4E: Is it D&D?

Lately I’ve been seeing a lot of this sentiment that D&D 4th edition “isn’t Dungeons & Dragons”. One guy tells me it’s no longer a roleplaying game, but “a miniatures wargame which just happens to use one mini per player”. I’m reasonably sure he’s trolling me.

This raises a good question, however: what is Dungeons & Dragons? How do you define it?

Someone gave a very good answer, which I have to agree with: D&D is whatever you’ve learned it as.

Consider this hypothetical situation. You grew up playing D&D as a monster-bashing game, but never used the trap rules. Now a new edition comes out and it removes traps. Is it still D&D?

If you never played with traps, then it’s still D&D. If you did, they’ve just cut a significant proportion of the gameplay and created something that’s not the game as you know it. You can either accept that this is a new and different form of the game, or decide it’s not for you and stick with the old edition.

Comments (25)

Gordon Duke (July 6th, 2008)

I’ve been giving this a bit of thought lately.

Before 4e, all the pre-press made it sound very patterned off the computer MMOs, and I took the position that it could very well be a fun game, but I was not sure if it would be D&D to me.

D&D has always been pretty combat centric, it grew out of rules added to mini wargamming to allow character development, etc. I think the nature of the ealier versions, basic, Advanced, 2nd edition continued this, where advancement was almost only through combat, but I think the lack of in depth rules in other areas lead to more houserules, and a bit more creativity and a lot of house rules to adjust the game to your style of play. The lack of rules around roleplay didn’t prevent anybody from roleplaying.

I was heartened in 3.x with more reference in the rules to resolving conflicts/ challenges through other means then combat, but largely the game continued as before.

I think 4e shows itself as very combat oriented with all the character powers, abilities, etc since they are mainly combat oriented abilities. I think there is still room for roleplay, but the rules do not call for it and it is easy for players to play without it. Just as in the MMOs, even though they are refered to as online Roleplaying games, really all your roleplaying is outside the system. You can talk in character to others online, but it is not required, and with the interaction with the computer NPCs are limited to pre-scripted options and there is not much room for thinking outside the box.

I think 4e could be D&D, but as it sits it will be played mainly as strung together skirmishes. Perhaps if there is more of an effort to design adventures that require less combat oriented resolutions to conflicts and rewards for doing so people might use it for more then battles, but in that there will always be some inequality around the table and it seems part of the design of 4e was to give all characters more power so no one will feel left out in a battle. Around every table I have been at there have always been a couple players taht are better at witty banter and role play then the rest, someone really good with strategies, etc. and they could outshine the others in those areas, but it never bothered me, nor did playing the healer and staying back from combat to heal the party rather then casting powerful combat spells, or being the thief (or rogue I guess) and scouting, sneaking, disarming, and avoiding getting hit by the big nasty guys I would let the fighters handle.

GetDark (July 6th, 2008)

I am waiting for 4.5. I won’t be fooled again, nor suckered for an extra $75.

Ross Mills (July 6th, 2008)

If 4th Edition was just about combat, then why are there roleplaying sections in the Keep on the Shadowfell?

The game can’t really tell you how to roleplay, it’s just something you do if you’re into it. The game gives you some idea of how it works as a general thing, but doesn’t lay any rules because roleplaying is far more vast a concept than combat. Combat can be sorted by rules, roleplaying can only really be sorted by the DM, or the players if they’re mature enough.

Ross Mills (July 6th, 2008)

Oh, and I thought that D&D was the D20 system in a fantasy setting. That’s very ambiguous, but I never really thought otherwise.

Chris Tregenza (July 6th, 2008)

There have been many different versions of D&D, from the original Chainmail Rules to 4th Edition with lots of side-quests into Basic and Advanced systems along the way. So it is impossible to define D&D as anything other than a rulebook that says Dungeons & Dragons on the cover.

That said, there is something intangible that makes D&D what it is. Just as a Ferrari is not just a car with badge on it. How the car is designed, styled, manufactured and finished makes it a Ferrari far more than a badge does.

This is were 4th Edition I think loses it.

The writers have not tried to embrace the past or even to pay homage to it. They have thrown everything out and started again as if some Chinese car maker had brought the rights to the Ferrari name but nothing else.

4th Edition may be a great game system, it may say Dungeons & Dragons on the cover, but it isn’t D&D.

Jeff Greiner (July 6th, 2008)

I’ve had this conversation a lot and considered it along lately. Then I had the chance to talk to both Ed Greenwood and Mike Mearls about the issue at Origins (seminars and interviews to be posted on my podcast soon).

It was interesting to hear what they each had to say. Ed’s group plays 2e because 3e and 4e both don’t feel like D&D to his players. Whereas Mike gives a very interesting answer to why 4e feels like D&D to him, which is summed up as: 4e captures the spirit of D&D better than any previous edition did.

Ultimately, it’s not really an issue worth debating. As you said, the answer to “what is D&D?” has a very different answer from very different people throughout the community. Ultimately, what D&D is can only objectively be, “Whatever the people who own the brand say it is.” I suppose. :-)

Eric Haddock (July 7th, 2008)

"4e isn’t D&D" as a statement of universal truth is invalid because there is not a universal description of D&D to form a baseline that would differentiate it from any other fantasy game where you kill monsters and take their stuff. Since there are people who still play all versions of D&D and each version has significant differences between them, every version of D&D is D&D, including 4e.

Count Buggula (July 7th, 2008)

According to my new dictionary, D&D = Pathfinder. I don’t see anything about 4e in there, unfortunately.

Dave T. Game (July 7th, 2008)

The answer that Mike Mearls gave to me I found very interesting:

He said that it feels like D&D to him if he can take the classic D&D adventures and run them under the ruleset. He said there were versions of 4e that he worked on that didn’t work with that, but the finished product passed that test easily for him.

Carlo (July 8th, 2008)

I am going to wait until they try and rip us off again and release D&D Version 4.5. Then I might just spend my hard earned dollars. Hasbro did this to us and it was not needed. Pazio did it right with Pathfinder 3.5; made 3.5 perfect. And who wants a bunch of printed off supplements shoved in our books. WoTC is crazy. “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it”.

Is it D&D? Only if we the players/customers say so, and so far I agree with the guy above who says:

"Pathfinder = D&D"

Daniel Chapman (July 10th, 2008)

I’m surprised by all those people who are anti-4.0 but still pro-Pathfinder. I kept reading through the pathfinder book and thinking, “Man, if I’m going to make these changes, I might as well just switch to 4.0.”

There’s so many things in Pathfinder that I didn’t entirely buy into, changes that were big enough to require a bit of rethinking of current 3.5 to play with.

I remember when the 3.0 PHB came out, I was excited and looking forward to run a game with just the information printed in the back of the book to keep you happy until the DMG and MM were printed. I felt a lot of that same excitement with the preview materials for 4.0. It looked very promising.

Now that I have the finished product, I’ve lost some of my enthusiasm. I keep running into things that just don’t entirely feel the same to me. They’re MEANT to be different, so that’s not the problem. But, they’re things that I sort of miss. My wizard can only cast certain spells once per day, that feels like it’s entirely the opposite direction that I had wanted to go. As someone who yearns to get a regular Ars Magica game going, it might just be my own particular prejudices.

Yet, this new wizard seems to be more combat focused, with much much less non-combat powers available to him. Invisibility isn’t something that a wizard could do just for RP reasons. Same for flight and a few other things that didn’t make it as a ritual (they had combat applications) but weren’t ONLY useful for combat situations.

I’m fine with the melee characters finally getting the ability to use more than just “I smack it with a sword” during their combat turn, but some of the abilities that they have no seem to be supernatural. There’s a lot less … grit to the gritty fighter, who earned every point of experience he had with only his blood and training. Now it feels like he has super powers, every fighter ends up being someone you wouldn’t be surprised to put on a pair of tights and duke it out with Doc Oc in the streets of Manhattan.

Bob King (July 12th, 2008)

My son and I played in three 4E games at Origins 2008 (Columbus, OH) a couple of weeks ago. After the first two games we were very dissatisfied, the third experience restored some faith in the system.

I wrote up an analysis of our experience in a post on the EnWorld forums: http://www.enworld.org/forum/showthread.php?t=233716

The ensuing discussion was very interesting, free of flames & trolls, and one truism bubbled up - the experience is heavily dependent upon the DM’s skills and how well he’s prepared.

Like others in this discussion, I’m leaving very heavily towards the Pathfinder RPG. We’re both registered for all the Pathfinder events at Gen Con and none of the Living Forgotten Realms events. (This decision was significantly influenced by the fact that WOTC did not have any events submitted to Gen Con at the time of pre-registration.)

Whether or not the 4E “feels like D&D” anymore, for me it’s that WOTC doesn’t “feel like the company that cares about the players” any more. I compare it to the business model decision Sony Online Entertainment made with Star Wars Galaxies. Two years into the game, they were not happy with the number of subscribers they had. So they completely revamped the game in search of a different demographic. In the process, they alienated many (most?) of their existing customer base.

I visit Paizo’s site daily. I visit EnWorld daily. I make it to the WOTC site about once every two weeks.

I’ve spent $400+ on product from Paizo in the past six months. The only thing I’ve purchased from WOTC (via a local game store) was the 4E core set. Yes, I bought it because I wanted to be able to make my own informed decision. Thus far, it will not be my game system of choice.

Jason Love (July 19th, 2008)

I have a great deal of fondness for D&D as a brand, and our group had a ton of enthusiasm for 3E. Over several years of play, it became apparent that D&D didn’t provide the character creation options or scalability that we needed. When it became apparent that 3.5 wasn’t going to fix any of those problems in favor of invalidating the stat blocks on all the books and supplements we’d acquired, we dropped D&D for the HERO system and didn’t look back.

Coming from this direction, 4th Edition is a welcome return to form. WotC’s current business plan looks like it’s designed to actually make revenue from something besides book sales, which makes me a lot more confident about buying supplementary products again. I do think WotC burned through a lot of their consumer confidence by bungling 3.5, and I think it’s a real shame that that’s going to damage their ability to support a product that’s actually worth investing in.

As for “what D&D is”, for me it’ll always be the gateway drug: the best way to get people introduced to roleplaying and show them why it’s fun. This new version is even better at that than the last three.

jonathan (July 27th, 2008)

"What D&D is" is very much the same as "what [insert PnP RPG here] is". As a whole, my experiences with any RPG is that it is group dependent. Sure, the rules on the pages of the books can influence how the game is actually played at the game table, but ultimately it comes down to how the players like to game. how many times, if ever, have you heard someone say something they want to do something in the game and the ‘GM’ says “sorry, you can’t do that because the rules don’t let you”.

I’ve been reading alot of what people having been saying about this topic. It strikes me that 4E is whatever you want it to be; for me it IS D&D because I dont run my games like a warhammer convention. So I totally agree with the previous comment by Bob King

the experience is heavily dependent upon the DM’s skills and how well he’s prepared.

Being prepared is key, and finding a good DM. Also - NOT being a rules lawyer helps.

btw - I’ve added you to my Google Reader blogroll. Nice work! keep it coming.

Branitar (July 27th, 2008)

Having played a few times now i have to say that for me 4E is D&D as it should be. I was dissatisfied with the 3.xE because many things were unnecessary complicated. Creating a character was far too difficult for someone that hasnt been playing for years. now you can concentrate more on actual roleplay without having to look through your character sheets thousands of times because you forgot a certain value.
yes, for some it might look like 4E became less flexible or that it doesnt provide certain options. but in my opinion flexibilty is the part that the player has to provide, not the system. for me the 4E is far easier to handle and thus doesnt get as much in my way as 3.xE did.

Sorry guys. 4E is great. Period.

Watcher (August 5th, 2008)

I think WOTC blew it. Admittedly they started out designing a new edition of D&D, one aimed at balancing out the classes. In the process they created a very different game. Instead of a creating a new edition of a popular tabletop RPG with a large though aging fanbase, they created a tabletop tactical simulator that has the potential to attract younger players. The part where they screwed up was in failing to recognize or admit that their creation, D&D 4e, is a very different product from D&D. If they were smart, they would have labeled the new product as Dungeons Tactics or something similar and sell to new and younger players, and re-develop D&D 4e as the traditional RPG to hold on to their older fanbase. In effect, they could have their cake and eat it too. But they weren’t smart, and instead of reaping the rewards of 2 products, they have only 1 that alienate some of their fans. They are still making money, but probably not as fast as they could have.

Watcher (August 5th, 2008)

Now those alienated fans are looking to Pathfinder, a product being produced by Paizo that is based the older D&D 3.5. It Pathfinder becomes successful, and there are indicators that this will be so, then it will prove that there was room for two Wotc products from the start.

Sensate (August 6th, 2008)

I started playing D&D in the Red Box and Blue Box days, and up through AD&D v. 2.0. After a long lapse, I started reading Order of the Stick, and found myself jonesing to understand the unfamiliar rules that governed that universe. So, at great expense, I taught myself 3.5. An awful lot had changed, and some not for the better, but it definitely felt like D&D to me. Clerics healed, rogues stole, fighters fought, and duskblades, uh, did whatever they did, and it was fun.

Dutifully, when 4.0 came out, I plunked down my dollars for the core set. I read it all cover to cover at least 3 times, and I couldn’t make myself like it.

Maybe I’m just old, but 4.0 doesn’t feel like D&D to me. The healing surges, the attacks you make that also heal yourself, the now-lumpy alignment wheel, it’s just, well, off. It might make a good computer game (gonna miss the old NWN, though), but I can’t see sitting through a night of playing 4.0.

Epic Level Grognard (August 27th, 2008)

What is D&D? Gary said it originally, and best:

"…These rules are strictly fantasy. Those wargamers who lack imagination, those who don’t care for Burroughs’ Martian adventures where John Carter is groping through black pits, who feel no thrill upon reading Howard’s Conan saga, who do not enjoy the de Camp & Pratt fantasies or Friz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser pitting their swords against evil sorceries will not be likely to find that these rules are the answer to their prayers. With this last bit of advice we invite you to read on and enjoy a "worldâ€? where the fantastic is fact and magic really works!"

All the rest is just packaging, new features, and licensing.

As a brand, D&D is whatever the trademark holder wants it to be.

Unfortunately, that is a lot more than what is required to accomplish the vision of it’s creator - 32 pages, a few funny shaped dice, and imagination.

At least all the previous versions were somewhat compatible with each other, and if you squint - thanks to Lord Dancy - the original 32 pages can be found in the D20 SRD.

Gods be willing, I’ll roll for damage, keep a watchful eye, and memorize my spells by the light of a fire…

John (September 17th, 2008)

Pathfinder for me, 4E is and will always be a table top war game realling from skirmish to skirmish and no let up.

here is the difference, Roleplaying using skills and spells to enhance and develop a character. 4E for all its worth is just a table top game every character is the same they all have the same abilities just different headers AND PRETTY COLOURS.


Troll Hunter (October 22nd, 2008)

Yeah, you are being trolled.

"[A] miniatures wargame which just happens to use one mini per player� describes Chainmail and OD&D.

Count Bacula (January 12th, 2009)

$e is garbage. Simple, If I want to play WoW why the fuck would I buy a table top RPG? If I wanted to play a war game why would I buy $e?

I would just buy WoW, and Warhammer. Or something of the like.

Razz (January 18th, 2009)

Exactly, just play WoW instead of 4E. It’s visually better, it’s the SAME exact style of play, and it’s actually cheaper.

I don’t play D&D for an MMO aspect, I play D&D because it’s D&D and 4E is NOT D&D.

Also, where do you 4E-pros get the nerve to tell me to stick with my own edition? Do you realize those of us that enjoy 3.5 have absolutely NO SUPPORT of OUR style of game anymore? WotC is basically telling us to play it THEIR way or else be left out. Where is my Complete Incarnum book, where is my Book of Fey creatures, where is my Giantnomicon, where are my new psionic prestige classes, and Tome of Magic stuff? I want my support for my game! Where the hell do I go now for that support?!

You mean to tell me I can NEVER have material supporting my style of D&D anymore? That’s not fair. And it’s not right to abandon us like that.

Some of you say “Just adapt 4E stuff to your 3E games.” Are you just retarded or something? You tell me how the hell am I supposed to convert any of that stuff properly to my 3E games!?

You see, the difference between pre-4E and post-4E was the compatability. I can still use 3E stuff for a 2E or 1E game. You can use some 1E stuff for 2E or use 1E stuff for 2E. I constantly use old 2E Dungeon Magazine adventures for 3E.

However, you cannot use anything in 1E, 2E, or 3E in 4E OR vice versa. It’s either impossible or too much work for nothing.

In the end, 4E just sucks and I hope it bombs. Actually, last I checked, it already is bombing and I will point and laugh when they release 5E a couple years from now.

Bri (February 12th, 2009)

>You mean to tell me I can NEVER have >material supporting my style of D&D anymore?

Well, those of us playing prior to 3.x have already gone through that. There was -so- much material for 1 & 2 by that time, however, I for one didn’t really care. “Support” from WotC usually just amounts to overpriced manuals filled with redundant prestige classes and feats anyone playing a few years could have thought of on their own.

In the name of continuing profits, any version of D&D will, eventually, become a bolt-on Frankenstein monstrosity. 4e is “clean” now, just as 3.0 was compared to the glutted 2 when it was first released.

I know people passionately playing OD&D right now, and they don’t give a frack whether it’s supported or not. Adopt the same attitude and have fun; play what you like. Create your own support materials and save your money for Starbucks, or something. ;)

And, of course, there is Pathfinder too as several have mentioned.

Grackle (October 3rd, 2009)

"Whereas Mike gives a very interesting answer to why 4e feels like D&D to him, which is summed up as: 4e captures the spirit of D&D better than any previous edition did."

Then Mearls should not be designing the D&D core. Nor should Wyatt or the rest of the gang, because they clearly don’t get D&D, and haven’t created a D&D.

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