Looking Back at D&D 4e, Part 2

Continuing on from my discussion previously on the history of 4e and what I like about it mechanically, this time I’m going to speak to the various books and resources published so far for 4e. Just as fair warning: This is likely going to be a huge post, so bring some popcorn.

The Big Three

These are the classic three: Player’s Handbook (PH), Dungeon Master’s Guide (DMG), and Monster Manual (MM). I’ll cover the other generations of these (PH2 and 3, DMG2, and MM2 and 3) in a minute.

The Player’s Handbook is quite nice compared to previous incarnations of it in 3.x and 2e D&D. There’s a nice fat block discussing what RPGs are and are all about. 3.x had little more than a few pages that felt more of like you were reading the definition from a book rather than having it described to you by a friend, for the most part as sparse as the blurb about RPGs and roleplaying in 1e (Which was before there was very much examples to draw upon to explain what RPGs were!). Some complain that it’s unnecessarily wasting pages on what players already know, but I digress; I think that a complete neophyte, coming and reading those paragraphs, would be far more interested than they would reading the similar section in a previous edition.

The content is nice as well. You get basically all of the classics: Fighter, Cleric, Wizard, Rogue, and while it’s missing some like the Barbarian, Druid, and Bard, overall it gives a nice healthy spread. Combat is cleanly and clearly explained (Reiterating: Unifying the rules into Blast, Burst, and Wall for areas of effect is a miracle. I for one will not miss the death of cone-shaped areas of effect), and of course it contains all the bits and bobs for Equipment, Rituals, Skills, and Feats. One nice change is that it also contains the full set of offered Paragon Paths and Epic Destinies, which (iirc) the 3e handbook didn’t offer but instead stuck in the DMG.

One notable section that’s missing that was in 3e is the mini-DMG section, allowing you to play a few levels at low levels as it provided rudimentary monsters and traps. I think this was due to the overlap with what the Red Box offered, but it was a section that I appreciated them putting in the 3e book. It’s also seems like a better idea from a business perspective, as that way someone only has to buy a single book to try it and get engaged (And then buy more), instead of needing to buy multiple $30+ books at once and possibly getting scared off.

For the Dungeon Master’s Guide, a huge portion, probably verging on a third to half of the book, is about how to run a campaign, engage players, and be a good DM running successful games; things that most experienced GMs and DMs are familiar with. I cannot overstate how valuable this is, and would even push it onto people who are wanting to GM for the first time in systems other than D&D. There’s full rundowns on different player archetypes and how to engage them, how to maintain tension and interest in sessions and over the course of a campaign, how to design engaging adventures and encounters, and more. Many argue that this is all self-evident, and means that section of the book was “wasted,” but I think it actually makes the book one of the bar-none most valuable books a DM could have.

The rest of the book contains traps, encounter hazards, magic items, and Skill Challenges. The last item there I have mixed feelings on: As-written, Skill Challenges are difficult (Iirc, this was a typo in printing, and the DMG2 had guidelines for how to design them appropriately), but they also feel quite dry and more about roll-play than roleplay. On the other hand, they are a really nice way of deciding ahead of time how to set up a complex encounter, including more social, long-term, or wide-ranging events. I think I was initially put off from them because of the seeming sterility in the concept, but looking back at my method of DMing encounters and skill rolls, this would be a nice way to structure them to keep a bit more consistent and difficult (Currently, I have players roll between one and three times in related checks, but it’s usually absurdly easy for them to pass the tests).

Again, the DMG is missing a few pages of monsters that would reduce the number of books players would need to get to play a few levels (Seeing as the PHB didn’t have it either)

The Monster Manual is just about what you’d expect, although it does drop some classic monsters (Which appear in later Manuals) in favor of some of the new ones. Overall, it’s nice and clean, although I do wish there was a description blurb for each entry instead of a general description and/or the Skill-related information. One argument brought up was that there’s too little information, and a better option would be a return to the exhaustively-detailed entries in AD&D’s Manual. I believe that those were simple a great deal of unnecessary page-filling rubbish; I never have needed to know the exact climate to find an Ankheg in, or cared about a Bullette’s brood habits, and in the one-in-a-million time I did need that information, I’d rather make it up than waste 50% of my book on never-used trivia.

Another nice aspect of the change to 4e was both the condensation into the monster stat blocks, which makes playing spellcaster enemies interesting and viable instead of pulling teeth, and the shift in how the planes and such are. This heavily removed the idea of “Basically all gods are good, and only good gods have angels” that I remember from 3e, and encouraged the use of spellcasting angels and such as party opponents instead of only as DM mouthpieces and foils for evil-only parties. Earlier versions might have allowed for this already and probably did, but 4e seemed very open about the idea that angels and other godly servants could be a very common enemy, even for good parties.

One thing to note is that the math was wrong for the MM1 and 2, and that monsters are too tough and encounters too drawn out. The fix is an easy one: Just double the monster’s damage and halve their health. However, even after making that change I try and avoid using too many Brutes in my games, and avoid Soldiers entirely. The Brutes have so many hitpoints that it takes forever to whittle them down, and Soldiers fill an unwanted niche between the Lurker, Skirmisher, Brute, and Minion, and fulfill none of the roles well, taking forever to kill but never serving to really threaten the party.

The Big Three Five Extras

The Player Handbook 2 introduced a smattering of new races and classes. Overall, I like the Goliath and Deva (Fantastic RP opportunities there with how their race works), am neutral on the Gnome and Half-Orc, and dislike Shifters (They feel like a halfhearted attempt to satisfy people looking to play werewolves without shattering the rules/balance). For the classes, I love the Barbarian (Fantastic setup. Glass cannon that gets tougher/killier as they kill more enemies), Sorcerer (The various magic sources give these character’s builds completely different flavors. I personally like Dragon magic myself), and Warden, am neutral about the Invoker, Druid, and Bard, and detest the Shaman. That last one is mostly about a horrible Half-Orc Shaman I played, who for some reason acted as the party damage sponge, was unable to get an AC high enough to prevent being smushed constantly, and in general was such a handicap that it wasn’t real fun to play using. Oh, and he couldn’t speak Common, so he had to converse through our party’s That Guy. Barrels of fun, I tell you…

Player’s Handbook 3 introduced yet more races and classes. This time the focus wasn’t as much on Primal-powered heroes, but rather on Psionics. Up-front admission here: I somewhat dislike the entire concept of psionics, especially in D&D which already has magic. I feel the two types of abilities have a heavy overlap, making psionics a bit unnecessary, but I do enjoy their mechanical setup that allows players to “Charge” abilities using their Psion Points. The races I liked include Minotaurs, Shardminds, and Githezera, as these each have rich RP possibilities or are cool concepts, or both (The backstory and idea of Minotaurs being maze/trick resistant is quite cool imo). The Wilden I intensely dislike, mainly because it looks weird as hell, to the point of seeming like it would have been more appropriate in the Heroes of the Feywild book. For the classes, I am neutral on the various psionic classes (Ardent, Battlemind, Psion, and Monk, although the Monk has some interesting Power choices and flavors) as I am for the Seeker, and I actually find the concept behind the Runepriest quite fascinating. It seems at first glance like it might better fit as a Paragon Path for Clerics, but like they did for many normally-Paragon-Path-but-too-cool-to-not-use-earlier classes (Like Assassins!), I appreciate it being available to Heroic Tier characters.

Not much offhand I can recall about the Monster Manual 2. More cool monsters, more cool options. I personally think you can never have too many enemy choices as a DM. Again, same note as with the MM1 applies: Double damage, half health.

Again, same comments here as for the MM1 and 2, but with one big qualifier: Everything got balanced. There had apparently been a math error with monsters in the MM1 and 2, leading to tough monsters and ridiculously drawn-out fights. The MM3 was the first to have the balanced stats, but the retcon for previous monsters is an easy one: Double the damage, and halve the health.

With Our Powers Combined

The various Power books are quite nice, and give some helpful options. They’re superfluous for the most part if you have the D&D Insider subscription, but I anticipate they’ll be invaluable whenever Wizards of the Coast/Hasbro decides to shutter the online Character Builder and it’s updates (Why they decided to kill the offline-capable character builder in favor of a Silverlight-powered app will forever boggle my mind. The older offline one even had more useful character sheets)

Again, the various Heroes books are rendered largely unnecessary by D&D Insider, but offer some great options offline. The Heroes of Shadow particularly is great for parties filled with “morally ambiguous” characters.

The Handbooks are nice little tidbits, mostly good for backstory on the two “new” races 4e introduced (They existed earlier as half-dragons or half-demons, but 4e really mainstreamed them in a nice clean fashion). There’s also some minor player options if you’re using either of the races, as well as a bucket of story hooks.

The Monty Haul

These are great for a GM, and while the Adventurer’s Vault 1 is nice, I would actually recommend getting it last. The Adventurer’s Vault 2 has a great selection of party items (Ones that function best when the players are together and working/using them together, interesting items that are housed in player “lairs” (Home bases) instead of brought out and about, and “set” items familiar to anyone who’s played a computer RPG in the last two decades (Items give greater bonuses when you gather more from the same set). Mordenkainen’s setup has mostly the same type of content as the Adventurer’s Vault 1 and the DMG’s magic item selection, but gives each a richly detailed history or story hook associated with it. It’s a great way to make sure your magic items feel real, rather than like an expected character upgrade. Adventurer’s Vault 1 has nice stuff, but nothing fancier than you find in the DMG.

Manuals of Up and Down

Now we start to shift into more setting-related content instead of just player-oriented stuff. I personally love the setup for the planes, as I gushed about before, but these are quite nice books to clearly give the nuggets of setting you can drop in and out as you like. I personally prefer The Plane Above, but all of them are quite valuable resources. The Astral Sea is definitely aimed at upper-Paragon and Epic tiers, so you might not need them immediately, but they’re a great set of locations to go to once your players are at that level.

Oh, the Places You’ll Go

I’m going to actually hit here the three main settings WotC introduced, in order of my like of the setting.

Forgotten Realms: I think I might have mentioned this previously, but I’m not a huge fan of the Forgotten Realms setting. I grew up playing Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights, but the setting overall has always felt like “Generic D&D, with NPCs you might recognize!” I was always hesitant to DM in it, because I didn’t want to step on the toes of established canon, and I felt like I was both expected to make sure all the setting celebrities showed up (Drizzt, Elminster, etc), but also make sure they didn’t steal the show. While I am glad that 4e splintered the setting to allow it to more easily fit with the “points of light” vague setting for 4e and harder for a DM to tread on the setting canon, I still wasn’t interested enough to play.

The Neverwinter setting is somewhat better, but actually feels too small, and still suffers from the feel of being “Generic D&D,” which is a real shame as I loved Neverwinter Nights and the setting of a barely-controlled town of thieves presented there. It felt like they went part of the way towards making a really unique location (“The city was almost completely destroyed! And no-one knows what will happen to it now!”), but reigned it in to keep with the tone of the rest of Forgotten Realms.

If they’d gone whole-hog, and had something like it tearing itself apart in slow motion, still travelable but with the shards people live in that have been flung the farthest only reachable by air, with factions trying to control what’s left of the city as it continues to disintegrate, trying to stem the explosion or speed it up, that would be a much more engaging story. Maybe introduce a constant mechanic of Orientation; Players start as Oriented, but being knocked down or slid might incur a check to see if they remain Oriented. Disoriented players can’t keep a good footing on the shifting and expanding macro-shrapnel and might fall into pits or be slid/flung through the air at the DM’s discretion, and players can make checks against their Orientation, gambling being Disoriented against getting Combat Advantage or similar.

Hang on a sec, need to go write that down…

Eberron: I am conflicted on this setting. On the one hand, it is a damn sight richer and more vibrant and interesting than Forgotten Realms, and while some might find it at their saturation point for steampunk aesthetics, I love it and can’t get enough of the lightning trains and flying airships powered by bound elementals. It does verge on being too much sometimes, but not enough to turn me off of it.

On the other hand, Eberron is, from what I can tell, heavily angled towards being an intrigue/diplomacy/high court type of setting, of terse negotiations followed by thievery and only occasional out-and-out brawls. D&D 4e, while a wonderful system, handles that sort of setup somewhat lightly, relegating it to skills, and as a result I feel like more fighting-focused characters who aren’t silver-tongued would basically get left by the wayside. In addition, the overall setting, while excruciatingly detailed to a level to rival the Forgotten Realms, is for the most part forgettable at best.  All I recall is the misty totally-not-magical-nuclear-fallout area, there was a war involving five (?) kingdoms that just ended, leaving a state of Cold War detente, and a few distant islands filled with the Misc category of enemies like lizardmen, and something about a possible goblin homeland. The rest is so dry that I don’t feel like it’d be worth the effort of doing an intrigue game in 4e given how unengaging the politics are to me personally.

Dark Sun: While originally I preferred Eberron, after playing in Athas (My wife DMed, as she adores the setting) I am completely hooked on Dark Sun. The setting is refreshingly different, and the change to somewhat-assumed staples of D&D (Using magic, metal weapons/armor, enough food/drink to get from point A to B in almost all regions) makes it feel like an entirely new game, in a very good way. It doesn’t have as much content as Forgotten Realms or Eberron, but that’s because instead of having separate player and campaign setting guides, they give you an entire Monster Manual for specifically Athasian monsters. It’s fantastic, and has just some incredibly interesting beasties (Like the salt vampires or the giant sand-kraken/Sarlacc) that help make for really cool encounters.

The only downside is the abridged lore/traditions/backstory, but as it turns out AD&D produced oodles of Dark Sun material that my wife and I have been steadily collecting, we have all our bases covered. The art and styling is really fantastic, and the Preserver/Corrupter dynamic for arcane magic and the complete lack of divine magic makes for some awesome RP encounters when someone wants to play a wizard or sorcerer.

Setting Miscellany

Hammerfast and Menzoberranzan both offer lots of politics and local figures, but are basically two flavors of the same dish (One is dwarven ghosts and tombs, the other drow and spiders and backstabbing). They’re both good, and nice if you’re looking to have a “home base” the party is operating out of, and offer lots of RP and NPCs for players to spar off against, but not as many combat encounters.

Halls of Undermountain and Vor Rukoth are also very similar, much more oriented towards combat encounters and exploration than intrigue and politics. Undermountain is laughably huge, and basically designed to allow for DM fiat in dungeon layout after a certain point early on in a dungeon delve. The town above is somewhat interesting, but unless your party is incredibly interested in dungeon crawling, I’d advise giving it a pass. Vor Rukoth is only slightly better, this time exploring a huge above-ground city instead of a huge below-ground maze. Again, there are some interesting characters and locations in and around the ruins, but it’s very combat-focused.

Underdark, however, is fantastic. This is a must-add for a collection, especially for upper-Heroic and Paragon-tier players. Lots of interesting monsters and encounters, but more than that it has a ton of different locations and areas, each with vivid descriptions, and the few organizations it has make for amazing party foils, with a Level 30 Solo demigod that’s disgusting and incredible. Honestly, this should have been an Underdark Campaign Setting book, with a player guide to match. The nice thing too, for those of you out there with Drow fatigue, is that it’s actually quite Drow-lite. It does mention them and their areas, but no more than it does Mindflayers, Formians, or any of the other factions in the Underdark.

The Shadowfell: Gloomwrought and Beyond is nice, but not great. There’s a great map, lots of enemy tokens, and two books full of encounters that I literally cannot recall a single passage about despite having read it cover to cover. However, it contains a deck of Shadowfell effect cards that offer some nice RP and gameplay changes, and if you can find the whole shebang on for discount, I’d advise getting it for the map, tokens, and cards alone.

All of the Fluff

These are actually quite nice. The Dragonomicons delve into both the physiology and nesting habits of the various hues and types (Remember earlier how I said I didn’t like how the AD&D Monster Manual cluttered the entries with trivia? This is the book of trivia, and it’s much more complete and easier to use in this format as well), as well as adding a plethora of new species and types and named dragons to use (Unfortunately, most of the named metallic ones are specific to Forgotten Realms), while the Demonomicon basically does the same but for, you guessed it, demons. I do wish there was a “Devilnomicon,” as of the two “species” of monsters, devils seem to be far more interesting as they focus more on intrigue and backstabbing than the brute force and domination demons typically rely on.

Open Grave is really quite nice. For the most part, it’s a mini-Monster Manual, but it also contains quite a few Artifacts and named enemies, as well as some interesting trivia about how undeath works and such. If you want to run more than a little undead in your game, I advise picking this one up.

The Book of Vile Darkness, I haven’t really used. It has a spread of nice new player class options, and material for a DM to use in designing an evil campaign, but as I haven’t used it I can’t speak to how effective it is. However, I would like to put a good word in for them bothering in the first place to help DMs who are planning on attempting the difficult task of running an evil campaign.

Ho, Adventure!

Dungeon Delve is a nice set of Encounters, but that’s all it is; Encounters. It makes no attempts to hide this, and in fact seems geared towards the idea of being used in the way Dungeon Delves were done competitively at conventions. This is actually a brilliant fit for D&D 4e and the smooth combat rules it uses, but it probably won’t make very much of an appearance at the table of more RP-centric players

Tomb of Horrors is…disappointing. The adventures and encounters it has are perfectly fine, but it is not the kill-you-dead dungeon of legend. This is a perfect book to run with players who have already played the original Tomb of Horrors, but is terrible to try to use to introduce a new player to the Tomb. The only “adventure” in the original tomb itself has the tomb stripped of all of it’s fangs, and while it would probably be great to run with a party who has encountered the original Tomb and knows what to look out for, for a new party it feels absurdly empty and abandoned. I had to scour the web to find the original Tomb translated to use in 4e, and I would heartily recommend that this book only be bought by player groups who have already experienced the original Tomb in some form.

The Annuals have a nice selection of plots, adventure arcs, and encounters/NPCs. While not required, I would recommend them for any DMs looking for a variety of ideas to spark or add into a campaign.

Behind the Curtain

The Player Strategy Guide is, simply put, designed for powergamers. This is not a bad thing, and 4e actually accommodates powergamers without them breaking the system or requiring DM fiat better than any previous edition I can think of, but that’s what it revolves around. If you want to be the tankiest tank or fastest speedster or healiest healer, this book is great, but it offers little outside that.

These two are, simply put, game designer porn. They were released as teasers when 4e was upcoming, and any story or fluff they contain is likely already covered in full in the Big Three, if not in the other various supplements. However, it has a huge amount of background on why the designers made the choices they did, and it’s really fascinating to read through the various opinions and ideas of the assorted designers guiding 4e to fruition. While it contains literally no usable game information, and no fluff you won’t find elsewhere, I actually find them probably my two favorite books of the whole collection.

Encounters Galore

No way am I putting the images for all of the various Encounter books and booklets WotC has released. Just google them to your heart’s content.

The encounter books and booklets WotC has released are many. While my wife and I own every book listed above (We don’t have a problem…), we only have around a third-ish of the Encounter books/booklets. I do really like that WotC has released enough of them that a DM can do nothing but present the encounters and story arcs therein and bring a party from Level 1 to Level 30 if they so desire.

Overall, they are quite nice. There’s usually a lot of NPCs and occasionally maps and regional layouts. THere are of course lots of encounters, which can sometimes make it seem like you bought a miniature version of the Dungeon Delve book, but overall they’re nice. If you find one on discount, or are looking for ideas for a region or plot art, go ahead and give them a look.

Whoo. There will be a final, closing post looking back at D&D 4e, but in the meantime, leave me your comments below: Do you have any D&D 4e books? Is there a favorite setting, race, class, or story arc you’ve encountered from them?

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3 thoughts on “Looking Back at D&D 4e, Part 2

  1. I’ve just been reading my way though your vast overview of D&D4E, now I have mixed feeling about the series if I am honest and I hope you don’t mind but I am going to add a slightly different take on a few things. As it happened I was fairly affluent over the time of 4th edition so I own physical copies of nearly the entire range with a few ‘essential’ exceptions. (pun intended).

    Now obviously it goes without saying that to have invested as much as I have into 4e (I actually have in the region of 500 RPG books, enough to fill there own book case, so I’m a fan), so please be aware that while I am critical of a fair few aspects of 4e, there’s more I like, though I love 3.5 as well, which was my bread and butter so to speak*.

    Anyway I will first go to say the main issue I have with 4e is its too well balanced, combat becomes so consuming it can literally take hours and is immensely tactical requiring constant focus by all players constantly. Now while I imagine your like myself being very much into Miniature gaming such conflicts are interesting and engaging but that is not true for the whole of my group, who have fantastic social characters that are rather lacklustre with powers chosen for dramatic flair or because they are thematic but they are generally a lesser pick. Now playing like this is not wrong at all but it really does not fit the system, it even messes up encounter challenge ratings since they are far less effective in combat than the considered standard of that class/level.

    Also for my group we experienced difficulty switching out of combat mode into full dialogue and social interaction especially if we had a couple of combat encounters directly following each other. Now as much as I enjoy the deep combat mechanics, I find that my friends and their theatrical style is something that should be really pushed forwards for it brings out the most enjoyable RPG experience overall, and provides an aspect you cannot get from other forms of gaming yet because of the neatness and style of 4e these players really suffered.

    Players Handbook 1,2 & 3 were great books, though there were various balance conditions with some of the classes as well as the odd power here and there. Now the power Books for me were huge but I was buying them as they were released meaning I did not have a huge wealth of materials to work from initially. It was PH1, MM1, DMG1, keep on shadowfell campagin, Martial power, forgotten realms (guide & players handbook) Arcane power, Divine Power, then dragon 1, plains 1, before the 2nd ph book and its accompanying wave. What I am trying to say is that with access to everything at once I could easily see how these books seem needless splat but as they were released they provided some much needed variation.

    Now this is obviously highly subjective but magic in 4e (except ritual magic which I love, though I prefer a more detailed ritual system personally) sucked in my opinion, I am not just talking about Arcane magic but Divine, Primal, Shadow and Psi as well. Now personally it introduced way too much information required upon the table at one time and really divided users of these forces in a needless fashion. I am hugely bias towards wizards but I am not someone that wants the power attainable at 12th level+ in 3rd/3.5edition, which is the ‘point’ when the snot nosed weakling became instead something to be concerned about. Now personally I feel that a player that started at level 1, or 1/2 (As we used to being in a profession instead that is a half level, so a wizard would be a scribe type with access to nothing but cantirps for the first part of the story) that makes it alive with a power build to level 12+ deserves his time to shine. Players dislike when the Wizard takes over a conflict but they quickly forget the endless sessions for magic missile, hide or run away from anything bigger than a cockroach (Elven wizards are broken however due to Long Bow/Long Sword Proficiency). Any way I digress the issue I have with Magic in 4e is actually not about Wizards as much as it is about Clerics, the divine wizard (name totally escapes me), bards, druids, paladins and Rangers but it stems partly from player roles and partly because of how Divine Power is dealt with in D&D.

    The initial problem I have is how fixed player roles were for no reason, now I am not looking for defender wizards but the player roles and the whole fixed path system, paragon path, then epic destiny was FAR to rigid to the point where it made building a themed Character next to impossible, worse was the enforced role the builds required players to take. I am of the opinion that Strikers and Controllers are vastly more interesting to play than defenders or leaders, the later of which were often so dull but it was made worse by the tendency of my Drama players to gravitate towards Cleric, bard style characters who’s combat role is literally to grant special abilities to another player so they could achieve something Epic. Now with Bards I am yet to see a good version of that class in any addition or game if I’m honest but Clerics were one of the most inspiring classes out there and they became relegated to something awful. Worse was until the release of the book of Vile Darkness, (by which point I was play testing DnD next) it was impossible to play a character or create a NPC devoted to a Evil God, which is utterly inexcusable. There was also no Necromancy, again something that just felt wrong (I was horrified by its lack of inclusion in Open Grave).

    This Classing up of all supernatural energy had another more long term detrimental effect, in that it made monsters, especially magic users dull to fight and dull to use. Recharge powers, and a reduced power list is fine for the masses but bosses/solos should have a range of abilities powers open to them and not just spamming the same mechanics over and over, it rapidly becomes dull as the sequence for every monster becomes a matter of finding the most effective power against a particular party style/build and spamming it, again and again. Dragons for example were previously one of the most interesting challenges being able to not only bring forth there might, flight, Fright & breath but also utilise a range of magical abilities to otherwise confound and confuse opponents, instead became combat action, plus breath spam on recharge.

    4E may have introduced a huge amount of increased interest in combat for martial types but it did so at the cost of so many other aspects of the game, as well as the ability to create characters that were outside the normal path for them, purely because the path options, powers and flexibility in terms of feats was never achieved. So your forced to play a very limited development wise character and you cant even spend skills points to create some diversity in background as they are all fixed with no options to develop some unusual traits. So classes are more effected than other but as an example the only properly themed summoner wizard you can build for example is a Tiefling infernal summoner, as there is literally no other build that has thematic summons though out, this loss of characterisation for Thematic purposes is a big issue.

    It is too hard to kill players in 4E, period. I can fully understand why they felt the need to remove move save or die from previous editions, but they went too far. The chunk of extra HP granted initially made sense though its also rapidly becomes dull as monsters have the same boost, meaning that while PC’s are more survivable so are monsters and this quickly becomes dull as combat is instantly slower from the base. Now I do really like the 3 stages of ongoing effects however, as well as the pull, push, slide mechanics which were designed to be abuse proof but left some aspects instead feeling like a Board Game not an RPG. For Example pulling/pushing/sliding enemies into a Blade barrier will only cause damage once (possibly not at all, though my memory is hazy here) regardless of how well you set it up, as forced movement does not count as triggering it fully, now this system was built to stop abuse of controllers gaining the ability to stack damage by forced movement which would be fine is it was not completely bi passable. With an elemental Wizard for example with quickened Thunderwave, a orb of movement, its action point prepared alongside Elemental Storm and a additional movement forcing daily or encounter spell provides the ability to send an entire room full of enemies though a the heart of the vortex THREE times regardless of saves causing not only a utterly staggering amount of damage but then having the final ability to dump the Stunned(dazed if saved x3) prone victims at the feet of your parties strikers like a stuffed turkey. Yet that was nothing compared to the POWER build save reducing options that could inflict ongoing stuns to GODs only savable on a natural 20…

    Finally in regards to game mechanics I was utterly disappointed with the selections of available protection based spells and worse the utter lack of magical counters. For me, the best aspect of wizardry is the ability to duel. This is the creation of wards against correlating counters, now 2nd edition has this down but it was lost somewhat in third and removed entirely in 4th. Now as far as I see it a divine/arcane/what ever power source user should have access to a series of defence options, a series of attack options and a series of counters. For Martial characters these are martial counters, divine characters bath in the glory of there deity, and Arcane characters have the ability of wards/counter wards. This is for me the best part of playing a system like this, the ability to test your wits will your combination of chosen abilities, offence and defence be able to counter/outwit your opponents its fantastic. Until you know the best counter for Spell turning, globes of invulnerability of something more basic like mirror image, shield or spell absorb, because dispel magic is seriously not going to cut it. (hint never counter spell turning with spell turning instead utilise your globe of invunerability and burn though the spell turning utilising level4 or below spells which you are immune to, though you will need to have a disjunction ready against any possible breach, while to break mirror image there’s nothing better than magic missile, or morkanidans missile storm.

    Right this post is sodding massive so I will continue it in a different post at some point as I have 2 Blood Bowl league games lined up starting shortly.

    Thanks for reading
    Crimsonsun

    *I actually learnt to play with the 2nd edition at 7years old at the end of the 80’s after my uncle brought me a campaign box for that christmas which really interested me so a few months later with pocket money saved I brought the boxed set intro thingy with the big red dragon on the cover and taught myself the rules which were in a giant file-a-fax thing, then ran the introductory dungeon for my elder brother and father and also got the other 2 boxed campaigns released along side it, the three were. the lair of the Goblin King, A Dragons campaign and then the haunted military school that had been corrupted by a vampire in the basement). Sadly back then I knew very little about gaming and media was not exactly easy to come by so with the boxed game being limited to level 5 characters I kinda drifted away from RPG’s as I had no knowledge of where I could get a 2nd edition players hand book and my gaming hit went to miniatures instead, getting into Warhammer Quest (already had been playing heroquest for a while before Dnd), bloodbowl and Necromunda before Warhammer proper and did not go back to RPG’s until I was about 13 which was DnD 3rd edtion, Vampire the Dark Ages and Vampire the Masquerade, from there I was as hooked into RPG’s as Miniatures.

    • Thanks for the reply crimsonsun!

      I guess the way I see tactical vs social aspects of RPGs, I generally have a very poor opinion of very extensive social rules. I think that unless you are actually going quite in-depth into it (Like Burning Wheel’s Duel of Wits mechanics), I’d rather it be a minimal roll to show how (in)effective your words are, but have the majority of the effectiveness be determined by the DM based on what the player says and not what they roll.

      This means I really am not overly bothered by light or nonexistent social mechanics, such as those in every edition of D&D. 4e’s Intimidate, Bluff, and Diplomacy cover 99.99% of anything I could possibly want/need as a social mechanic, so I don’t mind that it’s quite light. I usually see D&D first and foremost as for representing armed conflict and fights, so I’d rather have a robust system for that and a light social system, rather than a deep social system in a game that might not have a majority of social encounters and a light and vague combat system when most encounters and events are combat-focused.

      I do agree that 4e has a definite “Pokemon Battle” style immersion-yank when you roll for initiative, but rolling for initiative has always done this imo. I generally give freeby rounds without bothering with initiaitve in a combat until after the free round is over, which does help a bit (So stabbing the asshole guard would be a free attack, just roll hit/damage, and then players and enemies roll iniaitive). While I understand that Powers seem heavily geared towards combat, I think they work quite well outside of combat as long as you explain to the DM plainly what you’re doing and why you think it should work. On a regular basis my players use stuff like small fire spells or combat flourishes to do stuff like capturing guards and minor arson.

      I completely agree that the PHBs and Power books were fantastic. They feel like unneeded splatbooks only because I have D&D Insider, which means all the content is condensed and easy to access. When Insider inevitably goes offline and/or stops supporting 4e, those books will become essential (And I agree they have some fantastic content).

      For 4e magic, I understand the distaste in the changes. 4e does not have Vancian magic, which has been a staple of D&D since it’s inception. However, I think that the loss of Vancian magic helped remove the 5-minute-workday, which I found as a DM to be a severe issue that either led to the wizards overshadowing the party, or constant and excessive encounters designed specifically to run the party spellcasters ragged and empty, a dangerous tactic that could easily lead to TPKs and pissed-off parties in my experience.

      Speaking of overshadowing, though, I will unequivocably stump for 4e for murdering the Linear Fighter-Quadratic Wizard dynamic. I understand that as a spellcaster character it’s balanced overall (Suck early on, rock later on), but for the party dynamic as a whole, it’s going to suck for someone at any given time. Early on, it’s not fun to plays as the ineffective spellcaster, and later on it’s boring to play as the outshone martial classes. Imo, this is poor game design, which is why I was glad to see it go.

      I did like player roles, as they helped clearly explain and categorize strengths of classes. In 3e and before, whenever you tried to cover multiple of these roles, even when said roles were unwritten, you usually got a character that could do either competently, but never excel at both at the same time, especially not to the degree that players who only focused on that aspect could (The “Jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none” paradigm).

      However, 4e didn’t explicitely require one of each role in a party, but doing so gave you a balanced party. An all- or heavily-Striker party could deal with enemies far faster and quicker, but lacked staying power from the lack of healing from Defender and Leaders, all-/heavily-Controller parties could deal with waves of Minions and regular enemies, but struggled against smaller-numbers encounters like Elites and Solos. It made it easy to tell at a glance what the party was good at, basically codifying what 3e and before had. I could, in theory, make a 3e Fighter that excelled at healing and boosting allied actions (Basically filling a Leader role), but to do so I’d have to gimp their effectiveness significantly with Feat selection and other restrictions of options, usually ending up with an inferior character if I strayed away from the areas Fighters focused on. I appreciate that 4e explicitely acknowledged this and informed the player of it, rather than leaving it as an Ivory-Tower artifact that punished player inexperience.

      I do agree there were limited Epic Destinies, but I always got the strong impression that D&D 4e really focused on levels 1-20, with 21+ as a bonus but not integral to the experience. I think of Dragonlance, Forgotten Realms, or any one of a number of high-fantasy novels and the characters in them. Rarely, if ever, do any of them hit what would be Epic in D&D, and those that do almost all tend to fall into one of the Epic Destinies provided (Demigod, Archmage, Avatar, etc). Paragon Paths were really quite generous and open-ended, and one thing I appreciated was that generally the requirements were incredibly loose and open (As compared to 3e’s restrictive and in some cases absurd requirements for Prestige Classes).

      I do feel like the inability to play as a Necromancer of any stripe was a big misstep, especially since the rules with Binders and the wonderfully-condensed statblocks for NPCs meant it was easier than ever to control, say, a skeleton horde. However, I disagree on the inability to play as an evil-devoted character. Almost none of the classes outside of Paladin and Cleric had specifically-good-themed Powers, and even the Pally and Cleric could find abilities that weren’t specifically good-themed. Barring that, I’m pretty sure there was at least one area of the DMG indicating you could always refluff Power descriptions and even damage sources with the DM’s permission (Although I admittedly prefer to use this option as a last resort, as I feel that too much DM fiat means you should probably instead look at a game that better suits what you’re looking for).

      I also disagree that monsters became dull to fight. The condensed statblocks actually made my fights more interesting, as using spellcasting enemies suddenly became an option. Trying to juggle dragons, with both a decent array of combat abilities as well as spell lists large enough to rival the entire party, was absurdly difficult and as a DM not worth the effort. Now that the spells and combat abilities are both easily readable and usable in the statblocks, I found myself using enemies like them far more often (Particularly memorable was a fight against an Aboleth in our second-most-recent session).

      Again, I would say that while 4e didn’t allow for creating effective characters outside the beaten path, neither did any previous or (so far) subsequent edition of D&D. Sure, in 3e as a fighter you could take a plethora of feats and such to allow you to pick locks like a Rogue, or maybe have some limited arcane or divine spellcasting, but it was never anywhere close to being as effective as staying within your class’s speciality. I’d argue that 4e Hybrids actually do allow for juggling two classes quite cleanly and in several cases allow for perfectly-capable characters (Generally, it works great if you stay in the same role and/or they have the same Primary and possibly Secondary Attribute). My wife has found she loves Assassin/Sorcerer Hybrids, as they provide a magical punch and stealthy shanking with equal effectiveness. Contrast this against previous attempts at Multiclassing, and IMO 4e results in effective characters far, far more often when going off the beaten path or multiclassing (This is another area where the insane focus on balance in 4e yields fruit, as a L3 Wizard Encounter is going to be on a power parity with a Fighter L3 Encounter ability)

      As for thematic diversity and background options, I at least found the Background options and their related Skill/Language options quite adequate at letting me customize a character. I do agree that being able to have more freedom in picking what Skills you get bonuses or Training in would lend to greater thematic emphasis, but at the same time it devalues the entire idea of Skill restrictions in the first place. I’m not sold on the neccessity of said restrictions, mind, but they are a legacy mechanic from 3e (And possibly before. Not sure if/how Skills were implemented pre-3e).

      As for class effectiveness, I do agree that some classes had limited or lone optimal builds, but then again so do classes for every other D&D edition. However, in 4e, not being optimal meant you might have 1 or 2 lower of a bonus to-hit or in a skill than is typical for your class. This is noticeable in 4e, due to the scaling power levels, but it isn’t insurmountable or crippling to a character. Contrast this against 3e, where if I built a character who was too far out of optimal due to the theme, it could be crippling (This wasn’t helped by the B.S. Ivory-Tower trap Feats like Toughness).

      I wholeheartedly agree with the ridiculous toughness of D&D 4e characters and monsters alike. They really should have cut hitpoints by 50% and doubled damage across the board, and had that be the baseline, and then offered a “Heroic” sugestion where you could double health and/or halve damage for longer-lasting fights, or double damage again and/or halve health again for “Grittier/Deadly” fights. That is a weird dichotomy for the spellcasting and forced movement, and it makes me wonder if it’s due to poor wording for one of the elemental wizard’s abilities that helps make the abuse happen.

      I do see what you mean about the lack of spell counters, but I personally prefer not wasting a huge amount of my spells on protective spells that might never be used in a session. For me, counterspells and the rare-as-hen’s-teeth counterabilities always felt more like I’d won a weird and limited lottery instead of having “outwitted” someone or something. Really, the only times it ever cropped up more than on accident was when we knew ahead of time the specific elemental type or damage type the enemy was doing (Fire giants means you should probably bring fire-resistant stuff, etc), and I know you can do exactly that with 4e as well.

      Also, woot for Warhammer Quest. I try not to think how many weeks or months of my life has been sunk into reading through the Advanced Rules book for that…

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