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.

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Even during 3.X I was already starting to lean away from crunch heavy games and was looking for something else.

4E was the most amazing edition for me, but yeah, there's no denying it was almost as crunch-heavy as 3.XE (individual players had a lot less to know/remember, at least, because of the structural changes to the rules), and it was the sheer amount of crunch, particularly at high levels, that eventually steered me to Dungeon World (to be fair I also completely adored the concept of DW - sadly only three out of five players "got" DW, the other two were endlessly perplexed by certain elements).

Paradoxically, the end result was that it became too much of a wargame. Players were constantly arguing on which order to trigger powers, wanted to change powers at end or beginning of each session because they felt they had made a suboptimal choice. The creature stat blocks were getting longer. I felt I was playing a wargame against four other opponents.

I was increasingly tired at the end of each session as they gained levels. At first thought I was getting too old to DM. I never felt that before. I decided to play other rpgs and I didn't feel the same level of fatigue as with 4e D&D. I stopped playing D&D.

The publishing schedule was on steroids and far too segmented. Too much of a chase grab by Hasbro for my taste. I used to opportunity to read and play other rpgs I had collecting dust on the shelves. I played less often but had more fun.

These seem pretty legit criticisms to me. I never saw the tiredness myself, indeed I was always pumped at the end of the session, and my players weren't arguing, but rather trying to cooperating in increasingly elaborate strategies (which only got more complicated with the Shaman arrived and was constantly triggering out-of-turn attacks and so on), but I can definitely see where you are coming from.

And I loved the release schedule, but I loved it because of the DDI, and the fact that as long as I stayed subbed I got literally all the rules, from all the books, in a really good format. Still, it was definitely intense! I don't think I'd go back without a solution to the interrupt/immediate action/reaction problem. That can probably be solved just by banning a bunch of powers, or having PCs have to run any powers they pick past me, but it is a real issue.

Back on to good points of 4E, can we talk about how totally awesome a lot of the 4E classes were?

Bards were amazing. They weren't as powerful as 5E Bards (hilariously, the 5E Bard is like what my 2E Bard, in wildest dreams, wished to be), but they were REALLY Bard-y, with their whole own deal that worked really well.

Rogues... Rogues in 4E were total bastards. Murderous, terrifying individuals. The astonishing, and yeah I admit, video-game-esque stuff they could pull off, was staggeringly cool.

Fighters were total lockdown murder-machines. We have a Battlerage Vigor Fighter, and he was virtually unkillable, and really violent, and messed anyone who tried to hurt his friends.

Clerics actually got to use their non-healing spells, and had some had some amazing control and denial abilities. Not as big an upgrade as some classes, but our "always ends up as the healer" player appreciated it.

Avengers - Nothing like them in any other edition. Terrifying constantly teleporting two-hander wielding killers who could pull off incredible badguy assassinations. The 5E Paladin subclass is cute but it's not even a shadow of these wonders.

The Psionic classes - probably the best implementation of Psionics for the rules of a given edition. Battlemind was my personal favourite, extremely well-designed, powerful but different from other Defenders.

Warden - Ahhhh yes, another unmatched in other editions, a weird and wonderful combination of partial shapeshifting, druid-style combat magic, and a tremendous primal vibe.

Swordmage - A wonderful Fighter-Mage-style class that really felt like it's own thing, and just really well-realized in way you rarely see.

Vampire - Actually a class in a main official book, finally, after first being a class in one of Gygax' early D&D games (the Cleric was originally invented to counter the player who was playing the Vampire), and they worked really well. I thought it was a dumb idea when I heard it, but they nailed it.

And so many more. What was really amazing was that virtually all of them played decently, and weren't innately overpowered/broken (usually you had to MC to break them). Given how many classes they made, how fast, and how complex some of them were, it is a truly astonishing feat of balancing that they were as good as they were.

(People may be saying "What about the Warlord?" - I wasn't a huge fan - it was a good class, with some wonderful applications, and filled a hole that's still present in 5E, and was obviously a hole in 3E too, but I felt like there were elements to the design that ended up making it too much of a straight up "buff the other characters" class.)

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I had to select "I never played this edition and I don't really want to".

There was a time late in 3e when I had a lot of personal stuff going on, so I wasn't involved with my local gaming group as much. That was around the time 4e was announced.

I was skeptical, since I rather liked 3e and while it wasn't perfect and could use some tweaks, announcing a new edition after only 7 years would make it the turnaround for a whole new edition. Then the marketing for 4e actively turned me off it. The ad campaign seemed custom designed to alienate many loyal D&D players. What marketing genius thought it was good to insult their existing edition and its players as a way to advertise a new edition?

I remembered the "If you were playing D&D like this, then you were doing it wrong and not having fun" remarks from WotC, I remember the rather aggressive "We're changing everything because we can, and because you'll buy it" attitude. I remember the analogy they offered up of "Bands change their sound every album or two and people still buy them, so we can change the style of D&D with every edition and players will still buy it".

I was NOT enthused.

Then I heard from my friends who had tried it. My gaming group, that I was on leave from for personal reasons, had become a 4e playtest group. They were very vague about criticisms with me, presumably because of NDA's, but they let me know they weren't happy with it. Once it was out, I remember one of my friends saying that he finally got his name in the credits of a D&D book (in fine print as one of the playtesters), but it's an edition he'd never actually play. Once the playtest was over, my friends decided to never play it again. I took that as a sign and realized my misgivings I was getting from the marketing and previews were well placed.

I didn't like the sweeping changes to the lore. The rearrangement of planes, the dividing of Elves into Elves and Eladrin, the dividing of Fighters into Fighters and Warlords, the extreme focus on mechanical balance over all other concerns, nor the implied grimdark tone that the game seemed designed to convey (making Tieflings into a core race, Warlocks into a core class, the post-apocalyptic "points of light" setting, the Spellplague in the Realms all just exuded a "dark and edgy" vibe I didn't like). It seemed custom-designed to divorce D&D from the lore and expectations of everything that came before.

I really, really did NOT like the changes it brought to the Forgotten Realms, the Spellplague as the sweeping Realms Shaking Event to completely break Forgotten Realms, change it in tone into some grim post-apocalyptic setting, turning Cormyr from a stereotypical "good" Kingdom of heroes into a tyranny (the whole Wheloon Prison thing is like some extremely evil stuff done by a certain RL country known to be one of the worst dictatorships on Earth I won't name due to site rules about politics), kill some of the most prominent and popular gods of the Realms (Mystra, Tyr, Lathander etc), advance the timeline over a century (essentially invalidating my huge shelf of lore materials), and re-draw the map (that giant 4-part poster map from Dragon Magazine in late 2001? I kept that on my wall at the time, redrawing the map of the Realms was a particularly bothersome act for me). Forcing such sweeping changes to the Realms to accommodate 4e just increased my dislike and distaste for it.

4e basically made me feel like WotC had "fired" me as a fan of D&D just because I liked 3e (and it's assumed meta-setting elements like the Great Wheel cosmology). I'd still play what I already had and what my friends and myself would write, but I wouldn't give them my money anymore. I was very angry about all this, and I know I spent a lot of time here "edition warring" out of that anger.

I never played it or considered it, but I did buy a Players Handbook recently.

Also bought Kingdoms of Kalamar (one of my favorite D&D campaign settings books, even though others hated it lol) but I don't get the books to play tabletop. I just appreciate the lore and the stories. Sort of use it as "writer fuel" if I'm writing that genre.

Tales and Chronicles

Jewel of the North, formerly know as vincegetorix
I never really played the Essentials set. Can anybody who did comment on how they felt to play and run for compared to the original classes? From a quick browse, it did feel like they were more distinct than the original classes (not a value judgement).
It worked pretty well if you did not have the regular classes next to it. The martial stances that affected your basic-attack were a neat idea, but after a time it felt a little samey if your were used to the AEDU system on all classes.
When I play 4e, I often hesitate between Essentials only or PHB 1/2/3 only with some tweaks (ie: no feats, fighters can use their powers with dex or str, inherent bonus, rarer magic items etc)


I played it and didn't care for it very much because it felt like an MMORPG. Suddenly we had defenders, strikers, and controllers all felt too similar to roles characters had in World of Warcraft. The at-will, per-encounter, and daily powers all felt like I was pressing a button on my keyboard and waiting for the cool down so I could press it again.

On the flip side I can say some nice things about 4E. They made sure everyone was useful during encounters and they did some work to make the cleric feel like less of a healing bot.


Not your screen monkey (he/him)
I am apparently the anti-Ruin Explorer (or he is the anti-me). 4e was the first edition of D&D that was so structured in its approach to game play and balance that it threw me out of the feeling that it was a fantasy story. I couldn't escape the recognition that I was playing on a game board.

We played 4e for about 9 months largely because 2 of the players in the group (of 7) were enthusiastic and a few others were interested enough. I had already lost my optimism - developed because WotC had delivered a winner for 3e - during the design articles, previews, and marketing of 4e. Over the next several months, even the enthusiastic players came away disappointed.


I played 4e very little, but I ran a game for about a year, right after it came out.

My experiences were good and bad.

the Good:
  • DMing/DM prep. was amazing. I miss this a lot when running 5e. Why this went away...I have no idea. I found the text a little too precautionary about staying within challenge level/difficulty, but it was still great.
  • The monsters. Writing monsters like little programs (just my take), with all the info built in, was amazing from the DM side, plus it helped to keep combat moving fast. Plus, scaling and modifying monsters was a seconds-long task, took longer to write it down than to do it.
  • Warlord class. I hate the name (but don't have a better one), but I thought the class and idea behind it was excellent.
the Bad:
  • Combat speed at-table. Combats were dynamic and exciting-ish...but all in slow motion. I feel like a lot of it could have been handled in a much more narrative-centered fashion. Which is partly because....
  • Too much focus on X's and O's (American Football analogy). There was so much mechanical-positional specificity that I often felt myself mentally dropping out of D&D/roleplay mode and into war/boardgame mode. I think this is what people were disparaging as feeling like a computer game or boardgame.
    • ...side note: too many moving parts (reactions, conditions, etc.) It works fine in a card game like magic, where only a limited number will affect a given moment of play, but quickly got overwhelming in D&D and caused the game to drag.
  • The "botched" or "half-botched" initial skill challenge rules turned me off completely. My group at the time was not very digital, so the updates sailed past us.
    • ...side note: I'm a very narrative-focused gamer, and the first 4e DMG did a bad job at showing me how to use the game that way. It took a lot of discussion with folks on here to even realize it could run that way (at least partially). My group had given up on 4e by the time the DMG2 came out.
The Rest:
The rest was just D&D, and I had some of the same gripes about it as I have for all other editions. I thought the AEDU power architecture was just fine but maybe overdone*, and still don't see it as a divergence from previous editions "3 times per day" or similar. Hit points are still a lousy mechanic that transforms combat from a narrative exercise into dueling accountancy. I didn't/don't care about lore changes. So, yeah.

...anyway, just my $.02

*In general, I feel like they tried to leverage their experience with MtG too much in the design sphere. Which was an undercurrent that lead to most of the game's troubles, for me. A proliferation/profusion of cards is great, a proliferation/profusion of PC abilities...not so much.

Enrico Poli1

I went straight from 3.5 to Pathfinder, following Paizo and their APs. Never tried 4e when it was in print.
Some years later, after 5e and becoming myself a collector, I acquired some 4e books. I tried to make a PC using the 4e guides found on the internet and I was overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of material. I was astonished that I could not built a PC... (later I tried a second and a third time with the same results...). So I don't get how to play basically.

Other very bad aspects:
  • I hated the AEDU power system (At will, Encounter, Daily, Utility).
  • I loathed the new aestethic of the game. Really, it's the only edition in D&D history whose art makes me sick.
  • I was enraged at the new lore of the game (in particular about the gods, Asmodeus, the souls, the planes). Why the change? Why this nonsense? Why the mix of old gods with new and entirely abstract ones? Why the ruin of entire settings such as the Forgotten Realms?
  • The absolute centrality of combat was unbearable.

There were indeed some good ideas:
  • The idea of "roles" (Defender, Striker, Controller, Leader) was in fact a very good idea that incentivated the use of party tactics.
  • I appreciate the courage to risk new ways
  • The Warlord Class

But in the end this was the edition that divided the fanbase and could bring the end of the brand. The major split was with Pathfinder (whose sales surpassed those of D&D from 2012 to 2014 if I remember correctly) but then there were the OSR lines, Dungeon World and others.
The editorial success of 5e testifies that 4e risked a lot, but ultimately lost the gamble.


Uncomfortably diegetic
These seem pretty legit criticisms to me. I never saw the tiredness myself, indeed I was always pumped at the end of the session, and my players weren't arguing, but rather trying to cooperating in increasingly elaborate strategies (which only got more complicated with the Shaman arrived and was constantly triggering out-of-turn attacks and so on), but I can definitely see where you are coming from.
Yea, I think this aspect might differ based on psychology and also just what parts of the game you're more comfortable DMing. I love running combat, especially 4e, because it's amenable to freeform but still has a challenging structure when I don't feel like improving. My campaigns are almost always improv-heavy and plot-dense, so extended sessions of narrating plot elements without any combat tend to leave me feeling enervated, simply because I have to constantly improv.

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