I had a bit of a tiff with a friend some time back regarding my perceived degeneration of the Dungeons and Dragons game. The argument was essentially that I felt that 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons was less Dungeons and Dragons than 3rd Edition had been, and, arguably, 3rd Edition was even less than 2nd Edition had been. His argument was that 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons contained both more Dungeons and Dragons than the previous edition. This I could not dispute, but instead motioned that 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons did not feel like Dungeons and Dragons at all, instead it felt like a strategic fantasy based roll-playing game. He countered that Wizards of the Coast were the ones who got to decide what Dungeons and Dragons is. Fair enough.
We eventually agreed to disagree.
Then I read this: Hindsight is 20/20.
Now, more than anything, I feel that 4th Edition has eroded the base of what Dungeons and Dragons should be. I realize the arrogance of that statement, who am I to decide what Dungeons and Dragons should be? In all honesty, I have given 4th Edition a bash, and yes, it is phenomenally easy to create content for on a story and rules basis. Yet, it does not feel like Dungeons and Dragons. Regardless of whether it contains more dungeons and more dragons than any previous edition. It just doesn’t seem to matter. It feels… unnatural.
And the Newbie DM post, more than anything, shows that new Dungeon Masters appear to be trending more towards encounter based stories. Or adventures, which apparently aren’t the same thing. In my not so humble opinion, a story is a collection of adventures, and adventures are a collection of scenes that may contain encounters. Not all encounters need be combat orientated, and there exists the argument that 4th Edition holds Skill Challenges, such that not all encounters be combat orientated. I don’t buy it.
When was the last time you heard someone state that they were on a quest? Now they are on adventures, quests are so yesteryear. Yet it was what we used to call adventures, and it sounded so much more important than being on adventure. Being on adventure seems almost as if to suggest that one were on a day’s journey to enjoy some frivolity and be jovial. We seek adventure! We need entertainment. Being on a quest is intrinsicly different, isn’t it. We are on an adventure to save the queen suggests something completely different to stating that you are on a quest to save the queen. Maybe it’s just me.
Returning to the post by NewbieDM, I’m saddened more than anything. Essentially what he suggests is that he would have been better off crafting adventures tailored to his players than creating the world and having his players live in it. There’s the argument that if the players aren’t having fun, then what’s the point. This holds true. However, truly epic storylines require that from time to time the players not have instant gratification “fun”, but instead invest something emotional into the story. I do not believe that one can perform such investment with one shot, possibly disjointed adventures. And more than anything, I think this is where 4th Edition has failed the Dungeons and Dragons theme. There’s no need for epicness, unless you’re 21st level.
I feel that epic story lines are going to die out with this generation and future permutations of Dungeons and Dragons rule sets. There’s something to be said about the response of a player who is acting emotionally about a fabricated story line because the player feels for his character in the circumstance that they are in, as opposed to stating blithely that their character falls to their knees weeping at the death of their ward, only to check up some stats so that they can roll their way to vengeance.
I do not believe that I could ever illicit a response from a character more deeply than I have from a player who I will call Azaezel. Azaezel played a fallen angel that had been cursed with humanity, mortal and weak in flesh, he was once the angel of death, and in the game world he was often visited in dreams by the goddess that he once served. Eventually, after many, many months of gaming, the players came to face off against Hammael, the silver dragon angel of Rhe’a, the Creator. Azaezel saw in the dragon angel his brethren, and understood that they must slay the noble beast in order to gain an artefact that beat within its breast. They had to do this in order to save the divine essence of a deity that held at bay the ultimate evil.
The battle was ferocious, epic as they fought along the fossilized remains of an ancient deity in the astral plane, portals to both heaven and hell swirling above them, angels and demons facing off over the rift. Eventually the players won true and it was Azaezel himself that claimed the final blow. Watching the player tell of how he fell to his knees before the slain dragon and cry out his anguish at having to slay one of his own, the players own emotional attachment to the story – I do not believe that I could have achieved this in 4th Edition.
Namely because I think that 4th Edition lacks the atmosphere of 3rd. Lacks the uniqueness of individual classes. Lacks the ability to craft a truly unique and epic character at all, actually. More so, because I believe that 4th Edition does not cater to progressive story telling, instead forcing the Dungeon Master, and thereby the players to play seemingly disjointed and poorly woven together “adventures” instead of stories. If anything, I think that Dungeons and Dragons has become a beer and pretzels game. And, more than anything, that makes me sad.
Having said all of this, perhaps there is only one thing for me to truly do, in order to test this hypothesis. I need to run an epic 4th Edition campaign and see if I can get that form of emotional investment from players of 4th Edition, or, as I suspect, they will spend more time focusing on their character stats, daily abilities, and how similar the rogue is to the wizard, to the fighter, to the cleric. Fuck sakes, don’t even get me started on the absolute uselessness of magic items in 4th edition.
So yes, I believe that Dungeons and Dragons is in decline. It has become progressively more commercial, of that there is no question, and ultimately this is good for the roleplaying game market. Yet, Wizards’ actual output seems to have been progressively in decline. Three Players Handbooks? Really? Two Dungeon Masters Guides? I felt that when they did this in 3rd Edition is was a bit much. Now it seems to be just ridiculous, unless they plan on doing this for the purpose of not creating splatbooks that focus on specific classes. Who knows. The integration of Dungeon and Dragon magazines into subscription based services, the entire Dungeons and Dragons Insider project, it seems terrible to me. Cutting players off from the content of the game instead of urging them on. I used to visit the Wizards of the Coast Dungeons and Dragons website daily during the hey day of 3.5. Now I can’t access half the content, as such, I do not think I have been there in more than three months. Why should I pay a subscription to a game for which I have to purchase books? This isn’t World of WarCraft, despite the gameplay now seeming like it is a table top version of that game. I truly think that Wizards of the Coast have let the Dungeons and Dragons community down with the entire 4th Edition plan.
Before you think that I haven’t invested enough into the game, understand that I am a compulsive collector. I have the majority of the 3.5 books that are non Campaign specific, I have a full ruleset for 3rd Edition (including Epic Level Handbook and several others) as well as Players Hanbook 1, 2, Dungeon Masters Guide and Monster Manual for 4th Edition. I am even looking for some second hand copies of 2nd Edition books. I love this game. I just don’t love 4th Edition. I used to have complete nerdgasms whenever a new book was coming out, now I feel utter apathy. 4th Edition has left me cold.
To surmise the original reason for this post, before the long diatribe and arbitrary rant that it devolved into, I feel that the game of Dungeons and Dragons has been in steady decline since the advent of 3rd Edition in 2000. There has been a considered aproach to making the rules considerably rules heavier as the game has evolved, and further and further stepping away from the concept of the story being the reason for the game, and allowing rules to be loose and mostly optional, to a game where the rules, and game balance, are of utmost importance, and the story secondary. At that point, that crucial tipping point, where the story became secondary, I think the game of Dungeons and Dragons stopped its decline and leaped into a complete free-fall. Methinks that the game has descended into a roll-playing game. And perhaps this post shows my age. Perhaps it shows that I’m more old school than I thought.
I don’t think there is anything bad in that. And I guess I really just don’t like 4th Edition.