Dan's Top 19 RPGs - #19 - D&D 4th Edition

I gave a lot of thought as to whether to include the 4th edition of Dungeons & Dragons on my list. Of all the games on my list it's probably the one I have the most issues with. On the other hand, I really like a number of ideas that the designers of D&D 4e tried to do. They took some chances, broke a number of "sacred cows of D&D". Looking back, I think Wizards of the Coast would have been better off making D&D 4e a separate/non-D&D game. though I can understand not wanting to have products competing with each other.

What I really liked about D&D 4e was the way it gave all classes a bunch of interesting abilities - some usable at-will, some usable on a per-encounter basis, some usable daily. Characters had different roles which greatly influenced how they'd handle things in combat - some characters were great at slugging it out with multiple opponents, others dancing all over the battlefield. All the classes managed to feel interesting and have a good contribution to make.

As a Dungeon Master, I found games in D&D 4e extremely easy to prep, much easier than D&D 3.x games. D&D 4e introduced minions to D&D - 1 hp enemies, great for simulating the hordes of baddies often encountered in film and literature. These minions could be quite dangerous and could threaten high level characters, but they were designed to be fought in hordes. I loved the idea.

The implied "points of light" setting was also a nice touch. The idea was that some great empire/kingdom had fallen and their were elements of civilization survived, but they were isolated with dangerous wilds between them. It justified a lot of adventures.

That said, D&D 4e did have a number of issues. The first of which is something I've heard described as "the grind". Combat took an extremely long time to resolve. Usually, halfway through the battle the outcome would be clear but it would still take some time to play out. Second, the game relied on an ongoing series of Player Handbooks, DM Guides, and Monster Manuals. It felt as if you were purchasing downloadable content for a video game. Unlike some games with such a model, the game felt a bit incomplete as released.

Probably the largest issue with D&D 4e was how different it felt from what came before. It probably did change a bit too much.

Why am I listing it with all those issues? Probably because I did like a number of the things it did and tried to do. It was perhaps a misfire, but an interesting misfire.


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