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D&D 4E What was the big difference between 4e and "essentials"?

MwaO

Explorer
4e was not a game that easily supported the stories I liked to tell, and I had to change my GMing style to match the system. And with that added learning curve, I never got to a point of comfort where I could work around the system's assumptions. I was never in my comfort zone.

The system doesn't really have a lot of assumptions. I wrote into a 4e Organized Play, a pure roleplaying encounter. Not a skill challenge. Just letting the PCs interact with NPCs and letting them mull what was going on. Each time I ran it, I was asked if the PCs were in a skill challenge and I responded, "If you're in a skill challenge, I'll let you know."

I think a lot of early 4e adventures really encouraged the idea that every routine set of checks should just be replaced by a single skill challenge, and then no more skill checks for the rest of the adventure. But that's not actually inherent to the system. Skill challenges are just there for the DM to say, "Hey, I want a meaningful, important set of roleplaying that involves the whole party and has a lot of skill checks. How do I get everyone involved rather than just one particular PC dominating all the action? What's the benefit of success? If they fail, what's the cool outcome that happens? And let me decide this in advance rather than on the fly."
 

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The cost of rituals over time went exponentially towards zero as you gained levels above the cost of the ritual. If you're finding 10000 gold per adventure and a ritual costs 100 gold, it isn't a big deal to cast it a few times.
That really depends on the character, the player, and how the DM handles the global (and local) economy. Two literal pounds of gold is still a lot of money, even if you have a whole bin full of coins back in Duckburg.
It's trivial to pick-up a feat, but that's trading a combat feat for a non-combat feat. That was generally too high of a price for most players.
(Which is another difference between Essentials and vanilla 4e... I don't think Rituals were in Essentials.)
Another difference was that Essentials came out near the end of the product cycle, which meant there were a ton of feats from other sources already available. I remember taking Ritual Caster on my Paladin, back in the day, because I'd already chosen the one or two feats that were useful and I didn't feel like multiclassing. Had that campaign taken place three years later, I probably would have gone with something else.
 

MwaO

Explorer
That really depends on the character, the player, and how the DM handles the global (and local) economy. Two literal pounds of gold is still a lot of money, even if you have a whole bin full of coins back in Duckburg.

In 3e or 5e, maybe. In 4e, if you're in a game where magic item stores are infrequent or unavailable, rituals tend to be one of the more useful ways to get rid of excess gold. Simply because you'll have that +1 sword you no longer use and you'll turn it into residuum and there's nowhere to spend it other than powering rituals...
 

Others have sort of said this, but just to be clear- 4e is really designed for a group of heroic (the regular meaning, not the 4e levels 1-10) adventurers. That means that they are all minimally competent at basic adventuring tasks- you never need to roll for whether or not you can ride a horse, for example, though taming an animal would be more involved.
I know that was their intent, but the execution was incredibly uneven. It's hard to feel like a minimally competent adventurer when you can't even beat a level 1 goblin, unless that goblin has been explicitly tagged as being trivial to kill; or when you spend a feat, 35gp, and a healing surge to fail to open a locked door.
 

The system doesn't really have a lot of assumptions.
Sure it does. It assumes some fidelity to the heroic fantasy genre, it assumes a party of relative equals...
...already we're into uncharted territory...

I wrote into a 4e Organized Play, a pure roleplaying encounter. Not a skill challenge. Just letting the PCs interact with NPCs and letting them mull what was going on. Each time I ran it, I was asked if the PCs were in a skill challenge and I responded, "If you're in a skill challenge, I'll let you know."
While that works well, I've also had occassion to keep a Skill Challenge 'behind the screen,' and let players feel their way through it - gives that 'exploration' vibe that more traditional styles go for.
 

The system doesn't really have a lot of assumptions. I wrote into a 4e Organized Play, a pure roleplaying encounter. Not a skill challenge. Just letting the PCs interact with NPCs and letting them mull what was going on. Each time I ran it, I was asked if the PCs were in a skill challenge and I responded, "If you're in a skill challenge, I'll let you know."

I think a lot of early 4e adventures really encouraged the idea that every routine set of checks should just be replaced by a single skill challenge, and then no more skill checks for the rest of the adventure. But that's not actually inherent to the system. Skill challenges are just there for the DM to say, "Hey, I want a meaningful, important set of roleplaying that involves the whole party and has a lot of skill checks. How do I get everyone involved rather than just one particular PC dominating all the action? What's the benefit of success? If they fail, what's the cool outcome that happens? And let me decide this in advance rather than on the fly."
I always liked investigation-type modules. That was my jam. The monster hunts or finding the killer.

Skill Challenges worked okay for those, but they were new and I used them poorly at the time, having them all in a single scene rather than spacing them out as two or three challenges over the course of the entire adventure. There was a steep Skill Challenge learning curve.
(But, really, it's a rookie DM mistake to gate clues to a mystery behind skill checks in the first place. A better way is checks revealing more inflammation. But that runs the risk of a natural 20 revealing too much.)

The catch with my preferred adventure style is that monster hunts tend to lead to a single battle with the monster. And single battles with a non-boss didn't work well in 4e, where there was no attrition sapping Daily powers and not enough attacks going out to remotely challenge the players. And even an elite a couple levels higher than the PCs was obliterated before a full round passed.
I had some pretty disappointing climaxes until I learned to dump my style and instead include a couple set-piece fights with mooks, terrain, and funky effects.
 

MoutonRustique

Explorer
I always liked investigation-type modules. That was my jam. The monster hunts or finding the killer. [...]

The catch with my preferred adventure style is that monster hunts tend to lead to a single battle with the monster. And single battles with a non-boss didn't work well in 4e, where there was no attrition sapping Daily powers and not enough attacks going out to remotely challenge the players. And even an elite a couple levels higher than the PCs was obliterated before a full round passed.
I had some pretty disappointing climaxes until I learned to dump my style and instead include a couple set-piece fights with mooks, terrain, and funky effects.
Why not change the monster into a encounter-worthy solo : such as a the "monster by pieces" approach, or the "worldbreaker" approach ?

Something "Monster Hunter"(tm) could work beautifully!

If you feel a real need for attrition, the hunt itself can be made arduous - rigors of the road, difficult trails, poisonous spiders in your boots in the morning, a snapping turtle takes a chunk from your calf, a moose bull charges a character around the bend, loose rocks fall from thunder, a sudden downpour followed by cold winds, etc, etc.

Have a look at THIS sublime gem of an idea - or THIS one (that is just one of all those beautiful things that did not get a full exploration from the early abandonment of the edition)
 

Why not change the monster into a encounter-worthy solo : such as a the "monster by pieces" approach, or the "worldbreaker" approach ?

Something "Monster Hunter"(tm) could work beautifully!

If you feel a real need for attrition, the hunt itself can be made arduous - rigors of the road, difficult trails, poisonous spiders in your boots in the morning, a snapping turtle takes a chunk from your calf, a moose bull charges a character around the bend, loose rocks fall from thunder, a sudden downpour followed by cold winds, etc, etc.

Have a look at THIS sublime gem of an idea - or THIS one (that is just one of all those beautiful things that did not get a full exploration from the early abandonment of the edition)

These were problems I was having back in spring/summer 2009. And the campaign itself fell apart in November 2010 for unrelated reasons.
 

MwaO

Explorer
I always liked investigation-type modules. That was my jam. The monster hunts or finding the killer.

Mine was setting up a moral challenge. PCs would get to decide the fate of the world going forward and I wanted to make the players really feel all the ethical dilemmas of the choice. Had them interact with various recently dead NPCs who had small requests to make of them. Seeing if they'd ignore, listen or blindly act on the requests. Or maybe even try to steal from them. There wasn't a right answer — it was just to get them to think about the next choice in the adventure.

Literally had one table tell me X was the emotional choice and Y the intellectual choice and another table tell me Y was the emotional choice and X the intellectual one. Worked really well.

The catch with my preferred adventure style is that monster hunts tend to lead to a single battle with the monster. And single battles with a non-boss didn't work well in 4e, where there was no attrition sapping Daily powers and not enough attacks going out to remotely challenge the players. And even an elite a couple levels higher than the PCs was obliterated before a full round passed.
I had some pretty disappointing climaxes until I learned to dump my style and instead include a couple set-piece fights with mooks, terrain, and funky effects.

Single bosses in 4e need to be Solos and they work better with more modern math. Give them a 2-3 turns per round, let them slowly slough off conditions, and give them things to do if they can't attack.
 

Single bosses in 4e need to be Solos and they work better with more modern math. Give them a 2-3 turns per round, let them slowly slough off conditions, and give them things to do if they can't attack.
That makes sense now, but the condition shaking off wasn’t added to 4e until the summer of 2010, with the MM3.
Solo design came a long way over that edition...
 


Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
I like the idea of using minions (sometimes brought in as periodic arrival on the scene) to aid the solo recover from disabling effects ... heal checks and the like are handy
 

Why not change the monster into a encounter-worthy solo : If you feel a real need for attrition, the hunt itself can be made arduous -
Single bosses in 4e need to be Solos and they work better with more modern math. Give them a 2-3 turns per round, let them slowly slough off conditions, and give them things to do if they can't attack.
So an adventure with a long 'hunt' - litteral to corner a monster, or figurative to uncover the perpetrator in some mystery scenario - culminating in a climactic battle with the quary? Sounds like it'd be really problematic in most editions of D&D. Mysteries get trivialized by a little divination, litteral 'hunts' with the addition of some travel/stealth magic on top of that - if the party is too low level for those resources, then the investgation or hunt is most likely conducted by one or a few of the players with the PCs that have the right skills engaging with the DM for a long while - and then the sole encounter of the day, with a single enemy, gets 'Nova'd for a lovely one-round anti-climax. You could easily have half your players all but sit out such a scenario.

4e makes that kind of scenario easy. The skill challenge structure gives you a framework to gauge the difficulty of the 'hunt' and step through it while keeping everyone involved, Solos make a meaningful combat challenge for a whole party at the final confrontation, and single-encounter-days only modestly decreases the difficulty of the encounter without exacerbating any class-balance issues.

But, substitute in a Standard and it'll be nothing, make the KotSf mistake and sub an overleveled elite and it'll be a PitA for all involved. But follow the encounter guidelines for a really tough Solo fight (single-encounter day) and it should be awesome.
 
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Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
So... I saw earlier today someone say in this thread - or maybe it was the other "essence of 4e thread", I'm not sure - something along the line of "creating a good combat was super easy in 4e"

Alas, I can't find this statement anymore, so I can't quote it, or even re-read it to be sure I got it right... so I'll just have to stick with that paraphrase.

This really doesn't match my impression of 4e. It's a very tactical game, and with some thought and effort I'm sure a GM could have a fantastic battle. But given it's many moving parts and highly tactical nature, it seems to be that a fair amount of work would be necessary to get a good result, unless the GM has a very high level os system mastery.

... but maybe I'm wrong?
 

So... I saw earlier today someone say in this thread - or maybe it was the other "essence of 4e thread", I'm not sure - something along the line of "creating a good combat was super easy in 4e"

Alas, I can't find this statement anymore, so I can't quote it, or even re-read it to be sure I got it right... so I'll just have to stick with that paraphrase.

This really doesn't match my impression of 4e. It's a very tactical game, and with some thought and effort I'm sure a GM could have a fantastic battle. But given it's many moving parts and highly tactical nature, it seems to be that a fair amount of work would be necessary to get a good result, unless the GM has a very high level os system mastery.

... but maybe I'm wrong?

Encounter building was easy. The system worked much like the 5e system where each monster was worth a certain amount of xp and you added together the numbers to make a total. The difference is that groups larger than the baseline didn't increase the budget

Each monster statblock was given a role in combat, so you could easy slot those into templates given in the DMG to build certain encounter groups. The rules told you to use a mix of monsters, with one monster needed per PC of the same level. So for a 5-person party you could throw in a soldier, couple strikers, a brute, and an artillery. (Using off-level monsters was trickier and required math, as the numbers didn't match.
The tricky bit was having three to five different monsters on the board, that all had different powers, which you had to read and know how to use before the battle.

As mentioned, very quickly on, WotC realised that having the various types of a monster synergize well together made this easy. And effectively designed the monster entries as encounter groups. Prior to this, they tended to have the monsters at a few different level bands, which made designing, say, an orc encounter harder. So just using a group of monsters at the same level tended to synergize.
DMs looking to go that extra mile could compare the abilities of different monsters, doing things like pairing a monster with a push ability with one that dealt damage in an area.

Now, this is all just the baseline. You were encouraged to think of terrain and the encounter area as well. That was harder, but no harder than 3e or 5e.
 

Ted Serious

First Post
So... I saw earlier today someone say in this thread - or maybe it was the other "essence of 4e thread", I'm not sure - something along the line of "creating a good combat was super easy in 4e"

Alas, I can't find this statement anymore, so I can't quote it, or even re-read it to be sure I got it right... so I'll just have to stick with that paraphrase.

This really doesn't match my impression of 4e. It's a very tactical game, and with some thought and effort I'm sure a GM could have a fantastic battle. But given it's many moving parts and highly tactical nature, it seems to be that a fair amount of work would be necessary to get a good result, unless the GM has a very high level os system mastery.

... but maybe I'm wrong?
4e was simplified easy mode D&D for players and DM. Compared to 3e or Pathfinder.

As opposed to 5e which is simplified easy mode for players and God Mode for the DM.
 

something along the line of "creating a good combat was super easy in 4e"
This really doesn't match my impression of 4e. It's a very tactical game, and with some thought and effort I'm sure a GM could have a fantastic battle. But given it's many moving parts and highly tactical nature, it seems to be that a fair amount of work would be necessary to get a good result, unless the GM has a very high level os system mastery.
... but maybe I'm wrong?
4e was very easy to run, in general, not just in the sense of creating combats, which was quite simple.

I was struck both by the ease of creating a combat (4 combat, in fact, in a matter of minutes), and the ease of 're-skinning' monsters the first time I had occassion to run an impromptu pickup game at a convention. I didn't have a DMG on me, but I did happen to have a MM, I vaguely remembered the gist of the encounter building guidelines - an equal number of standard monsters of the same level is a basic combat. Solos are equivalent to 5 monsters, Elites to 2, minions 1/4. I flipped through the MM for elementals (that was the theme of the mini-adventure I had in mind, a 2-bit ToEE), didn't find anything around the level I needed (4th - the level of a few characters one of the players had on hand). I did quickly find firebats, a young black dragon, and spectres. I re-skinned the spectres as air elementals, simply dropping the necrotic keyword from their attacks, and the black dragon as a water elemental (can't, almost 10 years later remember what I used for the earth elemental, pretty sure it was Elite + minions).

Monsters were easy to run, too, they had everything they could do spelled out in a stat-block, typically a quarter-page, so there was rarely any need to look anything up - they got easier when the stat block format changed, grouping like actions under headings. And, PCs were easier to deal with, too, because you could just look at the power they were using and fairly easily tell what it did, relatively little interpretation needed, and what they did was rarely out of line (and, until Essentials, swiftly errata'd when it was), so there wasn't this need to completely understand everything every PC might be able to do when throwing together an encounter.

The pitfall was that it was also easy to just fall into a rut.
 
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Jer

Adventurer
So... I saw earlier today someone say in this thread - or maybe it was the other "essence of 4e thread", I'm not sure - something along the line of "creating a good combat was super easy in 4e"

Alas, I can't find this statement anymore, so I can't quote it, or even re-read it to be sure I got it right... so I'll just have to stick with that paraphrase.

This really doesn't match my impression of 4e. It's a very tactical game, and with some thought and effort I'm sure a GM could have a fantastic battle. But given it's many moving parts and highly tactical nature, it seems to be that a fair amount of work would be necessary to get a good result, unless the GM has a very high level os system mastery.

... but maybe I'm wrong?

It was probably me over the in "essence of 4e" thread.

And I stand by it. Compared to previous editions of D&D it was very easy to throw together an encounter using the monster books and/or even to create a monster on the fly using the tables in the books (which I would have copies of at the table for the relevant levels of my table's PCs so I didn't have to fumble with the actual books). The encounter building math worked better than 3e (and I would argue than 5e) mostly by virtue of the fact that player resources were mostly per encounter instead of per day - modulo a daily power they would likely be hitting every encounter at basically full strength, so it was pretty easy to judge what the stats needed to be. You probably did need a bit of system mastery to make it work (or a head for algebra, I suppose) but all of the pieces were laid out on the table with nothing obscured and that made it easy to work with. (Also all of the creature's spell-like attacks were laid out in a nice format that didn't require me to find the appropriate spell in the PHB when I needed to figure out damage or whatnot, which is a giant step backward in 5e IMO).

Of course 13th age took all of these pieces parts of encounter building and simplified them ever further, so 4e doesn't look quite as elegant to me as it did when we were playing it. Still, it was easier to run an improvised battle in 4e than it ever was in 3e.
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
So many people with so little experience were commenting on some of these threads and then there was the edition warring going on.... sigh
 

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
It was probably me over the in "essence of 4e" thread.

Thank you for the reply!

The encounter building math worked better than 3e (and I would argue than 5e) mostly by virtue of the fact that player resources were mostly per encounter instead of per day - modulo a daily power they would likely be hitting every encounter at basically full strength, so it was pretty easy to judge what the stats needed to be.

Huh. That is a very interesting point. And really important I think. Of course this design would make encounter building easier (and also would require a rethink of the "short rest vs long rest classes" balance of 5e (which is a pet peeve of mine). So it looks like a huge plus. On the other hand, it makes smaller fights, random encounters etc less meaningful because if you easily defeat the 7 goblins but had to use 3 spells and lost 20 hp... well there was a cost to that little fight, it had meaning, it impact the rest of your day.

Do these little fights have value? Maybe?

(Also all of the creature's spell-like attacks were laid out in a nice format that didn't require me to find the appropriate spell in the PHB when I needed to figure out damage or whatnot, which is a giant step backward in 5e IMO).

That would be nice indeed!

So many people with so little experience were commenting on some of these threads and then there was the edition warring going on.... sigh

I've been trying to be upfront about my lack of experience and non hostile. I ask because I want to know. Of course, when someone starts saying things that are nonsense, then being perfectly civil is more challenging - I'm only human :/
 

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