Monday, October 06, 2008

4th Edition

I've been struggling on topics to write about lately. Politics are just leaving me too melancholy as of late. Science is bogging me down in pretty much every other waking moment of my life, so I'd prefer some escape from that at the moment. I haven't felt very insightful lately when it comes to theology or philosophy. I'm just a bit too strapped for cash at the moment to be writing about video games (well, new ones at least).

Then I remembered that Dungeons and Dragons was something of a popular topic previously. That's something I can write about, right? And if I can write about it without driving away 90% of my audience, all the better!

The topic up for grabs here is the 4th edition of D&D. If you're not familiar, Wizards of the Coast released the fourth edition of this classic game several months ago. Also, if you're not familiar, I'm going to suggest you go read up on the topic, because the rest of this post won't make much sense to people who haven't played it before. I'll try to fill in the blanks, but I can only do so much with a single blog post.

Before 4th ed. was released, I'd only played 3.5. What can I say, I've only been at this for a year or so. I thought I'd mainly compare my thoughts on the new edition to its most recent predecessor.

As far as combat-powers and abilities go, I really like where 4th ed. is. In 3.5, spellcasters could only cast a limited number of spells each day before they were spent. Martial characters didn't have this problem, but they suffered from a distinct lack of options. They generally would walk up, hit the monster, wait for their turn to whack it again, and repeat ad nauseum until it stopped moving. As time went on, this started to pale in comparison to the reality altering hijinks of wizards and clerics.

The new edition seems to get around this by offering all characters something to do each round. Powers are now divided into At-will (which have unlimited usage), Encounter (which can be used once each fight), and Daily (which can be used once a day). Martial classes and spellcasters have these alike, and each one does something different but at comparable power levels. With the power gap closed, it's useful to have fighters and rogues in the party, and clerics and wizards don't steal all the thunder. In fact, I've been playing a cleric in my current 4th ed game, and my main contributions to combat are healing.

All in all, I like where the system went. Characters have various options at their disposal and each class has a specific and useful role to play.

Non-combat situations, on the other hand, have suffered slightly. All those spells that casters used to have access to which could be used outside of combat are now gone. They've been replaced by rituals, but rituals are burdensome and expensive, useful only in critical or non-spontaneous situations. When they take 10 minutes (in game) to cast, you can't just pull them out of your hat, so to speak.

In addition, the skill list has been cut down dramatically. While this is useful in simplifying what used to be a complicated and intimidating arrangement, it leaves a lot of people unsure of how to apply their various skills, and I've found it also makes players reluctant to use them as well.

Perhaps saying that the rules here "suffered" is overstating it a bit. It may just take time for players familiar with the 3.5 system to adjust to the new metagame. Still, there was far greater versatility in non-combat approaches to the world in 3.5 than is apparent in 4th ed (so far).

Over all, I like 4th ed. If I ever get the chance, or even have the time, to run a D&D game again, I'm not sure whether I would choose 4th ed or 3.5 for the system. Both are fun and enjoyable, and both have their advantages and disadvantages. Then again, the way grad school is progressing, I may not have to worry about it for several years.

Oh well. At least I still get to play.

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