D&D 4E Bridging the cognitive gap between how the game rules work and what they tell us about the setting

Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
So what is your opinion on the messiness of 2e?

Let’s talk about the actual point instead of complaining about how it’s made.
2e luxuriated in options, both in terms of lore and mechanics. It was a buffet, not very well organized perhaps but with many varied options to make the game you wanted. I really wouldn't have had it any other way personally. It was like the sea of content on Drive-thru or the Guild, only all made by TSR.
 

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Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
Oh absolutely. PHB, my Fighter can choose to specialize in one weapon. The best weapon they can choose for this purpose is probably the longsword, maybe the short sword for a two weapon build. The best armor they can get is maybe banded mail and shield (if memory serves, or was it splint?) so you know, if they spend a ton of money, they can have an AC of 3 (less Dex modifers). And that's it!

Adding the Complete Fighter's Handbook, suddenly I could have 2 weapon specializations as a Myrmidon, Gladiator, or Samurai, dual wield with two long swords, or walk into the game as a Swashbuckler with AC 4 (less Dexterity) wearing leather armor and no shield!

It didn't take 2e long to go completely off the rails, once we added Bladesingers, Vindicators, Battleragers, Mythos Priests, Sylvan Elves, and Humanoids to the mix, let alone Psionics or Planar Races!
I'm fine with going off the rails. As the DM you just had to exercise a little control, decide what you wanted that campaign to be about, and then sell your players on it.
 

Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
Well, CORE 2e, the PHB and even the first few softback source books, is manageable. It is still AD&D with all its warts though. The combat system is a little less ambiguous about certain things, but it is still pretty muddy as to exactly what the process is for being 'in melee'. Some of the optional rules and subsystems are unworkable, but assuming you have a bit of received lore you can easily run it without TOO much trouble. OTOH oddly the exploration rules are much LESS developed than in 1e. Dungeon exploration turn structure is basically AWOL from 2e.

I think the fundamental problem is that there's no really solid substructure to build on. There isn't any formalized mechanism such as feats and powers, or even a single consistent casting system, so when things got added they were just all over the place. This is a place where 4e, particularly, excels. Roles and power sources nail down the thematics of classes, and their niche, and then its pretty obvious how 'builds' can be incorporated, feats are pretty consistent and have lots of examples, etc. 2e didn't have to get messy, but the discipline of constructing a core, and then building your baseline options using the same rules that are used to build new stuff later on, made 4e much less likely to 'go crazy'. 3.x is a bit in between, and I think overall 5e does pretty well in this department. 1e would have had 2e's problems, but for whatever reason TSR eschewed that sort of extension back then (wiser heads?).
All of this assumes that a solid substructure is necessary. I found the DIY aspect of piecing together the AD&D you wanted very appealing at the time.

To each their own. There's value in having a firmer base as well.
 

Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
Maybe they would have tried to make other games?

Imagine that!

We could be arguing about any number of other games at this point instead of rehashing the edition wars and beating the same dead horses!

And maybe that would have convinced other designers that there’s more to RPGs than D&D, and all the people making retroclones and knockoffs would have put their design chops to something maybe more worthwhile?

Imagine that!
Retroclones and knockoffs have produced some of the best games I've played. Making and supporting them was and is certainly a worthwhile endeavor to me.

What should they have been making instead, that would have been better in your opinion?
 

I think 5e has the same advantage 1e had. A glacial release cycle compared to 2e, 3.X, and 4e. 1e only ever got one major splatbook in ten years and it (Unearthed Arcana) was utterly ludicrous in places. 5e has had two (Tasha's and Xanathar's) and some stuff in some supplements and hasn't reached the level of gonzoness. 2e by contrast had a lot of shovelware. And 3.X and 4e both had successively more solid cores.

That said I wonder where 4e would have gone next if there had been no edition war; the obvious stuff had been made by the end of Martial Power 2. And the Essentials spin was also running out of stuff to put out.
Well, DMG3 never got released. One assumes that would have been more Epic tier focused. Epic definitely could have used a bit more attention. I think formal versions of things like 'super size' monsters and stuff like that might have been nice. There were a huge number of places where additional class builds were indicated, but never supplied. They could have gone on for a while. All the post-Essentials stuff would have still happened, of course. I think they could have done some additional source books, like a reimagined Spell Jammer. I mean they already had a lot of the material for that.

It is true though that at the furious release pace of 4e they'd have run low on really solid new options in a couple more years. I could think of directions to take it though, like supplements focusing on specific licenses. I mean, Castlevania, Witcher, Seven Deadly Sins, DOTA, I can think of 100 properties. Heck, Masters of the Universe. LOT of stuff that would work great with the 4e-style powers and whatnot.
 

I think 5e has the same advantage 1e had. A glacial release cycle compared to 2e, 3.X, and 4e. 1e only ever got one major splatbook in ten years and it (Unearthed Arcana) was utterly ludicrous in places. 5e has had two (Tasha's and Xanathar's) and some stuff in some supplements and hasn't reached the level of gonzoness. 2e by contrast had a lot of shovelware. And 3.X and 4e both had successively more solid cores.
Maybe. I mean, yes, 5e has not had the chance to melt, but I think you could hammer fairly hard on 5e. It isn't as cut and dried as 4e, but the player-facing side of it is infinitely stronger than AD&D ever was. It would take closer discipline of content creators though, as I think the way 4e lore is organized, classes are designed, etc. really nails things down and almost guarantees that material is going to come out fairly well with just some modest editorial direction.
 

All of this assumes that a solid substructure is necessary. I found the DIY aspect of piecing together the AD&D you wanted very appealing at the time.

To each their own. There's value in having a firmer base as well.
My problem with it was the actual usability. Stuff was all over the place. One supplement was giving you entirely suboptimal and super situational stuff that, or just nothing but pure fluff kits, and then the next one was doubling the damage output of every fighter or elf. Beyond that, stuff from different books combined in weird and hard to understand ways that was often crazy powerful, or stepped all over other classes, etc.

Some of it was fine, not a lot was mechanically super interesting, but there are exceptions. The oriental kits/subclasses tended to be fairly interesting, albeit sometimes a bit overpowered relative to the more traditional ones, but that was no worse than the 1e situation, and usually didn't matter. Still, it could be problematic. Then there was the elf book, we just banned the entire thing flat out, along with the tactics book, but those were sort of the dreg end of 2e.
 

hawkeyefan

Legend
2e luxuriated in options, both in terms of lore and mechanics. It was a buffet, not very well organized perhaps but with many varied options to make the game you wanted. I really wouldn't have had it any other way personally. It was like the sea of content on Drive-thru or the Guild, only all made by TSR.

I mean… what’s a word for “not well organized”?



I'm fine with going off the rails. As the DM you just had to exercise a little control, decide what you wanted that campaign to be about, and then sell your players on it.

And if a player happened to buy the Complete Bards Handbook, it’d be a bit of a dick move to not let them make a Jongleur or whatever they wanted to play from that book.

Retroclones and knockoffs have produced some of the best games I've played. Making and supporting them was and is certainly a worthwhile endeavor to me.

That’s fine… but do we really need so many? How many versions of D&D do we need? How much is this constant state of revision on the same game holding back the hobby?

What should they have been making instead, that would have been better in your opinion?

Anything. Something that a designer was passionate about. Something sci-fi or horror or any other genre. Something with entirely different rules. Just different games.

Just taking a chance instead of relying on the same idea again and again. Or at the very least, not only that.
 


Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
I mean… what’s a word for “not well organized”?





And if a player happened to buy the Complete Bards Handbook, it’d be a bit of a dick move to not let them make a Jongleur or whatever they wanted to play from that book.



That’s fine… but do we really need so many? How many versions of D&D do we need? How much is this constant state of revision on the same game holding back the hobby?



Anything. Something that a designer was passionate about. Something sci-fi or horror or any other genre. Something with entirely different rules. Just different games.

Just taking a chance instead of relying on the same idea again and again. Or at the very least, not only that.
Perhaps the people who made various iterations on D&D were passionate about making their version of the game. They're not called, "fantasy heartbreakers" for nothing. Also, plenty of people have made and are making science fiction and horror rpgs, or games with different rules. The 90s was my favorite era for this kind of creativity (and for most everything else in gaming). You had 2e, but you also had Vampire, and Cyberpunk, and Shadowrun, and Deadlands, and CoC, and Chill, and L5R, and Palladium, and Marvel FASERIP, and more. Talk about variety!
 

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