Sunday, August 21, 2011

Old School 4th Edition: Pros & Cons


So I think I'm going to make this sort of thing a constant feature for this blog. One of my main focuses with Dungeons & Donuts is to make the current edition of D&D as easy to play and get into as possible. Type IV D&D has a lot of strengths as a game 'mechanic system', as well as a number of weaknesses when compared to previous iterations and other games.

Here's a list of pros and cons for Type IV as an RPG game system and as a 'Dungeons & Dragons' game:

Pros:

1) Combat works really well
-Combat is sort of fourth edition's biggest draw. Being the first version of D&D to rely on miniatures exclusively, it presents combat as being flashy and larger than life, while still working almost perfectly on a mechanics level.
2) Powers make every race/class unique and interesting to play
-Time was that nobody wanted to play a cleric, because all they did was heal. In 4e, cleric is my favourite class. It combines on the spot healing with a variety of attacks. Almost every class has a unique feel to its abilities. Never are you stuck in a stiuation where all you can do is 'hit with sword' over and over.

3) Roleplaying is mechanized
-Some will view this as a flaw, but for new players who don't really care about 'roleplaying', 4e is great. Skill challenges, rituals, and a wide variety of concrete player options basically take the place of 'having to think of a way to solve a problem using real world dynamics'. Now, you can solve almost any problem with a few dice rolls. Also, rather than come up with a backstory or history for your character, player options like class, race, theme, paragon path, etc, provide all that 'flavour text' for you.

4) Every rule works
-4e is a solid system, with almost no grey areas in terms of descriptions of spell effects or types of attacks. Gone are the days of arguing over the meaning of a rule or effect. The rules and mechanics of the game are very concrete and precise, with almost no room for error or misinterpretation.

Cons:

1) Lack of immersion
-Because 4e is so combat heavy and focused on encounters rather than moment to moment play, it can be difficult for people to really 'get into a game'. Outside the box thinking isn't emphasized or focused on, making the game feel more like a glorified combat simulator or an older RPG video game. This is the one version of the game where the worlds presented actually have 'invisible walls' to what players can and can't do.

2) Too complicated
-This edition relies heavily on its digital counterpart, D&D Insider. Without this online tool, character creation takes forever and is an absolute clustercuss, as well as playing without miniatures. It feels very much like playing an analog version of a video game, and as such, has a specific 'right/wrong' approach to how it plays out. All of its effects, powers, bonuses, additions, and buffs become a jumbled mess. It seems to have more in common with something like WotC's Magic: The Gathering because of all of its rules and specific rule exemptions.

3) Too easy
-Old school D&D fans will tell horror stories about how easily one could be killed in old D&D games. Not so in 4e. Characters are extremely overpowered, growing exponentially more powerful as they gain levels. For some, this is perfect. It allows them to engage in a superhero-like power fantasy. But to many, this isn't what D&D is all about. Some might balk at the idea of welcoming character death, but the bottom line is that if a PC never feels threatened or afraid of the unknown, the game becomes stagnant and boring.

4) Exploration, Discovery, Improvisation are all gone.
-Again, the game's real draw is combat. Anything else is a secondary activity. The game allows for characters to do interesting things (light enemies on fire with oil, use their environment to their advantage) but it works contrary to what the rules specify. It has become the exception instead of the rule. This was a fundamental part of old D&D, and its a shame that it sort of falls by the wayside with 4e.

So, with all of these in mind, I've been trying to come up with a good mixture of old school and new school; a series of rules hacks and house rules to combine the best of both worlds. I know other gaming blogs have covered this topic before, but what I'm proposing is something a little more...drastic.

I'd like to take Basic D&D (ie, from the original Red Box) and tweak it to make it more palatable to an audience used to Type IV D&D.

All of the old school mystery and danger of the original game mixed with the grid-structure and style of 4e combat. A game that focusses on roleplaying and creative problem solving, but allows for the use of 'powers' and 'second winds' and 'combat advantages'. A game that plays like fourth edition, but feels and looks like Basic D&D.

I want to have my cake and eat it too.

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