D&D 4E Dissociating what I (we?) like from the mechanics

Kannik

Adventurer
I love the list. And for the most part agree with it.

But I have an observation about the list that I want to couch in the most positive (+) way - every point on the list that focuses primarily on a single pillar of play focuses on combat.

Instead of Utility powers that could apply to combat or could apply elsewhere as a sort-of nod to "everything non-combat", I'd love to see progressions of powers for other pillars of play as well. Roles for other pillars of play. Which means have the same sort of tactical robustness to require mechanics and multiple approaches.

Heck, pick a power source and then pick a combat class, a social class, and a discovery class to match. That would be 4e, but more-so.
-nodnods- I wrote a supplement on "Trade and Professions" to try and add additional roles for players in that regard, but the genesis of the idea was more far-reaching to split the classes into an "encounter" role (tying into power source as well) and a "profession" role for the aspects of the characters outside of an encounter. This would let, for example, the "Ranger" wilderness archetype be fulfilled by nearly any power source and role type, as the wilderness bits (tracking, nature lore, herbology, etc) would be carried by the "profession" role. As you say, this takes the role+power source grid and all the variety, excitement, and flavour that already grants in 4e and supercharges it with another dimension (potentially further enhanced with backgrounds, themes, and splitting species into ancestry and culture...) :) Natch, there's a danger of making the matrix too deep, so perhaps Ancestry, Culture , Theme, Profession (which could include background), Class would work.
 

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Undrave

Hero
-nodnods- I wrote a supplement on "Trade and Professions" to try and add additional roles for players in that regard, but the genesis of the idea was more far-reaching to split the classes into an "encounter" role (tying into power source as well) and a "profession" role for the aspects of the characters outside of an encounter. This would let, for example, the "Ranger" wilderness archetype be fulfilled by nearly any power source and role type, as the wilderness bits (tracking, nature lore, herbology, etc) would be carried by the "profession" role. As you say, this takes the role+power source grid and all the variety, excitement, and flavour that already grants in 4e and supercharges it with another dimension (potentially further enhanced with backgrounds, themes, and splitting species into ancestry and culture...) :) Natch, there's a danger of making the matrix too deep, so perhaps Ancestry, Culture , Theme, Profession (which could include background), Class would work.
This mention of trade skils reminds me of how I often see 5e's 'tools proficiency' as just a different form of profession skill, and I've suggested seeing them as such multiple times in the past to people seeking a mechanical hook for their character's former job. Call it... Professional Proficiency and have them handed out by the backgrounds or picked up easily through ribbon features the same way the Herbalism Kit or Woodworker Tools or Brewer's Kit are easy to pick up.

In fact, I'm really surprised that more tools proficiency were not introduced in later settings book. Feel like more specialized or setting-sensitive tools, could have been added, with new backgrounds handing out the proficiency. It's a really untapped aspect of 5e even if their mechanical 'weight' so to speak is basically that of a feather.
 
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Aldarc

Legend
Class based and level based:
Depends. In the case of 4e, I think that it works, though I'm not sure if I would have stretched it across 30 levels. There may have been alternative ways to achieve similar results but without as much need to design for 30 levels of player-facing content.

Visible Design:
Check. I just wish that they got the math right the first time around and could actually design adventures around that visible design that they made for themselves.

Classes with clear purposes:
This is a big one for me. 4e not only delivered in clear class roles but also in providing clear class themes (for the most part*).

* I'm still scratching my head about "the Seeker." It was a ranged primal striker, which was fine, but the name and archetype fantasy seemed murky when compared to its primal peers: i.e., Barbarian, Druid, Shaman, and Warden.

Choices at every level:
Agreed, but see my earlier point about doing this across 30 levels. D&D 4e arguably could have created four tiers of play across 20 levels instead of three tiers of play across 30 levels.

There were some questionable balance decisions, and I think part of the issue stemmed from having to design material for every level. It may have been easier to Balance with less moving parts.

Same clock for everyone:
Check.

Defenders that really defend:

Support that matter:

Tactical Combat:
Check on all three.

Attacker always rolls:
Amen. Rolls against defenses are far more intuitive, IMHO, than saving throws.

Universality:
Agreed.

Intuitive encounter building:
Check.

Incomplete Lore:
Check. Compared to many other settings before it, the Nentir Vale was easier to wade through as a player and GM because there was less lore clutter. Its barebones nature made it easy to customize for GMs and to plug-n-play characters for players, because its setting themes were more important than the nitty-gritty lore.

Cosmology for Adventurers:
Check. Moreover, the cosmology is built around broad themes that were easy to understand. This also meant it was fairly easy to understand the cosmic role of a new monster in a way that amounts to more than its alignment.

Truly epic epic levels:
Check, though for me, I think the bigger point is how 4e set clear expectations surrounding the three tiers of play (i.e., Heroic, Paragon, and Epic) and the sort of threats that tonally the PCs should be facing.

Separation of combat magic and utility magic :

Magic doesn't always do it better but is convenient:
Check.
 

Undrave

Hero
Depends. In the case of 4e, I think that it works, though I'm not sure if I would have stretched it across 30 levels. There may have been alternative ways to achieve similar results but without as much need to design for 30 levels of player-facing content.
Yeah 30 levels would probably need to be revisited. I think 10 levels for Heroic tier is pretty decent in that it's pretty quick in general and gives you a lot of depth for the most played segment of the game, but I wouldn't be opposed to further tier being shorter and more focused.
This is a big one for me. 4e not only delivered in clear class roles but also in providing clear class themes (for the most part*).

* I'm still scratching my head about "the Seeker." It was a ranged primal striker, which was fine, but the name and archetype fantasy seemed murky when compared to its primal peers: i.e., Barbarian, Druid, Shaman, and Warden.
Oh yeah, PHB3 was when they kinda lost the plot for me.

The Seeker felt like a last minute filler just to have 6 classes in the book, and it was a CONTROLLER, not even a Striker. It felt like them trying to sludge together a spell caster Ranger somehow... But I think there is room to explore with the idea of a character that channels magic through thrown weapons. Personally I would have made them more primal and have the sling be their range weapon of choice, with their ammos now being enchanted seeds and maybe like... enlarging thrown weapons? Turn spears into snake? That sort of thing. Dunno what'd you call such a class... Maybe just 'Forrester' as in they bring the forest to you?

The Runepriest is an interesting concept but totally half baked and superfluous, the Battlemind was an empty attempt at a Psychic Fighter, the Ardent was a cool idea for a leader, the Psion suffered from Wizard syndrome, and the Monk was the gem of this whole thing.
Check, though for me, I think the bigger point is how 4e set clear expectations surrounding the three tiers of play (i.e., Heroic, Paragon, and Epic) and the sort of threats that tonally the PCs should be facing.
Yes, that's very much a focus. There's also the sense that the PC don't just do the same thing from level 1 to level 30 (cough 5e Fighter cough), that they unlock new heights of powers. Everybody got access to more powerful status conditions and bigger areas of effect, every Paragon Path has an ability that triggers on using an Action Point, most Epic Destiny have a thing that trigger when you DIE... It feels significant. I've said it before and I would essentially break the progressions into tier so once you're done with ten level of heroic you select a Paragon class and only progress in that class, and the same in Epic. You end up with three different classes basically.
 
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Separation of combat magic and utility magic : Combat magic was all the instantaneous and short duration effect. Anything longer fell into rituals and used a different resource. Doing cool things in combat did not diminish your ability to over come obstacle, and rituals were also an avenue any character could explore if they wanted to. If you really wanted to spend on them, you could be more magical than normal, or you could decide to just rely on mundane means to solve out of combat problems (options for a martial/mundane equivalent to ritual would arrive alter in the edition).

This is on my top 4e did well list AND on my what 4e could have done even better list.

What a great and underused system. Because the cost of entrance was so low (free with your class or a feat), basically they shifted all the true plot breaking and big utility magic into a party resource (gold cost).

I really believe if they
1) had given the traditional full spellcasters free ritual use per day for their "type" in a spells cast table (could even max at 3/2/1 per day free with 1 at your level, 2 at <level -3 and 3 per day at <level -5).
2) had all the 3e PHB utlity spells covered as rituals in the 4e PHB (which they did eventually)
3) split the ritual list into "types" -- Arcane, Primal, Divine -- and you only get access to 1 type with your class or a Feat

This would changed almost nothing about 4e balence but half the complaints about powers and magic would have gone away...
 

Undrave

Hero
This is on my top 4e did well list AND on my what 4e could have done even better list.

What a great and underused system. Because the cost of entrance was so low (free with your class or a feat), basically they shifted all the true plot breaking and big utility magic into a party resource (gold cost).

I really believe if they
1) had given the traditional full spellcasters free ritual use per day for their "type" in a spells cast table (could even max at 3/2/1 per day free with 1 at your level, 2 at <level -3 and 3 per day at <level -5).
2) had all the 3e PHB utlity spells covered as rituals in the 4e PHB (which they did eventually)
3) split the ritual list into "types" -- Arcane, Primal, Divine -- and you only get access to 1 type with your class or a Feat

This would changed almost nothing about 4e balence but half the complaints about powers and magic would have gone away...
Ah yes, rituals were cool but severely under-developed. I think one too many people didn’t realize that rituals were meant to be a group resource and the spellcaster wasn’t meant to pay every cost on their own. There were also almost NEVER any ritual scrolls in treasure hoards in official adventure. Even just throwing a few scrolls and random bottles of residuum would have been useful to get people intrigued by them. I also think we needed rituals that were like “Any participant gains X boon, but they have to spend a healing surge to get it” so your party size doesn’t really matter when you’re getting a water breathing ritual off or something to that effect. It also adds to the ‘group ressource’ aspect. Heck, maybe some rituals could have a minimum number of participants? With some of the more plot breaking ones requiring so many participants that you literally have to hire people to complete them.

The free ritual per day thing is not a bad idea. I could even see a Wizard, for example, taking the Ritual Caster feat to access more rituals. They could have class features that make them real ritual specialists, giving Wizards a THING of their own. Dunno what, but it could be fun.

Rituals were classified in Arcane, Religion or Nature skills, so it’s not a stretch to have them cordon off into separate chunks.

I think a robust ritual system would make magic feel more dramatic and ‘BIG DEAL!’ you know? Like, throwing a few sparklers in a fight is no big deal, spending your spell slot to cash Wish or whatever, that’s like pressing a button, that’s nothing. Coordinating 20 people in a complex 2 hours ceremony to get that Wish? Now THAT Feels like a BIG DEAL! That feels like ancient magic that need to be roused from its slumber! Not something you just casual bust out on a whim!

It also means you got tools to ratchet up the tension, with either the enemies using a ritual of their own you need to mess up, or them trying to interfere with yours.
 

Kannik

Adventurer
This is on my top 4e did well list AND on my what 4e could have done even better list.
Likewise!
I also think we needed rituals that were like “Any participant gains X boon, but they have to spend a healing surge to get it” so your party size doesn’t really matter when you’re getting a water breathing ritual off or something to that effect. It also adds to the ‘group ressource’ aspect. Heck, maybe some rituals could have a minimum number of participants? With some of the more plot breaking ones requiring so many participants that you literally have to hire people to complete them.

The free ritual per day thing is not a bad idea. I could even see a Wizard, for example, taking the Ritual Caster feat to access more rituals. They could have class features that make them real ritual specialists, giving Wizards a THING of their own. Dunno what, but it could be fun.
In my main 4e campaign (which had a very small party) I added a gaggle of rituals for the Paladin and gave them the option to cast it with components or using healing surges (and I gave each ritual a particular surge cost). They totally loved it... it recaptured some of the features they had in previous edition(s) though spells, which made them both more versatile and more badass as they used them in creative and crucial ways.

I would totally do this again in my next major 4e campaign.
 

Voadam

Legend
I don't know if this goes too far into mechanics for you, but for me I would add a bunch on monsters:

Monster roles: Easy to hit brutes that take and dish out a lot of damage, lightly armored mobile skirmishers, etc. with numbers and powers to go with that combat flavor niche.

Monster types: Minions, standard, elite, solo. Allowing for appropriate threats and action economy (elites attacks hit two people, solos do area of effects and interrupts) with different staying power for the same level challenge.

Monster themes: Monsters have a consistent racial power and some monster role powers, enough to be interesting in the combat but easy to apply and track and fit on a single page without reference to spell or class abilities.

Monster variations:
Most every monster has a few variations across some types and levels.

Monsters are not PCs: Monsters do not follow the same rules as PCs, including different resource management considerations (recharge powers for instance instead of encounter or dailies on a formula).

I used 4e monster roles and type concepts in my 3.5 and pathfinder games as a DM before I ever picked up 4e and I felt they added great value.
 

There were also almost NEVER any ritual scrolls in treasure hoards in official adventure. Even just throwing a few scrolls and random bottles of residuum would have been useful to get people intrigued by them. I also think we needed rituals that were like “Any participant gains X boon, but they have to spend a healing surge to get it” so your party size doesn’t really matter when you’re getting a water breathing ritual off or something to that effect. It also adds to the ‘group ressource’ aspect. Heck, maybe some rituals could have a minimum number of participants? With some of the more plot breaking ones requiring so many participants that you literally have to hire people to complete them.

The free ritual per day thing is not a bad idea. I could even see a Wizard, for example, taking the Ritual Caster feat to access more rituals. They could have class features that make them real ritual specialists, giving Wizards a THING of their own. Dunno what, but it could be fun.

Rituals were classified in Arcane, Religion or Nature skills, so it’s not a stretch to have them cordon off into separate chunks.

I think a robust ritual system would make magic feel more dramatic and ‘BIG DEAL!’ you know? Like, throwing a few sparklers in a fight is no big deal, spending your spell slot to cash Wish or whatever, that’s like pressing a button, that’s nothing. Coordinating 20 people in a complex 2 hours ceremony to get that Wish? Now THAT Feels like a BIG DEAL! That feels like ancient magic that need to be roused from its slumber! Not something you just casual bust out on a whim!

It also means you got tools to ratchet up the tension, with either the enemies using a ritual of their own you need to mess up, or them trying to interfere with yours.

Yeah, it's amazing how neglected they were in published adventures (which admitedly had a lot of problems and seem to made by people explicitly trying to do the complete opposite of the DMG/DMG2 advice).

No residum, no scrolls, no big bads using rituals, etc.

I like the free rituals just so you give the traditional full casters a little nod toward their old lives and take away a psychological barrier to using them (looking at you potion hoarders). A little unbalance but not really much in exchange for perceived differentiation. They started to do it on a lower level with the Bard -- some free rituals and Bard only rituals. So Wizards are the masters of Arcane rituals but someone can also take the Ritual feat and be a fine substitute.

I really like the "big cost" rituals as well. These are truly plot coupons and shouldn't be "selectable" as rituals known per se but just introduced by the DM when wanted. Wish like magic -- make an entire nation's crops yield triple for 100 years or something -- should defintely be more difficult and have a real cost and requirements. Say 1 in 3 males die on their 20th birthday. Which will trend the nation toward matriarchy over the next 100 years.
 

Undrave

Hero
Monster themes: Monsters have a consistent racial power and some monster role powers, enough to be interesting in the combat but easy to apply and track and fit on a single page without reference to spell or class abilities.
It gets a little too into fine mechanical detail but I really agree with your post. In particular:

Monsters don't require you to flip to other pages which is a result of one of your point below about monsters not being PCs. Having everything in one, simple to consult, place is the best. Having monsters using PC spells is just the worst idea ever.
Monster variations: Most every monster has a few variations across some types and levels.

Monsters are not PCs: Monsters do not follow the same rules as PCs, including different resource management considerations (recharge powers for instance instead of encounter or dailies on a formula).
Totally agree on both. Monsters should be designed with their short life span in mind and with enough variety to make interesting encounters.
 

Undrave

Hero
Yeah, it's amazing how neglected they were in published adventures (which admitedly had a lot of problems and seem to made by people explicitly trying to do the complete opposite of the DMG/DMG2 advice).
It's baffling how little the published adventures understood of the edition. I remember the Thunderspire adventure and it's room after empty room with 5 feet wide corridors just gumming up fights and making them boring and tedious slug fest...

I bet the first few adventures were just recycled 3.X content that never made the cut but with just new monsters plugged in. Would explain the boring maps and lack of treasures.
I really like the "big cost" rituals as well. These are truly plot coupons and shouldn't be "selectable" as rituals known per se but just introduced by the DM when wanted.
A "Big Cost Ritual" should really be a side quest on its own, yeah!
 

Kannik

Adventurer
This might be too mechanical as well, but:

Skill Challenges. How they were presented in the DMG and, even more unfortunately, used in modules and LFR events made them a bit of a dud, but the base idea as originally described and used by (IIRC) Chris Perkins in a preview was golden. Using it as a "hidden" DM tool for adjudicating is where it shines, by presenting it to the players not as a skill challenge but just as a "what do you do now?" and then using the structure as a pacing, tension, and resolution mechanism. AND it works not only with skill rolls, but anything that could add towards solving the challenge, including powers, abilities, spells, assets, contacts, equipment, etc.

I've used this all over to simulate stopping rituals, traversing dangerous journeys, negotiations, creating battlements, and stopping weird situations, such as this (which came from Perkins' example): the players are trying and stop townsfolk from mind-controllingly walking into the lake and drowning themselves. One player might start grabbing townsfolk, another uses magic to try and shock/scare them out of their stupor, another climbs to the roof and parkours to get out in front of the townsfolk, while another wrangles a cart to create a barricade, and so on.

Less mechanical:

Clarity. This is an adjunct to Visual Design: I played an awesome dwarven runecaster from level 1 through 20. It was very evocative and effective, and it was all a re-fluff of the Artificer class. The clarity of 4e made it easy to take things and either repurpose them or rework them slightly to create even more options and flair and flavour.

We used this in an interesting way for some of our campaigns where the DM let us pick an RP race and a mechanics race; the mechanical abilities had to be explained in the fiction for how they presented themselves for our character. 'Dragonborn' fire breath on an elf? Could be an innate spell ability they learned in their youth, or maybe an additional ability of being a druid or paladin, or maybe they were a pyromaniac and always carried a little vial of alchemist's fire...

Though I never tested it, in this vein I would try allowing power selection from other classes without requiring the swapping feats. I might still gate it by requiring the initial multiclassing feat, but using the same 'justify/explain in the fiction' thing as noted above I could see it allowing for some really neat concepts, possibilities, and fun moments.
 

It's baffling how little the published adventures understood of the edition. I remember the Thunderspire adventure and it's room after empty room with 5 feet wide corridors just gumming up fights and making them boring and tedious slug fest...

I bet the first few adventures were just recycled 3.X content that never made the cut but with just new monsters plugged in. Would explain the boring maps and lack of treasures.

Yeah could be but I don't think they really got much better. Even the later adventures ppl point to as "good" 4e adventures don't really play to 4e's full strengths IMO. They still have way too many encounters in a row and per level -- too dependant on rigid XP budgets.

4e shines in Zeitgeist where you have big set piece encounters on large interesting maps with lots of roleplaying, investigating, and location changes in between each big set piece.

Multi-room dungeons should have XP spread out with the assumption that not all doors are sound proof and closed and that eventually mutli rooms combine, etc.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Yeah could be but I don't think they really got much better. Even the later adventures ppl point to as "good" 4e adventures don't really play to 4e's full strengths IMO. They still have way too many encounters in a row and per level -- too dependant on rigid XP budgets.

4e shines in Zeitgeist where you have big set piece encounters on large interesting maps with lots of roleplaying, investigating, and location changes in between each big set piece.

Multi-room dungeons should have XP spread out with the assumption that not all doors are sound proof and closed and that eventually mutli rooms combine, etc.
This almost ties in with the too-many-levels point raised above, in that in a system where the PCs are levelling up that fast any adventures of any decent size/length have to be designed to take this levelling - and accordant gains in powers/abilities - into account.

This results in linear (and thus, boring) adventure design, because the author needs the PCs to have gained the budgeted xp from rooms* 1-5 in order to be able to deal with what's in rooms 6-10; ditto again before they get to rooms 11-15, and on it goes.

A slower levelling rate would allow writers to make bigger and less-linear adventures, because there wouldn't be this pressing need for the PCs to have gained enough xp within the adventure to level up and thus "qualify" for the next bit, if that makes sense. Put another way, it shouldn't matter which way the PCs enter the adventure site (and ideally there's multiple ways in), in that they'll find level-appropriate encounters wherever they go.

* - substitute "encounters" for "rooms" if you like, it's the same thing here.
 

TwoSix

Unserious gamer
The Seeker felt like a last minute filler just to have 6 classes in the book, and it was a CONTROLLER, not even a Striker. It felt like them trying to sludge together a spell caster Ranger somehow... But I think there is room to explore with the idea of a character that channels magic through thrown weapons. Personally I would have made them more primal and have the sling be their range weapon of choice, with their ammos now being enchanted seeds and maybe like... enlarging thrown weapons? Turn spears into snake? That sort of thing. Dunno what'd you call such a class... Maybe just 'Forrester' as in they bring the forest to you?
The Seeker had MAGIC BEES. I'll hear no Seeker slander.
 

Clarity. This is an adjunct to Visual Design: I played an awesome dwarven runecaster from level 1 through 20. It was very evocative and effective, and it was all a re-fluff of the Artificer class. The clarity of 4e made it easy to take things and either repurpose them or rework them slightly to create even more options and flair and flavour.

It seems to have negative conotations for some, but I might call this Mechanics first approach.

It does have to do with clarity as you say. The mechanics are clear but they are also primary.

If it says Prone you are going to get the mechanics of Prone. If the fiction of Prone doesn't make sense then the fiction or perception gets altered not the mechanic. So slimes split and take a moment to reform or whatever. I never had a problem with this 99.9% of the time and the .1% we just looked the other way like you have to do in all D&D games once in a while.

And there are a lot of benefits of this mechanical clarify and primacy. It cetainly makes re-fluffing very, very easy.
 


Aldarc

Legend
I never really connected the dots until reading through the responses in this thread, but I think that 4e D&D did extraordinarily well with the themes of its gameplay. The World Axis presents a thematically coherent cosmology that is filled with theme-ladened classes, player ancestries, and creatures/monsters. These themes are engaged with at all levels of play. Ultimately 4e D&D presented a game that was more concerned about its central Themes than encyclopedic Lore. Moreover, these themes were also reinforced at a mechanic level (again, see classes, races, monsters, etc.). IMHO, that level of thematic coherence in gameplay has been unmatched in D&D before or after. I think that this is one of the strongest reasons why 4e D&D resonates with me more than any other edition.
 

Undrave

Hero
I never really connected the dots until reading through the responses in this thread, but I think that 4e D&D did extraordinarily well with the themes of its gameplay. The World Axis presents a thematically coherent cosmology that is filled with theme-ladened classes, player ancestries, and creatures/monsters. These themes are engaged with at all levels of play. Ultimately 4e D&D presented a game that was more concerned about its central Themes than encyclopedic Lore. Moreover, these themes were also reinforced at a mechanic level (again, see classes, races, monsters, etc.). IMHO, that level of thematic coherence in gameplay has been unmatched in D&D before or after. I think that this is one of the strongest reasons why 4e D&D resonates with me more than any other edition.
The only thing it would be missing is an Elemental power source :p I blame the 'Arcane' power source for being way too vague. That's probably an area I would break with D&D tradition if I was making a new game: define and limit 'magic' so other power sources can better stand on their own and relate better to the rest of the cosmology.

For an Elemental Class, I had this idea for years now of a sort of close combat Controller/Defender that channeled the Elemental Chaos through their equipment, transmuting their heavy armor and other gear into fonts of elemental power. Imagine this heavy armoured character who suddenly gets engulfed in flame, or his armor becomes blades whirling around him or sprouts spikes of sharp rocks...

I wonder if it would have made sense to connect the Sorcerer to the Elemental Chaos?
 

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