' but it was full of 'i love the bard so much it's going away only if you kill me and all my freinds')
arcane leader. because leaders are talky, and bards are talky, but it's going to be bards more like el cid or the scarlet pimpernell rather than songy-mic-songinator

and somthing more substantive: 4th ed rocks on socks. i gave up and burned out on 3.5 when runnign my custom world, which was populated by animals and people.
because w/otu monsters it was just ass reeming to come up with npcs....on the plus side i now have legions of 3.5 npcs from level 1 through 15 or so, all on neatly filed and pritned 3x5 (for low levels) and 4x6 (7 pt font) for higher.

and my own world is incompatable with 4th ed, it's not sim enough. but 4th ed is just Over! the! Top! Enough! that I think i could finnaly do Ultima justice.

I guess I'm just old. Nothing about this new game system appeals to me...

That's what I wanted to hear -- A good, solid review, Eric.

Mind you, it's convinced me not to bother with D&D 4th edition, that's what it's done, but it informed me well.

(As for me? I love fantasy, but my favorite game is Castle Falkenstein. D&D has nothing on it. OK, Eberron came close.)

The idea that a ruleset can destroy roleplaying is something that I must admit finding extremely.... silly.

By which I mean that if you want to roleplay, then roleplay, and if you're more interested in rollplay, then rollplay, and if you prefer lolplay, then I dunno, go do something else. I suppose I should mention that I roleplay in WoW, of all places, an environment that is rather unsuited for the task, but you know what? I can make it work.

You can make it work with 4th Ed. I have to agree with the end of your review, Burns. I got excited reading the new books. I wanted to make characters, backstories, campaigns, and everything!

I never managed to make it through the 3.5 books. They seemed unnecessarily complicated and boring. I love the 4th Ed. Books. I love them so much that I will probably actually buy them in supplement to my .pdf copies. To my naive view, 4th Ed has brought the game back to its basics, and that can not be too terrible of a thing. It's a brave new world, ripe for imagination and conquest, and all I need now is a reliable group of fellows (ladies count as fellows, pretend the term is gender-neutral) with whom to experience it.

I think you hit the nail on the head, Eric. Though I technically started D&D back in 2nd ed, I never had much luck getting my contemporaries to play until 3rd edition hit. Though I have a greater fondness for that edition than you from the sounds of it, the parts I found truly novel were those that harkened back to the kookiness of old school d&d. In some sense, I found 3.x to be an odd mishmash of a tactical, grid based combat game with roleplaying elements. I reveled in this, actually, since it provided a fun combat framework that could be draped on whatever story and setting I happened to want to play out. Even if it didn't come together perfectly at times, the rules as written could account for why most things in a fantasy world were the way they were. Commoners could craft items because they put their skillpoints into craft skills. Magic items existed because spellcasters took item creation feats. Undead were the product of necromantic spells that even players could learn, if they wanted to. Heck, anything that couldn't be explained directly by the main rules could be handwaved as a unique prestige class or spell. The rules let the world make sense, and that's what made it a roleplaying game to me, rather than just a hack and slash video game simulation.

Why, some of my fondest memories of the old editions had nothing to do with combat at all. In 2nd edition, the player's handbook gave prices for barnyard animals of all sorts, and provided stats for most of them in the monstrous manual. One of the players in my first game, who in real life had a fondness for animals, realized that they could by a virtual menagerie with an adventurer's starting gold, and did so. She had a couple dozen different animals. And named each one. Another friend, after finishing his first dungeon crawl, was elated that he could now afford a *boat* with the money they had. A freakin' boat! D&D was a way to live out fantasies of being in another world, and interacting with it in ways one either couldn't or wouldn't do in real life.

D&D 4e has done away with all that. It is a game about combat. And, after reading through the PHB, I have to say: it looks like a hell of a lot of a fun. The rules have been simplified (likely meaning no more hunting through books to find some obscure rule or another), character advancement unified (no more obscure combination of feats, classes and powers from six or seven different books which can create a kobold capable of murdering the gods at 10th level), and combat streamlined to be about tactics, teamwork, and doing damage.

But, as Eric mentioned, the way powers work now calls to mind a MMORPG's UI icons, complete with cooldown timers. Wizards aren't reclusive sages who live off in towers discovering the secrets of the world while making macabre magical experiments and monster, they do AOE damage and inflict status ailments with their at-will, per-encounter, and daily powers. You can't cast an acid arrow more than once a day- that's ludicrous! And likewise, certain skills and other non-magical abilities are limited; you can only feint in combat or bluff for a distraction to hide once per encounter. Because... the gods say so?

The rules look like they will make a fantastically fun game. But it isn't D&D. It isn't trying to be a fantasy world simulator; it's a hack and slash game. Once I was able to stop being bothered by the fact that it wasn't the game I knew, I started enjoying it. And now, I'm really jonesing to play.

You can't cast an acid arrow more than once a day- that's ludicrous! And likewise, certain skills and other non-magical abilities are limited; you can only feint in combat or bluff for a distraction to hide once per encounter. Because... the gods say so?

Well, random limits on spell frequency has always been part of D&D. I blame Jack Vance.

I agree that the rules seem more combat-oriented than before, but I think there's still plenty of room for roleplaying in there. I hope so, because I'm about to run a campaign and I don't think there'll be that much fighting in it. The trick is to make clerics and wizards and fighters still feel special when they're not using their powers, I think.

I haven't looked at the new edition yet.

I'd have to say it's coming at a good time. Pretty much everyone I know is getting burnt out on 3.5, and a lot of folks will probably buy this new game for the sheer novelty value. I'm thinking of getting it myself.

I'm not sure I ever really liked 3.x. I was impressed with the fact that it appeared to be designed rather than accumulated, like the earlier iterations of D&D, but it had a lot of frustrating stuff in it, and the attempts at patching it always seemed to go in the wrong direction from what I wanted.

Oh well, if I want something different, I'll play something different. That's what the big bookshelf full of games behind me is for.

Lore Sjöberg has written an amusing column on some gamers' reactions to D&D 4th ed.

A couple of thoughts on 4th Editions, distilled and finalized here:

1) I'm not sure if 4e will make a good financial sense for Wizards, and that I mean they are trying to appeal to the ten year-old who knows about RPG only from the computer genre of the MMORPG. Two antidotes to this: after the first few days where desire for the trio spiked, apparently it has settled down considerably as according to Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Also, I talked to a lot of local game shoppes around the state, and the discussion was the same, little if not much interest in 4th edition with little sale of the book so far. The owner of one store told me how disappointed she was in pre-ordering of the set: only about twenty ordered when she was expecting forty or more, and not as many are ordering after the set has released. I also know at my local Borders, many who bought the book have come back and decided to return the book. It maybe my state has a lot of older 1st and 2nd edition aficionados. I'm not sure.

2) I feel the biggest problem so far is that the classes are not only so cookie cutter, they all have virtually the same powers and how the powers and class abilities differ seem very minutia so far. Every class has some semblance of healing, whether it is a surge or some other healing aspect. There are "rituals" which were the usual spells clerics, wizards, and the like had. They are just put into a category where they try to appear to be more powerful, but take longer to manifest during a game. So far, I don't really see how a wizard and warlock are that much different.

3) The other thing that I have a problem with is how spare the rules, spells, monsters, and everything else is. Part of it is because you already know there will be a Player's Handbook 2 with the Sorcerors, Druids, Bards, Barbarians, and Psions put into it. There is going to be a book out in November with all of the magical items that aren't in the Player's Handbook (note, in past editions those goodies were only in the DMG), and presumably, the rules as to how to develop your own set that would work within their rules. This is like dribbleware but for books, and it annoys me that you know already that you've been given maybe a quarter of what the complete game is going to be like.

4th edition is really an overreaction to all of the problems of 3rd and 3.5, as well as noting the success of their transition books such as the Tome of Magic, Book of the Nine Swords and the like. The upcoming books in the coming year will only fill out the game until you run into the same problem as in 3.0: too many options: classes, spells, and the like.

4) And because of this overreaction and deliberate attempt to connect to the mmorpg generation, it makes a clear disconnect from the past histories of the books. And it will get worse for old-school officandos. Think what they did to the rules books are bad? Wait until the new Forgotten Realms book, where something will happen akin to a Zero-Hour/the new "Mystery" storyline that the comic world has done to try to regenerate interest in the D.C. pantheon.

Will this be enough to draw in younger fans? I'm not sure. I'm not sure because I'm not sure if the causal younger fans will want to play something they can find already in a online rpg game that already looks fairly exciting. Also with the struggles the economy is having, I don't know if now would have been the time to have a new game to try to sell (I realize Wizards probably couldn't control that, but $30-$35 for what appears to be slimmer books seems too high at this time. Forgotten Realms and Eberron might be $40, but that's just speculation.) to an audience more aware of Wizard's probably overall business strategy.

At any rate, I'm probably not going to buy a set until 2009 when more supplements are out, I know what is heading down the pipe and I'll have a better idea how the supplements fill out what seems to be at this point, a very sparse fantasy world.

Re "dribbleware" for books…

I seem to recall that 2nd Ed. didn't have all of those things in its original player's handbook either, though. I remember huge shelves full of sourcebooks with faux-leather covers, blank but for the D&D logo on the front, that added things like psionicists—to this day I have very little idea what a D&D psionicist would be like, because I never saw any of those books. :P

So far it's not looking like 4ed will be quite that bad, but who knows?

2) I feel the biggest problem so far is that the classes are not only so cookie cutter, they all have virtually the same powers and how the powers and class abilities differ seem very minutia so far. Every class has some semblance of healing, whether it is a surge or some other healing aspect. There are "rituals" which were the usual spells clerics, wizards, and the like had. They are just put into a category where they try to appear to be more powerful, but take longer to manifest during a game. So far, I don't really see how a wizard and warlock are that much different.

everyone has one heal they can use per encounter, called second wind that takes up a healing surge.
you only get x healing surges per day.

looking at the book, only magic items and 'leaders' get abilities that allow people to spend healing surges or heal w/out spending a healing surge.

other classes may ahve ways to generate temporary hit poitns, and warlocks can get some health back, but aside from that one surge, not so much on the self healing.

for the difference between classes please checkout the ENworld charop boards or the rpg.net d20 forum.

as for pre-sales: its' a sad fact but right now why would i go to my NSFLGS when I can pre0-order through amazon and get 33% off?

FLGS need to change buisness models or they too will be gone the way of the public telephone booth.

Miyaa, my experience doesn't really bear out your first two points.

My college gaming club participated in the World-Wide D&D Games Day event, and it was one of the busiest events I've ever seen. People who hadn't played Dungeons and Dragons since second edition showed up ready to create a character. My local game store sold out of PHBs. I pre-ordered my game in March, and Amazon didn't have enough copies in stock to ship my 3-book set on release. People are definitely buying the books and playing the game--they may not stick around for more, but they're giving it a try.

And as far as all the classes being alike: Have you played the game? Or are you just judging based on a read-through? Because the classes resemble each other in the way that whipped cream resembles shaving foam--They seem very similar, but that's just because you've yet to have a taste.

Admittedly, arscott, it's just from several read-through of the book. And I have heard that a lot from people who have played the series, that those little differences do really stand out. I won't be able to play it for a while with a group.

And like I said, my evidence was antidotal, I'll have to hear what others say as the new stuff comes out. And I'll reserve my right to completely change my opinion as more stuff is published.

It's not that I'm not completely against 4th edition; it's written better and you'll have fewer erratas to issue out. I guess I'm going to be skeptic until I find out more of what did they have in mind with what they decided to leave out until later.

Dave:
^_^ Mutants and Masterminds? It's the only D20 Superhero game I know and it's definitely one of the better RPGs on the market, although it has all of the pitfalls and more of the usual D20 system wherein dice rolls cover a bit too much of a wide range.

Regarding one bad apple spoiling the barrel, it can definitely happen. The "updated version" takes over from the original, either by taking over the mindshare or simply removing the source so that the old slowly moulders away. Try finding some classic car parts, or the original HP Lovecraft books (rather than the ones revised by his publisher to fit more with the publisher's follow-up books). Or heck, take a kid and ask them about the Hunchback of Notre Dame and see how many of them think he had singing gargoyles accompanying him and had a happy ending.

Lastly, regarding 4E mechanics, my only exposure so far has been introductory adventures, which seem to be making 4E look worse than it is. 100+ HP CR3 encounters? Monsters who can knock you prone and get a free attack every time you get up, said attack of which can knock you prone again? Someone didn't try playtesting the adventures enough, I think...

Sean:
The animated statues were hard opponents, and a lot of DMs didn't read the DMG before running them (this should have been in the adventure text.) You are supposed to warn characters about attacks that can be sprung on them when they take actions that wouldn't usually incur "smack you down" attacks. (you should warn a downed character that the statue seems ready to stomp him back down if he gets back up within reach of its feet.)

As for the 100+ hp (or the 200 HP Solo Brute) cr 3 encounters, well, that is actually a part of the game structure. The monsters are way more durable now then they were in 3.x, but so are the PCs. The White Dragon was supposed to be for parties who had survived the previous dungeon (and thus had shown the tactical cohesion to take on a number of difficult to hard encounters anyway) and it was supposed to have a fair chance of taking out a party of five. It was demonstrating that the much more powerful low level characters weren't quite the unstoppable machines that they were being accused of being. (At DDEx, the big boss fights were actually harder than this one, with a fairly low (but non-zero) party success rate. From reading the net, I'm hearing about a 50% win rate against a 3rd level solo brute, which is actually pretty good for a 5 man party.)

Heh, that reminds me; our DM didn't bring the animated statues into our fight because we spent so much time debating on how to manage getting the captives without triggering the trap. Finally, he had the disembodied spirit just tell us to grab the kids and run so we'd stop looking for appropriately weighted boulders.

Needless to say, the roof caved in on the statues.

I have playtested alot of 4e. I find it funny that people complain that the new edition is not as conducive to roleplaying. What I have noticed, is that it simply makes roleplaying much more in the hands of the players. The rules feel much less intrusive with regards to roleplaying. Thats been my experience anyway. If you needed the games rules to help you RP, then you need 3.5

I have a LOT of time and money invested in 3.5. Having just finished moving, I am now acutely aware of how much my collection of D&D books actually weighs. I'm not about to stop playing it anytime soon, if only because I'm in several long term campaigns that probably won't finish for years, and are extremely unlikely to convert. I also have a shiny new set of 4e books and a stack of partially filled in character sheets because, lets face it, 4e is pretty darn good.
Sure, it lacks a mechanical basis for a lot of the fluff and social interaction that differentiates a RPG from a tactical exercise, but that's fine. That sort of thing should be played rules light anyhow. I hope to see good rules for illusionists and bards in the near future, gnomes can burn in the Feywild for all I care. I banned them long ago, if only to get rid of certain annoying tendencies among those who played them.

I replayed Keep on the Shadowfell again yesterday and it went better. Part of the problem before was that the introductory rules never defined area attacks, leaving us to think that Scorching Burst was a one-square attack. Once we learned that it was an area attack, things went more smoothly. We still had up to half of our party lying on the ground, bleeding out at any given time, but we survived everything including the 108 HP goblin (it helped that we rolled better than last time so that we weren't swarmed before he showed up. Although I think our DM also delayed his arrival until we'd cleaned things up a bit better). I'm still on the curmudgeonly side of sticking with what I know, but I no longer bear quite as much hatred towards it. I mean, Mutants & Masterminds is still better but hey, that's pretty much a given.

I replayed Keep on the Shadowfell again yesterday and it went better. Part of the problem before was that the introductory rules never defined area attacks, leaving us to think that Scorching Burst was a one-square attack. Once we learned that it was an area attack, things went more smoothly. We still had up to half of our party lying on the ground, bleeding out at any given time, but we survived everything including the 108 HP goblin (it helped that we rolled better than last time so that we weren't swarmed before he showed up. Although I think our DM also delayed his arrival until we'd cleaned things up a bit better). I'm still on the curmudgeonly side of sticking with what I know, but I no longer bear quite as much hatred towards it. I mean, Mutants & Masterminds is still better but hey, that's pretty much a given.

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