Why 4e

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Since most haters are gone as many have noticed lately I feel that its appropriate to wonder why so many of us decided to stick with 4e instead of moving to another game. I personally like 4e for its simplicity to DM. It is literally one of the easiest things to DM as there few rules you have to know to DM.

What is your main reason for sticking around? 

Come to 4ENCLAVE for a fan based 4th Edition Community.

 

  Basic:  I am used to it.

    Game related:  It is the superior version.  &  qhile not as good as it once was, it is still fairly easy to find a game.

     Unlike earlier versions I have no confidence the new edition will be an improvement.  In fact, I see them using principles I consider bad for the game.
Basically, because I haven't found another game that does as many of these things right.

Be warned this is long.

So long, you guys.  Seriously.



Clarity of Rules
A lot of the older editions, AD&D especially, tended to have rules spoken in common language and/or Gygaxian prose.  I'm sure you're familiar with this, but you can check, for example, the Fighter's eventual gaining of a keep and followers for some decent examples.  Or alignment, for the ultimate example.  Basically, what you'd get a lot of times were rules that were clear enough that readers would get the gist of it, but imprecise enough that different readers could get different gists of it, and by the text, neither would necessarily be wrong.  

By contrast, 4e rules tended to be very precise and clear, even using keywords with precise definitions to bridge varying rules.  To make the benefit of this clear:  4e killed Rules Laywers.  Oh, there might be a few out there somewhere, perhaps if they're also actual laywers, but by and large, Rules Arguments and Rules Laywers live in the grey areas of the rules, where things can be taken in several ways, and 4e was built with an eye toward eliminating such areas.  Table events and disagreements that would have led to arguments in previous editions(even if we did hold them until after the game, I've seen after game arguements go for 3+ hours) just result in one person checking the Rules Compendium or rereading the power/feat or whatever in question, and that settles it.  I've seen Rules Lawyers become Rules Page-Rememberers, because that's all they've got left.

Balance

Okay, here we go.  First, for a definition.  Balance is what you have when everyone feels like they're an equally valuable member of the party.  It doesn't mean that you're identical, it means you're bringing your own unique thing to the group that is as valuable as everyone else's.  It's not a yes or no thing, it's a sliding scale, and everyone has a different threshold that they want.  Purely for a visualization aid, let's think of it as points out of ten.  Me, I want everyone to be within about 2, maybe 3 points of one another.  If one guy is sitting at 6/10, and there's another at 8/10 and a third at 5/10, that's within acceptable limits(the 5 and the 8 are starting to strain it).  But if we've got one guy at 5/10 and another at 10/10, the disparity is more than I want.  Someone else might be fine with that, but I'd feel resentful if I were the 5/10 guy, and guilty if I were the 10/10 guy.  Imbalance is a losing situation, no matter what side of it you're on.

Now, there are different delivery methods for balance, and D&D has always tried to deliver it.  It's just that previously, it was less well balanced and used methods that I found basically not to work.  Here are a few:

Balance-by-Campaign:  This was a big one in old editions.  It's why Wizards start out all weak and frail, with very few spells, while Fighters are kings of those early levels only to have this dynamic reversed later.  This form of balance doesnt work very well, because it requires two things.  First is that you start at level 1(which was, ime, common enough in AD&D, but increasingly rare in 3.5).  Second is that the campaign goes on for long enough to reach high levels, which is also not a given.  Even when it works, though, it just doesn't feel like balance to me.  If the campaign went for a year, say, it would feel to me like five months of imbalance, then two months of okay balance, then five more of imbalance going the other way.

Balance-by-Adventuring-Day:  This was another sort of balance that was prevalent in older editions.  This is the sort where you know if you have too few encounters in a day, the casters will be able to put way too many spells into each one and make them trivial, but if you have more, then they have to scrimp and save and the melee guys come out ahead(until the cleric is out of heals, anyway).  I don't like this one because it depends on the DM bending his encounter/adventuring day pacing for the sake of balance.  It's usually around 4-5 encounters, and that might be fine if I wanted that many encounters, at least on average, but I generally don't.  My average encounters per day, as a DM, is about 2.  I usually don't want to go over that, and I sure as hell don't want to do it just for mechanical reasons.  I know there's all kinds of tricks one can pull to make the wizards prepare the wrong spells/hold back half their load, but to me, that's a huge hassle that I could just avoid completely by not using a system that relies on Balance-by-Adventuring-Day.

Balance-from-the-DM:  This is the type where the DM smooths out all the balance issues, usually by regulating what spells the wizard gets, and giving more loot and/or "story time" to an underpowered player, among other ways.  As a DM, this falls under the "Hassle I'd rather not deal with" list.  As a player, I can go two ways with it, though neither of them is "liking it".  If I'm the overpowered player, I'm okay with it.  I won't enjoy it, but I'm probably already feeling guilty about being overpowered, and I'll accept it as a form of atonement.  if I'm the underpowered player, I actually resent it.  I'm going to notice it eventually, and as soon as I do, everything I get will start to feel like I'm being coddled because my character is weak.  It's the sort of bad feeling that only gets worse when you're right, too.  From a one-step-back viewpoint, I don't like this sort of balance, because it relies solely on the skill and system mastery of the DM.  And balancing like this is one of the hardest DMing skills to learn.  I didn't even realize it was a skill I'd need until about two years into the hobby, and even today, I could handle little problems, but if the ball isn't in the park, I wouldn't be confident in my ability to get it back in the park.

Balance-from-the-Players:  This is often referred to as the gentleman's agreement, or simply, don't min/max.  It's a form of balance wherein the players all work together to make sure their characters are about even.  It can work, and it can work in even highly imbalanced systems.  However, I don't really like it.  I find it very impractical because it relies on the entire group either getting lucky or having roughly equivalent system mastery and all agreeing on a power level before the campaign starts.  I've seen the former, I have never seen the latter.  It also tends to be frustrating for me in a way that I will explain shortly.

Balance-by-Drawbacks:  This is one in which it's thought that a bonus in one area is evened out by a drawback in another.  This will always exist in some form, because characters aren't going to be evenly good at everything.  Excelling in one area comes at the cost of not excelling in another.  However, this sort of balance isn't always as good as it seems, and mainly I'm talking about putting a penalty or punishment on something in an attempt to "even out" it being a powerful ability or feature.  Smaller key examples would be like balancing an half-orc's strength bonus with a penalty to intelligence and charisma.  Larger key ones would be like wizard's spells being really powerful, but then "evening it out" by adding a system shock chance, or an aging penalty, or an experience cost.  In my experience, these sort of drawbacks, which I tend to think of as "hitting the player in an unrelated area" tend to not do their job as balancing factors, because canny players can often just find ways to obviate or at least mitigate the drawbacks, while being even more sure to squeeze every last drop of benefit out of the power.

Balance-by-Encounter:  This is the model 4e tends to be most heavily based on.  In this model, each character has some significant way to contribute in each encounter.  Some encounters might favor one PC or disfavor another, but if these sorts of things are going to be campaign long, it's usually easy to let the players know ahead of time and they can build for it(for example, a campaign featuring many undead will favor Divine PCs, but if you're planning that, it's easy enough to just say so).  Timewise, balance by encounter is actually a bit more fine grained than I need it(though I do like it).  What I need is balance by session.  Every session, with most groups I've ever been in, there's a post session chat, usually while we clean up or walk/drive home.  During that conversation, I'd like it if everyone were able to recount one badass thing they did.  A player can always(well, usually at least) make a badass thing happen if they improv and really get creative, but I want the mechanics to help give them the tools and opportunities, too(there's no hard limit on how much of an awesome time you an have, after all!).  Now, balancing by session isn't something the designers can do, since sessions can vary between like 2 hours and 6-8 hours.  When I was in college, some friends and I used to pull huge, 18-hour overnighters.  Balance by encounter is something designers can do, though, and that works for just about any session length, and it stretches out to cover any adventuring day length and any campaign length as well.

Now, as for what I like about balance.  Brightmantle, you're an AD&Der.  I don't have to tell you about min/maxers.  You know.  You know.  Reflect on it, for a moment.  Bask in it.  Min/maxing, in my experience, is usually a problem in one big way.  You have the min/maxer who makes his 9/10 or 10/10 character, maybe 11/10 if the system is really imbalanced.  Then you have the guy who can't be arsed about mechanics and brings his 2/10 character, and there's such a big gap between them.  It creates this tension, this mutual disdain.  It can start arguments and even get to the point where you just can't play together.

Balance reduces the gap.  In 4e, there aren't a lot of 2/10 characters.  You can make them, technically, but ime, most people who can't be arsed about the mechanics wind up at around 6/10.  People who min/max will end up at around 8/10.  Maybe 9/10.  But it's really optimized groups that start to approach 10/10, you can't do it alone.  That reduces the tension by a lot.  Like, a lot.  Remember, my 2-point variance is consdiered a little picky, usually, next to people who can't be arsed about mechanics.  

Now me, I'm a min/maxer(I prefer 'Optimizer').  I'm not a jerk, though, so when I play an imbalanced system, I consciously create characters of lower power so as to not create that tension.  It doesn't work that well, though, because it's incredibly frustrating to do it.  To use an analogy, being an optimizer in an imblanced system with non-optimizers is like being handed a big bucket of legos, and being told that you can make any awesome thing you can think of...so long as it isn't in the top three to five things you actually want to make.  It means that any time, at character creation or at level up, that you get to pick a new option, you have to consciously skip over the ones you like and pick one that sort of sucks.  I can put this off for awhile by optimizing really odd character traits, like being able to move a stupidly huge amount in one turn, or having a single, really high skill mod, things like that.  But it's a temporary fix.  

By contrast, a balanced system is a breath of fresh air.  I can finally build whatever I want to with those legos, without having to worry about ruining things for anyone else!  And as a bonus, I get to play with people whose playstyles, vis-a-vis optimization, vary much further from my own.  I actually have friends that I can happily play 4e with, that would have chased me off by now as a dirty, filthy munchkin if we were playing 3.5.  

There are a lot of playstyle differences, and we talk about a lot of them on these boards, often at great length.  But, in my experience, one of the biggest playstyle differences, that spans all editions and all other playstyles as well, is how much or little a person cares to optimize.  It's also one of the easiest to spot, in play.  It is, ultimately, one of the biggest source of division in players of all other stripes.

And balance helps bridge it.

As a DM, it makes my life easier, in several ways.  More on that in the "Easy DMing" section.

NPCs Not Using PC Rules
In 4e, NPCs were not generally built using PC rules.  You could build them that way, if you wanted, but it wasn't usually done, ime.  Instead, both book monsters and homebrewed ones generally worked off a simple set of maths to get them to the right power level and then filled in some abilities.  This greatly sped up making NPCs for combat, and avoided occasional wonkiness I'd get from trying to match what I wanted an NPC to do in my head with the different feedback the rules were giving me.  But more importantly, it helped magic feel like magic again.

In previous editions, NPCs used the same spellcasting classes as PCs, and even monsters' spells were drawn off the same list.  This led to the phenomenon where after awhile, the players could generally guess what an NPC caster was capable of, or at least what might be on his spell list.  The DM could make up new spells, but usually this wasn't done all willy-nilly, so it didn't make too much of an impact.  In 4e, by contrast, a caster might be able to use a lore skill to get a rough idea of what an enemy mage might be capable of, but you're never sure, no matter how well you know the wizard's spell list.  One of my favorite moments DMing 4e was when the party was about to ambush an enemy mage.  They had fought him once before, but one player had been absent for that session, so he asked the others what the guy could do.  The response was "Well, he's a mage.  Last time we fought him, he used this black lightning sort of thing, and he could animate objects to attack us.  Other than that, though...well, he's a mage.  He could do anything."  It was great.

Roles

Alright, this sblock is going to be more explanatory of what roles are than explanatory of why I like them.  It was going to be pretty short, but you intimated that you do not know of roles and I will try to be rather thorough with the explanation.  I'll probably just blend why I like them in with the general explanation.

What roles are: Roles are a more defined and called out way of describing something that's been in D&D since day one.  The Fighter has always brought something different to the team than the Magic-User or the Cleric or the Thief.  Each has their role to fill.  Each edition has had roles, just not explicitly called out, and not always filled or done that neatly(probably as a consequence of them not being called out or explicitly thought of that way).  

4e spelled them out and labelled each class as one.  There aren't really role mechanics(I think there's an Epic Destiny that has "Defender" as a prerequisite, maybe a feat or two somewhere), as in "each class of Role X gets exactly Y", though most roles have a sort of mechanic that explicitly helps them fulfill their role.  Classes aren't locked into roles(though they are often accused of being such), in fact classes have secondary roles and can often be pushed into those roles if the player tries to do it that way.  It just tells the players what the designers had in mind when they made the class.

It isn't necessary to have one of each role in every party(though, again, detractors will often try to insist that it is).  It's just like having a well-rounded party in AD&D.  It helps, but it isn't strictly mandatory.  You can run with a party of all Thieves, it just, well, provides a unique challenge.

Also, roles are strictly combat, and have no impact on non-combat.

What each role is:

Defender:  The Fighter is the archetypal Defender.   The Defender's primary schtick is to reduce the damage the impact enemies have on the party, generally by creating Catch 22 situations.  They thrive on making sure enemies have no good choices.  There are generally two prongs to this approach that Defender classes take(and I'll be referencing the Fighter for examples).  The first prong is to be durable.  They've got the best HP, the best defenses and often a variety of powers and/or class features available to help them shrug off damage and conditions.  This means that attacking the Defender is not a good choice for the enemy, because he's going to be harder to hit than the other characters, and more able to take it and shrug off any conditions.  

The second prong is to make it hard to attack anyone else.  This is accomplished mainly via stickiness and marks/mark punishment.  Stickiness is the quality of being able to get in someone's face and then prevent them from getting away.  The Fighter, for example, can get a number of moves that slow, immobilize, or knock enemies prone.  Moving away from any character provokes an Opportunity Attack, but when you do it to the Fighter, he gets to add his Wisdom mod to the attack roll and he forces you to stop if he hits.  There's a form of movement called Shifting which is generally limited but does not incur these opportunity attacks.  When you Shift, Fighters hit you anyway.  Marks and Mark Punishment are probably the closest thing to a role mechanic in the game.  Marked is a condition that simply states that if you try to make an attack that does not include the one marking you, you take a -2 penalty to the attack roll(so, swinging your sword at the Wizard next to the Fighter incurs the penalty, but a dragon breathing flame on everyone does not).  Every Defender class has their own unique ways of applying marks, though some non-defender classes can also get ways to apply marks.  Each Defender class also has their own unique way of punishing a violated mark.  For Fighters, they have a class feature, Combat Challenge, which simply says that they have the option of marking an enemy whenever they attack.  Their punishment is that when the enemy violates the mark, by making attacks that don't include the Fighter(or if the enemy tries to shift away, an addition unique to the Fighter), they get a free attack on him.

The Defender role has been really great in the game.  When I play a Fighter, I really feel like a credible threat on the battlefield.  The mechanics come together to do a great job of making the Fighter the sort of person who gets up in the enemy's face and cannot be ignored.  The best part is, the fighter wins whether or not the enemy obeys his mark.  If the enemy attacks the Fighter, he's attacking the least vulnerable member of the party.  If he violates the mark, well, a Fighter who is ignored basically starts getting twice as many attacks per round, and as such the damage starts to pile on quite quickly.  I've never seen a person playing a Fighter who had his mark violated and said, "Oh, no, you mean I have to hit him again?  This sucks."  It's generally more along the lines of "What?  Never ignore a blademaster, fool, or find yourself eating hot steel!"

Leader:  The Cleric is the archetypal Leader.  The Leader role includes healing, but goes beyond that.  It also includes remvoing negative conditions, as well as applying buffs to allies and debuffs to enemies.  Basically, a Leader's job is to make everyone else be the best they can be.  4e did a lot for this role.  Healing is only part of what they can do, and the "standard" healing powers only takes a Minor Action(that is, you don't generally have to choose between attacking and healing).  There's a lot of bolstering going, and the Leader can help the party to direct their force toward a single enemy even more than simply surrounding him will.  I'm finding it a little hard to explain, but suffice to say, if you're the type that likes to play support characters(and I can get into that myself), the Leader role is like a big ol' fun bag.

Striker:  Strikers are the damage kings.  This isn't just about straight numbers, either.  Strikers also tend to have other advantages, like mobility, targeting capacity(which is tied to mobility for melee Strikers) and nova potential.  In a nutshell, Strikers don't just have the numbers, but they're made to be the best at putting those numbers where they want them, and possibly at squeezing out much more than normal in one round(though not every round).  To paint a picture, the Fighter is pretty good at dealing damage(if built with an eye toward it, he can be a fine Striker, but we'll assume he's not for this example) but if the party is fighting a group consisting of some archers and some swordsmen, the swordsmen can get in the Fighter's way and give him a hard time.  The Rogue or the Monk, though, they're gonna have tools to just slip past those swordsmen, and get to the archers. 

Controller:  The archetypal Controller is the Wizard.  This is probably the poorest defined role, and it definitely took WotC awhile of printing 4e stuff to start getting it right, but the idea is that Controller is the master of area effects and status conditions.  Controllers tend to have ways of creating zones of stuff, or summoning/conjuring things on the battlefield, or just shutting enemies down.  Controllers budge things with every move, but when they break out the Dailies, well, the battle isn't instantly won, but that Daily will tend to change the field for the rest of the fight.

I think roles were a good thing for clarity with the players, but I especially think they were good for the designers to keep in mind.  It made them think, "Okay, I know this class is going to have the tools available to be a valuable addition to the party in combat, I just have to figure out how."  I wish they had done something similar with non combat spheres, such as Exploration and Socialization.

Lore
There's just a lot of lore in 4e that I like.  The default Points of Light/Nentir Vale setting is mostly hinted at, and info given in bits and pieces, but it really feels like there were editors looking over it, saying, "Alright, no boring details.  Let the players fill those in, let's make sure everything on this page makes readers inspired."  And it shows.  You look in the MM, and it gets a lot of slack for not including things like No. Appearing and Ecology info, and that's true.  The MM doesn't tell you a lot about goblins eating habits or their ratio of males to females.  Instead it talks about how hobgoblins used to have an empire where goblins and bugbears were their servants, and hints that that empire's fall was at least partially from Fey interference, and how many goblins hate the fey to this day.  It talks of goblin tendencies to tame and breed creatures like drakes and wolves, and even hints that in ancient times, hobgoblins may have flat out created goblins and bugbears for their own purposes.

The World Axis cosmology is pretty great.  Every place in it is ripe for adventure, from the glimmering Feywild, to the Horror-esque Shadowfell.  

If there's one thing from 4e I wouldn't want to lose, lorewise, it's the treatment of Fey.  Fey are unpredicable, terrifying beings, even the 'good ones' can utterly screw over mere mortals for their own reasons.  These aren't the Tinkerbell, sing a little song, place dew on the flowers fairies, they're the ones from old myths that steal your baby and replace it with a changeling because you forgot to leave them an offering on the solstice.  In 4e, when you talk to the Fey, you watch your damn mouth.

Ease of DMing
 
So, this is a big one, but it pulls in parts from a lot of the other sections.  4e is a breeze to DM.  NPCs and even whole encounters are easy to create, and the guidelines for doing so(while a bit limited in scope) work pretty well.  This meant I didn't spend a lot of prep time making encounters, and had more to devote to lore and atmosphere, and trying to puzzle out various things the PCs might try to shore up the adventure as a whole.  A lot of things in 4e did that, they made the mechanically concerned parts of adventure design/session prep easy and painless, and allowed me to redirect that time and effort into other parts of the campaign.  It also meant that if the PCs went a way I didn't expect, I could whip up an encounter for them and have it running in record time(when I started including monster math sections in my notes, we're talking about going "encounter that I, as DM, completely did not expect" to "Okay, I'm ready" in under a minute).  And that encounter would be good.  It wouldn't be too easy, it wouldn't be too hard, it wouldn't be boring, it would be just what I wanted it to be.

If I want to stray from the encounter building guidelines, I can do that, because it's easy to see how things work and how the party can handle them.

Then there's the houseruling and the homebrewing.  Oooh, yes.  4e is so easy to houserule and homebrew in.  The clarity and transparency of the rules, along with, as swmabie said, "the redundancies of balance" make it so easy to see what will happen if you change things.  To use what I hope will be a decent anology, houseruling and homebrewing in AD&D was like playing Jenga(in this analogy, you are not that good at Jenga).  You can, with foresight, and with trial and error, figure out what blocks you can mess with and what will happen, but you're going to spend a lot of time picking up fallen blocks and towers to gain that knowledge.  Houseruling and homebrewing in 4e is like playing with legos.  They're easy to figure out, you can tell how the little bumps fit into the little holes, and with very little trial and error, you can build a lot of cool stuff.  

For homebrewing, if I want to make a new level 3 encounter power, I have a wide variety of balanced level 3 encounter powers to look at, to use as a guide for how strong mine should be.  I don't really have to worry about it feeding into some obscure rule or class and being wildly overpowered, because I have all these keywords and rules that I can use in my new power that make it clear how it will interact with the rest of system.

This sort of familiarity and ease takes a long time to build up with earlier editions, because things aren't so balanced and aren't so clear.  I've spent about a year DMing 4e, on and off(which is about as much 1e as I've DMed, and less 3.5 than I have DMed), and I'm confident about pretty much anything I might want to try and anything the players can throw at me.  It's a confidence at a level I never got to in previous editions.

Rituals
Rituals are a 4e invention, sort of like a second spellcasting system.  Any character that has the Ritual Casting feat(given for free to many 'casty' classes, like Cleric and Wizard) can get a ritual book and inscribe rituals into it.  Rituals are spells with long casting times(10 minutes to multiple hours) and non-neglegible component costs(well, they get neglegible for a high level character casting a low level ritual, but you get the idea).  They have heavy utility, and many spells from older editions were given in 4e as Rituals.  You can cast any ritual you have as many times as you want, provided you have the time and the components.

Rituals were good(there was room for improvement), because of a few things.  First, they made sure that magic wasn't usually the go-to choice for utility.  If you had a non-magic way to handle the obstacle, you did that first, because it would probably be cheaper and quicker.  Ritual Magic was good, but tended to get saved as a last resort, as opposed to my experiences with Vancian in previous editions, where if a caster prepped a utility spell, it was going to get used, probably at the first opportunity, because it was free and if you didn't use it that day it was wasted.

Second, it made sure that you never got that situation where the wizard or cleric threw up his hands and said, "Well, guys, I know exactly the right spell for this, but I can't cast it today, because I didn't pick it this morning!"

Third is that it was part of separating the pools for non-combat resources and combat resources.  How that works and why I find it important is a whole 'nother rant, though, so I'll abstain unless you want to hear it.
Less Random Death/More Dynamic Combat
In 4e, characters started out with more hit points(something like 20-30, usually) and they had more ways, as a party, to combat being dead.  In addition, Save or Die just isn't in 4e.  Effects that might once have been Save or Die are now usually either toned down, or allow multiple Saves.  For example, the Medusa in the MM.  If it hits you with its gaze(an attack vs Fortitude, like an old spell save but with the die in the other hand) then you're Slowed(Save ends).  If you fail the first save(which comes on your next turn), you become Immobilized(Save ends).  If you fail your second save, then you're Petrified(no save).  This both reduces the impact of sheer luck on the fight, and also tends to make these sort of situations more tense and suspenseful.  More "You know Bad Stuff is coming, quick find a way to stop it!" and less "Well, Bad Stuff is here.  Sorry bro."

Now, this isn't to say that death doesn't happen in 4e, or that characters are always safe.  Quite the opposite, I've had more characters die in 4e than I ever did in 3.5, and adjusting for time spent with the system, about the same as I did in AD&D.  The difference is that the deaths I saw in AD&D were more often the result of an unlucky roll, whether that was a damage roll(especially at low levels) or a Save or Die where you, well, Died instead of Saving.  Deaths in 4e, by contrast, are more often the result of poor planning, tactics and/or teamwork on the part of the party.  The dice still figure into it, and can wreck some havoc, but the balance is tipped in favor of how the players respond to the situation, rather than how the dice fall.

As a player, this is great for me.  I feel like I'm in much more control over whether my character lives or dies, and as such I feel a lot 'safer' putting a bunch of time and effort into a concept and backstory.

As a DM, this has been great for me, because it allows me to adjust the lethality of a given encounter to more degrees, especially at lower levels.  When you're fighting kobolds that have 1d4 daggers for damage, and you have 1d6 hp, they might as well just run up and stab you.  They're all a threat, all the time.  But in 4e, I can play my kobolds as tricky mooks right from level 1.  That same 1d4 isn't an insta-kill, but it can wear you down, so I can make encounters where a number of kobolds pop in and out of hiding spots and take potshots at the party while a central attraction, perhaps a champion or diabolical device/trap, is the main danger.  Neither the main danger or the snipers can really be safely ignored forever, so the party has to figure out how to deal with it.

This feeds into the dynamic combat angle.  Fights in 4e tend to be flashy.  People are moving around the battlefield, often pushing and pulling each other around.  Terrain tends to be a big deal.  Characters can have abilities that key off of one another, and a lot of the character's abilities bring the flavor of the class to life by encouraging and rewarding certain styles of play.  For example, my Blackguard(one of my favorite 4e classes to date) has an at-will power that hits one guy, but deals more damage to him for each enemy adjacent to my Blackguard(with a limit of like 4 guys' worth).  This power encourages me to jump right into the fray and potentially take a few hits to really lay it on one guy. 

Powers, including especially Daily and Encounter powers, were great for the melee types.  I don't personally have any problem between them and my suspension of disbelief, but as a player, they're an invaluable resource for one big reason:  they let the player decide when to go all out.  A character with all at-wills only has one level of power output, so to speak.  When the going gets tough, they, well, keep doing more or less exactly what they did when the going was easy.  But with Encounter and Daily powers, I can put the pedal to the metal and really have the mechanics back me up when I decide it's time to go all out.  It's lame if my Fighter can't put any more effort toward going toe to toe with his arch-nemesis than he can with a random orc.

Healing Surges
Okay, first, the downlow on what Surges are.  Surges can be thought of as your character's 'Hp Reserves'.  You get a number determined by your class, modified by your Constitution(also like hp).  Your Surge Value(distinct from how many you have) is 1/4 of your HP, rounded down.  Out of combat, after a short rest, you can spend as many as you like gaining your Surge Value back in hp for each one.  In combat, access to them is much more limited.  Each character can use a Second Wind once per encounter, spending a surge and regaining Surge Value in hp.  Most healing also works with surges, allowing you to spend one for your surge value plus some bonuses.  Surges are restored with an extended rest, that is, a night's sleep.

Surges have a few really nice effects on the game for me.  The first, probably the biggest, is how they interact with HP.  Like you, I see HP the way Gygax described them, a combination of luck, fate, toughness, experience and what have you.  That explanation always felt to me like it wasn't properly expressed in the rest of the game's mechanics, though.  Damage was a mix of things, but healing was always either through magic, or slow rest and recovery, as though they were wounds(but, like, a terrible model of wounds).  Healing Surges, along with Second Winds and martial healing as a whole(along with a number of other touches around 4e), make that abstraction whole.  They add the non-wound part into healing.

Second, is that they even out some oddities in healing spells.  It was always a little odd in old editions that since Cure Light Wounds healed 1d8, sometimes plus stuff, it was more healing for a peasant than it was for a knight.  But in 4e, spells(including CLW) let the target spend a surge with a bonus, and since the surge is always a quarter of your HP, the peasant and knight can benefit equally.  It also provides a nice model of the idea that healing isn't drawn from nowhere, it's mostly pulling out the reserves of the person being healed.  Surgeless healing is the "real magic" healing, and it tends to be a lot more rare(though, naturally, Clerics are best at surgeless healing).

Third, surges really help the party go without a Cleric, or even without a Leader at all.  Swmabie pointed out how this affects settings like Dark Sun(which is a great setting), and they can also make it a lot easier to run without a Cleric/Leader in other settings.  Pre-4e you could do without a Cleric, but it would tend to have big impacts on how you adventured.  You'd have to make sure you never got into too much trouble at once, and that you took a week or more off to rest between encounters.  That can be fun, but it can also throw a big wrench in a campaign idea just because no one felt like playing the Cleric.


Seriously, though, you should check out the PbP Haven. You might also like Real Adventures, IF you're cool.
Knights of W.T.F.- Silver Spur Winner
4enclave, a place where 4e fans can talk 4e in peace.
Basically, because I haven't found another game that does as many of these things right.

Be warned this is long.

So long, you guys.  Seriously.



Clarity of Rules
A lot of the older editions, AD&D especially, tended to have rules spoken in common language and/or Gygaxian prose.  I'm sure you're familiar with this, but you can check, for example, the Fighter's eventual gaining of a keep and followers for some decent examples.  Or alignment, for the ultimate example.  Basically, what you'd get a lot of times were rules that were clear enough that readers would get the gist of it, but imprecise enough that different readers could get different gists of it, and by the text, neither would necessarily be wrong.  

By contrast, 4e rules tended to be very precise and clear, even using keywords with precise definitions to bridge varying rules.  To make the benefit of this clear:  4e killed Rules Laywers.  Oh, there might be a few out there somewhere, perhaps if they're also actual laywers, but by and large, Rules Arguments and Rules Laywers live in the grey areas of the rules, where things can be taken in several ways, and 4e was built with an eye toward eliminating such areas.  Table events and disagreements that would have led to arguments in previous editions(even if we did hold them until after the game, I've seen after game arguements go for 3+ hours) just result in one person checking the Rules Compendium or rereading the power/feat or whatever in question, and that settles it.  I've seen Rules Lawyers become Rules Page-Rememberers, because that's all they've got left.

Balance

Okay, here we go.  First, for a definition.  Balance is what you have when everyone feels like they're an equally valuable member of the party.  It doesn't mean that you're identical, it means you're bringing your own unique thing to the group that is as valuable as everyone else's.  It's not a yes or no thing, it's a sliding scale, and everyone has a different threshold that they want.  Purely for a visualization aid, let's think of it as points out of ten.  Me, I want everyone to be within about 2, maybe 3 points of one another.  If one guy is sitting at 6/10, and there's another at 8/10 and a third at 5/10, that's within acceptable limits(the 5 and the 8 are starting to strain it).  But if we've got one guy at 5/10 and another at 10/10, the disparity is more than I want.  Someone else might be fine with that, but I'd feel resentful if I were the 5/10 guy, and guilty if I were the 10/10 guy.  Imbalance is a losing situation, no matter what side of it you're on.

Now, there are different delivery methods for balance, and D&D has always tried to deliver it.  It's just that previously, it was less well balanced and used methods that I found basically not to work.  Here are a few:

Balance-by-Campaign:  This was a big one in old editions.  It's why Wizards start out all weak and frail, with very few spells, while Fighters are kings of those early levels only to have this dynamic reversed later.  This form of balance doesnt work very well, because it requires two things.  First is that you start at level 1(which was, ime, common enough in AD&D, but increasingly rare in 3.5).  Second is that the campaign goes on for long enough to reach high levels, which is also not a given.  Even when it works, though, it just doesn't feel like balance to me.  If the campaign went for a year, say, it would feel to me like five months of imbalance, then two months of okay balance, then five more of imbalance going the other way.

Balance-by-Adventuring-Day:  This was another sort of balance that was prevalent in older editions.  This is the sort where you know if you have too few encounters in a day, the casters will be able to put way too many spells into each one and make them trivial, but if you have more, then they have to scrimp and save and the melee guys come out ahead(until the cleric is out of heals, anyway).  I don't like this one because it depends on the DM bending his encounter/adventuring day pacing for the sake of balance.  It's usually around 4-5 encounters, and that might be fine if I wanted that many encounters, at least on average, but I generally don't.  My average encounters per day, as a DM, is about 2.  I usually don't want to go over that, and I sure as hell don't want to do it just for mechanical reasons.  I know there's all kinds of tricks one can pull to make the wizards prepare the wrong spells/hold back half their load, but to me, that's a huge hassle that I could just avoid completely by not using a system that relies on Balance-by-Adventuring-Day.

Balance-from-the-DM:  This is the type where the DM smooths out all the balance issues, usually by regulating what spells the wizard gets, and giving more loot and/or "story time" to an underpowered player, among other ways.  As a DM, this falls under the "Hassle I'd rather not deal with" list.  As a player, I can go two ways with it, though neither of them is "liking it".  If I'm the overpowered player, I'm okay with it.  I won't enjoy it, but I'm probably already feeling guilty about being overpowered, and I'll accept it as a form of atonement.  if I'm the underpowered player, I actually resent it.  I'm going to notice it eventually, and as soon as I do, everything I get will start to feel like I'm being coddled because my character is weak.  It's the sort of bad feeling that only gets worse when you're right, too.  From a one-step-back viewpoint, I don't like this sort of balance, because it relies solely on the skill and system mastery of the DM.  And balancing like this is one of the hardest DMing skills to learn.  I didn't even realize it was a skill I'd need until about two years into the hobby, and even today, I could handle little problems, but if the ball isn't in the park, I wouldn't be confident in my ability to get it back in the park.

Balance-from-the-Players:  This is often referred to as the gentleman's agreement, or simply, don't min/max.  It's a form of balance wherein the players all work together to make sure their characters are about even.  It can work, and it can work in even highly imbalanced systems.  However, I don't really like it.  I find it very impractical because it relies on the entire group either getting lucky or having roughly equivalent system mastery and all agreeing on a power level before the campaign starts.  I've seen the former, I have never seen the latter.  It also tends to be frustrating for me in a way that I will explain shortly.

Balance-by-Drawbacks:  This is one in which it's thought that a bonus in one area is evened out by a drawback in another.  This will always exist in some form, because characters aren't going to be evenly good at everything.  Excelling in one area comes at the cost of not excelling in another.  However, this sort of balance isn't always as good as it seems, and mainly I'm talking about putting a penalty or punishment on something in an attempt to "even out" it being a powerful ability or feature.  Smaller key examples would be like balancing an half-orc's strength bonus with a penalty to intelligence and charisma.  Larger key ones would be like wizard's spells being really powerful, but then "evening it out" by adding a system shock chance, or an aging penalty, or an experience cost.  In my experience, these sort of drawbacks, which I tend to think of as "hitting the player in an unrelated area" tend to not do their job as balancing factors, because canny players can often just find ways to obviate or at least mitigate the drawbacks, while being even more sure to squeeze every last drop of benefit out of the power.

Balance-by-Encounter:  This is the model 4e tends to be most heavily based on.  In this model, each character has some significant way to contribute in each encounter.  Some encounters might favor one PC or disfavor another, but if these sorts of things are going to be campaign long, it's usually easy to let the players know ahead of time and they can build for it(for example, a campaign featuring many undead will favor Divine PCs, but if you're planning that, it's easy enough to just say so).  Timewise, balance by encounter is actually a bit more fine grained than I need it(though I do like it).  What I need is balance by session.  Every session, with most groups I've ever been in, there's a post session chat, usually while we clean up or walk/drive home.  During that conversation, I'd like it if everyone were able to recount one badass thing they did.  A player can always(well, usually at least) make a badass thing happen if they improv and really get creative, but I want the mechanics to help give them the tools and opportunities, too(there's no hard limit on how much of an awesome time you an have, after all!).  Now, balancing by session isn't something the designers can do, since sessions can vary between like 2 hours and 6-8 hours.  When I was in college, some friends and I used to pull huge, 18-hour overnighters.  Balance by encounter is something designers can do, though, and that works for just about any session length, and it stretches out to cover any adventuring day length and any campaign length as well.

Now, as for what I like about balance.  Brightmantle, you're an AD&Der.  I don't have to tell you about min/maxers.  You know.  You know.  Reflect on it, for a moment.  Bask in it.  Min/maxing, in my experience, is usually a problem in one big way.  You have the min/maxer who makes his 9/10 or 10/10 character, maybe 11/10 if the system is really imbalanced.  Then you have the guy who can't be arsed about mechanics and brings his 2/10 character, and there's such a big gap between them.  It creates this tension, this mutual disdain.  It can start arguments and even get to the point where you just can't play together.

Balance reduces the gap.  In 4e, there aren't a lot of 2/10 characters.  You can make them, technically, but ime, most people who can't be arsed about the mechanics wind up at around 6/10.  People who min/max will end up at around 8/10.  Maybe 9/10.  But it's really optimized groups that start to approach 10/10, you can't do it alone.  That reduces the tension by a lot.  Like, a lot.  Remember, my 2-point variance is consdiered a little picky, usually, next to people who can't be arsed about mechanics.  

Now me, I'm a min/maxer(I prefer 'Optimizer').  I'm not a jerk, though, so when I play an imbalanced system, I consciously create characters of lower power so as to not create that tension.  It doesn't work that well, though, because it's incredibly frustrating to do it.  To use an analogy, being an optimizer in an imblanced system with non-optimizers is like being handed a big bucket of legos, and being told that you can make any awesome thing you can think of...so long as it isn't in the top three to five things you actually want to make.  It means that any time, at character creation or at level up, that you get to pick a new option, you have to consciously skip over the ones you like and pick one that sort of sucks.  I can put this off for awhile by optimizing really odd character traits, like being able to move a stupidly huge amount in one turn, or having a single, really high skill mod, things like that.  But it's a temporary fix.  

By contrast, a balanced system is a breath of fresh air.  I can finally build whatever I want to with those legos, without having to worry about ruining things for anyone else!  And as a bonus, I get to play with people whose playstyles, vis-a-vis optimization, vary much further from my own.  I actually have friends that I can happily play 4e with, that would have chased me off by now as a dirty, filthy munchkin if we were playing 3.5.  

There are a lot of playstyle differences, and we talk about a lot of them on these boards, often at great length.  But, in my experience, one of the biggest playstyle differences, that spans all editions and all other playstyles as well, is how much or little a person cares to optimize.  It's also one of the easiest to spot, in play.  It is, ultimately, one of the biggest source of division in players of all other stripes.

And balance helps bridge it.

As a DM, it makes my life easier, in several ways.  More on that in the "Easy DMing" section.

NPCs Not Using PC Rules
In 4e, NPCs were not generally built using PC rules.  You could build them that way, if you wanted, but it wasn't usually done, ime.  Instead, both book monsters and homebrewed ones generally worked off a simple set of maths to get them to the right power level and then filled in some abilities.  This greatly sped up making NPCs for combat, and avoided occasional wonkiness I'd get from trying to match what I wanted an NPC to do in my head with the different feedback the rules were giving me.  But more importantly, it helped magic feel like magic again.

In previous editions, NPCs used the same spellcasting classes as PCs, and even monsters' spells were drawn off the same list.  This led to the phenomenon where after awhile, the players could generally guess what an NPC caster was capable of, or at least what might be on his spell list.  The DM could make up new spells, but usually this wasn't done all willy-nilly, so it didn't make too much of an impact.  In 4e, by contrast, a caster might be able to use a lore skill to get a rough idea of what an enemy mage might be capable of, but you're never sure, no matter how well you know the wizard's spell list.  One of my favorite moments DMing 4e was when the party was about to ambush an enemy mage.  They had fought him once before, but one player had been absent for that session, so he asked the others what the guy could do.  The response was "Well, he's a mage.  Last time we fought him, he used this black lightning sort of thing, and he could animate objects to attack us.  Other than that, though...well, he's a mage.  He could do anything."  It was great.

Roles

Alright, this sblock is going to be more explanatory of what roles are than explanatory of why I like them.  It was going to be pretty short, but you intimated that you do not know of roles and I will try to be rather thorough with the explanation.  I'll probably just blend why I like them in with the general explanation.

What roles are: Roles are a more defined and called out way of describing something that's been in D&D since day one.  The Fighter has always brought something different to the team than the Magic-User or the Cleric or the Thief.  Each has their role to fill.  Each edition has had roles, just not explicitly called out, and not always filled or done that neatly(probably as a consequence of them not being called out or explicitly thought of that way).  

4e spelled them out and labelled each class as one.  There aren't really role mechanics(I think there's an Epic Destiny that has "Defender" as a prerequisite, maybe a feat or two somewhere), as in "each class of Role X gets exactly Y", though most roles have a sort of mechanic that explicitly helps them fulfill their role.  Classes aren't locked into roles(though they are often accused of being such), in fact classes have secondary roles and can often be pushed into those roles if the player tries to do it that way.  It just tells the players what the designers had in mind when they made the class.

It isn't necessary to have one of each role in every party(though, again, detractors will often try to insist that it is).  It's just like having a well-rounded party in AD&D.  It helps, but it isn't strictly mandatory.  You can run with a party of all Thieves, it just, well, provides a unique challenge.

Also, roles are strictly combat, and have no impact on non-combat.

What each role is:

Defender:  The Fighter is the archetypal Defender.   The Defender's primary schtick is to reduce the damage the impact enemies have on the party, generally by creating Catch 22 situations.  They thrive on making sure enemies have no good choices.  There are generally two prongs to this approach that Defender classes take(and I'll be referencing the Fighter for examples).  The first prong is to be durable.  They've got the best HP, the best defenses and often a variety of powers and/or class features available to help them shrug off damage and conditions.  This means that attacking the Defender is not a good choice for the enemy, because he's going to be harder to hit than the other characters, and more able to take it and shrug off any conditions.  

The second prong is to make it hard to attack anyone else.  This is accomplished mainly via stickiness and marks/mark punishment.  Stickiness is the quality of being able to get in someone's face and then prevent them from getting away.  The Fighter, for example, can get a number of moves that slow, immobilize, or knock enemies prone.  Moving away from any character provokes an Opportunity Attack, but when you do it to the Fighter, he gets to add his Wisdom mod to the attack roll and he forces you to stop if he hits.  There's a form of movement called Shifting which is generally limited but does not incur these opportunity attacks.  When you Shift, Fighters hit you anyway.  Marks and Mark Punishment are probably the closest thing to a role mechanic in the game.  Marked is a condition that simply states that if you try to make an attack that does not include the one marking you, you take a -2 penalty to the attack roll(so, swinging your sword at the Wizard next to the Fighter incurs the penalty, but a dragon breathing flame on everyone does not).  Every Defender class has their own unique ways of applying marks, though some non-defender classes can also get ways to apply marks.  Each Defender class also has their own unique way of punishing a violated mark.  For Fighters, they have a class feature, Combat Challenge, which simply says that they have the option of marking an enemy whenever they attack.  Their punishment is that when the enemy violates the mark, by making attacks that don't include the Fighter(or if the enemy tries to shift away, an addition unique to the Fighter), they get a free attack on him.

The Defender role has been really great in the game.  When I play a Fighter, I really feel like a credible threat on the battlefield.  The mechanics come together to do a great job of making the Fighter the sort of person who gets up in the enemy's face and cannot be ignored.  The best part is, the fighter wins whether or not the enemy obeys his mark.  If the enemy attacks the Fighter, he's attacking the least vulnerable member of the party.  If he violates the mark, well, a Fighter who is ignored basically starts getting twice as many attacks per round, and as such the damage starts to pile on quite quickly.  I've never seen a person playing a Fighter who had his mark violated and said, "Oh, no, you mean I have to hit him again?  This sucks."  It's generally more along the lines of "What?  Never ignore a blademaster, fool, or find yourself eating hot steel!"

Leader:  The Cleric is the archetypal Leader.  The Leader role includes healing, but goes beyond that.  It also includes remvoing negative conditions, as well as applying buffs to allies and debuffs to enemies.  Basically, a Leader's job is to make everyone else be the best they can be.  4e did a lot for this role.  Healing is only part of what they can do, and the "standard" healing powers only takes a Minor Action(that is, you don't generally have to choose between attacking and healing).  There's a lot of bolstering going, and the Leader can help the party to direct their force toward a single enemy even more than simply surrounding him will.  I'm finding it a little hard to explain, but suffice to say, if you're the type that likes to play support characters(and I can get into that myself), the Leader role is like a big ol' fun bag.

Striker:  Strikers are the damage kings.  This isn't just about straight numbers, either.  Strikers also tend to have other advantages, like mobility, targeting capacity(which is tied to mobility for melee Strikers) and nova potential.  In a nutshell, Strikers don't just have the numbers, but they're made to be the best at putting those numbers where they want them, and possibly at squeezing out much more than normal in one round(though not every round).  To paint a picture, the Fighter is pretty good at dealing damage(if built with an eye toward it, he can be a fine Striker, but we'll assume he's not for this example) but if the party is fighting a group consisting of some archers and some swordsmen, the swordsmen can get in the Fighter's way and give him a hard time.  The Rogue or the Monk, though, they're gonna have tools to just slip past those swordsmen, and get to the archers. 

Controller:  The archetypal Controller is the Wizard.  This is probably the poorest defined role, and it definitely took WotC awhile of printing 4e stuff to start getting it right, but the idea is that Controller is the master of area effects and status conditions.  Controllers tend to have ways of creating zones of stuff, or summoning/conjuring things on the battlefield, or just shutting enemies down.  Controllers budge things with every move, but when they break out the Dailies, well, the battle isn't instantly won, but that Daily will tend to change the field for the rest of the fight.

I think roles were a good thing for clarity with the players, but I especially think they were good for the designers to keep in mind.  It made them think, "Okay, I know this class is going to have the tools available to be a valuable addition to the party in combat, I just have to figure out how."  I wish they had done something similar with non combat spheres, such as Exploration and Socialization.

Lore
There's just a lot of lore in 4e that I like.  The default Points of Light/Nentir Vale setting is mostly hinted at, and info given in bits and pieces, but it really feels like there were editors looking over it, saying, "Alright, no boring details.  Let the players fill those in, let's make sure everything on this page makes readers inspired."  And it shows.  You look in the MM, and it gets a lot of slack for not including things like No. Appearing and Ecology info, and that's true.  The MM doesn't tell you a lot about goblins eating habits or their ratio of males to females.  Instead it talks about how hobgoblins used to have an empire where goblins and bugbears were their servants, and hints that that empire's fall was at least partially from Fey interference, and how many goblins hate the fey to this day.  It talks of goblin tendencies to tame and breed creatures like drakes and wolves, and even hints that in ancient times, hobgoblins may have flat out created goblins and bugbears for their own purposes.

The World Axis cosmology is pretty great.  Every place in it is ripe for adventure, from the glimmering Feywild, to the Horror-esque Shadowfell.  

If there's one thing from 4e I wouldn't want to lose, lorewise, it's the treatment of Fey.  Fey are unpredicable, terrifying beings, even the 'good ones' can utterly screw over mere mortals for their own reasons.  These aren't the Tinkerbell, sing a little song, place dew on the flowers fairies, they're the ones from old myths that steal your baby and replace it with a changeling because you forgot to leave them an offering on the solstice.  In 4e, when you talk to the Fey, you watch your damn mouth.

Ease of DMing
 
So, this is a big one, but it pulls in parts from a lot of the other sections.  4e is a breeze to DM.  NPCs and even whole encounters are easy to create, and the guidelines for doing so(while a bit limited in scope) work pretty well.  This meant I didn't spend a lot of prep time making encounters, and had more to devote to lore and atmosphere, and trying to puzzle out various things the PCs might try to shore up the adventure as a whole.  A lot of things in 4e did that, they made the mechanically concerned parts of adventure design/session prep easy and painless, and allowed me to redirect that time and effort into other parts of the campaign.  It also meant that if the PCs went a way I didn't expect, I could whip up an encounter for them and have it running in record time(when I started including monster math sections in my notes, we're talking about going "encounter that I, as DM, completely did not expect" to "Okay, I'm ready" in under a minute).  And that encounter would be good.  It wouldn't be too easy, it wouldn't be too hard, it wouldn't be boring, it would be just what I wanted it to be.

If I want to stray from the encounter building guidelines, I can do that, because it's easy to see how things work and how the party can handle them.

Then there's the houseruling and the homebrewing.  Oooh, yes.  4e is so easy to houserule and homebrew in.  The clarity and transparency of the rules, along with, as swmabie said, "the redundancies of balance" make it so easy to see what will happen if you change things.  To use what I hope will be a decent anology, houseruling and homebrewing in AD&D was like playing Jenga(in this analogy, you are not that good at Jenga).  You can, with foresight, and with trial and error, figure out what blocks you can mess with and what will happen, but you're going to spend a lot of time picking up fallen blocks and towers to gain that knowledge.  Houseruling and homebrewing in 4e is like playing with legos.  They're easy to figure out, you can tell how the little bumps fit into the little holes, and with very little trial and error, you can build a lot of cool stuff.  

For homebrewing, if I want to make a new level 3 encounter power, I have a wide variety of balanced level 3 encounter powers to look at, to use as a guide for how strong mine should be.  I don't really have to worry about it feeding into some obscure rule or class and being wildly overpowered, because I have all these keywords and rules that I can use in my new power that make it clear how it will interact with the rest of system.

This sort of familiarity and ease takes a long time to build up with earlier editions, because things aren't so balanced and aren't so clear.  I've spent about a year DMing 4e, on and off(which is about as much 1e as I've DMed, and less 3.5 than I have DMed), and I'm confident about pretty much anything I might want to try and anything the players can throw at me.  It's a confidence at a level I never got to in previous editions.

Rituals
Rituals are a 4e invention, sort of like a second spellcasting system.  Any character that has the Ritual Casting feat(given for free to many 'casty' classes, like Cleric and Wizard) can get a ritual book and inscribe rituals into it.  Rituals are spells with long casting times(10 minutes to multiple hours) and non-neglegible component costs(well, they get neglegible for a high level character casting a low level ritual, but you get the idea).  They have heavy utility, and many spells from older editions were given in 4e as Rituals.  You can cast any ritual you have as many times as you want, provided you have the time and the components.

Rituals were good(there was room for improvement), because of a few things.  First, they made sure that magic wasn't usually the go-to choice for utility.  If you had a non-magic way to handle the obstacle, you did that first, because it would probably be cheaper and quicker.  Ritual Magic was good, but tended to get saved as a last resort, as opposed to my experiences with Vancian in previous editions, where if a caster prepped a utility spell, it was going to get used, probably at the first opportunity, because it was free and if you didn't use it that day it was wasted.

Second, it made sure that you never got that situation where the wizard or cleric threw up his hands and said, "Well, guys, I know exactly the right spell for this, but I can't cast it today, because I didn't pick it this morning!"

Third is that it was part of separating the pools for non-combat resources and combat resources.  How that works and why I find it important is a whole 'nother rant, though, so I'll abstain unless you want to hear it.
Less Random Death/More Dynamic Combat
In 4e, characters started out with more hit points(something like 20-30, usually) and they had more ways, as a party, to combat being dead.  In addition, Save or Die just isn't in 4e.  Effects that might once have been Save or Die are now usually either toned down, or allow multiple Saves.  For example, the Medusa in the MM.  If it hits you with its gaze(an attack vs Fortitude, like an old spell save but with the die in the other hand) then you're Slowed(Save ends).  If you fail the first save(which comes on your next turn), you become Immobilized(Save ends).  If you fail your second save, then you're Petrified(no save).  This both reduces the impact of sheer luck on the fight, and also tends to make these sort of situations more tense and suspenseful.  More "You know Bad Stuff is coming, quick find a way to stop it!" and less "Well, Bad Stuff is here.  Sorry bro."

Now, this isn't to say that death doesn't happen in 4e, or that characters are always safe.  Quite the opposite, I've had more characters die in 4e than I ever did in 3.5, and adjusting for time spent with the system, about the same as I did in AD&D.  The difference is that the deaths I saw in AD&D were more often the result of an unlucky roll, whether that was a damage roll(especially at low levels) or a Save or Die where you, well, Died instead of Saving.  Deaths in 4e, by contrast, are more often the result of poor planning, tactics and/or teamwork on the part of the party.  The dice still figure into it, and can wreck some havoc, but the balance is tipped in favor of how the players respond to the situation, rather than how the dice fall.

As a player, this is great for me.  I feel like I'm in much more control over whether my character lives or dies, and as such I feel a lot 'safer' putting a bunch of time and effort into a concept and backstory.

As a DM, this has been great for me, because it allows me to adjust the lethality of a given encounter to more degrees, especially at lower levels.  When you're fighting kobolds that have 1d4 daggers for damage, and you have 1d6 hp, they might as well just run up and stab you.  They're all a threat, all the time.  But in 4e, I can play my kobolds as tricky mooks right from level 1.  That same 1d4 isn't an insta-kill, but it can wear you down, so I can make encounters where a number of kobolds pop in and out of hiding spots and take potshots at the party while a central attraction, perhaps a champion or diabolical device/trap, is the main danger.  Neither the main danger or the snipers can really be safely ignored forever, so the party has to figure out how to deal with it.

This feeds into the dynamic combat angle.  Fights in 4e tend to be flashy.  People are moving around the battlefield, often pushing and pulling each other around.  Terrain tends to be a big deal.  Characters can have abilities that key off of one another, and a lot of the character's abilities bring the flavor of the class to life by encouraging and rewarding certain styles of play.  For example, my Blackguard(one of my favorite 4e classes to date) has an at-will power that hits one guy, but deals more damage to him for each enemy adjacent to my Blackguard(with a limit of like 4 guys' worth).  This power encourages me to jump right into the fray and potentially take a few hits to really lay it on one guy. 

Powers, including especially Daily and Encounter powers, were great for the melee types.  I don't personally have any problem between them and my suspension of disbelief, but as a player, they're an invaluable resource for one big reason:  they let the player decide when to go all out.  A character with all at-wills only has one level of power output, so to speak.  When the going gets tough, they, well, keep doing more or less exactly what they did when the going was easy.  But with Encounter and Daily powers, I can put the pedal to the medal and really have the mechanics back me up when I decide it's time to go all out.  It's lame if my Fighter can't put any more effort toward going toe to toe with his arch-nemesis than he can with a random orc.

Healing Surges
Okay, first, the downlow on what Surges are.  Surges can be thought of as your character's 'Hp Reserves'.  You get a number determined by your class, modified by your Constitution(also like hp).  Your Surge Value(distinct from how many you have) is 1/4 of your HP, rounded down.  Out of combat, after a short rest, you can spend as many as you like gaining your Surge Value back in hp for each one.  In combat, access to them is much more limited.  Each character can use a Second Wind once per encounter, spending a surge and regaining Surge Value in hp.  Most healing also works with surges, allowing you to spend one for your surge value plus some bonuses.  Surges are restored with an extended rest, that is, a night's sleep.

Surges have a few really nice effects on the game for me.  The first, probably the biggest, is how they interact with HP.  Like you, I see HP the way Gygax described them, a combination of luck, fate, toughness, experience and what have you.  That explanation always felt to me like it wasn't properly expressed in the rest of the game's mechanics, though.  Damage was a mix of things, but healing was always either through magic, or slow rest and recovery, as though they were wounds(but, like, a terrible model of wounds).  Healing Surges, along with Second Winds and martial healing as a whole(along with a number of other touches around 4e), make that abstraction whole.  They add the non-wound part into healing.

Second, is that they even out some oddities in healing spells.  It was always a little odd in old editions that since Cure Light Wounds healed 1d8, sometimes plus stuff, it was more healing for a peasant than it was for a knight.  But in 4e, spells(including CLW) let the target spend a surge with a bonus, and since the surge is always a quarter of your HP, the peasant and knight can benefit equally.  It also provides a nice model of the idea that healing isn't drawn from nowhere, it's mostly pulling out the reserves of the person being healed.  Surgeless healing is the "real magic" healing, and it tends to be a lot more rare(though, naturally, Clerics are best at surgeless healing).

Third, surges really help the party go without a Cleric, or even without a Leader at all.  Swmabie pointed out how this affects settings like Dark Sun(which is a great setting), and they can also make it a lot easier to run without a Cleric/Leader in other settings.  Pre-4e you could do without a Cleric, but it would tend to have big impacts on how you adventured.  You'd have to make sure you never got into too much trouble at once, and that you took a week or more off to rest between encounters.  That can be fun, but it can also throw a big wrench in a campaign idea just because no one felt like playing the Cleric.




I'm gonna have to go ahead and agree with about 90% of what you just said. I especially like 4e lore. Its actually original.

Come to 4ENCLAVE for a fan based 4th Edition Community.

 

I have to say excerpt puts a tear in my eye because it just made sense: "Paladins are not granted their powers directly by their deity, but instead through various rites performed when they first become paladins. Most of these rites involve days of prayer, vigils, tests and trials, and ritual purification followed by a knighting ceremony, but each faith has it's own methods. This ceremony of investiture gives a paladin the ability to wield divine powers. Once initiated, the paladin is a paladin forevermore. How justly, honorably, or compassionately the paladin wields those powers from that day forward is up to him, and paladins who strays too far from the tenets of their faith are punished by other members of the faithful." - Players Handbook Dungeon and Dragons 4th edition page 91. That's how paladins should be and reading that I knew this was the right edition for me. Also the Dungeon Master Guides gave great advice on how to run a game for me.
For me it has to be ease of DMing, complexity of character optimization, balance of classes and the tactical aspect of play.
Currently working on making a Dex based defender. Check it out here
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Despise the market being so big now with alot of options...D&D 4th edition is one of the very few games i found to be competent designed from the mechanical level and also very easy to learn, understand and even master despise it's aparent complexity
Pashilik_Mons, you kind sir have been sigged! There's only one thing I can add to this:

Roleplaying Freedom
If you're the type who doesn't care about optimization, a 14 starting primary stat can hurt, but isn't impossible to work with (you're likely not the type to be dismayed at how the guy with the 18 or 20 primary stat is out-performing you, yet at the same time it's far less likely that you're going about as dead weight).  Plus it's a more accurate representation of the character you actually want to play.

Also, unlike in previous editions where you needed feats to reflavor/refluff spells, the system allows you to change the fluff without inherently changing the spells.  While at the same time, if the group prefers a more rules-free way of playing, you could simply limit yourselves to the flavor text and run the game freeform style.

Finally, even though powers do tend to limit some players' imaginations, not everyone even has the imagination needed to do freeform roleplaying.  In fact, stories about spellcasters improvising are probably just as many as (if not more than) non-casters improvising, yet at the same time the fact that players have these plot coupons actually empower them.  Heck, in this 2E/3E campaign I'm playing at right now, where the DM merged feats, powers (they call them techniques) and skills, even the long-time players refer to feats as if they were 4E powers even though they don't play 4E at all.  Which means to me that 4E style play has been around for far longer than 4E itself, powers (feats) and all -- to the point where I don't hear players say "I shoot many arrows at the enemy simultaneously", and instead I hear "I use my X feat that lets me shoot many arrows at the enemy simultaneously" (seriously, just swap feat with power and it'd sound like everyone on that table was playing 4E!) -- and which tells me that, at least in that group, most of the players preferred taking feats to simply roleplaying an action**.

Point is, contrary to detractors, 4E is just as accommodating to roleplay as any other edition, and even moreso due to how fluff and mechanics aren't so tightly bound to each other (the "you can't roleplay X if you don't have Y" mentality sometimes associated with certain systems).

** Not that the DM himself isn't accommodating; he did allow my Swordsage to do a nearly-impossible stunt that allowed her to roll her way to standing up (standing was normally a standard action in his campaign), propel herself towards the great beast (which was the BBEG of the session), and deliver a critical punch (literally).  Honestly I think the only thin I need to suggest to him is how to convert 4E to previous editions, which should be pretty simple since the only real difference between a level 20 4E Fighter and a level 20 3.5E Fighter is that the 4E Fighter would have +12 Fort save, +10 Ref save, +10 Will save, as well as more HP and healing surges (both of which can easily be fixed).
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If you're crossing the street and see a city bus barreling straight toward you with 'GIVE ME YOUR WALLET!' painted across its windshield, you probably won't be reaching for your wallet.
I Don't Always Play Strikers...But When I Do, I Prefer Vampire Stay Thirsty, My Friends
This is what I believe is the spirit of D&D 4E, and my deal breaker for D&D Next: equal opportunities, with distinct specializations, in areas where conflict happens the most often, without having to worry about heavy micromanagement or system mastery. What I hope to be my most useful contributions to the D&D Community: DM Idea: Collaborative Mapping, Classless 4E (homebrew system, that hopefully helps in D&D Next development), Gamma World 7E random character generator (by yours truly), and the Concept of Perfect Imbalance (for D&D Next and other TRPGs in development) Pre-3E D&D should be recognized for what they were: simulation wargames where people could tell stories with The Best Answer to "Why 4E?" Fun vs. Engaging
4th was the perfect blend of rules that allowed me to remove roleplaying and just do pure dungeon delves.

2008-2010 will always be the high point of D&D for me. The designers are gone and what's left is working on a new edition I can't support.
I think Pashilik_Mons and chaosfang have pretty much summed up my feelings on 4e. Are there some more things I would like to see for the game? Absolutely. These are all things I can add via houserules (wish I knew enough about programming to mod the offline builder, though) so it's no big deal. At the end of the day, this is the edition of D&D I prefer. I am willing to give D&D Next a fair shake when it is finished, but as it stands I can't see switching. 
Basically, because I haven't found another game that does as many of these things right.

Be warned this is long.

So long, you guys.  Seriously.



Clarity of Rules
A lot of the older editions, AD&D especially, tended to have rules spoken in common language and/or Gygaxian prose.  I'm sure you're familiar with this, but you can check, for example, the Fighter's eventual gaining of a keep and followers for some decent examples.  Or alignment, for the ultimate example.  Basically, what you'd get a lot of times were rules that were clear enough that readers would get the gist of it, but imprecise enough that different readers could get different gists of it, and by the text, neither would necessarily be wrong.  

By contrast, 4e rules tended to be very precise and clear, even using keywords with precise definitions to bridge varying rules.  To make the benefit of this clear:  4e killed Rules Laywers.  Oh, there might be a few out there somewhere, perhaps if they're also actual laywers, but by and large, Rules Arguments and Rules Laywers live in the grey areas of the rules, where things can be taken in several ways, and 4e was built with an eye toward eliminating such areas.  Table events and disagreements that would have led to arguments in previous editions(even if we did hold them until after the game, I've seen after game arguements go for 3+ hours) just result in one person checking the Rules Compendium or rereading the power/feat or whatever in question, and that settles it.  I've seen Rules Lawyers become Rules Page-Rememberers, because that's all they've got left.

Balance

Okay, here we go.  First, for a definition.  Balance is what you have when everyone feels like they're an equally valuable member of the party.  It doesn't mean that you're identical, it means you're bringing your own unique thing to the group that is as valuable as everyone else's.  It's not a yes or no thing, it's a sliding scale, and everyone has a different threshold that they want.  Purely for a visualization aid, let's think of it as points out of ten.  Me, I want everyone to be within about 2, maybe 3 points of one another.  If one guy is sitting at 6/10, and there's another at 8/10 and a third at 5/10, that's within acceptable limits(the 5 and the 8 are starting to strain it).  But if we've got one guy at 5/10 and another at 10/10, the disparity is more than I want.  Someone else might be fine with that, but I'd feel resentful if I were the 5/10 guy, and guilty if I were the 10/10 guy.  Imbalance is a losing situation, no matter what side of it you're on.

Now, there are different delivery methods for balance, and D&D has always tried to deliver it.  It's just that previously, it was less well balanced and used methods that I found basically not to work.  Here are a few:

Balance-by-Campaign:  This was a big one in old editions.  It's why Wizards start out all weak and frail, with very few spells, while Fighters are kings of those early levels only to have this dynamic reversed later.  This form of balance doesnt work very well, because it requires two things.  First is that you start at level 1(which was, ime, common enough in AD&D, but increasingly rare in 3.5).  Second is that the campaign goes on for long enough to reach high levels, which is also not a given.  Even when it works, though, it just doesn't feel like balance to me.  If the campaign went for a year, say, it would feel to me like five months of imbalance, then two months of okay balance, then five more of imbalance going the other way.

Balance-by-Adventuring-Day:  This was another sort of balance that was prevalent in older editions.  This is the sort where you know if you have too few encounters in a day, the casters will be able to put way too many spells into each one and make them trivial, but if you have more, then they have to scrimp and save and the melee guys come out ahead(until the cleric is out of heals, anyway).  I don't like this one because it depends on the DM bending his encounter/adventuring day pacing for the sake of balance.  It's usually around 4-5 encounters, and that might be fine if I wanted that many encounters, at least on average, but I generally don't.  My average encounters per day, as a DM, is about 2.  I usually don't want to go over that, and I sure as hell don't want to do it just for mechanical reasons.  I know there's all kinds of tricks one can pull to make the wizards prepare the wrong spells/hold back half their load, but to me, that's a huge hassle that I could just avoid completely by not using a system that relies on Balance-by-Adventuring-Day.

Balance-from-the-DM:  This is the type where the DM smooths out all the balance issues, usually by regulating what spells the wizard gets, and giving more loot and/or "story time" to an underpowered player, among other ways.  As a DM, this falls under the "Hassle I'd rather not deal with" list.  As a player, I can go two ways with it, though neither of them is "liking it".  If I'm the overpowered player, I'm okay with it.  I won't enjoy it, but I'm probably already feeling guilty about being overpowered, and I'll accept it as a form of atonement.  if I'm the underpowered player, I actually resent it.  I'm going to notice it eventually, and as soon as I do, everything I get will start to feel like I'm being coddled because my character is weak.  It's the sort of bad feeling that only gets worse when you're right, too.  From a one-step-back viewpoint, I don't like this sort of balance, because it relies solely on the skill and system mastery of the DM.  And balancing like this is one of the hardest DMing skills to learn.  I didn't even realize it was a skill I'd need until about two years into the hobby, and even today, I could handle little problems, but if the ball isn't in the park, I wouldn't be confident in my ability to get it back in the park.

Balance-from-the-Players:  This is often referred to as the gentleman's agreement, or simply, don't min/max.  It's a form of balance wherein the players all work together to make sure their characters are about even.  It can work, and it can work in even highly imbalanced systems.  However, I don't really like it.  I find it very impractical because it relies on the entire group either getting lucky or having roughly equivalent system mastery and all agreeing on a power level before the campaign starts.  I've seen the former, I have never seen the latter.  It also tends to be frustrating for me in a way that I will explain shortly.

Balance-by-Drawbacks:  This is one in which it's thought that a bonus in one area is evened out by a drawback in another.  This will always exist in some form, because characters aren't going to be evenly good at everything.  Excelling in one area comes at the cost of not excelling in another.  However, this sort of balance isn't always as good as it seems, and mainly I'm talking about putting a penalty or punishment on something in an attempt to "even out" it being a powerful ability or feature.  Smaller key examples would be like balancing an half-orc's strength bonus with a penalty to intelligence and charisma.  Larger key ones would be like wizard's spells being really powerful, but then "evening it out" by adding a system shock chance, or an aging penalty, or an experience cost.  In my experience, these sort of drawbacks, which I tend to think of as "hitting the player in an unrelated area" tend to not do their job as balancing factors, because canny players can often just find ways to obviate or at least mitigate the drawbacks, while being even more sure to squeeze every last drop of benefit out of the power.

Balance-by-Encounter:  This is the model 4e tends to be most heavily based on.  In this model, each character has some significant way to contribute in each encounter.  Some encounters might favor one PC or disfavor another, but if these sorts of things are going to be campaign long, it's usually easy to let the players know ahead of time and they can build for it(for example, a campaign featuring many undead will favor Divine PCs, but if you're planning that, it's easy enough to just say so).  Timewise, balance by encounter is actually a bit more fine grained than I need it(though I do like it).  What I need is balance by session.  Every session, with most groups I've ever been in, there's a post session chat, usually while we clean up or walk/drive home.  During that conversation, I'd like it if everyone were able to recount one badass thing they did.  A player can always(well, usually at least) make a badass thing happen if they improv and really get creative, but I want the mechanics to help give them the tools and opportunities, too(there's no hard limit on how much of an awesome time you an have, after all!).  Now, balancing by session isn't something the designers can do, since sessions can vary between like 2 hours and 6-8 hours.  When I was in college, some friends and I used to pull huge, 18-hour overnighters.  Balance by encounter is something designers can do, though, and that works for just about any session length, and it stretches out to cover any adventuring day length and any campaign length as well.

Now, as for what I like about balance.  Brightmantle, you're an AD&Der.  I don't have to tell you about min/maxers.  You know.  You know.  Reflect on it, for a moment.  Bask in it.  Min/maxing, in my experience, is usually a problem in one big way.  You have the min/maxer who makes his 9/10 or 10/10 character, maybe 11/10 if the system is really imbalanced.  Then you have the guy who can't be arsed about mechanics and brings his 2/10 character, and there's such a big gap between them.  It creates this tension, this mutual disdain.  It can start arguments and even get to the point where you just can't play together.

Balance reduces the gap.  In 4e, there aren't a lot of 2/10 characters.  You can make them, technically, but ime, most people who can't be arsed about the mechanics wind up at around 6/10.  People who min/max will end up at around 8/10.  Maybe 9/10.  But it's really optimized groups that start to approach 10/10, you can't do it alone.  That reduces the tension by a lot.  Like, a lot.  Remember, my 2-point variance is consdiered a little picky, usually, next to people who can't be arsed about mechanics.  

Now me, I'm a min/maxer(I prefer 'Optimizer').  I'm not a jerk, though, so when I play an imbalanced system, I consciously create characters of lower power so as to not create that tension.  It doesn't work that well, though, because it's incredibly frustrating to do it.  To use an analogy, being an optimizer in an imblanced system with non-optimizers is like being handed a big bucket of legos, and being told that you can make any awesome thing you can think of...so long as it isn't in the top three to five things you actually want to make.  It means that any time, at character creation or at level up, that you get to pick a new option, you have to consciously skip over the ones you like and pick one that sort of sucks.  I can put this off for awhile by optimizing really odd character traits, like being able to move a stupidly huge amount in one turn, or having a single, really high skill mod, things like that.  But it's a temporary fix.  

By contrast, a balanced system is a breath of fresh air.  I can finally build whatever I want to with those legos, without having to worry about ruining things for anyone else!  And as a bonus, I get to play with people whose playstyles, vis-a-vis optimization, vary much further from my own.  I actually have friends that I can happily play 4e with, that would have chased me off by now as a dirty, filthy munchkin if we were playing 3.5.  

There are a lot of playstyle differences, and we talk about a lot of them on these boards, often at great length.  But, in my experience, one of the biggest playstyle differences, that spans all editions and all other playstyles as well, is how much or little a person cares to optimize.  It's also one of the easiest to spot, in play.  It is, ultimately, one of the biggest source of division in players of all other stripes.

And balance helps bridge it.

As a DM, it makes my life easier, in several ways.  More on that in the "Easy DMing" section.

NPCs Not Using PC Rules
In 4e, NPCs were not generally built using PC rules.  You could build them that way, if you wanted, but it wasn't usually done, ime.  Instead, both book monsters and homebrewed ones generally worked off a simple set of maths to get them to the right power level and then filled in some abilities.  This greatly sped up making NPCs for combat, and avoided occasional wonkiness I'd get from trying to match what I wanted an NPC to do in my head with the different feedback the rules were giving me.  But more importantly, it helped magic feel like magic again.

In previous editions, NPCs used the same spellcasting classes as PCs, and even monsters' spells were drawn off the same list.  This led to the phenomenon where after awhile, the players could generally guess what an NPC caster was capable of, or at least what might be on his spell list.  The DM could make up new spells, but usually this wasn't done all willy-nilly, so it didn't make too much of an impact.  In 4e, by contrast, a caster might be able to use a lore skill to get a rough idea of what an enemy mage might be capable of, but you're never sure, no matter how well you know the wizard's spell list.  One of my favorite moments DMing 4e was when the party was about to ambush an enemy mage.  They had fought him once before, but one player had been absent for that session, so he asked the others what the guy could do.  The response was "Well, he's a mage.  Last time we fought him, he used this black lightning sort of thing, and he could animate objects to attack us.  Other than that, though...well, he's a mage.  He could do anything."  It was great.

Roles

Alright, this sblock is going to be more explanatory of what roles are than explanatory of why I like them.  It was going to be pretty short, but you intimated that you do not know of roles and I will try to be rather thorough with the explanation.  I'll probably just blend why I like them in with the general explanation.

What roles are: Roles are a more defined and called out way of describing something that's been in D&D since day one.  The Fighter has always brought something different to the team than the Magic-User or the Cleric or the Thief.  Each has their role to fill.  Each edition has had roles, just not explicitly called out, and not always filled or done that neatly(probably as a consequence of them not being called out or explicitly thought of that way).  

4e spelled them out and labelled each class as one.  There aren't really role mechanics(I think there's an Epic Destiny that has "Defender" as a prerequisite, maybe a feat or two somewhere), as in "each class of Role X gets exactly Y", though most roles have a sort of mechanic that explicitly helps them fulfill their role.  Classes aren't locked into roles(though they are often accused of being such), in fact classes have secondary roles and can often be pushed into those roles if the player tries to do it that way.  It just tells the players what the designers had in mind when they made the class.

It isn't necessary to have one of each role in every party(though, again, detractors will often try to insist that it is).  It's just like having a well-rounded party in AD&D.  It helps, but it isn't strictly mandatory.  You can run with a party of all Thieves, it just, well, provides a unique challenge.

Also, roles are strictly combat, and have no impact on non-combat.

What each role is:

Defender:  The Fighter is the archetypal Defender.   The Defender's primary schtick is to reduce the damage the impact enemies have on the party, generally by creating Catch 22 situations.  They thrive on making sure enemies have no good choices.  There are generally two prongs to this approach that Defender classes take(and I'll be referencing the Fighter for examples).  The first prong is to be durable.  They've got the best HP, the best defenses and often a variety of powers and/or class features available to help them shrug off damage and conditions.  This means that attacking the Defender is not a good choice for the enemy, because he's going to be harder to hit than the other characters, and more able to take it and shrug off any conditions.  

The second prong is to make it hard to attack anyone else.  This is accomplished mainly via stickiness and marks/mark punishment.  Stickiness is the quality of being able to get in someone's face and then prevent them from getting away.  The Fighter, for example, can get a number of moves that slow, immobilize, or knock enemies prone.  Moving away from any character provokes an Opportunity Attack, but when you do it to the Fighter, he gets to add his Wisdom mod to the attack roll and he forces you to stop if he hits.  There's a form of movement called Shifting which is generally limited but does not incur these opportunity attacks.  When you Shift, Fighters hit you anyway.  Marks and Mark Punishment are probably the closest thing to a role mechanic in the game.  Marked is a condition that simply states that if you try to make an attack that does not include the one marking you, you take a -2 penalty to the attack roll(so, swinging your sword at the Wizard next to the Fighter incurs the penalty, but a dragon breathing flame on everyone does not).  Every Defender class has their own unique ways of applying marks, though some non-defender classes can also get ways to apply marks.  Each Defender class also has their own unique way of punishing a violated mark.  For Fighters, they have a class feature, Combat Challenge, which simply says that they have the option of marking an enemy whenever they attack.  Their punishment is that when the enemy violates the mark, by making attacks that don't include the Fighter(or if the enemy tries to shift away, an addition unique to the Fighter), they get a free attack on him.

The Defender role has been really great in the game.  When I play a Fighter, I really feel like a credible threat on the battlefield.  The mechanics come together to do a great job of making the Fighter the sort of person who gets up in the enemy's face and cannot be ignored.  The best part is, the fighter wins whether or not the enemy obeys his mark.  If the enemy attacks the Fighter, he's attacking the least vulnerable member of the party.  If he violates the mark, well, a Fighter who is ignored basically starts getting twice as many attacks per round, and as such the damage starts to pile on quite quickly.  I've never seen a person playing a Fighter who had his mark violated and said, "Oh, no, you mean I have to hit him again?  This sucks."  It's generally more along the lines of "What?  Never ignore a blademaster, fool, or find yourself eating hot steel!"

Leader:  The Cleric is the archetypal Leader.  The Leader role includes healing, but goes beyond that.  It also includes remvoing negative conditions, as well as applying buffs to allies and debuffs to enemies.  Basically, a Leader's job is to make everyone else be the best they can be.  4e did a lot for this role.  Healing is only part of what they can do, and the "standard" healing powers only takes a Minor Action(that is, you don't generally have to choose between attacking and healing).  There's a lot of bolstering going, and the Leader can help the party to direct their force toward a single enemy even more than simply surrounding him will.  I'm finding it a little hard to explain, but suffice to say, if you're the type that likes to play support characters(and I can get into that myself), the Leader role is like a big ol' fun bag.

Striker:  Strikers are the damage kings.  This isn't just about straight numbers, either.  Strikers also tend to have other advantages, like mobility, targeting capacity(which is tied to mobility for melee Strikers) and nova potential.  In a nutshell, Strikers don't just have the numbers, but they're made to be the best at putting those numbers where they want them, and possibly at squeezing out much more than normal in one round(though not every round).  To paint a picture, the Fighter is pretty good at dealing damage(if built with an eye toward it, he can be a fine Striker, but we'll assume he's not for this example) but if the party is fighting a group consisting of some archers and some swordsmen, the swordsmen can get in the Fighter's way and give him a hard time.  The Rogue or the Monk, though, they're gonna have tools to just slip past those swordsmen, and get to the archers. 

Controller:  The archetypal Controller is the Wizard.  This is probably the poorest defined role, and it definitely took WotC awhile of printing 4e stuff to start getting it right, but the idea is that Controller is the master of area effects and status conditions.  Controllers tend to have ways of creating zones of stuff, or summoning/conjuring things on the battlefield, or just shutting enemies down.  Controllers budge things with every move, but when they break out the Dailies, well, the battle isn't instantly won, but that Daily will tend to change the field for the rest of the fight.

I think roles were a good thing for clarity with the players, but I especially think they were good for the designers to keep in mind.  It made them think, "Okay, I know this class is going to have the tools available to be a valuable addition to the party in combat, I just have to figure out how."  I wish they had done something similar with non combat spheres, such as Exploration and Socialization.

Lore
There's just a lot of lore in 4e that I like.  The default Points of Light/Nentir Vale setting is mostly hinted at, and info given in bits and pieces, but it really feels like there were editors looking over it, saying, "Alright, no boring details.  Let the players fill those in, let's make sure everything on this page makes readers inspired."  And it shows.  You look in the MM, and it gets a lot of slack for not including things like No. Appearing and Ecology info, and that's true.  The MM doesn't tell you a lot about goblins eating habits or their ratio of males to females.  Instead it talks about how hobgoblins used to have an empire where goblins and bugbears were their servants, and hints that that empire's fall was at least partially from Fey interference, and how many goblins hate the fey to this day.  It talks of goblin tendencies to tame and breed creatures like drakes and wolves, and even hints that in ancient times, hobgoblins may have flat out created goblins and bugbears for their own purposes.

The World Axis cosmology is pretty great.  Every place in it is ripe for adventure, from the glimmering Feywild, to the Horror-esque Shadowfell.  

If there's one thing from 4e I wouldn't want to lose, lorewise, it's the treatment of Fey.  Fey are unpredicable, terrifying beings, even the 'good ones' can utterly screw over mere mortals for their own reasons.  These aren't the Tinkerbell, sing a little song, place dew on the flowers fairies, they're the ones from old myths that steal your baby and replace it with a changeling because you forgot to leave them an offering on the solstice.  In 4e, when you talk to the Fey, you watch your damn mouth.

Ease of DMing
 
So, this is a big one, but it pulls in parts from a lot of the other sections.  4e is a breeze to DM.  NPCs and even whole encounters are easy to create, and the guidelines for doing so(while a bit limited in scope) work pretty well.  This meant I didn't spend a lot of prep time making encounters, and had more to devote to lore and atmosphere, and trying to puzzle out various things the PCs might try to shore up the adventure as a whole.  A lot of things in 4e did that, they made the mechanically concerned parts of adventure design/session prep easy and painless, and allowed me to redirect that time and effort into other parts of the campaign.  It also meant that if the PCs went a way I didn't expect, I could whip up an encounter for them and have it running in record time(when I started including monster math sections in my notes, we're talking about going "encounter that I, as DM, completely did not expect" to "Okay, I'm ready" in under a minute).  And that encounter would be good.  It wouldn't be too easy, it wouldn't be too hard, it wouldn't be boring, it would be just what I wanted it to be.

If I want to stray from the encounter building guidelines, I can do that, because it's easy to see how things work and how the party can handle them.

Then there's the houseruling and the homebrewing.  Oooh, yes.  4e is so easy to houserule and homebrew in.  The clarity and transparency of the rules, along with, as swmabie said, "the redundancies of balance" make it so easy to see what will happen if you change things.  To use what I hope will be a decent anology, houseruling and homebrewing in AD&D was like playing Jenga(in this analogy, you are not that good at Jenga).  You can, with foresight, and with trial and error, figure out what blocks you can mess with and what will happen, but you're going to spend a lot of time picking up fallen blocks and towers to gain that knowledge.  Houseruling and homebrewing in 4e is like playing with legos.  They're easy to figure out, you can tell how the little bumps fit into the little holes, and with very little trial and error, you can build a lot of cool stuff.  

For homebrewing, if I want to make a new level 3 encounter power, I have a wide variety of balanced level 3 encounter powers to look at, to use as a guide for how strong mine should be.  I don't really have to worry about it feeding into some obscure rule or class and being wildly overpowered, because I have all these keywords and rules that I can use in my new power that make it clear how it will interact with the rest of system.

This sort of familiarity and ease takes a long time to build up with earlier editions, because things aren't so balanced and aren't so clear.  I've spent about a year DMing 4e, on and off(which is about as much 1e as I've DMed, and less 3.5 than I have DMed), and I'm confident about pretty much anything I might want to try and anything the players can throw at me.  It's a confidence at a level I never got to in previous editions.

Rituals
Rituals are a 4e invention, sort of like a second spellcasting system.  Any character that has the Ritual Casting feat(given for free to many 'casty' classes, like Cleric and Wizard) can get a ritual book and inscribe rituals into it.  Rituals are spells with long casting times(10 minutes to multiple hours) and non-neglegible component costs(well, they get neglegible for a high level character casting a low level ritual, but you get the idea).  They have heavy utility, and many spells from older editions were given in 4e as Rituals.  You can cast any ritual you have as many times as you want, provided you have the time and the components.

Rituals were good(there was room for improvement), because of a few things.  First, they made sure that magic wasn't usually the go-to choice for utility.  If you had a non-magic way to handle the obstacle, you did that first, because it would probably be cheaper and quicker.  Ritual Magic was good, but tended to get saved as a last resort, as opposed to my experiences with Vancian in previous editions, where if a caster prepped a utility spell, it was going to get used, probably at the first opportunity, because it was free and if you didn't use it that day it was wasted.

Second, it made sure that you never got that situation where the wizard or cleric threw up his hands and said, "Well, guys, I know exactly the right spell for this, but I can't cast it today, because I didn't pick it this morning!"

Third is that it was part of separating the pools for non-combat resources and combat resources.  How that works and why I find it important is a whole 'nother rant, though, so I'll abstain unless you want to hear it.
Less Random Death/More Dynamic Combat
In 4e, characters started out with more hit points(something like 20-30, usually) and they had more ways, as a party, to combat being dead.  In addition, Save or Die just isn't in 4e.  Effects that might once have been Save or Die are now usually either toned down, or allow multiple Saves.  For example, the Medusa in the MM.  If it hits you with its gaze(an attack vs Fortitude, like an old spell save but with the die in the other hand) then you're Slowed(Save ends).  If you fail the first save(which comes on your next turn), you become Immobilized(Save ends).  If you fail your second save, then you're Petrified(no save).  This both reduces the impact of sheer luck on the fight, and also tends to make these sort of situations more tense and suspenseful.  More "You know Bad Stuff is coming, quick find a way to stop it!" and less "Well, Bad Stuff is here.  Sorry bro."

Now, this isn't to say that death doesn't happen in 4e, or that characters are always safe.  Quite the opposite, I've had more characters die in 4e than I ever did in 3.5, and adjusting for time spent with the system, about the same as I did in AD&D.  The difference is that the deaths I saw in AD&D were more often the result of an unlucky roll, whether that was a damage roll(especially at low levels) or a Save or Die where you, well, Died instead of Saving.  Deaths in 4e, by contrast, are more often the result of poor planning, tactics and/or teamwork on the part of the party.  The dice still figure into it, and can wreck some havoc, but the balance is tipped in favor of how the players respond to the situation, rather than how the dice fall.

As a player, this is great for me.  I feel like I'm in much more control over whether my character lives or dies, and as such I feel a lot 'safer' putting a bunch of time and effort into a concept and backstory.

As a DM, this has been great for me, because it allows me to adjust the lethality of a given encounter to more degrees, especially at lower levels.  When you're fighting kobolds that have 1d4 daggers for damage, and you have 1d6 hp, they might as well just run up and stab you.  They're all a threat, all the time.  But in 4e, I can play my kobolds as tricky mooks right from level 1.  That same 1d4 isn't an insta-kill, but it can wear you down, so I can make encounters where a number of kobolds pop in and out of hiding spots and take potshots at the party while a central attraction, perhaps a champion or diabolical device/trap, is the main danger.  Neither the main danger or the snipers can really be safely ignored forever, so the party has to figure out how to deal with it.

This feeds into the dynamic combat angle.  Fights in 4e tend to be flashy.  People are moving around the battlefield, often pushing and pulling each other around.  Terrain tends to be a big deal.  Characters can have abilities that key off of one another, and a lot of the character's abilities bring the flavor of the class to life by encouraging and rewarding certain styles of play.  For example, my Blackguard(one of my favorite 4e classes to date) has an at-will power that hits one guy, but deals more damage to him for each enemy adjacent to my Blackguard(with a limit of like 4 guys' worth).  This power encourages me to jump right into the fray and potentially take a few hits to really lay it on one guy. 

Powers, including especially Daily and Encounter powers, were great for the melee types.  I don't personally have any problem between them and my suspension of disbelief, but as a player, they're an invaluable resource for one big reason:  they let the player decide when to go all out.  A character with all at-wills only has one level of power output, so to speak.  When the going gets tough, they, well, keep doing more or less exactly what they did when the going was easy.  But with Encounter and Daily powers, I can put the pedal to the medal and really have the mechanics back me up when I decide it's time to go all out.  It's lame if my Fighter can't put any more effort toward going toe to toe with his arch-nemesis than he can with a random orc.

Healing Surges
Okay, first, the downlow on what Surges are.  Surges can be thought of as your character's 'Hp Reserves'.  You get a number determined by your class, modified by your Constitution(also like hp).  Your Surge Value(distinct from how many you have) is 1/4 of your HP, rounded down.  Out of combat, after a short rest, you can spend as many as you like gaining your Surge Value back in hp for each one.  In combat, access to them is much more limited.  Each character can use a Second Wind once per encounter, spending a surge and regaining Surge Value in hp.  Most healing also works with surges, allowing you to spend one for your surge value plus some bonuses.  Surges are restored with an extended rest, that is, a night's sleep.

Surges have a few really nice effects on the game for me.  The first, probably the biggest, is how they interact with HP.  Like you, I see HP the way Gygax described them, a combination of luck, fate, toughness, experience and what have you.  That explanation always felt to me like it wasn't properly expressed in the rest of the game's mechanics, though.  Damage was a mix of things, but healing was always either through magic, or slow rest and recovery, as though they were wounds(but, like, a terrible model of wounds).  Healing Surges, along with Second Winds and martial healing as a whole(along with a number of other touches around 4e), make that abstraction whole.  They add the non-wound part into healing.

Second, is that they even out some oddities in healing spells.  It was always a little odd in old editions that since Cure Light Wounds healed 1d8, sometimes plus stuff, it was more healing for a peasant than it was for a knight.  But in 4e, spells(including CLW) let the target spend a surge with a bonus, and since the surge is always a quarter of your HP, the peasant and knight can benefit equally.  It also provides a nice model of the idea that healing isn't drawn from nowhere, it's mostly pulling out the reserves of the person being healed.  Surgeless healing is the "real magic" healing, and it tends to be a lot more rare(though, naturally, Clerics are best at surgeless healing).

Third, surges really help the party go without a Cleric, or even without a Leader at all.  Swmabie pointed out how this affects settings like Dark Sun(which is a great setting), and they can also make it a lot easier to run without a Cleric/Leader in other settings.  Pre-4e you could do without a Cleric, but it would tend to have big impacts on how you adventured.  You'd have to make sure you never got into too much trouble at once, and that you took a week or more off to rest between encounters.  That can be fun, but it can also throw a big wrench in a campaign idea just because no one felt like playing the Cleric.





I agree with just about everything you state here. Excellent work and descriptions on everything.
Balance = Equally effective, but different, ways of reaching a goal or overcoming an obstacle.
One of the main reasons I like it is because of balance.  Its not perfect, but its easy to make a useful character multiple ways out of almost every class in the game.  And the broken stuff is easy to see and remove or fix if you need to.  I have never seen a PC at a table that I didn't think contibuted to the party and I have seen around 200 4E PCs in play.  That was definitely not the case in previous editions.

Every level is fun.  Some are more fun than others, but I can play a 1st level PC in a one shot from any class I am interested in and know I can have a good time with it.  No more feeling like you are slogging through low levels.

Combat is consistently interesting and you can include as much or as little of it as the campaign warrants.  I have had plenty of 4E sessions where we did nothing but roleplay and others that were only lair assault style delves.

DMing is super easy.  I might be willing to play 3.5 again if that was my only option, but I would never ever DM it again.

It removed sacred cows that I disliked like racial penalties and vancian casting.  Things like that are why I am not going to be playing next.  I like that you can come up with really wierd class race comboes and make them work without much trouble.
Basically, because I haven't found another game that does as many of these things right.

Be warned this is long.

So long, you guys.  Seriously.



Clarity of Rules
A lot of the older editions, AD&D especially, tended to have rules spoken in common language and/or Gygaxian prose.  I'm sure you're familiar with this, but you can check, for example, the Fighter's eventual gaining of a keep and followers for some decent examples.  Or alignment, for the ultimate example.  Basically, what you'd get a lot of times were rules that were clear enough that readers would get the gist of it, but imprecise enough that different readers could get different gists of it, and by the text, neither would necessarily be wrong.  

By contrast, 4e rules tended to be very precise and clear, even using keywords with precise definitions to bridge varying rules.  To make the benefit of this clear:  4e killed Rules Laywers.  Oh, there might be a few out there somewhere, perhaps if they're also actual laywers, but by and large, Rules Arguments and Rules Laywers live in the grey areas of the rules, where things can be taken in several ways, and 4e was built with an eye toward eliminating such areas.  Table events and disagreements that would have led to arguments in previous editions(even if we did hold them until after the game, I've seen after game arguements go for 3+ hours) just result in one person checking the Rules Compendium or rereading the power/feat or whatever in question, and that settles it.  I've seen Rules Lawyers become Rules Page-Rememberers, because that's all they've got left.

Balance

Okay, here we go.  First, for a definition.  Balance is what you have when everyone feels like they're an equally valuable member of the party.  It doesn't mean that you're identical, it means you're bringing your own unique thing to the group that is as valuable as everyone else's.  It's not a yes or no thing, it's a sliding scale, and everyone has a different threshold that they want.  Purely for a visualization aid, let's think of it as points out of ten.  Me, I want everyone to be within about 2, maybe 3 points of one another.  If one guy is sitting at 6/10, and there's another at 8/10 and a third at 5/10, that's within acceptable limits(the 5 and the 8 are starting to strain it).  But if we've got one guy at 5/10 and another at 10/10, the disparity is more than I want.  Someone else might be fine with that, but I'd feel resentful if I were the 5/10 guy, and guilty if I were the 10/10 guy.  Imbalance is a losing situation, no matter what side of it you're on.

Now, there are different delivery methods for balance, and D&D has always tried to deliver it.  It's just that previously, it was less well balanced and used methods that I found basically not to work.  Here are a few:

Balance-by-Campaign:  This was a big one in old editions.  It's why Wizards start out all weak and frail, with very few spells, while Fighters are kings of those early levels only to have this dynamic reversed later.  This form of balance doesnt work very well, because it requires two things.  First is that you start at level 1(which was, ime, common enough in AD&D, but increasingly rare in 3.5).  Second is that the campaign goes on for long enough to reach high levels, which is also not a given.  Even when it works, though, it just doesn't feel like balance to me.  If the campaign went for a year, say, it would feel to me like five months of imbalance, then two months of okay balance, then five more of imbalance going the other way.

Balance-by-Adventuring-Day:  This was another sort of balance that was prevalent in older editions.  This is the sort where you know if you have too few encounters in a day, the casters will be able to put way too many spells into each one and make them trivial, but if you have more, then they have to scrimp and save and the melee guys come out ahead(until the cleric is out of heals, anyway).  I don't like this one because it depends on the DM bending his encounter/adventuring day pacing for the sake of balance.  It's usually around 4-5 encounters, and that might be fine if I wanted that many encounters, at least on average, but I generally don't.  My average encounters per day, as a DM, is about 2.  I usually don't want to go over that, and I sure as hell don't want to do it just for mechanical reasons.  I know there's all kinds of tricks one can pull to make the wizards prepare the wrong spells/hold back half their load, but to me, that's a huge hassle that I could just avoid completely by not using a system that relies on Balance-by-Adventuring-Day.

Balance-from-the-DM:  This is the type where the DM smooths out all the balance issues, usually by regulating what spells the wizard gets, and giving more loot and/or "story time" to an underpowered player, among other ways.  As a DM, this falls under the "Hassle I'd rather not deal with" list.  As a player, I can go two ways with it, though neither of them is "liking it".  If I'm the overpowered player, I'm okay with it.  I won't enjoy it, but I'm probably already feeling guilty about being overpowered, and I'll accept it as a form of atonement.  if I'm the underpowered player, I actually resent it.  I'm going to notice it eventually, and as soon as I do, everything I get will start to feel like I'm being coddled because my character is weak.  It's the sort of bad feeling that only gets worse when you're right, too.  From a one-step-back viewpoint, I don't like this sort of balance, because it relies solely on the skill and system mastery of the DM.  And balancing like this is one of the hardest DMing skills to learn.  I didn't even realize it was a skill I'd need until about two years into the hobby, and even today, I could handle little problems, but if the ball isn't in the park, I wouldn't be confident in my ability to get it back in the park.

Balance-from-the-Players:  This is often referred to as the gentleman's agreement, or simply, don't min/max.  It's a form of balance wherein the players all work together to make sure their characters are about even.  It can work, and it can work in even highly imbalanced systems.  However, I don't really like it.  I find it very impractical because it relies on the entire group either getting lucky or having roughly equivalent system mastery and all agreeing on a power level before the campaign starts.  I've seen the former, I have never seen the latter.  It also tends to be frustrating for me in a way that I will explain shortly.

Balance-by-Drawbacks:  This is one in which it's thought that a bonus in one area is evened out by a drawback in another.  This will always exist in some form, because characters aren't going to be evenly good at everything.  Excelling in one area comes at the cost of not excelling in another.  However, this sort of balance isn't always as good as it seems, and mainly I'm talking about putting a penalty or punishment on something in an attempt to "even out" it being a powerful ability or feature.  Smaller key examples would be like balancing an half-orc's strength bonus with a penalty to intelligence and charisma.  Larger key ones would be like wizard's spells being really powerful, but then "evening it out" by adding a system shock chance, or an aging penalty, or an experience cost.  In my experience, these sort of drawbacks, which I tend to think of as "hitting the player in an unrelated area" tend to not do their job as balancing factors, because canny players can often just find ways to obviate or at least mitigate the drawbacks, while being even more sure to squeeze every last drop of benefit out of the power.

Balance-by-Encounter:  This is the model 4e tends to be most heavily based on.  In this model, each character has some significant way to contribute in each encounter.  Some encounters might favor one PC or disfavor another, but if these sorts of things are going to be campaign long, it's usually easy to let the players know ahead of time and they can build for it(for example, a campaign featuring many undead will favor Divine PCs, but if you're planning that, it's easy enough to just say so).  Timewise, balance by encounter is actually a bit more fine grained than I need it(though I do like it).  What I need is balance by session.  Every session, with most groups I've ever been in, there's a post session chat, usually while we clean up or walk/drive home.  During that conversation, I'd like it if everyone were able to recount one badass thing they did.  A player can always(well, usually at least) make a badass thing happen if they improv and really get creative, but I want the mechanics to help give them the tools and opportunities, too(there's no hard limit on how much of an awesome time you an have, after all!).  Now, balancing by session isn't something the designers can do, since sessions can vary between like 2 hours and 6-8 hours.  When I was in college, some friends and I used to pull huge, 18-hour overnighters.  Balance by encounter is something designers can do, though, and that works for just about any session length, and it stretches out to cover any adventuring day length and any campaign length as well.

Now, as for what I like about balance.  Brightmantle, you're an AD&Der.  I don't have to tell you about min/maxers.  You know.  You know.  Reflect on it, for a moment.  Bask in it.  Min/maxing, in my experience, is usually a problem in one big way.  You have the min/maxer who makes his 9/10 or 10/10 character, maybe 11/10 if the system is really imbalanced.  Then you have the guy who can't be arsed about mechanics and brings his 2/10 character, and there's such a big gap between them.  It creates this tension, this mutual disdain.  It can start arguments and even get to the point where you just can't play together.

Balance reduces the gap.  In 4e, there aren't a lot of 2/10 characters.  You can make them, technically, but ime, most people who can't be arsed about the mechanics wind up at around 6/10.  People who min/max will end up at around 8/10.  Maybe 9/10.  But it's really optimized groups that start to approach 10/10, you can't do it alone.  That reduces the tension by a lot.  Like, a lot.  Remember, my 2-point variance is consdiered a little picky, usually, next to people who can't be arsed about mechanics.  

Now me, I'm a min/maxer(I prefer 'Optimizer').  I'm not a jerk, though, so when I play an imbalanced system, I consciously create characters of lower power so as to not create that tension.  It doesn't work that well, though, because it's incredibly frustrating to do it.  To use an analogy, being an optimizer in an imblanced system with non-optimizers is like being handed a big bucket of legos, and being told that you can make any awesome thing you can think of...so long as it isn't in the top three to five things you actually want to make.  It means that any time, at character creation or at level up, that you get to pick a new option, you have to consciously skip over the ones you like and pick one that sort of sucks.  I can put this off for awhile by optimizing really odd character traits, like being able to move a stupidly huge amount in one turn, or having a single, really high skill mod, things like that.  But it's a temporary fix.  

By contrast, a balanced system is a breath of fresh air.  I can finally build whatever I want to with those legos, without having to worry about ruining things for anyone else!  And as a bonus, I get to play with people whose playstyles, vis-a-vis optimization, vary much further from my own.  I actually have friends that I can happily play 4e with, that would have chased me off by now as a dirty, filthy munchkin if we were playing 3.5.  

There are a lot of playstyle differences, and we talk about a lot of them on these boards, often at great length.  But, in my experience, one of the biggest playstyle differences, that spans all editions and all other playstyles as well, is how much or little a person cares to optimize.  It's also one of the easiest to spot, in play.  It is, ultimately, one of the biggest source of division in players of all other stripes.

And balance helps bridge it.

As a DM, it makes my life easier, in several ways.  More on that in the "Easy DMing" section.

NPCs Not Using PC Rules
In 4e, NPCs were not generally built using PC rules.  You could build them that way, if you wanted, but it wasn't usually done, ime.  Instead, both book monsters and homebrewed ones generally worked off a simple set of maths to get them to the right power level and then filled in some abilities.  This greatly sped up making NPCs for combat, and avoided occasional wonkiness I'd get from trying to match what I wanted an NPC to do in my head with the different feedback the rules were giving me.  But more importantly, it helped magic feel like magic again.

In previous editions, NPCs used the same spellcasting classes as PCs, and even monsters' spells were drawn off the same list.  This led to the phenomenon where after awhile, the players could generally guess what an NPC caster was capable of, or at least what might be on his spell list.  The DM could make up new spells, but usually this wasn't done all willy-nilly, so it didn't make too much of an impact.  In 4e, by contrast, a caster might be able to use a lore skill to get a rough idea of what an enemy mage might be capable of, but you're never sure, no matter how well you know the wizard's spell list.  One of my favorite moments DMing 4e was when the party was about to ambush an enemy mage.  They had fought him once before, but one player had been absent for that session, so he asked the others what the guy could do.  The response was "Well, he's a mage.  Last time we fought him, he used this black lightning sort of thing, and he could animate objects to attack us.  Other than that, though...well, he's a mage.  He could do anything."  It was great.

Roles

Alright, this sblock is going to be more explanatory of what roles are than explanatory of why I like them.  It was going to be pretty short, but you intimated that you do not know of roles and I will try to be rather thorough with the explanation.  I'll probably just blend why I like them in with the general explanation.

What roles are: Roles are a more defined and called out way of describing something that's been in D&D since day one.  The Fighter has always brought something different to the team than the Magic-User or the Cleric or the Thief.  Each has their role to fill.  Each edition has had roles, just not explicitly called out, and not always filled or done that neatly(probably as a consequence of them not being called out or explicitly thought of that way).  

4e spelled them out and labelled each class as one.  There aren't really role mechanics(I think there's an Epic Destiny that has "Defender" as a prerequisite, maybe a feat or two somewhere), as in "each class of Role X gets exactly Y", though most roles have a sort of mechanic that explicitly helps them fulfill their role.  Classes aren't locked into roles(though they are often accused of being such), in fact classes have secondary roles and can often be pushed into those roles if the player tries to do it that way.  It just tells the players what the designers had in mind when they made the class.

It isn't necessary to have one of each role in every party(though, again, detractors will often try to insist that it is).  It's just like having a well-rounded party in AD&D.  It helps, but it isn't strictly mandatory.  You can run with a party of all Thieves, it just, well, provides a unique challenge.

Also, roles are strictly combat, and have no impact on non-combat.

What each role is:

Defender:  The Fighter is the archetypal Defender.   The Defender's primary schtick is to reduce the damage the impact enemies have on the party, generally by creating Catch 22 situations.  They thrive on making sure enemies have no good choices.  There are generally two prongs to this approach that Defender classes take(and I'll be referencing the Fighter for examples).  The first prong is to be durable.  They've got the best HP, the best defenses and often a variety of powers and/or class features available to help them shrug off damage and conditions.  This means that attacking the Defender is not a good choice for the enemy, because he's going to be harder to hit than the other characters, and more able to take it and shrug off any conditions.  

The second prong is to make it hard to attack anyone else.  This is accomplished mainly via stickiness and marks/mark punishment.  Stickiness is the quality of being able to get in someone's face and then prevent them from getting away.  The Fighter, for example, can get a number of moves that slow, immobilize, or knock enemies prone.  Moving away from any character provokes an Opportunity Attack, but when you do it to the Fighter, he gets to add his Wisdom mod to the attack roll and he forces you to stop if he hits.  There's a form of movement called Shifting which is generally limited but does not incur these opportunity attacks.  When you Shift, Fighters hit you anyway.  Marks and Mark Punishment are probably the closest thing to a role mechanic in the game.  Marked is a condition that simply states that if you try to make an attack that does not include the one marking you, you take a -2 penalty to the attack roll(so, swinging your sword at the Wizard next to the Fighter incurs the penalty, but a dragon breathing flame on everyone does not).  Every Defender class has their own unique ways of applying marks, though some non-defender classes can also get ways to apply marks.  Each Defender class also has their own unique way of punishing a violated mark.  For Fighters, they have a class feature, Combat Challenge, which simply says that they have the option of marking an enemy whenever they attack.  Their punishment is that when the enemy violates the mark, by making attacks that don't include the Fighter(or if the enemy tries to shift away, an addition unique to the Fighter), they get a free attack on him.

The Defender role has been really great in the game.  When I play a Fighter, I really feel like a credible threat on the battlefield.  The mechanics come together to do a great job of making the Fighter the sort of person who gets up in the enemy's face and cannot be ignored.  The best part is, the fighter wins whether or not the enemy obeys his mark.  If the enemy attacks the Fighter, he's attacking the least vulnerable member of the party.  If he violates the mark, well, a Fighter who is ignored basically starts getting twice as many attacks per round, and as such the damage starts to pile on quite quickly.  I've never seen a person playing a Fighter who had his mark violated and said, "Oh, no, you mean I have to hit him again?  This sucks."  It's generally more along the lines of "What?  Never ignore a blademaster, fool, or find yourself eating hot steel!"

Leader:  The Cleric is the archetypal Leader.  The Leader role includes healing, but goes beyond that.  It also includes remvoing negative conditions, as well as applying buffs to allies and debuffs to enemies.  Basically, a Leader's job is to make everyone else be the best they can be.  4e did a lot for this role.  Healing is only part of what they can do, and the "standard" healing powers only takes a Minor Action(that is, you don't generally have to choose between attacking and healing).  There's a lot of bolstering going, and the Leader can help the party to direct their force toward a single enemy even more than simply surrounding him will.  I'm finding it a little hard to explain, but suffice to say, if you're the type that likes to play support characters(and I can get into that myself), the Leader role is like a big ol' fun bag.

Striker:  Strikers are the damage kings.  This isn't just about straight numbers, either.  Strikers also tend to have other advantages, like mobility, targeting capacity(which is tied to mobility for melee Strikers) and nova potential.  In a nutshell, Strikers don't just have the numbers, but they're made to be the best at putting those numbers where they want them, and possibly at squeezing out much more than normal in one round(though not every round).  To paint a picture, the Fighter is pretty good at dealing damage(if built with an eye toward it, he can be a fine Striker, but we'll assume he's not for this example) but if the party is fighting a group consisting of some archers and some swordsmen, the swordsmen can get in the Fighter's way and give him a hard time.  The Rogue or the Monk, though, they're gonna have tools to just slip past those swordsmen, and get to the archers. 

Controller:  The archetypal Controller is the Wizard.  This is probably the poorest defined role, and it definitely took WotC awhile of printing 4e stuff to start getting it right, but the idea is that Controller is the master of area effects and status conditions.  Controllers tend to have ways of creating zones of stuff, or summoning/conjuring things on the battlefield, or just shutting enemies down.  Controllers budge things with every move, but when they break out the Dailies, well, the battle isn't instantly won, but that Daily will tend to change the field for the rest of the fight.

I think roles were a good thing for clarity with the players, but I especially think they were good for the designers to keep in mind.  It made them think, "Okay, I know this class is going to have the tools available to be a valuable addition to the party in combat, I just have to figure out how."  I wish they had done something similar with non combat spheres, such as Exploration and Socialization.

Lore
There's just a lot of lore in 4e that I like.  The default Points of Light/Nentir Vale setting is mostly hinted at, and info given in bits and pieces, but it really feels like there were editors looking over it, saying, "Alright, no boring details.  Let the players fill those in, let's make sure everything on this page makes readers inspired."  And it shows.  You look in the MM, and it gets a lot of slack for not including things like No. Appearing and Ecology info, and that's true.  The MM doesn't tell you a lot about goblins eating habits or their ratio of males to females.  Instead it talks about how hobgoblins used to have an empire where goblins and bugbears were their servants, and hints that that empire's fall was at least partially from Fey interference, and how many goblins hate the fey to this day.  It talks of goblin tendencies to tame and breed creatures like drakes and wolves, and even hints that in ancient times, hobgoblins may have flat out created goblins and bugbears for their own purposes.

The World Axis cosmology is pretty great.  Every place in it is ripe for adventure, from the glimmering Feywild, to the Horror-esque Shadowfell.  

If there's one thing from 4e I wouldn't want to lose, lorewise, it's the treatment of Fey.  Fey are unpredicable, terrifying beings, even the 'good ones' can utterly screw over mere mortals for their own reasons.  These aren't the Tinkerbell, sing a little song, place dew on the flowers fairies, they're the ones from old myths that steal your baby and replace it with a changeling because you forgot to leave them an offering on the solstice.  In 4e, when you talk to the Fey, you watch your damn mouth.

Ease of DMing
 
So, this is a big one, but it pulls in parts from a lot of the other sections.  4e is a breeze to DM.  NPCs and even whole encounters are easy to create, and the guidelines for doing so(while a bit limited in scope) work pretty well.  This meant I didn't spend a lot of prep time making encounters, and had more to devote to lore and atmosphere, and trying to puzzle out various things the PCs might try to shore up the adventure as a whole.  A lot of things in 4e did that, they made the mechanically concerned parts of adventure design/session prep easy and painless, and allowed me to redirect that time and effort into other parts of the campaign.  It also meant that if the PCs went a way I didn't expect, I could whip up an encounter for them and have it running in record time(when I started including monster math sections in my notes, we're talking about going "encounter that I, as DM, completely did not expect" to "Okay, I'm ready" in under a minute).  And that encounter would be good.  It wouldn't be too easy, it wouldn't be too hard, it wouldn't be boring, it would be just what I wanted it to be.

If I want to stray from the encounter building guidelines, I can do that, because it's easy to see how things work and how the party can handle them.

Then there's the houseruling and the homebrewing.  Oooh, yes.  4e is so easy to houserule and homebrew in.  The clarity and transparency of the rules, along with, as swmabie said, "the redundancies of balance" make it so easy to see what will happen if you change things.  To use what I hope will be a decent anology, houseruling and homebrewing in AD&D was like playing Jenga(in this analogy, you are not that good at Jenga).  You can, with foresight, and with trial and error, figure out what blocks you can mess with and what will happen, but you're going to spend a lot of time picking up fallen blocks and towers to gain that knowledge.  Houseruling and homebrewing in 4e is like playing with legos.  They're easy to figure out, you can tell how the little bumps fit into the little holes, and with very little trial and error, you can build a lot of cool stuff.  

For homebrewing, if I want to make a new level 3 encounter power, I have a wide variety of balanced level 3 encounter powers to look at, to use as a guide for how strong mine should be.  I don't really have to worry about it feeding into some obscure rule or class and being wildly overpowered, because I have all these keywords and rules that I can use in my new power that make it clear how it will interact with the rest of system.

This sort of familiarity and ease takes a long time to build up with earlier editions, because things aren't so balanced and aren't so clear.  I've spent about a year DMing 4e, on and off(which is about as much 1e as I've DMed, and less 3.5 than I have DMed), and I'm confident about pretty much anything I might want to try and anything the players can throw at me.  It's a confidence at a level I never got to in previous editions.

Rituals
Rituals are a 4e invention, sort of like a second spellcasting system.  Any character that has the Ritual Casting feat(given for free to many 'casty' classes, like Cleric and Wizard) can get a ritual book and inscribe rituals into it.  Rituals are spells with long casting times(10 minutes to multiple hours) and non-neglegible component costs(well, they get neglegible for a high level character casting a low level ritual, but you get the idea).  They have heavy utility, and many spells from older editions were given in 4e as Rituals.  You can cast any ritual you have as many times as you want, provided you have the time and the components.

Rituals were good(there was room for improvement), because of a few things.  First, they made sure that magic wasn't usually the go-to choice for utility.  If you had a non-magic way to handle the obstacle, you did that first, because it would probably be cheaper and quicker.  Ritual Magic was good, but tended to get saved as a last resort, as opposed to my experiences with Vancian in previous editions, where if a caster prepped a utility spell, it was going to get used, probably at the first opportunity, because it was free and if you didn't use it that day it was wasted.

Second, it made sure that you never got that situation where the wizard or cleric threw up his hands and said, "Well, guys, I know exactly the right spell for this, but I can't cast it today, because I didn't pick it this morning!"

Third is that it was part of separating the pools for non-combat resources and combat resources.  How that works and why I find it important is a whole 'nother rant, though, so I'll abstain unless you want to hear it.
Less Random Death/More Dynamic Combat
In 4e, characters started out with more hit points(something like 20-30, usually) and they had more ways, as a party, to combat being dead.  In addition, Save or Die just isn't in 4e.  Effects that might once have been Save or Die are now usually either toned down, or allow multiple Saves.  For example, the Medusa in the MM.  If it hits you with its gaze(an attack vs Fortitude, like an old spell save but with the die in the other hand) then you're Slowed(Save ends).  If you fail the first save(which comes on your next turn), you become Immobilized(Save ends).  If you fail your second save, then you're Petrified(no save).  This both reduces the impact of sheer luck on the fight, and also tends to make these sort of situations more tense and suspenseful.  More "You know Bad Stuff is coming, quick find a way to stop it!" and less "Well, Bad Stuff is here.  Sorry bro."

Now, this isn't to say that death doesn't happen in 4e, or that characters are always safe.  Quite the opposite, I've had more characters die in 4e than I ever did in 3.5, and adjusting for time spent with the system, about the same as I did in AD&D.  The difference is that the deaths I saw in AD&D were more often the result of an unlucky roll, whether that was a damage roll(especially at low levels) or a Save or Die where you, well, Died instead of Saving.  Deaths in 4e, by contrast, are more often the result of poor planning, tactics and/or teamwork on the part of the party.  The dice still figure into it, and can wreck some havoc, but the balance is tipped in favor of how the players respond to the situation, rather than how the dice fall.

As a player, this is great for me.  I feel like I'm in much more control over whether my character lives or dies, and as such I feel a lot 'safer' putting a bunch of time and effort into a concept and backstory.

As a DM, this has been great for me, because it allows me to adjust the lethality of a given encounter to more degrees, especially at lower levels.  When you're fighting kobolds that have 1d4 daggers for damage, and you have 1d6 hp, they might as well just run up and stab you.  They're all a threat, all the time.  But in 4e, I can play my kobolds as tricky mooks right from level 1.  That same 1d4 isn't an insta-kill, but it can wear you down, so I can make encounters where a number of kobolds pop in and out of hiding spots and take potshots at the party while a central attraction, perhaps a champion or diabolical device/trap, is the main danger.  Neither the main danger or the snipers can really be safely ignored forever, so the party has to figure out how to deal with it.

This feeds into the dynamic combat angle.  Fights in 4e tend to be flashy.  People are moving around the battlefield, often pushing and pulling each other around.  Terrain tends to be a big deal.  Characters can have abilities that key off of one another, and a lot of the character's abilities bring the flavor of the class to life by encouraging and rewarding certain styles of play.  For example, my Blackguard(one of my favorite 4e classes to date) has an at-will power that hits one guy, but deals more damage to him for each enemy adjacent to my Blackguard(with a limit of like 4 guys' worth).  This power encourages me to jump right into the fray and potentially take a few hits to really lay it on one guy. 

Powers, including especially Daily and Encounter powers, were great for the melee types.  I don't personally have any problem between them and my suspension of disbelief, but as a player, they're an invaluable resource for one big reason:  they let the player decide when to go all out.  A character with all at-wills only has one level of power output, so to speak.  When the going gets tough, they, well, keep doing more or less exactly what they did when the going was easy.  But with Encounter and Daily powers, I can put the pedal to the medal and really have the mechanics back me up when I decide it's time to go all out.  It's lame if my Fighter can't put any more effort toward going toe to toe with his arch-nemesis than he can with a random orc.

Healing Surges
Okay, first, the downlow on what Surges are.  Surges can be thought of as your character's 'Hp Reserves'.  You get a number determined by your class, modified by your Constitution(also like hp).  Your Surge Value(distinct from how many you have) is 1/4 of your HP, rounded down.  Out of combat, after a short rest, you can spend as many as you like gaining your Surge Value back in hp for each one.  In combat, access to them is much more limited.  Each character can use a Second Wind once per encounter, spending a surge and regaining Surge Value in hp.  Most healing also works with surges, allowing you to spend one for your surge value plus some bonuses.  Surges are restored with an extended rest, that is, a night's sleep.

Surges have a few really nice effects on the game for me.  The first, probably the biggest, is how they interact with HP.  Like you, I see HP the way Gygax described them, a combination of luck, fate, toughness, experience and what have you.  That explanation always felt to me like it wasn't properly expressed in the rest of the game's mechanics, though.  Damage was a mix of things, but healing was always either through magic, or slow rest and recovery, as though they were wounds(but, like, a terrible model of wounds).  Healing Surges, along with Second Winds and martial healing as a whole(along with a number of other touches around 4e), make that abstraction whole.  They add the non-wound part into healing.

Second, is that they even out some oddities in healing spells.  It was always a little odd in old editions that since Cure Light Wounds healed 1d8, sometimes plus stuff, it was more healing for a peasant than it was for a knight.  But in 4e, spells(including CLW) let the target spend a surge with a bonus, and since the surge is always a quarter of your HP, the peasant and knight can benefit equally.  It also provides a nice model of the idea that healing isn't drawn from nowhere, it's mostly pulling out the reserves of the person being healed.  Surgeless healing is the "real magic" healing, and it tends to be a lot more rare(though, naturally, Clerics are best at surgeless healing).

Third, surges really help the party go without a Cleric, or even without a Leader at all.  Swmabie pointed out how this affects settings like Dark Sun(which is a great setting), and they can also make it a lot easier to run without a Cleric/Leader in other settings.  Pre-4e you could do without a Cleric, but it would tend to have big impacts on how you adventured.  You'd have to make sure you never got into too much trouble at once, and that you took a week or more off to rest between encounters.  That can be fun, but it can also throw a big wrench in a campaign idea just because no one felt like playing the Cleric.





This. 

Cry Havoc!  And let slip the hogs of war!

I like it bc it is a very flexible system, something I think that gets overlooked quite a bit when people talk about it. It absolutely can support different styles of play, tweaks, houserules, and everything else you would expect from an edition of D&D. It is also fun to play/DM.
Good answers from everyone so I'll go a different direction.

1) I returned to D&D at the beginning of this edition and I've spent a lot of $dollars$ on 4e. I don't consider my purchases disposable like some people do. I've seen so many people seemingly just throw away all their stuff when a new edtion hits.

2) In 2008 I was very ignorant of the edition wars (I missed most of 2e and all of 3/3.5e, but I refused to be bullied into thinking that I was "doing it wrong" because 4e wasn't really D&D it was just a video game in disguise. Fast forward to today and I still refuse to be bullied into thinking that I'm "doing it wrong" because my game of choice is bad because it failed financially. 

Fast forward to today and I still refuse to be bullied into thinking that I'm "doing it wrong" because my game of choice is bad because it failed financially.



+1 to this.

The bottom line for me is that my friends and I enjoy playing the game and it's working out great for us.

I'm sad that WotC pulled the plug on it, but their lack of fat profits doesn't mean 4e isn't a good game. Too many people are saying 4e sucks because WotC killed it when in reality the decision to switch to 5e almost certainly had more to do with profit margins.

4e was mismanaged from the get go. Not from a game design standpoint, its a great game, but from a marketing/business model standpoint. It was immediately hobbled from a disatrous launch and marketing campaign that told everyone they were doing it wrong. I really believe that if WotC had handled the 4e launch differently they'd still be making 4e products.
Oh course, one of the factors that has been ignored in the "Failed Edition" line of thought is that the economy was bad when 4e first came out, and it has been getting steadily worse.

That said, I play it because it is fun, there are hundreds of character types and we've barely managed to scratch the surface, and the group I game with enjoys it.
That said, it is almost as easy to prep for was WEG Star Wars was.
Ultimately in my mind what distinguishes 4e is its pure dedication to being a good game and incorporating logical and sensible design concepts into a robust RPG. Not every detail may be the way everyone wants it to be, but the very basic concept that "we're going to make a game that plays well" is pure gold and shows in every part of 4e's design.

Not since OD&D has this been the case that the game was simply approached as a game with no baggage, and 4e is an infinitely more perfected game, obviously.
That is not dead which may eternal lie
I don't know where you guys are getting the financial failure thing. 4e sold perfectly well and has many fans (I would almost say more than 3e fans). 4e started to go down when Essentials was released because many thought it was another WotC attempt at a X.5 edition. But before that 4e was the leader in the RPG market. And it still could be if they would have kept following their old design philosophy. 

Come to 4ENCLAVE for a fan based 4th Edition Community.

 

I don't know where you guys are getting the financial failure thing. 4e sold perfectly well and has many fans (I would almost say more than 3e fans). 4e started to go down when Essentials was released because many thought it was another WotC attempt at a X.5 edition. But before that 4e was the leader in the RPG market. And it still could be if they would have kept following their old design philosophy. 



Rumor has it that (and possibly more than rumor) that the D&D folks promised Hasbro certain revenue benchmarks which were significantly higher than 3.5 ed (if rumor is to be believed, $50 million, growing to $100 million).  Those numbers weren't achieved, and if D&D Next doesn't achieve them, there's a good chance that Hasbro will just shelve the brand for a while.

On topic: I like 4e for the lack of a 15 minute workday.  Even in mid-heroic, you can go through 4 or more encounters without feeling that any of your characters are now useless.  The action point is part of that; it acts as an additional power that you get every other encounter, and allows you a little something extra early on even if you have no dailies left.
Well, I didn't say that it did fail financially. But many MANY people assert that it did. (Including an article written by Ryan Dancey (sp?) which I'm sure someone can link to). As a result of these assertions of financial failure, many people use that to conclude that they were right about 4e being a terrible game all along.
Basically, because I haven't found another game that does as many of these things right.

Be warned this is long.

So long, you guys.  Seriously.



Clarity of Rules
A lot of the older editions, AD&D especially, tended to have rules spoken in common language and/or Gygaxian prose.  I'm sure you're familiar with this, but you can check, for example, the Fighter's eventual gaining of a keep and followers for some decent examples.  Or alignment, for the ultimate example.  Basically, what you'd get a lot of times were rules that were clear enough that readers would get the gist of it, but imprecise enough that different readers could get different gists of it, and by the text, neither would necessarily be wrong.  

By contrast, 4e rules tended to be very precise and clear, even using keywords with precise definitions to bridge varying rules.  To make the benefit of this clear:  4e killed Rules Laywers.  Oh, there might be a few out there somewhere, perhaps if they're also actual laywers, but by and large, Rules Arguments and Rules Laywers live in the grey areas of the rules, where things can be taken in several ways, and 4e was built with an eye toward eliminating such areas.  Table events and disagreements that would have led to arguments in previous editions(even if we did hold them until after the game, I've seen after game arguements go for 3+ hours) just result in one person checking the Rules Compendium or rereading the power/feat or whatever in question, and that settles it.  I've seen Rules Lawyers become Rules Page-Rememberers, because that's all they've got left.

Balance

Okay, here we go.  First, for a definition.  Balance is what you have when everyone feels like they're an equally valuable member of the party.  It doesn't mean that you're identical, it means you're bringing your own unique thing to the group that is as valuable as everyone else's.  It's not a yes or no thing, it's a sliding scale, and everyone has a different threshold that they want.  Purely for a visualization aid, let's think of it as points out of ten.  Me, I want everyone to be within about 2, maybe 3 points of one another.  If one guy is sitting at 6/10, and there's another at 8/10 and a third at 5/10, that's within acceptable limits(the 5 and the 8 are starting to strain it).  But if we've got one guy at 5/10 and another at 10/10, the disparity is more than I want.  Someone else might be fine with that, but I'd feel resentful if I were the 5/10 guy, and guilty if I were the 10/10 guy.  Imbalance is a losing situation, no matter what side of it you're on.

Now, there are different delivery methods for balance, and D&D has always tried to deliver it.  It's just that previously, it was less well balanced and used methods that I found basically not to work.  Here are a few:

Balance-by-Campaign:  This was a big one in old editions.  It's why Wizards start out all weak and frail, with very few spells, while Fighters are kings of those early levels only to have this dynamic reversed later.  This form of balance doesnt work very well, because it requires two things.  First is that you start at level 1(which was, ime, common enough in AD&D, but increasingly rare in 3.5).  Second is that the campaign goes on for long enough to reach high levels, which is also not a given.  Even when it works, though, it just doesn't feel like balance to me.  If the campaign went for a year, say, it would feel to me like five months of imbalance, then two months of okay balance, then five more of imbalance going the other way.

Balance-by-Adventuring-Day:  This was another sort of balance that was prevalent in older editions.  This is the sort where you know if you have too few encounters in a day, the casters will be able to put way too many spells into each one and make them trivial, but if you have more, then they have to scrimp and save and the melee guys come out ahead(until the cleric is out of heals, anyway).  I don't like this one because it depends on the DM bending his encounter/adventuring day pacing for the sake of balance.  It's usually around 4-5 encounters, and that might be fine if I wanted that many encounters, at least on average, but I generally don't.  My average encounters per day, as a DM, is about 2.  I usually don't want to go over that, and I sure as hell don't want to do it just for mechanical reasons.  I know there's all kinds of tricks one can pull to make the wizards prepare the wrong spells/hold back half their load, but to me, that's a huge hassle that I could just avoid completely by not using a system that relies on Balance-by-Adventuring-Day.

Balance-from-the-DM:  This is the type where the DM smooths out all the balance issues, usually by regulating what spells the wizard gets, and giving more loot and/or "story time" to an underpowered player, among other ways.  As a DM, this falls under the "Hassle I'd rather not deal with" list.  As a player, I can go two ways with it, though neither of them is "liking it".  If I'm the overpowered player, I'm okay with it.  I won't enjoy it, but I'm probably already feeling guilty about being overpowered, and I'll accept it as a form of atonement.  if I'm the underpowered player, I actually resent it.  I'm going to notice it eventually, and as soon as I do, everything I get will start to feel like I'm being coddled because my character is weak.  It's the sort of bad feeling that only gets worse when you're right, too.  From a one-step-back viewpoint, I don't like this sort of balance, because it relies solely on the skill and system mastery of the DM.  And balancing like this is one of the hardest DMing skills to learn.  I didn't even realize it was a skill I'd need until about two years into the hobby, and even today, I could handle little problems, but if the ball isn't in the park, I wouldn't be confident in my ability to get it back in the park.

Balance-from-the-Players:  This is often referred to as the gentleman's agreement, or simply, don't min/max.  It's a form of balance wherein the players all work together to make sure their characters are about even.  It can work, and it can work in even highly imbalanced systems.  However, I don't really like it.  I find it very impractical because it relies on the entire group either getting lucky or having roughly equivalent system mastery and all agreeing on a power level before the campaign starts.  I've seen the former, I have never seen the latter.  It also tends to be frustrating for me in a way that I will explain shortly.

Balance-by-Drawbacks:  This is one in which it's thought that a bonus in one area is evened out by a drawback in another.  This will always exist in some form, because characters aren't going to be evenly good at everything.  Excelling in one area comes at the cost of not excelling in another.  However, this sort of balance isn't always as good as it seems, and mainly I'm talking about putting a penalty or punishment on something in an attempt to "even out" it being a powerful ability or feature.  Smaller key examples would be like balancing an half-orc's strength bonus with a penalty to intelligence and charisma.  Larger key ones would be like wizard's spells being really powerful, but then "evening it out" by adding a system shock chance, or an aging penalty, or an experience cost.  In my experience, these sort of drawbacks, which I tend to think of as "hitting the player in an unrelated area" tend to not do their job as balancing factors, because canny players can often just find ways to obviate or at least mitigate the drawbacks, while being even more sure to squeeze every last drop of benefit out of the power.

Balance-by-Encounter:  This is the model 4e tends to be most heavily based on.  In this model, each character has some significant way to contribute in each encounter.  Some encounters might favor one PC or disfavor another, but if these sorts of things are going to be campaign long, it's usually easy to let the players know ahead of time and they can build for it(for example, a campaign featuring many undead will favor Divine PCs, but if you're planning that, it's easy enough to just say so).  Timewise, balance by encounter is actually a bit more fine grained than I need it(though I do like it).  What I need is balance by session.  Every session, with most groups I've ever been in, there's a post session chat, usually while we clean up or walk/drive home.  During that conversation, I'd like it if everyone were able to recount one badass thing they did.  A player can always(well, usually at least) make a badass thing happen if they improv and really get creative, but I want the mechanics to help give them the tools and opportunities, too(there's no hard limit on how much of an awesome time you an have, after all!).  Now, balancing by session isn't something the designers can do, since sessions can vary between like 2 hours and 6-8 hours.  When I was in college, some friends and I used to pull huge, 18-hour overnighters.  Balance by encounter is something designers can do, though, and that works for just about any session length, and it stretches out to cover any adventuring day length and any campaign length as well.

Now, as for what I like about balance.  Brightmantle, you're an AD&Der.  I don't have to tell you about min/maxers.  You know.  You know.  Reflect on it, for a moment.  Bask in it.  Min/maxing, in my experience, is usually a problem in one big way.  You have the min/maxer who makes his 9/10 or 10/10 character, maybe 11/10 if the system is really imbalanced.  Then you have the guy who can't be arsed about mechanics and brings his 2/10 character, and there's such a big gap between them.  It creates this tension, this mutual disdain.  It can start arguments and even get to the point where you just can't play together.

Balance reduces the gap.  In 4e, there aren't a lot of 2/10 characters.  You can make them, technically, but ime, most people who can't be arsed about the mechanics wind up at around 6/10.  People who min/max will end up at around 8/10.  Maybe 9/10.  But it's really optimized groups that start to approach 10/10, you can't do it alone.  That reduces the tension by a lot.  Like, a lot.  Remember, my 2-point variance is consdiered a little picky, usually, next to people who can't be arsed about mechanics.  

Now me, I'm a min/maxer(I prefer 'Optimizer').  I'm not a jerk, though, so when I play an imbalanced system, I consciously create characters of lower power so as to not create that tension.  It doesn't work that well, though, because it's incredibly frustrating to do it.  To use an analogy, being an optimizer in an imblanced system with non-optimizers is like being handed a big bucket of legos, and being told that you can make any awesome thing you can think of...so long as it isn't in the top three to five things you actually want to make.  It means that any time, at character creation or at level up, that you get to pick a new option, you have to consciously skip over the ones you like and pick one that sort of sucks.  I can put this off for awhile by optimizing really odd character traits, like being able to move a stupidly huge amount in one turn, or having a single, really high skill mod, things like that.  But it's a temporary fix.  

By contrast, a balanced system is a breath of fresh air.  I can finally build whatever I want to with those legos, without having to worry about ruining things for anyone else!  And as a bonus, I get to play with people whose playstyles, vis-a-vis optimization, vary much further from my own.  I actually have friends that I can happily play 4e with, that would have chased me off by now as a dirty, filthy munchkin if we were playing 3.5.  

There are a lot of playstyle differences, and we talk about a lot of them on these boards, often at great length.  But, in my experience, one of the biggest playstyle differences, that spans all editions and all other playstyles as well, is how much or little a person cares to optimize.  It's also one of the easiest to spot, in play.  It is, ultimately, one of the biggest source of division in players of all other stripes.

And balance helps bridge it.

As a DM, it makes my life easier, in several ways.  More on that in the "Easy DMing" section.

NPCs Not Using PC Rules
In 4e, NPCs were not generally built using PC rules.  You could build them that way, if you wanted, but it wasn't usually done, ime.  Instead, both book monsters and homebrewed ones generally worked off a simple set of maths to get them to the right power level and then filled in some abilities.  This greatly sped up making NPCs for combat, and avoided occasional wonkiness I'd get from trying to match what I wanted an NPC to do in my head with the different feedback the rules were giving me.  But more importantly, it helped magic feel like magic again.

In previous editions, NPCs used the same spellcasting classes as PCs, and even monsters' spells were drawn off the same list.  This led to the phenomenon where after awhile, the players could generally guess what an NPC caster was capable of, or at least what might be on his spell list.  The DM could make up new spells, but usually this wasn't done all willy-nilly, so it didn't make too much of an impact.  In 4e, by contrast, a caster might be able to use a lore skill to get a rough idea of what an enemy mage might be capable of, but you're never sure, no matter how well you know the wizard's spell list.  One of my favorite moments DMing 4e was when the party was about to ambush an enemy mage.  They had fought him once before, but one player had been absent for that session, so he asked the others what the guy could do.  The response was "Well, he's a mage.  Last time we fought him, he used this black lightning sort of thing, and he could animate objects to attack us.  Other than that, though...well, he's a mage.  He could do anything."  It was great.

Roles

Alright, this sblock is going to be more explanatory of what roles are than explanatory of why I like them.  It was going to be pretty short, but you intimated that you do not know of roles and I will try to be rather thorough with the explanation.  I'll probably just blend why I like them in with the general explanation.

What roles are: Roles are a more defined and called out way of describing something that's been in D&D since day one.  The Fighter has always brought something different to the team than the Magic-User or the Cleric or the Thief.  Each has their role to fill.  Each edition has had roles, just not explicitly called out, and not always filled or done that neatly(probably as a consequence of them not being called out or explicitly thought of that way).  

4e spelled them out and labelled each class as one.  There aren't really role mechanics(I think there's an Epic Destiny that has "Defender" as a prerequisite, maybe a feat or two somewhere), as in "each class of Role X gets exactly Y", though most roles have a sort of mechanic that explicitly helps them fulfill their role.  Classes aren't locked into roles(though they are often accused of being such), in fact classes have secondary roles and can often be pushed into those roles if the player tries to do it that way.  It just tells the players what the designers had in mind when they made the class.

It isn't necessary to have one of each role in every party(though, again, detractors will often try to insist that it is).  It's just like having a well-rounded party in AD&D.  It helps, but it isn't strictly mandatory.  You can run with a party of all Thieves, it just, well, provides a unique challenge.

Also, roles are strictly combat, and have no impact on non-combat.

What each role is:

Defender:  The Fighter is the archetypal Defender.   The Defender's primary schtick is to reduce the damage the impact enemies have on the party, generally by creating Catch 22 situations.  They thrive on making sure enemies have no good choices.  There are generally two prongs to this approach that Defender classes take(and I'll be referencing the Fighter for examples).  The first prong is to be durable.  They've got the best HP, the best defenses and often a variety of powers and/or class features available to help them shrug off damage and conditions.  This means that attacking the Defender is not a good choice for the enemy, because he's going to be harder to hit than the other characters, and more able to take it and shrug off any conditions.  

The second prong is to make it hard to attack anyone else.  This is accomplished mainly via stickiness and marks/mark punishment.  Stickiness is the quality of being able to get in someone's face and then prevent them from getting away.  The Fighter, for example, can get a number of moves that slow, immobilize, or knock enemies prone.  Moving away from any character provokes an Opportunity Attack, but when you do it to the Fighter, he gets to add his Wisdom mod to the attack roll and he forces you to stop if he hits.  There's a form of movement called Shifting which is generally limited but does not incur these opportunity attacks.  When you Shift, Fighters hit you anyway.  Marks and Mark Punishment are probably the closest thing to a role mechanic in the game.  Marked is a condition that simply states that if you try to make an attack that does not include the one marking you, you take a -2 penalty to the attack roll(so, swinging your sword at the Wizard next to the Fighter incurs the penalty, but a dragon breathing flame on everyone does not).  Every Defender class has their own unique ways of applying marks, though some non-defender classes can also get ways to apply marks.  Each Defender class also has their own unique way of punishing a violated mark.  For Fighters, they have a class feature, Combat Challenge, which simply says that they have the option of marking an enemy whenever they attack.  Their punishment is that when the enemy violates the mark, by making attacks that don't include the Fighter(or if the enemy tries to shift away, an addition unique to the Fighter), they get a free attack on him.

The Defender role has been really great in the game.  When I play a Fighter, I really feel like a credible threat on the battlefield.  The mechanics come together to do a great job of making the Fighter the sort of person who gets up in the enemy's face and cannot be ignored.  The best part is, the fighter wins whether or not the enemy obeys his mark.  If the enemy attacks the Fighter, he's attacking the least vulnerable member of the party.  If he violates the mark, well, a Fighter who is ignored basically starts getting twice as many attacks per round, and as such the damage starts to pile on quite quickly.  I've never seen a person playing a Fighter who had his mark violated and said, "Oh, no, you mean I have to hit him again?  This sucks."  It's generally more along the lines of "What?  Never ignore a blademaster, fool, or find yourself eating hot steel!"

Leader:  The Cleric is the archetypal Leader.  The Leader role includes healing, but goes beyond that.  It also includes remvoing negative conditions, as well as applying buffs to allies and debuffs to enemies.  Basically, a Leader's job is to make everyone else be the best they can be.  4e did a lot for this role.  Healing is only part of what they can do, and the "standard" healing powers only takes a Minor Action(that is, you don't generally have to choose between attacking and healing).  There's a lot of bolstering going, and the Leader can help the party to direct their force toward a single enemy even more than simply surrounding him will.  I'm finding it a little hard to explain, but suffice to say, if you're the type that likes to play support characters(and I can get into that myself), the Leader role is like a big ol' fun bag.

Striker:  Strikers are the damage kings.  This isn't just about straight numbers, either.  Strikers also tend to have other advantages, like mobility, targeting capacity(which is tied to mobility for melee Strikers) and nova potential.  In a nutshell, Strikers don't just have the numbers, but they're made to be the best at putting those numbers where they want them, and possibly at squeezing out much more than normal in one round(though not every round).  To paint a picture, the Fighter is pretty good at dealing damage(if built with an eye toward it, he can be a fine Striker, but we'll assume he's not for this example) but if the party is fighting a group consisting of some archers and some swordsmen, the swordsmen can get in the Fighter's way and give him a hard time.  The Rogue or the Monk, though, they're gonna have tools to just slip past those swordsmen, and get to the archers. 

Controller:  The archetypal Controller is the Wizard.  This is probably the poorest defined role, and it definitely took WotC awhile of printing 4e stuff to start getting it right, but the idea is that Controller is the master of area effects and status conditions.  Controllers tend to have ways of creating zones of stuff, or summoning/conjuring things on the battlefield, or just shutting enemies down.  Controllers budge things with every move, but when they break out the Dailies, well, the battle isn't instantly won, but that Daily will tend to change the field for the rest of the fight.

I think roles were a good thing for clarity with the players, but I especially think they were good for the designers to keep in mind.  It made them think, "Okay, I know this class is going to have the tools available to be a valuable addition to the party in combat, I just have to figure out how."  I wish they had done something similar with non combat spheres, such as Exploration and Socialization.

Lore
There's just a lot of lore in 4e that I like.  The default Points of Light/Nentir Vale setting is mostly hinted at, and info given in bits and pieces, but it really feels like there were editors looking over it, saying, "Alright, no boring details.  Let the players fill those in, let's make sure everything on this page makes readers inspired."  And it shows.  You look in the MM, and it gets a lot of slack for not including things like No. Appearing and Ecology info, and that's true.  The MM doesn't tell you a lot about goblins eating habits or their ratio of males to females.  Instead it talks about how hobgoblins used to have an empire where goblins and bugbears were their servants, and hints that that empire's fall was at least partially from Fey interference, and how many goblins hate the fey to this day.  It talks of goblin tendencies to tame and breed creatures like drakes and wolves, and even hints that in ancient times, hobgoblins may have flat out created goblins and bugbears for their own purposes.

The World Axis cosmology is pretty great.  Every place in it is ripe for adventure, from the glimmering Feywild, to the Horror-esque Shadowfell.  

If there's one thing from 4e I wouldn't want to lose, lorewise, it's the treatment of Fey.  Fey are unpredicable, terrifying beings, even the 'good ones' can utterly screw over mere mortals for their own reasons.  These aren't the Tinkerbell, sing a little song, place dew on the flowers fairies, they're the ones from old myths that steal your baby and replace it with a changeling because you forgot to leave them an offering on the solstice.  In 4e, when you talk to the Fey, you watch your damn mouth.

Ease of DMing
 
So, this is a big one, but it pulls in parts from a lot of the other sections.  4e is a breeze to DM.  NPCs and even whole encounters are easy to create, and the guidelines for doing so(while a bit limited in scope) work pretty well.  This meant I didn't spend a lot of prep time making encounters, and had more to devote to lore and atmosphere, and trying to puzzle out various things the PCs might try to shore up the adventure as a whole.  A lot of things in 4e did that, they made the mechanically concerned parts of adventure design/session prep easy and painless, and allowed me to redirect that time and effort into other parts of the campaign.  It also meant that if the PCs went a way I didn't expect, I could whip up an encounter for them and have it running in record time(when I started including monster math sections in my notes, we're talking about going "encounter that I, as DM, completely did not expect" to "Okay, I'm ready" in under a minute).  And that encounter would be good.  It wouldn't be too easy, it wouldn't be too hard, it wouldn't be boring, it would be just what I wanted it to be.

If I want to stray from the encounter building guidelines, I can do that, because it's easy to see how things work and how the party can handle them.

Then there's the houseruling and the homebrewing.  Oooh, yes.  4e is so easy to houserule and homebrew in.  The clarity and transparency of the rules, along with, as swmabie said, "the redundancies of balance" make it so easy to see what will happen if you change things.  To use what I hope will be a decent anology, houseruling and homebrewing in AD&D was like playing Jenga(in this analogy, you are not that good at Jenga).  You can, with foresight, and with trial and error, figure out what blocks you can mess with and what will happen, but you're going to spend a lot of time picking up fallen blocks and towers to gain that knowledge.  Houseruling and homebrewing in 4e is like playing with legos.  They're easy to figure out, you can tell how the little bumps fit into the little holes, and with very little trial and error, you can build a lot of cool stuff.  

For homebrewing, if I want to make a new level 3 encounter power, I have a wide variety of balanced level 3 encounter powers to look at, to use as a guide for how strong mine should be.  I don't really have to worry about it feeding into some obscure rule or class and being wildly overpowered, because I have all these keywords and rules that I can use in my new power that make it clear how it will interact with the rest of system.

This sort of familiarity and ease takes a long time to build up with earlier editions, because things aren't so balanced and aren't so clear.  I've spent about a year DMing 4e, on and off(which is about as much 1e as I've DMed, and less 3.5 than I have DMed), and I'm confident about pretty much anything I might want to try and anything the players can throw at me.  It's a confidence at a level I never got to in previous editions.

Rituals
Rituals are a 4e invention, sort of like a second spellcasting system.  Any character that has the Ritual Casting feat(given for free to many 'casty' classes, like Cleric and Wizard) can get a ritual book and inscribe rituals into it.  Rituals are spells with long casting times(10 minutes to multiple hours) and non-neglegible component costs(well, they get neglegible for a high level character casting a low level ritual, but you get the idea).  They have heavy utility, and many spells from older editions were given in 4e as Rituals.  You can cast any ritual you have as many times as you want, provided you have the time and the components.

Rituals were good(there was room for improvement), because of a few things.  First, they made sure that magic wasn't usually the go-to choice for utility.  If you had a non-magic way to handle the obstacle, you did that first, because it would probably be cheaper and quicker.  Ritual Magic was good, but tended to get saved as a last resort, as opposed to my experiences with Vancian in previous editions, where if a caster prepped a utility spell, it was going to get used, probably at the first opportunity, because it was free and if you didn't use it that day it was wasted.

Second, it made sure that you never got that situation where the wizard or cleric threw up his hands and said, "Well, guys, I know exactly the right spell for this, but I can't cast it today, because I didn't pick it this morning!"

Third is that it was part of separating the pools for non-combat resources and combat resources.  How that works and why I find it important is a whole 'nother rant, though, so I'll abstain unless you want to hear it.
Less Random Death/More Dynamic Combat
In 4e, characters started out with more hit points(something like 20-30, usually) and they had more ways, as a party, to combat being dead.  In addition, Save or Die just isn't in 4e.  Effects that might once have been Save or Die are now usually either toned down, or allow multiple Saves.  For example, the Medusa in the MM.  If it hits you with its gaze(an attack vs Fortitude, like an old spell save but with the die in the other hand) then you're Slowed(Save ends).  If you fail the first save(which comes on your next turn), you become Immobilized(Save ends).  If you fail your second save, then you're Petrified(no save).  This both reduces the impact of sheer luck on the fight, and also tends to make these sort of situations more tense and suspenseful.  More "You know Bad Stuff is coming, quick find a way to stop it!" and less "Well, Bad Stuff is here.  Sorry bro."

Now, this isn't to say that death doesn't happen in 4e, or that characters are always safe.  Quite the opposite, I've had more characters die in 4e than I ever did in 3.5, and adjusting for time spent with the system, about the same as I did in AD&D.  The difference is that the deaths I saw in AD&D were more often the result of an unlucky roll, whether that was a damage roll(especially at low levels) or a Save or Die where you, well, Died instead of Saving.  Deaths in 4e, by contrast, are more often the result of poor planning, tactics and/or teamwork on the part of the party.  The dice still figure into it, and can wreck some havoc, but the balance is tipped in favor of how the players respond to the situation, rather than how the dice fall.

As a player, this is great for me.  I feel like I'm in much more control over whether my character lives or dies, and as such I feel a lot 'safer' putting a bunch of time and effort into a concept and backstory.

As a DM, this has been great for me, because it allows me to adjust the lethality of a given encounter to more degrees, especially at lower levels.  When you're fighting kobolds that have 1d4 daggers for damage, and you have 1d6 hp, they might as well just run up and stab you.  They're all a threat, all the time.  But in 4e, I can play my kobolds as tricky mooks right from level 1.  That same 1d4 isn't an insta-kill, but it can wear you down, so I can make encounters where a number of kobolds pop in and out of hiding spots and take potshots at the party while a central attraction, perhaps a champion or diabolical device/trap, is the main danger.  Neither the main danger or the snipers can really be safely ignored forever, so the party has to figure out how to deal with it.

This feeds into the dynamic combat angle.  Fights in 4e tend to be flashy.  People are moving around the battlefield, often pushing and pulling each other around.  Terrain tends to be a big deal.  Characters can have abilities that key off of one another, and a lot of the character's abilities bring the flavor of the class to life by encouraging and rewarding certain styles of play.  For example, my Blackguard(one of my favorite 4e classes to date) has an at-will power that hits one guy, but deals more damage to him for each enemy adjacent to my Blackguard(with a limit of like 4 guys' worth).  This power encourages me to jump right into the fray and potentially take a few hits to really lay it on one guy. 

Powers, including especially Daily and Encounter powers, were great for the melee types.  I don't personally have any problem between them and my suspension of disbelief, but as a player, they're an invaluable resource for one big reason:  they let the player decide when to go all out.  A character with all at-wills only has one level of power output, so to speak.  When the going gets tough, they, well, keep doing more or less exactly what they did when the going was easy.  But with Encounter and Daily powers, I can put the pedal to the medal and really have the mechanics back me up when I decide it's time to go all out.  It's lame if my Fighter can't put any more effort toward going toe to toe with his arch-nemesis than he can with a random orc.

Healing Surges
Okay, first, the downlow on what Surges are.  Surges can be thought of as your character's 'Hp Reserves'.  You get a number determined by your class, modified by your Constitution(also like hp).  Your Surge Value(distinct from how many you have) is 1/4 of your HP, rounded down.  Out of combat, after a short rest, you can spend as many as you like gaining your Surge Value back in hp for each one.  In combat, access to them is much more limited.  Each character can use a Second Wind once per encounter, spending a surge and regaining Surge Value in hp.  Most healing also works with surges, allowing you to spend one for your surge value plus some bonuses.  Surges are restored with an extended rest, that is, a night's sleep.

Surges have a few really nice effects on the game for me.  The first, probably the biggest, is how they interact with HP.  Like you, I see HP the way Gygax described them, a combination of luck, fate, toughness, experience and what have you.  That explanation always felt to me like it wasn't properly expressed in the rest of the game's mechanics, though.  Damage was a mix of things, but healing was always either through magic, or slow rest and recovery, as though they were wounds(but, like, a terrible model of wounds).  Healing Surges, along with Second Winds and martial healing as a whole(along with a number of other touches around 4e), make that abstraction whole.  They add the non-wound part into healing.

Second, is that they even out some oddities in healing spells.  It was always a little odd in old editions that since Cure Light Wounds healed 1d8, sometimes plus stuff, it was more healing for a peasant than it was for a knight.  But in 4e, spells(including CLW) let the target spend a surge with a bonus, and since the surge is always a quarter of your HP, the peasant and knight can benefit equally.  It also provides a nice model of the idea that healing isn't drawn from nowhere, it's mostly pulling out the reserves of the person being healed.  Surgeless healing is the "real magic" healing, and it tends to be a lot more rare(though, naturally, Clerics are best at surgeless healing).

Third, surges really help the party go without a Cleric, or even without a Leader at all.  Swmabie pointed out how this affects settings like Dark Sun(which is a great setting), and they can also make it a lot easier to run without a Cleric/Leader in other settings.  Pre-4e you could do without a Cleric, but it would tend to have big impacts on how you adventured.  You'd have to make sure you never got into too much trouble at once, and that you took a week or more off to rest between encounters.  That can be fun, but it can also throw a big wrench in a campaign idea just because no one felt like playing the Cleric.





I agree with most of what was written. I especially like the managing of ressources and how you have to think before acting during combat. A tactical mistake can easily lead to a character's demise. The easy rules are also quite conforting (and makes DMing very fluid) and I do not spend my time on the forums asking for guidance like I did in 3.5.
I played all editions of D&D and to me the 4th is by far the best of them all. A very nice evolution of the genre. That's my opinion.
I managed to bring in a whole new group of gamers with 4E, something I don't think I could have done as easily with other editions of the game.

I also love the setting. It has just the right levels of lore and exploration and open areas for me and my group.

Love the tactics, love the character options, love the miniatures, love the maps.
I love 4e. 
Usually we play Savage Worlds but when we do fantasy we play 4e.
I hate vancian spellcasting and unfortunatly I quit d&d insider because I don't want to support the
development of d&d next!
But since I own, thx to amazon ,  every 4e rulebook and have the latest errata i don't mind not having the character builder anymore :D

I don't know where you guys are getting the financial failure thing. 4e sold perfectly well and has many fans (I would almost say more than 3e fans). 4e started to go down when Essentials was released because many thought it was another WotC attempt at a X.5 edition. But before that 4e was the leader in the RPG market. And it still could be if they would have kept following their old design philosophy. 


    None of us have solid figures [or if we do, we have good reasons to lie], but what we do have says that, no, 4e did not sell "perfectly well", and sales went South fairly early.  A lot of us do argue this was from excess expectations rather than actual bad results, but even tho Essentials was not a 4.5, it was clearly a reaction to disappointing results, and its results were also disappointing.  [Sure 4e was the leader in the RPGA market, but before it had been Snow White & the 7 dwarfs.  Pathfinder was growing into a real rival before Essentials came out.]
     My own experience is personal and not that widespread, but 4e rattles arould in room that were crammed at the start of 4e in L.A. cons.  I hear that San Diego has almost completely dropped 4e.  My local group has had a large drop.  All sorts of excuses might explain all this, but the idea that 4e is a specialized taste has to be considered.
It should be considered...the lack of 4e legitimate PDF sales actually created a excuse and a need for piracy (for countries where it's not sold officially)...I can say this...4e was inmensly pirated during almost all of it's entire lifetime...it was pirated ALOT...the books were pirated before they were released on stores sometimes...but most of the piracy is not because "i don't want to pay for it", it was because they can't get it in any other way, that's probably the biggest advetnage for pathfinder...digital distribution, hence PF isn't as pirated nearly as much as 4th edition was pirated
Because it works.
Ultimately in my mind what distinguishes 4e is its pure dedication to being a good game and incorporating logical and sensible design concepts into a robust RPG. Not every detail may be the way everyone wants it to be, but the very basic concept that "we're going to make a game that plays well" is pure gold and shows in every part of 4e's design.

Not since OD&D has this been the case that the game was simply approached as a game with no baggage, and 4e is an infinitely more perfected game, obviously.

Amen to this.

It should be considered...the lack of 4e legitimate PDF sales actually created a excuse and a need for piracy (for countries where it's not sold officially)...I can say this...4e was inmensly pirated during almost all of it's entire lifetime...it was pirated ALOT...the books were pirated before they were released on stores sometimes...but most of the piracy is not because "i don't want to pay for it", it was because they can't get it in any other way, that's probably the biggest advetnage for pathfinder...digital distribution, hence PF isn't as pirated nearly as much as 4th edition was pirated



Because it works.



I'd say this is why 4E got pirated so much.  And even then it held on to top 1 selling system, with PF only overtaking it at Essentials -- likely because of how Essentials made some feel 4E was being abandoned in favor of "old school" playstyle, while the fact that marketing poisoned 4E from the start with its horrible marketing strategy of "you're doing it wrong, buy this product and do it right!" mentality offed the old guard from buying anything that even remotely resembled 4E.  And in spite of all this, #3 is still way off AFAIK.

And I do believe it was mentioned that most of the money they got to make off -- in addition to the fact that 4E probably convinced Paizo to bump up the marketing and sales pitches to eventually catch up with 4E -- would be in the DDi, even before the quality of their magazines waned, and even before they made the builder purely online.  And with people sharing DDi accounts (unsurprisingly), I sometimes get the feeling that D&D Next is being offered as an apology to the old guard, not because the 4E system was bad, but because the 4E marketing was bad.  So now with Bounded Accuracy they're probably trying to get the mathematical soundness of most of 4E (without the mistake of Expertise feats or the cries of "treadmill! treadmill! down with treadmill!" breathing down their necks), and with class design they're trying to get the soundness of AEDU power abilities A) without having to repeat Mike Mearls' "mistake" of having everyone use the AEDU design, and B) while allowing both class balance and classic system mechanics.  Even if some of the class imbalances were caused by classic system mechanics.

Although that sort of baffles me since a variety of TRPGs like Stormbringer and Ars Magica make changes to their system mechanics all the time (sometimes completely changing combat mechanics wholesale) each time they change up editions, although what I think is often overlooked is that it's probably more often that A) changes that invalidate character concepts when transitioned between editions, and B) changes to the lore of popular campaigns that are deemed too shocking, are what actually harms edition changes.

Then again, compared to build concepts (wherein taking options A, B, C to Z [wherein each option may be a (multi)class, feat or spell] constitutes a character), character concepts (wherein you can change any and all mechanics and it'll still play as that character) are rarities indeed in D&D.
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57047238 wrote:
If you're crossing the street and see a city bus barreling straight toward you with 'GIVE ME YOUR WALLET!' painted across its windshield, you probably won't be reaching for your wallet.
I Don't Always Play Strikers...But When I Do, I Prefer Vampire Stay Thirsty, My Friends
This is what I believe is the spirit of D&D 4E, and my deal breaker for D&D Next: equal opportunities, with distinct specializations, in areas where conflict happens the most often, without having to worry about heavy micromanagement or system mastery. What I hope to be my most useful contributions to the D&D Community: DM Idea: Collaborative Mapping, Classless 4E (homebrew system, that hopefully helps in D&D Next development), Gamma World 7E random character generator (by yours truly), and the Concept of Perfect Imbalance (for D&D Next and other TRPGs in development) Pre-3E D&D should be recognized for what they were: simulation wargames where people could tell stories with The Best Answer to "Why 4E?" Fun vs. Engaging
I dunno, I kind of think 4e has actually INCREASED in popularity lately. WotC stirred up interest a bit again but didn't really give out anything people can slake it with (DDN at present isn't really a usable game except for one-shots/playtesting).

I think Essentials was the horribly wrong reaction of WotC. They had this stupidly optimistic business plan and they messed up in a number of ways, then they lost faith in the product instead of doubling down on it. Instead of squandering all their design talent on board games, and then Essentials, they should have had them writing GOOD adventures and producing a fully realized setting. All that other stuff was a distraction. A lot of the "cram out yet another supplement" thing they did for the first year or two was a little unwise as well. They managed to do 3 decent setting launches, but at the same time left all of those hanging with 1 adventure each too. It just wasn't enough, and the one set of modules they did release was horrible, then followed with a delve book (big wow) and that Giants thing, which was pretty mediocre too.

And yeah, ditching PDF sales was moronic. I'm not convinced WotC YET is fit to be a game publisher. They just seem INEPT and they certainly don't seem to get the best creative use of their people either. Paizo uses the same people pretty much and the writing on their products is generally way better, the art is mostly better, etc. WotC can do game design OK, but they're way too buttoned down to be doing fantasy RPGs. They need to either stop playing Brand Management: The Game(TM) or just quit and do board games.
That is not dead which may eternal lie
I dunno, I kind of think 4e has actually INCREASED in popularity lately. WotC stirred up interest a bit again but didn't really give out anything people can slake it with (DDN at present isn't really a usable game except for one-shots/playtesting).

I think Essentials was the horribly wrong reaction of WotC. They had this stupidly optimistic business plan and they messed up in a number of ways, then they lost faith in the product instead of doubling down on it. Instead of squandering all their design talent on board games, and then Essentials, they should have had them writing GOOD adventures and producing a fully realized setting. All that other stuff was a distraction. A lot of the "cram out yet another supplement" thing they did for the first year or two was a little unwise as well. They managed to do 3 decent setting launches, but at the same time left all of those hanging with 1 adventure each too. It just wasn't enough, and the one set of modules they did release was horrible, then followed with a delve book (big wow) and that Giants thing, which was pretty mediocre too.

And yeah, ditching PDF sales was moronic. I'm not convinced WotC YET is fit to be a game publisher. They just seem INEPT and they certainly don't seem to get the best creative use of their people either. Paizo uses the same people pretty much and the writing on their products is generally way better, the art is mostly better, etc. WotC can do game design OK, but they're way too buttoned down to be doing fantasy RPGs. They need to either stop playing Brand Management: The Game(TM) or just quit and do board games.



Yes, several questionable business decisions have been made:
a) No official pdf material availalble: pretty much like asking for piracy
b) Poor support for campaign settings, both in terms of quantity and quality of material (the majority of 4E official adventures are shocking - we ended up adapting 3.x ones or making our own up) 
c) Essentials was promoted in a very confusing way, none understood what it was (and probably it wasn't clear on the WotC side to begin with). Eventually it didn't bring back anyone while it managed to piss off part of the 4E community
d) The move to 'online only' tools (of lower quality than the client-based ones) didn't go down well with DDI customers (unsurprisingly)
e) No official Apps whatesover avaialbe (a potential source of revenues and opportunity to promote the brand missed)
f) Almost no 3rd party products using the sytem, which would have broadened the potential audience for it (thanks to the move from OGL to GSL, which put off pretty much any company who wanted to give 4E a shot) 

All things considering it is almost a miracle it made it this far.

I dunno, I kind of think 4e has actually INCREASED in popularity lately. WotC stirred up interest a bit again but didn't really give out anything people can slake it with (DDN at present isn't really a usable game except for one-shots/playtesting).

I think Essentials was the horribly wrong reaction of WotC. They had this stupidly optimistic business plan and they messed up in a number of ways, then they lost faith in the product instead of doubling down on it. Instead of squandering all their design talent on board games, and then Essentials, they should have had them writing GOOD adventures and producing a fully realized setting. All that other stuff was a distraction. A lot of the "cram out yet another supplement" thing they did for the first year or two was a little unwise as well. They managed to do 3 decent setting launches, but at the same time left all of those hanging with 1 adventure each too. It just wasn't enough, and the one set of modules they did release was horrible, then followed with a delve book (big wow) and that Giants thing, which was pretty mediocre too.

And yeah, ditching PDF sales was moronic. I'm not convinced WotC YET is fit to be a game publisher. They just seem INEPT and they certainly don't seem to get the best creative use of their people either. Paizo uses the same people pretty much and the writing on their products is generally way better, the art is mostly better, etc. WotC can do game design OK, but they're way too buttoned down to be doing fantasy RPGs. They need to either stop playing Brand Management: The Game(TM) or just quit and do board games.



Yes, several questionable business decisions have been made:
a) No official pdf material availalble: pretty much like asking for piracy
b) Poor support for campaign settings, both in terms of quantity and quality of material (the majority of 4E official adventures are shocking - we ended up adapting 3.x ones or making our own up) 
c) Essentials was promoted in a very confusing way, none understood what it was (and probably it wasn't clear on the WotC side to begin with). Eventually it didn't bring back anyone while it managed to piss off part of the 4E community
d) The move to 'online only' tools (of lower quality than the client-based ones) didn't go down well with DDI customers (unsurprisingly)
e) No official Apps whatesover avaialbe (a potential source of revenues and opportunity to promote the brand missed)
f) Almost no 3rd party products using the sytem, which would have broadened the potential audience for it (thanks to the move from OGL to GSL, which put off pretty much any company who wanted to give 4E a shot) 

All things considering it is almost a miracle it made it this far.


I think the whole Essentials thing was the nail in the coffin. Not that I think Essentials stuff is bad at all, just that it doesn't really contribute positively to the product. People are confused about what books to buy. The material is redundant with the core books, which was a waste of effort and focus. I feel rather like WotC has failed to live up to being in charge of the game at this point. I wasn't that impressed with 3e to start with, it just seems like for every one good thing WotC does they manage to do 5 bad/questionable things. I just don't get it.
That is not dead which may eternal lie
Many reasons.   Most of which have already been stated by other posters.

Having played all versions, I'd say the most important factor for me is that every class gets cool stuff to do.   I have fond memories of earlier editions, but I never want to go back to a game where the cleric was little more than a walking medicine cabinet who acts pious, and the wizard is either gimped or overpowered, depending on his level.    I think it's great that fighters, originally the most vanilla of classes, get interesting abilities.
  I think it's fantastic that everyone can heal themselves.   Despite what some detractors say, it's a much more realistic approach to healing, as long as one gets on board with the fact that hit points represent the ability to continue, and not just gouges and broken bones.

When I tried the D&DNext playtest and I saw a cleric with a cure light wounds spell that healed 1d8, that alone pretty much closed the door on 5e for me.   I never want to go back to that.

My only real complaint about 4e is that there is waaaaay too much damn tracking.  If I could only get rid of every power that "lasts until the end of your next turn."


My only real complaint about 4e is that there is waaaaay too much damn tracking.  If I could only get rid of every power that "lasts until the end of your next turn."

While I doubt there's going to be official help on that, I do have a few suggestions you might want to consider as houserules:


  • end of your next turn effects become "start of your next turn" instead

  • lower the number of conditions in the game and simplify them.  Suggestions:


    • Make daze = -2 to attack rolls + combat advantage instead.

    • Modify mark to be daze if creature marked attacks any creature other than the creature that marked it.

    • Merge stun, surprised and petrify.  Stun = cannot take actions + combat advantage.  Permanent petrify = permanent stun + gains stone-like qualities.

    • Merge restrained and immobilize, make immobilized = can't take actions involving movement (typically move actions)

    • Merge deafened and blinded, make compromised senses = -10 to Perception checks + daze if temporary, cannot make Perception checks (with associated sensory organ) if permanent.

    • Have all types of ongoing damage stack up, but removable with one save instead of separately saving against each.


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57047238 wrote:
If you're crossing the street and see a city bus barreling straight toward you with 'GIVE ME YOUR WALLET!' painted across its windshield, you probably won't be reaching for your wallet.
I Don't Always Play Strikers...But When I Do, I Prefer Vampire Stay Thirsty, My Friends
This is what I believe is the spirit of D&D 4E, and my deal breaker for D&D Next: equal opportunities, with distinct specializations, in areas where conflict happens the most often, without having to worry about heavy micromanagement or system mastery. What I hope to be my most useful contributions to the D&D Community: DM Idea: Collaborative Mapping, Classless 4E (homebrew system, that hopefully helps in D&D Next development), Gamma World 7E random character generator (by yours truly), and the Concept of Perfect Imbalance (for D&D Next and other TRPGs in development) Pre-3E D&D should be recognized for what they were: simulation wargames where people could tell stories with The Best Answer to "Why 4E?" Fun vs. Engaging
Love this topic and discussion.


4th combat takes too long for a roleplaying game. That said I love the tactical options and strategies offered by 4th and the fact that every class is relevant at every level.


WoTC should adapt the rules to a tabletop skirmish game.


The 4th rules lend themselves perfectly to the boardgames WoTC published.


But our group is going back to 3.5 with houserules for our roleplaying games. We just can't spend 2-3 hours on an encounter.  
Because we are in the middle of a campaign. Also I love much of the 4e mechanics. I have fun with the system, just like I had fun with 2nd and 3.5, the system and crunch isn`t all too important to me.. We have not yet had the problem that combat takes too long, monsters don`t always fight to their death, and I use a lot of minions. What I don`t love about the system is how big the character sheat is and that the number magic items you are supposed to have are built into leveling, that makes it feel very meta to me, if not done right..
What I don`t love about the system is...that the number magic items you are supposed to have are built into leveling, that makes it feel very meta to me, if not done right..



try inherent bonuses from dark sun or the alternative awards ideas from the dmg2, they will change your game for the better. then you dont have to give out items or a set amount of money on a schedule.

also this:

monsters [don't] always fight to their death



is so true. many people that talk about long encounters fight every single one to the death. personally i use a morale system; i highly recommend it.

frothsof4e.blogspot.com/2012/04/morale-i...




I found that while combats take longer, DM's also make fewer combats in an adventure, but make them more important/memorable. Alot of pre-4e experience felt more like Diablo (not making a D&D = video game jab, i just mean mowing down hordes of mobs over and aover) with more RPing, whereas 4e feels more like a movie or comic book, or actual story.

I don't like 4e's magic system at all, and now fully embrace inherent enhancement.    
I found that while combats take longer, DM's also make fewer combats in an adventure, but make them more important/memorable.   



This.  No random wandering encounters that exist just to wear down your resources.  Encounters that are actually important, big, plot-relevant set-pieces.
Another day, another three or four entries to my Ignore List.
What I don`t love about the system is...that the number magic items you are supposed to have are built into leveling, that makes it feel very meta to me, if not done right..



try inherent bonuses from dark sun or the alternative awards ideas from the dmg2, they will change your game for the better. then you dont have to give out items or a set amount of money on a schedule.

also this:

monsters [don't] always fight to their death



is so true. many people that talk about long encounters fight every single one to the death. personally i use a morale system; i highly recommend it.

frothsof4e.blogspot.com/2012/04/morale-i...



=V my players don't like enemies not fighting to the end...it get them pissed off...I don't have a morality system, i just RP the enemies decisions, some would fight to the end, but others won't based on their personality, also depending on the enemy, i will play them alot more tactical and smarter in combat, playing like a real tactical master the enemies really make a simple encounter really challenging =P
I'd like to think that Inherent Bonuses isn't even that necessary; just throw lower-leveled monsters to compensate (since you're not following the default assumption of giving all characters magic items).  After all, a level 21 Fighter who, armed with nothing more with a pair of spiked gauntlets[1] will be hitting level 16 opponents 55% of the time assuming 24 STR, although the defenses is still low enough to keep them as a relevant threat[2].  With an EXP budget of 12,800 EXP (assuming 4 PCs), that's easily 9 opponents that the PCs can reasonably face even in the absence of magical weapons, expertise feats and armor (as opposed to 4 opponents that the PCs can't fight well without magical equipment and other stat-boosting stuff).

The main problem with this would be that the PCs would have to plow through more HP than same-level opponents[3], but players can compensate by taking either more anti-group abilities or powers with higher [W] and damage dice (since that'll be the main source of damage instead of static bonuses).  After all, by giving the Fighter a maul instead of spiked gauntlets, that's 4d6+6 (20 average) with his basic attacks, and with some of his powers likely doing 4[W] damage or more, that's easily 8d6+6 (34 average).  In addition, even though individually the monsters aren't that much of a threat[4], if you utilize the standard EXP budget for level 21 that'd mean the PCs are much more threatened by level 16s without equipment, as opposed to level 21s with equipment[5].

Which seems... pretty alright actually.

[1] +20 to hit, 2d6+6 damage (13 average), assuming purely mundane campaign
[2] +21 vs. 27 AC assuming mundane scale armor only
[3] 9 standard lvl 16 enemies with 184 HP (1656 combined HP), versus 4 standard level 21 enemies with 270 HP (1080 combined HP)
[4] level 16 monster does 3d8+11 damage (24.5 average) vs. level 21 monster doing 4d6+15 damage (29 average)
[5] 9 standard lvl 16 enemies would likely dish out 220.5 dpr combined, while 4 standard lvl 21 enemies would likely dish out 116 dpr combined 
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57047238 wrote:
If you're crossing the street and see a city bus barreling straight toward you with 'GIVE ME YOUR WALLET!' painted across its windshield, you probably won't be reaching for your wallet.
I Don't Always Play Strikers...But When I Do, I Prefer Vampire Stay Thirsty, My Friends
This is what I believe is the spirit of D&D 4E, and my deal breaker for D&D Next: equal opportunities, with distinct specializations, in areas where conflict happens the most often, without having to worry about heavy micromanagement or system mastery. What I hope to be my most useful contributions to the D&D Community: DM Idea: Collaborative Mapping, Classless 4E (homebrew system, that hopefully helps in D&D Next development), Gamma World 7E random character generator (by yours truly), and the Concept of Perfect Imbalance (for D&D Next and other TRPGs in development) Pre-3E D&D should be recognized for what they were: simulation wargames where people could tell stories with The Best Answer to "Why 4E?" Fun vs. Engaging
Or just skip all that, and reduce monsters' attacks and defenses by 1 per 5 levels.

You'd miss the crit dice, but that's no biggie. 
Seriously, though, you should check out the PbP Haven. You might also like Real Adventures, IF you're cool.
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