4th Edition: Was it really that bad?

The answer to that question is no, by the way.  But it’s interesting to discuss why.

4th Edition DND gets a lot of hate on the internet from the old guard.  The folks who started in 3rd Edition or earlier hated it for the most part.  Too video game like, some cried!  Too much focus on miniatures and the grid, said others.  Too stripped down and power focused!  No RP focus!  And so on.

Here is the thing.  4th Ed was a very very different system that clearly took cues from video games.  It used a power system with a cool down (at will, encounter, and daily) like approach and heavily featured movement and tactics during combat.  It used defined roles for the classes as well (Leaders, Defenders, Controllers, Strikers) and had a system focused on where your classes power came from (Divine, Primal, Martial, ect)

So for those who took issue with it for being too similar to video games, well, you are right.  But that doesn’t make it a bad system.  It simply meant it was not really built for you.  For those who complained about these facts, well we now have 5th Edition which takes ideas from a variety of sources and you could always have gone back to play things like 3rd Edition / OSR / 2nd Ed / ect.

Just remember: In general, just because a new edition comes out does not invalidate OR remove the old ones.  Those books are STILL there, still usable, and no one but you and your group matters when it comes to your enjoyment of the game.

My biggest issue with the 4th Edition decryers are those who claimed it “killed Roleplaying at the table!” as if its streamlined and mechanical changes somehow removed everyones ability to tell a good story.

Here is the thing: Story, Character, and out of combat stuff was still doable in 4th Edition.  Many of the games I played and ran back then had just as much focus on RP as my games do now.  Nothing changed really except the way resolution of conflict was played out.  Skills are still pretty stripped down from 4th to 5th if you take a look, but you don’t hear people complaining about that in 5th Edition.  We didn’t NEED all those “Craft” and “Professional” skills from 3rd edition, which were barely used.  If you wanted your character to be a sailor, well, you were a sailor and your DM (if they were smart) would just assume you knew how to do those things.

I personally loved how 4e handled combat.  It made it very easy for players who had never touched a tabletop RPG to understand how things worked.  My wife, who at times struggled to wrap her head around 3rd Edition took to 4e perfectly.  She knew exactly what things her character could do, understood exactly how often they could do these things, understood her role in a party, and how to maximize her effectiveness in combat.  I also got a few other folks to try DND with 4e who have since kept playing in their own groups.  Lots of “video game” players got their start with 4e and still play to this day.

And these changes did not stop her from playing some of the most goofy and fun characters she has ever played!  Her first 4e character was, no joke, a Kua-Toa Sorcerer, who kept a wig made from peoples hair that she stole.  She believed it was magical (it wasn’t) and would creepily ask people for clippings of their hair.  Every NPC she met got asked this and sometimes she went to great lengths to steal the hair.

If you were to listen to those who frequently claim 4e “Killed RP” then my wife should not have created such a funny and interesting character.  She would have just been playing 4e like a “video game” with no passion.  

Looks like any character sheet to me, personally.

Also I loved how every character had a specific place in combat and how movement and positioning played into it.  Defender types could shove enemies around and control who attacked what using a fairly basic “taunt” system via Marks.  Controllers would either push or pull enemies, or sometimes do large scale AOE to blast groups down.  Strikers could target single enemies and burst em down.  Leaders buffed, debuffed, and healed the group, and healing was spread out using “Surges” so anyone could keep themselves standing, letting Clerics be more then just Heal Bots.  Remember, DND actually CAME from a miniature wargame, so it has its roots in this style of combat in the first place.  Yes, at times classes could feel similar (All defenders did roughly the same things in different ways) but thats true in 5E just as easily.  Barbarians, Fighters, and Paladins basically handle the same roles in the party but do it in different flavorful ways.  Class based systems all work this way.

Minion Rules came about with 4e as well, and many DMs (myself included) still use them.  Nothing makes a group feel badass then taking on a small army, striking them down with impunity while the DM keeps the pressure on by having each of the little twerps be able to harm their targets still.

Lets not forget about Skill Challenges as well.  Prior to 4e there was no real “mechanical” way to handle setting up a skill based challenged, and many of us DMs just had to wing it.  The format of the skill challenge, with multiple steps requiring success or failure and different states is something I still use to this day, and it was codified here.

Now, there are admittedly some issues with 4e for me.  One thing that drove me nuts was lack of choice in At Will powers.  Most classes had 3-4 At Will options, you got to pick two, and those were basically your standard attacks for life.  Human’s got a 3rd at will but you still were stuck with these.  Then you would eventually have a total of 4ish Encounter Powers (these WOULD change as you leveled), 2 Dailies, and a couple of “Utility Powers” and that was it.  Every class worked this way, even Fighters.  And this admittedly bothered people, the idea that a Fighter or Rogue had “Powers” like a superhero.  It never bothered me however.  And I enjoyed the fact that spellcasters could in fact use their abilities more often.  Cantrips do that now in 5th Edition, but back before Pathfinder and 4e casters basically had almost nothing to do at low levels.

I still want this!

Also housecats could kill wizards at first level.  No joke.  It was badddd in 3rd Edition and before at early levels.  That d4 Hit Die….*shudders*

Another common complaint about 4e was how long combat could take, given its focus on tactics and enemy control.  However, combat has ALWAYS taken a long time in tabletop RPGs.  Its not just the system guys.  Having to wait on each person to decide what to do, how to do it, making the rolls, describing the results.  I have had 5e combats take forever just because both the players and DM roll horribly and can’t hurt each other.  It’s not an uncommon issue, ever, and it’s not just for DND either.  Had this issue a few times in Savage Worlds for example.

4th Edition was clearly an experiment by WotC to try something very different from what came before it, and has not been replicated.  I personally still maintain that it’s the best system to get people into the game however, with its easy to understand systems and mechanics and fun combat.  I miss playing it to be perfectly honest and I have a personal goal to eventually collect most of the books for it and even run a few games in 4E again, just because I enjoy it.  I never did get to run that Dark Sun 4E game either.  Or Gamma World.

How did you personally feel about 4E?  Did you hate on it?  Have you ever even tried playing it?  Let me know in the comments below.

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