- [Just Crunch Games] The Cthulhu Hack: The Dark Brood
- [DramaScape] Golf Course
- Brett M Bernstein Interview
- Preparing For Dragonmeet
- [Fainting Goat Games] Space Supers #3: Starburst Sentinels [ICONS]
- [D101 Games] Cyber Monday Sale
- [Ennead Games] Quick Generator: Creature Concept 2
- Scott A Woodard Interview
- Ken Rolston at The Kraken
- Rick Meints at The Kraken
Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition
Earlier this week, UKRolePlayers was invited to send a delegate to Esdevium to have a look at, talk about and even play Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition (D&D4e or just 4e). Accordingly, Halfbat was dispatched to the middle of a field in Alton (so said Google, anyway). This is what he found…
(Skip this section if you’re not interested where Halfbat’s coming from, or already know!)
As many of you know, my RPG experience, both playing and GM-ing, goes back a loooong way; to the original brown-book, Chainmail-based D&D, shortly after it was released (mid-70’s if you must have a date). And then the three original supplements culminating in Eldritch Wizardry. Voyages into Traveller followed, a brief excursion into Chivalry & Sorcery and Tunnels & Trolls and finally, RuneQuest as soon as it was launched When Advanced D&D was brought out we tried that for a while, too.
AD&D was a great improvement over the original but I, and those with whom I played, disliked the tight control and lack of cross-class skills. If your thief was dead, you were stuffed for everything sneakyâ€¦ So we majored on RuneQuest, with its broad approach to character development, dipping back into the other old-school games form time to time. And, as you may know, the publisher with whom I am associated, Sceaptune Games, is still heavily into RuneQuest.
So when D&D 3/3.5 was released it was like a breath of fresh air â€“ variable skills, a simpler approach, and I even registered as a DM to run a fair few games (Living campaigns and others). The d20 license was useful, too, spinning off a bundle of other 3/3.5 games that were probably superior to straight D&D. But it was still bogged down. Star Wars Saga Edition took the d20 engine into a new direction, simplifying the annoying aspects of the game but also giving characters more options.
And for cynics, Esdevium may well be the marketing arm for Wizards in the UK, but they also gave us all completely free reign to write what we wanted (Morrus couldn’t make it at the last moment, so it was just Chris Bayliss, Steve Bayliss and me plus some Esdevium testers).
There have been a few comments about D&D4e. Those who’ve heard presentations on 4e, like myself, may well have gained the impression that it’s World of Warcrack in tabletop form. Others may well have got the impression that with the new, online facilities it’s just another MMO. So let’s clear up those from start: it isn’t an MMO, but is a tabletop RPG. And a fun one at that.
Sure, it’s learnt things from MMOs. Wisely, the game builders have picked up some of the MMO innovations and rolled them into D&D, so you now get natural abilities and â€˜per encounter’ abilities that really rock. These are recharged after a short rest, which is now formalised. And healing is vastly improved, with Hit Points being a general level of exhaustion and weariness, able to be recovered several times a day. The increased Hit Points also means that first-level characters are all viable.
These changes mean that, like an MMO, you can keep going after a short recuperation. If you have a cleric in the party, he can even help your character use more of his natural recovery abilities, allowing you to keep going for longer in combat. The overhaul of healing after an encounter allows a succession of encounters â€“ similar to MMOs â€“ before that game-freezing overnight rest is called for. And generic roles, also coming from the MMO world are acknowledged, too with each class being guided (but not fixed) to a particular role.
But 4e is still D&D, and we had a game. In a format many D&Ders would find completely familiar. Whilst I was disappointed to not see the full rules but merely a digest for that scenario, I have to say that what we did have works excellently on the table top and, for D&D players, offers a wonderful set of character options that will have them drooling in their rulebooks.
The core engine(s)
These have been cleaned up spectacularly. If you’ve played Star Wars Saga Edition (SWSE) you’ll get some idea of how things run.
The d20 mechanic and the modifiers are more robust, with modifiers looking like the straightforward SWSE â€˜-2/-5/-10′ progression. A fairly fixed Armour Class still exists, reflecting what a character is wearing, but the three saves are now fixed â€˜defenses’, recalculated at each level â€“ Reflex, Fortitude and Will. It may seem like semantics, but it isn’t as some attacks work directly on these Defenses with no need for an extra saving roll.
And that’s part of the tidying up. I think there was much less d20 dice rolling, except when area attacks were involved. We still have damage dice, Melee attacks and Ranged attacks. We still have spells (more later), and resting overnight is still very useful.
Actions are now formalised into either a Fullturn action or a simple hierarchy of standard, move and minor action. Both standard and move action can be demoted to a lower action. Standard lets you attack, cast a spell, recover and minor allows you to do those small, fiddly things.
Areas and movement has changed. To move costs 1 movement point per square, in any direction. Area attacks are either a square or a rectangle. And that’s it. Simulationists will cringe, no doubt, but it really makes things easier to keep track of.
Oh, and that annoying, free, 5′ step has now disappeared. Yippee.
Though some of the (expensive) pre-release books may already have stated it, I’ll summarise the core Classes and Races.
Core classes are Fighter, Ranger, Cleric, Rogue, Wizard, Warlock, Warlord and Paladin.
Paladins are now merely â€˜holy warriors’, able to be any alignment providing they are tied to a particular god. Fighters and Paladins are tough tanks that opponents cannot ignore (with rules to encourage it). Rangers and Warlocks are excellent long-range attackers.
Every class has â€˜powers’, grouped into: At-Will, used whenever by expending the relevant action; Encounter, able to be used once per Encounter (up to a Short Rest), after which they are recharged; and Daily Powers, which can be used, well, once per day.
With this change as a background, the Wizard has been overhauled a lot. There is no spell book and components appear to have disappeared. He has an implement, normally a wand, which is required to cast some spells or to invoke some effects, but it’s not absolutely necessary. But he has a battery of powers to choose from, with those annoying 0-level spells now At-Will powers (Light, Mage Hand, etc). Though I did not see any improvement or levelling up table, which was a real disappointment on the day, the approach seems to be that he can pick from a range of powers at each level, with only his Daily Powers required to be picked at an Extended Rest (aka sleep).
This meant, though, that the Wizard was really useful in combat. He stood magic, flinging bolts of Magic Missile around at will, firing off other perencounter powers as well. He was tough, and could withstand a little punishment. In short, a 1st level Wizard became a real member of the party rather than a hanger-on.
I didn’t see a Warlord, but he’s apparently a leader and aid. Neither did I see a Rogue. Clerics are great at enabling multiple healings in combat through using a character’s own recuperative powers rather than their own â€“ a nice touch.
The classes seem to have separated out more cleanly and each seem to be more interesting and unique. Though the roles appear to be fairly strongly defined, they are all interesting to play, with none having to take a back seat in combat.
The eight core races are Human, Dwarf, Half-Elf, Tiefling, Dragon-born, Eladrin (a sort of High Elf), Elf and Halfling. Gone are Half-Orcs and Gnomes, relegated to the Monster Manual, though both can be used as Player Characters.
In addition to fixed bonuses, each of the races have their own powers. For example, once per encounter an Eladrin can take a short range â€˜Fey Step’ to teleport 5 spaces and a Halfling can gain a â€˜Second Chance’ to force an opponent to reroll their attack against him. Dwarves are generally tough.
Though the changes are fun and useful, I have a suspicion that they will tend to channel particular races even more towards particular classes. Some classes are certainly recommended for particular races, but only time can tell…
Other changes spotted
Levelling up is apparently now similar to SWSE, though â€˜Talents’ appear to have been replaced completely by â€˜Powers’. At every level a character gains a Power or a Feat, thus removing the old, annoying gaps in character progression. The levels of play have been banded: from 11-20 a character is apparently a â€˜Paragon’, well-known as a hero and the way mooks and monsters react to him changes; at 21+ a character is still â€˜Epic’ level but, again, the shift in emphasis apparently changes substantially.
Weapon proficiency is also different. Weapons give a variety of fixed bonuses to an attack if a character is proficient with them. During encounters, characters accumulate â€˜Action Points’ that can be used once per encounter to take an extra standard action â€“ useful for digging themselves out of a hole.
Saving throws to stop an effect from continuing to harm you is just a straight d20 roll: beat 10 and your character shrugs it off. Some racial modifiers and powers affect the result, depending on the attack. So effects do not have to be tracked â€“ they either continue for one round or stop when a character makes a save against them.
There are other minor changes, all of which just make the game a bit cleaner.
I like D&D4e. I really enjoyed the dungeon delve we went through. 4e doesn’t pretend to be an Indie game, it doesn’t pretend to be anything else other than D&D. BUT, it’s encouraged me from both a gamer and publisher perspective to run it, play it and design scenarios and products for it. It is a step above D&D3.5 whilst still being recognisably tabletop D&D. It’s smoother, easier and much more fun to play than D&D 3.5.
If you are a player generally against or disappointed by D&D, then there may be something in this version that could amend your opinion of it. It is still a pseudo-medieval fantasy RPG in its own world and it is still combat-biased; it still going to work best in the dungeon-and-encounter based environment. But the impression 4e gives is that it has accepted this, has picked up the good bits from other games, and has optimised the gameplay in such an environment to give a much more enjoyable game.
If you’re a rabid Indie fan, then this won’t change your mind: it is D&D. If you like D&D, you’ll like 4e even more. For the rest of us borderliners, though, this version of the rules offers a new, clean life to the game that may encourage us back into the fold.
It certainly will encourage me…