Friday, June 6, 2008

Thoughts on 4e...so far

Well, thanks to good old Buy.com jumping the gun, I now have in my possession a shiny copy of the fourth edition Dungeons & Dragons Player's Handbook (note the new apostrophe).

I'll be honest--I'm no D&D fanboy, but as soon as I had the book out of its cardboard envelope, I had to go to the bathroom, I was so excited. TMI? That's how we're gonna roll around here.

My toilet-oriented reaction is perhaps a bit curious, as I've really been somewhat ambivalent about 4e ever since it was announced last summer. Third edition left me pretty much ice cold, and I've actually been putting a lot of thought into how I can get that "D&D fantasy" experience of old without necessarily going back to those clunky old editions (more on that shortly).

I assiduously avoided 4e-related topics on message boards up until about a month ago, and even then I only browsed them idly. I'm willing to give 4e a chance, but mainly as a player--thus my purchase of solely the PH, which is a first for me over the previous editions (second and third) for which I've purchased core books.

Tim, that eternal D&D fanboy, ordered the three-volume gift set and the new module and promises to run a campaign for us. Which will be quite an accomplishment, as the number of games he has run to completion could be counted on the deformed, two-fingered hand of a Deep One hybrid. We will see.

No, my excited reaction was owing more to the role D&D has played in my life since I first got into this crazy hobby. I watched the D&D cartoon when I were a lad. My first-ever RPG experience was when this weird kid named Sheldon ran me through the solo scenario from the Mentzer boxed set, reading the sections out loud in a sort of collaborative "choose your own adventure" format (I still remember how weirded out I was by the arcane polyhedral dice--in fact, that's about all I remember from that first "session"...that and the rust monster). A couple years later, the Red Box became my first-ever RPG purchase, after my dad drove me all over Albuquerque looking for a place that sold it (we, of course, eventually discovered Wargames West--and that's definitely the subject for another post!).

When I started gaming seriously a couple years later (1992, to be precise), AD&D quickly became a core choice (along with RIFTS) for our piddly little group and remained so for nearly a decade. We played D&D. A lot. Even when we got sick of it. It had a certain...something about it. Something that kept us coming back. Something I still can't define today.

I've been wanting to get back to that certain "something" for some time now. I've tooled around with Castles & Crusades, even ran a couple one-shots with it. I've run a game of Rules Cyclopedia D&D. They get the job done. But my itch has not been scratched!

I think I'm looking for a certain level of sophistication in my FRPG rules these days. That's why I can't simply go back to running, say, 2nd edition AD&D, with its many, many maddening idiosyncrasies. (And don't get me wrong, there was a lot that 2e got right.)

Which leads me to think that for "D&D-style" fantasy I'll either use GURPS Dungeon Fantasy (set in the Wilderlands, natch) or Burning Wheel.

Ah, but this was supposed to be a post about my thoughts on 4e, wasn't it?

Well, I'm about three chapters in. So far it looks interesting. I'm sure tons of folks will have lots of fun with it, and I think its potential as a "gateway" system is much improved over 3e. The only thing that's left me cold so far are the revamped alignments. Just really bizarre, that. The use of "squares" to express movement and distance actually seems like a real old school return to form. The best I could say would be what someone mentioned in a video on YouTube: fourth edition has taken a lot of stuff that has traditionally been implicit about D&D and made it explicit.

For example, 4e unabashedly touts combat and "encounters" as the central facet of the game. I cut my teeth on 2e, the most setting-oriented edition of the bunch, and somehow we still picked up on the emphasis on combat, even though 2e went out of its way to say, "Hey! It's not all about dungeon crawls!"

But yeah, so far I'm looking forward to playing it. And that's about it. More to follow as I make my way through the book and come up with a character for Tim's game.
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