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.
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