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    Default Ewen Cluney thinks 4th Edition was your fault

    This is a blog post by Ewen Cluney, a translator and RPG designer (unless you only play D&D, you have probably heard of him). In this article he approaches 4th Edition and its influences and he mentions something I had never ever considered -4E's streamlined and linear gameplay owes its existence to the CharOp scene. In fact, once he mentioned it, I could see so many other signs - whenever the designers would talk about 3.5 in interviews, they would make it so very clear that they thought it was a horrible game, very flawed, very bad. They thought this would gain them track with their audience. They thought theorethical optimization meant people didn't really like 3.5, since everyone was poking holes in it (nevermind that the same thing happened with 4E before it was even released, but oh they couldn't know that).
    Isn't that, I don't know, interesting? Just sharing the blog post, since it's pretty good and something I had never noticed myself.
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    Default Re: Ewen Cluney thinks 4th Edition was your fault

    To me it was obvious.

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    Default Re: Ewen Cluney thinks 4th Edition was your fault

    I think the rest of the article is a lot more interesting. What you highlighted is not really news.

    Also I will note that while CharOp was flagrant, unbalanced parties existed even with no internet access. Optimizing is more of a state of mind than a practical choice.
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    Default Re: Ewen Cluney thinks 4th Edition was your fault

    Quote Originally Posted by Vanitas View Post
    They thought theorethical optimization meant people didn't really like 3.5, since everyone was poking holes in it
    This just shows that wizards HasClue flag is set to 0.
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    Default Re: Ewen Cluney thinks 4th Edition was your fault

    Some old 339 Char Ops people were involved in the making of 4E, so yes, this isn't only a theory. Of course, that doesn't really mean anything; if I had been making 4E I would've driven a very different vision based specifically on the separate systems 3E used with a wider skill system (and more heavily geared towards non-magical classes), maintaining the free multiclassing but rewriting it into a functional system (the ˝ level rule from ToB is fine). Then completely reimagine monstrous PCs (probably introduced a separate racial growth adjacent to the class growth to enable the abilities to be acquired without imbalancing them vs. the traditional races or use terrible systems like LA), throw CR down the trash bin, rewrite spells ground up, etc.

    My point being, people have different ideas of what's important and what isn't. My vision would probably be met with a lot of opposition on the designer-side of things for instance, but much less from the fandom (mostly because I'd keep the aspects usually cited as the reasons to play 3E). And I'm sure a hundred other visions exist.
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    Default Re: Ewen Cluney thinks 4th Edition was your fault

    It's a nice summary, but it says nothing that we didn't already know several years earlier Yes, one of the mistakes WOTC made was assuming that a vocal minority on message boards spoke for all 3E players as a whole; but that can hardly account for all the criticism of 4E.
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    Default Re: Ewen Cluney thinks 4th Edition was your fault

    Quote Originally Posted by Vanitas View Post
    4E's streamlined and linear gameplay owes its existence to the CharOp scene.
    This is why I like to think of 3.x as a "brilliant hot mess". PrCs, feats, all the little fiddly options that drive people nuts are both the system's greatest weakness and it's greatest triumph. Yes, it's riddled with broken loopholes but the flexibility and room for imagination can be extremely satisfying.

    But all design is a series of intertangled trade-offs. Put the class choices on rails, streamline chargen, make all the daily/encounter powers functionally the same, linear class feature progression... you make a game that's easier to teach, easier for new/casual players to jump in, more balanced quicker smoother gameplay... but you also get a more boring, sterile, predictable experience.

    So whenever any designer makes claims about something ruining the game, you've got to look deeper. One person's bug is another person's feature. If you're going to change or remove something, you've got to make sure you know everything that it adds to the game, and everything that will get worse if you take it out.

    I'm curious to see if 5E can bridge the gap between 3E and 4E. Haven't really been following it, but from what I understand it keeps lurching in and out of a Grand Compromise: meets most of the major design objectives, but nobody is happy with it.

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    Default Re: Ewen Cluney thinks 4th Edition was your fault

    Quote Originally Posted by Darrin View Post
    This is why I like to think of 3.x as a "brilliant hot mess". PrCs, feats, all the little fiddly options that drive people nuts are both the system's greatest weakness and it's greatest triumph. Yes, it's riddled with broken loopholes but the flexibility and room for imagination can be extremely satisfying.
    Those two are hardly in a causal relationship tho. The biggest loopholes in 3E hardly even influence the varied, rich character building options it offers. Mostly I'd say the only trade-off in having as many options as 3E is that it takes longer to properly design it all (so that Shining Blades of Heironeous don't happen), and that there'll inevitably be bad combinations (but those can be avoided).
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    Default Re: Ewen Cluney thinks 4th Edition was your fault

    Didn't realise this was a controvertial opinion. Yes, many of what I see as the flaws of 4e are the result of people of forums like this, claiming that the game is broken because they can delibrerately misinterpret the rules to bizzarre effect.

    To be fair though, the stronger influence is the desire on the part of WoTC to create a rival to WoW for on-line gaming. That would also require an exploit-resistant system, since there would be less of a role for DM judgement in the implementation of a computer game.

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    Default Re: Ewen Cluney thinks 4th Edition was your fault

    Quote Originally Posted by Togo View Post
    ...claiming that the game is broken because they can delibrerately misinterpret the rules to bizzarre effect.
    ...so every problem in the system is a misinterpretation? Seems like a pretty bold claim, one I'm certain you cannot back up if we get down to details.
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    Default Re: Ewen Cluney thinks 4th Edition was your fault

    Quote Originally Posted by Togo View Post
    Yes, many of what I see as the flaws of 4e are the result of people of forums like this, claiming that the game is broken because they can delibrerately misinterpret the rules to bizzarre effect.
    I don't think that's what anybody on forums like this is claiming, though. It's not broken because you can create bizarre effects with the rules, it has an additional layer of entertainment, even away from the table, because the rules interact in interesting ways. Even things that no sane person would allow at the table, like the tainted scholar necropolitan exploit, it was fun to discover independently. And even setting aside the clearly broken stuff, character design in 3.5 takes effort. Finding the right synergies, qualifying for the right prestige classes, finding out about some feat you didn't read properly and realizing that it's actually perfect, it takes work, and that's a way to reward the player for being good at something while still playing a game that's entirely focused on what the character is good at. Anyone can make a character in 4e that's (more or less) about as good as any other character in 4e.

    There are some things I like about 4e. I love marking people. I like rituals, even if they aren't anywhere near a substitute for an actual spell list with a variety of spells that do things other than kill stuff. There are other things I dislike. The alignment system isn't perfect in 3.5, but I can't imagine the person who looked at it and thought "You know what would help to represent the intricacies of ethics and philosophy? Cutting out half the chart". And the skills just being trained or untrained instead of skill points is literally the worst thing that has ever happened. But really, it's cutting out all the complexity in character building that I really dislike.
    Last edited by Tommy2255; 2014-01-18 at 07:59 AM.

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    Default Re: Ewen Cluney thinks 4th Edition was your fault

    Quote Originally Posted by Togo View Post
    To be fair though, the stronger influence is the desire on the part of WoTC to create a rival to WoW for on-line gaming. That would also require an exploit-resistant system, since there would be less of a role for DM judgement in the implementation of a computer game.
    I'm with Ewen on this, I don't think this objective was as strong as you claim. The objective was to attract MMORPG players, not completely replace or model WoW. If they really wanted to port a MMORPG into tabletop form, it would have been a completely different game.

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    Default Re: Ewen Cluney thinks 4th Edition was your fault

    Quote Originally Posted by Togo View Post
    claiming that the game is broken because they can delibrerately misinterpret the rules to bizzarre effect.
    You don't even need to misinterpret it, half of the time. It works somewhat fine at lower levels, but past 6ish? Nah. I mean, really, just look at something like Animate Dead - they clearly knew something about the Action Economy, seeing as some of the books talk about it, so why on earth do all the ways to work your minionmancy exist? Not to mention the skill system, which is broken to hell and back by virtue of the sheer size of the modifiers (two level 20 characters could have a -5 and a +36 to the check, respectively).

    And then you get things like the Druid, where the playtester didn't even use the class features.

    It's a fun game, sure, and the potential for optimization is sky-high, but it's fundamentally broken. 4E suffers from different problems (which is appropriate, since it's a different game), but it also has issues. Like temporary powers (usable items, rituals) taking permanent wealth, or some of the Essentials content (looking at you, Pixie and Vampire), or even some infinite loops of it's own (there's something where two Warlocks can teleport to adjacent spaces for an arbitrary amount of time, triggering of the other one teleporting, IIRC).

    Neither of them are perfect systems (no system is! I like Eclipse Phase, for instance, but it's a mess), but it doesn't exactly take imagination to break 3.5's precarious balance in half.

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    Default Re: Ewen Cluney thinks 4th Edition was your fault

    Personally, I think it's one of D&D's greatest strengths that it's complicated enough that interactions arose that couldn't have been anticipated by the designers. Now, some of those specific interactions are overpowered and need to be banned on a case-by-case basis, but that's why we have DMs. It's still a tribute to the system, though, that things like the d2 crusader can exist.
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    Default Re: Ewen Cluney thinks 4th Edition was your fault

    Quote Originally Posted by Chronos View Post
    Personally, I think it's one of D&D's greatest strengths that it's complicated enough that interactions arose that couldn't have been anticipated by the designers. Now, some of those specific interactions are overpowered and need to be banned on a case-by-case basis, but that's why we have DMs. It's still a tribute to the system, though, that things like the d2 crusader can exist.
    What, that someone made a thing that gave you exploding damage dice, someone else made a thing that turned a one on a damage die into a two, and both of them didn't think of it interacting with weapons that deal d2 damage?

    The greatest strength of the d20 system was its size. The greatest weakness of it was also its size. It's basically a perfect example of having too many cooks, really. Like there being what, three different rules for falling?

    The worst offenders are the ones that are in the same book, like Cancer Mages with Festering Anger. I guess sometimes the devs just don't look at each others work.

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    Default Re: Ewen Cluney thinks 4th Edition was your fault

    Quote Originally Posted by Gemini476 View Post
    The worst offenders are the ones that are in the same book, like Cancer Mages with Festering Anger. I guess sometimes the devs just don't look at each others work.
    No, the worst offenders are the things that couldn't have ever seemed like a good idea. Like Festering Anger. It doesn't need Cancer Mage. Just any way to get rid of the Con damage. You don't need to know anything about optimization to be like "hold on a tick, that actually sounds like a good thing". Or thought bottles. You don't need an exploit to make them broken. Their actual, written functionality is fundamentally broken. Any additional optimization is just gravy. But those sorts of things are really easy to either get rid of entirely or know exactly when the PC has crossed the line and needs to be smacked upside the head with any or all of the core rulebooks, so they don't really create a huge problem in actual play.

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    Default Re: Ewen Cluney thinks 4th Edition was your fault

    The simple solution to fix most of the truly broken stuff in 3.5 was to just release more errata. It's no one's fault that the writer of a particular ability wasn't able to predict how it would coexist with every other single ability in the game. Lack of support is what caused 3.5 to be so unbalanced.
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    Default Re: Ewen Cluney thinks 4th Edition was your fault

    I think the reason 4th Edition came out the way it did, wasn't because Char Op in 3.5; Theoretical CharOp was always for fun and was full of affection for the system, because you weren't actually supposed to use those builds in games, so saying it was the reason 4E turned out the way it was is kind of missing the forest for the pieces of bark on a tree.

    The reason why 3.5 was considered bad by the designers is because they didn't seem to be playing the same game as the players, and when this was pointed out, they didn't care enough to fix the problem within the system, but cared enough to have their feelings hurt, so they decided to build a system that seemed more difficult to abuse, without changing the way they played the game. It's a problem of theory versus execution; your theory can be great and all, but if you don't playtest the game the way players, who will always try to exploit the rules, play the game, you'll never actually know how broken something can be.
    Last edited by HaikenEdge; 2014-01-18 at 09:49 AM.
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    Default Re: Ewen Cluney thinks 4th Edition was your fault

    Quote Originally Posted by HaikenEdge View Post
    The reason why 3.5 was considered bad by the designers is because they didn't seem to be playing the same game as the players, and when this was pointed out, they didn't care enough to fix the problem within the system, but cared enough to have their feelings hurt, so they decided to build a system that seemed more difficult to abuse, without changing the way they played the game. It's a problem of theory versus execution; your theory can be great and all, but if you don't playtest the game the way players, who will always try to exploit the rules, play the game, you'll never actually know how broken something can be.
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    Default Re: Ewen Cluney thinks 4th Edition was your fault

    Quote Originally Posted by Invader View Post
    The simple solution to fix most of the truly broken stuff in 3.5 was to just release more errata. It's no one's fault that the writer of a particular ability wasn't able to predict how it would coexist with every other single ability in the game. Lack of support is what caused 3.5 to be so unbalanced.
    But the designers were really bad at errata. Well, ok maybe this is anecdotal rather than general, but look at the Leap Attack errata. Or the Chuck/Footsteps errata.

    Quote Originally Posted by Vanitas View Post
    4e designers =/= 3rd edition designers
    This is true, but misleading. The 4E designers had to be familiar enough with 3E that they knew what the design goals were, and knew enough about 3E that they wanted to "fix" it.

    There were two problems with character design/optmization. 3E was so choked with options, you had high-end optimizers breaking planets in half at level 1, and you had casual players making simple choices that made unplayably horrible characters that sucked the fun out of the game (I'm looking at you, Mr. Monk). While I certainly see the advantage to streamlining that, I can also boggle at the failures and missed opportunities.

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    Default Re: Ewen Cluney thinks 4th Edition was your fault

    Quote Originally Posted by Darrin View Post
    But the designers were really bad at errata. Well, ok maybe this is anecdotal rather than general, but look at the Leap Attack errata. Or the Chuck/Footsteps errata.
    Or the Tome of Battle errata, for that matter. Yes, I know it's not the same
    Last edited by Karnith; 2014-01-18 at 11:06 AM.
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    Default Re: Ewen Cluney thinks 4th Edition was your fault

    Quote Originally Posted by Karnith View Post
    Or the Tome of Battle errata, for that matter. I know it's not the same
    I see what you did there
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    Quote Originally Posted by Karnith View Post
    Or the Tome of Battle errata, for that matter. I know it's not the same
    That is the Highlander II of errata. WE DO NOT DISCUSS SUCH THINGS.

    Now if I could only convince Sinfire Titan that the unofficial ToB errata isn't complete... *sigh*

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    Default Re: Ewen Cluney thinks 4th Edition was your fault

    Quote Originally Posted by Darrin View Post
    That is the Highlander II of errata. WE DO NOT DISCUSS SUCH THINGS.

    Now if I could only convince Sinfire Titan that the unofficial ToB errata isn't complete... *sigh*
    You know he's a moderator over there, right? You can probably just email him.

    On-topic: I really wish they would have looked more at the handbooks than at the TO section of 339. Much more relevant information.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Gemini476 View Post
    The worst offenders are the ones that are in the same book, like Cancer Mages with Festering Anger. I guess sometimes the devs just don't look at each others work.
    I had a friend hired to write half of a World of Darkness supplement book, he didn't get to look at the other half being written by the other person until the whole book was published. It is not always the fault of the writer. . .

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    Default Re: Ewen Cluney thinks 4th Edition was your fault

    If there's anything I blame the customers for, it's 4E's insane addiction to patching errata-ing the hell out of the rules. To the point where waves of changes were coming down for the core books even before they were released.

    Because all throughout 3E, people complained so freaking much about them not fixing mistakes enough. So they overreacted way too hard the other way, nerfing anything that got complained about even if it really wasn't that bad.

    Look, I know they really did drop the ball on 3E errata and didn't even do some books at all. But seriously, give people a microphone, and someone will surely whine about *anything.* There comes a point where listening to your own customers goes way too freaking far, and 4E crossed home plate and kept on running right out of the stadium.

    The hard truth is...blatantly broken things are blatantly broken. Some might not realize it when they read it, but if not they will once it's used in game very fast. DMs have never ever had a problem with banning or nerfing things they think are too much, IME. Never. While pun pun may be a blotch to your cred as a designer...no one's actually going to get to use that in a game.
    On the other hand, it's a very difficult and touchy subject to get a DM to *boost* something that's underpowered; I'm dreaded too many times wanting to play a monk or whatever and trying to think of how to delicately and politely ask the DM to throw me a bone.

    When you errata based on fan outrage and whoever shouts the loudest, guess which of the two situations gets addressed way more often?
    Last edited by StreamOfTheSky; 2014-01-18 at 12:23 PM.

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    Default Re: Ewen Cluney thinks 4th Edition was your fault

    Quote Originally Posted by Darrin View Post
    This is why I like to think of 3.x as a "brilliant hot mess". PrCs, feats, all the little fiddly options that drive people nuts are both the system's greatest weakness and it's greatest triumph. Yes, it's riddled with broken loopholes but the flexibility and room for imagination can be extremely satisfying.

    But all design is a series of intertangled trade-offs. Put the class choices on rails, streamline chargen, make all the daily/encounter powers functionally the same, linear class feature progression... you make a game that's easier to teach, easier for new/casual players to jump in, more balanced quicker smoother gameplay... but you also get a more boring, sterile, predictable experience.

    So whenever any designer makes claims about something ruining the game, you've got to look deeper. One person's bug is another person's feature. If you're going to change or remove something, you've got to make sure you know everything that it adds to the game, and everything that will get worse if you take it out.

    I'm curious to see if 5E can bridge the gap between 3E and 4E. Haven't really been following it, but from what I understand it keeps lurching in and out of a Grand Compromise: meets most of the major design objectives, but nobody is happy with it.
    I empathize strongly with this. While I dislike PF for not changing enough, I find 4e too different to enjoy as much as 3.5. I do play some 4e with a couple of savvy players and quite a few really dumb ones (our psion keeps moving baddies to awkward positions), so we can't really pull off the teamwork aspect as much as I would like...

    I'm going to say this now. All gaming systems should be terribly flawed and exploitable if you want everyone to be happy with them. This allows for a wide variety of power levels for games for different levels of players. Figuring out how to deal with these differences in a party (like the Tier System) and effectively communicating this is ideal for the people who like a party of fighters and healers. Stream is right, DMs should have no problem nerfing or changing something that doesn't work in the game they are playing.

    No one should ever want to play a monk, though. It's all about friars.
    Last edited by Snowbluff; 2014-01-18 at 12:38 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Darrin View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Snowbluff View Post
    All gaming systems should be terribly flawed and exploitable if you want everyone to be happy with them. This allows for a wide variety of power levels for games for different levels of players.
    I dub this the Snowbluff Axiom.

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    Default Re: Ewen Cluney thinks 4th Edition was your fault

    Quote Originally Posted by StreamOfTheSky View Post
    On the other hand, it's a very difficult and touchy subject to get a DM to *boost* something that's underpowered; I'm dreaded too many times wanting to play a monk or whatever and trying to think of how to delicately and politely ask the DM to throw me a bone.
    That's not really a problem with 4e, though. If something is underpowered, it's a power or a feat, not really an entire class (certain post-Essential classes excepted). So the solution is to just swap out the lackluster ability at the next level.

    Now, this can be a problem if a class has no support ::cough::Seeker::cough::, but generally the more powers released, the less of an issue weak powers become, so there's no real need for a boost.

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    Firbolg in the Playground
     
    Darrin's Avatar

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    Default Re: Ewen Cluney thinks 4th Edition was your fault

    Quote Originally Posted by Snowbluff View Post
    All gaming systems should be terribly flawed and exploitable if you want everyone to be happy with them. This allows for a wide variety of power levels for games for different levels of players.
    I dub this the Snowbluff Axiom.

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    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    Raven777's Avatar

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    Default Re: Ewen Cluney thinks 4th Edition was your fault

    Quote Originally Posted by Gemini476 View Post
    so why on earth do all the ways to work your minionmancy exist?
    Because it's fun?
    Quote Originally Posted by Zanos View Post
    The professionally offended will always find something to be angry about.

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