I've lost track of how many times I've had to re-write this post, either due to blogger crapping out on me and not saving my progress, or (having learned my lesson and composing on a word processor) getting side-tracked and sucked into discussions/critiques/outright flame wars regarding 4th edition D&D.
So you know what? I'm not going to review the heck out of it. If you want to know more about it, let me suggest some interesting links:
- EN World's 4th Edition Info Page
- A Blog Review
- A section-by-section critique of the Player's Handbook
- And a critique of the DM section of rules by the same person
- "4th Edition is out and it's awful. Here's why."
However, if you don't feel so inclined, let me give you an Executive Summary:
- 4th edition, judged on its own merits, is not a bad game. However, in my experience it only slightly resembles previous editions of D&D.
- Many, many sacred cows were sacrificed. Whether this is an improvement is a matter of opinion. I assume most grognards will opine "no".
- There is far too much emphasis on combat and not enough on role-playing. I base this statement on the huge amount of combat options available to each and every class (including healing), while an excerpt from the Dungeon Master's Guide indicates how best to turn a roleplaying opportunity into a series of die rolls.
- In general, more is missing (Barbarians, Bards, Druids, Monks, Sorcerers, Half-Orcs, Gnomes, most of the alignment system, prestige classes, cosmology) than is added (Warlocks, Warlords, Tieflings, Dragonborn, epic levels). And I have no idea how to classify the Elf/Eladrin divide.*
- Not only is the new engine NOT backwards-compatible, it is in fact completely incompatible with 3.5 edition.
- It just doesn't feel like D&D any more. You've probably heard this a million times by now, but it looks and acts (and probably plays) more like a pen and paper MMO. Given the extreme popularity of World of Warcraft, this is not terribly surprising.
- In Conclusion, if you love 3.5 edition, you will hate 4e. However, if you think 3.5 is stupidly complex and/or horribly broken, you will probably enjoy 4e. Maybe.
There. Review over. Now I can start ranting about the subject I am truly passionate about: how 4th Edition has been, start to finish, a blisteringly stupid business decision.
I began talking about this back in August 2007 . It's poor form to quote my own work, I know, but for the sake of completeness, and because I know most readers won't click a backlink, I'll just include the original post here:
Dear Wizards of the Coast:
Did you fail your saving throw vs. Stupid Marketing Decisions?
Putting aside the fact that a promotional video for your own product shouldn't underscore all the ways it has sucked over the years...
Putting aside the annoying, lisping little Frenchie...
Putting aside the fact that even a casual D&D player knows you can't just behead a troll like that without using fire or acid to overcome its regeneration...
All of that aside, you have still made a huge and stupid blunder: You announced 4th edition before Christmas.
Goodbye, Christmas sales of 3.5 edition books.
You remember Christmas, right? The one month of the year that brings in more revenue than the previous eleven combined? Yeah, you just screwed yourself out of that money.
I know that I, for one, will certainly not buy any D&D product until 4e comes out, because it's 99% certain that it won't be backwards- compatible, and I know I'm not the only one to think like this. Regardless of whether or not I switch to 4e, since I know that 3.5 lifespan ends in May 2008, I'll just wait until the hordes of fanboys sell their "obsolete" books back to the stores. I'll bet I can get a very nice discount on them....
Seriously, that's a totally bonehead maneuver. What you should have done was wait until January to make the announcement, and then release the books in August at GenCon 2008.
See how tidy that is? You get your Christmas sales, you announce "A new edition for a new year," and you release that edition at the biggest fucking gaming convention in the U.S.
Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go stake out a place by the bargain bins.
That was back in August, and the pooch has only gotten more thoroughly screwed. Fast forward to April of this year, where in yet another blog post I happily announce that Wizards of the Coast, or at least Porter Novelli, their PR firm, is going to be conducting phone interviews with game reviewers:
We are actually planning a desk side tour in April, which will end with a series of phone briefings at the end of the month (April 21-24). Although we're still working out which spokespeople will be available, if you could send me your (or I guess Erin's) best time slots to do interviews during those dates and we'll work something out from there. It would still be helpful to have Erin prepare her questions so if the phone briefing falls through we could go back to the questions.So naturally, I'm all "Hell yeah, I want a piece of this," and I get fired up and announce to the world that I get to ask the developers of 4th Edition D&D questions about their new upcoming game.
Surprisingly, no one contacts me in April. I don't just mean the interview, I mean that there is "We are confirming that you have an interview scheduled at X time and date" kind of thing. I am shocked and worried by this, because I fear it's because I somehow screwed things up. Did I not get my availability dates to them in time? Did my latest AnotherCastle.com article offend them?
I pester my Editor, Jason Dobson, who calls Porter Novelli and leaves several voice messages. On April 23 -- ironically, the day that I had indicated I wanted to have the interview, and please note that this is two days past the date that this "deskside tour" was supposed to have begun -- Jason forwards this message to me:
"Hi Jason,Let me rephrase that, for you people with poor reading comprehension: The PR Company retained by the publisher of the most popular RPG in the world has allowed its client to blow off its commitments to reviewers. This is unconscionably bad. "Hi, we're too busy to keep our promises, but trust us when we say that our product will be awesome!"
Sorry for not getting back to you sooner.
It looks like we’ll have to push the briefing back due to our executives being extremely busy right now (apparently there is a Fourth Edition coming out, with lots of books or something).
In the interim, we do have the first Fourth Edition adventure module, Keep on the Shadowfell, available for review. Featuring quick start rules and pre-generated characters, this is currently the best way to learn about the new ruleset; by playing. The product doesn’t release until May 20, so if you and your writers are willing to agree to an NDA until then, or until I say otherwise, then we can work on getting that out to you/Erin.
Let me know if you have any questions, and I’ll keep you posted on the briefing opps."
(Allow me to digress for a moment as I talk about bad movies. There is a practice in Hollywood whereby films that are expected to do poorly -- usually cheap horror films and teen comedies -- are not sent to film critics to review. This is done so that the films can at least reap the benefits of opening weekend receipts before poor critical review and word of mouth can do any damage. Sound familiar?)
So at any rate, while they can't answer my questions, they'll at least mollify my hurt feelings by sending me some free swag with a preview version of the rules. Hey, that's cool, I guess. Shoot me that NDA so I can sign that bad boy, maybe I can kinda-sorta review 4th Edition on May 20th.
Guess what happens?
Not a god-damned thing, that's what happens. It's "Shut up, Erin" all over again. So that's twice now that Wizards, or at least Porter Novelli, has completely blown me off. This is way beyond unprofessional and well into reputation-destroying carelessness.
Once again, I harass my editor. Once again, he comes through for me with a reply:
5:27 PM Jason: You around?5:28 PM me: Yep.Jason: I'm about to run, as is typical of me, but WotC emailed me apologizing, apparently the rep left the country and forgot to hand off the promise to send an NDA and module to me before he left.
This conversation, by the way, happened on May 19. Keep on the Shadowfell was scheduled to release May 20. Of course, they never did get back to either of us after that. And it turns out that it's not just us that have been treated like this, either. I cannot speak for every reviewer, of course, but I know for a fact that it happened to at least one other person [name pending, following his permission to use it in this article.] So if it happened to two of us, what do you think are the odds that it happened to all reviewers who aren't affiliated with Wizards of the Coast?
[Edit: It now turns out I was operating from incorrect information, and that the person I thought had been neglected was not. So I guess it's just me that was treated shoddily? Doesn't matter. I'm still going to raise holy hell about this, because promises were made and were broken.]
So not only is this Equine-Canine Extravaganza a complete Charlie Foxtrot, but now WotC's attitude seems to be KMAGYOYO, because now the other shoe has dropped:
... Wizards has stated that any company hoping to publish products for their new edition must agree to discontinue any current open licensed products and produce no further open products at all - Dungeons & Dragons related or not. In a phone conversation about 4e licensing with Clark Petersen, president of Necromancer Games, a company representative explained this policy and was adamant that it was not going to change. A number of companies are leveraging the OGL for their independent games, for example the pulp game Spirit of the Century; the gaming community adopted the OGL on good faith and more than 90% of the openly licensed games in existence are using it. This “poison pill” clause means that in exchange for any further involvement with the Dungeons & Dragons game line, a company must abandon any past OGL products and vow not to produce any more.In case that's not clear, let me quote a post from the aforementioned Clark Peterson:
(from Geek Related)
I believe, in fact, that it is even a bit more restrictive than people are seeing. It is not just that you can't mix the two licenses in one product. It is that if you use the GSL you cannot also use the OGL for 3E products.
In other words, publishers have to decide if they want to stay 3E or if they want to come along for the 4E ride.
It is not a product by product choice. It is a business by business choice. It is not "well, this product will be 4E using the GSL but the next one will be for 3E under the OGL."
In other words, Necro can't do 3 books for 4E then decide to go back and do a 3E book.
Or, along the same lines, if Paizo wants to do Pathfinder 3E, it cant do 4E products. If it does, it can no longer do 3E ones.
I have, however, specifically clarified that Necro can do 4E and Paizo can keep doing 3E Pathfinder stuff and that is just fine.
Once you are in for 4E, you are in, and can't go back (well, you could but you would presumably lose the right to use the GSL from that point forward).
I have to clarify if I will be able to do 3E stats as seperate downloads for 4E books. My guess is that I will not be allowed to do that under the GSL. But I haven't asked that direct question.
By the way, this info was from Wizards. Unless I am misunderstanding what they told me or they didnt understand my question, this is how it will be.
Are you, dear readers, beginning to grasp why 4th edition is beginning to look like a disaster of epic proportions? It seems poised to become the Windows Vista of the RPG world: it looks pretty, breaks upon upgrade, and even on a fresh install with a system made for it, its performance is such that most folks would rather revert back to the previous edition.
Wizards of the Coast is making a very dangerous gamble here. They are effectively wagering that the early adopters who stay with 4e, plus whatever new converts who come as a result of the system being MMOlike, are equal to or greater than the amount of disgruntled fanbase who says "Screw you, I'm staying with 3.5" plus those early adopters who said "This is crap, the old version is better."
In other words: We bet we can get more people to like the game if we change it, so we don't care if our previous fanbase leaves.
The sad thing is that if 4e bombs -- and to be honest, I don't truly know if it will -- Wizards of the Coast is committed to supporting this product line for what, 6 months? A year? More? Having alienated large portions of their fanbase, having given affiliate companies a "Do or Die" choice, having effectively told reviewers either "We don't care about you" or "We don't want this reviewed before it hits shelves"...
... how can ANYONE say that this has been handled well? Or even professionally? (Not I, that's for sure.) It's almost like Hasbro, WotC's parent company, wants 4e to fail, so they can jettison the holding under the cover of "bad management decisions" or "poor profits".
It's like Gary Gygax is being given a Viking funeral with D&D as his pyre.
Now playing: Nine Inch Nails - Demon Seed
* Actually, I do: STUPID. I don't understand why elves need to be pigeonholed into either "granola-eating leaf-wearing tree-hugging ranger culture" or "grand high artsy fartsy ancient magical race". Why can't they be both, or neither? It's like every D&D race, with the exception of humans (natch), must be a Single Hat Culture.