Following the comments on Chatty DM’s “The Tyranny of Fun is a load of baloney” blog entry, I came across the following, from poster Donny:
What is the biggest change in 4E? It’s not really the rules per se, its that there is no longer any place for a lone wolf character anymore. You see a little of that in the default party becoming one larger (it was 4 from 2nd – 3.5) now it is 5. The tactical aspect HEAVILY encourages teamwork and balance above all other considerations.
This was a revelation to me. I hadn’t put the thought together in quite that way, in spite of stumbling around the edges of it pretty consistently. Donny’s absolutely right: 4e puts emphasis on a group of characters that is a party of adventureres, rather than on a group of adventurers that happens to have formed a party. Teamwork is much more central to 4e than to earlier editions.
Donny suggests that this is part of what’s behind the “edition war”: a rift between those whose players preferred team play to begin with (the group I’m among, for the record) and those whose players preferred individual heroics and moments of glory.
I think there’s some truth to that; one of the most frequent pieces of criticism and praise (depending on the writer’s camp) I’ve often seen regarding 4e is the change in the wizard class from “weak early on, godlike later” to more balanced across all levels. Even in my own overview, I touched on that. But it’s not just wizards — everyone’s more dependent on the team now. The rogue or ranger can still be sneaky, but when it comes to a fight, they’ll want backup.
I like that idea. But of course, teamwork is my style of game. I’m not heavily invested in my character being powerful in and of himself when I play, and when I GM, I very much prefer my party to stick together and share the spotlight. 4e makes this easier.
That’s not to say it’s bad to play the lone wolf. I’ve done it. It’s just not my preference. But those who do prefer it will find it more difficult with 4e. It’s obvious, once it’s pointed out. And from that perspective, the animosity toward balance is easier to understand, even if I still don’t sympathize.