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4E Dungeons and Dragons is Released, But is it Worth Playing?

Written by wisdom000 on Sunday, July 13 2008 and posted in Features
By Wisdom000 Sound the trumpets, beat heavy the drums of battle, and let slip the barbarian hordes to wreak havoc across the land…. Welcome to the first column of Tabletop Wisdom, I am your host, Wisdom000, and in the future this column will be dedicated to tabletop gaming, mostly RPG, but there will also be some [...]

By Wisdom000

Sound the trumpets, beat heavy the drums of battle, and let slip the barbarian hordes to wreak havoc across the land….

Welcome to the first column of Tabletop Wisdom, I am your host, Wisdom000, and in the future this column will be dedicated to tabletop gaming, mostly RPG, but there will also be some board and card game groovyness for your pleasure as well.

What better way to start off this new column than for it to coincide quite nicely with the release of 4E Dungeons And Dragons. This latest edition has induced more speculation and fanboy whining on a level not seen since Tony Stark went all George Bush on the superhero community. Some of the complaints have been valid, some have been woefully unfounded, and some have just been so far off the mark that they missed the conversation entirely.

4E, like it’s predecessors, is one more step taken towards streamlining the rules.

The d20 system (which formed the basis for 3rd and 3.5 edition Dungeons And Dragons) was leaps and bounds ahead of it’s predecessors in terms of imporvement. The inclusion of the skill system meant the game could finally be used for more than just hack and slash, as social mechanics, which have been a major part of gaming among other systems, have been included since the late 80’s, early 90’s. Decreasing round time (the time in which every participant in a given combat can make their alloted attacks or actions) from one minute to six seconds may not sound important, but for believability issues it made things much easier to comprehend. In later rules supplements it became apparent that any intelligent creature was playable (with a little tweaking) as a character race, this was a big plus, as not everyone wants to go for the standard Human/Dwarf/Elf/Halfing/Half-Orc races available. There were other improvements as well, but by far the biggest improvement was the removal of THACO (To Hit Armor Class 0), which was so confusing and bemuddled that it scared off many an individual who would otherwise have loved gaming. Since Dungeons and Dragons, by way of it’s popularity and renown, is the gateway drug to gaming for most people, that was not a good thing, for the game or the industry.

The fact that D20 was created under an Open Game Liscense (OGL), the industry equivalent of Shareware, was a brilliant move. It meant that anyone could publish their own material using the same rules as DnD, companies popped up in a boom to rival that of the comics industry of the early to mid 90’s. The outcome was very nearly the same as well. With so many companies starting up, and everyone throwing out their pieces of the pie, quality control was almost unheard of, and not only was the d20 system the focus of a humongous glut, but because everyone was so focused on this one system, very little innovation was being made for other systems, and what little new ideas there were were stifled financially over the consumer and publisher frenzy over d20.

That wasn’t the only, nor even the greatest, flaw with d20. It’s greastest flaw was the inclusion of Feats (special powers/abilities your character could take) and Prestige Classes (the same thing, only spread out over multiple levels of your characters career). The amount of feats and prestige classes available to a character was inumerable. Even sticking to just official products, one character could have to reference a dozen books just to know what every Feat and Ability he has is able to accomplish. While exciting, and certainly profitable from WOTC’s (Wizards Of The Coast, publishers of Dungeons and Dragons) point of view, for game play this became rather old, rather tedious, and rather ridiculous fairly quickly. It was also often unbalancing, due to poor communication and playtesting.

4E has come along and fixed many of these problems. No more prestige classes, although it remains to be seen if feats are still going to create the massive distraction. 4e is still open liscense, kind of, now you have to pay a small fee, which acts as a measure of quality control for their product, so hopefully we won’t have to experience another industry stagnation and sub par products from fly by night companies.

The best advance with 4e, I have to say, is the way magic using classes work. Now every class gets to use a little bit of magic, and has a limited amount of self healing they can perform on themselves. The idea of having to “rest for spells” after every major combat is gone. Magic cast by characters comes in three flavors now, At-Will (which can be used anytime, as many times as a character wants), Encounter (which can be used once per combat) and Daily (can be once a day). Combat magic (fireballs, magic missiles, etc.) are instantaneous, while other magic, such as (Ressurections, Creating Undead, Breaking Curses) are time consuming affairs. But with ritualized magic, you don’t actually have to be a member of a spell casting class to use it. Regarless, the whole idea of having to sleep for 8 hours just so a wizard or cleric can regain their spells for the day is gone, a thing of the past. That alone is cause to celebrate the new edition.

In every edition of DnD, there has always been a “sweet spot” when the characters and the challanges they face, are the most entertaining and when things run the smoothest, usually between 5th and 12th levels. The stated goal of 4e designers has been to spread that sweet spot out further, making the game more enjoyable for longer periods of time. Time will tell if they have accomplished that goal, as it has only been out a few weeks so far, but it looks like they have gone a long way towards accomplishing it. The non magic based classes are streamlined as well, and finally the Ranger class is not completely useless.

But it does have problems. Favorite Races and Classes are no longer part of the core rules, so no monks, no bards, no half orcs, no gnomes, at least not till next year when they release the “updates” to the core rules. Although for some odd reason they included Dragonborne and Tiefling into the core classes, both races seem kinda wonky and powergamey to me, so I am not all that interested.

Unfortunately, the one mechanic I hate more than any other is still the core of the game; Level Based class and hitpoint advancement. I simply despise this mechanic, I always have, I always will. By it’s very nature it eliminates drama, as a character or creature with 100+ hitpoints is unkillable in a single blow. Taking a PC hostage and holding a knife to their throat is not a deterrent or threat to anything, because you simply cannot do enough damage to them in one round to kill them. No matter the content, setting or genre, any game which features this mechanic, which is by far the majority of them, simply fails to get me very excited at all.

Another big issue is the price of the books, having to buy 3 books (Players Handbook, Monster Manual, and Dungeon Masters Guide) just to play the game at all is extremely excessive, especially when each book runs for 30+ bucks apeice. There are so many things I would rather spend my $120 on it’s not even funny. This is further an insult when you consider that 3rd edition was released in 2000, and 3.5 was released a mere 4 years later, this is the third time in 8 years they have required their customers to shell out $120 just to remain compatible with the latest editions of the game. It’s unheard of and ridiculous. And in my opinion, simply not worth the money. Yes the newest edition is better than previous editions, and its a blast to play, far easier and more intuitive, but it’s simply not worth the price, particularly since they just asked us to do this 4 years ago.

On the other hand, the 1979/1981 Basic Dungeons And Dragons is still an absolute blast to play, characters take 5 minutes to create, and though the rules are extremely limited in what they cover, you will be laughing so hard and hoohaing so much that you won’t even notice.

With the talk of 4e out of the way, I introduce you to the second part of my column, which will be a regular feature. Here I will be talking about Interlock Unlimited. Interlock is the core game engine of Cyberpunk, Cyberpunk 2020, Cybergeneration, Teenagers From Outer Space, Castle Falkenstein, and Mekton, which were all published by R. Talsorian Games. This system was later replaced by Fuzion, which draws heavily from it (to the point of eay compatibility) for their current games such as Bubblegum Crisis, Dragonball, and Cyberpunk 3rd edition. Interlock is by far my favorite system in the world, its easy, yet realistic, and falls right in the middle between Savage Worlds simplicity of play, and Gurps Realism. But interlock has problems, they tried to fix the problems with Fuzion, but IMHO simply made the problems worse, effectively throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

Interlock Unlimited is my (and my co-conspirators) attempt at fixing Interlock, not only streamilining it, sorrecting the things that are redundant or don’t work, but also making it a truly universal system, able to handle any genre or setting right from the get go, or at least with as little effort as possible.

The core rules of Interlock Unlimited are almost complete, and would have been finished by now if it weren’t for personal upheaval (see the latest Church Of Wisdom). We are still working on Magic, Super Powers, and Psionics mechanics for the rules, but things are looking really good. And if everything goes as planned, any game that already uses Interlock or Fuzion rules will be fully compatible. Playtesting has begun for the completed parts, and a private forum has been established for myself and those interested to throw out ideas, work on possible supplemental material, and basically iron out any problems. My own Cyberpunk 2020 group of 12 years switched to these rules (from Interlock) recently, and I will be putting the rules to a hyper playtest soon as I take a group on an adventure loosely based off the film Time Bandits, where they will be time/dimesnion hopping from place to place, encountering the DC or Marvel Universe, high Fantasy Realms, Star Wars, Cthulthu, Prehistory, ancient Egypt, etc… in an effort to see what the system can easily handle, and where it needs work. Obviously I have to get Magic and Super Powers working first, but hopefully things will go well, and regardless it should be fun…

I will be keeping you all updated on this project, and my Cyberpunk 2020 webstite, Datafortress 2020 (the largest and most comprehensive (Cyberpunk 2020 site in the world, and the site I will be hosting the finished Interlock Unlimited project on) so stay tuned and keep checking in.

Keep on rollin’ in the free world…

To discuss, go here, monsieur and madam.

Posted originally: 2008-07-13 17:22:59

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