JP On Gaming

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Predictions of Doom: 4e is the new Coke

This is not a 4e rogue!

Yesterday, I posted a collection of Predictions of DoomTM regarding 4e, LFR and the RPGA (read it HERE). The post was one of subjective observation. My dislike (to say the least) of 4e is great. But the column poses deductions and observations I had regarding the above-mentioned subjects. I presented a number of facts and examples of things I thought were going to happen in the future. I thought it was actually pretty upbeat about 4e. Past behavior is best predictor of future behavior.

Then Scott, a man extremely devoted to 4e, posted a lengthy comment accusing me of 4e bashing. 4e sales are dwindling is something I have been observing locally and across the internet in the "markets" where I have some interest (which includes Denver, Montreal, Paris and Dublin). The game IS losing steam. It is losing players too. Pathfinder is eating into 4e sales big time. My local game stores can't hold on to PFRPG core books (or Bestiary, or APGs), but their 4e stuff gathers dust (not really 'cuz they clean up everything, but you get the idea). It sells MUCH slower than it did a year ago.

The funniest thing about this article? I thought it was the least amount of 4e-bashing I did in months. My Predictions of Doom were laid out clearly with what I thought would happen, with the basis of my analysis and deductions.

If people want to play 4e, they sure can. I won't. The Predictions were not aimed at stopping people from playing.

Now on to my response to Scott:

My first reaction to the 4e announcement was one of cautious optimism. There were things I liked about what they announced and things that made me wary. Being pessimistic by nature, I remained cautiously interested until I can see the final product.

One thing about playing D&D is that is had its own universe, its own uniqueness, its "D&Disms" that you loved or hated and its distinct game worlds. 4e stripped away most of it and mish-mashed everything together. Had 4e been called "Wizards & Warriors", "Table Top MMO" (or anything else) I would've enjoyed it for what it is: a different game paradigm in a different rule set. It’s like an Battlestar Galactica episode where people come in for a short cruise, spend a few days and leave totally in love as the crew feeds them cocktails and scamper about in bikinis. You would alienate the fans. 4e is the Love Boat in the world of Battlestar Galactica.

I left 2e in 1993 because it was too restrictive and did not give me enough control over my character. I was not in charge of my character. Everything had been hashed by someone else before me. Someone did everything and all I had was to match race, class, equipment and I was done. If I was a fighter, customization meant choosing a sword or an axe... The only difference between the parties I was in was that we had a cleric/ rogue, a fighter/ rogue and a wizard/ rogue. I didn't like it so I started playing other games and dropped D&D.

I tried 3e in January of 2003 and found it had addressed issues I had with the game. *I* was the one who would create his character in the way I wanted: I could assign skill points, chose feats, chose a different classes as I leveled, my cleric was very much like my "typical" 2e characters but with new bells and whistles and he was very different than other player's characters. My buffing cleric had to manage his resources, including healing. There was a system to handle things like knowledge and talking to other people! Good times! So I began playing Living Greyhawk and enjoyed 3e.

When I got my 4e pre-release material around January of 2008 (yes, I got it before all of you), I devoured its content wanting to like it. I WANTED to be as seduced by it as I remember when I opened my 2e PHB at the Travel Agency where my sister worked. I wanted to LOVE it, to EMBRACE it and to become the best 4e spokesman there was. But the more I delved into 4e, the less I liked it. The reasons I left 2e were back. Customization: not there (very limited). Non-combat situations: not there (if you are not in an encounter, you are wasting time). Good skill system: Not there (over-simplified and now a player does not have to invest or make a choices about his skill). Multi-classing is gone (I now get to use one ability 1/encounter). First I stopped having fun with it, then I stopped GMing it, then I stopped writing for it then I stopped playing it and finally I just gave up.

I have this concept I wanted to build in 4e (mostly because I never played that character in other games): an ELVEN ROGUE using the bow as his main weapon. Not shuriken. Not daggers. Not a hand crossbow. I wanted to use a bow, ANY bow would be fine. It must be a concept that is too far out there to handle as part of the basic game. It must be something that never happened in fantasy literature. I mean... 1-3e and Pathfinder handled that concept very well out of their core book. I generally try to find concepts that do not require me to carry 50 splat books (I'm lazy that way).

Throughout your post you accuse me of taking the designers’ criticism of their work at their word. Why shouldn’t I? Aren’t they proud of having the job they did? If there was something that was so bad about the game, why did they wait 3 years (4e was developed Jan 2005-Jun 2008) before they came up with a fix for it? If 3e was a PoS why did they attend major cons pretending 3e was the bomb? Why did they tell us that 4e was a paranoid gamer’s fantasy? Don’t they have the job many of us would LOVE to have? If what they produced before was such crap, why would we expect them to suddenly come up with great material? Wasn’t the new Coke supposed to be so good that it would make old Coke disappear?

That’s not what happened… After trying out the new coke, people hated it, and Coca-Cola realized it quickly enough that they were able to get back their clientele and trade blows with Pepsi once more. 4e is the new Coke that WotC keeps saying is what we want to drink. It’s the Coke that we’ve been told we’ve been wanting for years.

But we moved on to Pepsi/Paizo products.

Scott, if you honestly expect (any flavor of) 4e to stick around beyond 2013, please contact me at that time where I will publicly apologize, recognize the non-validity of this prediction and even play a game of 4e! I'm serious. I'm willing to put my money where my mouth is. You have me on record right here. Oh wait... It will not be 5e... it'll be the "AD&D"!

Yes folks! You heard it here first... AD&D is coming back. The net result: 5e/AD&D will be *kinda* similar (same basic mechanics) but not so much so that you can use all your 4/4.5/RB with it. There will be just enough that you need to re-purchase all your stuff for this new format because it will have the "super cover of awesomeness" or some other gimmick. They will just avoid calling it 5e.

But it will be 5e.

All the fatalism and humor aside... Seriously Scott... Do you REALLY expect 4e to stick about 8 years like 3e did? WotC is re-branding it after "just" 2.5 years...From looking at your blog, you are an intelligent guy. Did I say something that sounded perhaps a little too right?

4e will be around until a suit comes in and says "sales are down, time for a new version!". 5e / AD&D will be on the shelves a few months later.



  1. Rad.

    I'll address your points as best I'm able.

    You wanted to create an elven rogue that makes use of a bow in 4e. I'm going to suggest something radical here: you could have created an elven rogue who uses a bow as his primary weapon in 4e, using only the Player's Handbook.

    Here's how: you create an elven ranger, and you call him a rogue. Mechanically, in 4e, rangers and rogues share many similarities. They are both strikers, so their combat focus is on being a hard-hitter. Their skill sets are also quite similar (you'll probably pick up Acrobatics, Dungeoneering, Perception and Stealth at 1st level, along with Thievery using your feat). It's easy to get caught up in the fact that the class has the "Ranger" name, but it's helpful to remember that reflavoring is REALLY easy in 4e.

    Some differences you might see between a ranger and rogue? Their striker mechanic is a little different; rogues deal extra damage through combat advantage, rangers deal extra damage by focusing on a target. Neither of these is necessarily less rogue-like, and frankly Hunter's Quarry is more forgiving to bow users (it's much more difficult to gain combat advantage with ranged attacks, just as it was in 3e). You are also lacking Thievery on your class skill list. This is easily remedied by making your first level feat Skill Training (Thievery) so that you can fill the lock-picking, trap-disabling shoes that your party will expect you to. Finally, you won't have as many thief-like utility power options as you level, but that's a pretty minor concern. To give your character an even stronger rogue feel, you should multiclass as you level, picking up rogue powers along the way (heck, you might even consider paragon multiclassing). In terms of how you play the game, I don't think you'd see a whole lot of difference between how you played an elven bow-wielding rogue in 3e, and how you'd play an elven bow-wielding ranger who calls himself a rogue in 4e.

    (post split for size)

  2. A lot of people who try out 4e have raised this concern. A particular class worked a certain way in 3e, and they expect it to work the same way in a new game. That's not the case. But that doesn't mean that the ability to play a certain character was removed. Creating the character you describe in 4e using only the PHB is easy. And, as it turns out, fills the niche so nicely that if you were to play that character in front of someone unfamiliar with how either class works in 4e, they wouldn't think for a second that you're actually playing a reskinned ranger.

    On to the next point: the designers' criticisms of their own work. Of COURSE they're proud of 3e. They even said so in discussions of their plans for 4e. They would literally say, "3e was a really good game, we're very proud of it. We think it had some problems that emerged as people played it, though, and we've come up with some novel ways of addressing those problems."

    These are game developers. They create in iterations. 3.5 was the best game out there when it was released, but that doesn't mean that game design isn't evolving at a breakneck pace. Heck, the idea that game design should be examined critically like one might examine engineering is a novel idea that's really only started received attention in the last century.

    There are a lot of strawmen floating around in your post - implications that the designers thought 3e was crap (they didn't), implications that they had to pretend that 3e was the bomb (they weren't pretending), so on and so forth. These are echo-chamber ideas that arose out of people who didn't like 4e or its release bouncing their complaints off one another in a game of impromptu internet telephone until the reality of what took place became distorted enough to make the designers look like hypocrites and liars, when they're actually pretty awesome guys (I was lucky enough to be able to sit down and have dinner with a number of them at PAX East last year, and I'm just some dude).

    I'm going to rewind in your post a bit and talk about 4e sales. We really have no idea what those look like. First, using (anecdotal) FLGS sales as a way to draw conclusions about an industry that is seeing more and more sales through outlets like Borders, B&N and Amazon is not really a responsible way to go about things. Second, it's becoming clearer and clearer that tons of 4e players are buying fewer and fewer books and subscribing more and more to DDI (which was nearing 50,000 subscribers last I checked). Is 4e selling as well as it was at launch? Probably not. But that would be really weird if it was. Is it still doing well for itself? All the actual metrics we have point to "Yes."

    (post split for size)

  3. Moving on, I'm not going to address the criticisms of 4e you level that are clearly false: multiclassing being gone, no non-combat situations, etc. These are false, you know it, I know it, everyone who's played 4e knows it. You can get away with saying things like, "I don't like how multiclassing is handled," or "I don't like how they worked in non-combat situations," but claiming that these things don't exist is a falsehood. Expressing and outlining distaste provides grounds for a fruitful discussion. Railing against a game for things that are untrue is just going to make people who know better shake their heads at you.

    Finally, I can't speak to how long 4e will stick around for. It's certainly my hope that it'll be around for a good long time. But remember, game companies need to make money. They can't skate on the increasingly stale proceeds of an old edition forever. When they do release whatever is next, they will be doing their best to make the change worthwhile enough to entice their customers to make the switch.

    That's the nice thing about making predictions of doom: you can't lose. If your predictions turn out to be false, it's pretty unlikely that anyone is going to care enough to call you out on it, or even remember that you made them in the first place (beyond a blanket "Hah, take that all you doomsayers!" that doesn't involve any personal shaming). And if, whether by luck or actual insight (and for all the claimed insight, it's usually luck that wins out anyway), you turn out to be correct, you get to point to your prediction and say "Hah, told you so!" while gaining perhaps some small notoriety. In this way, making predictions of doom is pretty painless; there's no reason not to simply do it as often as you feel like it. Which is why those who understand how this works don't give any credit to doomsayers.

    Ah, one last note. Yes, I am, as you pointed out, very devoted to 4e. It's my game of choice. But I'm also very devoted to Paizo. I don't play or run Pathfinder - I'd play if someone offered to run it, but frankly returning to a non-DDI-supported game would be pretty difficult as a DM - but as I'm sure you noted from checking out my blog, I am a huge fan of the world of Pathfinder, and of the company that makes it. I can acknowledge that it's a solid game system. But 4e fans don't take the same attitude towards Pathfinder that the anti-4e crowd takes. The fact that people enjoy it doesn't offend us. The design choices made with the game don't offend us. The marketing tactics used in its release don't offend us. We are, by and large, pretty chill folk who really only get riled up when we see falsehoods or insults being spread about our game of choice. If I had to characterize it, 4e fans are pretty much always the defense, and the anti-4e folk are pretty much always the offense. It's more accurate to describe it as pro-4e vs. anti-4e than it is to describe it as pro-4e vs. pro-3e/PF.

  4. Oddly enough, I preferred New Coke to both Coke Classic and Pepsi. They set out to make a soft drink that tasted better than Pepsi, and they succeeded. Alas, now I drink RC. (And I'm curious as to how many of your readers, or 4E players in general, actually *remember* New Coke.)

    That aside, I disagree with your conclusion. I think WotC will go to 5E, and brand it that way in a deliberate attempt to pull a Bahrain and avert a complete rebellion by embracing the rebels while staying in charge.

    They'll use the narrative that "We've heard your complaints, we've listened, and we understand. We agree. It's a great design in and of itself, but it went too far afield in certain directions, and we're going to make things right. Just trust us." One more time.

  5. And it they don't, I owe you a Coke. ;-)

  6. Scott as a fan of Pathfinder, the one thing that REALLY offended me of 4E was when they wanted MORE money out of me after releasing 3.0 & 3.5 and then making for 4.0 and now Essential (4.5) and wanting even MORE money out of me. I used to be hooked on WOTC's crack but now I am in Paizo rehab.

  7. @LPJ: It strikes me as weird to complain about being asked to buy into relatively slight changes in edition, and then to call your newfound Pathfinder "rehab". I mean, what is Pathfinder if not another relatively slight change in edition? It's just a different company asking you.

    And you can certainly make the argument that you could get by just fine with the PFSRD if you already had the 3.5 books, but the same argument applies to 4e and Essentials. The primary difference between the switch between 3.5 and Pathfinder, and 4e and Essentials is that 4e and Essentials are directly compatible, and Essentials is marketed as a product line for those new to 4e, so you weren't really asked to spend your money on it anyway.

  8. I really can't see how we will ever have a new version of D&D, The company is owned by a corporation that is concerned with profits so much so that it has created a TV Cable network to advertise its products to the mush brained children 24/7.

    As much as the 4e Fan boys want it to be WotC is not controlled by gamers anymore. Period. If the folks at WotC can't make D&D produce a valid source of revenue Hasbro will shelve it.

    Look, Hasbro cares so little about D&D they have never even mentioned it in the Quarterly reports, sure M:tG gets mentioned (The reason I think Hasbro bought WotC) but not our beloved game.

    According to the Wikipedia article on Hasbro in 2000 Hasbro laid off 400 folks in Cincinnati because of weak sales, you think they are gonna care about some niche game like D&D?

    Just my little rant...



  9. @Scott -> Although we disagree on the 4e issue, you sir have gain my respect! Well laid out arguments! I really enjoy this "argument".
    I clearly disagree when you say they did not try to tell us how <4e was crap. I'm not the only one who remember that it was they said.
    If you are ever in the Denver area, gimme a shout and I *WILL* find you a Pathfinder table! And we'll have a blast.
    Though many make Predictions of Doom, then just say "I told you so". I posted that entry to go "on record" (then say I told you so). When 4e came out I told everyone they would get a new edition in 2011. I was wrong... It was 2010! :)
    Regarding the rogue... I don't want a ranger, I want a ROGUE. I want to sneak attack and be a thief. 4e does not allow me that. I can play a dwarf fighter and call it a kungfu wizard, but its still a dwarf fighter... I love calling a foot, a foot. If I were to sit at your table and say "I'm an elf rogue" you would not think of me as a ranger.

  10. @JPChapleau: Do you have any examples you can point to where the developers at WotC said anything about 3e more harsh than "We're proud of 3e but it had it's problems"? I watched the release of 4e probably as closely as the next guy, and I don't remember ever seeing anything like that.

    I doubt I'll find myself in the Denver area any time soon, but I do make it a point to get myself out to PAX (Prime or East) at least once a year. If you ever decide to attend one of those cons (and I HIGHLY recommend you do, they're a ton of fun), I'd be more than happy to grab a beer or three with some Pathfinder players and then enjoy a game. Hell, I'll even pay for the drinks.

    And we really need to put to bed the cries of Essentials being a new edition. It is not. Were it a new edition, we would have two separate sets of system rules. We do not. We have the 4e rules, period. They have gone through small, incremental, free updates over the game's lifespan, and that's a GOOD THING, because it means the developers care enough about our game to make adjustments to it based on the feedback they are receiving from its widespread and long-term play. Essentials is presented in a different format from the rest of the 4e releases, but that's because it has a completely different target audience. If you sit down to play a game of 4e with someone, you can bring a Warden to the table just as easily as you could bring a Slayer to the table, and they would both play just fine. If Essentials were a new edition, you wouldn't be able to do that.

    As for your rogue, you're still getting caught up on class names. The character I proposed would still be dealing loads of damage to pinpoint targets with his bow, and would be just as good a thief as any other rogue out there (thanks to his training in skills like Perception, Stealth and Thievery). Again, unless you get mentally hung up on the fact that the word "Ranger" is written on top of your sheet, you will have no trouble playing a bow-wielding rogue with just the PHB. Rules options like classes, feats, powers, etc. should all be seen as tools to create your character concept. Allowing yourself to be sidetracked by names doesn't help you achieve your goal. What I suggested does.

    And again, in play, unless the observer were personally familiar with the mechanics of the rogue and ranger classes in 4e, no one would think to question the idea that you were playing a rogue. One of the reasons 4e was created to be as modular as it is was so that you could do exactly what you're trying to do - reflavor a rules item to suit the needs of your concept.

  11. I have to agree wholeheartedly with Scott, here. Essentials isn't a new edition at all... that set of stuff fits seamlessly into the 4e rule base.

    You would never know that from the way it's been marketed, though. Every experienced gamer is pretty much looking at it as a new edition, unless they've cracked it open.

    I can speak for the RPGA and LFR, though... our numbers are up. Way up. And I really don't care for LFR, myself...


  12. Essentials may not be a "new edition" but it does *fully* replace the PHB/DMG/MM series (at least the first ones). Playing a Wizard from PHB and a Wizard from essentials is not the same, by a large amount. That, to me reeks of a half-edition. We can disagree on the terms. You could show up with a 3.0 book at a 3.5 table and be "mostly there"... But just quite.

    About the rogue... It is one of the D&Disms that I like that when you give your class, it gives a good idea of your character's abilities. D&D is not like other games such as Rolemaster or Basic or even Warhammer where you have near total control over your character... I want to play a rogue, not a striker... and since strikers are basically all the same... No. my class should say a lot about my character, not the class abstraction/ role.

    @Jay-> Where are you located? That LFR numbers are up.

    About LFR numbers... the replay rules skews numbers... 1,000 tables of 6 people does not equal 6,000 people playing the game. It could easily be 6 people...


  13. @JPChapleau: It doesn't "fully replace" anything. Essentials was developed as a sort of second avenue into D&D - the original core books, the PHB, MM, DMG combo (and their numbered successors) are still the best way into the game for someone who has been playing D&D recently but wants to make the switch to 4e. Essentials was conceived as a set of introductory 4e supplements that would appeal to those who had either never played D&D before, or who had played long ago with one of the much older editions of the game and are just now returning to the hobby.

    The Wizard from the PHB and the Wizard from Heroes of the Fallen Kingdoms are NOT the same, that's true, but that's because the Wizard from Heroes of the Fallen Kingdoms is a specialized Wizard: the Mage. They're not supposed to be the same. You can have a wizard from the PHB and a wizard from the Essentials line at the same table, and they will share some similarities and they will have some differences, just like if you played a Ranger from the PHB at the same table as someone who played a Ranger from Martial Power. There's no edition tomfoolery going on here. Essentials are just more books.

    And, it's worth noting, they are books that you don't need to buy, at all, unless you want the new options contained within. I don't see any reason to complain here.

  14. Scott, Which is the base book? Essentials or the PHB/DMG/MM?

    Is a Wizard from PHB and Essentials the same or are they significantly different things?

    They are different.


    Regarding the rest of the books, I'm with you on that. With enough splat books pretty much anything can be circumvented. (Hence my focus on the core rules).