Anything wrong with 4th Edition?!

Author: Andrew /

You know, after 3rd edition (more so 3.5, 3 didn't last long) I've gained a lot of respect for 4th edition. It's not that I think it's flawless because I think flawless games don't exist. If there was nothing to improve, word would get out, people would buy said "perfect game" and the entire industry would collapse. All that said, in this post, I'm going to try to touch on a few things about the game that I think could be a little better and could possibly be fixed.

Now, first off I just want to say that most of these things, while being flaws, also aren't really game breaking things. Also, 4th edition is a big game and I can't claim to know every little thing so there may be things about it that I don't so much know about. If that's the case, I'm eager to hear about what you might think needs a change.

Feats. There's nothing so much wrong with feats, in that they do what they're supposed to but the thing that does bug me a bit is that they have much less impact on your character than in 3rd edition. There were many characters I played in 3.5 where they were absolutely centered around feats. I would build a character all the way to max lvl (20, back in the day) and I would figure out just what I wanted my character to be able to to and then I would figure out what feats it would take to get that to happen. They had a lot of influence.

I guess that that leads me to an overall greater concern, which I suppose the feat issue is tied into (and also let it be known that Wizards is working on many ways to remedy this, they just took a steady pace out the gate and are now working on tweaking the formula). The main issue is that the game lacks some customization. You are your class. Now, you can put flavor text to it and make it your own but there's much less room for "Take a level of fighter, take three levels of rogue, etc". Now, multi-classing has been taken WAAY down and, oddly enough, I'm pleased about this.

It's a sort of bittersweet thing for me. As a game design major, I learned that one of the base keys to a good game is balance. You need to have balance or a game will fall apart and fail to sustain itself or, at the least, it will run into problems. In 3rd edition, you could multi-class 'til you were blue in the face. You could take a level of fighter, a level of rogue, three levels of ranger and two levels of monk and then one more level of fighter, if you wanted. What this allowed players to do was look at the character classes more like available abilities and you would get power-gamers who were intent on making characters that could blow anything out of the water, taking this route and creating characters who could outdo any other player.

This, in turn, would take the spotlight from the whole party and make it a solo act because the simple fact was that this fella with his mutant super soldier was just far and away better than the other group members. With 4th edition, it limits this and VERY MUCH restricts multiclassing by making multiclass feats where, by taking a multiclass feat, you get a specified ability so that you can get the flavor but you won't break the game.

They're also bringing in "hybrid" characters, where they have slightly watered down character classes that are made to go along with another one; so that you COULD say "I'm half fighter, half wizard" and you really would be, instead of being a fighter who could cast a little magic missle once in a while. I think this is a step in the right direction but I hope they make a bit of a users guide to how to make a hybrid character because, looking at the specific rules about it thus far, if someone tried to make one without REALLY knowing what they're doing, they could severely nerf themselves.

(nerf is a gaming term meaning "to weaken". As an example, think of a real football, and then a Nerf football.)

So, I think that 4th edition is much better balanced and, therefore, a better game. That said, I think that with the fantastic balance, we're offered fewer options that feel like they can significantly alter and impact the character (save maybe paragon paths and epic destinies but those aren't much different than the idea of prestige classes in 3rd ed). Instead, we have more subtle changes with feats, amongst other things, taking a back seat within the new system. As an artist, I really enjoy customization and the ability to tweak every little "this and that" about my character and 4th is a little light on that. That said, being a game designer myself, I understand.

Also, I think something else I'm not too thrilled with are the weapons and armor in the game. I really enjoyed finding armor and weapons that fit a theme or worked to build up a certain part of my character. In 3rd edition, I played a drow (dark elf) wizard and over the game, had him hunt down items that increased his intelligence. Everything from a circlet to a robe to a ring and more. He was a knowledge hound and increasing this part of him not only made him more powerful, but also played into his character.

Weapons and armor in 4th edition seem undervalued, or at least understated. I look through them and feel a little ho-hum. I loved being able to have a magic weapong and give it attributes instead of having a weapon that does this one thing, or that one thing. I also feel that too many of the weapons are dependent on critical hits or use of a power. I think that a lot of these weapons need to have a constant effect outside just adding their enhancement bonus. Now, some weapons give an at-will power that can be used all the time or certain properties but it seems like the real meat is in what big output an item can give and it seems like they really tugged on the reins with this. That said, they're not THAT bad, it'd just be nice to feel a bit more punch. (Also, this is coming more from a DMing perspective than a player's perspective due to the fact that I've been able to do WAY more of the former, and much much less of the latter).

I think that that's about all I can think of right now. There are some things like perhaps undervalued skills (such as intimidate) but I think that is more a DM problem than a system problem, and also one beef I've had with D&D in general is that skills are generally tied only to one attribute. I would like to see skills be able to be tied to a different attribute. You can intimidate someone with a feat of strength just as much as you can by talking a good game. I'd like to see skill be able to be attached to other attributes.

This might make for a good houserule:

"In a single use of a skill, a player may choose use any attribute with a skill in a given situation, not just the one listed with the skill; so long as it can be legitimately justified and is accepted by the DM."

Heh, I had more to say than I thought I would; how 'bout that? Guess I just tend to focus much more on the positives. Well, hope this was informative and gives you all out there some things to roll around in your heads! I'm sure there are many more things people would like to say about 4th that they'd like to see changed but if I kept trying to nitpick, this post could go forever.

So, as always, a huge thank you to all my readers; without you, there wouldn't be so much point to all this. Thank you for all your comments in the last post and just know that I made notes on all of them and intend to hit them all. This was the most popular so it deserved spot number one. Keep the ideas flowing and thanks for all of your support, I love hearing from you all!



silent stone said...

Off the top of my head, I can only think of one thing about 4E that bugs me, and that is the way they handled languages. Every PC knows Common, some know one or two other languages. If you want more, take the Linguist feat...and instantly master three languages at once.

Yeah, if you are, for example, an eladrin, and you want to learn Dwarven, you're going to be learning Draconic and Goblin while you're at it. This makes no sense. You should be able to pick up languages individually.

To wit, languages should have been left to the fluff/flavor of the game rather than the crunch/mechanics, and acquisition of new languages should be story-based. You shouldn't be able to learn Dwarven by fighting goblins.

You should learn Dwarven by, I dunno, serving with the Dwarven Royal Guard, or by hanging out in a party with a dwarf or two in it for a lengthy period of time, or by some form of magic.

And what's up with Supernal? First-level characters can't start knowing Supernal because it contains "words of power". Okay, cool...but you can learn Supernal at second level...and there aren't any "words of power" abilities you gain or unlock or whatever for having that language skill. It's a purely arbitrary restriction, based on nothing.

By and large I'm loving the 4E paradigm, but for some reason, the way languages are handled in RPGs has always been one of my pet peeves.

Andrew said...

I never thought about it but you make a really good point. That might be something to houserule, eh? You only get languages based on story, but you also don't have to pay feats for them. Seems like a good idea to me!

silent stone said...

As far as magic items (especially weapons and armor) go, I agree that in 4E they are rather blah, nothing to get excited over. What I would like to see, in addition to the garden-variety magic items that you will use for 5 levels, tops, is a kind of magic item that will be valuable for the character's entire career.

Such an item would grow in power and grant new abilities as the character grows...but not like the artifacts, which are essentially quests in magic item form. Maybe limit a character to one such item, but let it be at least as defining to the character as their paragon path and/or epic destiny.

King Arthur had Excalibur, Beowulf had Hrunting, Yamato Kageru had Kusanagi...the only comparable items in 4E have a bad habit of wandering off when their own agendas are complete, the heroes be damned...

silent stone said...

Oh, yeah, I pretty much handle languages with a houserule or twenty. Essentially, everyone knows Common, and if your backstory says you would know another language, you do. If you used to be a mercenary who fought in battles the length and breadth of the lands, then I would say you would be able to carry on a basic conversation in any number of languages, albeit with a heavy accent. If you're not too bright (low Intelligence), you take longer to learn new languages. If you don't know a language, but can argue that your character should know a little, an Intelligence check determines whether you get your point across or not.

But mostly, I arrange things such that the topic never really comes up, at least in D&D.

Andrew said...

Yeah. I really like that idea about items that essentially level with you. I mean, a lot of these *kinda* do (in that at various levels their enhancement number goes up a bit) but they don't really show a growing capability. I like the idea of intelligent items; items that have personalities. I like to think that perhaps a sword was an heirloom handed down through a holy order of paladins and was used to slay certain types of foes and only "x" kind of person could wield it. After a few generations, a new recipient for the sword is chosen, as has always been done and he begins using the weapon for what it's always been used for except now, something happens and the weapon speaks to the wielder. He freaks out, looks around and realizes it's speaking through telepathy or something, some deep, personal bond generated by 300+ years of idea reinforcement. The holders had unknowingly imprinted beliefs, ideologies, morals and personality traits onto the sword and now it's become its own entity that can now learn and grow through what it encounters with it's newest master...

Something like that would be awesome! nice thing is, using the items in the book, something like that could be designed, even if all it was was creating five different versions of the item depicting it at certain stages in life (new personality, growing, middle age, aged, old, etc) or something depicting levels of progression.

The languages are a great idea too. Thanks for the thoughts, you've always got something interesting to add. I appreciate that. =]

Magus Stragus said...

You know what really bugs me? The concept that the characters are like superpeople. Yeah, I know, it's fun and flashy to play a hero character, but I liked my normal, flawed and imperfect characters of older editions. In 4e, your character can do just about anything. There are no longer dump-stats (well, anything you don't use for your class is a dump-stat, but they really don't matter anymore). I mean, I've seen paladins with Str score less than 10 crush enemies like if they were nothing.

Another thing I don't like is that many of the classes just don't feel unique. I mean, they have their class features and such, but the many powers are repetitive.

I believe 4e was made with a different mentality in mind: pleasing new players thatt are used to MMORPGs. When I play 4e, I feel that I'm playing something like Ragnarok Online, or WoW, and that's not what I want. And I have to put a lot of effort making my players don't feel that way either.

4e is a great system, overall, but it was designed to another generation of players, which, sadly, I'm not in.

Andrew said...

Aright Mag, first, I want you to look at this. This is a post by James Wyatt; one of the writers for 4th edition and a really talented guy, addressing your thoughts right there.

(also, remember to read the part beneath the ==. It's not a sig, it's the end of the post)

And yeah, I know that being a PC makes players seem more powerful than average people but honestly, that's always been the idea with D&D. It's always been a bit over-the-top and heroic and whatnot but that's the idea. Average Joe Schmo wouldn't pick up a sword with three of his pals to go try to slaughter a dragon and take it's treasure because he knows they don't have the capabilities.

D&D has always been about playing an epic hero, playing someone who can (and usually does) surpass human capabilities.

Here's a little tidbit from my experience. With D&D, we usually play with an array of ability scores, right? Well, since back in the day, when I played 3rd edition, my DM used an array that worked really well, but made for very heroic, powerful characters: 10, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18.

I still use that to this day with all my 4e games. Players feel pumped up and capable but when I want them to have a rough time, I just pop the DCs up a little bit and explain why it's harder if need be.

Now, if you look at the base arrays, they actually tend towards at least giving the character at least one 8 score in something (which makes me cringe....ugh *shudder* negative modifiers....) so characters aren't meant to be overpowered.

Secondly, they wanted this to be a game of rewards. What they did in the previous games was create the content where the median was zero (the human) and then races and whatnot were built where there had to be bonuses and NEGATIVES. They rethought things and decided that they didn't want players penalized when choosing something. Instead they said "Just bonuses and with certain things, more bonuses and certain things, less bonuses because they're getting pumped up from elsewhere."

Finally, just remember, D&D is what you make it. That's why we know and love it. They will never make the perfect system where everyone goes "This is perfect!" 5th edition, when that happens, will have flaws and it'll have high points. One of the pros about 4th was that it was made, partially, to bring new players into the fold. That was hard with 3rd because it was so complicated and hard to comprehend if you just picked up the book, that they lost people.

Now it's a little more comprehensible and because of that, they get more people playing, which is good for ALL of us.

Don't worry about the generation gap. I've played MMOs, heck, I was part of a company who was going to make one designed to topple WoW (getting funding in this economy is a nightmare though, sadly). Look for the good in it, look for the fun aspects and who says that just because something has similarities to something else, that it can't be fun?

I'm an artist and as an artist, I value a lot of things like, for instance, good anatomy. When I see a drawing style that utilizes good knowledge of anatomy, I tend to like it more. This is one reason I usually hate anime. The rampant disproportion frustrates me to no end. But every once in a while, I see an anime that I just have to like because the anatomy actually does show knowledge and also, it's done with style and flair and is really entertaining. When I see this, it's so hard to keep from going "This is anime so I hate it." When I finally get over myself and go "You know, this is pretty cool, actually." It makes it a lot easier and a whole lot more fun.

So, broaden those horizons and in the end, remember to look at the positives! Thanks for the input and hope I was able to help!

Magus Stragus said...

Ok, that link was... interesting.

Any roads, I know that one of the points of D&D is that your character feels superior than the average, but what I mean is that in 4e your characters can do just about anything. They're almost perfect. Having a low score doesn't affect a character at all (of course, if such score isn't one of the class). At least in 3.5 a low score meant something. And, even so, average characters could be played (unlike 4e).

And, there's also the point of classes being quite similar.

I enjoy playing 4e, but sometimes I miss the feel previous versions gave to me.

Andrew said...

Yeah, I gotcha. It's adding that half level and that being trained simply means a +5. There's less of a "I'm amazing at this and you suck at this". Everyone's kinda got a shot.

silent stone said...

As far as the classes go, by designing them to progress at similar rates in similar ways, combined with the very tight balance of the game, they did make them end up looking very similar...and even playing pretty similar.

What I would have preferred (at least between the power sources) is to have differences in the way the classes gain and use their powers like the differences between the new psion and, say, a wizard.

The "power point" system the psion uses is wholly unlike the "spellbook lite" system the 4E wizard uses. I would have loved to see differences of that magnitude between the various classes (or, as I said earlier, at least between the different power sources).

As far as the idea of not starting out as a full-blown hero, I don't think that should be the default gameplay style of D&D, but it should be an officially supported style, with rules governing how to build a "not heroic yet" character and then level them up into an out-and-out hero.

Andrew said...

Well, I also think that what they did with the base classes was out of necessity. They could have come up with some crazy cool spell system but I think that it also came down to reading flow and overall consistency. They wanted new players to go "Aright, I'm gonna try a fighter first", play that character, then go "Aright, I wanna try a wizard" and be able to understand HOW to play a wizard, mechanically because it's set up just like the fighter. It's about cohesiveness.

In 3rd ed, we always recommended that new players and even some light-intermediate players stick to non-caster classes because they were so different and so much more difficult that if you didn't know what you were doing and if you hadn't studied up on the caster class you were going to play, it had the potential to take the game to a grinding halt, where 4th does away with that by saying "Alright, fundamentally these all work the same. Play what you want and have fun!" And I like that. They make it accessible.

silent stone said...

True, there is a trade-off to be made between accessibility, uniqueness, and balance when it comes to making the classes, and I can understand why Wizards went with accessibility and balance in designing the 4E classes.

Still, I'm hoping that their "experiment" with new class gimmicks (as exemplified in the psion) will continue, and the new classes in the future (especially those of the shadow and elemental power sources) will bring more of the uniqueness back into things while still retaining the strong balance of the 4E system and while avoiding the new classes becoming too complex to play.

Adam said...

Good thoughts going on in here

Let me add this, I feel that 4th edition while an overall improvement does hurt itself in a couple of areas. I wont go over them all, but to address what has been said, i very much agree that "common" should be omitted and that feats while more balanced offer little customization. I offer the following in addition:

Homogenization: This is where 4th ed really hurts imo. The classes just aren't different enough. The added classes in PH2 were completely unnecessary (save for the shaman since there was no previous pet class). Really there are only 4 classes, the warrior, the thief (rogue), the mage, and the shaman (healer). The added pet class is a nice addition, sort of like the "Y" in the vowel club. These are more than just classes, but are iconic storytelling archetypes. There really is no difference between a sorcerer and a wizard. Yes, you can say one gets power from learned magic and one from an in-born draconic heritage, but in the end that is flavor text or as it has been referred to as before... what is the word I am looking for? Oh yes, "role playing". Wizard and sorcerer are both the pew pew laser class. The paragon paths added a great way to implement this into the numbers but we ended up with fake classes that added very little to the class. For instance, instead of sword master and pit fighter (which is great for dw rangers fwi please excuse the powergaming)Paladin and Barbarian should have been paragon paths and not individual classes. A barbarian is a melee combatant who wears less armor but carries more brute force and ferocity. In short, we have been offered the red pill and the blue pill, but neither one got us to wonderland, so really there was no choice. You can argue that sword master and pit fighter have different powers, but what is the end result? You can deal damage by doing 30 damage per round with one weapon or you can have two attacks which each deal 15 damage each. Red pill or blue pill? Answer: they are both the sugar pill.

Having said that, i do prefer the new 4th edition over 3rd by far, so no hate guys.

Andrew said...

Yeah, that's a well made point. I think that Silent made a good point in noting that it seems as if they're trying to branch out with more power sources and ways of doing things with the Psion, for example. I do agree that they really went with the "roles" and made defenders defenders, strikers strikers, etc etc and I'm happy about that. It's cool that they really make it visible what your class really, in the end, is supposed to do in terms of the mechanics and their overall natural place in the party. They were always there but with the labels they gave them, it gave us a language and a context with which to refer to these things.

I think that as time moves along and as 4th keeps growing, I think we'll see more diversity, more options and more interesting ideas as to how to make characters stand out.

Again, I think more than ever, it's now about party optimization versus 3rd ed being very much about character optimization (which isn't necessarily better or worse). This shifts the focus onto how we can customize the party, versus the character. Something new to get used to.

All that said, I think that the classes give great avenues for RP. The flavor text with the sorcerer and the wizard, can make a large difference in the role play. The barbarian's place of origin versus a cultured fighter is much different too. I think that the new classes give new players a nudge with the RP and give them diverse (role-play-speaking) places to start.

Another neat idea that I think would be cool, would be sub-classes. Not so much like the builds for the classes, but more like classes within classes. But then, perhaps that would yield the same result with just different organization (such as Major Class - Melee Combatant, sub classes- soldier, barbarian and wrestler... or something like that)

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