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It’s been about a year since the fourth edition of the Dungeons and Dragons game has come out.  A previous blogpost listed here from my MySpace is a rebuttal from a video review I caught online.  Again, this isn’t saying that PugKnowsPro doesn’t have a right to their own opinion.  But this is me absolutely disagreeing with them.

When it was first announced publicly that the Fourth Edition was on it’s way, I was a pretty vocal opponent of it.  I was not a big fan when Third Edition came out, and was a very angry man when they put out 3.5, mostly that they dared charge me all that extra money for new books.  So I was rather hesitant when I found out that there was going to be yet another edition coming out.

Add in all the rumors and teasers I had seen regarding it, with a healthy mix of what I call “Old Dragon Skepticism”, and I was actually waiting to tear it apart.  I wanted to sink my teeth into this new pretender to the throne and leave it bleeding.

Then, a couple things happened.  One, I actually got a good long look at the mechanic.  It was cleaned up, simpler, and back to it’s roots as a conflict resolution system.  The skills were general and easily understood, the combat didn’t have enough optional mechanics to confuse an engineer, and everything you could do had some optional (and modifiable) flavor text.  Anything that was not necessary for quick, cinematic and fun gameplay was removed.

And yet, I was still reticent.  Yes, the way things moved seemed to be nice and tidy, but I have seen that before.  And seen it blow the hell up.  I ran it at the big release party at my store, and was rather impressed with how deadly the system had become.  There was a reason to plan out  how you act in combat, and decide what powers to use when.  I was getting swayed over.

Then I got to play it.

That is what did it for me.  Granted, I  rolled horribly at the table, and only some of my stuff went off well, but that was the dice.  And trust me, it was the dice… those rolls were so damned ugly even the Elephant Man would have dated them…

But it was fun!  It was fun again to play, to take up the mantle of a character, charge in, and fight!  It honestly felt like the gaming I had the summer I graduated from High School, like the gaming I had waaaaaaay back in the past, over 20 years ago when I started gaming.  I wasn’t worried about a production value when making something using a Craft Skill, I was more worried if I could track the goblins and dire wolves through the underbrush.

So, in short, it won me over.

And now, down to the nitty gritty:

D&D Fourth edition.

Running on a d20 plus modifier versus target number resolution system.  Probably one of the simplest resolution systems involving a single die roll instead of a pool, it lends itself to quick resolutions.  Situational modifiers are a small pool, and usually easily avoided if you plan your turn currectly.

Every class’ abilities are based on powers.  You have At-Will powers you can use turn after turn, Encounter Powers you can use once per encounter (and have to take a short 5 minute rest between to renew them… kind of like taking a breather after bringing out the big guns) and Daily powers that are very powerful (and only renew after an extended rest for at least 6 hours.  These are the ones that are so stressful you can’t do them real often).  You now have to actually think about when to use what, and what the best situation would be for each!

One of the biggest mechanical criticisms I have heard is the “Former Saving Throws as Non-Armor Defenses” one.  What, in Third Edition, were saving throws (Fortitude, Reflex, Will), have become defenses, and static values.  This eliminates the need for another dice roll to see if an attack resolves.  Now, certain attacks target these defenses, and if they do not equal or succeed the target number, the attack fails.  If an attack is based on stopping the body through shock or the like, it targets Fortitude (poisons, paralyzing attacks, the like).  If it strikes the body, but ignores the presence of armor, it targets Reflex.  And if it attacks the mind, it targets Will.

Saving Throws are still around in the form of a general die roll.  Certain effects (and it always states in the power that is being used if a save can end or prevent something from happening) allow you to roll a d20, and if you get a 10 or higher, your save succeeds.  That’s right, 55% chance of succeeding.  I have still seen ongoing damage rape a character at the table as he, turn after turn, rolled 9s or less.

Hit Points.  Tracking Damage.  How well do you hold up?  Well, I was a bit dismayed when I first read that many PCs would start with HP totals in the 20’s plus.  I though, “HOLY CRAP!  They are gonna be invincible!”  Wow was I wrong.

The new combat is pretty deadly, and they have placed in a couple of mechanics that make it both more dangerous and more fun.  If you are reduced to half of your hit point total, you are what is now termed Bloodied.  When you are Bloodied, some of your own (and some of your enemies’) powers are altered slightly.  Bloodied is your warning sign that things are getting real.

In addition, there are now Healing Surges and the once per ecounter ability Second Wind.  A Healing Surge is a numerical value equal to 1/4th your total hit points.  It represents your own ability to turn what seem to be dangerous wounds into mere flesh wounds (insert obligatory Monty Python joke here!)  Once per encounter, you can use an ability called Second Wind that lets you spend one of your Healing Surges (yes you have a limited number of these, based on your Constitution score and class), and renew that value of Hit Points to your pool, bringing you back into the fight a bit.  There are also a number of PC powers that can be used to allow you to spend a Healing Surge (many times, modified to give you even more back) without popping your Second Wind.  And it’s not just the clerics.

Now down to the flavory bits.

Races.  The old standbys are there: Elf, Dwarf, Halfing, Human, Half-Elf.  But there are some other ones they brought out as well.  Dragonborn: A race of draconic humanoids known for their honor and ferocity.  Tieflings: Now a unified race from a kingdom that made a literal deal with the devil in ancient times, and it shows.  And the Eladrin: much more Tolkien-esque high elves of grace and poise.

Other books that have come out have introduced the Drow (dark elves), Genasi (humanoids of elemental heritage), Deva (the re-imagined Aasimar, a race of angels that have taken form to change the world), Gnomes (Yeah, I used to hate em too, but the new ones are actually cool!), Goliaths (massive humanoids at one with the mountains and rocky places), Half-orcs (They don’t suck anymore!) and Shifters (relatives of lycanthropes that have minor ties to their more savage natures).

Classes: This is the meat of the new game when it comes to flavor. (Wow, did I actually term it that way?  I should have eaten breakfast.)

In the core book are some of the standbys: Cleric, Fighter, Paladin, Ranger, Rogue, Wizard.  New are the Warlock (they make deals with otherworldly entities for power) and Warlords (battlefield commanders that are awesome at supporting everyone in the party).  Added in from other supplements are other well-known but reworked classes: Bard, Barbarian, Druid and Sorcerer.  As well, introduced are some new ones:
Swordmage (combination fighter wizard with some unique abilities); Avenger (holy warrior that is the shadow skulker to the paladins knight in shining armor); Invoker (conduit of the Gods’ will, the sorcerer version of the cleric); Shaman (yup, a spirit-calling caster that bolsters his “tribemates” in battle and out); Warden (A nature-oriented warrior suited to the wild places, the tank to the ranger’s skirmisher).

While we are at this, let me talk about Role.  This is a re-invited hallmark of the game.  For years, the idea of the party was that everyone had a job to do.  The fighter engaged the foe, toe to toe, while the cleric kept him healed, the wizard tossed artillery shell spells and the rogue came around for a solid strike to help cripple the enemy.  It fell to the way side, as everyone wanted to be the spotlight, instead of part of the team victory.

It’s been brought back  in this edition.  Each class falls into not only a flavor-oriented “power source” for their abilities, but a role to play in the party. There are four.  Defenders are the tanks, absorbing damage and keeping the attention of the bad guy.  Strikers are the moving skirmishers, dealing great damage in combat.  Controllers are the artillery, laying down fields of fire on the field, suppressing the minons of the enemy.  And Leaders are the ones keeping everyone in their fighting best, through healing, inspiration or even just plain buffs.

Add in the Ritual system.  Rituals are magic, plain and simple.  Wizards are some of the masters of it, but anyone with the right skill can do it.  Whether carrying around a Ritual book full of useful spells, or just reading from a scroll  you got from the wizards guild in town, Rituals are the Comprehend Languages, Raise Dead, Swift Travel spells of the world that are not suited to combat.  You too can now have a fighter that can raise the dead, if you want to spend the feats and time to do it.

Feats now, as well, are something that just augments what goes on in game, and are no longer game-breakers.

There is so much more that could be said, but what it comes down to is this: They have created a truly masterful, cinematic and enjoyable engine that resolves conflict nicely, encourages free-form roleplaying instead of structured dice-rolls to simulate creativity, and makes gaming fun.

The Dungeon Master’s Guide finally teaches you how to be a DM, instead of collecting bits and pieces and tables.  It also does a wonderful job of teaching you how you can alter the game to fit your own ideas.

I am not going to say it is the perfect game system; it isn’t.  But it is damn good.  It’s fun once again to game, it’s fun once again to run a game, and damned if it isn’t fun to even just think things up again.

Overall, I give it a solid A rating, but with a minor detraction in cost.  30 dollars per core book is a bit pricey for most people, and the supplemental materials that are worth it for even the players run the 30-35 average price range.  You don’t need them, but they do add a lot to the depth of the game.



One Comment

  1. First off, congrats on regaining a piece of your soul (My[WasteOf]Space never really did it for me).

    I might have to post my thoughts on one of my own blogs/etc – I’ve discussed this stuff, but never put it into written word. So without further adieu…

    I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of 4th either, but I figured it’d be work a look. Then I saw the book and went “OMG is this different!” and read further. My first thoughts on getting through the book were pretty much “Hrm. Definitely not ‘your father’s D&D’ but it could work – and it targets today’s MMO crowd [being the demographic you need to gain new consumers]” followed by “Heh, this definitely feels like it could be written into something programmatic, what with all the state-based stuff” (yeah, the programming junkie in me sees that patterning).

    The starting HP was actually a bit of a nice relief – no more worrying about the spellcaster with his 4 HP at first level just waiting for an arrow to send him packing. The HP per level struck me as particularly low, but the changes to healing made me really go “Hm – that… that’s kinda cool”. Though I wish it was allowed more than once an encounter (maybe even a progression every few levels) – but then they’d’ve had to have a different name for it.

    Next thing I did was make a quick-ref(-ish) chart of all the powers (and then some GM-type reference materials) to further digest it and make my life easier to try to play it with a group.

    The first combat I ran was rough for everyone – somewhat intentionally. I wanted to put some of the system through its paces and see how the DMG guidelines worked out in practice. So yeah, I almost TPK’d (so that one critter decided to not be interested and fly off) – but some fudging and fidgeting later (and about 3 hours), we finished (BTW, PL + 1 or 2 if memory serves).

    The combats still take some time, but that seems to be true with every system. The skill challenges are a *really* cool idea – too bad I look at mods and they tend to leave you hanging as to what skills you can use (and include some that I look at “WTF?”). One time I think I had to sink to telling the players what skills were applicable (since the mod basically said “you get one shot with each applicable skill” and there weren’t many more skills than the number you needed).

    The RP – well I think that comes largely from the players at the table. I’ve played with people who wanted to “skip the fluff and get to the combat” *sigh* – but that also happens in most systems I’ve seen. Like min-maxing and power-gaming. It’s amusing to hear the power gamers complain that their stats suck (moreso when you play a TT game with Cammies [Camarilla – LARP] and they don’t get extra XP at creation), but I digress.

    Leveling characters – now *that* is a big improvement … except having to change (1/2 lvl) everywhere on the sheet (some places it’s integrated with another number just to make it worse). But less is the time you have to spend debating what skills to increase or if I want to take a level of X class next (multi-classing – both better and lesser, but I see the logic for RP vs power-gaming the stats/benefits).

    I don’t see the big deal about Saves vs Defenses. Save for 1/2 became Hit for X, Miss is 1/2. I don’t have to search around for how to calculate the DC of that save.

    Of course, regarding “new” saves, I have one criticism – the inability to save to end ongoing damage before the first turn you take it. Not a major gripe, but it does seem a bit less-than-kosher to my mind.

    I laughed at some people’s criticism that they “omitted” some of the standard/classic races/classes from PHB I (they even said they’d be doing more PHBs on a regular [annual?] basis from the get-go). How better to emphasize that this is really a new system than to put forward some new and different offerings / options?

    Heck, they even made putting together encounters *WAY* easier – given your party number and level, here’s how many XP of baddies you should shoot for.

    As far as the cost goes … Well, sadly, that’s the way of the economy – especially with full color and hardcover (at least that’s my observation – you’d know better than I).

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