Feb 13, 2017

Dr. Strange Edition or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love 4th Edition

I wasn't a huge fan of 4th edition D&D. The game didn't feel right. To me it was a betrayal of decades of D&D history. I was at Gen Con the year it was released. After playing a game and being asked what I thought of it I didn't know how to respond. All I kept thinking was what the fuck was that?? (pardon my French).

The only thing I can liken it to, in terms of the history of D&D, is Swords & Spells. A game which was not received well at all by the gaming public, and was quietly left to wither away. Today you can easily pick up copies of it on eBay for under $30 (you'll see it often listed for much more but don't be fooled). When you do get a copy in your hands you'll see it is usually in a pristine unplayed state. Maybe some minor shelf wear.

Because nobody played it.

What's wrong with Swords & Spells? Compare the simplicity of Chainmail, where a unit has just a few traits like movement speed and combat ability, this makes mass combat, or skirmish level combat fairly easy and quick to resolve. Now imagine you took Chainmail and added on the detail of an RPG character to each unit. Resolving even skirmish level combat could take hours and would be quite tedious.

That's a lot what 4th edition is like.

It's not an RPG, it's a skirmish combat game with layers of special abilities, maneuvers and all kinds of detailed tactical level combat options. If this had been marketed as a skirmish combat game with a box full of minis then it would have made more sense. A successor to the D&D crown it was not. However, it did find an audience as witnessed by the success of the Penny Arcade podcasts of live play.

Setting aside my personal feelings for it, I can see that it is a tight and well designed game. This video gave me some insights and made me think a bit differently about 4th edition. I'm still not a fan, but there are some good ideas in here.


  1. *disapproving Marge Simpson sound*

  2. I played and enjoyed 4E for almost three years before the crowd overwhelmed me and I gave up, moving to Pathfinder. It had some serious issues at times, but it was always fun to play as long as you just let the game do its thing. A very elegant design....for a certain style of play. But in the end I really wanted to run certain games and introduce certain themes that just wouldn't mesh well with 4E.

  3. Sure, it's almost like boardgame night. You set up a scenario and you duke it out with little miniatures on a contained map. But I don't want that mixed in with a long running RPG campaign...except, maybe, after months of playing and being haunted by a nefarious foe and we finally get that epic last battle and want to savor all the little details of kicking his ass (or maybe having our ass handed to us).

  4. I have a ton of 4e books and this is a brilliant idea.
    I will adopt some of this for my 5e games.

  5. Good video for making understand what the game is actually about and how its different from its previous versions. I will give it a play let's see how it feels to me.