I never played 4th Edition.
Okay, so I did play 4th Edition, but not enough to gain a deep understanding it, I played through the starter kit, bought a few books, hell I even bought a singular mini.
But I didn’t really get to play 4E in any meaningful way, probably because I had such a small circle (more like a line) of interested players that I had to DM and play at the same time, which meant my playing took more of a backseat.
So let’s take a look at what’s going on with 4E, and why I kind of wish I got into it, or at least why I feel like it got some things right.
Now admittedly, I’ve said this before elsewhere so if you’re feeling like there’s a sense of déjà vu, chances are you’re right.First let’s look at the starter box for 5E, a simple adventure that can technically be used as a starting point for each adventure, it has pregen characters and walks us through the mechanics of everything we really need to know.That’s all you really need, right?
There is one thing that I feel 4E does better, and I really wish 5E had carried over. Character creation.
“But Silent” I hear you cry, “5E still does that!” Except it doesn’t, not the same way at least. I’ll explain.
In 4E, the game started by allowing you to choose your own.. Adventure, okay that’s just jumping to the big reveal so I won’t try and hide it. The starter kit for 4E allowed you to build your own character, straight from the off, using a classic Choose Your Own Adventure style book.
You get attacked by Goblins and asked how you respond, giving you options for melee, magic, healing, etc, and at each stage you’ll be filling in your character sheet and building your adventurer.
To be honest, as a start that was a much better way of introducing the game, you got to build a character you could be passionate about and roll in to a small scenario alone, letting you feel more accomplished.
Then we’ve maps.4E came with maps, with many folks commenting that it was more like a wargame, but I’m not entirely sold on that description.5E however, tells us that maps are optional, reducing them to bring printed in books rather than supplemental, though of course some adventures do come with big poster sized maps in the back of the book they’re not something I personally want to rip out because I just know I will ruin the damn book and/or poster in the attempt.
Why are maps worth commenting on?
Well, if 4E was built on the mentality that we would all use maps, 5E treats them as an after thought, telling us that we can use maps if we wish but making it natively harder to do so.
Or put simplest, the very first encounter in 5E runs using Theater of the Mind, rather than scripting and running an encounter using a map.
Why I think this matters? It’s ultimately a small thing, but for a box designed to get new players into the hobby, it doesn’t ease them in to the adventure style.New players might need that extra visual to help them build the skills to visualise more.
Now admittedly it isn’t long until 5E brings in some maps, but to me it feels like they’re focusing on an “as needed” approach to maps, and a starter kit in my opinion should provide the basics with the option to discard them.
It ultimately wouldn’t have been much work or cost to include a generic road map for the first encounter, and a generic forest map for any encounters traveling through the country.
A veteran DM would not need to worry about them, but they’d be great help to someone just starting out, which since this is a starter kit seems like the big selling point, and of course generic maps are multi-functional going forward.
Next there’s how bulky 4E felt.
There’s no getting around it, 4E did feel bulky, with multiple options for their powers (Powers would be broken down into At-Will, Encounter and Daily uses) but over time 5E has caught up, the only difference as far as I can see (remember, limited experience) is that 5E makes those options lock in to specific sub-classes, and as we get more books out with more player options 5E is rapidly catching up to 4E.
Admittedly no one can be expected to know all of the subclasses and spells and options, so as a DM I take the position of “You be the expert in what your character can do” and make sure you can prove if if I ask.
I guess, with my reminiscing over my experience of 4E, what I’m really saying is that I kind of want to do a Session 0 book for 5E, much like 4th Edition had.
Only question is, if at this point in 5th Edition’s life there is any demand for such a work, but then it’s not as if I have ever let demand stop me from doing something.
Want to see a lot more knowledgeable people than I, talking about and comparing the weak points of 4E to 5? Click here for fancy reading words!