The Seven-Sided Die

The most reasonable discussion of D&D 4e I've ever read

Posted Thursday July 23, 2009 at 08:01 AM

… is the comments on a post by the talented artist Ursula Vernon.[1. Why yes, I do have things I should rather be doing at this time of night…]

I was tempted to comment, but I didn't want to disturb the lovely non-fightyness going on. Anything I could say, positive or negative, seems to have already been said by someone else, and in a much more reasonable and brief way.

So, for those of you burned by the edition wars: go, read, and enjoy the soothing balm of reasonable discourse where people live and let live.

I think the difference is that everyone there is commenting, knowing that they're having this chat in Ursula's "home", and that everyone with whom they are chatting is a fellow respected guest.

Comments (4)


Thursday July 23, 2009 at 03:13 PM

I like D&D, of any edition, first and foremost for the theoretical side, that is, concept optimisation. (Which is not necessarily the same as cut-and-dried minmaxing.)

4E is a superb piece of work as regards the solution to the assumption that no-one wants to be absolutely useless in combat when the system encourages fights. It is an abysmal failure in encouraging believable worlds as backdrop for play, not least because of the inane economic restrains placed on the players.

But in my opinion this is not the fault of 4E: the assumptions underlying the creation and distribution of magical items have always been the most absurd part of any edition of D&D, as a character's ability to hit level-appropriate opponents with mundane weapons actually goes down with every level. And that's my real beef with D&D.


Thursday July 23, 2009 at 05:09 PM

I agree with almost everything you just wrote. 4e is very good at what it does, which is encourage fights and then make everyone effective in a fight. I do disagree that the assumptions underlying the distribution and creation of magic items is a problem with all editions of D&D, though. Can I assume that you started with 3e, judging by that?

The thing I reject is the assumption that playing (A)D&D involves encountering "level appropriate opponents". It was 3e that introduced this concept, and it's one of the core problems I have with WotC's flavours of D&D.

2e and earlier did have the concept of measuring beasties against the PCs (1e had "monster levels" to help with that), but it also assumed that PCs would frequently meet creatures that were way out of their league either above or below. There was no guarantee that, just because the party has met some hostiles, that the hostiles would be defeatable. I find that much more believable. It also eliminates the need to have magic items given away like candy, and other problems introduced by the "need" for balance.

On a related note, Propagandroid has a great article explaining the problem with the Culture of Plusses that 3e created, over at the Gamer Dome. Without the culture of plusses, a +1 magic dagger is a big deal, so you (the GM) don't need to give out so much treasure just to keep the party at a "level appropriate" combat effectiveness.

But yeah, in general I agree.


Thursday July 23, 2009 at 08:23 PM

I think the reason that discussion was civil and non-judgmental (at Livejournal of all places!) was because no one appeared bothered by opinions that did not match their own. In my limited experience, it seems that most discussions about 4E fall into disarray because some people in the pro-4E camp can't accept that some people just don't like 4E, and vice versa.


Thursday July 23, 2009 at 10:43 PM

Yes, I realize I was vague -- "all editions" above should be read as "all editions I had chance to experience in play". The closest to AD&D I've come were Baldur's Gate and Torment back in the day.

I'm actually torn on the concept of enemies that are appropriate to the level of the player characters. I like that many games have picked up on the idea of "Minions" as a way to add cannon fodder, since that is a large part of what makes heroic action, well, Heroic.

Unfortunately, there are no mechanics for opponents that are above and beyond the abilities of the PCs, insofar as open combat is concerned -- you either run it by the numbers and risk deaths, or you skip the mechanics and deal with the situation dicelessly. I often wonder if and how a sort of compromise could be worked out between the two -- a mechanic or framework for "out of your league" confrontations that lends itself well to the narrative. Because with those, I could build situations like those at the heart of "Shadow of the Colossus" into a game at my table.

Interesting link in the comment, by the way. Personally I don't think diversified subsystems do a game any good, or at least any game with a focus on heroism. (Though any mechanic is better than the d20 mechanic, I'll agree.) It's why I like FATE so much these days. I recently started tinkering with a port of 7th Sea to FATE mechanics (you might have seen, not sure how much time you still spend on good ol' LJ), and now my group agreed to switch systems. Which means I get to test my ideas in actual play. Whee! :)