5 Issues from 4E to NOT Include in D&D Next

This is my second  (and last) post about D&D Next before we get more information about the playtests, etc. I am by no means a “4E iz teh best D&D EVAR!!” junike– no system is perfect, and the vast majority of GMs out there are rules-tweakers by our very nature. So, to accompany my list of things 4E got right that I think should be kept for the next edition, here are my list of things from 4E D&D that in my opinion need to be changed or gotten rid of entirely.

5) Skill Challenges. I really am of two minds when it comes to skill challenges. I really like the idea that the attempt was made to codify and award XP to the PCs for what would have been “pure roleplaying” encounters– I see that the attempt was made to put rules in effect that give the characters solid, tangible rewards for NOT just killing things and taking their stuff. After all, the players are going to do more of what the system rewards them for–and D&D regardless of edition has always rewarded “kill the monsters and take their stuff” more than anything else. I think, however, that the system was rather ham-handed and needs serious revision. I think a set of GUIDELINES in the D&D5 DMG should read something like, “you should mix encounter types as much as possible, so that combat, NPC interaction and skill-based sequences are all represented.” and then give give guideline to the DM on how to award XP for skill based situations–like a chase sequence, for example. I do NOT think that the “always fail the skill challenge after 3 failures” hard-coding does anybody any good. All it does is stifle the GMs creativity by giving the players a set of expectations they can always see through. Rather like #4 in my past post (monster abilities), the less the players can predict whats going to happen, the more wonder and mystery there is in the game. I like the fact that the rules EXPLICITLY reward other types of encounters than combat– I just think they need to find another way of codifying those rules to give the GM more freedom.

#4) Conditions. I think that the conditions/status effects of 4E are ALMOST there. I like the variety of bad things that can happen to a character. I think that using keywords for all of the effects is a BEAUTIFUL thing, because you can mix and match easily and there is a hierarchy of effects so that GMs can build their own nasties in a simple way. However, I think that action-denying status effects (daze and stun) should be replaced in the way that a multitude of bloggers have already mentioned– heavy penalties instead of total “sit this round out, chump” denial. I actually LIKE the dominated condition, but I think it should be explicit i the rules that the player gets to make the attack rolls and such. I also think that instead of purely negative status, defining powers and abilities could be simplified by creation of POSITIVE status effects. Blessed, fast, defensive, strong, keen, etc could all be codified as positive status effects that abilities can place on a character, monster, or NPC. Just a thought. But the pure action-denial effects gotta go– and PLEASE keep save-or-die effects out. Please. Bringing them back wold be a major step backwards.

#3) Wizards. This is a remarkably specific gripe, but I’m really talking about overall product strategy. Wizards have gotten some kind of nifty bennie in just about every book published for 4E. There has been SOME kind of Wizard feat, or powers they can take, or Implements or something that Wizard classes, powers, subclasses, abilities, and items have dominated the product lines of 4E. I’m not a Wizard player, per se, and neither have most of my players been over the lifespan of 4E. Wizards have gotten so much “love” that could have been spread around to the Invoker, Artificer, Avenger, Shaman… the list goes on. If you’re going to add a major component to the game (like a full class, for instance), for heaven’s sake SUPPORT IT. Support all of your babies, not just Wizards.

#2) Analysis Paralysis. In my wishlist post, I commented that I want melee character to be able to do something more than just “I hit it with my sword”. That is one of the primary things I love most about 4E– everybody at the table gets to DO SOMETHING pretty much every round to contribute, and it’s not the same exact thing every round. I think I’m going to write an entire blog post about that, in fact. However, once you hit about 7th level in 4E,  the number of options begins to become massive–especially when you add in magic item powers. I am ALL for customization–don’t get me wrong– but the number of options a player has to go through before making an action choice in 4E can get astounding. 3E wasn’t any better, when you get right down to it: lots of feats ended up being their own tiny ruleset and giving a character another ability to sort through in order to decide what to do. I think streamlining the character options and what abilities a character can do will go a long way to making the game itself play much faster–on every level.

#1) MAGIC ITEMS. This gripe goes back to 3.X. I’m not just talking about 4E. Simply put, MAGIC ITEMS SHOULD NOT BE NECESSARY FOR A CHARACTER TO SUCCEED/SURVIVE. I want a high-level character to be able to have ONE, maybe TWO cool, signature magic items and the rest of their equipment be mundane. In historical and fantasy literature, the hero of the story has only a couple magic items to their name, and those items are powerful, mysterious, and often dangerous– and they are important enough that the items themselves become part of the plot. The most “decked out” character from historical myth I can think of is King Arthur– he had a magic sword (sometimes two, depending on legend), scabbard, and shield. Some stories give him a boat and spear, but the majority of the stories only cover the sword. Basically, I want the core rules to assume a lower magic item threshold than the last two editions; under no circumstances should a character be REQUIRED to have magic items in order to succeed. “Selecting your Magic Items” should not be part of the character creation process. Ever. The “Christmas Tree” effect from 3.X and the “Weapliment, Armor, Neck” effect from 4E NEED TO GO. And don’t even get me started on Player Wish Lists…

So there’s 5 things from 4E that I think really need to change/be modified for the upcoming edition of Dungeons and Dragons. I hope they solve these, and I hope that the community itself can come back together and play the game we all love– together.

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7 Responses to 5 Issues from 4E to NOT Include in D&D Next

  1. Timothy says:

    I know it’s an older system, but in regards to #5, might I recommend Iron Heroes? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iron_Heroes

    • Ohhh yes. I had it once upon a time– still might. It’s been so long since I was home long enough to remember what’s actually in my library. That’s the kind of thing I’m talking about— give the characters something besides a basic attack to do, but not so much that they get overwhelmed and hit analysis paralysis. I really liked the Iron Heroes rules specifically because it solved both problems– no magic items AND the characters still had something to do. AND– it was written by Mike Mearls and produced by Monte Cook– both of whom are at the forefront of the new edition.

      I hadn’t put that piece together yet, Timothy– thank you. My hope for the new edition just got a little brighter. :D

  2. Timothy says:

    I meant #1. You and your fancy backwards counting business.

  3. Old Guy says:

    Although I’m not a fan of 4e, I very much enjoyed this post and its companion. My experience with the system is fairly limited, but from what I do know I’d say you fairly well nailed the key issues. I think I agree completely with your assessment in both posts. Either way, its nice to see a well reasoned and well presented post, amidst all the frantic squabbling going on out there. Nicely done.

    • Thanks for posting– I really am excited about the potential that 5E can bring together some of the fractured fanbase. Considering my two favorite d20 iterations (Iron Heroes and Arcana Evolved) were produced by Mike Mearls and Monte Cook– two of the primary designers for 5E– I’m pretty stoked that this can meet at least MOST of the design goals.

      Also, thanks for commenting and introducing me to your blog! Poking through your archives now.

  4. Malthol says:

    I can get behind pretty this list very thoroughly, even not being familiar with 4E.

  5. [un]Made Man says:

    From the mouth of Bruce Cordell (well… really from his fingers I guess):
    Magic items have always been a part of the game, but with 4th it became part of a player’s natural progression so that you would have to pick up items from stores or other places to keep up. One of the negative things that brought up was that it eliminted some of the exploration that was so integral in earlier editions. You no longer had to go questing or searching for that magic item. We want to decouple magic items from character progression so they’re not needed, and return that exploration and excitement of finding magic items.

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