So…yeah, I’m back in it. I liked playing in high school. I didn’t like the esoteric, very nitty-gritty rules that evolved through the 3rd edition, so, like a lot of casual RPGers, I lost interest along the way. But then I heard rumors that the 4th edition would simplify everything — make it less about the rules and more about the roles. Streamlined, simpler, and, um, funner. So I bought the books and I’m reading through them, and it’s more of a fresh education than a refresher course.

Naturally, people fear change, and many players for the 3rd edition liken 4th to a baby’s toy, built for simpletons with short attention spans — and a desperate cash grab to win over some of those WoW addicts. As far as I can tell, here’s the main difference between the previous version and the current version:

3rd Edition:
DM: “You enter the cave, and two trolls spot you. They look hostile.”
P1: “I’ll attack.”
DM: “Okay…roll 1d20 for initiative.”
P1: “It’s a 13.”
DM: “Okay, he gets to grapple you. Roll a 1d6 to see where he grabs you.”
P1: “It’s a 6.”
DM: “It’s somewhere uncomfortable. Roll 1d10 to see how much discomfort you endure.”
P1: “It’s a 9.”
DM: “The discomfort is high. Roll to see if you can reduce the discomfort.”
P2: “Is it my turn yet?”
DM: “No. Because we still have to find out if he can break the hold with a parry, block, grapple, thrust, spin…”

4th Edition:
DM: “You enter the cave, and two trolls spot you. They look hostile.”
P1: “I’ll attack.”
DM:”You kill them both. You also get 100 gold pieces and a girl.”

4th Edition is clearly built in the shadow of EverQuest and World of Warcraft, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. If the granddaddy of RPGs has gotten crusty and crufty, and these new kids have figured out a way to make fantasy roleplaying accessible and enjoyable, why not steal a few tricks? Simplify the math, put the focus on storytelling and adventuring (arguably, the entire point in the first place), and jettison the rules that impede rather than enable. Both systems will find their fans — the existence of 4th doesn’t mean 3rd no longer exists — but without a simpler, streamlined choice, the fanbase was never going to grow. And outdated players like me would have never shown any interest in returning to the experience that we have romanticized.

This is brilliant.

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