Saturday, August 25, 2012

About D&D 4e, D&D Next, and a new personal project

I don’t think I will love the fifth edition of D&D (what is currently known as D&D Next). Sure, I will give it a chance, and go along with the playtest, and do my best to help make it a great game. And, barring some kind of disaster, I will buy the core books, and try to organize a campaign. I’m fairly confident I will be able to enjoy the new game to some degree, but I seriously doubt it will inspire me the same passion that 4E has.

It boils down to this: D&D 4E has the best tactical combat of any game I’ve played, by a mile. It is deep and varied, remarkably (though not perfectly) balanced, and just a ton of fun -beating down monsters and taking their stuff has never been this satisfying. And that's all there is to the game, really:  the mechanics for roleplaying and other non-combat interaction are merely decent, exploration is almost non-existent, and the settings (which I tend to like) are system independent. By contrast, Next is constrained by design requirements that weren’t much of a consideration for 4e, such as pleasing a wide fanbase including hardcore old schoolers, and keeping true to the spirit of earlier editions - which are things that can make it a great, successful product, but that I personally don’t care much about.

The bad news, of course, are that 4E is dying. Granted, it’ll always have a place in our hearts, and we can keep playing it,  but content releases have dropped drastically, and will stop altogether in a matter of months. One could argue that enough 4e material has been released already to cover for many years of future campaigns (and that would be mostly accurate, unless you intended to play at the desolate epic tier), but there s a kind of release that I will be missing dearly: errata. While not everyone is a fan of the rather aggressive errata cycle used for 4e, in my mind it has been a crucial factor in keeping the game alive and constantly improving. Frequent errata has made 4e a much better game than it was at release, but there are still major issues (psionic power point progression jumps to mind) that will remain unaddressed.

Ever since I started writing this blog, one of my main missions has been to support D&D 4E through house rules, making it a more fun and balanced game by improving and fixing what is already there - not unlike official errata. I believe this approach can go a long way, but very often I have found myself wishing for a way to clean the slate for some specific systems, like feats, magic items, or paragon paths. Frankly, I think these parts of the game have become cluttered with too many options of wildly different power levels, and their implementations present some fundamental problems on top of that, so rewriting them from scratch (an idea I already experimented with in the Magic Item Reset) could bring major improvements. One thought led to the other, and suddenly I found myself playing around with concepts for a full revision of 4E... And this (after much digression) is the project I want to present to you today.

So, to summarize: I am working on a full featured game that intends to preserve the awesomeness of D&D 4E, but also to polish it and get rid of its clunkier elements. It should be playable as a standalone, but also remain compatible with the most important mechanical material from 4E supplements: races, classes, adventures and monsters. An option to use isolated modules from my game in regular 4e campaigns would also be provided.

In tomorrow’s post, I will explain in more detail what exactly I have in mind for this project. Keep in mind that this will be a personal endeavor, and thus limited by my (currently very scarce) time to write  - I cant really tell if it will take me months to complete, or years, or if I will be unable to finish it. So please be patient: whatever content I end up producing will be available for free at this very blog.

As for the name of the thing? Square Fireballs Role-Playing Game, of course.


  1. I wish someone made a 4E sci-fi game (not gamma).

  2. I've started work on a similar project, which I call 5th Edition Now (because I already have that title trademarked due to my blog).

    I ultimately ceased development because I came to the conclusion that 5EN wouldn't "do" anything that 4th edition doesn't already do; while I certainly want to trim feats, and there are some balance issues and the like, it seemed that creating an entire game system was a bit much for one person when the end result wasn't too much different from what already exists.

    If you'd like to hear some of my insights, I'd be happy to start up a discussion on the matter.

  3. I'll be watching the development carefully. I also feel that Nest is not exactly my cup of tea. There is also 13th Age - great development of 4E ideas, but I'd like to see yours.

  4. Terentius:

    I'm afraid a sci-fi 4E isn't on the not-so-short list of ideas I have on queue, but I can provide some comments on the subject. The main problem for such a project, in my opinion, is that it would require an almost total conversion of 4E - outside of the core rules, you really need to redo all player options and monsters. Since 4E is a very option-hungry game, that can take a ton of effort. There's also the matter of what kind of setting use, since the genre is usually much more varied than your generic fantasy stuff.

    That said, I think many of the concepts I'm going to develop can be of use to this kind of conversion projects. I'm working hard on reducing the number and complexity of game elements (powers, feats, equipment, monsters, and virtually everything else) that are needed for a playable game build. I also want to analyze and explain in depth (and also improve, as we are on it) the underlying game math, which should be useful when creating game content of any kind.

    If all else fails, I have always thought that a heavily reflavored 4E could work wonders for certain sci-fi sub-genres, like superhero adventures. I have casually built character sheets for most of the X-Men, for example, and the rules support them rather well. The JSA, not so much (due to excess of overpowered characters).


    I won't claim that going through all the effort to rewrite a game that already exists for some incremental (but hopefully substantial) improvement is a sensible choice... But it's the one I have made, and I'm sticking to it for now. My brain keeps coming up with ideas for the game, so I may as well take notes and try to make sense of it all.

    I'll be posting about specific game issues - and solutions - soon enough, so we'd better discuss things when they come up, to keep focused. I've read your blog, and I tend to agree with you on what needs addressing (though not necessarily in how to do it ;) ).

  5. I've started on a project some time earlier, about 4-6 months ago :) this blogpost has my precise sentiments, and its great to see I'm not alone in my endeavours.

    Though of course, it is natural that projects go in different directions.

  6. Your feelings about 4e and 5e are close to mine. 4e was honest about what D&D has always been, a fantasy squad combat system (with some exploration and RP tacked on it). 4e admitted that fighters were tanks, thieves were strikers, and wizards were crowd control. These terms might come from MRPGs, but those were based on D&D. Players put 2 and 2 together and realized that wizards are crowd control. 4e admits that players use squares, not feet. Rounds, not minutes. 5th is turning its back on these realizations to appease grumpy old gamers who thought tHAC0 was a good idea BECAUSE it was a pain to use. Gone is the awesomeness of minor and move actions. 4e made combat vastly more interesting because i could do A to improve B... to set up one action with another. Gone are the powers that made all the classes interesting. 4e is the ONLY edition i'd consider for playing a fighter. All the other editions, including 5th, are just "um, this turn, I think I'll change it up a bit and attack". Dailies and encounter powers made fighters, what's the word, fun.

    i'm very curious about 13th Age and this project of yours. Get a newsletter so i can subscribe to it.