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Last week, I discussed spell components. The conversations I had across Facebook and MeWe led me to a follow up post, and then down a rabbit hole to today’s topic.
4th Edition D&D (“4e“) didn’t track spell components for powers, and rituals had a set cost that didn’t even list the material components. Material spell components were abstracted, so a ritual caster could remove a specified number of gold pieces from the character sheet and assume the material components were available. Based on my linked posts, you’d think I’d have a problem with this, but I didn’t. In 4e, there were no go-to spells or rituals. Everything was balanced so that players chose their suites of powers based on the type of characters they wanted to play. Tracking material spell components (or casting times as in 1st Edition D&D) was unnecessary; characters were already greatly diverse. That kind of variety made for far more interesting combats, even if most of table were playing the same classes. In 4e, there was no place for the question, “What classes are you guys playing?” It didn’t matter. You could play what you wanted without affecting the game because everyone was different even if they were the same. As someone who played a ton of 4e, I never understood the claim that all classes played the same. Even within classes, they played differently.
Rituals weren’t used very often in my experience, but I think that was the result of adventure writing rather than an inadequacy of the ritual system. In fact, I wrote a Dungeon Crawl system for 4e, and on the now-defunct loremaster.org added a post on how to convert rituals to spells (or “near-spells”). Here’s a PDF that was the basis of that post. It’s not the final draft, so it may have some rough edges.
Nothing Is Certain Except Death and Taxes
As good as that was, 4e screwed up in a different but analogous way. When it came to feats, almost every class had go-to feats. In fact, there were feats that were go-to for most classes. This was known as a “feat tax.” Durable, Implement Expertise, Improved Initiative, Toughness, Weapon Expertise, and Weapon Focus immediately come to mind. This wasn’t nearly as large a sin of game design — other players generally don’t notice which feats a player has chosen — but for what it’s worth, 5e does a much better job with feats. I have trouble selecting 5e feats because a large number of them are valuable no matter what class I’m playing, so I know I’m going to make different choices than other players.
As I said in the prior posts, game designers need to pay better attention to whether their systems lead a majority of players to make the same choices. 4e proved that you can design a game of diverse characters in such a way that it doesn’t devolve into an exercise in accounting, and simultaneously broke that rule.
4e is still better than 5e. 🙂
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