I've been thinking more about D&D lately than I have in years. As an active player, that is to say A LOT! The more discussion and discourse that I see and involve myself in, the more evident the divide becomes. I have taken positions on both sides of the debate. 4e has merits, yes. But so does 3e. This post will address the WHY of my 3.5/PFRPG preference. If that doesn't appeal to you, no harm done, if it does - read on.
THE TYRANNY OF BALANCE
This is loosely based upon the flawed "tyranny of fun" argument put forth with great gusto from RPGpundit. Highly recommend checking out his thoughts, there's some good stuff there. At first, I was a supporter of his view, but that has changed a bit. More on that later.
Is balance a bad thing? Not necessarily. Too much red meat in your diet = colon cancer. So a balanced diet is good, balanced checkbook are also good. Like so many things, though, it can be taken to unwelcome extremes. Communism is one such extreme - of democracy. Fascism on the other end of the spectrum. No, I am not calling the great poeple working for wizards communists. It is simply an example - an allegory of "too much of a good thing".
I'd love to throw a "it's that simple" quip in there, but there's more to it. I think that wizards tapped a nerve here that they never even knew existed, and appear to be struggling to understand. In changing the dynamic of how the game actually works, they have exposed a rift between the way people play. Imagine for a moment what would happen if it was announced that in 4.5 (it's inevitable) that the role-playing elements have been found to disrupt the tactical balance of the game...and have been removed. Yeah, it's kinda like that.
a. Of or relating to energy or to objects in motion.
b. Of or relating to the study of dynamics.
2. Characterized by continuous change, activity, or progress: a dynamic market.
3. Marked by intensity and vigor; forceful. See Synonyms at active.
4. Of or relating to variation of intensity, as in musical sound.
1. An interactive system or process, especially one involving competing or conflicting forces.
2. A force, especially political, social, or psychological: the main dynamic behind the revolution.
I am referring, primarily, to the first noun definition. I will open myself up to critique by taking a firm stance on my "take" of what this single sentence means to my gaming experience.
In all previous editions of the game, the action centers around the individual player. Each character a unique (for better or worse) living, breathing concept, that if done properly, becomes part of a dynamic group of other unique individuals. In a discussion on www.chattydm.net/ I called this a "lone wolf" character. This was the dynamic that the game was built around. The concept of the group of adventurers. With the new edition, this has at it's most fundamental level, it is now less about individual character, as it is the role the character fills in the "Heroic Team". (I can only wonder how this will work out for a party of chaotic evil characters - you know, the every man for himself types?) essentially, the dynamic is between having a unique identity within a group, as opposed to being a required piece in a 5 part mathematical formula.
This is where things start going south for me. IMO the "Tyranny of Balance" is the problem here. It is such an issue in this edition, that the classes are nothing but flavor to sprinkle a little bit on the "role" that needs to be filled.
1. also role A character or part played by a performer.
2. The characteristic and expected social behavior of an individual.
3. A function or position.
4. Linguistics The function of a word or construction, as in a sentence.
Here we see the problem with this design philosophy. The word EXPECTED. This is where I lost all desire to play an adult campaign in this edition. I make a character to fill an expected role or position within a homogeneous team. Instantly all thoughts of playing out of the box needs cease to preserve "balance" as a core mechanic. We won't even get into how broken the multiclassing mechanic is...and it IS indeed broken, unless you like your sauce weak and useless, that is.
I can only wonder how non geeks would appreciate being told that their care is in the "role" of commuter vehicle, therefore it will conform to the balanced aspects of said role. That is; low horsepower, small size, static options, etc. BUT HEY! you can still pick the model and color right!? I can see and feel the nastiness trying to creep back in, so I'll tone it back down.
I do not like being TOLD how my character SHOULD be played. It's just like that. The great peoples (no sarcasm) over at Wizards have taken this edition WAY too far down the path of one-size-fits-all. The "tyranny of fun" argument was misplaced with the stupid cave slime example, THIS is where it lives. It is right at the heart of the system, not in some silly little table, buried in the middle of a book. Want to play a ranger? Good, you're the striker. Just. Like. That. Even worse, where's the customization? Everything that has been set aside for you in terms of powers are designed specifically to reinforce that role. Even within it's own framework this has problems. You cannot fill any other role. Sure, THAT particular angle can/will be fixed...after another parade of splatbooks. And thus, the cycle begins again...
I don't claim to speak for anyone but myself, my mileage has certainly varied, so I can only expect that yours has as well. I can't help but wonder where all of the 3E haters were hiding all these years. You know, the same years that brought a "renaissance" to the industry? I've also never had anyone exploit a rules loophole. I hear there are oodles of them, does this make me blind? Maybe soft headed for not realizing my game was little more than a series of "broke-suck" held together by hopes and prayers? Most of them seem to me, to be a bit over-reaching. Pun-pun? How many hours do you think it took one dude to figure that out? I'm digressing, but if you make a hobby of looking for rules exploits, I doubt you will ever be disappointed.
IMO, 4th edition came about, because they got into the same trap that TSR did, namely - bloat. No matter how cool your product is, and no matter how hardcore your audience, they aren't going to shell out 30 bucks for a product more than say 1.2 times. (the .2 covers replacement copies, just an estimate) Simply put, they were running out of products that they could reasonably sell. This, IMO is why we got a bunch of tiny hardcovers that could EASILY (some say should've) been merged into one - Elder evils and Exemplars of evil, half the Complete series, most of the FR splatbooks...you get the idea.
This is why the new edition came out. Anyone who can prove me wrong is welcome to, I'll eat crow if it's the right thing to do. It wasn't a cash grab, it was a desperate leap out of a painted in corner. Now we start anew, but the pattern can already be seen repeating themselves. Heck! The "Core" books are even being release in splat style! Don't believe me? Try playing a Barbarian today...ooohh! Too easy!