Okay I will warn my old-school buddies right up front. This blog entry contains me saying good things about D&D 4e, so if your grognard sensibilities are easily injured, go ahead and put the duct-tape on your head now before it 'splodes.
A friend of mine has been running several play-by-post games on the Reaper Minis forum, and recently had a slot come available in one of his games due to another player being unable to find time to post. I had mentioned early on that I would like to try out a 4e game so that I could at least offer up an actual educated rant on why the game stinks, but now that I have begun reading the player guides and building my character, my opinion has shifted somewhat.
Yeah we've all heard people say, "If you pretend it's not really D&D, it isn't so bad."
I believe that is a pretty fair assessment, but in all honesty the same thing could be said about 3e by the folks who had been playing 2nd and earlier. It's different, but not so different that I feel as though I'm learning a new game. It's like comparing Windows XP to Vista. It feels different and it runs different, but it's still has its roots in the same game.
And what about "It's D&D for dummies."
Having looked at the player guides I can honestly say that isn't true. Yes, there are some game aspects such as skills, alignment, and combat actions that have been made more simple. Yes the book is less populated with charts and tables, and yes the game relies more heavily on combat maps with tokens and powers-cards and other visual aides, but this does not mean that the GM and players are required to "dumb down" in order to enjoy the game. It seems that the game's creators have tried to make less work for the players and especially for the GM. I don't think a 4e combat encounter could be done using only narrative, but for many people (who I personally do not consider to be dummies), keeping up with spatial relationships between combatants while worrying about the actual fighting only bogs down the action.
Oh, and the AC is ascending.... for all the dummies like me. :D
But then, "It takes too long to make a character"
Yeah that is probably true if you are old-school and used to being able to put all your character notes on one index card. And of course like any other game system, your first 4e character will take longer because you are learning a new system. I'm guessing my second character won't take so long, but in my personal opinion, getting my head wrapped around 4e character building was easier than learning 3e. The player guide is far easier to understand and all but walks you through making your character choices and filling in the sheet. In addition, there is the free downloadable character builder on the WoTC site that lets you make characters up through 3rd level. I used both the book and the builder program while making my character so I could get a clearer understanding of why the program does what it does.
But "Do you really need a character builder? Are you an idiot?"
I like to think of the free character builder as a good proofreader. It is designed not to let you take options that are not allowed for your character, and most options display a description that guided you toward making choices that are best suited for your character. But what really makes it a nice thing to have is how it can output a simple text character summary for online play, provide a printable character sheet that includes a page of powers cards to help you keep track during encounters. I've not played face-to-face yet, but apparently the little cards are helpful in that regard. I believe advancing a character won't be difficult at all, but if I were planning on playing a 4e campaign with my game group, I'd probably subscribe to DDI at least one month of the year just to get the full version of the program and an occasional update.
Oh yeah I almost forgot, "But I don't like the limitations on characters and classes and soforth."
Uh-huh. I doubt anybody who says that will get too much sympathy from anybody who plays old-school. Yes, the various classes are somewhat "samey", but at least there are no advancement caps, serious drawbacks for certain race-class combinations, nor vast inequities in how XP is doled out. And no I'm not taking pot-shots at old-school D&D, but that is how the games differ. To each their own I say. It seems that 4e tried to move away from some of those prestige classes in favour of what they call paragon paths. There also appears to be a real move away from multi-classing and munchkin-builds.
But, "Every character is a munchkin now, aren't they?"
It would seem so. Everybody has all these powers and healing surges and stuff. I'd sure as heck not bet any money on my Oe or 1e character lasting long in the 4e world. Heck, my old-school characters are lucky to live as long as they do in their own turf. So yes, it's fair to say there has been power-creep in D&D.
And finally, "If I wanted to play a video game, I'd play a video game."
I can't honestly say that 4e is not closer to video-game mentality than other editions. The healing surges remind me far too much of the health-status bar that appears below your character in some of the cheesy online MMOs I've tried out. Who here has ever run up on the "boss", taken three whacks at him, then led him on a chase through the dungeon while your health points regenerated? Okay 4e isn't quite that gamey, but I can see how people make the connection. BUT in the defense of gameyness, it seems like videogames are becomeing more and more advanced with virtual reality so that soon somebody will say "If I wanted to play a LARP, I'd play a LARP." Okay, maybe that's a stretch, but you get the drift. In the defense of the game's creators, there is quite a bit of emphasis in the players manual on how to roleplay and use narrative during the game. It's up to the GM and players to set the tone for the game. If they all are roleplayers, then they will get a far different experience out of the game than a group whose prior game experience begins and ends with WoW. As for the gamey jargon, it is only a manifestation of the generalizations many D&D players have been making all along. I'm not real wild about it personally, but I suppose that is one of those things that comes with getting older and grumpier.
And finally, "I don't like the new races and classes."
Again, you'll not get any sympathy from this old-schooler. While I'm personally not wild about playing a gnome or a tiefling, I can understand others' excitement over the new diversity. In a roleplay-influenced game, the diversity can make for some real interesting group dynamics within the party.
In conclusion, I will continue to play the old-school games I enjoy. I will keep playing the 3/3.5 games I enjoy, and I will go into 4e with an open mind. After all, it's all really about friends, adventure and imagination.
So shuddup and go play.