Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition – A Wickedly Short Review

Many people beat me to the punch of reviewing D&D 4.0. In truth if you were looking for reviews and opinions of the new edition you could easily have found them long before the game was officially released (you could even have found some here!). In fact you could have found the whole game before it was released since a pirated copy showed up online and Buy.com released some hundred copies a week early.

So, I really don’t feel another normal review of the game, one that goes over the changes and then either says “D&D 4.0 scores big for its simplicity and fun” or “D&D 4.0 is now a completely different game, Wizards has destroyed the game we all know and love!” is in order. Instead what I would like to do is talk about one of the things I was doing this weekend instead of writing a review, namely going to see the musical Wicked.

I feel I have to mention here that the copies of the game I now own are not the original copies that my friend Tom had pre-ordered for me. Saturday afternoon Tom stopped by my house and dropped them off and I was quite surprised as most Amazon orders (where he had ordered it from) were saying that they would not have the game delivered until sometime next week. He told me “no” unfortunately Amazon had changed their delivery estimate to sometime next month and he knew I wouldn’t want to wait that long (and I doubt he really wanted to wait to start our first campaign either). I found out later that others had experienced this, even people that had pre ordered the game several months ahead of time.

This blew me away. I’m not sure exactly what Amazon did to botch their roll so badly but I have to say that I doubt I will ever pre-order something from them again. While their price was good, when someone is pre-ordering it general means they are pretty excited about it and waiting an extra month is certainly not part of their plan.

A Wicked Thing to Write About

So as I was saying, my wife and I went to see Wicked last night. In case you don’t know what I’m talking about and didn’t feel like following my link, the musical is essentially the Wizard of Oz story from the witch’s perspective. The musical is based on a novel by Gregory Maguire of the same name.

While I was sitting there watching the musical a thought occurred to me. To make this thought completely clear however I need to go back a little ways.

I read the book a few years ago. More specifically I listened to the audio book while driving to and from work (I had about a 75 minute or so drive at the time and listened to a lot of books). I quite enjoyed the novel for its unique look at what makes someone good and evil and for the dark sinister and nearly pornographic spin it took with Oz. At some point after having read the book someone started telling me about the musical and I immediately hated it without ever having seen it.

From what I was told the musical sounded quite a bit different from the book. I’m not talking in the way a book and a movie are different, I mean very different. While many character names are the same, they do very different things and many people that wind up dead in the end of the novel are quite alive (and in some cases happy) at the end of the musical. To add to this, the musical has a very different feel than the book and lends itself more to a parallel story to The Wizard of Oz than the novel, which comes across as more of a retelling. Still, after watching the musical I realized something important. While the musical was not the same story as the novel, it was still a good story.

Bringing Things Around

Essentially what I began to think about while watching the musical was how it reminded me of the conflict between 3.5 and 4.0 for Dungeons and Dragons. In essence I feel that these two products are completely different games and, let’s face it, different games appeal to different people. I was not a big fan of 3.5, I found some major flaws that hurt my enjoyment of the game, but still I have to admit that it was a good, solid and fairly well-thought-out product that brought many people much enjoyment. (Well… I admit this begrudgingly.)

These facts to not prevent the new version from also being a good game. While the thinking is certainly different from the thinking that created 3.0 and 3.5, the new edition is also well-thought-out with definite goals and ideas.

My point is that in the same sense that Wicked the book and Wicked the musical are based on the same source material and concepts (a telling of the witch’s story) they are not the same story. Just because someone likes one they don’t have to dislike the other. While it may go without saying it should also be noted that simply because someone dislikes one they don’t have to dislike the other.

Just How Different is the New Edition?

In a word, very. While I don’t want to get into this too much, this is a review of sorts and some people might still be interested in the changes.

  • I would say the main difference is the idea of Encounter Powers and Daily Powers since that seems to be the key to forth edition. I personally like this idea as prior the fighter would often just hit something with his sword and then wait a while for the sorcerer to flip through the spell book and find a really cool spell to cast (yes, the spell had to be on his list but often they had to look up the desciption to figure out exactly how it worked). Now everyone has special things they can do. Still, there are many other things that have changed.
  • The Skill System is another example, however this change actually ties in with the whole revised concept of leveling. Now, you add half your level to most rolls that you make, so there is no Base Attack statistic that goes up as you level but you still become better at hitting every other level and in the same sense you don’t need to put points into skills, they too simply improve as you level. This may not be the most overwhelmingly realistic system (I know a lot of people dislike it) but it does lend itself toward the simplicity they were aiming for while still allowing skills to be a part of the game.
  • I’ve already talked about the changes to Alignment but they are certainly a sticking point for a lot of people. For some reason the lessening of the alignment restrictions feels to many like a limitation on role playing and yet I can’t see how this could be true.

    In the old system you were either good or bad and thus were good or bad in all things. Now you can have a racist, a zealot, a total prick who loves his mother, or any other realistic (or at least closer to realistic) character. For example a Paladin who moves away from his path no longer loses his powers. Instead he can think he is right and righteous and continue doing what he is doing until his brothers are forced to hunt him down and make him pay for his crimes. Yes, his alignment might have changed but no one can know this for certain and can only base their assessment of him on his actions.

  • Some of the complaints I have seen just seem silly to me. Yes, there are fewer classes and races available at the moment but since this is just the first three books I don’t see how anyone could have expected otherwise. It was the same when 3.0 moved to 3.5 so this shouldn’t be a surprise.
  • Some people feel that the battle map has become too much a part of the game. Personally I found it very difficult to run a game without using it in 3.5 and just got used to the fact that combat sometimes took on a “board game” feel. Yes, it’s a bit harder to make the mood come across when you’re looking at little squares on a board but it can be done. Honestly, I just don’t see this as a change. It almost feels like they accepted that 3.5 didn’t work very well without a map and then said, “well since we have come this far, what other cool things can we do with this?”

There are certainly other changes as well and I am sure I will mention them in other posts. In fact, I will probably come back to the above examples in more detail later. For now I just wanted to go over my thoughts about the basic changes that have been made.

A Wickedly Final Assessment

My point is of course that those who like 3.5 don’t need to hate 4.0. If you choose to stick with the old rules, more power to you. Wizards has certainly not taken away your ability to play the old version by creating something new. Like my opinion of the book Wicked and then the musical Wicked both systems are solid and different and just because they bear the name Dungeons and Dragons does not make them the same thing.

I have not actually had a chance to play the game yet of course. I am sure I will find things I don’t like about it and I will have more detailed opinions on it at a later date. For now, I just wanted to say that to me it looks good and I think some of the haters might want to lay off.

If you want sound off about the new system here is the place. Just don’t expect me not to counter your opinions if I disagree with them!