2009 was the year I reentered the world of gaming in full force. During law school I kept an interest, but played pencil and paper RPGs infrequently, and only out of town. I eagerly followed and consumed all 4e materials. I applauded its newfound sense of balance and streamlined system for enhanced ease of play.
Then, I played it. Entering two games at paragon tier, I got to examine the system. It’s been fun. With streamlined simplicity it has given real number crunchers enough to min-max (though they lament the broken combos of yore) and the casual gamer the means to compete without being forced to spend too much time. For me though, some aspects of 4E stand out as ugly warts on a smooth and well conceived gaming experience. So now, the honeymoon with 4e is over. 4e and I spent our days in bed cooing softly in one another’s ear, and now it’s time to take stock of the situation. It’s time to codify my biggest gripes about 4e.
Way back when the PHB came out, I said that the Cleric class pissed me off because a lot of what it did was give +1 bonuses to PC X for Trait Y. Well, having played in Paragon tier, it’s confirmed: these sort of bonuses are a total pain in the ass. We have a sophisticated gaming set up with lots of visible trackers and a lot of players that know both their characters and the rules, but these sorts of things just slip through the cracks. Really, this sort of minor static boon is a nightmare for tabletop play and just serve to make people think, “gee this would be a heck of a lot easier on a computer.” THAT is exactly the wrong thought to provoke during a tabletop game.
Condition Tracking Headaches
It seems like once an adventure we end up with the ‘colorful tower’ monster. We use colored tokens beneath miniatures to track the various conditions in combat, but it gets truly ridiculous when you have a marked, bloodied, censured, oathed, dazed, immobilized, quarried, cursed, shrouded x4 monster. The whole mess blurs together into one rainbow of plastic teetering over the battlefield. The individual mechanics were, and still are, inspired on a class by class basis, but the sum total is just a huge mess and also leads to the “easer on a computer” conundrum.
Get Hit, Lose Your Shit
For us, the 3e combat paradigm revolved around insta-kill in combat. Spell casters had a few “save or lose” type spells and it was a matter of stopping enemy salvos and making your own succeed. After these nukes were set off then it boiled down to damage. It was cruel, often unfair, but it led to a sort of accepted reality that most groups I played with absorbed and ran with. 4e is supposed to be kinder, gentler and more player-friendly. I think that is good. However, they kept a whole bunch of “fun-killers”: dazed, stunned, and dominated come to mind as the primary offenders. These results aren’t save or die, but they result in players losing the ability to take actions or limiting their ability to make choice; the heart of role-playing. Paragon tier is littered with monsters that have these powers, and while the specifics vary the end result is this: it takes away the fun part of the game. You patiently wait your turn, but then something happens, and your moment to shine is denied to you! It’s completely wrong for the 4e play paradigm but these rules are hardwired into the system.
4e represents a paradigm shift in the right direction, but some of the nuts and bolts decisions really irk me. I play 4e once a week so it is important to point out I still thoroughly enjoy the game. However, some of these issues seem like elementary and predictable problems. Their persistence and inclusion baffle me. Do others play experiences mirror my own? Am I too harsh? Have different playgroups made “patches” to address these concerns? I’m always interested in feedback.