Rutskarn’s RPG System Hoedown, Part 2: The Latter Dragons

By Rutskarn
on Feb 2, 2016
Filed under:
Tabletop Games

When I wrote the first entry in my series explaining RPG systems to newbies, I wrote–and deleted–several paragraphs on why I recommended Dungeons and Dragons at all. The reason it got cut was that it felt like a needlessly confrontational introduction; this series is to educate new players, not carry a spear in the endless nerd faction blood war between old ones. But now that I’m underway, let me take a moment explain to any prospective gamers–if not imaginary grognards with opinions two degrees east of my own–why I’m pushing D&D for my first two posts of recommendations when I rarely choose to run it myself.

Sure–there’s things I don’t like about D&D. And as a full disclosure, that’s not exactly an unpopular opinion among people who’ve been gaming as long as I have. A common complaint is that it’s outdated, married to 1970s sacred cows that have since been replaced with newer, sexier cows with lower carbon footprints. I’ll be honest and say that several of the editions I’m recommending, I don’t like playing at all. At least, not anymore.

But when you get right down to it, D&D just isn’t like the games I replace it with. It’s not a schlocky parody riff/jazz solo on the tropes of standard roleplaying games like Sacred Barbecue. It’s not a re-examination of dungeon crawling storytelling using tightly reinvented mechanics like Dungeon World or Dungeon Crawl Classics. All of those are games made because somebody got sick of D&D, but they got sick of it because they’d played it–their work is derivative, and it only functions because it operates from the same recognizable and approachable foundation. What D&D is–what it needs to be–is a solid, earnest, classic game. It’s a firm base of objective rules with a straightforward, literal, and legible mechanic used to tell entry-level fantasy stories. It’s a medium-crust delivery pepperoni pizza. It’s a great start. You won’t hate it. Odds are you’ll have an excellent time, you’ll find one part you like more than the rest, you’ll branch out, and then four years later you’ll be writing forum posts about what’s wrong with D&D like the rest of us.

There’s another and simpler reason: Dungeons and Dragons is lavishly produced to be an introductory game. Almost every RPG allocates some space to teaching first-timers what they’re doing, but it’s so often a perfunctory and lazy effort: generally speaking the rulebook’s either a tight sixty-page .pdf that can’t dedicate more than a couple to tutorials or it assumes anyone who can find it by word of mouth and pick it up won’t need more than a refresher. Grab any edition of D&D, on the other hand, and you’ll find an entire chapter–often several chapters–dedicated to explaining how things work in the sort of exhaustive mind-numbing detail you only get when you’ve got interns to abuse.

Now, where were we? Oh, right.

Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition

So to recap the lessons of the last post: 2nd Edition is designed to evoke classic fantasy. 3rd Edition is designed to expand classic fantasy. Now we’ve come to 4th Edition, which does something that might come off a little bizarre and redundant: 4th edition is designed to gamify classic fantasy. I know; it’s a roleplaying game. What the hell does gamify mean in this context?

Simple: it means making roleplaying like other games. Non-roleplaying games. And considering how roleplaying games got to be like roleplaying games in the first place, that’s not so much a deviation as a throwback.

It’s a well-known but often overlooked fact that early editions of Dungeons and Dragons were inspired by (actually evolved directly from) contemporary wargames. Like those early wargames, the point of a combat in D&D was not just to provide a good strategic challenge and kill an evening rolling dice–the point was to make you feel like a commander in a real battle. The mechanics were built to reinforce the idea that the little people fighting on the table obey the same rules and logic as real-world human beings; that the game had rules and dice at all was an unfortunate condition, an obligation made as entertaining as possible but only there to reinforce the idea that what was going on was real. That’s who the game was made for, that’s what the game was made to feel like.

Go to a nerd gathering back in the day, in the lean years of the nerddom, and you’d find a few tables of people playing D&D and a few tables of people in full regalia playing fiddly Napoleonic wargames translated in pencil from the original Croatian.

Now pretend it’s the new millenium. You’re a developer tasked with updating Dungeons and Dragons for that brave new frontier, the modern less-fringe-than-previous nerdling. So you go to a new-school tabletop convention and see a couple tables of D&D, the same couple dudes in epaulets swapping the same cannonades from 1975…and about a hundred tables of all types of people playing the kind of slick creative board games that were just beginning to undergo a massive renaissance. Now think about where you’d go for inspiration.

The effect on the game’s combat mechanics, arguably the most important part of any edition’s ruleset, cannot be overstated. Prior editions had a general list of actions you could take in a combat round. There was the occasional unique and idiosyncratic special move–often a class would have either none in particular or one that totally defined them, like the Rogue’s sneak attack or the Barbarian’s rage. Spellcasters had spells, which were cast the same way in combats as out of them. Most of the game’s moves could be attempted or at least learned by a character of any class at all. The goal was to retain a certain austerity and universality that lent combat its grounded and relatively plausible edge; that goal was left behind by 4th Edition immediately.

4th Edition set out to provide every kind of character a large list of unique JRPG-techniques so that almost every action in combat is either a physical movement or a special ability. Every character in the game has abilities that can be used at will, abilities that can be used once a combat, abilities that can be used one per day. Oddly (at least to the aforementioned grognard), this includes theoretically nonmagical characters like Rogues and Fighters. It doesn’t make any particular narrative sense that ostensibly mudane abilities like stabbing really hard or stabbing someone really fast can only be used “once per day” or “once per combat,” or that they occasionally accomplish seemingly magical ends, but that concern isn’t part of the game’s design principles. The point isn’t to create verisimilitude, whatever that truly means for a fantasy monster-killing simulator, so much as to create interesting and approachable strategic options.

How you felt about that paragraph tells you whether or not you want to try 4E. The introduction of powers is the largest meaningful change to the game by far. There are some refinements good and bad to the outskirts of the system–some neat stuff with stat checks, some baffling stuff with how it approaches ethics and morality, some iffy and limiting recommendations for handling skill checks that you don’t need to pay attention to–but nothing besides combat approaches a selling or splitting point. It’s all about the board-game-style tactics and how that appeals to you personally.

One note: in my experience, combat takes longer in 4th Edition than in any other. There’s a lot of rules-mediated options available in a given turn, so be prepared to wait for yours.

5th Edition

I put 5E on this list somewhat tentatively. 2nd Edition vs. Pathfinder vs. 4E is a vicious knock-down duel of the fates, a contention that will never be resolved as long as torrents flow and dice roll.

5th edition is, uh, it’s fine. Pretty good. But the only boat it rocks is the one it already rocked last time, the U.S.S. Superpowercombat, and it’s rocking it right back to where it started from.

All the stuff I just said about 4th Edition? Ignore that, because this game does–it picks up from 3rd Edition like nothing else ever happened. Actually, I’d say it goes back even further: it retreats, in a pleasing way, to the fuzziness of 2nd Edition that lets a few mechanics stand alone and doesn’t try to simulate every possible circumstance. The result is–pretty good. It’s not weird or new enough to inspire much of a rabid fanbase that I’ve detected, but it’s solid and safe.

You can find the basic rules you need to get started here–which is nice.

It’s not totally free and huge like Pathfinder, but it’ll serve for a while until you need to buy some rulebooks, which will be in print and readily available. If you hear about a sponsored game day or convention game it’s going to be 5th Edition. So let me put it this way: if you’re looking for someone else to start you off, 5th Edition is a perfectly good game and probably the easiest to find a group or event for, depending on where you are.

So that’s my breakdown of D&D editions for new players. Next time–finally–I’ll talk about some other nice options.

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  1. Lachlan the Mad says:

    Something that I’d like to suggest about D&D 4e; it’s actually one of the better D&D versions if you’re dealing with a full group of newbies. At low level, 4e is full of tactical choice and variety and can be played in something less than a fortnight, every rule card repeats your abilities at least twice, and everything’s consistent enough that people will grasp the rules very quickly. It’s when you get above level 11 or so and start suffering from severe power bloat that things get ugly.

    Furthermore, starting a full group of newbies on 4e is probably inferior to throwing one or two newbies into an existing group, regardless of what edition that group is playing, but needs must. My introduction to D&D came in the form of improvised big-group 4e sessions at my university’s board games club and I’m none the worse for it.

  2. Khizan says:

    I’m a definite 4E fan, for one large reason.

    I played a vanilla Fighter in my first game and I got to do things. This is a big freaking deal. In 3E and the previous versions, your fighter’s turn basically consisted of the same attack spammed endlessly. All your special stuff, like disarms and knockdowns and shoving people was instead of hitting people with your sword, and it was usually less effective than it. If I wanted to shove an enemy away from the wizard, I had to bullrush them. This did no damage, gave them a chance to hit me, and was generally less accurate than my sword. There’s no awesome shield smash followed by a sword thrust or anything like that.

    In my first fight as 4E fighter, though, I was shield bashing people around and shoving them away from friends. I had a mechanic that helped me defend my squishy rogue friend by letting me punish enemies who hit him instead of me. I was holding the line, setting up friends for extra damage, and smashing people off of our wizard. It was awesome. I didn’t feel like the wizard’s accessory, I felt like the king of the battlefield.

    In our 4E fights, everybody is awesome. In our 3E fights, our casters were awesome and our fighters/rogues/paladins/etc spent a lot of time saying “full round attack” or “single attack and a move” while the casters had all the options and all the fun. I will take a janky skill system for that kind of experience, no sweat, especially because skills are where it’s easiest to fudge the rules.

    • Matt Downie says:

      That was more or less the point of the original Fighter, though. It was a class for people who didn’t want to have to learn a bunch of rules. You didn’t have to keep track of special resources, and you didn’t have to choose between fifteen different options every round in combat. If you wanted to do a variety of things, you picked a different class. So it’s only a problem if you didn’t like the implied flavor of the more interesting martial classes, or if you started out wanting to play a simple character and changed your mind later on.

    • Axehurdle says:

      I’ve actually found 5th edition to be a great middle of the road option for this. There’s not as many options as 4E but the way 4E was designed made it untenable for most people in my playgroup. I play with a lot of people who get bored very quickly and shoving little people around 5ft at a time takes forever and is rather tedious. 5E gives melee classes more options and the combat is far more streamlined (no 5ft. step skullduggery, simple AOOs) It’s a great in between of some of the tactical fun of 4E without the uhm, deliberate pacing.

  3. Zaxares says:

    Your analysis of 4E was pretty much spot on the nose for my takeaway from it too. It was D&D that was adapted to work for video games, and for the video game crowd. I’m not sure if this approach actually paid dividends for games like DDO, as I’ve never played them, but for my part, the loss of verisimilitude and the massive cuts they made into things like established lore and the D&D universe were what killed it for me. I don’t play D&D to get a video game experience; I’ve got video games for that. I play D&D for an interactive story experience that has solid-enough rules to provide resolutions (or at least guidelines) for whatever wacky shenanigans my players decide to throw at me. D&D is the game you play when, confronted with the eternal evil of Baal the World Devourer, who has just stepped into our reality through the unholy portal his cultists have just opened, you want your players to be able to respond in any potential way possible:

    Doug: My Paladin draws forth his Holy Avenger and yells “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!”

    Sue: My Wizard brandishes her Staff of the Magi and draws out EVERY single charge from it to supercharge her Disjunction spell to try and close the portal.

    Mary: My Rogue draws her Dagger of Slaying and moves into position behind Sue (“What?”). As soon as she starts her spell, I stab her in the spine and ruin it. “Baal, my secret Master, shall be free!”

    Ben: I’m gonna try and seduce Mary’s character. (“In the middle of a battle??”) Rolling on my seduction check. … Nat 20!

    I haven’t had the chance to try out 5th Ed yet, but now I’m really, REALLY curious to try, to see if they’ve gone back to their roots.

    • Joshua says:

      5E is very much a classic feel to the game. While I liked a lot of things about 4E and disliked others, 5E *feels* like playing the D&D you grew up with.

    • Axehurdle says:

      I highly recommend 5E. Rutskarn’s reception was lukewarm but I think it’s great. It’s like, if you took 2nd or 3rd and removed all the awful rules bloat and then added the slick polished feel of 4E. It really is the update D&D needed to actually bring the classic into the modern age.

      • krellen says:

        I, too, am a fan of 5E. And as a bonus, there are a plethora of online groups streaming their games (like the great folks at Critical Role) to help you get a feel for the system if you’re feeling nervous about it.

        • James says:

          Watched GnS play Paranoia and the outcome was chaos, carnage and hilarity, Felicia Day and Wil Wheaton arguing over and killing over a pen.

        • Cuthalion says:

          Loading Ready Run’s Temple of the Lava Bears is one I enjoyed, with likable personalities (unless you hate their videos or something) and some great moments where everything is FINE, just FINE, ok?!

          Personally, DnD itself has never really struck a chord with me in rules terms, but I still enjoy playing or watching it. 5e is kind of a best of all worlds (unless you really liked 4e, which I gather you did not) in terms of grabbing feel, design philosophy, and rules from different editions.

          I do think Rutskarn was comparing 4e to the board game renaissance rather than video games though. And I think he’s right.

          • Parsley says:

            Temple of The Lava Bears is what got me interested in trying D&D to begin with – I had a few friends and at-the-time acquaintances that kept talking about starting a new group etc, but it was watching LRR have so much fun, and with 5E being pretty easy to follow that finally got me to give it go.

            My only prior experience of D&D had been playing Bauldur’s Gate, which, honestly, I had always found quite tedious (easier to enjoy now) and it pretty much put me off the idea of doing it tabletop.

            And now, after a year or so of weekly playing, I’m the DM for our group and take great delight in letting my players know that EVERYTHING IS FINE. Oh, you touched that nasty looking stick in the creepy cave with the evil wight trying to murder you all? You’re FINE. LRR really need to get another campaign stream going.

          • krellen says:

            I don’t dislike 4E, I just do most of my roleplaying online and 4E is designed to be played around a table, because it is really a fancy boardgame.

    • Hal says:

      To be fair, 4E didn’t exclude that sort of story telling or improvisational action. I ran a 4E campaign for my group, and I was constantly ruling on wacky shenanigans.

      I think the major determinant there is the GM. Many GMs will say that, if it’s not written in the rules, you can’t do it, and if there’s a rule for it, then you cannot depart from that, period. That sort of GM will work better with some systems over others, but that inflexibility isn’t system specific.

      • King Marth says:

        As with every edition, there aren’t rules for doing weird stuff, there’s a blank sheet of paper shoved at the DM saying “Write rules here for when people do weird stuff”. 4e gets its bad reputation because its rules are so complete on the areas they cover that the jump to rulesless territory is more noticeable; besides, the combat within the rules is fun enough for me personally that whenever I found a ‘clever’ way to bypass it in my 4e games I felt cheated for not being allowed to play the fight. Never mind that there’s a page in the DMG specifically for giving reasonable damage expressions for kicking over braziers onto enemies, knocking down chandeliers, and the like… To be fair, the existence of powers also tends to imply that you need to have spent resources selecting that power in order to use it, so unorthodox maneuvers are necessarily weaker than proper powers to avoid overshadowing people who picked those powers.

        Also, in 4e all those weird obscure spell effects that people macguyver with cost money to cast instead of taking from combat slots. Money feels essential in 4e to keep your magic item bonuses up to date, even though the nice clearly-presented rewards system in the DMG ensures that spending money on items will at best fill holes with second-rate gear since you find all the good stuff as treasure directly. It’s mildly amusing to see 23rd-level demigods with wealth measured in tons of platinum bending over backwards to avoid spending a couple gold on minor services.

        Basically, if you see combat as something to be avoided, 4e isn’t the game for you. If you like to play tactics games, it is tailor made for you.

        • Hal says:

          I definitely agree with you on the conclusion, but then I think D&D has been that way across editions. (Haven’t played 5E yet, so I can’t say on that one.) It’s a combat-centric game; if you want something more geared towards investigation, intrigue, or drama, there are better systems out there.

          But then that’s always the case. There are systems that can do everything, but if you really care about issue/mechanic X, there’s a system that focuses on it somewhere.

        • Felblood says:

          Other editions of DnD at least try to give the DM guidelines on what sorts of shenanigans are possible, and how to resolve them, even if they come with a neon sign saying “They’re really more like guidelines than actual rules!”

          4E made a brief, desperately lazy and gruesomely abortive sally into that space. The skill challenge rules are an affront to both freedom and gamification. They sacrifice everything that 4E was created to uphold, without really recovering any of what was lost in the process.

          — and then abandoned the DM there, to sort out the mess on his own. A DM with sufficient experience with other games to cook up something playable would wisely begin by throwing that crap away, and starting from a blank slate.

          At that point, why did we pay for all these books, exactly?

          It really is the heart of a really slick combat system, crushed under the weight of dozens of overpriced and contradictory splatbooks, and a nearsighted progression system. However, I wouldn’t even go so far as to call 4E a complete RPG. It’s more like a combat tutorial for one, that has 20 unnecessary and poorly organized levels, after you finish the good ones.

          I always kind of hoped that a refined and expanded knock-off would sweep away all the cruft and add some better exploration guidelines, but if such a thing ever took off, I never heard about it.

    • Alan says:

      Mirroring others: I have much praise for 5th edition. I think they hit on a sweet spot. It merged the core simplicity of original (pre-Advanced) D&D, the unified mechanics of 3rd edition, and a dash of quirky powers from 4th. I find the result to be fast, flexible. If one sees the appeal of both the Old School Renaissance and Pathfinder, one might find an appealing balance in 5th.

  4. Abnaxis says:

    I very much disagree that 5th picks up from where 3 left off. Taking actions and rolling dice might be similar, but character creation is much different.

    Gone are the stats that can go from — to infinity, they’re all capped at 20. Gone are the “Summon Bigby’s Overworked Intern VII” or the “track how many times you’ve cast X spell today.” Gone are feats and prestige classes, replaced instead with branches like “Eldritch Knight” or “Tongue of the Sun and Moon” chosen at third level for each class and locked-in forevermore. Gone are individually assigned skill points, attack bonuses or save bonuses–now you have a proficiency score; if you are trained in a thing, just add your proficiency score to checks doing that thing.

    Character creation basically boils down to “pick a race, pick a class, assign attributes, done” because everything else about your character is determined by those three choices. I haven’t played it in a PnP setting yet, but some of the people in my gaming group have.

    One of those people, she…well, she doesn’t have much of a head for rules. She hates creating characters, and her husband (who is also part of the group) is constantly reminding her of what her character is capable of, because she loses track. She likes 5th edition because it is much more approachable to someone who doesn’t like micromanagement–you don’t have to keep track of dozens of little character defining decisions, because they are all made ahead of time.

    Whether or not that’s your cup of tea, is up to you. Without playing it, I’m not too keen on it. I like being able to combine things that weren’t originally intended to be combined in my characters, and the system seems to actively discourage that.

    Honestly, 5th strikes me as a compromise between the JRPG that 4th ed was, and the stuff that came before. Two steps to the left, and one to the right. All the people I know who hate 4e with all the fires in Tarterus love 5e for the refinements it held over from 4th.

    • aluminiumtrioxid says:

      Your observation is spot-on. 5E’s big thing over Pathfinder – and part of the reason I actually prefer it – is ease of use. No options bloat, no abundance of mechanical widgets that are a toss-up between “useless” and “gamebreaking if combined with options A, B and C from rulebooks X, Y and Z, with a three level multiclass from Class 1, six levels of Prestige Class 2 and the rest in Prestige Class 3” (bonus point for not having to be familiar with every single detail of the system in order to determine which of the options presented as having equal value are garbage). Class balance is also much tighter; the player who chose to play a rogue won’t feel useless from about level 6 on just because the party had another player who wrote “wizard” on their character sheet.

      As for being able to combine things that weren’t meant to be combined… I find that between Backgrounds and the variant human’s free feat at level 1, there’s few character concepts you can’t do. Want to be a fighter who used to dabble in spellcasting before deciding it simply wasn’t for him? Pick the background that says you were a wizard’s apprentice (or make one up yourself, they’re not super hard to figure out), snag the Magic Initiate feat, bam, you’re done. A religious fanatic filled with an all-consuming frenzy to root out heresies everywhere? You’re a barbarian with the adept background; just reflavor your abilities to represent holy fervor.
      Also, multiclass spellcasters finally work without gimping themselves, and one of the strongest options in the game is actually the multiclassed Paladin/Warlock. So yeah, combining things that weren’t meant to be: definitely an option.

      • Abnaxis says:

        I’ll have to take your word for it until I actually get some spare time to put those books I got for Christmas to use :p

        I’d put odds at about 100:1 that I’ll ever actually use one of the RAW backgrounds, though–they are usually a rough fit at best. And feats/alternate backgrounds are all optional houserules at the GMs discretion–if you don’t want to put the game-master on the spot, the system is pretty constraining.

        • aluminiumtrioxid says:

          I don’t know, even though feats are called out as an “optional” rule, in practice, every single table I’ve played with or even heard about uses them.

          As for backgrounds, literally every single background is a combination of “pick two skill proficiencies, pick two language or tool proficiencies, add a minor RP bonus”. They’re not exactly super-hard to tinker with.

          • Parsley says:

            This! So much of this!

            I see so many posts on the D&D reddit with someone moaning that ‘Feats are only optional so they are rarely used if ever, this sucks’ and it’s just not the case. I’m pretty certain WotC stated they were optional just to cover for the few GMs that don’t want to allow them for specific plot reasons and struggle with talking things through with their players like adults. Even Adventurer’s League lets players gain feats.

  5. Jack V says:

    What I really really like about 4e: they made interesting tactical decisions apply to all classes. They made combat include more tactical decisions.

    What I really hate about 4e. There’s a giant wall between “roleplaying” and “combat”. You can never segue into combat because it has to be massively prepped with a battlemat, so every encounter tends to be railroaded. You can never get creative EXCEPT by choosing party-synergistic powers, because every power has one specific use in combat it’s hard to get it to do anything.

    As someone said, in 3.5e, a session was a game: each combat was typically easy or hard depending whether you were well prepped for it, and the game was “make as many as possible easy”. In 4e, each combat is a well balanced game. And a session is a string of mostly unrelated combats…

    • Ninety-Three says:

      Expanding on that, what I disliked about 4E was that combat was an all-consuming monster that expanded at the expense of everything else. In 3E, there were dozens of level 1 spells that either had noncombat applications, or were entirely designed for noncombat situations. It 4E, there were exactly two, and both of them were clearly combat spells that you could crowbar into noncombat use (Summon Monster, and some kind of short-range “teleport to the target then make a free attack against them” spell).

      I think it was Rutskarn who said “D&D is all about the cruft, there are hundreds of little feats, magic items, and spells for every situation… D&D is about the bullshit” and it felt like 4E dropped all that out-of-combat bullshit for well-balanced tactical depth.

      • Ninety-Three says:

        Here’s the quote I’m thinking of, which I’m 95% sure came from Rutskarn on either the podcast or on Spoiler Warning:

        “D&D is a game that only works because of the bullshit. 100% of its redeeming qualities are the bullshit, its petty little minutia things. If you want adventure-combat, if you want roleplaying, if you want dungeon-crawling, you could find a dozen systems way better than D&D. The one thing it has going for it is that it consistently maintains a giant quantity of cruft, of complications, of hundreds of little magic items that do specific things, hundreds of monsters that do specific things…”

    • Hal says:

      I think that criticism would apply in any edition of D&D if you’re using a battlemat for combat.

      • Steve C says:

        It does apply. I’m very glad of Jack V’s comment. It hits the nail on the head for why I still vastly prefer 2nd ed. I don’t like 3rd, 4th or 5th D&D because there’s a giant wall between “roleplaying” and “combat”.

        I like battle-mats and miniatures. I just don’t like being beholden to them. In 2nd ed you could use a battle-mat or not. It didn’t make much difference beyond ensuring everyone at the table had a common point of reference. Important sometimes, not important most of the time. Combat and non-combat didn’t have a wall between them.

        Later editions require miniatures and a battle-map. Positioning and movement is an intrinsic part of the combat system. And before someone says, “Oh you don’t need to play that way…” I’m going to head that off by saying I strongly disagree.

        Combat in 2nd ed is slow because a lot of time is spent every round asking the DM, “Can I…..?” With no battle-map it is an open ended possibility space.

        • krellen says:

          The reason I like 5E so much is that it’s probably the first edition of DnD in decades that doesn’t require a battlemat. Can a battlemat help? Sure, if you’ve got lots of things to keep track of. But it is absolutely not a requirement. There aren’t really a lot of complex positioning things to track; you have advantage is another ally is attacking a thing, you provoke if you try to go fight something different – nothing that requires miniatures to track. You don’t even have to carefully track movement, because you can move, act, move just as a base ability.

        • Paranta says:

          5th edition doesn’t require minis nor battlemat, you can play it just like you’d play any edition before 3rd.

          • Steve C says:

            I’ve played 5th ed and I disagree.

            • Paranta says:

              I’ve DM’d and played 5e from the day it was released and we haven’t used battlemats or minis, and we haven’t had any trouble with any combat rule yet. We haven’t found any need to play with miniatures while playing 5e, really. With 3e, Pathfinder and 4e, miniatures were absolutely necessary.

              Which system or rule 5e has that AD&D didn’t have, which forces you to use a battlemat?

  6. Halceon says:

    I think it’s an excellent thing that D&D has branched into 2 products, where 5E is going the story route (hearsay, have only ever played 3.5) and for the gamey crowd there’s the D&D adventure boardgame series.

  7. kdansky says:

    There is one more important part about 4E that people conveniently ignore in reviews, probably because 80% (or more!) people never GM, or do it rarely enough to not bother looking at the perspective.

    If you want to prepare a 3E combat as a GM, you’ll spend three hours minimum on statting your guys. If the combat should be interesting and not just rote, make that ten. That’s how long you need to build an interesting roster of legal combat-capable characters that are a fair challenge to your party, and you will only be successful if you’ve had years and years of running RPGs for them, ideally this very same system for this very same party.

    Why? Because there are so many fiddly bits everywhere, and your players will invariably all have used some esoteric feat or spell from some book at the end of the universe that the vast majority of combat encounters can be cheesed, or lead to a party-wipe in turn 2 because it turns out that the Druid didn’t prepare the poison cure spell and the Wizard missed his easy saving throw against the CON-damage poison, so he’s now paralyzed and because in 3E, a Wizard is usually 75% of a 5-man party’s offensive powers, that’s a bit of an issue. Just read Order of the Stick: it’s pretty accurate.

    In 4E, it takes you five minutes to throw together a finely balanced encounter, because the “gamey” aspect of the sytem allowed the designers to put measuring sticks to everything, and that’s a good thing! Even if you’re accidentally off on the difficult side by a bit, your players will probably bring out a few last-ditch aces they had up their sleeves, and still scrape by in a dramatic and enjoyable fashion. This works because the mechanics interact nicely, and without ever breaking down in “Instant Death/No Effect” fashion. If the encounter ends up a bit too easy, it ends quickly and nobody gets bored either.

    As a long-time GM, if you force me to run D&D, I’ll decline anything that isn’t 4E purely for this simple reason: I can write the whole campaign notes in the time it takes me to prepare the first fight for 3E. Of course, you can fudge it all and just make up shit, but then why are you using a complicated seventy-book rules system in the first place?

    • Matt Downie says:

      GMing Pathfinder, there’s certainly some truth in that. (I’ve had the frustration of building a diverse team of enemies only to have them wiped out in three rounds.)

      But there are shortcuts. Monsters can be used directly from the Bestiary – that’s much quicker than making human enemies with class levels.

      Or if you google “Pathfinder NPCs by CR” you’ll find lists of pre-created characters, sorted by threat level – at which point you can be prepped pretty quickly, as long as you know what most of their abilities do.

      • kdansky says:

        This applies to 3.5, which I have experience with. Pathfinder seems to be more of the same, but I have never played it:

        If CR was a significant number, this would work, but sadly, it is often off by orders of magnitudes. A well-optimized party can crush multiple enemies doubling the “appropriate” CR, and other official monsters of the same CR can completely wreck worse optimized parties easily.

        A CR of 20 means: “somewhere between 5 and 50”, that’s how imprecise it is.

    • Joshua says:

      I was going to say this, but you beat me to it. The one thing I miss most about 4E is how *easy* it made life for the DM. WAY easier than any other edition for making interesting combats.

      When DMing other editions:

      So, the Enemy Wizard is 10th level, he’s got 5 1st level spells. What does Suggestion do? *Pulls out rulebook and looks up spell while the players sit around waiting….”ah hell, he casts Magic Missile and you take 8 points of damage”. Or, this may be a good time for the Wizard to cast Shield since you hit him last round. Let’s see what it does and how long it lasts. Oh, it’s a *reactive* spell. “Um, I guess he actually cast it when your Barbarian hit him last turn and he didn’t take the 18 points of damage after all.”

      Enemy Wizard is level 10 and can do exactly X, Y, & Z, and they’re ALL RIGHT HERE.

      • ? says:

        In my opinion this approach is also fairer on the players. Unless they are resting after every encounter (super gamist), they used up some of their daily resources and hit points to get to that Enemy Wizard. Meanwhile EW is fresh and at his full power. Just write down his stats to match the encounter.

        • kdansky says:

          Funny thing about resting often: 4E solves that with brutal directness.

          If the GM says you get an Extended Rest, you get an Extended Rest. If he says you get a Short Rest, you do not get your Daily abilities back, no matter how long you whine that your character just goes to sleep at 11:00 in the morning because he got into a fight over breakfast.

          It’s gamey, but it works, because it is gamey in a system that uses gamey abstractions to begin with. If you want a simulationist game, “daily spell uses that refresh when sleeping” is the wrong approach, and typical of 3E: A weird and painful split between high fantasy and simulation, to the detriment of both.

          • King Marth says:

            You’re thinking 13th Age, where rests actually are only when DM says so. 4e’s rests are grounded in the world as written; if players can wait 8 hours after their last extended rest, and get another 6 hours of rest, then they get the benefits of an extended rest. If players can spend 5 minutes resting, they get a short rest.

            As usual, you need to build into the world excuses for why you can’t take extended rests after every combat. This is a balancing act, as with sufficient time pressure I’ve had players try to push on after exhausting healing surges, which isn’t fun anymore.

    • Kylroy says:

      “…because it turns out that the Druid didn’t prepare the poison cure spell…”

      I hate Hate HATE how every (high-powered) 3e/Pathfinder combat seems to boil down to “name that contingency”. Remember that epic magical battle in (*popular fantasy story*) where the heroes triumphed because the evil wizard didn’t have a counter for the fifth thing they tried to kill him with? Yeah, me either.

    • Axehurdle says:

      This is definitely true. A lot of what 4E did was cutting down on the extreme rules bloat that was prevalent in 3.5. Which made things easier all around. Personally the loss for me was too much because, while it took 3 hours to make an encounter in 3.5 they were the most fun 3 hours where as the 5 minutes I spent making a 4E encounter bored me terribly. I ultimately think that the slimming down of the rules needed to happen but the system in 3.5 was so fun to build in.

      • kdansky says:

        If you like systems to build stuff in, I highly recommend the most current HERO System (and Exalted third edition when it comes out in a few weeks), which are vastly less broken and more flexible too for the same amount of money spent on books.

        On the other hand, building player characters in 4E can very fun too, it’s only the NPCs that are simplified.

    • The Other Matt K says:

      Yeah, this. 4E was the first system in which I ran a sandbox style campaign, simply because if the party went in an unexpected direction, it was easy to provide interesting and appropriate encounters on the fly, or resolve unexpected obstacles via the skill challenge system. (I know not everyone loves skill challenges – and the rules really did an awful job of explaining them – but for me as a DM, they really provided an excellent framework for letting the PCs figure out creative solutions to a problem, and then figuring out how to resolve those solutions via dice rather than DM fiat.)

      These days, I’m running 5E and enjoying it. It really does just feel like a more polished form of several earlier versions of the game. Not perfect, sure, but it hits that sweet spot that 3.5 dabbled with, while bringing in some of the convenience and clever adaptations that 4E invented – without succumbing to the option bloat (and combat bloat) of either edition.

    • modus0 says:

      How many NPCs, and at what levels, do you tend to build for combats that it takes you 3+ hours to do just that?

      Because, after some practice, I can build a 20th level whatever (3.5/Pathfinder) in about 30 minutes. And that’s with allocating 90% of their Gold into gear, and using content from about a dozen books. Limit me to 12th level, and the Core Rulesbook(s) and I could almost certainly do it in no more than 10 minutes.

      I imagine most experienced GM’s would be able to do the same. And many of them are still likely to use pre-generated stat blocks whenever something more personalized or detailed isn’t necessary.

      If you’re finding it too onerous to generate a combat encounter, maybe try creating generic NPC stat blocks for classes at each level in your spare time, long before you’d need them.

      Yes, GMing is time-consuming, but you’re essentially building, maintaining, and updating a world, and determining who, what, why, and how the players will interact with that world.

      As for player’s pulling out esoteric feats/spells/equipment/whatever from some random rule book, you do realize that, as the Game Master, you CAN refuse to let them use it, even declaring entire books “off-limits” for just about any reason you want. And if they complain, take time to discuss it, if your reason is good enough, the players should accept your decision, and go without. If they can’t, there may be bigger issues that need to be addressed.

      If you’re not the type to refuse to allow certain content, then go the other route: Use every bit of available content against the players. If they whine and beg for you to allow something, agree, and then use it against them directly.

    • Felblood says:

      Okay, so here’s the thing about the quick and easy combat construction in 4E.

      It was great if you wanted a bunch of samey fights against guys who are basically the much maligned 3.X fighter, with occasional support from archers or crappy healers.

      This is the one area where 4E’s many, many changes in direction worked to it’s advantage. We got a lot of good monster manuals with monsters that had interesting, discrete powers.

      Too bad that by the time that happened, there were a hundred class and magic item splat-books that brought all the much-maligned, over-powered over-complexity of 3.X back on the player’s side. This is why we can’t have nice things.

      • Joshua says:

        Your comment is a bit unclear to me. It seems like this phrase is referring to 4E following your “combat construction in 4E” comment:

        “It was great if you wanted a bunch of samey fights against guys who are basically the much maligned 3.X fighter, with occasional support from archers or crappy healers.”

        Is this actually referring to 3.X/Pathfinder combat? Your comment doesn’t reflect my experience with 4E combat at all as a DM, and your following comment seems to suggest that 4E was superior to this because of a lot more interesting powers.

        • Felblood says:

          When it first came out, 4E had a cripplingly bad selection of monsters to work with, mainly as a result of the design philosophy that mobs should be divided into a few basic categories, which could have their numbers scaled to meet players of any level.

          If you don’t believe me, try running some of the Heroic Adventure Paths from the first year or so of 4E. I sure hope you want to fight another room full of goblins or skeletons with no meaningful distinctions between them. Occasionally, you might meet an enemy group with a healer, but his healing power is probably an encounter power (which might as well be a daily for a trash mob) meaning that once he’s demonstrated why he might be a priority target, he actually isn’t anymore.

          There’s little more than a cosmetic distinction between a CR8 troll, and a CR 8 Badger, in 4E. They are both Brawlers with 8 Hit Dice, and some minor special abilities that don’t amount to much. They are basically a big, spongy mass of HP to show off your more damage oriented, encounter powers on. 4E isn’t interested in the monster, except as a background prop the PCs to look awesome in front of.

          Whereas in 3.X/Pathfinder these were monsters with specific weaknesses–more puzzle boss than trash mob. Players with high damage attacks could generally bring them down eventually, but their primary purpose was to reward players for preparedness, knowledge and/or ingenuity. Either way, the encounter was intended to be memorable enough that either the players or the PCs might some day reminisce about it over some drinks.

          “Remember that one time when we almost died to that troll, becasue nobody brought and flaming weapons or fire spells? If Bob hadn’t done so much damage with those sneak attacks, and we hadn’t had that extra cask of lantern oil, we would have been done for.”

          Neither of these design philosophies has any kind of intrinsic or moral superiority. I just found the way that 4E implemented it’s design philosophy to be shoddy, shortsighted and limiting, in that particular area. –especially when I was already accustomed to having the ability to mix at least one encounter of “tricky” monsters into each dungeon.

          3.X/Pathfinder definitely leaves the DM with some problems to solve, in terms of finding monsters that will challenge and reward his players, but the core set had a lot more longevity. You could mine a lot more verisimilitude out of its’ enemies, before you started to get hungry for some additional Monster Manuals, or homebrewed creatures.

          Like many of the problems with 4E, this could have been fixed with support from WotC. Unlike many, many of the other problems with 4E, this problem actually got fixed.

      • Shoeboxjeddy says:

        The first 4E monster manual is filled with all kinds of critters, not sure where “samey human opponents” is coming from.

  8. Joshua says:

    Not all of 4E was about making it a board game. Something that really started in that edition was the concept of plot-based activity.

    HP weren’t just a matter of how hardy you were, they were in fact a kind of plot point. Minions only have 1 HP not because they’re terribly fragile but because they’re the kind of mooks that you see in movies getting taken out in 1 good hit. If you look at the Crazy 88s fight in Kill Bill, you see the real statted NPCs who put up a good fight and the ones that go down with a single sword blow. HP damage to PCs is also more of a abstract mechanism than concrete amount of damage you’re taking, which also allows you to heal it in ways as different as taking a breather, having a companion cheer you on, or receiving an actual healing spell. (one drawback is that you should avoid describing the actual damage because then the cure seems goofy). It’s not until you’re at 0 HP that you’re actually disabled and unconscious or bleeding.

    So, imagine the sword fight between Wesley and Inigo in The Princess Bride. All the while, they’re taking and receiving “damage” even though no blood has been drawn. Inigo is “bloodied” (rule vague description) when he has to switch hands, and is finally down to 0 HP once he’s finally disarmed and knocked unconscious. And the fight is handled the exact same way as a traditional bloody brawl to the death without using any special mechanics like parrying (HP can possibly represent parrying or dodges) or subdual rules.

    This is way different from 1st and 2nd Edition, where every point of damage was an actual wound, and we all sniggered at the fact that your character had 25 arrows sticking out of him, and fought at 100% ability until the final blow that killed him. With the downside of taking half a year to heal up if you didn’t have a Cleric.

    As far as the comment about daily and encounter limits for non-magical abilities, view it through the “plot” lens. Legolas can do rapid fire arrows as an At Will ability. He can fire two arrows at once or slide down the stairs as an Encounter ability. Finally, he can climb up an Oliphant, shoot it in the head with multiple arrows and jump off it as a Daily ability. Basically, people can get to do only so many cool abilities that drive the narrative from a plot-based reason, and the higher level they are, the cooler and more frequent abilities they can do because that’s similar to media.

    Finally, there’s a lot of plot-based ideas in the concepts of skill challenges creating a narrative. You’re describing a scene that happens in a movie/book, the players choose the skills they use, and then the scene is fleshed out with a narrative of what the PCs actually did to get through it.

    Oh, one more thing. The DMG had awesome comments about running this as an story-based adventure, not a simulation. It encouraged the PCs to have a hand in creating the story. So, if the PC rules a lore check on some background the DM hasn’t come up with yet, it actually suggests that the DM ask the *player* what he thinks it should be.

    One big point made with it not being a simulation was that the players should never have to fruitlessly search for the adventure. It discouraged skill checks to see if the plot proceeded. This resonated for me, as we had played a 3.5 adventure where the PCs were trying to make Search checks to find the dragon’s hidden lair. This was at the beginning of the adventure, so it was either roll well or wrap it up for the night. And if you’re going to just BS some way the PCs find it by giving them a second chance, or extra rolls, etc., just skip the roll in the first place.

    Despite its horrible rep, 4E did have a lot of good ideas.

    • ? says:

      In truly realistic system fighter wouldn’t be an automaton tirelessly swinging his sword again and again for whole day, available attacks would depend on exact position of combatants and available gaps in defence to exploit. Doing something like Cleave attack should be one in a billion opportunity. And yet through mechanics world of DnD conspires to make it fairly common, just meet few prerequisites and you can decide to make that happen. Universe will figure out the choreography and warp itself to your needs. Because it looks cool and makes a neat story. 4E limits some of those reality warping powers of larger than life heroes to once an encounter/day. I’m totally fine with that.

      • kdansky says:

        Simulations make for poor High Fantasy games.

        That’s why 2/3E are flawed to begin with: they try to be somewhat like simulations, except they totally are not. They are like bad Star Trek episodes: Pretending to be about technology, but in actuality just raw technobabble for 45 minutes.

        At least 4E is perfectly honest: A gamey system that makes high fantasy plots happen and only pays lip-service to realism, because the setting is about as realistic as Wizard of Oz anyway.

        It’s not my favourite system in the world, but it’s my least hated D&D by far.

        • Abnaxis says:

          This sort of sentiment always really grates on me.

          If you’re rolling dice in an RPG, you’re simulating. You might be abstracting your actions all to heck to make it streamlined and it might not be all that accurate, but an RPG with no simulation is just straight-up storytelling with no “game” or “roleplay” about it.

          They way I read it, your post boils down to “4ed has the right amount of crunch for me and all those people who like the crunchier editions are dummies.”

          • kdansky says:

            You didn’t understand my point.

            4E has the right amount of crunch for a high fantasy setting .

            That has nothing to do with my personal tastes. Try to run nitty-gritty Cthullhu horror with 4E: You can’t. Try to run super heroes: You can’t. Try to run victorian vampires: You can’t. Try to run Transhumanism: You can’t.

            Its choice of abstraction level is perfect for high fantasy, unlike 3.5, which is mostly a low fantasy approach to simulation (long healing times, realistic travel times, realistic coinage), except for spells and magical items, and that’s why mages are totally OP and the economy makes no sense.

            If you’ve ever tried a generic system, you probably realized that it results in a very different feel. If you play HERO, your characters will always feel super-ish. If you play Gurps, your characters will always feel grimdark. The problem with 3.5 is that its rules and setting don’t really match, and that’s why we have 3.5 settings outside of Forgotten Realm which work better than the default.

            Lastly, your basic claim is wrong: Dice don’t mean simulation. Burning Wheel doesn’t use dice for simulation, but for tension building. You’re encouraged to make life hard on your own character because you get more EXP for higher stakes. That’s about as far from simulation as it gets.

            • Abnaxis says:

              That has nothing to do with my personal tastes. Try to run nitty-gritty Cthullhu horror with 4E: You can’t. Try to run super heroes: You can’t. Try to run victorian vampires: You can’t. Try to run Transhumanism: You can’t.

              I am arguing from a point of slight ignorance here, because I glanced over a borrowed book for 4e once when it very fist came out, decided I wanted nothing to do with it, and never looked at it again.

              However, arguing from the stance of “4e is what you get when you apply JRPG mechanics to DnD,” I find your statement ludicrous. You would clearly need to adapt any setting, invented new powers and daily abilities to to shoehorn 4e mechanics onto it, but I don’t see any reason why it couldn’t be done. Heck, I don’t even JRPG that much, but off the top of my head Xenosaga would work fine in a 4e conversion.

              Lastly, your basic claim is wrong: Dice don’t mean simulation. Burning Wheel doesn’t use dice for simulation, but for tension building. You’re encouraged to make life hard on your own character because you get more EXP for higher stakes. That’s about as far from simulation as it gets.

              Never played Burning Wheel, but I’m referencing this page.

              Whether you are using complex math or you are using narrative fiat to decide what happens, you are still simulating whether you succeed or not. The GM is deciding what number to assign based on how difficult you describe the obstacle to be within the narrative (simulating difficulty). You roll dice based on your skill level, how carefully you are attempting the task, how many people are helping you, what kind of task it is….these are all simulations. The fact that you’re pulling something out of your ass doesn’t mean you aren’t simulating, it means you’re narratively deciding what you want to simulate.

              Lets take an example from how I understand the way BW works: you tell the GM you character is throwing themselves against a door shoulder-first, giving everything they’ve got to break it down. The GM decides the door isn’t all that strong, so you will break it down either way, the stakes are just whether or not you give yourself a wound during the attempt.

              By the BW way if simulating things, the GM assigns a difficulty to the obstacle (simulating just hard hard the door is/how easy he thinks it is to break it without getting hurt). Thereafter, you gather up a bunch of dice, which collectively represent how strong your character is, how fast they’re moving, how tough they are, etc. You roll these dice, and if the number of 4s, 5s and 6s are higher than the difficulty the GM set, you simulation says you succeeded without getting hurt.

              If I wanted to run a crazy-accruate computer simulation of the same thing, I would posit a bunch of initial conditions–statistical distributions for modulus of elasticity and tensile strength of the materials for the door, frame, and door anchors with corrections to account for the probable grain directions of the materials, number hinges, number/type of screws in the hinges, etc. I would also need some sort of probability distribution for the amount of force exerted by your character, and how that force is transmitted through their musculoskeletal structure. I would then start the simulation running, and somewhere between a few days to a few weeks later I would get a number back that tells me the percent probability that any of your muscles, tendons, or bones exceeded their stress tolerance as you slammed yourself against the door, based on the collective probability distributions of my initial conditions. I would then pick a random number between zero and one, and if the number is less than my calculated probability for injury, my simulation says you hurt yourself somehow.

              Either way, simulation is being done, it’s just a matter of how much effort you want to put into accuracy versus how much math you want to do while simulating. That is, in fact, the entire point of dice in roleplaying games–to create some desired degree of accuracy in the simulation that is an RPG session. Every single die–in fact, every single numerical score–utilized within the framework of an RPG system exists to tune the inherent simulation of roleplaying games in some manner (and before you bring up fate dice or some other perceived “gotcha,” deliberately injecting numbers or fudge dice to make the simulation less accurate for drama purposes is still tuning the simulation).

              You can’t remove the “simulation” in an RPG without removing all numbers (and by extension, all dice) from that RPG, because simulation is inherently what the numbers are.

    • Charnel Mouse says:

      I don’t have it in front of me, but I remember the AD&D 2nd edition books explicitly talking about hit points being an abstraction rather than a simulation.

      • Joshua says:

        And how did you heal lost HP in 1st and 2nd Edition? You had a cleric cast magic, use a potion, etc. Don’t have those as a level 10 Fighter with 2 HP left? Plan on getting complete bed rest for the next two months.

        IMO, 3rd started the abstraction by having healing from resting be completely dependent upon level, so you basically regained the same percentage per day. They explained that a higher level character isn’t basically able to take more injuries, but is really minimizing the impact from injuries. So, 5 points of damage to a level 10 is a completely different beast than to a level 1.

        4E started adding Healing Surges that allowed you to easily regain your HP even if you didn’t have a healer, and added various non-magical ways to regain HP even apart from resting. So, you weren’t really recovering from near death by a good night’s sleep, you were just a bit shaken around from the day’s events and your morale/luck/plot points are restored the next day.

        5E is pretty similar to 4E in that regard, but without all of the crazy Healing Surge stuff.

        • Charnel Mouse says:

          I had a quick look through the books, and couldn’t find anything like what I was describing. The closest I found was that specific injuries, on top of the general Wound system, should be avoided, due to it being “heroic fantasy”. So no, not an out-and-out abstraction, but I think claiming it’s a simulation is a stretch.

          • Joshua says:

            I think what the book means is that HP are an abstraction of your health, as opposed to kidney damage, specific wounds, etc. It still means that you’re literally being punctured and cut in pretty severe ways, and at 0 HP you’re collapsing due to your many injuries.

            I was referring to HP being more of an abstraction overall, and not necessarily referring to actual injuries. One of my concepts of 4E and later HP is in a movie where a character barely parries but winces at the impact, a bullet grazes the air just by their ear, other near misses, etc.

            With 4E and 5E, it seems like your HP are a complete abstraction until you choose the method of how to heal them which retcons the damage into a more detailed description. You took 10 points of damage? The Cleric casts Cure Wounds on you, so it looks like you got a grazing slash. You spend Hit Dice/Second Wind/Warlord “heal”/etc.? Then it means you weren’t actually wounded, just knocked around a bit.

            I also like the concept of HP representing parrying to an extent then. Earlier editions of D&D had no realistic parrying component other than Total Defense actions, so it was basically two guys going up there and hitting each other with weapons until one of them falls down of mortal injuries first.

          • krellen says:

            Page 103 of the Second Edition Player’s Handbook, bottom right corner, under the heading “Injury and Death”:

            To allow players to be heroic (and for ease of play), damage is handled abstractly in the AD&D game. All characters and monsters have a number of hit points. The more hit points a creature has, the harder it is to defeat.

            Damage is subtracted from a character’s (or creature’s) hit points. Should one of the player characters hit an ogre in the side of the head for 8 points of damage, those 8 points are subtracted from the ogre’s total hit points. The damage isn’t applied to the head, or divided among different areas of the body.

            Hit point loss is cumulative until a character dies or has a chance to heal from his wounds.

            How you choose to describe the abstraction is left up to you.

    • Alan says:

      If a 7-year-old can have a great role-playing experience with 4e; actual portraying of roles, it can’t be that bad of a game:

      I’ve run white box, Mentzer/1983, 2nd, 3rd, 3.5e, 4th and 5th. I’ve played most of those and 1st as well. I have enjoyed every one of them for their own strengths. I think I have a reasonable perspective. I decided 4e wasn’t for me, but it is a good role-playing game

      To self-plagiarize something I wrote in response to someone asking about a 1e DM adjusting to 4e, this is what I see as core to “getting” 4e:

      Rules over color – Lots of mechanics, especially characters powers, should be interpreted as rules first, color second. If you have a power called “foot sweep” that creates the status “prone,” that’s what it does. It doesn’t matter if the target is a gelatinous cube, it still works. If you start ruling that things don’t work because it doesn’t make sense, you’re weakening powers that the players were looking forward to using. But, this is actually okay, read on…

      Combat is abstract – It looks like a simulation focused game with the miniatures and squares, but it’s more abstract than it looks. It focuses on the general ebb-and-flow, as well limiting things to keep flow exciting, even at the expense of “realism.” This is why areas of effect are square, not round(ish). This is why the height rules are very simplistic. This is why the rogue can only throw a flurry of daggers once per day, and why he only needs one dagger to do it.

      Given those assumptions, how do you play? This is just one option, but it Works For Me:

      Describe to justify the rules – The above doesn’t mean the game has to degenerate into a tactical wargame! 4e can very easily turn into a wargame where people just read off power names and announce numbers. The key is to craft narrative to explain what is happening, don’t just let the mechanics work. Don’t get too attached to the color text associated with each power; they range from the uselessly abstract to the inappropriately specific. Instead think about what the rules say happened, then figure out what it might mean. You “mark” the guard? What does that mean? It might mean that you shout a stream of insults at him. It might mean you constantly feint toward him. It might mean you’re circling around him (remember, combat is abstract!). How do you trip a gelatinous cube? Well, you probably don’t. But the “prone” rules suggest a brief period of immobility and exposure. Maybe you grab a broken door or table from the floor and shove it in, slowing the cube down. (Where did the table/door come from? Combat is still abstract, it must have been there all along.) Maybe you smash into the cube briefly (with weapon or a shield or the aforementioned table/door to protect yourself) causing the cube loose cohesion, forcing it to take a moment to reform. If you wed yourself to the name of the power and the color text, you’ll frequently have no idea what happened in the game’s fiction. But if you’re willing to improvise, it’s very rare that you can’t give some sort of heroic explanation.

    • Ysen says:

      I agree that the combat changes in 4E had a narrative focus, and weren’t entirely about making it a board game or a video game.

      If earlier editions were meant to “reinforce the idea that the little people fighting on the table obey the same rules and logic as real-world human beings”, I think 4E was meant to evoke the feel of a wrestling match or a scene in a TV show. A lot of anime shows in particular seem to like giving the characters some kind of once-per-episode special move which is used to escalate the fight and increase the drama: transforming into Voltron, using the Dangerous Forbidden Technique, going Super-Saiyan, whatever. And in Western works you have stuff like Iron Man running low on power after pushing his suit too hard.

  9. Abnaxis says:

    I know Ruts focused on DnD here as the “classic” RPG, but for a newbie who’s not in it for the holistic experience–who just wants to get around a table and roll some dice with other newbies–I’d like to plug Cypher (slash-Numenera, slash-The Weird) as a really, really good system.

    I’m not super versed in PnP compared to many (though I know a lot of people who are experienced and who agree with me) but it’s the easiest game to pick up and play–as a player or GM–I have experience with which still has that “classic” feel. If you’re like me–if you have no little interest in seeking out grizzled RPG veterans to show you the ropes, but would rather get together with a bunch of people who are as green as you are and try your hand at roleplaying–Cypher is a good place to start.

    • Aulayan says:

      I’d also like to add in comment to the Cypher system (which I’ve had since day 1 but have yet to play, stupid time commitments). The Players do all the rolling. GM needs no dice. It’s a neat little idea, since a lot of players love to roll dice.

    • Felblood says:

      I think you might be missing the intention of the word “classic” as it’s used here.

      I interpreted it mean mean it’s “classic” the way one needs to have a general grasp of classic literature to be truly literate. They are the common landmarks by which we help one another navigate the world of the written idea. If you don’t get it when someone makes a reference to Romeo, or Sisyphus, or Huck Finn, or Luke Skywalker, a lot of good literature is going to sail right over your head. Even worse, you’ll be functionally incapable of following even mid-level discussions of literature.

      DnD isn’t a great game for new RPG players to play, just because it’s great in it’s own right.

      It’s a critical game for new RPG fans to have a basic understanding of, because so much of our library of games is mapped out relative to that venerable monument. There’s a lot of expectation that you’ll already know what hitpoints, attack bonuses and equipment slots are, and you’ll know how to roll initiative, maintain (or not) party coherency, speak in character, accept a quest and construct a “cunning plan,” to the point that a lot of really good game systems draw their dramatic tension from the ways that they subvert those expectations.

      If you don’t have that foundation in DnD, you just miss out on a lot of what makes some of the modern greats so good. For example, a lot of the comedy in Paranoia derives from the fact that the quest will almost certainly fail, none of the party members are even nominally heroic, and an ink pen is a more vital tool for survival in that bureaucratic wasteland than a plasma sword.

      • Abnaxis says:

        Right, I get that. I was making the point, however, that Cypher has a lot of that DnD DNA–even if it wasn’t released by WotC, it’s at least as close as 4e is to 2e. I mean, the three “Types” to choose from for characters are just “Fighter, Rogue, or Wizard” with sexy names. It was made by Monte Cook, after all…

  10. Drew says:

    Maybe I’ve just had two bad experiences, but my time with 5E has been underwhelming at best. I played a couple of one-shot adventures at PAX east, one last year, and one 2 or 3 years ago when it was still “in development” and had the same complaint both times:

    Spellcasters didn’t get to roll dice.

    Now I know, rolling dice isn’t everything. But when you say “Ok, I’m going to cast charm person at enemy X” or whatever, and then the DM rolls a D20 and says “You fail. Next Person, what do you do?” it’s arguably the least fun RPG combat experience imaginable. And this happened turn after turn for the spellcasters.

    Again, this could have been some kind of failure on the part of the folks running the game, but I thought it was dismal.

    There are some great new ideas in 5E I think, like the advantage/disadvantage mechanic, but they’ve got to make sure everyone really feels like they get to do something each round, or it just doesn’t work for me.

    • krellen says:

      Spellcasters get to roll dice when they do the same things other characters do – attack people. You roll to hit with a cantrip (which, borrowing from 4E, is a spell a caster can always use no matter what) and roll your damage, just like everyone else.

    • Cozzer says:

      That happens in 3e too, as spells usually trigger saving throws instead of using attack rolls.

      Personally, I really like the “players roll everything except for damage” variant. If players attack, they roll to hit. If enemies attack, the players roll for AC. If players use spells, they roll to overcome the enemy’s static saves. If the enemies use spells, the players roll saves. And so on. It’s mechanically equivalent to the standard, and the DM already has more than enough things to do in combat.

    • Supah Ewok says:

      Your spellcasters weren’t using the right spells. There are plenty of spells that deal damage (Fireball is still around, and has been upgraded to 8d6), and there are plenty of spells that require spell attack rolls (which target AC). You can totally play a Wizard who rolls against AC like a Fighter does every round if that is your wish. Some spells are still Save and No Effect. If you don’t like them, don’t use them. If you do like them, use them smart. Hit enemies with Int Saves if they look stupid, hit them with Cha saves if they’re ugly, hit them with Wis saves if they’re the other kind of stupid. Trying to get a giant to fail a Con save is probably a futile endeavor, so hit them with a Dex save instead. And get your spellcasting stat to 20 rather than get feats so that you push your DC as high as possible. A mere +2 to the DC of your spells actually makes an incredible amount of difference.

      Less about your comment, but 5e probably has the best magic system in D&D. You can cast any spell using a higher level slot, and a lot of spells become more potent when you do so, so low level spells can still be very useful in higher-level game play. Either they target more enemies, they expand AoE, or they get more dice for damage. Cantrips that deal damage have also had a makeover, they get an additional damage die every few levels so that you always have a useful action every turn. Damage Cantrips being useful also let the designers cut down on the number of spells casters get per day; now even at high level play you never get more than one 8th or 9th level spell slots. And unlike 4e, there’s plenty of spells that have out of combat uses or can be cleverly re-purposed as such.

      Seriously, magic has never been better in any edition of D&D.

  11. tremor3258 says:

    I haven’t played any 5E yet – not much time and that’s been doing some Pathfinder – the plethora of options doesn’t feel as bad in some respects as 3.5 (less prestige options, more classes aimed in one direction or the other on the core mechanics).

    I did DM instead of just play 4E – my group liked combat, and spent most of the time in it – but I feel like the mechanical support for being a spectacular thief versus okay, or an amazing speaker, wasn’t there like other editions, and with less dice backing it up, I had some trouble interesting them in role play (Also – at the point I was at in 4e, trying to adjust monsters, especially humanoids to provide appropriate CRs with level adjustment to fight non-monstrous foes was surprisingly hard for me. I missed class levels)

    I know coming from the older D&D background -you kids, get off my lawn, in my days the dice shattered as often as not, etc.

  12. Hal says:

    When you get onto other systems, I hope you’ll mention Fate. It’s become my absolute favorite system in recent years. I love the way it uses aspects to add mechanical application to the characters’ stories and personalities. I also love how the use of fate points allows for give and take between the player and the GM, moving the story and making interesting things happen.

    • NotSteve says:

      I’m also hoping to see Rutskarn talk about Fate. On top of what you mentioned, the “succeed at major cost” mechanic is one of the coolest things I’ve seen for adding interesting complications to an RPG story.

      (For those who aren’t familiar with it, Fate has skill checks like a lot of other systems. But if you fail one, you can choose to either fail or to succeed at major cost, which means you succeed in whatever you were doing but the DM gets to introduce a complication. I’ve had some really cool moments where the player decides that whatever they’re doing is important enough to eat the complication, or takes it just to see what happens.)

    • Steve C says:

      Highly likely. I’m 95% sure that Rutskarn has said previously that Fate was his favorite RPG system.

  13. Jabrwock says:

    That “basic rules” link doesn’t work for me.

  14. Alan says:

    The speed of combat is one of the things I liked about 4th edition compared to its immediate predecessor.

    My experience is that combat hit its slowest pace starting around late 2nd edition (Assuming you played with Skills & Powers and a handful of splatbooks. Ah, college) and ran through 3.5. (It may still exist in Pathfinder. I didn’t follow that branch.) That range of games has lots and lots of rules for lots and lots of cases. It was simulation rich and characters often had lots of options. If you played fairly closely to the rules, the rules were frequently referenced. It paid off in some of the most consistent “physics” of D&D, but it cost time. For my groups it was the era of one-fight-per-night games.

    At any given character level (I’ve done 1-12ish in both systems), I found 4th edition to be faster, although perhaps often only marginally so. A lot of the simulation details were just dropped in favor of the more streamlined system. Realism was frequently sacrificed for speed (square-shaped fireballs leap to mind). While traditionally simple classes (especially the Fighter) picked up some more options, the more complex classes were simplified. 2-4 fights per night were reasonable.

    • Blackbird71 says:

      In my experience, it all comes down to how the DM runs it and how the players approach it. Anytime I’ve played 4th, whether when doing “Encounters” at my FLGS, or in my regular gaming group, combat always took up a significant majority of our game time, and a single combat encounter could easily go for an hour.

      By contrast, I’ve run 3.5/Pathfinder games in which the combat was quick and dirty. Fights would last maybe 10-15 minutes at most (some encounters were closer to 5), and most of the game was spent exploring and roleplaying.

      I’m not arguing that 3.5/PF is inherently a faster system by any means; there is definitely a lot that you can get bogged down in if you let yourself. But 4th had its own pitfalls that often inflated the level of involvement and detail for combat, and it could be just as prone to such time sinks. My point is that combat in any D&D system can become long and drawn out; it really comes down to how the players and DM handle it.

  15. Merlin says:

    JRPGs are a pretty natural outgrowth of classic D&D, much moreso than mainline WRPGs like the Elder Scrolls or Fallout series are. If 4E is anything, it’s Diablo, right down to finally ditching the resource management model because we aren’t trying to play Combat Agricola over here. And like Diablo, it benefits a lot from being honest about what it wants to be in a way that other editions of D&D just… aren’t.

    There are some out-of-combat things that I miss not having in 4E, and they missed the mark on plenty: rituals being treated like an afterthought, skill challenges being awful, power progression being uniform for all classes, everything is still a bookkeeping nightmare after you advance to mid- or high-levels, whatever. But it understood that a huge percentage of D&D is skipping the cutscenes and kicking down doors in search of becoming the ultimate murderhobo, and apparently a lot of people did not appreciate getting called out on the bullshit that D&D is about deep roleplaying. D&D sucks at that, and 4E was about getting over its own delusions and being good at being D&D.

    It’s far from perfect, but I wish they hadn’t bungled the messaging as badly as they did. It could’ve been a big step forward in the franchise’s development rather than a footnote acknowledged sheepishly, if at all.

    • Hal says:

      Rituals usually makes the top 5 list of complaints about 4E. I don’t think they were terrible, but I think they ended up being something of an anachronism compared to what the developers were trying to accomplish with 4E.

      To me, it seemed like rituals were an attempt to hold on to the elements of magic from 3rd edition: Spell books, spending money to learn the magic, material components, casting times, non-combat effects, etc. I suspect this was done to get ahead of complaints that people liked the magic system just fine, thankyouverymuch, and that the changes weren’t necessary.

      The thing is, I don’t think the things they kept were what most players liked about the magic system in the first place. I never met anyone who enjoyed spending their adventuring money on rituals or ritual components, and I can’t count the complaints I saw about the casting times on the rituals. Maybe they weren’t supposed to be combat spells, or at least not for unplanned combat, but so many had potential uses in combat that people lost their minds at the inability to cast the rituals in combat.

      But like I said, I don’t think they were terrible. When I ran my 4E campaign, my players made extensive use of the rituals. I think part of what made it feasible was giving out the rituals (and the components) as rewards, same as treasure, and also helping the players to keep the use of rituals in the proper perspective.

      • Joshua says:

        Rituals were an attempt to get around the long-standing issue of having useful non-combat spells, but limiting how many different spells a character could memorize. Is a character going to memorize Detect Poison or Bless with their few spell slots? Mount or Magic Missile? So, doesn’t matter if all of these fun magic spells exist, if the players don’t ever cast them because of finite resources.

        I think 3rd edition handled this by making scroll creation pretty easy and cheap, especially for a wizard. Go ahead and make a scroll for a spell that’s going to only be used one time in a campaign.

        4th tried the rituals to get away from the resource limitation altogether, but there were a couple of serious problems:
        1. It basically used money as components for casting. 4E was also a very tight economy as written, so that’s basically magic items you couldn’t buy, and the system *assumed* you had magic items.
        2. The rituals were sprawled out over several different books, which made researching more difficult. I could be wrong, but I don’t remember the D&D Insider tool printing out the text on your character sheets just like it would print your actual powers. If it did, it could easily burn through a lot of ink.

        Before our group started 4E and were still playing 3.5, I was pondering some kind of homebrew system where you could simply cast spells out of your spellbook instead of having to memorize them, which would also give the “ritual” motif so common in fantasy media but somewhat lacking in the actual PnP game (for PCs, anyway).

        Lo and behold, 5E basically had came up with the same system I was thinking about.

        • Cybron says:

          The problem with 3.X’s approach of scrolls and wands is that it allowed wizards to prepare additional spells for a very low cost, leading to the Batman Wizard who’s always prepared to do anything – including other classes’ jobs.

          I much prefer 5e’s solution.

        • Merlin says:

          As I recall it, rituals weren’t spread out across multiple books, which was part of the problem. They were orphaned in like 3 pages near the back of the PHB and only saw maybe 10-20 more released over the course of the edition. They just got completely smothered under a million powers, feats, items, and classes. And while I don’t generally keep tabs on published adventures very closely, I don’t recall seeing them considered in the design very often, and likewise don’t remember seeing them or residuum show up as treasure with any regularity. I think you’re right regarding the character builder though – I remember them being wedged in at the very tail end of the process, and I don’t think the printout included anything besides the name of the ritual. (Offline builder only – I never subscribed for the online one.)

          The money-as-components thing wasn’t an issue in my experience, because it used a separate currency rather than gold. For one, it was much easier to justify monsters having dedicated ritual material than random sacks of money. You killed a manticore? Good for you, you can extract fresh poison from it and gain 1000 gp equivalent of ritual fuel. And for another, having it not actually be gold separated it from your normal income, compared to 3E’s preference towards gold (or gold spent on specific mundane materials) and experience. It doesn’t compete as directly, and it’s not necessarily a liquid good that can be easily exchanged for its cash equivalent. Players won’t necessarily burn actual gold on residuum on their own, but if you give them a nudge initially and let them get some valuable use out of rituals, they’ll start considering it.

          Like a lot of things with 4E, I think it was a really great concept that got about 85% of the way to where it needed to be. :/

  16. Merlin says:

    It’s not a re-examination of dungeon crawling storytelling using tightly reinvented mechanics like Dungeon World or Dungeon Crawl Classics. All of those are games made because somebody got sick of D&D, but they got sick of it because they’d played it–their work is derivative, and it only functions because it operates from the same recognizable and approachable foundation.

    I haven’t tried DCC, but at least in the case of DW I disagree pretty strongly on this one. Yes, it’s derivative. But the weakest elements of the game are the ones most directly ported over from D&D, and the best parts can be difficult to get a grasp on if you’re still in the D&D mindset. It’s also miles better for first-time play than D&D is. D&D has you flipping between a bunch of different interconnected systems (abilities, class, race, skills, feats, class features, equipment) and does necessarily help you figure out a core shtick for your character. Dungeon World has a 1.5 page, giant text, checklist-based character sheet you work from top to bottom that covers how you look, who you are, what your unique abilities are, and how you know your team. I got excited when my little brother talked about finally trying D&D a few weeks back. When I caught up with him later, he described the first session as being 4 hours of character creation and rules explanation. This should not need to be the case, but it’s been surprisingly common in my experience.

    Also noteworthy: every version of D&D I’ve seen has been terrible for first-time DMs. You either run the provided starter module (which is invariably a “guy gives you quest, go into the keep and kill the goblins” exercise in refereeing combat) or your try to make sense 3 books worth of tools that have no guiding principals basically anywhere.

  17. Ramsus says:

    Rutskarn also failed to mention an important factor of 5E. It relies far less on magic items than previous editions. (At least 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and other variants, I can’t speak to earlier editions since I never played them.)

    This is pretty important because it adds to the ease of use and accessibility for new players. And like most everything else that does so in the system it does so in a way that still allows for people to add those things in without breaking anything. Which is a core issue with all the previous editions that I’m surprised he didn’t mention. That being that those systems were so often mechanically unbalanced (by design, as a side effect of bloat, or by adding things to the game that you’d feel are missing) that it would commonly harm the fun of the game.

    5E so far doesn’t have this issue and seems to have been designed with it in mind. Which to me makes it the superior edition. It also helps that the way it’s designed that it’s easier than ever to make homebrew material (of course, that doesn’t mean people will make balanced things, but the relative simplicity makes it a lot easier to identify unbalanced creations).

    • Joe Informatico says:

      WOTC finally realized that the magic item economy codified in 3e broke the game. In 1st and 2nd ed., magic items were relatively uncommon until higher levels, but there was also a (not entirely unjustified) perception that non-spellcasters needed them to be effective starting at the mid-levels. 3e essentially built this into the game mechanics, outright saying things like “a PC of level X should have a +Y magic weapon/armour”. But sometime around the release of 3.5e, a supplement called Trailblazer came out (some of its ideas would later be adopted into Pathfinder). The Trailblazer guys crunched the numbers and determined that higher level fighters didn’t crucially need magic weapons and armour–attack bonuses scaled with monster AC and so rolling to hit had a pretty consistent rate of success. High-bonus magic items threw that curve way off. It wasn’t until 5e that they flattened the curve and made magic weapons and armour less common.

  18. Ed Blair says:

    I’m a huge fan of this new series. Thanks!

  19. Cybron says:

    I’m liking 5e so far. I may get tired of how relatively ‘shallow’ it is at some point, but then I’ll just go back to what I was doing before 5e, which was playing games that are not D&D. It avoids or tones down many of the glaring flaws that make 3.X so hard to go back to despite the wealth of content, while maintaining a similar ‘game feel’ in terms of character progression and the moment to moment feel of combat.

    I’m also a fan of the adventure paths so far. We’re playing Out of the Abyss right now and it’s great.

    • Supah Ewok says:

      If you see this, how does your party handle the party NPC interactions, and how do y’all handle the survival aspects? I tried to run Out of the Abyss for my group, but called it off after a few sessions when I felt that the players weren’t really gelling with it. It seemed to me that the meat of the module was traveling from place to place in a hostile environment, and the NPC’s were meant to provide roleplaying during that time of isolation, but my players just treated them as a nuisance (I didn’t even involve them in combat or most decision making other than giving opinions, I was very careful to make sure their presence didn’t rob the players of agency). And ultimately the survival stuff just came down to a crap ton of rolling for random encounters that they steam-rolled pretty easily along with a bunch of Survival checks to see if they found food.

      If the game is going better for y’all, I would like to hear how your group handles those things in case we ever feel like giving it another shot. I’m really unsure if I can get the party to overcome their apathy for NPC’s, yet the module seems like it’d be really empty without them.

      • Akuma says:

        As someone playing in an Out of the Abyss game your experience sounds similar to mine. From the start the adventure throws alot of NPC’s at you all at once, of which you’re supposed to spend a bunch of time with. But even for a good DM that’s too many characters to keep interesting, which means they get sidelined by the players and treated as either a resource or a hassall.

        One or two very interesting NPC’s would have made a big difference I feel, and if they were also relevant to the plot and not a compass (Only the npc’s sort of know where the party is supposed to go).

        I want to play it until we’re out of the main survival stuff, but there is certainly some questionable designs.

      • Joshua says:

        We scrapped the game after one session, because the players hated it so much. It was just a frustrating beginning because you have little agency to do anything other than gather information until the plot-driven moment where you can make your escape. So, we had to tolerate several hours of the Drow NPCs insulting and toying with us until the magic moment where the plot said we were allowed to escape.

  20. Cuthalion says:

    It’s kind of fun to mentally read this in Blackadder’s voice, by the way. The way you write just sounds great in Rowan Atkinson’s snark. Even if, in this case, the article was advice and not really making fun of anything. :P

  21. Mersadeon says:

    I think you hit the nail on the head with your description of 4E. While I don’t think it’s a bad system (and I’ve used it as inspiration for more “game-y” homebrew systems), that gamification completely turned me away back when we had to decide what edition to use. We started out with an old 3.0 starter pack, but that only covers three levels and the core classes. Our problem was that due to licensing problems, D&D was basically impossible to get in German – and some in my group simply can’t read English fluidly enough.

    In the end, we settled for the D&D 5E prototype “Next”. Which was in English. But it was free, and we figured if we would have to translate so much stuff ourselves to make it playable, we might as well take the free option.

  22. Perceptiveman says:

    Eh; I don’t really want to play the stupid “edition wars” thing again, and that’s totally going to happen if I start telling you why you are wrong about 4E. :P

    And I’m not really interested in telling you that you were “wrong” to recommend D&D in the last thread, because you’re not.

    But I still want to tell you what I said the last time – that the editions you picked for recommending D&D to a new player in the supposed “Here’s how you get started with RPGs” thread were bad choices. Here’s why:

    Pathfinder is gruesomely complex. It is literally the most complicated D&D game out there. There is no reason to tell a new player to start with this game when 5e will hit all the same notes and be way less work.
    2e is out of print, archaic as heck, generally a mess of rules that only vaguely work the same way, and just not intuitive at all, unless compared with AD&D1. There is, again, no reason to tell a new player to start with this game when, once again, 5e will hit all the same notes, is WAY better organized, and you can actually like, buy it without picking up a used book somewhere.

    And y’know, I don’t even particularly LIKE 5E, but I still consider it a better introductory game than PF or 2e.

    And honestly? If you can learn to play D&D from the books, you can learn to play Dungeon World. I’ve lost count of the number of people I’ve spoken to who said something along the lines of “Dungeon World is what I always thought D&D was going to be” or “Dungeon World is the game I always wanted D&D to be”; You don’t need a D&D background to play Dungeon World. You really don’t. Maybe to appreciate it fully, or understand why it makes some of its decisions, but I don’t think “appreciating design decisions” is really high on the list of most new players’ agendas.

    So yeah. Still kinda disappointed in the last article, this explanation didn’t really help.

    • Blackbird71 says:

      Well since we’re repeating ourselves…

      I don’t know what you have against used books as they are inexpensive and plentiful, but you want 2E without going to eBay or a used bookstore? Here you go:

      DriveThruRPG 2E Catalog

      In this day and age of digital reprints, choosing not to play a particular system just because it is “out of print” is a pretty lame excuse.

      • Perceptiveman says:

        It’s still a bad system, whether it’s in print or not; There’s no reason to start someone with the mess that is 2E. There just isn’t. Even people who are into “OSR” games don’t play 2E.

  23. shpelley says:

    I have DM’d in the past using 4E and 5E. I personally enjoy 5E more as a “provides options, but not too many” system and for ease of play. It’s funny, because the Pros for each game are also their Cons.

    4E Pros/Cons:
    – Elaborate, interesting combat encounters that take forever to complete
    – Everybody has stuff to do which means Bob is going to take 10 minutes every round to decide his action unless you police him
    – Heavy character customization that often degenerates into a pile a OP bonuses
    – Heavily Balanced between classes which made Wizards feel like Fighters and vice versa

    5E Pros/Cons:
    – Fast, easy to adjudicate combat due to less options
    – Actions are undefined and left up to the player which means the DM has to make rulings all the time
    – Streamlined character building that can feel very restrictive within your class
    – Good flavor between classes at the cost of some class options are superior to others mechanically.

    Most of this comes down to Rules vs. Rulings. 4E has a list of rules and clearly defined options and heavily disincentivizes improvising actions, whereas 5E requires more rulings from the DM because improvising actions is encouraged as the norm.

    In some places, Rules are superior and in others, Rulings are superior. A great example of this is Stealth in 5E. The number of people who don’t know how Stealth works due to vague/Ruling-dependent wording has filled forum threads forever. This is the price for not having very specific mechanics. On the other hand, it encourages more “common sense” applications because the DM is given more latitude in saying “this doesn’t make sense here.”

    Another difference is the attitude the two games have towards system mastery. In 4E, the delta between someone with good system mastery (picks the “right” Feats, class options, powers, etc) and someone without can be huge. 5E, due to less options overall and more “obvious,” bigger Feats means that players tend to be on more even footing, mechanically speaking. For some players, system mastery is a huge part of the experience, and 4E caters to those players more than 5E, while others don’t care for it.


    TL;DR: 4E is crunchier mechanically and has a higher emphasis on system mastery, 5E is more free-form. Personally, I prefer the more free-form nature of 5E but they both have their pros and cons.

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