It’s a nerve racking but fun experience when you join a new adventuring group This was several years ago, I had been running my own games of 4th edition but I didn’t yet consider myself an experienced GM. I was joining a group of new friends for something I had never played before: 3rd edition Dungeons and Dragons.
I had heard a lot about 3rd edition. Everyone who had played it for years sword by it, and they were genuinely disgusted with any other roleplaying system, especially 4th edition. At this point in my life all I had ever played was 4th edition, but I had a ton of fun with it. Was I about to experience the perfect joy of 3rd edition? All this time, had I been eating hamburger helper while everyone else had been dining on filet mignon? I was about to find out.
They helped me make a character, which was more or less the same as making a character in 4th, but i noticed there were several more skill and defenses to calculate. I was advised against picking several skills in favor of others, because “they sucked.” I will get into this more later, but having options that aren’t worth getting is one fair criticism of 3rd edition.
I ended up with a monk that specialized in catching arrows, which was bad ass. I was joined in my noble quest by a handful of other heroes, including an interestingly min-maxed paladin bearing a shield in each hand.
Our adventure began and after some story and plot that I don’t remember we found ourselves in a field across from a bunch of archers trying to kill us. It was my moment to shine!
I confidently ran at them, daring them to shoot me. They did. I imagined that kick-ass episode of Samurai Jack where he blindfolds himself and runs through a wall of arrows. You know, that one where he like meditated under that waterfall until he would hear the arrows flying through the air? Never mind. I rolled my dice.
It rolled a 1.
An arrow hit my right in the face and I was briefly down for the count. What a mockery of justice. My shield clad friend ran past me, arrows bouncing off of his armor as harmlessly as raindrops. He reached one of the evil archers and landed a hit… by bashing him with his shields, I guess. The Dungeon Master asked him to roll him damage, to which he replied:
“It doesn’t matter, my damage bonus is +24.”
The bad guy died in one hit.
What the hell? +24!? I looked at my own character’s damage bonus… +2. Now true, that is pretty mediocre, I didn’t take the time to min/max my character. I just wanted to get into the action and play the game, and since I had never played before I didn’t know what character options were good. But still! That isn’t even close to fair for a level one character.
My shielded friend proceeded to decimate the archers, and then every other monster in the entire adventure. The rest of us participated, sure, but nothing we did really mattered as far as battles were concerned. Our invincible comrade bulldozed over every challenge.
After the adventure was over, I asked the group why they preferred the old editions to the (then new) 4th edition. I got various answers, but there was a common theme. “4th edition is too much like an MMO.” I’ve found there are two reasons people say this:
* All the characters tend to be ‘the same’
* The story and roleplaying elements are minimized, to focus primarily on combat
From my own experience, I definitely understand the whole “all characters being the same” thing. In 4th edition, every character gets the same amount of powers and a lot of classes played the same. I also noticed that you would have a seemingly huge health pool, regardless of what kind of character you choose to play. In all the games I ran, I always gave the monsters bonus damage by increasing their weapon die one size.
And yet still I never had a player character die in 4th edition. It is disappointing when characters are so unbalanced it’s possible to have a meaningless character, (like my 3rd edition monk) but your characters are just as bland when they are all the same.
Another interesting thing I noticed abut 4th edition was the artwork. Now when I say this keep in mind, I am a roleplaying fiend and I but a lot of D&D books. I )almost) own every 4th edition book ever published.
… and the thing about 4th edition is, every piece of artwork prominently displays every character with a huge weapon, as if to suggest the weapon makes the character.
When you get familiar with 4th edition you find that indeed most of the rules are about the combat, and there is little attention given to world building or roleplaying. Combat is essential to an adventure, but we want more out of table top roleplaying than to play a ‘hack and slash’ like Diablo.
I am a huge fan of 5th addition because it addresses these problems by finding a balance in the middle. It hits the ‘sweet spot’ between 3rd and 4th editions. The classes have major differences, so they don’t all play the same anymore. You could make a fiar argument that some classes are better in a fight than others (specifically the classes with magic.) But, they aren’t so much better that the other classes become meaningless.
The game has also returned to it’s traditional roots of storytelling and the vas world it is set in, while also fixing notorious rules problems. I could go on at great length, as could any GM or opinionated gamer. I think my feelings are best summarized in this chart: