Wednesday, October 15, 2008

All The Characters Are The Same! or Why I Spent Six Hours Reading The Expanded Psionics Handbook

As I hinted at the end of yesterday's discussion of some of 4E's limitations, there's another more important distinction between 4E and 3e. In the new edition, each character has roughly similar capabilities. Sure, there's the striker/defender/leader/controller thing, and the variations on each of those themes, but it's all pretty much doing damage and deciding when to use your encounter powers and whether to burn your dailies. Occasionally you stick some interesting effects on the monsters, and there's a fair bit of moving around, but it's all just variations on a theme. It's a fun theme, and if the DM is on the ball you can get a lot of mileage out of it by changing the environment and monster behavior, and even more by building different characters in different ways.

But it's all one kind of fun.

There are a lot of different ways to generate varieties of fun -- call those ways the dimensions of fun, if you like fancy phrases -- and 4E drops a lot that 3.x had. One of the big ones, the one it had to give up to get the tactical complexity it's designed around, is variation on the mechanics behind character powers. 3.x has feats, skills, Vancian magic (of divine and arcane quality), psionics, incarnum, shadow magic, truename magic, binding, whatever that dang Tome of Battle stuff is, plus a bunch of class specific doo-dads like bardic music, rage, and dragon shaman auras all stuffed under "special abilities." All of which makes characters a lot harder to build, and a lot harder to predict how everything in the greater system will interact, but it allows for tremendous variety in the way the game plays. It also opens up a lot of headspace, creating a convenient source of ideas on how societies and environments might interact with the powers that drive them.

4E has one way. It's a good way, but it's not the only way.


  1. Agreed.

    4E is a much more "generic" approach, using balance as a bludgeon to take all the swinginess out of the game. This, in my opinion, is a mixed blessing.

    My attraction is how easy it is to throw a game together! Add to that how easy it is to make completely unique monsters, and I was sold.

    I am unsure as to how much this will change as the inevitible splat parade begins ramping up in earnest, but I am confident I can keep the power creep from getting too terribly out of hand.

    Keep the thinking cap on! It's nice to see a critical eye that isn't jaundiced with the "us or them" attitude that is so prevalent these days!

  2. Ease of DMing is huge. Building monsters, building encounters, and especially using them in play -- these things are fun.

    The splat book factor will be interesting. So far it looks like character option books, plus setting and monster books for the DM, but who knows. 4E itself has more in common with stuff like Tome of Battle than with Complete Divine, or whatever, so we could see some more mechanically interesting books as the team starts to think about 5E.