For the past few weeks I have been playing AD&D 4th edition at the pub, first with an excellent group of players who were actually nice, and then with the same group of players but a different DM. The first few sessions I played a first level rogue, followed by a first level warlock. The last session I played a 7th level Orc rogue. My first impressions are:

4th edition AD&D is really, really boring.

Everything which makes fantasy role-playing interesting has been stripped away, leaving a bunch of tired computer game characters. It’s like playing Dungeon Siege. One player introduced 4e to me as “turning AD&D into a MMO”, and that is undoubtedly the long and short of it. But MMOs have pretty pictures. Fantasy role-playing relies on imagination for its spark, and imagination is killed by having every character the same. In the 4e rules, every character just has a different way of rolling damage. It’s designed for rolling through battles, and it doesn’t even do that efficiently – last night’s session was an orc raid on a human village and it took an awfully long time. There is no sense to it of a game system designed for the diversity and breadth of experience which fantasy role-playing demands, just for lots of fighting. 

On top of that, it’s even more rules heavy than before. In AD&D 2nd edition, you could still say things like “I duck past the wagon and strike the Human in the face with my axe.” Now this simple interaction goes something like this:

Orc: Does the Human have partial cover? I have Killer Eye, so I can ignore it if he does.

DM: No, you have a full line of sight.

Orc: okay, so I can use my at-will melee power. I’ll use my minor to give a verbal command to my minion, then make a move action into an adjacent square, and for my attack I’ll use [insert meaningless action here]. Does that provoke an attack of opportunity?

DM: Yeah, this guy here can do an attack of opportunity.

Orc: Okay, well that’s no good. For my minor I’ll shift to the other side of the wagon, then I’ll make a move action and strike as my standard.

DM: That’ll give you combat advantage. Will you mark him if you hit?

None of this makes any sense to me. It also doesn’t read or sound like adventuring. To me it sounds like… programming, or something. And all the quibbling over shifts, slides, pushes, moves and minors takes a lot of game time. I mean really, who invents a “rule” which says that, if someone hits you in the face with a great axe, diverting your attention to attack someone else is a bad idea which will probably make your life harder? I thought this was what DM’s were there to do…

Mages in the new rules also seem to be awesomely bad. We had a newbie 2 weeks ago, a woman called Julie who had drifted in off the street to give role-playing a go for the first time in her life. That’s brave! She was playing a wizard that never hit anything, and when it did it got 1d6+2 damage. That was pretty much it for her powers, though she could maybe reel off a sleep once, and do a burst on the odd occasion. Meanwhile my rogue was doing 1d6+2d8+7 damage every round, never missing, and laying the bad guys out like they were wet towels. Hardly encouraging. This week, we were super-scared of the possibility of mages so my rogue scouted ahead, identified the two mages and gave a signal to the other orcs. They charged in to overpower the mages, with our minions doing 1d12+3 damage and hitting half the time. What did our super-scary mage opponents have? 1d6+2 that hit 1/3 of the time. 

woooooo, scary.

So now we have a new version of AD&D where everyone has roughly the same number of powers and abilities, but for some reason wizard powers are eternally useless, and rogue powers are super-super-nasty. At least in v3.5 wizards are interesting but weak. Now they’re boring but weak. And don’t even get me started on healing surges, warlocks or the fact that one of my fellow players managed to put a flesh golem to sleep.

So far I don’t think I like it. And I don’t think it’s going to win the battle against World of Warcraft.