Friday, August 31, 2018


When I first play a game I refuse to houserule it for the first year of playing it, unless I can rely upon the experience of someone else who has played the game to suggest a houserule right out the gate. But, by and large, if I don't have any great amount of experience with a game I leave it alone mechanically, playing it out and accepting whatever flaws the game has until a time I feel confident to change that. Burning Wheel, for instance, I waited for six years before even wanting to touch it with any houserules at all. 4th edition took me three years before I realized that I wanted to change a number of things with 4th: the MAD classes needed a workover, more flavor could be added very easily, combat needed a few small tweaks, magic items needed to be completely reworked, and the half level math was pathetic. 4th had all the marks of a good first edition of a game: good core idea (tactical combat with structured non-combat) with lots of problems that needed reworking.

The first issue that caught my eye was the multiple primary attributes necessary to power a number of classes, specifically paladin, warlock, cleric, and ranger. While ranger and cleric weren't overly affected by this issue paladin and warlock were hamstrung, and it became necessary to rework those classes so that they functioned as they were intended to. In addition multiple classes were hamstrung by a lack of access to basic attacks that they needed for immersion's sake, like the rogue and swordmage. The emphasis on reworking classes has been to make the classes that are weaker better, not to nerf the broken/strong classes.

4th edition's classes were very differentiated in combat. None of the classes played even remotely like each other, right out the gate. Classes with similar mechanics employed them so differently that pretty much any criticism of how the classes worked in combat were, by and large, hollow. A swordmage played differently from a paladin, battlemind, and fighter, even though they were all defenders and therefore could mark opponents. Swordmages ran away and purposefully ignored their marked opponent, forcing them to chase down the swordmage out of sheer annoyance from the mark. Paladins multi-marked like none other, throwing down challenges like nobody else's business, destroying whole fields of minions if they dared to ignore him. Battleminds could chase  a target down, forcing feedback damage down their opponent's throat. And you never could get away from a Fighter, once he got adjacent to you. The problem, however, was that there was no real differentiation on a mechanical level for classes outside combat. And, in theory, that's fine; 4th edition is a combat game primarily. But primarily should not mean solely, and no one can deny how anemic 4th's classes were in this regard.

Magic items, along with the half level math, were generally pretty bad. 1st level monsters became completely unusable and the half level math made a series of arbitrary DCs necessary. Both need extensive reworking in order to better model the aspects of the increasing power of the PCs. In addition, the leveling up process itself could use some work, although that's not necessarily obvious when playing the game.

By this point someone reading this must be asking why I'd even bother. 4th edition is dead and gone 6 years now. 5th edition is wildly successful, so much so that Pathfinder is having to create a 2nd edition to keep up. 4th is generally maligned and hated by all for daring to be something different. Something original.

Now, to be fair, I had stopped playing 4th about 7 years ago. My tastes at that point were for something more narrative and I wanted to see what the rest of the RPG world held. I found Burning Wheel, the World games, White Wolf, and a bunch of indie RPGs that expanded my horizons. Those games still sit on my bookshelf, and Burning Wheel is my favorite RPG of all time. I honestly thought I was done with 4th. But it's not that simple for me, I suppose. 4th edition DnD is the first RPG I actually loved. I didn't know that at the time, of course; one very rarely know what they have while they have it. And, while I'd put up my 4eMOD on another blog of mine, I never really realized what I had.

But one evening, as part of research for my game FALL IN!, I thumbed through a digital copy of Dungeon Master's Guide 2, and my jaw dropped. I was looking at another version of Burning Wheel. All the ideas that are in that opening chapter of DMG2 are completely and utterly indie. 4th was turning narrative. I continued to read, and something inside of me twinged. I had come to believe that 5th was a frankenstein's monster of a zombie-game and generally don't pay much attention to it. 4th was a breath of fresh air, not just into the world of DnD (which is apparently inhabited by cave trolls-no fresh air!). It needed evolution, not dumping. I don't know, reading that opening chapter, something snapped. I couldn't turn my back on this game. Not again.

The way I know that if I want to buy an RPG nowadays is if I would be OK with not playing Burning Wheel. There are not a lot of games on that list, and most of them are (surprise!) variants of Burning Wheel. I realized at that moment that 4th was one of those games. I would not have found the games that I have without 4th, for better or worse. I know it sounds weird, but I owe 4th quite a bit. So here we go.

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