Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Three reasons I'm staying out of the 4E fray

So for all the hype, wailing, gnashing of teeth, criticism, and praise I've seen heaped upon the newest version of Dungeons and Dragons, I've yet to join the fray. Why? I haven't so much as glanced at a single page of the 4E rules, let alone purchased a copy.

Until now I've kept up with each new iteration of D&D: Starting with Moldvay basic back in 1981-82 or so, I played that for a short while and then switched to AD&D 1E, dabbled briefly in 2E, went on a prolonged roleplaying break, then resumed playing again in 2001 after picking up 3E. Currently I play in two 3.5E campaigns with the same group. So basically, I have purchased at least the core books of every edition of D&D that TSR and WOTC have published since 1981. It stands to reason that I should own a copy of fourth edition, at least for the curiousity factor. But I don't.

Why? I'm not sure myself. A touch of apathy, perhaps. But more likely its due to the following three reasons:

1. 3E is far from played out in our group. Our group has alternated two campaigns for seven years or so, but with our busy schedules we probably average one game every three weeks. In this time I've managed to advance one character (an elven ranger) up to level six, and another character (a human figher/rogue) up to ninth level. That's it. Not only have we not played a truly high level campaign, but we haven't even tried out all the character classes. Heck, I've never cast a spell in anger in 3E.

2. From what I've read, 4E seems like a pretty radical departure from the D&D I know. It still sounds like fun, just a different kind of fun: A lot more like a tactical miniatures exercise than past editions. Since I like miniatures games--and enjoy breaking out the battlemat in our 3.5 game--I'd probably like playing 4E. But whether or not it would scratch my D&D/roleplaying itch remains to be seen.

3. Wizards of the Coast's business strategy to release a regular stream of "core" rulebooks. This is the one that really irks me. Our group has gotten 7+ years of enjoyment out of 3E playing nothing but straight three book core, with all classes taken right from the Player's Handbook. I'm a bit uneasy about having to buy a stream of "core" player's handbooks to keep up with the rules. This may not bother hard-core D&Ders, or folks who want maximum character options, but for casual/occasional gamers like me it's a major turn-off. For example, I enjoy purchasing modules, but if they can't be used unless you own multi-volume core rules I won't be bothered.


wolfkahn said...

I hear where you're coming from. I couldn't resist buying them, more out of tradition than anything else.

Point two is an understatement! I think Palladium Fantasy is closer to 1st through 3.5th D&D than 4th edition is. I wonder if they were trying to make it easier to translate into board games?

Point three is so true. This is the first time I've bought an edition of the three core rulebooks and could immediately anticipate supplements. Players handbook two already has obvious entries (Druid, Barbarian, Bard, Monk, etc) and the Monster Manual is deliberately incomplete.

There are some very good ideas in 4th ed, but IMHO they are overwhelmed by the mistakes and overreaching greed.

Brian Murphy said...

Hi Wolfkahn, there's no denying that WOTC has its act together from a purely business standpoint--they seem to have developed a game predicated on repeated purchases of "core" books, miniatures, powers cards, and an electronic monthly subscription of supplemental material. If this was purely supplemental it wouldn't bother me one bit, but the problem is that WOTC plans on putting out a bunch of additional "core" books. When the definition of core gets diluted such that you need these supplements in order to play a future module or to understand an NPCs' powers in a future sourcebook, you become obligated to buy them.

As a consumer I'm not a fan of this approach, but I understand how it makes sense business-wise.

James Maliszewski said...

"Core" in WotC parlance means "essential." Mind you, when half or more of all rule books published are designated "essential," that stretches the definition of the word beyond the breaking point. But what we're looking at is the resurrection of the serialized rules strategy we saw in mid-90s RPGs, but done more slickly and with extra bells and whistles. I anticipate it'll work well for approximately 18 months, after which sales of 4e "core" books will plummet to below v.3.5 levels.