Sunday, September 7, 2008

D&D: The New Age

I had a request a little while ago from Flashman85, the kind fellow who offered a guest post in my absence, for a post on what the heck is going on with Dungeons and Dragons these days. So I offer you this current update on the "new age" of Dungeons and Dragons as a guide to the two new versions of the game that are currently on the market, and what they mean for the game.

If you already know 4th edition like the back of your hand, or play regularly in a Pathfinder campaign (or both) there will be no new information here. This isn't necessarily a review of either game - just a reference for the rest of us who may not be as well-versed in the current state of things.

The Basics...

In June, 2008, Wizards of the Coast (WOTC) released the Player's Handbook for Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition. The edition's immanency was announced as sort of a surprise to 3.5 enthusiasts as WOTC continued to release 3.5 supplements basically up to the point they released the new editions. This made many older games upset, but the new edition was primarily focused towards the next generation of gamers (middle - high school students) and was heavily advertised.

In 1975, TSR Inc started a little magazine called The Strategic Review which has since evolved into the magazines Dragon and Dungeon. When TSR was bought by Wizards of the Coast they allowed Paizo Publishing to publish the two magazines under WOTC license. The magazines were aimed at both the player side of RPGs (primarily D&D) and the DM side, respectively. In the switch to 4th edition, WOTC decided that they wanted to convert Dragon and Dungeon magazines into an online aspect of their website, along with their entire online branch called "D&D Insider".

Paizo Publishing chose to not make the switch to 4th edition, and instead began releasing the Pathfinder adventure paths. Essentially, each adventure path was six books in length, with a book being release monthly. The books were substantial adventure books just under 100 pages that built campaigns within the homebrewed world of Golarion. At the end of the adventure section in each book they included some world-specific monsters and further information about the world - useful for DM's and players alike. The adventure paths could be subscribed to not unlike the Dungeon and Dragon magazines.

Given the clear success of Pathfinder it wasn't long before Paizo took it one step further and began releasing betas for the Pathfinder Campaign Setting. The campaign setting is based in the 3.5 style but with many changes to character advancement, skill use, and character power.

So... What's Been Changed?

In the change from 3.5 D&D to 4e D&D, there were too many changes to name. Essentially, almost everything in the game is done differently, and that which has remained the same has a different name. From skills, to feats, to magic items, and of course to the classes. The class system in 4e has undergone a major overhaul giving each class "powers" which essentially means that everyone and his brother can use what we might have called "spells" back in 3.5.

Every class has a lot more versatility, and the game functions much more like a board game or strategy game, rather then a roleplaying game. Former "roleplaying" encounters have in some cases been replaced with "skill" encounters, making them more combatish.

From my initial views of 4e it seems to be a lot more like MMORPGs like World of Warcraft. Everyone can do their "special attacks" in addition to just attacking, and of course once the battle's over everything recharges in time for the next battle (except things with long cooldown times). Along that line, the game seems a lot more intended towards the WOW generation.

Also, the game seems to be a lot more streamlined. Instead of actually measuring out feet on a piece of graph paper, it's now calculated in squares! That's just one example, but things have been dumbed down in many areas so a very basic understanding of what some simple things mean is enough to pick up a sheet and play a character.

Like in 4e, Pathfinder scaled up character power. Feats are gained quicker, and you start off with more hit points. In a lot of other ways, 3.5 is a lot like Pathfinder. With 4th Edition, it's pretty much a completely new game, but with Pathfinder it's just changed. In my personal opinion it's improved upon a lot of the things that were wrong with 3.5 and expanded on the things that were good. All in all, it was a good change, but it's certainly different.

So Which Is Better?

What a great question! I'm so glad that (I assumed that) you asked it!

There isn't really an answer I'm afraid. I've looked through both rulebooks and have been impressed by things in both systems. The problem is, that you can't really compare them. Just as you can't really compare 3.5 edition with 4th edition. They are completely different games. If you want to compare something, the only thing you could really compare is 3.5 to Pathfinder, which I think is a HUGE improvement on the system.

In the end, here's the truth. If you are just getting started with D&D or maybe only have the Player's Handbook, or even the core three rulebooks, and are looking to continue or to upgrade to a new system, my suggestion would be that you try out fourth edition. There are a lot of people out there who hate WOTC with flaming anger and would rather burn in the fires of a million suns then pick up a 4th edition book, but the game's actually pretty good.

4th edition will be around for a while I'm pretty sure, and there's no reason to not update. Especially if you're just getting into D&D, just go with the flow and hop on the 4th edition train.

If you're like me however and have invested way too much money into 3.5 or have grown up with that system, then switching to 4th edition isn't really worth the time to learn a completely new game or the money it would cost to start over again. From someone who has... *goes to count* ... around 40 books from 3.5 on his bookcase not to mention the 40 some-odd Dungeon and Dragon magazines... starting over again would put me out a LOT of money.

Besides, I like 3.5 and I've played it for seven years. Pathfinder is a great choice for people who don't want to make that switch. It's a tremendous improvement upon 3.5 with a one-book-tells-all core rulebook, and some really FANTASTIC published adventures if you're into that sort of thing.

Just Tell Me What To Buy!

Well, I wouldn't mind if you bought me a set of dice. It would make me smile. As to what you should buy for yourself... How should I know? I hope however that I've given you the tools to start making up your own mind. What will I be doing with my next $70.00? Probably buying the Pathfinder Campaign Setting and Gazetteer. But when my little bro who's just entering high school looked at my books and told me he was interested in playing, what did I tell him? Save up your $70.00 for the 4e Core Rulebooks and never look back!


tomcat1066 said...

I'd love to rip this post apart and tell you how wrong you are but...

...well, I can't. ;)

I don't like the condensed skill list in Pathfinder (which looks like the same one in 4th Edition), but other than that, it does look like a big improvement over 3.5 in many ways.

Comparing the two is silly, IMHO, because like you said, they're two completely different games!

Good post ;)

Flashman85 said...

Thank you for this. Now I can stop reloading your blog every ten seconds to check for this post; I was getting really exhausted from weeks of constant clicking and no sleep.

Storyteller said...

tomcat1066: Welcome to the blog! I'm glad you enjoyed the post. Yes, I've been steering clear from all the 3.5 vs. 4 arguments because it's like comparing apples and oranges as far as I'm concerned. Thanks for the comment :)

flashman85: Glad I could oblige as always. If you have any more post requests just let me know! And try to get some sleep for crying out loud!