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The Dungeons and Dragons Fourth Edition Preview Books 378

It's a big year for tabletop gamers. In just a few months the first books for the Fourth Edition of Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) will be released by publisher Wizards of the Coast (WotC). The last major update to the game rules was released in 1999, and sparked interest in D&D not seen since the early 80s. To attempt to answer some of the biggest questions about this newest edition, WotC has learned from mistakes made in 99', and is previewing their game updates with a pair of softcover books. Called "Races and Classes" and "Worlds and Monsters", the two titles cover everything from character creation to the new default world's pantheon. More importantly, it includes a large amount of commentary from the designers about why things are going to be as they are. In short: they're must-haves for hardcore D&D fans. Read on for my impressions of these highly entertaining (and vastly overpriced) chapbooks.
Races and Classes
Compiled and Edited by Michele Carter
95 pages
Published by Wizards of the Coast
Rating: 9
ISBN: 9780786948017

From a player's perspective, "Races and Classes" is definitely the more important of these two books. Acting as a stand-in for the upcoming Player's Handbook (due out in June of this year), it shows off the player races and character classes Dungeons and Dragons players will be able to choose for their first Player Characters (PCs). The book is broken up into five sections, with two devoted to the titular character aspects. The other three outline the process of rethinking the game's core. Each section is broken up into a series of short essays on specific subtopics. Each race and class gets at least one essay, with some requiring three or more to fully explore.

As a veteran DM of the 3.0/3.5 era, their choices for which races and classes to include are at the same time surprising and reassuring. Their picks have definitely shaken up the status quo, bucking traditions that date back to the late 80's. The Gnomish race, for example, won't be in the first Player's Handbook. Half-Orcs, one of the favorite races of the current edition, won't be addressed until the Forgotten Realms sourcebook in the Fall.

Instead, standbys like the Elf, Dwarf, and Hafling have been refined and polished to clarify their place in the world. Haflings in particular have been given a fictive solidness they previously lacked: they're now a nomadic boat-people, tending to the waters in the same way the Elves tend to forests or Dwarves to hills and mountains. New additions to the racial roster fill in gaps that have been patched previously in non-core supplements. The Dragonborn race, a reptilian species, is the most obvious of these. Previous 'dragon-ish' races have fit into campaign worlds roughly compared to the core races. Tieflings (half-demons) are another example of this trend. A popular player race in 3.0/3.5, it was challenging to play a Tiefling because of restrictions at character creation.

The process of making and growing a character seems to be the element they examine most closely in the commentary sections of the book. One subheading says it all: "Expanding the Sweet Spot". 3.0/3.5, it has often been noted, follows a power curve that starts somewhat underpowered and eventually reaches a point where players are too powerful to be seriously challenged. Though there's a lot of debate on this point, personal experience suggests the sweet spot for D&D 3.5 is about 5th level to 14th. Though many campaigns will never make it that far, it's frustrating to deal with mechanical weaknesses like that over the lifespan of a game. Fourth edition is a valiant attempt to rectify that by making all levels viable for play.

For a player, viability essentially boils down to "fun". At any given moment, is the player having fun at the gaming table? The Classes they've chosen for core inclusion speak directly to the need for fun. While the Core Four (Fighter, Cleric, Rogue, Wizard) are there, they've also included a number of fun tweaks for additional classes. In 3.5 hybrid classes were rough to play; why would you want to play a Paladin (a weak fighter bolted to a weak cleric) when you could play one of the core four and do something well? Fourth edition solves this issue by looking at the roles behind the classes rather than at class particulars. The Rogue, for example, is the classic Striker. He uses stealth and guile to cause spikes of high damage at opportune times. But that's not the only interpretation you can have of that role; the Warlock (another fourth edition core class) is also a Striker, but he relies on Damage over Time spells and arcane blasts to do his job. The Cleric is the classic Leader, keeping his allies up and in the fight by tapping into a spiritual power. The Warlord does the same through discipline and sheer force of will; the same role, but with a different interpretation.

The real advance is that each class role should always have something interesting to do in a fight, because every role is defined. If you're a Defender, and you're not interposing yourself between the bad guys and the party, you're doing it wrong. That great start is expanded by the inclusion of 'powers'. Previously the domain of spellcasters only, powers are going to be a staple for every class. Instead of the Fighter being forced to dully repeat "I hit it" over and over again, every class will have unique moves and attacks that support their role in the party. And if the Warlock (with powers labeled things like hurl through hell or iron chains of misery) are a good representation, each class should be a lot of fun to play.

I've been reading information about fourth edition greedily since last year on the D&D Insider site, and I thought I had a handle on what this game was going to be like. The class book, though, has been an eye opening experience. The designers just 'get it'. Everything that gets in the way of having fun needs to be excised. This book illustrates that, fundamentally, the WotC designers understand that. In 3.5 Fighters have too few options and Wizards have too many. Fixed. In 3.5 race didn't fundamentally matter, and on top of that each race was fairly poorly defined in the core books. Fixed. In 3.5 class roles were a challenge to understand for new and old players alike. Fixed.

Reading this text read like an answer to every player frustration I've experienced in the past 9 years. The game they describe in the pages of "Races and Classes" sounds like an intrinsically different experience than Dungeons and Dragons 3.5. For some people it's not going to be what they're looking for. For me personally, it's everything I could have hoped for and more. It's always been easy to have fun roleplaying; if they can make character creation fun? If they can make combat purely fun? That's an innovation worth rebooting the system for.

My only complaint with this book is the price. For more on that, please read on.

Worlds and Monsters
Compiled and Edited by Jennifer Clarke Wilkes
95 pages
Published by Wizards of the Coast
Rating: 7
ISBN: 9780786948024

Whereas the "Races and Classes" book speaks directly to the core of the new D&D, "Worlds and Monsters" primarily deals with the frippery and window dressing associated with the new core world. The loosely defined core setting that has always existed in previous editions of the game is going to become more codified in fourth edition. This text talks a bit about that world, and the decisions that went into that choice. It also runs through some of the most well-known monsters in Dungeons and Dragons, explaining how they've been adapted for the new version of the game.

For Dungeon Masters, this is far and away the more fascinating book. This stand-in for the DMG speaks directly to the storytelling core of the game, and hints at the kinds of high-adventure tales we'll be able to craft later this year. The game world sounds quite interesting, both for its specificity and its vagueness. Races, for example, are quite specifically outlined. Tieflings, Dragonborn, Elves ... all have specific creation stories that PCs can share as a common background. Racial traits stemming from historical events will add a lot of texture to character portrayals. At the same time, much of the world is being left deliberately vague. This setting is described just enough to hang plot hooks on, but not enough so that as a DM you'll have to deal with backstory cruft.

The world they describe sounds quite interesting, too. They're calling the core concept "Points of Light". Adventurers are heroes living in a world mostly covered by the darkness of wilderness and the unknown. Small cities and villages dot the landscape, providing shelter and a bright spot in this darkness. The wilderness hides numerous ruins, leftovers from the rise and fall of ancient civilizations. The last great human empire fell about a hundred years ago, in the setting, and the result is something akin to the historical dark ages. Layered on top of this ruin-strewn landscape is a faerie realm, accessible via special holes in the world. Monsters live in the deep woods, and dark magics are hidden underground. It sounds like a great place to adventure.

The monsters section of the book clarifies a number of things about what D&D combat will be like in fourth edition, and speaks again to their goal of 'fun all the time'. 3.5 combat was balanced around the concept of a party fighting one creature of an appropriate level. It turns out? That tends to get kind of boring. Fourth edition combat, instead, is balanced around an equal number of opponents for the players. Having the concept of 'slots', where monsters oppose players on equal footing, and roles (not unlike PC roles) ensures that fights will be actually challenging. 3.5 fights tend to be either bloodbaths or total routs, with little room in-between for contesting the outcome.

That concept of roles has been applied to monsters quite deliberately. Balancing a monster party with Defenders, Skirmishers, Controllers, and Leaders will result in a mixed bag of interesting critters. Monster races that tended toward the generic have even been given a degree of specificity. Instead of Gnolls just being Orcs with Hyena masks on, they'll now apparently fight with pack tactics and cowardly tricks. Giving flavour to the opposition seems to be the basic idea: off-the-rack encounters will no longer feel so rote.

Again, the game they're describing sounds like a lot of fun. My frustration with this text was high on the price side, though. While the "Races and Classes" book speaks directly to the core of the new D&D game, and is a great book to throw at someone still griping about the lack of Gnomes, "Worlds and Monsters" seems like it's mostly a lot of set dressing. Set dressing which (I can only assume) will be reiterated in more detail in the core books. Did I enjoy reading it? Of course. It's interesting stuff. But twenty dollars for set dressing is hard to swallow, especially when we're going to have to repurchase that information in the DMG for another thirty bucks.

At a cost of forty dollars for the pair, it's hard to say if the extremely interesting content is worth the price of admission. In podcasts and commentaries WotC has said how they enjoy the 'DVD extras' model, where consumers pay a premium for 'behind-the-scenes' info. If you really enjoy that kind of content, or just can't wait the next four months for the core books, these will be easy buys for you. The ideal would have been if purchasing these books represented preorders for the core books. Pay $40 now, buy the core books for only $20 each? Anything to make this investment last past May? Instead, we're left with the reality that nothing in these books can't wait until June.

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The Dungeons and Dragons Fourth Edition Preview Books

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  • by Recovering Hater ( 833107 ) on Monday February 04, 2008 @04:33PM (#22296938)
    The absurd cartoons concerning 4th edition on the Wizards of the Coast website. You either love them or hate them. []

  • Am I the only one... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Mongoose Disciple ( 722373 ) on Monday February 04, 2008 @04:34PM (#22296952)
    ... who feels like they may have simplified the most interesting parts clear out of the game, filled the gaps liberally with WoW, and ended up with a game that, admittedly, has a much lower barrier to entry but is also not particularly interesting?

    I mean, you can make Monopoly a lot easier to play and simpler to learn if you ditch hotel and house building, the rent for each property is the same, and instead of rolling the dice to move you move one space each time on your turn, but would it be fun?

    3/3.5E's not perfect by a long shot to me either, but what we've seen of 4E so far is honestly just not interesting to me.
  • by cryptomancer ( 158526 ) on Monday February 04, 2008 @04:36PM (#22297000)
    If I wanted the annotated versions, to explain just what people were thinking when they designed the game, I'd either wait for that version or read their blog. So far I still havn't read anything to impress me about this system; nothing as drastic, experimental and "fun" (rtfa) as say, the player's option books were to 2nd ed.
  • suggestions ... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by boxlight ( 928484 ) on Monday February 04, 2008 @04:38PM (#22297032)
    I used to play D&D (and AD&D) a lot when I was in junior high (I'm a crusty old 38 years now). I had a lot of fun. Occasionally I browse through the computer games at the box store and see things that look D&D-ish. But, I think I really would like to have something that feels like the old "pen-and-graph-paper" game rather than the most awesome 3d graphics.

    Is there a computer game out there that can give me that nostalgic experience? Or will I have to buy the books and get a group of like-minded geeks together for old times sake?
  • by cthulu_mt ( 1124113 ) on Monday February 04, 2008 @04:43PM (#22297126)
    I concur. They have taken the core D&D concepts, a copy of WoW; thrown it in the food processor and then homogenized the whole mess. Eliminating Greyhawk as the default setting should be a good indicator of their mindset. They want to make a brainless game to lure in the MMO players. (Don't jump on me. I played WoW for 2 years. It was fun but its not pen & paper gaming.) If they can chisel of some of that 10 million player WoW goodness they see it as a fair trade for shitting on their product.

    My group will be staying with 3.5 despite its shortcomings. My hope is that 4th Ed. is to Wizards of the Coast what Vista is to Microsoft.
  • by SQLGuru ( 980662 ) on Monday February 04, 2008 @04:48PM (#22297230) Journal
    I still like 1st edition......and it's kept me from shelling out too many $$'s for 2nd, 3rd, 3.5th, and now 4th editions of each book.

  • Ouroboros (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Aeonite ( 263338 ) on Monday February 04, 2008 @04:53PM (#22297296) Homepage
    D&D --> Diku/CircleMUD --> Everquest --> World of Warcraft --> D&D
  • Re:suggestions ... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by IndustrialComplex ( 975015 ) on Monday February 04, 2008 @04:53PM (#22297304)
    Or will I have to buy the books and get a group of like-minded geeks together for old times sake?

    I'm actually a bit curious about this aspect. I've recently moved, and unfortunately had to leave my gaming group behind. In the meantime, I've turned a few acres of my property into a nice pen and paper gaming area (Deck, grill, 2 room building for when it rains). It is great for bringing together the old gang for some planned weekends, but for most of them its at best a 3 hour drive. I'm looking for some more regular players rather than the 3x/year events we currently plan.

    Slashdot seems as an appropriate place as any to ask, Has anyone come across a good bulletin board, or method of finding a new group of 'geeks'? Have any of you met with any success?

  • by QuantumFTL ( 197300 ) on Monday February 04, 2008 @05:13PM (#22297668)
    I think a lot of folks are just getting tired of the same stale dungeon-crawling that D&D has been pushing for the last 25 years, moving on to bigger and better things (like GURPS, as mentioned in the tags).

    I'm very active in the Role-Playing Felllowship of Greater Boston [] and lately we've been trying many new things. Probably my favorite is a small indy system called Universalis [], a GM-less collaborative roleplaying/storytelling system which uses a set of simple socioeconomic feedback mechanisms to regulate the narrative and resolve conflicts without any centralized authority. This has the effect of making the game much more about creativity and interesting stories (indeed the game itself "pays" you to create conflicts in the story) than about playing what is essentially a video game on pen and paper. In a manner similar to brainstorming, Universalis combines the intellectual and creative abilities of the players in such a way that other players act as randomizing agents on your ideas, taking characters and story elements in directions that you yourself would have never thought of. I think it's absolutely brilliant, and indeed a feasible system for brainstorming and generating new and unique stories.

    If you live in the Greater Boston area, you should check us out. It's one of the few places you'll find roleplayers willing to try just about anything.
  • Re:tl;dr (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Mongoose Disciple ( 722373 ) on Monday February 04, 2008 @05:15PM (#22297702)
    But if you could (for example) build a character you would RP the exact same way you'd play your paladin as a fighter/cleric or something much, much tougher (and you could), why wouldn't you?

    Honestly, there's power-gaming, and then there's just wanting to be a useful member of the team. Not everyone has the teenage fixation on being the toughest guy, but I think most people like to feel more like a contributing part of the group and less like the soldier with two broken legs whose comrades are slowly dragging back from enemy lines at great risk to themselves.
  • by Valdrax ( 32670 ) on Monday February 04, 2008 @05:17PM (#22297738)

    Because you're ROLE-PLAYING. Aren't you? You aren't just rolling dice and putting the business end of a sword into randomly-generated monsters to acquire their gold and +2 swords (+4 vs. randomly-generated monsters), are you?
    What exactly can you RP as a Paladin that you can't roleplay as a LG Cleric?
    Why do some people think that you can only RP if you pick a sub-optimal character?
  • by Dr. Spork ( 142693 ) on Monday February 04, 2008 @05:26PM (#22297936)
    Since 4.0 shares at most some words and concepts with cannonical AD&D, it should be considered just one of the many of AD&D-inspired RPGs.

    Is it the best of the AD&D-inspired RPGs? I don't know, but I don't like what I've read so far. Besiders it will be hard to beat Hackmaster.

    Seeing the price of the books, what I would recommend to a beginner is the following: Go to a used book store and buy a set of the excellent hardcover AD&D books by Gary Gygax. Why play immitations when you can play the real thing? I can buy them locally in excellent condition for $10 each. For the DMG, PH, MM1&2 and Unearthed Arcana you will pay $50, but you'll walk away with something substantial, historical and cannonical. You'll also learn about the real spirit of AD&D, which has since been emasculated by various marketeers who tried to cash in on the game (by targeting 11-year-olds). Also, the binding is built to last for decades, unlike the modern glue crap.

    Many people are realizing the value of the AD&D, and several game cons are now hosting AD&D tables.

  • by Mongoose Disciple ( 722373 ) on Monday February 04, 2008 @05:32PM (#22298032)
    I don't know specifically what you're talking about when you say "the most interesting parts"

    Some of it for me is certainly in resource management, which from the rest of your post is something I can tell you don't particularly enjoy. I really like prepared spellcasting (AKA memorization), although I also like that you can play spontaneous casters if you choose. I really like the variety of having some characters in a group that are on a fairly even keel of power where others have only a few moments of greatness throughout a day (often, many fights) that they have to carefully hoard and marshal at appropriate times. I like that there are a ton of feats and spells and things in the game that are combat-important but don't deal damage, such as sleep or entangle. I like that you can play a wide variety of characters that all feel/play really different.

    This isn't meant to be an exhaustive list, but everything I know so far about 4E suggests that some of these things are going outright and others are being diminished in importance severely, and that we're moving more to a game where everyone's got a bunch of 'once per encounter' abilities, and every fight of their career involves every character firing off their toughest ones in succession. In other words, choosing nearly the same sequence of actions in nearly every fight.

    I don't know what it means to "fill the gaps liberally with WoW", except as far as WoW simply game-ified what players and DM's were already doing. Maybe you could elaborate on that.

    Things like: pushing more to an 'everyone does damage' model vs. non-damaging malediction/battlefield control, or designing classes more along the MMORPG 'holy trinity' of tank/healing/DPS. The 4E rogue sounds like the typical MMO DPS-machine; the 3E rogue, I would argue, is more defined by his skills -- especially since as his level increases the number of sneak-attack-able enemies he typically encounters drops drastically.
  • Re:suggestions ... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Mongoose Disciple ( 722373 ) on Monday February 04, 2008 @05:37PM (#22298120)
    If they have any in your area, attending a local gaming convention is probably the best way.

    Usually over the course of a day/weekend/whatever you'll get to game with different handfuls of people at a time. Even if you decide the con scene isn't to your liking, probably you'll get to game with some people that you get along with and would like to play with again, and some people you don't. Talk to the people you do enjoy playing with and there you are.
  • 3.75ed Books (Score:3, Interesting)

    by James McP ( 3700 ) on Monday February 04, 2008 @05:39PM (#22298158)
    For those curious, the Tome of Magic and the Tome of Battle (aka Book of Nine Swords aka Bo9S) and the Warlock from Complete Arcane, and the Dragon Shaman from PHBII were draft 4e rules that were modified for 3.5ed.

    If you can get past the balance issues with those books and the rest of 3.5ed, you can see the basic mechanics and approach that 4e is moving towards. (For those who haven't seen them, the Tome of Magic classes tended to be weak while the Bo9S classes are quite potent, at least compared to their "core rules" 3.5 equivalents)

    I'll say that many players love the heck out of the 4e-type classes; they are generally easier to play and tend to always have something useful to do. The warrior classes have some high-damage attacks and special moves that make up for their innate lack of spells. The "magic users" have a smaller list of mostly unlimited use powers that tend to be useful in many circumstances.

    The downside is that the magic-using classes are constrained in many ways compared to the traditional wizard or cleric, and that drives some people nuts. The arguement tends to boil down to "warlocks/binders/shadowcasters have less than a dozen powers available compared to the hundreds of spells a caster can prepare." On the other hand, I've never seen someone playing a warlock freeze with indecision the way a mage/cleric player might when staring at a couple dozen prepared spells.

    DMs are much more divided but they are also concerned with making those classes work with 3.x games, so there are other factors influencing their opinions. I don't like the ToM and Bo9S in comparison to 3.x but as sample mechanics I'm pleased with them, just so you know where I stand.
  • NWN + LAN (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Archwyrm ( 670653 ) on Monday February 04, 2008 @06:34PM (#22299018) Homepage
    I tried this out with a small circle of LAN gaming friends for a while. We got networked together as usual, loaded up NWN, and I played the DM on some pre-made campaigns for the online version of this. The nice thing about it is I was able to add the actual role-playing interaction of impersonating various characters to the fast combat dynamics of NWN.

    IMHO, one of the worst things about pen and paper is the sheer amount of time it takes to get through battles. With NWN most encounters are over in seconds. However, as the DM I have the power to adjust the difficulty of the battles on the fly. Either add more monsters if things are too easy for the PCs, or make up an excuse for some allies to show up or place some extra healing loot if the PCs are getting hammered.

    That being said things got out of hand sometimes. I think the NWN DM interface is rather clunky even with some rather hackish script additions by players to give the DM more power. One time the players accidentally attacked a key NPC (unfortunately very easy to do in NWN) and no matter what I did, I could not make this NPC's faction neutral or friendly to the PCs. I had to inhabit that particular NPCs' body every time the players came to talk to her so that she would not attack on sight. Another time one of the players had managed to swipe a suit of armor that made him nearly invulnerable to everything in the campaign. This pretty much ruined all of the battles, and I didn't really have a plausible method for rectifying the situation.

    I still think this is a great way to run a campaign. Real DM + computer gameworld and combat + actual roleplaying. I think there just needs to be better tools for accomplishing such a game.

    Has anyone else ever tried anything like this?
  • Re:suggestions ... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by casper75 ( 44745 ) on Monday February 04, 2008 @06:36PM (#22299064)
    I bought Etrian Odyssey about a year ago for the nintendo ds. You explore a labyrinth, drawing the map on the ds with your stylus. I think it's great- take a look: []
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 04, 2008 @06:43PM (#22299164)
    if the D&D system were more friendly to dual classing, in the sense that you wouldn't be looked at as a little weird if you were a multi-class fighter-priest calling yourself a Paladin.

    If somebody looks at you a little weird for that, you need to smack your DM upside the head and tell him that NPCs don't know what classes are. Nobody in the game world knows that you're a fighter 2 / cleric 6 / Radiant Servant of Pelor 10 rather than paladin 18.

    Remember, they used to have the cavalier class, which was basically a fighter with an honor code. I mean, damn. They've always made money spoonfeeding you your role.

    Only if you let them. Nowhere in the rules does it say that you can't be a fighter, cleric, or any other class who calls himself a paladin and follows the same code.
  • by SatanicPuppy ( 611928 ) * <.Satanicpuppy. .at.> on Monday February 04, 2008 @06:47PM (#22299224) Journal
    Yea, the group I played with hated that aspect of the game so much we made up a separate set of rules for magic that basically threw all the spell levels away, and allowed for casters who could cast massive numbers of low level spells, or very few high level spells, basically at will, through a kind of mana pool, that casters tracked same as with hitpoints.

    This was in second edition.

    It was pretty popular, and we used it for years until we finally diverged from D&D all together into systems of our own design. No one is making you play by their rules. As long as you're capable of balancing it, there is no reason why you can't do whatever you'd like.
  • Re:What it needs (Score:3, Interesting)

    by lord_dragonsfyre ( 89589 ) on Monday February 04, 2008 @08:12PM (#22300404) Homepage
    If the druid is the party healer, he's failing. If the party healer is healing in combat, he's probably failing. If the party healer is healing the fighter in combat, they're both failing.

    Wild Shape is so stupidly great, it makes me cry real tears when I play other classes. Okay, it takes a feat slot to cast while wildshaped. Big whoop, every druid ever born takes that feat because it's a ticket to winsville. Wild shape is the privilege, the right, indeed, the DUTY to dumpster-dive through every Monster Manual you have on hand and find the winning form for whatever you want to do right now. Need to charge? Need to pounce? Need to grapple? Need to fly WAY before everyone else in the game can? You can do that.

    Bad AC? Get an armor buff, or hell, get wild or bestial armor, they're not that expensive.

    You're not casting Bull's Strength or Bear's Endurance on yourself, because you're wildshaped into something with a Strength of 30, and you're not casting it on the fighter because you're too busy eating someone's face off. Sure, if you're determined to poke someone with a spear, you're not going to do that very well, but "the most damaging weapon you can wield" is teeth the size of railroad spikes.

    Not even getting started on their spell list, which is good in core and insanely great with Spell Compendium.

    The tripmaster fighter is, like practically every fighter, a one-trick pony. The druid is the class in the corner singing "Anything you can do, I can do better".
  • by Count Fenring ( 669457 ) on Monday February 04, 2008 @09:37PM (#22301392) Homepage Journal

    I call shenanigans on the 3rd ed has no value. 2nd Ed's problems werent't complexity, they were A) the degree of crippling limitation built into the system (especially the weapon proficiencies system) and B) the places where abstractions failed to either simplify reality or reflect it in any way.

    Also, the flight rules for second edition D&D are the worst thing I've ever read in a roleplaying system, including HoL, which is a parody system.

    That being said, I totally agree with you on the creative roleplaying aspect. A good group fixes (or has the potential to fix) any system. That being said, rules sets do have relative strengths and weaknesses, and can be useful shortcuts. The D&D family have always been strong in two areas: abstraction of combat, and relative completeness of physical modeling. Thinking of RPGs as languages, D&D is one where you can do combat fast (relatively), and you can mostly cover whatever a player wants to do under the rules. The rules make it easier to run dungeon crawls in an arbitrary world than it would be in, say, White Wolf's Mage.

    If you want to run a social game... it's not really helping you out much.

  • by Dun Malg ( 230075 ) on Tuesday February 05, 2008 @12:55AM (#22302982) Homepage

    I also want to know what has been made to add more non-combat, non-lock-picking roleplay. What in 4th edition stimulates the imagination more than 3rd, getting people to get more into the heads of their characters, more willing to interact with other PCs and NPCs? What is there to help DMs create more lifelike settings and social interactions? What makes characters less of a class/role stereotype and more of a unique individual?
    Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but you're never going to find any of that in a rule book. The rules supply a purely mechanical framework to determine success and failure. Story, character development, realistic NPCs--- these things come from the players and the DM. Systems that attempt to force "personality" in characters just don't work. A classic example of such a system is GURPS. The point-buy character generation system is supposed to encourage development of individual personalities by offering a myriad of Disadvantages that give you extra points to spend on skills, advantages, and stats. These are things as simple as Eunuch (-5 points) or as bizarre as Disembodied Brain (-100 points). Despite this, only good role players ever pick interesting disadvantages. Bad role players pick the most "ignorable" ones they can. The classic -40 point set is Greedy, Lazy, Alcoholic, though Ugly and Odious Personal Habit are also popular. Poor role players pick these because they can usually get away with ignoring them. Bad players play badly. There's nothing the rules can do about it.
  • by Dun Malg ( 230075 ) on Tuesday February 05, 2008 @02:09AM (#22303492) Homepage

    There's no game in searching for traps, it's just a skill roll vs. a DC. There's nothing tactical about it. Same with locked doors.
    Depends on how it's done. To be sure, traps and locks that are simply laid on the map (i.e. this door is locked, that stairway has a trap) are just tedious DC rolls. The DM I'm currently playing has created a fairly trap & lock heavy campaign (Indiana Jones in the South American temple^2). The key to making traps more interesting is make them seem real. OK, so you found the 20x20 foot counterweighted trap door that will drop you 40 feet into icky water fill of eels--- how do you intend to get past it? Sure, I could roll Disable Device, except that the operating mechanism is 20 feet down the corridor on the other side of the pit! Or how about a locked door that won't open (inward) until you also drain the water from the room behind it? If the problem you present the players with can be solved with a simple Open Lock or Disable Device roll, there's no room to make it interesting.

How many NASA managers does it take to screw in a lightbulb? "That's a known problem... don't worry about it."