Not posted in a while but a post over at Jeffs Gameblog got me thinking. First though read this post on another blog about Dissociated Mechanics and then read Jeff's post here. Okay now that you have read them both I can get started with what I think.
I did not like 4th edition as D&D though the game itself seemed fun and I think that the reason for this is hidden somewhat in the two posts I linked to above. What I believe is that first roleplaying games need to be balanced in favor of associated mechanics though this does not mean it needs more of them then dissociated ones. Two over time the mechanics that are a part of a certain game are bound to it, both associated and dissociated. Jeff has his 3 vectors and the third one is in my opinion in need of work. Its not that the community does not accept new dissociated mechanics but that to still consider a new version as a successful update to the old version it needs to have enough of the mechanics connected to the old one. This is where 4th fails.
To explain better I need to take a look deeper into the basic framework of D&D. Wizards and other magic using classes have a limited number of spells a day they can cast because its based on a magic system portrayed in some books Garry Gygax read. It doesn't really make that much sense and when someone first comes into D&D or any roleplay game which has a magic like system that is not purposefully bucking the norm you have to explain why it works the way it does. Sure it is easy to see that it balances magic but the in-game logic needs to be explained. This means that it is at some level a dissociated mechanic used to limit the use of magic. Now you won't see it at such as it is the norm now but its there. 4th editions system makes a lot more sense, you can use easy spells as much as you like and the more difficult the less you can use them without resting. Where in all other editions you have to explain about things like the brain only being able to store so many spells and then get into why you can't just use it all to store magic missile, 4th lets you just say the spell is harder so you can do it less. Then you get to the generic fighter and you realize something else about 4th. Everyone is a wizard, all that changes is what you specialize in.
This its a wizard called fighter problem is something you see brought up in roguelikes a lot as all fighters can do in such a limited setting is bump into things. Sure you can add all kinds of bells and whistles but after a certain point the difference between a magic user and that is that the magic user is less complicated. 4th edition fixes this "fighters are boring" problem by making everything a magic user. I don't care that ones flavor text says its arcane and the other says its something physical there is no real difference in the end as all the classes are based off of the same daily power scheme. Once again I will say that it makes more sense then a lot of other systems that D&D has used. But this is where it all comes together.
4th edition changes too many base assumptions of the game. I have said it before and I will say it again many times, 4th editions is a fun game but it is not D&D. Now I seem to have gotten away from the original topic which was dissociated mechanics being why 4th was "not D&D" and thats because you need one more piece to this puzzle. That piece is that D&D has changed a lot between version before but not llike this and the difference is how they changed the dissociated mechanics. Changing out a number of mechanics doesn't matter as long as you replace them with an equal number, adding more mechanics doesn't matter either though associated ones will be better received. No what matters is that when you replace mechanics you don' replace a bunch of those systems with a smaller number of them. Up until 4th edition D&D has grown every version.. Even if its just by a few sub-systems there has been more. In 4th edition while it may seem that there is a lot of stuff in reality what used to be a bunch of different systems both associated and dissociated where merged into 1. The class system as originally made while not being the most associated of systems it was less of a system and more of a way to choose what system you want to use, do you just want to bash stuff, maybe healing is your thing, or maybe the wizard with your lack of armor to hold in all that cosmic power. Even if some classes are similar they are all generally different systems in some way. 4th has one system and you choose whether you want to call what your doing physical or magic and even that blurs some. In the end this system is even more dissociated then the old systems, it has to be as there is no way around it if you want to be able to generalize enough to fit all the classes in. I am not going to say any mechanic is fully one or the other but overall 4th reduces the systems and dissociates from the game and the source. If it had just changed out systems, if it had only added more, if it had replace them with a more associated mechanic, then maybe I could have called it D&D but because it failed at all of these things 4th managed to fall on its face.