Thursday, September 8, 2011

A question of style

I am currently involved in two DnD games, one of which is using 4th edition and which is an endless series of challenging yet balanced encounters that we defeat by playing nearly optimally with nearly optimally designed characters.  We fight mostly groups of 4-6 enemies in well defined dungeon areas and after we lose the expected number of healing surges and daily powers we move onto the next fight with nothing more than "Obviously we loot the room, is there any stuff?"  The other group playing Pathfinder is quite the contrast because it involves long sections of roleplaying and decision making which lead to all kinds of strange plans like "Let's go visit the Frozen Sea to the far north and see what is there!" rather than just one more fight.  The fights are random and the monsters we face are not neatly organized into appropriate encounters but rather just given an XP value and the DM has to guesstimate what we can beat and what will destroy us.

Clearly the first style caters much more to the mechanics player who wants combat and constant tactical challenges.  4th edition is great for that because the powers and enemies are drastically more predictable and balanced than in Pathfinder.  Of course 4th is still heinously unbalanced in many ways but it is worlds ahead of the older versions.  Pathfinder also has all kinds of rules for crafting things, making poisons, earning money as a blacksmith and loads of other random stuff that gives mechanics for things that are primarily about roleplaying rather than maximizing combat efficacy.  Pathfinder feels more realistic to me in that it is wild and messy and unpredictable - just like I would expect a fantasy world to actually be!  4th is a much better tactical game but I think it does not support the fantasy milieu as effectively.

I enjoy both tactical games and roleplaying so being in these two games works really well for me but I wonder how much the change in focus from 3rd to 4th edition changed the way other people play the game.  Did lots of people start playing more hack and slash dungeoneering because the game shifted to focus more on that style?


  1. The impression I got from reading forums (both when 4th had recently come out and again while making a character for our current campaign) is that people who didn't want to play more hack & slash simply didn't move on to 4th. They kept playing 3 or 3.5 or whatever it was their old group used.

  2. I think that 4E actually allows a lot more people to play. With 4E they can run events like D&D Encounters (local game stores run single encounters on Wednesday nights for all comers) that logistically wouldn't work in 3.5 (someone will show up with an indestructible character who does 15 times the damage of the bard). They get a more casual crowd, as well as people who fondly remember playing D&D but haven't been able to for many years.

    The really odd thing is that I think 4E is actually a much better facilitator of roleplaying than 3.5. If someone wants to do something weird and the DM thinks a die roll would be appropriate to see if they can pull it off, 4E facilitates that process much better than pretty much any other system I've seen. The combat system is just so slick, though, that the other merits of the game get a little buried under it.

  3. I certainly agree that if you are looking to do any sort of pickup play then 4th edition is vastly superior. There is a much smaller power delta between the 'good' characters and the 'perfect' characters in 4th that it makes things very reasonable. As long as you maximize your main stat you can't go too far wrong, whereas in 3.5 with all the silly prestige classes and crazy items you can certainly make invincible characters like

    Level 8 Sorcerer
    Level 1 Paladin
    Polymorphed into a Stone Giant
    Using a shield with a +4 competence ?!? bonus to Cha
    Improved Trip

    This character was an unbelievable physical killing machine and had saves high enough to make any check on a 2. Plus you can randomly chuck around fireballs if you feel the need! Nothing in 4th edition compares to that kind of twinkiness.