I’d first like to say that I did not write this thread to piss off 4th edition fans. Something didn’t work for me and my friends in that edition and a lot of forum posters showed me that the reasons I didn’t like it might have been more subtle than what I thought.
What is surprising is that when I first joined these forums, I never had spent any time on the Internet reading critics of 4th edition or all the edition wars forum threads. And yet, when I came back to these forums, I too was saying stuff like “magic sucks”, “you can’t improvise in D&D”, “all classes are the same” or “4th edition is not D&D”. I know now that I might have been wrong on a lot of things, but I know that if so many of us felt that way, there’s a reason and that these issues need to be addressed.
So in this thread, I’m going to revisit some of these common 4th edition critics and I’ll try to explain why I originally felt that way. Please remember that the scope of this conversation is the early 4th edition days. If after a year of playing, a game still doesn’t feel right, you can’t expect us to continue trying much longer than that. So don’t get upset if some of the things I say aren’t true anymore, they were when the edition came out and that’s what matters. The only purpose of this thread is to get feedback from other 4th edition detractors and hopefully make sure that none of these things ever happen again.
My first problem with 4th edition is that combat feels like a tactical board game. This is where the presentation failed; the fluff is separated from the mechanics and almost everything is codified. To make matters worse, combat feels like a board game because the grid is mandatory. And finally, some rules are fine in a board game but too difficult to believe in an RPG (AEDU for non-casters, square-shaped Fireballs and the simplified diagonal movement). If it feels like a board game then you are very tempted to play it like a board game. Nobody improvises when playing Monopoly or Bloodbowl; the rules are the rules, period. I think that’s why so many people assume that spells aren’t open-ended, that you can’t improvise and that if something isn’t in the rules, it’s because you can’t do it.
The second problem is that (almost) everything is “deal X damage and apply Y condition”. In the earlier editions, spells would either “deal X damage” either “apply Y condition”. These conditions would typically last multiple rounds (and not one or two rounds). Melees always dealt X damage. In late 3.5, melees stopped being lame “deal X damage” and started getting cool attacks that “deal X damage and apply Y condition for 1 round” (Tome of Battle maneuvers and sneak attack feats such as Staggering Strike). So even with the more advanced 3.5 rules, casters could cast dramatic effects that last multiple rounds but deal no damage and melees could spam “deal X damage and apply Y condition for 1 round” attacks. Both were cool and fun but in very different ways. The only two problems were that rogues still didn’t have enough cool moves and some spells were still vastly superior to all other options. Note that AEDU has nothing to do with this. If casters had Web or Wall of Fire as a low level daily power, as a mid-level encounter power, and as a high level at-will power, the game would still have been loads of fun.
The third problem is the lack of utility magic. Charm Person, Sleep that lasts more than a couple of rounds, Invisibility, Silence, Fly, etc… Even if you managed to get them, they weren’t available enough to make a difference (at most once per day). You also had to wait much longer to get these spells (level 6 for Invisibility vs. level 3 for instance; level 16 for Fly vs. level 5). After a couple of months of playing, our PCs weren’t even close to having the out-of-combat magical capabilities of the former editions. We tried playing at higher levels but it didn’t feel the same either. Out-of-combat magic is simply too limited both in effects and availability. I know this is considered a feature by a lot of you guys that hated the “Wizard Toolbox”.
Please keep it polite. Let’s not turn this thread into a useless edition war.