There’s a post on Roleplaying.com which had me think a bit. This precipitated from the recent editorial in Dragon. RPing is our job. We have to step up and provide the impetus for RP.
I think the DM guide is a great book. For someone that is a new DM, there is a lot of helpful information on running a game, I especially like that they have provided a small, rather generic landscape that DMs could plug into a larger world. The Nentir Vale is a chunk of landscape sketched out with a lot of adventure ideas. Plus they have Fallcrest, a small town that is fleshed out pretty well with its own adventure hooks.
I’ll be a lot less glowing about the dungeon included. Kobold Hall is a little uninspired, but I guess it covers the basics of encounters (traps, hazardous terrain, etc.). Plus I figure it wouldn’t be D&D without a dragon, so I guess the designers felt players had to tackle one in their first run out. At least a new DM has been exposed to a solo-type encounter and can get some ideas for his own game.
Mechanic-wise I think the DM guide has done a pretty good job. There is a lot material on designing encounters, monster creation, and impromptu rule design (pg 42). Overall there is a fair amount of tools provided to allow the DM to get a handle of the game mechanics, especially combat. I can see, though, how some folks feel 4E lacks a framework of rules for covering more roleplay-centric aspects. But I think that was done on purpose.
I really feel that adding elements that dictate player motivations and interactions a bad thing. Strict adherence to alignment, reliance on training or a special event to gain an ability or prestige class, all of these things potentially hindered roleplaying. Having a rule written down on a page is miles away from just providing a suggestion to a DM. I really feel WoTC decided to leave many of these things up to the players (DM included), allowing them to be as restrictive or open as they want, with minimal offers of specific rules.
Take the retraining of powers and feats after players level (PHB pg. 28). There is some constraints mechanic-wise (you can only switch out 1). But there is no hard and fast rule describing what the player has to do to make these changes. It is totally up to the players. If they just want to erase and write something in on their character sheet, fine. If they want to RP out a small session where a player visits an old mentor, or spend some time with an NPC, no problem. It is totally up to the players. I think folks can get as much RP they want out of 4E, and not have tomes of overbearing rules dictating every possible situation. This is a great direction of the game.
At the same time I do feel that more guidance can, and should, be provided. As an adult with years of experience with DMing and gaming, I’ve got enough experience and exposure to fiction (and non-fiction) to get some decent world-building ideas. If I were a 13-year old, I might want some more guidance. I think on that aspect, the DM guide does a pretty poor job.
There is about 40 pages covered over 2 chapters (Chapter 8 and 9) in the DM guide that give suggestions on filling out a campaign. That is pretty sparse. Having examples of varying governments, religious effects on society, varying economies, all of these things could be a great tool set to helping a new DM in world-building. I don’t expect (or want) detailed rules. But having a lot of suggestions would go a long way towards helping out fledgling, and veteran, DMs.
I expect that there will be more campaign and world-building books in the pipe. I think WoTC has encouraged players to freely pillage rules from campaign sourcebooks to custom make their own game. That is great, but I hope they offer up more beef in the 2nd DM guide to cover this topic a bit more. Not providing rules is fine, but giving lots of suggestions is always welcome. Hopefully future releases will provide additional tools to help DMs make their own worlds more vibrant and unique.