4e Rules Update and the Retrofying of Magic Missile

Oh, Magic Missile.

So in the Past, Magic Missile always hit and always did a flat rate of damage. In 4th Edition, this was changed to be in line with other powers: requiring a roll to hit and doing 2d4+X damage.

There have been regular rules updates – quite a bit more than errata, really – and they have gotten rather large. Magic Missile was recently changed to go back to its old form: always hitting and always doing flat damage.

It’s an interesting change, and probably a decent one; I think it reflects some opinions from the player base (such as: desire for more retro-ness and willingness to have more divergent mechanics). However, as opposed to rules patches that, say, prevent a recursive damage loop from happening, this is a change that alters the intent of the spell. It’s a redesign, rather than a fix.

I do honestly think that the game, as written in the original books, works just fine. There could have been a smaller set of errata about ambiguous cases, add some articles with alternate house rules, and let DMs fix weird broken powers as they always have. This is how it’d be in the 2E or 3E era. (Well, perhaps with less internet resources in the 2E era.)

So, given the above, I don’t think 4E came “broken”. The authors have chosen to take advantage of the internet medium to provide updates and tweaks to the product after its release, which arguably makes it better.

I am cognizant, however, how constantly releasing updates makes the game look broken and generates friction with the (whiny) userbase. I could imagine that the 4E team could have fewer complaints if they updated less and just posted “uh, DMs fix stuff” advice.

Consider that! The game would be considered a superior product by some if they never released any updates or patches in an attempt to make it better. That’s awkward.

(I’m putting aside whether specific fixes are actually superior, but I don’t care to debate that because it’s an endless subjective nerd debate. So, whatever man.)