Monday, May 30, 2011

4e vs. 3.5

Ok… So I want to preface this entire blog entry with a little background information so that when I start committing what some of you may deem nerd heresy you will at least know where I’m coming from. If you have read the “About Me” section under my name then you would know that I have been playing Dungeons and Dragons for a long time. I started in about 2000 with AD&D, played 3.0/3.5 all through high school and since 2009 I have been playing in a 4e game that is still going strong after almost two years. I DMed several AD&D campaigns, ran a 3.5 campaign all four years in high school and currently play in a plethora of 4e games as well as the aforementioned ongoing game. All this being said I want to shed some light on an issue that I feel like is a growing problem in the D&D community.
As many of you know we are in a time of division that players of D&D have not really seen before. The division stems from the changes made asthtetically and mechanically from 3.5 to 4th edition. Be it because there just weren’t as many options a few years ago, because the generation that is playing D&D now is so quick to hate on anything new or a number of other reasons, the notion still stands that people either love or hate 4e. The spectrum isn’t very vast and the people on either side make the PS3 and Xbox 360 fanboys look like angels. But why? Like I’m honestly confused. Why is it that 4e has garnished so much disdain in such a short amount of time? How come the same players that welcomed 3.0 with open arms and 3.5 as the second coming of Christ have turned so ardently on 4e and are writing it off as “a kids version of D&D” “Not really dungeons and dragons” “D&D for World of Warcraft Fans” or “Just a board game.” Is it because of the gameplay? The powers system? Nope. It’s the players. Confused? Good, now let me explain.
First let’s take a look at why it is NOT the gameplay, mechanics or the power system. Then lets look at why 4e was a necessary change from 3.5 and then finally what exactly I mean by it being “ the fans” that are at the root of this problem.
So the gameplay… A lot of fans have come out with their dislike of 4e, citing the “simplified” and “streamlined” style of gameplay as visual proof that D&D is no longer what it used to be and that it is becoming to simple or easy or something. I don’t know really the complaints don’t make much sense to me. To those statements I have this too say. IT WAS REALLY NEEDED!!!! Do you remember how long it used to take to create a character back in 3.5? How annoying it was to set up just the basic stats? I once spent like three days trying to pick a Deity that “fit” my character and after pouring over like fifteen thousand abstract, random, and retarded Gods I just said f*** and picked one of the main Deities. And you know what? That’s what everyone always did! And if they didn’t they houseruled and made up a God to worship. When was the last time you ever had Istus; the greater Goddess or fate, destiny, and divination appear in your game? What about Karaan? Iuz? How about Lirr, Mouqol or Osperm? Xan Yae? Telchur? Of course not, NOBODY DID! It was useless fluff that cluttered up the game and didn’t improve it at all. And if you hear ME saying that fluff is unimportant then trust me… IT IS! 4e has done a commendable job as strategically cutting the fat away that was slowing down and holding up D&D from becoming what it was meant to be. Now when AD&D first game out there wasn’t any of the clutter we had/have now-a-days, but over time the fiction has added up and the game has been weighed down by its far too extensive array of useless back story crap. It does two things wrong. It’s adds confusion to new players trying to get into the game and scares them away with a novels worth of pointless information they need to become familiar with before being able to play and it causes entire campaigns to come to a screeching halt when a discrepancy comes up between the games mechanics and it’s story element. Story trumps rules. For more info on what I mean by this just go watch “Gamers 2; The Dorkness Rising.” The guy who plays the Monk Character does a good job as showing just how idiotic some players can be about 3.5 rules.
But that’s just minor stuff right? How about we go into the over use of Chaotic Neutral? Was it just in my games or did everyone who ever chose “Chaotic Neutral” just pick it cause they wanted to screw everyone over and just dick around and do whatever they wanted? It was like a free pass to be the party asshole. We used to houserule that you couldn’t pick Chaotic Neutral cause we all got so tired of players douche-ing up the game and just writing it off as “It’s what my character would do.”
Now how about criticals? I mean really. Is there anything more exciting in the world than seeing that sexy two-oh staring you down your d20? No of course not. Crits are pretty rare as anyone playing D&D will tell you and when they do happen they are epic and awesome and should be met with praise and much drinking of the dwarven ale. But not in 3.5. Oh no. Some ass hat decided, “Wait! Let’s make crits do ridiculous amounts of damage and other extra stuff but make it so that when you DO roll a crit you have to then make another roll to determine whether it’s a true crit of not.” Anytime a crit is rolled in 3.5 everyone gets really silent, the room hushes and everyone holds their breath. And either the party gets a free pass on whatever it is they are currently doing, which is stupid to get on just one dice roll, or they get depressed cause it’s not a true crit. I’m sorry, but I call shenanigans on that one. When you get down to the bare bones of it 3.5 is just broken. I’m sorry to say that but it’s a broken system. 3.5 is the 1980’s of D&D. Everyone likes to look back on it as such a “rad” and awesome time with their nostalgia glasses on full blast but in reality it’s something to be embarrassed about. All those Madonna’s and parachute pants? Ew. I mean yeah we all look back and laugh and sing along with those redicculous 80’s-tastic music videos, I’m looking at you David Bowie and Mick Jagger, but whats embarrassing is that people thought that was actually cool at one point. (if you need further proof at how stupid the 80’s were just go on youtube and search David Bowie Dancing in the Street)
Also a big complaint I have about 3.5 is that a lot of the role-playing is done for you. The races are so heavy handedly made that you are kind of forced to role-play them the way the were meant to be played. I always felt like 3.5 sort of took your hand on the role-playing aspect and walked you through the generic phases of role-playing but never took any risks. And since the game didn’t take any risks in what is PRESENTED as option for role-playing than neither did the players. Sure experienced players would get into it but 3.0/3.5 was around for what? 5 years? Yeah no thanks. There a reason it didn’t last long. It didn’t work.
              Now look at 4th edition. You easily know what your bonuses are for each race, you know what races work well with what class, how to easily tweak other races to fit abstract classes that wouldn’t normally work, and Feats add great ways to create a character based on what you want him/her to operate like. They can add some real good depth and room for exploring back story as well. Sure you could meta game the crap out of your character and just pick everything that you should and max out all the “correct” stats and bonuses but if you’re doing that then you’ve missed the point entirely. Now I will admit I really do like how in 3.5 you had to take negatives to your race along with the bonuses and I really wish that 4e would have implemented that in at least some capacity but I’m not going to loose any sleep over that.
              Also 4e introduced the power system. Now let me stop you right there and say this. YES! I am very aware that the power system isn’t the most efficiently running system ever conceived by man but it has unbelievable potential and that potential I feel is being realized as we speak by the people at Wizards of the Coast. I honestly feel that when they perfect the whole “Stance” and “Augment Power Points” thing along with a perfect balance of At-Wills, Encounters and Daily’s that the powers system will be realized as the wonder that it is. As it stands it’s still pretty good. I like the At-Wills, they are good and provide flavor and fluff along with little extra things to help spice up combat while still staying true to each character class. I do think that you should have more than two though but with the essentials character we are getting there. Encounters are also really good, they make you feel like your character is really throwing themselves into the fight and giving and little something extra while adding to the At-Will flavor of adding terrain effects, more damage, better bonuses and so on. The problem that the power system really has lies in it’s Daily’s. Daily’s suck balls. They are dumb. Yes they are good for some classes but most classes could easily do without them and instead should allow you to pick another At-Will or Encounter. Daily’s have what I like to call “The Rocket-Launcher Effect.” Which means that a character will hold off using it because they think they might have to fight something bigger and badder in the next room but there is always something worse in the next room so you save it and save it and end up never actually using it. It’s like in a video game when you conserve the all the ammo you ever get for that one big gun and never end up using it because you are afraid you might waste it and not have it later when you need it. Some classes really benefit from the Dailys such as the Wizard Paladin and Cleric but overall they are pretty pointless to most classes and just serve to clutter up the game in my opinion.
             So I know it sounds like I’m being pretty hard on 3.5, but that is only because I see so many people getting into pointless squabbles over the meaningless minuscule points of the changes from 3.5 to 4e. One of those being the introduction of the Dragonborn as a playable race along with the Tieflings visual changes, I find it baffling that these tiny changes were met with the level of animosity that they were. Now I understand that people were a little upset with the appearance change to the Tiefling from 3.5 to 4e but in reality is this that big of a deal? I mean it’s a game of imagination for crying out loud. If you don’t like the way the Tiefling looks then just imagine it as however you want it to look. This isn’t hard to do here folks. I think this is where my point about 3.5 doing all the role-playing for the players is founded. Players actually got up in arms over the art style choice of a single race and because of that one change some people started screaming that the sky was falling. So they have bigger horns and tails?! Holy crap! The Gnoll has been a playable character since 3.0 what are you freaking out about?!?! Look as the asthteic changes from When D&D was called Chainmail and had like five races. Seriously people this kind of bitching needs to cease and desist! Get over the little pictures in the playbooks and start using your own imagination. That’s what I like about 4e, it doesn’t hold your hand. It also allows you to feel more of an individual. Now wait, I can already hear people screaming at me over this one, but it’s true. While 4e is much more streamlined that 3.5 it has much more depth. Because the classes are so much easier to work with you don’t have to spend so much meaningless time on the small details and you get your character right out of the gate and because you probably have the same powers as other characters from the same class (an example being how almost every rogue will take sly flourish as an At-Will or how every cleric has Healing Word) you have to actually put effort into and work on making them as well as your character your own.
I know I’ve rambled on for a while now but here is where I come to the end. This is the big one. I’m looking at you D&D community. And to be frank I am disgusted with a lot of you. It makes me sick to see the way fans of 4e are treated. On blogs, in game stores, in just general conversation I think it is deplorable the things that are said to people just because they enjoy 4e over 3.5.
You see before 4e the people who played D&D had always played D&D with very little exception. Most people who played 3.0 or 3.5 got into it because when it came out they were already playing some version of D&D, most likely AD&D, so they just picked up the new version. The thing is, is that 3.0 and 3.5 were VERY exclusive. They were extremely heavy handed on player knowledge coming out of the gate. In order for a game to run smoothly you had to have a pretty damn good understanding of the rules and world of D&D already. The learning curve was a bitch and that really turned off people who were interested in getting started. It was a step forward from AD&D but not enough of one. With 4e that curve is brought to a smooth and practical arc that allows players new and old to have fun. What this has done is it’s allowed people who would never even think about playing D&D to pick it up for a simple play through and fall in love with it.
That is why 4e is so hated. D&D is no longer that exclusive indie rock band that you get to hoard to yourself. They are full-fledged rock stars. The game is no longer this like pinnacle of the Nerd Kingdom. You see because AD&D, 3.0 and 3.5 were so hard to understand and get into because they required such a large investment from the player that once you got into it and finished your first campaign you felt like you had earned your strips. You were a full on nerd and proud of it. D&D was once the bar by which all nerds and geeks were judged. I mean I’ve seen people arguing over who is better, Picard or Shatner (Shat FTW) and then turn to another friend and tease him for being a D&D nerd. D&D nerds used to be set apart from the rest. Separate in their own little fantasy world of obscure rules and retarded difficulty. But the thing about that is while it may work for a while it is an unsustainable form or game play. There is a reason Wizards of the Coast was making so many lay-offs and cuts in the 2000’s. They invested heavily into 3.0/3.5 and while they sold well within their own predicted market range they didn’t do well outside of that which is where you need to be if you want to continue making the game. 4e was not only a smart move by WotC, it was necessary.
Please though, don’t read this and take any of it as condemnation. If you like 3.0/3.5 that’s rad! Cool! Have fun playing it and punch Tiamat in the face once for me. But it is disgusting behavior for us as nerds, the ones who have been mocked for our taste in entertainment and muse to turn on our own kind and mock those of us who are segregated within our own culture. It has to stop. Don’t hold yourself higher just because you like 3.5 over 4e. Don’t be a D&D snob. Love your fellow nerd as Gygax would. And never stop killing the kobolds.
This is Scott Farspell over and out.

1 comment:

  1. I've come to think of D&D as a setting in itself. Sure, you still have different D&D settings, but when you see some of the other products that have been released over the years (Wheel of Time, Star Wars, d20 Modern...) I think that it's easier for me to sort out the rules from the setting.

    And, ultimately, I think this viewpoint is why I don't feel the same about the new edition as the people who complain so much (stil1!). They both play differently and I think that my preference for one over the other comes according to what style of game I'ld like to be playing at the time rather than "I'm playing D&D therefore I *must* play with rules system X." In fact, I would love to play a Star Wars game using Fate rules out of Spirit of the Century--even though the rules weren't designed for that setting.

    The core and strength of D&D has always been it's community, even when it's as small as the group you play with. Imagination rules the day and I'll use whatever fits to make the game fun for my fellow players. If that means using other mechanics as well as ideas/plots, then so be it. When the player's are in the zone, they don't mind!