Improving 4th edition
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 16 October 2012, 12:30 am
Dungeon's Master has a preview of the next season of D&D Encounters, and that season will not use standard 4th edition rules. Instead it will use 4th edition rules which have been modified with some of the improvements coming from the D&D Next development process. Which leads me to the question: Why develop D&D Next in the first place, instead of just improving 4th edition? I suspect the answer is purely financial. Release a new edition of Dungeons & Dragons, and everybody who wants to keep up to date has to buy new books. Improvements to an existing edition create less sales.

There have been huge changes to Dungeons & Dragons from version 3.5 to 4E. And because that change was so huge, 4th edition had a lot of "bugs" and other flaws. There have been errata, but those are kind of unwieldy with a printed book. And some of the flaws have either never been addressed, or better solutions have only been presented in the context of specific new game material. For example later 4E books often have character "themes" for certain advanced characters, but not for the basic Player's Handbook characters. D&D Next has a good system for backgrounds and themes, but in fact it would be perfectly feasible to adapt that system for 4th edition. Instead WotC throws out the baby with the bath water, makes yet another set of huge changes to D&D, and will probably end up with yet another half-baked edition full of flaws.

Dungeon's Master says about the 4E rules changes for D&D Encounters: "It’s stated right at the beginning of the adventure that the elements of D&D Next they’re really trying to incorporate into this season of D&D encounter are finding a balance among the three significant elements of the D&D experience: exploration, interaction, and combat." That is a typical point where the problem lies not with the rules, but with the adventure. 4E has more epic combat encounters than other editions of D&D, but that doesn't mean that you can't have a balance between combat, exploration, and interaction; you just need to make adventures which have a few epic fights instead of lots of "trash mob" fights. The Caves of Chaos, the first D&D Next playtest adventure, is a dungeon crawl with one combat after another, and very little exploration or interaction provided beyond what the DM makes up on the spot. The major problem 4th edition had with being too combat-heavy was the badly balanced first commercially available adventures, not the rules system. Later 4E adventures are much better balanced, and the DMG2 added some badly needed better advice for DMs on how to run a more balanced campaign.

There is not a single complaint about 4th edition which cannot be fixed by some optional rules or additional material. Fixing D&D by creating a new edition only introduces new flaws and complaints. The D&D Next discussion forums are already full of complaints. And some of the new flaws are in fact more serious than anything that was ever wrong with 4E. Especially forgetting about decades of evolution of the genre and bringing back outdated rules from the 80s is just making a few dinosaurs happy, but will cause serious problems to game balance and playability.

And apparently WotC is well aware what is needed to improve 4th edition, as they are doing it for D&D Encounters. Why not patch 4E to 4.1 instead of abandoning all the progress made and starting from scratch? As I said, probably they think they'll make more money that way, because a new edition makes more old books obsolete. But in an age where most people think that roleplaying is something you need a computer for, that strategy might well backfire.
Tobold's Blog



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