Tobold's Blog
Monday, July 09, 2012
4th edition D&D is for advanced players

When I started playing Dungeons & Dragons, there were two different versions: The basic D&D, and the first edition of "Advanced Dungeons & Dragons". We played the latter, because it had "advanced" rules like different weapons actually doing different amounts of damage. But that was an age where you still needed to explain to new players that they were "playing a character", and not moving a game piece like in Monopoly. Today children grow up playing characters in video games, and while that doesn't involve "in character" role-playing, everybody is at least familiar with the basic concept of controlling an avatar. Thus even a basic version of Dungeons & Dragons can be more complex than it was in the 80's. But I would say that beyond such a basic version, there is need for an "Advanced Dungeons & Dragons". And to me, 4th edition is just that.

The core rules of D&D Next, as far as we know them, appear to me to be suitable for beginning D&D players, as well as to the kind of veterans who prefer extremely simple combat. D&D Next rules solve at least some of the most blatant flaws of early D&D, like wizards running out of spells after the first round of combat. And if everything Wizards of the Coast are promising us comes true, there will even be optional rules modules which make combat increasingly more complex. Nevertheless, the core of D&D Next is such that no optional module can possible bring the game up to the advanced complexity of 4th edition.

Now 4th edition obviously isn't for everybody. I saw a rant on YouTube yesterday where the guy was complaining that the fight in the Keep on Shadowfell module against 5 kobolds took his group over 4 hours to complete. To me it is rather obvious that the DM and players of that group simply couldn't handle 4th edition rules. I played exactly the same combat with a group new to 4E, but experienced roleplayers, and we managed it in 1 hour. Now we all got some more practice in 4E combat in, I could probably run it in half an hour. Even with the worst of rolls on both sides that fight can't possibly take more than 10 rounds, and if you need half an hour for a single round of combat, you're playing extremely slow. That isn't a fault of the rules system, it is players unable to decide where to move, or what powers to use (out of a choice of just 4 at level 1), or having to read the rules for every move. I can fully understand how people unable to grasp more complex tactical rules, or unwilling to try, wouldn't want to play 4th edition.

Nevertheless I think it would be a mistake for Wizards of the Coast to stop supporting 4th edition and let D&D Next supersede 4E as the "one and only" version of Dungeons & Dragons. After 4 editions of steadily increasing complexity, you can't simply reset the game and demand of your more advanced players to be happy with a much more simplistic version. Just look at the outcry Blizzard caused when announcing to further simplify talent tree in Mists of Pandaria, and that is just a very minor simplification compared to the step down from 4E to D&D Next, even with optional modules.

The same outcry is already happening in the D&D Next playtest. Now D&D Next is a lot less balanced than 4th edition, so the simplification hits different classes to different degrees. In 4E there isn't much difference in complexity between a wizard and a fighter, in the D&D Next playtest rules the wizard still has lots of tactical options and the fighter is a primitive brute reduced to basic attacks (which deal a lot of damage, apparently WotC thought that would make up for the simplicity). On a recent interview Mike Mearls said the feedback from D&D Next clearly showed that the majority of testers were unhappy with that fighter.

I think going back to a two-tier system with D&D Next being "basic D&D" and 4th edition continuing to be supported as a form of "advanced D&D" would be the best solution here. It simply would be impossible to span the whole range of complexity with core rules and optional modules. 4th edition has a very different basic structure than D&D Next, which no optional module can fix. And advanced players simply won't go back to a game with much simpler rules, however much new or more simple players might enjoy those.

4 HOURS against 5 kobolds? Waaaaa? How is that even possible. I can count on a single hand the number of combats that have lasted 4 hours, and every last one of them were earth-shattering end of campaign combats. Even when I was running a group of 5 completely new players (granted, I was already experienced at 4th Ed), simple level 1 encounters maybe took an hour and a half at worst.
The problem with 4th edition is sales. Now that players already have the core rulebooks, new sales to existing players only consist of supplements which possess a heavy diminishing return in sale numbers.

They tried with Essentials and failed as it wasn't really a new and improved edition worth rebuying the corerule books. They wanted Essentials to be compatible with the original 4th, thus preventing important core changes to make the game even better.

So now they are trying to produce something very different hoping existing players shall start fresh again.

I myself would buy into a 5th edition if it was a truly improved version of 4th and not a roleback to previous editions.
ONE HOUR AGAINST FIVE KOBOLDS??? How many times do we use the word, "advanced" to describe something that takes longer or is slower?

"My computer is a Pentium 75, with 8MB of RAM, and it takes 10 minutes to boot up, therefore it is more advanced than your Quad-Core 5 GHZ, 12 GB of RAM PC that takes 7.6 seconds to boot up."

How can a system be more "advanced" if it is so slow? Anyone that spends an entire hour on five Kobolds is not an advanced player, he's a player that needs their head checked for mental retardation.
"4th edition continuing to be supported as a form of "advanced D&D" would be the best solution here."

Far on or ahead in development or progress.
New and not yet generally accepted.

Since D&D Next qualifies as something in development, and you have not yet accepted it, by definition, it really is more advanced than 4E.

The word, advanced, has nothing to do with something that is better or more complex, it simply means progression. Since D&D Next is a progression from 4E, 4E is less advanced.
How can a system be more "advanced" if it is so slow?

If your goal is to kill as many monsters as you can in the shortest possible time, I would recommend a game like Diablo / Torchlight. You're confusing "advanced" with "fast".

D&D Next is not "advanced", because it isn't forward-looking. It doesn't even try to do anything new, it tries to emulate outdated versions of D&D.

And you're using the wrong dictionary. Try Merriam-Webster:
Definition of ADVANCED
2 a: being beyond others in progress or ideas

b: being beyond the elementary or introductory

c: greatly developed beyond an initial stage

d: much evolved from an early ancestral type

All of which would apply to 4th edition D&D, but not to D&D Next. D&D Next is regress, not progress. D&D Next remains elementary and introductory. D&D Next isn't greatly developed. And D&D Next hasn't evolved at all from its ancestral type.
I think I played in the game that the video-maker spoke about, and can dredge up at least something from my memory by way of explanation - although I can't remember the details of the combat.

There were six of us, most having just finished a 3.5 campaign (The conversion mentioned at the start of the video, if it's the one I'm thinking of) run by the video maker, who tends to favour description-heavy roleplay with lots of free-form improvisation, and were in the same mindset - giving lengthy descriptions of our attacks as we whittled down the kobolds' HP - and we whittled down all the kobolds' HP, as we didn't have any in-character reason to exploit the minion rules - the "leader" was neither obviously a leader, or a sufficient threat for us to ignore the minions.

That factor, combined with frictional losses from wrangling a group of 6 through a combat they'd all been expecting to be over in a few rounds of florid descriptions, would account for some of the time but not all - I'm at a loss for how we managed to pad it out to four hours, and didn't feel the combat dragging as much as I expect to find in a 4-hour kobold bash. We did lose a lot of time to disagreements between the video-maker(pro free-form improvisation) and the GM (pro rules-as-written, 4th ed as tactical skirmish game), but they were mainly before and after the combat.
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Carmedil has it right. WotC needs sales and 4E is not bringing in sales they want so... time for a new edition.
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Tobold, I'm having a hard time figuring out if you're being disingenuous with the definition of "advanced" you've cited.

In response to definition A, even if you consider 4E to be progression, taken as a whole, the gaming community has overwhelmingly deemed it to be a negative change. They voted with their wallets accordingly.

Definitions B and C would apply to just about any version of the game.

I would argue that 4E is least compatible with definition D. It isn't much evolved. Its main focus is individual-level tactical combat. The exact type of game that was the genesis of the first version of the game which blended tactical combat with rules to supplement role playing. The game has not been more roll and less role since the first editions. Sure, HOW you conduct the combat is different, but the essence of the game is almost identical to thirty years ago.
even if you consider 4E to be progression, taken as a whole, the gaming community has overwhelmingly deemed it to be a negative change. They voted with their wallets accordingly.

Huh? What evidence do you have of that? As far as I know 4E sold better than 3E, and WotC was boasting about their "5 million players", although I find it hard to believe they can know that with any exactitude.

Do you have any official sales numbers showing 4E sold badly? I don't count some old school players complaining as evidence of bad sales. (And D&D Next already has a huge amount of negative comments on the official forums.)
It's not so much that 4E sold badly, but Pathfinder (essentially 3.75E) overtook 4E in sales. When more of your customers prefer an earlier version of your game sold by a third party, you've essentially failed.

That's just a sampling of the data available. Short of an industry insider laying it all out for us, I think it's safe to say that Pathfinder is doing quite well at 4E's expense. Had 4E actually been an evolution rather than a regression, you wouldn't have seen so many people picking up version 3.75 like rats fleeing a sinking ship.
One more data point:

Look how 4E falls out in amazon sales rankings:

Even used copies of the 3.5E players handbook outsell some of the 4E core offerings (Player Handbook 2 and DM's kit).
I was reading at that 4E was selling just fine. What you are saying is essentially that EVE Online and Rift are failing, because WoW sold more copies. I don't think that is good logic.

Pathfinder is a great game, and also would have outsold 3.5 if it had continued. And it will still outsell D&D Next. So would you then call D&D Next a failure?
Your analogy between WoW and EVE is flawed.

If Blizzard's WoW2 was outsold by Mythic's WoW1.5, then WoW2 would have failed in that it alienated the playerbase and drove them towards a competitor's version of their own legacy product. Although cumbersome, the comparison is more apt.

The single source you've cited, headlined "4E is doing fine", seems a little anecdotal, no?

I was so excited for 4E that I pre-ordered as soon as it was announced. I really wanted 4E to be an evolution of the genre, but sadly it didn't live up to expectations. Based on sales, I think the gaming community agrees with my viewpoint far more than what you seem to believe.

I'm just curious, have you actually read a 3.5 or Pathfinder product? Or is 4E the scope of your experience within the last twenty years?
I played 3.5, yes.

Anyway, you would expect less students in an advanced math class than in a basic math class. But that doesn't mean that universities should shut down all advanced math classes and only offer a "math next" class, which is only a repackaged basic math course.

I really wanted 4E to be an evolution of the genre, but sadly it didn't live up to expectations.

Just because the game evolved in a direction which you either didn't like or weren't able to follow doesn't mean it isn't an evolution. 4th edition clearly is more complex than all previous editions, clearly solved many of the problems that previous editions had (like "linear fighter, quadratic wizard", or the "5-minute workday"), and clearly introduced a lot of totally new ideas and concepts into the game.

D&D Next does none of that. It is less complex, reintroduces those old problems, and is void of new ideas (except for a new advantage / disadvantage mechanic). It is simply designed for less advanced players. And it will fail, because those already have rather good products in Pathfinder or 3rd edition.
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Couldn't come up with a response, or did you realize that arrogance is the underlying basis of your post?
Read my terms of service. I'm leaving all your comments that argue your opinion. I'm deleting those that are just personal attacks and insults. If you want an answer, try reformulating your comment without the personal insults, unless of course the insults are the only point you have to make.

Your argument is that D&D 4th edition should be abandonded, because a majority of players prefer Pathfinder. First of all your data are flimsy: At best they show that Pathfinder and 4E are head-to-head on the top of the sales charts for pen and paper RPGs. How can 4E be a failure if it shares the top spot on the sales charts?

Second the very point of my post is that 4E is a more advanced form of D&D, more complex, more demanding, and not suited for everybody. It is a bit like raiding in MMORPGs: The most challenging version of the game, pursued only by a minority. Would you propose we abandon raiding in MMORPGs as well, because a majority of players isn't interested?
My comment was not any more of a personal attack than your entire post.

You do realize that your entire post is an insult, right? If I don't like your game, it's because I'm not advanced enough.

"Your argument is that D&D 4th edition should be abandonded,"

I didn't say that, nor is that my argument. If the facts aren't on your side, just make some up. I don't care in the least about 4E and whether it should or should not be abandoned.

My point is -- brace yourself -- IT HAS ALREADY BEEN ABANDONED. At least by a large enough portion of the community so as to cause Hasbro to attempt to win back their player base with a new game. The only disagreement here is why people left.

You're going on and on about how it was such an evolution that people either didn't get it or couldn't handle it.

I submit that your entire post is from an incredibly arrogant and small-minded viewpoint. People got it just fine, they just didn't like it. 4E was not a complicated system, so you're going to have to dig deeper to find a reason why it's being discontinued.
The player community didn't "abandon" 4th edition. Your own links show it on top of the sales charts together with Pathfinder.

If D&D Next was proof that 4E was a failure, then 4E would be proof that 3rd edition was a failure, 3rd edition would be proof that 2nd edition was a failure, and 2nd would be proof that 1st edition was a failure.

As for Hasbro winning back players, you can't possibly believe that having any chance of working. Just look at the D&D Next forums, half of the playtesters totally hate D&D Next and will stick to 4E. The split into a basic game and an advanced game is done, you can't get both groups to buy the same basic game in the future. Plus the people who like the more basic form of the game already have Pathfinder and don't need yet another rehash of the same old rules from Hasbro.
Even though I wasn't talking about it before, I will indulge you in the basic vs. advanced game idea.

TSR tried that in the early 80s, and it worked out poorly. By creating two independent product lines, D&D and AD&D, TSR split their customer base in half. The resulting sales and margins caused by this and other segmentation (and, ultimately, the dragon dice debacle) eventually sent them into bankruptcy.

(The following numbers are completely made up for illustrative purposes)

Before the split, 1 million people were buying game books for 20 dollars at 5 dollars gross profit per unit. Afterwards, you had two groups of 500,000 buying books for 20 dollars at $2.50 gross profit per unit.

It's an unsustainable model.

After all this back and forth, it is clear to me that you are being very disingenuous. 4E isn't a failure because it's being discontinued, it's being discontinued early because it's not a good game.
Let me qualify that last remark.

4E is being discontinued because too many customers don't think it's a good game.
4E is being discontinued because too many customers don't think it's a good game.

You repeating that mantra over and over doesn't make it true.

4th edition sells as well as Pathfinder, both being tied on the top of the sales charts in some quarters, or having one ahead of the other after some new release. The absolute WORST thing you could truthfully say about 4th edition is that it is the second most successful rule system out there.
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Hide behind your TOS. I've been polite and my comment was couched in temperate language.

Why bother to come up with a response based in fact when you can just delete it?

Oh right, you can't respond because there aren't any facts that support your conclusion.
Hide behind your G.I.F.T. and tell me your insults are polite.

All you do is making personal attacks and repeating over and over that 4E has been abandoned by the player community. You haven't responded ONCE to the FACTS of the sales figures. So lets repeat them.

Over the last year the sales statistics show D&D 4th edition being either tied, or selling better, or at worst coming second behind Pathfinder. So I have unrefutable proof that your theory that 4E was a sales failure is wrong. What do you have beyond repeating your falsehood over and over plus calling me names?

4E saved Dungeons & Dragons. Pathfinder is the same core as 3.5, but done a lot better. D&D would be a forgotten brand by now if it hadn't been for WotC finally making a bold move and making an innovative game. D&D Next will never do as well against Pathfinder.
My gamete intra-fallopian transfer? Sounds like fun. What is G.I.F.T.?

Pathfinder did not exist before fourth edition D&D.

Nearly all of Pathfinder's customers are former D&D players. 4E was the impetus behind the creation of the Pathfinder game. Disaffected 4E converts were the primary consumers. The underdog in the fight, Paizo, owes its success directly to Hasbro.

4E was such a successful system that D&D now has half its original player base, and Hasbro is now lagging behind a big, new competitor in the market they used to dominate. Would you call that a sales success? I think a reasonable person would probably concede the point.

Think about it: the venerable Dungeons and Dragons brand is regularly being outsold by a startup game with no established presence and almost no marketing budget. It turns out that 4E was the only advertising they needed.
Nice story, too bad the facts don't fit. Pathfinder was announced in March 2008, three months before the release of 4th edition. Pathfinder was developed to battle 3rd edition, which wasn't selling so well, because WotC had given out that free d20 license to everybody.

When 4E came out, it immediately outsold 3E, and in fact the first print run sold out before the official release date, in spite of having been 50% bigger than the 3.5 print run.

Of course you are right that Pathfinder then gained enormously from people like you who were opposed to Dungeons & Dragons evolving into something more innovative, and wanted to stick to the old ways. Thus is the fate of all innovation.
You're completely incorrect. Pathfinder was created as direct competition for 4E. It's not a "nice story", it's what happened. You're drawing conclusions from a wildly inaccurate premise.
So let me get that straight: You linking to a bunch of 4E-hater blogs re-interpreting history wrongly makes your story right, while the FACT documented here that Pathfinder was already in playtesting in March 2008, a full three months before 4e was released counts for nothing? How can Pathfinder be a response to the community reaction to 4E when it was already being played before 4E was shown to the public?

And Paizo explicitely saying that they created Pathfinder as response to 3.5 (and not 4E) counts for nothing too? You would think that they know the history of their own game better.

Very Orwellian approach to history that, "he who controls the past controls the future", so lets all just ignore official dates so as to make a version of history that fits better with our beliefs.
I find it very disingenuous that you would dismiss my links as "a bunch of 4E-hater blogs". In so doing, you actually weaken your own position because you've clearly cemented this as a 4E fan blog. Logically then, everything you say should also be dismissed as biased.

Here's a link you should really take some time to study.

I did not say Pathfinder resulted from the community reaction to 4E. Though I realize that fits nicely into your perception that I'm some sort of crazed and slobbering 4E hater. What I said was that Pathfinder was a direct result of 4E -- to be more specific, the draconian new Open Game License. Had 4E not been released and 3E discontinued, then Pathfinder would not exist.

Here's the Reader's Digest version of what happened: Paizo Publishing was established and won the contract to publish Dungeon and Dragon magazine. They did a great job and revitalized subscription numbers. One day, out of the blue, WotC terminates Paizo's contract and says their intention is to begin self-publishing Dungeon and Dragon in a new online subscription format. Paizo made the decision to continue publishing 3.5E adventures with a new periodical, Pathfinder Adventure Paths. After months and months of development, Paizo began publishing their new periodical. Then the bomb dropped. WotC announced fourth edition, a part of which was the new online format for Dungeon and Dragon magazines. The new open game license would not permit Paizo to continue their current business model. Since 3.5E would soon be out of print, and since they had already invested so much into their new periodical, Paizo decided to create their own distinct version of 3.5E and directly compete with 4E. Yes, the Pathfinder RPG was ANNOUNCED 3 months before 4E was RELEASED. But by that point, 4E's imminent release and draconian OGL were very old news.

It would help your case if the FAQ you linked to actually contained the explicit statement you say it does. What it does say is, "The core rulebooks for the 3.5 rules system have been out of print for a while, and we feel it is important to keep a core game available to new players. Plus, as great as 3.5 is, there remains room for improvement." I don't think that means "they created Pathfinder as response to 3.5". It's most definitely a response to 4E, they just happened to take the available opportunity to modify 3.5 a little bit and make it their own.

I've really been baffled by your responses to my comments. You're vehemently, but pointlessly defending uninformed conclusions. It's also not helping that you're assuming people who disagree with you are idiots, and people who dislike your game system are anti-progressive luddites.

Has it occurred to you that your anti-D&D Next statements could be interpreted as opposition "to Dungeons & Dragons evolving into something more innovative, and wanted to stick to the old ways" of 4E? You're telling me that I don't like 4E because I fear change, but somehow you don't think that same (in this case, silly) argument doesn't apply to you?
Had 4E not been released and 3E discontinued, then Pathfinder would not exist.

Again, Pathfinder existed in playtest BEFORE 4E had been released, thus your statement is wrong.

You keep clinging to these dates as if it ends all discussion. Only taken wildly out of context and with absolutely no understanding of the publishing business could you argue, "Pathfinder entered playtest before 4E was sold in bookstores, therefore Pathfinder was intended to compete with 3.5"

4E was announced in August 2007.

Pathfinder was announced (and simultaneously entered alpha testing) in March 2008.

If there was no 4E, then there would be no Pathfinder RPG.

Are you seriously arguing semantics?

Does this make you feel better: if WotC had never conceived of 4E, then Paizo would not have conceived the Pathfinder RPG.

You had your facts wrong, so just let it go. It's OK to be wrong occasionally. No one will think you're dumb for being wrong, but pigheadedly arguing just for the sake of argument seems like a less advanced form of discourse, no?
You just described yourself. There isn't a single "fact" that I got wrong, you are just having a different interpretation of the causality. You haven't provided a single "fact" proving that Pathfinder is a consequence of 4E, only various opinions. The interpretation that Paizo created Pathfinder because a) they could due to the open license, and b) they thought they could make a better version of 3rd edition than WotC in two failed attempts, is at least as likely as your interpretation.

Furthermore none of that has anything to do with the point of my post, which is that 4th edition is a more complex and advanced form of Dungeons & Dragons, and that WotC will lose a lot of customers when they go back to a simplistic D&D Next.
"is at least as likely as your interpretation"

I guess there's just no point in talking if the person on the other end doesn't want to believe the truth.

This whole conversation is like trying to prove to a conspiracy theorist that the moon landing wasn't filmed on a sound stage.

It's almost as tedious (oops I meant advanced) as 4E combat.

GLHF - and please explain what G.I.F.T. means, I'm still wondering.
There is evidence for the moon landing. You haven't provided ANY evidence for your theory of Pathfinder being the product created in consequence of 4E, just some opinions of you and a few others believing that to be the case.

I have provided evidence that a) the timing doesn't fit, b) Paizo themselves only talks about 3.5 in their announcement of the purpose of 4E. I would say my evidence is better, and that it is more likely that my interpretation of events is the truth.
P.S. G.I.F.T. is the theory that people are more likely to use personal insults in a discussion on the internet, where they are anonymous and have an audience, than in a face-to-face argument where such a direct insult might result in them getting punched in the nose. Coined by John Gabriel of Penny Arcade.
WotC stopped printing 3.5 when 4E was about to be released.

"Some of you have been around long enough to remember that the only reason we created the Pathfinder RPG in the first place is because Wizards stopped printing 3rd edition books, and we needed to have a rulebook in print to support our Adventure Path line."

No 4E, no Pathfinder.
I can agree with that version, because now it is just about 3E going out of print, not about "the community abandoning 4E" like you said before.

I wish Paizo or another company would start making a new version of 4E plus 4E-compatible products when WotC abandons 4E. As far as I can see from Pathfinder reviews and browsing the books, Paizo is actually better at making a finished product out of the same rules core that WotC often presents in such a slapdash manner.
I never, at any point, said Pathfinder's creation was due to "the community abandoning 4E". You made that up -- see my straw man comment earlier.

I'll repeat something I said in one of your early 4E posts. You should check out Pathfinder. It's fairly cheap on Amazon (at least in the US, I don't know what it's like with VAT). You might be surprised, or change an opinion or two.
Huh? I don't think our opinions on Pathfinder being a superior product to 3E/3.5 differ. It is "3rd edition done right".

I would say however that it is not as good a product as 4th edition for anybody looking for a more challenging, intellectually stimulating, and tactical game.

All that I have seen for D&D Next, including the stuff they only announced but haven't shown yet, makes me think that D&D Next will be inferior to Pathfinder. Which is why I think that after an initial rush motivated by "Oh, look, it's the new D&D!", D&D Next will be a horrible failure.
I played 4th edition for a year, and was one of the founders of Living 4E on EnWorld. My group and I decided to move to PF because we found 4E to be less challenging and intellectually stimulating than its predecessor.

4E is fun, but to me, it sacrificed options for balance. I could create wildly different characters in 3.5 and in PF, in 4E everything seemed more sanitised and it did not work for me.

I find your assumption that 4E is for advanced players very insulting. A great many of us felt that 4E was a dumbing down, and held to this opinion despite having fully mastered the system. I enjoyed 4E, but prefer 3.5, you seem to think this makes me an intellectual Pygmy.

I don't think you are intentionally being insulting, but it reads that way. In any event, I hope there is some happy compromise reached with the new edition - though I'll almost certainly be sticking with PF.

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