5 Things I Don’t Like About 4E

Last week I gave five reasons why I prefer D&D 4E. Since I don’t want people to think I’m not without reservations, here’s a list of some things I don’t like about the new edition.

  1. Tieflings and dragonborn are ugly. Heroes aren’t supposed to look like the monsters. There’s a piece of art in one book depicting a tiefling facing off against a half-orc, and I can’t tell which one is meant to be the “good guy”.
  2. Goofy read-aloud text. There are some really cheesy lines in the core books. “You’ll have to deal with me first, dragon!”
  3. Certain elements are too abstract. Several actions in 4E don’t correspond to anything in-game. Healing surges in particular don’t represent any potion or spell, so much as “you gain hit points back”, leaving you to imagine for yourself what action this represents.
  4. Skill challenges are awful.. As written, the DM tells the players what skills they can roll, and they do so in turn for minimal XP. Success is awarded not for clever plans, but on whether or not you roll enough successful skill checks of any type. An errata has already been released to try and mitigate this.
  5. WotC products are pushed too heavily. The books strongly encourage the use of D&D Dungeon Tiles and D&D Miniatures. However, there aren’t enough miniatures out to cover all the monsters you want to use, and if there were most players’ budgets wouldn’t cover it.

Comments (17)

Ben Overmyer (September 6th, 2008)

1) To each his own. I think the Tieflings are very attractive, and while the Dragonborn aren’t attractive per se, they are definitely badass.

2) Yeah, point made, heh.

3) Abstraction can be a good thing; in this case, it works out, especially if you go with the old-school notion that hit points represent general health and fitness instead of just damage.

4) Yeah, this has been a little weird. I’ve homeruled it to make skill challenges more complex, but in doing so skill challenges become a sort of combat all on their own.

5) Agreed, but no more so than Games Workshop.

Reverend Mike (September 6th, 2008)

Wizards has made HP more abstract…when you lose HP, it’s not necessarily because you got smacked or cut…sometimes it represents a graze, or a close call that strained your muscles when you dodged, or just general fatigue…the standard action that your second wind uses is a brief pause where you stop focusing on attacking the opponent to catch your breath and go back into combat next round with renewed vigor…short rests do something very similar…it’s just assumed that you tend to any wounds and take time to get your heart rate back to normal…

benpop (September 6th, 2008)

@Rev. Mike: IAWTC

1) I personally despise the look of the Tieflings as well. I preferred the human with small horns poking out, maybe tatoo-like things, and maybe (I don’t recall if it was mandatory) a little spade-tipped tail. I think it would be hilarious to throw in Tieflings with Nordic complexion.

The Dragonborn I haven’t decided about. They have the potential for cool, but they’re inconsistent and they’re trying to make them too much like humanoids (I’m pretty sure lizards don’t have mammary glands nor the need to show them off :P). I’d like them better if they went more with straight-across lizard/alien biology, as far as a primate origin is concerned.

Overall, so far I feel the two should have been second-book races.

2) Thirded. So damned cheesy, and not even the kind I like.

3) Rev. Mike already said what I would have. I like the abstraction to one’s “wind” or vitality.

4) They errata’d it. But other than that, nothing to say.

5) Well, they’re a company and they’d like to make as much money as possible. Or, if all these debacles are indication, they would like to stay afloat. In an abstract sense I can’t fault them for that. But, damn it, in reality I can’t afford any of the miniatures. I’m bumming my brother for the books as it is.

Asmor (September 6th, 2008)

1: I’m a huge fan of the dragonborn. I don’t care for the tieflings (or half-elves, for that matter), but my fiancée loves ‘em.

2: D&D’s trying to become a game of cheesy, heroic action. It fits.

3: Healing surges themselves do make sense (keeping in mind that hit points aren’t just a measure of many feet of sword you can have run through you before you die). The limited number of them is a bit harder, but if you think of them as willpower and the spirit to keep chugging on, then running out just means your spirit’s broken and you’re losing the will to fight. All in all, though, I don’t have a problem with abstraction for the sake of game play.

4: Success if awarded for clever plans while roleplaying. Your argument is like saying combat is terrible because it’s decided by die rolls, rather than how well you describe your tactics and attacks. Of course skill challenges rely on skills— they’re SKILL challenges!

5: Can’t really argue with that, though I don’t have a problem with it. They have to make money, and I’m a fan of their products, so it works out well.

Wil K. (September 6th, 2008)

-@Asmor - the problem is that the skill checks are essentially decided beforehand - there isn’t as much room for ‘impromptu’ skill checks (namely, ones in which a player says ‘Hey, I want to make a [skill] check, foo’, I mean DM’) - it’s a shift from players initiating most skill checks (at least theoretically; lazy players…) to the DM initiating most skill checks.

-I’ve always viewed HP as a sort of stamina or endurance, so healing surges/second wind don’t seem that strange (except in that they heal 1/4 of your total health (which seems silly high to me in a realistic sense; game-wise, it seems a fair use of a std. action)).

-Agreed on the tiefling ugliness (geez, just look at the first page of ‘How to play’ - there’s this freakish [i]thing[/i] just staring back at you. *cringe* Of course, the eladrin and halfling on the opposite page also look hilariously disfigured). Dragonborn seem to be the female dwarves of 4e (in that no one knows how to draw them; there’s something they did do well in 4e flavour, by the way). I don’t personally like the concept of them, but maybe if they’d made them less humanoid I wouldn’t mind (something more like lizardfolk would’ve been fine).

Asmor (September 6th, 2008)

@Wil K.

I disagree with you about skill challenges… They are NOT decided before hand. The DM is encouraged to let the players use skills other than those predetermined if they come up with a good justification. The DM is also encouraged to give the players bonuses on the rolls for roleplaying (e.g. a +2 bonus on the diplomacy check for actually reasoning with the noble, rather than just saying “I try to reason with the noble”).

Count Buggula (September 6th, 2008)

Problem is, if HP are supposed to be this vague representation of stamina or something, then go all the way and call it that! Go the way of LotRO for all I care and call it Morale if that fits better. Then change the healing Cleric to a bard who inspires you in combata. Because the current “Healing Surge” that by definition is a “heal” and not a morale boost or any such thing just sounds ridiculous.

You can’t on one hand say “it’s not really a heal at all” and then on the other call it a “healing surge.”

Gary (September 6th, 2008)

1. I don’t like the Tieflings, but I am comforted by the fact that they will all have crippling neck and back pain in old age due to the extra weight of their massive horns.

I think the Dragonborn are all right — I get them a little better now that I’m playing one. I think they need a little angst in the fluff to make up for all of the awesome, though. Overwhelming avarice and power-lust that even overcomes the best of them sometimes, or somesuch. Best of all, it wouldn’t even get in the way of power gamers, since avarice and power-lust are what drive them in the first place.

2. I don’t care for their read-aloud text, either. On the other hand, they do encourage the DM to paraphrase.

3. Healing Surges are not actions. Healing Surges represent the capacity to shake off pain and fatigue. It also gives characters a finite pool from which to power certain things, like lay on hands.

4. Errata.

5. At least we don’t have artwork with dwarves quaffing Pepsis and wizards researching spells on Mac Books.

benpop (September 6th, 2008)

@Wil K. et alia: We are agreed! More lizard-y!

@Gary:
1.A) And the females of all races will have at least crippling back pain. ;P
5) Dang you; I have to go draw that now. The latter especially amused me. :D

Zeus (September 8th, 2008)

I think Dragonborn are cool, though. Looking back at the original AD&D mix, you basically just got different sizes of humans. “You want your tall humans or your short humans? How about humans with pointed ears or little bearded humans?”

"Tieflings" just sounds like something Gambit would say. Like if some kids picked his pocket. "Ah, mon ami! Thos’ little Tieflings took my wallet!"

I remember when the developers of Dark Alliance switched over to making EverQuest games, the gameplay was pretty much the same, but all of a sudden I could play lizardmen and lions and stuff.

Where’s my D&D lion PCs? I demand D&D 4.5!

Stormy (September 9th, 2008)

Wait, so your issue with Dragonborn and Tieflings is they shouldn’t be heroes because they’re “ugly”? I’m sorry, but that’s a very simplistic view. Nothing says the “good guys” have to be beautiful and only the “villains” can be ugly. Never judge a book by it’s cover, as they say.

Donny_the_DM (September 9th, 2008)

I agree with most of this. We houseruled skill challenges to fit our style of play, by making it a “declared” mechanic that could be invoked by either group (PC’s or DM) We take a two minute break while I assess the relevant skills needed. The party “bids” up the skills they want to use.

They have no idea, but I will randomly choose d4 skills as auto-fail. Different each time :) We then go through the checks, with the player describing his check. I sometimes give style points if the action is VERY well thought out and executed.

Doing this fixed (for us) the problems that the RAW skill challenge presented. Everyone can participate - based on their strengths, not weaknesses, and there is just as much a chance the lead diplomat gets served as the flexing fighter.

LOL! I also agree completely with the Tieflings…much preferred the subtlety of the planescape art.

Anonymous (September 9th, 2008)

Five reasonable points.

1. Especially Tieflings. A player once asked me if they had to have giant ram horns if they were going to be a tiefling. I said no. Art isn’t rules, it’s just (bad) decoration, IMO. My tieflings can still pass for human with a bit of work.

2. All read-aloud text in every supplement published should be ignored or at least re-interpreted and paraphrased, even the good stuff.

3. I’m not sure I agree on this one. I think of morale, shock, fatigue, minor cuts, sprains and bruises as the current hp/surges, but I suppose that’s just me filling in the obvious gaps. On the other hand HP’s have always been pretty abstract.

4. I agree. Even the more balanced errata-ed skill challenges don’t work for me. I just wing em.

5. M&M’s aren’t just candy, they’re also minions! I think that the hard tie-in to grid based tactical combat is the breaker for many people. That is, if you don’t LIKE grid based tactical combat it would be. The big-font, big art, medium page count, buy-part-two-in-a-few-months players handbook is also disappointing. Another 32 pages, or a half point smaller font size and we could have had all the old core classes in the core books. Too much to ask?

Bartoneus (September 10th, 2008)

Hit Points have always been an abstraction, and 4th Edition is not presenting any new changes as far as that goes. You can get stabbed with a dagger once and die in real life, but any hero in D&D can take several d4+str damage from daggers. This has been true for how many editions of the game?

Healing Surges is just a game mechanic to destabilize the Cleric/Druid/Bard class monopoly on healing, and allow for a party to be able to get by without having any of these classes. No one would really argue if a Barbarian were given healing surges / second winds to maintain in the face of serious injuries, now they’ve just made ALL characters as badass as that (which makes me even MORE excited to see how stubborn the Barbarian class will be).

DM Louie-Louie (September 12th, 2008)

1. I think I’d agree with this statement if it wasn’t so absolute. Wait, you deal in absolutes? What are you—Sith? But all kidding aside, I think a tragic hero can be very appealing. In fact, in my groups, we have lots of players that run their characters that way.

2. Lets look at your classification: “Cheesy.” What makes a line cheesy. Without a doubt, it’s the constant over-playing of a line that dilutes its effectiveness—but recall back when you were but a kid watching “Big Trouble in Little China” and you watched Jack Burton cock his head to the side and say, “Besides, its all in the reflexes.” Did you not think it was best thing in the world! Could you not wait till you could try that line out yourself. (Maybe even go so far as to try to set something up so you could impress your little brother?) But then you saw it again elsewhere. Or your friends saw the movie too and they started in on YOUR quote. Yeah, that made it cheesy. But back to my point, believe it or not, this book wasn’t just printed for you. I know, I know you may find it hard to believe but being a business, WOTC may have also wanted to try to get new players too. So though you and I may see these lines as cheesy, just think about all the younger generations that haven’t had those lines diluted yet and humor WOTC with just a roll of your eyes.

3. Certain elements are too abstract? What a golden opportunity! Now, I don’t know how long you’ve been playing so I’m going to assume that you, like me, have seen or played the first edition of the game. Think back—way back—to the original magic missile. It use to be that magic missile would manifest itself as an arrow of pure energy that would hover next to the caster for a number of rounds or turns. Currently, it is described as a bolt of energy. Why do I bring this up? To highlight that in the beginning of D&D, there wasn’t anything like magic missile at all—in literature and in the movies. Think about spell casters prior to D&D. At best, you’d see a spell caster throw a fireball. All the notions of magic and its physical manifestations needed to be spelled out since nothing like the spells they had come up with had ever been seen. Since then, all kinds of power forms have developed. With the help of movie special effects, animation, and good ol’ novels, we have so many different ways of showing the same thing. I think D&D 4e’s abstraction should be just that and allow the DM’s and players to color it anyway they want. Does a cleric toss something in the air to only have it explode in bright sparkly light and waft gently down the target to heal them or is it warm golden laying on hands that surrounds the wounded and the cleric in a holy halo. With such abstractions, you can decide.

4. I agree that basing xp on skill roles can really dilute the game. So I just got rid of it altogher. I give out more xp on original thinking and role-playing.

5. I noticed your observation as well but hey they are a business and they are trying to make money. Such optional stuff is tiered and if you have the budget and the inclination then you should utilize it. If not, then move on to something else. I like the tiles and I even collected them for a while but we’ve already gone back to the giant mat with markers. It’s just easier for me. I do have the miniatures but I do miss the old days of painting your own—though at my age, holding a paint brush steady is a feat unto itself!

Nice post, Jonathan and it looks like you got some great responses.

Wyvern (September 17th, 2008)

Benpop wrote:
…the females of all races will have at least crippling back pain.

That may have been true of previous editions, but I don’t think it’s a fair description of the art in 4e, at least not the racial portraits. Of the 8 females shown, only the dwarf, tiefling and possibly the half-elf could be described as “busty”. (And the dwarf woman would probably look weird if she *wasn’t*.)

"John Lee" (November 4th, 2008)

Skill challenges are awful. There are things I dislike about 4e, which don’t tend to coincide with these, but skill challenges are just horrible.

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