I experienced what might be my favorite D&D moment of all time a few weeks ago. Chris Perkins' Wednesday night game is a world of small islands and large oceans, and our low-paragon group has just acquired our first ship. We routinely have sessions in which we don't roll a single die, and one such session a few weeks back involved us attempting to hire a crew. Chris informed us, through an NPC ally, that the secret to a happy crew was a good ship's cook. When all was said and done, we managed to successfully hire the best cook in the city through a series of roleplaying encounters, wrangling him away from the service of another captain. As negotiations wrapped up, I happily leaned back in my chair and announced my satisfaction at finally hiring my own personal chef -- even if he was only around to make me midnight snacks in game. What a night!
So what's the point here? Well, if you're reading this, odds are good that you're a 4th Edition D&D player. If you are, odds are also good that you know folks who play other editions. And if you know folks who play other editions, odds are especially good that you've heard the complaint I'm about to address.
Before we go any further, let me say one thing: I don't mind if you're playing 1st, 2nd, or 3rd Edition. If you're having a great time and your campaign is fun, keep doing what you're doing. We love it that you're playing D&D -- any D&D! Personally, I wouldn't trade my 3rd Edition campaign memories for anything. If you're playing another edition because you're having fun, I'd say you're doing so for the right reason. Gaming should be about fun first and foremost, after all! That said, as a true believer in the current edition, I certainly hope all D&D players give 4th Edition a try at some point.
Anyway, if you're like me, you've likely heard some unfounded criticisms about 4E and been frustrated by them. A lot of misconceptions still float around in cyberspace, often spread by people who haven't even played the game. But I want to address one of the strangest here:
All roleplaying has been removed from D&D with 4th Edition.
If you're here on D&D Insider, I'll bet you've heard this before. The first time you heard it, you might have responded the same way I did: with confusion.
The next time you hear this myth bantered around, feel free to direct people here. Better yet, invite these folks to your next 4th Edition session and show them firsthand the roleplaying opportunities available in the game.
Fourth edition doesn't include some of the mundane mechanical elements of character building that 3rd Edition did. For example, certain skills (I'm looking at you Craft and Profession) enabled a player to feel like his character had some sort of grounding in the "real world" of the campaign. Odds were good that you never made a Craft or Profession check in your game, but having ranks in that skill made you feel connected to your character's background. In 4th Edition, those skills are gone. Why? Because we feel like a character's statistics don't represent the absolute truth of a character's story. That's right -- one of the reasons those skills (and other such elements from other editions) are gone is that we felt they hindered roleplaying.
Now if you want to say your character was a blacksmith's apprentice and knows how to make his own sword, just say so. Don't worry about feeling forced to reflect that story decision mechanically. Just write it on your character sheet. Liberating, isn't it?
Then you've got skill challenges. While they do include mechanical elements, they provide a structure that DMs can use to navigate complex non-combat situations. Most importantly, this is the first time the game has given DMs an easy way to reward characters for their participation. In other words, 4th Edition includes incentives to incorporate roleplaying (and other non-combat) situations into your game.
Beyond character background or skill challenges, this complaint makes the least sense to me because in every RPG I've played over the past twenty years and more, roleplaying was ultimately a result of the narrative brought to the table by the DM and players, not something provided by rules. That's the beauty of roleplaying, after all! D&D has always been a game of heroic fantasy, and there's nothing about those two words that requires rules of any sort.
I honestly hope that most 4th Edition players don't encounter this level of antagonism often. I also hope none of us stoop to taking potshots at the games other people play. This hobby is supposed to be fun, so even if you're tempted to rise to the bait of a hater, remember what Thumper said. If you've got a favorite roleplaying story, we'd love to hear it at firstname.lastname@example.org. If we get some good ones, we'll share them with the rest of our readers. We want to hear from you!