Thursday, May 19, 2011

Wizards of the Coast Acknowledges 4E is Aimed at Min-Maxing Twinks

Okay, for all you out there who think "edition wars" are a waste of time, and that we should all live in harmony with one another, and "it's all the same game, you're just playing it differently", and anyone who thinks 4E isn't a colossal shift in direction away from role-playing and into the realm of a face-to-face MMORPG where all you need to do is keep hitting the attack macro button using your special daily or per-encounter power I say bite me.

For lo! I am vindicated in my labeling of 4E as nothing more than a skirmish miniatures game, and the very words of Wizards of the Coast serve to indict their so-called 4E D&D as just that.
Wizards of the Coast has announced the September launch of its new highly tactical Dungeons & Dragons Lair Assault Organized Play program. The new D&D Lair Assault in-store play program features “convention-style play that challenges players on two levels, character building and tactical knowledge. The program will offer reusable, modifiable challenges, creating a different play experience every time. The first D&D Lair Assault challenge, Forge of the Dawn Titan, will run from September 1st through November at participating hobby game stores, with future challenges following a similar format.

The D&D Lair Assault program is designed for players looking for more complex, strategic, and highly tactical challenges. The D&D Lair Assault program is tailored to groups of players who enjoy solving tactical puzzles, optimizing characters, and using rules to their advantage. Each D&D Lair Assault challenge features complex encounters prepared in advance by the Dungeon Master. Players are then pitted against their DM in an attempt to solve highly customized and creative challenges.

Adventuring groups will often attempt a challenge several times before solving it, and will be successful only when a balance of skill and luck is achieved. The quickly changing game elements force players to reevaluate their strategies as they navigate treacherous terrain and hazards. Challenges feature an extremely difficult “super” encounter in which players must build an adventuring party to take on a perilous and highly tactical challenge. D&D Fortune Cards are featured as part of the play experience, providing a critical edge for success through special in-game effects the players can use or trade to aid them in their game.
Notice something in there? "Character building". Not "character development". And there will be "tactical puzzles" (as in "how do I get my figure 7 squares away from the creature in the pool, and still stay within 9 squares of the leader on the ledge in order to use my super-duper daily power on him?") rather than actual puzzles and problem-solving. This takes things yet another step removed from telling the DM what you're character is going to do, and he makes a judgement call as to the result, with perhaps a d6 or d20 rolled in there off the cuff. There's nothing *to* do other than move figures on a battleboard and decide which of your amazing powers to use this round. And you get to try to "attempt a challenge several times before solving it". Wow! Just like respawning in Warcraft! What an INCREDIBLE coincidence!

Oh-- and did you notice what *else* they snuck in there? "D&D Fortune Cards are featured as part of the play experience, providing a critical edge for success through special in-game effects..." I love it when I'm right! Get your twitter buffs ready, boys and girls, we're gonna spend an entire evening on one battle!

This is *not* Dungeons & Dragons, my friends! This is a skirmish game! I would have absolutely no problem with 4E if it was presented as such and given a name to match! None! It's actually a pretty decent skirmish game. My ire stems from WotC attempting to trade on the D&D name and pass off this current thing as a logical progression in the line of role-playing games that has preceded it. It is not, and to do so strikes me as disingenuous at best, and a cynical attempt to cash in on gamers who believe that "new = better".

Doubtless the 4E apologists will swarm over this post, vaingloriously making two inane arguments:

Inane Argument the First: "People min-maxed before 4E, so it's not fair to blame it on the current edition of the game." Of course they did. But the rules as written were designed to encourage DM-inspired and DM-limited creativity. There were not rules for "role playing" but there was a huge amount of attention given to stuff that happened in the game other than combat. In 4E, everything is focused on combat, and the new Organized Play Program is just the logical result of that focus.

Inane Argument the Second: "Not everybody who plays 4E min-maxes, so it's not fair to blame it on the current edition of the game." Of course they don't. But again, the rules as written encourage the DM and the players to pay more attention to combat encounters than any other sort of activity. It's inevitable that the game as played will betray that same focus. Example: My bi-weekly Greyhawk game shares space with a 4E game, and we can hear what they're doing (and, presumably, they hear what we're doing). Over the course of 3 or 4 hours, an entire party of 8 people had a combat with a bear.

A bear. 3 hours.

Let me state at the outset that I do not intend to either engage in or suffer discussions of the merits of either of those arguments in the comments. If you want to do so on your own blog, knock yourself out, but if I think that's what you're doing, your impassioned reply will go down the crapper. Caveat scriptor.