This is Joshua Wehner's archaic Blog

Geeking out (part 1)

Magical d20 by kirk lau

So, there's a new version of Dungeons & Dragons out, just released a few weeks ago. I got the new 4th Edition D&D books this week, and I'm reading them at a rapid pace. I'm trying to keep track of things that have changed between editions, and it's not always as easy as it sounds. Some things are new, some have moved, others have been renamed, others are just gone. I know, there was a "preview" book put out by Wizards of the Coast a few months back, but I don't think it went into sufficiently gory detail.

Here's what I've put together for the player's handbook so far:

Races & Powers
  • Gnomes and half-orcs are gone; Dragonborn (beefy humanoid dragon-ish people) and Eladrin (high-falutin' elves) are in.
  • 3rd edition races advantages and disadvantages tended to balance out, 4th edition races generally give a net bonus.
  • In 4th edition, every level of every class offers you a choice of "powers" (aka spells, tricks, maneuvers, prayers, and so on.) In general, everyone gets the same number of powers at each level, but the range of choices to each class at each level differs. Some character races offer their own additional powers.
  • Powers are classified as either "at-will" (any time you want, all day long), "per encounter" (needs a 5 minute rest to re-charge), "daily" (needs a 6 hour rest) or "utility" (typically encounter or daily, but separated for character creation purposes).
  • Instead of 3rd edition's "tables everywhere" layout, where each class has it's own confusing table, 4th edition has one big table that applies to every character.
  • No more Sorceror (good riddance), the new Warlocks are an interesting potential replacement, but they are a more combat-focused class. At any rate, those who liked playing Sorcerors in the past will probably be happy with the Wizard now.
  • No more Bard, for better or worse. Several "bard-like" traits are available from other classes, but you may want to multi-class to recreate the exact mix you like best.
  • No Barbarian or Druid (and none of the other classes do a very good job replicating either), but there's a theory floating around that they'll be sold in a future product.
  • I could see the new Fighter feeling very different for some players. (Not bad, just different.) Previously, you could build a variety of different characters from this one class. The Fighter now has a more explicit role ("hold the line"); players who went the two-weapon route before should look at the Ranger, others might like the "brutal Rogue" options.
  • Fighters, Paladins and some monsters have a poorly defined ability to mark one or more of their opponents. A mark basically says "deal with me or else!" Marked opponents have -2 on attacks that don't include the marker. There may be additional effects, that vary by class and power selection.
  • Rogue's still have sneak attack bonus damage (but it's much more widely applicable), and the bonus runs on a separate track that goes up automatically with your level.
  • Wizards don't have familiars anymore.
  • Wizards get to know additional daily powers, but have to prepare a sub-set at the start of the day. Also, their spells are now standard attacks, meaning that Magic Missile can now miss.
  • Magic-using classes now have weapons – sorry, "implements" – staffs, wands, rods, etc. In 3rd edition, a wand was a disposable spell gun, in 4th edition, it adds a bonus to your attack roll with a certain class of spells.
Feats and Skills
  • I haven't kept track of all of them, but many 3rd edition feats, like Trip and Cleave, for example, are now class powers.
  • Multi-classing is now done with feats. Each class has an intro feat, that lets you gain a specific power from the class in question, and there are generic "power swap" feats, for additional powers. Around level 11, you get additional options, depending on which of these feats you've taken. In general, it's a lot harder to make "half this and half that" characters now, but "this, plus a wee bit of that" is now a lot easier, less likely to suck at everything.
  • Two Weapon Fighting is quite a bit different. With the exception of some Ranger class powers, characters in 4th edition have just one attack each round. You are explicitly allowed to hold an additional, light weapon in your off-hand, but you don't typically gain anything from this.
  • Skills are now much simplified and consolidated. There are no "skill ranks" — you automatically get half your level + the revelant ability + 5 if you chose the skill at first level.
  • Most "programmed" skill-based combat maneuvers (tumbling through an opponent's space, using bluff to feint, etc.) are now class powers. (But see how the new Dungeon Master's Guide for improvising combat maneuvers using skills.)
  • The Player's Handbook now includes magic items and all the character creation options. (In 3rd edition, the Dungeon Master's Guide had all the non-mundane equipment and all the prestige classes — which were an optional but common focus of character creation, especially at higher levels.) If you don't think you'll DM, you can safely buy just the player's book, and save money on the other two.
  • 4th edition weapon proficiency is new and different: any character can use any kind of weapon, but class-granted proficiency allows you to add a "proficiency bonus", which is different for each weapon (though it tends to follow a pattern).
  • Magic weapons now "scale" with character level: a weapon that grants a +1 bonus at 2nd level might give a +2 by level 7. Similar things happen with armor. Magic shields typically don't offer armor bonuses, but various other defensive buffs, like damage resistance.
Combat Action
  • Your turn in combat now has three "phases": take on-going damage at the start, take actions, make saves against on-going effects.
  • There are now four kinds of combat actions: standard (attacks), move, minor (draw a weapon) and free (talk). You typically get 1 standard, 1 move and 1 minor action, but you can convert down (standard > move > minor). There are no full round actions.
  • There's now just one Armor Class score (no more flat-footed, touch, etc.) However, Fort, Reflex and Will are now defenses. A "save" in 4th edition is just a simple "beat 10" roll, against most on-going effects (paralysis, poison damage, etc.) Different powers target different defenses. In play, this means calling out which defense you're targeting along with the to-hit roll ("18 versus AC", "21 against his Will", etc.)
  • The core game now has Action Points, but they work differently. Once per encounter, you can spend a point to get a bonus standard, move or minor action. You gain a new action point every two fights without sleeping. When you sleep, you are reset to 1. (3rd edition action points, in Eberron anyway, gave you bonus dice on a d20 roll.)
  • A natural 20 is an automatic hit. If the roll + bonuses would hit the target's defense, it's a critical hit. Instead of doubling the damage, 4th edition critical hits deal the maximum damage. Some weapons and powers offer additional effects on a critical hit. Note that all attacks can now critical (including spells!)
  • Charge works similarly, but is described awkwardly, so it seems more different than it is. Charge is now a standard action that bundles a move and an attack. Effectively, this means you still move twice and attack. This bonus for charging is a smaller now.
  • Grapple, now called "grab", is hugely less complicated, and should have a higher success rate for most characters.
  • "5 foot step" is now a move action called shift. The re-definition allows for powers to affect shifting (with less clunky writing) — for example, a power might grant you a longer shift, or stop another character from shifting away from you.

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