4th Edition D&D vs. 3rd Edition D&D – The Drop

I was thinking about this recently, comparing the release of 3rd Edition D&D with the upcoming release of 4th. It occurred to me that when 3rd Edition dropped, I didn’t know of anyone who was going to keep playing AD&D after they read the book and got their head around it. I admit that there are always some grognards who are going to keep with what they know, but the vast majority of D&D-dom made the change, followed by a massive flood of new settings, third-party products and so on. Almost no one kept writing modules for AD&D or for anything before 3rd Edition.

I’m not counting 3.5 at all because…well, it wasn’t really a new edition, so its not what I want to talk about.

What I find interesting is that 4th Edition is different form 3rd in that a lot of people don’t seem to be interested in making the change. 3.5 isn’t a broken game, and Paizo is doing a lot to improve it with their Pathfinder rules , adventure paths and modules. They’re also not making the change, and blithely continue to put out high-quality materials for 3.5. Other companies are equally leery, not the least because of problems which swarm around the 4th Edition manifestation of the open gaming license (more complicated, not as open).

In talking to gamers, I get a definite split between 3.5 loyalists and 4E enthusiasts. A few, like me, frankly are cool with both editions. At the store where I’ve started working, I’m happy to tell D&D players that there is no reason not to take up either 4th Edition or Pathfinder from Paizo. Either one looks like it’ll be a lot of fun.

Its just interesting that the general consensus seems to be that a new edition of D&D isn’t needed. It might be fun, it might be cool, but it isn’t necessary in the way that I felt that 3rd Edition was a necessary move, given AD&D and the tremendous problems with that system. I had frankly stopped playing D&D entirely for a few years when 3rd Edition came out, and 3rd Edition is what made me want to play D&D again. My whole gaming group felt the same way, so we waited until our Vampire game came to an end and put together a 3E game, and it was a lot of fun.

Personally, I think this is interesting. I don’t want the rpg industry to be a leviathan dragging smaller games along in its heaving wake. I want it to have mongrel vitality, and room for all kinds of gamers with all kinds of interests. I personally see 3E continuing to appeal to older gamers, while 4E I think has a chance to pull in at least some younger people whose first rpg might have been an MMO. We’ll see.

18 thoughts on “4th Edition D&D vs. 3rd Edition D&D – The Drop

  1. I actually remember plenty of talk about people sticking to 2nd Ed before 3rd Ed came out, but all that pretty much got blown away once everyone saw how much better 3e was than 2e. I think it will probably happen similarly this time because we are a culture obsessed with “new” and even if 4e is not that great it will be newer. Some of this might be dulled a bit by the fact that Paizo and others keep producing new material for 3e for a while, but I think 4e will be a pretty major force for a couple years here.

    What will be interesting is to see if 4e sticks. ie: will it continue to be popular for 10 years as 3e has. Will 3rd party developers pump out a massive load of content for it as they did for 3e? Or will it be an acknowledged disappointment in a few years despite the initial excitement that they look to replace with 5e?

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  2. We'll see. One big reason that 3rd has been so popular for so long is the OGL, which has made it easy for third parties to put out a massive amount of supplemental material. 90% of it is crap, but that's true of any kind of publishing really.

    The new version of the OGL, with new initials I can't remember at the moment, is a lot less clear, and seems like it'll be mroe restrictive. They're also delaying discussion of it, forcing these new third party publishers to put out more 3E stuff – which they might just keep on doing.

    In contrast, when 3E came out, AD&D was dead, TSR was dead, and no one was buying their supplements at all. 3E's only real competition was nostalgia and some battered AD&D books from a few years before at least.

    What scares me is talk that the D20 logo license will run out on the OGL with the release of 4E, meaning these third parties might theoretically have to pulp all of their backstock that has the D20 log on it…which would be beyond perverse.

    There is also the problem in the new version of the OGL where WotC is saying you have to declare whether a line of books will be 3E or 4E and you can't mix. So, take Green Ronin. Their Freeport series of supplements is for 3E right now, but this would mean that they can't publish anything for Freeport that is 4E compatible. The same would be true for other 3E third party settings, like Midnight, Dawn Forge, all kinds of others.

    Hmm. I think I should write a full post about these issues.

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  3. Well I got the books today and I have to say I am pretty disappointed.

    3rd ed tried to take into account previous editions. So did 3.5.

    4th ed has changed so much basically it's too hard to backwards compatibility. The nature of mechanics has changed so much all the D&D novels now are completely alien to the game (if you worried about such things).

    At its hearts 4th ed is designed to appeal to the Warcrafters not the greybeards. But the thing is warcrafters play warcraft, us greybeards play D&D.

    Mind you they got $150 out of me so whose looking dumb.

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  4. Howdy Mikey!

    As is my habit, I put up a link to your blog on my list. Thanks for the comment!

    I also find 4E to be a massive rip-off of WoW. I mean, you can even disenchant magic items for crap's sake. I really think that the PhB is a lateral move at best – but you make a good point that it is perhaps the biggest break with D&D's tradition yet.

    I thought that, in contrast, the DMG and MM are both better than all of their predecessors. I like the DMG's take on encounter construction for non-combat encounters, and the MM is just all-around good. Smaller stat-blocks, and they have racial stats for lots of “monster” races in the back as well, which is a lot simpler than the method you had to employ in 3E to derive racial stats, find their ECL and so on.

    My group is going to run some 4E in the near future, and I'm running a game for Worldwide D&D Day at the FLGS, so we'll see how it goes. I'm hoping its more fun…or at least equal fun.

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  5. I came across this quote on the GenCon boards which pretty much sums up my feelings about why I'm not switching, greybeard or not:

    {clears throat}

    “I haven't heard anything good about 4th edition that i haven't already house ruled in my game a bit ago, and the bad things i've heard would ruin the atmosphere of my game.”

    -Nate aka dontadow
    http://community.gencon.com/forums/p/15588/182888.aspx#182888

    That's me to a 'T.'

    Steve G.
    Project Manager
    AvatarArt

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  6. Thanks for all of the comments! I put down responses in the same order. You should definitely read on, as we have expanded on our ideas and opinions of 4th Ed in subsequent posts.

    First – I agree, except for healing surges. I get the idea behind them, I just don't think they function in a very interesting way, and could easily be improved upon, while still keeping with the idea of not being tied to a Cleric, which I like.

    Second – I agree with you there, on both counts. It forces the grid-map, but makes said grid-map more interesting.

    Third – while I personally think you should work you way up to facing a dragon, that's just my personal style. I agree with you on this point.

    Last – I definitely agree with this point. Seeing a “Delve” run in my store for about a score of kids, some of whom were new to the game, its easier to teach and to learn and to dive right into.

    Last rant – oh man, I've gotta stop you there :). I like the Bard, I've played a lot of Bards that I had a good time playing, and the Bard is way cooler than the Warlord. But I'm just a sucker for classes that are jacks of all trades. But to each their own…if the Bard doesn't make an appearance in some kind of PHB2, I'll be happy to cook one up.

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  7. Thanks for the comment Jess. I was wondering – what do you like about 2E compared to 3.x? Personally, I thought 3E improved on 2E in every way – it in fact got me back playing D&D again, which I'd given up for GURPS and White Wolf at the time.

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  8. 2E was simple in the way it worked. No points to add or subtract the way 3E is and no complicated steps to take. You roll dice, you make a character and then you go. With 3E there was all this new stuff and more attention to details that we really didn't need. My friends and I all tried to play the new way of doing it and found that we couldn't get a creative with our characters.

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  9. Actually… I have to agree with Jess. 2nd Edition had a number of advantages over the 3e set – don't get me wrong, I have a regular group that plays 3.5 and it has advantages too, but it lends itself much more readily to powergaming and a PC “arms race” of skills and feats.

    2nd Edition was in many, many ways more restrictive than what has come after, and had a proliferation of different tables and stats to reference throughout various books – and while this does not seem advantageous from either a learning or realism standpoint, it lent a sense of balance to the game that 3rd edition eradicated. Each class was much more unique in 2.0, rather than being simply a different blend of base attack bonus, skill points, and feat choices. There were things that ONLY a thief could do (e.g. pick a lock), only a fighter could do (specialize in a particular weapon), only a druid could do (shapeshift), and so on and so forth. Powergaming and understanding exactly how to distribute points was unnecessary to ensure that a character remained an essential part of the party.

    I play both editions regularly with a veteran group – every member plays both editions on alternating weeks, some preferring 3 and some preferring 2. Perhaps you have to see them side by side on a regular basis to understand, but 2nd edition had flavor and balance that were completely abandoned in 3 in favor of 3's internally consistent, simplified format.

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  10. I found this via Google, and there's some interesting stuff to read here.

    I do remember 2e vaguely, as I only played it on the PC (or was it AD&D2? Baldur's Gate and the likes, anyway). I myself began playing from 3e, and quickly changed to 3.5, which was a great improvement. But as I remember, there were indeed some more flavour to the old ruleset, and the different classes felt a lot more unique.

    Anyway: Where do I find the Pathfinder RPG?

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  11. I'm impressed! The last comment was from, what, a year ago, and it took you just ten minutes to answer my question.

    I thought Pathfinder was a computer game, but learning that it's not, I'll definately look into it when I get to Tromsø (where there's the greatest, coziest little game shop in the world).

    Thank you.

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  12. No problem Canned Man. The whole reason I started blogging was to have conversations about things I care about (as well as to burn off some extra writing energy that had nowhere else to go) so I try to be prompt about comments.

    I had a chance to play in a Pathfinder session a couple nights ago at my local game store, and I had a lot of fun. As a 1st level Cleric, I had far more options than in any edition of D&D. For an entire dungeon crawl, I never used my weapons at all and still had things I could do to help out and keep everyone standing. That was a big selling point for me – much, much more fun at low levels than other editions.

    Anyway – enjoy. There is also a Pathfinder Bestiary (the basic RPG book is both PHB and DMG in one) which I recommend you check out just for the art if nothing else – lots of cool new takes on classic monsters…

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  13. I was just hopping around on the internet, wondering the very question that this blog addresses, when I stumbled on it. Judging by the date this blog was created, I'm probably a little too late to the party. I'd still like to throw my 2 cents in now that 4th edition has been out for a few years…

    For the longest time I've fought the change from 3.5 to 4th, believing that there was nothing wrong with 3.5 and that 4th was designed to baby and appeal to a newer MMO crowd. I myself am only 23 years old, and I've been DMing for my group for about 5 or 6 years now (maybe longer?). For a while we all had the same opinion on the topic, until one of my friends made the change himself. I thought he was nuts, but since he had played it a few times with other friends and had a lot of good things to say about it, I respected his opinion (since he's the one who taught me how to play DnD in the first place) and I've finally decided to give 4th a shot.

    Honestly, as a DM, I love it. The rules are simple, everything is streamlined, and there still seems to be a lot of wiggle room for the imagination in terms of making an adventure (and lots of flexibility mechanically imo). And as a player (which I rarely get the pleasure of) I can honestly say I feel epic at 1st level. At first I disapproved of the whole idea, but I can understand how that's important for a new player to feel like they are capable of a lot more right out of the gates.

    I've made a lot of homebrew content for 3.5 so I have a lot of reason to resist 4th, but in terms of balance and fairness I absolutely love how 4th is. For my players the game can afford to be a little more challenging (like with max carrying limits and things) but it's all about who's having fun. In short, I feel that with the streamlined rules the way they are there's a lot I can do to fix the few shortcomings I see with 4th, and everyone ends up having more fun.

    I think 4th takes some great steps forward and a few back, but my overall opinion of it is that there's more that I can do with a balanced, clear cut system than I can do with a deeper, sometimes technically challenging system like 3.5. 3.5 had flexibility, thanks to it's OGL, but 4th polished the mechanical aspect very well imo and left a lot of room for me to work. Yes, there are a few things I don't like about the new edition (monsters don't have environments now?) but since it falls short on more roll-playing points (which is something that I can certainly house rule and get creative with) rather than on the mechanical points (which is harder to try and find a fair fix)I'm willing to work with it.

    Sorry about the long post, but I hope I helped contribute something meaningful and it inspires some of the “old timers” to give the new edition another look with a new perspective ;P

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  14. @ James: Thanks for the comment! You can't really be too late to the party, though maybe another 4th Ed post is in order, now that it's been two years and I've played it more.

    I had one session of a 4E game recently and I had fun laying down the law as a controller Wizard. I've run 4E a few times, demo-ing it when I worked at a game store and then a couple times for friends. As a DM they've made the job a bit easier, and it also seems easier for players to jump in. Creating characters actually takes longer than in 3E in my experience because you have all of these power cards.

    One thing 4E lacks is the “easy mode” option that has always been the Fighter ever since the Fighting-man of early D&D. For someone who just wants adventures and not a lot of mechanical things to deal with, there was the Fighter. Now every class is about equally complex to run, meaning new/shy players come pretty slowly into their own.

    As I've said, 4E has it's strengths and weaknesses, and they're already ret-conning it with increased monster damage output at Paragon and Epic tier and big changes to skill challenges. There is also the same power bloat that plagues each edition (stories of Paladin builds that deal 250 damage in one hit and so on) but that'll always be the case.

    Overall, though, I like 4E. I definitely have more fun playing it than running it, for some reason, though.

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