I've got a bad head cold, so I need to take a break from writing this weekend, I think. That said, something has been bugging me and I figured I should vent about it here.
One of many issues that seems to cause the most consternation about 4e is that monsters and NPCs are (generally) built according to different rules than are player characters. A lot of gamers have a hard time with this concept, first because it's contrary to the entire philosophy of 3e, which emphasized a seamless mechanical continuity for everything, and because it's different even than 1e and 2e, which did not treat NPCs as monsters but rather as, well, characters.
What I find amusing is that the justification for this change is that creating NPCs is too complex and time-consuming a task for the DM. I agree that this assessment is correct. Pretty much anyone who's DMed 3e for any length of time, especially at high levels, can sympathize with the complexity and indeed tediousness of designing NPCs according to the 3e rules.
While I think the diagnosis is correct, the solution the 4e designers have chosen strikes me as backwards. Rather than create different rules and guidelines for monsters and NPCs because the rules for PC creation are too complex to serve as a model, why not make PCs less complex? There is an unchallenged assumption in modern RPG design that player characters can only be "unique" if there are a vast array of "meaningful" mechanical choices for players to make in creating them.
In my experience, basing a character's uniqueness on mechanics is a certain way to ensure that the character is hardly a character at all but rather more like a well-built CCG deck. Moreover, most rules, in order to maintain "balance" -- another bit of backward thinking -- end up creating a wide variety of false choices. Sure, you may now have dozens of feats and prestige classes to choose from, ensuring that no one else in your character's party will have the same exact ones as he does, but, in the end, most of these feats and prestige classes differ only in either flavor or in limited situations. In the end, what you get is characters whose uniqueness is predicated primarily by roleplaying -- as it always has been -- but with a unnecessarily baroque mechanical superstructure to support a Potemkin village of "choice."
From what I can tell, though, gamers like this approach and it's certainly one that sells more supplements, so I can't blame WotC for pursuing it, but is this better game design? I'm not convinced that it is. At the very least, I'm not convinced that raw 4e characters will have any more depth as characters than raw 1e characters, despite the greater amount of mechanical complexity. As I have said elsewhere, what D&D desperately needs is an Aspect system, as it would both reduce the mechanical complexity of the game and increase the flexibility of the core rules to allow for anything from the pulp fantasies I prefer to the more over-the-top wuxia insanity the kids these days seem to think is cool.
Obviously, it's too late for 4e to go this route. I expect that, within a few years, we'll be hearing that creating player characters is too complex and tedious and that this justifies the publication of a new edition to "fix" the problems of 4e -- assuming D&D continues to exist as a tabletop RPG at all.