In which our intrepid hero airs his opinions of the new edition of Dungeons & Dragons.

Now that I’ve had a chance to flick through the core rulebooks, and played five sessions of the game, I feel that I’m at least partly qualified to comment on 4e.

Unlike pretty much everyone else who’ve put their two cents in, I never got into the whole MMORPG phenomenon: ridiculously slow and expensive bandwidth, my lack of a credit card and the intrusive nature of real life all conspired against it. So I won’t burden you with comparisons to World of Warcraft, because I can’t really make any.

In my mind, 4e plays like a cross between the Frank Mentzer sets and Eye of the Beholder.

Most people reading this won’t have been gaming long enough to get those references without Wikipedia aid, which kinda supports my point: finally, through the marriage of tabletop and computer RPGs, we have something that approximates the play experience of an 18-year-old computer game through a ruleset that could’ve been cutting-edge 25 years ago.

Perhaps that’s a bit harsh; after all, some of the tactical mechanics to encourage teamplay are much cooler than anything in EotB. The racial abilities in the Monster Manual similarly promote certain types of tactical play for certain creatures. Nonetheless, combat largely consists of lining up your character and hitting a button with a power name on it.

It’s a half-decent fantasy miniatures skirmish game, but a roleplaying game it ain’t, the short chapter dealing with non-combat spells aside. And gone are the days of tactical flair; combat is about as exciting—and mechanical—as Keno.

With enough funding, you could train pigeons to do it.

WotC has made a killing off the core rules, but without an additional incentive, such as RPGA play, there’s little reason for punters to further invest in the line. If the promised follow-up books are as bland as the original three, then there will little to differentiate 4e from an inferior facsimile of Warhammer Fantasy Battles.

And for all its warts, Games Workshop dumps all over everyone else in the industry when it comes to in-store support. (It helps that they have their own stores.)

The OGL ushered in a renaissance in tabletop RPGs; a profusion of small companies burst onto the stage with their own visions for D&D. Many of these died off before the next major revolution: the PDF market, which allowed one-man shows to market quality supplements to the world.

However, with the uncertainty over the Game System License4e‘s answer to the OGL—neither third-party publishers nor fan writers will go near the new edition with a proverbial 10’ pole.

Now, Paizo eschews 4e for 3.5, Chaosium issues licences to produce Call of Cthulhu supplements as if they’ve blown a SAN check, and opportunities abound beyond the shadow of d20.

If 3e was D&D‘s moment in the sun, then 4e represents a golden age for its competitors.

Currently reading:

  • Mark Ravina—The Last Samurai: The Life and Battles of Saigō Takamori
  • Robert J Schwalb et alForges of Nuln
  • Alan Weisman—The World Without Us