Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Why I don't like 4e

Wow, how many blog entries like this can you find on the web? But this one might be a bit different, given that it's going to be a bit more personal. So, if you read yesterday's blog entry you feel my pain, right? Okay, maybe not, but you at least know how I'm feeling. So I contemplated biting the bullet. I pulled out the 4e books, and the Pathfinder books and started reading through them again. I also posted a plea for help on the WoTC DnD forum. You can read it here. Lastly, I agreed to run 4e encounters at my FLGS.

So I'm reading through the books, trying to give myself over to this concept again ya know? And, anyway, I'm having problems with things here and there, but I can see why they made a decision to do this and that and this other rule change. But something is gnawing at me. I can't really tell what it is. But it's like I'm being haunted by something. Little blurs of darkness coalescing at the corners of my mental vision. I'm feeling a bit afraid, like something is happening, being torn away.

It builds and builds throughout the day, until about 4 o clock or so I realize that I'm having trouble reading the racial descriptions. They seem, sort of, oh I don't know, neutered. They are so generic and simplified it's kind of like reading toilet paper. Good for one thing, but not for what I'm trying to do with it. Maybe that's a bit harsh, but I hear on the radio in the background that Irish stocks have just been ruled as junk by the European Bank. And I think that, you know what ... this is junk too. But I can't argue with the design. It plays well; it's just been like somehow vastly devalued. I'm not even really looking at fantasy anymore. Where did the Dragonborn come from? They don't even resemble previous dragon men from the game. Eladrin? Tieflings? What is this world I'm reading about. They all seem sort of like, twist the head off the doll and glue a new one on, Ooooh look at the cool new race. There's no history behind them. The game used to be rooted in legends and myths of the past. It had gravitas. This new crap is about as weighty as stale cotton candy.

And the rules, for healing, for initiative, for checks. It's all about the game. The game design and mechanics have been moved to the front. Its like the whole purpose of the game is to showcase the mechanics and not the story and imagination behind it. They've abandoned it, they've killed it and stuffed it away somewhere, run it through the meatgrinder, flushed it down the toilet. Where's my game?!

I throw the book down, breathing heavy and my heart is racing. My stomach is in knots and I feel strong anxiety. I mean I KNOW anxiety and this is it. The tight squeezing grip on the chest, making it harder to breath, threatening to squirt the contents of your colon into your shoes. You think I'm exaggerating right? I'm not. It was making me sick.

So I surrendered myself to a fitful sleep last night. Tossing and turning I didn't sleep well. And I had a nightmare. It  was all about me trying to build a new house. On stilts. I mean the house was on stilts, not me. It kept falling and breaking and was all uneven. I was frustrated and not knowing how I was going to get this to work. I woke up with a headache and acid reflux. What in the Abyss had I got myself into? I was walking away from the fantasy realms of my dreams; endless, boundless vistas of magic and wonder, for, for, for what? A cheapened plastic imitation? I mean anyone can admire slick game design and technical innovation--just look at video games. But that does NOT mean they are the same thing as my game. My game. I want my game back.

And that dream *shudder*. It's left me feeling like I was uncertain, unsure, lost, helpless, and like well ... like I had no foundation. And that's when it hit me. This game had abandoned its foundation. It is no longer an evolution of D&D. It has become coopted by a bunch of mad scientists, who have made some half machine, half Frankenstein monstrosity of it. Evolution is a natural and very slow process. This aint that. It's like it never was D&D. It isn't just a remodel, it's a complete levelling of what was; and a ripping out of the roots that remain. They have abandoned all that was sacred about the game. And I don't care how much you spout diatribes about how you've kept the "core" of the game (Mike Mearl and others), you have lost the spirit. And a shell without a spirit, or with some demonic possession of an imitation is not the same thing. That was something I inherently knew, but had to learn the hard way.

D&D is not about the rules. It is about the Spirit of the game.

I stopped commenting on WoTC site. They had devolved into some rule debate over how powerful powers were or something. Went from 5 to 11 pages overnight. Whatever. No loss there. Luckily, my work schedule isn't gonna allow me to run 4e encounters and the FLGS. I have to keep my evenings open in the summer. And the PF game is a wash too, as it has screwed getting all my hours to Hades. So I called and told the counter monkey I can't do it 'cause of my schedule. He says he's gonna try and get someone else to do it. Great. More power to 'em.

I feel better already. It's like a weight was lifted off my chest. I'm walking away from the table crowded with young eager 4e players frothing over their WoW stained lips. They recede into the background as I walk not into the sunset, but towards a horizon with the promise of mystery, of magic and of the imagination.

I'm not sure how to address the problems with the OS movement. They are admittedly real and some, I feel, are serious. But I will carry on the crusade. I will not be deterred. I will game what my heart tells me is true and what fills me with the magic and the wonder of the ages. Walk with me friends! I would be glad for some company on my quest.


Ka-Blog! said...

I understand how certain RPG books can leave you cold.

I can understand how running something you don't like can make you anxious.

May I ask a question? You said something about how 4E as a ruleset seemed to lack a sense of history -- what does that mean? Particularly in the case of the Elves and Eladrin.

Chris said...

Hey Ka-Blog!

Glad you asked. Basically, when Dungeons & Dragons was created it was much closer to the source from whence fantasy springs. Namely Myth, Legend and of course early Swords & Sorcery and Weird fiction.

Elves are legendary beings very much rooted in the racial memory of the west. The Eldarin, while they have loose connections with elves, have replaced elves as the actual elves of legend. Eladrin are said to be of the feywild, and only partly of this world. Frankly that has always been the elves position--in history and in D&D.

Yes, there were subraces of elves; there always have been--in history and in early fantasy literature such as Tolkien. In fact, Tolkein himself drew many of his "fantasy" concepts from actual Anglo Saxon Legend & Lore. I highly recommend the book _The Real Middle Earth_ if you would like to learn more about this. But the replacement of the concept, was imo ill advised. Elves are now nothing but forest dwellers with pointy ears.

The further we get away from these concepts the further away we are from the notion of archetypal fantasy. Dwarves, Elves, and other mythic beings are now often used more as game devices and less as powerful figures from the collective unconscious. In this way they are not only getting short shrift, they are disconnected from history and disempowered from their source.

As this happens the game is less powerful as a whole--it loses it's spirit.

Thanks again for taking the time to check in Ka-Blog! Look forward to hearing from you again.

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