The Alexandrian

Pathfinder RPGYesterday I talked about Robert J. Schwalb’s theory that 4th Edition’s formatting was a barrier for players of 3rd Edition.

It is interesting to note, however, that Schwalb is not the only designer from Wizards publicly trying to figure out what went wrong in converting 3rd Edition players into 4th Edition players. Earlier in the week, Mike Mearls actually argued for genericizing the D&D trademark in the name of recognizing that D&D isn’t a game, but rather an experience that we all share regardless of which rules we use. (Or possibly he’s arguing that it doesn’t matter what we’re playing, as long as it has the “Dungeons & Dragons” trademark on it. The essay is a little vague in its kumbaya.)

Ultimately, of course, the problem is that they had a specific game that had been revised multiple times but maintained its core gameplay from 1974 to 2008. And then, in 2008, they stopped selling that game. Until they accept that, they aren’t going to find the solution they’re groping for. (To be fair, even if they do realize that this is the problem, there’s not much they can do about it: Publishing a new edition any time before at least 2015 would completely poison their market. And writing off the development costs of the DDI as a loss by obsoleting the current platform would basically amount to corporate malfeasance.)


The comparison to “New Coke” is often made here, but it’s not entirely apt: This is more akin to the Coca-Cola Corporation giving its original formula to somebody else before stopping their own production of it and then using the “Coke” trademark for New Coke. The result was completely predictable: WotC kept the people who were loyal to the trademark and they kept the people who prefer New D&D to Classic D&D. They lost everybody else.

How bad is it? Well, there are multiple reports that Paizo’s Pathfinder is either tying or beating Wizard’s 4th Edition sales. If Pathfinder represented the totality of 3rd Edition players who didn’t migrate to 4th Edition, that would still be bad news for Wizards. But, of course, Pathfinder doesn’t. How many 3rd Edition players are just continuing to play with their existing 3rd Edition manuals?

(It would be nice to imagine that Pathfinder‘s success can be attributed to the RPG market simply growing, of course. But there doesn’t seem to be any evidence for such a massive increase in the market.)


Player's Handbook - 4th EditionWhen consumers are faced with an upgrade, there’s always going to be some portion of the customer base that says, “Nah. I’m good with what I’ve got.” (This applies beyond RPGs: Look at the varying success of Windows Vista and Windows 7 at winning over existing Windows customers.) In the case of D&D, the two most effective transitions in the history of the game were the transition from OD&D to AD&D and the transition from AD&D2 to D&D3.

In my opinion, both of those transitions were effective because (a) they addressed perceived shortcomings in the existing rules; (b) they worked to form a bridge of continuity between the old edition and the new edition; and (c) they were effective at reaching out to new customers.

Now, the actual methods by which these goals were accomplished were radically different. AD&D (a) aimed to codify a more “official” version of the game while also expanding the detail of the rules in an era when “more realism” and “more detail” were highly prized. It was launched with a Monster Manual that was (b) designed to be used with the existing OD&D rules (by the time the first PHB came out, a sizable chunk of the customer base was already using AD&D products in their OD&D games). And it was released hand-in-hand with a Basic Set that (b) remained highly compatible with the 1974 ruleset and (c) offered a mainstream, accessible product for attracting new customers.

D&D3, on the other hand, (a) radically revised a game that was perceived as clunky and out-of-date, which allowed them to (c) reach out to a large body of disillusioned ex-customers. They simultaneously (b) released conversion guides and used a massive, public beta testing period to get large numbers of existing players onboard with the changes before the game was even released.

The conversion to D&D4 failed for several reasons.

First, no effort was made form a bridge between the old edition and the new edition. (A crazy French guy screaming “Ze game remains the same!” like some sort of cultic mantra notwithstanding.) In fact, WotC went out of their way to insist that there was no bridge between the editions.

Second, WotC was attempting to reach out to new customers. But I maintain that they made the fundamental mistake of trying to pull customers away from video games by competing with video games on their own turf. That’s just not going to cut it. If RPGs are going to be successful in the future, it will be because they emphasize their unique strengths. Tactical combat and prepackaged My Perfect Encounters(TM) aren’t going to cut it.

Finally, 2008 was misidentified as being another 2000.

In 2000 WotC was dealing with an overwhelmingly dissatisfied fanbase and responded with a new edition that largely addressed that dissatisfaction without overstepping the boundaries of its “mandate”. It wasn’t perfect. Plenty of people remained dissatisfied (or hadn’t been dissatisfied in the first place). But there were also a lot of people saying “3rd Edition looks just like my house rules for AD&D” or “it’s exactly what I’ve always wanted D&D to look like”, and success followed.

In 2008, I think it’s clear that WotC thought they had a similar level of overwhelming dissatisfaction. But either they didn’t or their sweeping and fundamental changes to the game exceeded the “mandate” of that dissatisfaction. Or both. (Personally, I suspect they were misled by the echo chamber of the ‘net and a corporate decision to prevent OGL support for 4th Edition. They tried to solve “problems” that most players weren’t actually experiencing and simultaneously “fixed” them in an unnecessarily excessive fashion.)

In some ways this takes us back to the “New Coke” metaphor: The taste tests for New Coke indicated it would be a huge success. But the taste tests were fundamentally flawed: They were “sip tests”. And in sip tests the smoother, sweeter taste of New Coke won. But nobody buys their soda by the teaspoon; they buy it by the can.

4th Edition radically overhauled D&D’s gameplay in order to respond to complaints driven by CharOp specialists, armchair theorists, and other lovers of spherical cows. For a lot of people on the ground, the game didn’t have those problems and 4th Edition was a solution in search of a problem.


WotC’s corporate culture had clearly turned against the OGL by 2008. They no longer saw a massive network maintaining interest in their game and generating new customers who were all funneled back into their core products. Instead, they saw an entire industry profiteering on their IP.

The argument of whether or not WotC was right or not can be saved for another time. (Although I will note that every scrap of evidence I’ve seen indicates that the strategy works both in the RPG industry and outside of the RPG industry. D&D3, Pathfinder, and the OSR community all seem to have flourished under it as well.)

But given the existence of the OGL, the decision to stop making Classic D&D and start making New D&D was a disastrous one. The goal appears to have been to create an edition with enough fundamental incompatibility that the OGL couldn’t be used to support it, but the practical effect was to leave the largest network of material supporting an RPG in history all pointing towards a giant void.

A void into which it was absolutely trivial for someone to step.


My biggest regret is that I feel WotC missed an opportunity. There are, in fact, some significant problems with 3rd Edition.There are key abilities in 1st to 10th level play (polymorph, for example) that need to be fixed. And from 12th to 20th the game begins to crack and then break down. These problems require an overhaul of the basic foundations on which the game is built.

It is, however, possible to fix these problems without nuking the core gameplay which has been successful since 1974.

WotC chose the nuke option.

Meanwhile, Paizo couldn’t make those changes with Pathfinder while simultaneously stepping into the void vacated by WotC.

That’s the missed opportunity here: WotC had the chance to polish and improve Classic D&D; to take the next step with the game. Instead, they side-stepped and gave us New D&D instead.

Looking ahead, I think the time period right around 2014-2015 will be potentially very interesting: WotC would be able to theoretically roll out a new edition, and the question will be whether they’ll stick with improving New D&D or if they’ll try to revert to Classic D&D. (Or do something else entirely.) Meanwhile, if Paizo continues to solidify (or even build) their market share, then right around that same time they’ll potentially be in a position to attempt a 2nd Edition of Pathfinder that can be more radical in its efforts.

On the other hand, maybe not. The emerging long-tail economics combined with open licensing may mean that no revision of the 3rd Edition ruleset will ever be able to break 3rd Edition’s network of players and support material. The D&D trademark might have been able to do it in 2008, but in decoupling the D&D trademark from Classic D&D WotC seems to have created a massive player base that no longer has any loyalty to that trademark. The horse may have left the barn for good.

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26 Responses to “Pathfinder vs. 4th Edition (Grrr…)”

  1. David Cesarano, Jr. says:

    Really interesting post, and I have to admit, I agree with a lot of your points here. However, I thought of a few items I thought bore mentioning.

    1) By 2008, a lot of customers actually were dissatisfied. They weren’t a huge population, though. But their primary gripe was the quality of the material being produced had grown lackluster. The game was getting bogged down by too many feats, items, spells, etc. Character creation started out relatively simple, but quickly ballooned to the point where it takes less time to roll up a character for a Palladium game. Sourcebooks were light on setting material, and far, far too heavy on toys. It was as if Magic: the Gathering had become a tabletop RPG instead of a card game.

    2) WotC didn’t address that problem (or any other problem), they simply ignored it (although it is possible they misunderstood the complaints, entirely). What was needed was a smoother system that was streamlined for grappling and attacks of opportunity, not a complete and utter reboot. By-and-large, Paizo’s Pathfinder pulled it off well enough.

    3) The disconnect between 3rd and 4th seemed to literally birth the so-called “Old School Renaissance” overnight. Up until then, it had been pretty small, but with the release of 4th edition, it exploded onto the blogosphere. I can’t help but consider how, over the course of a decade, WotC inadvertently alienated all of these gamers so much that they retreated back to 1974.

  2. Bill@verona says:

    I don’t think David’s response, with respect to the Old School Renaissance, is correct. The OSR was noticeable before 2008 with OSRIC in 2006 and Labyrinth Lord in 2007. I think the may have been more of a reaction to bloat in 3rd than the disconnect between 3rd and 4th. That said, the comment about WotC inadvertently alienating gamers back to the 1970s may still be applicable, just for different elements of WotC’s stewardship of D&D.

  3. Andrew says:

    There are a lot of acronyms here.

  4. Greg Christopher says:

    great post. I agree with pretty much all of it.

  5. Joshua says:

    Hello, long time reader first time commenter here…
    I discovered your blog some years back close to the release of 4th edition and what I had found was that you were able to articulate the issues I had with the new game far better than I had when responding to posts at the wizards website.

    I’ve played every edition of dungeons and dragons from 2nd edition all the way to 4th edition and my friends and I currently play pathfinder (and d20 modern) right now. I can definately see how those at wizards of the coast have gone on the wrong track and I agree with you about why. I’ve been in many of those optimization discussions about how the wizard, cleric, and druid own the game compared (often) to the fighter and the rogue’s ability to contribute.

    All of those discussions appear to me to hinge on a number of assumptions –
    (And these apply equally to the cleric and druid)
    1) The wizard has the exact resources he needs to overcome any obstacle.
    2) The wizard has perfect foreknowledge of any obstacle in which to overcome
    3) The wizard can single-handedly replicate the resources of three other party members (summons for the fighter, necessary equipment to avoid damage to negate the need for a cleric, toolbox spells to replace the rogue, such as invisibility and knock).

    This isn’t to say that there aren’t any legitimately problematic mechanics, even in purely the core game. I’ve had to do my fair share of last-moment DM abjucations and last-second houseruling based upon problematic things that characters would do but 100% of all of the problems I’ve had in the game were based on perhaps a dozen or so items (a few feats and choice few spells and psionic powers) spread across the entire body of 3.5 edition material.

    So between the faulty arguements and my own exhaustive experience, I really can make a clear arguement for what you were talking about regarding ‘spherical cows.’ 3rd edition was imperfect, but its flaws were easily correctible within the framework of the game.

    I think pathfinder solved every single balance problem I’ve seen in the 3rd edition/3.5 edition of dungeons and dragons I’ve experienced. It’s about as close to the perfect D&D play experience as I’ve ever had.

    Which brings me to 4th edition. While I agree that they certainly listened to the wrong crowd instead of their own playtest experience, the result was still a complete reboot of an already good, if somewhat flawed system.
    Dungeons and Dragon’s age did account for something about the game from its humble beginnings to the quality of the game right up until 4th edition’s release, which was that the game took what the previous game had and improved it. This process has led to an evolution between the way the game began and the way the game is now.
    In many ways, the Pathfinder game is a continuation of this line, making Pathfinder more of a D&D game than 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons. While I think 4th edition itself has many fine points to it, instead of trying to perfect an already good game, they destroyed it and started anew from scratch, bringing with it a whole new host of issues far beyond any issues I’ve had with any of the previous editions of the game.
    This includes many issues covered here in this blog (dissasociated mechanics, the focus on skirmish combat) but otheres as well (general blandless and too-similar/too homogenous character classes, the lack of non-combat oriented mechanics, lots more). I also absolutely loathe what they did to the forgotten realms to ready it for 4th edition’s change of rules.

    I have playtested 4th edition as a DM and me and my players did enjoy playing through the game, but we still managed to run into problems that wouldn’t have all been an issue if we were playing 2nd, 3rd, 3.5, or PF.

    Given all of that, I think a lot of people ultimately want to play dungeons and dragons and 4th edition isn’t it. It isn’t even like D&D the way Pathfinder is. It’s a whole new game that has inherited the brand name. I think a lot of people who are playing pathfinder now may have gone through the same process.

    Formatting, I think, is a non-issue and ultimately missing the point.

  6. Jhaan says:

    I mostly agree with you (though also with aspects of Davids and Joshuas comments). For myself I’ve never tested D&D4 but I saw what Wizards did and that brought me right into the arms of Paizo’s Pathfinder. I’ve started playing D&D with 3rd edition and it has problems (also does PF for that matter) but it’s nearest to my personal ideal of gaming.

    Many people I know complained about the focus of D&D in general, stating that it is mostly a combat and dungeon crawl oriented game. And they are not completely false on this one, but in my opinion D&D(3) is more like a simple base which you can use to play the way you like the most. D&D4 on the other hand seems to be the combat simulation game that D&D was always accused to be. And that is truly sad.

  7. Blacksteel says:

    I agree with many of your points on how WOTC botched the transition but this:

    Plenty of people remained dissatisfied (or hadn’t been dissatisfied in the first place). But there were also a lot of people saying “3rd Edition looks just like my house rules for AD&D”

    I was around for the build up to 3E (Remember when EN World was “Eric Noah’s 3rd Edition News”) and I can never once recall reading anywhere anyone saying this. I don’t know of anyone who had a single unified experience table or per-level multi-classing or prestige classing in their house rules. Those were fundamentally radical changes compared to what had gone before and fueled a lot of what made 3E interesting. I remember a lot of existing players rebelling at these concepts even way back then – it was not a universally beloved transition.

    That said the handling of the 3E changeover vs the 4E changeover should be educational at least.

    2E was announced and discussed in advance of the launch and included a multipage insert in Dragon to let everyone know what was changing and why.

    3E was even more open and transparent with the announcement followed by a year of articles in each month’s Dragon talking about changes. I was not thrilled at the idea of 3E myself when it started but over the course of that year I came around to where I was a Day 1 purchaser and ran a 3E game for the next 10 years.

    4E in contrast was announced less than 6 months before launch, it’s mere existence was publicly denied a month before it was announced, and the whole program was secretive and “from on high” rather than inclusive and open. I don;t know why after the success of the open-source approach of 3E they went back to a Black Project style program. I think this approach alone, regardless of the mechanical changes, started things off badly. Once the radical nature of the system changes became apparent then there was no way it was going to be a smooth transition. It took me almost 2 years to come around on it (and I admit I do like the game now) but it could have been handled so much better.

    Thank goodness they learned their lesson on how not to handle a mid-edition update from 3.5 and how to bungle a launch with 4E so that the Essential launch was so much better. Oh, wait.

  8. mxyzplk says:

    Totally agree with the article. Two points –

    I can’t say third edition “looked exactly” like my 2e house rules but it definitely covered some of them, while also innovating things like the standardized DC mechanic, so uptaking it was a slam dunk.

    And I like Pathfinder but am concerned about their increased rate of putting out new rules at the moment – it was rules bloat that was making 3.5e wearying and though they fended it off for a while, now all of a sudden we get the APG, GMG, Ultimate Combat, and Ultimate Magic and some of it (the Adventurer’s Armory and the UC classes under playtest) are not that high quality. They need to be careful not to go down that path – keep big rules releases to like one a year and make sure they are GOOD.

  9. jdh417 says:

    4e is like a video game, but in that you level up, level up, fight boss, reach new tier…

    4e is an exhaustible resource compared to older versions because, like a video game, its precise rules, combat focus, and demand for minis and a grid battlefield, requires an insufficient amount of imagination to play. After you’ve “finished” game at 30th level, you’ve got no incentive to start another game.

  10. Andrew says:

    I will say that the art is far superior in each version of the game. A quick glance at the 2nd edition player’s handbook is eye-stabbingly dense with rambling text and the occasional terrible drawing; compare that to 3e, and now 4e with a new generation of artists and a much larger budget, and THAT’s nice.

  11. Da' Vane says:

    I just wanted to have my input on 4th Edition here – I feel that this article sums up my thoughts of 4th Edition almost entirely, so I don’t need to add much more.

    There are some merits to the 4th Edition rules, but these are largely outweighed by the flaws, and the radical redesign. In fact, these merits are often cited by those praising 4th Edition, but every single one of them can, and in many cases, have been implemented in 3.x.

    The biggest impact is the OGL which was only briefly mentioned. Wizards went against the OGL in 2008, and created the GSL instead, but for many players and developers, the GSL is a time bomb that they just don’t want to go near, with far too many limitations.

    Wizards created an open system, and became inspirational pioneers that reinvigorated the industry, yet they seem to come to abandon this with 4th Edition and the GSL. More importantly, many fear that by having a clause that allows Wizards to revoke the GSL at any time, will enable them to force those working with the GSL to adopt future licenses. The OGL, on the other hand, has the clause that it cannot be amended, but cannot be revoked so those already using it legally have some protection. This is why Pathfinder is able to compete with Wizards – they can’t terminate the OGL. So what often comes up is that if people are going to use an existing system, they are going to use an open system, especially if it’s the only system they have the time or inclination to learn.

    In this way, Wizards made their own competition, and snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Now they have to spend some time wallowing in 4th Edition, until they can come up with a new edition, and hopefully, a new OGL. Wizards need to realise that having given the world the OGL, people aren’t going to just stop using it, especially if it is the only one of it’s kind. All that Wizards can hope to do now is create competing open systems and let people choose, and hope it will be theirs. The GSL isn’t open – few people will touch it, because they simply cannot use it like they can use the OGL.

    If Wizards were to open up 4th Edition with an OGL tomorrow, they might see more people willing to take it on, if only to fix the flaws and turn it into their system, and make it compatible with 3.x and Pathfinder. This might give 4th Edition the legs it needs to stands on, but otherwise, maybe having Wizards fail and having Hasbro sell the D&D License on to Paizo is the best thing for everyone…

  12. Joshua says:

    Didn’t they already have this opportunity and squander it with 4th edition essentials? I thought that was essentially version 4.5 edition.

  13. Bill@verona says:

    In response to Blacksteel:
    “I was around for the build up to 3E (Remember when EN World was “Eric Noah’s 3rd Edition News”) and I can never once recall reading anywhere anyone saying this. I don’t know of anyone who had a single unified experience table or per-level multi-classing or prestige classing in their house rules. Those were fundamentally radical changes compared to what had gone before and fueled a lot of what made 3E interesting. I remember a lot of existing players rebelling at these concepts even way back then – it was not a universally beloved transition.”

    I was around then too, and on ADnD-L, and I do remember a few comments about 3e incorporating feeling like they incorporated their house rules. I had that feeling myself. I had been working on evening out the stat bonuses for my home 2e game and on a variation on Fort, Ref, Will saves to replace the old and worn saving throw tables. Both ideas were built into 3e. I felt like the 3e designers had been reading my mind.

    Of course, it wasn’t exactly like my house rules, but 3e nevertheless gave me the impression that they were adjusting D&D to be more like how people actually played it with respect to some of the mechanics. And I very much appreciated it.

  14. Justin Alexander says:

    Bill’s pretty much reading my mind right now. Other things that were common: Eliminating most alignment restrictions for classes. Eliminating the “you can’t use your old class abilities” clause from the dual-classing rules. Removing demi-human level caps. Eliminating the “you can never wear armor” restrictions on spellcasters and replacing them with penalties.

    Ascending AC was also not an uncommon house rule. There were all kinds of hacks for advancing monsters using class levels. I’d personally hacked together a crude skill system by turning THAC0 into a universal mechanic and mixing it with NWPs.

    I just had the bright idea of checking old newsgroup postings for the types of house rules people were using. It’s 5 AM and it took me a couple minutes to realize that this was actually just a time-consuming sinkhole, but not before I found this guy proposing spontaneous casting for clerics in 1995.

    This stuff was just in the air back then. 3rd Edition, of course, wasn’t an exact or perfect match for anybody’s precise set of house rules. But the stuff it changed and cleaned up was the stuff we were all changing and cleaning up in a myriad of different ways.

    In fact, I think we tend to forget a lot of the “changes” 3rd Edition made because they were changes that had essentially become de facto for most AD&D groups. For example, there’s probably only a couple dozen guys on the entire planet who are lamenting the death of weapon speed factors.

  15. Alorin Dawn says:

    I loved speed factor…

  16. Furnok of Ferd says:

    Remember, the current crop of WOTC designers love what they did to FR, and what they did with 4E. They simply have exotic tastes that would be fine in a homebrew, but make them poor caretakers of core rules or campaign settings. Look at Mearls’ essays on rust monsters and ogre mages, or the twisted logic that led to the new alignment array or eladrin, and you have to conclude that they’re unaware of their own blind spots.

    To this end, I don’t think even a change of direction at WOTC will help. They’re the design team equivalent of that quirky DM with his own strange vision of what makes a good D&D game. You might play at his table, but you wouldn’t want to run his house rules, and his attempt to “fix” FR just proves he doesn’t understand it.

    Therefore, I don’t think even a 5th edition will salvage D&D, just as a new campaign from Mr Quirky DM will just be quirky in some other way peculiar to him and his niche preferences.

  17. urzafrank says:

    I find this to be quite odd. There is not one person who disagrees with what you have had to say in this blog. Well other than me. i find most of your criticisms of 4E to be ones based on very little knowledge of the system.

    As to the idea that 4E is all about combat, I have played every edition of D&D and almost all the rules were about combat. Role playing is what happens when you talk in character to the innkeeper ,king and other PCs and to my knowledge there has never been concrete rules about how that works.

  18. Justin Alexander says:

    When you posted similar thoughts on the Dissociated Mechanics article (an article written before 4E was even released, which made the observation that it was written without playtesting experience rather rhetorical) several people asked you how your play experiences differed. You didn’t respond to those questions, nor are you are taking the opportunity to explain your thoughts in any detail here.

    I’ve been very upfront on this blog in saying that, with the exception of a few issues where the 4E designers failed to achieve their stated intentions (like eliminating the 15 minute adventuring day), that “New D&D” seems to be a fun, well-designed game that appeals very well to the narrow target market it was designed for.

    (And let’s be clear here: I’m not the one who first claimed that 4E was designed for a narrow target market. That would be the designers of 4E.)

    But as I’ve said in the past, dissociated mechanics are fundamentally antithetical to the reasons I roleplay. And 4E is chock full of them.

    I also find My Precious Encounters(TM) design to generally be a significantly flawed method of adventure design: It’s time-intensive, reduces the flexibility of the scenario in play, and generally encourages a negation of player choice. And 4E is designed from top-to-bottom to support My Precious Encounters(TM) design.

    I’m not saying everyone has to share my opinion. But given my taste in roleplaying games, 4E is simply never going to appeal. And I gave it plenty of opportunities to change my mind: I’ve played in multiple 4E games. I have GMed multiple 4E games (using both scenarios pre-designed by WotC and scenarios of my own crafting). I’ve given it more opportunities than it probably deserves; certainly more opportunities than I’ve given any other game to convince me; and I feel absolutely no obligation to continue wasting my time playing a game I don’t enjoy.

    As a final point, it’s simply not true that in “every edition of D&D … almost all the rules were about combat”. The most trivial counter-example is OD&D, in which less than a fourth of the White Box rulebooks concern themselves with combat.

  19. Keith says:

    “D&D3, on the other hand, (a) radically revised a game that was perceived as clunky and out-of-date, which allowed them to (c) reach out to a large body of disillusioned ex-customers. They simultaneously (b) released conversion guides and used a massive, public beta testing period to get large numbers of existing players onboard with the changes before the game was even released.”

    Even apart from the big public beta testing period, they actually had a sensible marketing campaign for 3e. 4e, they seemed to rely on informal blogs going “this is gonna be cool!”. 3e? 3e, they had at least one Dragon article a month for over a year describing how certain mechanics worked, and how they could be incorporated into an AD&D 2e game. I could probably look up the exact issues to itemize what the specific articles were, but I remember a few things about them.

    1. “Look what you can do now!” An issue with a half-orc paladin on the cover. Yeah? Okay, let’s have a look at that!

    2. “Look how it’ll be easier to play!” BAB vs. ascending AC was *so simple*. I had cause to try to explain THAC0 and how to determine if you hit an opponent in AD&D and actually had to work through the math because I couldn’t remember. d20+mods vs. AC… *dead easy*.

    3. Multiclassing that (on the face of it) made sense! We later learned that it falls down a little in practice when stacked up against single-classed spell casters, but on the face of it it makes much more sense than previous editions. And everyone can do it.

    4. Simpler saves. You tough it out, you get out of the way, or you reject it. Simple abstraction of the previous saving throws.

    Basically, so much of it *made sense*, and the lead-up presented things in a manner that made it very clear what the changes were addressing, how they were addressing it, and (if needed) why it was better.

    The 3e release, they exhibited very good change management principles.

    The 4e release? They basically killed _Dragon_ magazine. Sure, it was still available online… but that destroyed it for me. I’d bought it monthly at my FLGS from about 1992 until they took it away from Paizo, and I haven’t bought one since. They didn’t explain how things worked in perspective of the existing system, as they did with the 3e release. As I recall, they released contradictory information about the system and how things worked; it felt a lot like they were still working out the mechanics during the relatively short buildup to the release. The mechanics they *were* presenting seemed to do the opposite of their stated goals.

    In short, in spite of the repeated cry “it’s gonna be cool!”, I think they gradually eroded the trust a lot of people had in them. I remember various people being very excited about the ideas presented (because they would be nifty to use in 3e), I remember people being very excited about the team put together for it (“Mearls! I loved his work on _Iron Heroes_, he’ll be *great* for 4e!”), and so on… but during the lead-up to release of 4e, a lot of that fell to the side. The change management for that release was a shambles.

    What I’ve read about 4e suggests it’s a fine game for what it is, and I’ve been selectively pillaging ideas for use in Echelon d20… but they did such a poor job on presenting it that I *still* haven’t bought any of the 4e books.

  20. Jim says:

    Having played all the version since the original white box, I would say there was an increasing definition of the the rules up through the departure in 4th edition. 2nd edition was a big monetary investment. I was a reluctant to move to third edition until seeing how easier it was to play. The 3.0 stuff was basically ok to use with 3.5 so the background material carried over. By the time 4th edition came I had so much material in modules, books etc. it was a pretty easy decision to not go to 4th edition. One of the true tests is to look at the conventions. Pathfinder and 4th edition are usually the top two. There is still a lot of 3.5 edition being played and a little 1st and 2nd edition being played. What has allowed Pathfinder to take over from 3.5 is the unavailability of handbooks and that it has made some improvements. Also I see a lot of older players bring their kids to Pathfinder.

  21. Marc says:

    This article is just so freaking awesome.

    Justin for the 5e design team!

  22. Mike R. says:

    Agree with everything I read here. 4e is a disaster – I’m not saying that Pathfinder is perfect. Just more fun. One thing all post 2e versions of the game get wrong is the implementation of skills like Diplomacy, Bluff, etc. These things shouldn’t be rolled for, most of the time – let the players role-play it! Want to bluff your way past the guards at the entrance to the sultan’s harem? Start talking, buddy! Other than that I think 3.5/Pathfinder is the supreme fantasy RP experience.

  23. the SASS Man says:

    What has frustrated me with each and every revision of the game has been the incompatibilities between editions.

    I should tell you, I’m an AD&D 1st Edition Player and DM. I have characters…not just worlds, but CHARACTERS that I have played continuously since 1983, and when TSR introduced the “Second Edition”, my players and I simply stuck with the old rules and added the SE to our existing game material. I have, for example, 1st and 2nd edition characters gaming side-by-side; I have 1st edition character classes with 2nd edition Kits…etc.

    The point is, that I was able to integrate my EXISTING First Edition campaigns and ideas into the new Second Edition Game! That didn’t HAPPEN when the “Third Edition” came out! Oh, sure…there were some people who tried to integrate the 3e into the 1e/2e games, but….I decided early on that I would NEVER convert my game to 3e, and would NEVER actually DM using the Third Edition ruleset.

    This has worked out great! My 1e/2e game is very popular, and “Lo and Behold!” WoC has even re-released my beloved 1st Edition books! So in this area…I’m happy. I even PLAY Third Edition, with its universe of third-party source material, and…like First Edition AD&D, I have alot of wonderful characters that I love to play. I even have a scaling system where I’m able to play my higher-level characters in low level games by “Turning Down” their level in order to join less experienced groups.

    So…now I have TWO worlds of adventure….1e/2e AD&D, and 3e D&D. And then WoC did THAT!

    No, I could understand that WoC broke away from their existing game, making the new one incompatible with the old. They did that once already, and I hung around and continued to play it as a separate, incompatible game system. This is not new to me; I already play such diverse games as CyberPunk, Shadowrun, Rifts, Champions, Warhammer, Paranoia, Teenagers From Outer Space, and the Sailor Moon Role-Playing Game! But no…this is -NOT- a Role-Playing game!

    Case in point: in AD&D, if I’m in a battle, and I lose my weapon, and I’m on the ground….I could still KICK my opponent in the balls. In AD&D, if I can get to a lose ROCK, I can THROW IT at my enemy! Even if I have no other “Maneuvers” available to me, I could ALWAYS push over a boulder, or drop a lead pipe, or tug on a piece of wood and hopefully drop a BUILDING on my enemy! First Edition, Second, and yes, even THIRD edition rules ACTIVELY ENCOURAGED the players to get creative, and reminded the DM that if the “rules” don’t tell him or her what happens, to “Make It Up!”

    Fourth Edition DOES NOT ALLOW THIS! I am givem, literally, a handfull of “Maneuvers” that I can perform. I immediately noticed that “Kick the S.O.B.” was not among them! And “TRIP” my enemy was a maneuver I could ONLY PERFORM ONCE AN ENCOUNTER! What kind of BULLSH– IS THIS? I’m telling you, the only place I’ve EVER met with this kind of limitation was playing a game called “Lunaria” on my friend’s Nintendo! Or playing the “Final Fantasy” games….or…pretty much any otrher games that require that little controller with the four buttons under one thumb and the little direction thingy under your other thumb!

    In simpler terms, the Fourth Edition D&D is NOT a “Role-Playing” game…it has become a form of tabletop Nintendo! Jesus, People, even my favorite first-person SHOOTERS allow me to do things that this “Role-Playing Game” makes IMPOSSIBLE! In any other game, I am able to visualize myself being, and doing all of the things my characters do. In fact, that is what game designers, movie-makers, and even AUTHORS rely upon to sell their products! It’s called “Immersion”, and it’s what allows the imagination to interact with the environment and the other characters to create an EXPERIENCE of the game! Fourth Edition BREAKS this immersion! It breaks it, because there are no more free-form actions! I would rather have a plain vanilla sword, with fixed dice of damage, fixed maximum movement per round, and actually have the chance to surprise my opponent with something the DM did not expect, than to have this stack of CARDS (LITERALLY, in my case…our GM made up Maneuver Cards that we’d place on the table during combat), and never, EVER be able to something as simple as running between the dragon’s legs and pull his tail to distract him from the rest of the party!

    No, WoC didn’t just make an incompatible game system, they made an UNPLAYABLE game system! They made an UNBELIEVABLE game system! They made a game that VIOLATES my knowledge of simple physics and movement, to the point that I cannot imagine myself in that world doing, and being LIMITED TO DOING those things. In short, Fourth Edition Dungeons & Dragons is much, much worse than “Incompatible”. It is GARBAGE! GARBAGE IN TOTAL! And the sooner Hasbro dumps WoC like the the hot rock they’re holding, the sooner these men can get back to making a playable game…one that addresses REAL PROBLEMS without alienating REAL PLAYERS!

    If that doesn’t happen soon, there are hundreds of thousands of people who may never play another “D&D” product again. You’re looking at one….

    SASS has Spoken.

  24. Jason says:

    I was part of a group that DID in fact see 3rd Edition as “just like our houserules for AD&D!” contrary to Blacksteel’s statement that no one did.

    In our AD&D game anyone could gain a weapon proficiency in any weapon, any race could be any class or multiclass (dual-classing was removed), Wizards received bonus spells for having a high Intelligence (a la the Wisdom table).

    I attempted (just before 3rd came out) to create a unified experience chart for all the classes (and appropriately buffing classes like the Thief to compensate) and use a point-buy system for Attributes, something I’d never seen in 2nd but was standard in 3rd.

    So yeah, we were elated when 3rd hit the shelves.

  25. Dungeons & Dragons Next in the works says:

    […] and paper role-playing game.  Their last installment, the Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition was not exactly a fan-favorite while the Third Edition of the game had its own unforeseen […]

  26. AJ Dembroski says:

    “Looking ahead, I think the time period right around 2014-2015 will be potentially very interesting…”

    I think it would be damn interesting to revisit this article:)

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