I have a good friend in my 4e group who is good when it comes to roleplaying his character, but he's always been a dedicated 3.5e player, to the point of avoiding 4e and even Pathfinder completely. He's one of those "why would I try anything else?" kinds of roleplayers. I managed to entice him into our game mostly because of the plot, but he isn't managing to grasp the logic of how 4e works.

  • He made a Dragonborn fighter, and ever since he's been complaining that he lacks the low-light vision that the elf and halfling have.

  • He seems to not understand that powers have no improvisational uses during skill challenges:

    • trying to cut ropes with fire-based at-will powers
    • trying to make the Psion use Far Hand or Far Push to launch him through gaps
    • trying to then "exhale smoke" from his mind and use an at-will to light wood on fire
  • Another time he tried to get the sorcerer to use a Dragonfrost at-will to extinguish lanterns during a fight, when he could have done just by standing beside them and using a Minor Action.

  • Yesterday we were fighting a giant shadow solo monster with a weakness to radiant damage, but he argued it was illogical that it wasn't weak to fire powers if it was weak to light-based powers.

  • He's also been asking for the cleric's Rebuke Undead to act like the original so he can use it as a ritual and one-shot undead

  • He's asked to use the flames of his Flaming Weapon +1 for roleplaying purposes and to disarm traps, etc.

And so on.

Though the rest of my players do seem to understand that powers outside of combat can't be used to solve challenges unless they're utility powers or skills, he seems to want to add extra rules to every single combat power.

Despite all that he hasn't been disruptive, and a fair share of the other players look to him as a "leader" because of his attitude, mannerisms and character. Still, it's really disruptive to have a D&D veteran trying to turn 4e's logic into something more like 3.5's logic. I see 4e more akin to Final Fantasy Tactics and such.

It's becoming really annoying since the rest of the players follow the rules as written and like them, but they refuse to help me talk to him since they feel it's my job as the DM to do so. And believe me, I've talked to him.

  • 22
    \$\begingroup\$ +1. As a 3.5 player (3.5 grognard at this point, I guess...), I'd really like to see this paradigm shift explained by someone who experienced it. Reading this question is baffling. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ernir
    Commented Jun 21, 2014 at 16:25
  • 16
    \$\begingroup\$ 'can't use fire magic to cut rope' - well, i'd have huge versimilitude problems with that regardless of system. \$\endgroup\$
    – user2754
    Commented Jun 21, 2014 at 16:35
  • 15
    \$\begingroup\$ Then you need to make that explicit. Because some of the powers are things like 'Burning Hands: The Wizard shoots a torrent of flame from his hands at his opponents.' People expect fire to, you know, burn things. \$\endgroup\$
    – user2754
    Commented Jun 21, 2014 at 16:55
  • 11
    \$\begingroup\$ Also, on my read through of the 4e books i've read, I really didn't get that powers were intended to work that way. Are you sure that's the actual RAW? They aren't explicitly mentioned, but where does it say that a fire spell can't be used to, for example, light the fuse on a pre-existing cannon? \$\endgroup\$
    – user2754
    Commented Jun 21, 2014 at 16:58
  • 10
    \$\begingroup\$ I have never gotten the impression that 4e is played this way. This isn't just "gamist" it's like the characters are literally in a video game. Like you're playing .hack or something... which could be cool, but that's definitely not the norm for any D&D, 4th included. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Commented Jun 21, 2014 at 21:46

5 Answers 5


Disclaimer: I have never played DnD 4th Edition.

There seem to be two different things this player is doing that are causing a problem for you, and I'm going to address them separately. I'll start with the simpler of the two.

Your player wants to contradict the rules.

He made a Dragonborn fighter, and since that moment he's been complaining about how he lacks low-light vision but our elf and halfing have it.

... he argued it was illogical it wasn't weak to fire powers since light sources should damage him, and so on.

He's also been asking for Rebuke Undead on the Cleric to become like the original where he can use it as a ritual and one-shot undeads ...

In these situations your player wants something he liked in other games, or because he feels it "makes sense" in the real world. For this, you're going to have to come down on the side of the rules here. The innate abilities of races, the separation of elemental damage types, and the design of combat powers are all a part of the game's balance. To give him these things would be unfair to the other players, who are working within the limits set up by the system.

Now, your player isn't going to like this, because he wants to do more "cool" stuff and his view is clearly that the system is holding him back in this respect. This brings us to the second part.

Your player wants to expand the rules.

Also, he seems to fail to understand Powers hold no real trole playing value, as he's been trying to cut ropes with fire at-will powers during sequences, trying to make the Psion use Far Hand or Far Push to impulse him thru gaps to den "exhale smoke" from his mind and use an at-will to burn wood, all of it on a skill challenge. He also tried to make the sorceror use Dragonfrost At-Will to extinguish lanters during a fight, that they could do my standing besides them and using a Minor Action.

Now, where above there was some real risk of your player unbalancing himself with respect to the other players and diminishing their fun, here the player is asking for things that can make the game fun for everyone. He's chafing at the idea that combat powers can't possibily be used out of combat. Why? Because it doesn't make sense.

You should allow the player to use his combat powers out of combat. There is a nice article preserved by the Internet Archive on this. The relevant tweaks are:

  1. Make your players explain how the power fits. Sometimes just the name of the power alone will fit the situation, but allow your players flexibility. As long as they explain how that power represents the character’s approach and mindset, everything is going well.
  2. Give them a bonus. Don’t give anything for at-wills, or your ranger is going to constantly be “twin-striking” in conversation. An encounter is worth +2 to a skill check, and a Daily is worth +6. Why so much? Because the PC is going to expend that power, and if they are expending a daily power to accomplish something, they should stand a good chance of success.

The gist of it is that powers do something, and they should certainly also do that something outside of combat. If he wants to try and burn an object with a combat fire power, then treat it as an attack on the object. Just because there's a non-power way of doing something doesn't mean that you have to stop the players from having fun with it.

Your player wants to have fun.

Your ultimate goal at the table isn't to enforce the rules as laid out by Wizards of the Coast. Your ultimate goal is to have a good time with your friends. If you deviate from the rules in little ways that don't harm the balance of the game in order to make it more fun, then so much the better to you.

If you adopt the bonus rule quoted above, share it with your players. You might find they'll do more interesting things out of combat with this reward. And they'll know that using an at-will won't have any mechanical benefit, but it could still seem awesome.

I find it's always best to err on the side of awesome.


Playstyle, not editions

From what you described, I don't see most of the problems being about edition differences. 3rd edition wasn't particularly more supportive of using powers/abilities outside of the expected usage - it still came down to the GM having to make decisions when people did that kind of stuff ("I'm casting magic missle at the rope on the chandelier above the enemies", "I cast Ray of Frost on the fire" etc.).

I personally love that kind of play and encourage it in my games. But it sounds like you don't want to deal with that or have to make rulings all the time (though, pg. 42 of the DMG with stunt rules helps a lot for the combat heavy side, and the simple easy/medium/hard DCs of Skill challenges helps on the non-combat side).

I don't recall 4E saying you CAN'T use powers outside of combat (but it's been a while since I looked at my books...) but I can see why the player would have trouble with it. So it's really a choice - do you want to adjust to meet his creative stuff or keep play more straightforward?

It sounds like the latter, in which case, the answer is:

"Here's the game we're playing. The powers are going to work like this, and I'd love to have you in the game but if you're not interested in playing the game we are, I'll let you know next time we run something that's more up your alley."

That's about it.

Being good friends doesn't mean you have to like the same music, same food, or go do the same things together all the time.

If you want to run a game like this, and he wants something different (and it sounds like he was quite happy with D20) then you should do what you want to do and he should do what he wants to do. Then you guys can meet up and geek out about what's awesome about the different games you're involved in without committing several hours of play to see something you're not particularly invested in.


You can't "make" someone enjoy another style. See my similar question about the converse problem, How do you help players not focus on the rules? The best you can do is help someone who's willing to try a different playstyle enjoy it.

You have a palette of options in this case.

  1. Punt. He enjoys different playstyles than you do, and it's unlikely that he will embrace the game as you're running it, ever. He should find a 3e/3.5e/Pathfinder/OSR group that plays D&D in a more "simulationist" (things make sense in the game world and aren't just a computer game-like application of rules) way. I've played every D&D edition, and 4e is the only one that I personally won't play again - I know I don't enjoy that style, and so there's no need to inflict it upon me and for me to inflict my crazy hippie roleplaying ways on a 4e group. There's no value in trying.

  2. Help. If he's actually willing to try this more gamist 4e playstyle, then you can get into techniques - but it looks like he hasn't stated his willingness to do so, and that's a dealbreaker. He wants to bring his playstyle to your game, which is hostile to that playstyle. If he decides he does want to make a serious try at it, then you can ask another question about ways to help him get into the mindset. You can try "This game doesn't simulate reality, it simulates a computer game like World of Warcraft. You can't use your fireballs to singe the scenery in Ironforge, and so you can't use them to burn ropes here either." If he's willing to try to do that, then that might be the best mental model for him to use to model it.

  3. Change. While 4e and the community that plays it tend towards a more gamist play style, it's not mandatory or necessary. See Can D&D Fourth Edition be played effectively in a non-gamist manner? for more details on how to play 4e but with a bit more realism to it. Also, some of the other comments here are pointing out that though a more gamist approach is somewhat fostered by the game itself, this extreme version is not necessarily RAW and is instead a common interpretation by 4e play groups. This isn't the place for "your playstyle is wrong" arguments, but I think it's worth pointing out that this 4e playstyle is largely why so many people did not uptake 4e; it is a very unusual playstyle for D&D and for RPGs in general and many roleplayers game with the expectation of a world that makes some kind of sense and roleplaying that has some kind of realism to it. You might want to try that.

(Claims that "Oh 3e was like this too" are wrong; though there may have been some play groups out there that played 3e like this, of course, the dominant playstyle shifted dramatically between 3e and 4e - "most" tables were more simulationist then and "most" tables in 4e are not - many of the sim players went to Pathfinder instead.)



/ˌvɛrɪsɪˈmɪlɪtjuːd/ noun

The appearance of being true or real:
‘the detail gives the novel some verisimilitude’

In roleplaying games, the basic premise is that you are imagining a real world with real characters where these events are occurring. Often called 'suspension of disbelief', this imagination exercise is one of the things which largely characterizes the perceived difference between roleplaying games and other games such as Monopoly, or Space Hulk. Verisimilitude is the word used to describe how real a game world feels, which is usually* (but not always) a function of our understanding of our world, and how things would work using our own universe's physics, human nature, math, family structure etc. Often working differences into these worlds in a believable way is a large part of being the GM.

Typically, any time things depart from what we may consider the normal, or the reasonable, a GM should or must provide an explanation as to why that specific thing is different - and if they won't, or can't, then it damages the verisimilitude of the world - and often, the player's ability to suspend their disbelief and imagine the world as 'real'. In this case, the example you've quoted, is that a fire spell (presumably able to kill a man, or at least a goblin) is unable to be used to cut a rope (presumably more burnable than your average human or goblin). This seems unrealistic to me, and, to your player. If you don't have a reason why that ability to magically create fire can't be used to cut that rope, then it damages the verisimilitude of your game.

This isn't about 3.5e vs 4e. 3.5e had more rules for creative use of abilities - some referred to it as a 'simulationist' game, to use a much maligned term. 4e has (or had - I haven't read many or any of the latest sourcebooks) many fewer rules to do with that - it was left nearly entirely to the GM, if they chose to allow it, what if any rules to use (although some sections of the books recommended disallowing it). But ultimately no rules system can cover every scenario that crops up. That is why we have a person running the game, so they can adjust for things on the fly - there were, and are, lots of situations in 3.5e for which there are no explicit rules, as well. Any time a GM has to deal with a creative player, they are required to make calls as to how successful his or her actions are - whether they make sense in context of the game world - and create or adjudicate any rolls required for the action to succeed (or fail).

You can simply use the rules 'as written' exclusively and not allow any creativity as regards mechanical actions - and if you wish to very starkly separate mechanical interactions from roleplaying, that may be the optimal course for you. But i've seen very few games that prospered in that mechanic - and many that suffered. If you want my advice? Let him burn the rope with his fire spell. The game will probably be the better for it. Creative play is the stuff of swashbuckling, it's the stuff of excitement, interest, and interaction. Very rarely is it negative, and attempts to 'game' creative play are usually vastly obvious. Let it happen - and it'll improve your game.

* In most groups. Exceptions do occur. Sometimes groups don't care, or sometimes the basic assumption is always 'everyone is whales'.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Well, it is related in that different RPGs help foster various play stances, and 4e is about as hostile to simulationism as it's possible to make a game. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Jun 21, 2014 at 20:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplk - I dunno. What about FATAL? \$\endgroup\$
    – user2754
    Commented Jun 21, 2014 at 21:02
  • 8
    \$\begingroup\$ That is hostile to people in general, not hostile to simulationism. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Jun 21, 2014 at 21:02

Let them use the combat at-will - but make them use a skill to apply it in a new way. If they want to sever a rope with a fire spell - great - they just need to make an arcana check with the DC the same as the other skill DCs.

  • \$\begingroup\$ That's a kind of neat interaction, I like that. +1, and welcome to the site! If you hvaen't, take a look at the Tour, and once you get 20 rep (you're halfway there!), feel free to join the Role-playing Games Chat! \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Commented Oct 2, 2014 at 19:18

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