A week ago, I had yet another rough session. The entire evening, I think I hit with one attack, maybe two. If I rolled above 10 the entire evening, it was no more than twice. I was complaining to a fellow player and made some vague threat to start playing 3.5 Edition D&D again and leaving 4th Edition. My friend responded that we had just as many problems when we played 3.5, "the grass is always greener." At the time I agreed, but more for a lack of any intelligent response than because I actually agreed. When it comes to comparisons of this current edition of D&D and previous ones, it has become harder and harder to make intelligent arguments for and against the new rule set. I've started to forget many of the problems of 3.5 and view it in a very idealized haze. "Absence makes the heart grow fonder" as it were.
So I decided to sit down and think it through. I have a lot of free mental time at my day job, so I ran through what I could remember of 3.5 and matched it up with the problems I've had with 4th Edition. And the one thing that stuck out at me was that the biggest problem with 4th Edition, the issue that made me want to throw down my pencil and dice and find something else to play was the frustration of bad rolls. I quickly realized that this was very similar to 3.5, though I rarely played characters that were quite as roll-reliant in that edition. In 4th edition, you can't avoid being roll reliant.
In 3.5, a Sleep spell was very similar to the general structure of powers in 4th Edition. You cast the spell, the monster had a chance to resist (a saving throw, rather than you rolling to hit, like in 4th Edition) and if it failed, which was fairly likely in early levels, it fell unconscious. If it resisted, there was no effect, and you had essentially "wasted" your turn. 4th Edition has mitigated this in several ways. The Sleep spell power actually does something from the onset, so you don't have to worry about wasting the action. Daily powers in general have some effect even on a miss, or are at least not expended on a miss. Some powers have effects that work regardless of the success of your attack rolls, and utility powers always work, assuming they don't have a trigger that never occurs.
Yet as I laud the efforts of 4th Edition to reduce the pain of "wasted" turns, I find that in some ways that same problem is now exacerbated by the added reliance on hitting by rolling many powers into attacks. I assume that the logic went something like this:
"Most people want to be affecting enemies on their turn. Nobody really likes spending their turn healing someone else, buffing someone in the party, or otherwise 'doing nothing important.' Let's make most powers an attack so that when you heal/buff/aid your allies, you still get to do some damage and feel like you're contributing to the eventual demise of your enemies and not just standing in the back like a MMORPG 'healbot!'"
It's not a bad idea, but it does make something as simple as healing your companions a lot dicier. Sure all leaders get two free heals per encounter (well they cost a minor action, but they always hit, and they ultimately always restore at least 1/4th of the ally's hit points) but if you try to increase your healing potential, you inevitably encounter the need to select powers that heal "on hit." I know my bard has one encounter power like that. Only clerics have such a large number of utility powers that heal that they can avoid encounter powers that do so and still have plenty of healing powers to go around. And when you've used two majestic words to keep the defender up as the black dragon pounds him with savage attacks, and the striker misses his melee attack and takes damage from the dragon's immediate reaction power and becomes bloodied, it is even worse than feeling simply like you "wasted" your turn when your Theft of Life power misses, because not only did you fail to deal any damage in the round (the worst consequence in 3.5 when you missed an attack) but you didn't heal the striker, who is now one miss away from dropping.
Now it sounds like I'm picking on 4th Edition, because at least in 3.5 you didn't waste heals when you missed attacks. That's not what I'm trying to say at all. In reality, it wasn't that much better in 3.5 because if you weren't a cleric, you had to load your prepared spells with healing spells anyway to keep your allies standing, and you had to run around touching everyone because that was the range of healing spells, and so you literally did nothing but heal as a "leader" in 3.5.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that my friend was right on the money. I didn't know it at the time, but I know it now. The grass will always seem a little greener as you peek over that fence, but remember how many house rules we had for 3.5? Maybe, just maybe, it's time to start making a list for 4th Edition. We've had a year and change, we're all starting to get a grasp on what works and what doesn't for our groups. I know I've got a mental list going. I'm sure you all do as well. I think next week I'm going to float some ideas for my DM, see what he thinks. And when I get back to running my game, I'm going to issue some new house rules. I'm actually very happy with 4th Edition, though sometimes I have trouble remembering why. Now I just need to polish off the rough edges on our relationship. But like all good relationships, it takes a little work, but it's worth every minute.