I’ve played a lot of D&D. I had my first taste of it in the final days of AD&D2e. It was ok, but I never really understood how it worked, that always had to be handled by my DM. And when 3rd came out, we switched. I’m one of the few people who actually bothered converting an AD&D2e character to 3e. When 3e came out I liked it. The game system was revised. Things like certain races only being able to get to certain levels of a class were gone, the rate of XP gain was unified, and it introduced the modifier system for stats which replaced so many copious tables and was one of the best things to happen to D&D since the d20. In short, 3e was good. I played many a great games of 3e, and I had many great adventures dealing with the Coryani Emperor’s mad plans in Onara, navigating the twisted intrigues of Sharn in Eberron, and driving out giant hordes from Geoff in Greyhawk.
But at the same time I was enjoying 3e I heard the wails and the gnashing of teeth of people who hated the change. 3e is an abomination. They’re taking all the flavor out of the game. They’re dumbing it down. All the role-playing flavor is gone. 3e is a money-grab. Why can’t they just stick with AD&D2e. 3e is a horrible flop and they’ll have to go back to AD&D2e. I remember hearing all those arguments back in 2001 and well on into 2003. I remember being berated for even mentioning that 3e was D&D.
So when 2008 rolled around I suppose I shouldn’t have been terribly surprised when history repeated itself and I hear the same sorts of arguments when the 4th edition of D&D saw the light of day. And you know what, I get why someone wouldn’t like any sort of new version of their favorite game. There are plenty of changes. Some you’re not going to like, nevermind the fact that most of us are pre-disposed to dislike changes of any kind. Toss in the fact that a new edition is a request for you to buy new product, and I completely understand how that could be a deal-breaker of sorts.
What I have never gotten though is the need to heap abuse upon anything about the new version or anyone who uses it. I mean “Gabe” from Penny-arcade had “4e is an abomination, you should play X, that’s the real version” as one of the top things he’d been emailed about his D&D campaign. Is that really the kind of message to send to someone brand new to the game? Then again, I never really understood “system fanboys” and “Mac or PC fanboys” and it seems to be pretty much the same phenomenon, and let’s not even get into “real-life” issues that delve into the same territory.
Back to the matter at hand, sometimes I am foolish enough to get into this “discussion”. Though it’s never really a discussion so much as an opportunity for people to sling hate at each other. On one of these occasions I was told, in classic hyperbolic fashion, that there was nothing good about 4e. So rather than being smart and not getting involved, I instead decided to write-up a list of everything off the top of my head that I thought was an improvement that 4e made to the game. Then my list was 32 items long. I have since added three more.
Even though getting into an argument which is probably nothing more than an exercise in misplaced anger wasn’t the wise thing to do, I still think the list that was written up was an interesting thing to look at, and so it deserves to be shared here with anyone willing to take a look at it. I don’t think I imagined the list would get so long when I began writing it.
A few disclaimers before the list begins, however. I imagine someone is going to say something about how one edition promotes role-playing more than another, and you won’t see that on this list. I decided to keep this list about the game design itself, which keeps other external things like book layout out of the list too. For the record though I don’t think either game by its nature encourages role-playing more or less than the other. Look for a future article where I explain why. Also 4e is not perfect. I could make a list of things I don’t like about 4e too. It’s not perfect, and with any luck when 2015 or so rolls around at 5e comes maybe some of those things will be addressed.
So without further ado here is my list of 35 improvements I think 4e brought to the game.
- Cone and Burst templates replaced with easy to follow Burst and Blast squares which do the same thing but do not require memorizing the square pattern or having a template, such as the ones by steel squire. No more groans from Entangle being cast. Wire coat hangers everywhere breathe a sigh of relief.
- Skill system was redesigned so similar skills were combined into groups, eliminating the need for skill synergy as synergistic activities are now part of the same skill. All classes tend to have skills that are often relevant in every adventure.
- Skill point system replaced with / untrained / trained / skill focus setup. Generally in this game and 3e what happens is players will max out certain skills and just continually put a point into it each level to keep it maxed. Now this simply happens automatically as training and skill focus are flat bonuses that can be given to skills and all characters get a half their level as a bonus to skill checks. This also has a side effect of ensuring your character improves overall at skill related tasks to represent experience gained as an adventurer, rather than eternally being pathetic at a number of tasks like what would happen in the earlier system.
- Large Base Attack Bonus, Fort, Reflex, Will tables replaced with static bonuses at level 1 based on class and defenses, attack bonus, ability checks and skill checks increase by 1 every other level (IE: Half level). I’m never going to forget what a pain it was leveling up my Fighter/Wizard/Spellsword at level 10 having to references three different charts.
- Game is stable and consistent through levels 1-30, where as 3rd has a “sweet spot” of 5-12. Before level 5 characters are rather weak, after level 12 the game breaks down.
- Vancian spell casting is gone. Spells now use a unified easy to understand implementation that is shared by all powers regardless of the power source while still keeping their flavor due to the properties available to the powers themselves. Fireballs still explode and need good reflex to avoid and roast your party members if you’re not careful, while divine casters often need not worry about this as their offensive prayers usually only hurt enemies, but they tend to have less offense in comparison. Martial characters still primarily deal in AC. Players do not need to learn whole new systems to understand spell casters or psionic characters.
- Powers system allows for all classes to shine in their own way and emulate the feats of heroism that players are accustomed to in legends, stories, books, movies, and yes, sometimes video games. Large number of powers to choose from allows characters to make their character different from others of the same class by the selections they make. Power selections also allow martial characters to differentiate themselves from other martial characters more so than in earlier editions, where before only spell-casters got that kind attention. Rogues in combat are no longer just a defined by their sneak attack, but their ability to blind, cripple, slip through defenses, etc.
- Races strengthened and made more unique. Races are more important throughout a character’s career thanks to more feats and class options related to race. Had side effect of no longer requiring ECL for many classic D&D races.
- Combat rules streamlined and unneeded complexity removed from key areas.
- Roles for Monsters and Character Classes make it easier for the DM or Players to narrow down their search for what they want to play or what monsters to include and careful choose which entries they want to read fully.
- 3rd edition followed a “battle of attrition” model of balance, where upon players would face a large number of easy challenges that would spend their resources and player’s mistakes would come out most of all in later encounters where resources they spent in the beginning encounters cause their downfall. This lead to the “30 minute day” where players would get up, fight something huge, then goto bed. (The length of time it takes to run encounters encouraged this as well.) This lead to DM’s often having to pump things up for the one big fight to work correctly. 4th edition centers more upon each encounter being dangerous and less on attrition between encounters, encouraging parties to continue adventuring.
- Encounters are now easier to create. Monster types make it easy for DM’s to get ideas how a group of monsters interact with each other, avoiding game-breaking combinations. The effects of traps in an encounter with monsters are now easier to determine. As a result, traps are more often parts of combats and not “That thing that happens between combats”.
- Skill challenges give a framework for DM’s to visualize and create a variety of non-combat based encounters. (Previously you just kind of winged it.) Skill challenge system is flexible and abstract so it is not confining.
- DC’s and Damage table in DMG makes it easier for DMs to calculate original or unexpected things, such as terrain not thought as such being used as a weapon
- Fantastic terrain added, effects of natural terrain more clearly defined.
- Disease system is more robust, with variable effects dependant on the stage of the disease on the affected character.
- Sizes of creatures adjusted and consolidated. No more piles of tiny sizes most people don’t remember and no more colossal size that filled up most people’s game mats. Have you seen that Colossal Red Dragon mini in person? It’s huge. It’s a statue, not a mini.
- Classes always gain something each level. No “dead levels”.
- Epic levels (21-30) no longer need a separate system to use and are part of the core game. Note that Level’s 13-30 in 3rd are past the sweet spot of 5-12 and game mechanics break down in those levels.
- Epic destinies get players to think about how they want to exit the game when it’s over. Epic destinies have many important world-changing events in them which can spur on future campaigns.
- Paragon Paths are easier to use than Prestige Classes and serve the purpose of specializing a character better than prestige classes
- System is written from the ground up to accommodate future books and expansion without breaking the core system.
- Weapon groups with their feats and the magic items eligible for those groups allows for lots of flavor to be tied to a weapon type, with the added benefit that newly created weapons do not need new rules added to use these feats / magic items
- Encounters are generally based upon groups of monsters opposed to 3rd ed being largely based on “The one big thing”. This makes movement and tactics more important, making combat more interesting. 4th edition however can still easily do “the one big thing” very well, where as third has lots of difficulty with groups of monsters, especially if you’re talking about more than a pair of the same monster.
- Monster stat blocks are easier to read and are written with running them at the table in mind. Running monsters is vastly easier as a result.
- Death and dying rules allow for the character’s health to be taken into effect (Death at -Bloodied instead of -10), while at the same time making it so the dying state is more dramatic, yet simpler to manager. The three failed death saves per encounter and you’re dead is simpler and more effective than the -1 hit point or 10% stabilization a round. The unneeded 0 hit point condition of disabled has been removed.
- Magic item slots consolidated. With three primary slots, weapon, armor, and neck, and the rest being supplemental. Stat boosters items that were required for progression removed.
- Encumbrance rules simplified. No more unwieldly chart that just gets ignored.
- Rest and recovery simplified. No more need to play the cleric-rest healing game
- Swimming and flying simplified and made easier to understand and run creatures with those abilities or adventures in those settings.
- Frustrating grapple rules eliminated. Monsters that were grapple-centric now have abilities to represent this, making them simpler to run while keeping their flavor.
- Healing surges take much of the need to manage healing resources off of the cleric. Healing surges encourage the encounter-centric game balance and de-emphasize attrition-based challenges.
- Fort, Reflex, and Will saves turned into defenses just like AC. This streamlined attacking because the die rolling is all on the attacker’s side and not the defender’s side. This also tends to make things easier on the DM.
- Spells with durations longer than a round have been replaced with effects that can be sustained by the caster or effects that need the target to make a saving through (10+ on a d20) every round to escape the effects of the spell. This makes it so you do not end up having to keep track of the duration of several spells cast on you like in previous editions, and you simply have to remember if something is cast on you or not. Once again, this tends to make things easier on DMs.
- Recharge system replaces effects that were often “recharges in 1d4 rounds”. Recharge powers now instead list what numbers on a d6 that must be rolled to get the ability back. The monster rolls a 1d6 each round and if one of those numbers come back up the ability returns. Instead of “ticking off” rounds for the ability the DM only has to keep track if the ability has been used or not, and remember to roll recharge each round to see if it comes back.
It seems odd to me that a good portion of the previous list follows the form of “X was annoying, it’s gone now.” If you are going to be honest about improvements in a game you shouldn’t just state your preferences. I can also sum most of your preferences as “simpler, more shiny”. Any element of the game that was complex for better or worse you wanted removed. Again, that isn’t improvement, it’s preference. So, what’s left?
#8, race focus over life is arguably an improvement but that is a simple lack in 3.x not a rule system problem.
#10, roles serve a useful purpose, encourage all to be involved (useless bards) and help in building encounters. Repeating this in #12 doesn’t make it a different point.
#13, skill challenges are a framework for non-combat challenges.
#14, DC/Damage table. A “fake it” table is a good idea.
#16, Diseases are more complex and interesting.
#20, Epic destinies do encourage a plan for retirement.
#23, Weapon groups work.
#26, Death and dying has been improved.
There is one special case you have backwards – #19, Epic levels: I have to say this is not an improvement but simply a stretching of later levels. Level 1-20 became 1-30. At least the 3.x epic rules were open ended.
Everything else on your list is preference. I agree some of the complicated systems should have been simplified but other are simplified to the point of stupidity: fireball is square? Basic english should still apply in games.
I’ll also note several of the actual improvements mentioned in your list has been incorporated into Pathfinder. Your 4e preference and baggage with 3.x seems to lead you to the conclusion that it is the only answer. Before you bag on a game you played for so many years, maybe you should take a look how you are really deciding what is an improvement.
It shouldn’t seem odd to you that a lot of this list is related to preference. Taste is subjective. Acknowledging this is honest. Not doing so and pretending that there is a absolute truth of taste is dishonest. I clearly stated at the beginning of the article that this was a list of 35 things I think were improvements. I appreciate that you agree with some of the points on my list but that doesn’t mean the other points you don’t agree with are invalid, in the same way that when I disagree with your preferences about the same subject it doesn’t make your opinion invalid either. If you enjoy a different kind of game than I do then obviously you don’t think these things are improvements, in the same way back in 2001 those who enjoyed the quirks of 2nd didn’t think 3e was an improvement, just as the existence of Hackmaster proves some people prefer the very first edition over all else
Ultimately agreement with my points or disagreement is up to the reader. I can only present what I consider to be improvements and why, but I can’t make you value those reasons. By presenting the information in this way however I outline concrete items of what I consider to be improvements in an easy to digest format, so that the reader can understand my viewpoint and decide for themselves if they agree or disagree with me. Even if you don’t agree with my viewpoint, after reading this article you should at least be able to understand it, which is just as important, if not more so.
About your special point in particular though. The epic level handbook in 3e did have an open-ended setup, however if you read it you can see it is chiefly concerned with levels 21-30. All of the classes have tables that only go up to 30, and the overwhelming majority of challenges, monsters, and material only go up to level 30. After level 30 a lot of the support for those characters is lost, with only a few nods to higher level characters left such as a seven high CR monsters and the note that the leveling pattern can go on for infinity. I’d also remind you that when I suggested trying an epic level campaign in 3e you refused to touch it, citing how broken it was. So you can understand how I’m a little confused why you would think it’s a good thing to have the open-ended ability for levels 30+ when you refused to try levels 21-30, or even levels 12-30 for that matter. What good are infinite levels if you can’t actually play them? Also I don’t agree about the stretching of later levels either, and it seems to me that levels 21-30 in 4e cover the same kind of territory that 21-30 covered in 3e. I also think this was an easy move to foresee, since epic level rules made it into the 3.5 DMG, and it was only a matter of time before “epic levels” made it into the core rules, rather than just an add-on, allowing for greater built in support.
For what you have to say about my general preference for simplicity I will direct you to this quote.
You’re an engineer. I think you can understand the sentiment here. I don’t share your view that a fireball being a simple square in 4e as opposed to the squares made into a vaguely circle shape like they were in 3e is a lost. A complex shape requiring a unique template was exchanged for a quick simple square that fulfills the same function. I have no difficulty envisioning a ball of fire filling up most of said square, landing, and exploding on the ground and effecting everything in the indicated area. I’m also not bothered by either edition when fireballs set off in a small tunnel don’t expand outward through the tunnel like a real explosion. To me, a simple, elegant solution that achieves the same effect is a better solution.
It’s good to note that some of those things are in Pathfinder, but there are a number of things in Pathfinder I’m not particularly keen on too. There are other reasons why I haven’t chosen to put more playtime in Pathfinder, and people who enjoy that game should continue to play it and I hope they enjoy it. That doesn’t really have anything to do with this article though.
Compared to 3e I do prefer the core structure of 4e more. That doesn’t mean I don’t like 3e. I just like 4e more. Pointing out things that I think were improvements doesn’t insult or “bag on” 3e, it just means I think 4e is an improvement overall. It doesn’t make 3e any less of a good game. It doesn’t erase all of the improvements to the game that 3e brought. But today is better than yesterday, and tomorrow will be better than today, and so I think, overall, 3e was better than AD&D2, 4e is better than 3e, and 5e will be better than 4e. At least, it will be if the people at WOTC keep playing D&D as much as they do now, and the writers put the same kind of thought into 5e that their writing and blogs show they put into 4e.
One final thing I’d like to bring up. It doesn’t paint a good picture when you dismiss the things I enjoy that you don’t share as being only concerned with “shiny”. When you use this word you use it mean, “vapid and without substance”. I know you tend to apply this label to most anything that doesn’t match your own preferences in taste, as if your tastes are better than everyone else’s. What you frequently call “just shiny stuff” I and many others call fantasy and heroics. And D&D is fantasy game, and it’s perfectly normal to expect players to want to emulate the kind of stirring and exciting things we’ve read and seen from other fantasy sources like the Lord of the Rings, Homer’s Odyssey, or even the Drizzt series of books. Just because we’re not concerned with playing a game that isn’t crushingly realistic, gritty, and fits your tastes perfectly doesn’t mean your tastes are any better than ours, and vice versa.
This is a fantasy game. This game system makes it easier for me to do the kind of things I want to do in a fantasy game and to play the kinds of characters I want to play in a fantasy game, while cutting down on the things I dislike and distracted me from enjoying the game. 3rd, while I liked it, made it harder for me to do those same things. That is why I prefer this last edition. It’s a really simple concept to grasp.
PS. Thanks for the very first comment on my blog. I guess this answers my question if you ever actually read my blog. XD
To state your preference is an improvement is intellectually dishonest. It it is the equivalent of saying “this car is red now, it has been improved”. Preference is NOT the same as improvement the same way what you like is not by definition good. You assume what you like equals quality. You reinforce this assumption when you state you “keep this list about the game design itself”. This implies you are evaluating the game rules from a pure improvement point of view. That would be a lie. I have no problem with preferences, I do have a problem with dishonesty.
Now, I don’t think you intended to deceive anyone. You honestly seem believe your preferences define what is good. What I pointed out is how little of your list can really be considered improvement from any kind of objective standpoint. If you don’t think objectivity is possible, why use any kind of language that would imply otherwise? If you called the list “35 things I like about 4e over 3.5” your message is clear. To preface the list as “improvements” in design. You go on at length about the foolish complaints about the new system, implying there are concrete reasons the new system is better rather than just another preference. But you list is mostly preference. The hypocrisy of doing what you complain about should be obvious.
Your quote on perfection from an early 20th century aviator isn’t very compelling. I have a better one for you: “Striving to better, oft we mar what’s well.” – William Shakespeare.
Your complaints about my use of the word “shiny” are quite valid. I dismissed your preference as you have implicitly dismissed any who disagree with your preference. I used the word to show by reflection what you are doing. There can be no discussion on a pure preference beyond agreement or disagreement. There is no reasonable response to “you like shiny” beyond yes or no. It is a phrase that kills rationality in favor of emotion, much as your “dead levels” or “exercise in misplaced anger” phrases do.
If you truly want to an interesting list try stepping away from your personal preference and try looking at the game objectively. If you just want to rant about what you like or dislike, don’t disguise it as objective however unintentional.
Do you consider automatic transmission an improvement over manual transmission? How about anti-lock brakes? Air bags? How about hybrid cars? These are all things I imagine many people consider to be improvements compared to their alternatives but each of these items have a number of people who do not consider them improvements, and do not value these system’s benefits more than their negatives, but somehow I doubt you consider yourself dishonest if you consider these things improvements over the alternatives.
The problem with what you are saying is that the criteria you requesting I meet to consider something to be an improvement is impossible. No person on this earth can cite any change in a game as an improvement and have it be universally accepted as such, even if that change can be backed up by benefits such as making the game run smoother, allowing greater freedom to the players, allowing the game to be played through more levels without problems in the math of the mechanics, and making the game more intuitive and easier to understand. Even the items from my own list that you agreed with me are improvements don’t meet you criteria of being something universally accepted and divorced of preference. If you don’t value why I believe it to be an improvement then you will not consider it to be an improvement, and so that is why I say the list is what I consider an improvement. Nothing about that is dishonest and misleading.
If you were someone I’d never met before I’d be glad to go over each point and present in detail why I consider them to be improvements, but you’re not some stranger, I know you and we’ve had this discussion before in person and I’ve come to the conclusion that we’ll have to agree to disagree on these points because, as I said, you simply don’t value the benefits of the thirty-five items on my list the same way I do because they don’t match your preference. And I’ve come to accept that and that’s why I don’t discuss this topic with you anymore. I mean, you’ve already listened to my reasons and the writer’s reasons why these things are improvements, why would I retread the same discussion with you again knowing what the outcome will be?
Ahaha man, I feel like an ass- I started scanning this and the first thing that jumped out was the bit about the same arguments about 3e (dumbing down and money) being made about 4.0 when I JUST said the exact same thing in a reply to your comment on my blog. AH WELL, what’s a girl to do.
I intend to come back and read this in more depth during daylight hours. I’m really curious to hear your views of 4e, especially since I know that I don’t know enough to justify bitching about it.
I was hoping to discuss the design improvements in 4e beyond designer and player preferences. You said you “never really understood ‘system fanboys'”. I thought you wanted to discuss what 4e actually improves on the game, which is more than nothing. I agree with a few of your preferences and I can’t say that style is invalid. I run or play 4e every week, that would be pretty strange of me. I thought pointing out how you are doing the very thing you decry in the opposite direction might spur a little thought about other play styles. Preference can’t be discussed, only stated. I thought we could discuss design. Apparently, I thought wrong.
Ok, now you’re being just a tad melodramatic. ;p
Generally what I’m “railing” against is the general “X sucks, Y is better, and you’re a moron for liking Y.”, and also the idea that you can’t enjoy both X and Y for what they are. I think it’s a pretty fair statement to state something I consider to be an improvement 4e made, for example #34 on the list, followed by the reason why. But if you don’t value the reason what am I supposed to do, tell you you’re wrong? I can elaborate on a point, I can clarify the reason why it made it on the list, but I can’t make you value the reason given.
It’s the same reason why when you talk about things like “dissociative game mechanics” being a problem, (IE: I don’t feel the game mechanics break immersion the way you do) I can respect the opinion even though I don’t share it.
If you want to talk about the design, and the ideas behind the design, and how they’re improvements and why, I’ll be glad to have the discussion with you, but you have to realize that eventually it’s going to come down to preference at some point. D&D is a game. It’s not like an airplane where a change in design can have a quantifiable, definite improvement. It’s something that’s judged by the people using it. It has more in common with a user interface, or how controls are on a device to make it more intuitive. You can see the improvement in how people tend to “get” it easier than other things, especially the un-initiated, but it’s not universal. A GUI is generally an improvement over the command line, but people, especially those trained to use the command line, sometimes prefer it. In a similar case generally a mouse is considered more intuitive than a trackball, but there’s always that one oddball in the office who’s using one. XD You wouldn’t know anyone like that, would you?
In any case, if you want I’ll be more than happy to print out the list and elaborate or clarify anything you’d like on the list in person, just keep in mind that at some point everything on the list comes down to preference of some kind or another.
PS: Adam has this to say on the subject.
I have played for 27 years, and in all that time I would have never dreamed I could have a group of 8-9 players at level 18-21 in a campaign without it becoming an unmanageable mess.
4th edition handles it brilliantly, it is the best edition in my opinion.
I agree with your points, and would suggest a simplification of an unweildy over complex system is 4th edition’s greatest achievement.
Yikes, 8-9 players?! At one time? How on earth do you manage that? I mean, I agree it definitely is easier to run things this time, but 8-9? I don’t think I could do that.
I find DND 4th edition a lot harder to DM. I have DMd it to 23rd level, and we all gave up. I found the combat actually slower, mainly because everyone had stacks of powers and it wasnt just the casters slowing the game down (some of my players love being simple and concentrate on roleplaying, others love being experts and concentrate on scanning spells/powers, 4th just forced everyone into that mould). I ran the default adventures, I found it incredibly hard to encourage roleplaying in this system, players were sooo concerned about their powers. Spells in previous editions were so complicated that players just said what they “imagined” it to do, and we worked from their (obviously reading the rules, but a lot of times faking it also), in the current edition my players didnt even say what the power did, or looked like, they just said “burst 1d6”, this helped turn the game into a minis game for us. We found the standard baseline of powers for all classes, made all classes feel the same. We were never concerned about “balance”, we dont play tournaments in the RPGA, we dont play with people we dont know at gameshops, we play with friends who arent trying to be better then eachother, but rather have fun and play roles they enjoy.
Your mileage may vary, but that came from 4 players, who sold ALL their 3.5 books because they were super excited for 4e. While were a little disapointed that wizards was lying all along about the gametable we anticipate, nevertheless we gave the game a thorough chance, wanting it to be our DND. We now call two games our D&D – Pathfinder and Arcana Evolved (made by the game genius Monte Cooke). With these two systems players have a wide selection of roles to play, fairies to giants, to wizards, witches, fighters and warmains. The classes are definetely NOT balanced against eachother, but it is precisely that they are NOT balanced against eachother which allows them to feel different from eachother.
Just my thoughts 🙂
Sorry it turned out that way. But at the risk of sounding a tad rude, the core issue you’re describing isn’t a problem with the 4E system, it’s a problem with your players. You even say it yourself when you say, “…in the current edition my players didnt even say what the power did, or looked like, they just said “burst 1d6″, this helped turn the game into a minis game for us.” 4E didn’t turn it into a minis game for you, you and your players did that on your own. The, “I roll this and do this amount of damage,” trap has existed in every edition of the game, and as long as it’s a numerical game it’s going to continue. In my experience people did the same thing in 3E as much as they did in 4E… and both editions warned you not to do that, but still players and DMs keep falling into that trap.
Now I’m not saying 4E perfect, and maybe your players roleplay better when they don’t have hard numbers to worry about (As you say, they didn’t worry about the mechanics in 3E) and if that’s the case to be honest I don’t think any form of D&D is your cure, because previous editions have many of the same problems you’ve just house-ruled them away by ignoring mechanics. You might want to check out something lighter like maybe Exalted or the True20/Mutants & Masterminds system. D&D by it’s very nature lends itself towards being crunchy, which means more focus on numbers and mechanics. It’s expected of the D&D brand. I’ve checked out lots of RPG systems and I completely understand the advantages of going rules light so you can focus more on roleplaying, but not edition or version of D&D is that game.
I think the reason why this happened LESS in previous editions, is because the rules werent so simple. Players said I cast x, cause they didnt know exactly what it did, after all, it was often 3 paragraphs. This type of complexity helped the game be more mystical to us, and since I as DM often broke rules, it was fun to have them just tell me what they intended to do, and me tell them what I think happened. Now with 4e, they tell me the effect, and dont even care what the fluff is. Sure its my players fault, but a roleplaying systems main purpose should be to ENCOURAGE the players to roleplay, moreso then being balanced. Or it least thats what I think 🙂
Furluge, I reread your posted about other “lighter” systems and agree that might be more our style. I don’t know, its hard to explain though. We really roleplay incredibly well with complicated systems such as arcana evolved, iron heroes, but I think this may have more to do with the intermixture of fluff and rules. This intermixture forces us to acknowledge the power we are using, and yes, on occasion the rules are broken. 4e just made it to easy for the player to not care about what the name of the power was, not care about the fluff text, and since everyone had so many powers and it was so new, I confess I as DM often simply took their mechanics and also never cared about the fluff.
We had an lcd projector, minis, used all the dungeon mg adventures (their adventure path), and after a while, we couldnt shake that “mini batttle” feeling. That was just our experience however, and I never would want to say that it will be everyones.
I don’t doubt it didn’t work well for you, but when you explain what went wrong the impression I am getting is that with 3E your group has gotten comfortable with handling things a certain way in that edition and has house-ruled it to a point to where it’s where you want it to be. When you switched to 4E you left that comfort zone and you went from having the DM do all the mechanics for things to having players doing that, and when that happened people stopped focusing on roleplaying and more on mechanics. I totally get it. What I’m getting at is that I think is…
A) The way you play your 3E games could be done with any edition of D&D. Personally my brief exposure to AD&D2E was handled exactly the way you describe… Because none of us understood the rules. When we played 3E I usually played it with people who were versed in the rules, and did understand the mechanics and usually did the mechanical work of spells themselves rather than leaving it to the DM.
B) I don’t doubt you can play things that way with more complicated systems. You can bend almost any system very far with enough tweaking and house-rules. But I think what you describe vs. the systems I’ve played that I think D&D probably isn’t the best choice. I honestly think if you tried one of the lighter games you’d be happier. Those game systems usually make up for being lighter by having a wider breadth of character creation options which makes it easier to create more character concepts. The only downside is that they can be harder to DM because no game has as much supplemental material as D&D does.
Thanks for your comments, its almost like 4e has pushed me to tell my players to make any character from any system and let me handle the details…. they have faith in me, and I work hard to make the game semi balanced, and totally fun… it was just when we were giving a “system” a chance that it turned into a number game. I didnt modify monsters because I had faith in the D&D designers, which since most monsters had 300 hp turned into hour long battles.. I now really would love a rules light system, where they get the image of what happens, and I tell them the effects… but I think 3,5 has this going for it… the Pathfinder adventures are incredible. I am going to start running Kingmaker soon, and its just soo good in so many ways.