Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition Thoughts and Complaints

November 9, 2010

Dungeons and Dragons has been entertaining nerds since it first came out in the early seventies. It has seen many changes over the years and ownership of the game has traded hands at least once. It is currently owned by Wizards of the Coast.  Wizards is owned by Hasbro.

Two years ago Wizards put out the fourth edition of the Dungeons and Dragons game. Claiming it to be the “best” edition yet.  What fourth edition actually did was split D and D enthusiasts into two groups. One group decided they didn’t like 4th and they either stuck with an earlier edition or went with Pathfinder. Pathfinder is an updated version of third edition Dungeons and Dragons that i’ll talk about in a future article.

So how is 4th really? Does it deserve all of the fan backlash it has received? Is it a worthless edition of D and D?

For a while I wouldn’t go near 4th edition. I figured it was just a lame watered down version of the earlier games.   Recently Wizards decided to put out a “red box”. An earlier edition of D and D that I grew up with also had a red box. So nostalgia got the better of me and I decided to pick it up and give 4th a chance.  

As I read through the materials provided I found myself enjoying and appreciating what they did with the game.  Many have called 4th edition a tabletop MMO and I think that is a partly accurate description. The classes are given strategic designations and each one has a specific part to play during a combat encounter.  What people fail to realize is that to a certain extent past editions have had that in the party dynamic. All 4th did was identify what class works best where.

Another aspect of the game I liked was the way they handled magic this time around. Gone is the annoying spells per day system. It has been replaced by a variety of Arcane “powers”. In fact feats are a completely different beast in 4e. All classes get powers from either the martial, arcane or divine source. Some powers can be used as often as one wants while others can only be used once a day or once an encounter. I like this better for magic users especially. They can now cast Magic Missile at will and as many times as they want. As opposed to casting it once a day and then they somehow forget the spell and have to rememorize it.  I have always hated that about earlier edition Magic users. It never made any sense to me.  The same goes for Divine casters.  I’d much rather have fewer unlimited spells to cast than 20 spells that I can only cast once or twice day a piece.

The combat system for 4th is very detailed yet easy to learn at the same time.  Like its predecessor it makes heavy use of miniatures for combat.

My main beef with both 3rd and 4th edition is that if you want to run combat correctly you need minis and a battle map. The minis aren’t cheap either. Recently Wizards has been releasing cardboard cut outs of monsters and heroes with its boxed sets. It seems like they are getting the idea that expensive books and expensive minis has hurt their sales. Of course with Hasbro owning D and D now it makes a certain amount of sense that they would want to sell more than D and D books.  I always preferred having the action described to me and picturing it in my head to using minis.  I do see the advantage to having them though.  With 3rd edition you could fudge your way out of using minis. With 4th there is no way to run combat without them. The combat system is to involved for that.

Despite its problems and my minor beefs with it I believe that 4th edition is the best game for new gamers.  The concepts behind MMOs will help people familiar with those to be able to understand it and play it faster. Even if someone has never played an RPG of any kind in their life they could pick up the red box and know enough to get a group going in a very short amount of time.

Second and third edition both required hours of studying the rules to truly understand it. 4th not so much. For some the simplicity of the system keeps them away. For others it is an open door to an evening of excitement.

One thing to keep in mind is that fourth edition is completely different than previous editions in a lot of ways.   They cut away a lot of the fat that 3rd edition had with its gobs and gobs of supplementary material and rules.  I hope that with 4th they keep it reigned in.

My final thought on 4th is that if you prefer complexity to simplicity than go with Pathfinder or stick with 3rd.   If you just want a simple game to get into than try 4th.  Be warned though that 4th edition material and 3rd is NOT compatible.

I am not knocking Pathfinder though. It is a great game for long time D and D enthusiasts and i’ll talk more about it next time.