Things 4E got right

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Things 4E got right

Postby Bouv » Mon Feb 11, 2013 7:22 pm

As 4E starts to fade away and the coming for 5E/Next, what are some things that you guys feel Wizards got right with Fourth Edition? This can be anything from a mechanics standpoint, settings, art or more!

Here's a few things I've thought of (and there are probably more I'll think of later):

1. Reintroducing product codes - While is wasn't across the board, early on Wizards did have something of product codes on their adventures - P1, P2, P3, etc. I always enjoyed that TSR did that for a long time and it helps make organizing stuff a lot easier! I only wish they had done it more.

2. Good references to the past - from "Keep on the Shadowfell" to "Tomb of Horrors" and "Revenge of the Giants", there was a lot that Wizards did to pay homage to the past and history of D&D. We also got references in other books, from Sigil to the Spelljammer and in their boardgames (see below)

3. Variety of "standard" monsters. Instead of just getting a goblin, goblin chieftan and goblin shaman, we get a lot of different types of goblins to challenge the players. This helped mix things up and challenge those players that like to"memorize" the monster manual.

4. Trying to "level the playing field" with PC's. So higher level fighters and such can have as much as an impact as high level magic-users and vice versa (low-level) with the different abilities and "powers."

5. Trying to make the planes a bit more managable - I remember in 2nd having the elemental planes, the quasi-elemental planes and more. This could cause a lot of headache for a DM to keep track of, especially with spells and magic items. 4E tried to "get back to basics" with the planes. On top of that, they added two that even lower level PC's can explore without having to worry about being killed the second they encounter something (Shadowfell/Feywild)

6. Board games! - Wizards released quite a few board games for 4E and I have most of them. From the Ravenloft/Wrath/Legend series which used a "4E lite" rules (which are GREAT to get new players into role-playing), to the fun Conquest of Nerath (Risk for D&D!) and Lords of Waterdeep. They also released Dungeon! again, though I didn't pick it up.
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Re: Things 4E got right

Postby Angel Tarragon » Mon Feb 11, 2013 7:57 pm

This is fantastic. Do you mind if I use this information in a YouTube video?
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Re: Things 4E got right

Postby Bouv » Mon Feb 11, 2013 8:07 pm

Only if I get a share of the profit!!

Seriously though, yeah go right ahead, I don't mind at all!
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Re: Things 4E got right

Postby Havard » Mon Feb 11, 2013 10:40 pm

I liked the Minion Rule.

Reduced stat blocks was an improvement compared to 3E.

They had Orcus and Demogorgon stuff.

I also liked the Feywild and Shadowfell.

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Re: Things 4E got right

Postby dulsi » Tue Feb 12, 2013 2:48 am

Encounter creation - This caused me to decide to DM a game. Because the character and monster were mathematically balanced, encounter creation seemed simpler than 3.5. The 3.5 CR sometimes failed when monsters required specific materials to easily harm them or had abilities that happened to be very effective against the party composition.
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Re: Things 4E got right

Postby Bonetti » Tue Feb 12, 2013 10:15 pm

My view of the good, some of which has already been mentioned, in no particular order:

1. Innovation in mechanics. MMOs have been borrowing from pen & paper for a long time, it was nice to see DoT, HoT, and explicit role mechanics feed into the tabletop setting. While I don't think they worked well (they proved to be fairly clunky), i think it was a solid attempt and a good thing to try.[1] It also showed that some things, e.g. a proliferation of short-term buff/debuff and damage-over-time mechanics are tough to track on paper. However, experimentation in a high profile game (thus lots of people trying it out) was worthy of a try.

2. A determined dedication to a fixed technical vocabulary. By being explicitly technical, they removed a lot of the squishiness of earlier editions, and gave a broad range of pre-defined effects to work with. This made matching rules up with other rules, or working out outcomes, to be straightforward.

3. Scalable monsters, and a tool to scale them up/down. Not only do you get a wide variety of levels in the monster manuals, the mechanics are transparent enough that you can scale them outside of the suggested range fairly easily (and some, e.g. dragons, cover the whole range of levels).

4. Distinct, easy, self-contained monster stat blocks. This made referencing during the session easier, especially given that my group rarely met more than once a month (so details were easily forgotten).

5. Minions![2] (Yeah, I know, people would use masses of orcs under a wizard or whatever to challenge level 7-9 parties, but it's not the same thing. An explicit cannon fodder rule rocks. Actually, I think GURPS Martial Arts had "mooks" rules, and maybe HKAT did as well...) And, in the same vein...

6. Real Bosses ("solo" encounters) with very challenging stat blocks (hundreds of hit points) and group-countering mechanics. This could result in a truly epic feeling fight in a way that never quite felt the same in either 2e or 3.x to me.

7. The cosmology is simple but adaptable. I was a little leery at first, but then realized it had usable detail (e.g. Gloomwrought's specifics) while staying flexible enough to be adaptable to many worlds or systems. I slotted it in comfortably with Mystara with minimal difficulty, and it felt "right".

8. Balanced mechanics: Now, this may be controversial, but I appreciated that, within a given role, the classes were pretty darn equal. That meant two things: (1) jealousy between damage-dealers was less, and (2) super-optimization was tougher. The latter meant that if someone was saying "I know 1st level rogues get one bonus die, but my multi-class build lets me get three", the player was probably mis-reading the rules. (Side note: in the specific case, they ignored the "...which only applies to the base class abilities" rule which was explicitly in the rules.) In effect, it gave a "sniff test" of interpretations -- if it seemed wildly out of whack, someone was probably misreading something. I'm still of two minds on the roles, and if we do a "Nice try, but missed" list, I'd have a lot more to say. For my specific group and experiences, though, the balance within the roles was a good thing and worked well for us.

9. Explicit progression path: It was nice to have the treasure and power level expectations laid out so handily. Yeah, the parcel system took some of the fun out of looting and dungeon design, but it did give very clear guidance on where the designers expected the PCs power levels to be. In earlier editions, this was spottier -- you pretty much had to guess, have experience at what you were comfortable with, or try to extract guidelines from the published modules. Most people agreed that a +1 weapon was a good reward for levels 1-3, but does the +2 come in at 3, 5, or 7? Is +5 expected at 10, 15, or 20? I liked having the suggested guidelines, but never considered them strict barriers.

10. I liked the really fantastic versions of the races. Maybe I've spent too much time in WoW (and with Warcraft's art), but the half-elemental version of the Genasi, or the obviously celestial Deva or fiendish Tieflings sat well with me. I know, it was a significant change in the art direction, but it tickled my fancy after almost 30 years of beautiful but fairly staid art.[3]

11. I liked Perception being both passive and combined (spot + listen). One of the challenges has always been being fair to the players -- if I roll their checks in secret, it feels like I've taken their control of their own fate away, but if I have them roll, it's really tough to keep the information from going "meta" ("Oh, he rolled a spot check? I'll have my character roll one, too!"). I usually worked around this by a sheet of pre-rolls, rolled by the player but used by me (in order) as required. This mechanic works better, and I'll probably consider keeping it in other editions. That, and and the skill simplification of just "perception" covering all the bases.

There were other things I liked about the edition, but those are the highlights. Some of it is purely taste, some of it is a shift in my view on design and balance, some of it is driven by my particular players.

My "nice try, but it missed" list is probably just as long, if not longer. My list of flat-out fails is very, very short.

I like 4e, a lot. It might even be my favorite edition since 2e, which also took me a little while to make my peace with. If they weren't orphaning it, I'd probably continue playing it until my campaign ended.

...although orphaning it may open the door to me tweaking it in a way I couldn't while they were actively developing the system. Hmmm... That deserves some thought...


[1] As a riff on this -- when I played Ultima VII, I wanted a similarly easy-to-understand tabletop mechanic, which was present in Dangerous Journeys Prime. That may have driven my initial interest in that system -- and I've long felt that the speed of computer play and game iteration makes it the better laboratory for mechanics experimentation. You can do a year's worth of tabletop gaming in a night.

[2] Speaking of MMOs and tabletops cross-feeding, WoW's latest expansion (Mists of Pandaria) have packs of same-level, lower-power creatures which are fairly reminiscent of the minion mechanic.

[3] Sometimes I like things being mixed up or changed just to reexamine how it was or my own expectations. I adored Spelljammer and Dark Sun for mixing it up so much. So, the 4e direction felt novel enough to be intriguing and thought-provoking -- what can I do with it? Does it fit in? Can I work with it, or do I need to tone it down? I decided to tone it down for Mystara, to fit with how existing materials worked, but the option was there to keep it fairly crazy.
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Re: Things 4E got right

Postby Bouv » Wed Feb 13, 2013 12:20 am

One thing I did enjoy was some of the race artwork. With dwarves, who we can imagine are very structured, have very straight, geometric designs on them.
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Re: Things 4E got right

Postby rabindranath72 » Wed Feb 13, 2013 11:22 am

Mostly, I liked monsters.
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Re: Things 4E got right

Postby robertneaves » Wed Feb 13, 2013 1:23 pm

I think 4e got far more right than it got wrong. My favorite edition after BECMI.
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Re: Things 4E got right

Postby Bouv » Wed Feb 13, 2013 2:38 pm

I was listening to an older podcast and one of the hosts said tha after playing it, he actually enjoyed it. I think that maybe the same for many people. I own the books but have never played 4E. Sitting down and playing it may make it better for me.
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Re: Things 4E got right

Postby Bonetti » Wed Feb 13, 2013 7:24 pm

Unlike a number of other games, it plays better than it reads. (In this, it joins Dangerous Journeys, which was a tough read but pretty smooth playing.) In this, I would contrast it with a couple other games I dabbled with, like Tales From the Floating Vagabond, which read great but we fumbled when it came time to run it.

I missed at least one thing in my list, which was seconding dulsi's comment on encounter design. It's dead easy to pick a challenge level (easy, medium, hard, epic) and toss together something balanced really quickly. So, if I needed filler because I knew we had a 2-3 night thing coming up, but only one session before a long break, I could put together a 2 or 3 encounter evening on really short notice, and it would still be a fun evening. I think this ease is tied into the care that went into the mechanics balance.
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Re: Things 4E got right

Postby Bouv » Mon Feb 18, 2013 5:52 pm

I don't know how it was handled in 3.x but psionics. In 4E, psionics were the same as all the other class powers, just from a different "source". I know in 1E and 2E psionics could be a headache, especially in a non-psionic heavy campaign.

And while not necessairly 4E, but it did start in it, D&D Encounters.
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Re: Things 4E got right

Postby Dragonhelm » Fri Mar 01, 2013 8:47 pm

I think the #1 thing for me is themes. I liked that anyone could be a noble, without having to have a noble class that folks would only take a few levels in to represent that background. I liked the fact that any class could be a gladiator. I mean, a wizard gladiator in a fantasy world would not be unheard of!

I like critical hits. Simple and easy, while not being overpowered.

I liked the idea of the three tiers of play. I'm not sure if that was good or not.

Also liked the cosmology, though I'm not sure it works for every setting. I enjoy the simpler nature of it. It's a lot easier to remember than the Great Wheel.

Alignment...I like it if you view it as an alternate alignment system.
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Re: Things 4E got right

Postby Dragonhelm » Mon Mar 04, 2013 8:19 pm

Something else that 4e got right was two settings - Dark Sun and Gamma World.

I loved the 2e take on Dark Sun, but I recognized that there were some problems. I was indifferent to the 3e version in Dragon. Some good, some bad. And I have to admit to not being into the materials on Athas.org. However, when the 4e version came out, I found a version of Dark Sun that really spoke to me.

As for Gamma World, I have no history with the setting. I know it has ranged from goofy to serious and that folks have their respective favorite editions. For me, the 4e version was my favorite. I loved that it was silly fun and didn't take itself too seriously.
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Re: Things 4E got right

Postby Bouv » Tue Mar 26, 2013 4:39 pm

Online character builder - I really liked this as it helped walk me through character creation so if I don't have it handy, I have a better idea on how to create a character. I only wish they had kept it going or made it available for all levels for free (as I was never a Insider subscriber).

Annuals of Dragon & Dungeon - again, would have liked to seen more but having the "best of" is great
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Re: Things 4E got right

Postby Bouv » Thu Apr 11, 2013 5:37 pm

I finally remembered what I kept forgetting - the points of light idea. I felt that a goodway through 2nd edition that travelling from town to town seemed fairly "safe" by campaign setting standards. So now with 4E, having to hire guards for caravans become important again and travelling to another destination would not be safe!
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Re: Things 4E got right

Postby rabindranath72 » Fri Apr 12, 2013 8:28 am

Bouv wrote:I finally remembered what I kept forgetting - the points of light idea. I felt that a goodway through 2nd edition that travelling from town to town seemed fairly "safe" by campaign setting standards. So now with 4E, having to hire guards for caravans become important again and travelling to another destination would not be safe!

I agree the points of light idea is nice, but that has more to do with setting definitions than rules. Ask anybody who played Dark Sun under AD&D 2e ;) Or for that matter any game which actually uses random encounters (including 3e, though module writers have been somewhat reluctant to use the rules in the DMG.)
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Re: Things 4E got right

Postby Dragonhelm » Fri Apr 12, 2013 7:13 pm

Points of Light is not a bad idea, but it seemed like it was being forced on every setting. It works really well for Dark Sun.
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Re: Things 4E got right

Postby Bouv » Fri Apr 12, 2013 7:15 pm

Dragonhelm wrote:Points of Light is not a bad idea, but it seemed like it was being forced on every setting. It works really well for Dark Sun.


I think the way they went about it with Forgotten Realms wasn't the best way. They could have easily done some sort of "world war" scenario that made traveling dangerous not only because different countries were at war, but now their armies are reduced, humaniods are more rampant, and a lot of trade as stopped which means roads aren't being used much anymore.
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Re: Things 4E got right

Postby rabindranath72 » Sat Apr 13, 2013 9:49 am

Thinking a bit more about it, 4e assumes the Point of Light setting, but the rules don't actively support the idea. OTOH, all previous editions of D&D (at least up to 3.0) had support for this concept, in particular with the default system of random encounters: moving from point A to point B could become and adventure in itself, even without any planned encounters. What's worse, the fictitious "15 minutes adventuring day" stemmed from the fact that many (if not all) scenario designers of the d20 era ignored this fundamental element of the game, which makes sure that there is a constant depletion of spellcaster resources outside of the control of players.
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Re: Things 4E got right

Postby robertneaves » Sat Apr 13, 2013 12:15 pm

Bouv wrote:I think the way they went about it with Forgotten Realms wasn't the best way. They could have easily done some sort of "world war" scenario that made traveling dangerous not only because different countries were at war, but now their armies are reduced, humaniods are more rampant, and a lot of trade as stopped which means roads aren't being used much anymore.


Did you just describe Eberron?
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Re: Things 4E got right

Postby Bouv » Sat Apr 13, 2013 2:50 pm

robertneaves wrote:
Bouv wrote:I think the way they went about it with Forgotten Realms wasn't the best way. They could have easily done some sort of "world war" scenario that made traveling dangerous not only because different countries were at war, but now their armies are reduced, humaniods are more rampant, and a lot of trade as stopped which means roads aren't being used much anymore.


Did you just describe Eberron?


I have no idea, I haven't read any Ebberon books!
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Re: Things 4E got right

Postby Bouv » Tue Aug 20, 2013 8:38 pm

The DM's guide had some good advice on how to handle gamers and players that I feel is sometimes lacking from other RPG's.
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Re: Things 4E got right

Postby Bouv » Sun Mar 23, 2014 6:33 pm

Thought of another thing - "sequel" adventures. We saw this a lot in 1E (Slavelords, GDQ-series, etc.) but not so much in 2E (there were some). But their first group of adventures were all linked. Too bad they didn't do more later on.
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Re: Things 4E got right

Postby shesheyan » Sun Mar 23, 2014 9:20 pm

Bouv wrote:3. Variety of "standard" monsters. Instead of just getting a goblin, goblin chieftan and goblin shaman, we get a lot of different types of goblins to challenge the players. This helped mix things up and challenge those players that like to"memorize" the monster manual.


That and the minion rule were greatest additions to the game IMHO.
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