One of my favourite pastimes is Dungeons and Dragons, which I like to think of as collaborative storytelling. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not “satan’s game” at all. That would be Bejeweled. Or maybe Farmville.
Anyway, when the 4th edition of D&D came out, my group gave it a try but ultimately wasn’t satisfied. The largest stumbling block was the new “power” system, whereby the attacks and abilities of all classes (magical or otherwise) were massaged into a standard template.
The design intent was to have a balanced classes, but many players felt that the designers went a little overboard: classes lost their individual flavour. A fighter’s Tide of Iron is basically the same as a Wizard’s Phantom Bolt, for example. And every character ends up with so many powers, many a slight variation on others, that they lose their “awesome” factor and players can feel overwhelmed.
These days, we’re playing Pathfinder — a third party extension of D&D 3.5 that was actually released after the 4th edition (aka “4e”). Pathfinder’s designers were able to address a lot of players’ complaints about 3.5 by making relatively minor tweaks, eg:
- more feats: characters gain feats every 2 levels instead of every 3
- class benefit every level (“yay, level 5… oh wait, my character gets nothing”)
- unified rules for bull rush, grapple, etc.
- simplified skill progression: trained class skills receive a fixed bonus
- trimmed skill list: eg, Listen, Search and Spot became Perception
- harder to die: more hp, easier to stabilize, etc.
Guess what? All of the tweaks mentioned above were made by 4th edition first. And 4e made a lot of additional improvements. Here are some things I love about 4e that are missing from Pathfinder:
- rolling a 20 always means a critical hit (no confirmation nonsense)
- whether I hit or miss is always up to me, not whether the DM botches the saving throw
- enemies that complement each other and work together as a team
- action points representing extraordinary effort
- character skills given the same priority as combat
- diagonals count as 1 square of movement (both unrealistic and controversial, but IMO you shouldn’t need game aids to figure out where your spell lands)
Back to the gripe about class powers in 4e. Well, the creators have been listening. Right now they’re rolling out a new line of products called D&D Essentials aimed at simplifying the transition for new players and grognards alike.
My existing group has no need for many of the new Essentials products, red box included, but the new class builds in Heroes of the Fallen Lands (eg, Cleric and Rogue) are right up our alley: instead of uniformly relying on powers, they have distinct mechanics with varying levels of complexity.
Take the new fighter build, Knight, for example. A Knight is not so different from the PHB1 Guardian. Hit points, feats and weapons are the same. The Knight has the added bonus of wearing plate armour and gets Diplomacy as a class skill instead of Streetwise. Both have methods of keeping enemies focused on them instead of their allies. Here’s where they diverge: the Guardian uses the Cleave power to hit multiple enemies, whereas the Knight shifts into the Cleaving Assault stance (if not already) and does a regular attack. Just like fighters in previous editions, the Knight relies almost exclusively on regular attacks. Stances are only there to give them a distinct feel and some options in combat.
Well, after a year or so of playing Pathfinder, I’m ready to go back.