Saturday, August 20, 2016

RPG a Day - Day 20

Today's topic: What is the most challenging, but rewarding, system you've learned?

This answer might strike folks as strange, but I'd say 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons.

This game (which I'll abbreviate as 4E) was controversial when it was released. Its predecesor, third edition (3.5E,) was tremendously popular, but it had accrued a great deal of cruft in the form of splat books. When 4E came along, it turned a great number of the mechanics that had been endlessly reiterated in 3.5E and turned them on their heads. It's probably too much to recount the differences here, but suffice it to say that many of the features players considered "core" to the D&D experience, such as Vancian magic, were exchanged for new systems.

For some people, the new system was fundamentally broken. It simply wasn't something they could enjoy, and they'd stick with 3.5E thank you very much. For others, it could have been a reasonably fun game if it just didn't have the D&D label on it. Regardless of who you asked, it was a substantially different experience from 3.5E.

The Challenge

Coming in to run the game for the first time, I had a number of hurdles to overcome. This included, but wasn't limited to:

  • Pacing the game against player resources, such as healing surges and powers
  • Understanding the role of combat in a session, and how to pace it appropriately
  • Properly utilizing the Skill Challenge system
  • Motivating players to use Rituals effectively
  • Rewarding players without trivializing the challenges
I could go on. The point is that there was a new mindset needed, and a lot of things to consider, when running this system. It couldn't be run in the same fashion as a 3.5E game. There were many elements "out of the box" that needed tinkering to get the most mileage out of them. It came with a lot of trial and error. 

The Reward

I shouldn't have to explain this one too deeply. I've written quite a bit about the 4E campaign I ran for my group. It was one of the longest games I've run, it ended after about 15 sessions, and everyone seemed to enjoy it throughout. I had lots of player investment in the setting, there was good roleplaying throughout, and the ending was satisfying all around.

Now that 5th Edition has been released, a lot of people have moved on from 4E. I don't blame anyone, but I consider it a game I'd return to again. I learned how to get the most of the system when I ran it, and I think it can be a fun system to play again and again. 

Except for Grappling Rules. Those are never rewarding. Comic by Shamus Young.

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