Thursday, March 11, 2010

My Thoughts on 4E

I enjoy playing and writing material for both 4E and the retro-clones.  Against any semblance of good business sense, the Fantasy Cartographic will try to support both ends of the D&D spectrum.  But I do have a couple of comments on 4E--conclusions to which I have recently come.

- Rules-heavy roleplaying (4E) is just more difficult to play than rules-lite (0E, 1E), for both the players and the DMs.  In the case of difficulty for the DMs, I think proof of this can be found in the blogosphere.  Two cases in point: ChattyDM and NewbieDM.  I love both of these blogs and am a regular reader of both.  But a good half of Chatty's writing is from the perspective of "I'm not that good of a DM, because it is so difficult, so here are some tips that I have learned the hard way to get better."  And Newbie's whole blog is based on him learning to be a better DM and sharing his insights with the rest of the DMs out there.  This is not meant to take anything away from either of those guys, but I think that their success is proof positive that 4E is hard.

- Avid players of 4E are different than players of the earliest editions.  (I know--obvious statement--just go with me on this one.)  If one goes to ENWorld's forums, they have a whole section devoted to questions about the rules, as they do about the 3.X rules.  I don't think that these types of sections would exist if ENWorld had been around in the early days.  Maybe I am wrong, but I think that players 30 years ago would have just house-ruled things.  (Although as I type this, I realize that perhaps that is not the case.  We probably would have discussed/argued the nuances as much as they do today.)

- It is extremely difficult (comparatively) to write good, mechanically sound material for the later editions than it is to do the same for the earliest editions.  (Thirty years ago, did anyone even consider the need to be 'mechanically sound'?)  The learning curve is steep--perhaps too steep to attempt to climb.  I think that 3.X epitomizes this, and while I believe that 4E is better in this regard, it is still difficult compared to the early editions.

- With one exception, I think that WotC is supporting 4E very well, which makes it difficult for a would-be publisher of 4E materials to really get traction in the market.  Between their DDI, Dungeon and Dragon magazines, and the other content available on their website, they are producing a vast amount of gaming material.  The one area where I think they could do a lot better is in publishing adventures.  While one could argue that Dungeon magazine includes several adventures each month, it is not the same as full length modules that you can hold in your hands.  [Is 'magazine' even the proper term of WotC's two periodicals?  I don't know.]

- While I know that many people (especially in our neck of the woods) do not consider 4E to be D&D, I know that I enjoy it.  I enjoy reading the material that they are putting out; I think that the production values are top-notch; and (perhaps most blasphemous of all) it even feels like D&D to me.

I'm sure that I'll write about this topic again as I wrestle with my views on it and as I attempt to decide where (and if) The Fantasy Cartographic will concentrate its efforts.  Lots to think about.


  1. Actually I beg to differ Nick.

    4e is not that hard... the failures/hardship I chronicles would likely happen if played any kind of RPG because I write from the perspective of a DM trying to get it 'perfect' and pass along my lessons.

    The actual technicalities of playing 4e, while miles apart from 0th edition, are probably in line with most other modern RPGs (like World of Darkness and derivatives, Burning Wheel and the new Warhammer RPG).

  2. Chatty,

    While my post mentions 4E (as my roleplaying interests are D&D centric--from 4E to 0E), my argument really is pointed at any and all modern rpgs. In a general sense, I think that if you remove 4E everywhere I used it and replace it with "rules-heavy rpgs" my point remains the same.

    Additionally, as this is a blog written by a guy (me) who has produced material for sale for 4E and is working on several projects for the various retro-clones, in my opinion 4E is extremely difficult to write for (on a comparative basis).

  3. I agree that people who play 4e nowadays tend to be different than people who play 0e nowadays (and I also do a lot of both). However, I think this is because people are able to choose which one suits them best - as you say, back in the day people used to argue about rules-as-written all the time, and the early history of RPGs is littered with systems that are at least as rules-heavy as 4e.
    - Tavis