Did 4th Edition D&D kill roleplaying?

To save you worrying, i’ll answer the title question first of all; no of course 4th edition didn’t kill roleplaying.
This blog post is a response to Diane Morrison’s blog post:
Diane requested some input and responses on the G+ Roleplaying Games community, these are my own thoughts on the topic.
Now, before I get into my response, just to give you a bit of background, I started playing D&D with second edition, played 3.0, 3.5, 4th edition and also Pathfinder; i’m not the worlds largest fan of 4th edition (as anyone who will know me will attest) however I do have a fair few books from that edition. I have also signed on to view the playtest materials for the 5th edition of the game (D&D Next). I also find myself in the odd position of being one of the (seemingly few) people who, whilst not an ardent fan of 4th edition, does not find the game extremely objectionable. Whilst I think that the influence of MMORPGs and other computer roleplaying games is clear to see in D&D 4th edition it is only natural that the people designing it have looked around for an element to pull newer people into the hobby and grow their customer base, since Wizards of the Coast is a business at the end of the day; however, the game does feel very divorced from previous editions of D&D, a brave move that didn’t (in my opinion) work completely and that may have alienated many fans of the previous edition.
I was slightly disappointed when I realised that the 3.0/3.5 edition of D&D would be wrapped up (given that I have shelves groaning with core as well as OGL products) and so was extremely happy when Paizo picked up the ball and created Pathfinder (a game I very much enjoy despite the somewhat increased default power levels of standard player characters); however I like to think that i’ve given 4th edition a fair crack of the whip and I have a number of books from that line.
It does seem as though 4th edition was not the runaway success that WotC were hoping it would be as, scant few years after it was released (four years if my Google-fu serves me correctly) a new edition (D&D Next) of the game has been announced and playtests are well underway for that, this is compared to the eight or so years that 3.0/3.5 had. However, I don’t think that D&D 4th Edition came anywhere near to ‘kill[ing] the company’ given that D&D is only a small part (comparatively) of the WotC product line and that they have fair more lucrative and profitable products on the market than Dungeons & Dragons. 
So back to the main question of this blog post, did 4th edition kill roleplaying? Well no, it really didn’t, D&D is far from the only RPG in the market, it’s not even the only fantasy game in the market and, if I had found 4th edition so terribly objectionable (which to be honest I didn’t) then it would have been easy to get my fantasy fix elsewhere. I also think a rules system would have to go a long way in order to completely be devoid of roleplay; yes 4th edition did introduce a more tactical/miniatures battle element of the game and utilised phraseology based on computer RPGs such as the idea of people having different roles within a party, but I don’t think any of these things (or others elements introduced in the edition) quashed roleplay.
Although not a massive fan of 4th edition personally, since i’m not really a great lover of tactical combat and miniatures based stuff, I can see how people who were into that could enjoy it and more power to them; I do not think that the rules intrinsically support roleplay but then nor do the rules for any of the previous editions IMO, rules have always existed as a framework underneath the roleplay in my games, they’re there when required and are ignored when not and, in this regard, D&D 4th edition is no worse than any other RPG game.
One thing that was obvious with 4th Edition was that the featured campaign worlds were tweaking and bent into new shapes to fit the cosmology and races available in the new edition, I can’t say that this unduly concerned me since i’m not really a massive fan of published campaign worlds and generally use home-brewed campaign worlds when I run D&D, although I can see how it might have annoyed die-hard fans of certain settings, but then, if I had been in that position, I would have just taken the elements that I liked out of the new setting version and just discarded the rest.
In short I think that D&D 4th edition was an attempt to do something new and different to prevent the product line from stagnating (and obviously to make WotC more money, they are a company after all) and, in this case, it didn’t really work as well as they’d hoped, although there are a lot of fans of the edition out there; I myself have enjoyed a few D&D 4th edition games and have taken several elements that I liked from 4th edition to use in other games, even though i’m not keen on the tactical/miniatures edge of the rules themselves. D&D Next seems to be an attempt to create a recognisable hybrid of a more traditionally D&D-esque game (presumably to lure back the fans who jumped ship with 4th edition), incorporating some of the lessons learnt from the release of 4th edition and the more prevalent storytelling/narrative based games that seem to be more prominent at the moment.
For anyone interesting in viewing more about the different editions of D&D the wiki page is here:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Editions_of_Dungeons_%26_Dragons

4 thoughts on “Did 4th Edition D&D kill roleplaying?

  1. I've always found the claim that 4th Edition didn't allow you to roleplay quite absurd.

    I quite enjoy the game – especially from a DMing perspective (I must admit, I've never actually managed to try playing it), and whilst the non-combat stuff is fairly basic, it's there and, frankly, as much as it needed.

    D&D game rules have always been combat-centric – nature of the beast. 4th Edition especially could be played simply as a board game (like HeroQuest or Descent) and it can be fun that way. At the same time, if people needed rules to roleplay… for me, you need rules for the things you can't roleplay and need adjudication. D&D4th provides that. Complex rules for combat, and simpler (but still present) rules for everything else.

    1. Indeed, I don't think it has intrinsically any less potential for RP than any other RPG rules system, it does feel very different to the previous versions of D&D which I expect alienated a lot of people; IMO it suffers from power creep where each book introduces cool new powers (all previous editions suffered from this as well but 4th ed seems tailor made to cause this – with it's 3+ players guides and power structure).

      I agree D&D has always had an element of hack and slash about it and that the rules (in all editions IMO) dealt mainly with that, the roleplay was layered on top of this framwork, and I don't see 4th edition as being inherently any different in this regard.

  2. 4E didn't do anything to remove RP, the problem was it did nothing to support RP. Fluff spells and items were removed, leaving everything strictly focused around combat, and that change alone was a big pill for long time spellcaster in particular to swallow. It didn't kill RP, but it certainly restricted it from that standpoint.

    The rulebooks were almost completely based on combat. The DMG talked about rewarding items and experience that were also based almost entirely on combat, leaving new DM's clueless as to how to reward RP events, or even that doing such was acceptable/encouraged.

    1. But the question is: Why does the system need to "support" the ONE thing that the players/DM are responsible for bringing? Almost every time a system has tried to create "rules for roleplaying," it failed spectacularly. The previous generation of roleplayers were poisoned by their RPGs' "rules for roleplaying," to the point that they can't show ANY initiative of their own; they expect the books to do it for them

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *