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4e retrospective

So with the start of the D&D Next playtesting poor old 4e is thrown onto the rubbish heap of roleplaying. But was it really so bad? Mechanically I felt the game actually got a lot of things right.

Minions

4e allowed three heroes to battle twenty skeletons or a tribe of goblins. Even classic D&D had a formula that was closer to either two per PC or group size plus one.

Saving throws

Saving throws were a weird mechanic in the original D&D which had the quality, in my mind, of having been invented to answer very specific problems that had occurred in play.

4e correctly turned them into a generic mechanic for handling the timing of ongoing character conditions. Essentially whatever is ailing your character be it a sleep spell, poison or being on fire you have a 50% base chance of it ending.

This simple rule is surprisingly effective and correctly makes a character being very adversely affected by a condition unlikely but still possible.

Bloodied

4e introduced another simple concept in that monsters that lost half their hits points gained the condition Bloodied. The genius twist on top of this was that not only did PCs get abilities that targeted the condition but the monster also had abilities that were unlocked by gaining it.

My favourite instance of this rule was an orc barbarian that was kicked around until he was finally bloodied and entered a berserk rage that shocked the party.

This one rule really changed the dynamics of D&D fighting and introduced a tactical element that is sorely lacking in the OSR mechanics of grind combat.

Everything is levels

If you have a level-based system then have character-level drive everything in the game. 4e was not the first system to introduce the rule that a character's base bonus for anything is half their level (I think that was Saga Star Wars). Again looking at the simplicity of 4e compared to fiddly tables of the OSR rulesets is informative. 4e made the right call here.

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