Wizards of the Coast Acknowledges 4E is Aimed at Min-Maxing Twinks

Okay, for all you out there who think “edition wars” are a waste of time, and that we should all live in harmony with one another, and “it’s all the same game, you’re just playing it differently”, and anyone who thinks 4E isn’t a colossal shift in direction away from role-playing and into the realm of a face-to-face MMORPG where all you need to do is keep hitting the attack macro button using your special daily or per-encounter power I say bite me.

For lo! I am vindicated in my labeling of 4E as nothing more than a skirmish miniatures game, and the very words of Wizards of the Coast serve to indict their so-called 4E D&D as just that.

Wizards of the Coast has announced the September launch of its new highly tactical Dungeons & Dragons Lair Assault Organized Play program. The new D&D Lair Assault in-store play program features “convention-style play that challenges players on two levels, character building and tactical knowledge. The program will offer reusable, modifiable challenges, creating a different play experience every time. The first D&D Lair Assault challenge, Forge of the Dawn Titan, will run from September 1st through November at participating hobby game stores, with future challenges following a similar format.

The D&D Lair Assault program is designed for players looking for more complex, strategic, and highly tactical challenges. The D&D Lair Assault program is tailored to groups of players who enjoy solving tactical puzzles, optimizing characters, and using rules to their advantage. Each D&D Lair Assault challenge features complex encounters prepared in advance by the Dungeon Master. Players are then pitted against their DM in an attempt to solve highly customized and creative challenges.

Adventuring groups will often attempt a challenge several times before solving it, and will be successful only when a balance of skill and luck is achieved. The quickly changing game elements force players to reevaluate their strategies as they navigate treacherous terrain and hazards. Challenges feature an extremely difficult “super” encounter in which players must build an adventuring party to take on a perilous and highly tactical challenge. D&D Fortune Cards are featured as part of the play experience, providing a critical edge for success through special in-game effects the players can use or trade to aid them in their game.

Notice something in there? “Character building”. Not “character development”. And there will be “tactical puzzles” (as in “how do I get my figure 7 squares away from the creature in the pool, and still stay within 9 squares of the leader on the ledge in order to use my super-duper daily power on him?”) rather than actual puzzles and problem-solving. This takes things yet another step removed from telling the DM what you’re character is going to do, and he makes a judgement call as to the result, with perhaps a d6 or d20 rolled in there off the cuff. There’s nothing *to* do other than move figures on a battleboard and decide which of your amazing powers to use this round. And you get to try to “attempt a challenge several times before solving it”. Wow! Just like respawning in Warcraft! What an INCREDIBLE coincidence!

Oh– and did you notice what *else* they snuck in there? “D&D Fortune Cards are featured as part of the play experience, providing a critical edge for success through special in-game effects…” I love it when I’m right! Get your twitter buffs ready, boys and girls, we’re gonna spend an entire evening on one battle!

This is *not* Dungeons & Dragons, my friends! This is a skirmish game! I would have absolutely no problem with 4E if it was presented as such and given a name to match! None! It’s actually a pretty decent skirmish game. My ire stems from WotC attempting to trade on the D&D name and pass off this current thing as a logical progression in the line of role-playing games that has preceded it. It is not, and to do so strikes me as disingenuous at best, and a cynical attempt to cash in on gamers who believe that “new = better”.

Doubtless the 4E apologists will swarm over this post, vaingloriously making two inane arguments:

Inane Argument the First: “People min-maxed before 4E, so it’s not fair to blame it on the current edition of the game.” Of course they did. But the rules as written were designed to encourage DM-inspired and DM-limited creativity. There were not rules for “role playing” but there was a huge amount of attention given to stuff that happened in the game other than combat. In 4E, everything is focused on combat, and the new Organized Play Program is just the logical result of that focus.

Inane Argument the Second: “Not everybody who plays 4E min-maxes, so it’s not fair to blame it on the current edition of the game.” Of course they don’t. But again, the rules as written encourage the DM and the players to pay more attention to combat encounters than any other sort of activity. It’s inevitable that the game as played will betray that same focus. Example: My bi-weekly Greyhawk game shares space with a 4E game, and we can hear what they’re doing (and, presumably, they hear what we’re doing). Over the course of 3 or 4 hours, an entire party of 8 people had a combat with a bear.

A bear. 3 hours.

Let me state at the outset that I do not intend to either engage in or suffer discussions of the merits of either of those arguments in the comments. If you want to do so on your own blog, knock yourself out, but if I think that’s what you’re doing, your impassioned reply will go down the crapper. Caveat scriptor.

Written by 

Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

34 thoughts on “Wizards of the Coast Acknowledges 4E is Aimed at Min-Maxing Twinks

  1. Bah, to me it's the same garbage as tournament modules and the "I explore dungeons, not characters" meme that was making it's rounds in the OSR a while back.

    Both are great examples of exactly the type of gaming I want no part of.

  2. IIRC, the point of 'I explore dungeons, not characters', is that character is developed as you explore the dungeon. Not arguing for or against the meme, just wanting to ensure it is not misinterpreted.

  3. Yuck,

    I try giving wizards the benefit of the doubt on most things.Live and let die, but some of this stuff is just going too far, especially the "fortune cards". I hate to think of the new generation of gamers that is going to think this 4th edition nonsense is what D&D is all about.

  4. I am an acknowledged min-maxer who wants NOTHING to do with 4E. I do not own, nor will I buy, ANY of the 4E crap. They beat 3.5 with a big nerf bat and took all the fun out of the game supposedly in the name of "speeding up" play. BAH we were doing just fine as it was. So sad……

  5. Don't mince words, Joe.
    What do you really think?

    I have tried playing 4E, even before this latest sillyness. I was determined to bang a square peg in the round whole of D&D.

    C'est la vie.

    Just give me that old time religion…

  6. I just have a hard time caring what WotC does with their products. I have AD&D and a lot of similar rulesystems to plunder for ideas so what the mainstream game companies publish or do not publish doesn't affect me.

  7. As someone who has played a lot of 4E (and other editions of the game), I do think it is a little disingenuous to take one Organized Play program as representative of the whole system…

    That said, I actually do agree to an extent… I am deeply disappointed that 4E designers DO cater to the min-maxers and CharOp segment of the gaming population and that they endorse such with programs like this one. That does frustrate me — as someone who likes 4E, but doesn't like the marketing, current merchandising, or attitude of the designers…

    Oh well.

  8. From what I've heard, the outcome of the 3 hour Epic Bear Fight was probably never in doubt, either. 4e players, please correct me if I'm wrong. I'd like to be wrong.

  9. I played in a 4e group for a while. I marveled at how long it took to resolve battles, and how we generally completed only one or two encounters per night. When I got a chance to DM, I wrote an old school-type scenario, and the players–most of whom had never played 1e or even 2e–LOVED it. The "min-maxing twinks" enjoyed getting through four or more encounters in a night. Most of them liked solving puzzles that challenged them as players instead of engaging them as mere stat blocks. It is possible to have an Old School experience with 4e rules. Min-maxing twinks shouldn't be scorned; they should be pitied. Once they taste extra crispy Old School goodness, they don't want to go back to a slow-moving tabletop video game.

  10. One 3-hour combat.

    With *A* bear.

    one. bear.




    You know, a total of zilch I've heard over the last couple years has made me even think about playing 4th Edition. That's just the fricking nail in the coffin, really. 3 hours. One bear. Jeezul.

    I'll just be over here with my LBBs and Classic Traveller and Stars Without Number and Tunnels & Trolls and no freakin' twitter Fortune buff B.S., thank you.

    WV:"sterses", what of mine WotC can bite.

  11. Well… considering that they really made this announcement months ago, but just didn't put a name on it, this isn't really news. Is anybody surprised by this?? They have had pretty much the same thing with 4e games at cons since 4e was released…

    The only thing that really bugs me about this is that fortune cards might be required. Honestly, If I am getting together with people for one shots, I would enjoy playing a more tactical power game once in a while.

    I happen to be one of those hippie folks that thinks you can get different things out of different versions and still have fun. I think the strength of fourth edition is that it gives you the ability to run a very high powered, very tactical, very strategic style game which works the same universally regardless of DM, IF YOU WANT TO. I haven't played a lot of the Old School stuff yet. I want to, but just haven't had the opportunity.

    Just like Brian said. I think it is very possible to have a good Old School experience with 4e rules. but it is also possible to have a really great, really strategic and tactical game as well. If that particular style of play is going to bring new people into the hobby, what'S the problem??

  12. Oh, and I almost forgot – The Fantasy Trip / Melee/Wizard, where in 3 hours I can fight ten bears, an entire wolf pack AND a giant snake. And I don't need no frickin' Intertubes connection to do it. Bleah!

  13. That's a fair criticism of the priorities of this particular organised play program, but that quote doesn't say anything about D&D more broadly.

  14. Hello, Chainmail and the little brown books were sold as "miniature wargaming". D&d got taken over by people who love to role-play dialogue and speak in funny voices UNIRONICALLY.

    So, I love your blog but d&d was a skirmish war-game before people who should rather be playing vampire the masquerade took it over as their own.

  15. I am sad to say that I bought fourth edition books the day each one came out and thought it would be a roleplaying game. I disagree with the person who said dnd was a minatures game. Maybe chainmail was but Odnd had only what? one line that said you might want miniatures.

  16. UWS guy said…
    Hello, Chainmail and the little brown books were sold as "miniature wargaming". D&d got taken over by people who love to role-play dialogue and speak in funny voices UNIRONICALLY.

    No. I'm looking at the advert for OD&D at this very moment. The advert quite clearly says the following:

    "Dungeons and Dragons Collectors Edition — The original game of swords & sorcery roleplaying with paper and pencil in its original format. This is the game that started it all! Three booklets, boxed. $10.00"

    OD&D was "sold" as a role-playing game.

  17. What scott said.

    Oh, and I have no interest in playing in this particular organized play experience. Its not my kind of game. I much prefer standard 4E to this type of char op, no RP style. But, thankfully, 4E can be played either way with little or no trouble.

    I'm currently running a game for a group in their 40s and 50s, some with no experience playing RPGs since the late 70s. They are having a great time with 4E. I run it much like I did 1E back in the 80s.

    Yes, combat takes longer, but other than that, it can play pretty much the same from a general story telling and RP perspective.

  18. UWS guy said…"So, I love your blog but d&d was a skirmish war-game before people who should rather be playing vampire the masquerade took it over as their own."

    This comparison has as many holes in it as a screen door on a submarine.
    With the same tragic results.


    Scott said…"You have a sensationalist headline, a frothing nerdrage post that SCREAMS elitism, and an utter intolerance for those who might enjoy a different style of game than you do."

    Nerdrage much?

  19. More power to anyone who enjoys this program but if I took 3 hours to resolve one fight with a single bear I'd consider myself to have wasted the group's time. To me this isn't about whether or not anyone at the table uses funny voices or not or what the crap it said on the cover of OD&D (note to morons: the first example of any new genre never knows what to call itself). This is about the fact that in a three hour session a dozen awesome things worthy of bardsong ought to happen, not one fight with a bear.

  20. I own nearly every iteration of the D&D game, with the notable exception of the original set of booklets. I started with Rules Cyclopedia/BECMI, moved right into 2E (since it was current by the time I figured out someone else to play with other than my next door neighbor), and then straight into 3E/3.5E/Pathfinder (in order), which remains my 2nd favorite iteration next to BECMI. I own a smattering of the 4E books, mainly to digest the mechanics and play it once in a while with the gents in my group who run it. It is most definitely a skirmish game, first and foremost. At least the mechanics of 3E (which I happen to love, me being such a darn rules wonk at times) were conducive to actual world-building. You could take a campaign idea and build a prestige class around it, and therefore bring your players deeper into the world you created. This could be done, I suppose, with 4E's different paths, but my problem is that almost all the powers are combat-oriented. In former editions, non-combat powers were very important, as were non-combat spells. I suppose it's all down to how each of us choose to play the game, but I have no inclination to run 4E unless I run Dark Sun, in which case I feel it fits well. 3.5/Pathfinder is the system that is most fun for me to tinker with and create for, but BECMI will always be my absolute, hands-down, favorite version of the game that I will run forever and ever. Plus it lets me use all the kick-ass OSR stuff out there!

  21. I've said for a couple years now that 4e was just a board game masquerading as an rpg. They proved it once with the (brilliant, mind you) Ravenloft board game. They've just proven it again. At least they're taking steps towards dropping the masquerade. If they'd just openly acknowledge that 4th edition was a complete change in paradigm with no direct relation to what came before, I'd let go of a lot of bitterness about it.

  22. Somebody please show me, if OD&D is just like 4th Edition, where in the LBBs it gives detailed instructions and rules for sliding along a bar top or swinging on a chandelier, or for character "optimization". (Oooh, look! "Combos", just like a certain card game the same company puts out!)

  23. This is only one way to play 4E and is not the only way to play 4E. It is not where the game is shifting toward.
    This initiative is for those players who do min-max, it is not stating that 4E is designed for min-maxers. There is a difference. This program is outside the normal bounds, made for a specific audience.
    Original Tomb of Horrors.

  24. Yeah, it sure isn't our grandfather's D&D. But then, it is marketed to an audience that thinks desktop computers are a relic from a bygone era. The original? Created before such things as personal computers, VCRs (also a fossil), cassette tapes (also a bygone relic), and cell phones were even in existence. So welcome to the 21st century. Different or no, it appeals to a different market in a different world. For better or worse. My kids, FWIW, prefer the original AD&D version.

  25. To certain commenters (you know who you are); I have no problem with disagreeing with me in the comments. However, if you think I somehow owe you a platform to insult me on my own blog, you're sorely mistaken. The First Amendment ends at the "PUBLISH YOUR COMMENT" button.

  26. I play and enjoy 4e. I've also had the chance to play 1e, and I liked it, too. While 4e is the game that I play regularly (though the Lair Assault program doesn't look like something I'll be playing), I still think the earlier editions are very cool.

    Yes, I'm one of those derided, "Can't we all just get along?" people.

  27. We absolutely can all get along. And some time I'd love to play 4E. I have no illusions about what I'll be playing, however.

    I find the more thorough the mechanization of the rules, the more "balance" that is purportedly offered, the more combat-oriented the game will be. Yes, D&D has always, to a certain extent, been about killing things and taking their stuff, but you can only even remotely control for carefully regulated situations, which are ostensibly combat. You cannot balance for the incredibly open role-playing segments, which means rules for those bits must be loose and open to interpretation (there is no other way such rules could work). Since WoTC is in the business of rules these days, it's natural they'd restrict 4E to mostly combat and controlled situations.

    So while you can, frankly, insert role-playing into any kind of game or enterprise (RPG Uno, anyone?), I would suggest that the rules structure of 4E is not nearly as explicit in being welcoming of role playing as compared to the older D&D versions.

    Clerics have always been the most powerful class because nobody wants to be stuck as the dedicated healer. And while thieves were traditionally the weakest class, people liked playing them because they tended to get first crack at all the cool stuff. In 2E, and they've extended this all the way to 4E, they started adding classes with fewer and fewer distinctions in role, with many over-lapping class roles, making it easier to "power game". If the party needs a fighting man, a wizard, a healer, and someone who can deal with locks and traps, you'll have probably at least one of each. Early D&D didn't really have many, if any, optional character classes. Now they're all optional.

  28. OK, well 'right-on'. I regret buying ANY 3.5 material. Looking at the 'rules', it is easy to make them work for you & not the other way around~

    So glad that there is an OSR scene & acknowledgement that "brains" beat rules anytime.

  29. Joseph … While I entirely agree with you on this one, I do think that it is a bit ironic that D&D was billed (back in the little tan books, not the OD&D box) as a miniatures wargame.
    That being said, I agree that the problem isn't that WotC is making a wargame, it's that they're not billing it as one, per se. They're saying that it's still like the 2nd and 3rd editions, only better. While we clearly know that it's little more than WoW and Yu-gi-oh combined. It's not an RPG so much anymore as it used to be. Granted when "Tactical Studies Rules" came out with the game, it was a wargame … but that's not what D&D has been in 35 years.

Comments are closed.