[oh, and I did find a PDF copy of the MM2 and had a chance to read it. Eh]
Here's the complete series for folks who want the links in one place:
Delving 4E (Part 1)
After spending a week or so on 4E, reading it, analyzing it, thinking about it, I feel...I feel...I don't know how I feel about it. Well, not enough to put it succinctly.
First, I think there is some neat ideas in the 4E system...ideas and concepts I think are interesting and even exciting. Things I'd like to use or play with. And that's surprising to me (though it shouldn't be). It isn't a total cesspool when it comes to design elements...and I think that might have been my base assumption prior to actually reading the thing.
I was also surprised that...well, honestly I forgot how long ago 4E hit the shelves. It's first print date was June 2008. I only started this blog in June of 2009...an entire year after 4E had been distributed, demonstrated, played by D&D fans all over the world. And somehow I got by for years blogging about out-o-print editions and badmouthing 4E with (effectively) zero experience with the system. No wonder I lack credibility in some (many) circles...the readership I've managed to maintain has been incredibly forgiving in this regard.
That being said, 4E is still a train wreck, and most of the things I wrote about it (even without reading it) still seem pretty fair assessments. A lot of time, money, and effort went in to making a game that alienated a large portion of a long-time fan base, lacked staying power, and (in the final analysis) failed in meeting some of the basic objectives of the designers. Whether or not this was the reason many of 4E's designers have parted ways with WotC (as opposed to the simple economic fluctuations of the industry and corporate politics)...who can say? But for all the work put into the game, from publication to the announcement of 5E (in January 2012), the 4th edition lasted all of three-and-a-half years. Which I suppose is the same length of time that 3E lasted before 3.5 was published...but 3E and 3.5 were the same system and mostly compatible with each other, whereas 4E exists in its own bubble.
Sometime back (years ago), I pondered whether or not someone will...20 years from now...pine over their days of playing 4th Edition D&D, the same way OSR folks reminisce about B/X or OD&D or AD&D or BECMI. Will there be people still playing 4E, continuously, for the next two or three decades, in the same way people have been playing older editions of D&D since the 70s and 80s? While I have a hard time saying 'yes,' I recognize there are a lot of folks who've invested a substantial amount of money in books and minis and battle mats. I'm sure someone will enjoy setting up an encounter for a free-wheeling wrecking crew 15-25 years from now.
But will they remember how to play? Will they be able to find people interested in learning (or relearning) such a complex system just for the sake of rolling dice and knocking down miniatures? That's a lot of mental energy for so little (imaginative) return.
And perhaps the most surprising thing of all is I feel a little sorry about this. There's a part of me that wants to like 4E, would like to see it succeed, even though I know it's already failed...like when you re-watch a film, knowing the ending, but want the ending to be different because of your sympathy for the characters in the story. There's some interesting stuff in 4E, and it talks a good game, even if it's setup to play poorly.
I'm sure most of the folks who read this blog are familiar with the movie The Princess Bride. When I was a youth, my buddy Rob excitedly explained that the film was based on an abridged novel, "The Good Parts Version," of an older, longer, very boring novel by S. Morgenstern. My friend (an aspiring writer) really wanted to find a copy of the original book, just to see the differences and what had been "cut out," and spent a good long time looking for a copy. Myself, I thought it was interesting anecdotally, but I was satisfied with the movie and never in a great rush to read either book (I had many other books to finish).
It was only a week ago (in reading about the novel on-line...my family just watched the film) that I discovered the "abridgment" was nothing more than a literary device of the actual author, William Goldman...that there never was an "S. Morgenstern" or any earlier work to be abridged. I wonder if Rob ever discovered this and (if not) how long he continued his search before giving it up.
I bring this up because, after doing this series, I can't help but think the 4th edition could benefit from an abridgment, a "good parts version" of its own. Something easier to run, easier to play, easy to do while boozing it up...a Dungeons & Flagons kind of game. Something less serious, less prone to dramatization. Something easily accessible (even with a buzz). A dungeon crawl, funhouse-type game, without any sort of endgame or world-shaker ambitions. That's what 4E is really calling out to be, in my opinion.
|D&D 4.5...now with more grog.|
ANYway...that's about all I want to say about 4E. However, I'd very much like to hear the thoughts of people who have played or run 4E...your thoughts, your feelings, your retrospective perception of an edition that's currently on the scrap heap. Please feel free to comment on this post, or any of the other posts in this series (if there's a specific issue you want to address). I'd really be interested in getting the opinion of folks who actually had a chance to experience this particular style of D&D.