Jul 242009

So 4th edition D&D has been out for a while, there’s a steady stream of books out for it, its received quite a bit of acclaim and popularity, and the inevitable question has risen a few times: Why am I not playing it ?

So to address these in a manner that illuminates my playstyle and preferences, something that any gamer could do well thinking about occasionally, here are the reasons I have chosen not to play D&D 4, after giving it a few tests after it came out.

Unlike a lot of people I am not viewing this in comparison to 3.5 (which I hate like the plague) or AD&D or the classic D&D games. I evaluated it in comparison to other fantasy games on my bookshelf, some old (Runequest), some classics with recent editions (GURPS, Warhammer) and some bleeding edge (Burning Wheel, Heroquest, Reign)

1: Classes.

I realize picking on D&D for having character classes is a bit unfair, but it is the nature of the beast. I dont mind having a template that gives me direction when I create the character, but as the game goes on, I want to be free to develop my character in the direction I choose, rather than a pre-determined set of options.

2: Levels

This is the bigger pet peeve. As a player, I find level based advancement absolutely choking. I despise having to wait another 3 sessions to advance my character, as it prevents me from reacting organically to what happens in the game. Whats worse is that a level structure means there is only a finite amount of chances to make those changes. I can endure character classes if they are done in an open and entertaining fashion, but level based play is a killer for me these days

3: Character focus

I am lately finding myself wanting games that put the character to the forefront, their beliefs, their wants, their goals and desires. And to have mechanics that back that up. Burning Wheel, FATE and Heroquest are all good examples of this. D&D has traditionally never done this and the 4th edition is no exception.

There are two views of mechanics and roleplaying. One view is that the mechanics should stay away from the roleplaying, while the other is that the mechanics should support or encourage the roleplaying. D&D falls in the former school for sure. As does a few other games I enjoy, including my beloved Runequest, so its not inherently a killer in itself, but its a factor.

To me, it is completely uninteresting whether your character can swing a sword, hit 2 enemies in one blow and then leap 3 squares. What is interesting is that he has a burning passion for avenging his father, and that passion compels him in the game.

4: Simulation

Rules should simulate reality or setting to a certain extent. With 4th edition, D&D has really moved to the end of the Game axis of the game-simulation graph. This obviously resonates with a lot of people, but it makes the mechanics appear arbitrary and uninsteresting to me. Simulation does not have to entail realism. A superhero game is highly simulationist for example, as is Bunnies&Burrows.

5: Handling time

I was shocked to discover how long 4th edition combats take. I had chalked this up to our inexperience when testing it, but reports from friends and various actual play reports online confirmed that the game is indeed designed to have all combats last around a 1 to 1.5 hour time frame.

I only get to game face-to-face 2-3 times a month, due to work and family constraints, so I can’t in good conscience devote that much time to every single battle we have, unless its an epic conclusion. Rolemaster and GURPS both move faster than this, at an equivalent number of combatants, and with similar amounts of record keeping, and they are both renowned as “crunchy” systems.

6: Cost

I have a reasonable hobby budget, but I prefer spending that on miniatures. There are very few roleplaying games I invest a lot of money in. D&D has a basic start up cost exceeding 100 dollars, simply for the 3 core books to play. If I want a setting to play in, thats another 35 dollars, and this still only gives me a handful of character classes.

Throw in another 35 dollars when we get tired of what was in the players handbook (and an active group will cycle through the 8 or so character classes pretty quickly). This is more than I’ve spent on most of my wargaming armies, and I can’t justify spending that amount of money on a game that I will only play occasionally, at most.

WOTC has set an extremely high cost of entry for their game, which boggles my mind. For the same cost, I can obtain the core books for 3-4 other games, and have a far wider variety of material to play with.

So those 6 reasons comprise my main reasons for passing on this game. I bought 2 of the books, I tested it, I came to realize that it will not fill any lack in what I am looking for in a roleplaying game, and I passed the books on to a friend who will find far more benefit, value and enjoyment in them, than I ever will.