Monday, March 16, 2009

An interview with the devil (just kidding Heinsoo)

My interest in all things DnD has been pretty low lately (for a number of reasons) so I haven't had much to write about.

Until Crwth pointed out this interview with Rob Heinsoo.

Now, I've been unfairly critical of Mr. Heinsoo in the past. In my defense I was in a foul mood that day and his Dev Post about his desk (when I was expecting something relevant) just pushed me over the edge. While it's true that I'm extremely jealous of the fact that he holds my dream job (and embittered by the knowledge that he's certainly more qualified and better at it than I'd ever be) I have a lot of respect for Heinsoo.

That said...

For starters Heinsoo says (and I'm paraphrasing here) that he designed 4E so that it would play like he expected the game to play when he was ten years old. Not to be smarmy, but if there's one overwhelming impression I get from 4E, it's that it was designed for ten year olds.

By that I mean that it's very much a game where you can whip up a character in a few minutes and dive right in. Over all that's not a bad thing, but I feel like they simplified by taking away choices from the players. At the same time there seem to be even more keywords and effects and conditions that need to be repeatedly looked up (although that might just be due to mixing them up with the more familiar 3.5 terms).

Otherwise, for the most part I agree with some of the things Heinsoo has to say.

First off I agree that a 1st level 4E character definitely has the feel of a 4th level 3.5 character. Not a bad thing, to be honest. My only counter is that I never had a 1st level character die. Oddly enough all of my dead PCs were in the 4th to 15th range of levels. In other words, right in Heinsoo's "sweet spot".

Is that from DM Crwth pulling punches at the early levels? Dumb luck? More care with delicate low levels PCs? All of the above?

While I'm at it, I'll also agree with his point on the "sweet spot". I definitely looked forward to hitting 3rd level as the feat gained felt like the point where my character concept finally began to be realized. Above and beyond that I can't say that I enjoyed the 4th thru 10th levels any more than the levels 11 and up.

However, and this is admittedly damning, my upper level characters were a rogue/sorcerer and a sorceress, so I can't really say that fighter-types were outshone at those levels. I do find it hard to believe that an 18th level Fighter with the plethora of feats and the ability to deal out 100+ damage in a round wouldn't be as much fun as my 18th level sorceress. But it's possible.

Still, I've gotta disagree with Heinsoo's assertion that in 3.5 not all of the classes "rocked". In my opinion every class from the Barbarian to the Wizard (and I'm sticking to the PHB core classes here) most definitely rocked. Most importantly, they all rocked in decidedly different ways. Whether it was the ability to Rage or sing or change shape; or a plethora of feats, or sneak attack, or smite, every class had an identity.

While I applaud the intent of 4E to give every 1st level character a fighting chance via a ton of hit points (and healing surges) I think they just went too far with the various powers.

By giving Powers to all they've stripped away the relevance of those powers. Once every one has them, they cease to be anything special. Where's the noticable difference? Where's the defining characteristic of the character?

The answer is that it depends on the character's role. The Controller directs traffic. The Striker deals out damage. The Defender holds the line. The Leader gives out the buffs. Every class has a set of powers that support the given role. That's what defines the 4E character. The role within the party has become king.

I'm not arguing that having roles is a bad thing. It's called a Role Playing Game for a reason. Plus, semantics aside, it just makes sense for a party to have as many bases covered as possible. From experience every time we created a new party it always began with a question of who was going to play what. We didn't necessarily handcuff ourselves to having someone to take care of healing or deal with traps but it was in our heads at the very least.

Putting my quibbles aside, I did enjoy getting a little insight into the aims and thought processes of the 4E designers. I'll also say that they seem to have hit the mark on everything that they wanted to do. 4E does play easily, it flows nicely, the encounters are fun, and there are never any moments where a player has nothing to do.

It should be a really great game.

So why don't I enjoy it nearly as much as 3.5?

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