so, 4E came out and we were all pretty excited. the excitement wouldn't last, though. before i launch into (yet another) negative diatribe about 4E, i'd like to mention 3 things that i liked about it.
1. upon first glancing through the books, i liked the idea that the characters could DO all kinds of cool things that had previously been either impossible or the province of high level characters. you could teleport at 1st level? awesome. you could fire magic rays from your hands whenever you wanted? yes!!! you could flip over people? run along the walls? THIS WAS AMAZING!!
2. i liked that players could choose from all kinds of different races like minotaurs, devas, and whatever else. i had always hated that you were limited to just a few races in A/D&D...and in 3E playing a different race made you eat an insane ECL which made the character too powerful at first (or not...aasimar, anyone?) and super-lame later on. i loved that a minotaur could walk into a town and the residents were (for the most part) cool with it. so that was nice.
3. i really liked the "points of light" setting. i've always HATED the pseudo-medieval default setting of most pre 4E D&D games. why the hell would there be CASTLES when the enemy could FLY?!?! why would armies of 0 level nobodies take the field when a few fireballs (or an earthquake spell) would wreck them? why would armies need to forage or stay near water when all they really needed were a few clerics to make all the food and water they needed? and since clerics could literally summon food out of nowhere, why weren't they in charge of everything?!?! "hey, you guys could farm your whole life...or you could help me spread the word of my faith and i'll literally feed the whole town". i never liked campaign worlds with empires doing battle, kingdoms, duchies, or whatever the hell else. i always wanted things kept simple - a small town, a city, and a wide open world around it...B2 style. ah well. this is a different blog post.
those were the 3 things that had me stoked on 4E. the preview books they had released (and the anti 3E marketing campaign they'd launched) had me thinking that 4E was going to be AWESOME!!!
not really. playing 4E was torture. very soon, all those cool little things that we read in the rules lost all sense when actually running through a game. it didn't matter that you could visualize your eladrin rogue teleporting across the room, knocking his foe down and then backflipping out of the way, because in game-time 1 round took like a half an hour to resolve. hell, a typical TURN was something like this:
me: ok, my turn. i'm going to move here and use CLOUD OF DAGGERS.
DM: oh wait, i forgot that when the kobold king was bloodied all his allies shift one square. so you can't move there because there's a kobold in the way.
me: ok...hmm (consults a multitude of power cards) i'm going to use BRING THE THUNDER on that kobold in my way... *rolls*...ok, so that's a 14 plus my STR plus half my level...so that's a 23 versus FORT and not AC.
DM: ok, it's a hit, but the kobold king uses his immediate interrupt power SLAY THE UNBELIEVER that allows him smite someone who's just injured his ally. he can do this because he's bloodied. i rolled a 26...does that hit your REFLEX AC?
CHRIS:ok, then when he hits mike's guy i can use this power called BOWLING FOR GOBLINOIDS that allows me FRIGHTEN everyone in a blast 6 and knock them prone for one round if they all fail their save versus WILL.
DM: what does FRIGHTEN do? look that up...*begins rolling saving throws for all 12 kobolds*
rich: hey, wait a minute...i have the kobold king MARKED...can he attack mike's guy?
donnie: don't forget that all enemies adjacent to me have a -2 on all saves due to my GLOWING HALO ongoing effect.
me: so, do i get to hit that kobold in front of me or what?
DM: hold on, i'm looking up frightened...when you DO hit that guy all the kobolds will have the option of shifting 1 square since they have the SHIFTY ability that allows them to shift when someone within 5 squares is injured...
rich: BUT HE'S MARKED.
*everyone starts looking up various different things in the books and the turn begins to lag...meanwhile, i haven't yet rolled damage, used my move action or my minor action*
4E was like the world's most complicated tactical miniatures wargame ever made. everyone's turn in combat took around 10 minutes (as we had to look up a million things like conditions, immediate interrupts, effects from being bloodied, conditions that occur when someone gets hit, someone moving adjacent then triggered something else, etc). you constantly had to try and remember who was marked, who had what effect active that enabled various bonuses and whatever else, feats, racial abilities, and whatever else. the monsters all had abilities that recharged, or went into effect when certain things happened...oooooof. if you forgot to use them the monsters were at a disadvantage. the DM had treasure parcels to dole out (with no tables to roll on). even the f*#$ing magic items had daily and encounter powers?!? throw in the usual amount of rules lawyering and you had a big disaster on your hands. the game was a nightmare for BOTH players and DMs.
the other thing was that it was almost IMPOSSIBLE for characters to die. i say almost simply because one of my characters died in the first session when we weren't sure what we were doing. later on i tried to "suicide" a character that i didn't particularly like just to see if it could be done...and it BARELY worked (he expired a round before the other PC's got to him). and this was me INTENTIONALLY TRYING TO KILL HIM.
my next character was a mute - this was my (silent) protest of 4E. since all role-playing stopped the instant combat broke out, i made a character who just stabbed stuff when the other party members told him to and did nothing else. no one noticed.
i'd love to detail some of the adventure stuff we did with 4E, but i don't really remember any of the details or plot points of most of the adventures. basically, there would be some adventure hook...eventually a fight would break out and that would literally take the entire session to resolve. one fight. the whole session. after a while no one wanted to DM the game because it was laborious and boring, so donnie stepped up and said that he'd run some module series. we played all of them...AND I DON'T EVEN REMEMBER WHAT THEY WERE CALLED OR WHAT THEY WERE ABOUT. i think there was a pyramid. and i totally remember some random rolling magical boulder that messed us up. that's it. from june of 2008 until december of 2009 - all i have to tell you about is a magical f*&%ing boulder and a pyramid. i can tell you all kinds of cool details about the STAR FRONTIERS adventure i ran, or the SAVAGE WORLDS adventure that chris ran, and rich's ALTERNITY sessions...i can tell you all about adventures i played in 1980 - 1990...but 4E was literally giving us nothing noteworthy to discuss. it wasn't even fun - it was like a job.
one night i asked everyone if they'd be into continuing STAR FRONTIERS. "YES!!!" was the enthusiastic response...we'd pick that up as soon as this last 4E module was done. that night, as i waited for my turn to come in 4E i ran a search on my phone for STAR FRONTIERS...and i came across an entry on a blog called GROGNARDIA.
when i got home that night i explored the heck out of that blog. it seemed that a lot people were still playing all the pre-3E D&D games. they were using the old rulebooks and these new ones with titles like OSRIC, LABYRINTH LORD, and SWORDS & WIZARDRY. my mind was blown. it was so simple! just...play the games you like. huh.
the next day i sent out an email. instead of playing STAR FRONTIERS or 4E, i asked...why don't we just play the D&D that we like the most? everyone agreed - and everyone thought it would be fun to play ADVANCED DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS again (i'm talking about 1E here). rich even agreed to run it.
to be concluded.