The Horror & Boredom of 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons

Many years ago, 2008 in fact, I decided to give 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons a shot.

I had been playing 2nd Edition and 3rd Edition for many years so why not try something new and different?

How bad could it be after all?


It can be pretty bad.

And worse, pretty boring.

Roleplaying in 4th edition works pretty much the same as any other edition of Dungeons and Dragons. You just role-play your character and adlib what you want the character to do. Essentially making it up as you go like an interactive storytelling system.

The problem with 4th Edition D&D was the combat system, which, let's be fair, is arguably the most important part because 90% of the books is really stuff related to combat. If there was no combat there would be almost no need for the books at all. People could just roleplay their characters, not do any combat, and most of the books wouldn't be needed.

Unfortunately it is called "Dungeons and Dragons"... Which implies that at some point you are going to want to stab a dragon, so combat is a necessity. Oh and there's dungeons, castles, inns, etc... Often with traps in there, so there's rules for that too, but disabling traps (or getting hit by traps) doesn't take much time.


The combat system for 4E was the biggest issue and the biggest fault.

For 4th Edition players each "normal sized" combat will typically take 4 to 8 hours (or longer) just to complete. If combat is only 3 hours or less that is considered to be extraordinarily quick.

Furthermore when playing through the combat it is so bogged down with rules, powers, movement powers, movement actions, sliding, shifting, reactions, etc... Doing a single round of combat with a group of 4 players usually takes about 24-48 minutes, and you can expect the combat to last about 10 rounds (or longer)...

Furthermore even low level monsters in 4th Edition had abilities that basically allowed them to regenerate lost hit points - even though they technically did NOT have regeneration. They could still heal themselves mid combat for no good reason. (This incidentally is one of the things I don't like about 5th Edition either, the whole thing with Second Wind acting like an extra way for PCs to heal themselves. It really makes having a cleric in the group rather unnecessary.)

Now if you're not a D&D player let me go ahead and explain something...

In previous editions of Dungeons and Dragons it was considered normal to have 1 to 3 combats during a single session of roleplaying, but the combats were often relatively short. This meant more time for actual roleplaying, character development, plot development, storytelling, etc. It also meant that you actually more combat done, but that combat was done quickly and efficiently in a manner that did not distract from the enjoyment of the game.

Likewise healing in previous editions meant the party either rested for the night, or they relied upon the cleric (or druid or paladin) to heal the party.

4th Edition basically ignored all of that and said:

"Hey, let's have really long overly complicated combat that lasts 4 to 8 hours and bores players to death."

Because that is what 4th Edition combat was like. Just super long and boring. It was like watching other people playing Warhammer while you (one of the players) stared off into the distance because the combat was so slow you didn't really need to pay attention.

I suspect a lot of 4E DMs would notice their players staring at their phones, tablets or reading a book during the games back in 2008 when 4th Edition first came out.

Now I wasn't the only player who got very quickly bored of 4th Edition. Many other players did too. Some people boycotted 4th edition D&D after they tried it and realized that the combat was so slow that they became nostalgic for older roleplaying games.

Ah Nostalgia...

That is what happened to me.

In the wake of 3.5 D&D (don't get me started) I opted to ditch 3rd Edition and decided to join a 1st Edition group. I played 1st Edition for years and then later (starting in November 2011) I ran my own 1st Edition game for 6 years.

After that game ended in 2017 I started running a 2nd Edition campaign, which I plan to keep running until 2024 or so.

By 2025 I expect to be playing 3.0 and that should last me until 2030-2031.

Meanwhile some other players I know of similarly skipped 4th Edition and played Pathfinder instead, which was similar to 3.5, but felt more like 3.75. Still technically 3rd Edition.

Look at the chart below and it will give you an idea of just how bad 4th Edition was and how it led to Pathfinder becoming more popular.

4th Edition D&D was so bad that it resulted in 3.5 maintaining its popularity until 2011 when Pathfinder eventually overtook 3.5 in popularity.

The folks / manufacturers at Wizards of the Coast no doubt noticed that Pathfinder was now more popular and realized that they needed a 5th Edition, and they needed the new game to make combat exciting again, faster, and to incorporate elements from previous editions. 5th Edition was very much a reaction to just how much players hated 4th Edition.

However we're not going to talk about 5th Edition today. Save that for a future Nerdovore post...

So what do I remember about 4th Edition?

Before I got bored of playing 4th Edition and decided to boycott it I remember the very long and arduous combat sessions.

  • I don't remember my characters.
  • I don't remember their names.
  • I don't remember the names of other characters.
  • I vaguely remember the names of several players, mostly because I am still friends with a few on Facebook.
  • I don't remember the plots or anything to do with the stories.

I suspect it is entirely possible that I have blocked the memory of such things because the boredom and horror of 4th Edition was so bad that my brain decided to delete all associated memories of it and retaining specific memories as a reminder to never play 4th Edition ever again.

I remember going to several "Try 4th Edition" events being held at gaming stores in Toronto. I might have the character sheets from those games tucked away somewhere, but it is equally likely that I threw them out whenever I took the time to sort through old character sheets and saw them and realized: "Oh crud! This is 4th Edition?! That is definitely going in to the recycling!"

And then ripping them up for good measure.

So what about past and future editions?

1st, 2nd, 3.0 and 5th edition are all perfectly good games in my opinion. I had to tweak 5th edition when playing it to give it some house rules to make it better, but I do the same thing when playing 1st and 2nd.

I haven't played 3rd edition in about 13 years. I am starting to get nostalgic for it. However in theory I can just play Dungeons and Dragons Online, which is based on 3rd Edition - but on STEROIDS!!! If I start running 3.0 in 2025 I suspect I will also House Rule a bunch of stuff.

That is the hallmark of what makes a good edition of D&D. If you don't like something you can change it using House Rules to fix the problem. With 4th Edition no amount of House Rules was going to change the fact that it was a long-winded and very boring combat system.

I have also noticed - and this may just be me being superstitious - that prime numbers a good thing for D&D editions. 2, 3 and 5 particularly. 1st Edition is still good, but 2nd Edition was definitely better.

Thus I wouldn't be surprised if 6th Edition D&D ended up being really bad... and 7th Edition Dungeons and Dragons being really good.

Call it a prediction.

I predict that the following editions of D&D will all be really bad:

  • 6th Edition Dungeons and Dragons
  • 8th Edition Dungeons and Dragons
  • 9th Edition Dungeons and Dragons
  • 10th Edition Dungeons and Dragons

But 7th and 11th Edition Dungeons and Dragons will be good or at least "acceptably good".

I also wouldn't be surprised if after the series of debacles of 8th, 9th and 10th being flops that fans might buy the company back from WOTC and restart the old TSR brand.

While I am at it I also predict that any films using "Dungeons and Dragons" in the title will be financial flops. If they want to make films they should base them on the books, like the Icewind Dale Trilogy or the Dragonlance Chronicles Trilogy. Basing them on the books guarantees that the films at least have a good plot.

Basing a film on a board game or a video game is very hit and miss.

Want to learn more about why 4th Edition D&D was so bad?

Just watch the video below. In the video you will see new players reacting to playing a 3.5 hour long session of D&D and keep in mind the DM deliberately cut the hit points of all the monsters in HALF because he knew that if he did not then the combat would have lasted twice as long.

And even then... Even then the players discovered just how bad it still is despite the DM tweaking the rules.

The horror... The sheer horror of it.


No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments containing links will be marked as spam and not approved.

Publishing a fantasy book? Make sure you get a professional fantasy book editor.

Study Archery in Toronto

So you want to study archery, but you are having difficulty finding an archery instructor who is local. However there is a solution. If you are willing to travel you can take a crash course in archery in Toronto, Canada. 10 lessons over a two week period will take you from archery novice to an experienced and capable archer.

Popular Posts