I am really trying hard to remain optimistic about the 4e version, and I have pre-purchased the books so I will be able to start digging into the game play with a vengeance in about a month (or exactly a month depending on how long it takes me to type this comment...)
More and more I am coming to the conclusion that the game designers had a mandate to "do something about" the broken parts of the game, and from what I've seen, one of the things they considered "broken" was the discrepancy between spell users and non-spell users when it comes to game-changing powers.
In 3.5e (and all previous versions that I've played) there has been a qualitative
as well as a quantitative
difference between spell casters and non spell casters. The most obvious example of this is that non spell casters typically had a few reasonably powerful options that never ran out. They could swing their +4 sword or shoot their +2 bow essentially forever. This gave them a moderate power output that was predictable and reliable. The spell casters were diametrically opposed. They typically had a huge selection of powerful options to choose from, but a very limited number of "slots" to put them in. Their abilities were vastly more powerful than the non spell caster's options, but they were also much less reliable, much less predictable, and they ran out quickly. Even so some of the spells that did exist were so off-the-scale that when they worked, they essentially broke the game.
The "solution" to this dilemma that the 4e designers came up with was to give everyone BOTH types of attacks. Wizards and clerics get the same number of at-will, encounter and daily abilities as the fighter does, and they are more or less equally powerful. Now spell casters have exactly that reliable, predictable and unlimited power that they lacked, and fighters have now gained a limited number of game-changing powers of their own. That's been the holy grail of the game designers, perhaps best summarized as "leave no role behind."
I understand this, I understand why they did this and I understand more and more each day HOW they did this.
And it is possible that when it comes to playing the game, I will be OK with it.
But right now it feels
wrong. The 4e approach of making everyone the same is no doubt much better balanced, and much easier to keep track of (some of my higher level wizards had over a hundred spells to choose from each morning...), but does it make sense
from a historic, traditional or fantasy perspective?
This whole idea of "daily powers" that a wizard chooses being restricted to four powers at level 20 just seems to be completely at odds with the whole concept of what a wizard is and does. Similarly the ability for a level 20 fighter to somehow once per day do something really cool with his sword is just as bizarre as the wizard basically only being able to know four big-time spells. When you back up and look at the design from 20,000 feet it sure looks like the "solution" to the 3.5e situation ends up with significantly enhancing the non spell casters; abilities, while at the same time vastly reducing the spell casters' abilities.
So to play 4e as a wizard, I have to accept that no matter how much study a wizard may undertake, he will be limited to a very restrictive number of game-changing spells that he can cast only once per encounter, or even worse once per day.
Again, I understand this as a game mechanic, but I am having a very hard time seeing this as a believable model for MAGIC itself. It makes sense from the perspective of defining and balancing arbitrary roles
that the game designers felt were necessary, but it doesn't really seem to make sense from any other perspective.
What is funny about this is that I can just see me having a conversation with the game designers about this going something like this:
Me: "See, the thing is, you've pretty much nerfed the wizard, and cleric by taking all the unique and powerful things that MADE them wizards and clerics, cutting it down by an order of magnitude (or more) and turning what little you left to them into just another combat tactic."
Game Designers: "Yep! Isn't it great?"
Me: "Well, no, not really. Actually not at all. See, what very, very little you have left for them to do, you also gave to the non spell casters too. So there's really no difference now in being a wizard and being a ranger. They do the same basic things, the only difference is how the things are described."
GD: "Youve GOT IT! Isn't it great?"
Me: "NO! It's not great. Now what you've got is not wizards, clerics, fighters and rogues, what you've got is a bunch of people with more or less identical capabilities whose only difference now is the role
you have pushed them into. A spell-casting "striker" is not significantly different than a non spell-casting "striker". They both have more or less the same capabilities, they just use different words to describe how it happens."
GD: "That was our master stroke, right there. That solved all the game balance problems, stopped the arbitrary ability to create god-like characters and allowed us to control the balance of the game completely."
Me: "But it means that everyone is the same, the only difference is their position in combat and their flavor text. Your 'wizard' is not a 'wizard' by any description I've ever heard of. He's just a guy who does area of effect damage at a distance."
And on and on...
I'm sure I'm not getting it. That there are compelling reasons to play a wizard still.
See, I LIKED poring over my spellbook. That made me feel like a wizard. "Let's see, what spells do I want today... One from column A, two from column B..." That image of the studious wizard in the corner of the cave poring over his carefully tended spell book, while the cleric sat nearby communing with his deity to gather his powers for the day, that made sense
to me. It felt like
a fantasy setting.
The more I learn about 4e, the more concerned I am that all of that will be lost, sacrificed to the altar of "game balance".
One more month, and I'll know if these concerns are valid or not. But right now I am very concerned about the game turning into interchangeable game pieces with a lot of flowery text paper-clipped to them, but their actual function in the game is limited to a very few things that are more or less identical whether they are spells, prayers or exploits. At root, I am afraid that the designers were so successful at balancing the game, that they made everyone exactly the same, except for that paper-clipped text that nobody really wants to read.
Sigh, shouldn't do these posts so late at night...