Presentation vs design... vs philosophy

CapnZapp

Hero
People either don’t realize or don’t want to admit that their problems with 4e had far more to do with presentation than design.
I find this argument disingenuous.

This post was made in response to what led to it, namely "4E devs are now working at Paizo, so how come people refuse to see similarities between the two games?"

(The above quote isn't the only place the argument "if you dislike 4E, you only do so because of its presentation" has been forwarded; I just took the instance I could find)

Personally I think there exists a deep similarity between 4E and PF2 as regards design philosophy that goes right to the heart as to respective games popularity or lack thereof.

No, I don't think Pathfinder 2 plays the same as 4E. And discussing superficial similarities in presentation misses the deeper point.

Instead: Both games focus on the encounter. Both games are obsessed with balance. Neither game really trusts the GM.

The difference between 3E, PF1 and 5E on one hand, and 4E and PF2 on the other, is that players aren't allowed to influence the power of their characters to any substantial degree. If everybody is special, nobody is. Sure, another way of saying this is the latter games make it much harder to build a crippled character, but I do not think this is what us gamers are asking for and I don't think this is what us gamers want.

Besides, it's not that character imbalance is the crippling issue the design of 4E and PF2 think it is. Most games on the market couldn't care less about making sure that all character options are equal.

While I personally think 5E could have made more of an effort to silo "ribbon feats" (Linguist, Keen Mind, ...) from "crunch feats" (Great Weapon Master, Sharpshooter) the fact some character choices are objectively complete garbage (and now I'm no longer talking about those feats) compared to others hasn't dented the edition's popularity at all.

And having feats and options and magic items that really make a difference is mostly fun and cool and evocative. Not something that must be repressed and controlled, like in both 4E and PF2.

tl;dr: I think the downfall of 4E was its overbearing controlling nature, and I see the same in PF2. This goes far deeper than merely "presentation", and even deeper than shallow gameplay comparisons.
 

CapnZapp

Hero
PS. This is not intended as an edition warring thread. I am not bashing any edition, I'm just discussing why I believe some succeed and some fail, especially I can't recall anyone else bringing up these points. I do feel it's worthwhile to openly discuss the fundamental nature of the various D&D games.

In fact, I am gamesmastering PF2 right now!
 

Nagol

Unimportant
There were other content changes and design decisions in 4e that kept at least two people from adopting it (me and a friend who discussed the philosophy at length).

Presentation didn't rise to the upper tier of issues.

I've been looking at PF2. I'm uncertain it'll get played at my table because of some specific design choices like how closely matched encounters and PC power level need to be. But, it doesn't have the anywhere near the same content I found problematic in 4e.
 
While I have not played PF2 (I've only dabbled in PF), I agree with much of what was said about 4E. I felt it was a fine game... just not D&D, due to the limitations placed. Most of these limitations were most keenly felt on the DM side of the screen. Especially with the notion pushed at the time that EVERYTHING was core, meaning that the DM had to be up on every issue of Dragon, and every supplement. My regular DM quit during 4E because in his opinion the rules balanced the DM: a bad DM was made better, while a good DM was made worse, leaving everyone mediocre.

As for the presentation, I felt it was fine. When one holdout group objected to "powers," I took my 3E barbarian and rewrote him with powers using the existing rules. He was mechanically the exact same, just with a different presentation, which helped change their mind. There were some very good concepts in 4E, but I felt the mechanics were the real issue for me.
 

Horwath

Adventurer
4E and PF2 wanted balance above all else. And they went with the wrong road doing that.
They went with the mirror balance. That is all classes are the same at all levels.

Now, that would be great if we didn't already had balance made through non-mirror balance.

And non-mirror balance is better than mirror balance. At least it does not scream laziness and lack of imagination.

AED was a great idea in 4E, but it would have been far better if different classes had different amount of A, E or D powers with different rate of aquiring them.

the +1/2 per level on EVERYTHING didn't helped either.
4E is even better if you remove that.
 

Krachek

Adventurer
They claim to have build 5ed around 3 pillars.
So combat has only a 33% weight in term of importance.
The game as is fit well critical role style.
Preface of the phb state : an exercice of collaborative creation.
That is 5ed intent.
Those who want more combat sharpness have to adapt the game themselves our through community.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I always felt like 4E was half-baked and pushed out before it was quite done. The at-will/encounter/daily power structure was okay for some classes, I just don't think it should have been applied across the board. They tried to fix it with Essentials, but it was too little too late. Add to that the feeling that the design philosophy was to lock down everything so the system couldn't be "abused" as easily led to a mechanical feeling game.

While one of the issues I had with 3.5 was the amount of page flipping to look up specific niche rules, 4E seemed to want to lock it down even more. Even social and free-form exploration encounters became skill challenges, which sound great on paper but tended to change free form play to a series of mechanical checks with some extraneous narration.

So for me it didn't have much to do with presentation, it was the design and philosophy of the game. Toss in the lack of flexibility to change the feel of the game significantly. To me it always felt like anime/cartoon action where even my mundane fighter regularly broke all semblance of reality with their powers. You could put a veneer of different styles on the game, but it always felt the same.
 
I can see the argument about presentation, from a certain perspective.

For example, I have constantly felt that the fluff and feel of 5e is much more evocative than 4e. 4e just felt very sterile to me, but, I acknowledge that you could easily build the same lore and game world in 4e that you could build anywhere else. The way it was written and presented made it feel like you couldn't, but that was a different issue than an actual lack of fluff and flavor.

I would say there were two things that actually caused me major problems when I ran 4e.

1) There was just so much. I never felt like I had a solid grasp on the system and the rules, there were just so many different abilities and oh my god the feats. I remember using the digital character generator, and the sheer number of feats that would pop up nearly crashed the computer. No one had any idea what they wanted, and taking the time to read all the abilities available to you could take an hour.

2) I felt like I couldn't change anything. I don't know how much of this was from #1 and how much was me being less experienced as a DM, but I felt far more constrained by 4e than I do by 5e. I didn't feel like I could change the monsters, the items, the class abilities, everything just was so tightly locked in place that I couldn't see a way to move the pieces to get a different effect. I don't have that in 5e. I feel completely comfortable altering things all the time, and have for a long time.

It could be this is all because I was in on 5e from the initial playtest, while I started 4e after it had been out for a few years. That could be a major factor in the difference I see between the two systems, maybe if I'd been on the ground floor of 4e I would have been comfortable and not overwhelmed, but all that being said, I can see that the presentation of 4e didn't help how it was received. Long lists of abilities in card format, all of them slotting into a limited number of choices. It felt very different.
 

atanakar

Hero
I gave 4e a very good run. Two campaigns up to level 10 in the first two years of 4e. In the end, since I already play wargames, I didn't want to play another one when I'm playing D&D. Too much focus on combat resolution. It had nothing to do with presentation but more to do on how the game plays out at the table. I'm not saying its not a good system. Just not for me. It made me quit D&D voluntarily for the first time since 1981.

Also, just like 3e, it suffered from illusion of choice. By that I mean that there is only one optimal build for each archetype, so why bother offering a ton of choices that never get pick up, except by players who are not good at optimizing and complain at higher levels that their character is not on par with the others. Also the myriad of additional core books everyone had to buy to keep up to date did not help.
 
I think 4e's problem was that it was called D&D.

I think PF2e's problem is that 5e exists. Though I suppose the design decision makes sense to some degree - with Pathfinder tried to capture the last edition of D&D's audience that felt left behind. With PF2e, a lot of what people liked about 4e D&D is present in it. So I guess I can understand their design decisions. It's just they needed to make PF2 a lot closer to when 5e began for that to reach full potential IMO.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
I think 4e's problem was that it was called D&D.

I think PF2e's problem is that 5e exists. Though I suppose the design decision makes sense to some degree - with Pathfinder tried to capture the last edition of D&D's audience that felt left behind. With PF2e, a lot of what people liked about 4e D&D is present in it. So I guess I can understand their design decisions. It's just they needed to make PF2 a lot closer to when 5e began for that to reach full potential IMO.
I think part of PF2e's problem is that they're trying to solve the problems with 3-dot-Pathfinder math, differently than WotC solved it. I think another part of PF2e's problem is that it's different enough from PF1e that they're going to lose players who didn't want to switch editions (which I have to think was a large chunk of PF1e's audience).
 
L

lowkey13

Guest
PS. This is not intended as an edition warring thread. I am not bashing any edition, I'm just discussing why I believe some succeed and some fail, especially I can't recall anyone else bringing up these points. I do feel it's worthwhile to openly discuss the fundamental nature of the various D&D games.

In fact, I am gamesmastering PF2 right now!
I think you are being honest. I think it should be possible to have this type of conversation.

...but....

I also predict this will not go well. If this manages to stay civil and stay the course for a little while, I'll chime in. But I think it's nearly impossible to discuss this without yucking on someone's yum.
 
I also predict this will not go well. If this manages to stay civil and stay the course for a little while, I'll chime in. But I think it's nearly impossible to discuss this without yucking on someone's yum.
I think that it can be done if we all remember two things...

It is less confrontational to use statements that are clearly opinion, i.e. "[edition x] did not appeal to me because..." rather than ones that will be interpreted as statements of fact, i.e. "[edition x] is trash because..."

And also, people are making statements of their opinion, which does not in any way invalidate your own opinion, so please don't feel the need to respond to an opinion that you disagree with.

Of course, that has been true of all threads that turn into edition wars, so... Flame on, I guess?



For my own part, I have to agree that, on the one hand, the presentation of D&D 4e was not much to my liking.

On the other hand, I still ran two campaigns and played in five others before moving away from it totally.

For me, D&D 4e simply did not do what I wanted in a game. There were some excellent pieces in D&D 4e (warlords, page 42, unified attack/defense progression, etc.) but overall, it was not the game for me.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I think you are being honest. I think it should be possible to have this type of conversation.

...but....

I also predict this will not go well. If this manages to stay civil and stay the course for a little while, I'll chime in. But I think it's nearly impossible to discuss this without yucking on someone's yum.
C'mon. What are the odds that someone will eventually say that powers for martial characters felt like supernatural abilities only to be told repeatedly that they are factually incorrect or any other number of sidelines that come up on this topic. :rolleyes:
 

LordEntrails

Adventurer
I always felt that 4E was designed to be the backbone for computer games and VTTs. Not only is it very balanced, but it has a very "digital" feel to me. At its core, it has always seemed to be something that would be easy to put digital logic around and would facilitate a platform shift.

That seems to me to have been supported with DDI and the attempts to create their own VTT.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I always felt that 4E was designed to be the backbone for computer games and VTTs. Not only is it very balanced, but it has a very "digital" feel to me. At its core, it has always seemed to be something that would be easy to put digital logic around and would facilitate a platform shift.

That seems to me to have been supported with DDI and the attempts to create their own VTT.
I seem to remember interviews with the devs when 4E came out where they pretty much stated that, yes, to a degree they were trying to emulate MMOs.

Problem is that what works for MMOs tends to bog down a TTRPG, or at least it did in my experience.
 

Undrave

Hero
The problem with 4e is that it didn't let Wizard players feel smarter and better than everybody else :p

But more seriously, it asked DMs not to fret so much about player-facing options and just trust they were balanced. You don't need to read every single power or 'plan around' a PC's ability. Let them surprise you from time to time, it's fun for them, and it won't break the game. You didn't know that one PC had a Thunder damage power when you planed your encounter with monsters vulnerable to Thunder damage? Neither did the monsters themselves... just go with it and move on.

It was also VERY low on the simulationist scale and that rubbed people the wrong way. "How can a Fighter do mind control?!" they asked, the answer is "Don't worry about it, it's cool and it works" and that didn't work for everybody.

On the whole it was just too different for some people. It was a different philosophy from the comfortable 3e.

2) I felt like I couldn't change anything. I don't know how much of this was from #1 and how much was me being less experienced as a DM, but I felt far more constrained by 4e than I do by 5e. I didn't feel like I could change the monsters, the items, the class abilities, everything just was so tightly locked in place that I couldn't see a way to move the pieces to get a different effect. I don't have that in 5e. I feel completely comfortable altering things all the time, and have for a long time.
First time I DM'd was in 4e and I started the whole thing with custom monsters. It was suuuuper easy to modify monsters by just mixing and matching stuff from other creatures of the same level. I think you should have just felt more confident about it.

That said, I totally get the idea that it looked MASSIVE if you didn't start from the beginning of 4e, but you just had to take things one step at a time and, again, just trust that things would work out even if the PC used powers from a book you hadn't read yourself. And while making a character, you don't need to play thirty level in advance (especially with core retraining rules in place), just go one level at a time.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
I find this argument disingenuous.

This post was made in response to what led to it, namely "4E devs are now working at Paizo, so how come people refuse to see similarities between the two games?"

(The above quote isn't the only place the argument "if you dislike 4E, you only do so because of its presentation" has been forwarded; I just took the instance I could find)
That’s not the argument that I made. There are plenty of reasons folks didn’t like 4e, some of them related to presentation, some of them not. But the relatively positive reception of PF2 compared to 4e’s reception shows that presentation did play a significant role in a significant number of players’ problems with 4e.

Personally I think there exists a deep similarity between 4E and PF2 as regards design philosophy that goes right to the heart as to respective games popularity or lack thereof.

No, I don't think Pathfinder 2 plays the same as 4E. And discussing superficial similarities in presentation misses the deeper point.

Instead: Both games focus on the encounter. Both games are obsessed with balance. Neither game really trusts the GM.
These are significant similarities between the two systems. They are far from the only such similarities. While the systems do play out differently, they share a great deal of DNA, including but not limited to these similarities.

The difference between 3E, PF1 and 5E on one hand, and 4E and PF2 on the other, is that players aren't allowed to influence the power of their characters to any substantial degree. If everybody is special, nobody is. Sure, another way of saying this is the latter games make it much harder to build a crippled character, but I do not think this is what us gamers are asking for and I don't think this is what us gamers want.
“Us gamers” are an incredibly diverse group, who want and ask for a lot of different things, many of them mutually exclusive, so I don’t think this argument holds up. And, again, the fact that 4e and PF2 are similar in this, and yet PF2 is seeing better reception than 4e did, from the very crowd that jumped ship to PF from 4e, shows that this must not have been the key factor that turned those folks off of 4e.

Besides, it's not that character imbalance is the crippling issue the design of 4E and PF2 think it is. Most games on the market couldn't care less about making sure that all character options are equal.
A lot of players do care about that though.

While I personally think 5E could have made more of an effort to silo "ribbon feats" (Linguist, Keen Mind, ...) from "crunch feats" (Great Weapon Master, Sharpshooter) the fact some character choices are objectively complete garbage (and now I'm no longer talking about those feats) compared to others hasn't dented the edition's popularity at all.
“Complete garbage” is a bit of an overstatement. The difference between an optimized and an unoptimized character in 5e is much, much less than the difference between an optimized 3e or PF1 character and an unoptimized one. The potential for that disparity is greater than it may be in 4e or PF2, but I’d call that a selling point of those systems.

And having feats and options and magic items that really make a difference is mostly fun and cool and evocative. Not something that must be repressed and controlled, like in both 4E and PF2.

tl;dr: I think the downfall of 4E was its overbearing controlling nature, and I see the same in PF2. This goes far deeper than merely "presentation", and even deeper than shallow gameplay comparisons.
Ok. I mean, I disagree, but I don’t think this is a counter-argument against my assertion that the presentation accounts for a significant portion of PF2’s more positive reception than 4e’s.
 

Undrave

Hero
I think an aspect of the presentation that irked people was how NAKED the design was. You could tell the design intents of 4e, see the logic behind a lot of decision. It was like turning the lights on in a Disney Dark Ride and exposing how the effects work: for some people it ruins the magic, for others its super cool and fascinating.

I think a lot of gamer didn't want to think of DnD as a 'game' and the naked design just emphasized that aspect. The books were written like a GAME and not some kind of in-universe treatise with a few D8s thrown in.


The potential for that disparity is greater than it may be in 4e or PF2, but I’d call that a selling point of those systems.
Basically it's a feature and not a bug. People were just not buying what 4e was selling, or didn't realize WHAT it was selling.
 

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