EDIT March 2010: Since I posted this entry, I have been playing Pathfinder by Paizo. Generally considered DnD 3.75 or DND 3.5 enhanced, I find this system superior in most respects. A review/comparison tied to this post is soon to follow.
It's been a great long while since I last posted. As any of you who have read any of this drivel for long have come to realize, I post in bursts.
I have a question to pose to any role players that might see this. What do you think is the best Dungeons and Dragons role playing edition? I've played everything but the first. I also have played countless other systems (e.g. palladium, white wolf, weg, etc.) and this post is not intended on being a springboard for a thrashfest on how D&D sucks or how any other system is superior.
I simply want to have an academic discussion on which D&D/AD&D edition you think is better and why.
Personally, I feel the pros of D&D 4th edition lie wholeheartedly in the encounter simplification for DMs. If you want to ensure player survivability over stupidity, you can make your monster encounters tailored to their level much more easily than before.
I also thoroughly enjoy how saving throws were turned into defenses. Now it's just straight roll against defense for everything.
Other than that, after playing D&D 4th edition for over a year, I can't seem to get myself to like anything else about it.
I'm not as much opposed to the loss of Vancian magic that seems to rock the rest of the D&D rpg community. I never really liked the "fire and forget" philosophy and preferred a spell point system. After the advent of the sorcerer, however, I began to appreciate the vancian system more than before. While I do enjoy it, it's loss isn't particularly damning of D&D 4th edition to me as it is for other players.
I pretty much hate everything else. Clerics seem to be useless. Sure they can heal a little bit, but mostly heal by hitting things, seeing as they can't do much with sacred word.
I don't really like the concept of healing surges. I think players having healing surges that they can use without the presence of a healer further lessens the need of a cleric with the party. I do understand how healing surges relate to healing potions, however, if you take it in the context that the body can only handle so much magic coursing through it per day. This is great for cleric healing, but a character doing this on his or her own after resting for five minutes after combat? Or once during combat even?
I've heard this explained away as being a separate damage system than in 3.5. Hit points in 4th edition, they say, is more a reflection of vigor instead of physical damage. The second wind is, in that respect, what it literally is: a second wind. You aren't stopping bleeding, closing wounds, or mending broken bones. I can understand that, I simply don't agree with it. It's simply against what I believe the concept of hit points should be, and that erosion to the mechanical foundation derails the system.
I'm not opposed to characters being powerful early. What bothers me is how it seems every class has the same powers described with different flavor text. If you boil it down, all you are doing in combat is choosing your damage die and whether you want your target to be stunned, blinded, prone, etc. until the end of your next round. It appears to me that customization is gone. Sure, you have a few choices of what power you want, but in the end you're simply a cookie cutter cut-out of another character of the same class. This argument can be applied to D&D 3.5 and AD&D in the sense of saying something along the lines of "your wizards always cast fireballs," but in those systems, that issue is more a direct result of the player's choice than in 4th. In those editions, there are dozens of spells or powers to choose from at the appropriate level. In 4th you have a handful. Having a character clone is more inherent in the system of 4th; having a character clone in 3rd and 2nd is a fault of the player.
Spell versatility is another thing. Having spells turned into encounter and daily powers limits your caster. And where are the out-of-combat spells? The rituals? That is laughable. Someone new to D&D through fourth edition might believe that rituals can cover the spell versatility of previous editions.
Skill challenges? Broken. Yes, I know how to perform a skill challenge effectively, and yes, I know they are doing their best to make it more streamlined for beginning players. But for me, I've never needed them. I've always allowed for role-play and skills out of combat to overcome obstacles, with no mechanics involved (other than the necessary skill roll, which is rare). That's the beauty of being a DM -- understanding that you can give XP for role-play and just how much to give. I don't believe this is something that needs to be pointed out in any book as a process to gain xp out of combat or a method of forcing people to role play or roll their skills.
And what of 3.0/3.5?
I love the depth of detail. It is more sterile, which is a drawback, but I believe it gives you the greatest chance to create a unique character you'd want to invest in. It's very numbers heavy in most respects as a result, which can be hard on newer players.
Prestige classes? Well, they have the ability to derail your game and/or destroy balance. They must be used with caution.
I detest the CR/EL system of monster encounters for 3.5. Using stock monsters worked to a point, but increasing a monster's individual power was too much of a chore for me. I feel this encounter method was more cumbersome than it needed to be.
The depth of the system I think is superior to those described above. I feel the main drawback to this system was Thac0. Those not as mathematically inclined did not enjoy learning when rolling low was good and high was bad, and vice-versa. Even when we played, our group would often discuss why AC was -10 to 10, with AC0 the focal point, instead of starting with a certain number (we chose 0, of course) and working your way up.
I guess in the end it is as every D&D edition says.... their rules are just a guide. If you don't like it, change it, or throw it out.
That's basically what I do anyway. I use their books as a guide, drive railroad spikes into the heads of rules-lawyers, and just push onward.
Don't give experience for the monster, or the encounter. Give experience for how well your group overcame the obstacle with what resources they had, and the creativity they used. In the end you will all have more fun that way.
Don't concentrate on the dice. Concentrate on fun.