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.