Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Edition Differences

This is a continuation of my last post, but it originated as a comment on my friend Carter's excellent blog, responding to this post.  It is therefor written in the second person, addressed at Carter, and references some past experiences we shared (namely Carter's brief foray as a player into the jungles of 4e).

So...   @Carter:

I really feel like your frustration as a player in the one or two 4e games you played in was due to two factors:

One: The DM had no previous experience in any edition and literally started combats before giving us any options;

Two: The other players in the group liked spending time mastering the system outside of the actual session time (and had done so).

You totally failed to notice the true point of  what I was saying:  the commonalities between editions occur DURING play, and the extra work requested of players in 3e and 4e occurs OUTSIDE of play.

You did not, as a 4e player, invest the required amount of time outside of the session to understand how the game and combat worked.  When it came time to play the game and especially to fight, you did not know what you were doing, people kept telling you you were doing it wrong, kept overriding what you said you wanted to do to tell you what you SHOULD be doing, and generally made you feel like the game sucked big donkey balls.

Had you played with group of like-minded players who also spent no time outside of the session understanding the game, you would have had a much better experience - you guys could have all quite happily ignored your powers and the (actually quite simple) intricacies of what you can do on the battle field, and you could have charged in with your dwarf and hit things with your battle axe in EXACTLY the same manner that a Labyrinth Lord combat proceeds.

4e supports that; it just also supports much more.

When I say that the commonalities occur during play, that presumes that any requirements made on a player outside of play have been met.

This is a big point, and a big if, but IF you spend the time required to actually understand all of your character's abilities and how they work in combat, 4e combat feels very similar to any other edition.  I really feel that the modern editions are just geared towards a player who wants to engage outside of the session, and previous editions provided more or less no rules for this.  To me, that is the single biggest difference, and the root of all the moaning and bitching about how different 4e is. It requires a different commitment of time and energy from the player before play begins, old school players are not used to that, they do not spend the required time and energy, and therefor, they NEVER ACTUALLY PLAY 4e OR PATHFINDER (or whatever modern iteration we are talking about).

If you don't know the rules of the game, and you don't care, then you aren't playing the game.

I would respectfully venture that you have about as much basis to make an intelligent critique of 4e combat as a monolingual English speaker has of critiquing the Upanashads in their Sanskrit incarnation.

You have no idea what was happening, and you didn't like it.  That has nothing to do with how the combat engine worked, and everything to do with your willingness as a player to engage in complicated rules.

Again, I am certainly not trying to minimize differences between the edition; outside of play, there are HUGE differences!  LL character creation takes all of five minutes and I could easily spend HOURS building a 4e character!

I am just saying that in play, assuming the players and DM are all aboard with the system (which the system assumes as well), I have observed little to no differences in how the games run.  Combat takes place the exact same way in your Labyrinth Lord game as it does in my Mutant Future game as it does in my 4e game as it has done in every D&D game since the first campaign;
Initiative is rolled; players and enemy combatants go in order and say what they are doing, and roll a single d20 to determine its success.

That is it.  Period.  Just because a 4e player has many more options to choose from before picking one and rolling the d20, does not mean that the basic mechanic is different, nor does it impact the flow of combat AT ALL.  As long as the players are familiar with the abilities of the characters in 4e, combat is just as quick flowing as Labyrinth Lord.

You would just have no idea, because you never got to see a 4e game in action where the DM and players were all on board together.  Nor would you want to, because as a player, you don't want to think about rules at all, and you actively rebel against a system that asks you to.

Now... on to the second main point of my little mini-rant, which was that the final product of Labyrinth Lord (or any other old school edition of choice) + houserules is much closer to the modern iterations of D&D than most would care to admit.  That is because most houserules are aimed at exactly the same kind of player that all the extra rules in 3e and 4e are aimed at.  Many players chafe under the perceived restrictions placed on them by a simple game like LL.  At this point, you and some of your players have put considerable time and energy in your Labyrinth Lord game into making more complicated character classes, more options for players in character creation, and more options in the game in general outside of combat.  Most long running old school campaigns that I am familiar with grow and morph over time, adding in rules and interpretations, player options, etc., precisely to satisfy the same natural desires of certain kinds of players that led to 3e and 4e taking the shape they do today.

[EDIT - I first posted the following as a comment on my own post.  I think it is important enough in the terms of the larger debate that it should be included in the actual post - Carl]

Oh, and the healing surge point is utter horseshite, pure and simple. A classic straw man. All the 4e healing surge has done is acknowledge the de facto way the game has always worked. What, exactly, is the difference between a character using healing surges to heal themselves outside of combat in 4e vs. a Labyrinth Lord character drinking a healing potion? In fact, the healing surge mechanic actually serves to LIMIT the kind of totally absurd combat that can occur in earlier editions when characters are loaded to the gills with potions. Each character has a limited number of surges, and when they are gone, the character cannot be healed in combat. Each character can use one surge themselves in combat, by forfeiting their attack that round: this cures 1/4 of their total HP. Other than that, healing surges are activated by other characters with healing magic: an individual character's number of surges, then, is a cap on the total number of times they can be healed in combat. A cap that earlier editions did not have; it is ironic, then, that the healing surge is always held out as the ultimate example of what is wrong with 4e, the ultimate gamist rule.

It is less gamist and absurd than totally unlimited clerical and potion healing!


  1. I recently ended a Pathfinder game in part because several of the players were unable or unwilling to learn the rules that would allow them to play successfully. I had a Rogue that complained he was ineffective in combat, but he never remembered the rules that triggered his Sneak Attack dice.

    I've also played Savage Worlds Deadlands games were players refused to understand that standing and shooting was not smart, but getting behind cover was.

    Every game requires some degree of learning. Pathfinder and D&D 4E require more than Labyrinth Lord, but that doesn't make them inferior games. Just more complicated.

  2. Penance for breaking JOESKY'S RULE:
    2 Black Pearls (matched set): Black Pearls can accept an energy input (electrical, magical, heat, kinetic, etc.) and output invisible broadcast power that can be used to power devices at distance of up to 10d10 feet (roll once per set of Black Pearls found). Magical devices powered in this manner must be linked to the black pearls during item creation. For example, a Wand of Fireballs linked to the Black Pearls could be set in position above the doorway; at the proper time, providing an energy input to the black pearls in another location would cause the Wand of Fireballs to discharge. Powering a charged item in this manner does not use a charge; the energy is supplied by the user when the black pearls are activated.

  3. Black Pearls - second property:

    Moving the two black pearls apart from each other through space creates a magical energy circuit. The greater the distance between the black pearls, the stronger the circuit and the greater the attraction between the two pearls. Releasing the two pearls causes them to accelerate towards each other, ultimately releasing the stored energy from the circuit in the form of a tremendous explosion. Each 10' of physical space between the pearls at the moment of release = 1d12 damage. 1 strength point is needed to maintain a hold of the pearl for each 10' apart (e.g. a person of Strength 18 could pull a pearl up to 180' apart from its mate, provided the mate was anchored down with the equivalent of Strength 18 as well).

  4. Blast Radius of the explosion for the second property is 5' per 10' separating the pearls at release.

  5. If one has to make so many points about how to do something that is supposedly so simple, it likely isn't half as simple as it sounds to those explaining.


    You may like 4e to no end, but that doesn't mean that it is simple. You just wrapped your head around it and it works for you.

    Also, if I may: 'One catches more flies with honey than with vinegar.' -- or so I have been told.

    Best to you,

  6. I agree with what you've said here, and would agree with and emphasize that there is indeed a much greater out-of-game investment in order to properly "buy in" (in the form of rules mastery) to 3.0 or 3.5 or 4e play. But I still respectfully maintain that there is ALSO a difference in how those different rules systems feel at the table, at least for me (though clearly not for you).

    When I invoked healing surges, I was referring to "concepts that simply don't exist in Labyrinth Lord and possibly aren't to my taste," I was NOT claiming that they are especially gamist or absurd or that there is anything inherently wrong with them. Simply that the presence of that concept makes 4e combat "different" from Labyrinth Lord combat. For example, you will not hear me or the players say "attack of opportunity" or "feat" in our Labyrinth Lord games, because the concepts do not exist. That is a difference. Not better or worse, but a difference.

  7. @ Timeshadows - you missed my point so completely that it would be easy to dismiss your comment as garden variety internet trolling; knowing you as an intelligent reader and thoughtful commenter from past interactions in the blogosphere, I suppose I should give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that your general distaste for the topic of discussion colored your reading (if you did indeed read it) of my post.

    To put it simply: I did not say, nor have I ever said, nor will I ever say, that 4e is simple.

    I am trying to point out that 4e requires an awful lot of a player before she plays her first session of 4e. Possibly less than 3e, but orders of magnitude more than every previous edition. I'm not saying thats a good thing; in fact, if you read my previous day's post, you would see that I give an explicit warning to new school gamers that there is nothing awesome about rules that FORCE a player to invest time and energy outside of session. Optional rules that allow that are fine; were I to have been in charge of 4e, I would have had an optional char gen as simple as oe/1e, with four classes, skills taken out of the players hands and replaced by a simple chart based on class and level to show what the current modifier to a skill is, no powers, but static modifiers to attack and damage that would mean a simple player could have the same average damage output and efficacy in combat as a similar complicated char gen build.

    When I read old school bloggers talk about their experiences with 4e, each one is nearly identical to this following format:

    So I gave 4e a try because of (fill in your random circumstance here).

    Character creation was complicated and I was frustrated.

    Play felt like one long string of combat encounters and combat stretched on forever because there were constant interruptions to explain or reference the rules.

    And to a one, they then feel like they have experienced what 4e is and proceed to talk about how much it sucks compared to their old school edition of choice, because in Labyrinth Lord combat flows quickly, or in Mutant Future char gen is random and takes minutes.

    Guess what? As a 4e DM I have opened the rulebooks exactly once in almost a year of sessions, to look up the rules for falling damage over a hundred feet. I have had exactly zero rules arguments and combat flows fast, freely and deadly.

    I play in Carter's Labyrinth Lord game; one of our players has failed to make even the simple time commitment required (which can be done by most people during the first session, the rules are so simple) to understand the Labyrinth Lord system. Play stops constantly to refer to the rulebooks; hardly a single round of combat passes without having to explain the rules; things as simple as what a d20 is have to be explained EVERY SESSION; rules arguments happen constantly even between experienced players and the DM; and in general, play both in and out of combat is herky jerky, filled with references to rules that do not actually provide comprehensive coverage of the kinds of questions the DM is referring to them for, and constantly stopping to explain the rules.

    My main point to Carter would be that he is basing his entire argument on his blog post (to which my original post was a response) on assumptions as to how 4e runs in play. He has not ever played 4e. He might counter that he did indeed sit in on one or two sessions as a player; he is the perfect example of what I am talking about. I know for a fact that he made absolutely no attempt to learn the rules or play the game, so he has not played the game. Simple as that. A person who randomly moves chess pieces around a board is not playing chess; to play a game, you have to have at least a basic enough understanding of the rules to PLAY THE GAME!

  8. One final note; again, nothing personal here Carter; I don't think anything less of you as person or a gamer because you didn't want to play 4e; I just think that if you were to truly acknowledge were 4e lost you, it would be before you even sat down at the table to actually play. The very concept and vocabulary of daily, encounter and at will powers, healing surges, defenses, etc., turned you off. The idea that you had to spend time with a computer program to make your character pissed you off. The game itself, with Travis as a DM spoon feeding us combat, and you completely not understanding how combat worked in 4e made you disengage.

    4e is obviously not the game for you.

    I just question your ability to make any kind of meaningful argument that includes assumptions of how 4e runs in play when I know they straw constructs in your mind, and even more interestingly to me, most of those negative constructs you associate with 4e have been in my own subjective experience, much more evident in the supposedly rules-simple Labyrinth Lord game you run than they have been in my 4e game.

  9. I am withdrawing from this blog while still following your Mutagenic Substances, Carl.
    --I have done so not because of your chastening me, but because I am unconcerned with 4e, and I clearly should have stayed out of your publicly-aired personal discussion.

    Please forgive me that error.

    See you in mutant land. :)

  10. No worries Timeshadows - sorry if you feel like I "chastised" you. You clearly hadn't made a good faith effort to try to understand my point before you commented, and I am not sure why you commented at all given that you claim to be "unconcerned" with 4e, but I welcome any future comments on either of my blogs. As I said, I have always known you to be a an intelligent reader and insightful commenter in the past, and this certainly hasn't changed that!

  11. Different games for different people. 4E sounds like it's a good fit for you and your mates.

    As a casual gamer, with significant demands on my time, I like to spend my time playing, rather than mastering the system.

    Enjoy your blog. Good gaming to you!

  12. Thanks Paladin. The reason you give above is an excellent reason to play an old school rules lite game rather than 4e! I think it is a very honest assessment of why 4e doesn't work for you, without having to make any claims about 4e being combat-centric, etc.

    And I enjoy your blog as well.

    Incidentally, as a player, I actually fall into the same camp as you- I much prefer quick and/or random character generation and few rules. I just happen to DM for a group of players with drastically opposite preferences, and 4e works great for them!

    Interestingly (to me anyway), there is a marked difference in complexity in the 4e game between the player's side of the screen and the DM's. 4e is actually a relatively simple game to DM, with not that many more rules (if any more at all) to remember than Labyrinth Lord, say.

    The complexity comes in on the character sheets, in the form of all those dang powers!


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