Having a dm very aware of the shortcomings of dnd melee probably helps
No. DMing definitely has nothing to do with it. At all.
4e isn’t flat, it just uses consistent terminology. 4e as diverse in play as 3e. Half of 4e’s problem was that it was fucking honest about what it was doing and didn’t try to hide anything about D&D from you.
One bit of marketing genius 5e pulled was backporting a lot of 4e’s streamlining but instead of having a centralized power system explained up front, it has a centralized power system it explains piecemeal and never all at once so it LOOKS like it has more mechanical variety than it does in actuality.
Encounter, daily, and at will powers are still baked into the system. They just repeat the rules for them in every ability.
Unfortunately in order for this trick to work they had to make fighters less interesting mechanically out of the gate because if they had it would have ‘not been D&D’ to the folks who defected other places.
5e is pretty much favorite edition I just have VERY STRONG feelings about what 4e did right. Which was a lot.
I think this is true but also undersells the power of presentation and fantasy. Diablo 3 is a similar case study – at this point, it’s totally unmoored from the fantasy of ‘I want to swing an axe at demons in deep dark dungeons’ and has so honed the core loop of number optimization that I’m immediately repelled as there’s no fantasy left.
Setting, tone, and remembering the aesthetics people are initially drawn to are key! and get short shrift in our age of mega-crossovers and internet combinatorics, characters and worlds sloshing around in the chum bucket of the web
This, to me, is a big part of the reason why 1st Edition AD&D is still my favorite D&D. The rule books for the later editions(4e and 5e especially) are just so bland to read. I’ll take High Gygaxian in all its obtuseness over the blandness of new D&D any day.
Also, the dissociated mechanics of 4e drove me crazy. There’s really no good explanation for why swinging an axe a certain way is something a character can only do once per encounter.
I’m not going to say there weren’t some positives in latter editions, but there’s just something about AD&D that makes it so much greater than the sum of its parts.
There’s no reason getting bit by a dragon three times and and feeling ok until the fourth bite drops you to zero and you die makes sense either.
Encounter abilities operate on the same logic but don’t have the benefit of years of tradition to hide the abstraction.
This isn’t a critique of HP, honestly HP work great and almost every attempt to make them make more sense is a worse soloution! But it’s still a narrative abstraction.
Probably everybody (PCs and NPCs/Monsters alike) should have like, barely any HP so that no combat is trivial.
The Dungeon World solution
(See also: taking harm instead of HP damage)
D&D 4e didn’t JUST change the formatting though, it added a lot of new texture to combat with it’s positioning mechanics.
Fighters aren’t streamlined, they’re arguably the most nuanced and tactically interesting class in 4e. 4e utilizes the design space for combat a ton compared to 3e and 5e.
In actual play 4e’s classe are distinct, which is the thing that actually matters.
Diablo 2+3 is a bad example here because they kept adding superficial mechanical bells and whistles while taking away from the choices and design nuances of the original game. Which is kind of the opposite of what 4e did.
Distinct within a certain design space, spatially-plotted combat. If players weren’t willing to get on board with this more directed play, these changes felt flattening as the superficial metaphors were flattened. Remember, a huge proportion of players didn’t switch to the miniatures game. And I think more than digital games, pen and paper needs to be accommodating to playstyles and house rules; it’s structured hangout more than a game with objectives and win conditions and the game rules need to nudge towards a type of experience, but remain aware of their limitations.
The reason I’m focusing on the tactical combat design space is…that’s the space 3e wanted to be in. The book illustrated combat with miniatures. Every starter set had a grid and tokens and minis.
Tabletop RPGs can be things other than that, but I don’t like 4e getting a bad rep for doing what 3e was focused on but doing it better. 4e is better at it’s niche than 3e was at being a big tent. 5e is a very, very good big tent by comparison to both.
Plus I also disagree a tabletop RPG inherently has to be accepting of more playstyles. Dungeons & Dragons sure does, because it’s one of the only ones with an actual shot at a large player base, but it would suck if Fiasco had to have different design priorities to appeal to AD&D 1e players, or vice versa.
Strong disagree on houserules as well. You can houserule literally any tabletop game. Making a game vaguer doesn’t facilitate house rules, it just means there’s less of a clear baseline to work from. Lots of indie RPGs are very tight mechanically and facilitate houseruling just fine.
It is far from obvious from a cursory reading, but HP doesn’t actually represent physical damage in 1e. If anything, the dragon example makes perfect sense with the rules as written but the healing spells really don’t. You could argue that some of this is an ex post facto explanation since the healing spells literally say they are curing wounds in their names though.
However, on the larger point my issue isn’t with abstractions like HP but rather dissociated mechanics. See A brief primer on dissociated mechanics.
Anway, I just find that with 4e in particular, the verisimilitude of the game is lacking. And that is a biggie for me.
5e seems more like a role playing game I’d enjoy. I even own the core rule books. But reading them is pretty boring. Just compare the spell descriptions between 5e and 1e. Sure the 5e spells are more clearly written, but they’re missing a lot of the flavor and uniqueness inherent in the original game.
To contribute something positive, I saw this in B&N the other day and thought it looked pretty cool. I love dungeon crawls and the original Ruins of Undermountain boxed set is my favorite published mega-dungeon. I like how they stuck with the more open-ended map design with multiple paths, loops, branches, etc.
My personal preferred game style is heavy on problem solving and exploration with some combat. I’m really not that into role playing of the conversational variety but I like problem solving within the really odd constraints and possibilities of D&D.
Combat in D&D does get a lot more interesting at mid to high levels when there is enough magic in the game that outcomes become much harder to predict. And morale is underused as a way to finish the boring combats quickly.
1e AD&D is in the lower half of my rankings of official dnd editions
Rules Cyclopedia > B/X > 5e > 4e > 1e > 3e/3.5 > 2e
Tulpa does this in our games and it’s great. Also there aren’t many boring combats, but still.
We started off fairly consistently and then members changed jobs, had kids, and moved. So it was really tough to get time together after the first 5 sessions in 3 months. If I can get a new group together sometime, I would definitely play again.
Of course I have to give special consideration to how good the 2e dnd setting books are but I wouldnt ever use 2e rules
And yes I essentially give enemies wisdom checks to see if they want to surrender at certain specific checkpoints in a battle (this is like a combo of morale rules in the cyclopedia and the bloodied status in 4e)
2e has a lot of great supplements but not many great adventure modules(except for Dungen Magazine. That is where the best 2e adventures reside). Off the top of my head my favorite adventures are probably:
The Temple of Elemental Evil (1e)
The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth (1e)
Caverns of Thracia (unoffical 0e)
Dwellers of the Forbidden City (1e)
These all reflect my particular tastes of course. Not a lot of political intrigue, for example, in any of these!
I’m lucky enough to be playing in a 1e campaign continuously for over 8 years now and we have played a number of the 1e classics. The only classic 1e module I’ve ever DM’d myself is Tomb of Horrors, which was a lot of fun for a one-off.
I haven’t played much 3e and after, so I can’t comment on their best modules. None that I’ve browsed have really grabbed me though.
I have never had much luck with running modules and have always found it easier and more fun to run my own adventures. Modules exist as objects to borrow bits and pieces from rather than to run straight.
Runequest had much much better adventures and modules than anything in D&D
Pavis and Big Rubble from runequest 2e is practically a self contained campaign with excellent adventure sites and so much sandboxy player agency