My Craw, And Its Contents

2009 July 24
by Vanir

Attack Of The Craw

In my gaming group, I’m “That Guy” – The one who can’t get into 4e. I’m not sure if it’s that I don’t like the new system much, that I’m not playing anywhere near as much as I used to, or something else. Whatever it is, I’ve been having a lot of trouble connecting to any character I’ve been playing, and that sucks all the fun out for me.

I thought at first it was that 4e was too combat-oriented. I ranted endlessly that all the spells were combat spells and the the only spells used for roleplaying (the rituals) took 10 minutes to cast. While I still think the 10 minute rule is ridiculous, I was, at least, introduced to the use of the Cantrip spell as sort of a Swiss Army knife for roleplayers. (Naturally, when I found this out, my wizard character had just died and I had switched to a rogue. Such is life.)

I’m also not particularly happy with how homogenous the classes in 4e are to each other. Playing a fighter feels like playing a wizard feels like playing a rogue. Admittedly this is probably a side effect of me having played D&D since 1e. The powers in 4e leave me feel like I am casting spells with a battleaxe when I play a fighter. But that’s just a little weird. That’s not enough to leave me wishing I was back in 3.5e.

The Craw Is Afoot

After some thought, I believe my problems with 4e are related to my initial gripes with the new system, but in ways I wasn’t expecting.

I got a nice shiny new copy of Divine Power for review last week, and when I cracked the cover I experienced the same problem I usually have: I see the powers, and my eyes glaze over and I don’t care. They’re almost all damage-causing or healing abilities with some shifting/movement in there. They have an attack vs. a defense. It’s all remarkably easy to understand.

And that’s when it hit me: I can see the guts of this thing as I play, and it’s taking me out of the game. It’s a beautifully designed system, probably more balanced than anything we’ve ever had before. But now I have more trouble pretending I’m equipping my character for battle. Now I feel like I’m shuffling numbers around. It feels banal.

4e does have flavor text for each power so you know what it is you’re doing that’s causing this standardized damage to your foe. It seems to me their naming conventions suffer from a similar malady to the abilities in World of Warcraft. “Reaping Strike”? At first level? Really? Unless it causes the black hooded avatar of death to appear and claim your opponent’s soul with his sickle, that seems a bit overkill to me. And that’s my other problem with the powers: they’ve tried to make first level as exciting as 20th. They’ve given everything fancy names and awesome effects and the end effect to me is that now everything is special (which means, of course, that nothing is). Back in ancient times, mages would be stuck casting magic missile forever, maybe some melf’s acid arrow. But when you could start casting Fireball and Lightning Bolt, it was in another league. There didn’t even need to be any awesome effects described in the spell description. It was plain to see what was going to happen to your target, and it was viscerally exciting. Now it’s like eating one of those rainbow chip confetti cakes for kids. It turns your mouth all weird colors and you’re pretty sure it tastes like vanilla.

Not The Craw, The Craw

The good news, (for me anyway), is that WotC seems to be leaning a little more toward fluff than crunch in the last couple books (two of which I’ll be reviewing shortly!), and I’ve been pretty pleased with what I’ve been seeing there. I always liked the roleplaying stuff way more than the combat anyway.

So what’s my point? I’m not sure I have one! I simply have a better understanding now of what it is that’s been stuck in my craw about 4e this past year (and I am painfully aware that my problem is largely rooted in old habits and personal preferences). Hopefully at some point it can be removed. Perhaps my craw can then be refurbished.

5 Responses leave one →
  1. July 24, 2009

    I’m “that guy” in our gaming group. Good to know that I’m not alone in the world. *sniffle*

    Great read. Couldn’t agree more, and your point on how 1st level now feels like 20th level gave me one of those “lightbulb moments”. I hadn’t put my finger on it before but I know exactly what you mean.

    For me at least it’s not just semantics of “reaping strikes” and their ilk. I glaze over when it comes to power descriptions too. It’s also the numbers on the character sheet. All those HP and healing surges take away the fear that used to be so gripping through the first four levels at least. Surviving combat is almost a given, there’s next to no risk for our reward, and that reward is pretty bland. Magic items? Meh. Leveling up? Blah. Add some numbers and wake me when it’s over.

  2. Vanir permalink
    July 24, 2009

    Right there with you, Griff.

    Maybe we need to start a support group? 🙂

  3. Wiz of Ice permalink
    July 24, 2009

    That was it for me too: I could see what was under the engine… the rules are made easier to use (a good thing), but also less like what it is they’re attempting to emulate in the game world (a bad one for those of us used to previous editions).

    And the “sameness” of the classes I have to agree with as well. Sometimes I want simple, sometimes I want complex.

    As a counterpoint, though, I wonder if—once we got used to the system—if the being “pulled out” of the game would go away. Seems to me this system even more than 3.x REQUIRES lots of description during the action (a reminder of what the flavor text says instead of just the mechanics). My main problem with switching, though, is the huge investment in 3.x books. Still a whole lot of cool monsters, items, etc. not yet used.

  4. July 25, 2009

    I mostly DMed 4e, so I didn’t get to play anything more than a one-shot until recently. To give some brief background, my other d20 experiences are mostly confined to 1st ed and the Iron Heroes flavor of 3.5, so I’m used to a lot of death and swinging of axes and whatnot.

    For me, what made 4e feel different was playing a rogue that I had designed especially to be movement-based. Most of his powers let him move freely around the battlefield, and that was how I played him. It was completely different from my previous experience – playing a 1e mage, who stands still and fires spells and then hides, or an Iron Heroes man-at-arms, who gets into battle, then just stands in the middle and swings until everything is dead. (Which is quite a lot of fun.) With this character, I got to move around without getting pummeled by AoOs, and it made things a lot different.

    So I guess what I’m saying is, perhaps if you try building a more specialized character with an eye to something that would be mechanically difficult in previous editions, you’ll start feeling the difference. The powers themselves are all simple – it’s when they interact that the magic happens. Say, having your rogue multiclass wizard so he can take the utility that lets him turn invisible, and using that to sneak attack. Adding the numbers when leveling up isn’t so exciting, but finally having access to that one new power that lets you complete your killer combo is. And I don’t mean killer combo in just a powergamer way – there’s plenty of swashing and buckling to be had if you pick powers right, even if the damage sometimes comes out suboptimal.

  5. Victor permalink
    August 2, 2009

    I haven’t looked at 4e yet, but I have yet to hear one kind word about it from anyone who’s opinion I respect. It seems as if it is just for power gamers, no real role-playing, no teamwork. I am currently running a 3.5 campaign and intend to keep on doing so. By the way, I also go back to the old 1e days. You are not alone.

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