You knew we had to do it—we bought a copy of the fourth edition Dungeons & Dragons ruleset.
This isn’t a review, as we haven’t finished it nor played it yet. It’s just a few first impressions which might or might not be borne up in the long run.
First of all, boy howdy is this a huge change. Those folks who like to think that game companies just make a few changes so they can re-release a product and get paid for it again have no leg to stand on with this one. The entire system has been overhauled; I’d dare to say it’s a greater change from 3.5 to 4 than it was from AD&D to d20.
Secondly, yes, there are things I like about it. So far I’m not falling entirely into either of the ‘love it’ or ‘hate it’ camps I’ve seen forming. First impressions, again not yet confirmed by playtesting: the system should be more self-evident and approachable to new players, particularly those who are accustomed to MMOs. The system’s powers and abilities look like they would have been easier to power-balance for the creators, which means it should also be easier to power-balance the ones you make yourself. In addition, it looks to me like it’ll be easier for game masters (GMs) to adjudicate many actions, which will make GMing easier on many folks.
That said, there are definitely some things I’m dubious about. Even before I looked online to see what anyone else’s reactions were, my husband and I found ourselves saying, “this feels like World of Warcraft written up as a tabletop game.” To be fair, I think that’s part of what’s responsible for the above positives as well as some negatives. However…
Many of the guidelines feel arbitrarily restrictive. One of the things I loved about D&D (as well as many other games) was the opportunity to get creative with your abilities and do unexpected and fun things. Many of the non-combat abilities are just plain gone from the game, and many other abilities have strange restrictions on them. For instance, there are abilities that can only be used in encounters that give absolutely no justification for why you wouldn’t be able to use them at any other time. It’s the kind of arbitrary restriction that reminds you that you’re playing a game and takes you out of the constructed ‘reality’ that is the hallmark of a good tabletop game.
Many of the descriptions of abilities made us laugh (and not in a good way). Either the prose was purple, or the justification given for an ability or a restriction on it seemed desperately hacked-together and ridiculous, or the way an ability worked was unnecessarily silly. I’ll let my husband get into the real details of some of those, since he plans to write a review after he’s done reading and we’ve played with it.
In large part, so far we can’t help feeling that most of these things revolve around one central problem: it’s as though the developers were trying to make sure that the rules were so cut-and-dried and simple that they could be arbitrated by computer. I can understand the desire for this, since everyone these days wants to do game tie-ins and MMOs and internet play tools. However, the more this is done, the more we move away from those things that make tabletop roleplaying its own beast, and one that in certain ways computer games just can’t measure up to. No computer game can yet allow you free rein with your creativity. Sure, there are still other things that set the two apart, like non-player characters that can hold true conversations with the player characters, but the open-endedness appears to have been greatly curtailed in this version of the game. Maybe I’ll change my mind when we play, but so far… well, I understand the trade-off, but I don’t like it and it doesn’t suit our play-style.
Today’s review is of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Spices & Herbs—yum!