Worm Can: Open

Sunday’s post sure opened a can o’ worms. A few things have come up in comments, e-mails, and message board posts that I’d like to address about my 4E Test Drive.

1. I have had a taste of the new rules, but I have by no means come to a final verdict about them. I really do want to read the new core books and see the whole thing in the proper context. Green Ronin may indeed support 4E, but I need to see the GSL first and then review the game. The new rules do look like they support a specific style of play, but within that style I can envision some good products GR could do.

2. D&D; feel is indeed hard to nail down. All I can say is that play reminded me more of FFG’s Descent than D&D.;

3. When I bring up other types of games, I’m not making comparisons in a pejorative sense. I like Descent, I like minis games, and I like some CCGs. When I said the new rules were interesting, I meant it. The question is will they feel like D&D; to the players out there? I can’t speak for anyone but me on that issue.

4. I do think that a third party company could stick with 3.5 or do a “3.75” upgrade and make a good business for itself catering to fans who feel disenfranchised. Green Ronin, however, is not that company. Our last 3.5 books, the d20 Freeport Companion, just got back from the printer and is releasing this month. That’s going to be it for us. I just don’t think that we’re well-positioned to be that company and frankly I’d rather be more forward-looking. We have A Song of Ice and Fire coming out this summer and we have True20 as an already existing alternative.

5. Saying that I see TCG roots in the 4E rules does not mean that I think the game is a CCG. Of course 4E is a RPG. The question is how important is the “R” in the new edition and I don’t have enough info to say yet.

6. However this shakes out, I’m not worried about what I’ll play myself. I have more games already than I could play in a lifetime. If I want a D&D; experience and 4E doesn’t do it for me, I have many previous iterations to choose from. Hell, the most recent game I’ve been playing has been using the D&D; Rules Cyclopedia and that’s been a blast. At the moment my primary concerns about 4E are business oriented.

7. Gary Gygax died today. There’s no better way to honor him than playing some D&D–of; any edition–this week. I know I will.

4E Test Drive

I had a chance to actually play D&D; 4th edition today. A friend of mine who still works at WotC got permission to run the demo adventure from the D&D; Experience at her monthly game day. Since I’m still waiting for WotC to finalize the Game System License, this was the first opportunity I’ve had to see something of the rules and try them out.

Short Review
It’s an interesting system that didn’t so much feel like D&D; in play; nonetheless, the brand power of D&D; all but ensures this will be a success and it may even redefine what D&D; means for the next generation.

Long Review
Since the announcement of 4E last Gen Con, a common critique of the emerging rules was that they looked more to MMOs than RPGs. My play experience suggests something else. The roots of the new rules are not in MMOs at all, but collectible card games. Building your character seems much like building a deck in Magic: the Gathering. You have a selection of powers and special abilities that are exceptions-based. Some powers you can only use once per encounter, like tapping a card in a CCG. Character turns have a very specific order, with beginning and end of turn actions used to handle bookkeeping issues. Part of character and party building revolves around power combos. In short, 4E seems to be what people feared was going to happen with 3E after WotC bought TSR, though thankfully without a collectible component.

Now one of my concerns had been that 4E would simply be a revised 3.5. I’m glad 4E is not that. I really felt that 3.5 was just more complicated than it needed to be and I hoped that 4E would simplify things. While it does fix many of the ongoing issues with 3.5, my feeling after today’s session is that it’s just complicated in a different way. It’s not something I think experienced gamers will have a huge amount of trouble with, but it does seem that 4E may be even more unfriendly to new players than 3.5 was. It looks like 4E requires newbs to make too many choices and track too many things to make it truly accessible. Since D&D; has always been the entry point for most RPG players, this is my most serious concern.

Of the current D&D; players, I suspect most of them will switch over to the new edition, despite the unimpressive marketing campaign that we’ve seen to date. There are many options for character customization and players who like tactical combat will find a lot to work with. I understand there are some kind of social interaction rules, but I haven’t seen them. The focus seems squarely on combat from what I could tell. There were interesting choices to make during fights and it wasn’t just a matter of trotting out your best attack again and again. The CCG style of the rules and the changes to the IP did make the game feel a lot less like D&D; though, at least to me. And since the rules seem to have been tailored to provide a very particular experience, I don’t think they will make as good of a base for the variety of campaign settings D&D; used to see. It’s pretty clear that WotC realizes this, which explains why they felt the need to advance the timeline and have an apocalyptic event in the Forgotten Realms. I don’t think many of the old campaign settings will transition over without a lot of cutting, spindling, and mutilating.

What I think WotC is going for here is what Marvel managed to pull off with their Ultimate line of comics: take the core of the IP and redefine it for a new generation. There will certainly be some longtime fans disenfranchised by this move, but I don’t think there will be enough of those folks to hurt 4E. (I do think, however, that there will be enough of those for a third party company to carve out a good business for itself catering to them, but that’s a topic for another day.)

All of this is, of course, based on what I’ve managed to glean so far from released info and today’s play experience. I would naturally like to see the new rules in their entirety and doing so may change my opinion about some things. If the GSL gets sorted out this month, maybe I’ll get the chance for a more in-depth read soon. If I feel like spending 5K to do so anyway.