I think that you fail to understand the distinction between:
- The standard D&D approach: I want a fireball, so I will invent a mechanic to explain how it works
- The 4e approach: I want a minion that has an aura, so I invent s stupid name that will make it sound like it's fantastic.
In the end, both are mechanics, and both are narrative (although, once more, one not so much since no one has yet been able to explain how, in fiction, "unending hunger" does physical damage to creatures which are near) but they don't feel the same at all.
And it's the same with a lot of things in 4e and comparatively much fewer in other editions of the game, in particular class design, which is why, apart from classes designed from the ground up (swordmage, warlord), 4e failed to convince because inventing a mechanic and forcing people to call that a wizard did not convince. It was mechanic BEFORE fiction, and it shows.
That seems a selective choice of interpretation and putting out your interpretation as objective and universal. I completely felt a wizard playing my 4e wizard PC and considered the other 4e wizards as wizards.
In the original Chainmail
, the fantasy battle basis of D&D, fireball and lightning bolt were literally wanting the mechanics of a catapult and field gun in a fantasy wizard battle context.
"Missiles: A Wizard can throw either of two types of missile (select which before play begins). A fire ball, equal in hit area to the large catapult hit area, or a lightning bolt, 3/4" wide by 6" long, with an attack value equal to a heavy field gun
, are the two missile types employed. These missiles will destroy any men or creatures which are struck by them, with certain exceptions noted below. Both types of missiles can be thrown up to 24", direct or indirect fire, with range being called before the hit pattern is placed. The center of the fire ball is placed down at the number of inches called. The head of the lightning bolt is placed at the number of inches called, so that its body extends 6" behind it in a straight line from the Wizard who threw it ."
Cloudkill is a reskin of mustard gas.
From that point on all D&D fireballs, including 4e, are the fiction of D&D fireballs with the mechanics of that new edition D&D.
3e had a formula of xd6/level up to a spell level cap that fireball fit right into.
4e wanted a wizard fireball fiction too and figured out the math and mechanics to make that happen.
Similarly every edition having rangers with significantly different mechanics is D&D fiction first to have a D&D ranger but otherwise here are mechanics the designers thought would be fun.
I would agree though that 4e had a tendency to design some specific monsters for interesting mechanics first and not always put in narrative descriptions for those mechanics, but skimpy narrative descriptions is an ebb and flow of D&D monsters.
Here are the descriptions of goblins and kobolds in chainmail
"GOBLINS (and Kobolds): Goblins and Kobolds see well in dimness or dark, but they do not like bright light. When fighting in full daylight or bright light they must subtract 1 from their Morale Rating, as well as 1 from any die rolled. Because of their reciprocal hatred, Hoblins (Kobolds) will automatically attack any Dwarves (Gnomes) within charging distance. Hobgoblins fight as Armored Foot and defend as Heavy Foot. Their Point Value is 2 1/2 .
Morale Rating — 5 Point Value — 1?"
Here is the description of goblins in OD&D
"GOBLINS: These small monsters are as described in CHAINMAIL. They see well in darkness or dim light, but when they are subjected to full daylight they subtract –1 from their attack and morale dice. They attack dwarves on sight. Their hit dice must always equal at least one pip.
Composition of Force: When in their lair the “goblin king” will be found. He will fight as a Hobgoblin in all respects. He will be surrounded by a body of from 5–30 (roll five six-sided dice) guards as Hobgoblins also."
Here is the description of goblins in Moldvay Basic B/X D&D
"Goblins are a small incredibly ugly human-like race. Their skin is a pale earthy color, such as chalky tan or livid gray. Their eyes are red, and glow when there is little light, somewhat like rat's eyes. Goblins live underground and have well-developed infravision (heat-sensing sight) to 90'. In full daylight they fight with a penalty of -1 on their "to hit" rolls. Goblins hate dwarves and will attack them on sight. There is a 20% chance that when goblins are encountered, 1 of every 4 will be riding a dire wolf.
In the goblin lair lives a goblin king with 15 hit points who fights as a 3 hit dice monster and gains + 1 on damage rolls. The goblin king has a bodyguard of 2-12 goblins who fight as 2 hit dice monsters and have 2-12 hit points each. The king and his bodyguard may fight in full daylight without a penalty. The goblin morale will be 9 rather than 7 as long as their king is with them and still alive. Treasure type C is only found in the goblin lair or when encountered in the wilderness."
The same can be said for skimpy narrative on monster mechanics. For example Roper tentacle attacks.
"The roper has six strands of strong, sticky rope-like excretion which it can shoot from 2”-5”. A hit causes weakness (50% from strength in 1 -3 melee rounds), and the roper then draws its prey into its toothy maw where it is quickly devoured. The chance for breaking a strand is the same for opening a door, but every round the roper will drag the victim 10’ closer. They are unaffected by lightning, take half damage at most from cold, but are very susceptible to fire (-4 on saving throw)."
"Strands (Ex): Most encounters with a roper begin when it fires strong, sticky strands. The creature can have up to six strands at once, and they can strike up to 50 feet away (no range increment). If a strand is severed, the roper can extrude a new one on its next turn as a free action.
Weakness (Ex): A roper’s strands can sap an opponent’s strength. Anyone grabbed by a strand must succeed on a DC 18 Fortitude save or take 2d8 points of Strength damage. The save DC is Constitution-based."
I ran a high level 3.5 combat against an advanced templated roper. The question came up whether saving throw bonuses against poison (and immunity) applied here as it looks like a 3.5 poison mechanic but is not labelled as such.
The narrative MM roper description was not really a help in figuring out how its weakness strand attack worked narratively.
"This creature looks much like a natural stalagmite about 10 feet tall. Its great, gaping maw lined with crystalline teeth suggests it is a meat eater.
Ropers are hideous creatures that lurk in the deep caverns of the world. They are altogether evil and far more intelligent than most people would judge by their appearance.
A roper stands some 9 feet tall and tapers from 3 or 4 feet in diameter at the base to 1 foot across at the top. It weighs 2,200 pounds. A roper’s coloration and temperature change to match the features of the surrounding cave.
Ropers speak Terran and Undercommon.
A roper hunts by standing very still and imitating a bit of rock. This tactic often allows it to attack with surprise. When prey comes within reach, it lashes out with its strands. In melee, it bites adjacent opponents with its powerful maw."
The roper's weakness ability has always been a combat mechanic with no or little narrative support. (Maybe I am wrong and there was an ecology of the roper article in a Dragon magazine issue I am not aware of that went in-depth).
4e ropers dropped the weakness attacks entirely, which is a bit surprising as they had a weakness condition.
5e reinstated the weakness attack with a little narrative which might or might be enough to satisfy different people.
"Tendril. Melee Weapon Attack: +7 to hit, reach 50 ft., one creature. Hit: The target is grappled (escape DC 15). Until the grapple ends, the target is restrained and has disadvantage on Strength checks and Strength saving throws, and the roper can't use the same tendril on another target."
"Weakening Tendrils. A roper has six nubs set along its body, through which it extrudes sticky tendrils that bond to whatever they touch. Each tendril sends out hair-like growths that penetrate a creature's flesh and sap its strength, so the victim can struggle only weakly as the roper reels it in. If a tendril is cut through or broken, the roper produces a new one to replace it."
So in 5e it is not just that tentacles weaken you. It is that tendrils on the tentacles enter your flesh and weaken you. Which does not really get you much farther narratively.