A Look At The Crunch Of Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition
Allow me to start by stating simply that I am not a fan of D&D 4E. I’ve run a game all the way from level one to thirty, and I’ve taken part in numerous sessions as a player, and it is simply not a game that I enjoy. Now, normally, I would not do a review of a game that I don’t enjoy. As I have previously discussed, I do not feel that there is such a thing as a bad game. Whether you like or dislike a specific game in particular is simply a matter of preference, as is the case with me and the fourth edition of Dungeons & Dragons. However, since D&D is the biggest name in table-top gaming, I cannot simply close my eyes and pretend it doesn’t exist, so here it is.
Let’s start with something about the rules that I do like; roles. Fourth edition broke down the basic character archetypes into four specific roles, allowing them to design their classes around what role or roles the class is meant to fill. These roles are the Leader, the one who heals and augments the party’s abilities; the Defender, who is meant to draw the attention of the enemies and keep them away from the more vulnerable characters; the Striker, who is built to do as much damage to an enemy as possible; and the Controller, who debilitates the enemies and does damage to groups of them at once. This method of class design was a great way to combine the flavor of a class (the fluff) with the mechanics of how the class plays (the crunch). To this day, I still design characters for various games with these roles in mind, thinking of how I want to play the character and what I want them to do in combat.
Unfortunately, where the game lost a lot of my interest was in is “powers” system. The idea was a good one, give every class options. Good in theory, at least. Every character has a number of powers, ranging from at-will abilities usable all of the time, encounter abilities that can be used once per fight, and daily powers usable only once per day. The goal was to create a cinematic feel to combat, allowing players to have their characters do something different every single turn; but this came at the cost of tactical play. If my Wizard has three encounter powers; a fire blast, a cold spray, and a lightning area of effect, why is it that I can only use my fire blast once per fight when fighting creatures weak against fire? Why can my Fighter, who has a power that lets him trip his foes, only attempt to trip an opponent once in any given fight? Given, at higher levels, players are given options to regain the use of spent powers and have many power options, to which they could take powers that have similar effects, but this still feels like it detracts from the goal of giving each character a variety of abilities to choose from.
There is also a severe scaling issue with characters as they become higher level. Monsters have so many hit points, especially elite and solo monsters, that players will find themselves hacking away at them for hours (literal hours, mind you) before they finally drop. Meanwhile, monsters do so little damage to players that, even if the Defender characters are failing to do their jobs, characters never really feel in any danger. I found myself house-ruling monsters to have half their listed hit points and giving them a fifty percent damage increase just to make fights feel threatening and to make the fight over more quickly. It is nothing if not disheartening to hear players asking “Isn’t it dead yet?” when facing a terrible Great Wyrm Red Dragon.
Fourth Edition Dungeons & Dragons is a game I cannot recommend, and it pains me to say that. I have been a longtime fan of D&D and have experienced many wonderful adventures thanks to the hard work the creators have put into the game. If you were to ask me to recommend a good game with all of the elements of D&D but without the many issues of Fourth Edition, I would point you to Pathfinder.
Image Credit: Wizards of the Coast