June 2008 Archives

D&D 4th Edition - Initial Impressions

I finally got my hands on my set of Core Rulebooks for the new 4th Edition of Dungeons and Dragons...and while I hope to put together a more in-depth review, unfortunately I don't have any actively gaming friends right now.  The old group wandered off, and don't seem too interested in joining another game, though perhaps the new rules might entice them to at least try it out.  Maybe once I get some table-time under me, I'll be able to post a more in-depth review.

The first thing that strikes me is, quite simply, the vast number of changes in game mechanics and rules.  This is nothing like the switch from 2nd Edition to 3rd Edition.  This is like picking up an entirely new game entirely.  While there were definitely some major changes between 2E and 3E (most notably the noble death of THAC0), the core feel of the game was pretty consistent...wizards memorized spells, clerics were healers, etc.  Many of these core concepts are completely wiped away and re-imagined in the new 4E world.  I can't yet say whether these changes are "good" or "bad" - but they're definitely interesting.

A few of the more notable changes:

  • No more multi-classing.  One class, multiple development paths - there are now "phases" to a character's development, similar to Prestige Classes in 3E, but every character chooses a "Paragon Path" upon reaching L10, and then an Elite path upon reaching L20.  I have no doubt that there are going to be some minor revolts and house rules built around this - I kind of liked the idea of mult-classed characters...but the Paragon paths give a little bit of flexibility in the definitions of the classes, so perhaps they will fit that role as characters advance.
  • Feats and Spells have been somewhat replaced by "Powers" - each character class has a set of "Daily Powers" or "Encounter Powers" that they can use once per day, or once per encounter (respectively).  This includes what were previously automatic effects (such as Cleave or Great Cleave) as well as spells (Burning Hands, Bigby's Grasping Hand, etc).  Characters gain new powers as they move forward, and are given the ability to "replace" powers at each level, which makes character development a little bit less stringent, and allows players more ability to build the character they want, rather than be tied to previous choices.
  • "Checks" have replaced almost every dice roll that had previously been defined by any number of rules.  The rules for "Checks" apply across the board - to attack, save, and skill rolls equally.  The rules behind Checks are pretty simple: roll 1d20, add 1/2 your character's level (rounded down), then add any bonuses or subtract any penalties.  Compare that roll to the opposing roll, DC, or AC, and you've got your result.  I have to say, I'm intrigued by this particular dynamic - it's nice that as characters advance, all of their abilities increase accordingly.
  • Overall Feel - They've replaced the Forgotten Realms as the core "world" for the books, and instead describe things much more generically, allowing for a lot more flexibility in a DM's implementation of the rules.  And, having not ever really been a real in-depth fan of FR, I have to say for the most part I like it.  However, it also leaves a lot of room for questions from DMs new to the system.  I'm not yet sure which way this one cuts.

Overall, I think it's a really interesting revision to the system - and I think it's about time that D&D cut ties with some of the less-fun and more time-intensive rules.  They've made some huge strides toward streamlining the experience...but as the system becomes more basic, it also seems to lean more toward a video-game type approach, rather than a table-top RPG approach.  It definitely reintroduces the game to a new audience - and if nothing else, that's definitely a good thing!

Hopefully I'll get some table-time sometime soon, and we'll see how things turn out.