Why 4E D&D is geared towards combat
A few days ago, I posted that my group wasn’t having fun playing 4E. I stated that I thought 4E was really geared towards combat. Someone told me that they didn’t think this was true, so I laid down my reasons. I’ve posted these below.
Look at all the powers available to the players. All of them are specifically designed to make the PC better in combat. And 4E revolves around powers. Most powers either deal with how to hit a creature with a weapon or to use a blast, burst, or area effect of some sort. These effects all state how many squares are affected, necessitating minis and either Dungeon Tiles or grids of some sort.
The kobold is a D&D staple. Let’s compare the 3.5 kobold to the 4E kobold.
From the 3.5 Monster Manual
Kobolds are short, reptilian humanoids with cowardly and sadistic tendencies.
A kobold’s scaly skin ranges from dark rusty brown to a rusty black color. It has glowing red eyes. Its tail is nonprehensile. Kobolds wear ragged clothing, favoring red and orange.
Kobolds usually consume plants or animals but are not averse to eating intelligent beings. They spend most of their time fortifying the land around their lairs with traps and warning devices (such as spiked pits, tripwires attached to crossbows, and other mechanical contraptions).
Kobolds hate almost every other sort of humanoid or fey, especially gnomes and sprites.
A kobold is 2 to 2-1/2 feet tall and weighs 35 to 45 pounds.
Kobolds speak Draconic with a voice that sounds like that of a yapping dog.
Kobolds like to attack with overwhelming odds—at least two to one—or trickery; should the odds fall below this threshold, they usually flee. However, they attack gnomes on sight if their numbers are equal.
They begin a fight by slinging bullets, closing only when they can see that their foes have been weakened. Whenever they can, kobolds set up ambushes near trapped areas. They aim to drive enemies into the traps, where other kobolds wait to pour flaming oil over them, shoot them, or drop poisonous vermin onto them.
Kobolds live in dark places, usually underground locations and overgrown forests. They are good miners and often live in the mines they are developing. A kobold tribe sends out warbands that patrol within a 10-mile radius from the lair, attacking any intelligent creatures that enter their territory. Kobolds usually kill prisoners for food but occasionally sell some of them as slaves. Their nasty habits and their distrust of most other beings mean that they have many enemies.
A kobold lair has one noncombatant child and one egg per ten adults.
The patron deity of the kobolds is Kurtulmak, who despises all living creatures except kobolds.
From the 4E Monster Manual
Kobolds revere dragons and tend to dwell in and around places where dragons are known to lair. They skulk in the darkness, hiding from stronger foes and swarming to overwhelm weaker ones. Kobolds are cowardly and usually flee once bloodied unless a strong leader is present.
Kobolds like to set traps and ambushes. If they can’t get their enemies to walk into a trap, they try to sneak up as close as they can and then attack in a sudden rush.
Kobold Minion Tactics
Kobold minions are fierce in packs, but cowardly when separated. They can shift as a minor action each round to achieve flanking positions.
Kobold Skirmisher Tactics
Kobold skirmishers gang up on a single target to gain the benefit of mob attack, shifting as a minor action to gain combat advantage. They retreat when the fight turns against them, leading pursuers through passages and rooms riddled with traps, if possible.
Kobold Slinger Tactics
Kobold slingers avoid melee combat. They prefer to stay behind cover and bombard foes with special shot and sling stones.
Kobold Dragonshield Tactics
Kobold dragonshields are capable frontline combatants, keeping enemies away from their weaker kobold allies with their swords and shields. They like to gang up on single targets.
A kobold dragonshield gains resist 5 against a specific damage type based on the type of dragon it serves or reveres. For example, a kobold dragonshield working for a blue dragon has resist 5 lightning.
Kobold Wyrmpriest Tactics
A wyrmpriest keeps lots of kobold underlings between it and its enemies, using incite faith to embolden them. It prefers to make ranged attacks using energy orb, and enemies that get too close are blasted with dragon breath.
A wyrmpriest’s energy orb deals damage of a specific type based on the type of dragon the wyrmpriest serves or reveres. For example, a kobold wyrmpriest working for a black dragon deals acid damage with its energy orb power.
Kobold Slyblade Tactics
The kobold slyblade stays close to other kobolds, using sly dodge to turn them into living shields while it makes twin slash attacks against foes. Whenever possible, it shifts as a minor action, moves into a flanking position, and gains combat advantage.
A character knows the following information with a successful Nature check.
DC 15: Kobolds often dwell near a dragon’s lair, maintaining a safe distance but bringing sacrificial offerings to their “god.” Most dragons ignore kobolds, as a crocodile ignores the birds that pick its teeth clean. Once in a great while, however, a young dragon takes an interest in its kobold cult, which then becomes a real menace to the dragon’s enemies.
DC 20: Kobolds are skilled at making traps, which they use to capture prey and to acquire sacrifices for their dragon lords.
So in 3.5, you get a six paragraph description of the a kobold, a two paragraph description of how they act in combat, and three paragraphs about their society.
In 4E, you get two paragraphs to describe the kobold, eight paragraphs on tactics in combat, and two paragraphs on their society.
In other words, you get more fluff in 3.5 and more crunch in 4E. That’s what I see all throughout 4E.
The fighter is usually the simplest class to play. The fighter in 4E has three paragraphs of fluff describing the fighter, then crunch on the type of fighter you can be, some class features, and 10 pages of their powers.
For the 3.5 fighter, you get a description of the class, why they adventure, the characteristics of the fighter, the type of alignment fighters usually fall under, examples of religions fighters follow, backgrounds on the fighter, how certain races deal with being fighters, how other classes deal with fighters, and what role fighters play in the party. All that is spread over about a full page.
In 3.5, about 50% of the fighter entry deals with “crunch.” In 4E, about 99% of the fighter entry deals with “crunch.”
You don’t need a book to tell you how to roleplay, I know that. But the 4E Player’s Handbook has seemingly stripped out almost all of the fluff associated with creating characters and left in almost pure crunch. It is streamlined to help you figure out how to use the numbers associated with your character with almost nothing to give you ideas of how your character sees themselves in the world they’re in. So, unfortunately, I find that 4E plays more like a video-game than previous editions and, like most RPG video games, it all boils down to how the character does in combat.