Fourthcore Is Dying. Save Ends?

The last couple of days have been quite interesting to me. I never read a Fourthcore adventure until this weekend, and never ran or played in a Fouthcore adventure until two nights ago. I had every intention of writing a blog post about the experience (cribbed from a massive email with feedback I sent to the designer of the adventure), but then I learned that the very same creator pulled the plug on Fourthcore mere hours after I sent feedback. I do not think I caused Fourthcore to die, but I hope the 3,500 words reacting to only 25% of the module was not the straw that broke the camel’s back! There were aspects of the Fourthcore experience that I thoroughly enjoyed, and other aspects that I felt needed some tweaking. But overall, I thought it was a great addition for DMs to play with and learn from.

So I am equal parts sad and confused by the creative team behind Fourthcore moving on to other endeavors. I do not fully understand why the creators of Fourthcore are ending the project. I’m certainly curious, but I realize it’s no business of my own what someone else does with his or her time. I understand the creator is going to be on a future episode of the DM Roundtable Podcast, so I’m definitely looking forward to learning more about the decision and all that went into it. I do not begrudge anyone the decision to step away from something that is causing too much stress in their life, whether that is a job, relationship or hobby. For example, I left a job just over three years ago because it was poor for my physical and mental well-being. But the incident leaves me with questions, and I realize that I need help to find those answers.

In the Fourthcore eulogy, it stated:

However, especially lately, I find the culture surrounding D&D to be unbelievably poisonous, and there’s so much tumult and baggage associated with the game and so many expectations on how it should work that I find I’m running into walls more and more often in my design. Instead of having fun being creative and coming up with adventures that excite me, I see each new project as another invitation for criticism, another point of confusion, and another excuse for gamers to tear out each others’ throats over such weighty issues such as whether it’s okay in these enlightened times to kill your friend’s imaginary elf or put diagonal walls in a dungeon.

I honestly do not understand most of this paragraph; I would like to understand it. I’m not saying I do not understand because I “do not agree.” I literally mean I am confused by the concerns expressed. Many active members of the online D&D community reference the negative culture that swirls around the game. Perhaps ignorance is bliss, but except for a few topics, I don’t see the negativity that often. I mostly see encouragement, and this site has benefited tremendously because of the supportive environment I’ve encountered from other bloggers, podcasters and designers.

There is something oddly ironic that the advocate and designer of challenging and brutal dungeons, which force players to endure and suffer extreme consequences, stopped creating content partially because of a poisonous culture that became too difficult to handle. I’m sure there was a time when it was exciting and fun for those creating the content; it’s sad that it had to end. If “we” – being the gaming community – somehow contributed to “them” not feeling comfortable proceeding with their efforts, then is that an “us” problem (we’re a bunch of reckless and cruel fools that destroy and pillage anything new and different) or a “them” problem (they need a higher Will defense for feedback)? My initial feeling is that “we” and “them” share some of the responsibility.  

While I’m not clear how “the gaming community” contributed to the designers’ decision, I would like to learn. It’s a weird state of affairs when individual designers – who seem to have a great deal of support from the community (just look at the Comments on the eulogy page) still do not feel comfortable moving forward with a project. Why is that? What could “we” have done to keep the designers of Fourthcore going?

Creator of Fourthcore

I was just getting into the Fourthcore ideas and now the persons responsible for them are stepping down. That is a bummer. I hope the creators find solace and joy in their new project, Wrath, and it continues to inspire them. But I think the concepts presented in Fourthcore are not going anywhere. The fans of the principles will carry the banner regardless of who – if anyone – is giving the marching orders. I know Fourthcore ideas will influence my home games moving forward, and I truly hope Fourthcore continues to evolve in some capacity. In other words, someone do a Heal check and grant Fourthcore a saving throw!

Thank you to the Save Versus Death, Dread Gazebo and others for starting Fourthcore and pouring countless hours into the project! A few final comments to assist with understanding my point of view:

  • Fourthcore was a mystery to me before last week; I heard the term and had a vague sense of the concepts, but I only just got on board within the past week.
  • I have no relationship with the Fourthcore designers other than playtesting their latest module earlier this week. I do not know any of them well, which brings me to my next point.
  • I have no idea what they have dealt with in terms of personal and professional issues as they relate to the development and implementation of Fourthcore. I’m sure the decision to stop the project has many facets. Having done a very small bit of design for a home campaign, I can only imagine the hours and hours that have spent on development for the Fourthcore projects. I respect their work and dedication!
  • Finally, I wish nothing but the best to the designers of Fourthcore in their future endeavors. They have obviously touched a nerve with a segment of gamers that want a different experience when playing D&D  4th Edition. I was privileged to have a chance to playtest their latest module, and I hope I can be helpful with their goals in the future.

Edit: Save Versus Death made another post going into greater detail about the decision to move on from Fourthcore. It answers many of the questions I had in my mind. If you are interested in the life (and afterlife?) of Fourthcore – or just the culture of D&D and gaming in general – then it is a must-read.

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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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12 Responses to Fourthcore Is Dying. Save Ends?

  1. David Flor says:

    I commented about it in my own way on my blog…

    http://rpg.brainclouds.net/2011/06/28/a-new-beginning/

    The “toxic” environment may not be apparent to most, but it is very obvious when you start frequenting online forums. The WotC online forums have their good points, but when the non-encouraging people begin posting and the debates run wild, the conversation descends in to the depths of hell.

    While I was doing my video game design, I hosted our own online forums in order to interact with our would-be fans. What we got is several people agressively bashing everything we were doing every chance they could. It was extremely disheartening and made us wonder why were were going through so much effort when our fans hated it.

    Part of the problem is that the critics are more vocal than those that aren’t. Praise appears only under limited circumstances, like in the latest thread you linked above… but criticism appears everywhere. The criticism may be small compared to the praise lingering out there, but the criticism is much more vocal and inflammatory.

    Game design is a tough business, where as a designer you must expect to be unappreciated by a fair number of people out there. Newcomers to the industry don’t know how to react to that criticism, and it destroys their morale. Over time, you learn to read past all that hate, and continue to do that which you enjoy and hope that some fans out there – wherever they may be – enjoy it and thank you for it.

  2. Mike Shea says:

    “The WotC online forums have their good points, but when the non-encouraging people begin posting and the debates run wild, the conversation descends in to the depths of hell.”

    That’s why I don’t go there. I think we have to be very careful who we accept feedback from on our creative work. Random internet ass-hats are not a good source of feedback.

    • The Id DM says:

      I stopped crusing forums a long time ago. The last one I held onto was a Flyers forum that I keep reading for breaking news during the season, but found a blog that serves the same purpose without scrolling through post after post of nonsense.

  3. This happens to all facets of the gaming community, not just in the DnD environment. I’m a wargamer, video gamer, DnDer, and much more and the vitriol spills aplenty across all those mediums. The idea of Fourthcore can easily live on. I pledge right now to give it a try and convince my Pathfinder group to take a break one or two sessions to let me run Fourthcore.

    It takes thick skin to keep doing something like this for fun, even when you recognize the haters are merely the vocal minority. I look forward to checking out Wrath and have my fingers crossed working on a different project will reinvigorate the creators.

  4. Thicker armor is a must for any designer. That’s what I do for a living. I know. Critisicm is coin of the realm. The ironic thing is Fourthcore isn’t really a “new concept”. Killer dungeon design has been around since the begining. Neither is the tournament style game play which has also been with us since the begining. It’s merely a tweak on 4E rules to install some of the instant death effects from previous editions. The trick, as any DM knows, is just how far that envelope can be pushed until a scenario is “unwinnable”. That’s the trick.

    Having been in your playtest group, and having been the only player to not fall unconscious. (only two of us lived). That’s not always a determining factor of game balance nor good design. Just because I didn’t die, doesn’t mean the encounter was good. There were several things about the rooms we did encounter that I would tweak. But that’s playtesting, I wrote my feedback, and sent it along. The DM can take it or not, that’s his/her perogative. Having been on the otherside of the coin, I’ve done the same. Some feedback I incorporate because it makes sense, and it’s what the players want, some I don’t because they often don’t get the big picture. But that’s the nature of the beast.

    I for sure, know that fourthcore isn’t dead, simply because I’ll probably be playing it.

  5. Alphastream says:

    It seems from comments that SersaV might have taken greater issue with negativity toward D&D and D&D designers rather than with negativity towards Fourthcore. That’s really interesting, because I don’t find WotC fans to be that much worse than other RPG fans. Worse? Sure. Just not by enough to matter. If you want to defend D&D designers (I do), then do that. Leaving won’t accomplish those goals.

    On the other hand, if something isn’t working, change. Everyone is different. If negativity on forums turns you off, then don’t go there or find another line of work. The forums won’t get better because you weren’t there, however. They might get better if you are there and encourage others to be more positive.

  6. Jerry says:

    I really need to chime in here and add that it wasn’t really a matter of thick skin or not for Sersa. Knowing him on a personal level I can assure you many other factors than these are the major contributors. He’s not a ‘livejournal’ type of guy and I respect his right (and anyone elses) to not disclose his or her personal life to all of the internet. So please rest assured in knowing simply that it wasn’t just “people didn’t like my shit, so I give up” or anything remotely close to it. I’m aware of these matters but it’s not my place to tell you all about them, should he disclose them later on (which I doubt he will) then maybe people will understand more.

    I’d also like to point out that the tumult and vitriol he’s referencing is not that specifically to just Fourthcore, as most of the people who received it lauded it and told us how awesome of a job we were doing. However the 4e D&D community, the implied and unimplied design constraints within the system as well as many other factors do come into play. Another thing for myself, personally, are people who feel the need to post long winded lectures on our blogs about completely unrelated topics while more often than not, simultaneously just not-fucking-getting-it. I sometimes wonder if people really even read about fourthcore the materials or actually played it themselves before posting.

    No one set out to reinvent the wheel here, but we did want to take the system of 4e D&D and show that it can be malleable enough to accommodate things that most thought were not possible within a system that is so rife with structure and seemingly “taboo” areas of design space. The constant remarks regarding pregen optimization, and things like “but, but you just can’t do that in 4e” “it does too much damage” or “why even do xyz” are all points of contention for me. They made me want to scream “YES, we fucking CAN do that, because we just did, that’s why this is fourthcore and not ‘Johnny Adventuresauce fights some wolves in the fucking forest-core'”

    I’m going to stop myself there before I spin off into full blown blog post, I should have something up on my own blog in the near future regarding my personal experiences and direction I will take following the fall of fourthcore so if anyone’s interested stay tuned there.

    I’d like to wrap up by saying these of course are just some of my thoughts and I am in now way representing Sersa or the “Fourthcore Brand” as a whole, but merely as a participator, proprietor, advocate and contributor to the genre.

    • I’d like to say kudos for your stance. Play how you want too…. The only point I would contend on is, sure, you can always do it “because you just did”. Nobody argues that. But within all design, storycore, fourthcore, or doing whatever with johnnnyadventuresauce-core, there a design standard, which “should” take some sort of balancing stance, so that players & DM’s are on the same page. That being said, there is such a thing as “too much damage” & conversely “too little damage”. A good game is a consistent game. If we play a game and we all know ONE HIT KILLS, well so be it. At least it’s balanced for that possibility.

      As a recent playtester, my feedback consisted of, cupcake room, cupcake room, instant-death-no-way-to-win-without-cheating by massive respawning-room.
      Balance???? I wasn’t the DM. I was a player. So feedback is cuertailed with “I didn’t have all the facts”. But even the DM sort of agreed it was pretty much a death machine. Is that fun? For the creator maybe, but from a player who likes challenges, not really. It became more an exercise in statistical survival, than any real “player skill” on my part.

      I think fourthcore certainly has the gumption that many feel 4E lacked. Honestly it’s not that hard for any DM worth their salt to put the fear of god in PC’s regardless of the game system. But I do credit you guys for basically punching 4E cupcakes in the nose with a dose of lethality. And for that, job well done.

    • The Id DM says:

      Jerry,

      I appreciate you taking the time to reply to the post. I hestiated quite a bit before addressing Sersa’s announcement because I realize I do not know even 5% of the story. But I have another article in the works that talks about the level of discorse related to gaming, so it felt quite relevant to me. Plus, my time playtesting and writing feedback conincided so closely to the announcement. I’m looking forward to whatever you come up with in the future.

      By the way, please mix in Johnny Adventuresauce as an NPC in Wrath!

  7. Jerry says:

    I should also chime in that I myself, like Sersa, do *not* have thick skin. Every negative comment weighs 10x more heavily on my conscious than a positive one. It’s much easier to say “Hey nice job, keep doing what you’re doing” than it is to write a textwall of hate so you know the person really means it.

    I was not trying to renounce Sersa having thick skin, because he does not – just like me. Just adding this for clarification. Cheers.

  8. benensky says:

    I am also sorry and somewhat shocked to hear about the Fourtcore creator quitting. Fourthcore is not my style and I will probably never play it. However, it seemed to excite many people (positively) and seemed to be a good alternative style for people. That is the kind of thing 3rd party independent developers are for. So, I was 100% behind it. It saddens me that excitement may leave or fizzle in the 4E community. I am shocked because it always seemed to me that there were some haters but the positive feedback was more overwhelming. So, there you go . . .

    A sidebar. It seems many 3rd party 4E supporters are developing their own systems now. Sersa is developing Wrath, Goodman with his DCC rules and the Warden inventing the Optional System. Anyone else noticing that?

    • The Id DM says:

      I think that makes sense with the game being out several years now. People will craft the game to fit their interests and style, but probably reach a point when they just want to create their own system instead of basing it off of something already established.

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