For Our Consideration

Pathfinder RPG

A Monster Of Their Own Making

Wizards Of The Coast tried for mass appeal when it released the fourth edition of Dungeons & Dragons. What the publisher got instead was a powerful new rival.

By Samantha Nelson • September 24, 2013

In 2007, the crowd in an Indiana Convention Center auditorium went wild as representatives from Wizards Of The Coast announced that the tabletop-game publisher would be releasing the fourth edition of Dungeons & Dragons. Primed by staffers tossing out swag, attendees of the annual Gen Con gaming convention cheered as designers promised improvements that would balance character classes and make it easier to design opponents. Wizards also previewed a system that would bring the original role-playing game into the digital era by letting you create and track your characters, monsters, and dungeons using a computer program instead of a pencil and paper.

When the initial high gave way to reality, though, the game didn’t live up to the buzz. Wizards was hoping to expand Dungeons & Dragons’ player base by stripping away a lot of the complexity of creating and playing characters, but the rules overhaul meant that the game wasn’t compatible with any D&D books that had come before it. Rather than sorcerers casting spells while fighters made an increasing number of attacks with their weapons, the game gave each class a series of powers similar to what you might find in a video game. While they did produce an excellent online system for making monsters and characters, the mapmaker that was previewed at Gen Con never materialized. Wizards later released an even further stripped-down D&D Essentials line, which didn’t help the growing sentiment that Wizards had lost touch with its base.

Six years later, D&D’s space at Gen Con was relegated to a small section in a hall mostly used for collectible card game tournaments and people playing board games late into the night. Convention attendees came by to take pictures with a giant statue of the spider goddess Lolth, browse the sparse collection of apparel and miniatures, and playtest D&D Next, the replacement for 4th Edition that has been in development since January 2012.

Sensing that there were many players who wanted to build on the existing ruleset of Dungeons & Dragons version 3.5 rather than abandoning it, the makers of Pathfinder adopted the puckish slogan “3.5 Thrives!”

Sensing that there were many players who wanted to build on the existing ruleset of Dungeons & Dragons version 3.5 rather than abandoning it, the makers of Pathfinder adopted the puckish slogan “3.5 Thrives!”

If you wanted to know the reason for D&D’s reduced presence, you could look to the convention’s list of sponsors, which included both Wizards Of The Coast and a new addition, Paizo Publishing. Paizo got its start in the early 2000s publishing supplemental content for D&D through a license from Wizards. That license ended the year 4th Edition was announced. Paizo moved on by creating Pathfinder, a game that essentially updated the ruleset of Dungeons & Dragons version 3.5. Paizo was banking on the hunch that there were plenty of players who would rather carry on the existing D&D legacy than start over with the incompatible 4th Edition. With the tagline “3.5 Thrives,” the new game system debuted in 2009. While Paizo couldn’t use the gods, characters, or monsters that Wizards Of The Coast had trademarked, the upstart publisher could use its backward-compatible ruleset to reach D&D players disenchanted with 4th Edition.

Paizo’s hunch turned out to be right. In 2011, the consulting firm ICV2 reported that Pathfinder’s sales eclipsed those of Dungeons & Dragons. Pathfinder has remained the tabletop RPG sales leader since then. This year, Paizo had a prime space in Gen Con’s vendor hall, and the booth’s lines were so long that employees had to carry signs to show people where the lines ended. A huge room was devoted to Pathfinder games, and the company used the event to announce a massive slate of new products in development.

Wizards realizes that it made a huge mistake with 4th Edition, so like many declining empires, Wizards has taken to reliving its glory days. While publication of new 4th Edition material has all but halted, Wizards has been bringing back classic 1st and 2nd Edition adventures, and it has released fancy collections of existing content, like a book with Dungeons & Dragons’ most popular magic items. A bundled version of the D&D-inspired video game Baldur’s Gate II is due out in November.

Dungeons & Dragons Next

Wizards Of The Coast is attempting to entice players to return—and bolster a weakened D&D community—with public playtesting sessions for the next edition of Dungeons & Dragons.

Wizards Of The Coast made the mistake of thinking it was so far at the top of its industry that it couldn’t be seriously challenged. The company thought it could count on loyal fans of D&D version 3.5 to shelve all their old, well-loved books and buy whatever Wizards put out next. When you assume you have a captive market, it can prove very costly if you turn out to be wrong.

Netflix displayed the same hubris in 2011 when it raised the rate of its DVD rental plans and started charging a separate fee for its streaming service. People cancelled their subscriptions in droves, looking to competitors like Amazon that were starting to make inroads into the market. But Netflix managed to recover from its self-inflicted wound by changing the game—the company focused on its streaming service, most notably by developing a slate of Netflix-exclusive TV shows. The service might cost more, but it has become the only place to see some great shows. That lured back subscribers and even pulled in new ones.

Netflix made its comeback by changing the market, and Wizards could do the same thing. The publisher is cautiously looking to the future by bringing in players to test the next edition of D&D. But the real game-changer would be for Wizards to increase its digital presence, letting you design dungeons and characters not just with a pen and paper or even a laptop but with your smartphone and tablet. And on a more practical level, a concerted digital push would make D&D’s rules more easily accessible for players who don’t want to lug around heavy books.

Unfortunately, Wizards is also trailing Paizo on the technology front. While the makers of D&D have promised to release more of their books in a digital format, buyers of Paizo books can have a PDF emailed to them on the spot when they purchase from Paizo’s website.

Paizo had to face a different problem in its rise to prominence: the network effect. Both D&D and Pathfinder have worked hard to create communities around their game, and like any social network, the more people there are in the group, the more powerful it becomes. It’s why Google+ has struggled to gain ground against Facebook. If everyone you know is already on Facebook, it’s a hard sell to get them to join another service, even if it might be “better.”

But Wizards knowingly threw away its network-effect advantage by asking D&D’s community to try a new game. Suddenly, the new edition of Dungeons & Dragons suffered from the same disadvantage of any other game: It wasn’t compatible with the reams of existing Dungeons & Dragons books. Paizo not only exploited this misstep, it also worked to form a robust community of its own by organizing games and maintaining highly active forums online. Now the tables have turned: The more the Pathfinder network grows, the harder it will be for D&D to reclaim players.

Paizo is also working to ensure that another upstart can’t come along and knock Paizo off its perch just like Paizo did to Wizards Of The Coast. The Pathfinder publisher makes it easy for third party publishers to work with them and build on their framework, rather than encouraging game makers to strike out on their own. This in turn produces benefits for players who want more content to complement the newest Pathfinder book. Paizo is trying to increase their appeal not by simplifying the rules but by adding more ways to play, mixing traditional sword-and-sorcery fare with sci-fi fantasy and Lovecraftian horror. D&D has created many powerful monsters over the years, but Pathfinder may be the first one that can’t be defeated.

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315 Responses to “A Monster Of Their Own Making”

  1. Brainstrain says:

    I’ve been listening to the Wizards podcast of Penny Arcade and Patrick Rothfuss playing D&D and it is just massively entertaining. Despite growing up on games and such, I’ve had precisely zero exposure to D&D. Most of my gaming friends are in the same boat: most of us are vaguely interested, but we don’t know anyone who plays. I have even less exposure to Pathfinder, though. Couldn’t honestly have told you what it was before reading this article.

    My interest in MMOs has been waning precariously the last few months, so if this new D&D biz ends up catching on, there’s a very really possibility of my friends and I giving it a shot.

    • Jonathan Michaels says:

      To be fair, even they ditched fourth edition as of last year’s event.

    • Girard says:

      You may also enjoy Brian Posehn’s Nerd Poker podcast, which is basically him and a bunch of comedians/friends playing D&D. There’s less technical discussion of D&D (though they do discuss the various annoying differences between D&D 4, which they adopted for the podcast, and D&D 2, which they had used prior in their personal games), and more silly digressions. It’s pretty swell.

      • TaumpyTearrs says:

        Its too accurate for me to listen to. After a few episodes I realised they had spent like two hours peeking into and entering a room, which accurately reflects my RPG experiences, but its not as fun unless I am drunk and helping to derail the game with stupid jokes and comments. Hearing other people do it without participating got annoying quick (and I love Brian!).

    • SamPlays says:

      Dungeons and Dragons is completely foreign to me. Despite growing up in the 80s, I have never played the game. I only know two things:

      1) One of Community’s best episodes was about Dungeons and Dragons.

      2) All of you are heretofore avowed Satanists and henceforward to be known by the colloquial designation of “dice nerds”.

    • HobbesMkii says:

      Me neither (though I briefly tried with a group of friends to get into Pathfinder, which fizzled). I did pick up the $4 Knights of Pen and Paper last night on Steam (I guess it’ll still be on sale for another 26 hours as of this writing), which purports to be a recreation of the table top, so we’ll see how that goes. I guess the PC version eliminates the micropayments discussed in this Sawbuck gamer review? 

    • light says:

      like Howard replied I am shocked that people can get paid $5588 in 1 month on the internet. her comment is here  


  2. Worth noting also is that Paizo has gone to great lengths to be inclusive and socially progressive in its prefab content. Maybe not as great as they could, but it’s one of the only relatively mainstream content-creators committed to including trans* and other LGBT/GSRM (gender, sexuality, and romantic minorities) characters in ways that aren’t just played for laughs or squicks.

    • Simon Jones says:

      If we ignore the weird, racist even by fantasy game definitions , stereotypes.

      • Girard says:

        Can you be more specific? I’ve never played Pathfinder, and your comment has left me curious. If you roll up a black character, do you get a “bonus to fast-twitch muscle fiber” or something?

        • Simon Jones says:

          I exaggerate a bit, to be honest.  It’s one of those things that just kinda skirts a line.  It’s not quite up there with, say White Wolf’s we’re trying to be not racist  in that weird 90’s Social Justice-y  way that ends up kinda racist.

          But there’s thieving gypsies and orientalist klingon asians who act like someone read a book on asians written for businessmen going to japan in the 80’s and black shirtless dudes with spears and so on.

          It’s not near bad enough to complain about but is kinda in the land of ‘Maybe you did not think this through’. Though to their credit, they do try to walk it back a bit in later supplements.

        • James L. Sutter says:

          For some reason, this isn’t letting me reply to Simon Jones, so I have to reply next to him. :)

          Diversity and equality are things we take very, very seriously at Paizo. For example, while it’s true that we have black shirtless dudes with spears, we *also* have black nobles, black pirates, black merchants, black spellcasters, black gunslingers, black deities…. The two most powerful wizards currently in our world are black (with many more in the history). Our iconic paladin, Seelah, is a black woman who kicks ass in full plate. 

          It’s not just about skin color, though, nor even just gender, sexuality, as has been mentioned. We try to include as wide variety of characters both sympathetic and unsympathetic as possible, so that our equally varied audience can feel included and represented. 

          That’s not to say that we always succeed. We’ve grown really quickly, and sometimes problematic art or text slips through. But I can promise you that we’re always trying hard to do right by our audience in terms of inclusivity. And if there’s something you run across that feels wrong to you, please come on the messageboards at and tell us! Part of being a responsible member of the gaming community is hanging out and listening to what people have to say, and all of us at Paizo are on there every day, taking part in the conversation.

          Sorry for the massive post, but as I said, diversity in gaming is something we care deeply about. :)

          –James Sutter, Senior Editor for Paizo Publishing and co-creator of Pathfinder

    • BuddhaBox says:

      I appreciate that their default response for the sexuality of the iconics is “unless we explicitly say otherwise, they’re bi,” regardless of gender.

      • dreadguacamole says:

         I didn’t know that, that’s pretty awesome.

         One thing that bothered me about the couple of Pathfinder adventures I’ve read/played is that they always seem to include some minor character (usually a desirable girl) that will throw herself all over one of the player characters.

  3. EmperorNortonI says:

    Argh, I miss roplaying games so much.  It has been way, WAY too long since I’ve been involved in anything, ever since I left home and my group of nerdy friends for grad school 16 years ago.  Sure, PC gaming is good and all, probably better than it’s been in forever.  But as the group GM, I miss the thrill of creation, the fun of group management, and the pressing need to keep on top of everything that I just loved.  And I also wonder how different it would be to play those games with people who are adults, and can communicate effectively using words – something teenage boys are not all that great at doing.

    I remember back when Wizards opened up 3rd edition to outside content providers via the d20 license, a lot of analysts were predicting something like this – Wizards and mainline D&D would get sidetracked by a monster of its own creation.

    While that certainly seems to be the case, I wonder how much this is also just part of the general malaise in the tabletop RPG market.  Well, I should take that back – I wonder if there is a general malaise in the tabletop RPG market that is also mangling Wizards and D&D.

    Back in the late 80’s and early 90’s tabletop RPG’s systems were able to move major product, in a way that they just can’t now.  I remember walking into your average mall bookstore (pretty much the only kind that had any sort of Fantasy, Sci Fi, or RPG selection at all in my neck of the woods), and seeing a rack of core books and supplements for the various flavors of D&D 2nd edition, GURPS, White Wolf, and Call of Cthulhu, along with various minor oddities.

    Now, I know that there’s a lot of creativity and effort going into the PDF market and a variety of non-traditional RPG’s, don’t get me wrong.  But I don’t know how much anyone actually manages to sell much of anything.

    • You sum up appeal of game very well. Me big nerd at heart and miss playing D&D too for same reasons.

    • JMPesq says:

      Same here, I used to play D&D and other games with a group in college and loved it, but after leaving never really had any local friends who were also into role playing and so haven’t gotten to do so again.

    • The Archmage of the Aether says:

       Nothing is stopping any of yu from downloading any out-of-print old gam, and playing it! I encourage it. Heck, +2 to all of your Prime Requisites for the first characters you roll up!

  4. ItsTheShadsy says:

    Honestly up until now, as someone who doesn’t play tabletop games. I
    thought Pathfinder was a subset of
    D&D, not a separate game. I
    know I’ll get murdered for this, but for I guess for me as an outsider, D&D has been to
    Kleenex as fantasy tabletop role-playing games are to tissues. It goes to show how incredibly strong the D&D brand is, even when proper D&D is in apparently dire straits.

    • NakedSnake says:

      Unrelated, but what’s the story with your user name/avatar? I always read it as “it’s the shandy”. Like as if you are using being tipsy on a shandy to excuse your behavior whenever appropriate.

      • ItsTheShadsy says:

        -Back in my tween days, I went by Shadowman on the internet because I liked Mega Man 3 and was very unimaginative. At some point I just shortened it to Shadsy. That was already taken on Disqus, possibly by myself, so I just added “It’s the” in front of it.

        -The avatar is from The Labyrinth of Time, one of my favorite weird games from the 90s. It’s not the greatest game, but it was one of my first favorites, and it’s artistically fantastic.

        • HobbesMkii says:

          That origin story is boring. Your new origin story is that you were bitten by a radioactive shad, allowing you to take on all the amazing powers of that particular fish and becoming rechristened “Shadsy.” “It’s the Shadsy!” is what evildoers shout when you appear to thwart their evil crimes.

        • NakedSnake says:

          Haha, I like the idea of that all the mega man bosses are great chums and all have nicknames for each other. All except Mr. Hard Man. Don’t joke around with that guy. Your Labyrinth could be where they all hang out.

          P.S. I just dialed up the Shadow Man music to remember what it sounded like, and my two-year-old daughter, who was in another room, yelled “yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyy!” and ran into the room and started dancing.

      • Grimbus says:

        He’s a young, hip reboot of the classic Bible character Shadrach — coming to your church’s VBS this summer!

        • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

          WELL I’m the Shadsy and I’m here to say,
          if you pray to God, things’ll go your way!

          *breaks into Missy Elliott’s “I’m Really Hot”*

    • djsubversive says:

      Our group is unoriginal and we refer to Pathfinder as D&D 3.75. It’s basically 3.5, with a few differences, but nothing that you would probably notice unless you’re already familiar with the game (giving classes more options and trying to reign in polymorph spells).

    • Phil Wright says:

       It basically is a subset of D&D

  5. rvb1023 says:

    I do like Pathfinder fixes a lot and I like how easy it is to adapt 3.5 content to it, but I mostly just find the D20 system boring by this point. I am still really confused as to how these guys stay in business though. The few 3.5 books I do have are all from Half-Price Books.

    I have in recent years warmed up to White Wolf games (Still can’t get anyone to run a World of Darkness campaign, which is just a great setting) for having a system that is less about static numbers and more about dice rolls, though both are still involved. And while the game is still unbalanced it doesn’t feel so blegh as D20 at this point. Hell, I have tried a few D6 games and I like they way they handle way better.

    • dreadguacamole says:

       Have you tried White Wolf’s Exalted?

       The rules become an unusable mess at higher levels, but the setting is wonderful – one of the best, most detailed RPG fantasy worlds I’ve seen.

       And second-edition Wraith is my favorite all-time RPG.

      • rvb1023 says:

         Exalted was actually my first White Wolf game and I was completely unprepared and didn’t enjoy it much because of that. Then we tried out Scion and it was a little more toned down. Exalted felt like it came down to  Perfect Dodging and Soaking anything.

        Never heard of Wraith, though. What’s that like?

        • djsubversive says:

          According to a WW guy about 8 years ago at GenCon (it was still in Milwaukee at the time), Wraith is: “You die. Then the game starts.”

          A bit more detail: You’re a dead spirit who still has “unfinished business” tethering you to the Shadowlands (a ‘dead’ reflection of the living world; if you’ve played Mage or Werewolf, they mention the Shadowlands as a part of the “Low Umbra,” I think). You have fetters, objects that were important to you when you were alive. You also have some ghostly powers (it’s been a while, so I forget what they’re called or what they do). The best part, though, is your Shadow – it’s your “dark side” and its goals are to undermine your goals. It’s also played by another player in the group, and the Shadow has access to ‘shadow dice’ that they can offer to the Regular Ghost (I forget the White Wolf-y name they give them) – bonus dice that give the Shadow more power. If they get strong enough, they can take over the body. 

          So, you not only have to play your character, with your own motivations and goals and contribution to the group, but you have to try to undermine another character using that character’s traits and motivations. It’s a really good game for a mature group that can play two characters at the same time.

          I probably did a bad job of explaining it, but it’s been a long time.

        • rvb1023 says:

           @djsubversive:disqus I don’t know, you made it sound appealing to me. The problem is finding a “mature” group to play with. Most of my sessions  eventually devolve into us joking and breaking character all the time.

          Not that I don’t have fun but taking a campaign seriously for once might be a neat change of pace.

        • dreadguacamole says:

          @djsubversive:disqus Thanks, that’s a much better summation than the one I would have put together.

           Wraith’s got a wonderful, completely off-beat setting that accommodates a huge number of story types (though it’d be hard to do something lighthearted). You have your more personal stories closer to the world of the living, byzantine intrigue in the cities of the dead, and a few more weird metaphysical realms that allowed for all sorts of weirdness.
           And the Shadow is a mechanic I haven’t seen since… such a great idea.

           There was so much imagination lavished on the lesser-known World of Darkness games, that once I discovered them I could never manage to go back to Vampire: the Masquerade.

           Another old WoD game I love is Hunter: the Reckoning. You play normal, everyday folks who become imbued with just enough power to become a nuisance to the supernatural gribblies in the World of Darkness, but precious little knowledge.
           One of the few games I’ve seen where the survival rate is lower than Call of Cthulhu; hell, it probably gave Paranoia a run for its money. The books were great fun to read, too, since they were written as in-character postings on a supernatural internet forum.

           Re: Exalted – It sounds like you tried 2nd edition, which I didn’t play much of. I’ve heard exactly the same complaint about perfect attacks and defenses from some friends who made the leap. First edition was a bit better, I think, but it imploded as soon as people started hitting the higher power tiers. And it was horribly unbalanced, so if you got a powergamer it could become a nightmare to manage.

        • rvb1023 says:

           @dreadguacamole:disqus Me and my friends play one-offs of Paranoia whenever we get a chance, usually in large groups with people that don’t normally play pen and papers. Great fun.

          I have only ever played one CoC and I loved it a ton. It was an intro that was supposed to lead to a bigger campaign but it never got off the ground, quite possibly because mine was the only character to survive. It ended with me just going “fuck it” and burning down a haunted house.

          Wraith does sound really great though. Again, I would just need to find a decent play group.

        • djsubversive says:

          @dreadguacamole:disqus Hunter is fun. At the same GenCon (or an earlier one, but still in Milwaukee), I talked to another guy from WW for a while, and he told me about coming up with the Hunter glyphs (mostly just nonsense sigils that he had to make sure didn’t mean anything else in the World of Darkness already) and the fire-and-shells design (fire is cool, basically). He also crumpled up the ‘insert pages’ (newspaper clippings, letters, and the like that show up throughout the book) and ran them over with his car to get the right look.

          Mage was fun, too. Probably my favorite oWoD game. I ran a campaign that was basically “King Arthur and other figures from Arthurian tales are reborn in the modern day and wacky antics ensue!” Lancelot was a big biker dude who rode around being surly and righting wrongs. Merlin and the rest of the Knights were the versions from The Once And Future King, but modern-day, mostly. 

          The ‘big twist’ was that some of the Round Table had become Tradition mages and some had become Technocrats, but they all had similar goals – find Arthur, protect England, and restore the Round Table to prominence.

          It was basically an excuse for me to drop some Once and Future King references into a relatively lighthearted game of “teen mages at school!” (the school had Awakened departments, but there were still Sleepers around, so it wasn’t a full-on “Hogwarts University”).

    • TreeRol says:

      World of Darkness is my favorite system, because it’s skill-based rather than class-based. You can very easily create any character concept you have in mind (in one campaign I created myself – just straight-up me, as I am in the real world) and adapt that to pretty much any setting.

      WoD, despite its dice-heavy mechanic, is the best system for actual role-playing.

      • OldeFortran77 says:

        Now I can’t help but wonder who you are in the real world! I’m guessing you’re a Las Vegas magician whose powers are real, and you like to chill out with your liger and play a board game now and then.

      • EmperorNortonI says:

        WoD’s die-roll mechanic could end up punishing you for being better, on a probabilistic level.  I could never get behind that.

        For a stat-based system, GURPS all the way.  I’ve run GURPS of several different flavors, and found the system solid and robust.  And, the supplements tend to be really, really good.

        • TreeRol says:

          “WoD’s die-roll mechanic could end up punishing you for being better”

          I’m not sure I understand that. Could you explain?

        • hubrisofsatan says:

          basically, @TreeRol:disqus , he’s talking about this:

          There are a few cases where your chance of botching goes up with the size of your dice pool. This was mitigated in revised edition, though not eliminated. It’s really no big deal but it seems illogical, which is an impassable barrier for some people.

  6. Flag On the Moon says:

    What’s sad is our group, which has played every incarnation of the game since ’81, really prefers 4th edition. Yeah, the web support blows, and they are clearly retreating back to nostalgia, but for once there’s something useful for every player to do each round, no “you lose” classes, and some tiny semblance of game balance. No clerics waiting to be needed, rogues kind of being there, or mages that are near-useless 50% the time and massively overpowered the other half. Shame they did such a terrible job selling it to gamers and supporting it.

    • Andy Tuttle says:

      I want a nice mix of the 4th edition streamlining and the 3rd edition complexity in whatever they call D&D Next. I agree though, 4th edition is not as bad as people make it out to be. A good DM can make anything interesting.

    • The Guilty Party says:

      Yeah, the times I’ve played 4th ed, it’s been pretty enjoyable. Admittedly, it feels different from the other editions. It has a much more board/tactical game-y feel, but that’s what my friends tend to enjoy.

      Sadly, the ‘back to 3rd edition!’ thing is even worse for me. I hated 3/3.5. It felt like you spent forever building cheesy characters out of a random assortment of class levels, and *then* you started playing the game, at which point every element of choice of what to do when you level up was already set in stone for maximal calculated benefits.

      2nd ed I could get behind though. Unbalanced, full of arcane weirdness and weird arcanes. We used it as a base for storytelling games quite successfully, surprisingly.

      • Unexpected Dave says:

        A lack of balance never bothered me in pen & paper games. The DM/GM can always tweak the adventure to accommodate the party. As a player, I never had to worry about min/max-ing; I could just roll a character that was fun to play. 

        • dreadguacamole says:

           It really does depend on the type of game your group wants. 4th is better for dungeon crawl/high combat games, but it’s not very well suited for groups that prefer adventures where you can spend a long time in between dice rolls.

        • Persia says:

          The problem with that, of course, is getting a good GM.

      • BuddhaBox says:

        If you’re not min-maxing a jive-talkin’, fast-walkin’, smart-aleck rogue with a heart of gold, then why the hell are you playing D&D?

      • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

        3d edition did get cuckoo bananas with the prestige classes. I can understand the enthusiasm -it’s fun to think of different builds and concepts.  But it’s just as you say that your first six levels are a calibration of the classes and skills you need to unlock whatever class you’ve been eyeing since rolling up your character.
         Pathfinder downplays prestige classes a lot and emphasizes instead alternate builds of classes chosen when the character is generated.
         I’m sentimental for 2nd, because that was the system of my youth. but what a stitched together behemoth of clunky, strange rules. THAC0 being the one that most often comes to mind.
         Also, 2nd has the worst art. And I say that as one who has little interest in the “rastify by 10%” quality of most contemporary fantasy illustration. 

      • TheOligarchicMe says:

        3rd Edition was terrible for creating characters that evolved as you went on. Are you playing a noble paladin who falls to the Dark Side and becomes a Blackguard? Hope you planned your whole build in advance and took the Improved Sunder feat, because the fiendish legions will not admit anyone who didn’t take that feat.

        • The Guilty Party says:

          Yep, that’s exactly what I hated about 3rd ed. It’s wonderfully fun if all you ever do is roll theoretical characters.

    • Kyle O'Reilly says:

       Clerics waiting to be needed?!?  What the hell kind of clerics you rolling with, son?  My Dwarf Cleric is the second biggest damage giver in our party and he’s got cure moderate wounds to slap our Half-Orc Barbarian on the back when he’s getting chewed up by some Bugbear King.

      • djsubversive says:

        This. If you’re playing a cleric as a heal-bot hanging out between fights, you’re playing it wrong. Clerics are fuckin’ tough. My last cleric in an Eberron game (using Pathfinder rules, so slightly different than 3.5) followed the Traveler and fought with two shields, one ‘weaponized’ for offense and the other enchanted for defense. The Magic domain in PF gives you a 30-foot ranged attack with a melee weapon, so I went all Captain America on monsters. 

        This was the game where the group decided to start a traveling carnival as a way to see the world and have adventures. That was pretty fun. We found a half-orc stand-up comic (a comorc) and an intelligent bugbear who would fight our dwarven monk in a gladiator-style ring as our first big act.

    • Ivy Gerbis says:

      I really enjoyed 4E myself. I’d played previous versions, including a lot of 3 and 3.5, but 4E was the first system that I could understand thoroughly enough to try my turn as a DM. It was fairly quick to create an advanced-level character or populate a dungeon without looking up a thousand footnotes in a dozen different books. The computer character creator worked well, incorporated powers and items from all of the books (with references!) and printed out a character sheet with everything calculated, defined, and ready to go.

      Like Flag on the Moon said, there wasn’t nearly as much min-maxing, and the system was forgiving if you picked up a power that didn’t work the way that you expected. Having decent at-will powers for each class meant that you didn’t have to equip every wizard with a dagger and a crossbow (or 3 different daggers made of sliver, cold iron, and steel) for when they ran out of spells, and you never had to use a sling unless you really wanted to. Clerics were fun to play, not just candy machines. Control effects were well-defined and let you kill NPCs in really creative ways, like pushing them into a pit or through a wall of fire that the wizard had just laid down earlier in the turn. 

      Yes,there were ways to make a ridiculous character by combining elements from different books, but that’s just part of D&D. But if you weren’t familiar with it or only had the source-books, you could still make a PC who was fun to play. I just found it much more user-friendly than 3.5, and after trying it, I didn’t want to go back. 

    • KL says:

      This thing about “balance”. The real world is not balanced and neither should a fantasy world be too. But that is the point, the mage, at early levels, hides behind the fighter. The payoff is that if he survives, he will get to kick major butts at higher level. Clerics have always been nearly as proficient in combat as fighters so I don’t know what you are talking about “waiting to be needed”.

  7. NakedSnake says:

    As usual, this is literally all new information for me. Thanks! I always wished I had gotten into D&D. It seems like it would be a lot of fun, if you could find a good group of friends to play it with. But it’s hard to find people who aren’t trying to play it cool. And honestly I have a short attention span, so I never learned it. As with Magic: The Gathering, I mostly just like to look at the art.

    • DrFlimFlam says:

      I’ve played it briefly and also some Pathfinder and mroe basic stuff, and for me, the biggest problem is that I can’t suspend disbelief. I can’t get past sitting in a room with a bunch of other people playing make-believe, and I can’t help but feel like a cliched character every time I play. I am actually in a FB group where we’ve been doing a story since January, and it’s fun, certainly more fun than the group setting, but I just don’t think D&D is for me.

      • dreadguacamole says:

         There are tons of other settings and systems – I’d recommend trying one of the RPGs that edge close to being a party game, like Fiasco. It can be an absolute blast, and if not all you’ve wasted is an evening.

  8. Ktotwf says:

    I feel like a prophet. There was a cultish vibe around 4th edition in the beginning that insisted you were either a clueless hipster or mindlessly nostalgic for not liking it. I showed them! I showed them all!

    • The Actual El Guapo says:

       Yeah, there were some seriously annoying folks in the pro-4e crowd in its early days. Legit criticism frequently got met with “point and laugh at the dinosaur.” 

      • stepped_pyramids says:

        There was also a great deal of “tabletop WoW!” “dumbing down!” hostility coming from the anti-4e crowd.

  9. Ktotwf says:

     D&D runs from mind-numbingly tedious to pretty great on the strength of the Dungeon Master.

    • BuddhaBox says:

      That and dice rolls. I’ve had more than a few encounters that were supposed to be epic showdowns of destiny that ended with my orc barbarian one-shotting the BBEG with a wheelbarrow.

      On the other hand, last week featured a 2-hour battle against three bats. Nearly all of the party came close to dying.

      • hubrisofsatan says:

        That and accidentally prescient spell preparation. I had an encounter ready wherein a juiced up illusionist assassin harrows the party while they rush breathlessly through a labyrinth. This was the first session any of their characters had ever prepared True Seeing. They cast it on the grappler (a viable option in 3.5 whatever people say) with boots of haste and my poor ill/ass only managed to attempt one death attack.

        On the other hand, last month that same grappler (who had an intelligence score of 2 at the time) got mazed.

        EDIT: I now realize that my that is not connected to that that that references ktotwf’s thesis. I am sorry.

  10. evanwaters says:

    Oh goddamnit. The game press really just swallowed the “4e was a failure, Paizo rules!” line without a second thought, didn’t they?

    4e is the most well designed system of any edition of the game ever, and D&D Next looks unlikely to change that. Unlike 3.5/Pathfinder, it’s an edition where being a Fighter isn’t a chump option after 6th level, where Wizards can’t instantly end encounters, where the rules are transparent enough that you can reskin and modify things easily and know what the math changes entail. It’s several orders of magnitude easier to DM because XP budgets make a lot more sense than the complicated arithmetic of Challenge Ratings (which are all messed up anyway and don’t actually represent what they say they do.)

    I don’t blame Paizo for doing what they did to survive, but this whole edition war has stirred up some toxic memes- like the idea that a game can be too balanced, that it’s just “natural” that some classes vastly outstrip others, that wanting the classes to be equal is some kind of mollycoddling entitlement instead of good game design.

    This site just lost a lot of credibility in my eyes.

    • The Guilty Party says:

      Whatever you may think of the rule systems, the article seems more based on the finances and the con presence, not just ‘we heard this was awesome’. I vastly prefer 4th ed to 3rd, but that doesn’t make it successful.

      • evanwaters says:

         Yes, but shouldn’t this site be looking at the aesthetics of game design and, you know, QUALITY, rather than just how many copies were sold? Is the AV Club running articles on how Community and Parks and Recreation were disastrous decisions for NBC and neither show should have been greenlit? Did they do a long-form piece about why it was a mistake to make Pacific Rim? No. Because we as critics and consumers should be interested in quality product, not who’s more popular.

        • Ktotwf says:

           “Yes, but shouldn’t this site be looking at the aesthetics of game
          design and, you know, QUALITY, rather than just how many copies were


        • evanwaters says:

           Why not? Most For Our Consideration articles do so. Most articles on this and the AV Club are interested in more than just ratings and revenue. This isn’t Deadline.

        • Pgoodso says:

          To be fair, they aren’t saying that DnD should never have been made. They’re saying the 4th version (or season, if you will) of DnD is a lackluster departure that many die-hard fans found hard to enjoy. And those kinds of articles are EXACTLY what the AVClub has written on Community, Dexter, and other similar TV shows that have had obvious structural changes that have led to audience dropoff, so I don’t really know what site you’ve been reading.

          I mean, to compare it to previous Gameological coverage, technically, the Wii U IS superior in every way to the Wii, but I didn’t see any  complaints when Nintendo was criticized for screwing the pooch on its promotion, both in terms of sales and getting 3rd party support, thus creating a lackluster release. Nor did I see any complaints about them chastising the Xbone for its pre-release gaffs. Now, none of these companies are failing because their systems or games actually suck, but merely because of problems with understanding what the majority of their audience actually wants and communicating with that audience in a way that boosts sales. But for some reason Wizard is sacrosanct from this kind of criticism?

          Just because you think everyone is “wrong” to not support 4th Edition (which I actually agree with) doesn’t make understanding why Wizard is re-releasing old rulebooks and moving back towards 3.5 complexity in Next, all while Pathfinder is suddenly skyrocketing in popularity (or why Pathfinder exists AT ALL), any less compelling or worthy of analysis.

        • CNightwing says:

          Having read your other responses, you seem to be basing your judgement on 4th edition on opinion too. Yes, there’s some quality in the design, but there are also many points to criticise. The rigidness of the roles, the bad math / action economy on initial launch and the out of combat support are all flaws worth noting.

          I genuinely don’t believe that 4E is of obvious superior quality to previous editions. If the designers had stripped the RPG down to a boardgame, in the style of Descent or Heroquest then it would absolutely be the greatest adventure dungeon boardgame to date, but as an RPG I don’t think 4E quite cracks it.

        • evanwaters says:

           “hey’re saying the 4th version (or season, if you will) of DnD is a lackluster departure”

          The word “lackluster” carries with it an assumption of quality, but there’s no serious critical consideration of strengths and weaknesses here.

      • Roswulf says:

         I do wish the article had done a better job of explaining why the Second-to-Third edition transition was so successful for D&D whereas the Third-to-Fourth was a disaster. After all, they both invalid represented a corporate rejection of all existing materials for the most popular RPG in the world.

        I’m far from an expert, but as I see it there are a couple main explanations.

        1) Third Edition represented an inherently better product upgrade than Fourth Edition. Arguably, Third edition offered something genuinely more desirable than Second. Second Edition was something of a chaotic mess, necessitating (at least according to some) a dizzying array of house rules. Third Edition offered a system playable across groups that, whatever its flaws (most obviously, even more overpowered magic), was a legitimate upgrade over Second for most of the RPG customer base. Fourth Edition didn’t represent such an upgrade, even if it fixed Third Edition’s most glaring flaw. Most likely, this extended from Fourth Edition not “feeling” like D&D, sacrificing the countless class-based subsystems (Vancian spellcasting!) for a single model of each character Daily/Encounter/At-will abilities.

        2) The internet killed Fourth Edition. Perhaps the most important difference between Second and Third editions wasn’t mechanical at all, but instead structural. As the very existence of Pathfinder confirms, WotC was amazingly open with Third Edition. The core rules were posted online, and indeed are still available. Moreover WotC created an easy, usable system allowing third-party publishers to legally build adventures and rulesets off of Third Edition’s core rules. Fourth Edition dramatically retreated from this approach, even as the internet had continued to expand during Third’s heyday. It was this openness in Third Edition, not just D&D’s longstanding market dominance that made it impossible for WotC to convince a clear majority of the playerbase to embrace their new ruleset. It would have been impossible to convince the networked plyerbase to embrace ANY new ruleset, especially a new ruleset lacking anything like the same commitment to online access.

        The truth is likely some hybrid of one and two. I for one am fascinated to see how the Fourth to Fifth transition fares.

        • The_Juggernaut_Bitch says:

          Basically because 4th Edition is an MMO played on the table-top. Rather than (as in previous editions) spellcasters having a number of spells per day they could cast, 4th ed breaks them down into spells they can cast “at will”, “once a battle” or “once a day”.  For the bog-standard Magic-User class (a Wizard, of the kind who does things), Magic Missile becomes its default attack.  They can cast it once a round every round all day and night, without limit.

          Every class does this.  They have spells or attacks or effects that they can do once a round, once a battle, once a day.  Even the melee classes get a self-healing ability.

          So, played in the style of something like Heroquest or another D&D-lite boardgame, I suppose that’s fine.  But that’s not D&D.

        • TheKingandIRobot says:

           So… instead of having a number of spells per day, they have a number of spells per battle, of which some are also spells per day.  Yep.  Huge difference.  Also fighters aren’t just auto-attacking every turn forever, so you know, that sucks.   NOT MY D&D.

        • belgand says:

          4th Edition was clearly designed for the beginning to be an offline version of MMORPGs. It’s not just in the design of the game or the greater focus on MMORPG-style roles, but even their advertising was designed to target that market and make it seem like a more social alternative.

          Personally I quit D&D after 2nd Edition because I was never happy with 3rd. I was also deeply unhappy that WotC had taken over and their business practices have been pretty much what I expected. I played in a Pathfinder game for a long time recently and while I enjoyed it more than I expected it still had a lot of problems. Then again, Shadowrun also dropped the ball with their own 4th Edition, but I don’t believe it alienated nearly as many players.

          I’ve been meaning to get a campaign of Eclipse Phase going at some point. It’s a great, interesting settings, really solid rules, great art, and everything is released under Creative Commons so there’s very little barrier to entry and no excuse for not having a copy of the rules.

      • TheOligarchicMe says:

        The finances are essentially meaningless. For one thing, 4e was basically exhausted of content by 2011, so of course Paizo was outselling them. For another, 4e drew heavily on a subscription service with entirely different goals than selling books. It’s not like D&D is going broke and 4th Edition is going to be remembered as a huge mistake; it’s owned by Hasbro and they’re not giving up on it.

        • evanwaters says:

          Hopefully DDI will maintain 4th edition support but I can imagine someone making a dumb decision- this is the same company that pulled their PDF sales on some appallingly bad legal advice, and their website has never been well designed.

        • Roswulf says:

           The finances are part of the narrative. Before Fourth Edition, for the entire history of tabletop roleplaying the current edition of D&D was overwhelmingly the default rule set.

          That’s no longer the case, and that’s a major shift in the nature of tabletop gaming.

          And it’s fair to ask how WotC managed to lose their place as, not the first among equals, but the unchallengeable champion.

        • Brendan Tynan Buck says:

          I’ll agree that “the finances are meaningless”. What’s really important, though, is what system is bringing players around tables. Most of my tabletop friends play Pathfinder, a number have stuck to 3.5. I don’t know a single damn person playing 4E right now. Even the newbies, the ones who should be liking 4E’s setup? All of them are playing Pathfinder. Perhaps solely because that’s what their friends play now, but I don’t know. It’s just that on a purely anecdotal level, I can corroborate Paizo’s dominance.

          (I can also mention that I noticed the same thing that Samantha did at Gencon, though it’s worth noting that Pathfinder wasn’t the sole success of the con. Anyone who was on the Exhibit Floor and passed by the Fantasy Flight booth knows what I’m talking about.)

        • The_Juggernaut_Bitch says:

          It should be noted that, TSR was bought and sold several times over the course of its history, until it and the D&D IP ended up in the hands of WotC.

          2nd Edition did similarly silly things to generate profit, mostly being an overproduction of books to introduce new classes and new ways of playing classes, and then books that added new classes to those new classes.

    • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

      This site isn’t advocating for one system or another. It’s exploring the current state of the most well-known RPG brand and the strange subversion that’s occurred with an out-of-nowhere 3rd party publisher.
        It’s a cool story, even, maybe especially if you can’t tell shit from shinola in regards to the various editions, who publishes them or how the rules change.
        I have my preference, but it is by no means sacrosanct. Pathfinder maintains a lot of rules that are silly, obtuse or counter-intuitive.
       Not once reading this article did I think “Whew! Looks like I made the right choice in high-fantasy roleplay rule sets!” 

      • evanwaters says:

         But there’s plenty of editorializing about how 4e “feels like a video game” and “didn’t live up to the buzz.” Those are statements of opinion.

        • Ktotwf says:

           It did feel like a MMORPG.

        • evanwaters says:

          That’s an opinion. If this is an opinion piece, it needs stronger critical supports. If it’s just a piece about how D&D 4 didn’t sell very well, it shouldn’t imply that it was an inferior game.

        • Ktotwf says:

          Meh, rote appeal to subjectivity isn’t very convincing in this case.

        • evanwaters says:

           If the article is written from a subjective viewpoint it needs to be more rigorous in defending it. Instead it just takes sales data as an indicator of quality.

        • Girard says:

          It’s an opinion piece.

        • evanwaters says:

           Not one that actually spends much time backing up its opinions with argument.

        • Persia says:

          I didn’t find ‘feels like a videogame’ particularly critical in the context it’s used. Videogames are easy to jump into (generally), and that was clearly one of their aims.

        • TheKingandIRobot says:

          People are always saying it “feels like an MMO” because they heard someone say that once.  It uses some similar elements, but that’s because the most successful MMOs cadge stripped-down rules/structures from tabletop gaming, and add balance and ease of use.  There’s a reason WOW had like 11 million players at it’s peak.

          Does it feel like an MMO because it’s got a power selection mechanic that everyone gets to play with, instead of 2/3rds of the book being spells for 1/4th of the classes?  Well, that’s a good thing.

          Does it feel like an MMO because you have to run the same dungeon 15 times in the hopes that the sword you wanted would drop?  Or that there’s a constant rotation of what defines the “best class?”  Nope.  One of those is a video-game convention not found in tabletop, the other is more true of 3rd edition, except that instead of a rotation it’s just wizards.

        • Sam L says:

          No, it “feels like an MMO” because your character is essentially a loose-fitting collection of attacks that you may or may not want to attach a narrative to.

        • The_Juggernaut_Bitch says:

          It is an opinion based on fact.  The game *does* play like an MMO with dice.  And it definitely did *not* live up to the buzz.  I’ve been playing Dungeons& Dragons for damn near 30 years now.  My local group was pretty excited for 4th Ed.  Then we got it.

          The books came out. We picked them up.  Read through them.  Put them back on the shelf and haven’t touched them since.  Fortunately, Dark Heresy came out like 6 months later, and my group has never looked back.

        • TheKingandIRobot says:

            Every RPG character is a collection of attacks you may want to attach a
          narrative to.  Pretending that any other RPG has some magic power to
          force players to actually roleplay their character is disingenuous.  The
          game may not work for you for any number of reasons, and that’s fine. 
          However saying that it’s because the characters are made out of words
          and numbers and stats and powers is asinine.  That shit describes the
          genre.  The entire genre.

        • The_Juggernaut_Bitch says:

          Your formatting got fucked up there but… no, not all RPGs are designed the same.  Many of them offer options for things far beyond combat mechanics.  The game I mentioned above, Dark Heresy, uses a total of 4 attributes (out of 8) to resolve attacks and damage (taking or receiving) with the rest being based on gear which will be the same for everyone, regardless of the class they play.
          The game also has certain abilities, called Talents, that can augment either attacking or damaging (or avoiding the same), but these are by no means the totality of the skills and abilities available.  In fact, there are far more skills and talents that center on social interaction, non-combat activities and, basically, building a character into a believable person than there are those for combat actions.

        • evanwaters says:

           Sure, but that’s a whole other system. If you want to argue that Dark Heresy is way better at handling social interactions and the like than D&D that’s one thing. But no edition of xD&D has had detailed mechanics for that sort of thing- from the start it was designed with an assumption that you do that at the table, and what’s on the sheet is the stuff you can’t easily act out.

        • TheKingandIRobot says:

           Agreeing with Evanwaters here, but also chiming in to point out that if your game has an engine for social interaction beyond “just roleplay it”, it will often use language like “social attacks.”  Shows up especially in White Wolf, but Dark Heresy uses the exact same language for Charm, Intimidate, Observe, Decieve, and Command.  They refer in the book to those actions as Social Attacks.

          So my initial point, that all characters in every game are a “loose collection of attacks” is still true.  Plus, since you’re an ardent player of Dark Heresy (what up 40k bro), you knew that already when you were making that dumb argument.  I call you out. *rolls*

        • The_Juggernaut_Bitch says:

           The important bit being that it provides a context to the *character* being good at something other than pure combat.  While the player might be good at, say, spinning a believable (but *totally* untrue) story, the same can not necessarily be said for the Novitiate Adepta Sororitas she’s playing.

          The GM is, of course, perfectly capable of saying “You know what? That sounded really good, the guy buys it, hook, line and sinker”, but these are skills and Talents presented to show a character that focuses their attention more on the social aspects of Imperial (or other) society, giving them a place to dump XP…. and also covering for shortcomings of the *player* with things the *character* can do.

      • haysoos says:

        I’m kind of surprised that the article doesn’t mention that Wizards of the Coast actually started out as a company putting out high quality supplements for TSR’s D&D game.

        It wasn’t until Wizards got stupid levels of money from inventing Magic: The Gathering that they ended up buying D&D from TSR, which was rapidly spiraling down the drain from a series of ill-conceived changes to the core system.

        • NakedSnake says:

          As someone who enjoyed the article because I know nothing about this stuff… yes, that’s a missed opportunity. It sounds like a cool dimension to what happened.

        • evanwaters says:

           The system of AD&D at the time wasn’t much different from what it had been- from 1e to 2e was a mild revision on the scale of things- but what was killing them was their decision to support a huge variety of different settings with their own product lines, fragmenting the customer base (among a bunch of other bad decisions.) As a customer it was actually cool to have all those settings, but most people in Dark Sun games weren’t buying Planescape products, and people in Planescape games weren’t buying Ravenloft or Birthright material, so everything sold kinda poorly.

        • hcduvall says:

          This is a couple of days late, but I don’t think it was the fragmentation too much, it was the novels. Books are returnable and have to be refunded–but they don’t have to be returned whole. You could just strip the front cover and return that, so you didn’t even have the inventory to sell off. In the 90s their books crashed big, that was the single biggest hit on TSR.

      • TheKingandIRobot says:

         Every RPG character is a collection of attacks you may want to attach a narrative to.  Pretending that any other RPG has some magic power to force players to actually roleplay their character is disingenuous.  The game may not work for you for any number of reasons, and that’s fine.  However saying that it’s because the characters are made out of words and numbers and stats and powers is asinine.  That shit describes the genre.  The entire genre.

      • TheKingandIRobot says:

         It’s still a written down list of actions (social, combative, or otherwise) that a character can perform.  In fact, it’s the opposite of a path to RP, because in Dark Heresy it’s quite easy to say “I’ll just roll Command” instead of “With a firm jaw and a mighty shout, I order my men to what is surely their own destruction.”

        Every character in every RPG ever is just a written down block of notes, abilities, and stats, whether those stats inform his ability to fight or to talk or whatever.  Any personality is always derived from the player wanting personality to be there.  It’s silly to try and move the goalposts around to dodge that.

        • stepped_pyramids says:

          It’s really easy to play 4e as an open-ended roleplay with occasional tactical battles, and that’s what I always preferred to do, to the point of houseruling away the social skills. I find it pretty awkward to play a system where conversations have to be played by a set of rules, myself.

    • James Palmer says:

      I don’t think the article swallows the – admittedly toxic – myths about 4th edition.  It doesn’t say anything about problems with the rules set; instead it focuses on people’s reactions. And, like it or not, 4th edition did split the player base badly.  

      Now, I happen to think those people are fundamentally mistaken, that there’s a strong core engine at the heart of 4th (even if the presentation is often off-base), and I’m told it makes for great campaigns of a particular type.  And Pathfinder is a hideously designed mess from any design perspective. But one of them, especially given the difference in size between the two companies, was a huge success, and the other has essentially been written off as a failure by its creators.

      • evanwaters says:

         Again, though, it says the game “didn’t live up to the hype” and “feels like a video game”. These are statements of quality, and the latter is specifically a toxic meme- it’s a stupid vapid criticism that means nothing.

        • James Palmer says:

          No, it says “Rather than sorcerers casting spells while fighters made an increasing number of attacks with their weapons, the game gave each class a series of powers similar to what you might find in a video game.”  Which is fair enough, given that MMORGS *were* an explicit source of inspiration. Saying the game feels like a video game” is a toxic idea, but the article doesn’t say that; you’re projecting edition warfare when it’s not there

        • James Palmer says:

          And 4th edition genuinely has a series of major problems; off the top of my head, skill challenges are borked, the nature of every class using the same daily/encounter/at-will structure makes them seem poorly distinguished from each other and eliminates a sense of meaningful difference between classes (this is much less so in actual play, but one of the problems here is perception, however unfair it is), the game is *heavily* orientated toward skirmish combat of a particular type and the amount of support provided for out-of-combat abilities is poor.  In practice, people are doing very interesting things with it, but there were real reasons why it alienated so much of the core base.

        • evanwaters says:

           3.5/PF’s “out of combat” support is pretty damn shitty, though, too- honestly every edition of the game has treated that as an afterthought. The only difference in this regard between 4th and its previous edition was a lack of “Profession” and “Craft” skills.

          It wasn’t a perfect edition, but an article like this should at least consider the editions as aesthetic works and not merely products that succeed or fail in the marketplace. Articles like this are consigning a great game to obscurity without giving it any kind of artistic appreciation. At least My World of Flops took the trouble to examine whether the flop in question was, you know, good.

        • Ktotwf says:

           Please clean the cheetos off of your fingers before you go nerdraging, evanwaters.

        • evanwaters says:

          Says the man smugly proclaiming his validation a few comments above. You’re not above this, pal.

          Just looking at the whole thing purely from a sales perspective has some troubling implications. Next’s design process has already been complicated by a timid spirit of trying to be all things to all people, and I think there’s a real danger of people taking the lesson from this that game systems shouldn’t be tightly balanced or carefully designed, that it should just all be about the feel, man.

        • Ktotwf says:

          Well, just about anything would be an improvement over World of Dungeons and Dragons-Craft and fifteen separate Player Manuals.

        • evanwaters says:

          Vapid criticisms meaning nothing. “This looks like another thing! It had a lot of supplements!”

        • Ktotwf says:

           I’m not trying to “objectively” prove that it was a bad game, you ridiculous neckbeard. I am listing why I PERSONALLY (and apparently the market) did not like it.

        • evanwaters says:

           And why’d you need to bring it up? This conversation isn’t about you.

          And using geek insults when you’re just as much edition warring as anyone else is just stupid.

        • Ktotwf says:

          “And why’d you need to bring it up”

          Because I can.

          “And using geek insults when you’re just as much edition warring as anyone else is just stupid.”

          I am more mocking your ridiculous pro-4th offensive than “edition warring.” I haven’t played an RPG for years.

        • evanwaters says:

           So you’re just being an offensive asshole. Good to know.

        • Ktotwf says:

           Neckbeard butthurt brings it out in me, I guess.

        • sakuuya says:

          Also, chocolate ice cream is better than strawberry.

        • evanwaters says:

           Well, I think the issue is that this is in a context where chocolate is being discontinued, people are writing articles about how chocolate just wasn’t good enough, and the ice cream manufacturer is promising a new flavor that combines chocolate and strawberry and cookie dough-

          I think the metaphor got away from me there because that could well be delicious.

        • NakedSnake says:

          @Ktotwf:disqus @evanwaters:disqus, normally I would say “take it easy with the insults”, but instead I find I must thank you for introducing me to this amazing & ridiculous insult: neckbeard.

        • ItsTheShadsy says:

          Woah there Hitlers.

        • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

          Oh man @baneofpigs:disqus you’ve never seen the term “neckbeard” before!? At least something good came out of this thread.

      • TheOligarchicMe says:

        I don’t think this article makes many actual errors or misunderstandings, but it’s disappointingly lacking in depth in the areas where those misunderstandings frequently pop up. Not a bad article, but there’s a lot of fascinating stuff in the story of D&D these past few years.

        For instance, exactly why that virtual tabletop D&D promised never showed up (which involves a pretty upsetting real-life element so I can understand why that’s rarely brought up), how Wizards freaked out about selling PDFs until quite recently, and what it means that Pathfinder is managing to sell so well despite making much of their material available free online.

    • Girard says:

      I’m sure Samantha is flattered that, to you, she not only represents this site in toto, but the entirety of “the game press.”

      • evanwaters says:

         It’s in line with most other game sites’ writing on the subject- everyone’s ready to bury fourth edition and talk about how with Next they’re getting back to “real D&D”.

        • Aurora Boreanaz says:

          Are you going to every one of those other gaming sites and arguing as well, or just here?

          This is like the guy who flips out about us being critical of the Xbone all over again.  People, stop being so defensive over stuff that you didn’t do/say/create!  Some people don’t like 4E, some people don’t like the Xbox One…so what?  Posting your own counter-argument or personal opinion is fine, but constantly calling out people for being “wrong” on the internet is just absurd.

        • evanwaters says:

          A console is just technical hardware. A game system like this is closer to a work of art- a film or movie, say. I think it merits more of an epitaph than “sales were disappointing”, just as (again) My World of Flops looked at more than just the box office performance of whatever was being reviewed, and actually at the work itself.

          Here I think there’s just a real danger of the good of 4e being buried with it as Wizards goes forward with a “let’s try to please everyone” approach to the next edition.

          It just sucks when something like this gets written off casually, like it did when Happy Endings was cancelled.

        • The Guilty Party says:

           @AuroraBoreanaz:disqus Pfft. If the internet isn’t for pointing out other people’s incorrectness from the safety of our homes, then why are we all here?

          Oh, right, tits.

        • The_Juggernaut_Bitch says:

          Buried?  No.

          Fourth Edition should be taken round the back of the barn, shot, set on fire, ground into fine dust, and then cast to the four winds.  From that point forward, any mention of it should be met with disbelief, as an event that never happened, and any evidence to the contrary dismissed as a hoax.

        • evanwaters says:

           The typical response of the grognard- destroy what you don’t understand.

    • haysoos says:

      4e was indeed well designed, if you ever wanted to play an MMO on your tabletop instead of actually playing D&D.

      The problem is there are hundreds of other systems out there that are better designed.  So most people who want to play a better game system play those.  Those who want to play D&D want to play D&D.  4e failed both of those markets.

      • evanwaters says:

         The “MMO on your tabletop” criticism means nothing. There were no mobs, no instances, no vendor trash, no aggro (monsters go after defenders because they will get fucked up even worse if they don’t), it’s an RPG.

        And what is D&D? It’s adventurers facing monsters and looting treasure in a fantasy world. It’s elves and wizards and all that crap. 4ed kept the core assumptions of all that, just got rid of some of the cruft.

        • The_Juggernaut_Bitch says:

          Bullshit.  Flat out bullshit.  The whole “Defender” mechanic is called “Tanking” in an MMO.  As presented in 4th Ed, it *is* an aggro mechanic!  Tanks in an MMO can *also* be a DPS class, so the fact that monsters “have to attack them or they’ll get fucked up” is irrelevant.  It’s an MMO aggro mechanic, which used to be imitated in 3.5 and earlier by your Fighter or Barbarian throwing him or herself out there in front of the party and being the first and most obvious target, the efficacy of which depended on your actual damage-dealers not making their locations obvious while they rained acid, lightning, fire, or whatever onto the monsters. 

          If you wipe out a party of orcs in a dungeon and collect their crude weapons and armor, guess what?  It’s vendor trash!  

          The whole “Action Points” mechanic?  That’s a turn-based strategy game mechanic, of which there’s easily a dozen Facebook MMOs that make use of it.  Might and Magic makes use of it.  XCom makes use of it.  This is a *video game* mechanic!

          Every dungeon you go to in D&D is an instance.  How often do you run into other PCs in one? Never? It’s an instance.

        • TheKingandIRobot says:

           You’re selling yourself toupees, man.  None of that nonsense except for codified aggro mechanics is really unique to 4th edition:
          1.  Aggro mechanics were in late 3rd edition (and a variety of other games against which the MMO thing is rarely levied).  Not to mention they’re a good thing.  Without them, the complex dance of “DM I am trusting you to be nice to me because I’m a wizard” has long made for games of mother-may-I, where fighters basically had nothing to do but HOPE the monsters would play dumb.  It also led to wizards getting a bunch of defensive spells they probably didn’t need.  Why not let them be glass cannons instead of invisible stone giants?  Sure makes the narrative more interesting.

          2.  What’d orcs drop in previous editions?  All magic weapons?  Nothing?  Nope, the same collection of shitty vendor trash. (note:  They often dropped orc babies for the DM to trap the party paladin into asinine alignment rule debates with)

          3.  The Action point mechanic has been around for a looooooong time.  White Wolf uses a similar model and that predates WOW by a decent bit (oddly WOW and most MMOs do NOT have an action point mechanic, because they don’t work well in real time games.  And I’d say that the games they do appear in (mostly grid based RPG battlers) are a good thing for tabletop games to look like).

          4.  PCs in the “instanced dungeon?”  Were you constantly running into PCs in 2nd and 3rd edition dungeons?  How did that work, like a teleconference with someone else’s game table?  Because it seems to me like this complaint is just some nonsense.

          Or did you mean NPCs, like saying “You never find another adventuring party in a 4th edition dungeon”.  I assume you don’t mean that, because you’d know that’s just up the DM.  He can put another party in there for you to talk to if he wants.  It’s just not usually very exciting.  Remember that great part in Lord of the Rings where they meet the Fellowship of the Cup that are going the other way?  No?  Yeah, that’s because who gives a shit about the Fellowship of the Not What the Story is About. 

        • The_Juggernaut_Bitch says:


          An “instance” in an MMO is a private dungeon.  It is reserved for you and your party alone.  Any other player-characters who enter that zone will have their own “instance” of that content spawned for them privately.  In an MMO instance, you will never meet another PC that you did not bring along with you at the outset.  It’s the counter to the claim of “there were no instances”, because every D&D game that isn’t a walk-up convention game is an instance.

          And, yes, Orcs drop vendor trash.  It’s what they do.  It’s both a convention of standard RPGs and MMOs.  However, with the focus of 4th edition being rather pointedly being “level up and get better gear”, the focus of the game (as written) is a gear-grind, like Diablo or Everquest.

          If mobs were smart, yes, they’d definitely go for the guy throwing fireballs who are raining death and destruction down on them.  If they were an intelligent type of creature (humans, drow, svirfneblin, whatever) they would damn sure know to shoot the guy in the robes first, before he summons some greater elemental to wreck your shit.  D&D3.5 and previous did not have a “taunt” mechanic.  That’s the balance between the fighter classes, being a low-damage/high hit points class and the spellcasters, being insanely-high-damage/low hit points class.  The could end an entire battle with a single spell… or could, themselves, be ended with one good hit.  Those various defensive spells exist for a reason.

          But, basically, while other RPGs and MMOs definitely share many things in common when it comes to design elements, D&D4 felt very *blatant* about being influenced by MMO design.  From the movement tables being switched from feet and yards to “squares” to the spells and abilities being switched from fairly nebulous “when X conditions are met” (or set durations, “X minutes/hours per level” or whatever) to “once an encounter” or “X rounds”.

        • TheKingandIRobot says:

           You continue the toupee sales. 

          1.  If every RPG game ever is instanced, it’s not relevant to call out 4th edition for it.  Let’s set that aside.

          2.  A fireball in 3rd edition might be a 25″ circle.  A fireball in 4th edition might be a 5 square block. (I use ‘might’ and generalities here because the actual information is neither presently in front of me, nor the point, please don’t sperg out at me about the actual area of a fireball as if that was the argument).  A 5 square block is just simplified language for a 25″ area.  Characters move squares (increments of 5 feet) per round.  In 3rd edition, they move in increments of 10 feet per round.  All you’re objecting to here is the introduction of the term squares.  Clearly you’re aware enough of both game engines to notice that 3rd had the exact same measuring tools, but used real-world feet measurements instead of the squares mechanic.  So why did they move to squares?  Well, so that it was easier to play a game with miniatures without needing a bunch of protractors or templates.  “But I hate miniatures and 3e didn’t need them!” you’re queuing up.  Except it did.  My copies of 3e and 3.5e both include “miniatures to represent your party” under the “stuff you’ll need” section.

          3.  So you’re on board that orcs dropping shitty orc stuff is a standard convention of every RPG ever and basically not an argument about anything that 4e did wrong, yeah?  They drop shit because orcs have shit.  Good.  So your new goalpost you put up isn’t about how orcs drop shit, it’s about the gear treadmill and how the game is basically Diablo.  Okay.  Just wanted it clear that you’re not making any headway on your old argument, you’re making a new one.  A new one which is also wrong.  So….

          3a.  In 3rd edition (where Diablo was actually a licensed game, btw), monsters would often have a Damage Reduction stat that would inform their resistance to certain things.  A golem for example have have immunity to +3 or greater weapons, demonstrated through a reduction of damage incoming by a set amount, like say 50 points.  So to hit golems, or high level monsters (vampires, dragons, etc.) you REQUIRE set levels of weapon plusses.  So a fighter with a regular longsword is totally incapable of fighting an iron golem.  So that sucks.  It’s almost like there’s a gear grind to be able to participate, isn’t there.

          3b.  In 4th edition, that mechanic is gone.  All that a +3 longsword does over a +2 longsword is keep you in line with the math.  You’re 5% more likely to hit if your sword is +3 instead of +2, and that is the entire difference.  Soooo… you’re absolutely totally backwards mcwrong.  Like literally so wrong that if you just reversed the editions in your argument you’d be making a cogent point.  This is a problem based on arguing from feels instead of actually reading anything.

          3b corollary:  During the run of 4th edition, player complaints that it was silly they needed to constantly fish up new swords were answered.  A popular system was introduced that simply moved your characters chance to hit to where it should be if your character had been carrying the right degree of magic weapon.  So you no longer had to deal with the item treadmill, and could instead issue fun magic weird items.  This never happened in 3rd edition.

          4.  Stuff ended at the ends of rounds, or was triggered by other stuff, or began at the ends of turns, in every edition.  You just mastered it when you’re a kid and now you think the old language is “normal” compared to the new one which is “bullshit.”  When did a 2nd edition Contingency spell happen?  At a set trigger point.  When did a held action go off in 3rd edition?  When the character holding the action for a set event saw the set event happen.  It was always there.  Same with feet to squares, you’re just raging about a new set of language to describe an old set of events.

        • stepped_pyramids says:

          “Action points” in 4e are unrelated to the “action points” mechanics in video games, and many tabletop RPGs have had resources (character points, Fate points, etc.) available for the player to spend to do something out of the ordinary for a very long time.

        • TheKingandIRobot says:

           ” D&D3.5 and previous did not have a “taunt” mechanic.  That’s the
          balance between the fighter classes, being a low-damage/high hit points
          class and the spellcasters, being insanely-high-damage/low hit points
          class.  The could end an entire battle with a single spell… or could,
          themselves, be ended with one good hit.  Those various defensive spells
          exist for a reason.”

          I just wanted to point out a few things from this section for you to learn all about.

          First of all the tank mechanic from 3.5 is called “Broken Wing Gambit.”  You’ll find it in the core product Book of Nine Swords.  Basically lets you give an enemy a bonus (+2 to hit and damage) if he swings at you, but swinging at you provokes AoOs from your allies.  Rewards the enemy for attacking the fighter but charges up the non-fighter attackers! (that’s a tank mechanic)

          Second, ending fights with one spell sucks ass and it was the best thing they ever got rid of.  Guess how much fun it is for the Rogue when the wizard ends every fight by just saying “Quickened Cloudkill” or “Sleep!”  (it’s not fun it’s boring)

    • exant says:

      4th edition was a huge leap forwards in game design over 3.5 for exactly the reasons you point out. 4th ed threw out “wizard supremacy” – the idea that one of the classes should become godlike the later the game goes on. 

      It’s pretty idiotic to have a fundamental part of your game design result in one player always being more relevant than the rest of the party. Unfortunately this alienated a lot of players that liked rolling more dice than their friends.

      I’ve been in those situations a number of times during games. It’s great if you’re the wizard that can kill everything every round, but it sucks if you’re anything else.

      4th ed did have a lot of problems that D&D Next will hopefully address. Namely, it linked character progression too strongly to items, so that you had to get items of a certain level just to be relevant, and you had to get a new one each level. This made a fun part of D&D into a grind.

      4th ed also locked characters too strongly into classes and made it difficult to improvise new roles for your characters on the fly.

      4th ed combat was highly tactical, and with the right mix of players and classes, could be really fun. Unfortunately it also took outrageously long. I once DM’ed a party of nine players, and a single combat instance took 3 hours. Never again.

      • evanwaters says:

         They did address the item problem with Inherent Boons, though the combats still remained long despite better monster math.

      • TheKingandIRobot says:

         They fixed the item math in Essentials, and the item treadmill in 4e around the release of Dark Sun.  But they are going back to it for Next, because Next is designed to appease to people that quit when 4th came out, and the one thing we know about that group conclusively is that they hate progress or the unknown.  So we’re back to +3 longswords replacing +2 longswords, and monsters that can’t be hit without a +3 thing.

    • Sam L says:

       And if you like a tabletop RPG that plays like a video game, that’s all good. But if I wanted that, I’d play Descent, not D&D.

    • The_Juggernaut_Bitch says:

      You are so unbelievably incorrect it would be funny if it were not so pathetic.  4E is an MMO played on the table-top.  It’s WoW, with dice.  In short, it’s both terrible and *not* Dungeons and Dragons.

  11. Spacemonkey Mafia says:

    A great article.
       Pen and paper rpg’s will always be my true nerd love. And like true love, it’s elusive. I say in no way to diminish my domestic happiness that it is more difficult to find a group of people you want to roleplay with for an extended campaign than it is to find a partner you want to spend the rest of your life with.
       Not only do you have to find a group of people that you enjoy spending time with, you have to want the same thing out of a campaign. As much as I like video games, I don’t want the experience replicated in a tabletop.
      While I haven’t played 4th myself, the group I game with have the hardcovers. I’ve read through them to better understand the backlash, and 4th really is doing it’s level best to emulate the MMO experience.
       There are some good ideas; the article mentions flexible, modular monsters. And classes are restructured to make characters more robust and versatile, especially at low levels. Which alleviates one of D&D’s oldest problems; your character does one thing, then either needs to go lie down for the day or stand idly in the background and hope no one notices them.
      But the problem is it all comes at the expense of 4th unloading all the baked-in social dimensions of the rules. And sure, if you roleplay, you can roleplay any way you want, regardless of rules. But Pathfinder maintains the architecture for lying, sleuthing, romancing, convincing, frightening, encouraging or otherwise engaging in the flexible and open-ended interactions that distinguishes pen and paper from a video game.
      I’m running a Pathfinder campaign now where each character, to a one is a shitty, shit shit combatant. They’re all schemers and liars and thinkers and bastards. It’s been fun to try and keep moving forward in a campaign without simply throwing them up against a random pile of ogres. I’m not always successful, but when I am and either myself or my players bullshit their way through some bizarre scenario, it’s so fun. 

    • evanwaters says:

       What architecture does Pathfinder have that 4e doesn’t? Like, specifically, what rules?

      • David Goodman says:

        Magic and equipment that are useful outside of combat.

        • evanwaters says:

          There was plenty of equipment useful outside of combat. They gave out the standard adventurer’s kits.

          And rituals were spells specifically designed to be cast out of combat (i.e. they take a while to cast) and replicated most of the non-broken utility effects of prior editions.

      • TheKingandIRobot says:

         The answer that Pathfinder fans know in their heart but also know they can’t use for an argument is “wizard spells that invalidate other players/entire encounters/DM plans”.

        The most ardent fans of 3.5 and Pathfinder in my experience are always the most ardent fans of playing wizards in their olden days, and carefully crafting spell lists with stuff like Rope Trick and Contingency to ensure that anything that happens in the game is immediately neutralized by a series of precision spells.

        So the real answer to your original question is “a huge disparate gap in the dispensation of narrative control” but that’s not fun to admit or say, so instead we’ll hear “4e is a tabletop MMO”.

        • Brendan Tynan Buck says:

          The way you put it isn’t so nice, but is the idea of a player being able to push the game in the direction the DM didn’t think of really so bad? I think that’s the big difference between a Pen and Paper RPG and a video game: player agency. Sure, Wizards open up that agency to the point that they might be “game breaking”, but is breaking the game that bad? Is a class that allows the imaginative powers of a player to transmute, enchant, or even wish away the box really that bad?

        • TheKingandIRobot says:

           It is, yeah, in the context of PF/3.5D&D.  Because out of your table of players only one player gets that control you’re talking about.  The wizard.  So you’ve got four, maybe five players, except one is a wizard who can do everything the other players could do only without failure chances (whoa, stand aside  thief, I’ve got fly, invisibility, and knock ready so you’re basically a shitty fighter), and can also invalidate what the DM says with stuff like Contingency, Wish, and the like.  How fun is that for the thief?  Well nuts to him, right?  If he was a real PF player he’d have known to roll wizard.

          If you’re playing a game where everyone has that level of awesome narrative control, then that’s great.  You’re probably playing Exalted or one of the Fatecore or Dungeon World variants, and power to you.  My complaint was clearly not about narrative control existing at all, it’s about it going to the first player to say “wizard” and not anyone else.  That’s incredibly bad game design and it’s exactly as bad (actually worse) in Pathfinder than it was in 3.5

        • The_Juggernaut_Bitch says:

          That is, in a nutshell, the nature of any table-top RPG, and will always be something a DM has to account for and plan for.

          As a DM, it is inevitable that a player… sometimes it will be the same one, time and again, other times it will be one who often doesn’t say a lot, but she’ll suddenly have a brilliant idea… will utterly, completely and totally within the rules and within the capabilities of their character, derail your campaign story because you, as a DM, didn’t plan for that.

          A good DM can roll with it and keep things going.  Bad DMs will suffer a meltdown.

        • TheKingandIRobot says:

           Sure, and that’s rad when that happens.  Specifically when a player comes up with something you didn’t predict and was inventive and awesome.  That’s rad.

          That’s not what we’re talking about though.  Wizards in 3.5 don’t do anything unpredictable or unlikely.  It’s actually quite likely they’ll use their vast unfettered access to narrative control to shut down other player involvement, it’s also likely they’ll block your attempts as the DM to tell an interesting story, and those things are likely (not inventive or unexpected, just bog-standard) to happen, because the toolkit the game comes with supports that.

          Dressing that up under the guise of “wow it’s great when a player does something surprising” is especially galling because the rare times it happens in 3.5 for another player (the thief says “I’ll quickly use my climbing ability to hook the dragon’s foot and with a lucky stealth roll, sneak along for the ride!”) will be generally met with a depressingly obvious wizard thing (Oh funny.  Can’t believe the five skill rolls you made to accomplish that were all successful.  Anyway I cast Fly and Invisibility and just sort of match pace without any chance of failure, hoorah).

        • The_Juggernaut_Bitch says:

          What you have in that case is two classes accomplishing the same thing in different ways.

          Also ignoring the fact that most dragons have permanent Detect Invisible effects in their eyeballs, but I digress… and, also, that the Fly spell moves 90 feet per round, at best (60 if you are in medium or heavy armor) and an adult dragon flies 150 feet per round.  That Wizard is left in the dust, the enterprising Rogue is going places.

        • TheKingandIRobot says:

           Sure if your wizard is in medium or heavy armor (why) then he’s slower.  I guess you got me there. 

          And yeah.  Two different ways.  One with several chances to fail.  The other with no chances to fail.  One describing an inventive use of the class mechanics.  The other using the exact description of the class mechanics.  One doing “thief stuff”, the other doing “thief stuff but better and also can still do wizard stuff.”

          Totally different.

        • Brendan Tynan Buck says:

          Also relevant to the discussion:

        • TheKingandIRobot says:

           Relevant in that it supports my argument, yeah.  Two wizards having a wizard duel, camera centered right on them, occasionally you see other players, being described as functional tools.  Whole battle is lost because one wizard is slightly smarter at abusing the wizard meta than the other wizard.  Narrative control.  Wresting the spotlight is exactly what I don’t like.

        • Brendan Tynan Buck says:

          Completely missed the point of it. (To be fair there was also a post that came before that was deleted somehow.) The strength of a Wizard is based entirely on his or her ability to predict which spells will be useful for that day. A Wizard who focuses on Illusions, for instance, could become useless if thrown into a room of Undead. (Who are immune to his or her effects.) Similarly, Wizards can become useless if inside an anti-magic field, thrown against spell resistance, or find themselves in protracted encounters. Want to see a terrible fighter? Find a Wizard who used all their spells for the day.

        • TheKingandIRobot says:

           Do you play 3.5 a lot?  Enough to know that wizards always just make wands of all their spells anyway?  I assume you don’t.  Plus any wizard down to their last spell should be down to their getaway spell.  Again, it’s a meta control thing.

        • Brendan Tynan Buck says:

          Similarly, Wizards who are nice to the rest of the party make wands for their friends. (And +5 magical gear and rings that absorb spells and so on.)

        • TheKingandIRobot says:

           Oh so wizards can give up narrative control by making everyone else equipment that makes them into proto-wizards capable of doing minor wizard things but only if they invested in the absolutely essential skill “Be almost like a wizard”?  That seems like it still involves the GODDAMN WIZARD.  Narrative control baby, stick with the kid. 

        • Brendan Tynan Buck says:

          The rest of party does the Wizard the service of preventing him from being turned into pulp by magic immune constructs from hell with Invisibility Purge and dispell magic as SLAs. Just because your DM can’t figure out how to shut down a Wizard doesn’t mean it hasn’t been created.

        • Brendan Tynan Buck says:

          Also you’re assuming the Wizard is high level. It’s worth remembering that early on Wizards are squishy as shit and don’t have the item creation feats that make them so OP later on. A player with only knowledge of low level D&D could even be tricked into thinking that fighter is better than Wizard.

        • exant says:

          Agreed, “Wizard Supremacy” is what Pathfinder has that 4e doesn’t. My ardent 3.5 fanboy friend only plays wizards, and has only ever played wizards.
          The argument that 4e is just an MMO is a irrelevant comparison and a red herring to boot. Why is it like an MMO? Because every class is useful as the game scales? Because it has strict classes? Are those bad things and is it bad to be like an MMO?

        • evanwaters says:

           “The rest of party does the Wizard the service of preventing him from
          being turned into pulp by magic immune constructs from hell with
          Invisibility Purge and dispell magic as SLAs.”

          Well, yeah, it’s possible to whack anyone who goes really mad with power, but the point is a well-designed system will either A) not have those excesses occur often anyway, or B) make such unimaginable power open to all, not just one kind of character class or profession. (Seriously, some games do handle people being stupidly overpowered better than others.)

          3e just ended up with too many trap options- feats, classes, etc. that looked fine on the surface but would in practice lag behind everyone else- and it was similarly possible to break the game without trying too hard. Say you want to play a druid. They get some cool nature powers, like turning into wild animals, say a bear. They also get summon spells, which let them call forth wild animals. Say, other bears. A few feats to cast spells in animal form and suddenly you’re an ursine death delivery system. Which would be awesome but the fighter’s still stuck whacking at things with a stick.

        • exant says:

          @evanwaters:disqus You know something is wonky with the game design when the DM has to create outrageous encounters to counter the power of one player, and the other players are simply there as meatshields to prop up that one player. 

          Obviously people see this as a desirable feature of the game – guess which class they play?

        • EmperorNortonI says:

          I once ran a silly party through an ugly trap dungeon.  The wizard got to looking at his spells, and realized that he could just melt the whole dungeon with stone to mud.  Then, the party could hire people to dig for the valuable bits after the mud dried.

          The old spells were silly.

        • hubrisofsatan says:

          I’ve played and DMed many 3.5 campaigns and the wizard monopoly you describe has never occurred. I’ve had a barbarian monk rule the show once, a warlock pre-empt a few encounters, and a druid who extremely outpaced everyone else (thanks to some poor XP adjudication by the DM). 

          Full disclosure: I did play a wizard once. I did enjoy it. I was more powerful than the monk in single combat. Of course the one time I tried to do anything on my own I literally got my soul destroyed by a trap. The extreme expense of reassembling my essence from the void ensured I didn’t have the cash for the game-breaking numbers of wands, with which you apparently had to contend. Maybe otherwise the party would have let me spend all our funds on wands but I suspect not.

        • underscorex says:

          @EmperorNortonI:disqus , that’s actually one of the all time great D&D stories:

          “You find yourselves before the massive adamantine gates of the Dungeon of Fate…”

          “Hang on, the doors are adamantine?”


          “SOLID adamantine?”


          “How big?”

          “Uh… Foot thick, eight feet high, three feet wide each?”

          “Okay.  We’re going to take the doors off the hinges.  Two 1x8x3 blocks of adamantine are worth more than anything we’re ever going to find in that stupid fucking dungeon.”

        • TheKingandIRobot says:

           Right that’s classic murderhobo play.  You go to a dungeon because A) There are some people in there to murder, and B) Probably they had some treasure.

          Shoot it led to the Wall of Salt economy.  The wizard spell Wall of Salt generated permanent salt in a predictable and measurable (and enormous) amount, and salt had a clear and easily managed cost per pound.  So casting the spell once generated something like 440,000 gold worth of salable value.  Hire some guys to break up your salt wall, and why were you even going to that dungeon?

          For some reason D&D always falls into that murderhobo no plot steal everything model.  I think it’s probably because there’s not much of an overarching narrative to give your party a big quest or anything.  Like you don’t see Shadowrun parties just driving randomly around at night to see if any trolls they kill had a magic gun, or breaking into their assigned building and just stealing the reception computers.

  12. monstermanual says:

    This is a very interesting question that I don’t think the gaming press has figured out yet, but I don’t think this article is very convincing either. If the reason 4e failed is that it wasn’t backwards compatible, well, 3e/3.5e/Pathfinder weren’t either. When D&D 3e was released in 2000, it featured completely different core mechanics than twenty years of AD&D products, yet d20 dominated the RPG industry for years and even now is the most popular version of D&D.

    Its also worth considering how long of a shelf life Pathfinder really has. The core game was released years ago, and is mostly free via SRD. Paizo has been able to do good business pumping out supplements since then. But how long can that last? Has Paizo figured out the secret to last forever? Perhaps, but now most of the excitement in RPGs is about other D&D-derived games, not Pathfinder the old stalwart.

    • CNightwing says:

      3E was pretty backwards compatible with 2E. Thaco translated directly to attack bonus. 99% of spells still existed. All classes still existed, with some more added from 1E. Non-weapon proficiencies became skills. Equipment translated well. Multiclassing didn’t translate directly, but still existed. In fact, they made a stirling effort in creating a conversion guide if I recall to tell you how to translate your characters and carry on playing your campaign. Adventure-wise, I certainly played the original Temple of Elemental Evil as a 3rd Edition adventure without much effort require in conversion.

      There was no attempt to convert 3E to 4E – they confessed this on their own website partway into the design/reveal process. They didn’t offer guidance to continue your campaign. Many classes disappeared until supplements. The way they got rid of gnomes was amusing at the time, but looking back on it, it feels like a high-school prank you’re now slightly ashamed of. To me, 4E feels like a fashion trend – it was briefly exciting and cool and new, but looking back on it you just wish they’d tried something more straightforward.

      The approach to D&D Next has worried me in this regard, because they could start with 3E and make incremental improvements – better than Pathfinder, but not so radical as 4E. Instead they’re mixing and matching from different editions and styles and I don’t know if that will work yet. At least 4E had a vision!

      • hubrisofsatan says:

        Gnomes are scum and I’m glad they’re dying. Kurtulmak forever.

        • evanwaters says:

           I think we’re stuck with ’em. The gnome’s absence from 4e was temporary anyway. And Next is even bringing in Kender. Why, nobody’s quite sure.

        • WonderfullGizzardOfOz says:

          My Gnome Ranger will pump you so full of arrows for that insult your corpse will be mistaken for the Magnimar Information and Gift Wrapping Booth.

        • hubrisofsatan says:

          @WonderfullGizzardOfOz:disqus Why don’t you just have your deity exterminate an entire sapient race as a ‘prank’ again.

        • The_Juggernaut_Bitch says:

          Because of all the races ever introduced to the D&D multi-verse, Kender was the one that remained the most popular and, arguably, the most original. Elves go back to Tolkein, as far as the modern convention goes, and much, much further back than that in reality.

          They are also, in the experiences I have had in 30 years of RPGs, the character race most likely to be played by female gamers.  Other than elves.

          It is what it is.

        • TheKingandIRobot says:

          Kender were only original because the LOTR estate was after them about how halflings were clearly just hobbits.  Otherwise they’re basically a combination of gypsy stereotypes and that sort of “magic children” thing you see in TV shows where kids are always wide-eyed and innocent, replace all their Rs with Ws, and say stuff like “How can a dwink be stiff?  It’s a wiquid!”

      • Unexpected Dave says:

        Gnomes were essential in 2e! They were the only race that could be a Cleric/Thief.

        • The Guilty Party says:

          Or illusionist multi-classes, because all gnomes are genetically inclined towards pranks.

          Man, d&d is so racist.

    • Persia says:

      I don’t remember the 2E/3E changes, but whether you or CNightwing is right, the competition landscape was changing too between 2000 and 2008, especially in terms of what you could Bittorrent or grab free online. You didn’t have as much choice if you were unhappy in ’08.

    • Brendan Tynan Buck says:

      I think the article has a point when it’s been said that Paizo’s support has been stronger than Wizard’s. Their recent Mythic ruleset has provided an interesting alternative to 3.5’s Epic while their own AP’s are usually worth the money. Their fusion classes, such as the Magus, have provided compelling alternatives to multiclassing or Prestige classes, which has made me personally excited for their upcoming Class Guide which promises more classes like it. It also helps that Paizo makes buying the books worth it even if the rules end up on their SRD by releasing thick, gorgeous hardcovers. 

  13. James Palmer says:

    Good design of D20/OSR games I’ve personally played: Dungeon Crawl Classics -> Beyond the Wall -> 13th Age -> 4th Edition -> Pathfinder -> 3.5.  Though Pathfinder and 3.5 are on about the same level of flat-out bad design.

  14. Simon Jones says:

    Let’s try this story instead.

    Ryan Dancey pushed OGL, the open gaming license a product that allowed anyone to publish things using the D&D rules, heavily to WotC because he kind of fetishisized it as a next step in gamin and possibly because it’d probably work out to his own personal benefit, because he wanted to be seen as some sort of visionary and  he is kind of a tool.

    OGL was seen as great idea because it meant that other companies would publish the crap that WotC didn’t want to bother publishing, like adventures, and it would give the game a huge presence in stores while also meaning everyone would have to buy their rule books but it gradually dawned that things like the System Reference Document, meaning there was no reason to buy the rulebooks. Also, they were publishing a lot of terribly thought out, poorly balanced shit. Finally, people were publishing the sort of things WotC wanted to publish.

    So they went ‘Eh, we can’t keep going under this model. Let’s publish a new version of D&D that takes into account the past 10 or so years of gaming, has a well thought out integrated rule set that’ll make it easier to learn and, most importantly, isn’t under the OGL. We’ll use our brand name to push it.’

    And the did.

    And it was pretty good. I liked it.

    It actually sold well. 4e core books outsold 3e core books.


    It was the first edition of D&D that had to compete against itself. When 3e or 2e, they weren’t competing against a slew of Brand Spanking New Content for the previous game, so there wasn’t the appearence of the previous game being ‘dead’ and the old players gradually drifiting to the new one

    IT wasn’t such much a case of hubris as Ryan Dancey and the OGL shitting in the bed years ago and creating a market condition D&D had never had to deal with before because someone handed out the keys to the kingdom.

    • stepped_pyramids says:

      But the incredibly locked-down approach for 4e (actually, pretty much any character sheet/character builder/grid sheet app out there is against their licensing rules) made the Pathfinder schism virtually guaranteed. OGL might have been a bad idea for Wizards (I don’t think it was) but trying to close a door like that after it’s been opened is only going to make people angry.

  15. CNightwing says:

    Aha, I wondered when there might be another discussion of the current developments in D&D here. Firstly my (criminal) record: I started playing as a teenager with 2nd edition, transitioning to 3rd edition before going to university. I played 4th edition when it emerged for a single long campaign and then stopped playing D&D. Warning: this is very long!

    I very much enjoyed 2nd edition, but there was no doubt that the rules were messy: casting any spell usually required looking it up to check the details and there were a series of subsystems that felt rather detached from each other. That’s why, as someone already mentioned here, 3rd edition felt like such a triumph. It united so many of these systems and cleaned up a lot of problems to make a game that played well right from the start. It was decidedly an incremental improvement, not without flaws, but I was satisfied to play and design for it for the duration of its life cycle. By the end though, I was excited that they’d be releasing a new edition – what I expected was another incremental improvement. They’d sort out the maths that made parties so disparate in their abilities, they’d rein in your ability to mix and match abilities all over the place and they’d bring spellcasting back down to earth from the absurd heights it had reached. I had definitely reached a point where I couldn’t play 3rd edition any more, not without putting some heavy caveats in place for the players, enforcing some of my own designs on skills and spells – much like the end of 2nd edition for its veterans.

    I remember that between editions WotC released Star Wars: Saga Edition. I got it and was so impressed – they’d found a game that canonically ought to be Jedi vs. everyone and made an excellent little ruleset that let other classes fulfill their roles and a party actually function together. This was the direction I expected of 4th Edition – streamlining and improvement.

    I went to the UK launch of 4th edition and yes, I was still excited, but learning any new game is like that. It was fun – though right away I wasn’t a fan of the art direction. Despite only being in D&D fandom for maybe 12 years at the time, I also questioned the necessity of radically altering the lore to include tieflings and dragonborn, especially within the Forgotten Realms. We started a campaign and I dropped out around level 8 or so – partly through boredom, partly because I needed to write my thesis, but I didn’t miss playing the game. There was balance, sure, but the rules straight-jacketed the classes into their roles so heavily and all we did was fight, fight and fight some more – always enemies in little groups unless it was that one big enemy you save to the end. A couple of years previous our group had been into WoW, and we’d been there and done that. We wanted a game that offered us mechanics and opportunities outside of combat – interesting exploration and interactions, but goodness all we did was fight.

    It’s hard to put my finger on exactly why I don’t like 4th edition, especially as it’s become a sore point on most message boards. It’s partly the discontinuity with previous editions. It’s partly that it requires the players to be directors rather than actors in playstyle – the ‘metagame’ is much more blatant. It’s partly that the rules are so rigid, preventing that sense of wonder when you discover a new spell or magic item.

    I looked at Pathfinder, and I tried to run a game, but it’s still hopelessly flawed. I see very little improvement on 3rd edition – and that’s not their fault, they’re bound by the d20 SRD to a great extent, but it still suffers the fundamental issues I was having at the end of the 3rd edition cycle.

    I’ve also participated in the D&D Next playtest. It’s had its ups and downs, but I haven’t been enjoying the more recent iterations of the ruleset. They claim to be spending the next year tidying things up, but there’s still a resistance to changing the way that spells behave and to unifying mechanics under a single banner – though they might get there I guess. They tried a lot of new ideas and some have hit the mark, such as advantage/disadvantage, whilst others, to me anyway, remind me of terrible 80s boardgames such as Heroquest with fiddly little rules that don’t fit into the main system, such as expertise dice.

    It’s worth noting that there’s a wider field opening up too. 13th Age got a lot of press in the community when it was launched because of the designers. It’s nothing special though, at least for my taste, especially as it maintains some of that director stance feel from 4th Edition. There’s also Numenera, which I haven’t looked at, but I wasn’t a big fan of Monte’s 3rd edition work within the d20 SRD, plus I think there’s an inbuilt setting which I always struggle with.

    So I’m waiting and seeing. I’d love to start up regular RPG sessions again but I’ve maybe become too choosy. I love Call of Cthulhu for instance, but grew weary of its chthonic ruleset – the new iteration doesn’t look to solve any of its problems either. I’m stuck between not enjoying narrative-driven games with few mechanics and detesting the management of rules-heavy, clunky system games. Naturally I’ll write my own! On weekends! When I’m not doing other real life things.. (This is partly true, I have a Cthulhu ruleset based on the recent Mongoose edition of Traveller – creating characters is the best bit of that game and the worst of Call of Cthulhu, so hopefully they combine to create a powerful super-game!)

    • Mercenary_Security_number_4 says:

      Just for fun I ran this through the AutoSummarize feature in Word 2000 (yes I’m still using Word 2000).

      Firstly my (criminal) record: I started playing as a teenager with 2nd edition, transitioning to 3rd edition before going to university. I played 4th edition when it emerged for a single long campaign and then stopped playing D&D. Warning: this is very long!

      I had definitely reached a point where I couldn’t play 3rd edition any more, not without putting some heavy caveats in place for the players, enforcing some of my own designs on skills and spells – much like the end of 2nd edition for its veterans.

      I remember that between editions WotC released Star Wars: Saga Edition. I went to the UK launch of 4th edition and yes, I was still excited, but learning any new game is like that. We wanted a game that offered us mechanics and opportunities outside of combat – interesting exploration and interactions, but goodness all we did was fight.

      It’s partly the discontinuity with previous editions. It’s partly that the rules are so rigid, preventing that sense of wonder when you discover a new spell or magic item. I see very little improvement on 3rd edition – and that’s not their fault, they’re bound by the d20 SRD to a great extent, but it still suffers the fundamental issues I was having at the end of the 3rd edition cycle.

      I’m stuck between not enjoying narrative-driven games with few mechanics and detesting the management of rules-heavy, clunky system games.

    • I Am Sancho says:

      Man, how great was Star Wars Saga Edition? I still own all the books…

      • Aurora Boreanaz says:

        I still kick myself that I sold all of my WEG Star Wars books.  Even though the D6 system was flawed, GMing that system was the most fun I’ve ever had RPing.

    • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

      This is a great summary of the different editions.
       I know it’s purely cosmetic and not indicative of the actual system, but there was something about 4th incorporating Teiflings and Half-Dragons, while jettisoning Gnomes that seemed to summarize all my misgivings about the system.
       It’s like the kid who starts a new school year with chopped and dyed hair and totally punk clothes in hopes that maybe, they can pull off being a different person than the nebbish, be-spectacled nerd they were last year.

      • TheKingandIRobot says:

         Gnomes were gone for all of one book.  They showed up looking like big-eyed weirdos in PHB2, along with bard and barbarian.  They apparently wanted to have a few ‘core’ things in the second book to keep players coming back.

    • exant says:

      Have you tried FATE? Like d20, it’s an umbrella for a number of settings and systems, notably Starblazer and Legends of Anglerre. It doesn’t so much solve the problems of D&D as completely avoid them. 

      It is driven by narrative, but I GMed a few games for my powergamer friends, and they seemed satisfied by the character-driven combat and the degree to which they had agency in the system.

      I wrote my own ruleset once which worked pretty well, but when I went back to improve it I discovered that I was just writing a clone of FATE. So what I’m saying is, FATE.

      • CNightwing says:

        I have seen it discussed but never investigated further, further. I’ll certainly take a look!

      • hubrisofsatan says:

        Funny story: I was also making my own ruleset that until today had the working title “FATE”. It only has superficial similarities to FATE though. Thank/fuck you for pointing this thing out to me.

    • TheKingandIRobot says:

       I have to say, your critique of 4e is the best I’ve seen here so far, and I’m a huge fan of 4e.  A sense of directorial control and a requirement that all players get involved in a metagame level of control are definitely two of the biggest problems.  I’d probably add “there’s a ton of folderol surrounding levelling math, but it can all be boiled off to ‘you hit on 11s'”.

  16. Andy Best says:

    There is also a network of people who just keep on playing TSR era D&D, because there’s nothing wrong with it and it’s by nature customizable anyway. This includes OD&D fanatics who reject the Dragonlance/Hickman move to linear story and goals and stick only to gonzo weirdness and improvisation. It also includes people like me who just see all the WotC versions as unnecessary. 

    There’s some kind of unquantifiable quality to the old stuff, that WotC have never captured. The old TSR modules had some kind of atmosphere to them. It probably stems from their lack of modern PR/Brand think.

    • dreadguacamole says:

       The TSR era also includes the best settings. I like Eberron (rather a lot), but it has nothing on Birthright, Planescape, Ravenloft or Dark Sun. Hell, even Spelljammer, in all its batshit glory.
       Those all came out after Dragonlance, though, so you’re probably referring to their earlier stuff.

    • Unexpected Dave says:

      In my first few sessions as DM, I would try to create linear stories, expecting that my players would enjoy the experience of discovering what they were “supposed” to do.

      My players inevitably rejected that. They wanted to help create the story rather than be “active listeners”. My carefully crafted adventures turned to gonzo improvisation, and they were a lot more fun that way.

      • Andy Best says:

        And at the least, keeping this element in play at all times can shape the set-ups and more linear aspects to keep it related to stuff the players came up with.

    • Cliffy73 says:

      I think it’s that the art had boobies.

    • TheKingandIRobot says:

       That “undefinable quality” isn’t really that complicated.  You love the game you played when you were the right age.  That’s all.  The game from your childhood is objectively superior, and the new game is for dumb babies who don’t know how easy they have it.  It’s the same with which Final Fantasy game is the best.

      • Andy Best says:

        I know plenty examples of what you are saying, yeah. Not for me though. Take the Civilization game series. I played all of them as they came out until present. I like 4, with the Warlords expansion. It’s simply a better game in all facets than the earlier incarnations. That’s the norm for me, I have nostalgia for older stuff but won’t deny obvious fact. With D&D, the original game captured and inspired a certain experience which is lessened by the menu-play style later systems. 

        • TheKingandIRobot says:

          Nah man.  “Menu play” is an illusion brought on by seeing what the game was always like except codified.  Paladins and rangers always had daily powers, now they’re just in boxes that make them easy to track.  Monsters always had usages of supernatural or spell like abilities, which generally required you to go get the PHB, so you needed two books to run one monster, which slowed down the game.  Now if they have a power, it’s just a power they have and it’s easier to reference.  Everything you could do in 3rd you can do in 4th, there’s just MORE (note:  wizard supremacy excluded).

          Plus you see this list of powers and think “welp, that’s all I can do.”  Except that’s an illusion that was brought on by hearing about the game from angry 3e players before reading it.  You want to do something other than the cards, the game supports that, it’s got rules for improvisational play.  In fact it has MORE support for crazy moments of “I use the dragon’s claw to scale the ice tower!” than 3e did.

          The real difference was that it used to be that 2/3rd of the classes were forced into the choice of either just attacking every turn, or making up some improv stuff.  Since fighters had nothing but an auto-attack and a bunch of low-functioning modifiers to that auto attack (speaking here of trip and bull rush etc), you could either auto-attack, or say something like “are there any chandeliers?  I cut down a chandelier!”   Well guess what?  BOTH of those options are still in 4e.  They just also added more.  So that no class is stuck with that choice every turn.

          But the game looks simple on the surface, and easy to understand, and that pisses off the part of us that thought we had learned some secret language.  Believe me, I have every edition back to the red box on my bookshelf, and the white booklets in a drawer.  The reason people denigrate the 4e model is because they also have all these books, and they MASTERED them.  They know all these arcane little traps the book accidentally set to catch noobs.  They know all the fiddly paths to earn a badass wizard.  So it naturally pisses them off when a new game comes around and there isn’t any of that folderol, or rather there’s less of a barrier to system mastery.  Give your 10 year old brother the 4e PHB and he’ll crank out a fully playable, relatively balanced Warlock in 20 minutes.  AND HOW DARE HE?  This game was supposed to be arcane and secretive, like when I was a kid!

          • Andy Best says:

            I still disagree with you, but you make lots of points and many people reading through the comments may well agree with you more than me. Thanks for taking the time to reply. 

    • Unexpected Dave says:

      I always loved the conversational prose in tabletop books like the 2e guides and Kevin Siembieda’s Palladium books. Sure, they don’t always clearly explain how the game is played, but you were more likely to read it from cover to cover.

  17. Mercenary_Security_number_4 says:

    buyers of Paizo books can have a PDF emailed to them on the spot when they purchase from Paizo’s website.

    Yes, but do the PDFs come with their own demonic possession or is that just the hard copy?

  18. Mercenary_Security_number_4 says:

    It’s why Google+ has struggled to gain ground against Facebook. If
    everyone you know is already on Facebook, it’s a hard sell to get them
    to join another service, even if it might be “better.”

    tangent: no matter what features may be improved, if the purpose of a social network is to be able to connect with whoever you want to connect with, then it stands to reason that you will be able to accomplish that better with a network that has more users.  Therefore, the more popular social network is by definition the better one (for the record, I hate all of them — I know, such a shock given my usually friendly disposition).

    • Roswulf says:

      That’s only true if the social network allows the desired kind of connection.

      To use a truly stupid example, all my friends in the secret intelligence community are on Facebook. But since Facebook doesn’t have an infrastructure for encrypting secret communiques about the impending alien invasion, it’s not a useful social network for that purpose. Instead, we have to use a much smaller social network reliant on pigeons wearing tinfoil hats.

      I remember a time when vastly more people were on MySpace than Facebook. We changed to Facebook because of a promise of security- only people with verified college email address could access your profile in those ancient days- distinct from the size of the user base. Even moreso, we used Facebook because it had a social signifier of respectability (a signifier grounded in exclusivity) lacking in MySpace.

      • Mercenary_Security_number_4 says:

         Your story is a lot like mine, only more interesting ’cause it involves aliens.

        • Roswulf says:

          WHO TOLD YOU?!?!

        • The_Juggernaut_Bitch says:

          @Roswulf:disqus Uh… you did?

          “But since Facebook doesn’t have an infrastructure for encrypting secret communiques about the impending alien invasion, it’s not a useful social network for that purpose.”

  19. Mike Wolf says:

     I think the main issue I have with Pathfinder is that by the time of its release, 3.5e was such a giant pile of clunky cruft that it really didn’t need more crap added on top of it. In my (limited) experience as well, PF is pretty unbalanced and too easy to powergame.

    I quite like D&D 4e, though, in large part due to it being vastly more straightforward. Everyone has something to do, encounters get resolved pretty quickly, the whole thing has a punchier pace. While it’s not particularly my choice of setting — I’m a sucker for White Wolf’s stuff, and have been since probably ’97 or so — it’s a good go-to for classic fantasy RP.

    One thing that I definitely agree with is that WotC should release their D&D stuff digitally. I get a lot of mileage out of DriveThruRPG with (among other things) digital editions of games/supplements that I’m interested in, but not sufficiently to pay top dollar for a physical copy. This is especially applicable with old systems, things that I was curious about but never looked into at the time, where you’d be paying a ridiculous amount (or be very lucky) to find as a print edition.

    • evanwaters says:

       They’ve finally started putting things back up on DriveThruRPG- type in “” and you’ll get to their product page.

      A bit of a paltry selection right now, but they keep adding stuff.

  20. dreadguacamole says:

     Great article. As others mentioned, I’d say it puts too much emphasis on backwards compatibility (3rd edition wasn’t really compatible with 2nd – even if there were conversion guides out there). Most big RPGs put out new editions of their systems out every few years, with varying degrees of compatibility; in my experience what will usually happen is that the existing fanbase will buy new materials, only adopting the newer versions whenever it suits them, and retrofitting any ideas they like in the meanwhile.

     4th ed D&D does what it sets out to do really well, and is unquestionably better designed than previous editions of D&D. Unfortunately (for me), it prioritizes a highly tactical, balanced combat engine, with fewer hooks on which you can hang roleplaying stuff on and emphasis on how everything applies to battle. It’s perfectly fair to expect players to divorce a character’s roleplaying aspects from the character sheet, but in my (very limited) experience with 4th, it changes the feel from 3.5 significantly, and makes it a lot harder to run and play it loosely.
     Since over the years I’ve tended to favor less rule-intensive games (my favorite as of the last few years has been Hero Wars/Hero quest – no relation to the boardgame), 4th ed has never really appealed to me much. It’s a shame that it’s perceived as a failure, though, because it’s got ton of great ideas that will probably now be discarded.

    • Roswulf says:

       If there is one thing endless internet edition wars have resolved it is that no version of D&D is “unquestionably better designed” than another.

      Once you get away from the FATAL’s of the industry (a legendarily terrible game in all respects), better ceases to be a useful construct on a terminology level.

      • dreadguacamole says:

         Heh, fair enough. Would “Unquestionably more focused” work?
         I personally don’t care all that much for 4th ed, but all of its systems are carefully set up to work with each other with the aim of providing a balanced and slick combat experience. Compared to it, the previous editions seem muddled and scattershot (which, to be honest, is just the way I like them).

        • Roswulf says:

          I’m tempted to keep challenging the “unquestionably”, on the basis of the crazies existing and my being a dick, but I do completely agree with your substantive analysis.

    • exant says:

      4th ed definitely expanded on the series’ wargaming roots and was best played with a heavy emphasis on combat with players who liked to min/max. The system was so well balanced for this that it often disappointed some of my powergaming friends because they couldn’t find a way to break the game like they did with 3.5. 

      I never had any problems building story hooks for my parties, who were mostly math nerds anyway and were terrible at RP. In my experience 4th ed RP was just as disconnected from the character sheet as 3.5 was, or at least the way we played.

      • evanwaters says:

         So far there really hasn’t been an edition of D&D with very strong mechanical support for roleplaying. With Next they’re saying that they’ll try to support all three “pillars”, combat, exploration, and interaction, and there have been rumors of vaguely story-game-ish mechanics to support the latter two, but not much of that has been seen yet and they’re winding down the public playtest.

        • exant says:

          I agree. D&D has, at some level, always been a wargame first and and RP game second. I think this primary emphasis on wargaming gimps any attempt to create a RP-heavy game from any D&D edition without house-ruling the shit out of the system.

          One of the noble failed experiments of 4th ed was the Skill Challenge system, which tried to bring turn-based tactics to role-playing. Unfortunately the rules were difficult to use and I could never quite figure out how to build a high-stakes skill-based encounter that was interesting.

          Had skill challenges been better, or had more emphasis on RP/skills instead of combat, 4th ed could have bridged the divide between the character sheet and RP. From what I’ve read about Next, I doubt it will be any different.


    The only real winner in the edition wars is Wayne Reynolds. That guy’s art is inescapable. 

    • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

      I’m pretty grateful for that. He’s my favorite fantasy roleplaying illustrator to come along since the the best -Tony Diterlizzi- stepped away to do his own thing.
       Reynolds either can’t or won’t draw feet and all his faces look the same, but he’s one of the only illustrators actively incorporating different cultural and period elements into his designs. It’s textural and grounded and a lovely contrast from the boilerplate ph-neutral work that fills out most of the books.

      • WELCOME_THRILLHO says:

         I used to like him and he’s certainly good at what he does, but after 15 years of seeing him steadily corner the market on D&D covers I’m ready to see someone else. Everything he’s done blends together for me, regardless of where he takes inspiration to filter through his style.

        • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

          That’s fair. I certainly wish there were others stepping up with some nuance and personality to their styles.

        • evanwaters says:

           Yeah, there’s an extent to which he’s maybe TOO dominant- I really disliked how the 3.5 Monster Manual eliminated almost all of DiTerlizzi’s designs in favor of his- but he does good work.

        • WELCOME_THRILLHO says:

           I love Tony Diterlizzi and really miss seeing his art in D&D stuff as well, though. He was the main inspiration that made me want to try becoming a fantasy illustrator and I think the sense of fun that he brought to a lot of his pieces is sorely missed. I like a lot of illustrators working right now, but he had a way of making every piece a little playful and more lively than the more “gritty” (for lack of a better term off the top of my head) illustrators that have gotten popular.

        • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

          @WELCOME_THRILLHO:disqus  I also midnight as a fantasy illustrator. Do you have a portfolio online that you either can or are willing to share?

        • WELCOME_THRILLHO says:

           Yeah, my website is (and now you all know my real name! AHH!). I haven’t updated it in a shamefully long time, though. So I may start a tumblr account or something easier to update while I redesign and update.

        • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

          Very nice stuff. I like the Bariaur, the Tengu and the beholder hat. Do you still draw?

        • The_Juggernaut_Bitch says:

          Checked your site out, Welcome_Thrillho, that’s some good stuff!

        • WELCOME_THRILLHO says:

           Thanks, guys!
          Yeah, I still draw Spacemonkey Mafia- I’ve been getting some small press work here and there for 3rd party publishers.

      • TheKingandIRobot says:

         More Dark Sun means more Brom.  BROM!!!!!

        • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

          Brom blew my mind when I first saw his stuff in Dark Sun. His sketch stuff even more so than his oils. I didn’t know D&D art could look that way.

        • The_Juggernaut_Bitch says:

          Brom is an artist I could collect libraries of books of.

  22. Sarapen says:

    I know probably as much about D&D as someone can without actually playing the tabletop game. I’ve played several computer games using the mechanic and set in the actual universe, I’ve read some of the novels, and I can usually get the joke when the webcomic Order of the Stick makes a D&D gag.

    Having said that, I have never once been tempted to touch the core product. I’m not really sure why since obviously I have no problem with gaming as an activity. I think it’s probably because I don’t know anyone who does tabletop RPGs. I suppose I’d like it well enough if I actually did it for real.

    So this article was genuinely informative about something it turned out I knew little about. Props to Samantha Nelson and the GS team.

    And to go off on a tangent: I must say the way Baldur’s Gate is explicitly set up using the D&D mechanic is off-putting to someone who’s never played that way. Thaco? 1d10? What the shit are all these numbers? Which sword is actually better? I had to spend hours looking up stuff online to get what was what.

    • dreadguacamole says:

       It’s jarring now, but I don’t think that it was specific to Baldur’s Gate way back when; I remember enjoying working what the mechanics were with a lot of those old-school games. Hell, on a lot of games you needed to read the manuals if you wanted to get anywhere. Those endless pages with spell lists…

       It was already falling out of favor when Baldur’s Gate came out, but if you go back from there you could see a lot of games that were only too happy to let their pen&paper roots show through. Even if they weren’t licensed. A ton of games showed weapon damage as dice ranges, for example.

    • Drinking_with_Skeletons says:

       To echo dreadguacamole, that’s pretty common in video games.  I’ve (shamefully) never played Baldur’s Gate and its sequel, but I did play Neverwinter Nights and NWN2, which did the same for 3.5.

      However, in addition to having impressive manuals, they also were chock-full of tooltips and lengthy descriptions.  I feel like I’m in the same boat as you vis-a-vis knowing about the product despite never playing it, and I owe that almost exclusively to NWN2.

      And, it goes without saying, I highly recommend NWN2.  I was never as big of a fan of NWN, but that was because it was more of a tool to facilitate playing with friends, while NWN2 had more of a single player focus.  Both are available on GOG, though NWN2 remains something of a system hog.

  23. Pinwiz11 says:

    This Saturday, I’ll be playing in the final session of a 4E campaign that has been running for the last four years.  I loved 4E.

    However, once this ends I’m never playing D&D again. D&D may be the grandfather of RPGs, but it’s just not that good of a game. The activity has moved on, and I’d much rather play a game like FATE where I can tell the story I want easily instead of locking myself into the same Figher/Cleric/Rogue/Wizard roles that has been prevalent for the last thirty years.

    • exant says:

      I’ve also switched to FATE. I have great memories from a decade of playing 3.5 and 4th ed, but it’s time to move on to a system that doesn’t require hours of setup to DM and painstaking Excel spreadsheets just to play a character.

      You should check out Nova Praxis. It’s a sci-fi FATE-based ruleset that some friends and I are going to run soon. DriveThruRPG has the PDF for free and it’s worth checking out.

  24. Kyle O'Reilly says:

    For me D&D will always come out on top for the sheer fact that those are the books our DM has and we’re having fun with them.  It’s not brand loyalty, it’s just that we don’t really need a change, we’re happy with where we’re at.  We also see a lot of the rules as suggestions and I’ve occasionally tried to convince my brothers (my entire group is brothers which makes for some hilarious fraternal arguments between Half-Orcs and Gnomes) to pick up one of the freeware 2E imitations like Swords & Wizardry ( as I’ve heard they’re built less around stringent rules and more around a “Go with what sounds right to you and your DM” style.  I always get frustrated when something that I think should be obvious gets biffed by a bad dice roll. 

    We all KNOW that shopkeeper is going to force those baby giant eagle’s eggs into captivity, but since we all rolled for shit on our lie check we can’t prove it!  I suppose it reflects the random chaos of the world but still…

    Cool article though Samantha, I’m sure by the response here you can tell that more tabletop RPG articles or news would be greatly appreciated.

  25. Roswulf says:

    I wonder to what extent WotC’s failure to get a really good computer game version of Fourth Edition into stores retarded its progress towards dominance. And I do mean wonder- not really putting it forth as a likely theory.

    But the decline of the D&D Computer RPG edition to edition is striking (focusing on the adaptations that reproduce D&D mechanics relatively faithfully, so not the MMOs and other dramatic departures). 2nd Edition provided the framework for celebrated works in Planescape and Baldur’s Gate that still draw intimidating kickstarter numbers. Third Edition brought the more problematic Neverwinter Nights series, but at least there was aspiration (also the less aspirational Temple of Elemental Evil).

    And fourth edition has brought nothing of particular note. I realize that I’m not the first to remark upon this, but it still perplexes me that after designing a system in part through reflection on MMO mechanics, WotC never made a concerted effort to get a high-profile, prestige RPG out of fourth edition. Purely as a marketing tool, I really think that sort of tie-in should be planned for in Fifth…which I will not call Next, because that is dumb.

    • evanwaters says:

       Apparently the major problem is that at some point Wizards gave a very long-term license to Atari, who more or less completely failed to do anything with it, resulting in a lawsuit that wasn’t settled until 2011.

      Neverwinter uses some of 4e’s mechanics but it sucks that we won’t get a turn-based tactical RPG out of it.

    • TheOligarchicMe says:

      It’s pretty bizarre that 4e’s mechanics couldn’t make a good computer game, since they were so much less up for interpretation than previous editions. Even if not an Infinity Engine-style game, a turn-based tactics game would work great.

      I strongly suspect it might have to do with the corporate management rather than WotC. The licensing of the D&D name is managed by Hasbro, and they also reap the royalties for D&D licensed products, which means there’s no direct motivation for the core D&D team to push for video games.

      • TheKingandIRobot says:

         Yeah, it would have been an AMAZING computer game, and I’ve seen some fanworks that prove it here and there, but it was a never a question of form, it was a question of Atari sitting fatly on the license.

  26. Andy Best says:

    I’m not the first one to say this. The difference between the TSR era stuff (true D&D play) and the later stuff – 4th Ed being the most extreme version is this: rules or rulings.

    In the old system, the situation is set up and then the players respond in a cerebral way to it: imagining it and, through the character, saying what comes to mind for an action … then the DM runs with it, going to a roll or rule if necessary. This requires creativity and skill on all sides and the act of playing this way builds the game.

    The other way is setting up the scenario, and then the players look down their sheets to choose an action from a set of options or rules. This is what I think of as ‘menu play.’ This is horrible and just a ‘reality’ version of video games. 4th Ed pushes the game to this. 

    • evanwaters says:

       Page 42 of the DMG. There’s a clear framework for improvisation. It should have been in the PHB, mind you, but it’s there.

      • Andy Best says:

        I see. I still think, though, that the whole style of the 4th ed points towards menu-play in general. When I played it, it just felt like a wholly different game to my first years of D&D playing. I started when I was 12 in 1984 then played weekly for ten years … then on and off after that until now.

      • dreadguacamole says:

         This made me laugh, before I realized it was a completely valid response.

      • The_Juggernaut_Bitch says:

        That is under the heading “Actions the Rules Don’t Cover” and the example they provide is a combat scenario, using skills and abilities the provided character already possesses.  This is menu-gaming.

        • evanwaters says:

           Except that the table applies to everything. There’s no reason to limit it to combat. The presentation could have been better but it’s as much a unified mechanic as any edition of the game has ever had- it’s like a lot of task resolution systems in that it provides flat numbers for “Easy”, “Hard”, “Very Hard”, etc. The only difference is it scales with level.

          (There’s some controversy about that, but if you take it as the level of the challenge and not necessarily of the party you can maintain whatever verisimilitude you require in a game that never tried to be realistic.)

      • The_Juggernaut_Bitch says:

         My main issue with the “rule” provided there, and with the example given, is that it is not really a situation the rules don’t cover. It’s a combat action (covered in depth across some 400 pages), it’s an Acrobatics action (a skill the Rogue in question has), and it’s an environmental effect (fire damage) that the rules already cover.  What this suggested is how to string together various game mechanics (already present on the CRS or a table somewhere) into a narrative whole.  Which I can see some novice DMs needing, sure, but I think this way of providing a resolution to such situations could have been structured better, or provided a completely-out-of-left-field situation, which is really the sort of situation that DMs will find themselves in.

        Outside of that situation, how is that any different than a DM saying “roll a d20” and then making up whatever the hell he wants to have happen based on (or even totally separate from) whatever the player rolls, because it looks/sounds cool or because the DM is a total prick?  Or, sometimes, both?  For a DMG, it’s these kinds of scenarios that need to recognize that DMs are not always True Neutral arbitrators of pseudo-reality.

        This is also why Cyberpunk’s DMG was titled “Listen Up, You Primitive Screwheads!”

    • TheKingandIRobot says:

       A false dichotomy.  All that shit about how “in 3rd edition I was always swinging from chandeliers and running up the dragon’s back” boils down to your being 15 during the 3rd edition era and having a bunch of wacky friends.  There’s exactly as much rule support in both editions for crazy improvisation.  The only difference is that 4th also provides a structure for regular play, where 3rd more or less forces half the party to play mother-may-I with improvisational tricks, since their list of written abilities is useless.

  27. exant says:

    WotC’s failure wasn’t making 4th edition, it was open-sourcing 3.5 with the Open Gaming License. 

    Every new edition of D&D has split the userbase between players who prefer the new system, and grognards who will stay with the old one forever. Some of my friends only play AD&D still, and hate everything after it.

  28. Drinking_with_Skeletons says:

    I’ve been thinking recently about what makes a game’s popularity last.  Diablo 3 prompted this line of thinking, as it strikes me as the 4th edition of action RPGs:  it has streamlined everything to broaden the possible player pool while cutting out a lot of what seemed extraneous or time-wasting for the hardcore players.  Yet I just don’t believe it will have the same longevity as Diablo 2.

    What makes a game popular is enough complexity that the dedicated can master and even exploit the system.  People get attached to games that make them work for their rewards, while anything else is ultimately disposable.  Think about Diablo 2, with it’s skill tree (which was overly punitive, to be fair) that basically prevented you from maxing anything out and kept swathes of gameplay locked away.  Think about Dark Souls, which is punishment from God yet a beloved and best-selling title.  Think about Final Fantasy VII, with Chocobo breeding, materia breeding, mini-games, optional bosses, etc.  I’m not a tabletop man, myself, but I know 3.5 is a complex beast with tons of options, and comparing Neverwinter Nights 2 to Dragon Age Origins is enough to convince me that 3.5 is ultimately more engaging than a simplified system.

    Players don’t really WANT simplicity.  They want the game to be simple to play, in the sense that everything is clearly explained and there aren’t any outright bad or broken choices to be made (nobody wants to bring a sword to a magic fight, so to speak), but they want the experience to be complex enough to sink their teeth into.  People who don’t want that don’t really want to play RPGs, board games, or video games; as Nintendo learned with the Wii, broadening the base often means appealing to people who won’t have any long-term investment in your products.

    • exant says:

      I agree that complexity breeds longevity and a dedicated playerbase. However, there should be room for casual players in D&D, and in any game, really. As an example, 3.5 is a hugely complex game, but there are paths through the system that provide choices for new and casual players. Simplicity and complexity are not mutually exclusive, and great game design can speak to both casual and dedicated players at the same time.

      Saying that people who don’t want complexity should just stay out is essentially excusing bad game design.Also exploits are just bad game design, not easter eggs for powergamers.

      • Drinking_with_Skeletons says:

        I don’t think I did a great job of explaining my point, because I agree with what you’re saying.  Let’s look at Diablo 3, since that’s what kicked off my thoughts about this.

        In D3, every class unlocks every skill at the same level.  Sure, you can have different loadouts, but the simple fact is that a combination of viability (read:  balance issues) and personal preference mean that playing a class is going to boil down to a certain optimization.  Because of the way skills unlock, there is NO reason–outside of achievements–to roll more than one of a class.  You can try to switch up your skills and experiment, but that’s an uphill battle against what you know works.  I spent hours and hours with my Witch Doctor without changing his skills; none of the unlocks were good enough to do anything!  It robbed leveling of a lot of meaning, and even though the game is fun I can’t help but feel like this design puts a distance between me and the game.

        Meanwhile, one of my favorite games ever, Legend of Mana, is enormously flexible.  Unlockable skills, crafting, gardening, exploring, all that provides depth to what is, honestly, a pretty easy, light-hearted game.  It’s as approachable as you can get–just do the quests!–but it never stops giving you avenues to explore and master.  It’s complex, but neither daunting nor overwhelming.

        That’s what I meant.  And, FWIW, I actually have never gotten along with Dark Souls.  I’m just pointing out that it has a strong following because of its complexity, not in spite of it.

        • exant says:

          Ok, I see your point now. I haven’t played D3, but it sounds like it just has an overly simplistic design that doesn’t provide meaningful choices.

          Your example of Legend of Mana is what I mean when I said a good game can support both casual and dedicated players. A low barrier to entry but a vast skillcap. It sounds like a great game.

          I say all this as someone with a barely controlled addiction to Dota 2, which unlike Dark Souls is probably popular in spite of complexity, at some level. The barrier to entry in that game is pretty daunting, but once you’re past it there’s essentially no limit to the complexity it will provide you if you want it. Or you could just play Riki.

        • Drinking_with_Skeletons says:

           @exant:disqus D3 is actually a lot of fun, but it does feel like Blizzard threw the baby out with the bathwater.  Their bizarre argument about not wanting to split offline and online characters makes more sense when you play the game, because they have removed any incentive to reroll a class for any reason.

          If you’ve got a PSP, Vita, or PS3, Legend of Mana is available on PSN for about six bucks.  It’s not quite like any other game I’ve ever played, and it’s very much worth a peek. If nothing else you should look up the soundtrack, which remains fantastic.  There’s an orchestral version of Painted Earth and a not-very-different-at-all orchestral version of City of Flickering Destruction on Youtube that are outstanding.

    • evanwaters says:

       Honestly, I’d say a major problem with 4e was that it still wasn’t simple *enough*- it was simpler than 3e had become, but you still had a messy character sheet full of tiny boxes because you have to add so many separate bonuses for things, and there was still a long list of feats and AC penalties and blah blah blah.

      The one thing that does look promising about Next is that it promises to actually be easy to pick up, but whether it’ll have a good engine underneath the hood remains to be seen.

      • Shain Eighmey says:

        4e is half way between being properly streamlined and deeply complex. They streamlined it enough to remove a lot of the depth, but not enough to make it clean and user friendly. 

        I know it’s high heresy, but I think D&D can exist with both systems! Really! Have Action D&D which is streamlined, and the other D&D which is deep and arcane. Best of both worlds!

        • evanwaters says:

           Part of the problem, I think, is that every edition seemed to get more complex as time went on just because of supplement bloat. 2e is pretty basic at its core but by the time of 3e we were all sick of kits and NWPs and classes of flying creatures and other crap. 3e had a universal resolution system, which made it easier to rule on the fly, but then you had the ever-expanding list of feats and prestige classes and spells. 4e may just have been saved by not lasting that long.

        • TheKingandIRobot says:

           Well the OGL really didn’t help 3.0.   Head on down to your local nerdstabulary and check out the used shelf to see why.  Complete books of ancient weapons, proper rules to tack and bard horses, books of how to sex… the OGL was basically a cruft engine.  I used to fear each weekly game during that era that some player would have talked the DM into letting him use some fly-by-night softcover that had the rules for half-drow, half-shadowdragon wizard knight wanderators in it.

        • The_Juggernaut_Bitch says:

           I will agree with you on that.  The OGL allowed just about anyone to release any poorly-playtested pile of drek that was *obviously* broken from the get-go… but, then, WotC wasn’t doing any better with what they were publishing.  Two classes in particular come to mind as being definitively broken… ah, no, three… the Frenzied Berzerker alternate class for Barbarians, the Mystic Theurge class for spell-casters and anything that had anything at all to do with Psionics.

          Frenzied Berzerker was the worst though.  This was a Barbarian class that simply would not and could not die due to HP loss while in Rage.  The only thing that would drop him was the instant death effects… which Barbarians often got bonus saves against anyway, as they’re usually Fortitude Saves.

          In one particular game, I saw a guy playing one of these things get to negative 456 hit points in about six rounds because he was tank-slaying about forty different monsters at the same time.  Oh, then his Supreme Cleave feat kicked in and he killed over a dozen in a single round.

          Epic? Sure.  Broken as all hell? You bet.

        • TheKingandIRobot says:

           Oh man I remember being in the salad days of 3rd edition gamebreak design.  You and I may see things differently on 4e, Juggs, but I played the shit out of 3e when it was the thing, and the Frenzied Beserker is reasonably badass.  But it’s low-grade compared to some other nonsense.  I was always partial to the Jumplomancer, which was a build that was designed around a cleric prestige path that let you sub in any skill roll for a Diplomacy check.  Jump checks were quite easy to pump because it’s just a physical check, so it was easy to have a guy walk into town, jump 800 feet into the air, land, and have the whole town try to resist a “Diplomacy” roll of 831.

  29. sakuuya says:

    How does it compare to Starblazer Adventures and Diaspora? I’d like to find a sci-fi FATE game that’s a middle ground between the space-pulp of the former and the hard sci-fi of the latter.

    (Then again, in my current Diaspora game, as soon as the GM explained aspects, one of the players was like, “Animals can talk. Unicorns exist.” That’s the only T4 planet in our cluster.)

    • sakuuya says:

      Oops, this was meant in reply to @exant:disqus re: Nova Praxis.

    • exant says:

      I’ve run one Starblazer campaign, which was great fun and full of goofy pulp sci-fi. I don’t know anything about Diaspora.

      That being said, Nova Praxis definitely falls on the hard sci-fi end of the spectrum. Earth is uninhabitable and overrun by evil grey goo, huge corporations run everything, and you can upload your consciousness into a computer and live forever in the Matrix.

      However, the setting seems open enough that it has room for pulp. I’m engaged by Nova Praxis’ setting, and I usually don’t like grimdark hard sci-fi. if I’m going to be sitting around with my friends playing pretend, I might as well play into the the ridiculousness.

      There are also talking animals in Nova Praxis. I don’t know why, it must be something about the people who make sci-fi.

      • sakuuya says:

        Oh, it’s a cyberpunk game? That’s actually really nice; neither SBA nor Diaspora is meant for cyberpunk, so I’m glad there’s a FATE game in that niche now.

        Diaspora is a no-aliens, very-limited-FTL game about isolated space colonies. I really like its planet-generation minigame, but overall it’s not for me. I like my games a little more fantastical.

        • exant says:

          Of course, yes, it’s cyberpunk. I don’t know why I didn’t think to mention that first. It’s a really excellent implementation of cyberpunk, too. It manages to balance “pure” humans with those who have augmentations or who exist completely in a computer. Pretty awesome.

        • sakuuya says:

          That does sound sweet. Including all those different sorts of characters can be problematic for a cyberpunk game (O hai Shadowrun), so an elegant FATE implementation that manages to do so could be really good. I’m sold.

  30. djsubversive says:

    Unrelated to the article, @Effigy_Power:disqus has been wounded in a brave battle against her basement yesterday. According to a message I got from her girlfriend, she “managed to squeeze both her hands with the access hatch to our basement yesterday afternoon while turning on the heating and then we spent all day in the hospital. Nothing’s broken, but she now has 7 bruised fingers, 2 of them apparently severely so. She won’t be typing anything for like a week, but there’s no permanent damage or anything. Just ouchy blue fingers and a constant pout. Please let anyone know who asks, that would be nice. Thank you!”

    So, she’ll be out of action for about a week. Let’s hope her hands heal properly, so she doesn’t require cybernetic replacements. Okay, Eff would probably be cool with cyber-hands.

    • exant says:

      Condolences. Yesterday I split open my thumb with broken glass. Luckily it wasn’t bad, but I had horrible visions of being imprisoned in Meatspace until my recovery. Perish the thought!

    • ItsTheShadsy says:

      The off-topic posts on this article have produced weird alternate-reality versions of commenters.  I, the radioactive fish-man. Effigy_Power, the Keyboard RoboCop.

    • Fluka says:

      Ooooffff – that sounds painful.  Please send best wishes to her for a speedy recovery and/or successful acquisition of a kickass bionic hand!

    • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

      Be sure to tell her part one of my over-elaborate and terrible vengeance is complete.

    • evanwaters says:

       Ow. Yikes. Best wishes to her.

  31. Celebith says:

    D&D is fine, but most of the folks I know who still play anything go for GURPS or another point-based build system.  

  32. I grew up playing DnD but now I mainly play Hero based games in the Champions realm usually. I have never played Pathfinder at all. I have played a little bit of Runequest and I loved that. 

    • TheKingandIRobot says:

       Urgh, I would chew my arm off before playing GURPS.  It’s one of those games that had so many addons and growths and extra rules grow onto it over the years that the central model is all ossified and dead.  It’s like trying to play a game of the wrappings of a mummy.  Except with a mummy the whole party doesn’t automatically select a halitosis limitation for the extra character points.

  33. ninamelvin933 says:

    you make $27h thats great going girl good for you! My story is that I quit
    working at shoprite to work online, seriously I couldn’t be happier I work
    when I want and where I want. And with a little effort I easily bring in $35h
    and sometimes even http://www.Pro67.ℂom

  34. Obscure_Star_Wars_Reference says:

    When I first decided to try out Tabletop RPG-ing last year as a 35-year-old, I went with D&D 4th edition. D&D was the only name I recognized among all the books at the local game store. I have since heard all of the complaints about it being too video-gamey. I don’t know. I never played WoW (not because it doesn’t seem appealing, because it seemed TOO appealing) 4E was fun, but the group fell apart. I found my way into a local group that plays Pathfinder as part of the Pathfinder Society network. I have enjoyed it a lot.

    At most tables I’ve been at, someone inevitably pines for the days of some former edition. I like Pathfinder. I don’t play often, but the Society system is well-organized and it works for a guy like me that is not able to meet with a regular group due to wife/kids/work. I think D&D has a similar game night/network set up, but it’s not offered in my area. There are certainly some mechanics in the 4th edition that I think are quite useful that don’t seem to be present in Pathfinder, but my experience is limited.

    That’s my random shit for the day.

  35. Sam L says:

    I got a Community notification for THIS?

  36. Sam L says:

    Can I just say how glad I am to see some tabletop coverage on this site? Start covering Privateer Press and Fantasy Flight releases and this may become the place I get all my gaming news!

  37. Phil Wright says:

    I don’t see really any third party publishing for 3.5 specifically for Pathfinder, not that it would really matter seeing as the 3.5 rules were not made by Paizo so they wouldn’t be able to stop it anyway, just like Wizards can’t stop them due to the OGL.Somehow I don’t think D&D is dead.

  38. BobbyMcD says:

    Nice article. Thanks for the detailed behind the scenes look at something I knew nothing about. Good stuff!

  39. WayofThePun says:

    While it would be unfair for me to say that I’ve never had fun playing D&D, I will say that the best use of it is as a gateway drug to get your friends to try other, better roleplaying systems and settings.



  41. Kribage says:

    First of all, I think this is a great piece about the industry. It doesn’t
    dive into the details of the whole history of the game, nor should it,
    but it covers the basics of the “Edition Wars” from the financial and
    well-documented fan fallout areas.

    Diving a little deeper, there are a few things that set the 4E vs Pathfinder conflict apart from all others that came before. One that has been noted both in the article and comments, is the Open Gaming License. The OGL was certainly part of Wizards undoing in this, but was it (or the people behind it like Ryan Dancey) solely responsible? I think not. I’ve heard this debate elsewhere, and in my opinion it comes down to this: Wizards gave up on the OGL, then
    got burned by it. Sure, there were some other publishers before 4th Ed that didn’t have to do the harder game development work but benefited from the OGL, but Wizards was dominant before 4th Edition. What happened? Two things: Wizards produced an incompatible, non-OGL product, and Paizo immediately countered with a (at least theoretically) backwards-compatible OGL product. And you can’t simply say it’s all the OGL’s fault; Pathfinder’s entire development is Open Gaming Content (save for protected stuff like characters and the world and such). There are even third party vendors that produce content just to plug into existing Pathfinder products, like their adventure paths or certain Ultimate books. If the OGL were really the culprit, wouldn’t Pathfinder be just as subject to abuse from other companies who can free-ride on their system? And wouldn’t one expect an entropic dissolution of the market, splintering based on all these new entrants, not the passing of the torch from one industry superpower to another, which is what has (arguably) been occurring over the past two years?

    This created the first time when “D&D” (used as a collective term for
    the fantasy role playing genre) was effectively split between multiple
    major publishers. Paizo did what no other pretender to the throne had
    done before: they beat the incumbent*. I think this goes somewhat
    underappreciated in these discussions. It was a very risky proposition, and as Omar Little said, “You come at the king, you best not miss.” If Pathfinder had failed, where would that have left Paizo?

    *In sales. This isn’t a matter of edition preference, just finances.

    One has to wonder, why did 4E falter before Pathfinder?  Well, for one, Paizo built around the knowledge gained from Wizards’ experience (whether with the OGL or otherwise) with 3.5. They found that Wizards was producing more expensive hardcover books that the sales didn’t justify. Wizards wasn’t maximizing profit in categories like accessories and adventures. For Pathfinder, Paizo created “adventure paths,” that one can subscribe to or buy individually. Chapters are released on a monthly basis, like an old serial or comics, to keep generating a regular flow of money relatively inexpensively. Paizo started producing miniatures while Wizards more-or-less quit that business. Paizo is beating Wizards because of business management, not game design.

  42. Halloween_Jack says:

    I don’t know enough about 4e to really criticize it, but I have played enough of 3.5 and Pathfinder to know that the latter is a substantial improvement over the former, so much that when my RPG group wanted to play a game in the D&D world, they still used Pathfinder rules. 

  43. Agent0fN0thing says:

    Edition wars: The Worst.

  44. stepped_pyramids says:

    I think there’s a certain degree to which 4e suffered from being “too different” or “like an MMO”, but I also think it’s a loud minority. The actual facts seem pretty clear: 3/3.5e created and then relied on a massive third-party market enabled by the permissive licensing. 4e was initially released without any third-party licensing terms at all, and the terms that eventually came out were extremely strict.

    And then WotC, having created a 4e cathedral versus the 3.5e bazaar, did a completely terrible job of stewardship of the product. They released new material slowly and revamped the rules twice. The tools and reference material were high-quality, but it just wasn’t enough.There exists an alternate universe, I think, where Hasbro treated their third parties like partners, not parasites, and in that universe 4e was a big success. I don’t think there’s any universe where WotC released a product as successful as 3/3.5e under the licensing terms of 4e, no matter what the game looked like.

    And I think D&D’s place on the top of the heap was already on the way out — the Internet era makes creating and distributing new games and new material much easier, and the gaming community has been itching to move on for quite some time. I don’t think any kind of 4e would have ever been as popular as 3.5 — in another universe, we’re saying that 4e “failed” because it was too samey and conservative.

    • TheKingandIRobot says:

       The vast, vast majority of their partners WERE parasites.  For every rad book that used the OGL engine (Star Wars, Mutants & Masterminds), there were 200 slim volumes of “D20 Heraldry of 15th Century Welshmen” and “D20:  The Complete Guide to Sexy Feet.”  They needed some better Quality Control, so players weren’t showing up at tables all the time with a book they found that said an atl-atl added 4d6 to thrown spear damage, or that rape was legal in the middle ages Jerry, geeze, don’t make my paladin fall!

  45. peterlorre says:

    As a fairly hardcore 2e fan, I’ll admit that I became a major hater of WotC when they took over D&D from TSR. As the article astutely mentions, 4e is essentially a completely different game from D&D, but I’d add that one of the most galling things to me about 4e is how transparently mercenary it is. After all, WotC grew up making the money-machine Magic: the Gathering, whose  sole purpose in life is to make people buy as many packages of cards as humanly possible; the entire idea of D&D is that it’s a framework to enabling a person to use their imagination, creating worlds and solving problems with their friends instead of constantly trying to buy new pieces to play with.

    I don’t think that it’s unfair to suggest that somebody at WotC decided that they weren’t making money off of helping people be creative, so they needed to change everything around so that all of the rules are spatial and the game becomes entirely focused on getting people to buy miniatures and maps and other ephemera instead of teaching them how to play a role-playing game. If you look at the 4e players’ handbook there are probably ten pages devoted to the non-combat components of gameplay tops, compared to chapters and chapters in previous editions. 

    The thing that makes D&D unique in gaming, and what makes people spend significant portions of their lives playing it, is that D&D gives you a toolkit to design almost any adventure that you can imagine. I think that the game that WotC wanted to be selling pretty clearly wasn’t D&D, and the fact that they shredded an absolutely fabulous game in the process is a real shame for the kids growing up now who basically think that D&D is a pared-down, shitty video game that you play with paper.