I'm just going to put it right out there: I think that Massively Multiplayer Online Games have had a horrible affect on our beloved tabletop games. Remember when reaching the next level was reward enough? When you didn't get another feat or skill point or ability to improve yourself; simply living to fight another session was the only reward you saw. First it was more hit points and a handful of abilities, then you could actually choose your race and class seperately. After that, we got expanded saving throws and feats to customize or characters, the entire progression giving the player more control over who their avatar is and what they can do, making no two characters of the same class alike and providing us with the spice of life inside a board game. The fun was in playing the game and seeing your characters succeed within their world and develop their limited skills into vast arrays of adeptness and precision. However, no adays players aren’t interested in the specifics, they want to be able to do everything. Their ultimate goal of the game is to level up, and every time they do so they expect something interesting and exiting to keep them occupied, with each reward being greater than the last. They have made it so that each character is a sustainable force in and of itself.
Why can't we just be happy with survival, knowing that your character has gained experience in life and aquired some personal knowledge that makes them a better person and closer to their compatriots? Why is it that we feel the need to express a growth in knowledge with feats and skills and abilities every time? And more importantly, why must we race to the next level and feel cheapened when an encounter doesn't give us the amount of XP that we feel it should have?
Back in the MMO days of Ultima Online and Everquest, leveling was a chore that we were all too glad to participate in, because there was a story behind what we were accomplishing that gave us the gratitude that we required. And when World of Warcraft was released they were along the same lines, that is until their first expansion came out and they shortened the time that it took to level in the early game time. Once Wrath of the Lich King hit the shelves, Blizzard had shortened the leveling period so intensly that you could complete the first third of your requirements within a matter of hours. Games that released after this felt the need to compete with this swiftness of leveling and provided their own maglev train to accomplishment; the most agregious offender of this in my experience being Forsaken World where I was able to blaze a trail from 1 to 10 within an hour and without fighting a single creature. This is what I feel the forth edition of D&D, and new releases of RPGs in general, has done to role playing games.
4th Edition now gives players several different powers to choose from every level, throwing hit points at them like handfuls of candy corn, and providing so many skill points that I'm not even sure how to handle them without a large sachel. Not only that, but the amount of experience that is needed to reach a new level has been nearly halved so that the amount that would get you up to level 10 in 3rd edition will now get you one fight away from 14th level in the latest. Do players now adays have such short attention spans that they can't wait more than a session to reach a new level, and that the simple personal accomplishment of meeting a predetermined goal isn't enough? Must we always have a candied carrot waved in front of our faces while a superlative figure pats us on the head telling us we are doing a great job? Personally I feel a better sense of accomplishment and pride when I know that I have earned my pay through hard work and dedication, rather than feeling that I deserve to be given these features just by waving my daggers around in the air until the enemy got tired and went for a nap. Perhaps this ties to a more serious and overarching dilemma in our players...