I observed the recent “controversy” online about the release of the new Heroes of Shadow book. Players and DMs were discussing how the design choices in the book affected the ongoing debate regarding 4th Edition and Essentials. While I recognize the opinions on both sides, the entire debate is completely foreign to me. As a DM and player, there does not appear to be a good reason to fret over the multiple additions layered into 4th Edition.
Here is how my brain works, “It’s a hardcover book that has the same cover design and shape of every other non-Essentials 4e book out there. Well, it must be suited to 4e then. Great more options for people who feel they need them.” I’m simple, what can I say! I realize there are important questions that can be asked about some of the mechanical design issues with the new player options, but I believe those questions can be asked without it somehow turning into an Edition War.
For instance, the new Vampire Class is quite fascinating to me because it is a Class and not a Race. I have always equated Class with occupation since picking up 4e, and certainly would not conceptualize Vampie as an occupation. When I first learned that Vampire would be a Class instead of a Race, I was confused. Do you work as a Vampire? No, you are a Vampire. You don’t work as a Dragonborn, you are a Dragonborn. Why would they create Vampires as a class and not a race?
Wizards of the Coast posted their decision-making process for making Vampires a class instead of a race, and their reasoning is logical. They wanted the Vampire-ness to bleed through (pun somewhat intended) the entire gaming experience for the player/PC. Nothing in their reasoning makes me feel that 4e is “over” or “abandoned” in any way. But it did take me some time to wrap my head around the Class versus Race issue. But I think I came to a good conclusion that may help to mediate some of the 4e versus Essentials debate.
The Class category should be relabeled or reconsidered as Lifestyle. When looking through a few of the powers that have been posted, Vampire Lifestyle makes more sense than Vampire Class. You could also make the same substitution for all other classes. Cleric and Fighter are Classes/jobs, but it’s also a Lifestyle choice. Your Lifestyle influences most of the actions that you take in 4e; it’s your “calling” in the world.
I typically think of your “calling” as something that is freely chosen. But perhaps you are pushed into a Lifestyle rather than choosing it? From a roleplaying standpoint, maybe you don’t really want to be a Fighter, but your parents (or party members because they wanted a Defender!) needed you to be a Fighter. You can become more flexible over time by multiclassing (multi-lifestyling?) to stake out your own path. Well, the same could be true for a Vampire – unless you are Bella Swan, you didn’t choose to be a Vampire (really, a Twilight reference?!), but now you are saddled with that Lifestyle.
The mental leap from Class to Lifestyle works for me. It really shuts down a lot of the criticisms and worries I have heard about the new book and potential new “direction” of 4th Edition. Since picking up some 4th Edition books in 2009, I have played 4e exclusively with three groups – two as a player and one as a DM. I thoroughly enjoy the game, and look forward to continue playing it for years to come. I did not buy any of the Essential products at first because I had no interest in adding another set of options to our games. 4th Edition already has so many character-creation options, and none of us felt the need to deviate. I did pick up the Monster Vault, which is sweet, but to be honest, I’m not sure if that is considered Essentials or “4e.”
Perhaps this says something about me, but I play three or four times per month, follow a bunch of DMs and other people “in the know” online, and started my own D&D blog . . . and I still don’t really understand the 4e versus Essentials debate or where the lines are even drawn officially by Wizards of the Coast. In addition to my desire to remain blissfully ignorant of such issues, it tells me that I don’t care about the debate.
In a somewhat related note, I recently had a conversation with someone who said they should no longer sell the original Player’s Handbook and Dungeon Master Guide because they were irrelevant. I disagree, you could be completely oblivious to the updates to the game and still have a blast playing with the characters and rules listed in those books. As players and DMs, we get to make the game our own. The release of new books and design options does not need to change what we do in our home games.
Take what you like from the new stuff, and ignore the rest if it doesn’t fit into your system.