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The Dungeons and Dragons Fourth Edition Preview Books 378

It's a big year for tabletop gamers. In just a few months the first books for the Fourth Edition of Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) will be released by publisher Wizards of the Coast (WotC). The last major update to the game rules was released in 1999, and sparked interest in D&D not seen since the early 80s. To attempt to answer some of the biggest questions about this newest edition, WotC has learned from mistakes made in 99', and is previewing their game updates with a pair of softcover books. Called "Races and Classes" and "Worlds and Monsters", the two titles cover everything from character creation to the new default world's pantheon. More importantly, it includes a large amount of commentary from the designers about why things are going to be as they are. In short: they're must-haves for hardcore D&D fans. Read on for my impressions of these highly entertaining (and vastly overpriced) chapbooks.
Races and Classes
Compiled and Edited by Michele Carter
95 pages
Published by Wizards of the Coast
Rating: 9
ISBN: 9780786948017

From a player's perspective, "Races and Classes" is definitely the more important of these two books. Acting as a stand-in for the upcoming Player's Handbook (due out in June of this year), it shows off the player races and character classes Dungeons and Dragons players will be able to choose for their first Player Characters (PCs). The book is broken up into five sections, with two devoted to the titular character aspects. The other three outline the process of rethinking the game's core. Each section is broken up into a series of short essays on specific subtopics. Each race and class gets at least one essay, with some requiring three or more to fully explore.

As a veteran DM of the 3.0/3.5 era, their choices for which races and classes to include are at the same time surprising and reassuring. Their picks have definitely shaken up the status quo, bucking traditions that date back to the late 80's. The Gnomish race, for example, won't be in the first Player's Handbook. Half-Orcs, one of the favorite races of the current edition, won't be addressed until the Forgotten Realms sourcebook in the Fall.

Instead, standbys like the Elf, Dwarf, and Hafling have been refined and polished to clarify their place in the world. Haflings in particular have been given a fictive solidness they previously lacked: they're now a nomadic boat-people, tending to the waters in the same way the Elves tend to forests or Dwarves to hills and mountains. New additions to the racial roster fill in gaps that have been patched previously in non-core supplements. The Dragonborn race, a reptilian species, is the most obvious of these. Previous 'dragon-ish' races have fit into campaign worlds roughly compared to the core races. Tieflings (half-demons) are another example of this trend. A popular player race in 3.0/3.5, it was challenging to play a Tiefling because of restrictions at character creation.

The process of making and growing a character seems to be the element they examine most closely in the commentary sections of the book. One subheading says it all: "Expanding the Sweet Spot". 3.0/3.5, it has often been noted, follows a power curve that starts somewhat underpowered and eventually reaches a point where players are too powerful to be seriously challenged. Though there's a lot of debate on this point, personal experience suggests the sweet spot for D&D 3.5 is about 5th level to 14th. Though many campaigns will never make it that far, it's frustrating to deal with mechanical weaknesses like that over the lifespan of a game. Fourth edition is a valiant attempt to rectify that by making all levels viable for play.

For a player, viability essentially boils down to "fun". At any given moment, is the player having fun at the gaming table? The Classes they've chosen for core inclusion speak directly to the need for fun. While the Core Four (Fighter, Cleric, Rogue, Wizard) are there, they've also included a number of fun tweaks for additional classes. In 3.5 hybrid classes were rough to play; why would you want to play a Paladin (a weak fighter bolted to a weak cleric) when you could play one of the core four and do something well? Fourth edition solves this issue by looking at the roles behind the classes rather than at class particulars. The Rogue, for example, is the classic Striker. He uses stealth and guile to cause spikes of high damage at opportune times. But that's not the only interpretation you can have of that role; the Warlock (another fourth edition core class) is also a Striker, but he relies on Damage over Time spells and arcane blasts to do his job. The Cleric is the classic Leader, keeping his allies up and in the fight by tapping into a spiritual power. The Warlord does the same through discipline and sheer force of will; the same role, but with a different interpretation.

The real advance is that each class role should always have something interesting to do in a fight, because every role is defined. If you're a Defender, and you're not interposing yourself between the bad guys and the party, you're doing it wrong. That great start is expanded by the inclusion of 'powers'. Previously the domain of spellcasters only, powers are going to be a staple for every class. Instead of the Fighter being forced to dully repeat "I hit it" over and over again, every class will have unique moves and attacks that support their role in the party. And if the Warlock (with powers labeled things like hurl through hell or iron chains of misery) are a good representation, each class should be a lot of fun to play.

I've been reading information about fourth edition greedily since last year on the D&D Insider site, and I thought I had a handle on what this game was going to be like. The class book, though, has been an eye opening experience. The designers just 'get it'. Everything that gets in the way of having fun needs to be excised. This book illustrates that, fundamentally, the WotC designers understand that. In 3.5 Fighters have too few options and Wizards have too many. Fixed. In 3.5 race didn't fundamentally matter, and on top of that each race was fairly poorly defined in the core books. Fixed. In 3.5 class roles were a challenge to understand for new and old players alike. Fixed.

Reading this text read like an answer to every player frustration I've experienced in the past 9 years. The game they describe in the pages of "Races and Classes" sounds like an intrinsically different experience than Dungeons and Dragons 3.5. For some people it's not going to be what they're looking for. For me personally, it's everything I could have hoped for and more. It's always been easy to have fun roleplaying; if they can make character creation fun? If they can make combat purely fun? That's an innovation worth rebooting the system for.

My only complaint with this book is the price. For more on that, please read on.

Worlds and Monsters
Compiled and Edited by Jennifer Clarke Wilkes
95 pages
Published by Wizards of the Coast
Rating: 7
ISBN: 9780786948024

Whereas the "Races and Classes" book speaks directly to the core of the new D&D, "Worlds and Monsters" primarily deals with the frippery and window dressing associated with the new core world. The loosely defined core setting that has always existed in previous editions of the game is going to become more codified in fourth edition. This text talks a bit about that world, and the decisions that went into that choice. It also runs through some of the most well-known monsters in Dungeons and Dragons, explaining how they've been adapted for the new version of the game.

For Dungeon Masters, this is far and away the more fascinating book. This stand-in for the DMG speaks directly to the storytelling core of the game, and hints at the kinds of high-adventure tales we'll be able to craft later this year. The game world sounds quite interesting, both for its specificity and its vagueness. Races, for example, are quite specifically outlined. Tieflings, Dragonborn, Elves ... all have specific creation stories that PCs can share as a common background. Racial traits stemming from historical events will add a lot of texture to character portrayals. At the same time, much of the world is being left deliberately vague. This setting is described just enough to hang plot hooks on, but not enough so that as a DM you'll have to deal with backstory cruft.

The world they describe sounds quite interesting, too. They're calling the core concept "Points of Light". Adventurers are heroes living in a world mostly covered by the darkness of wilderness and the unknown. Small cities and villages dot the landscape, providing shelter and a bright spot in this darkness. The wilderness hides numerous ruins, leftovers from the rise and fall of ancient civilizations. The last great human empire fell about a hundred years ago, in the setting, and the result is something akin to the historical dark ages. Layered on top of this ruin-strewn landscape is a faerie realm, accessible via special holes in the world. Monsters live in the deep woods, and dark magics are hidden underground. It sounds like a great place to adventure.

The monsters section of the book clarifies a number of things about what D&D combat will be like in fourth edition, and speaks again to their goal of 'fun all the time'. 3.5 combat was balanced around the concept of a party fighting one creature of an appropriate level. It turns out? That tends to get kind of boring. Fourth edition combat, instead, is balanced around an equal number of opponents for the players. Having the concept of 'slots', where monsters oppose players on equal footing, and roles (not unlike PC roles) ensures that fights will be actually challenging. 3.5 fights tend to be either bloodbaths or total routs, with little room in-between for contesting the outcome.

That concept of roles has been applied to monsters quite deliberately. Balancing a monster party with Defenders, Skirmishers, Controllers, and Leaders will result in a mixed bag of interesting critters. Monster races that tended toward the generic have even been given a degree of specificity. Instead of Gnolls just being Orcs with Hyena masks on, they'll now apparently fight with pack tactics and cowardly tricks. Giving flavour to the opposition seems to be the basic idea: off-the-rack encounters will no longer feel so rote.

Again, the game they're describing sounds like a lot of fun. My frustration with this text was high on the price side, though. While the "Races and Classes" book speaks directly to the core of the new D&D game, and is a great book to throw at someone still griping about the lack of Gnomes, "Worlds and Monsters" seems like it's mostly a lot of set dressing. Set dressing which (I can only assume) will be reiterated in more detail in the core books. Did I enjoy reading it? Of course. It's interesting stuff. But twenty dollars for set dressing is hard to swallow, especially when we're going to have to repurchase that information in the DMG for another thirty bucks.

At a cost of forty dollars for the pair, it's hard to say if the extremely interesting content is worth the price of admission. In podcasts and commentaries WotC has said how they enjoy the 'DVD extras' model, where consumers pay a premium for 'behind-the-scenes' info. If you really enjoy that kind of content, or just can't wait the next four months for the core books, these will be easy buys for you. The ideal would have been if purchasing these books represented preorders for the core books. Pay $40 now, buy the core books for only $20 each? Anything to make this investment last past May? Instead, we're left with the reality that nothing in these books can't wait until June.

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The Dungeons and Dragons Fourth Edition Preview Books

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  • What it needs (Score:5, Insightful)

    by lord_dragonsfyre ( 89589 ) on Monday February 04, 2008 @04:43PM (#22297132) Homepage
    Want D&D to run smoothly again?

    1: The keywords here are "simple" and "straightforward". The current grapple rules are painful, many conditions make no sense (can a construct be nauseated? the answer may surprise you), and what exactly does polymorph do these days? You don't know. No one knows. It's been errata'd like eight times. If a rule takes longer than two or three sentences to explain, people have already stopped caring.

    2: Fix stacking and inherited bonuses. The days of sixteen different kinds of bonus all adding up to push a character WAY off the random number generator have to end; at the same time, feats that provide an advantage so small you frequently forget about it also must end. Feats and abilities need to provide meaningful options without turning rolls into "no lose" situations.

    3: Get rid of gold = power. The 3.5 conceit of assuming characters of level X would have Y gp worth of Magical Stuff ruined a lot of flavor and a lot of system. Let the GM handle the distribution of magic items, and let the PCs spend their gold the way it was intended: on ale and whores.

    4: Fix the phrase "level appropriate ability" firmly in mind. At every level, every character should gain new abilities appropriate to that level. Every one. It's WAY too easy in 3.5 to fall off the level appropriate ability train for life.

    5: Want to playtest? Recruit the twinkiest, most outrageous powergamers you can find. They're the ones that spot inane bullshit like Balor mining, chain-binding djinni, and the truly stupid amount of awesome that 3.5 clerics and druids bring to the table.

    Since based on what I've heard so far, not one of these is actually happening (with the possible exception of #1), I am not optimistic.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 04, 2008 @04:46PM (#22297188)
    Nope, I feel the same way, but that's also how I felt about the jump from modified 2nd ed. to 3.0, and still do.

    But I really think the defining factor boils down to whether or not your DM is fun and imaginative. 2nd ed. had some issues, but way back when, our party had a very imaginative (and rules obsessive) DM, who worked within the system to build some pretty badass campaigns and adventures. I think the same thing could be true of any game system.
  • by lord_dragonsfyre ( 89589 ) on Monday February 04, 2008 @04:54PM (#22297312) Homepage
    Uh... no. Paladins are competent, with a few useful abilities and a lot of bad ones. You can make them good, but it takes a lot of effort to get there. Their spellcasting has a few gems, but is overall lackluster, and the only thing their turning attempts are good for is burning for Divine feats.

    Clerics and Druids, hands down, are the "most powerful" core classes, with probably an edge to druids, because making a good one requires almost no effort.

    Overall, it's a reasonably good review that is, in my view, overly optimistic about how 4th ed will turn out. He's definitely right about combats: "3.5 fights tend to be either bloodbaths or total routs, with little room in-between for contesting the outcome." is exactly how a lot of fights turn out, particularly when players discover the joys of Save-or-Die. Part of the problem with the "four encounters per day" balance idea was that the fourth was the only one that was actually challenging, because it's the only time the players would be getting low on resources.
  • by Otis2222222 ( 581406 ) on Monday February 04, 2008 @04:57PM (#22297360) Homepage
    What happened to "Ask The Designers of D&D Fourth Edition []" that was posted back in January? Are we ever going to see a follow-up to this? Did they not like all the questions? Guess I shouldn't hold my breath...
  • Re:Rules Come & Go (Score:3, Insightful)

    by techpawn ( 969834 ) on Monday February 04, 2008 @04:57PM (#22297362) Journal

    I've had experience with the various releases of D&D rule sets over the years. So I say if this one doesn't improve the game in any meaningful way for you, just play with you're favorite rule set or even modify your favorite edition. It is a game of imagination after all.
    Isn't the first "rule" in the 3.0 DMG that the rule books are just something for you to use as a starting point and to change them how you want to work in your game?
  • Re:What it needs (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Kirin Fenrir ( 1001780 ) on Monday February 04, 2008 @04:59PM (#22297410)
    You need this guy to test: []
  • by Yosho ( 135835 ) on Monday February 04, 2008 @05:01PM (#22297440)
    Paladins are probably the most powerful class in DnD!

    Wait, are we both talking about 3.5 D&D? If so, I think you're the only person I've ever heard say it's the most powerful class. The common opinion among everybody I've talked to is that paladin is one of the worst-designed classes in the PHB, and possibly the weakest, although some people will argue that monks are weaker.

    No, seriously -- if you think paladins are that great, I'd be interested in hearing why. From what I can see, the class basically just stops growing after 5th level. Remove disease a few times per weak is pitiful compared to the cleric who can do it several times per day; their signature ability, smite evil, is usable on only a few attacks per day, and the bonus to damage is miniscule compared to how much high-level spells can do; and their spellcasting can't hold a candle to any of the full spellcasters. The only other thing they get is minor improvements to their mount; the mount is almost as useful as the party's fighter when you first get one, but later on they're nothing but an extra target on the battlefield.

    If you want a holy warrior type character, paladin 4 / cleric 16 is objectively just a better build. You'll have a 16 BAB, which is still enough for four attacks, plus a much better will save and a better fort save due to the way multiclassing saves works, plus you'll be able to cast 8th level cleric spells. The only things you lose are a few hit points, a few uses of smite evil & remove disease, and a rather weak mount. Of course, spending a couple of your fourth level spell slots on Divine Power will bump your BAB up to 20 and give you effectively a d10 hit die, anyway, not to mention +6 to strength.

    Heck, just ditch those paladin levels, and the only things you lose are a few class abilities that are easily emulated by other spells; in exchange you can turn undead better and get game-breaking 9th level spells.

    Even compared to other melee classes, the paladin lacks the mobility & damage potential of a bow ranger, a TWF/UMD rogue, or a raging barbarian. Even the fighter is more versatile with all of his fights, but mind you, I'm not making the case that fighter is actually a good class, either.
  • tl;dr (Score:5, Insightful)

    by snarfies ( 115214 ) on Monday February 04, 2008 @05:03PM (#22297480) Homepage
    "why would you want to play a Paladin (a weak fighter bolted to a weak cleric) when you could play one of the core four and do something well?"

    Because you're ROLE-PLAYING. Aren't you? You aren't just rolling dice and putting the business end of a sword into randomly-generated monsters to acquire their gold and +2 swords (+4 vs. randomly-generated monsters), are you?
  • by Weaselmancer ( 533834 ) on Monday February 04, 2008 @05:06PM (#22297530)

    In short: they're must-haves for hardcore D&D fans.

    I'll bet there isn't anything worth justifying the price of the new books in there if you look at it honestly.

    Called "Races and Classes" and "Worlds and Monsters", the two titles cover everything from character creation to the new default world's pantheon.

    They've done that dozens of times. Races and Classes was originally called Player's Manual back when I was a kid. The pantheon book was Deities and Demigods, or optionally Greyhawk. It's been done and done and done.

    This is what WotC does. Take it out, polish it, change things just enough to be incompatible with the last version, and resell. Expensively. Look at Magic the Gathering for another example. Each expansion came out with something that would absolutely devastate the previous versions - to stay current you HAD to keep buying it. And for tournament play you weren't allowed to use older sets either. That's why they called MtG Cardboard Crack.

    This is just the latest round of "buy this update we need another injection of cash" from WotC. I'll pass.

  • by crashfrog ( 126007 ) <[crashfrog] [at] []> on Monday February 04, 2008 @05:07PM (#22297554) Homepage
    ... who feels like they may have simplified the most interesting parts clear out of the game, filled the gaps liberally with WoW, and ended up with a game that, admittedly, has a much lower barrier to entry but is also not particularly interesting?

    Neither of us know what the mechanics are going to be like, but from my perspective you couldn't be more wrong. I don't know specifically what you're talking about when you say "the most interesting parts", but the parts that they've confirmed aren't there anymore are the parts that always bothered me the most - like the way any dungeon adventure longer than four encounters stops being "let's go have adventures" and becomes "we need to find a way to sleep."

    I mean, my idea of heroic fantasy doesn't include a desperate search for a Motel 6 (or, God forbid, a magic spell that simply creates one.) So the new spellcasting mechanic of "at-will" powers sounds pitch-perfect to me. But, at the same time, a few of the powers are attrition-based, too, so having to decide whether or not to blow your big spells now or save them for something even more tough is still there.

    The more I hear about 4th Edition the more I wish it was the D&D I was running right now. As it is, every single one of my players now has at least one maneuver , if not their class or PrC, from Book of the Nine Swords - which is sort of prototype 4th Edition in some ways - and I think that speaks volumes. My players don't even want to sleep in dungeons, that's how stupid it feels to play that way, and they've all, independently, gravitated to ways to keep the power level up without using attrition powers.

    I don't know what it means to "fill the gaps liberally with WoW", except as far as WoW simply game-ified what players and DM's were already doing. Maybe you could elaborate on that.
  • by Nightspirit ( 846159 ) on Monday February 04, 2008 @05:12PM (#22297650)
    Dude, you're going to leave a gaming group you've had for 24 years because of a ruleset? Any ruleset is playable with a good group; I have a great time with my shadowrun group even through the ruleset is a disaster.
  • by TheJerg ( 1052952 ) <> on Monday February 04, 2008 @05:18PM (#22297762)
    This article needs a getoffmylawn tag. I know that this is hard for a lot of vets to understand but things change. The mentality of "they're just trying to make more money off of me" is accurate but that is the nature of business. If you want to turn a blind eye to the myriad flaws in the 3.X series feel free, but don't try to bring the rest of us down with you. This will probably be marked for trolling but the truth is the people who are complaining about 4.0 haven't played it yet and have only seen a sample of what it will have to offer and already are complaining. Change is often hard to accept, fortunately if they don't like it they still have their beloved 3.X(or AD&D even...). I just don't see the need to try to ruin it for the rest of us who actually are excited for/curious about it.
  • Well actually... (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 04, 2008 @05:18PM (#22297764)

    Are you -crazy-? Paladins are probably the most powerful class in DnD! Oft ridiculed for being the choice of people wanting to play "easymode", both RP and combat-wise

    Uh... I hate to tell you this, but paladins *are* one of the weakest classes, statistically. While you're right that they're very easy mechanically to play, there's just no end-game benefit to them.

    The druid and cleric are by far the best classes in the game, combining strong melee with decent to strong spellcasting. But let us examine the paladin in detail:

    Full base attack bonus, great saves, large hit die. Sounds fantastic. Throw in some limited healing and smite evil, and it sounds pretty great. But, lets take it level by level.

    For the first 4-5 levels, you're a below fighter, though above most casting classes, as martial classes are strong in this range. Sure, you have great saves and some limited healing, but needing to split your stats to have strong cha and wis too means that your con will be lower than the fighter's, so your healing just makes up for lower hp. Furthermore, at that level, adding your level to damage once a day isn't that great, as in DnD you are supposed to have 4 encounters per day. The fighter, meanwhile, is getting his way up to power attack, cleave, weapon focus, and weapon specialisation in this range. that's +4 to damage (if he power attacks with his 1 point of weapon focus) on *every attack*, which is what the paladin gets to add once. Sure, the paladin is slightly more accurate on that one hit, adding his cha to attack, but that just doesn't stack up.

    Move on from there to the sweet spot, level 6-13. At this point, the casters start coming into their own. The clerics are getting their protections from evil, their searing lights, and all that jazz. The druids are getting into wild shape, turning into something that can beat you in a straight fight, while still having spellcasting on their side. The sorcerer is getting fireball. At this point, the fighter is probably hunting a prestige class, but is not yet feeling the hurt of the martial character. If he multiclasses well, he can keep par in power with the casters. Not so for the paladin. Sure, his smite is up to doing a decent amount of damage. Hey, he can even use it almost once per encounter. His healing is starting to get useful, but the cleric pretty much has that covered. More and more, he's hurting for feats as the fighter's build is nearing completion, and he still has just 3-4 feats to his name, leaving him to power attack with a greatsword, at best, for an average of maybe 15 damage or so (7 from the weapon, 4 from strength, 4 from a decent power attack), and probably 33 smiting (8 more from power attack, he's going to throw the cha in there, and another 10 from level), something that the wizard at this point can reliable get out of scorching ray, a second level spell. The fighter isn't doing much better, but at least with his huge number of feats, he's probably doing something cool. Leap attacks, maybe, which increases his power attack multiplier to x3, letting him do a lot more damage for the effort.

    Then, you leave the sweet spot. The casters are so far beyond the melee characters that most of them feel useless, except occasionally the fighter, who may have found the right prestige classes to be exquisitely optimized into some sort of godless killing machine. Not so for the paladin, who would need to spare one of his precious few feats to multiclass, and even still, it'd kill his two big class features. His smite looks less and less relevant with each passing level as the monsters get exponentially tougher, gaining 10-20 hit points for each 1 extra damage he can do. That healing of his is starting to make him harder to kill than the fighter, but he can't back it up enough damage for it to ever really come up.

    Over all, the paladin is crippled by having his special abilities have the per day usage issues of high-end spellcasting, but at a power level that puts it below or on

  • Re:Rules Come & Go (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Valdrax ( 32670 ) on Monday February 04, 2008 @05:20PM (#22297826)

    I've often pondered why no one has made a software program that could DM once certain parameters were established. It seems AI in gaming has advanced to the point where this is at least feasible. Of course it wouldn't be anything as great as a competent human DM, but for those of us outside large urban centers it would of been a god send.
    To DM *well,* it would have to pass the Turing test. The hard part of being a DM is breathing life into your NPCs and your worlds.

    (Also, try out Planescape: Torment if you can find it.)
  • by Jugalator ( 259273 ) on Monday February 04, 2008 @05:22PM (#22297864) Journal

    ... who feels like they may have simplified the most interesting parts clear out of the game, filled the gaps liberally with WoW, and ended up with a game that, admittedly, has a much lower barrier to entry but is also not particularly interesting?
    That is what I felt began with D&D 3e, but unlike this time, I felt that sort of change was needed. D&D 3e ended up pretty nicely IMO, and 3.5 touching up some of the problems and adding minor improvements to some other things. It started feeling quite mature. Then this arrived. :-S No, I can't say I'm sitting on nails with my expectations up.
  • by Darfeld ( 1147131 ) on Monday February 04, 2008 @05:23PM (#22297896)
    Isn't Role Playing the whole point of role playing games? who cares the rules are complex enough to role a dice for eating an egg? you won't remember to eat anyway...

    D&D have always been more like a dice game anyway...
  • by BDZ ( 632292 ) <rich&fourducks,com> on Monday February 04, 2008 @05:29PM (#22297984)

    The price does sound pretty high for what sounds like basically a pair of ads for the upcoming new core books.

    Will the contents of these two books be worth much once the core books are out and I pay good money for them as well? (If I do that is...The system sounds a lot like a CRPG. Don't get me wrong; I play and enjoy's just not what I'm seeking in a table top game.)

    Personally, I'm going to wait until the first scans hit usenet and check them thoroughly before laying down my pair of twenties.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 04, 2008 @05:44PM (#22298240)
    What they really need to do is get rid of that stupid 20 sided die of pure chaos. Go to something like 3d6 for anything that d20 would be used. I and several of my friends quit D&D because of the absurdity of a single random fight with an archlich which we spent 5 sessions building up to. We run up and everyone hits it and both the fighter and the ranger roll their threat range and do double damage, so we kill it in a single round. After all the planning on both our side and the DMs side it turns out to be nothing. So the DM laughs and says "So I see you have killed my doppelganger..." which everyone knew was a joke and we fight it again. This time the DM makes things a little tougher and then the stupid fighter can't hit for 4 random rounds in a row. The lich ends up killing the entire party almost on accident. Afterwards we all just gave up on any game that uses d20, it is just too hard to plan a good fight when every single thing is so purely unpredictable.
  • by apexdawn ( 915478 ) on Monday February 04, 2008 @06:02PM (#22298528)
    Instead of Gnolls just being Orcs with Hyena masks on, they'll now apparently fight with pack tactics and cowardly tricks. Giving flavour to the opposition seems to be the basic idea: off-the-rack encounters will no longer feel so rote.

    Do your monsters just stand there while adventurers come by with a wagon to take their stuff? If that's the case then you fail as a GM.

    Tip: Doing some research on monsters you add to a campaign will give you a better idea about how to use them in fights. Even then there is nothing wrong with monsters using guerilla tactics and *gasp* cowardly tricks. There is also nothing wrong with your adventurers parlaying as opposed to fighting to avoid encounters.

    It's called an imagination, use it.

  • by eclectic_hermit ( 1232884 ) on Monday February 04, 2008 @06:09PM (#22298648)

    Here are my concerns with 4e:

    1. WotC has not responded to the "Ask the developers questions" that have been posted for over a month.... Not a single question.

    2. WotC claims to still be playtesting and running into some major issues (War-Forged Palidins are nigh invincable). However, they are preparing to mass produce the books in order to ready for launch in June.

    ....a. After the 3edition vs. 3.5 edition issues, I will wait for the "Service Pack 2" (read 4.5) update... ; )

    3. WotC wants ~$14.00 subsciption fee to continue to get online updates and erratas.

    ...a. It will also allow for "virtual tabletop" but from what I have seen, there are open source "virtual tabletop" systems that CURRENTLY offer more flexability... and are FREE!!!


    4. 4e will introduce "level specific" items. The playtesting reports indicate that at 11th level, a NON-combative character (wizard) is ASSUMED to have +5 bonus to thier armour class....

    5. You have to be 11th level BEFORE you can use a ring!!!! You need to be level 21 before you can use a second ring

    6. WotC seems to be creating a "digital devide".... The virtual tabletop will contain/replace miniatures... But they want us to buy miniatures as well. To my knowledge, these are mutually exclusive in the 4e gaming environment.

    7. Supposedly, WotC will be releasing a NEW Dungeon Master Guide and Players Handbook ONCE A YEAR!!! (however, maybe these will elminiate the need for online errata's???? Not a good deal either way, IMHO)

    8. If this is a preview, why do we have to pay for it??? And, to the author, how is that "valuable"?

    9. Now we need a new tag for "Hack and Slash-vertisement"

    P.S. Please don't use the Gandalf quote of "There are many magic rings in this world, Bilbo Baggins, and none of them should be used lightly." to justify the level dependent rings... unless Bilbo was 11th level or higher at the time. ; )

  • by MightyMartian ( 840721 ) on Monday February 04, 2008 @06:22PM (#22298884) Journal
    You've pretty much hit it on the head. The people I've played with who come out of the D&D tradition tended to be some of the biggest rule mongers around. They're mechanic-addicts who aren't really all that interested in roleplaying per se as they are in a sort of dice-based meta-gambling experience.

    I've gone completely rules-light. My PBEM is based on Palladium's Rifts environment (now there's a rule-heavy *and* rule inconsistent gaming system, what a fucking nightmare), but I use it pretty much as a backdrop. The horrible combat system has been boiled down almost beyond recognition, and the character stats are largely there to help the players define their characters.

    The best roleplaying experience I ever had was when I was sixteen years old and we were playing Twilight 2000, and, for whatever reason, we dispensed with most of the rules. The GM just sort of winged it, and it was infinitely more exciting and liberating than sitting there going through tables and calculating damage and so forth.
  • by crashfrog ( 126007 ) <[crashfrog] [at] []> on Monday February 04, 2008 @06:28PM (#22298960) Homepage
    Some of it for me is certainly in resource management, which from the rest of your post is something I can tell you don't particularly enjoy.

    I like it just fine right up to the point where it ends the adventure for everybody else at the table. They're certainly not getting rid of resources, by any means; if you haven't already you should play with the Book of the Nine Swords material to get a sense of what it's going to be like. That sense of managing resources and preparing abilities is still there, but my swordsage doesn't have to guess what he's going to need for a whole day's worth of adventuring - and he's not in desperate need of 8 hours of rest after only four battles - but he still has resources he needs to manage, and the choice to prepare one maneuver means that another can't be used when it really would have mattered.

    I really like the variety of having some characters in a group that are on a fairly even keel of power where others have only a few moments of greatness throughout a day (often, many fights) that they have to carefully hoard and marshal at appropriate times.

    If you're the second guy, though, you may not understand how the first guy feels. Maybe he's not as excited by the idea of doing nothing more than hitting with his 1d12 greataxe every round while everybody at the table cheers when the wizard picks up ten d6's for fireball damage. Sure, monopolizing the show-off power is good if you're the guy who gets to have it, but there's 2-4 other people at the table, and they'd like a chance to show off once in a while, too. "Ol' reliable greataxe damage" isn't much fun when the wizard is bending reality to his very whim, as much fun as that is for you.

    Nonetheless, if you want to play a character with reliable, constant power, I don't think that's going anywhere.

    I like that there are a ton of feats and spells and things in the game that are combat-important but don't deal damage, such as sleep or entangle.

    Not going anywhere, and they're adding mechanisms for non-combat encounters, like social encounters. So I don't think you have anything to fear, there.

    I like that you can play a wide variety of characters that all feel/play really different.

    I can't imagine that's going anywhere, either. Book of the Nine Swords gets maligned sometimes as "spells for fighters" but that's really not at all what it's about; ultimately, there's not much difference from the martial maneuvers in B9S and using a feat like Whirlwind Strike.

    This isn't meant to be an exhaustive list, but everything I know so far about 4E suggests that some of these things are going outright and others are being diminished in importance severely, and that we're moving more to a game where everyone's got a bunch of 'once per encounter' abilities, and every fight of their career involves every character firing off their toughest ones in succession.

    I just don't get that sense. It certainly isn't that way in 3e now, wizards don't blow their toughest spells one after another in the same order for the day's encounters, and it certainly doesn't work that way in B9S, where you really have to set yourself or the situation up to get the best use out of your per-encounter power or you've wasted it. And there's still a daily-use power system, too; it's just not that every power is per-day. In 3e running out of per-day powers, like spells, is the end of the delve. Period. In 4e it sounds like running out of per-day powers doesn't leave you so powerless.

    Things like: pushing more to an 'everyone does damage' model vs. non-damaging malediction/battlefield control, or designing classes more along the MMORPG 'holy trinity' of tank/healing/DPS.

    The healing/tank/DPS was already in Dungeons and Dragons, though; that's why it's in so many fantasy video games. And honestly, tanking and DPS'ing are fun, and they should be in the game just like they've always been. Healing isn't much fun at the table-top, and the
  • Now I can go and spend money on prerelease books, before I go out and spend money on the real rulebooks when they're released? This is a new low.
  • by MightyMartian ( 840721 ) on Monday February 04, 2008 @07:54PM (#22300180) Journal
    A lot of this also depends on what kind of gamer you are. A lot of gamers, and in particular GMs/DMs, like the comfort of a rule-heavy game. It's a sort of cushion. Everyone has this common, concrete language that describes a lot of the minutia of their interactions with the environment and each other. It's also a sort of legalism which can protect players from GMs that get too abusive.

    Other players want a more free-form, story-teller type approach, and for these, a light ruleset with a system that is in some ways inherently less random is in order, as the GM and players will do a lot of the skill tests and such within the game itself, restricting meta-rules to a minimum. These systems are also characterized by a larger number of dice, like 3D6, or in the case of Fudge, dice that give only three results per die. This eliminates a lot of the wild results from "He doesn't hit anybody" to "He kills all fifteen orcs with a single combat move".

    I've played Fudge, which is even more distilled than Gurps, and providing you don't mind some of the safety net taken away, it's quite a fun set of rules. What's really required is a GM who is willing to do the extra mental work that tons of dice rolls and damage and other result tables can give.

    Personally I can't stand "crunchy" systems any more. Spending ten minutes figuring out how a basic combat scene gets sorted out is just crazy to me.
  • by Torvaun ( 1040898 ) on Monday February 04, 2008 @07:57PM (#22300218)
    Use a different kind of trap. Use time delayed traps like the room slowly filling with water. Use traps to give a sense of urgency to an encounter, rather than to pick away at the party's hit points. Use tripwires to alert encamped monsters, so that a group that sneakily bypasses them gets to feel superior as they slaughter the sleeping foes, and a group that sets them off gets a halfway decent fight. If you are going to use traps of the 'not fun' variety, make sure the party knows about them ahead of time (in a general sense, like there's a minefield up ahead, not a map showing every mine). Let them go around the minefield, and attack from behind, driving their enemies through their own carefully laid traps. Just don't go all Indiana Jones on them, even in movie format they skipped over a lot of it, and it's even worse to play through it.
  • Re:tl;dr (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ChaosDiscord ( 4913 ) * on Monday February 04, 2008 @08:28PM (#22300604) Homepage Journal

    Because you're ROLE-PLAYING.

    The default assumption of D&D is that I'm a fantasy hero, going forth to stop the forces of darkness, mostly by killing them. I want to role-play such a hero, fending back hordes of monsters. When I stand with my fellow party members, I want to be one of equals, not the spearcarrier. Paladins are supposed to be powerful holy warriors, different, but equal to warriors and clerics. If the game doesn't support that premise you've got a problem.

"Let every man teach his son, teach his daughter, that labor is honorable." -- Robert G. Ingersoll