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

Argyle King

Legend
For me, most of the disconnect for 4E didn't come from HP.

It came from realizing that most of the "official" advice was bad advice. For example, trying to engage in a Disarm the Trap Skill Challenge during a fight (what is suggested) does not particularly work well, especially once you realize that your PC can smash/break/kill most things without much effort.

There were also instances such as realizing that staying in the mouth of a gator during a fight was better than trying to get out. Escaping the grab meant taking most of your turn, doing zero damage, and also recharging a more-powerful attack for the enemy; staying in the mouth meant a smaller amount of damage each round and preventing other party members from being hit.

Lorewise, there was some disconnect between the fluff and crunch. However, HP isn't what bothered me. It was more that a lot of threats (such as dragons and demon lords) said to be terrorizing the land ended up so laughably pathetic against the PCs in actual play. It was difficult to buy into lore that told such a drastically different story than actually paying the game told.

I remember fighting Strahd in 4E; I don't think he ever got a chance to attack before the party killed him. When he tried to turn incorporeal and flee, it got worse for him because it meant that the wizard did more damage to him.

Additionally, "Ze game will remain ze same" did no favors to 4E. The style, tone, and aesthetic of the game didn't remain the same.

There were a lot of things to like about 4E. However, my best experiences came after realizing that I should run the game in a way that largely ignored how WoTC advised that I should run the game. It took a while to wrap my head around that.
 

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For me, most of the disconnect for 4E didn't come from HP.

It came from realizing that most of the "official" advice was bad advice. For example, trying to engage in a Disarm the Trap Skill Challenge during a fight (what is suggested) does not particularly work well, especially once you realize that your PC can smash/break/kill most things without much effort.

There were also instances such as realizing that staying in the mouth of a gator during a fight was better than trying to get out. Escaping the grab meant taking most of your turn, doing zero damage, and also recharging a more-powerful attack for the enemy; staying in the mouth meant a smaller amount of damage each round and preventing other party members from being hit.
So, you cannot find even one weird corner case in the default mechanics for any monster in other editions? Or for any other element for that matter? Cherry-picking is nice and all, but your argument is unimpressive. What I would suggest is that when people play it is really mostly up to them to play in a way which produces sensible results. I mean, in the case of these examples, which are super corner-case at best (and in the case of the SC comment is just pure BS) GMs are the ones deploying this monster, or designing this SC. There are perfectly good options! Again, in every edition, if you try hard enough you can create nonsense if you just slavishly implement some implausible combination of rules.
Lorewise, there was some disconnect between the fluff and crunch. However, HP isn't what bothered me. It was more that a lot of threats (such as dragons and demon lords) said to be terrorizing the land ended up so laughably pathetic against the PCs in actual play. It was difficult to buy into lore that told such a drastically different story than actually paying the game told.

I remember fighting Strahd in 4E; I don't think he ever got a chance to attack before the party killed him. When he tried to turn incorporeal and flee, it got worse for him because it meant that the wizard did more damage to him.
Well, you were doing something wrong then! I mean, I killed entire parties in my 3 full 4e campaigns. I think it is true that if you are being, again, simplistic and just plopping Orcus in front of a group of 5 pregens run by competent players, then sure as heck they'll wipe the floor with him. Why would that make story sense in actual play? I recall in our 2e campaign when we reached the point of actually encountering Demogorgon there was a LITERALLY LIMITLESS stream of high level demons involved, and my character had to wade across a mile-wide field of demon army to reach the final encounter. These are super powered immortal beings with godlike intellects. They don't fight fair, you don't get a steel cage deathmatch throwdown with them. Again though, I agree, 4e's encounter guidelines don't really say that part, but then again DMG3 was the epic DMG and it never got published, so we don't actually know what the advice was.
Additionally, "Ze game will remain ze same" did no favors to 4E. The style, tone, and aesthetic of the game didn't remain the same.
It is fine to have whatever taste you have, and play whatever game you want, but you aren't doing that, you're just bashing some other game. I wonder what @Micah Sweet thinks? lol.
There were a lot of things to like about 4E. However, my best experiences came after realizing that I should run the game in a way that largely ignored how WoTC advised that I should run the game. It took a while to wrap my head around that.
OK, so NOW we have something we can mostly agree on! I think you really have to dig into the lore and story side of things, and then build what makes sense. I also think that 'gonzo' is the key to 4e. I know this has not been a popular position, but I ran 3 very solid and fun 4e campaigns, and I rapidly discovered that the more crazy things were, the more fun it was! This is why crud like KotS is so miserably useless, it is just filled with rooms stuffed with opponents like sausage, blech! Even that thing has a couple of better encounters, and whomever wrote 'Kobold Hall' didn't do too badly (it's an intro adventure, I think it gets a pass anyway).

But when you do things like the party riding logs down the flume into the sawmill and fighting the monsters while the giant sawblade threatens to saw the damsel in half? That was awesome! The party riding in mine carts careening through the collapsing mine while flipping the switches as they went past them to derail the goblins behind them and select the exit instead of deadly falls? Awesome! Riding artifact steeds through a lake of fire filled with lava beasts to take out an elder dragon before it could create a volcanic eruption? Worked great!

And I agree, the DMG1/2 encounter building sections only really hint at this sort of stuff, although in all the above cases I believe the actual encounters fell pretty much within the budgets and used the various rules as written, modulus some terrain powers and whatnot that was specially generated. So, I think we agree there is a great game in 4e, it just isn't the game as presented in any of the WotC modules and Dragon adventures (there are minor exceptions here and there).
 

hawkeyefan

Legend
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!

Yes, that’s largely my point… a variety of games is good for the hobby. There is variety today, yes, but there could be even more so. If the industry leader actually branched out beyond their one game, I think it’d be good for the hobby.
 

Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
So, you cannot find even one weird corner case in the default mechanics for any monster in other editions? Or for any other element for that matter? Cherry-picking is nice and all, but your argument is unimpressive. What I would suggest is that when people play it is really mostly up to them to play in a way which produces sensible results. I mean, in the case of these examples, which are super corner-case at best (and in the case of the SC comment is just pure BS) GMs are the ones deploying this monster, or designing this SC. There are perfectly good options! Again, in every edition, if you try hard enough you can create nonsense if you just slavishly implement some implausible combination of rules.

Well, you were doing something wrong then! I mean, I killed entire parties in my 3 full 4e campaigns. I think it is true that if you are being, again, simplistic and just plopping Orcus in front of a group of 5 pregens run by competent players, then sure as heck they'll wipe the floor with him. Why would that make story sense in actual play? I recall in our 2e campaign when we reached the point of actually encountering Demogorgon there was a LITERALLY LIMITLESS stream of high level demons involved, and my character had to wade across a mile-wide field of demon army to reach the final encounter. These are super powered immortal beings with godlike intellects. They don't fight fair, you don't get a steel cage deathmatch throwdown with them. Again though, I agree, 4e's encounter guidelines don't really say that part, but then again DMG3 was the epic DMG and it never got published, so we don't actually know what the advice was.

It is fine to have whatever taste you have, and play whatever game you want, but you aren't doing that, you're just bashing some other game. I wonder what @Micah Sweet thinks? lol.

OK, so NOW we have something we can mostly agree on! I think you really have to dig into the lore and story side of things, and then build what makes sense. I also think that 'gonzo' is the key to 4e. I know this has not been a popular position, but I ran 3 very solid and fun 4e campaigns, and I rapidly discovered that the more crazy things were, the more fun it was! This is why crud like KotS is so miserably useless, it is just filled with rooms stuffed with opponents like sausage, blech! Even that thing has a couple of better encounters, and whomever wrote 'Kobold Hall' didn't do too badly (it's an intro adventure, I think it gets a pass anyway).

But when you do things like the party riding logs down the flume into the sawmill and fighting the monsters while the giant sawblade threatens to saw the damsel in half? That was awesome! The party riding in mine carts careening through the collapsing mine while flipping the switches as they went past them to derail the goblins behind them and select the exit instead of deadly falls? Awesome! Riding artifact steeds through a lake of fire filled with lava beasts to take out an elder dragon before it could create a volcanic eruption? Worked great!

And I agree, the DMG1/2 encounter building sections only really hint at this sort of stuff, although in all the above cases I believe the actual encounters fell pretty much within the budgets and used the various rules as written, modulus some terrain powers and whatnot that was specially generated. So, I think we agree there is a great game in 4e, it just isn't the game as presented in any of the WotC modules and Dragon adventures (there are minor exceptions here and there).
Maybe they shouldn't have said the game will remain the same, if it doesn't. Seems simple enough to me. Be honest when talking about your product. Feel good about your work and praise it. Don't misrepresent, and don't put down old stuff to promote new stuff. There was and is plenty of 4e to praise. It was well balanced, consistent, had an interesting cosmology. But it wasn't the same game.
 

Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
Yes, that’s largely my point… a variety of games is good for the hobby. There is variety today, yes, but there could be even more so. If the industry leader actually branched out beyond their one game, I think it’d be good for the hobby.
You think WotC should make other games? I didn't get that from what you're saying, but I am all for it.
 

hawkeyefan

Legend
You think WotC should make other games? I didn't get that from what you're saying, but I am all for it.

Yeah… I was saying if 4e remained, I’d have hoped they actually slowed down the churn of books and devote resources to making other games.

However, that was not to be! Instead we got 5e and now 5.5/D&DNow/6e/whatever they’re calling it. An awful lot of resources to present largely the same game.

Imagine if those resources were spent on introducing all the people 5e brought in to another type of game rather than in just selling people the same stuff again.
 

Argyle King

Legend
So, you cannot find even one weird corner case in the default mechanics for any monster in other editions? Or for any other element for that matter? Cherry-picking is nice and all, but your argument is unimpressive. What I would suggest is that when people play it is really mostly up to them to play in a way which produces sensible results. I mean, in the case of these examples, which are super corner-case at best (and in the case of the SC comment is just pure BS) GMs are the ones deploying this monster, or designing this SC. There are perfectly good options! Again, in every edition, if you try hard enough you can create nonsense if you just slavishly implement some implausible combination of rules.

Well, you were doing something wrong then! I mean, I killed entire parties in my 3 full 4e campaigns. I think it is true that if you are being, again, simplistic and just plopping Orcus in front of a group of 5 pregens run by competent players, then sure as heck they'll wipe the floor with him. Why would that make story sense in actual play? I recall in our 2e campaign when we reached the point of actually encountering Demogorgon there was a LITERALLY LIMITLESS stream of high level demons involved, and my character had to wade across a mile-wide field of demon army to reach the final encounter. These are super powered immortal beings with godlike intellects. They don't fight fair, you don't get a steel cage deathmatch throwdown with them. Again though, I agree, 4e's encounter guidelines don't really say that part, but then again DMG3 was the epic DMG and it never got published, so we don't actually know what the advice was.

It is fine to have whatever taste you have, and play whatever game you want, but you aren't doing that, you're just bashing some other game. I wonder what @Micah Sweet thinks? lol.

OK, so NOW we have something we can mostly agree on! I think you really have to dig into the lore and story side of things, and then build what makes sense. I also think that 'gonzo' is the key to 4e. I know this has not been a popular position, but I ran 3 very solid and fun 4e campaigns, and I rapidly discovered that the more crazy things were, the more fun it was! This is why crud like KotS is so miserably useless, it is just filled with rooms stuffed with opponents like sausage, blech! Even that thing has a couple of better encounters, and whomever wrote 'Kobold Hall' didn't do too badly (it's an intro adventure, I think it gets a pass anyway).

But when you do things like the party riding logs down the flume into the sawmill and fighting the monsters while the giant sawblade threatens to saw the damsel in half? That was awesome! The party riding in mine carts careening through the collapsing mine while flipping the switches as they went past them to derail the goblins behind them and select the exit instead of deadly falls? Awesome! Riding artifact steeds through a lake of fire filled with lava beasts to take out an elder dragon before it could create a volcanic eruption? Worked great!

And I agree, the DMG1/2 encounter building sections only really hint at this sort of stuff, although in all the above cases I believe the actual encounters fell pretty much within the budgets and used the various rules as written, modulus some terrain powers and whatnot that was specially generated. So, I think we agree there is a great game in 4e, it just isn't the game as presented in any of the WotC modules and Dragon adventures (there are minor exceptions here and there).

Sure, I could cherry pick, but I wasn't.

Those are simply examples that still stand out to me, even after not playing for years.

It's less "cherry picking" and more that the 'edge cases' were the norm for the games in which I played. The Strahd example I gave was how a lot of encounters with legendary creatures went. Later monster math started to help, but later books also allowed characters to mix and match elements to become stronger. Somewhere, I have a notebook with which I was re-writing Elites, Solos, XP budgets, and Skill Challenges. The 'official' ideas were good; the execution was a mixed bag; the advice for how to run the game and subsequent changes to the mentality of the system went in what I feel was the wrong direction.

I 100% agree that there was a lot of fun such as riding logs and such. Some of my own examples include a room that moved as if the PCs were inside of a rubix cube; a fight between two groups traveling on gondolas; mining carts, and etc.

One of my issues with 4E was that the PCs and monsters interacted with the world around them very differently.

Am I saying PCs and monsters should be built the same? No. I am not.

However, comparing the PCs to the (for lack of better words) physics engine math that the in-game world was built upon highlighted that the PCs were effectively superheroes compared to the world around them. In contrast, creatures that the lore suggested should be serious threats -when comparing what they could do against the 'physics engine'- showed less proficiency than the lore would suggest. Juxtaposing the three sets of concepts for how game elements should work could (and for my group, often did) produce unusual results.

As said, in time, I learned ways to improve that. That learning process included running the game very differently than WoTC suggested I should; running games that were (as you said) "gonzo" and had very little resemblance to the fantasy world(s) implied by D&D lore; and remembering to turn off certain parts of my brain.

4E was a good rpg with a lot of positive aspects; I'm just not sure it was always very good at being D&D; and it was rather poor at telling some of the stories I wanted to tell.

I loved the 4E preview books and wish some more of that vibe made it into the final product. Though, all things considered, I think I generally enjoyed 4E more than I enjoy the current state of 5E.
 

Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
Yeah… I was saying if 4e remained, I’d have hoped they actually slowed down the churn of books and devote resources to making other games.

However, that was not to be! Instead we got 5e and now 5.5/D&DNow/6e/whatever they’re calling it. An awful lot of resources to present largely the same game.

Imagine if those resources were spent on introducing all the people 5e brought in to another type of game rather than in just selling people the same stuff again.
This assumes two things:

1. 5e and 4e are largely the same game, so development of 5e was superfluous.

2. 4e was/is the best version of D&D, such that further iteration is, again, superfluous.

I categorically reject both of these.
 

Sure, I could cherry pick, but I wasn't.

Those are simply examples that still stand out to me, even after not playing for years.
Well, what I'm saying is, and maybe 'cherry picking' is a less productive way of putting it, is that you're surely remembering the two (or whatever it is) times you had this experience, vs the 100's or 1000's of times you didn't, which don't stand out in the same way. I mean, I have a similar thing going with sloggy encounters. I can remember a number (4 or 5) sloggy 4e battles that dragged out, but that's out of 10 years of play! So it is a possibility, but not something I would focus on in my descriptions of 4e combat. Partly the reason being once we had a couple of those we were like "Oh, don't put 5 orcs in a room with one door" and figured out the optimum ways to play this specific game.
It's less "cherry picking" and more that the 'edge cases' were the norm for the games in which I played. The Strahd example I gave was how a lot of encounters with legendary creatures went. Later monster math started to help, but later books also allowed characters to mix and match elements to become stronger. Somewhere, I have a notebook with which I was re-writing Elites, Solos, XP budgets, and Skill Challenges. The 'official' ideas were good; the execution was a mixed bag; the advice for how to run the game and subsequent changes to the mentality of the system went in what I feel was the wrong direction.
I think there's a fairly strong consensus amongst people who enjoy playing 4e a lot that the WotC design team was a mixed lot, some of whom did not really have a good feel for the game, or wanted it to be some completely other game. There's very solid and actionable advice, backed by appropriate design, for a highly dynamic Narrativist kind of super dynamic 'shonen style' type of game, but certain people within WotC seem to have hated this idea and done their best to subvert it. What they were offering instead, sadly, is not very exciting to be perfectly frank. So you have crap SC examples like "Convince the Duke" (I give it 1 star). At the same time you have some really excellent examples, and by focusing on "what does this do well, and how do I do it?" instead of spending all my energy on "it's all garbage and badwrongfun" which seems to have been a common reaction, we got the good game that is there instead of the fairly blah one that half of WotC tried to shift on people.
I 100% agree that there was a lot of fun such as riding logs and such. Some of my own examples include a room that moved as if the PCs were inside of a rubix cube; a fight between two groups traveling on gondolas; mining carts, and etc.

One of my issues with 4E was that the PCs and monsters interacted with the world around them very differently.

Am I saying PCs and monsters should be built the same? No. I am not.

However, comparing the PCs to the (for lack of better words) physics engine math that the in-game world was built upon highlighted that the PCs were effectively superheroes compared to the world around them. In contrast, creatures that the lore suggested should be serious threats -when comparing what they could do against the 'physics engine'- showed less proficiency than the lore would suggest. Juxtaposing the three sets of concepts for how game elements should work could (and for my group, often did) produce unusual results.

As said, in time, I learned ways to improve that. That learning process included running the game very differently than WoTC suggested I should; running games that were (as you said) "gonzo" and had very little resemblance to the fantasy world(s) implied by D&D lore; and remembering to turn off certain parts of my brain.

4E was a good rpg with a lot of positive aspects; I'm just not sure it was always very good at being D&D; and it was rather poor at telling some of the stories I wanted to tell.

I loved the 4E preview books and wish some more of that vibe made it into the final product. Though, all things considered, I think I generally enjoyed 4E more than I enjoy the current state of 5E.
Well, I agree that 4e is not well-suited to old school dungeon crawl kind of play (it actually can do it in small doses, I think I actually ran 4 or 5 small dungeons at various times), nor is it super good for kind of traditional set-piece situational play. In terms of things like 'big bads', I mean, for most of the levels of play in 4e if you drop a solo monster at level+5, in its home field, on the party (or maybe level+4 plus a few extras) things get dicey REAL fast! I recall a stupid nasty scenario where a party decided they could kill off a Black Dragon that was lairing in a wooded swamp. They get near the things lair and it is deep opaque pools of bog water filled with piles of rotting fallen trees, with limited line of site due to the living moss-covered trees. Man that dragon had a field day with the party, popping up here and there for a split second, dropping darkness on them, barfing a load of acid, and then back out of sight, etc. etc. etc.

Yes if you run that lame ass E3 module with Orcus as the big bad, that was just sad. Just say no. I mean, just put it this way, Orcus flies well, what if he was 200 squares above you dropping naughty word on you? (yeah, dragons can do that too, so can any intelligent flyer, you aren't beating intelligent fliers in my games if you are a ground pounder, not unless you can force them to come fight you). I mean, if you make such lame encounters in 1e Demon Lords are cheese too. I have no idea what the authors of these 'adventures' were thinking, but they were not thinking epic!
 

hawkeyefan

Legend
This assumes two things:

1. 5e and 4e are largely the same game, so development of 5e was superfluous.

2. 4e was/is the best version of D&D, such that further iteration is, again, superfluous.

I categorically reject both of these.

It doesn’t assume either of those things. It was a supposition about what may have been if WotC continued with 4e.

You’ve nothing to fear… the endless parade of versions of D&D continues unabated!
 

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