So what IS D&D anyway?

An interesting meme has seemed to pop up among those who dislike where D&D 4e headed. It’s one simple declaration:

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.

About Dave

Dave "The Game" Chalker is the Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder of Critical Hits. Since 2005, he has been bringing readers game news and advice, as well as editing nearly everything published here. He is the designer of the Origins Award-winning Get Bit!, a freelance designer and developer, son of a science fiction author, and a Master of Arts. He lives in MD with e, their three dogs, and two cats.


  1. Hear, hear.

    D&D is good at heroic action (especially combat) and the last two editions embraced it fully.

    I can see absolutely nothing wrong with making combat more fun and cool for all. It’s already been established that if things get fun and cool enough, all the setting/fluff/branding elements that make up the non-crunch parts of D&D will only be make for a stronger package.

  2. “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.”

    How does this distinguish D&D from any other FRPG system out there? It’s the mechanics/rules that determine the “play of the game.” If they undergo radical changes, it’s no longer the same game.

    I think 4E teeters right on the edge. There’s enough of the previous versions there that you can see the connecting threads, but the core game is very different from 3E, let alone earlier editions. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to play or won’t have fun. 🙂

  3. Kameron: for me, the key distinction between D&D and a fantasy heartbreaker is the “interesting tactical combat.”

    You’re right that it’s the mechanics and rules that determine the play of the game, and maybe I didn’t make it clear enough in Rant Mode, but I consider the play of 4e to be very close to the play of previous editions, while having a cleaner and more interesting underlying system. (And I believe this is in large part to throwing out previous elements and using new mechanics)

  4. Thanks for the linkage. One clarification though – I wasn’t negative about 4e D&D being “just like Magic”; just that it’s not a style of game I want to play as an RPG personally.

    Like it or not, 4e D&D IS D&D, by definition. Whether it’s a version of D&D we want to play depends entirely on how it all hangs together, and that’s something we won’t know until we have the core rules in our hands and played through a fair few sessions.

    I disliked AD&D intensely – it completely put me off the game – but love both Classic D&D and 3rd Edition. But it was still D&D, just not a version I wanted to play. Each to their own, I guess:)

    For me though, what I’ve seen so far isn’t a version of D&D I’m too happy with. Whether that’s just a result of selective marketing and me not being in some “target demographic” though remains to be seen. I’m still open minded.

    Want I want is a high-action game that doesn’t necessarily require miniatures to play, is simpler to prepare than 3.5e and has logical, consistent reasoning behind the powers and abilities.

    By the looks of it, 4e is going to succeed on one of my wants, but fail on the rest – for me. Powers that are usable “once per encounter” don’t make sense however you butter them, and “game balance” be damned. that’s just a bad excuse for bad rules; it was in 3e, and it looks like 4e’s entire rationale revolves around this spurious concept.

    Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe 4e will be the best D&D ever, and somehow manage to blend the best of 3e, WoW, MtG and a tonne of other influences and turn them into something amazing.

    I certainly hope so.

  5. “and “game balance” be damned. that’s just a bad excuse for bad rules”

    You are wrong about that. If you’re not worrying about game balance, then why even have rules at all? Just sit around a table and tell fantasy stories with your friends, who cares if one of them starts beating every obstacle in half a second without breaking a sweat before anyone else can do anything? You don’t want balance, so that should be fine and fun! Right? 😀

  6. Well, first I should say that I wasn’t trying to call you out specifically, Greywulf. (So I apologize for that.)

    I think it’s accurate to say that 4e has some similarities to Magic, I just don’t see why that’s wrong or makes it “not D&D.” (I’ve got a post brewing about exceptions-based systems.)

    And essentially, everything you’re saying doesn’t disagree with the thrust of my argument. 4e is still D&D, it’s just not what you personally want to see in D&D.

    Of course, I could also disagree with you on the logic stuff- it’s all felt the same to me as saying “I power attack for half my base attack bonus” and “I make a sweep attack based on my opponent’s hit dice.” There’s an intermediary of rules at work, but the end result is the same. But hey, when you sit down to play 4e, you may decide otherwise. If you still feel the same, I hear there’s this thing called “Microlite20” that you could play 🙂

  7. Yeh. I’ve heard about Microlite20. It’s over-rated. Oh wait…. I wrote it. Darn! 😀

    D&D becoming an exception-based system is a dichtonomy. On the one hand the thing that made 3e such a success is that it made the rules reasonably consistent after the morass of inconsistencies and condradictions that was 2e AD&D. Now, they’re bringing the contradictions back in, by design. Maybe that’s because 3e went too far. I dunno. That remains to be seen.

    @Bartoneus, I could (and probably will) write a long blogpost about why the Myth of Game Balance is the biggest mistake ever to hit D&D. In direct reply to your question though – we have rules to adjudicate situations, not to balance the game. That’s the idea, anyhow; one that D&D has grown to forget.

  8. In similar way to the OP; to be a roleplaying game there must be rules for drowning and falling. Otherwise it is not really an RPG.

  9. Greywulf: Exception based design does not mean contradictory design. I’ll have to expand on this later.

  10. True. Good point! 🙂

  11. re: Exception-based design

    Though Dave said he’ll expand later, I want to tackle this right now, as succinctly as possible.

    Exception-based design means, intrinsically, that there will be no contradictions.

    Exception-based design means that there is a simple system that all mechanics follow. It is simple, straightforward, and self-contained. An individual power might modify this, and a second power might modify it in a different way, but these are also self-contained.

    Because of this, power 1 will never be contradicted by a change that power 2 makes. Power 1 relies on the simple base mechanic and itself. No more, no less.

    This is a change from 3e’s design (what would we call this?) where a monster has the Change Shape power, which is described in the Glossary, which is based off of Polymorph, which is based off of Alter Self. To figure out how this Change Shape power works, you need to know everything in this sequence. This convoluted sequence is where contradictions are introduced.

  12. mightybruce says:

    re: the OP


  13. TheMainEvent says:

    Play balance may be a myth in D&D (and perhaps nearly all games without exactly mirrored options for each player), but it certainly makes the game more fun. No matter how neat a Thief concept I had in 2E or D&D he was going to be an underwhelming character. Mages could just about literally do everything I could do better and more to boot. I could say funny stuff, and come with great plans, but the adjudication mechanism lacked the ability to translate that in a positive resolution of conflict. It is my hope that 4E will allow for all characters to have the opportunity to thrive in conflict in line with their concepts. Right now, I remain cautiously optimistic that this will be possible.

  14. dr checkmate says:

    Well said. In the future I will add the “to me” to the end of all approriate sentences. 😉

    I’ll second Greywulf on the “Myth of Game Balance” and add that if this balance exists it is the responsibility of the GM/DM/Keeper/Referee/whatever… NOT that of the mechanics. It seems as silly to me as “handicapping” baseball teams.

    I decided months and months ago that I was done with d20 as a GM; I still love playing it. So, I’ll be picking up a 4e PHB so that I can be prepared to play, but I’m not going to devote my self to re-learning more that what I need to know for my Monks, Rogues, and Rangers (or whatever they’ll be called now). Did the Monk get the axe again?

  15. To be honest, I haven’t heard a lot of the arguments about why balance could be considered bad, so I’d have to see that to rebut fully.

    However, D&D is one of those games where it really, really sucks to be overshadowed by another character’s abilities. It’s frustrating and not fun.

    And yes, the DM should try to make everyone’s experience fun, but it should not be my job to fix the rules by using work-arounds. The game should come as balanced as it can so I, the DM, can focus more on telling the stories I want to tell and less time propping up a character to try and make them equally effective.

    It’s one of those examples where the game designers should not expect the players to fix the game for them.

  16. Dave, I disagree 🙂

    Game balance is the responsibility of the GM, NOT the job of the game designers. Their responsibility is to create workable rules that are fast, flexible, consistent and fun to use. It’s the job of the GM to make sure that each player gets time in the limelight and a chance to shine.

    By over-emphasising Balance as a core tenet of D&D the 3rd Edition designers had to make far too many assumptions about party size, composition and makeup, and that had knock-on effects right through the game – from how to calculate XP to Challenge Ratings to how many monsters makes a “fair fight” to how combat plays to spell durations too…. well, I’m sure you get the idea.

    I can’t really think of any other rule system that puts Balance on such a pedestal at the expense of everything else. That’s a Bad Design Choice by my book, and just encourages the Character Class Arms Race we’re seeing in 4th Edition – “now the Paladin is a better melee combatant, so we need to make the Fighter better too”…….

    Balance be damned. Give me a set of great rules and __I’LL__ decide what’s a fun encounter for my players, thanks very much.

  17. Well, we’ll probably have to continue to disagree on this. My feeling on the subject can easily be summed up that I don’t need any book to tell me how to make something fun for my group. If I buy a game, I expect it to do the best it can given the framework of the rules. If they tell me to adjust for my group, I’m going to wonder why I paid money for the game. (If I’m going to be designing a game, I can get paid for that.)

    I should also point out that this is D&D we’re talking about, which is played more than any other game in cons, competitively (RPGA), as pick-up games in game stores, etc. Balance is necessary when playing in settings that aren’t your home game. If I want a game that is easier for me to adjust on the fly, I have plenty of other options.

  18. Greywulf, you really need to have a look at the leaked Character classes to see how different in feel while still cool eact class is.

    I really can’t accept that I need to trust a person over the game’s engine to make my dream bard actually fun to play both in combat and outside of it.

    Bards, Clerics, Dragon Shaman and others we tried were Zzzz when compared to other classes that kicked butt (and not necessarily by dealing a ton of damage).

  19. dr checkmate says:

    @ The Game: Well, my “argument” is that game balance – in the context of RPGS – does not exist. So asking me to argue why I think it is bad, is like asking me to tell you why unicorns are good.

    Though, I see your point where it relates to the con scene and competetive play, but I think you put too much burden of responsibility for the player’s enjoyment on the rule system and not on the GM. If I want a “balanced” game I’ll play a wargame, not an RPG.

    In competetive games there is a place for balance; if WotC or the RPGA want to run competetive tournaments with an RPG rule set, more power to them, but I don’t think this balance has any place in the core rules. I hardly think the con/tourney player or GM is the rule, but rather the exception.

    Meh. As long as everyone at the table has fun we can play Rifts for all I care ;p

  20. @dr checkmate –

    Did the Monk get the axe again?

    Yeah, for now. It will probably reappear in a future PHB, but for the PHB 1, we’re missing a few, Monk included.

  21. but I think you put too much burden of responsibility for the player’s enjoyment on the rule system and not on the GM.

    See, here’s the thing.

    You’re right, game balance in an RPG is not a fact, but a theory. It is something to strive for, though most games fall short (except maybe Risus).

    But without striving for that balance, the rule system is not just “not providing enjoyment.”

    No, without striving for some semblence of game balance, the rule system is actively decreasing that potential enjoyment, for at least some of the players.

    Game balance on its own can’t provide enjoyment in an RPG anyways. That’s the GM’s job. But poor balance just makes that job so much harder.

  22. Not to pick on you too much, Dr. Checkmate…

    If I want a “balanced” game I’ll play a wargame, not an RPG.

    I tend to view D&D as pretty much being a wargame on some level. That’s where it came from, after all, and the element that attracts a lot of players. The “interesting combat” aspect of it is part of what makes D&D so appealing. Again, if I want something without that, I have plenty of other appealing RPGs to choose from. Dare I say it, but that’s what D&D is (to me.)

  23. Original Sultan says:

    Going to have to agree with The Game, Graham, The Chatty DM and TheMainEvent on this one. Now I accept that “perfect” game balance is impossible in an RPG (and such is true for most games, really), but there’s really no reason the game system shouldn’t try to make the most balanced game possible. The less effort the game system makes to balance the characters, the more effort the DM/GM must make to balance the characters himself/herself.

    Unless of course the players are willing to accept that some of the characters in the party are just plain better than others, just because. Most players (in my experience) aren’t willing to accept that.

    Now, can there ever be too much balance? I suppose that’s possible, in the sense that other core aspects of a game are sacrificed to make it more balanced, but I think a case of ‘too much balance’ would be very rare indeed. Maybe 4e qualifies, but I doubt it.

  24. DING!

    I just remembered the yearly Youtube of the Week feature…and got an idea…

    Prepare for a sequel…

  25. Sequel!

    You’ve got me all excited, Rev!

  26. Greenvesper says:

    Just a quick comment on the issue / myth of game balance…
    Anyone remember 2E Psionics? Pretty much a nightmare in a source book. When the Psionicist in the party can take on an enemy single-handedly that would kill the rest of the party, THAT is unbalanced.
    Balance is one of those things that is difficult to define when its there, but is sorely missed when its absent.
    At least for 4E, it seems to me that the designers are trying to level the playing field and give every class an equal opportunity to be enjoyed by an average player. I see progress in that type of philosophy alone, which is one of the reasons I am eagerly awaiting 4E.

  27. Complete Psionics Handbook was the first D&D book that I owned, instead of just borrowing from someone else. If I recall correctly, you could take Disintegrate at first level, which was basically a Save or Die power.

    So yes, excellent point and example.

  28. Wow.

    You know, this is a lot more angst than I thought possible about a game. There is so much being written about it, that someone like me, who is ‘coming back’ to the game – is almost afraid to ask or read – it makes the head spin.

    I guess I have some luxury in that I skipped a lot of 2e, and I am just now ‘learning’ 3e. I don’t have a lot of time and emotion invested in the rules itself. I’m probably an old schooler in terms of experience, having grown up in the late 70s fantasizing my way through the blue book, and I have to say only this – I know I’m not one of the widely written/read people WRT the RPG world, but when I sit down with family and friends, I really just wanna have fun.

    I’m playing 3e now and a lot of D20, but I’m finding myself going towards the simpler rules. I like a game where I don’t have to worry about the statistics of whether or not I may be able to ‘do as much’ as the maxed out mage/fighter – but if my Dwarven Cleric is having fun, then to me, its a good game. If I think the play is unbalanced or unfair, I talk to the GM (or as the GM, I talk to the players) and see what we can do to make it fun.

    I have been reading a lot of the stuff on 4e. It seems to me, from the reading of all these opinions, that is really what everyone wants – to have fun. In the end, I think that’s what we’re all about – and I am trying really hard to keep that in perspective. I might not be smart/learned enough to debate game balance, but I can tell you that if a game doesn’t feel fun, it’s probably not going to be. If 4e is fun, then more power to it. If it’s not fun to me, I won’t play it… OR I’ll play it in a way that makes it fun and hopefully the DM will make it happen for me.

  29. longcoat000 says:

    See, the problem with the word “balance” is that it’s being used interchangably with the word “fun”. When the designers of 4E say that they’re trying to make the game more balanced, what they’re really saying is that they want it to be as fun as possible for everyone involved at the same time.

    Let’s go back to the old classic fighter vs. magic-user question (Yeah, magic-user. Not wizard. You grognards know where I’m coming from). At early levels, the guy playing the fighter usually had a lot more fun than the guy playing the magic-user, because the fighter was always heavily involved with the dice rolling, which 99% of the time was in combat.

    And make no mistake about it. D&D, in all of it’s forms from Chainmail to 3.5E (I won’t say 4E, because I haven’t read the rules) is a combat engine first and foremost. Sure, there were attempts to do non-combat things with it, but all of the mechanical rules have been derived from the base chance of trying to get a pointy piece of metal to occupy the same place as someone else’s spleen. All 3.X skills are replacements of an attack bonus with a skill bonus, versus a variable armor class (DC is just a non-combat AC that varies by situation). And combat, as opposed to exploration or role playing, takes up a porportional longer period of time than the other two bits combined. So you can truthfully say that the game is a tactical combat simulator, which makes the point of the game to get into combat and have fun beating stuff up.

    So, having established that D&D is a combat engine, let’s go back to the fighter. He’s having fun trying to get pointy things to occupy the same space as various furred and fanged things. The magic user is regulated to tossing off his one Magic Missile spell (because that’s the only spell he has memorized if he wants to participate in anything fun), then standing in the back and either tossing daggers or darts (remember, a magic-user could only learn to wield one type of weapon every seven levels, had no armor, and were typically weak, so entering melee combat was suicidal). Once they’ve tossed off the four or five daggers / darts they carry, that’s it until the fighters and clerics can whack the critter into next Tuesday. And because they’re not good at hitting things, chances are they’ll miss every time. If they’re not helping to damage the creatures in combat, then the player starts to feel like they’re not really contributing anything to the game, because the party really doesn’t want to stop for four hours after every combat so that the magic-user can rest and re-memorize Magic Missile.

    That is, until they hit 5th level and can take the dreaded Fireball spell. Suddenly, the magic-user can automatically hit a bunch of monsters for more damage than the fighter can toss out in one round. And the power curve gets exponential from there, because the magic-users get more and cooler exception-based powers while the figher’s abilities (hitting things and taking damage) remain the same. Sure, they have a better chance of hitting things, but in all honesty can’t really do much more than that. So fairly early on, the fighter (who was having so much fun earlier) now feels like they’re taking the back seat and essentially acting like a meat shield to keep the monsters from getting to the magic-user while he pops off cool spell after spell.

    And don’t get me started on the cleric. They were basically second-rate fighters who could heal up the rest of the party when they got hurt. Yeah, there were these great spells available, but no one wanted you to memorize them because then you wouldn’t be able to heal as often.

    Now, 3E did make headway in trying to make everything fun for everyone all the time with the introduction of feats and letting the cleric “drop” memorized spells for a heal, but there was still the problem of spellcasters getting shafted for combat options at the beginning of their adventuring career, then vastly outpacing melee types at mid-to-higher levels.

    What 4E is trying to do is modify some basic assumptions so that everyone gets to roll dice, feel effective, and have fun all the time, rather than at different points in their adventuring career.

  30. @ longcoat’s longcomment…

    I understand your argument and where it’s coming from…I’ll give you the bit about magic-users being less effective at lower levels (mostly because of running out of spells), but in my experience, magic-users and other combat characters can still be easily matched at higher levels…in fact, I often find that combat-focused characters exceed the capabilities of casters, in some cases…every class has their strengths and weaknesses, but no one generalization dominates a set of levels…

    Unless of course, we’re talking about psionics…

    Or a group of unbalanced players…power-gamers will always make more effective casters than nubs will…

  31. TheMainEvent says:

    I think Longcoat is referring to back in the day… when Elves were a class. As far as my experience goes, I agree with him. Unless you were a high level wizard in the earlier editions, you sucked.

  32. “Going to have to agree with The Game, Graham, The Chatty DM and TheMainEvent on this one.”

    Oh sure, I see how it is, the person who made the argument in the first place gets left out…bastards!

  33. “Want I want is a high-action game that doesn’t necessarily require miniatures to play, is simpler to prepare than 3.5e and has logical, consistent reasoning behind the powers and abilities.”


    I like realism
    I like adaptability
    I it is not looking like I will like the new ”vision” of D&D, so I will take my sad face and move on.

    Improving the game mechanics and making the game simpler to play are great ideas. But they can keep their rewritten content and fluff… I’m not interested.

  34. Hear hear. There’s too much of this ‘4e will be terrible’ stuff from people whose only valid complaint is that they spent too much on third edition splatbooks. Worse is “D&D will be too much like World of Warcraft/anime/Eberron”, from people who I can almost guarantee you have never genuinely experienced any of these.

  35. @Jonathan –

    While I agree on the WoW and anime, 4e does look to be taking a number of lessons from Eberron.

    But to me, that’s a good thing.

    The implied setting is getting somewhat darker, and the characters are becoming more able. Magic Item creation is taking from the (very good) artificer mechanics.

    Perhaps most importantly, Eberron was an experiment in alternate planar design, which succeeded immensely, and was definitely a stepping stone to the new planes.

    Again, though, to me all these things are the right way to go.

  36. I think you are missing the problems that people are really having with 4e. To me it’s:

    Back compatibility – not even rules wise, but fluff wise so many older campaign settings, adventures, and supplements are basically “burnt.” It’s gratuitous and does nothing to advance any goals except “get our IP back from licensees and the OGL” and “sell more books by not letting people use old ones.”

    Versimilitude – too many of the choices they’ve made are OK for a tactical minis game but not for a RPG where you’re trying to visualize and make sense of things in game. Making minis mandatory, powers like “shift a square” and “mark an opponent,” per-whatnot powers – they change the core of the game from a set of rules whose goal is to realize a living, breathing fantasy world into rules for their own sake; rules to play a tactical boardgame with and to maybe put a little role-playing on top of if the mood strikes you.

  37. @mxyzplk –

    re: Back Compatibility

    No older campaign settings are “burnt”. A campaign setting is, by definition, a change in fluff. As such, there is absolutely no way for a campaign setting to become incompatible due to fluff changes. If the “base” fluff of 4e is different than the campaign setting, the setting just overwrites it. No problem.

    re: Verisimilitude

    a) Minis are not mandatory, at least no more than the were in 3e. Sure, it makes things easier, but if you were able to play mini-less in 3e, you will be able to do so in 4e. For those interested, there are board-less variant rules being developed on enworld. And even without those, we have been hearing a number of reports of playtests that took place with no minis without issue.

    b) Tactical combat has always been a major, major part of the game of D&D. It evolved from a tactical wargame, and the majority of rules in every edition have been combat-related. Why should 4e not be the same?

    In addition, 4e is going to be introducing new mechanics for resolving social situations. Yeah, 4e is completely focused on combat and “tactical boardgame” rules. Sure.

    Forgive my sarcasm, but these are exactly the kind of complaints Jonathan was talking about. All are based on either faulty logic or hyperbole. The only valid complaints I hear very often are “it’s not for me” and “I don’t want to/have the money to buy more books.”

  38. @Graham – your response is unhelpful in several ways.

    1. As you well know, in D&D there is core “shared fluff”. As an example, the way the outer planes work, what a demon is, etc. is all the same from Greyhawk to FR to whatnot. D&D isn’t a generic ruleset, they’ve always encoded a lot of commonality into the core rules that campaign settings are then built on. They have decided, for whatever reason, to change pretty much every bit of that. You won’t be able to pick up G1-3 and run it as written, for example, as the giants have all mutated into elemental creatures. This is a form of back incompatibility that 2e/3e did not aspire to. You can certainly say “but I like it,” but pretending it’s not happening is disingenuous and adds to the poor perception of “4e fanboys.”

    2. The hell you can play 4e without minis. Again, ‘shift a square!’ Mini use is hardcoded into the vast majority of the monster stat blocks we’ve seen. Sure, people can come up with variants of the game that work without it. Those people are generally folks that don’t know other RPGs exist; I’m not sure why you’d bother to completely retrofit a version of D&D when you could just use something else. And “but you can change it” is the most pathetic kind of apologia for a game system. Both of these are very real changes, and just tarring them with the “faulty logic” brush is not very insightful.

  39. You really take Fluff way too much as Canon mxyzplk.

    Mike Mearls, who co-designed the game has replayed G1 as is and he loved it… he just chose to ignore that giants were elemental.

    Now that the mechanics are simplified, you can switch around creatur type with no regards to it’s origins.

    For example, Mealrs took a Grey Ooze and made it into a Water Elemental by adding elemental damage and adding a Wave-like power to fluff it up

    The implied setting is just this, a setting. As all fluff are. You don’t have to use it.

    And check your facts, the Realms cosmology is different from Planescape as of 3.0

    But from reading the way you phrase your responses, I don’t think that anything said here would sway your points of view. It’s not like your post exudes goodwill and open mindness.

  40. You all realize, I hope, that in a few months all this will be moot. WotC, being the animal that it si, will begin releasing more sourcebooks, compendiums of new spells, gear, and other toys (read: milking the cash cow ’till it’s 2-dimensional), each one coming up with new levels of power to get all of us hopeless marks to buy them. Every edition of D&D starts out with grand goals of balance being tighter. In 2nd Edition, they gave us skill checks (wizards being bookworms, they were delegated to backup narrators with extra information, where fighters were the rock stars in skills with actual skills that DID something). 3.x gave us feats, which the lamented fighter got by the bucketload. Wizards could get feats too, of course, but after they got the obvious Combat Casting (it’s like apologizing for blasting off your foe’s kneecaps with a lame defensive feat) their choices boiled down to metamagic and shoring up weaknesses. Even through this, a high-level wizard worth anything could still annihilate whole parties of equivalently-powered fighters and rogues.

    The only solution, if balance is really the most important issue, is to make all the classes to have their own give and take and LEAVE THEM ALONE. Any balance you create gets destroyed by the next “official” release. The end result will be a lot of classes with powers consistantly rising as the characters rise in level, with each class getting powers of the same level and effectiveness at the same time, much like successful MMORPGs try to do. As long as you remove stun-locking (you evil rogues from WOW, I’m looking at you) you can achieve this.

    But is balance really the end-all be-all of gaming? I don’t think so. Hearkening back to games like Rifts, Ars Magica, or, well, D&D herself, we all juggled effectiveness over characterization in our pasts. I’ve played effective and fun bards in 2nd Edition, even if I didn’t rack up the body count of the mage or the fighters (heck, even the thieves until I got that fireball). I’ve played a Wilderness Scout O.C.C. in Rifts in a team combat-heavy with Juicers, Glitter Boy pilots, and Mind Melters. Each character was memorable, perhaps more memorable, because each triumph was that much more poignant. I know I sound like the martyr who bang his own drum, but I know that balance is not the end-all and be-all that it’s made out to be. A great game can have some balance issues and still be great.

    How does all this tie into what D&D is? My point is this. D&D is, by my personal definition, a fantasy role-playing game that allows us to emulate heroes and characters from classic myth and fantasy, like Merlin, Conan, Beowulf, battling iconic and diverse monsters, relying on a party of diverse characters with clear roles and abilities to overcome the challenges the Dungeon Master devises. It must use a 20-sided die to determine the success or failure of crucial acts, like a combat swing. It must be universal enough to allow me to create my own worlds and run my friends through countless hours of games sprung from my imagination. If 4th Edition can hit all these benchmarks, we can get along together. I know I’ll end up with torch in hand to burn off the excess heads all the later rules and supplements will be cranking out, but there’s nothing new there, is there?

    So sayeth Omnus.

  41. I’ll propose a question to you Mxyzplk:

    What if the changes to all the “shared fluff” make it better? Giants all being the same freaking thing with a different name slapped on is crap (very minor differences aside, because they are minor).

    As for the tactical and minis argument, I believe 3rd Edition had 5 foot step rules:

    1 square = 5 ft.

    Shift 1 square = 5 ft step

    Just because a lot of haters have stupidly latched on to the terminology “shift 1 square” doesn’t mean it’s a valid argument at all.

    Omnus: With what you’ve said about new supplements and books coming out, it really sounds like you’ve gotten D&D confused with World of Warcraft. From what I’ve seen, the majority of players of 3.x still have a PHB in hand for most of the time. Whereas in WoW, once an expansion comes out everything you’ve worked for before that becomes invalidated and useless.

  42. Bartoneus: Try playing the game. You’ll find that if done right, the players NEVER have the book in their hands, unless they’re a spellcaster looking up spells. With every modifier and attack roll outlined on the character sheet, I go through several nights without cracking open my book. The book only proves necessary for advancement. I’m not confused one bit.

    So sayeth Omnus.

  43. Add this to the above post, as my son distracted me as I was typing.

    As a DM, I constantly have players bringing books up to me for approval for the newer, bigger feats and prestige classes. My players don’t go to the PHB, they hit the Tome of Battle or the Feats Compendium. None of them look at the things in the PHB unless they need them for something in a different book. I clamp down hard to try to maintain some semblance of balance. However, once I allowed a few new classes, they all wanted to play duskblades and warlocks rather than bards, monks, or barbarians. I think my experiences are hardly isolated. The same issue applies for MMOs, as you have noted.

  44. @Chatty DM – An argument for a new game system being good can never be “you can always change it.” Mearls changed the rules away from 4e, so that’s a point for 4e being good? No, it’s a validation of my point – to do things like replay G1 you have to change the 4e rules, hence the 4e rules don’t support it all that well.

    As for good will, having my real and honest concerns about 4e being called hyperbole and faulty logic doesn’t put me in a good mood. Being as dismissive as some of you are will of course generate defensive responses, which you can then smugly write off as closed-mindedness.

  45. No, mxyzplk, the argument is that fluff is not the game system. To do things like replay G1 you have to change… what? Oh no, Hill Giants have the “earth” subtype… okay, now they don’t. Did it affect them mechanically at all? Nope.

    As for #2, when I am able to tell you (and with some searching I could show you) that people have been playing 4e WITHOUT miniatures, and without retrofitting the game, yet you keep telling me that minis are DEFINITELY required, that is hyperbole. I could call it an outright lie that ignores facts, but I figured hyperbole (exageration) was better.

  46. In truth, fellows, hasn’t a part of D&D ALWAYS been about changing the game to fit your concept? Take out a template here or there, add a few more hit dice and attack bonus, change the name “demon” to something more palatable (anyone remember Tana’ari and Ba’atezu [possible sic, I’m not going to run and find my Monster Manual]). Even if you make cosmetic changes, or have issues with a rule here or there, D&D survives because it adapts well, not in spite of it. You’re starting to quibble about minor points, and there’s no real reason for being defensive. Embrace the differences, my friends.

  47. TheMainEvent says:

    Alright, so accepting as given that the problems with the edition is:
    1. The fluff/cosmology shift that obsoletes certain products and causes serious headaches in campaigns.
    2. The necessity of miniatures in gameplay.
    3. The focus on game balance over fantasy realism.

    It seems to me that these issues strike at the very core of the way D&D has moved over the past few iterations and that, other than a radical U-turn, there really was no way 4th Edition was going to satisfy these pundits. To me, the whole product is a logical move towards a better game (and of course its a cash-in, but that doesn’t necessary invalidate the game choices made in the name of capitalism). My question is then what should 4th Edition have done then?

  48. @Graham – If you claim people are playing 4e without minis and *without* retrofit then you’re the one lying. It’s hardcoded into kobold stat blocks for Pete’s sake. We can talk about how much work it is to retrofit 4e to not be mini dependent, but saying it’s zero retrofit just flies in the face of reason.

    @Main Event – you definitely have a point. Although I think 3e and 3.5e really only struck at #2, the minis in gameplay. It didn’t do much cosmology shift – all the campaign worlds moved on without much event – or mechanics with game effects over realism. (Balance can be achieved without hurting world simulation.) What could they have done in 4e?

    Well, their stated design goals were good. I agree with each one of them as stated in the Wizards Presents and Excerpts etc. It’s the implementation where it falls down for me.

    Fluff. They could have either a) not changed it, and it seems like a whole lot of change no one was crying out for, or b) not made it part of the ‘core rules.’ If you want a new “points of light” campaign world with a Feywild and Shadowwhatnot and primordials warring against the gods – OK, that’s what we call a “campaign setting.” I think they’ve done the game a disservice by hardcoding more default setting into the core rules.

    Minis. It’s not hard to not make minis such a fundamental part of the rules. Combat has become more tactical than it has been since OD&D itself. I don’t know if they just want in on some of that WH40k money or what, but it’s a change that to me, does not make the game any more fun and it makes it considerably more complicated. I learned to play D&D in the back of a car going to Scout camp; apparently that’ll be quite difficult without a game board and a dozen minis. They talk a LOT of smack about making the game easier, but in 2e we just rolled to hit the imaginary orc without having to set up a game of Squad Leader to do it.

    “Realism.” Means different things to different people, I know. But I want to be able to look into the game world through the lens of my character’s eyes and have things make sense, given the obvious deviations from realism like magic, monsters, etc. They clearly just did not have this as a design driver at all, but they could have. “Marking” and other stuff are gamist tactical powers without clear in-game explanation which could easily have been replaced/modified with no additional work if that was a design goal. Heck, they’ve largely reduced the monsters to just stat blocks – have you read the MM excerpts? They don’t even bother with a *description* of some of the monsters! (ahem, orcs.) “Here’s a stat block, buy the mini!”

  49. Omnus, from a ways back up there:

    “Bartoneus: Try playing the game. You’ll find that if done right, the players NEVER have the book in their hands, unless they’re a spellcaster looking up spells. With every modifier and attack roll outlined on the character sheet, I go through several nights without cracking open my book. The book only proves necessary for advancement. I’m not confused one bit.”

    First off, blow me if you think I don’t play this game. ‘If done right’ is a strong statement of opinion, and when half the classes are spellcasters that ends up giving you a lot of PHB in hand time for looking up spells. The game you’re playing in/running may not have much PHB in hand, but I know ours has a ton and almost every player references a PHB many times in each adventure.

    Your base statement that Wizards releasing more and more material for the game which invalidates everything released beforehand has some truth to it in the sense that the newer stuff they release is more refined and as was the case with recent 3.x books, a testing ground for development of a new edition. But the base PHB and Monster Manual are not invalidated because they’ve released things which are better than what’s in them, they simply add more options and most likely players have used everything that’s out already and want to try new things.

  50. Eeesh, I think I hit a nerve. I guess I’m just spoiled by my veteran players. I meant no offense to anyone who plays in a different way than I or my players do.

    One thing you forget about is the WotC owns and publishes D&D. They use the same formula they do for Magic: the Gathering. Each “expansion” gets just a little more powerful, just a little more useful, to hook us into buying the next round. New prestige classes, weapons, spells all the time. When Sword and Fist came out, I suddenly had two players wanting mercurial greatswords. Coincidence? *laughs* When each new book gets brought to my attention I have to go through it with a fine tooth-comb to determine how the balance is getting thrown out of whack each time, or judging if I want to elevate my world up a little bit to match them. If anyone thinks this is not the case, you’re being naieve. Each new thing may not make a critical difference, but it’s the whole “slippery slope” argument. Pretty soon, things get silly. Of course, you can adjust. I’ve been DMing too long to not be able to do so. But when you adjust a party’s level by five or higher because of the new weapons, spells, and abilities they get because of the supplements, something’s a little bit broken.

    Long-timers may remember when the 1st edition changed a bit with the advent of the Unearthed Arcana Book and Oriental Adventures. The 2nd Edition had its Tome of Magic and Players Options books, as well as all those bloody kits from the Guidebooks. This escalation is nothing new, nor is it unique to D&D. It’s not a refinement, it’s marketing strategy.

    I just got my hands on the new adventure, Keep on the Shadowfell. I glanced at the new characters, the monster blocks, and digested some of the mechanics. Is it “D&D”? YES. Does it have a different feel to it? YES. Is it better than 3.x? In my mind, it isn’t but it isn’t worse either. It’s very, very different, and I think I’ll have to reserve total judgment for the future when I get the corebooks in my hand and absorb some more. BTW, don’t buy the bloody thing unless you have money to throw away. The maps are pretty, but the whole adventure is a bit of a joke for what they’re charging.

  51. They use the same formula they do for Magic: the Gathering. Each “expansion” gets just a little more powerful

    Actually… on average, magic doesn’t do that. The power might be up a tad, but they also reign in the design from overpowered cards from old sets.

    In fact, many of the best cards from older sets are still unmatched today. Lightning Bolt, for instance (one red mana for 3 damage as an instant) hasn’t really been around since 4th edition. It’s been replace by cards like Flare (3 mana, for 1 damage and a card draw) and kindle (2 mana, for 2 damage, plus one for each kindle in the graveyard, so once you spend 4 you spent 8 mana for 14, where lightning bolt was 4 mana for 12). There are some other comporable ones around, but not too many for the cost.

    If 4e is taking the M:tG approach, what we’ll see is a scenario where most powers will never be completely outdated, and new powers/items will open up new options, without being overpowered in comparison.

    I like this.

    If anyone thinks this is not the case, you’re being naieve.

    So, you’re right, and anyone who doesn’t think so is obviously wrong. Yeah, okay.

  52. Exception based systems often have the appearance of power creep, due to increased synergy between various options, but don’t necessarily have power creep within specific cards/powers/etc. And it really shouldn’t matter where the thing comes from, badly designed is badly designed, whether it be a Mercurial Greatsword from Sword & Fist, the Berserker from Complete Fighter, or Harm from 3.0 PHB. So sayeth Dave.

    I’ve enjoyed what we’ve played of Keep on the Shadowfell so far, but not enough to judge it as a whole. I’ll be very surprised if it’s a “joke” though. And maybe it’s because of my publishing experience, but $30 for 96 color pages, the folio covering, and poster maps doesn’t seem unreasonable to me.

  53. TheMainEvent says:

    3.5 Power Creep = Vow of Poverty + Divine Fist (Cleric/Monk Prestige class). GROSS

  54. TME: Broken does not equal power creep.

  55. TheMainEvent says:

    Why not? It seems like its power creep to the extreme?

  56. @TME –

    Power creep is a constant (usually slow) steady increase in power. A single jump in brokenness for one combo is bad, but is not power creep.

  57. Gah, can’t edit.

    To differentiate it, power creep is also an across-the-board increase in power.

  58. My previous statement about H1: The Keep on the Shadowfell being a bit of a joke is in regards to the stiff price. Though it has pretty maps, I would pay about $10 for the actual adventure itself. The rest of the cost is the 4th Edition preview materials. I appreciate having access to this, I just wouldn’t spend my money on it. The adventure IS serviceable.

    If you take all the broken bits out of the supplements, Dave, I’d agree with you, but they tend to pile up. When brokenness becomes the mainstream, it gets very hard to right the ship, necessitating another edition. I’d even agree with the “refinement” theory…if DMs were the only ones who bought supplements. The fact is, I’d estimate that half of all RPG material are bought by players, instead of DMs (though I could be wildy off, having no figures to support this theory). In the main, these players are looking for advantages for their characters. The writers are looking to feed these customers too, so these “broken” bits keep creeping in, or supplements like Tome of Battle or Players Advantage: Combat get published. And let’s not forget about other publishers! In an effort to get their sales niche, many of them use the system and add on even more powerful items and powers, as well. It’s not wrong, it’s just good business sense, but it doesn’t help my game. And 4th Edition will be no different, it’ll just be a new set of challenges.

  59. I think some of this is drifting into opinions of KotS, which would probably make more sense being in the comments of our review. But basing pricing on quality of the adventure… well, that’s pretty subjective. I do think $30 is a wee bit steep, but for everything you get, I wouldn’t expect it to be a $10 adventure.

    As far as “power creep” goes, as Graham pointed out, the general usage of the term tends to imply an overall rise in power levels. I’d argue that if you take all the bits in supplements of a whole that you’ll find more “suck creep” in the many, many sucky options for characters. Additionally, there’s plenty of stuff that was overpowered in the PHBs (3.5 is kind of weird because they had a second crack at balancing stuff in the book) so calling it a creep is difficult for me to agree with… there was a high bar to begin with.

  60. “And 4th Edition will be no different, it’ll just be a new set of challenges.”

    I’m certainly afraid that this is true, but I have some hope that they’re supposedly including some very cool options within the base PHB such as a Gryphon mount, magic items, and other things we know of like Tiefling and Dragonborn as PC races, which bring a lot of what we’re discussing as “power creep” from later books into the very beginning of the game.

    If they present cool enough options to start with, then when they release awesome stuff later on it should fit right in.

  61. You’ll know when it goes too far when you can roll up a first level demi-god with his Force Dragon steed.

  62. But if that’s what you get at first level, imagine what you’d get at twentieth! 🙂

  63. “You’ll know when it goes too far when you can roll up a first level demi-god with his Force Dragon steed.”

    Can you do the equivalent of that in 3.x now?

  64. Besides, you don’t become a demi-god until level 30.

  65. Until the first supplement comes out. Then there’ll be a new class Demigod. Only elves can be one at 1st level. :p

  66. I played 4e for awhile, got tired of the PC Hit points and the damn healing surges, sold it all and bought Big Eyes Small Mouth books and a bunch of other Tri-Stat games, I am through trying to get into these new fangled D&D rules, they suck, Period!

    If I play D&D anymore, its back to the creators, TSR for me, WoTC has screwed this system up to the 10th power!

  67. @Baron: Yea I totally agree, when WotC added Hit Points into the game it TOTALLY went downhill! Those bastards!

    On a serious note, I do love the Big Eyes Small Mouth system.


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