D&D4 Update

I meant to post about this last monday, but for various reasons didn’t, despite the fact that I found the time to write about other things. However, the news has gotten around on sites that get far more traffic than my sporadically updated weblog, so I’m not too worried about accidentally harming WotC’s reputation.

Read my previous post if you haven’t yet, for the context.

A few days after I wrote that, ENWorld posted an interview which essentially addresses all of the problems I was pointing out in my post.

Essentially, WotC are not nearly as shortsighted as I was led to believe. Apparently, one reason I was led to believe that is because they wanted to address all of the issues in a single interview rather than deal with each of the misconceptions individually. Which does make more sense than trying to fix every single mistake each time and possibly missing a few.

So, hey. Things are looking better for WotC and D&D. However, I still probably won’t be running a D&D4 game myself.

The number one reason for this is Savage Worlds is still better, but that’s not enough to make me not run D&D4. The number two reason is a serious design issue I have: The D&D3 Player’s Handbooks have thirteen player character (hero) classes. The D&D4 PHB has eight, but two of those classes are new so it actually has less than half of the classes from the previous edition. The rest of the classes will be available in the PHB2.

I’m not going to whine about WotC “making” me buy two PHBs, though I might if I was intending to run it at launch time. Instead, my main problem is simply that the PHB2 won’t be available until later, and they are essentially “making” me wait for the complete set. I would be significantly less irritated if the Warlord and the Warlock weren’t pushing two potential “classic” classes out of the primary PHB. I used to be a D&D nut, so of course I prefer the classic adventuring classes.

But this also reveals what I see as an important design flaw with D&D4: lack of modularity. The Savage Worlds rulebook has what is essentially all of the basic “class features” of D&D3 translated into Edges and the serial numbers filed off (and some of those Edges have a dual purpose: Arcane Background(Miracles) is equally useful both for D&D style Clerics and priests in a modern fantasy setting with a little tweaking. If they had prioritized it, WotC could easily have fit all fifteen potential classes in (and possibly even more) by having them share class features the way the spellcasting classes share spell write-ups in 3e, or by just having a modular class setup like True20 or WotC’s own Unearthed Arcana for 3e.

Star Wars Saga Edition also includes fewer classes than it’s predecessors, but that’s because it combines class features from now-obsolete classes in such a way that you can still convert characters that use those classes by picking a different class with the same Talent. (Talents being modular class features borrowed conceptually from d20 Modern and radically refined for Saga Edition.) I was expecting D&D4 to go this route: giving a Barbarian talent tree to Fighters, a Bard Talent Tree to Rogues and so on. (Bard spells would then be accessed by multiclassing with Wizard.) This would have saved space while preserving the concepts. Instead, it seems that every class has their own completely separate list of powers in 4e.

Some of that is still possible in D&D4. Multiclassing is different, but you can still have a sort-of bard-like rogue who can cast Wizard spells. Barbarians and Druids are right out, though (and Rangers are in, but apparently Rangers don’t have spells anymore(?) so it doesn’t matter(?) if Druids are in or not). In Savage Worlds you can just pick the Berserker Background Edge if you want the equivalent of all the class features of the Barbarian. In Savage Worlds you can pick the Magic AB Edge and song-related trappings if you want to be a Bard. And so on and so forth.

Dragonsfoot is a fansite that is dedicated to obsolete editions of D&D. It used to be entirely dedicated to D&D, but has some sections for Hackmaster(a spoof of AD&D1), Lejendary Adventure (a now-defunct post-D&D Gary Gygax-designed game), and a few other closely-related games. It has no sections for any games completely unrelated to D&D such as GURPS or World of Darkness or Savage Worlds. Oh wait, sorry, it actually does have a Savage Worlds section. If I recall correctly, the SW section was also the very first non-D&D section to be added to Dragonsfoot. Why? Because while GURPS doesn’t feel like old-school D&D, Savage Worlds can.

I don’t say Savage Worlds “does” feel like old-school D&D, because Savage Worlds is flexible and can feel like Deadlands, Marvel Super Heroes Basic/Advanced Set, or a number of other old-school games as well as original settings. I’m not going to say that SW does D&D better than D&D4, because I haven’t even read the D&D4 books yet. But I will say that quite a few people, mostly on the Dragonsfoot forums, thought that SW did D&D better than D&D3. I do know that I like running SW a lot more than D&D3. I even like SW better than d20 Modern in spite of how much I liked d20 Modern.

D&D4 is certainly even more of a departure, in some ways, from previous editions than 3e was (in fact, 3e deliberately restored some things that were short-shortsightedly left out of 2e, another reason why I was a 3e fanboy). So I won’t be surprised if it does turn out that SW is also easier to run and more like classic D&D than 4e is.

I’m paying attention. I’m waiting patiently. I’m hoping and expecting that D&D4 will be worth trying out, even though I don’t expect it to replace Savage Worlds at all. After all, I can play a Barbarian, Bard, Druid, Sorcerer, Assassin, Psion, Mad Scientist, Gunslinger, Pirate, Vampire Hunter, or Supervillain in Savage Worlds right now.

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