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4E – Rolling With Roles

February 20th, 2009 · Luke · 7 Comments

With The Keep on the Shadowfell about to fall before our party’s combined effort, it’s safe to say that the gaming group is really digging 4th Edition D&D.  Last week, we decided to continue playing 4E and we’d alternate weeks with the Burning Wheel game Adam is planning.  This has the benefit of keeping everyone in the group (something we couldn’t do with just Burning Wheel) and giving Adam more time to prepare for his first sandbox game.

Since Adam didn’t want to run both games, I’ll be taking over D&D after we’re done with the Keep.  I’m very excited!  I haven’t run D&D for years because I grew tired of the massive preparation time that third edition carried with it.  4e fixes that problem  so I was more than happy to put on my cape and step back into the role of DM.

Like any excited gaming group, everyone immediately began discussing exactly what they were going to play.  Since D&D’s creation, the proper balance of classes in a party has always been an important part of the metagame.  The concept of having your niche on the battlefield was one of the cornerstones of the game in those early days.  As editions came and went, the importance of these niches began to fade as rules for multiclassing allowed for characters to account for their own weaknesses instead of relying on a party member to compensate for it.  This seems like a small thing, but it really changed the way the game was played.

Third Edition was the biggest offender when it came to lack of niche protection.  With both multiclassing and prestige classes designed to let your character specialize, generalize, hypnotize, and hypothesize, the idea that a class had well-defined weaknesses to go along with its strengths was out the window.  This is actually one of my big beefs with Third Edition but it really just comes down to a matter of taste.  There are lots of folks out there who love the wide array of options presented and don’t enjoy the more restricted versions of classes that other editions, including Fourth, offer.

In Fourth Edition, the concept of niches comes back as one of the foundations of the game.  Instead of hiding the concept within the rules for the players to eventually figure out, they instead opened the curtains and made it very explicit that classes are grouped into certain battlefield roles.  The four roles in the game are striker, defender, leader, and controller.  Each class specialized in one role and can usually build in such a way to dabble with another.  The roles all complement one another and when a party has each role filled it is fun to watch the gears turn together to become a well-oiled machine.  This is one of the better concepts that the designers yoinked from MMOs (though MMOs yoinked the idea from older edition of D&D).

Playing through the module Adam is running now, we have every role filled with the fifth player being a defender (a party makeup we have found to be very effective).  When we made characters, no one wanted to play the wizard, currently the only controller in the game, so I filled that role. It’s probably the most complained about class in the game, if you pay attention to message boards (and I wouldn’t), because it doesn’t seem as focused as the other classes.  Even the designers admit that the wizard is like that because even they hadn’t really decided all the things a controller should do.

As someone who’s played one for a few sessions, I’m loving it.  So don’t believe the hype, I guess.

It turns out, I’m the only one who was loving it, though.  Nobody wanted to play the wizard in the upcoming game and since that’s the only controller in the game until Players Handbook 2 releases, the party is going to be short a role.  I sounded like a broken record that night as I made sure to emphasize that lacking a controller is going to be a weakness for the crew.  That didn’t change any minds, but at least they’re aware of it.

While I love the  focus on roles, now we see the downside.  With one role missing, the monster-bashing machine is going to be missing an important gear.  This is by no means game-breaking, but it’s going to be interesting to see how the party holds up when they’re not following the strong suggestions of the rules.

Next time I’ll talk a bit about the specialty weapons in 4E.  See you then.


Tags: Articles and Essays

7 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Sardel // Feb 21, 2009 at 1:43 am

    I’m glad to read that you guys are enjoying 4th edition. It seems like quite a few folks jumped on the bandwagon of bashing the system without even trying it.

  • 2 Josh // Feb 21, 2009 at 10:46 pm

    I haven’t tried 4th Edition yet, but have looked through the Player’s Handbook several times. I think my group would love the mix of faster combat and tactical powers. We may never try it, since we own a substantial number of 3.5 books, but any time someone complains about a rule being complicated, I say “4th edition fixes that…” so a 4th edition trial run may not be too far off.

    Looking forward to reading (or hearing?) your impressions!

    Also, would love to hear some advice on how to introduce Burning Wheel to a group. Especially since I’ve never ran or played a game of it before!

  • 3 Asylos // Feb 22, 2009 at 5:41 pm

    Will you be doing Thunderspire? We just started it in our last session as we finally finished KotS.

  • 4 Luke // Feb 22, 2009 at 11:43 pm

    @Sardel – I find that most of the critics of 4e aren’t actually critical of the game itself, but of the fact it exists. It really hits the high notes of what I consider D&D, so I love it.

    @ Josh – I’d definitely recommend a trial of 4e, especially for GMs. The prep time is minimal and the ease of customization is high. As for a BW intro, I recommend either The Gift or The Sword, both are free intro scenarios

    @Asylos – I doubt we’ll do Thunderspire. I’ll be running homebrews from here on out. I may steal encounter ideas from it though. We’ll see!

  • 5 Asylos // Feb 23, 2009 at 5:25 am

    Luke – I asked David, but he hasn’t had time to get back to me: Does the Gift come with quick rules? Is there any free scenario that doesn’t require the book first? I’d like to try it out, but I can’t justify the cost without a test with my particular play group. Oh yeah, and where do you get this free scenario?

  • 6 Joe // Feb 23, 2009 at 8:19 am

    @Luke – But the person you argue 4e with most often doesn’t dislike it because it exists. A new edition is an inevitable fact of a business strategy. After reading the rules, reading adventures, and sitting through two game play events, I dislike 4th edition for solid mechanical reasons and not simply that it’s not 3.5. Certainly that rules set can be improved upon. I don’t find 4th to be the improvement, however.

  • 7 David // Feb 23, 2009 at 8:39 am

    @Asylos Oh, I thought I emailed you back. Sorry!

    It doesn’t come with quick-start rules. All it gives you are pre-genned characters and the scenario information, which is pretty light.

    Most of the information in the packet revolved around getting characters into the game by challenging their beliefs.

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