Courtesy of Akratic Wizardry, I stumbled upon this interesting interview with Bruce Cordell and Richard J. Schwalb, who’ve been designing the 5e D&D rules. They openly state that 4th Edition “blew up D&D,” and Schwalb offers this insightful critique of how 4e’s greatest strength is also its fatal flaw:
I think what 4th Edition does really well is it simulates that really cool combat encounter that you had in 1st, 2nd, or 3rd Edition where all sorts of things are going on. It does that really well. It doesn’t do a fight with three or four kobolds well at all. And you want that level of detail when you’re doing the big set-piece fight with the villain riding the Dracolich and the army of undead and the terrain can be an obstacle that’s actually attacking you and doing all sorts of cool stuff. And those kinds of fights, you want them to go on for an hour. You want to dig your nails in and you’re terrified. You have no idea what’s going to happen. But then, the other part of D&D is that I just want to murder a bunch of goblins and move onto the next area. So, I think what happened, because it treats every fight with that level of importance, it became a poor choice to choose non-combat utility powers.
That pretty much sums up what I didn’t like about the 4e rules, and what ultimately led to my decision not to support the line. D&D may have its roots in strategic war-gaming, but by 4e it had (de?-)evolved into tactical war game where every fight was created equal, and thus none mattered that much.
Of course, earlier editions had their own problems, but for me, this was a bridge too far. Although a lighter version of this critique could be leveled at the 3.x editions, even in them there remained incentives for character design to develop along firm non-combat-oriented roles. But 4e, to my eye, looked like WotC had decided to turn D&D into a tactical miniatures combat game with a role-playing component, rather than the other way around.
And I think this point is a good place for me to delineate my likes and dislikes for the various editions I’ve played, and maybe shed light on why I’m being lured into the Old-School Renaissance (at times kicking and screaming).
The various old-school versions (I’ve played Basic, 1e Advanced, & 2e Advanced) shared a number of aspects I never liked much: races-as-classes (in Basic); level limits for non-humans PCs; the spell-level system (I never got why you didn’t gain 2nd-level spells at 2nd level, 3rd level spells at 3rd, and so on… and I still don’t); negative Armor Classes; and lack of a unifying dice mechanic. These dislikes were balanced (and for a time, overcome) for me by the rules-light core, the relative ease of DM book-keeping, and the overall accessibility of the game. Char-gen (in the Basic version especially) was quick enough to get an adventuring group up and running in a matter of minutes, perfect for parties or bored get-togethers.
When I made the switch to 3.x, here are the things I liked: the unified dice mechanic; unified XP table; the concept (if not necessarily the execution) of prestige classes and monster templates; the consolidated saving throws; the multi-classing rules; and the ascending Armor Class system. I could have done without the Skills & Feats system; though I appreciated what it was trying to achieve, and was really excited about it for a time, I slowly came to see it as a cumbersome straight-jacket. Also, the amount of DM and PC book-keeping required, especially at high levels, quickly became as intimidating as a great wyrm red dragon with a living demon for its heart.
In the years since, I’ve changed my mind about the unified XP table and the multi-classing rules, and grown weary of the power creep in 3.x. These, combined with my perpetual ambivalence about the Skills and Feats systems, eventually led to me looking around for simpler options that preserved what I like about previous editions while still moving forward.
Which brings us to this humble blog.
Next: my first review!