Edition Wars, Episode I: The Phantom System

I figure if I’m going to spend any time talking about my time as a Dungeon Master, I should get my feelings about 4th Edition out there. I’d say “few games have proven as divisive as 4e,” but that would be patently untrue. 3e’s announcement wound up being a huge war, and that was announced under better circumstances than this.

Before I get into that, though, I’d like to express a few of my feelings on games and systems. In particular, I feel there are more good games than bad ones. Indeed, I feel that “good” and “bad” are a matter of opinion. I for example do not care much for White Wolf’s Storyteller system, but I understand and accept that there are a number of people who enjoy the games that run under it. Similarly, I truly despise the Palladium system (the actual settings are another story, I kind of like those), but know it was once the second most popular system out there, probably still is, and, indeed, I knew a group that played a heavily modified Heroes Unlimited. Whatever floats your boat, really…

I believe that the point of games, of ANY game, is to have fun. If the only way you really have fun is to “win,” then this kind of warps the issue some. In particular, I dislike collectable card games, as they are monstrously competitive, and tend to favor only those who spend lots of money to “win.” In short, if you’re not playing for your own personal enjoyment, then you may well be playing for the wrong reasons.

Relating directly to RPGs, I have a phrase I use: “Good ideas transcend games.” If an idea is good, then it is good. It does not matter if you found it in a 4e book, 3e book, Palladium book or even from World of Synnibar. What matters most is that you’re playing the game you want to play and doing what you enjoy most.

Thus, with those rambling and somewhat liberal viewpoints out there, on to 4e: How do I feel? I like it, mostly. Oh, sure, it has some very strange elements (the “mark” system has glitches in it, for sure), but it does a number of good things.

Like what? Like putting all classes on a similar curve. In 2e and even 3e,the progression would be like this: At lower levels, melee types were better than casters, but after a few levels, casters got better while melee types stayed the same. There were exceptions, but generally, growth of Fighters was linear, whereas Wizards and Clerics were exponential. 4e changed much of this: Now you have a set of powers you choose from, and thus, everyone had the same number of powers. Now, not all powers are created equal, but the game focuses more on strategic use of them, and on working as a team.

Also, I like the “new” races. The Tiefling and Dragonborn aren’t really “new” to anyone who has played D&D for awhile, but they ARE new as Player’s Handbook races. And while I feel they were shoehorned into the game’s already flimsy backstory (if I fail to mention this later? I HATE 4e’s lack of focus on a coherent world), I do like them a lot. They bring new diversity to the game, and take a few steps away from the Tolkein style of “Humans, Elves, Dwarves” that D&D has been married to for years. The Dragonborn are a very good “monstrous” race (seriously, who doesn’t want to breathe fire?), and I have a soft spot in my heart for Tieflings.

This is kind of a tangent, but… See, I know what they were doing with three elements in 4e: The Teifling race, the Warlock class and Raven Queen the deity. One of the oldest bones of contention in D&D is… Almost invariably, one person in the group wants to be Evil instead of Good. For better or for worse, D&D is an epic fantasy game, as such, Good works a lot better than Evil. So what does WotC do? Why, they take everything people want from an “evil” character, and put it into the game in a heroic fashion. You want to be dark? Tieflings are the descendants of devils! You want to make deals with inhuman forces? Warlock is for you! Still not dark enough? Raven Queen is the goddess of death and of winter! Have fun.

And now I can get back on point: I LIKE much of what 4th Edition does. They wanted a game that spoke to a different market than did 3rd Edition, and the hell of it all is, IT WORKS. I had quite a few players over the last year and a half who became interested in 4e due to its pastiches of World of Warcraft, including two of my regulars.

Yes, I have issues with the rules. However, I do not consider the complaint about house rules being necessary to be overly valid: Every game requires house rules. No system is perfectly bulletproof. 4e has some serious flaws, but it works most of the time, and that’s what I care about.

Likewise, I have issues with how Wizards of the Coast sprung 4th Edition on the market, but that, along with my feelings on the canon, and some of my experiences running the game, will be other stories, for other times.

Until then, have a good day, everyone, and don’t take yourselves too seriously.



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