D&D 4E Inquiry: How do 4E fans feel about 4E Essentials?

Joshua Randall

Adventurer
This is definitely a big part of the fun of 4e for me. I look forward to my Fighter reaching 5th level so I can Minor Action Rain of Steel on the same turn I Encounter Power - action point - Encounter power - and probably use an item Daily on the same turn too. :)

Exactly! One thing I appreciated about 4e is that it was honest about its appeal to power gamers / butt-kickers and made their experience AWESOME.

I think 4e actually appealed to various other player types in the Robin Laws framework. For example I think 4e appealed to casual gamers (at least based on my local experience in 4e's early years) and sneakily also appealed to storytellers (if they could get past their distaste for all the numbers and overtly game-y elements, they would discover their narrative control, as is being discussed elsewhere in this thread).

But for some reason the Internet decided that actually making a game that appeals to power gamers in addition to other player types was BadWrongFun and drowned all 4e discussion in hatred and vitriol.
 

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The flip side of this is players have less ability to affect the shared fiction.

Part of what I found distinctive about 4e D&D is its player-side resource suites which give players a lot of scope to make decisions about when they really want to try hard and impose their wills on the unfolding situation (action points, daily powers, and so on).
Right, exactly why I said that Essentials was a move to undermine the Story Game interpretation of 4e play. I mean, we cannot say what was in the mind of certain people who pushed Essentials and shaped its design, but the RESULT is certainly to lessen the player's ability to make those kind of decisions, and to push that onto specific builds (IE the Mage, which gets a VERY substantial boost in power and no decrease at all in ability to 'nova').
 

I think there are two issues here.

(1) Wizards' initial vastly unrealistic overpromising of DDI ("Gleemax" LOL) functionality. That grandiose vision would've required the team of scores of experienced devs and the multi-millions of dollars you talked about.

(2) However, for what it turned out Wizards was actually working on (a character builder), with a small team, the loss of a key person or two can be devastating.

For comparison, in a past life I worked for a major auto insurance company (it's one you've heard of) on rebuilding the rating engine with a team of 6 developers. Yeah. A half-dozen people were responsible for arguably the most important piece of software to the entire company. Our lead dev / technical architect was very, very smart and experienced and savvy about business operations. If we had lost him for any reason, the project would have had major problems.

So I can image that Wizards losing their key person was equally devastating.
Right, but they'd have been back on track in a couple months with a new guy. I mean, I think it probably WAS pretty disruptive, but that is more of an indication of how thin and unrealistically underresourced the whole project was than an indication that software development projects necessarily hinge on one or two key people. I mean, the CB and MB and most of the basic DDI stuff that they did implement is very generic web app functionality at its essence. It didn't take some genius to head that. So their story that they would have had 3D and a VTT and etc. all but for this tragic event, won't hold water. POSSIBLY the generic stuff was a team of half-a-dozen that got set back 6 months, tops. The other stuff was a fantasy anyway, so really any story except "It wasn't possible for us to do." is pixie dust.

I mean, you see similar issues today with the VTTs that are out there. Roll20 has a terrible UX, and I'm not finding that Astral is that much of a different story. There's just no money in that product, so its "hey, it works, AT ALL, that's as good as it will get." I don't fault any of these efforts, at least they have got somewhere!
 

Undrave

Hero
But again, the problem with Necro/Nether is they are stuck being Mage subclasses, which serves no real purpose. I think that the different types of implement specialities are just as interesting, potentially as whatever is in Mage. It didn't get quite the focus I would have given it though. The summoner thing was a good start, with the tome. The IDEA of a more accurate wizard, a more potent effect wizard, and a more melee capable wizard (staff) were solid ideas though. I don't see the point of the change midstream to a different way of parsing it. Instead why not actually develop those themes? Necro could easily involve a new implement for instance, and Nether, meh, who asked for it?

The use of implements meant that, for once, a Wizard's gear actually has an impact on their performance and their 'fighting style' for lack of a better term. Just like how a Sword or Hammer fighters play differently. They moved the bat guano and other minutiae to rituals and kept fighting more slick and simple... And I think the implement Wizards would have made more interesting 5e subclass than the 8 repetitive ones we got in PHB1.

And then they had to go and try to retcon all the damn School of Magic stuff in... bleh. This was such a blatant appeal to grognards, along the vanishing of rituals... I was really not a fan. It didn't bring anything to 4e and I feel like they were the dumbest thing to base 5e Wizard subclasses on. (They do work great on the new Sorcerers and define the multi-class style subclasses)

(IE the Mage, which gets a VERY substantial boost in power and no decrease at all in ability to 'nova').
Of course the Mage is powerful, it's a WIZARD after all, right? Don't you know Wizards are supposed to be the best class and if they aren't... well it's not D&D! Right?

/s
 

Joshua Randall

Adventurer
their story that they would have had 3D and a VTT and etc. all but for this tragic event, won't hold water.

Was that actually a story they told though? I honestly can't recall. I thought the story was more around why character builder v1 was late / missing features / buggy, and that they pretty quickly swept under the rug the bullsh*t pixie-dust full suite of magical unicorn tools (basically admitting it was vaporware). i.e., I thought the loss of a team member was (accurately?) being blamed for a setback in character builder itself (only).

But I'm old and have bad memory, so who knows. Anyway....

you see similar issues today with the VTTs that are out there. Roll20 has a terrible UX, and I'm not finding that Astral is that much of a different story. There's just no money in that product, so its "hey, it works, AT ALL, that's as good as it will get."

So as a professional UX designer, I'll say that while better design isn't free it doesn't have to be expensive. More than anything else it would require a mindset shift from the developers / companies that build VTTs. ("You [developer] are not your user." -- design for the people who actually use your product)

But as you've implied, maybe they are happy enough with their outcomes, and maybe the market of people-willing-to-put-up-with-bad-U.I.-because-it's-still-a-VTT-woohoo! is a good enough market.
 

Was that actually a story they told though? I honestly can't recall. I thought the story was more around why character builder v1 was late / missing features / buggy, and that they pretty quickly swept under the rug the bullsh*t pixie-dust full suite of magical unicorn tools (basically admitting it was vaporware). i.e., I thought the loss of a team member was (accurately?) being blamed for a setback in character builder itself (only).

But I'm old and have bad memory, so who knows. Anyway....
Heh, you and me both ;) So, short of going and digging back into wayback land, which I'm not really inclined to trouble myself to do, I don't actually know in detail. I do know that the things they DISCUSSED implied at the very least that there would be some sort of online play capability, and the eventual VTT was perceived as an attempt to fill that promise. They certainly talked about 3D character models and some stuff like that (but how exactly they were going to be used I'm not sure). It LOOKS to me, from various discussions about what the D&D team told Hasbro, that they at least had an AMBITION to do something that would rival 'MMOs'. They may well not have really clearly known what exactly that was, and you may be right in thinking that their explanation was only MEANT to apply to the CB.

OTOH, the CB wasn't especially late, the offline CB came out pretty quickly after the game was released. I don't recall the exact timing, but it was not that long, and it was actually a pretty solid offering (albeit only usable on PC desktop, but also was usable offline, sort of a plus/minus situation). I think it is likely that the actual program produced is rather less filled with bells and whistles than was dreamed of, but it is a good solid application that people are still using!

So, it SEEMS like the things that WotC really was telling a story about was the more 'advanced' stuff like a VTT (maybe 3D etc, nobody knows for sure) etc. Anyway, I never either believed the "crazy guy tragedy" story, nor really thought WotC earned much blame here. They imagined something well beyond that capabilities, but you get noplace if you don't dream, and what WAS provided was pretty good quality.
So as a professional UX designer, I'll say that while better design isn't free it doesn't have to be expensive. More than anything else it would require a mindset shift from the developers / companies that build VTTs. ("You [developer] are not your user." -- design for the people who actually use your product)

But as you've implied, maybe they are happy enough with their outcomes, and maybe the market of people-willing-to-put-up-with-bad-U.I.-because-it's-still-a-VTT-woohoo! is a good enough market.
Perhaps. I think they COULD maybe do better. I'm not sure if the failure to do so is purely a resource issue or also an organizational failing. UX can be a pretty tough nut to crack. I once worked with a woman who was offered the job of head of UX experience by Microsoft! She told me even they were pretty inept on that front (this was about 20 years back, things are likely pretty different there now). Anyway, having run small software shops, I don't really fault them too much, though I have complained here and there about Roll20. We can hope they improve with time.
 

TwoSix

Unserious gamer
I've been running a 4E solo game with my 5 year old son and the house rule we've been using is you can use one big thing --- action point, daily, or item power --- per encounter but they all refresh with a short rest, similar to how Channel Divinity powers function. Its worked like a charm so far and effectively made the game 100% encounter-based.
The house rule I had, but only really got to try briefly, was that APs started at 0, but you got one whenever you expended a healing surge. You could only use a daily power by expending an action point, but you could use any particular daily power only once per encounter.

It gave pushing forward despite attrition a mechanical bonus, and tied attrition directly back to healing surges, where it belonged. It also served as almost like an escalation die for longer battles, since stronger dailies would be used more often in the later rounds.
 

The use of implements meant that, for once, a Wizard's gear actually has an impact on their performance and their 'fighting style' for lack of a better term. Just like how a Sword or Hammer fighters play differently. They moved the bat guano and other minutiae to rituals and kept fighting more slick and simple... And I think the implement Wizards would have made more interesting 5e subclass than the 8 repetitive ones we got in PHB1.

And then they had to go and try to retcon all the damn School of Magic stuff in... bleh. This was such a blatant appeal to grognards, along the vanishing of rituals... I was really not a fan. It didn't bring anything to 4e and I feel like they were the dumbest thing to base 5e Wizard subclasses on. (They do work great on the new Sorcerers and define the multi-class style subclasses)


Of course the Mage is powerful, it's a WIZARD after all, right? Don't you know Wizards are supposed to be the best class and if they aren't... well it's not D&D! Right?

/s
I think they didn't really quite do as much with implements as they could have. It turned out to be a pretty minor feature, and frankly the outright superiority of attack bonuses over all else meant that Wand was pretty much the optimum choice, though the lockdown aspect of orb did mean there was a fair argument for it. Staff proved to be a boondoggle, as it sucked you into a kind of AoE oriented front-line build concept that never got any real support and went against the whole idea of being a controller too much. Likewise when Summoner was introduced they never really got bold enough with Wizard summons to make them a viable alternative to the orbizard. Tome likewise didn't really offer all that much, the bigger spell book feature really isn't that much of a benefit. Frankly in all the years I ran 4e wizards are only swapped my spell selection a handful of times, you pretty much BUILT AROUND specific tactics and thus specific powers, swapping them out was unlikely to be a good idea!

So, basically orb and wand dominate, but even they're not that distinctive, really. They tried larding on top the 'superior implement' rules, but that was just another flavor of magic implement, basically, so what did it really do? Not much, and it was equally beneficial for ALL implements. I admit though, they added some very potent staff enchantments that made USING a staff into a great option, though that didn't really mean you should take it as your implement specialization (orb is still better in that case, blast with the staff, then lock them down with the orb stuff afterwards).

Overall, I think the wizard wasn't actually WotC's great success with 4e. The thematics are way too broad, so it swallowed other classes, like Sorcerer and Invoker, and the pushing control into the powers was always a bit problematic. That was before MM became a "wizards must be gods" guy and invented the Mage...

I agree on the schools too. I never really thought most of them even made sense, though at least 4e kept the list very short...
 

Exactly! One thing I appreciated about 4e is that it was honest about its appeal to power gamers / butt-kickers and made their experience AWESOME.

I think 4e actually appealed to various other player types in the Robin Laws framework. For example I think 4e appealed to casual gamers (at least based on my local experience in 4e's early years) and sneakily also appealed to storytellers (if they could get past their distaste for all the numbers and overtly game-y elements, they would discover their narrative control, as is being discussed elsewhere in this thread).

But for some reason the Internet decided that actually making a game that appeals to power gamers in addition to other player types was BadWrongFun and drowned all 4e discussion in hatred and vitriol.
Ironically of course 3.5 was probably the most power-gamery D&D in history...
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
Ironically of course 3.5 was probably the most power-gamery D&D in history...

It's a different sort of gamist play though. D&D 3e / Pathfinder First Edition are built around optimizing at build time and spell preparation to succeed where D&D 4e and Pathfinder Second Edition (in absolutely different ways) are centered on run time optimization for success.
 
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The use of implements meant that, for once, a Wizard's gear actually has an impact on their performance and their 'fighting style' for lack of a better term. Just like how a Sword or Hammer fighters play differently. They moved the bat guano and other minutiae to rituals and kept fighting more slick and simple... And I think the implement Wizards would have made more interesting 5e subclass than the 8 repetitive ones we got in PHB1.

And then they had to go and try to retcon all the damn School of Magic stuff in... bleh. This was such a blatant appeal to grognards, along the vanishing of rituals... I was really not a fan. It didn't bring anything to 4e and I feel like they were the dumbest thing to base 5e Wizard subclasses on. (They do work great on the new Sorcerers and define the multi-class style subclasses)
The problem is that although there is a little thematic resonance to wizards having staffs and wands there isn't much thematic resonance in comparing them; in Lord of the Rings wizards carry staves as does Malificent while Harry potter wizards carry wands. Anyone, however, could tell you the difference between a necromancer, an illusionist, and a diviner and, while they might not know the word, an evoker's also pretty obvious.

If your goal is accessibility for new players then although the whole "There are eight schools of magic and these are in opposition and you can't cast from opposed schools" thing is silly (and not coincidentally dumped by 5e) most of the schools themselves are good.
Of course the Mage is powerful, it's a WIZARD after all, right? Don't you know Wizards are supposed to be the best class and if they aren't... well it's not D&D! Right?

/s
Quite! /s
 

Joshua Randall

Adventurer
On a different note - I actually have some data on the races & classes of the characters in my many, many game sessions during 4e's LFR (Living Forgotten Realms) run.

class_is_Essentials... count
no... 424 (92%)
yes... 35 (8%)
TOTAL... 459

So this does not mean that I played with 459 unique different characters during my LFR time! I just did a crude dump of every line item... so for example my friend's dragonborn ardent has 8 rows in the table, not just 1.

Anyway, interpret this as "roughly 8% of the times that Joshua sat at an LFR table, there was an Essentials class in play". Which is pretty close to my off-the-cuff guess that Essentials classes made up 10% or fewer of what people actually played. At least in my experience.
 

The problem is that although there is a little thematic resonance to wizards having staffs and wands there isn't much thematic resonance in comparing them; in Lord of the Rings wizards carry staves as does Malificent while Harry potter wizards carry wands. Anyone, however, could tell you the difference between a necromancer, an illusionist, and a diviner and, while they might not know the word, an evoker's also pretty obvious.

If your goal is accessibility for new players then although the whole "There are eight schools of magic and these are in opposition and you can't cast from opposed schools" thing is silly (and not coincidentally dumped by 5e) most of the schools themselves are good.

Quite! /s
Meh, what the heck is a 'transmuter'? lol. I mean, OK, I can kind of give you some sort of answer, but it isn't thematic of ANYTHING. If you wanted to have a "School of Alchemy" that might be something. If you wanted to build some sort of conceptual framework in lore and meta-setting around schools, or something, that would be SOMETHING, but as it is, they're just pretty much throw-away. When I ran a 5e Mountain Dwarf Wizard I made him a 'transmuter', but it was very close to meaningless, and also clearly suboptimal at the same time. It might as well have been 'staff wizard' vs 'orb wizard'.

And in 4e, well, he could have been a staff wizard, which at least would have suited his penchant for getting in the thick of things. As a mage? What? The schools are no more mechanically significant than the implements, though at least they were followed up with some minor support. I'd have rather have seen some improvements to the implement choices, why change directions? It certainly wasn't adding something to the game... Quite the contrary when Necromancy was weirdly grafted onto only the Mage, making it unavailable to anyone who didn't specifically use the Essentials version of the wizard. Meanwhile a lot of the other stuff in that book only works with non-Essentials! GGGGAAAAHHHHH!
 

What are you counting as Essentials Classes? Just out of the three books or also including Shadowfell, Feywild, and Elemental Chaos? But I'm not very surprised it was that low at an LFR table tbh.
 



Joshua Randall

Adventurer
Data by class. Yes, there were a lot of hybrid-happy folks at our tables. (And also no consistency in how I input this data, LOL!)

classCOUNTA of class
???1
ardent8
artificer4
assassin5
assassin | rogue2
assassin | warlock1
assassin|warlock1
avenger10
barb | vampire1
barbarian17
barbarian | fighter3
bard5
bard (skald) | vampire1
bard | vampire3
bard|vampire5
battlemind9
blackguard1
blackguard | bard1
bladesinger1
cavalier1
cleric53
cleric | assassin1
druid2
executioner|warlock1
fighter40
fighter | swordmage1
fighter/cleric1
fighter|barbarian5
genasi1
hexblade11
invoker4
knight1
mage2
monk5
paladin31
paladin|ranger2
paladin|warden1
paladin|warlock1
psion6
ranger14
ranger | fighter1
rogue33
runepriest2
scout1
seeker3
shaman7
shaman|ardent1
slayer1
sorcerer15
sorceress8
swordmage21
swordmage | wizard1
swordmage|warlock4
swordmage|wizard1
thief1
vampire1
warden12
warlock11
warlock|assassin1
warlord31
warlord|paladin1
warpriest3
wizard35
wizard|artificer1
Grand Total459

(And yes it drives me crazy there is one, and only one, class = '???'. You do not know how much I want to go back in time and grab that player's sheet to see what it was.)
 


Meh, what the heck is a 'transmuter'? lol. I mean, OK, I can kind of give you some sort of answer, but it isn't thematic of ANYTHING.
I could say the same about an "orb wizard" - except that transmutation, the changing of one thing into another, which reflects both alchemy and shapeshifting, is actually more strongly based than the symbolism round the orb. And this only makes the point that the worst of the old school schools is about as thematic as the best of the implement wizards.
When I ran a 5e Mountain Dwarf Wizard I made him a 'transmuter', but it was very close to meaningless, and also clearly suboptimal at the same time. It might as well have been 'staff wizard' vs 'orb wizard'.
So you picked one of the eight schools and you picked the worst one - and even to you that's about a match for one of 4e's basic three implements. But if you don't find the transmuter thematic of anything then why in the name of the little black pig did you pick it? This reminds me of the people who had decided that 4e was stupid before they played it and picked the most stupid options they could to "prove" their preconceptions.

And I do mean you picked out the single worst school in 5e. If we look at the RPGBot breakdown of wizard subclasses they're rated on a red, orange, green, blue scale. Literally the only red rated wizard subclass in 5e is the transmuter - and the only orange rated one is the school of graviturgy from a Critical Role book.
And in 4e, well, he could have been a staff wizard, which at least would have suited his penchant for getting in the thick of things. As a mage? What? The schools are no more mechanically significant than the implements, though at least they were followed up with some minor support.
If he wanted to be a wizard who had a penchant for getting into the thick of things he could have chosen to be either a Bladesinger or a War Wizard. Or, if you were restricted to the PHB, he could have been an Abjurer who as their second level feature gains some temporary hit points every time they cast an abjuration spell. Now that's both more thematic than anything either the transmuter or the staff wizard gets and would have been a better fit for your character.

The idea that the schools are no more mechanically significant than the implements simply isn't true - it's just that Transmutation in specific is the worst school; I've mentioned the abjurer. Some highlights:
  • The Diviner at level 2 gets to roll two dice at the start of a session and swap any dice rolled in the session with those
  • The Enchanter gets a hypnotic gaze at L2 and the ability to redirect attacks at L6
  • The Necromancer gets to raise better undead with Animate Dead at L6 and gets to heal when they kill things at level 2.
  • The Illusionist gets to make their illusions part real at level 14
  • The Evoker gets to protect their allies by sculpting their evocations at L2 and does more damage with them at L10.
All of these are meaningful mechanical differences that underline the character concepts and are both more interesting mechanically and thematically than the orb/staff/wand of 4e. Yes, the transmuter was a bit of a turkey.
I'd have rather have seen some improvements to the implement choices, why change directions? It certainly wasn't adding something to the game...
Because there's very little thematic resonance to the implements. So they couldn't really be fixed - but being able to be a Pyromancer Evoker was fun and thematic in a way that the orb wizard never was. You could play the striker burninator wizard.

The genuinely bad thing about the mage and why I avoided them was that they didn't come with Ritual Caster.
Quite the contrary when Necromancy was weirdly grafted onto only the Mage, making it unavailable to anyone who didn't specifically use the Essentials version of the wizard.
False. In both 4e and and 5e any wizard can cast any spell from the wizard list if they know it and mage spells were wizard spells and wizard spells were mage spells. If you wanted to be a staff wizard with a rack of necromancy spells you could. It wasn't weird that the school specialism was grafted on to the school specialist version of the wizard.

And honestly the necromancer specialism in 4e was pretty bad. At level 1 you gained two temps for hitting foes with necromancy (the 5e version where you regain hit points for killing (2* spell level or 3* spell level if a necromancy spell) is IMO more evocative). At level 5 you gained +2 to two skills. And at level 10 you got to ignore necrotic resistance. You could play a perfectly good necromancer with none of that.
Meanwhile a lot of the other stuff in that book only works with non-Essentials! GGGGAAAAHHHHH!
And all the necromancy spells in that book work with non-Essentials wizards as well. Where's the problem?
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
If he wanted to be a wizard who had a penchant for getting into the thick of things he could have chosen to be either a Bladesinger or a War Wizard. Or, if you were restricted to the PHB, he could have been an Abjurer who as their second level feature gains some temporary hit points every time they cast an abjuration spell.
When I was trying to build a Swordmage I noticed that I couldnt get shields (Abjurer) and attacks with Intelligence in melee(artificer), Swordbond (EK) etc etc without a ton of multiclass shenanigans and never did find away to teleport most of the time.. I also couldn't get a white lotus repost (for that prickly fun) but it was less important than the teleporting. (even nothing really like my favorite swordburst)
 

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