We’re looking at the things which Fourth Edition D&D does well and highlighting the elements which the next edition of D&D could inherit. Later posts will take a look at earlier editions of D&D, going all the way back to the roots of the game.
Last time I put forward the way 4e handles Stats, Hit Points, Power sources and abilities, the three Tiers of play and easy encounter building as areas of strength.
Background Options and Themes
Man, I love these puppies. Why be a Dwarven Cleric when you can be a Dwarf Outcast Cleric Harper Agent? Background Options give a +2 bonus or an extra skill on your Class Skill List, and Themes add a couple of Powers to your repertoire, but they add so much more to the role-playing potential. Background Options and Themes are crack for the GM, giving them plot hooks and player-centric story potential by the bucket-load.
Remember when I talked about Levers? Background Options and Themes are just such a Lever – optional rules that can be turned on of off depending on the needs of the campaign and game group. If I want to run a fast, low-effort Delve-based 4e D&D game, I don’t use ’em (though if a players wants to use them for his particular PC, that’s fine) and a Dwarf Cleric is just a Dwarf Cleric. On the other hand, if this is an immersive role-playing intensive campaign where I want the characters to have a sense of place and a history, I pull the Lever and they’re in.
The next Edition of D&D needs Background Options and Themes (or optional rules very like them) in the core rules, right from the start.
Monster stat blocks
I still shudder and break out in a cold sweat at the memory of Third Edition D&D monster statblocks. Those things were (no disrespect intended to the designers) terrible. I remember even low- to mid-level adventures from the pages of Dungeon magazine where the major and minor villains’s statblocks took up a half to a whole frickin’ page of dense text – and that excluded such things as spell descriptions. You still needed the books open for those, remember. Ah, those were the days, may they never return.
Enter Fourth Edition D&D where the monster and NPC statblocks are smaller (though some still are a tad too hefty for my tastes) but they are entirely self contained. Everything you need to run that critter, no matter how complex he is, is right there on the page. Goodbye looking up spell references halfway through combat. And they say Fourth Edition combat is slow – try juggling 5 different splatbooks in the middle of a climactic battle. Thanks, but no.
Much as the latest incarnation of the D&D statblocks is good, I do feel there is still room for improvement. what I would like to see is the return of some key elements from earlier editions of D&D that got lost in the mix. 4e’s over-emphasis on Combat uber alles is to the detriment of an otherwise excellent game, and I do hope that the next Edition correct that and brings back just a little more old school role-playing style.
In fact, I’ve blogged about just that already. I suggest you have a read.
Points of Light
Conceptually, the Points of Light premise is awesome. It depicts the D&D known world (any world) as a dark and dangerous place where pockets of civilization and the Forces of Good are barely holding back the Forces of Evil. The PCs themselves are tiny little mobile Points of Light that seek to expand the borders and halt the encroaching blockness.
I could go on, but I’ll stop there. Overall, Fourth Edition D&D is a brilliant yet much maligned system and I hope the next Edition of the game will learn much from it.
Next: Third Edition D&D!