Save or Die.

06/19/2012

Before I even begin, I’d like to clarify a few things: first, all of the vitriol in the following paragraphs is based in the world of mechanics. If your edition choice is based on finances, a long running campaign, or other ‘real-world’ factors, then I respect your decision and we can still be friends. Second, I am not at all claiming 4e is without faults. It has them. Large ones. That’s what I am so concerned that the next edition be better than the current. Third, 5e (no, I am not calling it “Nexus”) already has plenty of great ideas. I just want to remove the bad ones and ensure no more sneak their way in.

I never really got into the edition wars of D&D; not because I didn’t think there was a clear winner, but because the other side wasn’t really hurting me. If they wanted to play an older edition it didn’t affect me in any way. Now it is, though. 5e is looking backwards for inspiration, not only to 3/3.5, but to even 2 and 1e, and while there’s nothing wrong with examining your past products, a lot of people seem to think this means they should be rolling back the rules to these editions.  Here the devs discuss the reasons behind this in a more or less neutral environment;  it looks like they are attempting to distill the essence of D&D from previous editions which is just fine.

But then there’s articles like this, and I start to really worry. There are players that think this way, and if the devs hear too much of this, they might design a game to appease the view.  Let me put this bluntly: if you disliked 4e because you thought it was too much like a video game (hint: what you actually mean is “has actual rules”), if you thought the rules got in the way you are doing it wrong. The only purpose of a rules set is provide an (hopefully) balanced set of mechanics to determine the outcome of challenges. It is not to get involved in your story, roleplay, or imagination in any way, either positive or negative. Time and again I see people complain about square fireballs, minis, and Stealth. If you don’t want rules to dictate what you can do, then go play a freeform RPG. You picked D&D, which means you must want rules. Yes, D&D rules have become lengthier and more cumbersome with each edition, in the same way that cars have become more intricate and heavier: because we’re better at making them, and have to include airbags and ABS.

To extend the car metaphor, I am going to pick on 3.5 and 4e as those are the biggest warriors, and also the freshest in most peoples’ mind. 3.5e is a car. It is a pretty good car, much better than the older models because the manufacturer has learned a lot about both what makes a good car and how to deliver said car since the previous model. However, there are still some issues. The tires will usually lose grip if you go over 45 and crash you into a tree. Also the seatbelts will strangle anyone under 5’8″. 4e is the latest model of the car, and the manufacturer has fixed those issues. The tiers can still lose traction, but only if it’s wet and you’re going 80. Seatbelts no longer strangle people during the course of normal use. Then someone comes along and says “Hey, but I liked being able to crash in to trees, how dare you take this away from me?”. Well, A) why? and B) you can still crash in to trees if you want. The steering wheel is right there. The only thing that’s happened is that people that don’t want to crash in to trees and strangle themselves don’t have to.

4e in no way, shape, or form curtails your ability to RP your character or immerse yourself in the world. The rules are not there to tell you what you can do, they are there to tell you what you can’t. If you are now thinking “Ah, you’ve played right into my hand!” allow me to clarify: rules restrict the upper limit of what you can accomplish. They represent your maximum performance. What you choose to do with this, the freeform RP within a rules skeleton, the very essence of Dungeons & Dragons, remains unchanged. If you want to play a soft footed but fat man, don’t complain about Hide in Shadows and Move Silently being rolled into Stealth, use your imagination. RP it out. If you want your character to be bad at concealing himself, just play him that way. Use the “theatre of the mind” that anti-4e warriors constantly reference.

4e is better. Thousands of forums, millions of players all attest that 4e is much more balanced, much more difficult to break, which is the metric by which mechanics should be judged. I’m not providing links for this because I don’t have a week. Go look it up. I will say this: I never, not once, not for a second felt 4e rules got in the way of my play, and to the best of my knowledge, no one I’ve played with did either. If you can’t separate rules from your story, if you can’t unshackle yourself from what the mechanics say you can do and simply do whatever they don’t say you can’t, if your wizard uses square fireballs because that’s what some miniature uses, then it’s not the rules that need work: it’s your imagination.