A great article about those rascally Editions

A while back I wrote about how I thought 4E was really a different game entirely rather than an expansion on earlier editions.  A lot of this was based on things like starting abilities and the vast number of classes and races available.  But in browsing the RPG blogosphere I came across this.

It’s a great article but I’ll give my own synopsis. Essentially the writer makes the case that the underlying motivation for characters have shifted from the classic “I’m in it to get rich and powerful by killing things and taking their stuff” (leading one commentator to remark that D&D characters appear to be sociopaths) to a model of “I’m a superhero in a fantasy realm.”  First-level PC’s can wield a variety of magical abilities and superhero-FX stunts like slamming the ground really hard to make everyone fall down.

But here’s the 4E genre disconnect.  In 4E you still need to kill things and take their stuff.  In fact, it is a critical part of the game engine.  To put it plainly: the game designers presume that it is normative that PC’s will pick up magical weapons. armor, and other paraphenalia regularly if not in every gamign session and have scaled “Encounter Levels” accordingly.  So the game isn’t really “Fantasy Superheroes” but more “Fantasy Superheroic Muggers.”  Batman defeats Captain Cold, and then straps Captain Cold’s freeze gun onto his utility belt.  It’s that conflation about avarice and heroism that sort of blurs the line.

See, which I think that the generic dungeon-crawl genre is heroic, it has that King Solomon’s Mines or perhaps more appropriately Conan feel to it.  Most D&D campaigns have the median alignment (in reality or on paper) of “Neutral Good”: vaguely altuistic self-interest.

All of this is a rambing way of me processing as I bounce around trying to figure out which edition I want to use next.  As I think about 4E encounters, I’m thinking more and more like I did when I was GMing Champions  (archvillain, principal henchmen, flunkies) and less like I normally do when I’m putting together dungeon scenarioes.  Actually, the team-on-team tactics of 4E remind a lot more of Champions than 4E.  Defender becomes “brick”, Striker becomes “blaster”, controller becomes “psionicist”, etc.

And I’m really wondering if that is what I want scratching my RPG itch, or if I’d rather go with the pulp-level exploration of earlier editions instead.


  1. I agree that 4e feels much too much like superheroes or maybe anime as opposed to Fantasy gaming. If you are going to consider older school gaming I’d suggest going to paizo.com and buying a copy of D&D Rules Cyclopedia and seeing if truly old school rules are more of what your looking for.

    About the only thing in 4e I really like are the ideas of the skill challenges, though I think I’ll be using them more in modern and sci-fi games then anything fantasy. I just feel that fantasy is better suited to systems with classes as so many of the settings are worlds where you are born into a life rather then choosing one.

  2. Which one works best for you? Ive been tinkering with original D&D and havent explored those yet.

  3. It all depends on what you like in your D&D.

    Castles & Crusades is essentially AD&D 2nd Ed. with d20 tweaks (like an increasing armor class and a feature 4E ripped off of adding levels to checks). They feature half-orcs, assassins, and a feature new classes like the knight, who serves as the “team buffer” that the Warlord in 4E now does. It also has a pseudo-skill resolution based on attribute checks (called their “SIEGE engine”). Magess and clerics possess 0-level spells.

    Basic Fantasy RPG goes further back, having only four classes and four races, plus incorporates saving throws. It does, however, incorporate the odd modern concept like the increased armor class, but you’re getting the magic user with only one spell again. It’s also free, which is nice.

    Labyrinth Lord goes all the way back to OD&D with decreasing armor classes and “race as class” so you’re playing a 2nd level elf, period. It’s pretty straightforward as a retro-edition, with the odd rule tightened up or clarified, but not actually changed. Also free.

    I’ve played C&C the most, even more than 3.X, but right now I’m wildly vacillating between which edition I want to do next. This is bad, because I’m supposed to start running a new game in April at my local gaming store and really need to settle on a system.

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