I slept on 4th edition almost entirely. There's a 5e round-table discussion from last year hosted by Koebel, in which not only is the DMG 2 described as much better -- which is something I've heard before -- but also there are things in it that WOTC could never have known when writing the first DMG. Since it's a conversation about 5e, the discussion never returns to this specifically.

Without expecting you to be able to part that pink mane and make psionic contact with his mind, what might some of those things he's referring to be?

I've seen the differences between DMGs in 4e described here on this site as somewhat boiling down to things like an emphasis on "Group Story Telling; Advanced Encounters; Skill challenges; Customizing Monsters; Adventures; Paragon Campaigns..."

None of those things strike me as a "could never have known" situation, and I expect they're probably too big and broad to be what was alluded to in that clip, in that I'm guessing the things in the DMG 2 that he's referring to were more on the order of extremely smaller snippets of advice or wisdom.

So what are some of the smaller, "Oh yeah, it turns out 4e games run like such and such, and so a good idea would be this and that"-level pieces that come to mind?

Or am I wrong there, and actually Group Story Telling is the sort of topic WOTC could not have known how to write about when designing the first DMG in the context of 4e?

  • \$\begingroup\$ do you mean what changed or why it was changed? the Why is Designer Reasons and OT... \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Nov 5, 2018 at 18:05
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because designer-reasons questions are no longer considered appropriate for RPG.SE (and this question is explicitly asking what a designer means). \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Nov 6, 2018 at 0:02
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, I don't so much care for a rationalization for how any specific rule was implemented in either edition of the DMGs, but more what differences between DMG and DMG 2 likely came about only because both WOTC and the playerbase learned more of 4e's quirks and foibles and understood the system better. I care more about what changed, but hopefully filtered through an understanding that that could conceivably lead to something like a "this came about only because of a couple years of stress testing the system revealed such and such" specifically. \$\endgroup\$
    – theCrazing
    Nov 6, 2018 at 1:22

1 Answer 1


They learned how the game was played.

If you watched the video you linked all the way through, that title probably sounds less wrong-headed than it is on its face; one of the things Mike Mearls says in it is that (paraphrased) 5E makes much more use of analyzed feedback than isolated designer inspiration, because the game is how people play it.

And they didn't design 4E after pulling its collective audience from the future to fill out surveys.

The DMG 2 incorporates a handful of articles which were previously published subscription-only in D&D Insider that proved useful to enough people that they wanted to get them out in the publishing stream. In addition to those, there are what you might call "worked examples" of many of the chapter topics all the way through, because just providing rules wasn't being helpful enough. Here are some questions they tried to answer:

  • beyond just scaling up and down the numbers of a threat, how do you deal with player groups outside the 4-5 range the game was tested for?
  • in a system focused on the careful balance and interplay of numbers, how do you engage players who don't care that much about numbers? Especially during combat, when there are the most numbers?
  • yeah, so I have these nice numbers but how do I actually write, like, a plot around them?
  • if I'm running a big adventure about punching one type of dude, like undead or snake cultists or Bane allegiants, how do I turn the sampler pack of monsters in the Monster Manuals into a bunch of cohesive-feeling opponents?
  • how do I vector the expected parts of the loot treadmill into a campaign where it doesn't make sense for there to be a wizard's shotgun +5 just a-lyin' around?
  • what do I need to worry about now that my players are in paragon tier and have more tools in their toolboxes?

There was more to learn after this, of course. Monster Manual 3 revised the monster math down to a central reference formula you could fit on a business card, where it would stay for Essentials, and lots of further articles got written.

But your main take-away here is that DMG 2 was written to address the problems that DMs had that weren't adequately addressed by DMG 1, and there wasn't, and maybe couldn't be, a sufficiently robust beta period to shake out those problems short of releasing DMG 1 to store shelves.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Would your bullet points be inclusive of those D&D Insider articles, or were they covering a different subset of issues? \$\endgroup\$
    – theCrazing
    Nov 6, 2018 at 1:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ My subscription's lapsed, and I don't know how easily someone with a subscription could access the old articles. There are about five or six individually credited bits, most in the storytelling and skill challenge parts, but I can't imagine that no articles at all were written about the rest of the topics. They're just not credited in full. \$\endgroup\$
    – Glazius
    Nov 6, 2018 at 2:07

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