I've been agonizing over this post, but the time is ripe for me to jot down a few observations on what I see as specific weak points in 4E. I say this because our group is going through a possible metamorphosis.
Or more to the point, I'd like to stay with the group, they're playing 4E, so we're collectively (at least the DM and I), thinking about how to make tweaks to the game. The end result that we're trying to achieve is a game that makes everyone happy. But there needs to be a systematic, session by session recap of those things that I think need to be changed.
Unfortunately, and maybe glaringly, this sounds like a completely selfish exercise. Most (if not all) of the guys currently sitting at the table are quite happy with the game. They like the way the game plays. I'm the turd in the punch bowl here. And for the record, I've offered to bow out. But the majority has opted towards changing the game in order to make the whole "happy". In the end though, bowing out might have been the least painful choice.
Anyway, on with the examination.
We played this Tuesday and I've let my thoughts roll around inside my head, like magnets in a jar. I've hopefully let them coalesce into something a bit more cogent and supportive of meaningful change. Overall, I liked the session. We didn't have a single combat encounter, not one. And personally, I liked it a lot. Combat is 4E's glaring weak spot in my mind. But that's a topic for a different day.
Two things leaped to mind though regarding Tuesday's session.
- We didn't waste time with minis and drawing mats or location pieces.
- Magic items are now completely mundane.
I'll try and keep my thoughts and opinions on the straight and narrow here, and stick to those two topics. Minis and their supporting pieces are not a new phenomenon in the game of Dungeons and Dragons, and as my current DM often claims, they're a natural extension of the original Chainmail game. It was after all a war game.
I'd have to say that, yes, he's right...And wrong. While the game claims many of its mechanics from the war game Chainmail, it is not at all meant to be played as a war game. This is clearly stated in the earliest of editions. Miniatures are supporting pieces only, the meat and bones of game play is meant to come from your imagination.
This might be a completely subjective observation, but I find that when someone throws a bunch of minis down on a map of some sort, I wander away from the rich tapestry of the mind. I start paying more attention to what's going on at the tactical level and wander away from the realm of imagination.
And that is one of the root issues I have with 3rd and 4th edition, they've taken a game of imagination and forcefully combined it with a war game. You're constantly asked to move back and forth between idioms. Many people like that...Heck, there are times when I've certainly welcomed the change. But most of the time, I like to keep the pace by maintaining the same medium.
It's tough to maintain the mood when you're adventuring through an alien landscape, you round a corner and WHAM!.... Please break for the DM to set up the minis and draw the map... Tick, tick, tick. Wow, what a buzz-kill. All of the sudden that cool momentum you had is washed down the toilet. And that was one of the strengths of Tuesday's session. We never brought out a map or minis. Cool.
Now, to the second point: Magic Items, and the way that 4E has totally stripped the "magic" from them.
We garnered quite a load of loot during our foray into the slime encrusted demesne beneath Kaldrak Lyres, known affectionately as the sewer. A slew of magic items were won. I understand what our DM is doing, he's balancing the scales. Loot is cool. We all love coming away w/ stuff.
Oh boy, this is going to be a tough one to nail down. But, I'll start with one of the things that I heard that 4E was "fixing" when it was initially announced. A claim that I distinctly remember reading was that they were attempting to pull the characters away from "being" their magic items. Apparently many older addition characters were defined by the items that they carried, and used with regularity. So in essence, a character was just a mobile platform for a powerful item of one type or another.
I can see that as being an issue with some people. I get it. But WotC's answer to that is this sad little plug-and-play methodology. They've taken magic items and cut the usage back to once per encounter, once per day, or something similar. So, you see what's happened is that they've swapped abilities and magic item powers. Now each character has a few abilities that they're able to pull off at-will. Meaning that you can shoot magic missiles (if you're a mage) forever, without stopping. And THAT used to be the realm of a wand...until the charges ran out, and you were forced to either toss it, or refill it. Which could have opened up new adventure opportunities.
The feeling that the new system engenders is quite literally plug-and-play. Your character has a bunch of "slots" that can be filled by the appropriate "level" item. Each of these items has a very specific role to play within the overall structure of the rules. All in the name of balance.
Furthermore, you can "drain" the magic from an item. You come away with some type of "stuff" called residuum...Or something like that. Your character can use this like money, or you can use it as a generalized component in some of your rituals, or magic item creation. Talk about taking an item that was at one time wondrous...something that you pondered over...that opened your eyes and made you go "Oooo! Ahhh!", and turning it into something as mundane as a coin. Phhbbbt.
They've even taken away the wonder by putting all of the magic items in the PHB. You're actually encouraged to go through and take a look as a character, and choose the items that you think might best slot into your current build. "Sigh". Whatever happened to the magic ring that you couldn't quite figure out? That was the impetus of many a journey to witch doctors in deep, primal forests, or crooked, dark wizards in tottering ancient towers. Now, it's just an item under glass at your corner Wal Mart.
How to change this...CAN you change it? Not sure, I'll have to do some thinking.