The Alexandrian

Playtesting 4th Edition

July 31st, 2008


4th Edition - Player's Handbook 4th Edition - Dungeon Master's Guide 4th Edition - Monster Manual

It seems crazy to say this, but I’ve been talking about Keep on the Shadowfell since May. That’s a lot of time to dedicate to a single adventure. But, of course, a lot of this time has also been spent reading, analyzing, playing, and talking about the 4th Edition ruleset.

This essay is going to be about my playtesting of 4th Edition. Understanding these comments may require a little bit of context, however. So let’s start with that.

When 4th Edition was first announced in August 2007, I posted some Thoughts on 4th Edition. These primarily consisted of three points: (1) What WotC says about a new edition and what a new edition actually does are frequently two completely different things. (2) The design ethos being espoused at WotC did not fill me with confidence. (3) I wasn’t going to draw any conclusions until I actually had the rules in my hands.

In May of this year I wrote a series of essays on Dissociated Mechanics. These essays were written before 4th Edition was released, but provided a detailed dissection and analysis of what I still believe to be a serious flaw in the design ethos at WotC.

After the rulebooks were released, I revisited the subject of Skill Challenges. I was over-hasty in my reading of certain rules, but also far too forgiving in others (check the comment thread attached to that post).

If you’ve looked through some of this material, it will be clear that I had some serious reservations about 4th Edition. But I was also determined to approach the new system with an open mind. Ultimately you can talk a game to death, but it lives or dies in the playtest.

My initial intention was to take Keep on the Shadowfell and use the Quick Start Rules to play 4th Edition right out of the box — just as the designers intended it. I had high expectations that, with Mike Mearls and Bruce Cordell writing it, I would be able to just pick up the adventure and run it. Unfortunately, my first impressions of the module left me fairly disenchanted, and the 12-part series of remix essays should give some idea of the amount of work I had to put into the module before I felt comfortable running it.

Eventually, however, I was ready to go. And I have now run two separate playtests of the module: One for a group of experienced D&D players (my regular group) and another for a group of newbies (some of whom had never played an RPG before).

So let’s talk about my first reactions to playing 4th Edition.


Running Combat
The Nova Cycle
Dissociated Mechanics
Skill Challenges
Gutting Non-Combat
Balance and Prep
D&D is Dead, Long Live 4th Edition


Combat is the highlight of the game. It is interesting and dynamic. I was surprised, however, at the lack of a paradigm shift. Although the mechanics have been thoroughly shuffled, combats still largely play out the same way they did in previous editions.

One of the things promised in the preview material and hype, for example, was greater mobility in combat. But mobility has not noticeably increased at my gaming table. Some people claim that full-attacks resulted in 3rd Edition combats where people stood around and beat on each other, but that was never my experience: It was the desire to avoid attacks of opportunity that tended to lock opponents together (although this never stopped people from doing a lot of maneuvering at a small scale). Opportunity attacks are still in the game and, predictably, people are still trying to avoid them. And once you add marks into the mix, combat had a tendency to become less mobile, not more mobile.

The other major change that was promised was the ability to run combats involving large numbers of NPCs. But, personally, I’ve been running combats involving large numbers of NPCs for 20 years now. We did see a greater ability to run such encounters as 1st level characters, but that has more to do with 1st level characters playing more like 3rd level characters from previous editions than anything about the combat system.

PADDED SUMO WRESTLERS: There were also suggestions being made that combat in 4th Edition was going to be considerably faster. Even accounting for the slow-downs associated with acclimating to a new system, this was not our experience. Even basic encounters were chewing up huge chunks of time.

One of the primary reasons for this is that combats now resemble what I saw one person describing online as an “all-out brawl between heavily padded sumo wrestlers”. The number of hit points has been significantly increased and the expected damage output of the PCs has been significantly reduced.

The result was that we were very quickly seeing combats that had outlasted their welcome and degraded into “I hit him”, “I hit him again”, “I hit him again”, “I hit him again”, “… he’s still not dead? I hit him again”.

This problem appears to become exacerbated at higher levels.

MINIONS: My players were not impressed with the “prick ’em and they die” aspect of minions. They liked the target-rich environment, but the fact that they didn’t have to roll for damage made it feel as if they were never actually getting to land their blows.

They were also annoyed by the dissociated nature of the minion mechanics, which I found surprising because: (1) I wasn’t, and dissociated mechanics are probably my biggest problem with 4th Edition. And (2) It came from an unexpected direction. It wasn’t the fact that they only had 1 hp that yanked them out of the game world, it was the “never take damage on a miss” clause. This meant that they were making meaningful tactical decisions about which abilities to use based on whether a given target was a minion or non-minion — they were either bothered by the fact that they were making tactical decisions that didn’t map to their characters’ perceptions; or they were bothered by the fact that their characters had some sort of minion-detector.

Unknown to my players at the time of our 4th Edition playtest, I’d actually been developing a different set of minions rules for Legends & Labyrinths. Based on their reactions to the 4th Edition system, I’m glad that I decided to take a different direction.

FORCED MOVEMENT: The one element of the combat system that did feel as if it was adding a meaningful new dynamic to the game were the forced movement mechanics. The ability to shove people around the field of battle without suffering the rather heavy penalty of an attack of opportunity did give some unique flavor to 4th Edition combat.

We have not found forced movement to be particularly revolutionary, but this is also something that might change at higher levels when forced movement starts being more than 1 square at a time. Hard to say. If nothing else, it certainly encourages me to think that removing the attacks of opportunity from Bull Rush and similar maneuvers in 3rd Edition wouldn’t be a bad idea.

LEARNING THE GAME WITH KOBOLDS: I feel that kobolds were a bad choice to use for the initial villains in 4th Edition’s introductory product. In 4th Edition characters can take a standard action, a move action, and a minor action each round. And, as a move action, characters can shift (move 1 square without provoking opportunity attacks).

Kobolds, however, a racial ability (Shifty) that allows them to shift 1 square as a minor action.

Any villain will probably have some ability that “breaks” the general rules, but this one was particularly confusing because it made it quite difficult for players to distinguish the general rules for shifting. Both experienced and newbie players were frequently trying to perform shifts as minor actions, only to remember (or be reminded) that the kobolds could only do that because of a racial ability. (And this was despite the fact that I was playing with open stat-blocks to help the players figure out the mechanics.)


Running low-level combat encounters in 4th Edition is considerably more complicated than in previous edtiions. I would roughly estimate the level of complexity as being equivalent to a difficult 15th level encounter in 3rd Edition.

In my experience, there are three factors which determine how complicated an encounter is to run: The number of abilities the monsters have, keeping track of hit points, and making stat-block adjustments as a result of buff and buff-like effects.

MONSTER ABILITIES: In 3rd Edition, high-level creatures frequently featured many different abilities. Part of the complexity of running encounters was knowing what these abilities were and how they could be used to best effect. Part of mastering the system meant learning how to quickly discriminate between the abilities which were combat-relevant and which weren’t, and revised stat blocks helped make that distinction clearer.

In 4th Edition, the designers intentionally stripped monsters of their non-combat abilities and worked to reduce the number of combat-relevant abilities, as well. Their theory, as expressed by David Noonan, was simple: “We wanted our presentation of monsters to reflect how they’re actually used in D&D gameplay. A typical monster has a lifespan of five rounds. That means it basically does five things, ever, period, the end.”

Their logic was fundamentally flawed when it came to 3rd Edition, for reasons which I’ll only briefly summarize here: First, it ignores the fact that you’ll frequently meet the same type of monster more than once (in which case having some variety in what the monster can do is valuable). Second, it ignores the fact that monsters need to be able to react to the unexpected actions of the PCs (in which case having a wider array of tactical options is valuable). Finally, and most importantly, it neglects to consider that D&D is supposed to be a roleplaying game, not a tactical miniatures game. In a roleplaying game, even if you’re fighting, the reasons why you’re fighting are frequently important.

(As I’ve written before: “It’s often the abilities that a creature has outside of combat which create the scenario. And not just the scenario which leads to combat with that particular creature, but scenarios which can lead to many different and interesting combats. Noonan, for example, dismisses the importance of detect thoughts allowing a demon to magically penetrate the minds of its minions. But it’s that very ability which may explain why the demon has all of these minions for the PCs to fight; which explains why the demon is able to blackmail the city councillor that the PCs are trying to help; and which allows the demon to turn the PCs’ closest friend into a traitor.”)

All of these flaws in WotC’s reasoning remain equally valid when it comes to 4th Edition, but we can also add another one to he batch: Due to the “padded sumo wrestling” nature of the system, monsters in 4th Edition tend to have lifespans much longer than 5 rounds. Since their tactical options have been limited, 4th Edition monsters tend to do the same couple of things over and over again — they don’t have any other choice, after all. This is not only the result of the “padded sumo wrestling” combat, but also contributes to it by making the longer combats boring.

These problems with WotC’s design ethos, however, are relatively tangential to the issue at hand: Reducing the complexity of running combat. Reducing the number of abilties a monster has would, in fact, accomplish that… if the number of monsters in each encounter were the same.

But they aren’t. Not only is 4th Edition designed to have more monsters in a single encounter, but the system is specifically designed with the expectation that you will have a greater variety of monsters in each encounter. In 3rd Edition you might have a battle with 8 ogres, but they’d all have the same abilities. In 4th Edition you might have a battle with 8 ogres, but they’ll have five different stat blocks.

For example, demons and devils are generally agreed to be the most complicated 3rd Edition monsters to use in an encounter. A horned devil in 3rd Edition is a CR 15 encounter. They have roughly 14 abilities that could be used during combat (if you count both their different attacks and non-combat abilities which are relatively easy to ignore; in practice the effective number of abilities you need to keep track of is considerably lower).

Encounter A3 in Keep on the Shadowfell features 5 different types of kobolds who have, between them, 12 different abilities that could be used during combat. (And that’s not counting their different attacks, which — in an apples-to-apples comparison — would increase the number of abilities to 18.)

Making things even more difficult is that many abilities in 4th Edition are immediate actions: They take place during other characters’ turns. In 3rd Edition most creature abilities can only be used on the combatant’s own turn — which means that simply taking a few moments to look over a monster’s stat block on their turn was generally effective. But in 4th Edition it’s not enough to simply be able to quickly parse a stat block, you pretty much have to keep a large number of abilities in your head at all times so that your monster’s can take advantage of the triggers for their actions as they occur.

TRACKING HIT POINTS: One effect of the minion rules is to eliminate the number of monsters the DM needs to track hit points for (since any hit kills a minion). This is fine as far as it goes, but — once again — 4th Edition encounters are generally designed around larger groups of monsters. Which means, in practice, it appears that you’ll have just as many hit point totals to keep track of.

For example, looking at the first few encounters in Keep on the Shadowfell we find in the first encounter three creatures; in A1 five creatures; in A2 three creatures; in A3 seven creatures; and in A4 four creatures that need to have hit point totals tracked.

BUFFS: One of the things I hear people claiming is that there aren’t as many buffs in 4th Edition. This is not actually true. It’s true that there are fewer “permanent” buffs (in the form of equipment giving flat bonuses, for example) and it’s also true that there are fewer buffs to ability scores and the like.

But short-term bonuses and penalties? They’re all over the damn place. And, to make matters worse, they’re largely situational bonuses — by which I mean that you get things like a +1 for each ally adjacent to your target; -2 for being marked; +1 to a particular skill check if you’re within 5 squares of one character; -2 to a different skill check if you’re within 6 squares of another one. Marks just add to the laundry list of such abilities.

These situational buffs are the worst type of buff when it comes to adding complexity to battle. Permanent buffs from equipment, for example, are calculated into a stat block at character creation. And for oft-used buffs (like a barbarian’s rage or always casting bull’s strength on the fighter before a big battle), there are tricks and work-arounds (like prepping a second character sheet or stat block).

But for situational buffs you pretty much have to keep on your toes. You have to both (a) remember that the situational buff exists and (b) make frequent on-the-fly adjustments to multiple stat blocks as the buffs come and go (or move around).

THE BOTTOM LINE: I was always fairly comfortable with the level of complexity you’d find in high-level 3rd Edition encounters. It took a certain degree of system mastery, certainly, but it’s a level of system mastery that flowed pretty naturally into my blood the first time I ran a group from 1st to 20th.

So, for the most part, 4th Edition combat looks just fine to me. But if you’re someone who disliked the complexity of high level 3rd Edition encounters, you should be warned that this is par for the course in 4th Edition.

I’ll also say that I have little confidence that I would ever get to a point where I would be able to run 4th Edition encounters flawlessly. The multitude of situational buffs and marks are something that I’m likely to get more right than wrong, but I suspect there’ll always be something getting overlooked at some point during a session.

THE GOOD NEWS: I can’t vouch for this through playtesting, but it looks like this level of complexity stays pretty constant from 1st level to 30th level in 4th Edition. Like many things in the system, if they’ve hit your sweet spot then you’re going to be fairly happy for the duration. But if they’ve missed your sweet spot — or if you had many different sweet spots (and liked the variety of having different styles of gameplay) — then 4th Edition is going to be continuously problematic.


RANGE AND FLEXIBILITY: The range and flexibility of the game has been significant reduced.

(1) Although you can now go from 1st to 30th level, the scale of actual power wielded by your characters is significantly smaller than it was in previous editions. Both the low-end and the high-end has been lopped off.

(2) You have far less ability to customize your character.

(3) There is a much narrower range (an almost nonexistent range) of play-styles supported. In “Death of the Wandering Monster”, I talked about how there was a huge difference in previous editions between the ways in which clerics, fighters, rogues, and wizards played (for example). This could lead to “balance” problems if a particular group’s style of play catered to one style of play over another, but it also meant, in my experience, that different players gravitated towards their preferred style of play and, if they got bored with that style of play, they could switch to another style and keep the game fresh.

4th Edition, on the other hand, only offers different gameplay within the context of combat. And, even there, the differences are not as significant as in previous editions.

ROLES AND CLASSES: On this topic, however, I also want to suggest that you consciously toss out whatever preconceptions you may have about how the different classes play based on previous editions. They are almost assurredly wrong.

I also want to encourage you to go one step further and toss out whatever preconceptions you may have formed about how the different roles will play.

For example, in our experienced gaming group we saw that fighters are defenders. Based on how fighters had played in previous editions we had, unconsciously, ended up with some preconceptions about what it meant to be a defender and how a defender should be played.

We were wrong. Not horribly wrong, but wrong enough that until we sat back and re-analyzed our preconceptions the group was meeting with some frustrations.


Speaking of “Death of the Wandering Monster”, the 15-minute adventuring day predictably reappeared in 4th Edition.

This was an interesting thing to observe because the design team for 4th Edition swore that they had done away with the 15-minute adventuring day. But the reality is that, rather than fixing the “problem”, they ended up making it worse.

As I describe in “Death of the Wandering Monster”, the 15-minute adventuring day is the result of a simple mechanical incentive: By design, the spellcasters are supposed to deal more damage less frequently and the fighters are supposed to deal less damage more frequently. Over the long-haul, this should balance out. But the 15-minute adventuring day — in which the spellcasters go into a single encounter, nova their most powerful abilities, rest, and then do it again the next day — destroys this balance. Not only does it result in the spellcasters consistently out-performing the fighters, it also leads to the entire party being far more effective against the opponents that they face.

Some people dislike the 15-minute adventuring day because it feels unnatural to them. But the reality is that it’s actually quite natural. In real life, people rarely fight intense battles and then turn around and immediately go looking for another one. When historical armies have been forced to fight a second battle immediately after the first one, for example, it has generally ended poorly for them. And you’ll basically never see a boxer fight a second match on the same day.

It makes perfect sense, all other things being equal, for characters in a life-and-death situation to use every single resource they have available to end up on the “living” side of that equation. And if that means they have to rest up and gather fresh resources before facing the next life-and-death situation, that makes sense, too.

And ultimately, as I say in “Death of the Wandering Monster”, this leads to the conclusion that the best way to solve this problem is to create a world or story where there is a reason for the characters to persevere. And that solution will work almost as well in 4th Edition as it did in 3rd Edition.

I say “almost as well” because, as I mentioned before, 4th Edition actually ended up making the problem of the 15-minute adventuring day worse. And it did that by making the incentive for doing it larger.

To understand what I mean, let’s talk about the other solution for the 15-minute adventuring day: Removing the mechanical impetus for resting. In order to do that, you have to do at least one of two things:

(1) Completely remove any mechanical benefit for taking a long rest.

(2) Provide a meaningful mechanical bonus for not taking a rest.

4th Edition’s designers apparently believed that they fixed the first problem by making sure that every class was given at-will and encounter abilities — things they could continue doing for as long as they wanted to without ever taking a long rest.

But the nova-rest-nova cycle of gameplay isn’t driven by a character’s least powerful abilities, it’s driven by their most powerful abilities — the things that are designed to be used rarely, but which the nova-rest-nova cycle allows to be used frequently.

In 4th Edition, a character’s most powerful abilities are their daily abiltiies. Which, as the name suggests, still benefit from the nova-rest-nova cycle and the 15-minute adventuring day. But just as all of the classes were given at-will and encounter powers, all of the classes in 4th Edition were given daily powers. Which means that you’ve gone from having one or two characters who could potentially benefit from the nova-rest-nova cycle to having ALL of the PCs potentially benefit from the cycle.

Okay, so what about the other potential mechanical solution — offering some sort of mechanical bonus for not taking a rest?

Virtually nonexistent.

You can accumulate X action points by going through 2X encounters per day, but this is irrelevant because you can only use 1 action point per encounter and you get 1 action point whenever you take a long rest.

You can also accumulate X daily uses of your magic items by going through 2X encounters per day. This is more useful because, unlike action points, you can use all of your accumulated daily uses for your magic items in a single encounter. But in order to gain that advantage you have to make sure you don’t use the daily use for your magic items in your first Y number of encounters in the day.

And that’s it. So, on the one hand, you have the ability to occasionally use more than one daily use of a magic item in a single encounter. On the other hand you have the ability to use all of your daily powers (including your daily use of a magic item) in every single encounter. It’s not hard to figure out which one represents the larger incentive.

Aggravating this problem even further, there’s the issue of healing surges. Characters have a certain number of healing surges per day, and virtually all healing in 4th Edition works by activating and using up these healing surges. Once you’ve used up your healing surges for the day, you basically can’t be healed any more and you have to rest.

In 3rd Edition, a group who wanted or needed to continue adventuring could invest in resources — like a wand of cure light wounds — that would allow them to do that. In 4th Edition, however, that same group will find itself literally incapable of pressing on.

Take, for example, my experienced gaming group. Because of the way our 3rd Edition campaign is structured, this group rarely experiences a short adventuring day. In fact, they’re usually scrambling to figure out some way to pack even more activity into every single day. This same group hit 4th Edition and, despite my efforts to jack up the sense of urgency in Keep on the Shadowfell, quickly fell into the 15-minute adventuring day. This was partly due to necessity (they were using up healing surges), but it was also largely because the pay-off for doing it was so much greater than it was in previous editions.


Okay, I talked about dissociated mechanics before the 4th Edition rulebooks came out. I was concerned because these types of mechanics make it more difficult for me to do the things I generally enjoy doing in a roleplaying game — immersive roleplaying and world-building. In a worst-case scenario, dissociated mechanics actively impede any kind of roleplaying — when the game mechanics require you to make decisions as a player which have no analogy to the decisions of the character, the game has stopped being a roleplaying game and become something else. (Not necessarily something bad, just something else.)

In practice, I found 4th Edition to be as disappointing as I expected in this regard. The experienced players did, in fact, feel more distanced from their characters by the dissociated mechanics and ended up roleplaying less and focusing on the mechanics more.

The newbie players, on the other hand, roleplayed quite a bit. But this roleplaying was noticeably divided from the mechanical portion of the game — it was like improvising a story around a game of Chess or Life rather than using the improv structure of the roleplaying game.

This type of roleplaying is not unusual for new players. It doesn’t really matter what system you’re using: If they latch on strongly to the concept of roleplaying a character, new players will usually become very creative and think completely outside of the box.

What I discovered, however, was that the dissociated mechanics strewn throughout 4th Edition made it very difficult for me to respond to their creativity.

New players tend to sidestep the game mechanics and interface directly with the game world. When the mechanics are directly associated with the game world, this is easy to handle: You simply take what the new players are telling you, interpret it mechanically, and resolve it. But dissociated mechanics, by definition, create an interpretive barrier.

This problem actually comes from two directions: First, there’s the “you can’t do that” problem. This is what happens when something should be possible in the context of the game world but is impossible in the context of the mechanics. These types of conflicts are black marks on the game design, but are relatively easy to deal with in practice: You simply invoke Rule 0 and let the logic of the game world override the illogic of the game mechanics. Managing the huge number of effective house rules this requires eventually becomes a headache, but in the short term it’s not insurmountable.

The other aspect of this problem, however, is more insidious. 4th Edition is filled with dissociated tactical decision points. (For example, the fact that certain powers are more useful against minions than non-minions and vice versa.) These have no touchstone with the game world, which means that whenever somebody is trying to engage directly with the game world every single one of these decision points becomes a stumbling block. Dissociated mechanics, by their very nature, insist that you pay attention to them instead of your character’s world if you want to play the game.

Long story short: Dissociated mechanics are bad and 4th Edition is riddled with them.


Note: This essay was written a little over a week and a half ago. Between the time I wrote it and today (as I post it), Wizards of the Coast has released errata for 4th Edition which corrects some (but not all) of the problems described below.

Since this essay still accurately describes my playtesting experience and serves as an apt critique of the rules as they were published, I have chosen not to rewrite it. However, I have added an Errata Addendum to the end of the essay discussing the changes that were made in the errata.

I’ve also talked about skill challenges before. Having completed my playtesting, here are my current thoughts on the matter:

(1) Skill challenges in their most general form are unusable as written because they’re so heavily dissociative. They are fundamentally disconnected from the game world (caring not about what the PCs have done, but merely how much they have done) and create strangely skewing probabilities, among other problems.

(2) Skill challenges in the specific form described in the 4th Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide are unusable because they mandate railroading. If you follow the rules in the DMG you are supposed to (a) write a script for the PCs to follow; (b) tell them the script; and (c) if they try to deviate from the script, punish them for it with more difficult skill checks.

(3) Skill challenges are unusable because their probability is wacky. I’m not going to delve into the maths, but basically what it boils down to is that a 65% chance of success on a skill check is the watershed: If you have less than a 65% chance of succeeding at the skill checks making up a skill challenge, your chance of success on any skill challenge is very small and shrinks rapidly towards the essentially non-existent as you increase the complexity of the skill challenge.

If your chance of success is exactly 65%, then increasing the complexity of the skill challenge is virtually irrelevant (even though it’s supposed to be getting more difficult). And if your chance of success is larger than 65%, then skill challenges actually get easier as the complexity increases (when it’s supposed to be getting harder).

This is obviously not working properly. And, when you run the actual numbers of the system, you discover that the PCs generally have about a 10-20% chance of succeeding on a skill challenge designed for their level.

(Here’s a fix for the probability issues that looks pretty good to me as I glance over it. The author has also done some interesting things in terms of adding some depth to the gameplay of skill challenges. I haven’t fully delved into it, but it looks like it’s worth checking out. Note that, while this fixes the wacky probabilities of WotC’s skill challenges, it doesn’t address the emergent probability skewing which is an inherent characteristic of the dissociation arising from open skill challenges.)

(4) Even if you fix the probability, skill challenges are surprisingly boring in actual gameplay.

In the best case scenario, skill challenges simply duplicate the gameplay of previous editions: The players propose a course of action, the DM determines the skill and the DC, and then a check is made to determine success. In this scenario you’re tracking a bunch of extra numbers and suffering from the inherent dissociation of the system, but you’re not actually gaining any sort of reward for your effort.

In the worst case scenario, skill challenges turn one interesting die roll into six to ten monotonous die rolls. (And you’re still tracking the extra numbers and suffering from the inherent dissociation of the system.)

(5) The only potential benefit you gain from using the skill challenge system is that it gives you a structure for rewarding XP. But the wacky probabilities alone assures that this “system” is just as likely to erroneously give you a larger reward for an easier challenge.

Here’s another example of this “system” in action, from pg. 73 of the DMG: “If you use easy DCs, reduce the level of the challenge by one. If you use hard DCs, increase the levelof the challenge by two.”

When we look at the table for DCs by Level on pg. 42 of the DMG, we can quickly see that this is complete nonsense. For example, at 10th level the values are easy DC 17, moderate DC 21, hard DC 25. The guideline is claiming that if you take a 10th level challenge with moderate DCs and redesign it with easy DCs, you should end up with something equivalent to a 9th level challenge with moderate DCs. But you don’t. At 9th level, the moderate DC is 19, not 17. A 10th level challenge with easy DCs is, in fact, equivalent to a 6th level challenge.

Similarly, a 10th level challenge with hard DC 25 is not equivalent to a 12th level challenge with moderate DCs. It’s actually the equivalent of a 20th level skill challenge.

The “difference” between a 10th level skill challenge and a 12th level skill challenge actually reveals the complete absurdity of this “system”. That’s because there isn’t one. The DCs by Level table on pg. 42 of the DMG assigns the same values to every 3 levels. So levels 10-12 are all grouped together and have the same DCs for skill checks. Despite the fact that they’re identical in every way, a 10th level skill challenge with complexity 3 only rewards 1500 XP whereas a 12th level skill challenge with complexity 3 rewards 2100 XP.

This “system” is worse than useless. It’s literally just generating random noise and isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.

(6) I still think there’s some real potential in the basic concept of social skill challenges. But the extant system isn’t even a stepping stone towards achieving that: You basically want to throw out everything the DMG has to say about skill challenges and start over from scratch.

(7) I also discovered some interesting uses for the basic concept of skill challenges in structuring cooperative disabling of dynamic traps. Once again, however, this requires you to scrap everything the DMG has to say about using traps and skill challenges before rebuilding the system from scratch.

What it really boils down in the final analysis is that complex skill checks are a useful mechanic. In other words, when you have a specific task defined by a concrete goal and a single method of success — such as disabling a trap, disarming a bomb, or playing a game of Chess — that is best modeled as a sequence of discrete actions, the basic formula of X successes before Y failures is a useful way of representing that mechanically. Even the S-curve probability distribution works well for these types of scenarios (it becomes a feature instead of a bug as skill trumps luck in larger and more complex tasks).

You can even get away with generalizing this to some extent: For example, you can use this structure to say that you can disable a magical trap by making Arcana checks, Thievery checks, or by dealing damage to the structure of the trap. By allowing these disparate checks to all feed into a single complex skill check, you facilitate cooperation in a way that’s far more dynamic and interesting than just using the Aid Another action.

But the skill challenge “system” as it’s presented in the DMG? Dissociative, broken, and useless. Don’t waste your time.


In response to the general public outcry over the shoddy and unusable skill challenge mechanics published in the DMG, WotC responded in mid-July with errata aimed at correcting some of the more egregious problems with skill challenges. I’m going to take a few moments here to take a second look at the problems with the skill challenge mechanics and analyze how they were (or weren’t) corrected.

DISSOCIATION: Nothing was done to correct the heavily dissociated nature of the skill challenge system.

PROBLEMS WITH PROBABILITY: The errata corrected the most egregious and obvious of the probability problems with skill challenges. Notably, more complex skill challenges no longer become easier for people with higher skill modifiers. However, the probability of success still varies radically as you move away from the baseline values assumed at each level. This means that min-maxing is heavily rewarded. It also means that, rather than encouraging the participation of everyone at the gaming table (the purported design goal of skill challenges), the system instead rewards the group for figuring out whoever has the highest applicable skill modifier and then having that character roll all the checks.

(This means that skill challenges are yet another example of 4th Edition providing a “solution” to a “problem” which actually ends up making the problem worse rather than better. Brilliant.)

This probability pattern also means that tackling a skill challenge a couple levels higher than your current level is much more difficult than tackling a combat encounter a couple levels higher than your current level (and vice versa).

However, with all that being said, the emergent probability skews of the system (which result from the possibility of multiple paths of succcess and the dissociated nature of the mechanic) still remain.

EXPERIENCE AWARDS: They partially fixed their inability to perform simple arithmetic by removing the XP guidelines based on using Easy vs. Moderate vs. Hard DCs. Instead, you just vary the level of the challenge to make it easier or harder. However, this ignores the fact that there remains a significant difference between a skill challenge which features Easy DCs for a given level versus a skill challenge which features Hard DCs for a given level. (Nor are any solid guidelines given for the proporion of Easy vs. Moderate vs. Hard DCs you should be using.)

They also fixed the discrepancy where, for example, 10th level and 12th level skill challenges were statistically identical but had significantly different rewards by simply limiting skill challenges to the mid-point of each level range. (So, for you example, you can have 11th level skill challenges, but not 10th or 12th level skill challenges.)

RAILROADING: They have removed all of the rules requiring the DM to railroad their players. This is excellent news, and since I was (AFAIK) the first person to post these concerns online (both here and at WotC’s messageboards) I feel like I actively contributed to having these pernicious passages removed from the rules.

SLOPPY DESIGN: Skill challenges are essentially one of the core mechanics of 4th Edition. And they royally screwed them up. I’m glad to see that they’re issuing corrections in a timely fashion, but it doesn’t exactly instill a lot of confidence in me that they so fundamentally screwed up the most basic balancing of a core mechanic like this. What does their complete failure here say about any kind of complex interactions in the system?

CASCADING EFFECTS: Because skill challenges are a core mechanic, they’re used extensively throughout the system. For example, they’re a major element in the design of many traps. Despite this fact, the current errata doesn’t correct the design of these traps to match the revised skill challenge guidelines.

DESIGN DISCONNECTS: On June 14th, Mike Mearls stated: “The system went through several permutations as we worked on it, and I think there are some disconnects between the final text, our intentions, and how playtesters and internal designers use skill challenges.”


What I find interesting is the evidence of this disconnect that we have now seen strewn around the handful of books WotC has published for 4th Edition to date. For example, the skill challenges presented in H1: Keep on the Shadowfell don’t match the guidelines found in the DMG nor in the errata. And the skill challenges in H2: Thunderspire Labyrinth? They don’t match the DMG, the errata, or the skill challenges found in Keep on the Shadowfell.

That means that we have seen literally four different iterations of the skill challenge mechanics coming out of WotC.

This is, frankly, bizarre. And it speaks, again, to the fundamentally (and inexplicably) sloppy design of 4th Edition.

USABILITY: It should be noted that the errata itself is fairly unusable in its published form. I know it’s standard practice in WotC’s errata to simply include the relevant changes, but in this case the changes are of a nature which makes neither the rulebook nor the errata usable.

Notably, the revision of the skill challenge mechanics also included a revision of the Difficulty Class and Damage by Level table on pg. 42 of the DMG. For those of you unfamiliar with 4th Edition, this table is the heart and soul of the system. I don’t think there’s been a table so crucial to the playing of D&D since the hit tables in AD&D1 were replaced with THAC0. And it’s been rendered unusable by the errata… which only replicates the three key columns which have been altered (without the other columns which give the information in those columns any relevance).

And since they didn’t get this problem fixed before they printed the Dungeon Master’s Screen for 4th Edition… well, that won’t fix your problem, either. You’ll need to recreate the table yourself by combining the information from the DMG and the errata.

Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy.

THE BOTTOM LINE: For me, the bottom line hasn’t changed much. Skill challenges are still dissociative, (slightly less) broken, and useless.


4th Edition has gutted the non-combat portions of the game. It took me awhile to really come to grips with this because there is a large degree to which familiarity with previous editions causes you to simply glaze over what’s missing from the new edition. But once I realized what I was seeing, and really focused on the problem, it quickly became clear that the designers had decided that D&D was a game about combat, combat, and more combat.

NON-COMBAT SKILLS: The skill system in 4th Edition has been “simplified”. Part of this means reducing the flexibility and freedom of choice to be found in 3rd Edition (while gaining no appreciable benefit from the loss), but the other part of it is the systematic removal of non-combat skills and non-combat skill uses.

When I have brought this up in discussion with diehard supporters of 4th Edition, I have often been told that I’m wrong: There are still some non-combat skills and skill uses left in the game.

This is true. But if you cut off both my legs and one of my arms, the fact that you left me with one working hand doesn’t mean that you haven’t mutilated me.

Appraise, Craft, Decipher Script, Handle Animal, several Knowledge skills, Perform, Profession, Ride, and Use Rope are all completely gone. Disguise and Forgery have been dumped into the Bluff skill, but have no associated skill uses. (This is the entirety of their description in 4th Edition: “You make a Bluff check to […] pass off a disguise or fake documentation…”)

And when you look at the skills which do remain, non-combat uses for those skills have also been widely removed from the game. (On the other hand, several new combat uses for skills have been added — so it’s not that they were just paring the whole list down.)

In play, this wasn’t just hypothetically problematical. Twice in our very first session of 4th Edition the players ran straight into the wall of missing non-combat skills. And, of course, I was left improvising house rules on the fly to cover over the gaping holes left in the rules.

I don’t expect any rule system to be encyclopedic, but the advantage 3rd Edition had was a comprehensive structure of skills that made improvising non-detailed tasks really simple. In years of playing 3rd Edition, I can’t remember a single time I ran into a situation where I could say, “There’s no skill for that.” Which meant that my task in 3rd Edition was simply figuring out the appropriate DC to use. In mere hours of playing 4th Edition we ran into “there’s no skill for that” multiple times, necessitating the creation of entire mechanics. (The sheer number of mandatory minor house rules you have to track in order to run 4th Edition in a consistent fashion is truly mind-boggling to me.)

What leaves me scratching my head over this design decision is that, with the new method of handling skills at character creation, it was so totally unnecessary. The only legitimate complaint against having lots of skills in 3rd Edition is that some PC classes arguably don’t have enough skill points to take a significant selection of those skills. However, in 4th Edition that concern has been completely negated. So why not invest the 2 or 3 pages of text it would have taken to provide the same level of comprehensive support for non-combat skill use in 4th Edition that you had in 3rd Edition?

NON-COMBAT EQUIPMENT: I’ve talked about this before, but all non-adventuring equipment and most of the non-combat adventuring equipment has gone M.I.A. in 4th Edition. This includes staples of the dungeon crawling genre like 10-foot poles, chalk dust, and the like.

NON-COMBAT POWERS: Finally, when you compare the spells and class abilities in 3rd Edition to the powers and rituals available in 4th Edition the new game’s wholesale embrace of combat and systematic rejection of non-combat play becomes pretty obvious. And this, naturally, spills over into the magic items available in the game, as well.

As with skills, it’s not as if there aren’t any non-combat powers in 4th Edition. It’s just that the number of non-combat options have been drastically reduced, while the number of combat options has been increased.

COMBAT, COMBAT, COMBAT: Of course, it’s not as if D&D has ever been a combat-lite game. But 4th Edition puts its hand firmly on the combat side of the scale and pushes down hard. Frankly, the game hasn’t been this myopic in its combat-focus since the original 1974 boxed set… and that was when the game was little more than an expansion pack for the Chainmail tactical miniatures game.

The simple reality here is that D&D miniatures are, by all accounts, more profitable for WotC than D&D books are. It’s little wonder, I suppose, that we have been given rules that look like a tactical miniatures game and adventures which are explicitly designed as a series of tactical combat encounters complete with set-up instructions for the miniatures.

Personally, I have little interest in the direction this has taken the game. Tactical miniatures combat is not the primary reason I play roleplaying games. And, honestly, I feel that WotC has made a wider strategic mistake. They have stated that one of their design goals with 4th Edition was to appeal to a new generation of gamers and that, to win the attention of that generation, they would need to compete against video games like World of Warcraft and Diablo.

But the people who play D&D for the excitement of hack ‘n slash combat are the players you are least likely to retain in a head-to-head matchup with computer and video games. You can get the same basic style of combat in Diablo, after all. But you get it faster, with prettier graphics, and without having to do the math. Plus, you can play any time you want to. You can even play with your friends (whether they live near you or not), and with a minimal effort (no larger than hauling a sizable miniature collection around) you can set up a LAN party and play with them in person.

Don’t get me wrong: I like having a robust and tactically interesting combat system in D&D. But I believe that, if you want your pen ‘n paper roleplaying games to compete with the video variety, then you shouldn’t be trying to compete with the greatest strengths of video games. D&D will never beat the Diablos of the world when it comes to combat simulation, graphics, or ease of play.

Where pen ‘n paper roleplaying games can separate themselves from the video variety is outside of combat. It is the truly open-ended nature of the game — the GM’s ability to respond to any scenario or action the players might propose — that video games are still decades away from emulating.

I was hoping that D&D would move towards those strengths, while still retaining all the benefits of its dungeon crawling roots (this really is a situation where you can have your cake and eat it, too). Instead, with 4th Edition, the game embraced its weaknesses.


BALANCE: I’ve heard a lot of people talking about how 4th Edition is “less broken” or “more balanced” than 3rd Edition. Personally, I doubt it. When you look at the poor statistical analysis being applied to problems like the 15-minute advenuturing day and skill challenges, I see no reason to assume that the system is particularly robust. I mean, if the designers couldn’t be bothered to calculate the most basic probabilities of their core mechanics, why would I assume they spent any time balancing the complex interactions between different powers and abilities?

On top of that, 4th Edition is so fundamentally different from previous editions of rhe game that the legacy of balance instilled into the system by 30+ years of playtesting no longer exists. Meanwhile, the playtesting for 4th Edition was significantly reduced in scope from the rigorous playtesting that 3rd Edition was subjected to.

So we have a game with (a) less playtesting and (b) demonstrated sloppiness in the design of its most basic elements. And you’re telling me it’s “more balanced” just because the designers told you that they “fixed the math”? C’mon. Within mere days of the game being releasd, the designers had already publicly admitted that they’d actually screwed up the math instead of fixing it.

It’s true that, as I write this just a few short weeks after the game was released, the character optimization boards have not yet ripped Pun-Pun size holes in the game. But it’s not like Pun-Pun cropped up in September 2000, either. (It took four years, a revision of the core rulebooks, and multiple supplements.)

EASE OF PREP: I’ve also heard a lot of people talking about how easy it is for DMs to prep adventures in 4th Edition. This is one of those areas where I’m fully willing to admit that my experience may be extremely different from that of other people playing the game, but frankly I can’t figure out what they’re talking about. Particularly since they seem to be primarily talking about the ease of prepping stat blocks.

For one thing, prepping stat blocks has never taken up more than about 5% of my time when prepping an adventure. It’s such a minuscule portion of the process that any time savings in that area is almost beyond irrelevant.

For another thing, with the exception of wizards (who had the extra hassle of trying to prep spellbooks), the amount of time spent prepping NPCs in 4th Edition has actually increased compared to 3rd Edition.Why? Because the number of decision points (due to powers) has increased for every single non-caster class (and has remained largely unchanged for the caster classes).

Nor is it any easier to create entirely new monsters or tweak existing monster stat blocks in 4th Edition.

However, one thing I do like in 4th Edition is the multitude of stat blocks in the Monster Manual. It really is a huge time saver to have a half dozen different stat blocks for orcs that I can immediately plug ‘n play into an adventure, instead of having to build every orc by hand from the basic stat block for the race. It’s a design choice that I liked in the later 3rd Edition Monster Manuals and it’s just as valuable here.

Unfortunately, the Monster Manual as a whole is probably one of the worst ever published for the game. Descriptive text has been pared down to a bare minimum… and often less than a bare minimum. It would be tempting to blame this lack of descriptive text on the multiple stat blocks, but that’s just not the case: Monster Manual V for 3rd Edition, for example, featured multiple stat blocks without gutting the descriptive text.

One example of this would be the guulvorg. First appearing in Monster Manual V, guulvorgs were recently created by goblin transmuters experimenting upon worg stock. Huge creatures with a tail of bulbous bone and blood which literally boils in their veins (and scorches those who wound them), the guulvorgs were given enough detail that they stood out as a unique variant of the standard worg.

In 4th Edition, on the other hand, guulvorgs “are often encountered in pairs (a male and a female). They are capable of bearing Large riders into battle.”

That’s the entirety of the creature’s description in the Monster Manual. And this is a pattern which is repeated over and over again throughout the book. If you already know what these monsters are, then the book has a high utility. If you aren’t already familiar with older editions of the game, however, the book is nothing more than a collection of extremely bland stat blocks.

This contributes heavily to the feeling that 4th Edition is nothing more than a tactical miniatures game.

And the dissociated mechanics in the Monster Manual are just actively painful to read. I think my “favorite” of the moment is the cyclops who has better depth perception because he only has one eye.

… I wish to God I was making that up:

EVIL EYE (minor; at will)
Range sight; the cyclops impaler gains a +2 bonus to ranged attacks made against the target. It can designate only one target with its evil eye at a time.

The Evil Eye is also an example of another 4th Edition design principle that I just can’t wrap my head around: Racial traits that aren’t.

In the case of the cyclops, every single cyclops stat block has an Evil Eye ability listed… but they’re all different. One grants a free basic melee attack; another grants a bonus to ranged attacks; another lets the cyclops shift 2 squares instead of 1; another applies a penalty to a target’s speed; and so forth. There’s no common thread to these abilities except that they’re all called “Evil Eye”.


D&D Basic Set 1983I want to talk for a moment about my own personal history with D&D. I’ve previously described on this site how I first got into roleplaying games. I still remember walking into Pinnacle Games in Rochester, MN and seeing the five D&D boxed sets — the Basic, Expert, Companion, Master, and Immortal boxes — spread out rainbow-like along the top of a shelf. I spent months saving my allowance money in order to buy one boxed set after another, with each new purchase expanding the scope and depth of the game for me.

This was during the summer and fall of 1989, and it wasn’t long before I had picked up the AD&D 2nd Edition Player’s Handbook and Dungeon Master’s Guide. Then I picked up a used copy of the 1st Edition Monster Manual, which I used in conjunction with the 2nd Edition rulebooks for nearly half a decade until the hardcover Monstrous Manual was released in 1993.

During this half-decade span, I was playing with classmates and discussing the game in a variety of online forums, most notably the ADND FidoNet echo. I remember fondly people like Bruce Norman, John Givler, Bruce Norman, Alesia Chamness, Linda Rash, Alaeseus Starbreeze, David Bolack, Laurie Brown, Dr Pepper, and many others. It was here that I first encountered the concept of PBeM campaigns, and watching multiple games play out in slow motion across the echo helped shape my perceptions of what roleplaying games were capable of. When Bruce Norman got an adventure published in Dungeon Magazine, it inspired me to start submitting my own work. John Givler’s prodigious output of homebrewed items, spells, and monsters taught my kit-bashing by example.

(If anyone reading this has text archives from those days, I’d love to hear about it. Mine are fragmentary and incomplete.)

In short, I was young and I was excited by my hobby.

AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide - 2nd EditionBut there was also something else happening during this time period: A growing dissatisfaction with AD&D. Why were the core mechanics such an inconsistent and random jumble? Why couldn’t wizards wear armor (even if they weren’t casting spells)? Why was the alignment system so punitive? Why did demi-humans have level caps? Why was there both a multi-classing system and a dual-classing system that produced such blatantly unbalanced results? And so forth. (This really just scratches the surface.)

And like a lover who has become discontented with his mistress, the existence of so many faults quickly made other foibles and quirks intolerable. Classes instead of a skill system? Vancian spellcasting instead of spell points? Hit points instead of a wound system? Pshaw.

I was hardly alone. Everyone I knew who played AD&D — both online and offline — had campaigns chock full of house rules trying to fix the foibles of the game. In the end, I was playing a version of AD&D using a binder of house rules thicker than the core rulebooks. And eventually I grew sick of doing it. By the late ’90s, I had stopped playing the game entirely.

Then, in 1999, the development of 3rd Edition was announced. I was skeptical and cynical beyond belief. And when Ryan Dancey announced his plans for the Open Gaming License, I found the entire concept absurd: The busted, archaic, creaky mechanics of AD&D were going to take the roleplaying industry by storm? Why would anyone use those rules as a platform for development? I got involved in countless online debates, scoffing at the entire concept.

D&D Player's Handbook - 3rd EditionAnd then Ryan Dancey did something really audacious: In response to my relentless criticism and skepticism, he made me a playtester and sent me a playtest copy of the Player’s Handbook.

So I read through the playtest document and I sent Dancey a lengthy list of comments. And then I playtested the game and sent him another list of comments. In short, I did my job.

And Dancey had done his: By the time I finished reading through the playtest document, I was sold on 3rd Edition. What I was holding in my hands was essentially the game I had been trying to create with my binder full of house rules: A unified core mechanic. A skill system coupled to a flexible class system. Arbitrary prohibitions replaced with logical consequences. It even took away with the alignment strait-jacket.

It wasn’t the perfect game. But it felt like the Platonic Ideal of AD&D that all of us had been struggling to find through our incessant house ruling.

And here was the real trick of it: It still played like D&D. It still felt like that game I had fallen in love with back in the summer of ’89 when I first peeled the shrinkwrap off the Basic Set.

Let me take a moment and explain what I mean by that: Yes, THAC0 was gone. Yes, the XP tables had been mucked with. Yes, the saving throw categories had been streamlined. Yes, skills and feats had been added to the game. In fact, the list of changes — if you wanted to be sufficiently nitpicky with it — could be almost endless.

But here’s the rub of it: Playing a fighter still felt like playing a fighter. Playing a wizard still felt like playing a wizard. And so forth.

Playing D&D3 felt as much like playing AD&D as AD&D had felt like playing BECMI.

Which — at the end of this long, winding road of nostalgia — brings me to my point:

4th Edition - Player's Handbook4th Edition doesn’t play like D&D.

Some of the names are still the same, but playing a fighter doesn’t feel like playing a fighter and playing a wizard doesn’t feel like playing a wizard.

Is it still a paper ‘n pencil roleplaying game? Yes. Is it still about exploring dungeons and slaying dragons? Yes.

Does it play like D&D? No.

The gameplay has been fundamentally altered. In similar fashion, both Chess and Stratego are boardgames featuring a highly abstract presentation of war played out on a grid. But Stratego isn’t the same game as Chess… even if you package it in a box with the word CHESS written across it in big, bold letters.

Sure, 4th Edition has the Dungeons & Dragons trademark splashed across its covers. But it isn’t the same game — any more than Rolemaster or Earthdawn or Exalted (all fantasy roleplaying games) are the same game. Or would become the same game just because you slapped the same name on the cover. New Coke may have had the Coke trademarks on its can, but that didn’t make it the same soda.

It should be noted that this isn’t to be taken as indictment of 4th Edition. There’s absolutely nothing about being “not D&D” that necessarily makes it a bad game. There are plenty of great RPGs which aren’t D&D, and Stratego is a fun game even if it isn’t Chess.

But the fact that 4th Edition isn’t the same game I’ve been playing for nearly two decades does play a significant role in why I won’t be making the switch to 4th Edition.

Back in 2002, Ron Edwards coined the term “fantasy heartbreaker”. He used it to refer to all of those games which are the result of their creators believing that they’ve taken the mousetrap (i.e. D&D) and made it a little bit better. In some cases they may be right and in some cases they may be wrong but, as Edwards pointed out, they were all doomed to failure. Why? Well, here Edwards goes off into an ideological rant that I think rather misses the point. But, in my opinion, the primary reason can be boiled down to this:

If I wanted to be play a game like this, I might as well be playing D&D.

There are many reasons for that sentiment to hold true, but I think there are two major ones:

(1) It’s much easier to find a group playing D&D than it is to find a group playing any other RPG.

(2) Most roleplaying gamers are already familiar with D&D — they’ve already learned the game.

So why would you go to the effort of learning a new game and then convincing other people to learn a new game in order to achieve an experience that you can already largely accomplish with a game you know and for which it’s easy to find experienced players?

Now, to be clear: 4th Edition will not be a fantasy heartbreaker. It’s got the Dungeons & Dragons trademark, tons of marketing muscle, and plenty of people who were either dissatisfied with 3rd Edition or just like anything shiny and new. From a commercial standpoint, it’s going to be a huge success by the standards of the industry. (The only open question is (a) whether it will be as large of a success as it could have been if it had taken a different route and (b) whether it will be a success by WotC’s standards.)

But for me, personally, I look on 4th Edition in much the same way that I’ve looked at the many fantasy heartbreakers I’ve read and played over the years. Only moreso. The game I love is not to be found here, and the game that has replaced it beneath the same shiny trademark is (a) intentionally designed to be inferior at doing all of the things that I enjoy doing with D&D and (b) sloppily designed in some fairly fundamental ways. And even if that wasn’t true, 4th Edition has failed to offer any substantive improvements or innovations that would justify abandoning my existing mastery of 3rd Edition in order to learn a fundamentally different game (which is, nevertheless, attempting to scratch the same itch).

D&D is dead. Long live 4th Edition.

But not for me.

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4 Responses to “Playtesting 4th Edition”

  1. Justin Alexander says:


    I think you’ve made a faulty analysis of the cause of the 15-minute day. In all the time I’ve run 4e, I’ve never had a party attempt a 15-minute adventuring day. Why not? It’s not that the party doesn’t have it’s *best* capabilities, it’s that some sigificant part of the party doesn’t even have it’s *worst*, non-meaningless capabilities.

    Example: You’ve got the classic fighter, thief, cleric wizard party in 3.x. After the first encounter of the day, your cleric is out of heals and your wizard is out of spells. The cleric is still moderately functional as a secondary fighter. The wizard is nigh on useless. The party rests, or risks the wizard dieing. This goes away at higher levels when your wizard has about a dozen available spells.

    In 4e, with the same classicly themed party, let’s assume your party blew its wad and expended all their daily powers. They still have their encounter powers available to them for the rest of the day, and they still have at-will powers which keep them effective in combat. Additionally, they have the bonus of getting action points every 2 encounters (a milestone). With the use of an action point, the players can essentially turn a pair of encounter powers, or even at-wills into something every bit as big and effective as their daily power. The result? The party continues to adventure until they’ve run out of their limiting resource, healing surges. That reflects a level of physical and mental exhaustion on the part of the characters befitting an extended rest.

    Sure, the 1-fight 1-camp, 15-minute day can be exploited in any system with day-based limits on anything. I’ve seen exactly one unanticipated extended rest in all the 4e games I’ve run, and that was after a particularly bad turn of the dice made a moderately difficult encounter near-lethal. (Any party would have taken that rest, simply because they had 12 hit points between the 6 of them, and no means of healing without taking that extended rest first.)
    Monday, January 10, 2011, 9:48:59 PM

    Justin Alexander
    Did you ever actually play 3.x? Did you ever actually experience a 15-minute adventuring day in 3.x?

    In addition, of course, you’re completely wrong. The reality is that the ENFORCED 15-minute adventuring day you’re talking about is far rarer in 3.x than in 4th. Why? Because of the limit on daily healing that 4th Edition enforces through its limitations on healing surges. Healing resources in 3rd Edition can be both (a) pooled and (b) extended without any limit (except those imposed by the DM). The same is not true in 4th Edition, and — just like you say — as soon as ANY character has exhausted their healing surges, a 4th Edition will be forced to rest or risk their death.

    This is, you’ll note, explicitly discussed in the essay you’re replying to. I’m not sure why you’re posting stuff which is not only obviously wrong, but already refuted by the material you’ve just read.
    Tuesday, January 11, 2011, 1:42:56 AM

    Um, yes. I’ve played every edition of D&D that’s been released. I started playing back in ’82 or ’83 as I recall.

    In 4th edition, you have the healing resources to easily handle 4-6 encounters, and likely handle as many as 8-10 if the party knows how to complement each others’ abilities. For example, my current party, has gone 4 game sessions in a row without stopping to take an extended rest on more than one occasion. They just hit 3rd level.

    There’s absolutely nothing that ‘enforces’ a 15-minute day in 4e. You’ve made the assertion that there is, but you haven’t supported it with any evidence.

    In 3.x (or earlier), your low-level wizard had 1-4 spells per day that were any good in combat. He could either be fully rested, or useless. A first level wizard in pre-4e versions of D&D could be expected to run through his entire prepared spell list in the first 2 rounds of an encounter, and then be down to his dagger, or sling. When he reached that point, he wasn’t just incapable of providing any meaningful assistance in combat, he was a resource sink. He gets hit? You’ve got to spend some of your limited healing resources to keep him alive. That’s one less healing potion or spell for your fighter. Keep the fighter and the wizard in ‘fighting form’, and your cleric is now out of healing spells all together 2 encounters in. Time to rest so he and the wizard can be useful again.

    As for actually experiencing a 15-minute day running 3.x? Yes. For exactly the reasons I described (in both posts). The wizard was out of spells, and the cleric was out of heals. At that point, the party stops because those two have just become *baggage*. I got my players to stop doing it by throwing encounters at them during their characters’ down-time. In 4e (with a completely different batch of players), I’ve never had that problem, because even after your entire party blows its daily powers, they’re still in fighting form.

    As for your claim that my post had already been refuted by the material I’d just read. The material I had just read had made some bald assertions about certain things, but hadn’t actually supported them with any convincing evidence. My post was pointing out that your analysis was… How shall I put it? Inaccurate? Unconvincing? Wrong? (Yeah, those all work.)
    Wednesday, January 12, 2011, 1:12:12 AM

    Well done! This is perhaps the best, most well thought out, and well articulated critiques of 4th edition I have read. You have covered most of the major complaints that we have had with 4th edition. My gaming group has likewise made the decision to stick with 3.5 (with some material stolen from Pathfinder). I hope they ask you to be on the design team for 5.0. I’m still secretly hoping for them to start publishing D&D-Classic Edition so that 4th Ed. can go the way of New Coke (even though I know it won’t happen).
    Thursday, October 28, 2010, 1:13:27 PM

    Here’s the fix for the Daily Power dissociateness (< --I made that word up): You know how with Daily Powers, even if you MISS you do damage? You change it so that if you MISS, the miss effect happens to YOU instead of your target, but the trade off is you can attempt that Daily Power as much as you want -- it's like an at-will power, but with consequences if you screw it up. So now it's like that risky air-bounce move that one guy was talking can try to risk it to win big, but you could also blow it big in the attempt if you fail. You'd have to change the name from "Daily Power" to something like "Desperate Power" or "Daring Power" since you could do it more than once a day. So now your character has this really cool move he could try, but he should make sure he's got some advantages working for him, like waiting for flanking position on his target, maybe waiting for the power boost from the leader character, maybe he first does a different attack that gives him a bonus on his next attack...y'know get some cooperation and strategy all up in that mofo. $0.02 Friday, September 24, 2010, 10:27:47 AM

    Evil Genius Prime
    I’ve been gaming as long as you have and I feel your pain with the disapointment of 4E. And thats why I am fully supporting Pathfinder! Paizo got it right. They took the feel of D&D and made it better. Screw 4th Edition. D&D still lives in the pages of Pathfinder!
    Friday, July 23, 2010, 4:12:03 PM

    I stumbled onto your collection of essays more-or-less by accident, but I now suspect that something like this is exactly what I was looking for. My very first experiences with D&D were in 3rd edition, nowhere near as long ago as yours seemingly were. They were with one of the worst DMs I can remember playing for, but I was completely enchanted with the game itself.

    I’ve tried a few other systems since then, but none ever really worked with a set of rules I found as intuitive as those laid out in 3rd. I have literally used the rules in those books to design and imagine character after character, with the complete understanding that whoever I created, I could mold the stats to reflect them.

    When 4th came along, I had friends who were strongly for it, and others who were strongly against it. I honestly don’t remember what my exact stance was, but I seem to recall is was something other than strictly positive. We began playing, and the group’s view of it shifted almost entirely in favour of it at first. There were those of us who knew it didn’t feel right, but simply chose to adjust our play style so that we didn’t wind up having actual heated arguments about whether or not to play it. We just wanted to play.

    I’ve never been able to fully get into it, in the almost two years we’ve been at it. I had these various, disconnected reasons floating around in my head, but nothing I could turn into a real, cohesive argument against the system. This essay mirrors almost exactly everything I’ve felt about it.

    For me, it was always about creating characters and then playing them out, seeing where the game took them. The other day, I was playing my character and realized I’d forgotten to actually write the name down on the sheet. Thinking hard on it, I realized I couldn’t remember what the name was, or even if it had ever been said out loud in the context of the story or what was even happening. There is no real encouragement to roleplay inherent in 4th edition, and for those people who are just as happy playing the linear sort of video game rpg, it’s something that is all-too-easy to just accept.

    I guess what I’m saying is that everything you said here mirrors my own thoughts to a very large degree, and that I am in complete agreement: D&D is dead.
    Sunday, March 21, 2010, 2:15:51 PM

    @Guest: Aw, don’t say D&D is dead. It’ll always be alive as long as you keep playing it. Who needs new books and new modules and new supplements! Steal stuff or make it up, but you can keep D&D alive at your gaming table, and just the way you want it!
    Friday, September 24, 2010, 10:15:00 AM

    Leland J. Tankersley
    Ah, actually I hadn’t really noticed the address at the top until you mentioned it. I was just looking at the page content itself. Okay, that should provide me enough information to start on if I feel like sleuthing.
    Wednesday, April 08, 2009, 10:29:44 PM

    Justin Alexander
    Unfortunately, no. I wish there was. I’ve attempted to mitigate the problem to some extent with the link: Dedicated essays archived at the Creations, Politics, or Review pages get a descriptive name. All other entries get a date that can be used to track them down in the archive.

    In this case, the typo “platesting_4th” got immortalized before I realized I’d dropped a “y” in there. The article is Playtesting 4th Edition.
    Wednesday, April 08, 2009, 12:34:22 PM

    Leland J. Tankersley
    Hey, Justin, do you think you could add some kind of a link in the comments thingie to go back to the article that is generating the comments? When old articles get resurrected in the comments like this sometimes it is impossible (for me anyway) to figure out what they’re referring to. This one, from context above, is one of the discussions of fourth edition, obviously, but sometimes there is less context available to figure out what is being discussed.

    Just a thought.
    Tuesday, April 07, 2009, 9:04:33 AM

    [Banned for trolling.]

    Edited By Siteowner
    Monday, April 06, 2009, 9:14:11 AM

    [Banned for trolling.]

    Edited By Siteowner
    Thursday, April 02, 2009, 11:23:08 AM

    Justin, thanks for this write up. It’s well thought out and has lots of good meat. I related very strongly to your final section.

    I started playing D&D in the early 70’s out of the silver Chainmail book.

    Our group started playing 4E several months ago. I find that when I think of it as D&D I get pretty irritated with it. If I think of it as just some hack em up tactical game I have a lot of fun.

    I wish they would have called it by another name. Grrrr!
    Friday, March 27, 2009, 2:16:45 AM

    “John Lee”
    “4e becomes either great (if you were formerly of the opinion that you can’t possibly have any NPC powers outside of combat at all, which is stupid), or greater (if you’re of the opinion that monsters should have non-combat powers directly placed on their stat blocks).

    Whatever happened to using imagination, guys?”

    I hate to gang up on you, especially since we’ve all moderated our previously aggressive rhetoric, but could you elaborate on this? I’m sort of confused. How does Noonan’s reduced influence achieve two mutually exclusive goals?
    Tuesday, February 17, 2009, 11:20:25 AM

    Justin Alexander
    Re: The disavowment of Noonan’s design philosophy. I honestly have no idea what you’re talking about. Can you give a more specific cite?

    And, as I say, Mearls is spouting the exact same philosophy. I haven’t seen WotC disavowing Mearls, have you?

    Re: Why am I quoting Noonan? I just got done telling you that: “The only thing I’m taking issue with is the design philosophy he was espousing.”

    In general you seem obsessed with the idea that laying off Noonan is supposed to some sort of magical cure-all that will fix all of the problems with 4th Edition. This idea is so absurd I’m not sure how you could possibly believe it. It seems to be predicated on the twin beliefs that:

    (1) Noonan was the only person at WotC following this design philosophy (which is clearly not the case).

    (2) Now that Noonan is gone, WotC will completely rewrite and re-release the 4th Edition core rulebooks (which is ridiculous).
    Tuesday, February 17, 2009, 1:53:27 AM

    John Lee:

    Look at Monster Manual V’s related articles.

    Now go look at the latest Dragon magazines which completely disregard Noonan’s existence (see: the Backgrounds section and where they ‘originated’ from).

    Whether he influenced the game or not, they sure don’t like the guy. This gives WOTC to clean up his ‘cancer’ if you found 4e cancerous previously, or gives the non-grognards a chance to keep enjoying a great new edition.

    Justin – What exactly are you even trying to argue then by quoting Noonan at all?

    Look at it like this:

    Late stages of 3.5, Noonan writes an article about why non-combat powers are silly.

    Noonan develops 4e with this philosophy (except that there’s more lore with 4e monsters than 3.5 but I digress).

    Noonan is laid off.

    4e becomes either great (if you were formerly of the opinion that you can’t possibly have any NPC powers outside of combat at all, which is stupid), or greater (if you’re of the opinion that monsters should have non-combat powers directly placed on their stat blocks).

    Whatever happened to using imagination, guys?
    Monday, February 16, 2009, 12:28:09 PM

    Justin Alexander
    Thanks, John. A couple quick points of my own, starting with an important clarification:

    (1) “His point with the David Noonan quote was not to defame the book about which the quote was said. His point was to denigrate David Noonan…”

    Actually, I have no desire to denigrate David Noonan as an individual. David Noonan is probably a great guy and I hope he’s able to weather the horrible reality of being laid off in this bad economy.

    The only thing I’m taking issue with is the design philosophy he was espousing.

    Now let’s take a look at Food for Thought’s half-baked ranting.

    (2) “Did you know that the David Noonan quote you cite was from a 3.5 edition book, with regard to the 3.5 edition of the game?”

    AFAIK, that quote never appeared in a 3.5 book. I pulled it from an online Design & Development article discussing Monster Manual V. This is a 3.5 product, of course, as might have been intuited from the very first thing I say after the quote: “Their logic was fundamentally flawed when it came to 3rd Edition…” (emphasis added)

    Yes, WotC was already pursuing these flawed design philosophies in the latter days of 3.5. Yes, they were just as wrong-headed then as they are in 4th Edition. Ironically, I just got done posting a short essay to that effect (discussing a creature from the Monster Manual V, no less) on the front page of this site mere days ago.

    (3) David Noonan’s quote may be the most succinct summary of the design philosophy I’ve found, but Mike Mearls has written multiple essays on the same topic. Mike Mearls, you may note, is one of the core designers of 4th Edition. (Noonan himself, of course, is also part of the larger design team credited in the core rulebooks.)

    (4) “I would also question the mental acuity of your players if they find performing basic arithmetic, rarely exceeding multi-stage addition of numbers less than 10, to be an unnecessary and overlong process which disrupts their enjoyment of the game.”

    I’m honestly curious what the hell you’re talking about. I can’t seem to find any reference in my essay or my comments in which I claim that my players find “performing arithmetic” difficult, overlong, or unnecessary.

    (5) “I fully expect you to refute my argument sentence-by-sentence, most likely citing your article and demonstrating that I have not “got” it or “read” it. I eagerly anticipate this.”

    It’s certainly possible that you have read it, your predilection for just making shit up that I never said notwithstanding. This is probably why you’re self-professedly fearful of anyone actually analyzing what you’re saying on a point-by-point basis.

    (6) Anonymous: “You also claim you can’t keep track of the HP of five monsters…”

    Actually, I said exactly the opposite of that: I said that the complexity of combat in 4th Edition looked just fine to me, because I’d always been comfortable with that same level
    Monday, February 02, 2009, 5:06:14 PM

    “John Lee”
    If Food for Thought and Anonymous are different people (which I assume they are), then the following comments will be logical. Also, Herr Alexander, forgive me if I put words in your mouth.

    Anonymous: If you had actual substance in your post, I might listen. The only substance you have is that David Noonan was fired for 4e, which proves untrue. I’m pretty sure he helped make too, but I can’t be sure since WotC doesn’t list anybody specific for that.

    Food for Thought: On the other hand, I respect your more detailed complaints. Justin has previously stated his preference for “playing hardball”, I believe explicitly so in one of his commentaries (in fact, using the exact adage you did). A bit more than tacit consent, I’d say.

    But as for your point about math, that is an argument that has been made in many THAC0 debates. The point is not that people can’t do basic arithmetic. The point is that every bit of arithmetic gives a chance for error and a slowdown of game time. A chance and a slowdown best measured in obscenely small numbers; but detriments that add up. Also, using excess paper for something as mundane as tracking hit points seems wasteful. Of course, since they could just bring calculators, I suppose your complaint here is warranted.

    His point with the David Noonan quote was not to defame the book about which the quote was said. His point was to denigrate David Noonan; a man that heavily influenced Fourth Edition. Whether he said that about 3.5 or 4.0, it shows that Noonan thought that about game design. And, whether he has held that view for a year or a day, Noonan is not somebody I want designing my D&D as long as such ridiculous focus on combat remains in his mind.

    Do you actually have a citation for your claim that the David Noonan quote was from a 3.5 book? It seems a bit inappropriate to correct a mistaken citation without the correct citation at hand. Of course, Justin failed to cite too; so I can’t place much blame here.

    While it is true that the interpretation of Evil Eye may be irregular, the ability still makes no sense. How is the cyclops cursing the person? Why are only ranged attacks affected? Better still, why are only attacks from the cyclops affected? Why can only one person per cyclops be cursed at one time? Without flavor text, these sort of things are pretty damn hard to justify; and can lead to not-so-unreasonable guesses that “the cyclops’s one eye gives him better depth perception.”
    Sunday, February 01, 2009, 2:25:42 PM

    Food For Thought
    Did you know that the David Noonan quote you cite was from a 3.5 edition book, with regard to the 3.5 edition of the game?

    Of course, I’m sure you did. You wouldn’t have written such a long and eloquent piece without actually doing some research.

    Your extended and point-by-point rebuttals of the slightest criticism of your wandering and at times factually inaccurate argument imply an inherent insecurity and attempt to inflame.

    I would also question the mental acuity of your players if they find performing basic arithmetic, rarely exceeding multi-stage addition of numbers less than 10, to be an unnecessary and overlong process which disrupts their enjoyment of the game. Perhaps for you, and for them, a more simple system would be more suitable? Equally, your complaints with regard to tracking hit points appear to ignore the existence of such wondrous inventions as a piece of paper and a pencil.

    I particularly also love your wilful misinterpretation of the power called “Evil Eye.” You imply it is purely an, and I quote, example of “the cyclops who has better depth perception because he only has one eye”

    You may be unaware, I am thus led to believe, of the figure of speech “place the evil eye on someone,” which implies singling them out using a curse or hex. But to you, it can only mean a physical act of depth perception.

    Forgive the slightly supercilious tone of my rebuttal of your argument, but the condescending way in which you have responded to previous posters who challenge your opinions I consider to be tacit consent to such a tone being used against you.

    To use a common figure of speech, “If you can’t take the heat, stay out of the kitchen.”

    I fully expect you to refute my argument sentence-by-sentence, most likely citing your article and demonstrating that I have not “got” it or “read” it.

    I eagerly anticipate this.
    Sunday, February 01, 2009, 11:35:19 AM

    Your players are complete morons (shifting taking that long to learn proves it), and you quoted an article that referred to 3.5 by a designer that was laid off when this edition rolled around, who also had his work blatantly disregarded in the latest Dragon magazine. You also claim you can’t keep track of the HP of five monsters and that your players just blow all their dailies after one encounter like idiots.

    Why do people feel the need to listen to you again?
    Sunday, February 01, 2009, 11:25:40 AM

    Justin Alexander
    Loren wrote: I do not know why you allow a 15 minute adventuring day. In one of your essays you write that you give your characters so much to do that they run out of time in each day, and then in the posts above this one you write that you allow your players to blow their wad and recover. Which is true?

    Congratulations, you figured out my pet peeve: I hate it when people lie about what I actually said.

    What I actually said in the essay you’re posting a response to: “And ultimately, as I say in “Death of the Wandering Monster”, this leads to the conclusion that the best way to solve this problem is to create a world or story where there is a reason for the characters to push forward and persevere without taking a rest. And that solution will work almost as well in 4th Edition as it did in 3rd Edition.”

    How you could possibly read that to mean, “I allow my players to blow their wad and then recover” is beyond me.

    Loren wrote: As such, I’m not certain why you’re so anti-4e.

    Well, I wrote a 10 part essay on the subject, but apparently you didn’t read it.

    Loren wrote: I have no idea why you’re concerned with tracking tiny +1 / +2 bonuses. With a party of 5 players, only 1 or 2 bonuses is really going to be in effect at any one time.

    This might be vaguely relevant if the PCs were the only ones involved in combat. (Hint: In most combat scenarios, the PCs are fighting somebody else.)

    It’s possible that KotS’s pregen characters and encounters are simply non-representative of 4th Edition’s style of play. But I’ve looked through the powers in the PHB and I’ve looked through the monsters in the MM… and everywhere I look, I’m seeing these small situational and locational bonuses and penalties.
    Tuesday, October 21, 2008, 4:28:55 AM


    I completely agree with longcoat’s stance on HP.

    I also see your point, tho, that it is a complete disconnect when a warlord “shouts” at someone bleeding to death, and they stand back up, take a breather, and have half HP.

    *shrug* I’m willing to accept foibles, because nothing and nobody are perfect.
    Friday, October 17, 2008, 10:39:37 AM


    As such, I’m not certain why you’re so anti-4e. We get through about the same number of combat encounters as before, and our roleplay and story elements haven’t changed at all. We tried to include some skill challenges, but they are just entirely too broken and the rules are just not where they need to be.

    Be that as it may, the average encounter goes much smoother for my magic users. They don’t have to worry “Do I cast one of my 7 spells right now? Are there more encounters today? Will reinforcements show up?” Instead, they just conserve their daily spell. Everything else on every character will get used.

    I do not know why you allow a 15 minute adventuring day. In one of your essays you write that you give your characters so much to do that they run out of time in each day, and then in the posts above this one you write that you allow your players to blow their wad and recover. Which is true?

    Additionally, my party doesn’t have a fighter. Its only marker is a Paladin, and his mark doesn’t restrict movement. Consequently, my fights are very fluid. Everyone is shuffling around, retreating, charging, on a regular basis.

    I have no idea why you’re concerned with tracking tiny +1 / +2 bonuses. With a party of 5 players, only 1 or 2 bonuses is really going to be in effect at any one time. Neither I nor my players have any problems remembering bonuses. And the few times we forget them? We either ret-con if it is close enough, or say “forget it.”
    Friday, October 17, 2008, 9:35:19 AM

    I started playing D&D when 3e was new, and it is all I’ve known. I’ve tried a variety of other RPGs, but have stuck with D&D due to it being familiar to a lot of people and acceptable.

    I’ve run a 3e campaign for a while now, meeting once a week for about 5 hours. During that time, we MIGHT get 2 combat encounters under our belt. The rest of it is roleplay, story discovery, and problem solving.

    I never felt 3e satisfied those requirements AT ALL. I think my players have rolled about 3 Diplomacy checks. There’s been quite a few knowledge checks, but that’s the upper limit. “Taking 10” let characters perform most activities they were good at without failing.
    Friday, October 17, 2008, 9:29:08 AM

    This is a very good article about RPG`s, I mglad I read it and share your points about 4E, hell I also experimenting that fall in love with 3E after strugling with 2E mechanics.
    Well thansk for writhing this article as I m actually trying to create my own system after the release of 4E, and since research is the first step this article was a good read, I m lookign forward to read the rest of your articles about RPG`s…

    Abot 4E, I also think they went in the direction ofwrgames, specially like warmachine, the mechanics are very similar.

    on the minions, I think they did it socharactes could artificially fell more powerfull taking several foes in one round, I disliked this mechanic, that while acceptable in a game like exalted it really didn`t fit with D&D, also the need to insert minions due to the paded sumo effect so players can kill somethign fast show a weakness in the system, finally 4E is a static game, you level up the monster and chalenges doto and eveirhitn stay the same…

    I would like to talk to you about my design ideas, if you are interested andhave the time please mail me

    btw I study engineering so I guess trying to make a numerical model of reality/fantasy is in mynature LOL
    Saturday, October 04, 2008, 3:18:01 PM

    Man, this is a great and thorough evaluation of 4e. Great work and thanks for sharing.
    Friday, August 15, 2008, 2:58:21 PM

    Justin Alexander
    @Svelt: You say that I have convoluted logic, but your post here makes almost no sense to me.

    For example, you lead off by citing — quite accurately that — “marking limits movement” as your only point of support for claiming that “combat is more mobile”. That’s quite bizarre.

    You assert that “positioning IS more important”, but you offer no explanation for it’s more important.

    You claim that I shouldn’t have told the PCs they were fighting minions, but the DMG explicitly tells you to do so. And, if you don’t, then you’re removing large swaths of meaningful tactical choices from the game.

    When it comes to the 15-minute adventuring day, we can clarify this issue by looking at both sides of the problem:

    (1) The nova cycle, in which the players choose to use their most powerful abilities and then regain them.

    (2) The useless cycle, in which the character is forced to stop adventuring because they can no longer continue adventuring even if they wanted to.

    But contrary to what you claim, BOTH of these problems were made worse in 4th Edition: In the case of the useless cycle, which you choose to focus on, the limited and unrenewable supply of healing surges creates an absolute hard limit on how long the party can continue adventuring on a given day: As soon as one member of the party has run out of healing surges, they can go no further without taking an extended rest.

    In 3rd Edition, there was no such hard limit except what your wealth allowed.

    In short, you contradict yourself and make false claims. You are also unnecessarily rude in doing so.
    Friday, August 15, 2008, 12:51:31 AM

    Well, my experience has been completely different in almost every respect. My players and I love 4E, and we have an awesome time with it every week. I’m sorry your experience was different. Sucks to be you, i guess.

    First off, I find combat to be more mobile; positioning IS more important. Obstacles and forced movement make for interesting tactical choices. Marking limits movement, but in an interesting way; i have to pay a penalty to get to the squishier party members.

    I find that the encounters DO move faster, largely because there’s fewer roadblocks; grappling, bull rush, etc don’t cause combat to grind to a halt.

    As for minions, why did you let the players know they were fighting minions? Make them roll damage anyway.

    As for the 15 minute work day, the problem isn’t that wizards cast all their spells and then rest, it’s that after they cast all their spells they are COMPLETELY worthless. The problem really is driven by the character’s least powerful abilities. You’re completely misidentifying the problem. Plus, having all the characters on the same timer keeps the party together.

    Anyway, thanks for the post. It was interesting watching you convolute your logic to fit into your “wotc is so stupid they made everything worse” narrative. Thanks for not falling into the “OMG it’s just like wow therefore it sucks” rant. Cheers and happy gaming!
    Thursday, August 14, 2008, 7:43:23 PM

    If only WotC would come out with 4e SP1 followed by 4e SP2, fixing everything.

    Speaking of security patches, the pre-errata version of one of the rogue powers let you attack potentially an unlimited number of times in one standard action (attack until you miss, the power is Blade Cascade). How can they possibly miss such a glaring error in play testing?

    Personally I’m fearful that 5e will be worse than 4e, mayhap writing the books in the same manner as many 13 year olds find it necessary to write on forums as if they were texting on a cell phone or IMing someone (a pet peeve of mine).

    (As far as windows 7 goes, I hope that Microsoft actually uses the elevated privileges correctly, requiring it for programs to be allowed to install and not requiring it to run them in most cases. That and I hope they don’t make you call them to get the administrative password. Those are the two things that have really gotten under my skin about vista)

    Pardon me, I am insane 😀
    Thursday, August 14, 2008, 10:38:24 AM

    “John Lee”
    I consider one of Mortegro’s points fairly important. It is evident that the new nature of the 4e mechanics requires certain mechanical changes – hence the Spellplague, the new default setting, et cetera. I believe that the implementation of these techniques (at least for what we have already seen) is flawed and could be improved (and should be improved, if the designers are willing to radically change a campaign setting). 3e also had mechanical/setting flaws, but it could draw on the tradition of past editions for basic support. 4e is creating radically different settings; and in doing so has not quite gone far enough (perhaps to avoid alienation).

    I suspect that 5e will either return to the traditional culture, making 4e “non-canon” so to speak; or polish up the flaws in 4e and improve”new D&D”. In short, I anxiously await 5e while I skip 4e (the same way I wait for Windows 7 while I skip Vista).

    Pardon me if I am inane.
    Thursday, August 14, 2008, 9:34:44 AM

    The biggest problem with explaining hitpoints as an amalgem of luck, dodging, wounds, etc is that you have no way of quantifying each when trying to justify the amount of hitpoints you have or why you’ve regained hitpoints through magical or non-magical means. You can’t give a group of different abstracts a single concrete number and expect everyone to agree that your process of logic is sound. This is why so many have simply given a direct association between hitpoint loss and sustained wounds/endurance. While on a micro level this is dissociative, on a macro level this is the only way to create other mechanics that are dependent on the existence of the hitpoint. Take clerical powers. Cure Serious Wounds does just that: it cures the physical wounds of a player. The spell does not cure all physical conditions, but it allows a player to bring their threshold of damage back to its maximum potential. Other clerical spells allow for curing of magical ailments or non-wound-related physical ailments, but the fact remains that when someone casts Cure Serious Wounds on you, they’re not healing your luck or anything beyond physical wounds. What 4th edition does with healing surges is defies this area of D&D world-lore. The cleric is helpful, but he is now optional. A party may not be able to heal as many wounds without the cleric, but they can heal without the cleric. This completely screws with the importance of the cleric’s role in the player world. Hell, if clerics aren’t really that important, why are gods important? Don’t clerics display their faith in their gods through channelling divine power to heal others? In the end, this goes back to my argument that Wizards should have created a world that reflected 4th edition rules.

    As my DM’s have always played it, some monsters would show visible signs of weakening when their hitpoints were getting low, others wouldn’t (ie. humans vs. zombie). With this in mind, while loss of hitpoints would represent physical wounds or a physical weakening of someone, 0 hitpoints is the threshold where one can no longer endure and must collapse from their wounds, or where the magic that makes an undead unravels. Maximum hitpoints then determines how long it takes to reach one’s threshold of physicality.

    I’m done rambling for tonight. I hope this stuff made sense.
    Friday, August 01, 2008, 12:57:04 AM

    @Justin: Again, it’s the problem of how combat, hit points, and hit point recovery are thought of. Let’s break down your example:

    (1) I can be hit by a sword and suffer a wound that delivers a poison. Thus we know that the sword actually hit me and physical damage was actually done.

    What has actually happened is that your HP store has been diminished and you are affected by a poison effect. The wound itself may not be that bad, but since you have been affected by the poison, you have to assume that you’ve been at least nicked. If you still have a lot of HP, it’s safe to assume you’ve been nicked. If the wound reduces you to low HP, then it’s safe to say that you took a good slice or cut.

    If you took the wound but weren’t affected by the poison, then the wound could be explained in other ways. Maybe the poisoned blade bounced off your armor, and now you’ve got a sore spot where you know a bruise is forming. Maybe you rolled your ankle moving out of the way. Maybe you know it’s a poisoned weapon and it came within a hair of hitting you, so you start getting reckless with your defense because you know you need to take this guy down before he actually hits you with the poison. All viable explanations as to how your lost HP from your pool.

    (2) My warlord ally can now shout out some “inspiring words of courage and determination”. This little morale booster will actually heal the physical damage we know the sword caused. (Note that the warlord’s ability is explicitly not magical in nature.)

    Unless the sword blow killed you, it’s likely that it didn’t do much more than nick or scratch you. But you’re hurt (it still stings), scared, and tired. Out of nowhere, the warlord busts out with the patented “Braveheart” speech, and you start feeling better about the situation. You were scared, but now you’re thinking that the kobolds are just pint-sized dragons that your dog would eat for lunch. You were tired, but you know that if you fight a little longer and a little harder, these kobolds will fold like lawnchairs. You’re hurt, but if you don’t want to die then you’re going to damn well fight through the pain. You’re heart is racing from the poison and you’re sweating like a congressman in July, but you know that if you can hold the line for another thirty seconds, you’ll be past the worst of it. You live because you’re too pigheaded to die.

    I believe that this is the intent WotC had with healing surges and hit points. They used mechanics (healing surges) to keep players from thinking that all HP damage is physical, which is what earlier mechanics reinforced.
    Thursday, July 31, 2008, 1:16:54 PM

    G*D FREAKING D***IT! Stupid comments ate my post. Anyway, here’s the gist of it. I (mostly) agree with the methods you propose to fix some of the 4E issues:

    (1) During short rests, allow characters to regain their hit points without expending healing surges. (This turns healing surges into an entirely encounter-based resource. This way they serve their function of preventing abuse of the limitless healing possible in 4th Edition while greatly extending the number of encounters you can get through before running into the hard limit set by healing surges.)

    I can see allowing a free surge (see prior post), but I think that regaining all HP for free might unbalance things. I’d want to see how the regular rules do in play before mucking around with them whole-hog.

    (2) Allow characters to spend more than 1 action point per encounter. This makes the accumulation of multiple action points meaningful.

    I was scratching my head over WotC’s decision on this one. It makes much more sense to allow characters to use APs as they see fit. The only reason I can think of not to is that some powers allow yourself or other characters to use an extra AP per encounter, which could be rendered moot by allowing a PC to use as many APs per encounter as they want.

    (3) At each milestone, allow the characters to recover the use of a single daily power that they’ve expended.

    I’d expand it and make it an exponential daily recovery. So the first milestone of the day is one daily. The second of the day is two dailys. The third of the day is three dailys. After an extended rest, all dailies are recovered and milestone achievements are reset back to one.

    I also think a quick tweak could be used to fix skill challenges. Drop the +5 DC, drop the suggested skill uses, and let players use whatever skill they can come up with a good story for (such as using Arcane to get to the top of a wall. “I’ll check around for a rare Lakitu plant. Their seeds are said to make a person lighter than air for a short while when chewed.”). If that’s too open-ended, let any failures with a skill (other than suggested skills) close it off, so no one else can use that skill for this particular skill challenge.

    I’m also bugged about the removal of morale from 3.X – 4E. I used to not see the point in it (the DM could just adjudicate it, couldn’t he?), but after re-reading the section on morale in the 1E DMG, it makes more sense than it did ten years ago. Plus, I remember the little rush I’d get when the enemy would turn tail and run after a failed morale check. In 4E, they could have made a morale save (with various penalties based on how many HP they had left), and given several powers secondary effects of forcing an enemy to make a morale check.

    If someone fails a morale check? They give combat advantage to anyone fighting them. This persists until they make a successful save. And if you’re giving combat advantage to someone, isn’t that a pretty
    Thursday, July 31, 2008, 12:39:42 PM

    Justin Alexander
    @Longcoat000: 4th Edition isn’t the first time someone has tried to apply that logic to hit points (as discussed in the “Explaining Hit Points” essay). It’s just the first time it’s been stated that way in the rulebooks.

    As for why it’s dissociated, see “Fallacy the Second: Death by Dodging” in the essay. It’s no longer a fallacy in 4th Edition — it’s just the dissociated nature of the mechanic.

    To break it down:

    (1) I can be hit by a sword and suffer a wound that delivers a poison. Thus we know that the sword actually hit me and physical damage was actually done.

    (2) My warlord ally can now shout out some “inspiring words of courage and determination”. This little morale booster will actually heal the physical damage we know the sword caused. (Note that the warlord’s ability is explicitly not magical in nature.)

    That’s a fundamentally dissociated mechanic.
    Thursday, July 31, 2008, 12:32:08 PM

    Welll said, Mr. Alexander – QFT.

    I will not be switching to 4e either, for the reasons you state, and other besides.

    I don’t hold anything against any who do, any more than I would someone who plays Vampire or GURPS.

    It simply is not my cup of tea.
    Thursday, July 31, 2008, 11:51:34 AM

    D’oh! Looks like I found the character limit from posting. I think the rest of my point was that pre-4th characters were so dependent on magical items that they acted like an exponential curve that the game assumed was normal and was built around. Butif they were lost, the loss was that much worse because of said exponential curve.

    The “hard limit” of regaining hit points between extended rests always existed, just in a different form. You used to have to stock up on healing potions and such before taking on a dungeon, and when you ran low, you had to retreat and get more (hopefully, leaving yourself enough healing ability to get yourself home in case of trouble). If you charted out this healing ability pre-4th, it would be a downward curve with a few spikes showing where the cleric regained spells that could be used for healing. In 4th, this chart becomes a sine wave, where there is potentially less healing available per day, but the amount of healing power available always refreshes to the initial amount. You can’t heal as much damage per day in 4th, but you also aren’t utterly screwed if the cleric gets ganked, or the guy with the healing wand gets fried, or that healing staff gets broken beneath a thrown boulder.

    @Justin Alexander: I don’t see where hit points are dissociated in 4th. As they represent luck, skill, endurance, physical health, and morale, it makes sense to me for a combatant to be able to step back for a second during a fight and re-focus themselves, or to ride a wave of euphoria in the heat of battle, or to be inspired by (or scared to death of) a warlord or cleric’s speeches and battle prayers.

    After a battle, it makes sense to me for the party to take a short rest, stretch out some kinks, give thanks to whatever deity they worship, give each other high-fives, or whatever else they do to celebrate the fact that they’re still alive and get back hit points for it.
    Thursday, July 31, 2008, 11:20:40 AM

    Justin Alexander
    Mortegro wrote: “The fact that Wizards thinks they can sell the bulk of a damn roleplaying game through supplements is one of the worst and most blatant marketing scams I’ve encountered for a game.”

    To be fair to WotC, I have not heard anything from them suggesting that what we consider to be gaping holes in 4th Edition will be filled in the supplements. In fact, based on the design ethos expressed in their online posts, it seems clear that they don’t actually consider any of these holes to be a legitimate problem or shortcoming. Therefore, I consider the likelihood of the problems ever being fixed by WotC fairly remote. I think it’s mostly wishful thinking.

    @Longcoat000: Explaining Hit Points provides a pretty comprehensive analysis of how and why the abstraction of hit points in previous editions works the way it does. Prior to 3rd Edition, this abstraction did break down when you looked at the healing rules. And even in 3rd Edition the legacy rules for cure spells remained dissociated.

    But in 4th Edition hit points have become completely dissociated. They aren’t modeling anything at all. This seems to be the result of WotC’s designers not understanding how the hit point mechanics actually worked.

    This is is disappointing, but perhaps not surprising. Slavicsek, who now leads RPG development at WotC, was also in charge of the original Star Wars D20 game, which featured the VP/WP system (which demonstrated a similar failure to understand how the hit point system worked).

    (The WP/VP system was a horrendous travesty in general, of course. This was a system that was designed to make combat less deadly but, in point of fact, made combat more deadly. I just can’t understand why Slavicsek’s design teams seem to routinely crank out mechanics that do the exact opposite of what they claim they’re doing.)
    Wednesday, July 30, 2008, 1:47:03 PM

    RE: Hit points, healing surges, and other stuff that seems to be riling everyone up.

    Hit points are not simply a measure of your character’s physical well being. This is a common misconception going back to the days of 1E. Gary Gygax wrote in the old 1E DMG (page 61):

    “Damage scored to characters or certain monsters is actually not substantially physical — a mere nick or scratch until the last handful of hit points are considered — it is a matter fo wearing away the endurance, the luck, the magical protections. With respect to most monsters such damage is, in fact, more physically substantial, although as with adjustments in armor class rating for speed and agility, there are also similar additions in hit points.”

    There are further explanations of HP later on in the DMG, but I don’t have a copy with me and I can’t find it on the net right now.

    Anyway, the misconception of HP as a record of physical damage comes from two sources: lazy DMing. and disassociative rules for 1E – 3.X.

    The lazy DMing aspect is obvious. Most combat in D&D for the first two editions boiled down to “You’re hit for…” “X damage”. There was no description used, and players weren’t trying to jockey for position. It was assumed that all of this was going on in the background, and combat turned into a die-rolling sub-game where you got to see if your die rolls were good enough to continue with the adventure. The DM stopped bothering to describe what was going on, because all the players were interested in was killing the creatures so that they could get the loot.

    At least that’s how it worked in games I played in and spoke with others about. If that wasn’t your experience, then contratulations! You had a good DM.

    Next is the disassociation between rules and fluff. EGG described HP (above) as endurance, luck, and magical protections, with the last few HP actually representing real physical damage. But, the only mechanic available to characters to get back this endurance and luck was to rest for an absurdly long period of time (1HP per day, which was brilliantly corrected in 3.X to level/day), or use magical methods.

    Unfortunately, the only magical methods available were clerics, potions, and the occasional staff or rod. There was a big disconnect between what EGG said (HP aren’t just physical damage) and how the rules worked (only a cleric channeling divine power can restore endurance, luck, and skill without weeks of bed rest). This disconnect continued through all editions until 4th, when the decision was made to allow HP to function as originally intended by changing how they were regained.

    in 4th edition, WotC also made the decision to make characters more reliant on their own abilities and less on magic. Which is why there are so few healing items available. Pre-4th, it was expected for characters to be loaded up with all sorts of magical goodies to take on the bad guys. The problem with this is that if they lost
    Tuesday, July 29, 2008, 12:31:05 PM

    Re: explanation for healing surges.

    As far as I can tell, starting with 3rd edition WotC have been moving D&D away from medieval swords-and-sorcery and toward imitating current Hollywood films as much as possible. Probably this is the how most of today’s players like to imagine their characters, but the “feats” of 3rd edition are already feeling very dissociated to me. A prime example is what I call the “Legolas Feat” (IIRC the SRD calls it “Manyshot”).

    From this point of view, healing surges are also very natural. In the “Hollywood” world heroes and major villains (but not mooks) seem to take damage, fall back, and then shrug their injuries off and resume fighting. Probably WotC thinks D&D players expect their characters to fight the same way.

    In this world, adventuring gear is not something you keep track of (when is the last time you saw a movie character inventory his gear, buy replacements, or lack a useful piece of equipment when it wasn’t dramatically important?) — and this is my explanation for the disappearance of the 10′ pole.

    As far as I can tell, WotC is trying to do with D&D what Wushu and Feng Shui already do much better. Whether this is good or bad depends on how new players today imagine their characters and gameworlds function, and what are their main literary sources. If you are inspired by Peter Jackson’s movies, then the 4th edition is for you. If you prefer books like “The medieval archer” then it probably isn’t.
    Tuesday, July 29, 2008, 12:54:05 AM

    The fact that Wizards thinks they can sell the bulk of a damn roleplaying game through supplements is one of the worst and most blatant marketing scams I’ve encountered for a game. It’s like an MMO being incomplete and then the developers telling us that our monthly subscription will let them release the rest of the game to us. Mechanics are a good foundation for how a game is played, but 4th edition truly lacks the kind of substance that lets us know what we’re playing. It tells us we have options and yet doesn’t have the feel of “limitless choice” that we have from previous editions. Maybe I’m over-generalizing, but I just don’t like 4th edition Frown
    Monday, July 28, 2008, 10:09:00 PM

    I agree with the notion that the game is stripped down of non-combat encounters/resolutions/flavor, the “skill challenge” system notwithstanding.

    Although I’ve begun settling into a new 4th ed. campaign and have begun giving my PC quirks and personality traits, I can’t shake the feeling that my warlord is nothing more than a combat machine (the fact that he is a warforged is immaterial; if s/he were a halfling, I’d feel just as constrained by my powers) with some role-playing toppings.

    I’m positive, 100% convinced, that future supplements will flesh out “non-combat challenges” and give those of us who look beyond Diablo as a model for PnP games something to use. But it’ll be months (actually, considering WoTC’s anemic publishing schedule and their atrocious “support” for 3rd party publishers in this new edition, the likelihood of it taking _years_ for such a book to come is entirely possible) before that happens.
    Monday, July 28, 2008, 5:09:13 PM

    Mortegro: I agree with your prediction of how retrofitting 4th ed into established game worlds like FR, DL and GH will be a failure. In comic book parlance you either Ret-Con (retroactive continuity) or Crisis. With Ret-Con you could say it was always like this, you just didn’t notice until now. With Crisis you have some world shattering event that would change things into the new edition. Whichever path they take, it looks like an imminent train wreck. One I plan on avoiding.
    Monday, July 28, 2008, 12:07:48 PM

    Justin Alexander
    Can’t argue with you there, Mortegro. It’s fairly clear that the changes being done to the Forgotten Realms are sufficient to make it an essentially completely different campaign setting.

    Sure, there will be some sort of continuity — routed through multiple catastrophes to explain the radical alterations of the setting. But you might as well claim that the Old West and World War II are the same setting because they both take place on planet Earth.

    3rd Edition abandoned several campaign settings out of economic necessity. That’s one thing. But 4th Edition is radically altering the campaign settings, further confirming that the current WotC design team has no interest in the traditions of D&D. 4th Edition is an entirely new game with the same name plastered as a trademark on the cover and a few common terms strewn around; the Forgotten Realms will become an entirely new setting with the same name plastered as a trademark on the cover and a few common terms strewn around.

    It will be interesting to see if Eberron gets a similar treatment, or if it’s just the traditions they didn’t create themselves that the current design team are so eager to jettison.
    Monday, July 28, 2008, 11:29:36 AM

    Justin Alexander Wrote: “To play devil’s advocate here: The body has a limited regenerative capacity. Magic in 4th edition draws upon that regenerative capacity, but there’s an upper limit based on the limitations of the character’s body and soul.”

    I can accept this kind of limitation in a newly created gameworld specifically tailored to 4th edition rules, but to attempt to apply this reasoning to any of the established worlds like Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance is weak at best and absurd at worst. What is the selling point going to be for Forgotten Realms later this year if it is completely void of the FR feeling from previous editions? You may get a few familiar names and locations, but everything will be so radically altered that you might as well play a generic module from Wizards. You’ll get the same results without the dirty feeling of betraying your favorite campaign setting.
    Monday, July 28, 2008, 8:44:08 AM

    Justin Alexander
    Mortegro wrote: “Can anyone justify the reasoning behind healing surges or the ingame explanation/application that makes the limitation of healing surges realistic in the context of a gaming world? It feels like one of the most dissociated aspects of 4th edition mechanics. As we’ve known things for decades, a cleric channels divine power to heal another. How can you suddenly tell a cleric in 4th edition “Nope, sorry, gotta let me die, I’m out of healing surges.””

    To play devil’s advocate here: The body has a limited regenerative capacity. Magic in 4th edition draws upon that regenerative capacity, but there’s an upper limit based on the limitations of the character’s body and soul.

    That’s a possible explanation. However, the reality is that 4th Edition has completely abandoned the traditional (and logical) explanation for hit points. Hit points have become a completely dissociated mechanic in 4th Edition, embracing what was a common misunderstanding of the mechanic by many people in the past. This is perhaps unsurprising, since it was also the dissociation Slavicsek created for the original D20 Star Wars rules.

    Re: Healing surges. Yup, this is definitely the biggest head-scratcher for me when it comes to the designers’ claims that they had mechanically fixed the 15-minute adventuring day. How could they have not realized the effect the hard limit on healing surges would have? How could they have not observed this effect in their playtests? It baffles me.

    If you’re willing to embrace the dissociated mechanics of 4th Edition and are also looking for a way to mechanically correct the 15-minute adventuring day, I recommend the following changes:

    (1) During short rests, allow characters to regain their hit points without expending healing surges. (This turns healing surges into an entirely encounter-based resource. This way they serve their function of preventing abuse of the limitless healing possible in 4th Edition while greatly extending the number of encounters you can get through before running into the hard limit set by healing surges.)

    (2) Allow characters to spend more than 1 action point per encounter. This makes the accumulation of multiple action points meaningful.

    (3) At each milestone, allow the characters to recover the use of a single daily power that they’ve expended.

    More might be required, but these types of mechanics both blunt the advantage of taking extended rests while offering mechanically compelling reasons to push on without resting. In a mechanically ideal world, IMO, resting and not resting would offer equally compelling but different benefits — making it an interesting strategic/tactical choice about which method you’d pursue.
    Sunday, July 27, 2008, 11:34:21 PM

    Justin Alexander
    Emanuel Nordrum wrote: “Err, no. And in fact, one of my lines that you quote me on states that they do exist and have been around for ever. ”

    Yeah. And I’m specifically asking how you can simultaneously claim that the 15-minute adventuring day has been mechanically “taken care of” while also claiming that “they do exist”.

    Are you really unaware that you’ve contradicted yourself here?

    Emanuel Nordrum wrote: “I’ll admit that I didn’t reread the article for my second/third reply, but I scanned it again and I’m sorry, but I don’t see any reference to the fact that there’s a 24 hour limit on the number of long rests you can take; in fact, the lack of any such reference was the reason I posted about it in the first place.”

    My apologies. I didn’t realize I had anyone visiting my website who didn’t live on the planet Earth. Out of curiosity, what planet are you posting from and how many hours are there in your day?

    (Although if we wanted to get particularly pedantic here, I’d point out that in 4th Edition the limitation is 12 hours, not 24 hours. 12 hours between rests + 6 hours for the rest itself = 18 hours. But “15-minutes adventuring during each 18 hour period” is less catchy, though, and the term “15-minute adventuring day” is an accepted term of art for this, so we might as well use it.

    With all that being said, I’m still not clear on how any of this “takes care of” the problem, as you originally claimed.

    Emanuel Nordrum wrote: “You seem to have taken things kind of personal, because you’ve come out in full attack mode.”

    If you feel threatened by having your faulty logic and contradictory positions pointed out, I’m afraid you’re going to feel continually threatened here. Rigorous thinking is pretty much reflexive for me.
    Sunday, July 27, 2008, 11:14:36 PM

    Another further examination in regards to healing surges in conjunction with the Extended Rest, if I may. If you nova your healing surges due to a very large and complicated battle situation, if it hasn’t been 12 hours since your last Extended Rest then you must avoid combat at all costs until the magical timer dings and you can take your Extended Rest again. Your chances of dying heavily increase because of this if you happen to be in a hostile area with little chance of safely returning to a resting haven. Did the testers at Wizards ever look at their own rules to see how they were impractical? Reading the text alone and having not played 4th edition yet, I can find very obvious gameplay holes that I know my own characters would encounter.

    Maybe I should stop pointing things out and retain my sanity…
    Saturday, July 26, 2008, 11:09:35 PM

    Another quick addendum as I read over the Extended Rest again, you regain any lost hitpoints and healing surges after you finish the rest. Looks like everybody gets the Wolverine healing factor when they’re taking a break from combat now.

    To clarify further on the Extended Rest, you have to spend one 6 hour period every day by sleeping to benefit from the Extended Rest. This means that you can begin your day at midnight and adventure for 12 hours, sleep, adventure for 12 more hours, sleep, adventure for 12 additional hours, sleep, adventure for 12, and have one extended rest that doesn’t involve sleeping. This totals up to 72 hours (3 days). You essentially recharge your daily powers 4 times every 3 days, at best.

    Notice the false sense of assurance WotC gives you. You MUST sleep 6 hours every day to benefit from ER, but you don’t necessarily HAVE to sleep during ER. As I’ve demonstrated, though, you can only get away without sleeping during one Extended Rest every 4 days if you wish to benefit from Extended Resting every time. Maybe it’s me, but I prefer the 2nd/3rd edition method of being required to rest 8 hours every day and fulfill specific ritual tasks in order to regain use of spells. It made sense, and sleeping didn’t give me miraculous recovery powers of any kind.

    Hey Justin, if we were to make a list of all the aspects of 4th edition that take away from gameworld immersion and contextual realism, how long do you think the list would be?
    Saturday, July 26, 2008, 11:02:25 PM

    It could be said that healing surges are the sole barrier of the long adventuring day. Can anyone justify the reasoning behind healing surges or the ingame explanation/application that makes the limitation of healing surges realistic in the context of a gaming world? It feels like one of the most dissociated aspects of 4th edition mechanics. As we’ve known things for decades, a cleric channels divine power to heal another. How can you suddenly tell a cleric in 4th edition “Nope, sorry, gotta let me die, I’m out of healing surges.” It is just too ridiculous, and I think healing surges dictates the 15-minute adventuring day more than anything.

    Just to clarify both Justin and Emanuel, you do NOT have to wait a FULL day to regain daily powers. You simple have to have an uninterrupted Extended Rest that lasts 6 hours. This extended rest can be taken again only 12 hours after the previous extended rest. And guess what? You don’t even have to sleep during the extended rest. Page 263 states “You can engage in light activity that doesn’t require much exertion.” This statement can be arbitrarily interpreted to mean such things as easy traveling by horse or wagon.

    My point is that the Extended Rest purposefully CREATES the 15-minute day. You can justify so many things as “light activity that doesn’t require much exertion.” You could drink, you could talk to sources for 12 hours, you could read a tome of useful information…the list goes on. 4th edition’s sole purpose is to offer short spurts of combat with minimal rest time in between. It’s best to not delusion yourself into believing otherwise.
    Saturday, July 26, 2008, 10:43:37 PM

    Emanuel Nordrum
    @ Justin Alexander: “Whic

  2. Justin Alexander says:


    I agree with almost everything you said in this article. If I had read it before I played 4e I might never have played. Which would have been unfortunate, because I have had a great time playing 4e. It has been the most fun D&D since 1e for me.

    It is funny, when I read your article it made me really dislike the design choices in 4e; however, when I play – it all goes out the window! I think I would prefer a game that was less abstract or “disassociated” but it really doesn’t detract from the fun of roll playing for our group.

    Very interesting analysis and thank you for your time and effort
    Monday, February 28, 2011, 8:37:35 PM

    Interesting read. Have you had a chance to go back and try it again? I was turned off by 3e and stopped playing as it didn’t seem like D&D to me, but 4e brought me back. I have had great fun with it. But, I have never concerned myself to much with the rules, so I may not be the best person to debate with on this subject.

    To me 3e was no fun, so I stopped playing. 4e was fun, so I played. That was all the analysis I needed.
    Thursday, February 24, 2011, 10:16:40 PM

  3. Scryer's Eve says:

    Another article to which I can only stand and clap.

    I tried 4e. I really did. I went back to 3.5. Just like I did with Oblivion, going back to Morrowind when the novelty of something new wore off and found it just didn’t have the substance of your first love, despite all faults.

    3.5 may not be the prettiest gal in town but she puts out the moment you ask her.

  4. Justin Alexander says:


    I purchased the 4th Core books plus a the realms books, power books, equipment books. The result? A year later my group is playing 3.5 again.
    As a DM I liked 4th.. aside from skill challenges they gave many many tools to me to help run my game. But not one of my players liked 4th better then 3.5. Most of them compared the new power system to WoW or EQ2. You hit the nail on the head… Playing a fighter isn’t like playing a fighter and playing a wizard is by no means at all like playing a wizard.
    Monday, December 12, 2011, 5:09:36 PM

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