D&D 4th edition more thoughts

We went through character creation last night with C&C and OneOther1 so I’ve got a little bit more experience with the 4th edition PHB now.  It feels a little chaotic and unordered, certainly during character creation you’re all over the place, reading stuff at the end of the book in the middle of character creation, etc.  Maybe it’s because we’ve come from D&D -> AD&D -> AD&D 2nd Edition -> D&D 3rd Edition and we just find the format sort of jars.

One thing that I did finally nail down – I keep thinking ‘bah I can’t find the rule on xxxxyism this rulebook sucks’, and then it dawns on me there is no rule[tm].  For example, I was really struggling to find the rules on multiple attacks – until of course it dawned on me you don’t get any.  Sure, if you have a power it may let you attack more than one thing at a time, but there’s no concept of native multiple basic attacks2.  Likewise haste, took me a while to realise it wasn’t there.  Two-weapon fighting, it looks like you just get a bonus to your damage, and you can swing whichever weapon you feel like, but never both in the same round.  So there’s a bunch of what I would consider core elements from 2nd and 3rd edition which have been removed (in the name of simplicity) and it takes a while to get used to it.

It also only dawned on me half way through character creation that during combat, you’re going to be using your at-will powers virtually all the time.  It’s going to be a rare moment that you decide (as a melee character) to make a basic attack.  For example, fighters get to pick two from four at will attacks which are basically all at least equal to their base attack but usually superior in some way.  There’s no reason you’d make a basic attack unless you’re forced to (opportunity attack for example).  As a fighter, you’re going to be cleaving (hit your regular mob, do small amount of damage to an adjacent-to-you target) or reaping strike (do damage even if you miss) for example.  I quite like this, but it’s clear where the source for this change comes from (more in a sec).

Without having fought any combat yet I can’t say how much I’m going to like the even more square-based positional tactical side of it.  A lot of the powers for melee characters (and some for casters) really exploit positional situations (adjacent creatures, moving targets around, swapping positions), and if you don’t run combat in a way that enforces and benefits from that positional element a lot of powers become substantially weaker3.  To me it feels like it takes away some of the freedom and imagination from combat; some people might say that it ensures everything is fair, but if the aim is to tell a collaborative story a good GM will ensure the combat is smooth, exciting, fair and still free.  However, we’ll see how it plays out.

The computer-based RPG (and MMORPG / MMOG) influences in 4th edition are clear.  Balanced classes, no absolute requirement for a cleric, the breakdown of classes into party roles (defender, leader, controller, striker, or tank, healer, crowd control and dps as most people know them), the idea of attacks based on powers rather than just swinging a weapon are all clearly derived from the recent popular MMOG’s.  This isn’t a complaint, it’s clear that Wizards are hoping players who have discovered roleplaying on-line will move to paper-based if they can find some common ground.  It’s just an observation.

The deep irony is that paper based RPG’s are really the grandfather of the modern online RPG.  It’s interesting to see that cross-fertilisation and see things come full circle.  Those of us who remember loading up The Bard’s Tale in 1987 on our Spectrums or C64’s will no doubt enjoy that.

  1. yeh, I hate when people use acronyms, nick names and aliases to hide identity as well, but I also like making sure I respect people’s privacy []
  2. let me know if I’m wrong []
  3. DM’s are going to have to work hard during fights with lots of creatures to ensure the bad guys take full benefit of positional tactics, it’s a much tougher situation for the DM, imo []