Monday, March 14, 2011

Moving Forward to the Past: Back to 3rd Edition

Continuing from last post:
The second element of 4e that has pushed me away from 4e is the heavily preparation dependent method of creating encounters. This is certainly a DM’s problem rather than a player’s problem… at least in the short term.
On one hand the simple, though time consuming method of structuring encounters in 4e is simple and produces great results. My players have fought their way though some great encounters.
In the past I would have only spent the amount time I now spend on every 4e encounter on special encounters: a dungeon boss, or a significant NPC. When the party is digging its way through a dungeon and it comes upon some Carrion Crawlers munching their way through recently “retired” adventurers, that is really all that is happening… a random encounter with some Carrion Crawlers and dead bodies.
Maybe part of the reason that I, as a DM, have turned away from 4e is that I am not willing to spend the time necessary to prepare all of the encounters that I would need to run a classic tent-pole, sandbox campaign. We are all pretty busy, and I am no exception. I have a great family and a satisfying career both of which require a lot of time. That leaves me with a limited amount of time for D&D. I have been forced to adopt James over at Grognardia’s just-in-time preparation philosophy. This means that I need to be sure that the limited amount of time I do spend working on the game is well spent. That means that the players and I must make use of everything I have prepped or else I am wasting my time. So, if I spend a relatively large amount of time prepping a few encounters, we must use them or I have been wasting my time and the quality of the game will suffer. To be a good DM I do need to spend some time preparing and I need to be sure that my party and I are making use of the products of that time.
With using all of my preparation time to prepare encounters,  in 4e it is difficult to put together an encounter on the fly, I have been pushing my players into the encounters: a path of strung together linear events. I have given in to the tendency to railroad my players, effectively giving up on running a sandbox. Yes, they do have great, memorable encounters, but they no longer have player choice: the role playing part of a role playing game. Their characters are not adventuring anymore; they have become actors in a DM scripted drama. The players are not complaining about being railroaded… yet. But, in my experience, a group of players is only willing to follow a linear path for so long before they start getting bored.  
Finally, all of us, players and DM, have started to find flaws with the character generation process. Whether the flaws we have found are actually mechanical faults of 4e or they are based on our own historical D&D preferences is immaterial. Characters do not feel the same as they had in previous editions of D&D. The powers, though they were cool to us at the start, have lost their luster. The oft mentioned push to create balance between classes in 4e has resulted in a watering down of classes’ abilities. Though there are four distinct roles, it seems to me that they have all become the same to one degree or another. The iconic D&D classes are no longer familiar. The mechanical need to create a well-built character that can battle his way through “perfectly” designed encounters has pushed 4e away from being a classic role playing game and closer to being a tactical miniature game. Now I do not want to be classified as a role playing purist who disdains using maps and tokens to run battles. I love using maps and tokens. I have been playing with dry-erase battle mats, maps and tokens for twenty years.
So… back to the future of my D&D campaign: the Dungeons of Saedom. We will be switching to a house-ruled 3X/PF. This is what we need to do to keep going with D&D. I will be using OSR elements that I have been skimming from other games in the OSR world. I am especially keen on much of the stuff that comes from the workshops of Zak S. and James Raggi. I do not want to sound like a total complainer though. As I mentioned in my last post, 4e got us playing D&D again. And for that I am thankful! Also, there are some elements of 4e that I am going to be brining “back” to 3X/PF. I will discuss these in my next post: My D&D 4th Edition Legacy.

1 comment:

  1. We felt much the same way when reviewing 4E, though we never even tempted to give it a try. Just didn't feel like the D&D we wanted to plan.

    We play 3.5 and happily steal from other editions forward or back. Lots of good ideas can be had from 4E when it comes to 'simplifying' some of the awkward or slow 3.5 elements.

    Ultimately, as you rightly say, it is about getting to play D&D again more than what edition or what house rules.