I am not sure if I spelled the title of this post correctly. The term is used by many to criticize the approach Wizards have taken to the 4th edition D&D. A short summary of my opinion on 4th edition is that it is a fun RPG but it is not D&D. Over on the RPG Pundit's blog there has been a series of posts criticizing 4th edition.
Ryan Dancey had a long comment talking about the amount of playtesting 4th edition got. One comment stood out to me.
I haven't played enough 4E to know - what's the community cosensus on the monster powers and abilities? Does it look like a rush job, or is everything really well balanced?
My initial was "So what why this even a consideration for monsters?"
The emphasis on balanced encounters and adventure paths are almost the antithesis of my approach on sandbox gaming. Sure it is nice to know the math behind the monsters and treasure so you design the various locales of your setting to your liking. Whether a Level 9 Orc Solider is really 8 or 10 is meaningless in my book. As long as it is in the ballpark is adequate to decide how to use it in my setting.
Wizard making this the core approach of their RPG is a mistake. Most gaming doesn't occur in conventions, or tournaments but rather with a group of players having the undivided attention of a
GM. In the past 25 years of gaming both tabletop and live-action. I found that the players have the most FUN when it is THEY that set the direction, the goals, and the destinations. To able freely wander and explore exploits the greatest advantages of RPGs. The flexibility of human imagination is an advantage over computer MMORPGs will have difficulty doing for a long long time.
That is as long we make realizing what the referees imagine easy and quick. That where I feel the strength of 4th edition lies. In the history of RPGs there have been several approaches to this. Many revolve around rule-lite systems. Original D&D was very rules light and many continue to play it to this day because of this.
However many players like rules with a more tactical feel where the combat options are part of the rules rather at a referees whim and recall. Many try doing this and often wind up with less than stellar results. It takes a very good game designer, like Steve Jackson of SJ Games, to make a solid set of rules that is through and easy to play. Yet GURPS has a fatal flaw in that it prep time is enormous compared to that of Original D&D.
Therein lies the appeal of 4th edition D&D for me. That it combines ease of play, ease of prep, but a tactically rich set of rules. The reason it works for 4th edition is that it uses Magic the Gathering system of a simple set of core rules but a lot of exceptions spelled out clearling in the descriptions of the powers. So everything can be combined on one card or section and you can play it without looking at the rule book.
This is just a toolkit for a referee to present a vision of his setting and adventures for his players. Of course the parent company, Wizards, is going to use the toolkit to present their own settings and adventures. And here one of the areas that Wizards fumbles the ball.
I agree with the RPG Pundit that all of their adventures are setup like they are going to be used for tournaments. The adventures suffer for this. In terms of content vs price, plot complexity, etc. Oddly enough most of the 4e Settings I read, Fallcrest, Nentir Vale, are written very much in the older style with sparse stats and lost of good content vs page count.
The adventures simply don't need to be written that way. If you need 4 Orc Soliders, 1 Shaman, and 1 Leuitenant. You can just pull out their cards and have every thing you need. I found in refereeing 4th edition that the monster stat block have everything I need and I don't have to go diving in to the rule book. A section of the DMG guide even talks about solo adventures where you have a stack of monster cards and use that as a random generator.
What I would be doing is making everything a drop-in add-on. Designed work in some random referee campaign. Need a Orc Lair buy O1 Lair of the Orc Warlord. Need a slum neighborhood complete with thieves guild. Buy TH1 Skullgrave Quarter. Do this from the small scale to the large scale like my own Points of Light. Make dozens of interchangable pieces that referees can combine to create their own unique setting Make each piece easy to use and understand.
If they ever get the GSL revised I may do just that.
43 minutes ago