Posted by: NiTessine | June 6, 2008

Review: Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition Player’s Handbook

Well, it’s out, and I can talk now. Not too much, but enough.

I got my Player’s Handbook a couple of days ago, and have been poring over it.

And, well, it’s not as bad as I originally surmised, based on the two Wizards Presents preview books. A lot of the sheer stupidity packed into those volumes has been cut.

However, it’s still not a good game. Originally, I was going to just type out the word “Fuck” eight thousand times, but then I was told Warren Ellis did that already, so we’ll have to do this the old-fashioned way.

Let’s start with the cover. Yeah, it’s that bad.

I like the art of Wayne Reynolds. His best illustrations have energy and animation, and I like his use of colour, and light and shadow. In the cover of the PHB, though, we are greeted by something big, ugly and scaly that’s wielding something that looks like a piece the Fire Department had to cut off a Toyota Avensis to get the trapped driver out. It is accompanied by a scantily clad wizard chick.

The big ugly is, apparently, supposed to be a dragonborn, one of the game’s new races. It still looks bad.

On we move, through some preface blather, to page 7. Here, we have a sidebar titled “The History of D&D”. It says, among other things, this:

Throughout the 1980s, the game experienced remarkable growth. Novels, a cartoon series, computer games, and the first campaign settings (FORGOTTEN REALMS and DRAGONLANCE) were released, and in 1989 the long-awaited second edition of AD&D took the world by storm.

As every D&D player worth his salt knows, the first campaign setting was Greyhawk. WotC has even sold the setting with that tagline. So, what the hell is this?

It’s either an editing error, in which case they are incompetent, or intentional, in which case they are immoral. The tin foil hat wing of the Greyhawk fandom are already frothing at the mouth that WotC wants to destroy their setting.

Now, a few notes… Firstly, I’m usually not someone who’s interested in the crunch. I like the framework of rules, and I like having lots of crunchy bits like in 3E, because they allow me to customise a character on the rules level. Secondly, I think that a new edition of a game should be judged as part of the continuum, with emphasis on backwards compatibility, convertability and story continuity. These attitudes will be reflected in the review. Thirdly, I will occasionally ascribe motives or explanations for certain changes, that may sound stupid. I can’t vouch for them all, but most of them are from designer blogs, preview articles, interviews, and the like, and they’re real. I’m not linking them because trying to dig up stuff from the WotC website is a futile effort, Gleemax blogs don’t even do direct linking and because life is too short.

Also, as you may have figured out by now, this isn’t going to be very objective and doesn’t describe the actual content of the game much, just what’s wrong with it. There’s a lot.

Making Characters

Here, the basics of the game are explained. D20+modifiers for every check, ability scores and what they stand for, yada yada. Here we also have ability score generation. Method 1 – standard array, of 16, 14, 13, 12, 11 and 10. Yeah, can’t give people negative ability modifiers. That’s unfun. Can’t have unfun.

Then there’s a variant point buy, defaulting to 22 points but with the starting scores at 10, except for one that’s 8. Finally, there’s the novel concept of rolling dice for your ability scores, 4d6, drop the lowest.

Under the topic of “Roleplaying” we find the new alignment system, which they pruned down into irrelevance. Instead of the three-dimensional system of times past, we now have good, lawful good, evil, chaotic evil and unaligned. Especially the evil ones are rather one-dimensional, with chaotic evil as described difficult to imagine for anything but a mad beast.

Here we’re also introduced to the deities of 4E. Some of them are new, like Avandra, Erathis, Ioun, Melora and the Raven Queen. Then we have Bahamut, Corellon, Moradin and Sehanine, who are also new but stole the names of other deities from 3E, and finally, Kord and Pelor, who are more or less their old selves.

Here’s one thing that pisses me off to no end in 4E. They’re changing the setting material and background stuff for no good reason, and often only manage to make it more one-dimensional, less credible and creative. In addition to producing truly staggering amounts of subpar, uninspired fluff, they also produce irreconcilable continuity issues with old D&D material, rendering it unusable in 4E.

Another thing is that they clearly want to create new material, but for some reason feel obligated to make things seem like they resemble the previous editions in some fashion, and thus they take familiar names and give them new meanings. This generates more continuity issues and confusion between editions.

To top it off, they’ve been rationalising and trying to sell these decisions to the fans with a series of half-assed explanations on their website, claiming that things didn’t work they way they used to be, or this was constraining creativity, or that was just bad. I have never seen any of these problems in the game before they brought them up, nor had I ever heard anyone complaining of them. They made them up, out of whole cloth, to justify their changes for whatever reason.

I am somewhat tempted to make a comparison to Hitler and his vilifying of the Jews, but it wouldn’t be fair. I mean, in Hitler’s time, the problems actually existed, he just needed a scapegoat. The 4E designers scapegoated stuff for problems that were completely imaginary themselves. (Edit: okay, that was unnecessary, and I apologize.)

Races

For races, we have the dragonborn, dwarves, eladrin, elves, halflings, half-elves, humans, and tieflings. Dragonborn, eladrin, halflings and tieflings are the new acquaintances. Yeah, even the halflings. They used to be those lovable, larcenous crossbreeds of hobbits and kender, but in the new edition, they’re a race of riverboat-gypsies, and a full foot taller than previously, because apparently a little guy can’t be a hero. Sorry, Frodo.

The dragonborn are scaly Klingons, basically, for those who really want to play a dragon. It’s not an urge I’ve ever had myself or seen elsewhere, but guess it can happen. They get dragon breath, too.

It’s interesting to note that the name dragonborn was first introduced in Races of the Dragon, which, while not being a very good book, did the concept way cooler. In RotD, they were members of other races who were ritualistically sealed into an egg, and they would then hatch and be reborn as champions of Bahamut, the Platinum Dragon.

Now, they’re just the proud heirs of an ancient empire.

Much like the tieflings. In previous editions, tieflings were one of the planetouched races, halfbreeds who had a trace of fiendish ancestry. Not half-blooded, but a generation or a couple removed. Their celestial counterpart were the aasimar. Now, the tieflings are the heirs of Bael Turath, an evil empire whose rulers made pacts with devils and became the first tieflings. There are no aasimar, allegedly because one of the designers couldn’t spell the name.

Amusingly, the half-orc was cut because it implied a rape had occurred, only to be replaced by a devil guy with a tail and horns.

Eladrin, in previous editions, were the chaotic good exemplar outsider race, sort of like elvish angels. They were pretty cool. Now, eladrin are a PC race, taking over the “elves as masters of magic” schtick, while the elf race gets to keep the “elves as masters of woodcraft” thing. Apparently, someone thought it was paradoxical that they could do both, while everyone, including J.R.R. Tolkien, solved the problem with subraces. For those of you keeping track, in 4E, eladrin = gold elves, elf = wood elf.

Dwarves are Gimli, elves are Legolas, humans are humans, half-elves are Tanis. Nothing new here.

Interestingly, the concept of negative ability score modifiers has been dropped. All races get +2 to one physical score and +2 to one mental score, except humans, who only get +2 to one score, which they may choose. Humans also get a bonus feat, a bonus skill, and a bonus at-will power from their class.

The gnome of the previous editions was cut and shoved into the Monster Manual. Interestingly, the 4E gnome seems to be based not on the classic D&D rock gnome, or the elusive and shy forest gnome, or even the Dragonlance tinker gnome. No! It is based on the whisper gnome, from Races of Stone, which I held even then to be a shining example of bad games design, stupid in both concept and execution.

Leave it to these guys to be given a world of options and then unerringly pick the worst one.

Back when the tiefling race entry was released as a preview, there was a bit of noise about how stupid the example names are. Especially the modern tiefling names sound horrible: Art, Carrion, Chant, Despair, Fear, Gladness, Hope, Ideal, Music, Nowhere, Open, Poetry, Quest, Random, Reverence, Sorrow, Torment, Weary.

Yeah, those are pretty bad. However, there’s worse (there always is) – the human female names: Ana, Cassi, Eliza, Gwenn, Jenn, Kat, Keira, Luusi, Mari, Mika, Miri, Stasi, Shawna, Zanne.

Those don’t sound like competent adventurers. Those sound like the new releases for the Bratz toy line – except for Mika, which is a male name in Finland, and Stasi, which was the DDR secret police.

Classes

For classes, we have the priest, the warrior, the hun- sorry, I mean, the cleric, the fighter, the paladin, the ranger, the rogue, the warlock, the warlord, and the wizard.

The classes are all tied to their party roles, a concept copied from MMO’s. You’ve got the controller, who nukes big groups of enemies; the defender, who manages aggro and keeps the monsters off the squishy controllers; the leader, who buffs the entire party and keeps them alive; and the striker, who does the most dps.

All classes have a set of powers. These powers are either at-will, once per encounter, daily, or utility. For the divine classes cleric and paladin, these are called prayers; the martial classes warlord, fighter, ranger and rogue call them exploits, and the arcane classes wizard and warlock have spells. There’s an assload of powers, but still only a small selection for every level, and little variation. Pretty much all powers are combat powers – the useful utility stuff has mostly been moved to the rituals, which have casting times measured in hours or tens of minutes, making them impossible to use in combat. Goodbye, creative casting.

In the classes chapter, the game is kinda schizophrenic. On one hand, the classes jealously guard their schticks to the exclusion of common sense – the rogue can’t sneak attack with a bow, while slings and crossbows are fine, because archery is the ranger’s schtick. So is two-weapon fighting, and nobody but a ranger can do it. Then, on the other hand, most of the powers are pretty much the same. Deal damage, plus something extra, like deal more damage, or move the enemy, or prevent the enemy from moving, or the like.

I wasn’t kidding about that aggro management thing, by the way. The fighters and the paladins have “marking” class abilities. Each round, they can tag an enemy, who has to then attack the fighter or the paladin or take combat penalties or damage.

While I see the sense in taking certain inspiration from MMO’s – they sell well and there’s some genuinely good design in World of Warcraft – it’d be better if they utilised some sense in what to take. See, aggro is a function of MMO’s, developed as an artificial intelligence because there couldn’t be a human being controlling every monster the players come across. However, D&D, last I checked, had a DM. Additionally, the mechanic makes no sense in itself. It’s moronic – Dungeons & Dragons can’t compete directly with World of Warcraft. It should emphasise its differences, the stuff it does better than WoW, instead of pandering to the lowest common denominator and trying to be more like a MMO, an endeavour that is doomed to fail.

The clerics and paladins feel redundant. They’re both described as divine warriors who get their powers from a ritual of ordainment. Their powers are very similar and neither class no longer needs to follow any ethos or code to retain their powers. Also, paladins can now be of any alignment. Both classes’ powers are flavoured for the vanilla good-aligned healer/crusader archetype. The only thing to mechanically differentiate cleric of a goddess of love from a cleric of the god of death is a Divinity feat, which are deity-specific and give new powers. If they choose to take them.

Every class has two build options, which are basically two different ways you can optimise your character, based on different ability scores. For example, the fighter’s options are the great weapon fighter and the guardian fighter. One is optimised for dealing damage, the other for taking it. They’re called “options” and “suggestions”, but really, they’re more or less hardcoded into the system through the power selections. I consider especially amusing that the trickster rogue build is optimised for dealing damage with high Charisma score.

The warlord is badly named. None of his class exploits gives him an army, and because of how “allies” are defined, he wouldn’t be much good leading one. Nevertheless, someone apparently thought the name sounded cool, or something, and decided there’s no chance anybody will confuse it with the warlock – which is strange, since every other part of design seems to assume the reader to be stupid. The warlord is a martial leader class that’s a mixture of 3.5’s marshal class from the Miniatures Handbook and the White Raven school from Tome of Battle: Book of Nine Swords (which I consider another example of piss-poor design work – which isn’t surprising because they designed it under the 4E design tenets and philosophy, not 3E).

And finally, there’s the wizard, the arcane controller. Or not. There’s no wizard. The wizard class is dead. What we have is more reminiscent of the 3E sorcerer – limited in variety but unlikely to run out of magic missiles. As I stated, most of the utility spells like Tenser’s floating disc, or knock, or water breathing have been moved to the rituals section in the back of the book. What’s left for the wizard is just different ways to blow things up, with stuff like a gimped expeditious retreat and shield filling his utility slots.

It’s immensely disappointing. Wizards used to be nothing if not versatile.

Every class has four paragon paths (except the warlock, who only has three). These are the spiritual successors of 3E’s prestige classes, except that they’re not optional, as such – though you can also choose to multiclass, which isn’t worth it. A paragon path is a pile of powers and class features that you get during levels 11-20, which is the paragon tier.

It’s organised in tiers, see. 1-10 is the heroic tier, 11-20 is the paragon tier and 21-30 is the epic tier. At the epic tier, you get to pick an epic destiny, of which there are four. Total. One of them is the wizard-only archmage, another is the deadly trickster for rogue and warlock types, and then there’s the eternal seeker who gets other classes’ powers, and… the demigod. Yeah.

The epic destinies are also campaign enders. Every one of them assumes you to go on a destiny quest and to complete it at level 30. That’s when you become immortal. And the demigod ascends to godhood.

While this stuff isn’t a bad idea in itself, the way the book describes it is immensely cheesy. D&D doesn’t do the high-level, god-fighting stuff very well, from a flavour point of view (and the new edition doesn’t really do anything well from a flavour point of view, but that’s another story). I prefer to use Exalted for that. It retains the proper sense of myth and epicness.

The whole power level seems to have been jacked up from the beginning. A first-level character is already a hero, a power to be reckoned with. Characters no longer grow into powerful individuals, they grow into more powerful individuals. Someone on EN World described this as the death of the Bildungsroman, and I’m inclined to agree.

Skills

Pretty much every change in the game that isn’t for the worse is in this chapter – though I dislike the way the whole system was simplified. Some changes are good. Hide and Move Silently were folded into Stealth, Spot, Listen and Search into Perception and Climb, Jump and Swim into Athletics, among other things. However, beyond these, many of the necessary things were dropped from the skill list. Craft and Profession skills are gone, which annoys me.

Another workable concept is the idea of the passive skill checks. When you’re not actively using a skill, such as Perception or Insight, you’re assumed to default to taking ten on opposed checks involving that skill. Thus, when there’s a monster hiding in the room, he doesn’t need to roll behind his screen, ask for everyone’s Perception modifiers and whistle innocently when someone asks if there’s a monster hiding in the room. This is a useful thing. However, the implementation could be better, as Mzyxplk noted in his own review. With the passive skill defaulting to ten plus modifiers, there’s a 50% chance of doing worse when you’re actively trying to spot someone. This doesn’t really make sense, and defaulting to taking five instead would work better.

Insight, by the way, is the new name of Sense Motive, and also used for disbelieving illusions.

I also like the idea of the skill challenges (covered in the DMG). It works, though it’s hardly the awesome innovation they tried to sell it as. I’ve seen similar things in several D&D adventures before 4E. Basically, the idea in a skill challenge is that there’s an objective and you must net a certain amount of successes with a limited set of skills before you amass a certain amount of failures.

Skills, by the way, have been simplified in execution as well. You gain a certain number of skills you’re trained in at level 1, depending on your class but not modified by your Intelligence. If you’re trained in a skill, you gain +5 on checks with that skill. You get half you character level as a bonus on all skill checks.

Feats

Then there’s the feats chapter. This is a really boring read and I didn’t like to devote much time to it. Here, you’ll find stuff like the Divinity feats, which are the only way to customise your cleric to give off the illusion of your deity choice mattering. There are class feats, which boost your class features and racial feats, which boost your racial abilities. Then there are plain ordinary feats that generally boost your combat ability. The feats are organised into Heroic, Paragon, and Epic tiers.

The flavour descriptions that 3E feats had are gone. Now it’s only feat name, prerequisite and benefit. I dislike this change.

Here, you will also find the multiclassing stuff. It’s done by feats. First, you pick a class-specific multiclass feat, which gives you skill training in one skill, and a bonus related to the class. The warlord’s multiclass feat, Student of Battle, for example, gives you training with any of the warlord’s class skills, plus a single daily use of the warlord’s inspiring word power (an encounter power that all warlords have). Then, once you have that, you can take power-swap feats at 4th, 8th and 10th levels, to swap your encounter, utility and daily powers with powers from the other class. Once you’ve done all that, at paragon tier, you can skip the paragon path and multiclass instead, effectively taking powers from the other class instead of a paragon path. This means you’ll get four powers from the other class over ten levels.

Personally, I think calling this multiclassing is stretching the definition.

Equipment

On to the equipment chapter, which is a bit of a disappointment. It opens up with armour descriptions. Armour types have been cut down to the light armours cloth, leather and hide and the heavy armours chainmail, scale and plate. All armour types have masterwork versions with stupid names like godplate and starleather for higher tiers.

Then there’s the weapons. The weapon illustrations aren’t as good as they were in the 3E books, but they are more accurate. No strangely curved rapiers here. After weapons comes the mundane adventuring gear, which is just the bare bones, and shamefully lacks the blanket, a necessary tool for all adventurers since the days of Sir Robilar.

Finally, there are magic items, moved here from the Dungeon Master’s Guide, which I think is a good decision, because I’ve checked out the DMG and while it is actually a pretty good guide for a newbie, an experienced Dungeon Master should save his money, even if he, for some strange reason, likes this turkey.

Like with the powers, there’s an metric assload of these, with decent variety in effects.

Interestingly, you can also disenchant magic items with the proper ritual. From this, you get “residuum”, which can be used as currency or a component for certain rituals. This is another WoWism, and one I think sucks. It’s too convenient and easy. Too much like a game.

Adventuring

This is a brief chapter, starting with a note on quests. I dislike the way 4E codifies quests. It reminds me of World of Warcraft with its quest log and promised rewards at the end of it. In a tabletop game, it can lead to constraining imagination, predictable adventures and bad gaming. This section’s counterpart is one that I would excise from the otherwise rather good Dungeon Master’s Guide (along with Fallcrest, but that’s another story).

There’s also a section on rewards – what you can expect for completing encounters, milestones (two encounters without taking an extended rest), quests, and so on. This is bad, because it creates an expectation and may lead to a false sense of entitlement in players. Here, we’re also introduced to the action points, which you get every milestone and can use to take an additional action in combat.

Then there are some tables on overland travel speeds, illumination and breaking doors.

Finally, we get the rules on resting. You can take a short rest of five minutes to spend healing surges, or an extended rest of six hours to heal up completely and regain all your healing surges.

My feelings on this are mixed, but I guess it works. Hit points have always been an extreme abstraction, and I suppose this works just as well as the 3E interpretation. It does change the tone of the game, though, since now characters are never badly wounded or need to recover their strength for long. Any hits you take will be gone by morning.

Combat

Finally, we have combat, the main (and only) attraction of 4E.

The combat chapter is very neatly laid out, logical, and easy to peruse. It’d have to be, you’ll be using it a lot.

The game emphasises combat and interesting tactical setups. It recommends the use of terrain and environment effects. There are intricate rules about movement – shifting, pushing, pulling, sliding, charging, and so forth, and area effects – bursts, blasts, walls…

Thus, if anyone claims you don’t need a battlemap and miniatures to play 4E… well, he may be mistaken, or he may be lying. The game assumes you have all those – and hey, why shouldn’t it? It’s a miniature combat game at its heart. It’d be foolish to pretend otherwise. This is the one and only thing it does well.

I’m not even opposed to using miniatures. I like miniatures. They bring clarity to the field of battle and facilitate tactical encounters.

By the way, when they said they’d simplify the combat, speed it up? Yeah, right. I’ve only eyeballed it, but the amount of variable conditions, bonuses and penalties that shift from round to round and combatant to combatant is much greater than in 3E. Trying to remember all that is difficult, and it pisses people off when they rememer that they had a bonus they’d have hit with two rounds after missing.

Rituals

This is the final chapter of the book. The rituals are magic that anyone with the Ritual Caster feat and proper levels can use. They take long to cast and usually have a cost of some sort. Here are all the useful things we used creatively in combat in the days of yore, now excluded from the field of battle by virtue of taking ten minutes or even hours to cast.

Here we also have raise dead, which is cheaper than in 3E. It costs only 500 gold… for a heroic tier character. For some reason, they’ve made the interesting metagame decision to tie the cost to character tier. Paragon tier characters pay 5,000 gp and epic tier characters 50,000 gp (but then, they have abilities that start “Once per day, when you die…”). It irritates me to no end when metagame elements impinge upon the game world like this, and breaks suspension of disbelief and verisimilitude.

While the rituals themselves are a cool idea, the execution just plain sucks.

After that, it’s just playtester credits, where they misspelled my name, and the index.

In Conclusion

This is not Dungeons & Dragons. Yeah, I know, it’s a cliché, but it’s true. This game is not the Dungeons & Dragons that I know and love. It’s Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Miniatures, maybe, and even that’s a stretch. It’s a game for simpletons that abandons all pretense of depth in source material and deliberately cuts itself off from over three decades of its own history in order to pander to the lowest common denominator and attract players of online multiplayer games. It is no more Dungeons & Dragons than World of Warcraft is, or Final Fantasy, or Tunnels & Trolls. The inspiration is obvious, but at its root, it is a different game.

Of the other books, Monster Manual is a travesty, consisting of stats, stats, and more stats, with a sentence or two of background material, at best. This is a game where monsters exist to sit in a dungeon to be killed. The Dungeon Master’s Guide is better, and actually can be recommended to newbie Dungeon Masters – as long as the section on quests and Fallcrest are cut out, because that crap is just embarrassing.

All the crimes committed upon the setting that was Forgotten Realms have yet to come to light, but from the previews we know there will be little left of Ed Greenwood’s intricately woven campaign setting in the books that come out a couple of months from now. I quake for Greyhawk, and have only morbid curiosity for their takes on Ravenloft and Dark Sun, two settings that have been named for possible 4E development and at their very core run against the basic philosophy of 4E. Horror and survival adventure run on character disempowerment, and if you pull that on 4E, there’s really not going to be anything left.

Would I play this? Well, sure, as a miniature combat game. For a roleplaying game, I own, without exaggerating, a hundred better candidates, including all previous editions of the game and several adaptations of the D20 system.

I want my money back.


Responses

  1. Somewhat depressingly, I agree 100% with all of this. Well said, Nitessine.

  2. I haven’t bought 4E and won’t be – I made my mind up about that a while ago – but you’ve definitely convinced me it was the right choice. An excellent review.

  3. You saved me the trouble of going to Fantasiapelit (local shop) and having to read it there

    jiipee

  4. The first sort-of-a D&D campaign world was actually Dave Arneson’s Blackmoor, not Greyhawk…

  5. That’s not a mire you want to start dredging, NP. Greyhawk saw print as a D&D setting first, so that’s the definition I’m going by.

    Of the official settings used for various editions of D&D and AD&D, Conan and Lankhmar were created in the 1930s, and Forgotten Realms dates back to the desk drawer of a pre-teen Ed Greenwood in the late 1960s.

  6. I agree, by that definition Greyhawk was the first. Blackmoor is actually incorporated – mostly as a name on the map
    – in World of Greyhawk, in boxed set (I never saw the folio edition.)

    Blackmoor strangely also exists in the prehistory of Mystara (…long before it was even called Mystara…).

    But who cares, except us Dinosaurs. (This pun is only known to _really_ ancient ones like me🙂

  7. I just read the Player’s Handbook, and here’s my impression of 4th edition so far: I like this. I also expect that many 3e die-hards will not. It’s D&D, Jim, but not as we know it.

  8. Mika was a male name also in Rose Estes’ late 80’s Greyhawk trilogy Master Wolf. It doesn’t feel nice when this company is publishing a new game using the old namespace, with no real connection to the old canon. Still, I must admit that I like the new mechanics – this game works very well in combat and the rest is up to players to create anyway.

  9. jeah, its d&d. With more combat less roleplaying. Wuhuu now i can look like a dragon!

  10. I haven’t even read the books but I have to disagree. Everything I have read about D&D4 is good. Seems like radical change and that is what the game needs.

    “It’s a game for simpletons that abandons all pretense of depth in source material”

    I could not care flying ratass about spoiling of settings or flavor, the bloody game is played in dungeons and you are there to slay dragons.

    I am not sure do I ever actually play D&D4 but sure seems like last hope for tabletop roleplaying in general.

  11. “I could not care flying ratass about spoiling of settings or flavor, the bloody game is played in dungeons and you are there to slay dragons.”

    As opposed to the couple of previous editions where there was the implied possibility of doing something else, and perhaps of even interacting with NPCs without killing them.

    The old stuff was well written, imaginative and creative. There was sense of wonder, and worlds to explore.

    Now it’s a dungeon here, a dungeon there, a guy who needs caravan guards and a pointless combat encounter after a pointless combat encounter. It’s boring to read and it was boring to play. 4E is a distraction for the board game night, not something to run campaigns with.

  12. I have read the source books, and largely agree with you on most issues. I am not overly bothered by some aspects yet those who have played WoW surely see the immense similarities. And I tell you, there are nothing but similarities. The armor types was the last straw.

    WotC can’t get any lower than this.

  13. Having forseen some of these changes by the time WotC published Saga – edition of Star Wars, I was still hoping against hope that they wouldnt come to pass. Seeing as they have, I have no wish to foul my hands or my hobby with this filth.

    Good luck to the folks who find this a welcome change. Personally I think RPG shouldnt be confused with a “beer-and-nachos” boardgame.

  14. I’m somewhat surprised by this popular idea that D&D4e is all combat, no roleplaying. Yes, the combat rules have been refined, but there are no fewer opportunities for roleplaying if your DM intends on running an RP-heavy, combat-light game.

    In fact, both ‘social’ encounters and ‘skill’ encounters have been codified in the rules. Abilities now largely recharge on a per-encounter basis, so the game no longer assumes four combat encounters per day like third did. It’s now perfectly valid to create a game where combat is overshadowed by roleplaying.

    It is Dungeons and Dragons, it’s just not what most of us have come to know as Dungeons & Dragons, which is third edition.

  15. Yeah, well, you can do that. However, the players will feel funny, with their character sheets full of shiny and complex combat powers they’re not using – and not much else.

  16. While I can accept your opinions on mechanics, I can’t agree at all with your decision to say its not D&D. The rule set never really matters in RPGs. It has always been up to the players. Roleplaying is in the hands of the players and always will be. My group has been trying out the H1 module for 4E. I can say with complete honesty that roleplaying wise, it has been one of the most successful ventures of our group. We are even using the premade characters, but still are able to inject plenty of life and character in them. Combat for the most part has been fun and easy, and is much easier to a DM to manage.

    4E is a new game system. It is not a tweak or an upgraded version of 3.5. It is its own system. It has the material within to play D&D. The choice is up to you to use it. I can tell you that after three sessions so far, it doesn’t feel any different than playing D&D 3.5.

  17. […] NiTessine in Finland wants his money back […]

  18. “It’s D&D, Jim, but not as we know it.”

    To me, D&D but not as we know it, means it is another game altogether. That’s fine. Wizards, who in my book might as well just be called Hasbro and be done with it, decided that it needed something to sell to a new market segment. They made a whole new (read: incompatible with previous editions) game and put an established brand on it.

    But what about those of us who have been around the hobby? Who bought book after book after book. (In my case in 2nd edition, then 3rd, then 3.5.) What many of us were hoping to see was 3.5e fixed and updated. Sure, our old books still work, and third party companies are picking up the slack, but why doesn’t what happened with 4e leave a bad taste in more peoples’ mouths? This is what brand loyalty gets you?

  19. You are an idiot.

    Godwin, much? Using Hitler pretty much invalidates your entire, asinine “review”.

    ENGLISH, MOTHERFUCKER! DO-YOU-SPEAK-IT?
    Context is there for a reason. Ignore it and you can make all kinds of shit up which does not apply.
    “Throughout the 1980s, [snipped] the first campaign settings (FORGOTTEN REALMS and DRAGONLANCE) were released,”

    I’m not trying to be condescending (that means “talking down to you”), but they are saying that Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance were released in the 80s. If that is incorrect, call it. But don’t claim that they are either intentionally or incompetently ignoring Greyhawk.

    I would go on, but you wouldn’t understand half of the words I would use, as you also apparently also didn’t understand half of the words in the 4e PHB. Or just decided to misrepresent things for you own amusement. In either event, I refer you to my opening assessment of your intellect.

  20. Ah, the fanboys have arrived! I didn’t think it would take eleven days, but apparently not all of us have been gifted with the same reading speed.

    Since you’ve got the dictionary open, look up “first”, and then carefully consider this sequence: Greyhawk, 1975, 1980, 1983; Blackmoor, 1975; Dragonlance, 1984, 1987; Forgotten Realms, 1987.

  21. Heya NiTessine,

    Never mind the fanboy wankers, you’re going to get them no matter what. Most of them really have no clue as to the history of D&D, so let them wallow in their crapulence as they will.

    A lot of what you say is spot on. I seriously get the feeling that the Hasbro wonks told the designers, “Kill World of Warcraft and take their stuff.” What they came up with seems to be a decent if far too literal interpretation of a MMO-so-called-“RPG” converted to tabletop form. Some kids will love this. Others will play it because it’s the latest edition, and that’s what everyone else is playing (that is, frankly, the only reason why I played 3E).

  22. Since you’re looking stuff up, refer again to the sidebar you quoted. Notice its physical volume. And now tell me that excluding your favorite campaign setting in a constrained editorial workspace makes what was written incorrect.

    Incomplete, yes. Incompetent or inaccurate? There is no basis for that claim, just as there is no basis for much of your rant.

    And thanks for the ‘fanboy’, that makes me all warm inside.

  23. No, really… if you’re gonna say “first”, you’re gonna have to include the first. There is space for another word.

  24. Hey fdh,

    To paraphrase, ENGLISH, MOTHERFUCKER! DO-YOU-READ-IT? Apparently not. You maintain that the statement in the PHB concerning campaign settings is not incorrect, that it is rather incomplete. The statement is factually incorrect, not incomplete. Look up “factual,” “incorrect,” and “incomplete” in the dictionary if you are still confused.

    And perhaps indeed NiTessene was incorrect to call you a fanboy. By the sounds of it you are more of a shill.

  25. I disagree with most of what you’ve come away with, since I rather like this new permutation of D&D. Ideas borrowed from WoW & other videogames don’t bother me either, since the fantasy genre as a whole is pretty much a free-for-all of reappropriating ideas. I mean, how many games borrowed from D&D’s older rule sets and basic premise as a foundation? To me, it’s not heretical to think that the river can flow both ways (especially when the things they take are things I think make the game work better).

    I do wish a few minor things were slightly different (perform as a skill; 3.5-style alignment, but I never used it anyway), but I still like the feel this game has. Yes the PHB is definitely combat-heavy — but the advice in the DMG counters that by advising balance, and above all, delivering what your players want. And the way I run actual roleplaying in D&D, hard rules & dice rolls rarely enter play anyway.

    Compared to the other tabletop games I tend to rotate through, D&D has always had the largest combat focus, yet its combat options left me unsatisfied. Now, I think the reinvention of combat finally lets it deliver in the combat arena — for me, anyway.

    But hey, that’s what makes the world interesting: differences. The great thing about RPGs is there’s no way the books anyone owns can ever become useless. (Apart from the death of a language, anyway.) Speaking as someone who’s a big fan of the pulp genre (I loved the Eberron setting for that reason), 4th Edition is a welcome addition to my game table. But I’ll still continue to use 3.5 from time to time — just for a different flavor of game. You brought up the Bildungsroman; 3.5 is good at that, and a grittier, more perilous feel. Neither is perfect, neither is bad. Just different.

    That said, any reviewer who seriously invokes *Hitler* when trying to belittle a *game* company’s marketing strategy needs to downgrade their level of vitriol. Pretending that game designers seeing flaws where others don’t is worse than a leader selling out an ethnic minority to hatred and genocide is a pretty immature argument. I won’t hold it against you, though, because I don’t believe in ad hominem attacks.

    And as a parting note, I completely agree with you on one thing: the “modern” tiefling names are absolutely terrible — which is weird, because I liked the same basic naming idea when they suggested it for Warforged. But “Poetry”? “Music”? Gag. Thankfully, all my players have more dignity than that.

  26. […] PHB review by NiTessine […]

  27. Are we automatically fanboys if we disagree with you?

    To be honest, while I already feel like I’m going to miss the versatility of 3.5 quite a bit when i test out 4e, I must admit that this game, unlike 3.5, actually seems fairly play balanced.

    Also, anyone who thinks that “roleplaying” has somehow been nerfed in this version is just being silly.

    The DM is just as free to create scenery and let his played interact with it as he ever was.

  28. No, the just the ones who are being idiots about it. If you note, there were people who disagreed with me earlier in the comments.

    I’d say 4E and 3.5 are about equal in balance, with 3.5 having a lot more elegance and flexibility. This flexibility is also what, to my mind, makes it a better game to roleplay with, because the system has less strange stuff that doesn’t really make sense (Not that they’re nonexistent in 3.5, either. The heat damage rules in Sandstorm are hilarious to people who are used to sauna, and falling damage isn’t much better.)

    In the end, you can roleplay with Monopoly, if you want. Some games just support it better than others.

    As for the freedom of the DM… you know that, I know that, but will a newbie DM know that? I think the paragraph on “Fun”, on page 105 of the DMG is particularly badly phrased advice and can easily constrain a DM’s creativity. Overall, the DMG seems to speak a lot in absolutes when giving advice. This, to me, is not a good thing.

  29. Take the D&D Miniatures game, apply what they did for D&D Online in breaking down the 10 levels into 40, and let’s apply it to concepts stolen from OD&D, WoW, and other sources, and viola. A ‘great and innovative’ game, a ‘radical departure from the stale’, and every other stupid buzzword saying you can come up with by the sycophants worshiping at the altar of Hasbro.

    I have sat down, read through character creation and the like…and frankly, this game blows chunks.

    Now, I started playing with the old rules in 1978. (fyi, that was 5th grade, and I was introduced to it in confirmation class at my church)

    Before I’m assaulted as being one of the old school – until 3.5, I liked every subsequent version of the rules better than the previous. 3.5 broke the streak because I knew where all the rules changes came from – RPGA’s experience with the rules lawyers populating the organization – and not from sound game design principles.

    4th is NOT D&D. Sure, there are a few trappings, but I agree wholeheartedly with the fact this edition has lost its way. It should have been called Magic: The RPG, used the card game of WotC’s as the world basis, and gone from there. Instead, we get the destruction of all the decent gods of the Forgotten Realms in order to try to squeeze that world into the new mold. (read the last page of the History of the Realms book that came out, and you know what’s going to happen)

    If the major d20/OGL folks would get together and come up with a unified system instead of spawning off variants, OGL would outsell this tripe. Because they won’t, this tripe will look successful compared to them.

    However, will this edition be the seller Hasbro wants? We’ll see in 3 years if WotC is on the selling block like I predict they will be.

  30. Jeremy, I do agree that those saying this edition is against roleplaying are wrong. Roleplay comes from the creative mind of the DM, aided by the players, and not from a book of combat rules.

    What we do have here, though, is an overemphasis in ‘quest completion’ and fighting more than previous versions. This may just be a function as to the way the rules were written – mechanics are needed for combat more than any other thing. But, the de-emphasis of what are now utility and ritual spells does make the perception that these rules are a glorified miniature game.

    The biggest advantages to paper and pencil vs online games are the interactions are much better in paper/pencil, and your immersion into the world can be greater when you can actually effect things and have the world change with you.

    Emphasizing things like ‘marking’, when a computer can do all the numbercrunching much better unless your name is Stephen Hawking, just will drive more people away from our hobby than drawing them into it, in my opinion.

  31. I must say this is an excellent review. Sure, written from a negativist standpoint, but there are quite a few of us. What I have seen of the books confirms your findings.

    Thanks for writing it!

  32. I think the biggest thing I’m coming away with from this review is that its trying to make it easier for the players, so they can slide effortlessly from their favourite MMO into a pen&paper RPG. Marking as it stands seems like goading… a often overlooked feature in 3rd edition. All it took was the use of the intimidation skill, make them all afraid of you to make yourself the biggest threat. This hardly needed a new edition to achieve the mechanic.
    Even then, if the NPC’s have the relevant strategical mindset they will overcome this perceived threat and go for what really IS posing the most danger. In MMO’s this style of ‘Tanking’ has lead to a method known as ‘Herding.’ Drawing the foes around one character for your Area of Effect damage dealers to just annihilate the enemy at leisure.

    But with the fluff removal you noted NiTessine, the skill removals, and the emphasis of combat I just have to say its turning more and more into a skirmish warfare game. Some skill amalgamation I completely agree with. Stealth and Perception worked well as alternate rules in 3rd edition and its kin that made the characters that used them more apt at their roles. A rogue spending many of their points on stealth skills often lacked skill points for skills like disarming traps and opening locks. Many variations like this however already existed and any DM had the option of using them. As for the removal of Craft and Profession skills, I am severely disjointed to see those dropped. I know that I enjoyed throwing some points into those, just to create some depth to the character. “I spent a summer working in a boat yard, learnt a little about sail rigging.” and “Momma Belthak showed me how to cook a stew for 50 people just using 1 chicken, water, and 5 billion potatos!”

    As I have played other systems since starting with D&D I have grown more distant to WotC’s game (not just their RPG but their attitude). Other systems like n/WoD and Savage Worlds have had other systems that work well for combat, but also seemed more conducive to role playing.

    I was a diehard skeptic of 4e when they released the GenCon hype videos. They were saying a lot but spoke about nothing at all. And I guess I feel right in disregarding most of the slush they bilge pumped at the community over the year.

  33. I agree on some part and others not so much. I’ve played just about all D&D editions, and it was most fun when playing as kids, ignoring most of the rules about casting time and T.A.C.O. and all the other things that slowed play so much that fighting was more of a burden than fun. Later when playing by the rules, it became more challenging but much less fun because of the slow pace.

    4e is closer to those good times with fast-paced and fun battles than.

    Dragonborn… it would be at least funny to watch characters imitate Worf.
    “Thieflings? They are without honor.”.
    And if fun isn’t the whole damn idea, then what is? Still… not a fan.

    If you want the rogues to use sneak attack with bows then let them! 4e is pretty clear about adapting and changing the rules by your needs.

    After the CyperPunk’s “Look at me I’m a MMORPG!”-shit I was VERY sceptical about 4e, but after playing few games and having had more fun than in long time, I am no more.

  34. You know it’s bad when a list of the positive things about a game includes “it’s not Cyberpunk v.3“.

    When I played 4E, I had fun, but it was despite the game, not because of it. The game was repetitive and got boring, but the players were good.

    Letting the rogue sneak attack with bows would make the rogue with ranger multiclass feats even more powerful than it already is.

    Also, while I could start rewriting the rules and eventually come up with something I want to play, there’s really no incentive for me to do so, because I already own half a dozen games I think do the same thing better than 4E, either as roleplaying or miniature strategy games, with the added bonus of not annoying the hell out of me.

  35. I certify this description of 4e as 100% accurate from my experience with it.

  36. I’ve got to say I disagree with this review. It seems extremely biased and very negative from start to finish. Personally, I’m having a ton of fun in my 4E campaign and isn’t that all that really matters?

    I also agree with some of the other comments above in that Roleplaying is up to the players and the DM – I don’t see how the game rules can really change that. There’s lots of roleplaying in my campaign – the rules haven’t affected it at all.

    Admittedly it’s a shame that some of the backstories have been altered. It would have been nice if it flowed from one edition to the next – but for me personally this really isn’t that big of a deal. I’m willing to suspend disbelief when it comes to this. After all, we’re playing a new game.

    Most of your critiques seem to be focused on the backstory, and flavor text, etc. All the way down to the art in the book. The 4E Core set is supposed to be a bunch of rules for how to play the game. It’s up to the DM and the players to add in the story. That’s the way I look at it anyways.

    If you want to be critical of storyline/plot/flavor text/etc then I don’t think it’s fair to point at the PHB. Critique Keep on the Shadowfell or any other adventures. That’s where the story is what is being sold to you. The PHB is a big rulebook and personally, I love the rules.

  37. You can roleplay with Monopoly, if that’s your thing. Doesn’t mean the game supports it.

    It should also be noted I wrote the review before it was noticed that the math on the skill challenge rules does not work. There’s a lot to criticise in the rules as well, but I don’t like crunching the numbers to find out the imbalances. It’s boring, much like the power listings.

  38. I’m going to have to disagree with all the points you made about 4e mechanics, as they seem to be uninformed and based on comparing 4e to a 3.5 that simply didn’t exist. (the word “elegance” isn’t exactly what comes to my mind when I think of 3.5. Completely useless Fighters and God-moding Clerics, Wizards and Druids is.)

    The claim that isn’t an RPG is also very uninformed, as the definition of an RPG is extremely lose. If 4e is not an RPG by your definition, neither is Savage Worlds. Or original Red Box Dungeons & Dragons for that matter.

    4e is an RPG, not because you CAN roleplay in it, but because you’re SUPPOSED TO. It comes with the assumption, straight out of the book, that you assume the role of a fictional character. I assume that your argument might be, on one level, based on the false assumption that characters in 4e only have abilities which are relevant to combat, when in fact a number of skills, feats and powers have obvious non-combat applications (some to the extent that they only apply in non-combat situations).

    Another fallacy you commit is the assumption that there is a disconnect between combat and roleplaying. The two have never been disconnected within roleplaying games. Even within combat you’re still playing the role of a fictional character. Personally, I feel that in an action-fantasy roleplaying game like D&D combat is one of the most character-defining moments. When a character is literally fighting to survive and using all the dirty tricks that the game will allow (and there’s plenty room for improvisation in 4e thanks to page 42 of the DMG) the character is more vulnerable and more sincere.

    I think you might also be confusing the genre of D&D for what it is. The reason why 4e (and for that matter, any edition of D&D) has such a high emphasis on combat is simply because it fits the genre of the game. It’s a game of action and adventure in a pseudo-medieval fantasy world featuring dwarves, wizards, elves and dungeons (occasionally furnished with dragons). The reason why you won’t find a specific system for social-fu is because such situations rarely arise within the scope of the game and for those situations and other non-combat situations the skill challenge system provides a workable framework. (I say framework because even I can see how the math on those is broken, but it’s easily fixed and far from the mess created by 3e/3.5 Diplomacy)

    But genre is key here. You wouldn’t go to a Vampire: The Requiem game set around intrigue and subtle court manipulation fielding a Brujah with low Self-Control and his combat potential maxed? No, you wouldn’t (unless you were a dick and I still maintain the impression that you’re not) because it would not only potentially ruin the game but also run counter to the assumed genre of the game.

    Similarly, in a game like D&D where the focus is on killing monsters and taking their stuff within the framework of an interesting story you wouldn’t make a character with no combat ability but who has a really pretty voice and lots of social skills, would you? Okay, I know I did once, but the DM said that it was to be an urban campaign with some intrigue and we were using a fix on the Diplomacy skill anyway.

    I think what this little mini-rant is trying to say that system and roleplaying have very little to do with each other. Some systems do have their own in-system ways of encouraging roleplay, but I’ve yet to see any in any edition D&D (except for the horrific material in Book of Exalted Deeds which makes up for the payoff of having to roleplay a shining beacon of goodness by giving you monstrous mechanical benefits) which actually advocate playing a certain type of person.

    As for your critique that the setting has been changed. Yes, it has. I don’t mind, because I was never that attached to the implied setting of D&D. It’s all just a nice framework to build my own settings featuring undead dinosaur ninjas with lasers. Taken into account that I’ve only played 3rd edition before 4th, none of the official settings except for Eberron have ever seemed that good and while I could give or take the now Points of Light setting I’m at least somewhat enthused of them bringing back Dark Sun and other classic settings (as most of them seem more interesting than the bore-fests that are Greyhawk and Forgotten Realms).

    You are 100% correct in saying that 4e slaughtered a number of sacred cows. Then again, some players enjoy beef.

  39. If you would note, I never claimed that 4E isn’t a roleplaying game. I just said it’s a really, really bad one.

    Secondly, I only called 3.5 elegant in comparison to 4E.

    The main problem with the 4E on the rules side is that it’s a rules heavy game with a very high level of abstraction. It does not support and often actively hinders simulation and immersion.

    That social-fu thing is amusing. Originally, they touted they were going to have a special social challenge mechanic, which was going to be really cool. It was then replaced with this mathematically faulty thingy. It’s a good concept, but the execution is piss-poor. I wonder how it was never caught in the playtesting.

    An interesting point about the setting… whatever they publish for 4E, they seem to be utterly incapable of making it interesting. Here’s the new FR preview: http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=dnd/4ex/20080715

    Is that interesting? Evocative? Does it make you want to find out more?

    For me, at least, the answer is no to all of those. It reads like a script off a mediocre videogame. The weirdest thing is that these people are known to have written good, even awesome stuff in the past.

    I figure the WotC HQ has been taken over by pod people. It’s the only answer that makes sense.

  40. 4e rules-heavy as compared to 3.5? Are you sure you’re talking about the same 3.5 I’ve played, because the one I’ve played contained a number of subsystems that stuck out like sore thumbs (Grapple and Turn Undead being examples) and that used uneven progressions for things like saving throws and attack bonuses, meaning that a character at level 20 could practically have an attack bonus of +0 and saving throws at +40 without taking into account modifiers for equipment and abilities? (this due to the way BAB and saves stack)

    In 4e there’s one uniform system: you roll d20+half your level+relevant ability+situational modifiers. For most things, that’s it. (there is one exception to this, being the new saving throw mechanic which as an abstraction for calculating durations for different effects does it admirably well) Doesn’t exactly require a degree in mathematics, does it?

    As for social-fu, the system is by no means perfect, but it wipes the floor with 3.5’s “Roll Diplomacy against a flat number and everyone loves you” which could be broken in oh so many different ways. As for skill challenges in general, the latest errata has now fixed it. Apparently the numbers in the chart on page 42 were supposed to be interpreted as DCs for skill checks, not ability checks, so just subtracting 5 from all DCs on that table suddenly make it workable. I recall no such fix for 3e Diplomacy throughout its entire existence. In fact, the switch to 3.5 made it even worse with its introduction of even more skill synergies.

    I do apologize for the false accusation that you claimed that 4e is not an RPG. I was simply projecting seeing that I’ve had to argue against this uninformed view quite a number of times. I still disagree with the assertion that 4e does roleplaying badly. Having run it once already I actually noticed that with a simpler system and more abstraction there was simply more room for characterisation and less book-fiddling. With less time spent with the rules there was a lot of room for immersion and since the combats were run through quickly there was a lot of actual roleplaying there. During that session which lasted less than four hours the players got through two combat encounters, between which there was a lot of roleplaying.

    Now, the setting blurb didn’t make FR any more or less interesting to me than before. It’s a lackluster setting at best and if I want to use a published setting I’ll wait for Eberron or any one of the other classic settings that are going to be remade for 4e. Forgotten Realms has never been an evocative setting in my opinion and I was rather disappointed to find that it’d be their first published setting for 4e.

    To return to one of your points for a while here, I’m quite amused by your assertion that 4e makes for a bad simulation. I’ve always thought that D&D with people falling at terminal velocity and taking no more than 10d6 damage ever has never been a great setting for simulation and I personally find the higher level of abstraction welcome. D&D is a very bad fit for a simulation of a fantasy world, but it’s great for cinematic action. The added level of abstraction rules-wise leaves a lot more room to the imagination and with a system that plays in a quick and uniform manner players will have to spend less time poring over the rules of the game and more on actually playing the damn game and getting immersed. Nothing detracts from immersion better than going “Wait, how did this spell work again?”

    Note that I’m not, by any means, saying that 4e is superior to 3.5. They’re both good games by their own merits and I’ll be playing both in the future, choosing 3.5 when I want to play a whacked out superhero RPG set in a pseudo-medieval fantasy world (because the metric assload of supplements allows for a number of really fucked up characters) and 4e when I want a quick and dirty fantasy action RPG.

  41. Again, you misinterpret. I said 4E is inelegant compared to 3.5, but it is rules heavy on an absolute level. It’s got a big pile of little crunchy bits on par with 3.5, or the GURPS core.

    Also, it’s less flexible than either one of those when it comes to character generation. There’s less room for character options, not more.

    Considering the amount of crunchy bits there is in 4E, you’re going to have about the same amount of “wait, how did this power work again” as you had “how did this spell work again” – except instead of just the wizard and the cleric, it’s going to be all of them.

    The 3.5 Diplomacy is a bit iffy, but there exist a number of fixes for it. Removing synergies for it already does a lot. Rich Burlew’s fix works as well, as does Pathfinder RPG’s.

    Also, the maximum falling damage is 20d6.

    3.5 isn’t perfect for simulation, but it is better than 4E. In 4E, the artificial limits placed on character classes raise a number of questions you’re just going to have to ignore to get anything done. Additionally, 3.5 placed a higher emphasis on setting detail, flavour and atmosphere. I notice the second Loudwater preview is a prepared combat encounter for the area. There’s no depth there, and Eberron will likely suffer the same fate.

  42. I still don’t understand your assertion that 3.5 is somehow more elegant than 4e. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to see that the math in 3.5 is way out of the loop. A couple of examples here:

    1) Assuming a character never multiclasses he has three different possible progressions for attack bonus. The problem is that the highest progression (BAB=level) is so fast that it quickly comes to the point where monsters have to have ridiculously high ACs for the character not to hit them with a 95% certainty. The problem arises that as the monsters’ AC is artificially increased with the addition of natural armor and Dexterity bonuses the equation becomes skewed to the extent where a CR X monster has an AC so high that a character of level X won’t be able to hit said monster unless they roll a 20 or they’re playing a class with the highest BAB progression. This problem becomes further cemented with NPCs with character classes, as the only way to increase their AC to levels where they’ll be a challenge to the highest BAB characters will be to give them absurd amounts of magical protections which the players will then be able to loot for that extra level of Monte Haul.

    2) Two different progressions for Saving Throws. The higher category progresses at a rate where you usually have a 60% chance of succeeding on a save against an effect coming from a challenge of equal level. The lower save progresses so slowly as to become absolutely irrelevant at higher levels so that you’ll never actually succeed on a Saving Throw that targets your weak save. PCs have it better this time, because there are many ways to improve saves and boost them, but again for monsters and NPCs to EVER succeed at saves against different effects at higher levels their abilities will have to be artificially increased or they’ll have to be loaded with magic items. See above for why this is not a good thing.

    3) Spell Resistance. An artificial solution to the problem of higher level spells. With monsters it’s either too high so that PC spellcasters who prepared direct damage and targeted spells for the day are screwed or so low as to become almost irrelevant.

    4) NPCs with character levels. A fine concept in theory, a failure in execution, largely for the reasons that I mentioned above.

    5) Skills vs. Saves. There are some examples of this in the Core and several more in the supplements. The obvious offender is the Bard that has many effects that are Perform skill check vs. Saving Throw. The problem with such effects is that skill bonuses increase at a rate that makes even high saving throws irrelevant.

    The problem with 3e is that it proposes one unified mechanic but then uses a number of different progressions for bonuses which quickly break the game. This is the exact reason why many rightly claim that 3e breaks at higher levels. The math simply doesn’t follow through in all the parts of the system. With 4e you have one unified progression which makes for cleaner math that doesn’t break at higher levels of play.

    Now, 4e is on the same level as 3.5 as far as the general rules-heaviness goes, but 4e carries the idea of one unified mechanic so much further than 3.5 that it makes for one cohesive whole. To me that spells elegance.

    I have to agree with you on the point that 4e is less flexible in character creation than 3.5, partly because of the simple bulk of 3.5 source material to draw from and partly because of a tighter regulation of class difference and multiclassing in 4e. The first problem will be solved as soon as the supplements start coming out for 4e, providing even more options for characters. As for multiclassing, I personally can’t criticize a system that does away with the nightmare that was 3.5 multiclassing. See, in 3.5 multiclassing resulted in either the most useless generalist ever or the greatest monstrosity known to man. As has been shown by the fine people at Wizards of the Coast’s Character Optimization forum, 4e multiclassing is actually an option that does not nerf the character nor break the game. It is highly stratified, sure, but I’d rather have it than the mess that it brought in 3.5.

    Furthermore, the fine people of CharOp have also managed to demonstrate how to work within the framework provided by 4e multiclassing/class system to create characters that are conceptually awesome and mechanically viable. In 3.5 it was easy to have an awesome concept and to have it ruined by bad mechanical execution.

    Finally, even though the number of mechanical tidbits is, at the moment, lesser than the sheer bulk of 3.5 material, it has done nothing to reduce the number of personalities that you can portray. You still have the same bulk of roleplaying potential.

    And I think you will find that I actually asserted that D&D in general is a bad fit for simulation. I’m actually glad that 4e has finally dropped the pretense of simulation and actually come forward as a game that works on a mechanical level and which is fun in execution.

    You’ve got me on the maximum falling damage and I apologize for the error. Still, an average of 70 points of falling damage at terminal velocity is nothing to higher level characters. D&D becomes a terrific superhero RPG at higher levels, where men jump down mountains and take naught but a scratch and take refreshing dips in pools of lava!

    How could a game that allows for such things even hold any pretense of simulation?

  43. Yeah, admittedly 3.5 starts breaking down at the higher levels. Around level 16 the game becomes wholly unplayable. Nevertheless, before that point it is an interesting and flexible game.

    Yes, it is possible to break the game even at the earlier levels. There is, however, usually a gentleman’s agreement between the Dungeon Master and the players that this not be done – it leads to an arms race and after the nuclear holocaust, the DM always comes out on top. Not conducive to good gaming.

    This is the price we pay for the flexibility.

    In 4E, there is no flexibility, no simulation, just rules and poor writing.

    And if a roleplaying game doesn’t handle simulation, what’s the point?

  44. By that token one might ask what the point is with games such as Spirit of the Century, WUSHU and RISUS. All are extremely abstract to the point where any “simulation” under those systems will definitely fall short, yet people can oddly find themselves enjoying playing those games.

    The same goes 4e. The game simulates reality within a fantasy environment very poorly, but it provides a fantastic rules-framework for running adventures and stories set in said setting. I like to think that it provides a very nice simulation of action movies set in the fantasy milieu. It’s definitely a nice break seeing as simulation of reality has never been one of D&D’s strong points.

    As for the flexibility of 3.5, yes, it is a flexible game. To the point of frustration, actually. Even within the Core multiclassing is usually not worth it unless you are focusing purely on melee classes or taking a level of Rogue for sneak attack. Between the caster classes it is a terrible idea, as losing caster level will come and bite you in the ass at higher levels, even with the supposed “fix” of the Mystic Theurge.

    Flexibility in 3.5 is a trap. To make multiclassing even somehow worth it you need all the supplements you can get and with them in use the game breaks in two. I’m personally content with a system that actually works. Also, strangely enough, several of the concepts that had to be done through multiclassing and in 3.5 and were often executed very poorly through it are apparently going to be introduced as new classes with their distinct flavours and abilities in 4e.

    Saying that 4e is more inflexible than 3.5 at this point is pointless, because the game simply doesn’t have the bulk of supplementary material that 3.5 does. Also, the modular powers actually make it rather simple to turn it into a classless system, which would’ve been an exercise in frustration with 3.5’s class system.

    I personally didn’t find the writing in 4e to be that bad. It’s definitely not any worse than some of the stuff written under 3.5. See Planar Handbook for some of the most dull and boring racial writeups.

  45. None of the games you mentioned actively hinder simulation and immersion like 4E does.

    The inflexibility of 4E is not going to be alleviated by any number of supplements, because it’s built right into the system. Game balance is king over all, and this means you can never have a rogue that sneak attacks with a bow, or a fighter who uses two weapons effectively (well, not for the first ten levels, anyway), or anything using utility magic creatively in combat. Everything is strictly codified and nailed down. You’re told what an effect does by the rules, not how it looks to the characters.

    I’d be the first one to admit that Planar Handbook had crap races. Indeed, I consider 3E’s handling of the planes in most every way inferior to 2E’s brilliant Planescape setting, which may be the finest thing ever written for any edition of D&D.

    However, the Fallcrest chapter in 4E is one of the dullest, most unimaginative town settings I’ve laid my eyes on. Its originality was such that after I’d read the preview on the website, I could correctly elaborate the rest of its adventure hooks. The only error I made was placing the evil cult in a waterfront warehouse instead of the nobleman’s cellar.

  46. I think you will find that you are told what each power looks like to the characters. Each power comes with a little piece of what can only be described as fluff text at the beginning.

    Now, granted, the system is much more codified to the point where it does require more suspension of disbelief than 3e, but I can personally take this. I, for one, enjoy balanced systems, because I think every character should be able to contribute meaningfully under the assumed rules at every level of play, something which did not work out in 3e if you ran it as written. Even though I do understand that no game of D&D is played in a vacuum the system shouldn’t force players and DMs to play against the system to reach balance. The experience becomes quite similar to Angel Summoner and BMX Bandit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zFuMpYTyRjw

    In this supposed scenario, Angel Summoner represents casters and BMX Bandit is the Fighter. Now, in most regular scenarios, the Angel Summoner can solve everything with the BMX Bandit just playing second fiddle. Once the BMX Bandit realizes he’s not having any fun the DM has to add encounters that somehow hinder the Angel Summoner’s potential to allow for the poor BMX Bandit to have at least a while in the spotlight. While the situation in general is bad for the BMX Bandit it becomes even worse when the DM has to make encounters to make him relevant: it only shafts Angel Summoner, making him feel artificially useless in a situation where his tricks might normally work if it weren’t for a huge DM Fiat parked right in the middle of the scene and it will be extremely patronizing for the BMX Bandit.

    Under the ideal system the Angel Summoner and BMX Bandit could both contribute equally yet in different ways. 4e does this. The above scenario where the DM has to make the less powerful characters shine is almost like saying “To get through this adventure one of you has to take part in the Special Olympics. Good thing that Jim rolled up a weelchair-bound guy, eh?”

    As for everything being strictly codified and nailed down, I’d like to point you at page 42 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide yet again. DCs for improvised actions and the damages they should effectively deal at different levels, thus allowing players to play outside of the combat grid and do something awesome that contributes to the game on a mechanical level too.

    Finally, I’d like to point you at the definite proof that 4e does not hinder immersion: one man’s actual play report of running Keep on the Shadowfell to his seven-year old. The mechanic aspect of the game wasn’t too much for him to get immersed by the game, why should it be for anyone else?
    http://forum.rpg.net/showthread.php?t=397944
    I would like to warn you that the above thread contains demonstrations of pure indiluted awesome on the kids’ side. He seems like a brilliant tactician and a really good roleplayer rolled into one seven-year old package.

  47. Ah, so it appears. My apologies. We did not have those texts when I played the game.

    The Angel Summoner & BMX Bandit argument was a straw man when it first appeared (on RPG.net, I believe), it was still a straw man when it was trotted out on Majatalo.org a bit later on, and it’s a straw man now. It does not reflect the reality of the game I’ve been playing.

    Also, the thread with the seven-year-old, while cool and all, doesn’t really prove anything. A seven-year-old, even one as gifted as this tot is, does not analyse the game and setting at the same level as, for example, our twenty-something group does. In addition, with KotS he didn’t have all the pieces of the puzzle in his hands. For example, the rogue may eventually become a living god, but he can never learn to sneak attack with his bow, yet he is capable of doing it with a sling, a ridiculously inaccurate weapon in comparison. It makes no sense in either reality or within a framework of fantasy, and thus harms immersion.

    The kid is also able to ignore some sad facts about KotS itself, such as how Winterhaven’s population of 977 is stuffed into a total of about seventeen buildings.

    Then, it is possible that he’s just closer to the target demographic than I am. KotS might also be partly to blame – perhaps it is like The Black Hole, a great and awesome movie when I first saw it as a pre-schooler but a profoundly embarrassing experience upon rewatching at 23.

  48. I don’t see how the Angel Summoner & BMX Bandit argument is a straw man. It is an accurate parallel to what 3.5 looks like in combat (which is what the bulk of the rules are devoted to) at higher levels if run as written. As I said, a system that forces players and DMs to play against it is flawed to say the least. If one class has an ability that says “Hit things” and another class has an ability that says “Win the game” is the player at fault for wanting to use that ability? To me it says bad design which can be as detrimental to enjoyment of a game as supposed lack of immersion and realism.

    The sad fact is that D&D 3.5 plays like Superfriends the Roleplaying Game: the Wizard’s Batman, the Cleric’s Superman and the Rogue’s The Flash. The Fighter (or any equivalent thereof)? He’s Aquaman.

    I personally find it somehow contradictive that you can accept what are examples of obviously flawed design in 3.5 (i.e. Diplomacy, broken math) by saying “Well, there are fixes to that” or “They never come up in my games” but in the case of 4e you’re unwilling to do so. Who’s preventing you from letting Rogues sneak attack with bows or characters other than Rangers having the ability to make multiple attacks with two weapons in your game? Who’s forcing you to use the setting as written if you have a better idea of how it should be done? You seem content with changing what doesn’t work for you in 3.5, so why is it so hard to accept that you can do the very same in 4e?

  49. I now apologize how silly this entire thread of discussion is and how rude I am to flood your blog in this manner. I just get extremely apologetic about 4e because it is a game that I enjoy very much. I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

    At least now I’ll know not to invite you into my 4e games. Nyah nyah nyah nyah.😉

  50. Yeah, I could modify 4E to be to more to my liking. However, it’d be an assload of work to imitate something that another game already does better. Additionally, WotC is not currently a company I see as deserving of my limited RPG budget.

    Also, I couldn’t play in your campaign anyway, since I’ll be spending most of my time in Tampere for the next couple of years.

  51. […] Review: 4e Player’s Handbook […]

  52. […] you, by the sound of Nitessine’s review, the playtesters weren’t listened to much, so I guess we can’t blame […]

  53. […] If you’d rather read a third edition afficiando bashing 4e, go read Jukka Särkijärvi’s well-written and fun review. […]

  54. I don’t get this 3.5E vs 4E thing. Why people who defends 4E keep digging up flaws in 3.5E? 4E is the new D&D and assumption is that it should have things fixed that were broken in 3.5E.
    So if you compare product A to product B it is ok say that B is better than A but if you are comparing product A(1.0) to product A(2.0) it is pointless to bitch problems in product A(1.0) because whole point of making product A(2.0) is to correct those problems (and make money).

  55. 4 edition is a new game. It is not a better version of D&D. Any sufficiently radical change makes the end product a completely new game.

  56. […] a new kind of game entirely. If you’d rather read a third edition afficiando bashing 4e, go read Jukka Särkijärvi’s well-written and fun review. I have, from reliable sources, heard that 4e is fun to play. I can’t really say without playing […]

  57. Interesting. My thoughts:

    Negatives:

    Feats:
    Feats are disappointing (compared to 3e). They typically seem to be tiny modifiers, to the point that the optimal feat often appears to be in modify one of your favorite skills.

    Terminology:
    Terms are annoyingly (and often needlessly) pointing to very different meanings for the same 3E term. This isn’t useful in helping teach 3E players how to play 4E.

    Leveling:
    There’s a slower power curve, an while there are a number of nice things about that curve, the main disadvantage is that most levels seem to have very little to them…. that’s because they don’t.

    Low-level play:
    At low levels, all classes seem pretty much the same, with very few options. This similarity decreases at higher levels.

    Incomplete:
    The game seems incomplete – there are monster entries that end inexplicably, obvious class options that are completely lacking, and even abilities that are essentially useless without further texts. It’s almost like they created a larger game, then removed elements until they had a publishable size, without checking for internal consistency.

    Base Assumptions (the big one, in my book):
    The Base Assumptions are radically different between 3.x and 4E. In 3.x, flight ability is pretty much a given by level 5-10. In 4E, flight as you think of it in 3.x is pretty much impossible, and even the flight which is possible is pretty much regulated to having flying mounts.

    On the other hand, teleportation is a common ability at LV 1 in 4E (See the Eladrin racial ability). All obstacles now have to keep their ability in mind, even at LV 1 (or you can not have an Eladrin in the party).

    These are not the only ones, either – for example, a Fighter can much more easily raise the dead in 4E (requires 1-2 feats, then taking the ritual) than 3E.

    Positive:

    Balance (the big one, in my book):
    The classes appear to be much better balanced against each other. There still appears to be a pro-mass damage skew, but it’s far less than it was in prior editions.

    Compatibility:
    Here, and elsewhere, there have been many comments about lack of compatibility between 3E and 4E. Frankly, the compatibility algorithms are pretty easy (after spending a few hours in analysis creating them), and I’ve used them with a fair amount of success. Too bad the GSL is structured so that they’re more difficult to publish (and WOTC didn’t bother to publish their own document).

    Summation:
    Converting my present campaign to 4E would be a lot of work. If my players were unanimously for it, I’d be working on it right now. As they aren’t, I’m presently just stealing stuff from 4E to use in my present game (creatures convert very nicely, for example).

  58. I love how “uninformed,” instead of meaning, “You’re reviewing a product you haven’t bought off the promo blurb on the back you read at Borders,” means, “I didn’t like what you wrote.” This review is informed, and that is not an opinion — he has clearly read the books and played the game, though it appears he did the latter after he wrote the review. Two informed folks can disagree.

    My list of positives:

    * Core scaling.
    * Hit points (but not healing).
    * I’m about the only 4e hater who doesn’t hate dragonborn.
    * No more Vancian magic, mostly.
    * Skills (though not the loss of non-adventuring skills).
    * AC rises as you go up in level.
    * Combat is simplified.
    * Magic items in the PHB. Since I never plan on running it, I spared myself the money for the DMG. I could never have done that in earlier versions.

    Negatives:

    * Half-elves, and the blurry line between elves and eladrin. Wizards killed gnomes in part because they didn’t stand out from halflings, then introduce a race and make it very similar to elves
    * Humans. It went from being the best race to the worst. Lesser attribute bonus, the value of a feat debased, the extra at will power mostly redundant.
    * Intelligence as a dump stat. Aside from wizards, no one really needs it anymore.
    * I swear I can hardly tell the difference between a paladin and a cleric.
    * I swear I can hardly tell the difference between a wizard and a warlock, aside from the mess the former leaves on the character sheet.
    * Healing is a weird freebie, removing any sense of a grind. I know that there is a goal of this, but this is too far.
    * Classes are now these collection of fairly similar combat powers.

    I’ve had a thought about this last point. Has anyone considered simply erasing the lines for class powers, aside from the initial at will pair? Screw the multiclassing feats. This might make for more interesting characters, and since everything is so balanced, I don’t think it would break too much.

  59. Excellent review. After collating a lot of people’s reviews, the consensus is:

    * Excellent tabletop miniatures game.
    * Terrible RPG.

  60. “Saying that 4e is more inflexible than 3.5 at this point is pointless, because the game simply doesn’t have the bulk of supplementary material that 3.5 does.”

    Actually, that’s not right at all. The inflexibility of 4e is relative to the *base* version of 3e — just the core three books. The splatbooks are one of the causes of trouble with 3e.

  61. Wow, I have only been playing dnd since 3.5, but i’m not just some fanboy of that particular edition because I have always been lighter on rules and stronger on actual role-playing.

    I must say I was excited when I first heard that 4e would be ‘streamlined’ but I didn’t think this means they would stifle creativity.

    I must say, your review hits at the core of what I like in role-playing games, so now, I don’t know if I’ll ever invest in 4e.

  62. tl;dr

  63. For anyone looking the drivel that was posted here in the comments area in the last two days, I deleted it all.

    For anyone looking to harass a blogger, remember that on his own blog, he has home field advantage. He can see your IP, he knows when you are impersonating another poster, he knows when you are sockpuppeting, and he hath the mighty delete button.

    Also, if you’ve had eight months to think up witty barbs and research your arguments, do try and make it count for something.

  64. Seriously? Hitler?

  65. No, not seriously.

    But they lied their asses off.

  66. First and foremost, I must say: such an enjoyable read. I first started playing in the 1970’s, not too far from where Gygax and TSR was located.

    I, for one, appreciate changes (albeit they should still respect historical accuracy), support plot, suspense, & intrigue, reveres the art of storytelling, retain a healthy dose of epistemological humility, enjoy the climactic battles, revel in character development, reward creativity, and ensure the growing might of the player does not tip the scales to such a degree that the power consumes their being and thought process—all while forming interconnections to our human psyche.

    What kept me in the game was not a super-hero complex (to become more powerful than anything else—this only appeals to myopic dullards), not a need to have more rules and regulations (appeals to bureaucratic simpletons), nor an addiction to produce monsters via chemistry and naming them with linguistical (and meaningless) twists.

    No, my interest was sustained due to a sincere desire to truly be a part of a fantastical world, to encounter magic, to play with other creative beings, to understand and learn more about the real world, and to have fun doing it.

    With that said, wotc has polymorphed d&d into a super-hero comic/video game/statistics/economics class. It may not have been a sudden transformation. It may not even be there yet. But that has been the road it has taken. The journey from Lake Geneva to the sinister lands of wotc has been treacherous and nefarious. It is time to return to our roots, to claim our history, to come full circle. If not, then wotc will have killed off what remains of d&d. Perhaps that is for the best. For then, out of the ashes, may some day, rise a Gygaxian phoenix.

    Until then, may you all enjoy whatever you decide to play. I know I will. And it won’t be
    wotc’s ‘variant’.

  67. NiTesseene – They didn’t lie about anything, 3.0/3.5 was a horribly broken game that they worked wonders with.

  68. Let’s call a spade a spade: the 4E design team is incompetent, from the art direction to the editing to the brand management to the design philosophy to the design implementation to the dotcom era naivety of the “digital initiative” to the inappropriate aping of other media.

    And now we’re in the worst of possible worlds; partial failure, which allows them plausible deniability (“oh. the books aren’t selling because of the recession”) so 5E will be a shit sandwich developed by these hosers as well. Hopefully peak oil and the economic collapse of the US will save D&D’s formerly good name from further trauma at their hands.


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