The 4e honeymoon is over. There’s a lot to like in it, game mechanically, but I can’t help but feel like there is something about 4e D&D that disagrees with me.
I’m pretty sure that the bit which disagrees with me is either the same thing or very closely related to that which a lot of nostalgia-oriented gamers seem to find problematic with most new games. Essentially, it is an imbalance between PC abilities (broadly speaking) defined by the rules and those defined via improvisation.
A lot of people look at, say, Basic D&D (I have the Moldvay version right here, for reference) and see that it defines certain things (combat, roughly. movement rates. magic. thief skills.) about PCs and leaves pretty much everything else (all other skills and abilities. clever things one might do in combat. most social interactions and effects of social status.) undefined. To me, this is a bit restrictive. I don’t know what it is I have license to do when it isn’t covered by the rules… but to many others, the absence of a rule is license to go crazy and make stuff up. I suspect that, somewhere along the way, I had a restrictive GM who liked to say NO a bit too much, while they either didn’t… or didn’t listen to him.
For these gamers, I suspect that most new games just define too much. If there is a rule that covers when you can try to disarm someone, you’re not going to try to disarm someone otherwise… even if it would be really cool to do it. This is, more or less, how I feel about 4e. I didn’t really feel this way about 3e (most of the time), but I think that people’s ideal balancing points between rules and improvisation vary.
If you consider yourself a gaming grognard, I’d appreciate it if you’d let me know if this is anywhere close to how you feel… because I’ve been trying to understand the appeal of old-school games and – before this – I couldn’t come up with anything other than nostalgia.
As for 4e, it may well be fixable, for me… and, despite the fact that I feel like there is something missing, I have enjoyed playing it. We’ll see.