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D&D 4E Merric's thoughts on 4e

MerricB

Eternal Optimist
When I first heard about 4e being released, I was quite apprehensive.

That didn't last long. After all, I'm blindly optimistic, right?

Well, not quite. It's probably more accurate that I tend to see the successes of companies I like more than their failures. So, although Wizards have had disasters like the Tome of Magic, DMG2 and the Map Folios, the joy I've gotten from their successes: Magic Item Compendium and Magic of Incarnum has far outweighed the bad.

Hey, what? Merric doesn't like DMG2? Yeah. Well, it's not really a disaster - it just has a lot of stuff in it that is completely irrelevant to my games. There are few things of interest, but they generally add more complexity to DMing, so they get ignored.

Much the same way that the PHB2 Affiliations, interesting rules that they are, have required more work than they're worth. If my players don't get engaged by something, then it's not likely to be used. Paizo did a nice set of affiliations for Savage Tide. The players chose them in the first session... and we haven't revisited them, because they don't actually impinge on the adventures. Heck, most of the time the PCs aren't anywhere near where their affiliations might be!

At various times during the last seven years, I've been running up to 3 campaigns - often, one Homebrew, one Adventure Path and a Living Greyhawk game. I'd normally spend about 8 hours a week Dungeon Mastering 3.5e. This has dropped down to 4 hours a week recently, but it'll probably go up again in 2008. So, I've had a fair bit of experience with 3.5e. Paizo's "Age of Worms" gave me the chance to run a campaign up to 21st level, and I'm very grateful to Erik and everyone else at Paizo for that chance. I hope to do it again with Savage Tide.

However, it was during the play of "Age of Worms" that I really became aware of the problems faced by some people with 3.5e. Unlike my homebrew campaign, the players in the AP game are more casual. Well, you've got one or two who are fantastic at building characters and finding the best supplements. (Craig's effectiveness at building a druid was eye-opening). But you have the other end as well: the players who are fantastic role-players, but are... challenged... when it comes to rules knowledge.

High-level combats also became challenging. In truth, it wasn't a rule-related thing. It was the Handful of Dice syndrome, and the inability of some of my players to add quickly. Craig's PDA, which had the diceroller installed on it, made things a lot more bearable.

The other thing that really started to bug me was how difficult it was to send groups of enemies against PCs. There are a few levels and monster-types where it works. There are far more where it doesn't. High-level monsters were too complicated to run easily at high levels, and the less said about a group of 20 Lizardfolk attacking a 4th level party the better. (They couldn't touch the party!)

(I've posted before about how the power curve in 3e is a bit too steep for my liking; that's why).

So, here comes 4e, and obviously, it'll fix all the problems I have with 4e. Right?

Heh. Who knows? I certainly don't.

There's one thing that has been very nice throughout the 3e era: I've felt like I was Wizards' target audience. Not always, but for most of it. Of course, they occasionally got my tastes dead wrong - there'd be a lot more adventures from Wizards if they were aiming directly at me, and a lot of Greyhawk ones at that! - but ruleswise? Nice going.

The biggest thing about 4e for me is the potential it has to fix the problems I've had with 3e. The biggest disappointment? The way its publicity has been handled.

If there's one thing that really makes me cringe, it's that "teaser" video displaying the "problems" with the previous editions of D&D. Now, I - and most people familiar with 3e - can relate to the problems with Grappling in 3e. (Incidentally, I don't have a problem running Grappling, I just have a problem with how powerful it is with large creatures). However, the problem with AD&D is... you don't know what mini stands for which monster? Huh? How on earth is that a 1st edition problem?

4e got off to a bad start, and things haven't gone smoothly since then.

Gleemax? Urg. Now, I'm an early adopter by nature, and I've been using the site, but it manages to fail Merric's Usability Test in a number of matters:
* It logs me out repeatedly, meaning that some longer "blog" posts will be killed
* Horrid navigation
* Too many small graphics. (Heck, too many graphics).

That last is really important: With web design, Less really is More. If I have to wait 5 minutes for the site to load... sorry, forget it. This is also a problem with the main Wizards website.

I'd love to be upbeat about gleemax, I really would, but...

...guys, go visit BoardGameGeek.com. It does a lot of what Gleemax should do. And given it may soon be expanding into RPGgeek.com as well? You've got competition!

Meanwhile, back on the D&D side of things...
...stupid Dragon & Dungeon magazine online rollouts!

Again, here's something I really, really want to support. Much as I like Paizo's content, my one year as an international subscriber to both magazines was not a really happy experience. The magazines came late. I've got a feeling that one issue of Dragon never arrived. Urgh. (Paizo's customer service may be great, but I really don't want to have to contact them!) An online magazine makes a lot more sense for me, and it'd also be substantially cheaper for me.

However, it's struggling under poor information and lacklustre articles. What will be the eventual cost of subscription? We don't know. Will we be forced to take the entire package, even though we've got no use for Dungeon magazine? We don't know. (That last really worries me - I want Dungeon magazine, but many people won't, and being required to pay for it with the rest of the DDi subscription? Urg).

There's been some things giving me hope - not all the articles have been bad. Some I've found really enjoyable. However, I'd so like it to be better!

Finally, we come to 4e, and the things that have been announced for it so far. There are things I like, and things I'm not happy about. Tieflings in the core book? Please, no! Simpler monsters? Great! (I love the way monsters are handled in MM5). More complex PCs and faster advancement? Uh oh...

I like the idea of PCs getting something at every level. It's a real joy to not have "dead" levels. However, then I need to think about the role-players of my Savage Tide campaign. Does this mean more complexity as well? If there's faster advancement, will ability pile upon ability so fast that my players won't be able to get used to the new ability before more complexity is added to the character?

And what about NPCs? Monsters can be made simpler, but NPCs?

So, I'm concerned. I hope for the best, and fear the worst.

Cheers!
 

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hong

WotC's bitch
Thus far, all the mechanical changes announced in 4E have been addressing things that I've bitched about in the past (both here and IRL). Whether they can deliver these changes remains to be seen, but it's an excellent start. It helps that Mearls is clearly a buttkicker like myself, to use Robin Laws' terminology; so it's not a big surprise that the changes have been to my liking. Tacticians and sim-builders maybe got teh shaft a little bit, but that's not my problem.

On the fluff side, I also think it's great that 4E will be trying to do more than just model D&D. 30 years of accumulated canon may be a heritage, but it's also a basement full of junk. Time to toss out some of that junk.

Gleemax and DDI I can take or leave. The information from the latter will eventually percolate to other sites via the usual methods. I never really used Dragon and Dungeon that much (although they were good reads) so it's not a big deal to me how DDI turns out. If it's good, then I'll use it; if not, I'm no worse off than before.
 

Zephrin the Lost

First Post
Well said as always. I agree that Gleemax is trying way to hard. Please get your eyecandy out of my D&D content.

One thing i hadn't thought of until I read it here- if my entire group subscribes to the DI, will we all get copies of Dungeon? Isn't that DM only content?

--Z
 

hong

WotC's bitch
"DM only content" means information that is useful to DMs. This does not imply information that is limited to DMs.
 

Reaper Steve

Explorer
Well, I'm super-excited for 4E, and I have no real complaints with how info is being released. 4E is bringing me back to the game, throwing out or fixing many of the things that drove me away.

I thought the GenCon video was tongue-in-cheek, but at the same time I remember a game where we busted out the Sorry! pieces to be the orcs, so I could relate to the which-mini-is-which bit.

My minor gripes:
1) The website updates haven't been as often, regular, or informative in the last month as they were out the gate. (Edit: to be clear, it's only been a slight change, nothing drastic. Maybe just the first few articles struck me as more evocative, or maybe just each new one leaves me wanting more!)
2)I'm happy to get all three core books in June, but I wish they didn't push H1 back to May.
3) They haven't asked me to playtest yet.

I agree Gleemax needs work. I don't even know where to start. I gave up even trying to find the developer's blogs the day after they moved them to Gleemax. :(

I have high hopes for DDI and I'll certainly give it a try.
 
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Lanefan

Victoria Rules
hong said:
"DM only content" means information that is useful to DMs. This does not imply information that is limited to DMs.
Even though it should.

Lane-"I think this is my shortest post yet"-fan
 

zoroaster100

First Post
I was avidly reading the developer's blogs every day (and that had me actually visiting the WOTC website again) until they started moving them to Gleemax. Now I just wait to read about the important blog posts here in ENWorld.
 

Tortoise

First Post
You covered most of my thoughts very well Merric.

My two biggest concerns are the "faster leveling" which detracts from the appreciation and understanding of character abilities at each level, and the complexity of designing NPC's.

Prep time is a very important issue for me and anything that slows my prep time cuts into my play time.
 


MerricB

Eternal Optimist
mhacdebhandia said:
I agree. It's simply impossible to know when the designers' blogs have been updated, so I don't bother trying to look anymore.

I've got them added to my "favourites", so I do see the updated posts. However, until now, the login woes have really made it a problem.

Looks like they've just fixed that - I may be able to stay logged in for two weeks! Yay!

Latest posts of interest to D&D fans:
Dave Noonan on Rods: http://www.gleemax.com/Comms/Pages/Communities/BlogPost.aspx?blogpostid=14860&pagemode=2&blogid=2132

Michelle Carter: http://www.gleemax.com/Comms/Pages/Communities/BlogPost.aspx?blogpostid=14090&pagemode=2&blogid=7576

Here's my Favourites Page:
http://www.gleemax.com/Comms/Pages/Communities/ViewFavoritesPost.aspx?userid=11526
 

Zamkaizer

First Post
zoroaster100 said:
I was avidly reading the developer's blogs every day (and that had me actually visiting the WOTC website again) until they started moving them to Gleemax. Now I just wait to read about the important blog posts here in ENWorld.

So I'm not the only one.

I've liked most of what I've seen about 4th Ed. proper, aside from some eyebrow-raising names, but the related software - like all software - needs some kinks ironed out of it. My only other concern is that, while Wayne Reynold's, Steve Prescott's, and William O'Connor's concept art has been predictably awesome, other specimens have been very hit or miss - some particularily notable misses including the manticore and halfling cleric.
 

ivocaliban

First Post
Great post, Merric. I found myself nodding my head at nearly every point you brought up. I do disagree on the usefulness of affiliations in 3.0/3.5e, but that's really just a matter of gaming style and personal preference.

The only other difference I have would be the releases for the online Dragon/Dungeon magazines. While I do feel the articles are not very exciting so far, I'm still waiting for the Graz'zt column before I make my call. In many of the Dragon issues I have there are only one or two really good articles. Generally speaking when the Demonomicon of Iggwilv or Core Beliefs showed up they were what made the issue worth owning. I think that might be true for Dragon #360, as well.
 

Keefe the Thief

Adventurer
Merric speaks the truth as usual. :) However, i am very relaxed about the DI / Gleemax issues. I did fully expect a long alpha and public beta phase with lots of problems and glitches. Whats more, i HOPED for it, so that eTool-esque catastrophes can be avoided by fan feedback. There are always people who like to use the software before it´s ready - i can wait and later reap the rewards. :D

And there is still much to do. The Dungeon and Dragon sections, for instance, need far better layout to improve readability.
 


Irda Ranger

First Post
MerricB said:
There's one thing that has been very nice throughout the 3e era: I've felt like I was Wizards' target audience. Not always, but for most of it. Of course, they occasionally got my tastes dead wrong - there'd be a lot more adventures from Wizards if they were aiming directly at me, and a lot of Greyhawk ones at that! - but ruleswise? Nice going.
To make this true for me, you can replace "was" with "was not" in the first sentence and "occasionally" with "usually" in the third.

MerricB said:
I like the idea of PCs getting something at every level. It's a real joy to not have "dead" levels. However, then I need to think about the role-players of my Savage Tide campaign. Does this mean more complexity as well? If there's faster advancement, will ability pile upon ability so fast that my players won't be able to get used to the new ability before more complexity is added to the character?
I can't know any more than the rest of you if they'll deliver, but the podcasts from Mearls specifically said they want to reduce the number of options and choices you have to make at 24th level so that 24th level is still as easy to play as lower levels.

I wouldn't have any personal experience with those high levels, but it's a nice thought.
 


MerricB

Eternal Optimist
KingCrab said:
That build for Craig's druid wouldn't happen to be online somewhere, would it?

I'm afraid not.

A lot of it depended on just picking good spells from the Spell Compendium. As far as I recall, it wasn't due to pure combat strength from feats, etc, but rather really, really good spell selection.

He actually was using the PH2 Druid Shifter variant, so it wasn't being broken in that manner.

Cheers!
 


Vysirez

First Post
I have to agree that I've been underwhelmed by Gleemax. I also read all of the Dev Blogs when they were in the forums. But since they moved to Gleemax It's gotten rather difficult. Moving around the webpage is incredibly slow. One other thing that really frustrates me, mabye i'm just blind, but I can't figure out how to get back to the main blog page from an individual post. Besides the back button I mean. IE if I get links directly to a blog post and want to check other blog entries for that person, I have to go all the way back up to the top of the webpage and drill down from there.
 

johnsemlak

First Post
RE Gleemax, What can I get at Gleemax that I cannot get an EN World? All the important 4e info is posted here in an organised fashion (thanx EN World!). The community here is great and we discuss all the D&D/4e issues intelligently.

Communicating directly with (or at any rate, reading) the 4e designers is an obvious plus, but nowadays all I've got time for is to read the summaries of what WotC people say which are posted on EN World.

To me its just as its always been--I prefer the EN World Community to the WotC site community. I'm glad the WotC site forums/community is there, and it's great that WotC people participate there, but I don't have time for it.
 

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