D&D 4E What to do with 4th Edition

Jacob Lewis

Ye Olde GM
I didn't want to derail the thread where I mentioned this:
For me, I have been through all the previous editions since I was 12 years old. The edition that was the most fun and most satisfying for me was 4th. It addressed a lot (but not all) of the issues I had with the system for years. And I had hopes that 5e would have taken it further. Instead, it took some huge steps back.

Don't get me wrong. I think 5e is a solid iteration based off an older design. But I've already played that game for many years. What really sucks is I can't get any official (or even 3rd party) support for the edition I liked best. And some days, like today, I just want to quit everything.
But since putting this out there, I feel like I want to talk about now. More importantly, I want to be heard and I want to figure things out. I'm dealing with some personal issues that are making me feel more isolated and less focused than ever. And it's making me feel frustrated and depressed. Maybe this will help.

Let's start with this:
Not to get too off tangent, but maybe if you can isolate what you liked about 4e (which I was also a fan), maybe you can find other games doing something similar? There is some overlap in PF2, 13th Age, Soulbound, etc.
I hate to see someone give up.
I've looked at these and many others. But you know as well as I do that there is no substitution for the real deal. That said, you got me thinking about what it is exactly about 4e that I like. What is missing from these other systems and homemade retro-clones that fail to appeal the same way 4e does?

First, I just want to point out that I know what a hot mess 4e is/was. The first few years, they were consistently doing things one way. Then Essentials came out to try to do things differently while trying to be the same game. It wasn't. But we never got the chance to see the older material fully updated and converted like they planned. (Class Compendium anyone?) The rest, as they say, is history. But let's focus on the positive.

In no particular order:
  • Classes. There were such a great diversity of character classes, each with their own unique feel. Players could actively participate in every instance of the game regardless of the class they played. And no one questioned your role or contribution to the group because it was spelled out for everyone.
  • Monsters. So much easier to scale and balance for DMs, and varied enough to keep players engaged.
  • Encounters. Creating encounters (and monsters) was so much simpler and more intuitive. Got five level 3 characters? Five level 3 monsters is your baseline.
  • Revised lore. Not talking about the default setting (Nerath), but the actual D&D universe being revised to fit the narrative of everything (assumed) in the game! Monsters didn't just spring out of nowhere, and the World Axis just made more sense.
  • Spell Slots removed. One of my favorite innovations was the removal of the archaic "Vancian" system of spell casters. (5e does a pretty good job with it now, but it still creates an imbalance between classes and too much bookkeeping for everyone.)
  • Rituals. Loved the idea, but I think they could have leaned into it further to create a greater divide between spell-like powers (fireball, cure wounds, etc.) and real magic (raise dead, identify, scry, etc.).
  • Easy reference. I just want to point out how nice it used to be to have all (or most) of the information you needed in front of you. Your powers and magic items explained exactly how they worked. Encounters included stat blocks on the page. I rarely had to look up anything during play.
  • Stat blocks. Everything had an identifiable format that was easy to read and understand. Even the color scheme informed you without having to read through paragraphs. (Gold border was magic items, green was at-will, etc.)
  • I'm sure there's more I'm not remembering at the moment.
But as I said, there's issues, too. But we don't need to rehash all of that because most fans recognize what they are and actually want to see those addressed. That bring us to:
I'm holding out hope that one day something like the OSR movement can expand to 4E. I think there is some nostalgia there and more goodwill than when it was being published.
But I feel your pain.
Right. And this is where the real problems for me emerge. Because it's not for a lack of interest or people wanting it. It's because we are not given the same freedom and opportunity to pursue it because of the existing license. But what really sticks in my craw is how ever other edition (and most other game systems, for that matter) doesn't seem to have the same restrictions. Why? We know why. It doesn't matter.

It is very hard to enjoy what you love when you're the only one. I can't even mention it in most places without having to defend it against the same baseless or idiotic comments. It is hard enough to get anyone interested in D&D outside of 5e, especially when all they hear is negativity from bad sources. But even if I could, what kind of support do I have to start playing it again? VTTs can't offer me a good engine to use, even if I offered to pay for it. Digital tools don't exist anymore, and the ones that do are done illegally (you can't talk about it), require manual input for everything, and are dependent on a few dedicated people who are just doing the best they can for free.
i am so annoyed there ISN"T a good 4e retroclone
"Good" being the operative word. I know we've seen them out there but... let's just say I can appreciate the work they put into it. But no thanks. I have my own ideas, but they are exactly that: my own ideas. People will have different expectations of what a retroclone should look like for them, and most of them just want to make sure all their old materials will still be usable. To that, I say: it works fine now, so just use what you have.

I just don't know anymore. Maybe I'm done. I have so many unfinished ideas and so many unplayed adventures. But every year I get a little older and my brain gets a little less reliable. I miss playing with others. I can't even pretend to guess when I'll be able to do that again. And if so, what would I want to play? Will I even be able to run?

😞
 

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eyeheartawk

#1 Enworld Jerk™
Without somebody making a 1:1 OGL retroclone of the game to start off with it's not going to get anywhere. The OSR, arguably, got started in spirit with Castles and Crusades, though, with its own distinct system. Though, really, in a tangible sense not until OSRIC did its thing did it really get going from there. From that point you can make multiple different versions with minor/major adjustments here and there.
 

thullgrim

Adventurer
Without somebody making a 1:1 OGL retroclone of the game to start off with it's not going to get anywhere. The OSR, arguably, got started in spirit with Castles and Crusades, though, with its own distinct system. Though, really, in a tangible sense not until OSRIC did its thing did it really get going from there. From that point you can make multiple different versions with minor/major adjustments here and there.
How does one build a retroclone? Is it meticulously porting the mechanics but renaming everything to remove ip and proprietary language? So mechanic copy and grab a thesaurus?
 

eyeheartawk

#1 Enworld Jerk™
How does one build a retroclone? Is it meticulously porting the mechanics but renaming everything to remove ip and proprietary language? So mechanic copy and grab a thesaurus?
Honestly, in this scenario? Yeah.

That and clearing up any ambiguities that are in the original work, by restating things in a easier to understand or clearer way. OSRIC did that too.
 

Jer

Legend
Supporter
So on the one hand I see the space for a 4e retroclone and have lamented before that none of them are quite right - though I've been looking at ORCUS off and on since the last time this subject came up and it was pointed out to me - it looks pretty good. Home

On the other hand, the retroclones grew out of a desire to play old editions of D&D when Wizards wasn't selling those old editions. These days you can buy any edition of D&D you want from DM's Guild, including 4e. So the drive to make a retroclone is a bit less intense because if I want to run a 4e game not only do I have my books, any new players who don't own them could actually buy them (at least in PDF - it would be nice if they'd put 3e and 4e into POD like they have 1e and 2e).

On the gripping hand, the existence of the GSL means writing material to support 4e is nearly impossible without a clean room retroclone. I doubt that Wizards would actually send a cease and desist if you put out material for 4e without using the GSL to do it, but that threat hanging over the edition has done exactly what Wizards wanted the GSL to do - make it difficult for folks to keep using the edition when they decided they no longer wanted to support it. Which means that new adventure material has to be made by me - I can't go out and buy any 4e adventures. Which is fine, but doesn't really help you build a community of 4e supporters.
 

Jacob Lewis

Ye Olde GM
Without somebody making a 1:1 OGL retroclone of the game to start off with it's not going to get anywhere. The OSR, arguably, got started in spirit with Castles and Crusades, though, with its own distinct system. Though, really, in a tangible sense not until OSRIC did its thing did it really get going from there. From that point you can make multiple different versions with minor/major adjustments here and there.
Yeah, but I don't know that I want a "clone". I mean, they left the game pretty messed up. Why would I want to copy of that? No. I want to be able to clean it up and improve it. I want to be able to ditch what I don't like about it, including what I don't like about D&D. I don't even care if it's called D&D at that point. I just want a usable engine with mechanics that make the game work better. (Of course, I have ideas but it makes the old material useless, and that turns off a lot of people who may otherwise be interested. So I don't bother discussing it.)
 

eyeheartawk

#1 Enworld Jerk™
Yeah, but I don't know that I want a "clone". I mean, they left the game pretty messed up. Why would I want to copy of that? No. I want to be able to clean it up and improve it. I want to be able to ditch what I don't like about it, including what I don't like about D&D. I don't even care if it's called D&D at that point. I just want a usable engine with mechanics that make the game work better. (Of course, I have ideas but it makes the old material useless, and that turns off a lot of people who may otherwise be interested. So I don't bother discussing it.)
I get it. I really do.

It's just that to get a community similar to the OSR you've got to get around the GSL and the only way to do that, to have a common base to start from, you would need a restatement under the OGL. By all means, please make your game, I was just addressing that one particular point.
 

Jer

Legend
Supporter
How does one build a retroclone? Is it meticulously porting the mechanics but renaming everything to remove ip and proprietary language? So mechanic copy and grab a thesaurus?
My understanding of how OSRIC did it is that they started with the 3e OGL release and figured out exactly what terms, mechanics, etc. that the OGL allowed them to use were. Then they worked to backport whatever wasn't officially released by the 3e OGL by writing their own explanations of mechanics (game mechanics are not technically copyrightable, only expressions of game mechanics are copyrightable) and using new terminology where they had to.

A true clean room implementation of a 4e retroclone could be done the same way - start with the 3e and 5e SRDs, use every scrap you can of terminology and mechanics in them, and build something that is "close enough" to 4e to be compatible with the existing material.
 

Retreater

Legend
I'm dealing with some personal issues that are making me feel more isolated and less focused than ever. And it's making me feel frustrated and depressed. Maybe this will help.
I hear ya on this. Even coming on ENWorld I'm being called an "entitled cheapskate" and worse. I have really no social outlets left anymore. Real life gaming and hanging out is pretty much over. Family and friends have sort of disappeared. With the attitudes on here, I don't even much feel like discussing the game anymore.

Right. And this is where the real problems for me emerge. Because it's not for a lack of interest or people wanting it. It's because we are not given the same freedom and opportunity to pursue it because of the existing license. But what really sticks in my craw is how ever other edition (and most other game systems, for that matter) doesn't seem to have the same restrictions. Why? We know why. It doesn't matter.
Here's the thing. I think it could be done. I just think it hasn't been tackled by someone with the same business sense as those who did the OSR products (or Pathfinder). You can't copyright game mechanics. You'd just have to make it generic enough to work.

As for me, I will use the design goals of 4e and follow those goals in running in PF2 (or maybe 5e) or the occasional game of 4e when I can manage it.
It's "the one that got away." And you can't always go back to what you used to have. But you can learn from it, have your memories, and enjoy it whenever the opportunity comes up.
 

eyeheartawk

#1 Enworld Jerk™
I hear ya on this. Even coming on ENWorld I'm being called an "entitled cheapskate" and worse.
firstime.jpeg
 

kenada

Legend
I hear ya on this. Even coming on ENWorld I'm being called an "entitled cheapskate" and worse. I have really no social outlets left anymore. Real life gaming and hanging out is pretty much over. Family and friends have sort of disappeared. With the attitudes on here, I don't even much feel like discussing the game anymore.
I’m sorry, but this is crap. Someone was working on an open source project, then they scaled it back, and you were upset about it. You have no right to their labor or to expect them to labor on your behalf for free. Entitlement to open source developers work is a major problem, and it’s not wrong to call that out.
 



UngainlyTitan

Legend
Supporter
@Jacob Lewis If I did not have an online group I would be looking into online play. Smiteworks, the people that do FantasyGround host some virtual cons every now and again and if I recall correctly they open the licences so that you can run games even on the demo version over that time period. It may be a way to dip a toe in that waters if Roll20 is not your cuppa.

As for 4e, yeah a retroclone build from the ground up would be a way to go.

Now I was a big fan of 4e but I am not sure I would go back to a pure 4e clone. Now if some one was to produce a version with bounded accuracy, scaling powers and only one reaction per turn I would be interested.

I do think that Mearls and co were overly conservative in 5e's design but I can see why and do not blame them overmuch.

Unfortunately, I think we are stuck with it. I think that WoTC/Hasbro now see D&D as more of an IP engine and thus they will not mess with the base game. Tinker around the edges somewhat but nothing sudden.

Of course, I am getting old and my appetite for learning new mechanics is diminishing.


As for the lore, well I still have the books so as far as I am concerned I still have the lore. I have never felt obligated to follow the official lore.
I still use the Shadowfell and the Feywild and I never used Nerath and so far the Astral sea has never come up but as far as I am concerned it is still out there.
 

UngainlyTitan

Legend
Supporter
You know lads ,if people are upsetting you and following you into other threads you are entitled to report them and to use the ignore button.

Edit: that said what was this open source project about then?
 

Retreater

Legend
Edit: that said what was this open source project about then?
Not to bring up too much tangential stuff, but I had expressed disappointment regarding Paizo's official foray into Foundry.
If you search the forum, I'm sure you can find it. I don't want to burden this thread with details.
 

kenada

Legend
You know lads ,if people are upsetting you and following you into other threads you are entitled to report them and to use the ignore button.
On the other hand, people should be able to defend themselves when statements they made are brought up in other threads.

Edit: that said what was this open source project about then?
There is an open source converter for Foundry that will convert Pathfinder adventure PDFs to maps and scenes and stuff in Foundry. The author announced recently that he was scaling it back and wouldn’t be doing much more than bug fixes and smaller adventures like PFS modules. Because of the way he was doing the conversion work (to respect Paizo’s copyright), he apparently just can’t hand over the project to people. I’m not clear on the details why.

Paizo had apparently been working with a third party to develop Pathfinder content for Foundry. It is my understanding that this was an independent effort and not motivated by the developer’s decision to stop, but they reached out to the open source developer, who was happy because it meant his work wouldn’t be necessary anymore (which had stopped being fun and was starting to feel like a job).

There is some overlap between what Paizo is releasing and what he already converted, but the converter is not being taken offline. If you want to use it, you can. The official content gets you higher quality assets and more sophisticated Foundry support (like sound and music).

The official community system implementation is also being moved into the official Foundry org on GitLab. It is and will remain available for free. The move was done to help with organization and coordinating development by the Foundry devs.

Edit: further discussion should be done in the thread in the PF2 forum
 

Jacob Lewis

Ye Olde GM
@Jacob Lewis If I did not have an online group I would be looking into online play. Smiteworks, the people that do Fantasy Ground host some virtual cons every now and again and if I recall correctly they open the licenses so that you can run games even on the demo version over that time period. It may be a way to dip a toe in that waters if Roll20 is not your cuppa.
I have Ultimate licenses for FG Classic and Unity. I also own Foundry, and had a year Pro on Roll20 at one time. They is very little they can offer to satisfy my 4e dreams, and I am not script-savvy enough to create what I want. (It was messing with FG, in fact, that kinda broke me recently.)
As for 4e, yeah a retroclone build from the ground up would be a way to go.

Now I was a big fan of 4e but I am not sure I would go back to a pure 4e clone. Now if some one was to produce a version with bounded accuracy, scaling powers and only one reaction per turn I would be interested.
That's what I'm thinking. But I have different ideas that don't include a d20.
I do think that Mearls and co were overly conservative in 5e's design but I can see why and do not blame them overmuch.

Unfortunately, I think we are stuck with it. I think that WoTC/Hasbro now see D&D as more of an IP engine and thus they will not mess with the base game. Tinker around the edges somewhat but nothing sudden.

Of course, I am getting old and my appetite for learning new mechanics is diminishing.
I wholeheartedly agree with all of this. I really want to give PF2 a try, but my brain is just resistant to learning another system. My wallet has similar feelings.
 

eyeheartawk

#1 Enworld Jerk™
Why would we be happy about something that was free, now being not? Are we supposed to welcome it?

I remember ten years ago, I was more heavily involved in the OSR scene and it was really great and active. Everybody was writing and creating stuff on blogs and iterating on each other's stuff. But then came Patreon. Now everything that was a freely available post was content behind a walled garden. That affect was tangible and felt.

I get it, people's work does deserve some kind of remittance, sure. But, at the end of the day I'm now expected to pay for something I used to get for free and be happy about it? Like, you're allowed to understand the reasons for something and still not like it.

Who knows, this PF2 experiment could go the way of CNN+ anyway.
 

Retreater

Legend
Hey, I don't want to get us off the topic of @Jacob Lewis 's original post about missing 4e, wishing we could play it, or how we could bring it back.
I'm sorry for my part in getting us off topic.
And I have no desire to block anybody. I've been enough of a curmudgeon lately that I've brought this on myself.

But back to the original topic ...
What if there was a way to play 4E, using the original books, with a very limited tabletop? Not automated like Foundry or FGU? Maybe more like Owlbear rodeo with our original books?
 

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