And I’m totally pumped.
Marketing and digital stuff aside, looking through what the announcements are consisting of, it’s clear to me that Wizards is concerned about game design. And not just about fixing broken prestige classes or whatever. They took a long look at what works in the game, what doesn’t, what doesn’t end up “playing”, how to make the game most interesting, how to make it easier to remember all the rules in play.
In short, they focused on making the game simpler, more elegant, and more thematic. They sound like they’re taking a pretty strong tear down approach to the game, and tossing out some “sacred cows” of D&D design. The end result is making a leaner, meaner, better game. In my style of game design, it’s hitting all the right notes.
Here’s some of the design issues they looked at:
- Races only matter at first level. This is an issue that I had never noticed before, but it’s true. A high level dwarf fighter is pretty much the same as a high level half-orc fighter. Not only are they fixing this, they’re going with an elegant solution that also eliminates the level adjustment rules for high powered races, which were annoying anyway.
- Some weapons are better than others. In 3.x, there were some weapons worth using, and many you only would use if they happened to be magic with stuff you wanted. The design diary on class makes the different weapons sound interesting, and creating more differences between characters of the same class- an emergent property.
- Some levels are lame. No feat, no ability score, no new abilities? That always sucked. That’s probably a big reason I liked multiclassing so much: I could get could stuff at every level. Not only are they trying to fix that issue, they’re extending what they call “the sweet spot” of D&D to make every level of play fun. If they can figure out a way to balance having cool stuff while not having tons of book-keeping, I will be very impressed. But it sounds like that’s what they’re shooting for: a good experience at every level from 1 to 30. (Yes, 30!) As someone who has tried to run high level and epic level campaigns in the past, I’d look forward to a ruleset that makes it run well, and not bog down in someone’s 20 attacks per round.
- Resource management. I was talking to DarthCthulhu at the last Balticon, who said that he liked the idea of a spell system that encouraged interesting choices in what to cast and preparing ahead, but it never worked out that way. Wizards and Clerics prepared their best stuff all the time, only adjusting based on very specific encounters. I wracked my brain for a solution to this, and the only ones I could come up with were total revamps of the system. This may well be the first new D&D edition EVER to radically overhaul the magic system in the core rules. I’ll have to reserve judgment on the final product, but I’m glad they identified this as an issued to be fixed, and are ready to do a tear-down.
- Your magic items matter more than what you can do. This is specifically the issue that Iron Heroes addressed, and my own attempts to develop a new game looked at this too. The”business” of magic items seems like a big part of the whole D&D image, but it’s bad for the game. Hopefully they’ll find a way to reconcile the two and make magic items cool and special again, but still not as cool as what your character can do.
- Less prep time. It’s a lot of work to be a DM, as I’m discovering. The developers promise that 4e will be easier to run for DMs, and that monsters will be simpler. I still can’t believe all the work you have to go through in 3.5 to stat out a dragon… in a game where it’s in the title! It just makes sense that Dungeons & Dragons will knock down the barriers to running a game with… dungeons and dragons.
- I was never happy with the distinctions between different skills. Make hide and move silently checks versus spot and listen checks. Make double the rolls for something that should be routine. And does anybody really enjoy the minutiae of where to put skill points, except for qualifying for prestige classes? Choosing skills should be a character matter. If the rules from Star Wars: Saga Edition are any indication, skills are easy and fun again. I’m almost dreading making NPCs for what will probably be my last 3.5 campaign, for partly this reason.
- Ever tried to trip someone in combat? Use a fly spell to buzz overhead? Or heaven forbid, GRAPPLE? When I’m a player, I just want to make a roll to grab somebody, not consult a four step process, and then consult another page of rules to see what my victim and I can do while grappling. As a DM, I don’t want to look up what my maneuverability rating means- I just want my dragon to be able to fly around the room. These are big weaknesses in the rules for every iteration of d20, and I will not miss them. Bring back the fun.
I’m sure there will be more changes, like how combat rounds work, or how armor operates, or hit points… but to me, those are secondary. If they can even just fix the above issues, 4th edition has already proved its value to me.
[Image and some quotes taken from ENWorld]