Friday, April 1, 2011

A Brief Essay On The Sad State Of Wizards Of The Coast

Coming very soon to this blog is a brand new series of articles. I Want My Familiarity Back! is designed to bring the wonder and old-school feel of Vancian magic into 4th Edition, and will present the new class - the Caster - and convert every single wizard/sorcerer spell from 3E. The first article will introduce the series and present the Mage itself, and the many subsequent articles will delve into the spells themselves, paragon paths, named Mages of lore (mostly my old PCs), and so much more.

I'm pretty much throwing the 4E design ethos out of the window on this one. The spells will have their old school mix of offense, defense, utility and more; effects will be varied and interesting rather than "do some damage and apply a condition (save ends)", save-or-dies will be back to bring a swift and dramatic end to encounters in less than a round, the old schools of magic and specialization are back (although slightly different), and the spell names will be colorful and evocative - think Strahd von Zarovich Touches You In A Naughty Place, Sir Brian Consumptington's Gentlemanly Witticism, and Imix's Logically Inconsistent Grognard Rage rather than vampiric touch, charm person, and fireball.

Why am I doing this, you ask?

Because 4E is dying the slow death it deserves.

There's hardly been an original article or adventure in Dragon/Dungeon that hasn't been a preview in the last several months. (This might not be true; however, it feels that way and adventure support is certainly well down.)

This is beyond pathetic.

There are good things coming out of Wizards, but the U-turn they made on their release strategy, which has left its established customers with no products to buy for months now, hints at massive trouble within the company. I'm wondering now how much of it is due to Bill Slavicsek.

The release of D&D Essentials presaged a massive change at the company as to how it dealt with D&D. It's far more compatible with 4E than the 3.5e revision, but it did add in a few interesting wrinkles to the system, especially with the new rarity system for magic items. Unfortunately, no sooner had it been released than the Powers That Be at Wizards changed their mind again about the future direction of D&D. Just after spending a lot of time and money working out a new direction for D&D (Essentials), they changed their mind.

This actually derailed the integration of Essentials into 4e, particularly with the loss of Heroes of Sword and Spell and (more significant from my point of view) Mordenkainen's Magical Emporium. More significant? Yes, because I would have expected it to give lots of common and rare items, which we're currently missing in the system. The new magic item system in Essentials? Doesn't work without the information from this book. I'm also a DM, so player options don't mean as much to me.

I really feel that support for D&D 4E is currently stuck in limbo, and despite good design work, there's a lot of other departments at Wizards not pulling their weight.

Personally, I'm glad I haven't played 4.0. I hear it is more accessible than 3.x (and doesn't have the problem of 3rd-party supplements) but I'm still not interested in having to plan out my character in advance, or having to optimise my character.

I don't mind any of these things in other games. I just don't want them in D&D. The only choices I want to see there are about what is going on in the game, not on the character sheet.

Mind, I have no issue with character sheets. It was the nature of choices I had issue with. I want my decisions to be about what is going on in the game - do we trust the kobolds? how do we get through the secret door? Is that treasure worth the risk - rather than what happens at level up - do I spend that point on dodge or listen? what feat do I need to take to get improved disarm? is quickdraw worth taking?

I can't get that from 4e.

Thus, the only story games I can wholeheartedly recommend are ones which attempt to capture the pure RANDOMNESS of reality. It is perfectly acceptable as a DM to have a bunch of random, shocking, absurd and frequently violent events take place at your gaming table without any rhyme or reason constrained by 'story'! This is how DMs have always done it!

Why is this so hard to get across?

I mean, If I want to play a good game, I've got plenty on my shelf, from traditional style crunchfests, to the latest indie darlings.

But if I want to play D&D (not just play an RPG where I can dungeoncrawl, but actually play with the aim of playing D&D), then AD&D, AD&D 2nd, D&aD 3.0, D&D 3.5 and 4e do not fit my play style preferences.

4E in particular sucks dick for basically destroying RPGs and remanufacturing them as copies of MMOs.

In fact, the 4E designers themselves stated that 4E mechanics were built to better interface with video game design.

If you like WoW on pen and paper, you have 4e. Timed actions, If/then actions, very one sided characters in regards of what you can do, the 4e is for you.

Heck even Chris Perkins (D&D Line manager) admitted that 4E was an attempt to compete with computer games, as a way to attract WoW-kids. Problem is RPG’s can’t compete, heck they shouldn’t even try.

Yes there are some things that the edition got right like rituals, but OVERALL, the FEEL, yes FEEL, (not a specific rule, the FEEL) is that of a video game transported to a table top RPG. And that's fine if it's what you want, I don't.

I like video games, but I can play those, by myself, anytime. When I get together with my friend to play an RPG, I want there to be a difference - no wire-fu moves, no outrageous amounts of required magic items, no 3 million GP requirements for treasure (Astral Diamonds, really).

I like a BIT of realism in my D&D and up until this edition it was easy to drop certain things, or ignore add-ons to get it to that sweet spot. It's nearly impossible to do so without altering the rules to the point of re-writing the PHB and really, who wants to do that. So, is THAT clear enough?

RPG’s should focus on the things MMO’s can’t do: Indepth story, easily designed encounters, character interaction & design flexability.

What RPG’s should not do is try to compete directly against the strengths of a computer game & thats exactly what 4E tries to do.

Of course, I think 4E will make a very good video game. Much better than 3E or any previous edition of D&D.

The biggest problem that I have with 4E is that it is definitely tailored to Power Gaming and Munchkinsism. Role play is possible in 4E, but it naturally tailors itself much more to ROLL play than all previous editions of D&D.

This is the time for WotC to start work on their next thing. 5th Edition is going to need a lot of development and talent. WotC has a LOT of apologizing to do and they might as well start now.

And it will be Pathfinder. Pathfinder is the game that has the soul of what D&D was coupled with proper changes for the modern game. That is what I want to support. Plus, I love all the people at Paizo and I love what they are all about. And the community is just second to none.

Pathfinder is the way to go for sure. I no longer ban druids and bards from my games, (monks still dont belong in fantasy but it has nothing to do with the rules). They fixed much and did it with great artwork and quality.

I gave 4E a real try, I really did I purchased the main book and a module or two. Even bought Martial Powers. 4E just wasn't right for me. At some point I the classic line from Network "I'm mad as hell. I'm not going to take it anymore" made me give up D&D and stopped gaming for a while. I utterly despised 4E and thought it took all the flavor and life out of D&D I had come to love. D&D had become its own fantasy world and I had come to love that comfortable fantasy world. 4E destroyed everything I loved about D&aD and made it unfamiliar and uninteresting like a watery soup with no flavor.

If not for Pathfinder, I wouldn't be playing any version of D&D. I thank the gaming gods there were other people out there looking to preserve the traditions and tropes of D&D I had come to enjoy over the years.

I really thought that I would be stuck with no new books and no new version of D&D after 4E came out. It was the end of an era for me or so I thought. Here came Paizo with their old school thinking about adventures and new school tweaking of the rules. And I couldn't be happier. I hope they do outsell 4E. Maybe WotC would learn not to mess with tradition. It's like New Coke versus Classic Coke. New Coke lost out and finally they had to return to Classic Coke. Maybe the next version of D&D by WotC will realize that traditional D&D is the best and that new fangled 4E thing is only a fad.

I'm glad to see that D&D 4E hasn't had the same level of acceptance and success as 3E. Goes to prove that it isn't as good a game to as many a D&D gamer. So I don't have to listen to 4E fans like yourself that think 4E can do no wrong. To you it may be better than 4E, to me it is an abomination that destroyed the uniqueness the D&D game had.

Sorry, it's not as good as 3E. It split the community. And when such things happen, opportunity presents itself. Paizo took advantage. Kudos to them for saving a game a lot of still enjoyed playing versus WotC attempting to force feed us 4E.

So maybe you go have fun with your favorite edition of D&D and I'll stay here and have fun with my favorite edition. We can leave it at that.

All I know for certain, and this isn't even debateable, Paizo's Adventure Paths are many times better than WotC's 4E modules. Not even a close contest even if 4E sales are doing well.

May Paizo keep on being successful.