Watching the 4.0 DnD release

… is a fascinating kind of car-crash voyeurism.
Lots of folks into gaming have never really tried anything outside of their comfort zone for gaming, and that’s fine.
Many many of those folks are playing DnD.
But what’s happened with 4.0 is that the designers for the game, unlike many of their players, have been watching and (unlike some of the gaming-industry-aware-but-disdainful d20 faithful) embracing some of the significant gaming innovations of the last five years or so. For example:

  • In-combat “tagging” with non-combat skills to give your allies bonuses. (Spirit of the Century)
  • Reducing resource overload to keep the characters streamlined and fun to play as they level. (MMOs)
  • “Respeccing” your character without significant penalty as you level. (SotC. MMOs)
  • The same system used for all actions, even spellcasting. (Heroquest. Dogs. Hell, any indie game in the last 5 years.)
  • Taking actions that set everyone up to be awesome, not just you. (The driving force behind most any indie game.)
  • It seems like a small thing, but it’s something *I* had been playing with a hack for for a couple months now… mechanics to support a “Tank, holding aggro” in a tabletop game.

One of the things I hadn’t seen so far, though, was this little tidbit…

*Q:* Will there be social combat rules in 4E or some other system that allows for non-combat conflict resolution?
A: Yes. We have been playtesting a new social encounter system, which has been one of the most heavily developed—and contentious—parts of the game. Look for it in the DMG.

Sold.
One of the things that bothered me about 3.5 DnD is that, as a tactical combat game at heart (something it does very very very well), non-combat interactions (ie: the “roleplaying” in RPG) never got the same amount of system support that combat does. Consequently, combat is more *important* than other activities; it has more weight, just in terms of time-devoted-to-it-at-the-table. When a scene that uses Bluff and Diplomacy will simply be ten minutes of roleplay and (if I’m lucky and it’s not simply hand waved away via GM Fiat) one die roll… while a combat with that same antagonist might run 30 minutes to an hour of game play… why would I put much time into developing my Bluff and Diplomacy feats when Combat skills let my character ‘be awesome’ for a much longer stretch of play-time at the table? It’s got a bad payoff percentage at the gaming table.
Answer: I wouldn’t, or I will anyway and be frustrated. (See also: my bard character Gwydion.)
Rules that let an important ‘soft skills’ encounter get the same love and attention from the system that a physical fight does? Games with that kind of ability are the reason I abandoned 3.5 in the first place.
It heartens me that the designers for 4.0 obviously paid so much attention to the best stuff that the REST of the gaming industry (both pen and paper and electronic) has introduced in the last 5 years.
Why is watching the release of the game like watching a car crash?
Well, for many DnD players, all of this new stuff, which is familiar to ME (and my friends, thanks to the evangelical nature of my enthusiasm for those sorts of games in the last few years), is very unfamiliar, new, strange, and just plain WEIRD to them… watching them come to grips with the new DnD is just… fascinating.


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