4e design philosophy: Errata

As long as I have played D&D (and AD&D for that matter) there has been some sort of errata. It seemed to me, however, that up until the 3.5 edition, errata was treated like much else in the game: use it if it helps you.

3.5 – which more or less was errata of 3, or at least presented as such – was different, though. There was a large sense in my group then – and in the community as a whole AFAIK, though I wasn’t really part of it, being from Denmark and the internets being in a different state than today – that we were getting screwed.

We experienced very few problems with 3e. Our gamed worked. Why would the powers that be suddenly stab not just our game but their own product in the back by making so many books obsolete? We gamed on in 3e until Real Life made it impossible for us to game regularly.

Enter 4e. I was sceptical, mostly based on the decidedly huge changes made in the design philosophy. I bought it anyway, like so many people on the recommendation of the PA and PvP podcasts, the single best marketing idea Wizards has ever had.

It made me drum up my current group – which is comprised of people who have never role-played before and which include my wife, which is pretty rare among geeks in Denmark – and we took to 4e with a vengeance. It was great fun, it was easy to prep, and it was easy to relate to for those in my group who were used to computer gaming. I’ll post more about the fun and accessibility of 4e later, since I’m not a hater. Haters rarely rhyme spontaneously.

But then I began looking on the internets. I got a DDI subscription primarily for the Character Builder and the Adventure Tools. Dungeon and Dragon Magazines seem quite good, but they really need a better search and browse function to be something I want to use.

Seeing the  character builder at work was an epiphany. It dramatically reduced the grind of making and updating characters. However it also puzzled me, that some powers and skills read differently than I remembered them. They had been changed. My game was changing without my input. Not necessarily against my will, but without me being asked.

Looking around on the blogs – like rpgmusings, sarahdarkmagic and others found in the links over there – and listening to podcasts – from and featuring the same people, 4geeks4e and The Tome – it seemed like everyone had the same reaction to the errata: this is how the game is now. The changes were discussed not as options but as the new baseline.

Wizards treated the errata in the same way. Example: the controversy around the Magic Missile power change was rather large, and in our group we decided to ignore it, since it invalidated a lot of the build of the wizard. But the character builder had other plans.

I know that I could just make a customised element in the builder which would then be the old power, but why? Why would Wizards not simply give me the option of the older power? Isn’t the point that in my home game, I can use whatever combination of rules I want, but in sanctioned games we all play like Wizards recommends?

What this all amounts to is the rather chilling realisation that there seems to be an idea in the minds of the designers, that they are gradually “revealing” the game. That the changes they make to “the game” apply to all individual games. The feeling it leaves me with is that I’m no longer playing my game. I’m playing theirs.

This design philosophy of Wizards rubs off on players, embodied in posts like this one over at aherotwiceamonth.com, which addresses the common point that the Player’s Handbook is obsolete.

Hold on.

The Player’s Handbook?

The core book that has been the only real requirement for play in every edition of D&D, that has been the starting point for thousands if not millions of characters and games in all editions, that has spawned the imagination of players and DMs around the world is obsolete after two years of this edition?

It wouldn’t be if we were playing my game.

This ties into the design philosophy about supplements, which will be the subject of my next post about 4e design philosophy.



One Response to 4e design philosophy: Errata

  1. […] more of a problem is the entire attitude from Wizards towards these supplements. As I touched on in my earlier post, it seems like I’m no longer playing my game, I’m playing theirs. The same seems true in the […]

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