Et tu, Errata?

I have happily sat on the sidelines during most conversations about Errata in Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition. However, I finally feel like I have something to say on the topic after the latest Update from Wizards of the Coast. My goal is not to classify errata as “good” or “bad.” I want to understand it, and specifically want to understand how it affects the mechanics of D&D 4e and the players that use them. Perhaps more importantly, I want to understand how errata alters the relationship we have with a game like 4e. This final point is what I find the most interesting, and I’m going to attempt to explain why below.

First, what is the definition of Errata? I went to Dictionary.com and pulled the following definition:

A list of errors and their corrections inserted, usually on a separate page or slip of paper, in a book or other publication

Errata fix mistakes. They are more commonly known in everyday life as Corrections. Your local newspaper, the New York Times, peer-reviewed scientific journals, broadcast news and other such media run Corrections all the time. For example, the media makes an error in some fashion and later posts a Correction to fix it. The Correction alerts their audience that the media source was wrong. The Correction reduces the likelihood that the audience will be misled by the information moving forward.

Should the current system for Errata be trashed?

So if errata list errors and make corrections, then someone or something must be wrong. But who is it? It would seem the company, in this case Wizards of the Coast, is acknowledging that their were design flaws in the game anytime a piece of errata is released. However, it’s not that simple to me. It seems that whenever D&D 4e Errata is posted by Wizards of the Coast, there are a percentage of players that lose the ability to play the game the way they have been playing it. Errata in this case does not apply to errors, but to individuals.

Character Builder Lockdown

One of the unique features of D&D 4e is the ability to use the online Character Builder tool to create and manage your player character (PC). I cannot stress this enough – I love the Character Builder. The tool allows you to quickly design a PC without worrying about various calculations. The tool organizes your actions and powers into cards that summarize the important details so you do not have to consult numerous books at the table. I cannot imagine managing a character without the program.

A nice thing about running and playing 4e is that I can pretty much ignore errata. The Character Builder automatically updates with the new stats and powers. Oh, Magic Missile is an auto-hit again? Cool, no problem. I can use Sneak Attack multiple times per round now? Great! Before today, I never read a single piece of errata from Wizards of the Coast and I’ve been playing D&D 4e for almost two years. But I rely on the Character Builder; the tool basically does some of the DM and player job for me. Since Character Builder is so tied into the creation of PCs for the majority of 4e players, it comes with a price.

The price is that any errata Wizards of the Coast enacts in Character Builder affects everybody. Imagine you have played D&D for multiple years as a Cleric in a long-running campaign. You’re Epic Tier now and have formed such a tight bound with your character in not only a roleplaying sense, but also in a tactical sense. Your Cleric knows their strengths and limitations on the battlefield, and you have developed a chemistry with your party. Perhaps you even focus on a few powers that really seem affective and allow other characters in the party to “do their thing” more effective. You’re Level 24, but breached Level 25 last session. You now sit down with the Character Builder to Level Up, and find that multiple powers for your Cleric were changed by Wizards of the Coast. At this point, you really only have two choices.

  1. Stop using Character Builder to Level Up and manage your Cleric. If the DM accepts the old build, then you have to start managing your Cleric without the useful tools in the online Character Builder system. It’s not the end of the world, but it’s an issue.
  2. Accept the Character Builder changes and move forward with the errata. However, perhaps you can go backward to redesign your Cleric to your preferences with the updates to the Class.

Either way, all Errata directly affect the players that play that Class and use the Character Builder. As mentioned, I previously just thought, “Meh, whatever, I’ll keep ignoring it,” but I now realize that the dynamics of D&D 4e make it more difficult to ignore errata. Most players are tied into the online Character Builder to manage their PCs, and since errata automatically updates in the online Character Builder, the result is players have no choice but to address the errata in some way, shape or form.

Errata & The Gaming Relationship

Again, I believe you could buy the original Players Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide and Monster Manual to play D&D 4e and have a great time. You could use just the options in the old offline Character Builder and still have a great time. And, yes, you can use the online Character Builder with the sporadic errata and still have a great time playing D&D 4e. I am not saying that all errata are bad. With so many options for players to build their character, it’s inevitable that certain combinations or powers by themselves will cause problems. I completely understand the need to continue updating the game as more data presents itself. 

But errata not only corrects the game, it corrects the players. Whether intentional or not, the updated errata indicates to players, “You’ve been making a mistake and playing incorrectly. Let us fix your game and tell you how to play moving forward.” The relationship between the player, the game and the company that owns the game feels quite unique. I’ve been trying to think of another game where this happens.

When you buy Monopoly, you know that the rules will never change. You’re not going to get a letter in the mail that says, “We have a great new feature. Instead of rolling 2d6 for movement, you now roll 2d8.” I previously played computer games and Patches would be available to eliminate bugs. I never played the MMORPGs, but I assume they had Patches that affected certain characters in the game, powers, etc. I guess a patch that applies to an online game would be the most equivalent to the errata changes in D&D 4e.  

And this brings me to the ultimate point, D&D 4e is alive. Dungeon Masters and their groups have always had the choice to houserule anything from the materials provided. However, the design of Character Builder limits player choice. If you have a Cleric in the group that does not want to use the latest errata, then that player is a bit out of luck. The player has to change how they interact with the game. Ignoring the errata means you have to forfeit the benefits of Character Builder.

Final Thoughts & Questions

This is an issue that should be discussed going forward. My first thought is that players should have the option in Character Builder to filter the numerous Errata that have been provided by Wizards of the Coast. The filter could work in the same manner that a player can filter sourcebooks. This would ensure that players who have happily used a class or power for years are not forced to change.

My second thought is that the latest update posted on Wizards of the Coasts does not include the word errata once. Not once in the article and not once in the PDF with two pages of updates. Perhaps I’m focusing too much on semantics, but Wizards of the Coast should label the changes what they are – Errata. Updates seems like a way to sugarcoat the implications of the changes. Be honest with players. If a certain power was broken, then include a paragraph to explain why. The article presenting the Cleric today is phrased in a very positive fashion and does not address the issue that two pages worth of Cleric abilities have been altered, and some powers have been altered dramatically. I think it’s reasonable for players to ask a simple question, “Why?

Why make the updates in the first place, and why force all players using Character Builder to use them?  

Why can’t Character Builder be updated to allow players to filter Errata and maintain a level of independence apart from the design decisions by Wizards of the Coast?

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About The Id DM

The Id DM is a psychologist during the weekdays. He DMs for a group of fairly loyal and responsible PCs every other Friday night. In the approximate 330 hours between sessions, he is likely anxious about how to ensure the next game he runs doesn't suck.
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24 Responses to Et tu, Errata?

  1. benensky says:

    This is a good suggestion. I would like to filter out this “errata” too. This would also free up DMs to decide what errata they want to use into heir game. Win-win for all.

  2. Lysanthus says:

    Another consideration is the connotation that changes and errata bring with them. Sure you can continue to play your character with the old rules (sans character builder), but it’s hard not to think of it as “old”or “unofficial”, at least for me.

  3. Deggis says:

    It seems that (with the impending release of the Virtual Table) Wizards is trying to capture some of that MMO market, as I’ve seen similarities between 4E and some of the more popular games out there.

    I agree that players should be able to filter the eratta out, but if they decide to use the Virtual Table, it may not be an option for them.

  4. Pingback: Fear of Change « A Walk in the Dark

  5. David Flor says:

    I started to write a response and it got bigger and bigger, so I just made it a post:

    A Walk In the Dark: Fear of Change

    • The Id DM says:

      Excellent post, David. He provides good information about updates in MMORPGs that I alluded to in the post above. Everyone should check out his article.

  6. Caoimhe says:

    These changes look to me to be labeled as “updates” and not as “errata,” on the WotC site. It’s probably better to think of the changes in that term, rather than as error fixes?

    • The Id DM says:

      Caoimhe, thank you for the comment. I debated that above. WotC never uses “errata” in the Update for Clerics, but they correct/change numerous Cleric abilities. I think the changes qualify as errata – even if they choose to stay away from that term.

      Reminds me of Tommy Boy:

      “Hey, if you want me to take a dump in a box and mark it guaranteed, I will. I got spare time. But for now, for your customer’s sake, for your daughter’s sake, ya might wanna think about buying a quality product from me?”

      Labels are important, but calling someone one thing (Update) doesn’t mean it’s not another thing (Errata).

      But I’d like to hear if you think there is a difference between “update” and “errata.” I’m not sure I see a difference.

  7. j0nny_5 says:

    I agree totally with your suggestion, “players should have the option in Character Builder to filter the numerous Errata that have been provided by Wizards of the Coast.” Makes perfect sense.

    One case in point, an errata fix I guess, is the drow. Drow no longer receive both darkfire and cloud of darkness, they choose one or the other at creation. Yet there’s a paragon path, curseborn, that states “you can usually use either darkfire or cloud of darkness in an encounter, you can now use both.” So what does that mean for the new drow, do they gain a power, or is that paragon feature moot? The problem is of course, the drow is now new, but the forgotten realms books still old. If they don’t update everything, all at once, it screws stuff up.

    Again, good call. I sure hope Wizards hears about this… and listens.

  8. Kilsek says:

    Including a “ignore errata” option is a bad idea. It reminds me of the glut of house rules 3e and 3.5e became over time. The differences in basic rules, not just weird or obscure ones, became so widespread from table to table there was no real out-of-box D&D game anymore. D&D became unrecognizable.

    But on top of that, designers and the community are much more cognizant of game balance these days – including finding broken combinations. Without someone we trust (i.e. the game designers are a pretty good authority to start with, right?) to check game balance and adjust the game over time, we risk a hugely broken game.

    And if you play any video games that thrive and require a real semblance of game balance, such as massively online battle arena or massively online RPGs, I can’t think of anything more important these days than game balance. No single power or character or whatever should outclass and outshine every single other option like it.

    At some point, such games stop being fun and challenging for everyone. People start rolling their eyes, and show-stealing options dominate the game. And what does that lead to? Boredom, disenchantment, and the desire to play something else. Is that where we want D&D to go?

    P.S. Love the article title and image! haha

  9. AJ says:

    The SKY is Falling!!!! The SKY is Falling!!!!

    Honestly, I play in one campaign (level 10), and DM another (also level 10). These changes affect one power I’ve seen used in game, perhaps 3 times total. It’s not really that big a deal. (this seems more like they didn’t play test enough at higher levels, than anything else really)

    Patches, updates, errata, it’s all the same. I don’t think it’s any big secret that 4E is basically an MMO played on a table, and anyone who lives by the character builder, is going to die by the character builder. In truth the only real difference between now and 10 years ago is that we actually have a character builder that can implement updates sooner. 10 years ago someone “heard about it”, then you had to “verify it”, or vote at your table, (which you can still do) then you had to remake your character if you didn’t like the change.

    Honestly, I think people are just adverse to change. It’s not the change itself which is the issue, it’s just that something changed. For example, I was fine with magic missile needing an attack role. Heck, this was the first release that you didn’t have to memorize magic missle, PLUS you could fire it off all day long!!!!! We didn’t hear many complaints about the change to make it ALWAYS hit too now did we?

    So why all the hub-bub over cleric powers most of us have probably never even seen used either? We all know clerics are not the “glamor class”, they never have been. But they are anything but underpowered.

  10. The Id DM says:

    Thank you for the comments; it helps to hear from a variety of people on this.

    Deggis, Kilsek and AJ,

    When I first started playing 4e, it reminded me strongly of a videogame. And I do not mean that as a condemnation in any way. I like 4e, and I’m sure I will continue to enjoy it for years moving forward. I never took the plunge into MMORPGs so it’s helpful to learn about the similarities there in terms of updates and patches.

    I’m sure the option of filtering errata has it’s share of benefits and limitations. You’re right in that it could lead to each game being quite different from the next, but removing the freedom from players to manage their characters seems like a bad idea in the long run.

    And it’s a great point about the Virtual Table locking you into errata/updates. I had not thought of that moving forward. I’ve played one session through the Virtual Table and enjoyed it. I think they could really build that as a destination for many players (e.g., contests to play with “big stars” like Chris Perkins, the Penny Arcade Guys, Wil Wheaton, etc.). The VT could grow like online poker, only without the messy legal issues!

    And thanks for the comments on the title and picture. The title came to me first, and once again, Google Image Search came up huge from there! ;-)

  11. Sageheart says:

    I think errata is a neccesary evil. It seems that most people get caught up in how the change effects them and their character instead of the seeing how it as aimed at improving the balance of the class and the larger game.

    I personally don’t think errata should be ignored just because a player or DM doesn’t like it; however if it is ignored it needs to be done consistently. If a player ignores the errata that weakens Power A then when a buff to Power B comes along he has to ignore that, too. Otherwise you end up with an arms race against the DM as players only acknolwedge the changes that make them more powerful and more effective. This consistency also needs to apply across the whole group, if Player A chooses to ignore the errata and Player B doesn’t then you run the risk of throwing off group balance. Choosing to ignore changes from errata should be a group decision (or DM dictate if you’re that kind of DM) that everyone in the group abides by.

    On a side note, what I would like to see in the Character Builder is the ability to load up an existing character sheet and easily be able to see a summary of errata specific to that character based on the character’s currently selected powers, feats, items, etc. A lot of times when I look at the list of updates I just quickly skim for names of powers and such that I know my character uses. I don’t particularly care that a power 10 levels higher than my character has changed as I’ll decide to take that power or not based on its merits at that time; and likewise with changes to powers that my character didn’t take. However, if a power my character already possess has changed that’s the one I want to be aware of, ideally before I get to the gaming table.

  12. boccobsblog says:

    I think players get frustrated with errata, because it seems like the game wasn’t play-tested enough, and that new powers and source books aren’t play-tested enough.

    But I agree with Sage, it is necessary to keep play balanced.

  13. The Twixt says:

    Just did a little math (with assistance and request) of The Id DM. The number of combinations for a level 30 plays is a little less than 4 trequinquagintillion (that’s a 4 with 162 zeros). Given that many permutations, I can understand the need to occasionally tweek the rules to fix unseen problems.

  14. Bartoneus says:

    I’m late to the party because I somehow missed the Cleric errata when it came out, but this is extremely important to me because my game just hit level 21 and my wife’s been playing a Radiant Servant Cleric for the last 2 and a half years. Honestly, it’s good that they have errata’d that paragon path specifically because her cleric had several huge burst powers and in some encounters could easily outshine other characters with little effort. My other players definitely noticed, and while it certainly didn’t ruin the game or anything it was still an issue a few times. To me, what the errata means is: future players and future games will avoid this issue.

    Now I have an interesting issue, like you discussed in the post, especially now that she’s jumping up to the Epic tier it would be horrible for her Radiant blasts to go from Close Burst 8 (which I’m honestly shocked it took them THIS long to nerf) to burst 3 would seem like “why did I lose power in the epic part of the game?” However, I disagree with your “don’t use the character builder” conclusion. My solution? We’ll write an “8” over the “3” on her character sheet. Problem solved!

    I agree that there should be an “ignore errata” button in the CB, or even just a “use old version of this text” option. More importantly though, the lack of ability to do ANY house rules in the CB is hindering me at the moment.

    I enjoyed this post a lot, but I strongly disagree with the “don’t use CB” fatalism. It feels like the CB and other aspects of 4E have people feeling discouraged from writing on their character sheets these days and that’s something I’d like to see changed! If you want to ignore the errata, then instead of taking a sharpie to your PHB why not take the sharpie to your character sheet? (yes, I know it sucks to be fighting the CB in the end, but it’s easier than NOT using it at all)

    • The Id DM says:

      Bartoneus,

      Thank you for the thoughtful comment. You point out how the changes to the Cleric create some decision points for you as a DM since one of your players (and your wife to make it even more complicated!) is playing a Cleric. It seems like you are handling the situation well.

      (Incidentally, you made me think of the phrase “Nerf my wife,” which is hilarious. I have to find a way to use that in conversation this week!)

      Returning to serious business, I do not think I was advocating for people to scrap the Character Builder altogether. I even wrote above, “I cannot stress this enough – I love the Character Builder.” Players have to – at the very least – adjust to the information that is produced from CB. But you bring up an excellent compromise that I did not consider, which is to continue to use the application and make your own houserules on the cards as needed. That can get messy, but it can work, especially if it’s a matter of changing a 3 to an 8 or editing the damage dice, etc. However, I wonder if some changes are not easily adjusted on the power cards and such?

      • Bartoneus says:

        Oh totally, there are definitely some changes in the 4E errata that become a pain to fix. First that comes to mind is something like the Drow racial power (or if Channel Divinity were changed) and you find CB doesn’t print out a power card that you need. It then becomes a bit of a pain to GET the appropriate power card much less with the information you need on it. I’d also lump feats into this, without the ability to house rule in feats it can become a huge pain – specifically the expertise feats that add +1 to every attack, that’s a LOT of numbers to change (but it is still doable).

        As a side, I wasn’t trying to imply that you don’t like the CB or that you’re telling people not to use it, but I did take away from the post “if you want to ignore errata, it might be easier to NOT use the CB” and I just wanted to offer my two cents on the subject. Specifically for the Cleric errata, this seems like an easy change. In fact, I’d venture to say whenever damage, burst, or other specifics of a power need changing it’s very easy for the DM/players to make those changes because it all comes from the player’s sheet during play anyway.

  15. The Id DM says:

    Bartoneus,

    I very much appreciate your two cents. :-) I think modifying the CB cards is likely the best solution for most players. I’ve only played a Cleric once, but I DM for one and have another in a campaign where I am a Rogue. In general, it seems like CB doesn’t do as good of a good with the Cleric abilities compared to other classes in terms of having a card for everything. It seems like many bonuses for healing powers can be missed at times, but perhaps that’s just me.

    My rogue is quite easy to play and the cards tell you everything you need to know. So perhaps I’m spoiled!

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