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AICN World Exclusive: Massawyrm Has Played Dungeons And Dragons 4th Edition!!

Hola all. Massawyrm here. I’ve waited a long time to write this review. And let it be known now that what you’re about to read isn’t from someone who has gotten a hold of a bootleg playtest copy and gave it a quick once over. No. This is a long time coming. I’ve been playtesting 4th edition since late October. Long under an NDA, my excitement for this new edition has been bubbling over into something of a churning froth for the better part of four months now. Every Saturday of those four months (holidays be damned) our group (comprised of three married couples and a single friend) has gotten together to nosh some potato chips, guzzle some coffee and roll some god damned dice. One of our members, a freelancer for WotC, needed to learn the rules for an upcoming 4E book he got hired to work on. But as he apparently learns the rules better playing than he does running, he turned to me over a cup of coffee, narrowed his eyes and told me point blank that I was about to jump in head first. That’s right. Dungeon Massawyrm. There. Now the joke is out of everyone’s system. Let me just say this upfront. I. Love. 4E. And I didn’t want to. Much like many of you out there, the 3.5 partial reboot just five years ago pissed me off. But we’ve spent 8 years now with the better part of this system. And hell, even 5 years is a long time. But Massawyrm, you’re thinking you don’t know how much I’ve spent on 3.5. No? Here at the Casa de la Wyrm we don’t have a D&D bookshelf. We have a D&D closet. It’s where I keep my boxes of Dwarven Forge Master Maze, my big plastic bins of D&D Minis, and two long shelves of over $1000 in 3.5 books. But just 2 weeks into playing 4E, I boxed up every non-fluff heavy book I owned, drove down to Half Price Books and sold them for as much cash as I could get. I knew I would never, ever, touch them again. Yes. 4E really is that good. It is the XBOX 360 to your XBOX. And it is time to upgrade my friends. One other thing to note is that the playtest DID NOT INCLUDE the use of the DI (Digital Initiative.) There have been a lot of rumors that you need this new online service to play. These rumors are horseshit. We have played for four months with only a Players Handbook, a Dungeon Masters Guide and a Monster Manual. And Nothing else. 4E does not require a computer. Although if everything I hear about it is true, I just might want to keep my laptop with me once it is up and running. What’s about to follow is a three part story. But it’s not about the details. What they changed here or what isn’t there. After this weekend every gaming forum out there will be flooded with details. This is going to be about the experience. What it is like playing Dungeons & Dragons 4E. This isn’t an article meant just for you junkies who, like myself, can quote the 3.5 rules - chapter and verse. It’s also for those of you who haven’t played in 15 years and secretly, though you might never admit it, wish you could go back and play it again. Or for those out there who haven’t played, but always wanted to. This June, 4th Edition will be unleashed upon the world and it is the perfect time to pick up the hobby or give it a second shot. Every decade or so Dungeons & Dragons gets a make over. Not just a facelift, but a complete rebooting of the system. What I’ve always loved about these reboots is that each time the designers make sure to integrate, rather than move away from, the innovations of the previous decade. When 2E came out in ’89, it took all of the math, the charts and the diversity that had emerged in gaming throughout the 80’s and created one of the most complicated systems to date. When 3E hit the shelves in 2000, it took the revolution of the Vampire White Wolf Storyteller system - the notion of complete character individuality and modular options – and gave it a strong, but much more complicated system to work with. Now, with the revolutions in online gaming, Dungeons & Dragons once again finds itself evolving. From Everquest to the World of Warcraft (and the many other imitators in between and after) comes the notion of perfect balance – the idea that every class, every character, every role in the party, has something to do and never, ever, has to sit on the sidelines. That is the single most important change to this system. I don’t care what you’re playing, whether the party’s wizard, its cleric, the fighter or its rogue, you will always have the option of doing something useful. You will never be forced (as long as you’re conscious) to simply sit and watch everyone else play because you’ve run out of spells or don’t have a high enough Spell Penetration or lack a weapon property to get through DR. Those days are done. Clerics don’t just hide behind the fighter waiting to stand them up any more. And you can actually successfully run a party without one now. Oh, and the retarded notion of having to rest for the day because the wizard blew through his spells too quickly (even when the rest of the party is full up)? Over and done with. In redesigning the way the character classes work, they’ve managed to eradicate most of the stupid tropes that we ’ve all just kind of sighed at and tried to ignore in the context of role playing. Now, there’s a notion floating around out there that since the goal of 4E was to make the rules simple it means that they’re making them stupid – as to be easier for younger or dumber players to understand. The problem with that, aside from the fact that its probably one of the more arrogant stances out there, is that it belies a complete misunderstand of what 4E is all about. Is it simpler thatn 3.x? Oh hell yes. But it is elegantly simple. Intuitive. It’s like complaining that switching from DOS to Windows was stupid because now anyone could use a computer. When really all it meant was that now you didn’t have to type all that code. Your computer wasn’t dumbed down any. Neither is D&D. It still has all the complication that was in 3.5 – lots of character options, a focus on role playing and tactical combats that are even far more elaborate than before (more on that later.) But all the rules work just like every other rule does. They all make sense. You pretty much know how a rule works before you look it up because it works just like the rule for this other situation. The problem with Dungeons & Dragons has always been that everything is a special case. Every spell interacts with the universe differently and has to encounter a thousand different monsters. The soul of 4E is that now all those rules spin in the same direction (if you will) rather than flying off in a hundred different ones. At first glance there are a couple rule changes that will seem silly. The one that crawled up my craw the first session was the fact that diagonal movement counts as just one square. The idea that you could move faster diagonally than you could straight or side to side is retarded. But by the second session I didn’t care. Why? No one EVER had to recount a movement. You could eyeball distances without surprises popping up because you forgot to double count the second diagonal. Everyone moves and counts and there’s never a hint of second guessing. And when it came down to it, any optimization a player could get out of it was balanced by the monsters having the same thing. Life is just easier this way. EVERY RULE CHANGE IS LIKE THIS. It all just works. Fluid, intuitive and fun. And man is it fun. The new tactics are incredible. Anyone who thinks simple rules mean simple combats is in for a shock. Every class has a slate of weird abilities and powers that set them apart from every other class – and when a party learns each other’s tactics and begins to work in concert, watch the fuck out. Because things get crazy. Tomorrow’s piece will be about what it’s like to exist as a DM in this new tactical environment, because a DM really has to be on his toes. Simple minded DMs are going to get walked all over by a competent group of players. The new combat system is glorious. There are so many options, so many opportunities to do really fun and incredible things, that the game becomes more about what you want to do in the moment rather than just sitting around waiting for your turn to come up. Combats still take about as long as they did before, you just get to do more during them. While iterative attacks are gone, it never feels like they’re missing. The Fighter is still a sword whirling death machine that gets a lot of chances to drop beasts. Rather than hour and a half 3 round combats, you end up with 10-20 round epic combats that allow everyone to do a variety of things. It no longer seems like a waste of a turn to move, it’ll get back to you momentarily. Sometimes moving two or three rounds in a row really pays off. You no longer have to worry about missing out on any action just because you want to get into position. Which leads to crazier maneuvers and more fun at the table. And the rule simplicity allows players to really attempt craziness without fear of bizarre rules. My wife, who has played 3.5 with us for years, never felt comfortable with it. She was always concerned that she didn’t know the rules as well as everyone else. While she enjoyed the game (and having friends over to play once a week) she isn’t the type to sit down with the rulebooks and memorize them. She’s geeky enough to live with and love me, but she draws the line in the dirt there. 4E on the other hand has made her a different woman. She’s confident. She loves her character and the rules and tries out all sorts of strange things. She no longer looks at me and asks “Is this right?” Instead, she plows forward, kicking ass and suggesting tactics to the more senior members of the party (like the game designer.) And she asks me repeatedly about whether or not I’ve planned next weeks game. She looks forward to it. And amid the rule changes comes the racial and class changes. While there’s been much ado about these concepts, the new focus of the game places a lot on the role playing and direct play aspect of race and class. There is a difference between a 6th level Eladrin ranger and an Elf ranger. One gets to reroll one attack every combat and ignore difficult terrain while shifting (making a 5 foot adjust) and the other can teleport 5 squares once a combat. Let me tell you, there’s a big difference. Dwarves are more than just short guys with low Move rates and a +2 to CON. They make great fighters for a reason, not just because the fluff says so. But at the same time there aren’ t any disadvantages to playing against type. No one will roll their eyes at a Dwarf Rogue or (once they’re out) Half Orc Sorcerers. There are benefits to playing WITH type, but never penalties for against. And that makes a WORLD of difference. Race in 3.X was all about what it did for you at 1st level and what it did to your stats. After that, it rarely mattered. Now it’ s also about what it does for you at 6th or 17th or whatever. As has been written about, there are three stages of play now. Heroic (lvls 1-10), Paragon (lvls 11-20) and Epic (21-30.) Each stage really is its own beast. Heroic is just that. It’s what most would think of as lvls 1-6 in 3.x. Flight doesn’t exist for the players yet and neither do prestige classes (now called Paragon Paths.) You’re tough but not ungodly so. Paragon really is the middle range where you get to do all sorts of crazy stuff without ever getting too silly. It’s also where you really get to step away from your class and become something new and different. And Epic is just plain silly. I honestly see a lot of folks stopping at paragon – but for those that want to get into truly EPIC level, mythologically powerful gaming, epic will do the trick. With class abilities that begin with phrases like Once per day, when you die… it allows for a whole, bizarre new type of play that actually manages to maintain its consistency. But more about all this in later. Is there anything I don’t like? Not in the rules. It’s all nitpicky stuff about what gets released when. I miss my Half-Orcs, my sorcerers and kinda wish Druids were around for the initial release. Then there’re a few complaints about the monsters that aren’t out versus those that are (but more of that on day 3.) The rules? They’re damned near perfect. I have zero complaints. I’m pretty confident most folks will feel the same way once they dive in. 4E completely reinvigorated our group. It’s weird, but in creating a new edition, they found the magic that made Dungeons & Dragons what it always was. They’ve taken shovels and dug out the core of what makes the game tick and built a system that focuses on THAT. This feels like 1st edition all over again. It has everyone excited. No one skips or misses games. And when we have to cancel, it becomes a big production of attempting to reschedule before canceling. Seven people in our group and every one of us, no matter how resistant, no matter how angry about a new edition we might have been, have discovered a brand new passion for the game. There’s a lot of negativity out there right now, a lot of anger over this rule change or that rule change or the thought of all those now nigh useless books. But come June that’s going to change. People are going to see first hand how those changes work together to make a superior experience. The game is more fun and less work. And I, for one, am never going back. I am a 4E player. And I can’t wait until you guys are too. Check in tomorrow for part 2, detailing what it’s like to run a 4E game (the new challenges and pleasures), and Saturday for part 3 going into the Monsters. Until next time friends, smoke ‘em if ya got ‘em. Massawyrm
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