More on 4th Edition

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I mentioned in my previous post that I was kind of unhappy about the organization of the 4th Edition Player’s Handbook.

I also wanted to riff off of that and say: On the one hand, I think the Player’s Handbook is quite a beautiful book, as are all the other core books. The whole impression is extremely colorful, with great action shots of cool characters doing cool things. I even had a great time just flipping through the Monster Manual and looking at these pictures of the monsters, and envisioning how I could use these creatures in a campaign.

That said — The art in 4th Edition bugs me. As much as I can enjoy looking at what are, generally speaking, aesthetically pleasing images, the art in 4th Edition doesn’t depict a game I want to play. Lets be clear here, I had the same general problem with 3rd Edition, whose art style could be described as “focus-grouped fantasypunk.” I get very irritated when the point of every single spread is to showcase some stupid generic fantasy mix of human, elf, halfling, dwarf, and now dragonborn and tiefling. Then we’ve got individual pictures with an inexplicable array of races, sexes, crazy hairstyles, tattoos, piercings, clothing styles, weapons, glowing runes and energy forms, and everything else.

Not that this is anything new, really. Like I said, I have the same problem with 3.5. The artwork is always so focused on presenting “cool” or “possibility” that the impression that I take from it is, “Here are all these possibilities for cool things that might show up in your game. None of them matter, however, because if you’re playing a cool dragonborn fighter, you’re just playing a human in a dragon-suit who kills stuff. No matter what suit you choose to wear, your choices for these kinds of things don’t matter, because they’re only flavor choices that don’t affect the game. And enemies you fight? Yeah, they don’t matter, they’re just there for you to kill.”

On another note, my biggest gripe with 4th Edition is the ludicrous GSL (Game System License). Even though I think Paizo’s Pathfinder is doomed to be a failure because of the goal of maintaining backwards compatibility with 3.5, I’m hoping they eventually produce something similar to 4th Edition but under the OGL. Any self-respecting D&D player, which is to say, any D&D player which puts substantial effort into playing the game in non-Greyhawk, non-Forgotten Realms, homebrewed settings should be extremely wary of 4th Edition. Check out this link at Paizo for more.

Why do I care about the GSL vs. the OGL? Well, just as an example. My own campaign setting which I have used in one campaign comprised one city … With about twenty pages of backstory, twenty pages of discussion of culture, several maps, artwork images, breakdowns of populations, major NPCs backstories with portraits… In short, for a simple campaign I do serious amounts of work. I don’t ever really plan on publishing that sort of thing, but if I wanted to make a PDF for sale, why should I have to worry about Wizards of the Coast saying, “Hey, your independently created Prestige Class for Order of the Shining Star (or whatever – something generic) infringes on something we’re going to publish in Splatbooks Unlimited, volume 24. Stop publishing your product now.”

Another, more relevant example: Mike Mearls posted a really cool encounter scenario with like seven or eight dynamic elements to spice up an encounter that would otherwise devolve into “I attack. I rolled a 26, so I hit. I do 36 points of damage.” Someone posted in the comments that this encounter scenario is so cool that things like that could warrant a book full of awesome encounter settings. That sounds like an amazing idea — But anyone who published such a thing for 4th Edition under the GSL? You’re open to getting your license revoked at any time for any reason, at the whim of Wizards of the Coast. Who would put up with that? I know I wouldn’t.

What’s worse? Technically, creating any sort of character creator, generator, or other utility for D&D 4th Edition is prohibited by the GSL. Why? Basically because Wizards of the Coast had the idea that they were going to be able to run Gleemax and D&D Insider — A subscription based service for GMs and players to have access to their books on the computer, have character generators, a virtual tabletop, etc. But, as everyone who remembers 3rd edition and its Character Generator software remembers, Wizards of the Coast sucks at developing software. They can’t even keep their message boards running smoothly, they’re unavailable half the time I try to go there. So D&D Insider is vaporware at this point, and Gleemax has already died. This is definitely not confidence inspiring.

I guess I can cross my fingers in hoping that maybe Wizards will realize they are incompetent and lighten up on the software restrictions in the GSL, but I’m not hoping for much.

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