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Dungeons & Dragons: 4th edition review

Over at Enworld, I posted a quick review of the 4th edition D&D Player's Handbook.  I wanted to put that here, as my "stake in the ground" about my feeling regarding 4th edition Dungeons and Dragons.  Here's my review.

The Player's Handbook is much better organized than the 3.5 edition book.  Everything makes sense.  Gameplay is better (as in, I can see how you could hustle it along with fewer pauses to consult the rules).  Having said that, wizards, warlocks, and even clerics are booooooorrrring. Fewer spells, and at least for clerics, their role as healer is much less interesting considering that everyone has healing surges (and yes, I did read that a cleric can trigger healing surges even after the other players hit their cap – I'm not suggesting that clerics are useless, merely that they no longer feel as special or interesting as before).

Now, playing a 4th edition elven ranger... that sounds interesting.  The class gets many combat & movement abilities.  Or maybe even an eladrin ranger, so you get teleportation abilities (at first level!) so you can hop all over the battlefield and wreak havoc.  The stat bonuses for eladrin & ranger don't quite align, so it's not an optimal build, but it is interesting.

In fact, most warrior classes are awesome, with tons of abilities that rival the spells of spellcasters (I don't mean to imply that a fighter does magical stuff, but his martial attacks vary widely and have many different combat effects).  I wouldn't be surprised to see groups consisting of 1 paladin, 1 ranger, 1 cleric, and 1 rogue as the norm now.

Overall, I can tell that playing D&D 4th edition will do just what WotC hoped – keep gameplay moving (although you're still juggling a hell of a lot of stuff, some of it newly added).  I think it also accomplishes some of the other criticisms that have been lobbed at it – it does appear to cater to newbies, and it does appear to be modeled after computer games like WoW.  Some 4th edition apologists might chafe against such accusations, although I suspect the authors of the 4th edition will think, "Exactly what we wanted, tell your friends!"  Whatever the case, that's the impression I get when I read things like "The roles embodied by the [characters] are controller, defender, leader, and striker."

I find such breakdowns to be uninteresting and too MMORPG-ish.  Oh well.

In comparing with 3.5 edition, well, I have to say that playing a cleric or sorcerer in 3.5 with the Spell Compendium or PHB 2 still seems to have a near-magnetic pull on me. I can admire 4th edition as having done what was needed, and I can praise it as being "better than my terribly low expectations."  I can't call it compelling, though.  I'll buy it, but mostly because it's good enough that people will use it and I'll want to join those games.  Contrast that with D&D 3.5 – I was so hung up on creating great builds (or finding a new nuance of a character or trying a new spell) that I seriously would have bought & played the game even if I was the only person on earth doing it.  In fact, I did do a few solo adventures and "what if" character builds simply because 3.5 was so interesting to me.

4th edition is "good." 3.5 edition is "flawed but damn interesting."

Just my opinion.

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Comments (21)
Mikey writes:

Well I put the $150 on the table today for it. And on a first read through I hated it. There's stuff in there I do like, don't get me wrong, but it's such a big change it makes backwards compatibility to my many hundreds of books/modules of the other eds next to impossible. Multi classing is adios, as are key races. Druids/Monks gone - but will come back in some exciting accessory I have to purchase no doubt. Warlord whose main job is to boost the other characters? Yawn, they're basically a battery - that's it. Actual leadership in every game I have ever been devolves to loose anarchy and they built a class around the idea there's a charles in charge at the table.

The whole thing shits me. To me it's not about improving a hobby it's a business improvement initiative designed to move new product. That's it.

I get they're a business and they need to refresh the brand. But this is just nasty.


Tony writes:

Mikey,

Yeah, I agree. Druids & monks aren't the only things missing. Barbarians, bards, and sorcerers are gone too (although I don't know if sorcerers will ever come back). I'm told they all reappear in next year's PHB 2. I'm also told there will be a PHB 3 and PHB 4, one each year. I'm not sure I like that.

Also, lots of mind-affecting spells are gone. I've heard that psionics will become a bigger part of the core rules, so all the mind-affecting spells will reappear for PHB 2.

In the end, readers might want to consider d20srd.org, which is a free way to continue playing D&D 3.5. Or perhaps consider Pathfinder, which is a new D&D 3.6 ruleset due out in August. It keeps (mostly) compatibility with all your old books.


Paul writes:

I am going to agree with everything on here. No one is being too over critical of this, but it doesn't feel like the D&D I've been playing for years, and is a lot more like the World of Warcraft I have only been playing a year. However I think that is a good thing. I am more outraged as a player that pretty much my favorite classes have been left out on this edition and that I have to wait a year or more depending on when Wizards plans to release the Druids and Sorcerers (or as Tony pointed out at all) I'm just mad because this was really exciting to have a the new edition come out and now I get classes missing and these WoW rejects instead. I hope that they don't actually wait complete calendar years to release the PH2, DM2, MM2, etc. because I don't want to play till I have the class I want. The things I like about D&D 4th edition slightly out weight my dislikes, but I'm in no hurry to get my own set of books.


Nominrath writes:

4e is basically D&D in MMORPGer form. This is both good and bad. It's bad because now instead of everybody being able to play a character that they like, they'll feel obligated to fulfill a certain role in a group. (Like trolling for Tanks when going on a raid...) The way the classes are constructed, it creates a very heavy combat-mindset, which defeats the purpose of tabletop RPGing. The skills system is great. I've always hated RPG-accountants, those who worry about every little point and where it goes. These are the players that hold up the game. It does cut down on character customization a bit, but for the sake of streamlined gameplay, I applaud it. Feats are left mostly unaltered. The basic combat system remains largely unchanged with small tweaks here and there and new terms describing old things. The exclusion of the Monk, Barbarian, etc. and the 'teaser' in the class section says to me 'GET READY TO SPEND MORE MONEY'. I hate this. Business or not, basics does not mean barebones. At $30-$40 a pop, D&D as a hobby gets expensive... fast.
On the plus side, the game is easy to use, streamlined and (great for DMs) easy to teach.

My conclusion though is that the mechanics of the game are too WoW-ish. The emphasis is almost entirely on combat and even though it is up to the DM to create an impelling story and campaign setting, it doesn't really offer anything to work off. Any new DMs picking this up are going to copy what they know and that's WoW. I can see the marquee now, "It's raid time..." All I have to say to this is, if I wanted to play WoW, I would play WoW. And for those who say, "But WoW has a story..." No. It doesn't. Going around and killing wolves and murlocs all the time in exchange for gold and goofy items isn't a story. Warcraft had a story... WoW simply takes place in Warcraft's setting.

(I apologize for the excessive WoW bashing...)


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