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D&D 4E The Best Thing from 4E

What are your favorite 4E elements?


  • Total voters
    225

pemerton

Legend
you've got a bard
My group has a sorcerer. He's a multi-class bard (1x/day Majestic Word) who has an epic feat that lets him swap in two (?) powers: Climactic Chord, and Rhythm of Disorientation.

The sorcerer's most consistent leader function is +3 to hit for everyone when he spends an action point (Demonskin Adept).
 

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pemerton

Legend
Sorcerers do have some pretty vicious tricks of their own as well
I don't know what the upper end of optimisation looks like, but he is the most optimised PC in our group.

His main trick is having static damage mods of around +50 to +60 (it varies a bit across damage types).
 

Scrivener of Doom

Adventurer
I also accidentally answered with more than three choices not wanting to read the responses before I gave my own.

As a permanent DM, my single favourite thing about 4E are the stat blocks for monsters and NPCs. This is the only edition where I can think of a concept for a monster or NPC and stat it out such that the mechanics match the flavour without wasting an entire day looking for feats and class/prestige class abilities only for it to last 1 round (3.xE/PF) or simply writing flavour text and then rolling an attack and then damage (BECMI and the three editions of AD&D [with 5E being the third edition :) ]).

4E stat blocks are simply a thing of beauty, and I cannot help but think how easy it would be to design simpler PCs in much the same way.

Aside from that, the online tools deserve a lot of praise despite the tortuous road that was taken to get there and the fact that they are now online only. DMing any edition of D&D requires good information processing abilities and being able to look everything up, build characters and print out professional-looking character sheets, and create monsters with professional-looking stat blocks using those utilities is a godsend for a busy DM.

The fact that the game is so mechanically solid means I can spend a lot more time on RP and story, and my players can take RP risks with their characters knowing that they are not simply a single saving throw away from a TPK which is very different to the other editions.

As a group, we basically stopped dungeon crawls after the padded, poorly-designed, partly randomly-generated, and incomplete T1-4 Temple of Elemental Evil way back in the 80s. Our game has "evolved" into a more cinematic collection of set-pieces, a process that began in 2E, began to be further refined in 3.xE until it became too much work, and has reached its apotheosis in 4E. It's the edition that best delivers our preferred playstyle and a large part of that is because the stat blocks really make the monsters/NPCs come alive.
 

Write-in options

1: The monster statblocks - they both show how the monsters behave and mean that there is no time wasted flipping through various volumes
2: Balance. This doesn't mean all fights have to be balanced - it means that monsters behave the way I expect them to. A game run in 4e will do what I want without fudging and in combat I don't have to hold back
3: Skill Challenges when used fluidly. With them I can handle the most insane of PC plans.
 

keterys

First Post
I don't know what the upper end of optimisation looks like, but he is the most optimised PC in our group.

His main trick is having static damage mods of around +50 to +60 (it varies a bit across damage types).
Yeah, sorcerer is a great damage dealer. Being able to kill a standard monster the first round of every encounter is a game changer.

The upper end of optimization for sorcerers is a bit silly. There's a degenerate dragon sorcerer build that can potentially end an encounter on its own on its first turn, but even a less questionable build like combo-ing flame spiral and demon soul bolts to take out ~2 guys or an elite at the start of every combat, plus more with a little bit of ally support.

Yeah, sorcs can optimize pretty strongly :)
 

Yep, I was at a table that wanted to see how tough Lolth was, at level 22 - autowon initiative, buffed ~+9 to hit, -10 to her defenses, autoknocked her unconscious, flurry of CdGs and she never got off a single attack.

It's very possible to cope with the problem, though I don't consider the above entirely a feature ;)

Yep, the trick is to have a few characters who focus; take both +4 to a defense feats in one defense, for instance, then Mantle of Unity (everyone uses highest defenses in the group). Adding another 7-9 on top of that (Valorous Charge is an easy example) or giving the enemies -4 or so to hit (my controller tended to prone, daze, -2 attack the board when I brought him out) is just further icing on the cake.

I'll say, you've got a bard. If he built his character differently, he could do what I describe.

Agreed that the buffs/debuffs are the bigger problem, though I'll note that it gives you strangely divergent play.

Lolth's guards, for instance, will end up harder to hit than her because people use the limited use powers on her. A group holding themselves back might even have to grind an average encounter down for a bit, while the "boss fight" is trivialized. Much like you saw.

I'd have been fine if the math from expertise/defense feats had been baked into the system (and maybe fix that your 3rd defense drops precipitously vs monster attacks over time), if the rest of the system were a little more reined in. For example, let's say you hit an average opponent of your level on a 6. That'd keep you at around 65% average for epic, with spikes to 40% to 20% for the bosses, which you could pull out limited resources to get back to 60-80% success rate.

Yeah, but I always felt like that's all you really needed, was maybe 5 options per PC, several that are tactical variations of doing your basic fighting, and a couple that provide a variation or two on "hit the big bad really hard" which are daily or otherwise limited. There just got to be too many choices, and a lot of the choices were interesting but they weren't THAT distinct. Of course you can then have your utility stuff and some sort of effect/stance, like RoS gives you a zone or the forms that the warden has. Wizards in particular could get some added flexibility as their shtick. The point being to cut things down to a few highly differentiated choices, each of which is useful in a distinct way.
 

pemerton

Legend
Yeah, sorcerer is a great damage dealer. Being able to kill a standard monster the first round of every encounter is a game changer.

<snip>

even a less questionable build like combo-ing flame spiral and demon soul bolts to take out ~2 guys or an elite at the start of every combat, plus more with a little bit of ally support.
The sorcerer in our group used to have Flame Spiral, but I think has dropped it now.

His nova round is action point, Demon Soul Bolts, quickened Blazing Starfall (which is a burst 2 with push due to thunder admixture), then another standard action as seems appropriate: another Blazing Starfall, or Thunder Summons, or Lightning Daggers which also gives a free action attack. Lots of damage.

I think, through good fortune as much as (or more than) good planning, our group has hit upon a collection of builds that play to the strengths of the 4e system without having fully broken it.
 

It's uncomfortable to acknowledge, but, yes, you're likely onto something there. Your 'illusionism' is probably only one example of a questionable playstyle that 4e's in-play transparency made too obvious to easily get away with.

Yup.

That said, your 'illusionism' isn't such a terrible play style. Indeed, for some games - like most other versions of D&D, and, I'm rapidly deciding, 5e, is arguably the /best/ way to deliver a positive experience to your players. If you can't depend on the rules to deliver a fair, genre-supporting resolution, breaking out the smoke & mirrors (and DM screen, and conveniently (un)lucky dice), and applying liberal DM fiat may be the best way to save the experience. As long as you don't make it too obvious...

I agree that 5e is very vulnerable to illusionism GMing. It hits all the marks that I noted above. Further, from a cultural perspective, it definitely seems to harken back to that 90's era of WW/AD&D2e play that was the epicenter for illusionism; "roleplaying not rollplaying", utterly metagame averse, its the GMs game and they have absolute authority.

And I don't have a problem with that. I mean, while I absolutely abhor the practice (while basically have a PHD in it), it is all well and good that plenty of folks do it. Just admit what is going on. But therein lies the rub, the house of cards illusionism is built upon comes tumbling down the moment that you're honest with your players (that is unless they're welling co-consiprators; participationists). And I have to say, most, but not all, of the illusionist-heavy GMs that I watched run games had toxic, paranoid, passive-aggressive relationships with their players simmering just below the surface. The table dynamic just oozed it.

All that being said, while 5e has a lot of embedded vulnerability to illusionism, it is infinitely more robust, clear, and coherent than AD&D. I think after 6 months of running games or so, I could easily pick out the most vulnerable areas and hem them in to make it mostly illusionism-proof.
 

Scrivener of Doom

Adventurer
(snip) And I have to say, most, but not all, of the illusionist-heavy GMs that I watched run games had toxic, paranoid, passive-aggressive relationships with their players simmering just below the surface. The table dynamic just oozed it. (snip)

Great post and I particularly want to single out this observation because it so true. I have never thought of it like before but that's exactly how it is. Well said/written.
 

Mishihari Lord

First Post
I voted "other" because none of the things I like about 4E were mentioned. I liked the cosmology, especially the fey and shadow planes, or whatever they were called. I liked the "bloodied" status. I liked the alignments. I liked minions and solos. There were some things I thought were good ideas but poorly implemented, like skill challenges and warlords. And most of the rest I really hated, but that's a topic for another thread.
 
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fuindordm

First Post
Frankly, none of the items on the list thrill me.
But I can forgive 4E all its sins for bringing the Warlord to my table. So I voted "Other".
 

S'mon

Legend
Making monsters in 4e is fun and rewarding. I think that's my very favourite thing - also that by the time I've done a few monster stat blocks I essentially have a session's play.
 

Interesting. Certain folks didn't like 4e because they felt like it slayed too many sacred cows, didn't harken back to nostalgia/canon enough, or outright felt that it lacked "the soul of D&D." Some of them have more or less said that if 4e didn't "steal" the D&D brand from them and possessed a different name, they would have felt it was a good game system.

From the looks of the poll, if Heinsoo et al would have created 4e under a different brand, they should have named it "Monsters and Math!"
 

Great post and I particularly want to single out this observation because it so true. I have never thought of it like before but that's exactly how it is. Well said/written.

Thanks mate. I'm glad you liked the post. I'm sure those sentiments speak to a very large portion of folks (yourself included) that have been running games since the early 80s, went through all that "stuff", don't want to go through it again, and have a deep appreciation for what makes 4e special (it ensures we don't have to go through all that "stuff"!).
 

D'karr

Adventurer
One more thing that is the "best" of 4e is Epic Levels that mostly work. Even though Epic in 4e still has its problems, the game is still playable. With other games reaching Epic Levels was a chore that was best left undone. I remember our last Epic game in another version of the game and it was painful, to play and to prepare. With 4e I've run Epic several times, as one shots as well as with campaigns that reached those levels. It was fun! That is the first time that the game has actually worked at those levels, mostly. When I regularly see game reports on these boards of Epic games I get excited. Paragon Paths and Epic Destinies really merge story and mechanics into very moldable, and interesting packages.

I did say that it was going to be difficult for me to distill it to 3 things.
 

JamesonCourage

First Post
I agree that 5e is very vulnerable to illusionism GMing. It hits all the marks that I noted above. Further, from a cultural perspective, it definitely seems to harken back to that 90's era of WW/AD&D2e play that was the epicenter for illusionism; "roleplaying not rollplaying", utterly metagame averse, its the GMs game and they have absolute authority.

And I don't have a problem with that. I mean, while I absolutely abhor the practice (while basically have a PHD in it), it is all well and good that plenty of folks do it. Just admit what is going on. But therein lies the rub, the house of cards illusionism is built upon comes tumbling down the moment that you're honest with your players (that is unless they're welling co-consiprators; participationists). And I have to say, most, but not all, of the illusionist-heavy GMs that I watched run games had toxic, paranoid, passive-aggressive relationships with their players simmering just below the surface. The table dynamic just oozed it.

It's weird how experiences differ. My brother got me into TTRPGs, and he's been the GM that I've gamed the most under by a huge margin. He is extremely good as illusionism in that his players (myself and several of our mutual friends) know it's going on, but don't know exactly how, and that the game is still incredibly enjoyable. There was never a "toxic, paranoid, passive-aggressive relationship" between any of the players and the GM, even though we (as players) knew what was going on, and talked about the illusionism amongst ourselves often when my brother wasn't in the room.

Now, that's not to say that it's my preferred technique to play under. That style led to us, as players, making bigger and bigger risks, being more and more reckless and silly, because we knew, from a meta perspective, that we had an outrageous level of plot protection, and that my brother would bend over backwards to keep the campaign from collapsing. This meant that this technique, while still very enjoyable, steered those campaigns towards very meta and silly areas, rather than more immersive and emotional (the latter being my preference).

His techniques have changed over time (as have mine, and probably all GMs), and he's met somewhere in the middle. He rolls in the open (rather than behind a screen or his hand) and uses those results, but still fudges non-mechanical stuff to make things more interesting (in his mind... but to his credit, his games are still fun).
Thanks mate. I'm glad you liked the post. I'm sure those sentiments speak to a very large portion of folks (yourself included) that have been running games since the early 80s, went through all that "stuff", don't want to go through it again, and have a deep appreciation for what makes 4e special (it ensures we don't have to go through all that "stuff"!).
You know what's also weird about this? As clear as 4e is, I've had to ad-hoc way, way more stuff than I do with, say, my RPG. The players are constantly asking me how things work, or if they can do certain things, and I often have to remind them they can try things that aren't on their power sheets (though the Warpriest is the best about trying stuff out or asking about it).

In my experience, 4e is much more GM-empowering that my RPG, in that it requires GM feedback much more than my RPG does. My RPG still requires a lot of GM input (level of NPCs, their personalities, creation of setting... all the things GMs do), but once things are set, they're set. In 4e, I'm judging stunts on page 42, I'm deciding what skill can do what or if it's appropriate to their level / tier, I'm coming up with how skill challenges work and what the consequences of both success and failure are, etc.

Basically, there is a lot more forced GM-empowerment in 4e than I'm used to, and it's slowly taking a toll on my enjoyment of running 4e. That and the prep. I like making monsters, but I'm just done with looking at treasure every level. I can't bring myself to do it anymore. The monsters are interesting, but they usually feel a little lackluster unless I alter them to fit my campaign, and that gets a little tedious, too, even if the payoff is enjoyable.

I don't know. There are things I like about 4e. I'd never run it as my primary campaign, but it's been fun running it. The game I run is a lot more... action-oriented (I want to use the word superficial, which is accurate for my group, but I don't want to sound condescending or something towards the entire system) than what I'm used to. And much, much more prep-intensive than what I'm used to in terms of mechanical baddies (I "prep" setting in any campaign I run... I love world building).

All that being said, I did run a 3.X (3.5 for something like 99% of it) for a few years, so I get why people like the prep more. It's easier in some ways, for sure. The monsters are more predictable, the combat is still fun. The game is fun if you enjoy what it does or you can enjoy what it does (which I can). It's much more predictable than 3.X is, in my experience, and if you want that, I get why people like it.

But as far as 4e's "transparency" goes:
Transparency again. I'm going to piggy-back on this. Transparency is kryptonite for my most disliked GMing technique; illusionism (by way of GM force). The abridgement or suspension of the formula of GM framed situation + player action declaration + the action resolution mechanics as the primary driver of play is never good. It is especially not good when it is done so that the primary driver of play then becomes GM inclination (either arbitrarily or even in the interest of their metaplot). When GMs are enabled to willfully keep that subordination a secret due to there being an opaque/fuzzy curtain between the players and the game's machinery (until the GM clumsily and inevitably goes a bridge too far and continuously does things clearly out of line, thus showing their hand), that is illusionism. It comes in multiple shapes and sizes, but illusionism's best friend is unclear/incoherent/hand-wavey rules, vague GMing principles/guidance, and a stout invocation that the GM is always right/can do what they want for the sake of story/"its the GM's game"; see White Wolf's "Golden Rule" and D&D's historical "Rule 0".


4e's transparency kicked that approach in its teeth and took its lunch money. Though it would never be readily admitted, I have absolutely no doubt that much gnashing of teeth and wringing of hands was had in the edition wars because many GMs had their precious illusionism taken from their toolbox.
I just don't feel this. I feel 4e rules are much, much, more "unclear/incoherent/hand-wavey" than the rules in my RPG, and in many ways, 3.X. Combat powers are clear, but stunts (page 42), skill uses, skill challenges options, chances of success (Easy, Moderate, or Hard) are all GM-adjudicated, which is directly taking power away from players and putting it in the hands of the GM.

That is, if skill uses are clearly and completely spelled out, with many uses and DCs, the players can look at their bonuses, the DCs, and not only build characters in a concrete direction, ("if I get +X to Example Skill, then I'll be able to consistently do Example Action even if I roll a 1!"), but they also know their chances of success or failure without the GM coming up with whether or not it's even possible ("no, you can't throw your hands into the forge to hold down Whlem" or "yes, I think it's appropriate at your level for you to be able to, but it's a Hard DC, and your hands will burn and you'll need a ritual to heal them").

If Skill Challenges, as a system, have a formula for determining how many successes are necessary, and the players get to decide who is making the check based on fictional positioning instead of being forced to contribute by initiative, your players can come up with plans with explicit DCs, estimate their chances of success, and decide to go for it or not without any GM input whatsoever.

If there is a stunt system in-place in the system that the players can access (with rules laid out for them to use), they can access these stunts without checking with the GM to see if it's even possible. They can say "I'm going to kick off the wall and come down from the side with more force than a normal swing, giving me a +1 on my attack" instead of leaving the authority completely in the hands of the GM.

If there was a formula by level or by tier to determine Easy/Moderate/Hard DCs for skill uses (broken down by skill use), then the players wouldn't have to rely on question-and-answer time when making plans with the GM ("what DC would it be to do Example Action?") many times per session (at least, in my sessions, where skill uses come up often). They could just look it up, check the DC / see if it's possible, and then make a player-empowered decision to pursue that course of action (or not).

What we have instead is a system where these things (and others, but this is already a very long post) are all explicitly given to the GM to control. Some people might give players control of outcomes, but I think it's the very niche group where the GM asks the player "and what DC is it?" when the player declares an action in-game. Sure, that group might be out there, but I don't think 4e text really supports it, nor was it intended that way (though it'd work with the right mix of players, I think).

Anyway, I just wanted to chime in on this "transparency" thing, and how it relates to play. This:

It comes in multiple shapes and sizes, but illusionism's best friend is unclear/incoherent/hand-wavey rules, vague GMing principles/guidance, and a stout invocation that the GM is always right/can do what they want for the sake of story/"its the GM's game"; see White Wolf's "Golden Rule" and D&D's historical "Rule 0".

4e's transparency kicked that approach in its teeth and took its lunch money.
This was just not my experience at all. In practice, 4e pushed a lot of rules onto me, forcing me to make way more rulings than I'd like to in any given session. Having played 3.X for years, I can kind of see where people are coming from, but I just don't think it's nearly as clean or clear or player-empowered as I hear its fans call it.

But that's just my experience. And I don't mean to go off on an anti-4e rant in a pro-4e thread. I have a long thread about my sessions running a 4e campaign on this site that I've maintained for a while now (coming up on two years this September: http://www.enworld.org/forum/showth...rage-s-First-4e-Session&p=6180484#post6180484).

I've had a lot of fun with 4e. But I'm still a little baffled by the claims to wonderful player-empowerment. I get the transparency, but player-empowerment seemed quite intertwined in Manbearcat's definition, and that just doesn't ring true to me.

But the reason I bring this up is to not only share my experience, but also to get some perspective on it from outside my own. Anyone have any thoughts to my entire-too-long post? Am I missing something? Am I wrong? Maybe. And I'm open to finding out.
 

pemerton

Legend
It's weird how experiences differ.

<snip>

As clear as 4e is, I've had to ad-hoc way, way more stuff than I do with, say, my RPG.

<snip>

Basically, there is a lot more forced GM-empowerment in 4e than I'm used to, and it's slowly taking a toll on my enjoyment of running 4e.

<snip>

I feel 4e rules are much, much, more "unclear/incoherent/hand-wavey" than the rules in my RPG, and in many ways, 3.X. Combat powers are clear, but stunts (page 42), skill uses, skill challenges options, chances of success (Easy, Moderate, or Hard) are all GM-adjudicated, which is directly taking power away from players and putting it in the hands of the GM.

That is, if skill uses are clearly and completely spelled out, with many uses and DCs, the players can look at their bonuses, the DCs, and not only build characters in a concrete direction, ("if I get +X to Example Skill, then I'll be able to consistently do Example Action even if I roll a 1!"), but they also know their chances of success or failure without the GM coming up with whether or not it's even possible

<snip>

Am I missing something? Am I wrong? Maybe. And I'm open to finding out.
It seems unlikely that you're wrong. I think you might be missing something - or maybe two things.

The first is that you might be missing certain experiences. [MENTION=6696971]Manbearcat[/MENTION]'s comments resonate with me very strongly, as they do for [MENTION=87576]Scrivener of Doom[/MENTION] - including the description of the table atmosphere that accompanies illusionist GMing. It's something I absolutely associated with 90s RPGing, and with White Wolf and 2nd ed AD&D both as systems, and player cultures built up around those systems. I can see it, too, in the 2nd ed AD&D PHB, which is full of examples of PCs failing (but the players still having fun), of statements subordinating the players' agency to the referee's judgment, etc.

If you don't have those experiences from that time then the comments may not speak to you.

I think the second thing that you might be missing - but maybe not, because perhaps it is in play in your brother's GMing that you describe - is what, for someone like [MENTION=6696971]Manbearcat[/MENTION] (I think) or me (I know), is at the core of illusionist GMing. It is not GM ad hoc rulings around DCs or damage in the 4e style. It is GM manipulation of the fiction in order to force outcomes. If this is what someone cares about, then a system of rigid DCs (such as 3E) doesn't matter, because the referee can just stipulate a fictional context which makes success impossible. Or can call for new checks, and new checks, until failure happens (in a combat context, this can be unlimited waves of foes; in a non-combat context this is a lack of what [MENTION=6696971]Manbearcat[/MENTION] often calls "closed scene resolution").

4e's transparency is in relation to these elements: closed scene resolution (via skill challenges for non-combat, and via transparent encounter building guidelines for combat), "subjective" DCs which are (at least in principle, and in my experience reasonably in practice) correlated to the feasible range of PC skill bonuses, and the like.

At least, that's my take.
 

S'mon

Legend
One more thing that is the "best" of 4e is Epic Levels that mostly work. Even though Epic in 4e still has its problems, the game is still playable. With other games reaching Epic Levels was a chore that was best left undone. I remember our last Epic game in another version of the game and it was painful, to play and to prepare. With 4e I've run Epic several times, as one shots as well as with campaigns that reached those levels. It was fun! That is the first time that the game has actually worked at those levels, mostly. When I regularly see game reports on these boards of Epic games I get excited. Paragon Paths and Epic Destinies really merge story and mechanics into very moldable, and interesting packages.

I did say that it was going to be difficult for me to distill it to 3 things.

Yeah - my 4e Loudwater campaign is Epic now, 22nd level after 4 years of play up from 1st - http://frloudwater.blogspot.co.uk/ - it still works very well and is exceedingly playable, albeit in
a style very different from traditional D&D - I run it more a sort of 'Marvel comics meets Ed
Greenwood' fantasy superheroes style, and it's excellent for that.
BTW I don't worry much about treasure - I use Inherent Bonuses and have a table of random
treasures for each level, typically I roll a d8 after the fight & see what the PCs find.
 

S'mon

Legend
I guess 5e design is vulnerable to Illusionism, if you want to run it that way. Surely it ought not to require the same level of illusionism as RAW 3e/PF does if you want Fighter types to not keep dying, though. I'm using 5e for a sandbox campaign I'm about to start, my normal style - all rolls in the open, no fudging etc. It ought to be fine for that. Like 3e/PF it seems not particularly suited for plot-protected linear play, though high level 5e PCs seem rather more robust.

I definitely find 4e to be player-empowering both as a player and when GMing. It gives a lot of mechanical protection to PCs, and its skill system strongly encourages improvisation and creative play - which can be derided as 'mother may I' (a phrase I hate) by some, but 4e strongly encourages the GM to set reasonable DCs and allow effective creative use of skills and powers, albeit generally not to the extent of 'I win' buttons - 4e assumes that an Arcana check to open a warded portal is pretty much exactly equivalent to a Thievery check to open a mechanical lock, whereas 3e/PF tends to treat magic as far more effective.

I find 4e to be very poorly suited for sandbox exploratory play - it purposely does not support that pillar
at all* - which is a big problem for a 'generic D&D' game system. But 4e does dramatic/Pemertonian
:)D) play excellently, and for sandbox I know to use BX, 1e, 5e etc etc.

*Well there's the 'mega adventure' advice in the 4e DMG, which sort-of attempts to advise on 4e sandbox play, but the advice - eg 'level up all the adventure sites to keep pace with the PCs' advancement' - just
tends to show how badly 4e works with this style IMO.
 
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