Monday, November 8, 2010

Type 4

So I finally played the official version of the game. For charity.

Here's what I think of it:

Nobody would have a problem with this game if it were just called Ninja Destruction Squad 9000 or X-Men: the RPG. It makes a really great kung-fu movie or superhero RPG.

The only problem is that this fun and interesting game of cheesy tactics has been spot-welded onto a game (and a name) a lot of us like to think is also equally about weird worlds and exploration and outside-the-box problem-solving and was maybe even a little influenced by things that happened in books. Type 4 feels like one of those action flicks where everything but the fight scenes seems like filler because you know that what the director's best at is fight scenes and yet the director doesn't seem to know that you know and so keeps thinking he can make you care that the blonde is kissing the hero and the sidekick has a cocaine habit.

Had we but world enough, and time, this coyness, Lady, were no crime, but you only play D&D for a few hours and so you wanna know whether you're gonna be playing a Fritz Leiber simulator or a Run Run Shaw simulator. If you want to enjoy fighting in 4E (and you should want to if you're playing it, because otherwise you're missing the only unique part of it) then you have to accept that it's the main event and it's totally stylized and bizarre and non-immersive and hitting people can give you extra hit points and heal your friends and cause Radiant Energy to fly from your ears and the fighting's gonna last until all the nachos are gone and so you'd better (player and DM) put some effort into making it work.

I would totally play Big Trouble In Little China Oriental Adventures 4E. That'd feel right to me. However, for a flexible and mysterious game where the hitting and the exploring seem like they're part of the same movie and you never know what you'll be doing next and maybe there's more than one way to skin a cat, I'd stick with the game I got.

Yeah, a good DM can find a way to do everything you can do in AD&D in Type 4 but then you'd have less time to design the 4E fight scenes, and that's a wasted opportunity. Plus then the gears would start to grind, because the characters feel so unreal and their powers are so vastly out of scale to the world they allegedly inhabit.


AccidentalFraser said...

This was pretty much my exact reaction to "Type 4" as well. On reading it, I knew it wasn't the game for the kind of sword & sorcery adventures I like to run and play. Though I figured it would work to replicate a kind of Shaw Bros wuxia action-fest.

Unknown said...

Enough people had this reaction to 4th edition that they released the Essentials line. Most people think Essentials is just a 'dumbed down' or 'simplified' version, but that's not really it. Essentials is, to me, version 4.5. The silly powers and 'Dragonball Z-esque' style of combat has been redone by changing the classes and spells to something more recognizable.

I'd definitely recommend Essentials to anyone who didn't like 4e (especially the classes), but still wants to give the new system a try.

mordicai said...

First off, I still crack up when I see "Type 4."

I think my verdict is the same as yours. Or well-- half-way, at least. I like 4e, but that is because I play it more as a "beer & peanuts" game. Some friends sit down, we role-play, then we fight the heck out of some stuff. It is FUN, yeah.

...but part of the reason it is fun is because I use a different system for my "serious" gaming-- read, my on-going campaign with a setting I am invested in, PCs who the players are invested in. I don't use older DnD, I use World of Darkness, but whatever, pick your poison.

With 4e, the first thing you need to do is scrub out all the descriptions. Redescribe everything, that is step one. Even then, you are left with tons of combat options-- maybe too many, since it prevents you from coming up with crazy ideas-- & not a lot of non-combat options. For non-combat magic/exceptional behavior, the skill challenge system can be adapted by a good DM into holding up...but like you say, you can play ANY system or NO system, & have fun, if you are all into it.

My thoughts on 4e is that there are important elements of it-- clerics that can do something besides JUST heal, sure but more importantly giving wizards at-wills & fighters daily powers. I've never liked that spellcasters were the only ones with cool powers, were the only viable options past 10th level.

I think there are good things here, & I think Essentials is an improvement already but REALLY I just think that there are good additions to the over-all structure. That Type Five DnD might be better for it.

Dave said...

The last part of your comment is the most pertinent for me - unreality (as much as we're playing a game revolving around purely imaginative constructs) and power scaling.

Having played since 1982 gives me a certain (cynical, admittedly) outlook on the extra nuts and bolts which keep appearing and at the time the equation for me was very much Leiber=/=D&D=/-Tolkein - it made a kind of sense (if only in the confines of my head) because the characters were heroes, not super-heroes. Exploration, puzzle-solving, role-playing....combat. Sure, with a kindly DM then with the advent of all the Player's Options (_options_ being the key) then you could twink characters to ungodly levels but they were just another facet.....the power levels in 4E or 4.5 feel intrinsic and seems the elements I enjoy (which the caveat a good DM can do anything) are shoved to one side for a more visceral fix.

That said (and admitting I am a terrible old curmudgeon) I suspect that if I were younger I would find the new game highly satisfying as the equation would run DragonballZ=/=D&D=/=Manga.

Subjective, but give me interaction and exploration over huge combats.

Anonymous said...

Zak, hi. I'm crazy russian newbie DM that loves your show and blog. The only game I've DMed was 4E but I really want kind of experience you guys have. So never played any other D&D edition or other RPG.

Please suggest where to start to have a Zak Sabbath - like game experiеnce. Thank you! Sorry for my poor English.

mordicai said...

Dave; I think about that a lot, actually. I miss 3es "Extraordinary/Supernatural" divide. The "power sources" in DnD are fine, except...the VAST majority of them are "magic." Magic Barbarians, even! I would like to see way more non-supernatural effects-- or even SEEMINGLY magical effects which are in fact NOT magical. I don't care if the Rogue "teleports" or "turns invisible" if you call them extraordinary powers. He didn't teleport, he was just HIDING there!

The Tiers-- Heroic, Paragon, Epic-- have POTENTIAL. I really like the idea of building through them, or just playing in them. That being said, I don't think it is THERE.

Like I said above-- all the "good" things in 4e just make me excited for 5e. OR at the very least, Unearthed Arcana.

Unknown said...

It does seems the D&D line is expansive enough to include two lines of products: a Type 4 stylized product, which focuses on high combat, and another product similar to 1st or 2nd edition, were exploration and role-playing were prominent.

Zak has it; the branding is just all wrong, not the game.

Jamie said...

This is why 4E is my go-to system for cinematic action-type fantasy. I think it goes great with campaign settings like Eberron and I think it might do S. John Ross's Uresia better than any of the systems it was actually built for. But I know that's the kind of games it does well. I wouldn't use it for a Hyborian game for the same reason that I wouldn't use Toon for a cyberpunk game. It just doesn't fit.

Dustin, I think the retro-clone movement has kind of filled that hole, at least for me. Most folks on the OSR blogosphere are content with either playing their older games or using something newer that's inspired by those games. Do we really need official support for that kind of game?

Chris Lowrance said...

Funnily enough, I reached the same conclusion solely by looking at the art direction.

Daniel Dean said...

Not trying to be a dick here but as someone who came to the hobby only a few years ago after a lifetime of reading comics (where sure John Constantine is the same guy when Alan Moore wrote him as when Andy Diggle wrote him, but on the other hand that's complete bullshit and the character and his world are completely different) the edition wars never seemed like much more than schoolyard arguments. At this point I've played a bagful of games and every dnd except straight 3rd ed. and I've found a lot to like and dislike across the board.

I mean the game runs much the same whatever edition we're using. Meet king, find clues, escape labyrinth, the floor is a monster, stab orc, befriend orc, kill orc, have sex with orc, venture into mysterious land, get killed, get better, get poisoned, loot everything. My best memories from any dnd game have nothing to do with combat, or even rolls, but from things done and said in the course of role-play. The fact that I'm playing in the DeLorean of dnd instead of the 57 Chevy of dnd never really gets in our way.

huth said...

It makes a really great kung-fu movie or superhero RPG.

Damn straight.

I enjoy 4e a lot more than 3e just because they owned up to what they were trying to do and decided to organize the information accordingly. 3e has all the crazy-ass Fireball-spewing Super-Chunky Modifier Frenzy Magic Punchers, but wading through paragraphs upon paragraphs of nonstandard power descriptions to understand how they blew shit up got fucking boring. 4e is up-front about it, and because it starts with explosions and superpowers there's no level 5 genre-expectation shift. With a DM who plays it that way (as ours did) it's at least as fun as Mordheim or Blood Bowl or other campaigny skirmish games.

ravenconspiracy said...

Combat is the main event certainly.

My experience is that 4e combat gets very repetitive and the more powerful your characters become, the more repetitive it gets.

Also, you played with pregens, which makes a huge difference - "building" your own characters creates huge shifts in effectiveness, often breaking the difficulty curve of normal play.

We all know that is a problem common to games with lots of options in character creation but in contrast old-school D&D had very few options in character creation.

Distinguishing your character was more about playstyle and personality rather than your choice or stats and feats. I think this encourages a superior form of play.

Seth said...


I was certainly hoping that you'd have a more positive experience with the game. DnD is a fascinating hobby because I can't think of another one I follow (ie- video games, M:tG, novels...okay, maybe novels) where new iterations on the game can prove so divisive. This isn't to say that there aren't people who preferred, say, Mass Effect I to Mass Effect II, but it seems like most of them grudgingly play ME II anyway, because they see enough of what they loved in the first one continuing forward.

I cut my teeth on 2e, with massive worlds and huge, player-driven stories. After dipping into 1e and the red box, I went reluctantly into 3.x, unsettled by the mechanical changes at first, but eventually set about playing massive world with huge, player-driven stories. And now I'm in 4e doing the same thing. At every stage I've been both player and DM, and 4e is my absolute favorite iteration on the game rules.

I love having characters who don't fold like torn posters when a goblin jabs them with a stick-- even if they're wizards. I enjoy that for combat, yes, but also for how it interacts with a trap-heavy adventure (where the concern in late-model, epics-enhanced 2e and 3e was that a trap that proved a threat to a fighter demolished everyone else). I love the healing surge system, not just for what it does in combat, but for how it allows the skill challenge system of exploration or flight to impact player health and combat capability in a relatively uniform way; a surge is worth more health for a fighter than a wizard, but either character losing one recognizes that he's just been worn out.

I'd be tempted to say that I must just like bigger, flashier kungfu/superhero experiences, but the last character I built was decidedly non-magical. Her abilities just represented weapon skill and physical determination-- even in cases where, as written, they might involve explosions of clutching vines and rocky armor. More time spent fiddling around with the game might make these reflavoring options clearer, but it doesn't sound like you're interested in dipping back into the pool.

Which isn't a criticism, just more of a lament. As one of my favorite and most respected voices in game theory, I was excited at the prospect of reading your innovations brought into the 4e world.

Zak Sabbath said...

@Kevin MAck

we were playing essentials.

Zak Sabbath said...

Probably start by reading all the entries on this blog, then reading all the ones in all the blogs down the right

Zak Sabbath said...

@Daniel Dean

I totally believe you, but without more details on how your group managed that mechanically nobody including me will understand how that came about.

Zak Sabbath said...

"it doesn't sound like you're interested in dipping back into the pool."

Did you read what I wrote up there?

I said it was fun and interesting and, properly skinned, I'd totally play it.


sometimes I wonder why I even bother writing anything...

James Maliszewski said...

sometimes I wonder why I even bother writing anything...

Welcome to the club!

Zak Sabbath said...


There's a threshold of entry length where you will start to get comments from people who think they read it but actually skipped half of it.

I think it's somewhere between 2 and 5 sentences.

I aim to keep everything I write below it from now on.

Jamie said...

Aw, man. I love reading your more invested postings and I'd hate to think that these comments would make you think twice about writing another post like Weird vs. Noir or the DC and Marvel comparison.

Adam Dickstein said...

I notice you removed the comparison to Dragonball Z/Manga you had there earlier. Cool. I was waiting all day to post a comment lambasting it. I didn't really want to, I simply felt the need to. Kidding of course.

That said, you sum up my feelings about the game rather well, though there is one additional element I would add.

Though an avid reader, my games are as much influenced by comic books, anime/manga, movies and video games as they are novels and history books. I find this gives me more points of reference and inspiration than GMs who seem to hold literary sources from before 1985 as the only true sources of creativity.

What I dislike most about Type 4 (heh) is that it feels more limited than the previous editions. It has less stuff in it until you buy the next book. You know, like the middle editions. See, in my mind, somewhere between the boxed sets and 3.5, D&D got very, "This is how its done. Stop doing it differently, i.e. wrong." Well, 4E feels exactly the same. I link its combat more with AD&D than the wild and kinetic action of most comics or anime.

I guess in the end I agree with you that 4E just isn't the game I'm looking for. Could it be used to run other things? Maybe. But again, it would require a more open ended way to design new encounter abilities. Maybe something like stunts in the old Marvel RPG. Also it would need to be as rewarding when you don't fight as when you do.

Anonymous said...

I totally get where you're coming from, Zak, and don't mean to argue (though I guess this can only count as an argument, alas), but the phrase "Fritz Leiber simulator" honestly reminds me that 4e feels to me rather like some of the more nutso stuff out of Leiber stories. It doesn't do "Ill Met in Lankmar" very well, but at the same time it's got the same kind of swaggering bravado that goes in with rocket-jumping chasms a la "The Snow Women," or off-handedly fighting a small army of thugs a la the opening of "Swords of Lankhmar". So it does some Leiber quite acceptably to my eye (though it's a purely perceptual thing, of course), particularly if people choose to emulate the material by having all martial classes.

Of course, in some cases I think 4e would do the best job with Nehwon if Fafhrd and the Mouser had botched a couple of their more interesting escapades. One part of the game certainly draws on the idea that you don't want to let heroes be enspelled into joining with the molten lava and becoming giant angry heroic magma-titans stomping across the land. But 4e seems like it'd be delighted to have an excuse for magma-titan fights.

Zak Sabbath said...

I read the stories. I'm thinking of the length of time each fight takes as a proportion of the whole text in the story.

Anonymous said...

Didn't mean to suggest you hadn't read them, of course; only that I find the spirit of the game matches up on some of the more outrageous "epic" bits. But yeah, point very much taken on the time proportion. Leiber enjoyed a fun skirmish setpiece now and then, but they weren't super-common and certainly didn't run on too long.

Seth said...


Actually yes, I read the entire post. Apparently, though, it communicated something differently to me than you intended to convey.

I guess I was supposed to take the Big Trouble OE comment as being a genuine declaration of intent to explore that in the future; instead, it struck me as a hypothetical envisaging another type of game (Like Ninja Destruction Squad in the opening paragraph) that the rules are a better fit for.

Having been following the blog since WotC promoted it way back when, I took your next several lines-- that you didn't think it melded well with the kind of exploration and mystery you like, so you'd stick with the game you've got; and that you recognize that a DM could put those things into 4e, but they'd be neglecting the fight scenes and set the gears to grinding --as being an overall verdict that the game didn't work for you and wasn't something that could give you the kinds of gaming experiences I'd had the impression you enjoyed.

UWS guy said...

Calling 4e a combat simulator is right, but slightly off the mark. D&D also started as a combat simulator CHAINMAIL. the difference is the old game was attempting to simulate real combat (real enough for verisimilitude that is and no more) combined with the magic pulled from literature (Vance, lovecraft, et al) this gave us real men+magic. The new one? Donno.

We know what inspired Gygax (midieval pole-arms and fritz lieber). Who at WotC has ever once said what inspires them to make the game the way they do?

Zak Sabbath said...


I know that Keith Baker provided pretty good Appendix N-style references (maltese falcon, etc.) for his Eberron stuff and most of the WoTC "genre" splatbook authors seem to reference books and movies so I wouldn't accuse them of "hiding" their influences.

It's not hard to say: WoTC wants to imitate the LOTR movies, comic book action, kung-fu flicks and WoW. Let 'em.

Gygax had an advantage because Jack Vance wasn't going to sue him.

Anonymous said...

Apparently 4e is the third rail of bloggery.

I expected the grognards to pillory you for playing it all, even if it is for charity.

I expected the 4e players to scream "Help, I'm being opressed" if you didn't say 4e is exactly like every other edition of D&D except it is better and more fun.

In fact neither expectation was fully correct. I am humbled by the quality of your commenters. (Well, maybe not the guy who is still saying 4e is perfect for however you want to play).

For my part I pretty much agree with what you posted (and yes, I read the whole thing!). What really bothers the old dudes like me is that 4e is a fundamentally different game and is being passed off as D&D. It's not D&D, it is something else -- and not actually a bad game, just not "D&D" if you expected anything like the first thirty years of the game.

4e Big Trouble in Little China would be a hoot.

Zak Sabbath said...


third rail is just about right. I knew I 'd have to regulate on people as soon as I posted it.

Anonymous said...


"It's not D&D, it is something else -- and not actually a bad game, just not "D&D" if you expected anything like the first thirty years of the game."

Amusingly, I sort of felt the same way as a kid when I moved to AD&D from magenta-box. Piercing/slashing/bludgeoning vs. AC tables? Overbearing? Segments? And where are the thouls and tarantella spiders and devil swine? I wound up thinking "Wow, this is a pretty different game from D&D."

I'm actually kind of disappointed that I haven't seen thouls since, come to think of it.

UWS guy said...


Good point about their references.

I tried to make a 1e warlord. Gave him all martial weapons and armors, slowed his XP advancement down a bit to simulate his slightly less combat acumen than the fighter of the same XP total, gave him an ability to pull his allies from the brink of defeat by putting his hands on them and hauling them to their feet with inspiring words, then I give his allies within 10' a +1 to their AC to simulate his co-ordinating good battle plans and tactical leadership...

Anonymous said...

Hmm, I don't know if 4e is best for Big Trouble in Little China - those fights are fast. Dragonball Z, maybe. Those fights go multiple episodes.

This was exactly my response to 4e. It is a fine game, but if you are looking for immersion in a "realistic" fantasy world, that's not what it's for. And for me personally, that's what I roleplay for, not the tactical combat.

Darth Jodoc said...


Currently, I play in 2 4th ed./Type 4 D&D games. Having a blast with both of them.

In a way, I got used to some of the elements in 4th ed. due to Star Wars Saga Edition (sort of a mix of d20 Modern with elements that would manifest in 1 way or another in 4th ed.). Force powers being 1/encounter, the saves turned into defenses, a set bonus to traned skills (as opposed to skill points), etc.

However, one of the things that's bothersome with 4th ed. is the powers—there's a fair amount to choose from, and unless you're diligent about writing them down, have purchased a Power Cards set for your class, or have the Character Generator for 4e wich will provide the info on the character sheet it makes, there'd be a fair amount of flipping through books during combat (the "what's this do, again?" effect, esp. if it's new for you). And it's not just the spellcasters—it's everybody.

There's a decent number of + and - to the game, just as there were in previous editions of the game (and other game systems out there). It's just a matter of what things fit best for you and your group. I liked a lot that 3.x had to offer, but once I played it for a while, I found irritating bits in it (for ex., like calculating skill points, esp. for high-level multiclassed characters).

And as much as I enjoy playing in the 4e games I'm in, there are times when I'd rather play the BECMI version instead, just for the sheer fun I had playing it.

I could potentially see pulling off a Leiber-like campaign using 4th ed. It'd require limiting classes, and using level-based bonuses instead of magic equipment (an optional rule as provided in the 4th ed. DMG, IIRC).

Also, I think a lot of folks define "realism" ina game differently: certain things are acceptable, while others are not. Simply having a hit point total, or gaining an ability to resist a swordblow later on that would've killed you when you started is an realism issue for some folks.

Then again, I tend to think that it's not necessarily about what's there in the game, but about what you notice or are aware of during the game. If it distracts you, then it'll affect your enjoyment of the game (such as by interefering with your sense of immersion, for ex.); if it doesn't, then it's acceptable.

Daniel Dean said...

@Zak: Not sure I understand your question. I guess from how I phrased the above it could be interpreted that we ran the same characters and campaign through every edition, which wasn't the case. We made a tour of the systems, to test them for ourselves and see what we'd land on for our regular games. Different campaigns, different DMs. I'm just saying, sure, every game we occasionally trip over an obstacle in the system but 90% of the time we let that stuff fade to the background, where it hasn't prevented us from having the sorts of adventures we were all expecting out of the game. Whatever version of the game that may be.

Zak Sabbath said...


Well were you always expecting the fights to last an hour and a half and the DM to be largely concerned with constrcting them?

And if not, what did the DM and/or players do to speed them up or make them simpler?

(And was there a plausible threat of death at all times?)

Adamantyr said...

I'm glad you had a chance to play 4E, Zak. I figured it wouldn't fit your style, and that's totally cool. What did Satine and Connie think of it? (Or chime in, girls, if you're reading!)

My chief complaint with 4E (which I do run with my current campaign) is the battles take too long. I know Essentials was attempting to fix this, but the fact is, hit point counts are too high. If you can't one-hit kill non-minions with a high damage roll, it's too slow. (Good experiment to try; halve all the monster HP's... players too if you're really old school.)

What I enjoy seeing with your gaming group is that they just have fun with it and roll with your game. A bit of arguing here and there but they clearly respect you.

MY players, most of whom are software engineers, argue every single damn ruling with me that isn't defined somewhere. I got one veteran gamer who backs me up as the DM, but one blatantly asked why he should trust my judgment. I told him if he felt that way, I'd pack my books and leave. That shut him up, but it illustrates the basic problem... they trust rules and systems over people. :S

Delta said...

I think that's an excellent analysis of 4E. Strongly agree (having browsed it but not played it).

Anonymous said...

Lord Alfric wrote: "However, one of the things that's bothersome with 4th ed. is the powers—there's a fair amount to choose from, and unless you're diligent about writing them down, have purchased a Power Cards set for your class, or have the Character Generator for 4e which will provide the info on the character sheet it makes, there'd be a fair amount of flipping through books during combat (the "what's this do, again?" effect, esp. if it's new for you). And it's not just the spellcasters—it's everybody."

That was one of the big problems for my group too. 4e is if fine for the guy who buys and reads all the books and subscribes to DDI. It is not really that hospitable for casual players, especially the ones who don't play a ton of card and board games already. (I guess that's true of 3e, and even AD&D to some extent too). My group was used to letting the DM and one rules-lawyer player worry about the rules while we tore shit up and explored and roleplayed. In 4e, there is a vibe that if you aren't working your cards optimally, you're going to let your party down. Or that's how we felt anyway.

Adamantyr wrote: "MY players, most of whom are software engineers, argue every single damn ruling with me that isn't defined somewhere."

Which is ironic since 4e was supposed to "fix" the "problem" of arbitrary killer DMs. How far the pendulum has swung. I think most of the complaints 4e players have about earlier editions (or the complaints they learned from WotC marketing :)) are DM-specific, not game-specific. In fairness many of the grognard complaints about 4e are probably DM-specific too -- as many have pointed out, it is possible to play 4e in a more exploration/RP/immersive manner, but you would need to scratch some of the rules and you wouldn't be taking advantage of the things 4e does really well.

I guess I'm saying the different versions of D&D attract different kinds of players and wouldn't it be nice if no one bitched that other people have the temerity to prefer a different game than I do?

Anonymous said...

@Zak: Thouls! Yeah I miss those crazy bastards too. I was really happy to encounter some in my brother's C&C game, even though they mauled us and killed all our hirelings.

Nagora said...

Absolutely agree that there's a great superhero game in 4e trying to get out. Most of the combat abilities (and time needed) just don't fit with a fantasy setting, whether you read your fantasy or get it off a screen. But comic-books? Perfect.

@mikemonaco I find that non-spellcasters in 1e can play without ever opening the books except at character generation and levelling up, even if they are non-gamers.

Anonymous said...

My group agrees that there were a few things that 4e did that we all liked. Giving melee characters something to do other than swing their plus three battle axe in a fight was nice. But in the end there was just too much that we didn't like. Too many hit points, anemic spell damage, a feeling way too much like I'm playing World of Warcraft (I play D&D to get away from WoW), and a lack of noncombat spells. I remember a 1e module I have where a group of mid-level players chase after a high level druid, and it was fantastic because of all the nifty effects the druid spells could do to discourage and delay the players. So we left 4e behind, played a couple of other systems as filler games (Savage Worlds 'Slipstream' setting is great if you're a fan of old buck rogers/flash gordan serials), before heading back to playing a modified 1e game. We haven't really looked back.

Zak Sabbath said...


I only played once but i did notice the lack of noncombat spells and powers (or at least multifunction combat/noncombat powers) generally was annoying. I mean, you could add them (and for all I know, they're already in the game) but then you'd be taking up slots that you KNOW you're gonna want, if you;re playing the game to its hilt.

Daniel Dean said...

I don't think we've had that trouble, no. In all I think we've thrown in for come-what-may but the only time we've had super-long combat has been against big fuckoff dangerous monsters or whole armies or what have you. We've had a good amount of death so I'd say there's the credible threat, although a game where you can always just get your buddy back at the local cleric "save point" hasn't made that something we sweat too much.

As for speeding up combat, and I assume you wanted to know regarding 4e more than anything else here, we basically just do simple things. It's a small group, so the DM doesn't overwhelm them with endless enemies or fuckoff enemies. We have a good spread of damage types, rely on potions instead of a designated healer so we have more space for damage-makers, and all the players took complimentary feats that help really cut through the chaff, especially with readied actions.

Longest 4e combat has been probably against a pair of baby dragons, longest combat period was trying to find the captive beholder in the forest full of gas spores in....I want to say the ad&d game. But then, that was one of the first ones we did, so...

Most of the 4e campaign has centered around stopping a cult over a long stretch of time with the help of a time dilating casket. So for us, 90% of the game has become exploration, recon, intel trading, treasure hunting, and bartering. We've even set up a good side business with one of the players selling antiques they store with us in the casket. Lot of role-playing and seeing the consequence of our actions over time, wrestling with being bigger bastards than we want to be...In terms of combat, we usually go for the Goldfinger model rather than the Goldeneye model. Make it special by charging it up with consequence, get the players and characters invested in what happens, rather than go with the flavor text and pack a scenario full of archers and necromancers and flame spout and whatever else we can cram in there because jumping over flame spouts is cool.

So I'm sure that helps matters. But again, that's how we roll in 3.5 or Mouse Guard or whatever.

Daniel Dean said...

And just so we're clear, I do think 4e is a WOW CCG turned into a tabletopper. I just don't let that get in the way, I guess. We have a couple vets, couple newer players, we reached a consensus on what we're looking for from dungeons and dragons early on, and we do that. I don't recommend it or endorse it over any of the other editions, but then I don't recommend the other editions over it either.

Though to be honest we've been having a lot more fun playtesting one of the DM's homemade games lately (Does every DM do this? Every hardcore dnd guy I talk to "writes rpgs in his spare time").

Zak Sabbath said...


see, to me long combats aren't a bug in 4e, there a feature--they're THE feature. playing 4e without them seems like playing Mouse Guard without mice--why bother? You just end up with all this crap about squares and attacks of opportunity cluttering up your character sheet for no reason.

if yr not doing extended combats, why put up with shit like "Aspect of the Seeking Eagle"?

Daniel Dean said...

I don't think they're a bug, I just don't feel like saying "Hey guys, I know we're doing cool stuff, but it would also be really cool if Dave kick-fliped over Michael's head and used Scream of the Knuckle Jesus on like a hydra or something, so why don't we go do that instead." I mean we've done that before, "show of hands who wants to fight the basilisk" or whatever, but that's not our goal when we sit down to play. The crazy power names, the flavor text, the text in the rulebooks trying to make every session soung like the battle of Helm's Deep...we ignore that, mostly.

And I'm not saying anybody should even bother with 4e, combat or no. The only point I was trying to make originally was that I came to this hobby about 4 years ago and in that time I've seen a hell of a lot of "this isn't really dnd because it isn't THIS version of dnd" and while there's a lot of good reasons to argue about relative merits and I appreciate the nuances of this system vs that a player, I'm here to play a character, to play a story, not a system. I'll buy in for whatever I have to in order to get there. Am I in the Temple of Garthag fighting Orcus in order to free my father's spirit? Is there an elf ranger next to me? Good, guess I'm playing dnd then, and it doesn't really matter to me whether I'm doing massive damage thanks to a rare magic item I found in a bin or whether I'm doing a flip-kick with a name from a bad haiku attached.

Zak Sabbath said...

Yeah, I came to the hobby 15 years ago and if I know who my father is and I'm expected to care either way about his spirit than I'm already pretty suspicious.

DukeofOrange said...

Zak, I was pointed to your blog some months ago, and was immediately struck by the quality of your insight, since that time I have come to respect your views as being even handed and well considered. To see that your comments on one of the greater gaming debates of the day are equally even handed is nice, thank you.

I have not played 4e (I'm a 3.5'er) and having only skimmed the rules myself, I am left with the biased views of the people I know. One of my more respected fellows equates the past three editions as:
2e=math test
4e=board game
Do you think this is particularly accurate? Also, do you (or any of you) feel that 4e's combat focus allows for better battlefield effects?

My situation is this, I run for a large group (might be as many as 12 now) so length of combat is never really an issue. You'd be surprised how quickly a large group of PC's can tackle even over-proof monsters with a disproportionately small amount of risk! To make big encounters more impactful I have learned that more or bigger monsters is not the key, but rather interesting battlefield mechanics. I like fights in big machines, on the backs of epic-ly huge creatures, inside buildings which are falling off of giant cliff sides into the ocean etc.

I'm not so much interested in switching over to 4e entirely (way too much work for a dozen mid-level PC's), rather wondering if there is any kind of mechanical support for these complex battlefields in 4e. I realize that your experience with the system is limited but have no doubt that you (and your other readers) might have some valuable insight. Is it reasonable to import these hypothetical machine-room mechanics from 4e to 3.5, or is the rules gap way too large?

Also (and this is largely unrelated), have you ever looked at/what do you think of the Pathfinder retro-clone? I'm slowly switching my group over to what we view as essentially 3.75. I'm doing this because of a need play test my stuff, and hope to approach Paizo as a potential publisher. Have you had any interaction with them?

Anonymous said...

I've enjoyed reading your blog ever since I came across it a few months ago. A lot of great insight into the mind of a GM. But I finally felt like commenting on something.

I tried 4E first with the Keep on the Shadowfell module and like you, wasn't very impressed. I gave it another shot. I currently play in two Type 4 games and one 3.5 game. The 3.5 game is an epic, three year long, sandbox campaign where we're now trying to stop the Illithid from dominating the planet. It's great, I love it and feels like traditional D&D.

One of the Type 4 games I'm in is trying to be traditional D&D with dungeon crawls, bandits, exploration and traditional monsters. It doesn't feel like D&D. The combats take too long, the DM isn't using skill challenges well, and it's just a bore and I'm glad we only have one more session left.

The other Type 4 game feels like D&D when I first played red box D&D 20 years ago. It reminds me of the first games I played because 20 years ago nobody I played with had any idea what traditional D&D was supposed to be like. We had fun coming up with insane ideas both as players and DMs. This current DM has come up with combats against ceramic clockwork monkies, chases on chariots powered by trapped souls, dwarven monks, and plant controlled statues and books. They're fun, fast and different.

The DM of this Type 4 game also makes good use of Skill Challneges. Something I haven't seen anybody talk much if anything about in the comment section. This DM uses the skill challenges to move the story along in a fun and interesting way. He's used them for mass combats, for escaping a guarded room and spying on politiians to gain an audience with a king. We even had one that ended with us tripping with intelligent elephants to get them to join us in goint to war. And the great thing is, we can use any skill during the skill challenge if we can make a good case about how to use it.

Am I trying to convince you that 4E is the game for you? Nope, all I'm saying is I'm glad I gave 4E a second chance and got involved in a game with a good DM and group that's balancing Combat, Skill Challenges and Role-Playing in a wonderful ratio. That and that skill challenges are an overlooked portion of 4E from eveything that I've heard from friends or read about.

Anyways, thanks and it's always fun to read your blog and see if I can steal any ideas for the next time I run a game.

UWS guy said...

4e is a combat simulator like CHAINMAIL--albiet on a 1:1 scale vs 1:20. Certainly nobody complains that battle in the latter take hours, or that none of the wizard spells were particularly good ooc, or that heroes had ridiculous powers like slaying dragons with a single arrow!, I look forward to the roleplaying game they'll end up making out of 4e.

Zak Sabbath said...


I think your respected friend is exaggerating.

I think if you're interested in creating interesting and tactically complex battles then 4E has some decent idea that look fairly easily portable to me--though WoTC's published modules don't seem to take advantage of them so you'll have to look under the hood a bit. Though, to be fair, so do a million other games, like Pokemon.

I've never played Pathfinder, though everything I hear is that it's exactly what it says on the tin.


Since Keith Baker wrote the adventure we played, the skill challenges were purposefully camouflaged as "normal" roleplaying situations, which was fine. Though I still prefer the Old School "challenge the player not the character's ability score" model.

@UWS guy
I heard you the first time.

Anonymous said...

Ah, I misunderstood the set-up. My bad. But I agree, challenging the players to figure out how to get past the challenge in their own way is much better than saying, "these are the skills you must use, now roll them."

Verdancy said...

The only thing I'd quibble with here is that the rules are a bad fit for the settings IV actually uses, which have become or been replaced by very modern FF and China Mieville styled stuff. They'd work even better with an Exalted or Fourth World kind of setting, but they make what they are aiming at fairly clear.

Also with the WoW thing, I think the mechanics are actually an attempt to differentiate themselves from computer games, inflating your given options far higher than could conceivably added to a game, and using more complicated rules than an AI could handle- the way tanking works is a good example. The same product differentiation urge is probably also behind the "narrative" direction games like Vampire went in.

Unknown said...

Good guess. Maybe a little more paragraphs for opening posts.

Unknown said...

Uhmmm, just like taking "Knowledge: history" over "bluff" in D&D 3.x I guess.

Out of curiosity I'd like to ask you the level of your character.
4e Utility Powers start kicking in at level 2.

Zak Sabbath said...


3.5 as-written has a lot of problems, too, though if you are playing a game where "knowledge: history" is not useful, you are *not* playing at my table.

I was playing a high-level PC. I think it was in the 5-12 range, can't remember.