I was talking with one of my fellow forum members over at The Gamer’s Haven about some of the Actual Play sessions that those guys have posted. We were discussing how different it is to listen to a session of a 4e game, as compared to just about any of the other systems that have been run. We couldn’t quite put our respective fingers on it, but something about the 4e sessions was less compelling to listen to then the others. We finally settled on the the combat being the culprit, what with the tactical nature of it, and the near-need to see a battlemat to make it interesting.
But something kept gnawing at me. I’ve been thinking about it all evening and the following morning, and it finally dawned on me: it’s the descriptions, stupid! In every game that I have ever played in, or listened to, the absolute best part of the combat was hearing how both the players and the GM describe combat actions. From the thump of a club into skeletal bones to the crack of a revolver, no matter the system, descriptive, cinematic combat really brings things to life.
4e changes all of that, and I think the problem lies in the powers that every class has. No longer do you have the warrior describing his sword-strike, instead you have Furious Smash. Instead of the wizard or the warlock being unique because they have powers and spells with names, now everyone does. And what’s worse, each of the powers has its own little block of flavor text, and it’s the same every blessed time. There’s no difference from one Vengeful Strike to another, and every time you Split the Tree, it’s the same.
Sure, it’s really cool when you use those powers for the first time. But as you keep playing, and you go through multiple combat encounters, there are only so many times that you can read the same descriptive text before it becomes massively dull and repetitive. As well, I run into what I call the “Anime Problem.” If you’ve seen any of the recent rebirth of the Transformers cartoon, you know what I’m taking about. It’s not enough for Optimus Prime to fire his laser cannon, no, he now has to shout out the name of the attack that he’s using. Every time I imagine a 4e combat independent of an actual game session, all I can do is imagine a party running around, shouting out the names of the powers they are using.
I realize now that it’s this problem more than anything else that has driven me away from 4e D&D. Because the players and the GM, by and large, are prevented from describing what their characters are doing in combat, everything just gets same-y and repetitive.
I don’t really have a fix for this problem, aside from not playing that system. While I don’t think that everything needs to be described and created by the players and GM, there needs to be some flexibility to those descriptions so that every fight doesn’t degenerate into a basic calling out of powers used, to-hit rolls and damage dealt. If you’ve got a way around this, I would love to hear it because I think 4e has a lot to offer. Right now, though, I can’t use it.
[tags]tabletop, rpgs, GMing, systems, D&D[/tags]