February 11, 2011

4E Errata

D&D has always had errata. Things come up and make their ways into a print book that were not meant to be there. However, there is a fundamental and significant difference between 4E errata and previous editions.

Errata from previous editions dealt with typos, inadvertent mistakes. These could be something innocuous, such as a note directing the reader to the wrong page number. There could be some bad numbers or math in an example. The error could also be something as disruptive as a spell doing 11d6 damage instead of 1d6 damage because the typist hit the number 1 twice. These are all examples of typos.

4E errata has the same fixes of typos but in addition they now do something that has not happened before; errata is now included to correct “balance issues”. Perhaps a power is too weak, too powerful or not as versatile as it was originally meant to be. As evidenced by their change of the Magic Missile spell to a more “retro” version, they will even issue errata to change the feel of a power.

How did previous editions deal with unbalanced abilities? By and large they really didn’t change anything. If it was something glaring, such as the spell that doing 11d6 instead of 1d6 damage they would make note of that, and the next printing (not next edition) would change it. Otherwise they let things slide. Sure an ability might be more powerful than originally intended, or more powerful than corresponding abilities, but it was always left to the individual DMs to compensate for this. If an ability was too weak compared to relative abilities, the ability was left in as written and they would release a different ability in a future book that did the same thing, only better. Also if they wanted to change the feel of a spell, such as Magic Missile, they left Magic Missile in as written and simply added a new spell, something called Magic Dart that provided the feel they were looking for.

In this way, earlier edition books stayed current. Errata did not make a previous book obsolete. Sure, 4E is more balanced but is it worth it? Or another way of phrasing it is, is this much tinkering with the rules really needed? For 4E it might be. 4E is all about the balance; balance is one of the system’s strengths. I have to wonder, what would happen if they just left the rules alone.

One of the complaints of 4E is the ever changing rules. Without keeping up on errata (which covers the majority of books) it can get confusing as to what is “legal”, especially when they even reverse errata because the change they made was a mistake. One way of dealing with it is to keep up on latest batch of errata. This is not an impossible task but requires a person to keep up with what is current. Another thing is to completely rely on the Character Builder. This is probably the easiest option and most expensive. It also means there is no reason to buy the paper books. A third option is to ignore the errata and play with what you have.

For me, I play with the books I have. I don’t worry about the errata as I am running a homebrew campaign anyway, so breaking from the “official” rules doesn’t bother me. Personally I’m not sure how I feel about the 4E way of doing errata. Part of me likes the balance the system presents. Part of me prefers my purchases to remain current. Part of me isn’t all that concerned. However, it is interesting to see the differences between 4E errata and earlier edition’s way of doing it.


John Spencer said...

Normally, I would agree with you, but there are some egregious errors in a couple of powers. The best example is the Warlord lvl 6 utility, Guileful Switch. Encounter, minor action; you and an ally switch places in the initiative order. Your turn ends immediately when you use it. So, I take my move and standard actions, use it, and let the barbarian go. The barbarian (who multiclassed into warlord) takes his move and standard and uses it (from his MC feat) and I go again. It was fun as heck and broken as hell.

Sometimes their changes do seem a bit random, but sometimes they are necessary.

Callin said...

In previous editions I suspect they would have left that example alone simply because it is so blatantly broken that it is obviously not meant to work in that manner; they would have assumed no DM would ever allow such a thing. For me it goes under, "I don't care what the rule says it wasn't meant to work that way so it won't."
Sometimes the reliance on rules can be a stumbling block for a DM to do the "right" thing. 4E has to have everything "official" so they have to immediately change something "broken" like that. This then leads to a long list of errata to fix things that common sense says is wrong.

Anonymous said...

Given that, as you point out, reliance on a DDI subscription makes it unnecessary to purchase certain books, I really don't see it as the most expensive choice. If you were buying one book every two or three months that you no longer have to purchase, you're breaking even. And, of course, you get all the material you would have had anyway plus all the tools and nifty features that come along with having a DDI subscription.

That said, seeing balance issues from the perspective of "It's not a big deal; the DM can fix them," makes too many assumptions about the abilities of DMs. Sure, some DMs are rules-savvy enough to be able to judge whether or not a given rules item is too weak or too powerful. They are, in my experience, in the minority. Most DMs have a passing grasp of the rules and a mediocre sense of how to balance them. I have never had a DM that I would rather have balancing rules over WotC's errata/updates.

And, finally, the idea of "keeping up with errata" isn't really as big of a deal as is presented. Aside from a couple of large, systemic changes (skill DCs, for example), you can easily get by simply checking the errata when you come across a questionable rules item. If a power looks too strong, check the errata. If a power looks and plays in a way that seems reasonable, there's no real need to dive into the errata for it.

Callin said...

Yes, you are correct about the DDI, though with the scaling back of their releases you are in effect now paying more for less (less than we were getting before). However, I personally still think a DDI subscription is well worth the price.

The article was more about the unique difference between 4E and earlier edition's approaches to errata, rather than the difficulty of dealing with 4E methods of errata. Personally I do as you suggested, play with what I have and if a question comes up I will go look it up.

anarkeith said...

We recently had a discussion at the table about several powers and at least one class that were apparently broken in 4e. The core of the discussion revolved around how long we thought people would be willing to play before these imbalances became significant enough to bore them. While the vast majority of 4e mechanics are balanced, their very vastness ensures that some broken options will occur. Our group's resident rules-lawyer and mathematician has concocted a near-unhittable warden, while another player has a rogue whose damage output is orders of magnitude above the other pcs. Trying to challenge parties so unbalanced is becoming increasingly onerous to the dms.