Sunday, 5 July 2009

This is all very ridiculous shaped.

I'm prepared to accept that 4e is a fun game to play, but its most rabid fanbois don't make it easy to love. Take a look at this thread, which explains the new jargon categorising character classes as 'A' shaped, 'V' shaped, 'Y' shaped and 'MAD'. Am I the only one who pictures the comic shop owner from The Simpsons explaining all this? "No, you pathetic moron, 'V' shaped means the class has one attack stat and two secondary stats, and 'Y' shaped means it has two choices for attack stat and one as secondary! And you call yourself a D&D player?"

Lord help us. Does anybody remember a time when you just picked a character class because it's what you happened to fancy playing this time around? I wonder when it all became so very serious - like it really matters that you pick the optimum character to fit into the optimum group. As if that sort of thing has any impact at all on how fun the game is.


  1. Perhaps you have stumbled upon the very core of why some people don't like 4e.

  2. Heh, did you read that last post by Randal over at Retroroleplaying?
    He linked to another thread discussing doing away with rolling to hit altogether. These people are playing field hockey and insisting it's still baseball. It's wacky.

  3. 4e---in which gaming the game rules supreme

  4. seriously, where's the fantasy immersion if you debate the game elements of tactics?

  5. I wonder when it all became so very serious - like it really matters that you pick the optimum character to fit into the optimum group. As if that sort of thing has any impact at all on how fun the game is.

    This is how it has ALWAYS least in my experience being around RPGs since 1984.

    I recently decided to try playing an OD&D PbP and another player actually told me what class to play because "we're low on fighters." Note: he didn't offer to play one.

    After that happened, I thought back on nearly every other game I had ever played in and there always seemed to be a min-maxer (of some sort) in every single one who worried about a balanced party, and high ability scores, and fast advancement, etc. 4E has just systematized the neurosis.

  6. Yup, it's always been a problem. It got really bad with 3e, though. If I have to listen to somebody telling me about how their character can do 234 dmj before rolling one more time, Im'na punch somebody.

    MMO's have made this a bit worse, though. Number-crunching is a neurosis in those games.

    I have to admit, though, I'm starting a 4e game and find myself advising people not to play certain things because they will be less effective.

  7. Also agree, it's always been like that. But more accurately "There has always been players like that". In pre-forum/internet days the buffer of distance protected us.

    "I have to admit, though, I'm starting a 4e game and find myself advising people not to play certain things because they will be less effective."

    This is the ellipses in the following sentence "You can roleplay with 4ed just fine, but ..."

  8. Having the correct balance of characters appears to be CRITICAL to success in 4e. It seems very much influenced by the same sensibilities that motivate WoW and other MMO's. That's very appealing to some players... I'm having a hard time adjusting to it.

  9. Thanks for reminding me why I rarely read the forums at :)

    We are just about to start session of our game and I am not sure we have even thought once about A's or V's or whatever.

  10. Oh wow. Is that what we look like from the outside? Coz that is scary!

  11. Take it in context, guys. There have always been certain types of gamer who get into optimization and (over)analyzing the statistics and so forth. These are the types you see on display in that thread. There is nothing about all of this stuff in the 4E rules, nor do you need to do anything but pick a class that seems fun to play. I daresay that's now most 4E players do it... but they don't get online and debate the rules every day like these guys. Judging 4E by the discussions of certain obsessive fans is... silly.

  12. i'd always suspected 4e was created on the plane of Mechanus by Modrons run amok. this confirms it.

  13. More and more the 4E fanboys remind me of the rabid Magic The Gathering players of a few years back.

    It's not about having fun playing a game, it's all about "building" the ultimate deck (or the ultimate character) that uses a cleverly constructed collection of rules exploits and loopholes to stomp on any opposition and be completely invulnerable to attack.

    Which of course leads to endless arguements about which combinations of powers are actually legal or not and someone finally getting mad and taking their "ultimate" deck and going home. Is that fun? I'm not sure.

  14. To be very honest with you, I find that there's vastly less pressure to optimize in 4e than there was in 3e (Indeed, this is why I moved over!), and that even a character with a subpar primary stat can still be fairly effective, in contrast to previous editions.

    Really there have always been twinks, though, and with the high degree if inter-class balance 4e displays, they had to find SOMETHING to feel superior about.

    Really, it's almost as though some of the naysayers here have never had to deal with munchkins in their edition of choice. Of course some party makeups are more effective than others, but then, even going back to the beginning, an all-fighter party isn't going to be as good at sneaking and trapfinding as one with a rogue or whatever, right?

    I'm not trying to proselytize here, but I hardly think it's fair to make a judgment about an entire system because of a few dozen twinks, especially in a place such as RPGnet

  15. Judge not the game by a segment of its fans. (There were optimization doofi for 3e too, and I imagine there would have been for 2e and 1e if there had been an easy way for them all to communicate.)

  16. I regret spending money on my 4e PHB. Seriously. What a bunch of bullshit.

  17. If you please would elaborate on why you feel that way?

  18. My impression is that the game assumes all characters are optimized. So if you play a less than optimized character for role-playing reasons, you will be underpowered in regard to the official modules.

    The game also seems to assume that players have a background on online MMOs. The style of play is simply geared towards that gaming meme.

    Which to me places it firmly in the 'not D&D' category. Your mileage may vary.

  19. *sigh*
    I hate to be devil's advocate here, especially because I doubt I'm going to convince anyone, but trust me, Tetsu, you're wrong. The encounters look like that because there is literally almost NO WAY for your character to be poorly optimized except by a deliberate choice (IE a fighter maxing charisma and dumping strength and dexterity). The twinks for 4e tend to be more worried about squeezing every last drop out of a character than making a character leaps and bounds more powerful, because quite simply there are no leaps and bounds better.

    As to your second point, I'm not entirely sure what you even mean.

  20. There have always been certain types of gamer who get into optimization and (over)analyzing the statistics and so forth.

    That's entirely true, however, 3.x actively encouraged this kind of thought, even by admission by one of its core designers, Monte Cook who talked about "sub-optimal choices" and "games within games." The third edition of D&D specifically rewarded this kind of thought.

    I can't speak for how fourth fairs in this regard as I've pretty much sworn it off for a different set of reasons, but I can't imagine that it's a great deal improved, honestly. Maybe it is, but I tend to think it has more to do with a lack of choices at this point (soon to be remedied by dozens of splat books) and the way the game works (as Rachel puts it, it's all but impossible to not have an optimized character on some level).

  21. Really, I think that except perhaps in the case of casters (who still get plenty of options), 4e offers more customizability than any edition yet, both in-combat and out of it (largely by dint of out-of-combat being so abstract, which, at least in my opinion, is all to the good.)

  22. I definitely had min-maxers in 2nd Ed. AD&D, and in every other game I've played (except Traveller, where characters were random - but people still judged expected outcomes).

    I recall a player choosing to play a fighter with twin daggers, pouring all his special traits (whatever they were called back then) into ambidexterity and weapon specialism. Not because he wanted to play a lightly-armed double-dagger type, but because the speed factor enabled him to deal vast amounts of damage. He could mince ogres at 1st level in a straight fight.

    These people have always been with us and always will be. Get them together in a forum and they'll come up with imaginative new words for what they do.

  23. @Rach - You seem to enjoy 4E. It models a type of game that I have no interest in however. Sadly it replaces a game that I do have an interest in. And I'm being told, repeatedly, that it is the same game. I disagree.

  24. Nobody has to take the number-crunching behind 4e seriously, any more than anyone actually had to play Pun-Pun or a chain-fighter in 3e. Having run the game since it came out, I can state that it's definitely possible - even easy - to run a game where all that horse manure about optimized characters doesn't matter. Effectiveness is relative - a DM just needs to honestly assess what a non-standard party can actually handle and roll with it. Just like in any other game system.

    I find that a bigger problem with the system is how, by and large, the rules tend to take precedence over the gameworld. I've noticed over the last few months that rather than decide on a sensible course of action based on what's actually going on in the game, my players have started to consult their power and skill lists. That was a disease common to newbie spellcasters back in the day, but now the bug seems to have bitten *everyone*.

    Yeah, I've read the DMG, and the advice for winging crazy stunts is pretty solid. Most of the DMG is pretty good that way. But the *players* never see the DMG. They read the Player's Handbook, 95% of which is made up of giant lists of powers, skills, feats, and magic items. That kind of customizability sure sounds nice in theory, (and certainly sells lots of books) but in practice, it just limits the actions your players are willing to take. And if they are limiting their decisions like that, frankly you might as well play a computer game. They play those games better than we do.

    4e is good at being a tactical minis game, but not a whole lot else. My group is getting bored with it, so I'm leaving the system for Castles and Crusades as soon as my current campaign ends.

    Running that game was like a breath of fresh air.

  25. @Rob Iannacone - I gave C&C a full cover-to-cover read. It perfectly captured the feel of 1E. Which is when discovered why I no longer play 1E. I saw C&C as a huge step backwards in game mechanics. I felt it was less elegant and more cumbersome than 3.5. So I traded in my copy and bought a new 3.5 book. I have the same opinion of Labyrinth Lords, feels like 1E, which is a step back. But it at least is a free PDF.

    I guess once I have seen the light, I don't want to step into the darkness again. :)

  26. I too am not a fan of 4E and its partly for this very reason. There is now a right, optimum and/or best way to 'spec' your character. Traditionally, no two characters were the same as a result of magic items, house rules, race and the like. There was not way to make a 'best' dawrven fighter because you never knew how any given character would turn out.

    Everything in the 4E game seems 'pre-set' or 'pre-programmed' if you will. Players even have an idea of when they should receive certain magic items and treasure and how much of it they'll get.

    Never I big fan of D&D in general this seems to take the worst parts of the mindset and simply reinforce them. Very peculiar indeed.

    Barking Alien

  27. Hasbro is moving the game towards a board game model. Eventually I predict it will no long even have a GM. Something like a form of Risk but with collectible miniatures and card game additions.

    Which is great if you want to play that sort of game. I don't. I like role-playing games. And people keep confusing 4E with role-playing games like D&D.

  28. @Tetsubo:
    3.x is your preferred system, then? To each his own, I suppose. YMMV, but after a few years of running the game, I found that all the "advanced" mechanics just made the game messy and complicated to run. Especially if you homebrew a lot of monsters and such. That particular tangle could get pretty nightmarish - I was getting good at it and it still took nearly a half hour to fully stat up a new monster.

    You might say that after returning to the light, I wondered why I went into the dark in the first place. ;)

    I mostly liked C&C because it seemed so much *simpler* than 3.x. What was the problem you found with the mechanics? I've only started running it fairly recently, and I'd be very interested to learn about any pitfalls you ran into.

  29. Tetsu: Entirely your prerogative, but I think you misunderstand, it's very much not the same game, which to my mind is not a bad thing because from this winter when I began my own blog to now, 3e has slowly plummeted down my list as I opened up to what others had to say.
    Your most recent post I take great exception to, however. How is there any less roleplaying to be had? It seems to me that the relative dearth of social and personal mechanics should instead be good for roleplay, as it leads to time spent outside of the dungeon (or other adventure situation) being almost completely free-form.

    Rob: Yes, I think you're right that there is a primarily rules-oriented perspective in 4e, which may be the reason I like it. I have always been fond of what I understand used to be called "Beer and Pretzels" style gaming. C&C's simplicity has, incidentally, made it another big favorite of mine, and the game I would probably pull out for an old-school crowd (though many in the community, notably good ol' James, find fault with it).

    BA: I've been trying to explain this whole time that by comparison 4e has almost no emphasis on party optimization. Otherwise you may be right, but no game is for everyone, and just like 3e's obscenely powerful casters and fiddly character building are for its adherents, I find 4e's relative predictability a feature rather than a bug.

    At any rate I am sorry if I have seemed to proselytize, but I encounter a great deal of misinformation about a game I enjoy immensely and I have therefore made an effort to clear the air a little bit. For the same reasons, I educate myself about the games that were before my time, so that I may better foster understanding in their detractors.

  30. @Rach, RE: party optimization and 4e

    I definitely agree with you that optimization is less important in 4e. I'm laying the ridiculousness entirely at the feet of the crowd here - They've always been full of those crazy guys that break games for fun.

    I'm currently running a biweekly 4e game now, where the party is doing pretty solidly without even having any healers. In fact, they are doing so well that I haven't thrown a level-appropriate encounter at them in months.

    4e even makes it a bit harder to optimize characters, although that may only be because there haven't been many supplements yet. One of my players is running a PHB2 barbarian, and I think I'm seeing the first signs of power creep. He consistently dishes out more damage than the rogues, even when they use sneak attacks. But even that effect has been pretty small as yet. The game does the "everybody rocks" thing fairly well, and there are definitely more accurate criticisms to be made.

    The thing that led me away from it is that if you aren't playing a combat-focused beer and pretzels where you don't mind, or if you play a long-running campaign at all, playing 4e gets stale very quickly. My players have started complaining that they've used the same abilities to do the same things so many times now that they're getting bored of their characters.

    Now I say combat-focused for a few reasons. This is not because it can't do anything else - Skill challenges are an interesting mechanic, although they seem to work best when the players don't realize they are in one - but because when you do run a combat, it takes so much time that it dominates the session. It's been said before that nearly every ability is geared towards combat, and that those that aren't tend to be tossed in as throw-away powers. An at-will light spell would have been a *god-send* in the Caves of Chaos or the Forbidden City, not just a minor cantrip regarded as unimportant becuase it deals no damage.

    I think my issue is that character capabilities in 4e expand quantitatively but not qualitatively. They start out good at fighting, and with a small set of skills. They get more and better combat powers as they level, and the skills they have increase, but that's about it - the scope of the game never widens. Only very seldom is there an ability or magic item (outside of the well-intended but thoroughly inadequate ritual system) that allows a character to do something truly *new*, and most of those are sacred cows from older editions. This is fine if killing things and taking their stuff is all you do. But if I hadn't been constantly house-ruling in things like more and better rituals, effects of paladins blessing altars, and airship combat, my 4e game would have died a long time ago.

    I do think the system is great for what it does (What??? Blasphemy!!!). But what it does is a quick romp. The system just isn't robust enough to handle a crazily freewheeling campaign for longer than a few sessions. If WotC can write a more complete system for rituals and some magic items that aren't boring as hell, maybe I'll warm back up. But until then, I'm climbing off the supplement treadmill. They just don't print what I need.

  31. Rob: Precisely, we're in agreement on that. In reference to the rogue as opposed to the barbarian, I've noticed that the Barbarian does indeed inflict more straight-up damage than the Rogue, but I think the rogue is a lot better at doing things to negate an opponent's advantages. To put it another way, the rogue is a striker that fights more like a defender.

    If I may use a metaphor, the four roles correspond to a band. The controller is the singer, the defender is bass, the striker is guitar, and the leader is drums. Some classes like the Rogue kind of straddle the line. The Rogue is a rhythm guitar in this metaphor, combining some of the damaging/shredding functions of the guitar/striker with the solid foundation provided by the bass/defender.

    You see what I'm saying, right?

  32. Tch, can't leave this place alone for five minutes without a 30+ comment long discussion going on... ;)

    Interesting stuff, everyone. Of course, many of you are right in pointing out that the min/maxers and optimisers have always been among us. The difference is that min/maxing was always frowned upon in the TSR days (the 2nd edition DMG had a section on how to deal with these 'problem players') whereas under WotC it seems to have become not just the norm, but encouraged.

  33. That's an interesting theory on the rogue. The ones in my group tend to function more as controllers, and the barbarian as a defender, but I do see your point about it being a hybrid class. It might be too early to cry wolf on power creep without a few more samples. I don't really have any intention of sticking with the system long enough to collect more, but more data (esp. on the other PHB2 classes) would be valuable in judging that point.

  34. I feel like the change that occurred in 4E is that min/maxing went from being "something that only munchkins did" to "something that the book tells you to do." You can pick your stats (including the inevitable 16), and put them in the primary and secondary attributes of your class. All demihumans get +2 to two of the stats in a predetermined fashion, which humans can put them anywhere. There's no "-1 Str" or "-1 Cha" or whatever for demihumans. So even a "sub-optimized race/class option" like a elf warden ends up looking like this:

    Strength 16 +3
    Constitution 14 +2
    Dexterity 14 +2
    Intelligence 10
    Wisdom 15 +2
    Charisma 11

    Which by any other edition's yardstick would look pretty damn good. What 4E feels like, in some ways, in the old Dark Sun rules for AD&D: tooled up uber-characters that are the norm.

  35. I'm a some-time user of the terminology singled out in the post. I'm interested in that sort of stuff not because I don't care about immersion or having a good time with my characters, but because in addition to that, I'm also interested in game design issues. (Also, the A- and V-shaped terminology, to the best of my knowledge, originates with the edition's designers, people who obviously are also interested in game-design issues.) My interest in game design issues doesn't interfere with my ability to play the game normally any more than the fact that I love to play my characters interferes with my ability to examine and chat about different design decisions made in 4e. (Or other systems.)

    I will agree that the optimization boards at various sites do make the game look unappealing to outsiders, but 4e probably has the highest choices-to-balance ratio of any tabletop game I've ever encountered - if a player goes through the character creation process and picks out options that look fun or cool to him or her, they -will- end up with a character that's at least roughly on the same level as most others. (Exceptions are doing things like making a particularly clumsy rogue, but that's something that's been part of D&D and games like it for practically forever.) The fact that some people enjoy the meta-challenge of using weird combinations of character options to do crazy things doesn't mean that you need the perfect "spec" to be a viable character or anything like that.

    As a final aside, it's noteworthy that the level of balance in 4e actually sometimes comes under fire from the other side. Some 3.5 players criticize the game because they feel system mastery plays too small a role - that is, they feel that it's a flaw in the system that it has the property that a character built by someone who doesn't pore over the intricacies of the system is likely to not completely suck.