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4E Where was 4e headed before it was canned?

Mycroft

Explorer
I think the difference being how long it takes an edition to get there. Look at 5e - IIRC, 4e had more books by year 2 than 5e has in 5. Quickly looking at the list on Wikipedia- I see 41 Player and DM books. Plus nine setting books. O.O In 4 years. So, yeah, we're looking at a hardcover pretty close to every month. That was insane. No one could ever keep up with that pace.

Even though arguably 4e is the shortest edition, in it's time, it managed to bang out almost as much material (not counting adventures) as 3e. Good grief. I had kinda forgotten how ludicrous it was back then.

You're right. Even though its shelf life was not so long, its product line, was. I think Heroes of the Feywild (the Witch is very cool) was their best latter day piece.
 

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To be clear: the Basic Set, back in the fad years, moved units like no other single book (the Red Box, at the height, something like 1.2 million IIRC). That doesn't imply that BECMI or the nominally nearly indistinguishable but mechanically distinct B/X that preceded it were more popular or driving the fad relative to AD&D (or even 0D&D). Players migrated from Basic straight to AD&D all the time, some, I'm sure, went from Basic to 0D&D or even Arduin.
I think there are several things people don't understand about those days. Gary was a brilliant promoter. In the 70's D&D was nothing, during the first 6 years it became a big thing in the GAME world, but it shifted probably less than 100k units in that entire time, including several modules, 3 different sets of core rules, etc.

Starting with the Red Box, spurred by the popularity of the cartoon and the fortuitousness of the 'Moms against D&D' non-sense (which made playing an act of rebellion, always a golden key to teenage uptake of anything) the Red Box shifted a lot of units. AD&D was there to cash in on the flow of more interested gamers who wanted a game with more 'stuff' than B/X provided. Likewise B/X and BECMI provided an easy gift-friendly entry and a bit more straightforward dungeon crawling kind of game experience that suited a lot of 'beer and pretzels' type play.

Whether Gygax and Co really planned things that way, they got a happy synergy between versions of the game, some luck in terms of the wider social scene, and they really did pump out a LOT of product. There weren't core books at the rate of 4e, by any means, but they pumped out tons of modules, spin-off products, BECMI stuff, settings, etc.

The other thing to remember is that this period really only lasted about 6 years. Between 1981 and about 1987 D&D flourished. After that it remained fairly popular and successful for a few more years, but TSR felt the need to put out 2e in '89, and that never reached anything like the sales of earlier days. The 90's was just a long slow slide into irrelevance with lots of product and an ever-decreasing market share. Maybe this was a result of Gary being booted, who knows? Perhaps he'd have found a way to keep the game seeming 'cool' and something for lots of kids to try instead of basically almost a legacy game with only a fairly slow turnover in an audience which seems to get older and grayer every year.

4e was meant to change that, the marketing and product 'packaging' didn't quite produce the increase in audience that was desired (maybe in company with 2008 being basically a very lousy year overall, I dunno). Clearly WotC learned some things the 2nd time around, but it is worth pointing out that 4e still managed to sell really well, it outsold 3.x!
 

No, absolutely, that's right: my point is, how many people just stuck with Basic.
IME, and that dates back to when OD&D was the only RPG in existence, Basic filled a kind of gap for most people. I bought Holme's Basic because you literally could not get your hands on the LBBs! It gave us SOMETHING to actually work with, some rules. We then just photocopied bits out of the other books, and eventually got copies of them.

When AD&D came out, first the MM was just a D&D supplement, the 'AD&D' logo on the cover didn't mean a thing to us. This was just a collection of existing and new monsters with updated stats, treasure lists, etc. ready to use with existing stuff.

Even when the PHB came out we simply added it to our game, sort of like when 3.5 came out people converted some, but not all, characters from 3.0 rules. By then we understood that AD&D was a kind of a new version of the game, but it wasn't until Red Box appeared that anyone even thought of 'Basic' as a separate game and not just a starter set for the real game. It still WAS a starter set for a lot of people.

Once the DMG was out, I really never saw play using Basic|B/X|BECMI again. I know there were people who used those rules, but in ordinary "out in the world play" IME it was pretty close to 100% AD&D with a few things cribbed out of a BECMI book, or using one of the Basic modules (we generally just ignored the slight differences in numbers between the two games).

Gauging from my experience, the big sales of Basic, assuming they are real numbers, was gift boxes. Red Box sold like hotcakes as a very common gift for kids, just like many other toy fads and collectibles and whatnot have done over the years. Some percentage of those kids became avid RPG players and (again IME) the vast majority of those ended up playing in games which used the AD&D rules in some form. TBH, until the introduction of Expert in 1981, you really didn't have a choice, as Basic only got you to level 3. So from 1978 (PHB) to 1981 (Expert) there was no other choice beyond level 3 anyway.
 

I don't think it'd be unfair to say that Essentials was early 5e development. Kinda like how people point to Bo9S or Star Wars SAGA as early experiments in 4e, or how I expect they'll point to Starfinder as presaging PF2.

You can also see the pace of release rapidly decelerate through the post-E run, indicative of losing resources and/or shifting development resources to pre-5e/Next.
I think it might be more correct to think that there were 2 semi-independent things going on here:

One was a 'release less stuff' agenda. Given that 4e had already covered all the really needed material, and a lot besides, it isn't clear that this was linked to any decision not to go forward with 4e. It was just the inevitable consequence of having flooded the market with close to 30 books in under 4 years.

The other was a feeling that there was a need to address people who weren't as interested in 4e by releasing a different type of material. This lead to Essentials, obviously.

So, once the Essentials SKUs were released (and WotC promised exactly 10 evergreen SKUs in this product) they were left to go down the 'release less stuff, and have it be different in tone from core 4e' as the sum of these two things.

AFTER THAT 5e was conceived. I don't know what combination of corporate fiat and feelings of dislike and dissatisfaction with 4e on the part of MM and Co. really lead to that particular decision.
 

They didnt, they sat down and played to the best of their D&D ability. It's a hard enough job to get a group of casual players to focus on what the DM is saying, much less to invest in the game system itself. Maybe that's why 5e works better for the same group? I'm not sure but it just does.
This dovetails with one of my observations about 5e. It requires many less decision points to arrive at a given class concept, at least for the most common 'trope' D&D character concepts. The actual character is not less complex, but there is more leeway in making one that has less options in play. There are a LOT less choices to make ongoing as well, once you pick your class, and then maybe again at 2nd level, you make all the basic choices. You CAN pick feats later on, but even those are totally optional. Someone who could care less about rules and just 'want to play my axe dwarf like always' is going to be a lot happier with 5e than 4e. Essentials might have partly scratched that itch too, but only later in the 4e's cycle and not as well.
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
This dovetails with one of my observations about 5e. It requires many less decision points to arrive at a given class concept
if your concept is a near match for their premade subclass otherwise it's homebrew everybody is doing it too. And that says to me character design is not the paradise of ease people claim. And to me it seems their are less interesting on going choices unless you are a spell caster... so there is that
 

One of my favorite books, and I still use it for ideas in 5e, is the Open Graves (i believe that's what its called). Anytime I have an undead themed adventure I crack it open for the location samples.
Open Grave could spawn a dozen campaigns by itself
Draconomicon: Chromatic Dragons, another dozen
Draconomicon: Metallic Dragons, ditto
Plane Above, Ditto
Plane Below, ...
Demonomicon, heh, 20 easily! (well, er, 666?).

HotFW and HotEC, Underdark, HoS, these are all gold mines, and very high quality stuff in terms of ideas IMHO. Then you have stuff like Gloomwrought, which is a very heavily elaborated 'mini campaign' setting, almost a module really.

I haven't read a lot of the other stuff, but there are a few more in the same vein. NONE of them are bad, and I disagree with the earlier post that they didn't have room for 'good ideas' with the pace of releases. To the contrary, 4e seemed to let loose a lot of the constraints that held back a lot of good ideas in the past! It was FILLED with good ideas!
 

if your concept is a near match for their premade subclass otherwise it's homebrew everybody is doing it too. And that says to me character design is not the paradise of ease people claim. And to me it seems their are less interesting on going choices unless you are a spell caster... so there is that
4e is definitely more open-ended in some sense. OTOH 5e isn't exactly a straight-jacket either! Particularly if MCing is allowed then it has a very large degree of flexibility. I agree that the lack of an A/E/D/U structure is inhibiting in the sense that something like the Champion is very locked down and can't get choices beyond a narrow range. Again, you could play a fighter/wizard or an Eldritch Knight, Paladin, Ranger, etc and get different variations on that. Yes, spell casting is absolutely the choice set of options in 5e, and I am not trying to defend that.

I'm only saying that the game is VERY amenable to playing with a pretty simply 'canned' set of options and getting a sort of character of a simple archetype.

Again, think of 'Axe dwarf'. In 5e you pick dwarf, get an axe, pick a fighting style of 'great weapon' and choose either BattleMaster or Champion. That's pretty much it. You can make no other choices, period, all the way to level 20 and it 'just works'. Your ability scores, equipment, and proficiency choices are fairly obvious and/or give you a bit of personalization leeway. You COULD pick feats, but you can just ignore that (or it can even be left out as an optional rule). Background and personality traits are pretty much 'color'.

In 4e you would pick dwarf and fighter, then great weapon style, and then several feats (out of 100's of choices you should pick only a few certain ones to focus on this, but you have to read a lot of them to know which are the ones). Now you have to make several power choices, and you still have skills, background, and maybe theme to consider, which can each have some material impact later on. Your ability score choices are also fairly significant and there is some nuance there (WIS vs CON for instance).

The BIG difference though is ongoing. 5e you have no more choices required, except maybe to pick some techniques or whatever they call them. In 4e you have constantly pick feats, powers, ASIs, then a PP and an ED if you go that high, etc. You also have to figure out your build WRT magic items, which is pretty important. STAYING an effective axe dwarf is not 100% straightforward. It takes actual real engagement with the rules and paying attention, you CANNOT simply let it ride! If you do, then you'll end up with an inferior combat ability and won't fill your desired archetype well in play!
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
4e is definitely more open-ended in some sense. OTOH 5e isn't exactly a straight-jacket either! Particularly if MCing is allowed then it has a very large degree of flexibility. I agree that the lack of an A/E/D/U structure is inhibiting in the sense that something like the Champion is very locked down and can't get choices beyond a narrow range. Again, you could play a fighter/wizard or an Eldritch Knight, Paladin, Ranger, etc and get different variations on that. Yes, spell casting is absolutely the choice set of options in 5e, and I am not trying to defend that.

I'm only saying that the game is VERY amenable to playing with a pretty simply 'canned' set of options and getting a sort of character of a simple archetype.

Again, think of 'Axe dwarf'. In 5e you pick dwarf, get an axe, pick a fighting style of 'great weapon' and choose either BattleMaster or Champion. That's pretty much it. You can make no other choices, period, all the way to level 20 and it 'just works'. Your ability scores, equipment, and proficiency choices are fairly obvious and/or give you a bit of personalization leeway. You COULD pick feats, but you can just ignore that (or it can even be left out as an optional rule). Background and personality traits are pretty much 'color'.

In 4e you would pick dwarf and fighter, then great weapon style, and then several feats (out of 100's of choices you should pick only a few certain ones to focus on this, but you have to read a lot of them to know which are the ones). Now you have to make several power choices, and you still have skills, background, and maybe theme to consider, which can each have some material impact later on. Your ability score choices are also fairly significant and there is some nuance there (WIS vs CON for instance).

The BIG difference though is ongoing. 5e you have no more choices required, except maybe to pick some techniques or whatever they call them. In 4e you have constantly pick feats, powers, ASIs, then a PP and an ED if you go that high, etc. You also have to figure out your build WRT magic items, which is pretty important. STAYING an effective axe dwarf is not 100% straightforward. It takes actual real engagement with the rules and paying attention, you CANNOT simply let it ride! If you do, then you'll end up with an inferior combat ability and won't fill your desired archetype well in play!
Multiclassing to make a 4e style swordmage required level 17 to get the abilities that I had at beginning heroicwith no sign of paragon capabilities let alone epic or the teleporting which is arguably a core feature. I found role specific abilities the most problematic though surprise surprise in the edition that pretends roles do not exist. Really looks straight jacket to me. Multiclassing fails its promise ... organic looks better to me in theory than practice.

Oh and shame on you for pretending optimizing is necessary
 
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Multiclassing to make a 4e style swordmage required level 17 to get the abilities that I had at beginning heroicwith no sign of paragon capabilities let alone epic or the teleporting which is arguably a core feature. I found role specific abilities the most problematic though surprise surprise in the edition that pretends roles do not exist. Really looks straight jacket to me. Multiclassing fails its promise ... organic looks better to me in theory than practice.

Oh and shame on you for pretending optimizing is necessary
I'm not 'pretending'. You don't have to 'optimize' to the level of putting together weird and obtuse combinations of elements (there are possibilities there for certain builds, but not required), unlike 3.x. However, your character will start to really underperform the expected baseline 4e character combat performance by high heroic tier. This might not matter in some games (where everyone plays basically the same way or you just don't care) but modules and general encounter guidelines DO assume your PC puts out a DPR that reaches some general median performance, or at least close. Even my "I don't want to understand the rules" players in our 4e campaigns began to realize at a certain point that they were leaving a LOT on the table, and they got one of the other players (in one campaign) that had DDI and some good grasp of the mechanics to help them out with retraining and whatever. This was by around 6th level.

Honestly, I am no expert on ANY of 5e in terms of finer details, like how MCing stacks up exactly. I know it is there. I know you can play an Eldritch Knight, which seemed fairly effective and 'spell casty with a sword'. Heck, my dwarf Transmuter was actually pretty competent in melee! He wouldn't really ever DO that because cantrips, but he had chain armor and a pretty decent hit point total. He sure wasn't afraid to go to the front line and blast stuff face-to-face. As to exactly reproducing 4e swordmage (IE magic delivered in melee with a sword and acting as a type of defender with a high inherent AC and some funky special ability) I couldn't say. My guess is that there are plenty of people with a looser idea of what 'swordmage' means who would be happy, but not all.

5e does cover a lot of thematic territory. Not with the granularity that 4e does, at least not without added material, but it has the virtue that MOST PLAYERS will be able to work its 'levers' easily and get something acceptable to them. My guess is 95% of all D&D players are not after an exact character concept to the T. They are after something fun to play, and if they can find it within the given options and within their comfort level of rules mastery, they are happy. 5e has a much higher probability of success in that area, and this most likely accounts for the vast bulk of its increased popularity vis-a-vis 4e, IMHO.
 

Parmandur

Legend
I'm not 'pretending'. You don't have to 'optimize' to the level of putting together weird and obtuse combinations of elements (there are possibilities there for certain builds, but not required), unlike 3.x. However, your character will start to really underperform the expected baseline 4e character combat performance by high heroic tier. This might not matter in some games (where everyone plays basically the same way or you just don't care) but modules and general encounter guidelines DO assume your PC puts out a DPR that reaches some general median performance, or at least close. Even my "I don't want to understand the rules" players in our 4e campaigns began to realize at a certain point that they were leaving a LOT on the table, and they got one of the other players (in one campaign) that had DDI and some good grasp of the mechanics to help them out with retraining and whatever. This was by around 6th level.

Honestly, I am no expert on ANY of 5e in terms of finer details, like how MCing stacks up exactly. I know it is there. I know you can play an Eldritch Knight, which seemed fairly effective and 'spell casty with a sword'. Heck, my dwarf Transmuter was actually pretty competent in melee! He wouldn't really ever DO that because cantrips, but he had chain armor and a pretty decent hit point total. He sure wasn't afraid to go to the front line and blast stuff face-to-face. As to exactly reproducing 4e swordmage (IE magic delivered in melee with a sword and acting as a type of defender with a high inherent AC and some funky special ability) I couldn't say. My guess is that there are plenty of people with a looser idea of what 'swordmage' means who would be happy, but not all.

5e does cover a lot of thematic territory. Not with the granularity that 4e does, at least not without added material, but it has the virtue that MOST PLAYERS will be able to work its 'levers' easily and get something acceptable to them. My guess is 95% of all D&D players are not after an exact character concept to the T. They are after something fun to play, and if they can find it within the given options and within their comfort level of rules mastery, they are happy. 5e has a much higher probability of success in that area, and this most likely accounts for the vast bulk of its increased popularity vis-a-vis 4e, IMHO.
I think this analysis is on point.
 

Hussar

Legend
I have to admit, I've a bit of trouble understanding building a character concept around abilities. I tend to go the other way. Concept first, and then that concept leads to different abilities depending on edition. For example, I've now played my fire priest in three different editions. Yeah, bit of a rut there.

In 2nd edition, he was a priest of a specific mythos (Kossuth) from Faiths and Avatars which allowed him to use edged weapons (scimitar as I recall) and cast magic user spells with fire or flame in the title as if they were cleric spells. Smidgeon overpowered. :D How I miss the horrible brokenness of 2e. :p

In 3.5 edition, he was a priest of St. Cuthbert who believed in burning lawbreakers who then took a couple of levels in half fire elemental (from a Dragon magazine of the time) which granted him access to some fire spells and fire resistances.

In 5e, he again was a priest of Kossuth (who still believed in burning sinners) with the Forge Priest subclass. He had some fire based spells, could now focus on creation and making stuff with his abilities and had a fire bonus for his weapon attack.

In each edition, this character was mechanically pretty different - very different suite of abilities anyway - but, at its core, this was the same character concept.

It would never occur to me to recreate the character based on the abilities of an earlier edition. That's just not possible most of the time.
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
I have to admit, I've a bit of trouble understanding building a character concept around abilities. I tend to go the other way. Concept first, and then that concept leads to different abilities depending on edition. For example, I've now played my fire priest in three different editions. Yeah, bit of a rut there. .
My tactician warlords vanished in a puff of edition smoke. There are a number of elements that grow the general concept of warlord in 5e even though the class wasn't created (inspiring leader feat is definitely a win) at a general level but the team enhancing intelligent tactician is still non existent 5 years into the edition.

I go both ways (sometimes the character concepts grow because of elements in the new editions) and sometimes it feels like the elements are there but have been walled off behind locked down structures that cannot be cracked open without rolling my own class however it also looks like it isn't because they are "too powerful".

My swordmage is perhaps an exception wrt how specific I am, the character grew out of 4e somewhat like the Tactical Warlords. He is a prodigy of using intellect for sword play its part of his origin story as an intelligent blademaster he protects and shields his friends fundamental .... then working up to Ghostblade paragon tops it off its part of the story He never felt like a fighter who used his off hand to cast spells. Feats like white lotus riposte emphasized how the magic was swordplay and so on.

Basically its five years in and I am one of those saying why can't I make my barbarian gnome without house ruling the game to hell (and I am someone inclined to reflavor a halfling as gnome if need be).

We had hundreds of people saying they couldn't build their characters coming to snipe at 4e because they couldn't reflavor a ranger archer to be their archer fighter and it wasn't about abilities but rather class NAMES.

I prefer to pay attention to actual abilities.

I think 5e intentionally made it at least initially (hurray for the cavalier multi-classed with the oath of the crown paladin) very hard to build a defender character with any sort of competence.
 
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Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
Another example I like abilities or whole classes which I can then give my own flavor I have a Priest of Baachus who I built as a Battlerager Fighter because of the builds abilities. He took sips of alcohol whenever he made a successful swing (and gained temporary hit points) and it dulled the pain conferring on him the blessing of his god. The character was his concept but it was supported by the mechanics. No he didnt get a drunk condition or lose accuracy in a way that actually hindered him. (but he loved the Brash strike)

If I try to build him in another game or edition I will not be looking for a class titled priest
 

Hussar

Legend
Another example I like abilities or whole classes which I can then give my own flavor I have a Priest of Baachus who I built as a Battlerager Fighter because of the builds abilities. He took sips of alcohol whenever he made a successful swing (and gained temporary hit points) and it dulled the pain conferring on him the blessing of his god. The character was his concept but it was supported by the mechanics. No he didnt get a drunk condition or lose accuracy in a way that actually hindered him. (but he loved the Brash strike)

If I try to build him in another game or edition I will not be looking for a class titled priest
Yeah, I have to admit, I miss the freedom of 4e when it came to building a character. My rogue character believed he was a priest of Kord and that everything he did was because of the blessing of Kord. Temp HP? Strength of Kord. Insane damage? Blessing of Kord. So on and so forth. His whole goal was to build up enough money to built a temple to Kord to straighten morally bent men and lay out twisted women. :D Based on the character of Lucifer Jones by Mike Resnick. Totally a blast to play and not possible to play in 5e.

So, yeah, I am sympathetic.

I mean, playing a non-magical healer is totally something I'd LOVE to play, and, again, not possible in 5e. I despair of ever seeing the Warlord ported forward. Sad to see something so flavorful get left behind simply because of a handful of loudmouthed true fans who cannot bear to see other folks get something they want.
 

MockingBird

Explorer
Probably not the depth you would wont or be happy with but maybe make a medic type background? I'm not sure off the top of my head of this background exist in some capacity. Dont have my books near me. I dunno though.
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
Another example I built a character who is a Bloodwright she is a Vampire who restrains her hunger with self discipline (wisdom is a huge deal for her) ... but her hunger leaks out and affects her allies they smell the blood of their enemies. And their attacks against enemies she tags heal them as the blood touches their skin and the life force of the enemies escapes into their auras. She sees her allies as her "children"

I went through and renamed many of her powers in character builder, but they are actually mechanically unchanged from the core mechanics.

Her comrades succor ritual involves blood actually flowing between her allies

She has a heavily dipped Templar theme Darksun without any sort of reflavoring.

Mechanically she is a longtooth shifter and she has some vampirism feats but her class in 4e is mechanically a Hybrid Cleric / Invoker. She isn't even trained in religion.

I picked her abilities to fit her concept

Sierrah Bloodwright, level 11
Longtooth Shifter, Cleric|Invoker, Blood Healer
Hybrid Cleric: Battle Cleric's Lore
Covenant Manifestation: Manifestation of Malediction
Hybrid Invoker: Hybrid Invoker Will
Blood Drain: Blood Drain Strength
Background: Wandering Duelist (Wandering Duelist Benefit)


FINAL ABILITY SCORES
Str 21, Con 11, Dex 11, Int 14, Wis 21, Cha 10.


STARTING ABILITY SCORES
Str 16, Con 10, Dex 10, Int 13, Wis 16, Cha 9.




AC: 29 Fort: 22 Reflex: 19 Will: 24
HP: 62 Surges: 6 Surge Value: 15


TRAINED SKILLS
Intimidate +13, Insight +15, Arcana +12, Endurance +12, Nature +15


UNTRAINED SKILLS
Acrobatics +5, Bluff +5, Diplomacy +5, Dungeoneering +10, Heal +10, History +7, Perception +10, Religion +7, Stealth +5, Streetwise +5, Thievery +5, Athletics +12


FEATS
Learned Spellcaster: Ritual Caster
Level 1: Vampiric Heritage
Level 2: Learned Spellcaster
Level 4: Healer's Implement
Level 6: Night's Sight
Level 8: Battle Healer
Level 10: Restful Healing
Level 11: Benevolent Templar


POWERS
Dark Sun: Thought Projection
Hybrid at-will 1: Bleeding Hunger
Hybrid at-will 1: Visions of Blood
Hybrid encounter 1: Calling a Blood Hunt
Hybrid daily 1: Blood Tears
Hybrid utility 2: Sanguine Lending
Hybrid encounter 3: Fearsome Command
Hybrid daily 5: Servitude in Death
Hybrid utility 6: Shared Endurance
Hybrid encounter 7: Rain of Blood
Hybrid daily 9: Baleful Admonishment
Hybrid utility 10: Umbral Soul


ITEMS
Magic Wyvernscale Armor +3, Cloak of Displacement +2, Adventurer's Kit, Holy Symbol, Lifestealer Morningstar +3
RITUALS
Comrades' Succor, Endure Elements, Feat of Strength, Animal Messenger, Banish Vermin, Gravesight, Inquisitive's Eyes, Last Sight Vision, Mindshape Warwing Drake, Portal Jump, Affect Normal Fire, Transfer Enchantment, Shadow Bridge, Simbul's Conversion, Spirit Fetch
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
Yeah, I have to admit, I miss the freedom of 4e when it came to building a character. My rogue character believed he was a priest of Kord and that everything he did was because of the blessing of

We arent the only ones missing the flexibility IMHO the homebrew classes seem more than a little prevalent in the wild admittedly it is an anecdote not data and I do not think the reason is the new cool organic "multiclassing" does its job nor that a few "big bold 5e feats" are good enough at adjusting the classes to what most people want play.
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
I do want to emphasize I am not talking about freedom to reflavor not certain any edition except 3e tried to take that away. I was earlier giving Hussar an example of how i sometimes very much drive how I use the system to fulfill a concept exploiting the abilities

The Bloodwright is probably a better example of the freedom to build. But so is adjusting my Cleave with a feat to make it so that if he only has 1 enemy to attack he can do ongoing damage to the target. Or adjustments to make the rangers abilities more interesting to someone wanting arrows to do something other than kill fast.
 
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I'm only saying that the game is VERY amenable to playing with a pretty simply 'canned' set of options and getting a sort of character of a simple archetype.
If you have the clear expectation going in that certain archetypes will be 'simple.' It doesn't seem too much of a stretch to expect a wizard to be complicated and a barbarian to be simple, but after decades with the game, the idea that anyone using a weapon must be simplistic and anyone using magic complicated is drilled into us a little too hard, and it's difficult to say with certainty what a new player - one coming from playing video games and, IDK, reading/watching Harry Potter and Twighlight and the like, might 'reasonably' expect. But, if you step out of the D&D paradigm for a sec, does it really seem unreasonable to expect a magic-using character who 'just' blasts things with fire, say, being fairly simple? Or, conversely, to expect a duelist & spy sort of character to have more to it than the above barbarian? I don't think those're unreasonable expectations, but in D&D, you'll have learn that if you want some interest/engagement/options, you simply must take up magic.

OTOH, choosing the simple archetype means both knowing you want 'simple' (which is an assumption, in itself - who says new players go into the game with the assumption that there'll be classes and that different classes will be wildly different in terms of meta-game complexity?), and reviewing the options to determine which are which. Rather than just jumping in playing whatever - probably genre-referent - idea appeals. That's a barrier to entry, right there, because players may come to the game wanting to play a sort of character that the classes don't cover, or that the DM/experienced-players will steer them away from because it's 'too complicated' (which is patronizing, in itself, but probably necessary).

Again, think of 'Axe dwarf'. In 5e you pick dwarf, get an axe, pick a fighting style of 'great weapon' and choose either BattleMaster or Champion.
You probably think 'Gimli,' TBF, if you have any particular thoughts about dwarves & axes, to start with, at all. Also, you don't choose Champ vs BM until 3rd, FWIW, and, at first, you choose one of six fighting styles that'll shape your character for the rest of his career & which scale with level differently from eachother, and a Background, and pick the specific skills from class and background that will be the only ones you'll ever get better at it, unless Feats are allowed. (Tho, yeah, traits &c may be just color, especially if the DM can't be bothered with inspiration.)

In 4e you would pick dwarf and fighter, then great weapon style, and then several feats
Again, TBF, from the PH, you'd pick dwarf (just a dwasf, no sub-race), and greatweapon from a choice of two, not half a dozen, both of which scale with level just fine. And only one feat, then skills. Then exploits, but each choice is from a very small list.

It's also worth noting that both 4e & 5e provide a fair bit of build guidance and starting packages that further reduce the effort involved, and that pregens are a fine option for new players, as well...

The BIG difference though is ongoing. 5e you have no more choices required, except maybe to pick some techniques or whatever they call them. In 4e you have constantly pick feats, powers, ASIs, then a PP and an ED if you go that high, etc.
In 4e those choices come at about 1/level, so that's hardly overwhelming, and if you goof, you can also retrain a past choice each level. It was actually very friendly to learning the game as you go, rather than needing system mastery and 20-level builds up-front. It was just less friendly to re-learning the game if you already new a past edition.

STAYING an effective axe dwarf is not 100% straightforward.
It really kinda is. You keep putting your stats for leveling into the same stats you prioritized at 1st, and you pick up the best weapons & protective items you can. You /can/ manage a 'wish list' if you're into that, or you can count on the DM to 'drop' the basics - or the DM can turn on Inherent Bonuses and that becomes a non-issue. The only borked part was feat taxes, you /had/ to take an expertise feat and some other HotFL/K uber-feats or fall behind the 'fixed' math, and if the designers didn't get a class or feature just right at release, there was an increasing tendency to patch them with feats instead of just errata them.

Oh sure but it had switches and toggles largely in the form of feats to make it far more interesting for those who are less interested in 1 button play ...
The archer ranger was viable if you chose to one-button play it and just spam twin strike, but, the moment you got bored with that, there were encounter & daily powers waiting for you. When combat stopped, you were well-able to contribute to a Skill Challenge.

Realistically, there's enough 4e material there to run campaigns for the next decade or so if you wanted to. Between the modules from Dungeon magazine (if you were quick enough to download them) and the actual print content, 4e has a bloody MOUNTAIN of material.
There was some 4e material we probably could've passed on if it meant getting a DMG 3 and more grist for Epic, that would truly have made it playable for decades to come, as it is, you have to reach a teeny bit at Epic - some DMs have a talent for that (or trouble not bleeding into Epic too early), but Heroic & Paragon were made clearer in DMG 1 & 2. If there's one thing we really missed out on with 4e's short run (other than a Martial Controller, obviously), it'd be better guidance for Epic,

I do want to emphasize I am not talking about freedom to reflavor not certain any edition except 3e tried to take that away.
Re-flavoring or re-skinning was not much of a thing in D&D /until/ 3e, and then it was limited to the appearance of the character & his gear.

Not that it didn't exist - the 1e PH weapon tables have entries that make other weapons not listed equivalent to something on the table, for instance - just that it wasn't generally in the players' hands.

For instance, if you wanted your spell to look different from the norm, in 1e, you'd research a new spell, because how spells looked was spelled out in the description and knowing & identifying them was part of 'player skill,' so a different-looking spell was more powerful because it could be deceptive. In 2e, you could get the same advantage by casting Sense Shifting (Tome of Magic, IIRC), first. In 3e, you could take Spell Thematics (feat) to personalize the appearance of your magic. In 4e, you could just describe any power (not just spells) how you liked, as long as doing so didn't go changing keywords.

So there was actually a progression going in D&D towards greater player freedom in imagining and customizing their characters. In terms of where 4e might've gone, there's every indication that it was continuing to evolve in that same direction. Backgrounds and Themes, for instance, were both added in the first two years of it's run. Then skill powers. Then MCing was expanded with the Hybrid rules in PH3.

You could probably have expected each new PH and/or setting player's guide to include expansions like those.
 
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