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

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.

Kobold Lore
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

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. :(

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42 Responses to “Why 4E D&D is geared towards combat”

Professor Pope November 20th, 2008 at 1:36 PM

Nice analysis. I bought the 4ed PHB, which, while cool in many respects, led me to the conclusion that the edition was not for me. Some of that is because I am a fluff guy, not a crunch guy, but there were other reasons as well.

Professor Pope´s last blog post..Some Thoughts on Travel

Dave T. Game November 20th, 2008 at 2:42 PM

Yeah, I definitely wouldn’t quibble with the statement that 4e is geared towards combat, but combat is not the antithesis of roleplaying, either. Combat is one of 4e strength’s, but not necessarily related to its weakness.

Plus Pathfinder/3.5 aren’t much better… look at how many combat feats there are.

Ben Overmyer November 20th, 2008 at 4:00 PM

4E’s rules are geared towards combat, yes. However, a few comments:

1) That the entire game is based around units of “squares” does not require the usage of miniatures. Just multiply the number of squares by 5′, and that’s your REAL range.

2) Most RPG rules sets are geared heavily or exclusively towards combat. Noncombat activities are so many and diverse that it’s difficult to describe rules for every possible situation, so many authors forgo that entirely, as with 4E.

With that being said, I did miss the fluff when I opened up the 4E books … but the artwork made up for it, in my opinion.

Ben Overmyer´s last blog post..The Nature of Role-playing

Jonathan Drain | D20 Source November 20th, 2008 at 4:05 PM

Yup, 4E is geared toward combat. It won’t stop you from roleplaying at all, but the rules really do lean further toward combat. It’s what D&D has historically been best at, but it’s not what every player enjoys the most.

Donny_the_DM November 20th, 2008 at 4:10 PM

True dat, Dave.

I actually feel liberated by not having the fluff dictated to me for a change.

Only problem I have with it, is my players are having a hard time adjusting to the “freedom” of having a wide open role playing experience.

It’s amazing how much 3E led them (and me) around by the nose in terms of what was and wasn’t roleplaying. If not two gamers can agree 100% on that, why include it?

My question to our gracious host, is why does having such a heavily codified combat system BAD for rople-playing?

All of the RP skills are still present. In fact, I’d say they are better, as the average player has more skill points, and the freedom to flavor your character any way you want using them.

While YMMV, The lack of roleplaying is an illusion, you dont need the perform skill with X ranks to show the party you can sing, you just do. You dn’t need to waste valuable points on craft skills, you either can or cannot, depending on your backstory or character flavor.

I say the training wheels are off. I will, however, concede the point that it IS, in fact more difficult to play a game that is heavier on the RP aspects (with exceptions). Having never played a game that was heavier on RP than combat anyway, I can’t argue there, but then again, there are many other games that do RP much better than D&D.

Mike Lee - LFR Southeast USA Point of Contact November 20th, 2008 at 4:22 PM

4e books are mostly crunch. The edition leaves it up to the players to determine, say what alignment a fighter favors. You can come to the books with a concepts, and use the RP neutral building blocks to assemble a character.

For the DM, setting information is hook-like, where a town might have a few prominent locations and PCs statted out, and leave the rest of the description to one-two line entries for the DM to build out. This instead of throwing a great deal of information at the DM at once.

Skill challenges when written and run correctly are like a framework for players to hang non-combat (and sometimes combat) actions onto. It propels RP forward with purpose, and it’s not required. It’s a tool for when the appropriate situation arises, and it can be used in the background on the fly.

When you do get to combat the system is very tight. The growing list of powers can be combined to give your characters the right flavor.

It’s easy to open the books, see lots of powers, and assume 4e is all tactics. The reality is that 4e doesn’t try to control RP through the mechanics like 3.5 did.

4e is more closely aligned to 1e than any other edition. At it’s heart 4e is about combat, hopefully with context. The RP is there if you want it to be (like 1e), but it’s not assumed as it is with systems like world of darkness. And the strategy level is medium, so combat will be spotlighted instead of punctuating RP like some other systems.

jwrush November 20th, 2008 at 4:27 PM

You’re right, the game is very much about combat. But I would like to emphasis and echo some of the things hinted at in some of the other comments: the very fact that all the powers are defined as combat powers means that roleplaying encounters are wide open. Note that there really aren’t any rules given for the diplomacy skill: that can be very liberating for, say, an Exalted player or an nWOD player who has to roleplay within the constraints of a complicated social skills.

My advice: embrace the freedom. Treat the game more like Hero or BESM, and use it as a tool to tell a story. Roleplaying should follow and won’t be constrained by mechanics.

Micah November 20th, 2008 at 5:59 PM

I totally agree. The single-minded focus on combat for 4E really irritates me. It feels like a minis game or some CCG. Maybe it’s just wishful thinking, but 3/3.5 seemed less “gamey” but still fun.

Here’s a fun exercise: Try playing 4E sometime and having the players shout out their powers as they use them. It ends up sounding like a bad Dragonball Z episode. The constant use of named powers (as opposed to “I attack with my sword”) just rubs me the wrong way.

“Sly Strike!”
“Power Fist!”
“Blinding Fury!”

P.S. Nothing anyone says will un-curmudgeon me.

Micah´s last blog post..The Awakening

Zachary November 20th, 2008 at 6:00 PM

Solid analysis. I don’t think its a problem that D&D 4e is combat-oriented, but that if you don’t enjoy the combat system (which, admittedly, our groups doesn’t), it doesn’t give you much other incentive to run the system (outside of a good network of available players in many locations, I suppose). There are plenty of games out there that grant latitude outside of combat with a more open, less-codified attitude in combat.

But for clearly a good chunk of folks, 4e scratches their itch, and I think that’s awesome.

Zachary´s last blog post..Zack’s Guide To Being Smart With RPG PDFs

Wyatt November 20th, 2008 at 6:26 PM

I agree with Mike Lee, and I’ll leave it that, as I have garblewarbled enough on the subject by now.

Wyatt´s last blog post..Wyatt’s Epic Moments In Reviewing

Swordgleam November 20th, 2008 at 7:35 PM

I don’t disagree that the 4e rules are all about combat. I just don’t think that a 4e campaign has to be all about combat.

As the others have said, not having rules for RP-related stuff frees you to do it in any way you choose. If your players feel uncomfortable going through social situations without knowing exactly what roles to make, then yeah, your campaign is going to be mostly about combat. But it doesn’t have to be.

To me, even the little bit of fluff included in the core books is too much. Dwarves are dwarves and like rocks, elves are elves and like trees, but tieflings are one and all the descendants of the empire of Bael Turath, whose rulers made bargains with demons? Come on. I can think of a hundred better reasons for tieflings to be the way they are, and I don’t need the core books confusing my players if I have a different backstory in my campaign. But I know that I’m mostly alone in that respect.

Jeff Greiner November 20th, 2008 at 7:40 PM

I think there is no doubt that 4e is geared toward combat. D&D has ALWAYS been geared toward combat.

Some would say that 3e lost it’s way by focusing on other more simulationist game concepts. I think there is some value in those sorts of statements, but I don’t think that it makes the game bad in any way. Sometimes I want my character to be able to also shoe a horse, run a business, etc.

And while I find your analysis of the monster entries to be quite valid and legitimate, I find the example of the fighter quite invalid. You may very well be right in your conclusion, but your data doesn’t really support that for one big reasons.

It seems to me that the fighter entry in the 3.5 book wasn’t very large, whereas the the 4e fighter entry is huge by comparison. So to say that there is 44% more crunch to the fighter isn’t accurate.

I’d be more interested in knowing if they have the same number of pages/paragraphs of fluff in the 3e fighter and the 4e fighter.

And honestly, I feel like I get more value out of crunch for my classes anyway. Most of the fluff quickly becomes wasted space after you’ve read it once.

Anyway, I’m mixing my messages here, but such is…oh, shiny… 😉

Jeff Greiner´s last blog post..The Tome Ep 90: Pathfinder RPG Update

Wyatt November 20th, 2008 at 8:11 PM

@Swordgleam: We are kindred spirits! In a world adequate to me the 4th Edition PHB would’ve treated all the races/stuff even more generically than it did – leave the in-depth fluff stuff for the DMG, so he can guide his players the way he wants to for his world.

But beyond me, yeah, you’re probably alone. I’m also really bad company. I’m sorry. I can try cooking for us, but I’d probably burn it.

Wyatt´s last blog post..Fleurian Pact Warlock

der_kluge November 20th, 2008 at 11:28 PM

Jeff said: “D&D has ALWAYS been geared toward combat. ”

I don’t think that’s true at all. If you go back to the root of the game, it was all about being able to role-play. If it wasn’t about that, we’d still be playing miniatures-based wargaming. I mean, Gygax took wargaming and said “I want to know about this guy – what is his motivation?” and expanded on that. Oh sure, a lot of D&D is combat-oriented, but the core of the game is role-playing. You can still role-play in 4th edition, but now the core of the game is all about combat, combat, and more combat.

As soon as people could do so, they added in “fluff” things like skills, and traits, advantages/disadvantages, and all kinds of new spells. Think about how many ecology articles got published in Dragon over the years – people wanted more information on the ecologies of creatures. GM’s enjoyed fleshing out the details of their worlds, and things of that nature.

The 4th edition designers tossed out all the worthless “fluff” in favor of “COMBAT!” and “POWERS!” and streamlining the entire game around that area. They apparently forgot that some people like to make characters who tell stories, or sing, or want to be able to do non-combat oriented things every once in a while.

My biggest beef with 4th edition, though, I think, is the fact that I can no longer do things like cast feather fall on someone, and then gust of wind. They completely took the creativity out of the game now.

jonathan November 21st, 2008 at 9:41 AM

D&D roots are about killing things – taking there stuff – and building a stronghold for yourself. The decriptive, immersion style play was not the focus of D&D until later editions.

4E is about combat – IMHO its becuase the designer were trying to return to root of the game: kill shit, take their stuff, prosper.

Now, I’m an immersion, RP-centric type of D&D gamer. The combat is fun, but I enjoy the story development, character development, and campaign development aspects of D&D more than just rolling dice and imaginatively bashing heads. That being said – I use 4E and have left the behemoth of tangled mess that was 3.5 behind. Why? Because the _lack_ of emphasis on the rules governing how roleplaying and character development should occur is freedom. The rules focus on governing CRUNCH becuase that is what rules should do. The “fluff” (gods I hate that term) should be left up to your imagination as no one ruleset can govern every RP situation.

“From now on, when the circumstances aren’t covered somewhere in the books, wing it as best you can. As we’ve said time and time again, the ‘rules’ were never meant to be more than guidelines; not even true ‘rules.'” — Timoty Kask, 1976, Original D&D Men & Magic.


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reveal November 21st, 2008 at 9:42 AM

Another thing to consider is new players. I have seen many discussions on skill challenges being great for new players. Well, if they throw out a majority of the fluff, then new players think it’s all about crunch and that seriously limits their roleplaying experience.

@Jeff – About the fighter: The fighter entry in the 3.5 PHB is 3 pages long and almost half of it is fluff. While the 4E entry for fighter may be a lot longer, a) a majority of it is powers and b) there are, literally, three paragraphs of fluff.

reveal November 21st, 2008 at 9:52 AM

@jonathan – I agree to a point. Yes, 4E gets back to the more rules-lite aspects of OD&D and, to a degree, 1E. But regardless of the system, you still have to run your game within the parameters of the rules. And 4E expects you to be in a lot of combat. I’ve looked at a lot of adventures released by WotC through Dungeon and a few 4E adventures released by Goodman Games. In most of them, over half of the content talks about combats, how to set up the mini’s, etc.

4E even includes rules for more roleplaying aspects in skill challenges. So, while it may be more “rules-lite” it still does include rules for social interaction, which basically is “by the numbers.”

One way 4e D&D impedes roleplaying November 21st, 2008 at 11:20 AM

[…] a post over on RPGCentric called Why 4e D&D is geared toward combat reminded me of something I’ve been meaning to blog about for a while […]

Thasmodious November 22nd, 2008 at 12:12 AM

I see comments like these and I wonder when imagination died. If you can’t figure out how to roleplay without rules then you’re in the wrong hobby. Did none of you create characters with personality before the PHB2 came out, 7 years into the life of 3e, with its personality chapter?

The design goal was explicitly stated and clearly achieved – give rules for encounter resolution and then get out of the way. 4e accomplishes that. A lot of people who actually play the game find it to be a lot more freeing as you aren’t shackled by silly subsystems, spells with their own special rules that break other parts of the game, and a lot of fluff that misses, like a weak crafting system that hinders character development.

4e D&D is not combat centric. The rulebooks deal with the rules you need and then shuts the hell up so you can game.

kaeosdad November 22nd, 2008 at 12:59 AM

The hilarious thing about this argument is that there are others who say that the crunch gets in the way of their roleplaying. But I’m sure if the fluff to crunch ratio were reversed there would still be people crying about lack of combat options, and how they try to force the setting on you.

4e is really for a cinematic style of roleplaying where you play kickass heroes. Maybe it is because characters tend to kick so much ass in this new edition that player’s are tending to kick ass first and take names later. In short I think a lot of the problem is that the DM may need to just challenge the PCs with greater threats and dilemmas.

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reveal November 22nd, 2008 at 12:54 PM

@Thasmodius – Imagination hasn’t died, trust me. It thrives in this household. The problem we find with 4E is that, when combat happens, imagination is thrown out the window. It’s all down to numbers. And for those of us who don’t have time to prep as much as we would like, the adventures that are out there are all based upon the rules of the books, which is almost all about combat. Look at the new adventures in Dungeon. Almost all of them are at least half combat, if not more.

@kaeosdad- It’s hard to be cinematic when every combat is basically the same. All the powers work exactly the same in each combat. There’s no way to be imaginative, really. At least in earlier editions of D&D, you didn’t have your combat options so explicitly spelled out for you, allowing you to use more of your imagination in combat.

Jeff Greiner November 22nd, 2008 at 1:20 PM

@reveal – You may be right about the published adventures out there. But in fairness, the rules have only been out a matter of months. So it\’s pretty harsh to judge a system based on the adventures that come out in the first few months.

As for making combat cinematic, I have to disagree with you on almost every point. 4e combats, in fact, encourage extremely imaginative tactics, skill usage, and power implementation. The thinking of how to set up a combat in 4e requires a different frame of mind from the DM, however, which I think is where this assessment comes from (and you\’re not alone in this).

If the DM makes each encounter interesting and dynamic then that opens up a ton of options for what the PCs can do and how they can do it.

If the DM makes the environment different and interesting in each combat, plus the powers that the PCs bring to the fight are different, plus the monsters are different and react differently, plus there might be something else nearby that reacts in a different way…with all these variables and some creative set up work by the DM it seems nearly impossible for things to happen exactly the same in ANY combat, let alone every combat.

While that power that pushes the enemy might be cool in combat A because it pushes the baddie into the acid pit, in combat B it might be used to keep them away from the magical gem for one more round, and in combat C it\’s simply used to keep them away from the wizard so he can cast his area/ranged spells safely.

I would say if anything 4e REQUIRES more imaginative combats and if you don\’t put that level of creativity into the process then you end up with the \”exactly the same in each combat\” problem.

Although in the end, I\’m still not sure how being reduced to two or three powers that works the same in every combat is less imaginative than the hit-it-with-my-sword-again one power option that previous editions provided for every non-spellcasting class.

Jeff Greiner´s last blog post..The Tome Ep 90: Pathfinder RPG Update

reveal November 22nd, 2008 at 2:22 PM

@Jeff – I don’t think it’s unfair to judge the adventures that have been put out by the same company that makes the rules. More than anyone, they know exactly how the rules are meant to be put into action.

As for combat, I understand combats can be made cinematic, but not all of our combats have been in the exact same terrain with the exact same enemies. Some have been in caverns, some on stairs with 100′ foot falls against enemies with weapons that can push you over the edge, some have been out in the open in forested environments. It really doesn’t seem to matter.

One thing, perhaps, is that the enemies seem to stick around longer, thereby lengthening the combats. Maybe cutting the HP in half will help.

reveal November 22nd, 2008 at 2:32 PM

@All – I just want to say thanks for commenting and I want everyone to know that this is NOT an attempt to start an edition war. These are simply my observations of 4E after playing it for a while. :)

Swordgleam November 22nd, 2008 at 3:55 PM

@Reveal: Hey, at least you’ve played it! Most of the griping I hear about 4e is from people who’ve never given it a chance.

I’m lucky that my group is more open-minded than most. My current 4e campaign is trying to out-gritty the Iron Heroes game, and with help from my players (one of whom is the IH DM), it’s succeeding.

kaeosdad November 23rd, 2008 at 2:29 AM

I have to agree with jeff. The new editions powers and mechanics requires more imagination then the previous editions generic basic attack. Improvised action rules are still there, and as far as I know there are no rules that says a power must be described exactly as written.

I don’t mean this to come off as a flame. It’s just that the argument that there is no way to be imaginative using powers really doesn’t make sense to me.

D&D started out as a wargame. From the beginning it was always geared towards combat. The mechanics, in my opinion really should favor combat and balance especially in a game where if everyone is having fun, then everyone wins. Role playing is what you make of it. I mean, it’s all just fluff.

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kaeosdad November 23rd, 2008 at 2:44 AM

I don’t mean to start up anything or cause disrespect towards your opinion so I’ll just leave it at that and won’t badger or try to convince you otherwise.

Although I’ll admit, having more fluff content is always a plus. I’ve been digging some of the setting neutral stuff that has been coming out as a result of the 4e GSL.

kaeosdad´s last blog post..kaeosdad favorited Autumn Frontiers

kaeosdad November 23rd, 2008 at 2:46 AM

er… systems neutral that is.

kaeosdad´s last blog post..kaeosdad favorited Autumn Frontiers

reveal November 23rd, 2008 at 12:30 PM

@kaeosdad – I’ve seen flames. Your comments are not flames. 😉

I appreciate the comments. Of course, everything I type is opinion and everyone is going to see it a different way. I really do like reading different points of view.

Zachary November 23rd, 2008 at 12:36 PM

Linked to this on my blog today, Reveal. I agree with you–its refreshing to hear the points of view without it getting all flamey. Its something that hasn’t been happening with regularity on a lot of message boards, and I’m happy to see blogs try to kick the trend.

Zachary´s last blog post..Roaring 20s Cthulhu: The Silver Screen

oldNewTimer December 2nd, 2008 at 7:31 PM

I’m really confused by this whole conversation… What exactly is the fluff? I don’t see how the combat rules govern role playing in any way shape or form. I mean, isn’t it the DMs job to come up with dynamic campaigns that mix both combat and non-combat encounters?

reveal December 2nd, 2008 at 9:07 PM

@oldNewTimer – It is the DMs job but when combat’s themselves get so bogged down that they remove all the fun from the game, it’s not worth it. At least, that’s how we felt.

Drew December 3rd, 2008 at 9:28 AM

Very simply, the rules show a strong combat focus. This is understandable.

Why do we buy products? We are creative souls by nature. We could make up some rules. We could create worlds. But when it comes to combat, a balanced system is difficult.

We buy products to give us a uniform rulescape for the aspects of the game that most needs a unified, tested, well-designed and agreed upon rulescape.

Combat is the easiest place to screw up balance and make House Rules or broken changes that steal the thunder of other players. So combat is what most needs a third-party guiding hand.. the rules.

Thus it is perfectly logical that 4e focuses on combat rulewise, since that is where balance is needed. The rest of the game, the DM is capable of.

Andrew December 7th, 2008 at 3:13 AM

I got started with AD&D2e, and there weren’t many options for the fighter back then. The most I had to look forward to was getting to pay for a place for other dudes who were like my dude but suckier to come hang out, eat my dude’s food, use my dude’s stuff, and maybe do what my dude said. It stunted my imagination. I read the rules, and there was nothing guaranteed to me as a fighter but getting that chance to build it and have them come.

Everything else was optional that I couldn’t count on. Even weapon specialization, the one bone fighters got over classes, was an optional one.

3.x helped with all of the feats. The fluff? Didn’t help me at all. None of what they said about fighters was guaranteed to be true from one campaign to the next, and none of it was guaranteed to be true about my fighter. The fluff that was useful to me was fluff that applied equally to every character, without regard to race and class.

And, well, as someone who’s played White Wolf games, I’m telling you that it’s not cool to have Social Combat when Social Combat is just the normal combat, but clunkier, with the serial numbers filed off, and your ability to win hobbled by the amount of “damage” you can do arbitrarily limited. It’s not cool to have your Morality put on a 1 to 10 scale, and be forced to let a die roll determine whether you become an objectively more immoral person when you shoot a Yellow Bastard before he can have his way with an eight year old girl. It’s not cool to have put a number into one of four stats because character creation compels you to do so, and then be constrained by rules that force you to roll some more dice for the privilege of having your character act as you want him/her to based on which stat you chose under circumstances that will come up because the system is designed to turn control of your character over to the ST unless the ST deliberately decides to omit those rules. It’s not cool to have Super-Charisma and make it so that anyone with it can tell someone to kill themselves and have it happen if the victim doesn’t have equal or greater Super-Charisma. It’s not cool to be told by the book that I’m scum of the earth for wanting to disarm my opponent so that I *GASP* have an advantage over him/her in combat and that if I try it the ST is honour-bound to disallow disarming FOREVER.

I’ll take my “video games” anyday.

Shaun January 24th, 2009 at 2:28 PM

I thought it was a conscious decision to focus on the crunch and leave the fluff to the GM when they set out to create 4th edition. While i agree that giving GM a head-start with a good fluff (like a forgotten realm lore book in addition to the 3 core), i don’t think 4e necessarily constraints gameplay to be combat centric. Ultimately GM still has the power to go whichever way.

Rodent February 18th, 2009 at 10:44 AM

Two thoughts:

First, when I need to get the fluff for my fighters, kobolds, et al, I can still grab my 3.0/3.5 books (or earlier). 4.0 doesn’t make that ink fade.

Second, This doesn’t work when they make a new monster or change an old one. That makes me sad. Perhaps they plan on putting all of the fluff behind the Insider Subscription wall?

reveal February 18th, 2009 at 1:35 PM

@Rodent – Thanks for commenting! I know you can still grab the older books but for those new the game, or for those getting back into it because of 4E, they may not have those references.

As for fluff, the monsters are in the Compendium but it’s no more than what’s in the books.

GiacomoArt March 5th, 2009 at 1:42 PM

@Wyatt & Swordgleam: I couldn\’t agree more about minimizing fluff in the PHB. Every campaign I run has it\’s own set of assumptions, and any attempts to codify fluff for me in the core rules is a waste of ink and paper IMO.

@der_kluge: It was Dave Arneson, not Gary Gygax, who first said, \”Let\’s make this about the individual heroes.\” Gygax was just the one who had some savvy at marketing. I was there at the roots of the role-playing movement over 30 years ago — already playing when the first D&D hardcover book was published — and I will give Gygax props for accomplishing many important things, but he was no bastion of narrative and characterization. He was a simulationist, obsessed with microscopic, nitty-gritty detail and his own concepts of \”realism\” — if you needed someone to tell one pole-arm from another, he was your man — but for as long as he was associated with D&D, he viewed the PCs as disposable playing pieces (can we say, \”cloak of poisonousness\”, boys and girls?), not the leading characters in a story. Like most of my friends from that \”golden era\” of role-playing gone by, I all but stopped playing D&D after high school in favor of the many other games coming out that were so much more conducive to telling solid, believable, nuanced stories. So, sorry to speak ill of the dead, but this popular image of Gary Gygax as the patron saint of role-play (as opposed to roll-play) is just the result of out-of-control nostalgia and Gygax\’s own PR.

Nalathani March 31st, 2009 at 9:24 PM

I had a lot of doubts about 4e after reading the PHB, also thinking it was far too combat oriented. However, I think this edition really seperates the good dms from the bad dms. If a DM decides to just throw encounter after encounter at the party, then of course the game will revolve around combat. But there is no reason it HAS to be that way. Give me 10 sheets of paper, a pencil, and some dice, and I can throw a game together with some friends without any books at all. Any good game master can. These rules and books are simply a way to have a common ground that all players are familiar with. Once that has been established, it is up to the DM to make it work. 4e can definetely work with a creative DM.

Svafa January 15th, 2010 at 1:45 PM

I know it’s old, but yeah…

Our group actually grabbed a few of the WotC adventures to try out the 4E system, partly so that we could learn the system and partly because the DM (me) is a lazy bastard. In our first two sessions (totaling about 9 hours) we managed two combat encounters which lasted about an hour each. The other 6-7 hours were spent in the premade town provided by the setting. So, I find the claims about 4E (and the published campaigns) being light on RP and fluff intriguing, because it’s the opposite of what we ran into.

Additionally, I would call the remarks concerning the fighter entry into question. I would argue that the 4E PHB has more fluff than the 3.x PHB. Yes, there’s less up front, but every skill and ability entry comes packaged with fluff describing the fighter’s prowess and specialization. And considering how many pages of abilities are dedicated to the fighter, that’s a lot of fluff.

It’s a different sort, yes. It is geared more toward combat, yes. It’s still fluff though. And personally I’ve found it has had an interesting effect on our group. In the 3.x system our players tended to approach combat in a very statistical and monotone manner. It was very much the “I swing my axe at the Goblin” tendency. With the fluff provided for every ability the approach has changed to be much more colourful. Now you hear things like “I swing my axe in, attempting to create an opening for ___” or “I take careful aim ensuring that I hit” or similar. The fluff that 4E provides has added roleplay to our combat encounters.

Dwarf Fighter July 5th, 2010 at 4:48 AM

My beef with 4E is actually the combat/crunch. In 3.5 as a dwarf fighter, I could aspire to a unique prestige class as early as 8th level; other prestige classes could be achieved by other classes at even lower levels. In 4E, one cannot gain a ‘paragon path’ until 10th level, at which point they MUST take a paragon path; in 3.5 a fighter could continue on into epic-ness without cross classing – another thing 4E makes difficult. Wanted to play that Eldritch Knight: wielding sword and magic with equal skill? Tough. Wanted to battle planeshifting arch-dracolich’s in an interplanar campaign? Tough, at level 30 the game must end for you – and if you did meet such a monstrosity, it would be much weaker and less satisfying to defeat. Furthermore, the flexibility of classes was much greater; a fighter could be a dextrous swashbuckler, or an armored battletank, or an archer, or a knight errant, or a horse archer, or an axe thrower, or a couple dozen other things. 4E – 2 kinds of fighters, 2/3 paragon paths, and 4 epic tiers that every other class gets anyway. Gone are the tough decisions such as whether to master the compass of arcane knowledge or become a fountain of focused arcane power. And then, a figher’s ability to attack (or defend) – the two things that define the class – never increase except by magic or equipment, which is even more limited (every weapon is basically the same). Things in 3.5 that required achievements (i.e. cleave) are optionally automatic, and less impressive. One other thing; while many here speak to the merits of free roleplaying, the down side is easy god-moding in non-combat areas (oh, I make a +5 Magic Weapon – because I can), but there is also the issue that in 3.5 one always had the ability to describe their combat maneuvers: “I attempted a flourishing roundhouse crane kick, but failed because it was too advanced”, or “I thrusted to the opening in the guard’s plate armor as he used his shield to block an incoming arrow and sliced into his shoulder”, or “I put an arrow straight through his adam’s apple”. The new powers do for combat what the fluff in 3.5 did for character creation; but because 4E is combat centered, it’s not flexible enough to be changed without serious effort whereas 3.5 could be modified with new feats or spells or even whole classes quite easily.

Dwarf Fighter July 5th, 2010 at 4:57 AM

Okay, one other thing; a creative player could do things in 3.5 that, while unconventional were quite awesome – like transmuting themselves into a half dragon w/ Truestrike & summon full plate armor already in place and grant themselves proficiencey – albeit for a round or two, perhaps once per day. Alternatively a ‘tank’ might develop an impressively quick wit and social grace, thus making life in civilization easier and more rewarding, while still being the ‘tough guy’.

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