A collection of rambling posts about gaming, running, and politics. (and, in 2009, photography.)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

D&D 4e, a year later.

Some of my fellow RPG nerds have been doing these 'D&D 4e, a year later' posts, and I figured, "Hey! I like posting about nerdy gaming stuff. Why don't I hop on this?" And so I am.

About this time last year, D&D 4 was on the shelves, and gamer nerds were still split on whether it was the most awesomest [sic] ever, or whether it was bringing death and ruin (and not the cool kind) to gaming. Ohhh, the D&D4 = MMORPG/WoW threads were so long. sigh. Good times.

Before 4e came out, I'd sworn off D&D. I'd gotten fed up with 3.x, and had gotten somewhat heavily into the indie gaming scene. I had a blast with some of these games, and as I've mentioned before, it was a great run for me, because it really opened my eyes up to a lot of neat stuff about the deeper theory and mechanics of gaming. As a total aside - posting sentences like that always makes me cringe just a little. But hey, nerds get into whatever they're nerding out about. I'm sure that somewhere, right now, someone is posting about the minute differences in two brands of fishing rods. /nerdtastic

Back on track: I followed the pending release of D&D4 like a stalker. You ever sit on a forum and hit 'refresh' like you're pushing the trigger on a morphine drip? That was me. I was stoked. Finally, I thought, a D&D that I can get back into.

So it came out, and I got my gamer buds together, and we ran some D&D. It was pretty awesome. Games were easy to prep for, mechanically speaking. "Powers", both for player-characters, and for monsters and bad guys were cool and fun. The players had a good time, and I had a good time. In the end, the arrival of babies in our lives put a nix on the game, but to be honest, after running the game for a little over six months, I'd begun to get burned out, mostly with the game system itself. So yeah, I'd gone from "D&D4 may be one of the most awesomest [sic] things ever", to "Eh, its fun." in six months.

Part of what turned me off was the combat system. I'm not trying to say that it was not fun or cool, just that after six months, the time it took to run even a simple combat had begun to outweigh the cool and fun. As a high fantasy tactical combat game that borrowed from action movies and games like final fantasy and world of warcraft, it excelled. But the fights were the focus of the sessions.

I'll pause here and concede that this has as much to do with system as it was the way I was running the game, but this quickly devolves into the System Does Matter argument. I was running the game, mechanically, as it was intended. We had time, in our game sessions, for about two fights, and some exposition and story before, between, and after the fights.

Anyway, my objective was not to rag on D&D4e. I suppose, instead, my goal was to compare Then And Now.

As I've posted here, I've begun to run some Labyrinth Lord games, which is a reworking of "old school" D&D, and have thought some about games like Shadowrun, and even Vampire the Masquerade (not Requiem, but that's for another post). D&D4 was fun, and I know a couple of folks who are still playing in other 4e games.

And that's all I've got.


Unknown said...

I find it odd that you seem to take it as a negative that d&d 4e focuses so much on the combat, but you are excited about the Labyrinth Lord. I mean in those games we have had roughly the same number of combats as in the 4e games, 2-3. And those combats are the sole focus of the games. Last session you did add more of a story element with the vision and the illusions, but do you see any of us being interested in other things, such as conversing with townsfolk? With it's lack of a skill system for the most part we just are doing anything other than combat. The game doesn't even seem to be set up to reward players for thinking outside the box or interacting with npcs. Though that could just be the way we're running the game.
I'm not knocking the game at all, I'm just not seeing where it's different from 4e in that. And honestly, I think it's only the brutal nature of combat that makes it interesting. I don't see it being able to last even 6 months of entertainment before the routine nature of it's system becomes "ok" at best.

Jerm said...

I disagree that combat is the sole focus of LL, or at very least the game that we're running. In fact, I think the focus has been exploration, in these game sessions. Either way, I suppose we could be taking different things from the game. My problem with 4e is that combat takes an hour or more. Combat in LL can be dragged out, sure, but they're so much shorter.

Its funny that you mention this - I was considering another post about puzzles and problem solving. To throw a hint right out there, you guys mostly ignored the instructions on the arch. So from my end of the table, the players aren't thinking outside of the box much, and so I'm not rewarding them for thinking outside of the box.

I'm not saying that old D&D is not a game about killing orcs and taking their treasure, but its also a game about exploring dungeons. And, as mentioned, some of the things that set old D&D apart from new D&D is that the old is about surviving, and the thrill is in living through encounters and traps. Also, old D&D is about the players being clever. There are few/no skills and such outside of combat because it is up to the players to be clever and think outside of the box. Heck, the version we are running at least has a thief class.

And finally, yeah - I'm not going to claim that any system is the Only System For Me, or that I'm certain to still be hot for it in 6 months. If you were to draw a venn diagram to represent the things that are fun in D&D, old and new D&D would only have some overlap. They are fun for a few of the same reasons, but also for many different reasons, that they do not share. And I'm currently digging on the stuff that's specific to the old school.

Unknown said...

I actually don't see that the combat is all that quicker in LL. The only reason it might be is that people and creatures have fewer hit points and that is likely just because we are first level. I mean, first level of 4e I remember us having just as many fights in a game session with a lot more interaction with npcs on top of that.
As far as the "puzzle" goes, I at least didn't even recognize it as one. I did consider the line about entering cover or whatever it was and so Markus grabbed one of the hoods and entered covered in it. But there was no feedback that did anything or even a reaction from you that said it was of any importance.
If the focus of the game is exploration, what exactly the reward you believe is attached to that? When it comes to trying to focus on roleplaying, you give rewards of xp to encourage it. But the only time we receive any reward is after combat. There's been little to no benefit to us searching for secret doors. We've just been finding a series of rooms with nothing happening other than the combat (though the illusions were something else, there wasn't enough incentive to try and push past them).

Jerm said...

Combat is different, and faster. I'll list a few reasons why 0e combat is faster than 4e combat. No marks and other effects. No 'powers', so no one ever flips through rulebooks. No moving markers around on the table. Shrug, it sure seems faster to me.

Yeah, one of your characters grabbed a hood. "No feedback or reaction"? Do what? What were you expecting? There's always feedback, its just whether you pick up on it or not.

The reward that is attached to exploration is, um, exploring the dungeon. This is not like poker, where the reward for playing cards is money. Yes - XP is the advancement mechanic in the game, and you get that from killing monsters and getting treasure. So let me backup, the reward for exploring the dungeon is finding treasure (and sometimes monsters), and getting XP for that.

And I guess that this just refines my point. Old school D&D is about adventures and exploration. And killing monsters and getting treasure.

And it begs the question, rhetorically, if you like, Why Do You Play? If its just to kill monsters and get XP and maybe some cool items, I'm not going to tell you that you're Playing It Wrong, but it may not be the same reason that I'm playing [running] it, or that others are playing. While everyone wants to 'level up' their wee little hero, if you don't enjoy the exploration and general game play of the game, then you're missing the point. The exploration and game play are not simply means to an end, they're What The Game Is About.

Unknown said...

I agree that there are things that can delay combat in 4e games such as looking up powers and such, but the same is true of looking up how spells or turn undead or even skills work in 0e. I think the biggest evidence that the combat isn't taking that much less time between the two is that we are having the exact same number of combats as we did at the same level in 4e. I think we are getting more area covered within the dungeon than we did in 4e, but it seems like that's because there are fewer rooms with events happening in them, which goes back to the question of how us the focus on exploration?
Maybe it's that we aren't taking whatever hints you are trying to leave us to make that aspect interesting. But at least for me, I'm just not seeing any such hints. You've set up a nice quest for us to cleanse the taint within the dungeon, but does that make the exploration the focus or just a means to an end?
Sorry, typing this on my iphobe at work, i think ive lost focused on whatever it is i was trying to say. I'm not trying to degrade the effort you are putting into running the game and I am enjoying it. I just don't see where it's all that much different from the way we ran 4e. And I really don't see that exploration is setup as a focus instead of just being an ends to a means. The game started out with a goal of finding treasure for ourselves, then a goal of paying back the village and hopefully finding some treasure we could keep to, now we have a quest/mission given to us by a god that brings story into the focus. (and btw, it's the story part I enjoy most). I don't see that exploration is more than an afterthought there. But maybe I and just interpreting "exploration" as something differently than you are. I don't know.