The Red Box Blog

Ramblings about D&D.

Fixing 4E

While I was never totally happy with 4E, neither was I a huge detractor of it. The system does many things which I like, and the problems I have with it are mostly pretty minor. But, despite this, my group stopped playing 4E more than a year ago at my behest.
Why did we stop if we liked it?

  1. Game Time – we only have 3 to 4 hours to play each week and the game just runs too slow for us; frequently we would only get in one encounter per week.
  2. Invulnerability – this didn’t stand out at first, but after a whole year of playing we hadn’t had a single PC death, and only three times had anyone been to zero HP.
  3. Prep Time – I love updating old school adventures, but it was just too much work in 4E; I had to pretty much rewrite many of the adventures from scratch.
  4. Rapid Rise – characters always seemed to be passing levels and always seemed to have new powers that the player hadn’t yet figured out. This became a problem if someone was absent because when the absent player hadn’t yet figured out how to play the character, how could anyone else hope to?

A year ago we started playing Basic D&D as an escape from 4E. Our first forray was a complete disaster; in just 6 weeks of play we had multiple Total Party Kills. We gave up, and played some other games for nearly a year. But ever after I was bothered by how hard the game had seemed; was it really that hard when I was a kid?

The answer was absurdly simple. When I was a kid we all had two or more characters, but playing it as grown ups we applied an assumption of modern gaming to it – namely one player gets one character.

So recently we have given Basic another shot with more players and two characters each; everyone is having a blast. But the ease with with we fixed our troubles in Basic has me wondering if 4E has equally easy fixes. This is what I think could fix our problems.

  1. Cut HP in half across the board (PCs, NPCs and monsters). This should simultaneously speed up combat and increase peril.
  2. Play without a battle map. I know some readers probably think this to be impossible, but I am not so sure; I don’t think 4E rules as written are particularly more map dependent than 1E or 3.x, its just that the rulebook for 4E is written with language that assumes you have a map where as the other two were not. Kill the map and the whole feel of the game should change with it.
  3. Adapt 4E materials to our style rather than adapting old materials to 4E. This should save many hours in prep time.
  4. Slow XP progression so that players have a chance to get to know their powers and each other.

I think that is all that would need to be changed in order to make 4E work for us. Now it wouldn’t make it a perfect rules system, but it doesn’t need to be perfect, just fun.


September 13, 2010 - Posted by | 4E, Dungeons and Dragons, RPGs | , ,


  1. I am also noticing some of the same critiques you have of the 4e in terms of length of combat (I usually cut some of the monsters hp or just tell them they are able to butcher the remaining monsters. I can usually drop the players right now, but will se when they hit paragon tier. it might be that the sweet spot for 4e is the heroic an dearly paragon tiers. I stopped keeping track of experience points and am currently leveling them based on story points. but mind you I might be leveling them faster as we don’t play that often.

    it is funny about the quick death in the basic game, I also think that current gen video games and rpg kind of give us the mentality of just trying to fight and kill everything but back in the day you really need to avoid fighting a lot of the time

    Comment by middleagedm | September 13, 2010 | Reply

  2. […] I mentioned six weeks ago I have a 4E game that is in the planning stages, and one of our intended house rules is to cut the […]

    Pingback by 50% HP Playtest Results « The Red Box Blog | November 1, 2010 | Reply

  3. […] have gone for any other edition in between, but I liked 4E in many ways, I just felt it needed some tweaks. Hopefully the tweaks I have in mind will keep death at present, but sane levels. Certainly from […]

    Pingback by Can Dying Be a Good Thing? « The Red Box Blog | November 18, 2010 | Reply

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