This is not D&D.
I’ve touched on this idea before: in many people’s minds, there’s one definition of what a product/line IS. Whether this is determined by the original creator, the fans, or whomever happens to legally own the name is up for debate.
However, this pronouncement really has this inferred part to it that is often left off:
This is not D&D to me.
Reasons for this vary. Some common ones include:
- Negative associations with another game. (i.e. “4e is just Magic” and “4e is just WoW.”)
- Deal-breaker details. (i.e. “There’s no gnomish druid in the PHB core, how am I supposed to cope?”)
- Elimination of old D&D elements. (i.e. “Players have always rolled dice for hit points.”)
- Mistrust of associated elements. (i.e. “We’ve never needed an online tabletop before, why should we include one now?”)
- Worries about power levels. (i.e. “PC’s have lots of hit points now!”)
Frankly, all of these issues are completely silly to me. There are plenty of valid reasons to not like 4e for your playstyle, and plenty of reasons to say that it doesn’t fit what you like to see in your rulesets, but all of the above reasons just seem contrived. What really should be the determiner on whether it feels like D&D or not is to find out how it plays. The emergent play of the game is far more important to determining overall feel and style of the game. When I’ve played it so far (and I assume when I play in Keep on the Shadowfell), I have no question that what I’m playing is D&D, even if my Elven Ranger can do radically different stuff than my previous Elven Ranger.
For me, I’ll always feel like the best way for D&D to run is to have an engaging storyline and interesting tactical combats. It’s about the D&D world being this pseudo-Tolkien setting, where adventurers go on quests to defeat monsters, gain loot, and occasionally save the world.
Part of where the disconnect comes from is the previous incarnations of D&D not being focused on its core. With all the books out there, plus judicious use of house rules, it was possible to concoct a variety of D&D-ish games and settings. The designers made it pretty clear that they were focusing on the core game of D&D, and other considerations of adaptability have been largely tossed out. (Not to say there aren’t some concessions in the previews we’ve seen, but it’s clearly not the focus.)
For me, when I pick up the D&D Player’s Handbook, I want to play D&D. Period. I want to come up with a character concept in the framework of the rules provided, and go on adventures as him, all the while leveling up, getting more neat stuff I can do, and getting more loot. If I want to play something with a radically different feel, I’m going to reach onto my bookshelf full of RPGs and play something else. (Or I’m going to design it myself.)
When I play D&D, I know the kind of framework to expect, and I’m glad that the new edition is focusing on making the core D&D experience the best it can be. Previously, it’s tried too hard to be all things to all people, and sacrificed game play and simplicity as a result. When I generate my first 4e character, I’m confidant that I’ll know it’s D&D.