Let me preface all of this with a disclaimer: I fully support constructive criticism and the open exchange of ideas and all that, and for the most part, Confanity's comments fit the bill in that regard. There was a bit of snarkiness, but I'm generally okay with that; I do, however, reserve the right to respond in kind. There will undoubtedly be numerous points where we will simply have to agree to disagree, but regardless, here we go. Confanity's comments are in italics.
Confanity's first comment, on Part 5, Heroic, not Superheroic
Hang on hang on. You say "Anyway, this [the PCs being The Common Wo/Man] can only really be achieved in 4E if you limit your campaign to the first 15 levels or so." But I don't see why you make this claim. Even a 1st-level PC is already superhuman.
I must protest here just a bit, as you have put a few words in my mouth: "[the PCs being The Common Wo/Man]", as in the next sentence I bring up the fact that "superhuman" powers begin to manifest at the end of the Paragon tier (levels 16-20), and the topic of the article is Heroic vs Superheroic, so I thought it was fairly clear that what I meant was that the limit of Heroic type fantasy adventure within the 4E ruleset is probably around level 15. I will be sure to spell things out much clearer in the future.
The "common" man or woman has few, if any, stats above an 11, most don't have stats above a 12 or so, and an average modifier from stats of +0. The "common" man or woman, in real-world terms, can all to easily die from a single sword-thrust or arrow. The "common" man or woman, in a standard DnD economy, works for a handful of silver a month. The "common" man or woman is unprepared for a fight to the death in terms of martial skill and psychological toughness alike, and would swiftly be dispatched by almost any monster.
So tell me, how accurately do any of those describe any PC, much less a 15th-level one? Or, in more general terms -- upon what factual basis do you make the claim that 4E PCs can in any way claim the awesomeness of struggling to victory after starting play with "common" status?
First of all, it is laughable to suggest there is a "factual basis" to any of this: we are talking of a fantasy game in a fantasy world that exists solely in words on a page and our limitless imaginations. These "Facts" are endlessly debatable and subject to conceptual bias.
That being said, it is true that the assumption of 4E D&D is that PCs are a "cut above" the rest of the crowd, but having better stats doesn't make them "superhuman" from the get-go. There are all manner of "normal" people in this, real, world, that could be said to have "above-average" stats. That doesn't make them superhuman. Hell, every high school has a kid who is a varsity athlete and gets straight A's and seems to be extra talented at everything they try to do. Are they superhuman? No, they were just blessed with good genes and perhaps some powerful formative experiences. One might even argue that those are the types of people that, given the circumstances of a fantastical world we ascribe to the characters in our games, would wind up becoming adventurers.
However, I would be interested to see how a group of characters would manage if forced to roll for stats in the old-school style of 3d6, down the line.
Contrast this to old-school PCs. 3d6 for each stat, without all the extra dice, min-maxing and gratuitous piling of +2s that a 4E PC gets. As few as 1hp to hold flesh and soul together, and only rarely more than 6. Scraping together the cash to buy a single weapon and a pack full of equipment to earn their first haul of treasure. Slower attack progressions, fewer attack and damage bonuses, multiple attacks per round almost unheard of. Prone to fleeing, spiking doors shut, and needing to work hard to stay alive.
An old-school PC, like a real person, thinks carefully about whether they want to get into a fight. They avoid combat when possible, and try to maximize any tactical advantage they can find when it's unavoidable. They start adventuring with almost nothing in terms of skills and equipment, and -- if they survive -- and if they're not, you know, munchkins -- then they've earned every bit of fame, wealth, and special powers or status that they have.
A 4E PC thinks nothing of going into combat -- it's expected. This is in part because they start with a complement of magical powers ("healing surge," anyone?) and tools that would make even a mid-level OD&D character's eyebrows rise. And God help you if they don't level up soon, because otherwise they'll realize how boring it is to use the same damn at-will power twenty rounds in a row, slogging it out with some "low-level" enemy with 50hp.
The amount of hit points a character or monster has is completely arbitrary and dependent upon the vagaries of the system being played. There are "low-level" monsters in 4E that have 50 hit points, and so what? 4E Player Characters start with 20 to 30 at level 1. As far as I'm concerned, the majority of Hit Point damage (in 4E) is bumps and bruises. And honestly, the "Healing Surge" mechanic makes a lot of sense to me, as someone who spent a good deal of time as an athlete. There were plenty of times where I felt completely exhausted, only to take a deep breath and find more energy to push on with another windsprint or shift or play or whatever.
And if the players are simply using the "same at-will power twenty rounds in a row" and not trying to find some advantage with their other abilities or the environment, they deserve to be bored. And the whole "needing to work hard to stay alive" thing: yes. Very yes. The whole reason I've written this entire series is to help myself and other 4E DMs figure out how to bring that type of old-schooliness into the modern game.
Next Comments, on Part 4: Player Skill, not Character Abilities
An interesting thought. I'm actually in favor of using stuff like a Gather Information roll to control the pace of play. If a character wants to get down to the nitty-gritty and RP hunting down and questioning contacts, then (assuming the DM has fulfilled their responsibility of making it clear that that path is open) they'll do so. If they're not interested in playing it out, that's when you gloss it over with dice so you can spend your time focusing on what's actually fun for the players.
I'd be interested in seeing an adventure for 4E that depends on player skill -- and not nearly in such an arbitrary way as the ToH, either. But... I don't think it will happen. From what I've seen, worship of the Combat Encounter is endemic, and the farther you move away from that the more screaming there will be over how all those shiny combat powers are going to waste. Or, rather, how they're a waste of time. You know.
If you're interested in seeing adventures for 4E that depend on player skill, check out SaveVersusDeath.com. Sersa, the proprietor, has coined the term "Fourthcore" and has crafted some adventures (for free!) that severely test the limits of 4E Player (and DM!) skill, both in regards to figuring shit out inside the dungeon itself, and within the combat encounters that occur. And I haven't seen anyone screaming about combat powers going to waste, or that it's a waste of time. Although apparently people have been screaming in abject terror at the awful things that have happened to their PCs...
Actually, now that I've said that. Here's a dorky story for you. I'm a little dork in junior high, getting introduced to DnD by a dorky friend, and what does he spring on us but a room full of goblins. Like, 80 of them. And because we're dorks, we come up with the solution of just holding our swords out and spinning until everything in the room stops moving. And because we were dorks, it worked.
So tell me, if you were DMing with a group of 4E characters, with all their shiny color-coded powers laid out in front of them, telling them that they can only dodge and trip and opponent once per day or some illogical thing like that -- would it even be psychologically possible for them to use the same kind of dorky old-school creativity, that kind of player inventiveness? I think not. And that, more than the culture at WotC, is why 4E will never engage players in the way that old-school gaming can.
I agree that the once per day thing with martial skill type powers is kind of bullshit. This is why I have proposed changing "daily" powers to "1x/encounter" and "encounter" powers to "2x/encounter". However, an argument could be made that the unique opportunity to use that particular trained skill only comes up in combat rarely, and hence, is a daily power.
Furthermore, it is the DM's responsibility to foster an environment of creativity at the table. If you are a 4E player and your DM has limited you to performing only actions that you have "powers" for, he's doing it wrong. Page 42 of the 4E Dungeon Master's Guide contains guidelines for dealing with "Actions the Rules Don't Cover". The At-Will website has an ABUNDANCE of information on this sort of thing as well. And as far as "psychologically possible"? I think the type of people that are drawn to these games in the first place are generally unstable psychologically, and are often the type of person who would never let some stupid rules limit what they'll attempt to do in any game. Or maybe that's just the people I play with.
There are a lot of new people joining the hobby, and 4E is their gateway to it. And yes, a lot of them are coming from World of Warcraft and other MMOs. They are coming to table-top RPGs because WoW is too limiting; it's the nature of the programming. They want more options, not only in character creation and mechanics, but in gameplay. 4E speaks a language they understand, with the "powers" and whatnot, while giving them a mechanical framework to create whatever other "powers" they might need in any other given situation.
Confanity's Next Comment, on Part 6: Getting Players to Think Outside the Dice
I cannot help but approve of what you're trying to do. More power to you.
Why thank you.
One, more-apologistic, note. Yes, the popular conception of the "old-school mega-dungeon" is level-coded... mostly. But you're forgetting a few things.
1. OD&D assumed that other adventuring parties were swarming all over. If a monster lived at the top level of a dungeon, it would logically have had everyone ganging up on it and be driven out or killed. Since in any logical ecosystem, smaller and less dangerous animals are always more common than larger, more fearsome predators (on account of how they're easier to feed), it makes sense that the upper level of a dungeon would be cleared out multiple times and always re-inhabited by the large numbers of less dangerous creatures living in the area. And by the same token, the larger creatures that live lower down are more likely to survive because adventurers that come against them have had to fight through a buffer of other foes.
2. Human habitations also follow the "dungeon" format. If you were an alien invading Earth, you'd find that the closer you come to population centers, resource stockpiles, vital infrastructure and other important sites, the stiffer the resistance will be. Why would an intelligent monster be any different?
--So of course a dragon, or whatever your final boss is, would keep their horde, and their own lives, deep where it's safer, and put as many obstacles as possible between their vulnerable points and any potential foe. And of course they want to have that defense concentrated around themselves: if you put all your heavies on the outermost radius of your territory, that spreads your resources thinner and makes them more likely to fall to an enemy attack.
3. Megadungeons are hardly representative of old-school gaming as a whole. It had a lot of overland travel, random encounters, and fooling around (usually getting drunk) in town. Also there was a lot more emphasis on questing for the spells and equipment you wanted or needed, on finding and managing hirelings, on spending your money to build an estate and acquire land, titles, underlings, social status, laboratories, libraries.... This may not fit into your definition of old-school, but I remember a time when if you were a druid you *could not advance in level* unless you defeated other druids and took their place in the hierarchy! There's a lot more complexity there than just fighting 2-HD monsters on level 2 of a dungeon. And even in the realms of dungeons, the really good ones had lots of room for mobility, for finding secret paths and alternate routes.
The real question, on average in the material for adventuring in OD&D versus 4E, which is more linear; which has that shiny smooth look and the stink of meticulous planning? I'm putting my money on the latter.
So, everything you had to say was very informative... up until that last paragraph. I have not once mentioned any of WotC's official published adventures in this series of articles. Honestly, I have not been all that impressed by the ones I have read, and would never use them at my table. Fortunately, I'm creative enough to come up with my own campaign world and plenty of adventuring sites and plots and such for my players to enjoy. I'd wager most people who make the decision to be a DM are capable of such a feat.
Of course the official material from WotC for 4E is shiny smooth and meticulously planned! They are owned by a huge corporation who wouldn't let anything less than professional-looking be published with their name attached to it! I understand that it is not your way of playing D&D. It's not my way either. But for people who are new to the game, and still learning the ropes, it is a start. And there is nothing wrong with that. That is the whole point of published adventure modules.
Furthermore, if I may reiterate, the entire point of this series of posts is how to help 4E DMs bring some old-school flavor to their game. It's certainly not to begin any kind of Edition War (TM) flame-up, although from your completely out-of-left-field closing paragraph there, that seems to be what you might be after.
Ah, I had assumed you're going to put up another post about how 4E can be good at resource management. But just in case that one throwaway paragraph was in fact all the treatment you had planned to give, I hereby formally request that you put data where your mouth is and explain, precisely and concretely, the ways in which 4E can match OD&D in terms of *strategic* resource management.
Mind you, I'm not talking about tactical management. 4E is a tactical combat game. It demands a game board and pieces -- and counters and cards, if you want any hope of keeping track of all the little finicky pluses and minuses and conditional situations. So it comes as no surprise that there'd be a lot of tactical resource management in terms of when you want to use your daily powers, or your healing surges, etc.
No, I'm talking about situations where players decide on their priorities in ways that have long-term consequences. Like balancing rations and oil flasks and so on versus encumbrance. Or torch duration versus time spent mapping a dungeon. Or magic-users deciding their very limited spell selections, and deciding when to cast, and deciding what to do when they've run out of juice. Or magic-users deciding whether to use a scroll for spell-casting, or for adding new magic to their spellbooks. Or deciding who should benefit from a given healing spell or potion.
Long story short: You've made a claim. Now prove it.
4E traded one set of resources to manage for another. I'm not going to feed you a load of bullshit; I hate keeping track of encumbrance. That's why one of the first magic items I usually give my players is a Bag of Holding. However, if you like having to deal with the vagaries of item weights versus encumbrance and time spent mapping dungeons and so on and so forth, there is absolutely no reason simple rules for these things could not be applied to any 4E game. That's just not how I enjoy D&D.
Furthermore, I love my dungeon tiles, building the board, picking out minis, moving them around the board, all my counters and cards and so on and so forth.
Finally, I never claimed that 4E can "match" OD&D in terms of managing strategic resources. The two systems have different types of resources to manage. My only claim was that 4E could support this style of play. You keep wanting me to point to 4E's Rules As Written for these things, when clearly what I'm trying to do here is help some folks think above and beyond the Rules As Written. Also, just because the resources are different doesn't mean they aren't, you know, resources, that, you know, must be MANAGED. Once again, I must protest that you do put words in my mouth. I made no such claim. You just want to think I did.
Confanity's Next Comment, on Part 3: Rulings, Not Rules
On the one hand, I agree with this basic principle: good rules help you make good rulings, and allow the freedom for imagination and invention outside of their bounds. It's better to have a good rule than no rule, and a bad rule is just a good rule that needs to be reworked.
On the other hand, several of your criticisms of OSG make no sense. To wit:
"Some actions require a D100 roll, some a D20, and still others a D6!"
-So? And 3E uses a wide variety of damage dice (d3, d4, d6, d8, d12, 2d4, etc.) where in OD&D, the vast majority of damage dice were 1d6. And what's intrinsically wrong with using a bunch of different kind of dice? By this argument, any White Wolf game is inherently better than any version of DnD because they use nothing but d10s. For that matter, Yahtzee is better than any version of DnD because it uses nothing but d6es. It's a pointless criticism.
It does irk me when my words are taken out of context. The sentence before the one you quoted read:
"As I read through my old-school rulebooks, the rules are convoluted and often confusing. Some actions require a D100 roll, some a D20, and still others a D6!"
Why do some actions require a percentile roll, and others a D20, and others a D6? It is confusing and often seems quite arbitrary. As such, it is not a "pointless criticism", except that you can find no other way to defend the existence of numerous different systems for the resolution of actions within one game. I find nothing wrong with using multiple different types of dice in the game. 4E does, and it makes sense in the context of different weapons being capable of doing more damage than others, which is why a dagger does 1d4 and a longsword does 1d8 damage. Also, bringing up a game like Yahtzee in a conversation about Role Playing Games serves no purpose, either, except perhaps to be an ass in an otherwise civil conversation.
"There is no real core mechanic to the system."
-This statement has no meaning. What is a "core mechanic"? Do you mean the basic dependence on rolling high on a d20+modifiers for success in most things? Because if that's all it is, who cares? Chess doesn't have a "core mechanic" either, and it's an awesome game. One could argue that a "core mechanic" like d20 dependence makes a game more boring and samey.
Page 22 of the Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition Rules Compendium: "Does a sword swing hurt the dragon or just bounce off its iron-hard scales? Will the ogre believe an outrageous bluff, or can a character swim across a raging river? The Dungeons and Dragons game relies on die rolls, called checks, to determine success or failure in these kinds of situations. Making a check is the core mechanic of the game. It follows a few simple steps. 1. Roll a 20-sided die. The higher the result the better. 2. Add any relevant modifiers, whether bonuses or penalties. 3. Compare the result to a target number. If the result equals or exceeds the target number, the check is a success. Otherwise, it's a failure."
As far as who cares: the kid who is just learning how to play cares. It makes the game simple. Anytime you want to try to do anything, tell the DM what you're going to do, and the DM will tell you if you need to roll the D20 and, once you tell them the result, you either succeed or you fail.
Chess, actually does have a core mechanic. You take turns moving pieces, which each move in a certain way. You win if you get the other player's king. Every game of chess is completely different, but ultimately plays out in one of two ways: either a king is captured, or the players stalemate. The mechanics of the game never change, even though the situation is never the same. Is chess "boring and samey" because the pieces are always set in the same place (Bobby Fischer would say yes to that, by the way), or because the different pieces always move in the same way?
"If you have to keep looking up rules at the table, YOU'RE DOING IT WRONG!"
-If your choice at the table is to either look up rules (and be accused of "doing it wrong") or to house-rule something on the fly (and become vulnerable to complaints from people who have memorized the actual rule for a situation or who look it up later), then THE EXISTENCE OF A "CORE MECHANIC" IS POINTLESS BECAUSE IT DOESN'T ACTUALLY REDUCE THE DIFFICULTY OF USING THE SYSTEM!
"Set a level-appropriate target"
-Aside from the call-out to 4E's balance fetish, which you attack in later posts, aren't you saying that every situation is nothing more than DM fiat? Isn't that exactly the worst aspect of rulings over rules? How can you tell players to accept the DM's on-the-fly DC almost immediately after declaring that "No DM is perfect, of course. We all make mistakes"?
Actually, the 4E Dungeon Master Guide comes with a table of Level-Appropriate DCs and Damages. Right there on page 42. So no, every situation is most certainly not DM fiat. In fact, if you understand how the system works, the rules are hard-wired to cover nearly every possible situation. It's not the DM's on-the-fly DC. It's the DC in the Rules-As-Written. I'm not even talking about something that's house-ruled! Page 42 actually makes the system incredibly easy to use.
"have an easily accessed cheat sheet... for all the rules you regularly need to reference"
-Um. Actually, that counts as "looking up the rule." It's expedited, certainly, but according to your previous statement, even a cheat sheet is DOING IT WRONG; the DM should just make up a number that sounds right. Right?
Not at all. See above. However, I will admit I failed to fully explain that by "looking up the rules" I meant "sitting at the table during the game flipping through a book or on the internet looking up the rules". Fair enough?
"One complaint I see old-schoolers make about 4E again and again is that the system limits players with set powers in combat. However, if the DM won't allow a PC to attempt something"
-You've entirely missed the point. My complaint, at least, on this issue is that the rules themselves discourage player inventiveness. If you've got a character's power with flavor text about sweeping an opponent's legs, but they can only use it once per combat or day, doesn't that make the player extremely unlikely to try for a leg sweep after having used up the power? The DM doesn't need to forbid anything; the existence of the power itself implies a prohibition. It's that subtle psychological limit that's the hardest to spot and combat, and it's hard-wired into 4E all over.
My players are actually rather inventive. They ask all kinds of questions about what they can do in a given situation and keep me on my toes. What's more is they all come from the world of video games. Final Fantasy and World of Warcraft. However, I suppose my evidence is anecdotal at best, and as such is irrelevant. I'm a pipefitter, not a psychologist.
Anyway. AD&D was heavily house-ruled because, frankly, its "design" was somewhat scattershot and based on a bunch of ideas that sounded good at the time but proved often unwieldy in play. 4E is a smooth-plastic over-polished piece of design... so it's interesting to see you call for mass house-ruling of it as well. 8^)
Umm, where exactly do I call for mass house-ruling of 4E? Because I missed that part of my own article. In fact, I don't think I've suggested even a single houserule to add to 4E (aside from my suggestion to change Daily powers to encounter, and encounter powers to 2x/encounter, but that was during a review of a Dungeon magazine article, and not really part of this series). Everything in this series has been about changing how the game is played at the table, not about changing the mechanics.
Confanity's Next Comment, on Part 2: What is Old School Gaming, Anyway?
"any DM who unleashes a Tarrasque on a group of 1st-level adventurers because a random chart told him to is just an asshole"
-That's only true if it's 1. unexpected, 2. unavoidable, and (thus) forces a TPK.
1. If the PCs know that the Tarrasque sleeps in the Hills of Diescreaming, and they go there anyway, and the table produces the Tarrasque, and they die screaming, they can't really complain. They played Russian Roulette and lost.
2. If they PCs hear the Tarrasque coming (which... how could they not?) and the DM denies them any chance of hiding, fleeing, sating its hunger by leading it to a herd of elephants, or otherwise avoiding their deaths, *then* the DM is doing it wrong. If the PCs are stupid and only know how to charge, they get what they asked for.
But I want to add another element of Oldschoolness that you forgot to mention... one so fundamental that most people don't even think about it: verisimilitude.
I'm not talking about hp, which are necessarily abstracted. I'm not even talking about dungeon ecologies and "Gygaxian naturalism," which not all D&D products got right. I'm talking about the basic assumption that actions the PCs take are based what they would think of as real-world considerations, rather than on the rules of a tactical combat game.
Example 1: consider an "encounter power." The mage can only shoot fire out of his ears once per "encounter." Outside of combat, is he limited? Or does the absence of waving swords somehow give him unlimited magical power? Let's say then that he can only use the power once every five minutes.
So what do you do with a protracted encounter that lasts longer than five minutes? Can the character actually use the power again? Technically, no. If you allow it, you're house-ruling the system.
So house-rules are okay for your system, but not mine? Umm... okay. That's logical.
Example 2: a magical character in 4E puts a magical "mark" on an enemy, so that fighting any of the PC's allies causes the monster to be burned by heavenly flames. Then a Warlord challenges the monster. "Hey, duel me," she says. And just like that, the heavenly flames are canceled. Why? Well, because if you allow marks to be stacked, you've created a system ripe for abuse where a team gangs up on one enemy and absolutely paralyzes them with marks. Not for any in-world reason; it's purely for "balance."
In short, the rules of 4E cause things to happen that make no sense to the characters. 4E sacrifices verisimilitude in the name of balance. It's systemic and when when you actually pay attention and see it at work, it's sad. OD&D, whatever its flaws, strives for verisimilitude... and achieves it ways that 4E, by design, never could.
Hang on. The guy who earlier told me a story about how the big plan, when confronted with a room full of goblins, was to stick their swords straight out and spin in circles until everything else in the room stopped moving, (and it worked!) wants to lecture me about verisimilitude? Sorry, but you're a little short of credibility in my book, at least in this regard.
Define: Verisimilitude: (n) the quality of appearing to be true or real.
Nevermind that the existence of monsters, magic, demihuman races and multiple gods strains the bounds of verisimilitude. Don't get me wrong. I'm happy you have brought this up, as it is a very good point and merits debate.
As far as your Example 1 is concerned: a wizard being able to cast a certain spell only one time in an "encounter". How is this different than a wizard in AD&D being able to cast a certain spell only one time per day? Don't tell me about the different ones he can memorize, because that's an option in 4E, too. As far as the notion of "Encounter Powers" in general, it makes sense to me. When you're in a high-stress situation, and you use a particularly draining ability, you can only use it once until you have to take a breather to be able to use it again. Ditto with "Daily Powers". Granted, this makes more sense with magical, mystical powers as opposed to physical, martial-type powers, but WotC addressed that with Essentials builds of classes like Fighter, Warlord, and Ranger.
As for your second example, concerning Marks in the 4E game: So what? It's a convention of the tactical combat part of the game. Maybe the cleric turned off his mark once the warlord insisted on marking the same creature. So what if something works a certain way in a FANTASY GAMING WORLD that might not make sense to us people sitting at the table, all of us who live here in the future?
And honestly, it seems to me you're trying to tell me why I shouldn't play 4E. I like playing 4E. I'm not telling you that you shouldn't play OD&D. You like it. Play it. I work with a lot of people every day who think that playing any type of game like D&D is "sad".
And finally, Confanity's last comment, on Part 1
I have to agree that starting an edition war is pointless; nobody wants to do that. But what I do want to do is pick at what I feel to be logical failings in your argument. You're free to enjoy and play whatever system you want; I may not understand why you like something, but I don't care and certainly don't object. What I object to is you attempting to justify your tastes using spurious logic and false claims about the objects of my tastes. 8^P
Actually, you obviously seem to care and have objected vigorously, all over my blog, going so far as to take my words out of context and misread the entire point of these articles (ie, how to bring Old-School flavor and style to the 4E game), and instead seem to have taken it all as an attack on "your" game. So, thank you for starting a pointless Edition War (TM) on my blog, even though that wasn't the point of the articles. Furthermore, what exactly are these false claims I have made about old-school gaming?
So wait, why do you like 4E?
Umm, this was explained in the article, but apparently you feel a need to tell me why all the things I like (which is, honestly, a matter of personal taste, which you go on to deride as spurious as best) are wrong. Who's "not" starting an Edition War (TM) here?
"The Core Mechanic"-This is where it becomes clear that I'm reading the series from top to bottom. I have to repeat, though... why is using the same d20 for everything good? If that's your taste, sure, whatever, but it's not an inherently good think like "iconic character types." It doesn't strike me as a positive quality of 4E. And in practical terms, if you always use the same die for all rolls, and rolling high is always good... doesn't that make you extra vulnerable to loaded dice and similar cheating? I saw a "joke" d20 once, for example, where the 1 had been replaced by a second 20. Very subtle and hard to detect, but perfectly designed to take advantage of a "core mechanic." Having a "core mechanic" is like every computer in the world running Windows: there's no benefit, and lots of potential drawbacks in matters of both security and personal taste.
Do you play with the kind of people that would bring loaded dice or joke D20s to your games? If so, you need to find a new group. I've already explained why I like the Core Mechanic, but if you insist on being insulting for no good reason, I hereby offer my middle finger.
-Hang on. You think that the system enforcement of using the same four moves again and again and again and again in every combat all the time is exciting and interesting?
Ahh, here is the part where your ignorance of 4E truly begins to shine through. Please, do go on.
Your implied criticism of old-school gaming ("I hit it with my axe") merely serves to show that you've never really played OD&D. In any given combat, a fighter might be front-rank with that axe, or second-rank with a pole weapon, or back-rank with a missile weapon or a flask of flaming oil. Magic-users had the power to essentially end encounters with a single decisive spell, and thus had to carefully consider what spells to memorize, and what to use, and when.
I must hereby apologize for two things. The "I hit it with my axe" comment there was most definitely supposed to be facetious, and poke a little fun at a well known trope of old school gaming and a popular old-school gaming video series. And that's also true that I never really played a lot of OD&D. If you bothered to read the sidebar of my blog, you would know that I wasn't even alive when the game was released, and it also points to all the other games I played. Perhaps most important to my "old school cred" (as if I need to establish it, jerk), is a little gem in there called "Dragonquest", which is just as old-school as OD&D, was published around the same time, and WOW, uses a Core Mechanic! So perhaps I'm a little biased towards a Core Mechanic, I'm sorry, but I like my systems to be internally consistent.
And, perhaps most importantly, there were a lot fewer hit points in those days. Even if all you did in a given fight was "hit it with my axe," you only had to give most foes a whack or two before you were done. Even if a 4E PC has three different at-will powers, their enemy has 50hp and ultimately they're going to have to repeat themselves a lot more than the axe-fighter you poked fun at.
Technically, I was poking fun at the entire OSR, but fair enough.
"Codified Combat Modifiers"
-I agree with you that codifying this kind of stuff can be useful and reduces the amount of arbitrary DM fiat in the game. But who the hell are you to tell me the only proper way to DM is to memorize a hundred different status effects? I have a job, and a fiancee, and a difficult foreign language to master for the better job I hope to get later, and other responsibilities, and I don't have the free time left over to satisfy your self-righteous memorization fetish.
I'm not asking you to play 4E. Or memorize how the system works. Hell, I haven't even insisted you know any more about the system than the paltry little bit that you do in order to comment here. If you think this series of posts has been all about trying to get OSR people to come play 4E, I'd like to see where I said that. I understand that having a life takes up a lot of time. I have a wife, five children, and a full-time construction job that's getting ready to kick into the overtime gear. My gaming time fits inside a small window and it is precious to me. Although, honestly, you've found the time to spew thousands of words upon my blog, so I'm sure you've got your foreign language mastered, all your chores at work finished and so on and so forth. Maybe you could have used that time to learn a little bit more about the gaming system you want to bash here on my blog, so you don't sound like a complete idiot when doing so. I have taken the time to satisfy your self-righteous Edition Snobbery. I took the time while writing this to consult my old-school tomes.
Also, I would never deign to tell anyone the "proper" way to run their game. I'm sorry if my "YOU'RE DOING IT WRONG" comment came off that way. I was referring to something specific after all, but if you want to take words out of my mouth and twist them to mean that I'm saying everyone who doesn't run a game my way is doing it wrong, well, your Edition Snobbery is shining through bright and clear.
"Balance between different types of characters is a good thing. Simple as that. Everybody gets a chance to shine."
-So what you're telling me is that all players have the exact same tastes? All players like using the same mechanics to shine in the exact same way?
See, I have to disagree. Sometimes I went for the meticulous planning and only-intermittent action of the wizard. Sometimes I went for the flavor-text-rich religious adventures of the cleric. Sometimes I went for the roll-a-handful-of-dice-and-be-done-with-it consistent foe-slaying of the fighter. Sometimes I wanted to have all sorts of crazy skills and played a thief. Never once did I think to myself, "Gee, I do so wish to spend the rest of my gaming days choosing from an endless series of identical Powers, differentiated mostly by flavor text that nonetheless lacks verisimilitude."
See, now you are proving your ignorance of the system quite well. I understand that you have neither the time nor the inclination to learn the vagaries of 4th Edition, but since that is the case, and since you clearly don't have a clue that not a single one of the available powers is identical to another in terms of mechanics, we'll ignore your ignorant remark of "an endless series of identical Powers" and move on to play style as emphasized by the mechanics of individual classes. Sometimes I want to sneak around the battlefield, or swing into position from a vine or chandelier or whatnot, and do massive damage to a single vulnerable target, so I'll play a thief. Sometimes I want to stop the big brute dead in his tracks and force him to fight me instead of going after the squishy wizard, so I'll play the fighter. Sometimes I want to inspire my comrades to fight on, to lead with my actions, to bash a skull with such divine providence that it bolsters my friends' resolve and they can keep fighting on; then I'll play the cleric. And sometimes, I want to clear out a batch of minions with a single decisive spell, and control the flow of battle from the back lines, and so I'll play the wizard.
And that's just the mechanical angle. Some people RP because they want to kick in doors and split skulls. Some people RP because they want to be clever, to use their wits to solve puzzles and evade foes. Some people RP because they want to bend the very forces of nature. Some people want to get henchmen and followers and titles and land and castles; others want to amass vast lore; others just want to make a list of the monsters they kill. All the versions of DnD before 4 had, as you say, iconic classes tailored and hard-wired to appeal to these different tastes. 4E is a buffet where all the dishes look different but taste the same.
The whole point of these articles has been to talk about how to bring all those different styles of gaming to the 4E table. I can understand how you missed that, as you have been so busy with your self-aggrandizing Edition Snobbery, trying to defend "your" game when it wasn't even under attack in the slightest. I've taken the time to learn about the different options in the game. From my seat at the table, they all taste great, but not a one of them is the same as another.
But wait! It goes even deeper than that! Not all players want the same amount of time shining! Some want to hog the spotlight. Others just want to hang out with their friends and maybe roll some dice and quote some Monty Python. And there's a whole range in between. 4E only caters to the OCD crowd who is willing to spend hours carefully constructing a character, as you yourself pointed out. Not everybody wants to or even can commit that kind of time and calculation.
4E only caters to the OCD crowd? Hardly. Not a single one of my players owns any of the 4E books or even has a subscription to D&D Insider. They are casual gamers in that regard, and hardly spend hours carefully constructing their characters. While it is true that the "most effective" characters come from a careful understanding and application of myriad feats and other options, it's also true that those combinations have been hashed out and endlessly debated on forums, and there is a huge library of complete builds for any type of character you might want to play. Our character creation process goes like this: I ask the player what type of character they would like to play. Diabolical warlock with a dark pact with the devil? The amazing archer? Dude with a great big axe? Whatever it is, we go find a build that fits. Someone else has done all the math and figured out the level progression. So instead of spending time between sessions flipping through rule books to pick whatever feat or option to take next, we already know what's next and we can level up and get on with the story. So for you to say that 4E only caters to one type of gamer further proves your ignorance and snobbery. Have you met a lot of different 4E groups? Have you read a lot of different 4E blogs? Do you know anything about the game apart from the trite one-liners you picked up from whatever other Old School Righteous blog? Who the hell are you to tell me who my players are?
And finally! Your underlying assumption is flawed. If old-school DnD has one advantage, it's that ability to "shine" is limited only by the player's willingness to imagine doing stuff. You seem to believe that a character can only "shine" if their DPS is equal to that of any other member of their party, but rolling a Con of 6, or only casting one spell per day, never stopped any of my characters from shining by running around and accomplishing stuff in-game.
Examples: -I had a character "shine" by catching a cockatrice in a bag and trying to beat it to death against a tree. The bag ripped (of all the times to roll a 1!) and he got killed, but it was a blast. -I had a character "shine" by assassinating a fellow PC who had idly threatened to kill him. We had a trial! It was crazy! -I had a character "shine" by singing an impromptu song about xorn during an orcish siege of the town we were in. My friends thought it was hilarious. -I had a character "shine" by hunting down and killing the demon-possessed general who had killed her family, then helping drive the demonic army out of her homeland. She was a fighter with a mere Strength of 12 and she's my favorite character ever.
Is your ideal game really one where everybody "shines" just by being exactly as effective as everyone else in combat, where everyone uses the same mechanic, at the cost of hours spent poring over paperwork and min-maxing? 8^(
I'm quite happy for you and all of your shining moments. Once again, this series of articles is about bringing exactly these type of old-school gaming moments to a 4E table. Nobody at the 4E table "shines" when they just idly pick another power to use, of course. Everything you mentioned though has to do with role-playing and not a twit to do with a character's stats. So no, my idea of a game where everyone shines doesn't really have a lot to do with combat. My favorite moments in games have been the ones where we role-played our characters through some crazy situations... and yeah, we were all using the same mechanic. And no, we didn't waste hours poring over paperwork to do the min-maxing.
-In other words, you like the thin veneer of flavor text that covers the vast expanse of samey powers. I'm not impressed.
In other words, you have no idea what you're talking about and are disguising your ignorance with snarky comments. I'm not impressed.
-I actually agree with you here. But I also agree with you when you talk about "options" the second time. Where I draw the line and say that it's not worth it any more is the part where you have to buy four different fucking PHBs just to build a character. Pathfinder, in comparison, may be a damn heavy tome, but that one book is all you need.
To play the game, and have it work perfectly fine, all you need is the first Player's Handbook, the Dungeon Master Guide, and the Monster Manual. Everything else is just bonus stuff. You could go the even cheaper Essentials route and just pick up either of the Heroes of the... books, the Rules Compendium, and the Monster Vault. Pretty much every edition of D&D has had excessive splat-book bloat, but those are all optional. This is the same with 4E.
-Oh God yes. I played a 4E campaign and nothing else, not even mass combat in Rifts, has left me so consistently bored out of my skull.
One would think that someone like yourself who is so good at creating shining moments through role-playing would have been able to come up with something exciting to do. You were bored out of your skull because you wanted to be.
-Again, I could hardly agree more. In fact, I want to add that the balance fetish in 4E is also imposed on the party with the formalization of roles; your strikers and defenders or whatever it was. 3E had the "each party must have a cleric" bug; 4E takes that and applies it to every role. My last campaign, I DMed for a mage, a fighter-mage, and a thief, no balance anywhere, and we made it work because everything was based on player action.
My current group of players has 3 strikers, a controller who plays her character like a striker, and defender who, due to poor dice rolls at typically inopportune moments, is generally ineffective in that role when he needs to be. They have a blast and make it work. No balance anywhere. Huh, strange. The entire campaign should have broken down by now.
And then again
"Limit on spells/day for spellcasters."
-Why? Because frankly I'm disgusted with the power creep that I've seen over the editions. It doesn't matter whether you use Vancian magic, or power points, or mana, or Fatigue levels; you need to limit magic use. So quit your whining.
How exactly was I whining? Just because I don't like the way something works, I'm whining? Why are you whining all over my god damn blog?
I am curious, though... if you don't like spells to be a limited resource, how does that jive with your possible upcoming defense of 4E's ability to do resource-management?
"Different level progression/experience charts for classes"
-Given that at high levels mages far outpower fighters, and given that (for example) rocket science is far more difficult to master than knitting, what you seem to be doing is criticizing a system that actually makes sense. Minus points for you.
Minus points for me for having an opinion? Minus points for you for not respecting my right to have an opinion. Oh wait, I forgot, the only opinions that count seem to be your own, as you have plastered them all over my blog.
"Nonhuman level limits.
Race-restrictions on classes."
-I agree with you on these, actually.
So, no minus points because we have the same opinion here?
Now justify this dislike in the face of 4E's obvious matching of various races to various classes. Oh, eladrin make good rogues and wizards. If you want to "shine" you'd better make your eladrin a rogue or wizard. See, this is so much better than those old-school silly halfling rogues. 8^P
I don't have to justify any of my opinions, as they are just opinions. I find Nonhuman-only multiclassing, race-restrictions on class, and nonhuman level limits completely arbitrary. If you want to "shine" create whatever kind of race-class combo you want and play that character to the hilt. Optimization is not necessary to "shine", at least not at my table. Now, clearly some races get bonuses to their stats that match up nicely with certain classes, but there's absolutely no reason that a gnome warlord couldn't shine just a brightly as an optimized tiefling warlock. In fact, a lot of what often can make a character shine is often a curious race-class combo.
Okay, that's enough for now, methinks. I suppose I could have said most of it more tactfully, but please do take everything I've said in serious good humor, as a rational challenge rather than an attack, and respond (if you care to) in kind. Thanks!
So this is my response. In general, I think I've taken everything in good humor, and responded to snarkiness with appropriate snarkiness. I do think that you have mistaken the entire point of this series. I was not in any way trying to "convert" any old school gamers to 4E. That has never been my intention and nowhere in this series of articles did I say anything to that effect. I do take a bit of umbrage that you seemed to take all of this as an attack on "your" game when I actually was very respectful of old-school D&D. You seemed to take it personally that there might be some things about OD&D that I didn't like, so if it comes across that I might take it a bit personally the comments you made about 4E, I think it's only fair. That being said, I think I've answered most of your comments as fully as need be. Thanks again for all the comments, and I do hope you will continue reading my blog! Next time, though, when you comment, please try not to put words in my mouth that, given context, I clearly did not mean. I will do my best to make my writing more clear in the future. Thanks!