4e design philosophy: Supplements and revelations

4e is an odd specimen when it comes to supplements. There are plenty of them and they cover a pretty wide variety of topics. However, there is one common denominator between them: almost all include new powers, feats and all in all crunch.

This is not a bad thing, but it is a bad thing that there are so many new things out there that players – my players anyway – level up and then immediately groan: “Oh nooo! Do I really have to take a new feat again so soon?” They’re tired of wading through thousands of feats, some of which are now redundant, trying to pick out one they like. The same is true about powers, only not as acute, since there is usually about a dozen or so applicable powers to choose between.

We’re two years into this edition and yet the enormous palate of crunch options is already tiring. But that’s really mostly my problem. If there are too many options I can simply say: “None of that book, that book and that book.” It does puzzle me that they mostly can’t just have an article about some fluff without throwing in a new paragon path or something, but that’s all really neither here nor there.

What’s 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 supplements.

From the world-changing of Forgotten Realms to the all-encompassing origin stories of the Underdark, we have been treated to a lesson in how the designers from Wizards have always imagined these things in their game. Instead of presenting a plethora of information we can use at will in our game, we’re told how their game is going and what is going on in their game.

This is sometimes just what I need. Hearing about other people’s ideas and how they run the game can inspire me to think about my own. But that’s not what I want from official supplements. I want a lot of stuff that I can pick and choose from because I don’t have the time to get all the ideas and design all the background in my game cold. Instead I seem to get some kind of revelation about how the Game is going. The aforementioned outpouring of feats and powers seem to be what Wizards is prepared to give me as usable as-is stuff.

Again these two things are not unconnected. The designers at Wizards are showing us their game. Since they game four or five times a week – oh, how I wish I had time for that! – they need a plethora of new powers and feats to keep it interesting. Similarly in their games they have a campaign in Forgotten Realms, one in the Underdark, one in Eberron and so on – and the corresponding books are telling us how that’s going.

This is not necessarily true.

But it feels like it.

It feels like it when the designers talk about it. One example: when James Wyatt says something like “People are not going to believe what we did in the first chapter of DMG2” and “Minds will be blown” by the PHB3 (in this episode of the Tome), it feels a bit like he will reveal the truth about the game, not like he will give me stuff to use in my game.

As I stated in the “mission statement” earlier, this and the way it fits with so much else of the design philosophy in 4e is not necessarily a conscious decision on the part of the designers.

But it sure fits well.

Next up in the series on 4e design philosophy, I will talk a bit about the streamlining of the system that 4e is based upon. That one is both good and bad.


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