Wednesday, August 17, 2011

4e Makes You Stupid

There is something intrinsic to the fourth edition of Dungeons and Dragons that makes the people that play it as dumb as friggin rocks.  It's not the players fault.  It's not really the DMs fault either (aside from choosing to run the system.)  It's the philosophy behind the core game design.

Case in point: last night's Vayniris game where I am running 4e.  Vayniris is based on Vornheim, which pulls more from earlier D&D, even though Zak has provided monster stats in a 4e format as well.  But the monsters still behave like early edition monsters.

The players are going up against a medusa.  They know they are going up against a medusa.  They are in the medusa's house.  The Boy has read all of the Percy Jackson books.  The Boy has watched Clash of the Titans.  The Boy has read books on Greek mythology.  He says 'Shouldn't we go get a mirror?'

The rest of the party just ignores him.  They find the medusa.  They run at the medusa and begin whacking at it.  One character, upon finding out the medusa is so bad ass that he can't even hit it, wanders away from combat and begins looking for something that will help.

He finds . . . what?  Can you guess what he finds?

Yeah.  So he takes the mirror, shows it to the medusa, and POOF.  Game over for the medusa.

It's not that the players are stupid, it's that 4e enforces the GRIND.  You have to wear a monster's hit points down all the way from high to low.  In standard 4e, that's what you expect, because that's really all there is. There are no shortcuts - short of tossing someone off a 500 foot tall cliff.  And even then, the monster might survive.

The Boy kept on telling me "I don't look at it.  I attack, and then I look away so when she looks, I can't see her!"  There is no mechanic for this in 4e.  The entry for the AD&D medusa, however, states that if you go around and not look at the medusa, it will tick her off and she'll come at you with her knife.  So not looking WORKS.  Showing her a mirror WORKS.

Such outside the box tactics are not part of the 4e mentality.  The medusa 4e stat block doesn't say a medusa CAN'T turn herself to stone, but it doesn't imply that she CAN either.  The designers don't build the monsters that way.  The rules are not arranged around that type of problem solving.  And what's worse, as a DM, your brain gets stuck into this mentality as well.

It can get bad.  For example, in the RPGA, I've seen people out-think skill challenges and NOT receive the experience points for them, because they went around the skill die rolls needed to properly complete that activity.  BLECH.

Remember, back when you were a kid watching monster movies, that each monster had a weakness to be exploited?  One silver bullet - one stake through the heart, and the monster was dead.  That kind of tradition goes back at least as far as ancient Greece.  The ancient Greeks would HATE the hell out of 4e.

But I'll DM 4e for The Boy as long as he wants.  I'm just going to continue to try to shake things up and force everyone as far out of the box as possible.

However . . . Pathfinder has gotten it's grip on The Boy - and he's super pumped to play a halfling sorcerer with a black cape, a staff that looks like a scythe, and a little dragon for a familiar.  Great.  The Boy is going GOTH.  If it turns out he likes it, we may never get back to 4e.

- Ark


  1. Let the edition wars recommence, and loose the dogs of war

  2. @Aaron - Oh crap - I forgot there was a truce on.

    Oh well - when I am overrun by the 4e blogosphere, I shall have earned my fate.

    @Timeshadows - ;)

    - Ark

  3. "The ancient Greeks would HATE the hell out of 4e." That needs to be on a t-shirt.

    +Aaron There was a truce? Damn it, I didn't get the memo!

  4. I can't wait to hear regular updates on your new Gothfinder game. What sorcerer bloodline will your son pick, for starts!

  5. @matt - I suppose I should have invested in that screen printing kit after all . . . :)

    @Tim - [sigh] Sorry, Tim. No offense meant, I suppose I should have named the post '4e Encourages Me, and the People I Play D&D with, Into Choosing Less Creative Solution to Problems Than Some Earlier Editons Would Have,' but, well, honestly I didn't think of it. Insulting theme aside, I hope you do see some logic to my rant about a game that I have had a love/hate relationship for three years now, and that frustrates the holy heck out of me at times.

    @Theo - Gothfinder . . . oh dear. Bloodline? He says 'the one that lets me have a dragon familiar.' Geez. I need to read up on this game. :)

    - Ark

  6. 4E's take on the classic monsters of legend is ridiculous. They gutted them of their primary features in the name of perfect mathematical balance. In other words, your post is correct.

    Full disclosure: I do not have a Ph.D., much less TWO of them. As those are a universal indication of "Smartness" I guess that means I am dumb... *shrugs*

  7. There's a reason we tried 4e at multiple levels and found it to be severely lacking in anything that entertained us at all.

    Pathfinder is where it's at (to be current)

    Related: My friends and I are putting together a Campaign Setting using Pathfinders rules system, give me a follow back if interested (or not!)

  8. Pathfinder and 4e are both similar in how they spun off from 3rd edition. Both inflated the power structure and gave characters more stuff.

    That isn't good or bad, it just is. They did give their more stuff out in different fashions, but still it's the same inflation idea in order to make characters "cooler."

    If you like whatever, like it. Own it, enjoy it. If I don't like what you like? So damn what? Now if we want to extol the virtues of our chosen games, that's one thing. But there is no need to ever ever go climb into someone else's tree fort and take a steaming dump in the middle of it.

    Dude needs to stop being crass and spend that energy playing his own game.
    And Pathfinder players need to go play their own thing, too.

  9. "The entry for the AD&D medusa, however, states that if you go around and not look at the medusa, it will tick her off and she'll come at you with her knife."

    In early editions, it says if you try to not look at her she will attack you with her snakes which is save vs. poison...or die. So, you can see the difference there. Straight up meleeing a medusa in early editions...not always the best approach...or even a feasible one really.

  10. @First Anon - A 4e Classical Monsters book done right would be quite awesome.

    @Brent - 4e can be very entertaining. I've had lots of fun with it. You just have to have the right set of expectations. I just have a different set right now. :)

    @Second Anon - Dude . . . wtf? Oh yeah. I forgot to chant my mantra. "The people on the Internet are not my friends. The people on the Internet are not my friends. The people on the Internet are not my friends. " There. I have some clarity now. I am sorry that you overheard my externaized internal rant and thought it was about you. It was not. It was about me. The only treehouse I am crapping in is my own. I understand - the title is a bit deceiving. I use the word 'You,' but it didn't actually mean You-you. It meant Me-you. Oh, and my friends. I believe that they have known me long enough to understand that I use a lot of hyperbole for the sake of humor. If I have mis-estimated their understnading, they may start egging my car later tonight. But still - it's all about me - not you. On my blog. In my treehouse. I do hope you understand.

    @R.W. Chandler - Ah - see - there's a good mechanic. Save or die. I need to use that more often. Don't let the players know though. Shhhh.

    - Ark

  11. Goth is good. Your son will one day date this girl (don't worry, completely worksafe).

    It's weird that we can no longer say what we find lacking in a product without being accused of "edition warring". Apparently, criticism is now considered to be nothing but nerd rage.

  12. Meh. It'll only make you stupid if you already are stupid. 4e has the same kinds of problems that EVERY edition of D&D has had since the original Red Box. Which isn't to say I don't love D&D and haven't been playing for about 3 decades, but if you're looking for what it sounds like you're looking for you should try something other then D&D (regardless of edition). GURPS, Paranoia, FATE, Toon, White Wolf ... to name a few; any of these are all much more adaptable to out-of-box thinking, and tweaking the "rules" to be the way you want it to be.

  13. >>4e enforces the GRIND. You have to wear a monster's hit points down all the way from high to low. In standard 4e, that's what you expect, because that's really all there is. There are no shortcuts - short of tossing someone off a 500 foot tall cliff. And even then, the monster might survive.

    Don't play with stupid GMs and you won't write such nonsence.

  14. 4E isn't the problem. 4E Organized Play has poisoned DMs/Players with the "rules as written" and only the "rules as written" mentality to maintain their standardized game play experience. You have identified a real problem but failed to locate the real source of the problem, imho.

  15. 4e lover has 2 PhDs. QED.

    I rest my case. :D

  16. @Snarl-at-Fleas: Arkhein didn't write nonsence. He also didn't write nonsense. Or whatever else you're trying to say about his post.

    @Ark: I think your post makes some valid points about not only D&D 4e, but role playing games in general. It's very easy to "get lost in the grind"; GMs and players alike need a wake-up call to try their hand at more challenging scenarios.

    4e does have a fantastic rule set for this though, and it's one of the best features of the system (and easily adapted to other games): the skill challenge. Having read Mike Mearls's articles on running skill challenges, it opened my eyes to incredible possibilities for adding depth to an encounter without relying solely on grinding down HPs.

    My only complaint is the title you chose for the article: it's intentionally controversial to generate site traffic, and I'm not a fan of gimmicks -- or edition wars. Let everyone play the game they love, and lets not debase ourselves as players by attacking one another or the systems we prefer.

    Of course, if you honestly didn't consider the title of your article would be "controversial", you've missed an important lesson about blogging, and I'd suggest changing the title to something less derogatory/attention-grabbing.

  17. I used to say the same thing about D&D 3 until I actually played it. Now I'm not so sure, having seen some excellent and intelligent old-school play under Pathfinder (albeit with a GM who makes up rulings for corner-cases rather than looking up exactly how you're meant to make a running charge over an obstacle with two improvised weapons).

    Perhaps a more delicately phrased truism might be "a greater number of rules creates a perceived need for rules". Or, if you'd rather have it in terms of myth and legend, try this - the presence of the Gordian Knot invites people to untie it. You don't think about cutting it unless you're already the sort of person who thinks outside the rules that are presented to them.

    An RPG rulebook, like any thought-provoking book, is a mirror. If a monkey looks in, no apostle will look out...

  18. PHD's indicate smartness? Maybe in regards to their particular subject matter. In my experience PHD holders are no smarter about most things than the rest of us (and actually pretty stupid about some pretty ordinary things!)

  19. lol @ secret Dm for demanding your blog be more bland.

    Let's not "debase ourselves" by puttng up with shitty games.

    I approve of her.

  20. @Troll: There's no demand to be more bland; Ark has replied earlier stating this post wasn't about anyone but himself. My only suggestion is that, if you're not looking for controversy or site hits, then don't lead in with controversy. If instead Ark fully intended to generate site traffic, then he should stick to his guns, declare "Yes I said it makes you stupid" and continue to champion the cause as to why 4e makes gamers stupid.

    As for "putting up" with shitty games, that's one of the stupidest things I've ever heard. Good luck in life.