D&D 4E Edition Experience - Did/Do You Play 4th Edition D&D? How Was/Is it?

How Did/Do You Feel About 4th Edition D&D

  • I'm playing it right now; I'll have to let you know later.

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  • I'm playing it right now and so far, I don't like it.

    Votes: 0 0.0%

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Limit Break Dancing
With all of the talk about the Golden Age of Gaming, and all of the retro-clones floating around, it's made me curious about the older editions of the game. I'm curious how many folks on ENWorld have ever played these older editions, and what their level of satisfaction was. Or is, if you are one of the rare birds that are still rocking it O.G. Style.

This week I'd like to examine the 4th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons. Have you played it before? or are you still playing it? What do you think about it?

By "played," I mean that you've been either a player or a DM for at least one gaming session. By "playing," I mean you have an ongoing gaming group that still actively plays this version, however occasionally. And for the purpose of this survey, I'm only referring to the D&D 4E rules set, first published in 2008 and written by Rob Heinsoo, Andy Collins, and James Wyatt. You remember it; it had this blue-and-white cover:


This edition overhauled the more cumbersome rules of 3rd Edition, and laid the framework for the current edition. It introduced a new resource management system and economy (healing surges; at-will, per-encounter, and per-day abilities; long and short rests...) and streamlined the trained and untrained skills. Unfortunately, it also got rid of the Open Gaming License, which many third-party publishers and other content creators had come to depend on, and replaced it with the incompatible and more restrictive Game System License.

Many players and publishers opted to continue using the d20/OGL system rather than switch their games and product lines to new, incompatible rules. The most notable was Paizo's "Pathfinder" game, which is often referred to by fans as "D&D 3.75E."

Feel free to add nuance in your comments, but let's not have an edition war over this. I'm really just interested in hearing peoples' stories of playing the 4th Edition rules, and gushing about all of the things they loved about it. I know that this edition, like the one before it, is going to cause some people to have some strong feelings. And I know that some people on this board still consider themselves to be soldiers in an ongoing Edition War. So I'm asking you, again, to just don't. Don't bait the trolls, and don't be the troll that takes any bait. Just reminisce with me, be respectful of other people and their experiences, and don't roll initiative until the DM says.

And thank you to everyone who has participated in these surveys I've been putting out every week. If you haven't voted for any of the other editions, I've linked them below. Tune in next week for the compiled results, and all of the weird conclusions we can draw from them!

Other Surveys
Basic D&D
BECMI / Rules Cyclopedia
D&D 3E

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I wanted to like 4E, as I was completely done with 3E when it came out. However, the more I played, the less I enjoyed it. The combats took forever (even with our DM giving the monsters half HP and doubling their damage) and Skill Challenges were awful (good concept poorly implemented). I played it for about half its duration, then bailed for a 2E campaign.


Great Old One
For me it was the first version ever to give me the experience that D&D had promised me for over three decades. I switched over from 3.5 almost immediately and never looked back.

As we played it, we still found a few proud nails annoying us, so when the edition was abandoned by WoTC, I created my own clone which is something like 30% 3.x basics, 40% ideas from 4E, and 30% my own ideas.


Limit Break Dancing
When it was first announced, I was initially on board with it. I got really excited with each new announcement, and I grabbed the playtest material mere hours after it became available. I set up a one-shot game with my gaming group to try it out, and everyone rolled up characters. My friends were lukewarm about it, but I was convinced they would come around. "It's still in design," I would say. "They'll work it out, you'll see."

But with each passing update to the playtest, they seemed to move further away from our comfort zone. Then I crawled up my own backside with internet discussions, which turned into speculation, which turned into manufactured outrage.

...hm. You know what? Here's the post I wrote about it, back in 2008. Not my finest hour.

ANYway, when the books arrived in the mail, I set up a one-shot game for my group. We spent an evening running through a little 10-room dungeon I had drawn up, but nobody really cared for the feel of it. The biggest complaints I remember having were that all of the classes felt too similar to each other, and healing was too easy. And I'm never going to be able to swallow the way hit points and damage were described.

I thought the Raven Queen's lore was pretty awesome, though. And "Reavers of the Harkenwold" was a very well-written adventure module, even though I've only ever read it.

So it gets a "I played it, and I didn't really like it" vote from me.


Fourth edition was the golden age of our gaming group. By the end of 3.5, our group was dwindling, more and more people growing tired of dnd and leaving the hobby.

4e brought many new players to our fold, and, most importantly, it encouraged a lot of players that never gave DMing a shot to DM campaigns that lasted YEARS. 4e was very, very DM friendly compared to 3e. For the first time ever, I, the usual DM, got to be a player for long stretches of time.

Now we’re playing 5e, and I gotta say, our group has gone back to the dwindling numbers situation. And no one wants to be the DM, except me, of course.


I liked the ideas in it. I never got to play it though. Everyone I knew played Pathfinder and wouldn’t touch 4e with a 10’ pole. Many still call it the “edition that shall not be named” and growl at me when I mention it or say “nothing of any value came from 4e” Or some variation. One friend got rather aggressive when I suggested that 4e sold much better than its lifespan suggested. It really is the edition that honed the 3.5 and Pathfinder warriors. It’s release ended my D&D group because when 4e was announced I was so burnt out on 3.5 that I just couldn’t do it anymore after 5 years, 16 hours a week of playing it. They didn’t want to play 4e and I didn’t want to run 3.5. I also moved a few months later to help care for my mother Just before it came out.

I bought the preview books and I thought it looked fantastic! The subtle shifts in the lore didn’t bother me. The background lore and art previews in those two preview books were inspiring. I got the core books and it’s a complete game even though many would disagree with me on that but it is. It’s just not the classic classes We come to expect from the PHB or the Monster Manual and I was fine with that personally. They are also a little bit of a slog to read. The classes took up a huge page count per class and while the format made it easier to understand and see what feats went with which class, a lot easier than the 3.5 approach, it also made getting through the PHB difficult. Does that mean it was bad? No. The game looked like fun!

Sadly, because I was never able to pull a group together I never got any other books until after the line was cancelled. I wanted to because what I was reading sounds super cool lore wise. I’d love a 5e version of Nerath. It’s a solid setting. Alas the closest we will get is the two Critical Role books but I think Nerath and Nentir Vale are ripe for 5e gaming.

Ive since purchased the Essentials line and it is better than the original core, the subtle changes reminding me of the 1e to 2e transition where it was subtle and still compatible with core 4e.

what I didn’t like? The magic items in the PHB. Leveled items. Purchasing magic items as default. The repetitive material through the Essentials players books, DM book and the Compendium. the Delve format. The reliance on miniatures and swift cancellation of the miniatures line shortly after 4e was released without producing a cheap alternative unless you purchased the Essentials kits for the counters. Those counters should have been released separately as well. The sudden cancellation of the line just a few months before the release of a Ravenloft and Nentir Vale book and with no word for several months about what was happening Before the announcement of D&D next. That last is me being bitter because I had just bought Essentials. I didn’t like the changes to the Realms Either but that seems to be a common refrain.

I think, had Pathfinder not come out, had WOTC been a little less hostile to 3.5, that 4e could have been a stronger seller. Were it released by another company, even at half the sales it actually made, that is would have been a week received game that we would have a better view of today as opposed to the vitriol it receives. Hasbro was the big barrier for 4e because of how they counted the numbers and how They wanted the game to perform. 4e feels like a game that was designed very carefully but initially rushed after the push for more products in 3.5 glutted the market. It was a corporate decision to put out a game that wasn’t as well playtested and was forced to take advantage of what was hot mini sales, sales that died as fast as they exploded and then random collectible cards. Those Cards were a poorly thought out idea. Essentials felt like we were getting the game that should have been released, polished and very “D&D”. I wish I could have played.

but I guess the secret is that 5e is more 4e than people would like to admit. I’m playing 5e right now. I love it And it owes a lot more to 4e than the converted 3.5 and Pathfinder players want to admit. I compare it to 3.0 with the best of 4e.

For me it was the first version ever to give me the experience that D&D had promised me for over three decades.

It was kind of similar for me.

People say "It's not D&D :(" and stuff, and whilst that's not fully true (I mean, I could say the same about 3E), there is a kernel of truth in it, which is that 4E was the first time, perhaps the only time, D&D felt like it expressed "heroic fantasy" in a general sense. The first time D&D felt "like a fantasy novel" in a good way. The way abilities worked, the general setup, it provided a vastly more fiction-like and less peculiar/specific-to-D&D vibe.

This worked incredibly well for our group. People immediately "got it". It also worked extremely well for me as a DM. Further, 4E had some real brilliance to the DM-side design that other editions have not had (sadly not even 5E), where the encounter-building rules actually worked. The monster design, and monster design guidelines were so solid that you could very strongly predict how a fight would go. Minions meant that you could have massive, dramatic fights without clunking things up or having effective non-threats join the battle (5E actually solved this a different way, one which also works, but 3.XE just couldn't do it). The way "boss" monsters were designed also generally worked really well and made them feel dramatic and like something from fiction, rather that "dodgy weird monsters from D&D", like those of previous editions (and later, occasionally) have felt.

We fiddled around with the Skill Challenge rules a lot, and they worked extremely well in practice. Well what we were doing, did, it wasn't exactly the same as the suggestions in the original books.

4E also cured my group of a terrible disease which it had acquired in 3.XE, which was the disease of only doing things it clearly said you could do on your character sheet. In 2E, my group had always been wild and wooly, always asking to do crazy stunts, and try things not detailed in the rules. I think a lot of groups were like this, it wasn't just us. It was really fun. But 3.XE had "a rule for everything". Any cool thing you could think of, it was probably in the rules - and you couldn't do it. Or rather, it would provoke a bunch of AoOs, or would involved multiple high-DC checks (so guaranteed failure), or you had a massive penalty to the roll because you hadn't picked some obscure Feat designed to enable this totally niche, once-a-campaign stunt. I wasn't the DM for most of 3.XE, my brother was, and he's a better DM than I am in most ways, and unfortunately he was very good at finding the correct rules for things and applying them, and what this caused was continual failure. People would try cool things, and they'd fail miserably. Even simple chandelier-swinging-type stuff often required 2-3 rolls (RAW), with high-ish DCs, so failure was nigh-guaranteed, and the rewards were minor. Suddenly everyone started playing in this really cautious, careful, slow and boring way, and picking characters and abilities that fit with that, and having a lot less fun.

4E cured this with the general massive rules simplification, the removal of most "unless you have this Feat you suck at that" Feats, the way the skills auto-scaled, instead of requiring you to buy ranks in a skill every level or suck at it, and the stunt rules. The stunt rules were extremely vague, but strongly encouraged doing "cool stuff" (a lot of DMs totally ignored them, I know), and we used the hell out of them, and expanded upon them. This actually worked really well the tactical combat elements.

Eventually we did stop playing though, despite really enjoying it. Why? Because in the teen levels, like every edition of D&D before it, combat became a lot less fun and a lot more time-consuming. This time it was for a different reason - it was because of interrupts, immediate actions, reactions, and so on (whatever exactly they were called). This was probably the apex game for my players' "system mastery". I had players who had never shown any aptitude or interest in optimizing their characters, who don't play computer games, and so on, clearly making careful decisions and picking really effective abilities, and really enjoying that aspect for the first time (something which has, thankfully, carried into 5E a bit - it's notable that the one guy who barely played 4E is the one guy who always has subpar characters in 5E). Anyway, an unfortunate side-effect of this was that virtually every player noticed that interrupt/reaction-type abilities (which were far less limited in 4E) were a really good thing to add to their set of abilities, because they could let them act out-of-turn. And those really piled up. And the monsters got them too. Suddenly a game which ran faster than 3.XE was running just as slowly, and that didn't make anyone happy.

EDIT - I should say something about minis. 3.XE hard-required minis. We tried to play it without, but it just lead to confusing and arguments, because AoOs were such a huge thing, as was reach, and limits on movement and so on, in a way that was never remotely true in 2E. So by the end of 3.XE, we'd been using minis for years, and were annoyed about them. 4E totally turned us around on this. 4E also required minis, but they actually let you do cool stuff that couldn't be done with theatre-of-the-mind (or not easily), what with all the pushes, pulls, and other manuevering of 4E. Players felt clever. Villains got knocked off cliffs again (like in 2E), and 4-on-1 (or even 6-7 on 1 at times, depending on who turned up), the players could out-think and out-tactics me even with preparation, which frankly was fun for everyone involved. I suspect if 4E had been the first D&D to require minis, we'd have rejected it without even trying it, but because 3.XE had "primed" us for this, it was totally fine, and even an improvement. I used coloured cardboard (with a 1p coin stuck to the back for weight) for the minis, which I had names or numbers written on, and could make more of really fast with a 1" hole punch from a craft shop, and a remaindered misprint Chessex battlemat which I used to drag around (often got questions from co-workers if going straight to a game from work, or curious looks on the tube), and the players really loved the little tokens they made. So that element worked out.

To sum up, 4E was the first time D&D felt like a fantasy novel, for my group, in what was then 20 years of play. It really promoted a very heroic and seat-of-the-pants kind of play (very ironic, given people who didn't play it much liked to accuse it of being "like a computer game"). More buckles were swashed than could ever be counted. Bannisters slid along. Chandeliers dangled from. But eventually we kind of got sucked into a mire of interrupts and immediate actions, and the we decided to give Dungeon World a go, and when WotC cancelled 4E, we stuck with Dungeon World and it lasted us for years. Still, it is my favourite edition in a lot of ways.
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4e was my introduction to playing D&D. I had played CRPGs like Neverwinter Nights that were based on older editions (and loved them), but that didn’t exactly introduce me to the mechanics or the “sitting around a table together” dynamic.
As my first experience with D&D, perhaps it’s easier for me to look at the edition positively. I didn’t have bias stemming from previous editions. I gotta admit there are parts of 4e that looking back I realize I don’t like, now that I have 5e to compare them to. I don’t like the gritty tactical combat on a map that takes forever to run. Is there anything wrong with it? No. Did I enjoy it at the time? Yes. Do I want to do it again? No.
I didn’t start off as our DM - a guy from work started off that way, to teach a bunch of us who had never played before how to play. But that guy was ultimately a stubborn stick in the mud who was not fun to play with. We eventually stopped playing with him, and I took over as DM. Like a poster above said, 4e was pretty easy to DM. I took several published adventures and tweaked them to my liking. I probably gave out way more treasure than I should’ve, but I and my players both enjoyed that, and I mostly did it because it let me indulge my minmaxing charop fantasies for multiple characters at a time instead of just my character.


the magical equivalent to the number zero
I've played one session, admittedly, and I didn't like it. I cannot truthfully recall the reasons, although looking back I could state what, at least theoretically, I don't like. Possibly my fondness of 3.5 made me compare the editions, which is not fair because they are so different. But I don't feel like I'm missing out on not having played 4e since.

Although obviously those who cast their votes in a poll such as this are a self-selecting group, I'm still interested how many of those who say they didn't like 4e have actually played it.

4e was very, very DM friendly compared to 3e. For the first time ever, I, the usual DM, got to be a player for long stretches of time.

This is actually what kept me from running 5E for a very long time. In 4E, I enjoyed DMing. No edition of D&D has provided such good, reliable tools, guidelines and information for the DM. Possibly no RPG ever has, actually. 5E, which I like a lot, certainly does not. The encounter-building and monster-design particularly are far less brilliant than they were in 4E (though still streets ahead of 3.XE). The only other player who liked DMing was away for most of 4E, so I had a great time being the DM all the time.

With 5E, I've had an okay time DMing, but it's not been as fun/engaging as 4E (where it was literally fun to prepare adventures). Fortunately, with me less keen to DM, one of the other players stepped up, and then the other long-time DM (my brother) came back, and also one of my friends wanted to run a separate campaign for some of us. So now I continue the old campaign occasionally, but am having huge fun playing in other campaigns. These things work out I guess.

Although obviously those who cast their votes in a poll such as this are a self-selecting group, I'm still interested how many of those who say they didn't like 4e have actually played it.

Yeah that's always a question. There is a "I haven't played it and don't want to" option for people to be honest with (and people have picked it). I do know a player who didn't really like it, actually in my group - he had a great time in 4E, but he does in every RPG. After we stopped playing, he admitted that actually didn't like the tactical combat in 4E. I think part of this was that he joined really late (he only played around ten sessions before we went to Dungeon World) and picked a really weird class (Shaman, which in 4E was basically a magical Warlord - i.e. mostly enabling other players).

Conversely, two of my players have never liked any RPG anywhere near as much as they liked 4E - and not the two you might expect - not the system masters, not the tactical experts, but the players who were previous a bit disengaged from that stuff, the players who liked cool ideas. The player who always played Thieves/Rogues, back to like 1992 finally stopped saying "Can't we just play 4E?" or the like about two months ago when he started playing a Warlock in 5E. 4E though was the first time he played a Rogue where he really felt powerful and effective (and still is the only time - in 5E he's solid, but his abilities aren't as engaging for him as they were in 4E), and he really loved that.
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