Sidebar: 4E Inspirations

Personally, I’m not wild about Fourth Edition. I feel like the books are poorly organized; many of the rules are vague, and/or difficult to find; the character creation process takes two to three times longer than previous editions; and the indexes are so atrocious, that they might as well not even be included.

On the other hand, Fourth Edition did address many of the issues that were problems in 3.5. Granted, creating an almost entirely new system to address those issues is the equivalent of a restaurant giving you a well done piece of chicken when you complain that your steak is undercooked. However, I feel that you have to give Wizards of the Coast due credit for not only acknowledging the problems with 3.5, but also for trying to come up with novel ways to resolve those problems.

Take for example, spellcasting. In a blog entry entitled “A Retrospective Glance at 3.5.”, Shamus Young describes the experience of going back to 3.5 after having played 4E for a year and a half.

“A few hours go by and while in combat I hear something that hasn’t been said around me in a long time, “I am out of spells.” Until then we have had a few small skirmishes, but now this player had to kick back and make conversation with the other magic user who had run dry. They were completely out of the game for about an hour, and I had forgotten just how much that sucked thanks to new spell system in fourth edition.”

Personally, I think this is a remarkably insightful observation of the differences between the 3.5 and 4E spellcasting system, and I agree with Shamus that it sucks in 3.5 when your character runs out of spells in the middle of combat. I would even go so far as to say that I like the idea of allowing players to recharge some of their powers in between combats, as opposed to forcing them to load all of their spells once per day. In fact, reading through Shamus’s blog has given me some ideas about how I might want to tweak spellcasting in 3.5 so that players can reload some of their spells after each encounter.

Another thing that I like about 4E is the new skill set. I have found that this more generic skill set actually allows players more creativity when it comes to addressing issues in game. For example, I remember a game where the party decided to send the ranger into an underwater chamber alone. However, before they sent her in, they decided to tie a rope around her waist, so that if she encountered danger, she could tug on the rope and alert the other characters. Unfortunately, in the process of scouting, the ranger came across a water elemental, and before she could even react, she was sucked into, and pummeled by the water elemental’s vortex. Wasting no time, the players decided to use an Athletics check to try and pull her out of the elemental’s vortex.

Now this may seem like a pretty intuitive response on the part of the players, but to me, it seemed like a novel idea. I think part of my reaction had to do with the fact that I was thinking in 3.5 terms, where there really isn’t a skill that can be used to overcome a situation like this. Also, the water elemental’s vortex ability in 3.5 requires a Reflex save, and when was the last time you used a Strength based check to try and overcome something that requires a Reflex save? In 4E, though, a power like this is considered a grab power, and grabs are resolved by opposed skill checks. As such, it made perfect sense for the players to use Athletics to try and oppose the water elemental’s grab.

Seeing this streamlined skill set made me realize just how clunky, and redundant the 3.5 skills system actually is. In fact, it’s a big part of what inspired me to come up with my own, streamlined skill set for 3.5. I think too, seeing how seamlessly integrated skills are in 4E has given me some ideas to ponder about how one might revise the grapple rules for 3.5 so that they too can be resolved by opposed skill checks.

I’m curious to know, has 4E inspired you to take a second look at 3.5, and to come up with new house rules that can resolve some of the common complaints that people have about the system?

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2 Responses to Sidebar: 4E Inspirations

  1. I’m not working on anything like that. I’m a fairly new player to using full-rules D&D 3.5. I have played 4e for a short time also, but I am more familiar to 3.5 and as I am introducing new members I don’t want to challenge myself too much. The major problem with 3.5 I think is that it doesn’t work when the rules are taken too literally. I’ve never been able to play with the full set of rules, ever, and I didn’t like 4e because it seemed too… controled but in a different way. I am currently changing spellcasting system so that instead of casting a spell once a day I am giving players the opportunity to have a simple re-charge system. I’m at a loss as to how to limit the number of times a spell may be used a day, though. I’ve set some cascading graphs to make it obvious. When a spell level is lower than your level you have to spend 2x the level of the spell turns charging this spell. You take penalty checks for engaging your concentration elsewhere for a second or moving (which is at half speed). This turns the spellcaster into a definite for long-range style player and makes the party WANT to protect them. I’ve kept ‘spells per day’ allowing them to imprint which spells they are able to utilise that day. The only error in what I’m doing is that means that spellcasters can use as many spells as they want without penalties. Problem! I might limit these spells to something you can re-charge once per encounter, re-charge at will, and spells which cannot be recharged. My problem is keeping it simple for new players.

  2. dovearrow says:

    Thanks for commenting. If you’re looking for inspiration to help you with your new spellcasting system, you might want to take a look at my post, Recall Spells. You can also take a look at another DM’s approach, Refresh Spellcasting.

    If you come up with a workable spellcasting system, leave a link, because I’d love to see it. Thanks again.

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