After playing, more thoughts on 4E

Ken over at the Rusty Battle Axe asked in a comment to a post below:

What is your opinion of 4e now? I just read your camping trip post from last August and was wondering how you would describe your experience. In our area, if I decide to join an existing group as a player, chances are I’ll be playing 4e as that seems to be the norm.

That trip last summer (my last vacation to date–sigh) was pretty pivotal because it on one hand made me really come to appreciate some of the OSG stuff, but at the same time ended up sealing my fate in terms of 4E. But to the question, what do I think of 4E?

On the upside the players get to play high-fantasy high-powered characters, which at least for my group is the more popular option than playing the low-powered PC’s of other editions. e.g. at first level, a PC elven warden can hit things and gain hit points back, release a powerful thunderburst of sound bowling over everyone around him, and transform into a tree. At first level. And as I said, that floats my players’ boats.

It’s also very tactical insofar as each player needs to cooperate with the others in order to survive, a factor that does harken a bit back to earlier editions moreso than the 3.X generation. Double-digit hit points and eleven healing surges actually don’t tip the scale in favor of the PC’s as much as one might think, mostly because the monsters are pretty tooled up as well. There have been many cases in my campaign already where the PC’s barely squeaked through, mostly because they let me control the battle.

As a DM, the games’ cookbook-format for encounter building does make throwing stuff together easy.

On the “it could be considered a plus or a minus” category, there are the power cards. Power cards are good in that it makes novice players not have to really wrack their brains about what they need to do when it is their turn.  They just pick a card and go.  Good?  Bad?  Depends on what you appreciate in terms of style.

Now the downside.  It’s a skirmish wargame.  I’m sorry, you can talk all you want about how there really is roleplaying and it’s a consequence of bad GMing, but I’d take you to task on it.  It’s a skirmish wargame, and I can prove it by just pointing to the amount of space dedicated to which kind of topic.  In the DMG, here is the crux of the material:

  • Encounter building
  • Treasure rewards
  • Designing “quests” (which is just a string of encounters)
  • Adjudicating skill challenges, or if you prefer, “roll-playing”

Now again, I’m not necessarily saying that this means I should burn my 4E books, but it does mean I am calling a spade a spade.  When you play 4E you will spend most of your time moving a miniature around on a grid evoking daily, encounter, and at-will powers.  Doing that can be fun, and frankly it is fun.

I guess that’s the bottom line: I’m having fun, and fun is good.  I’m not having fun playing a OSG-style roleplaying game, but I’m having fun.  I actually thought about this a few days ago but really right now I’m basically playing what I can, rather than what I want.  Thankfully what I can play (Warhammer, Morrow Project, and 4E) I like, but if I had my druthers I might consider something else.

But since I don’t, what’s the point?


  1. See… I just don’t GET this. At all.

    At what point do the AD&D books say, “and this is where your PC’s stop to RP for a bit.” Or “This cursed ring makes your players talk to each other”? Or “dwarves hate magic, so you can’t play a wizard even if you were not raised in a dwarven community”?

    You have, at best, a spell that gives you +5 to Diplomacy checks or whatever. But why would you, as the guy running the game, allow the player to go, “Dude casts the spell, I roll a natural 20. I don’t need to RP that, do I?”.

    Yes, 4th Ed COMBAT is skirmish based, and that’s well and good, but at what point does that help OR hurt the players from talking to each other in character during rounds? You are playing 4th, so now the whole delightful Gimli/Legolas “I killed more Orcs” thing just doesn’t happen now that you are playing this system?

    • First, my response to Rusty from from the perspective of “how is 4E similar or different from early editions of D&D?” as well my general impression of the game.

      I’m not the first person to have issues with the skill challenges (in fact WotC has already provided revised rules regarding this section). I think skill challenges make sense when you’re doing things like a complex or particularly challenging physical situation like climbing a mountain or keeping a ship afloat in a storm. I don’t particularly like it when it is used in roleplaying situations like “you have to talk the Duke into letting you into his library. You need five successes before you get ten failures.” This goes into the whole issue of rolling dice when you get into roleplaying, which deserves a whole post into itself.

      My upshot is, whether you like it or not, the idea of each player taking turns on initiative to roll against skills like Bluff, Intimidate, or Diplomacy in order to complete a challenge is a part of 4E that wasn’t in earlier editions. Do you, the DM, have to use it? No, and I don’t. I’ll do skill challenges to portray things like “disable the bomb before it goes off” and the like, but I’ll leave roleplaying to actual roleplaying.

  2. I am not about to answer for anyone else but my understanding of this post is that is not a matter of either/or, it is a matter of emphasis. And my take is that the emphasis is skirmishing, not as much on role-playing (not it is excluded). But that is just my take. I also understood this post as (1) a response to my question and (2) not a comprehensive review of the 4e game system. But that is just my understanding, which may or may not count for much.

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