Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition – Part I

So, I’m now the proud owner of the 4th edition Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide and the Monster Manual. The books look really great. Almost sort of retro. Which is good, because they took the good stuff from the past and combined it with the quality from the present. Flipping trough the pages made me winch a couple of times, however… But, let’s not jump to conclusions yet.

I’m a critique, that much is sure. So, as I started to read the first chapter, I asked myself: “How would I have read this if I was a n00b?” It is really impossible to say how I would have read it, but I’ve tried to take an open approach to the new content of the Player’s Handbook. And, I must admit, there is not much wrong with chapters one and two. Sure, for a hardcore gamer there might be some points of discussion emerging already, but my first impressions satisfied my naive approach. They are really quite capable to excite me about the product. With short, comprehensive sentences, they lay out the basics of what a roleplaying game is and that really gets you in the mood. I wanted to play straight away.

Now, for the hardcore gamer, meaning memyselfandI, I have to major points of critique. One can be overcome, the other will probably stay with me until the end of the book. Let’s start with the point of critique that can be overcome. I’m curious if all other hardcore gamers feel the same way. Or, at least, a big part of them:

ALIGNMENT!

First of all, before I read the book, I had heard rumours that alignments would be out. So I was quite glad when I read that they were still there. But why only 5? Or 4 and a sort-off alignment? I do not really understand what this contributes to the playing experience. The alignments are: Lawful Good, Good, Unaligned, Evil and Chaotic Evil. Funny thing is, I can sort of imagine why they skipped the Chaotic Good part, as that can be pretty well incorporated into the Good alignment, which means something like perusing your own idea of the Good rather then aligning yourself with some lawful source. The main problem I’m having is with the missing Lawful Evil alignment, which is one of the coolest alignments out there. How can the Devils, or, as they are also known, the Baatezu, maintain their unique flavour when this alignment is missing? The Evil alignment incorporates the Lawful side of, what I am still calling, the Evil axis. But Baatezu are known for their really rigid kind of thinking when it comes to laws and promises. Seems to me that not being chaotic is not enough to guaranty such total devotion.

‘Unaligned’ means  that you drift between the other alignments without ever committing to one of them. Maybe for a short period, you do the Lawful Good stuff, but not because it is the Lawful Good stuff. In 3rd, neutrality was already somewhat watered down. But in second, it had a couple of consequences. For example, the Outlands, the ‘central’ outer plane, had an alignment of true neutrality as opposed to what almost seems like the Unaligned neutrality. True neutrality meaning, that for to every Good act you do, you also do an Evil act. That seems kind of important to keep as an alignment too.

But, okay. They made a decision to skip some of the options provided by earlier editions. I can understand that. Instead of nine alignments, we now have five. I’m wandering what this will do with som monsters, we’ll see that later on.

POWERS

And there we have it. Now, I must tell you, I haven’t skipped to the classes chapter yet, so this is still a bit of an early conclusion. You have, at your disposal, at 30th level, 2 At-will Powers, 4 Encounter Powers, 4 Daily Powers and 7 Utility Powers. At-will Powers can be used every round, if yo wish. Encounter Powers can be used once per encounter and then require a tiny bit of rest, Daily Powers return after 6 hours of rest and I don’t know enough about Utility Powers yet. I see a problem arising when playing a Wizard. Instead of an awesome array of spells, you now have 17 different abilities at 30th level that can’t be exchanged until you gain a level, at which point you are able to chance one of these powers. The whole dynamic of being a Wizard might as well have been thrown out of the door! You want to be able change spells every day, to best suit your needs. Now, we have to wait a level to be able to do something entirely different. This can’t be true!

One BIG pro: feats are still there and every character has 18 of these at level 30. Which means that  there is a lot of tweaking to be done. For Sure, a Fighter suddenly had much more options then ever before. He might be really cool to play now! 18 feats and 17 powers! Wow! But that doesn’t diminish the lack of variety we suddenly see with the wizard. Hopefully, the shadow which has descended upon the most versatile class ever, will be lifted once I’ve finished reading it all.

In total, this isn’t much of a conclusion yet. But I like it this way. I’m eager to know how the books might surprise me and so I’m not trying to think ahead to much. Hopefully, you’ll explore Dungeons and Dragons 4th edition with me. Let me know what you think!

23 responses to “Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition – Part I”

  1. blake says:

    I commented on the alignment thing, too.

    http://bitmaelstrom.blogspot.com/2008/06/and-i-suppose-theres-no-limbo-any-more.html

    I’m not throwing 4th ed out or anything, I just don’t know that you get much by eliminating half the alignments.

  2. admin says:

    I’ve read your post. You are spot on. The cosmology in 4th edition has changed again. In 3rd, there were already some strange things going on with plane positioning, but in 4th, the Nine Hells don’t even remotely resemble what they were in earlier products. Cosmology is now made up out of the Astral Sea and the Elemental Chaos.
    The Astral Sea holds some realms of good and evil gods alike, and the Nine hells and Mount Celestia are supposed to exist here. But they seem to float inside the Atsral Sea instead of being a ‘land’ beyond this sea. The Abyss can be found at the bottom of the Elemental Chaos, which bears no resemblance to what I’ve read about cosmology before. Demons come forth from the Abyss, Angels from Mount Celestia, Devils from the Nine Hells and Slaad… well, actually they seem to come from the Abyss as well. Which is, of course, stupid. Slaad come from Limbo and are creatures of pure chaos. Yet, now they have the Chaotic Evil alignment. The Githyanki still roam the (much altered) Astral Sea (Plane?) and the Githzerai now make their home in the elemental chaos, which is nothing like either Limbo or the old elemental planes, because it is all elements combined with some flat layer, which features a landscape more akin to some layers of the Nine Hells or the Abyss, on top.
    Goodbye really cool cosmology. Goodbye alignments. I don’t understand why they would want to change these features. Except for maybe Amber, I’ve never read a cooler cosmology then the 2nd edition D&D one.
    O, and Torment is the best computer game ever, of course 😀

  3. blake says:

    I skipped 2nd edition, but if it gave birth to Planescape, it was not without its contributions.

    The outer planes are really where D&D escapes its more mundane fantasy trappings, which means you can turn a kind of vanilla game on its ear just by tapping into that briefly.

    But, oh, well.

  4. I was researching for a blog on my website and I came across this and thought I would comment on something on which I haven’t seen too much discussion: OGL.

    Clearly, Hasbro has, with 4th Edition, chosen to completely bypass the creative force that led to the overwhelming success of 3rd Edition. The Open-Gaming License is, without a doubt in my mind, the finest contribution to our hobby since Mr. Gygax chose to add a new element of character interaction to his fantasy miniature battle game. By excluding this, Hasbro has sent a clear message: “We own D&D, you don’t.”

    Personally, I really wasn’t much of a fan of D&D until 3rd Edition. Although I liked a few of the settings (Dark Sun, Spelljammer, Planescape, and Oriental Adventures, come to mind), I though the system was too limited and I have always found most fantasy settings a little dull (heresy, I know, but my opinion nonetheless). However, 3rd Edition created a mutable, amorphous thing that could be played about with and fiddled with. It made creating unique and interesting settings possible by encouraging creativity. From the earliest musings of WotC prior to the point where Hasbro purchased them for rights to the Pokemon card game, it seemed that 4th Edition was going to be even more so.

    Thanks to the un-repealable nature of the OGL and the accompanying System Reference Document, YOU own much of 3rd Edition. Think about that statement. YOU own the fighter class. YOU own the wizard spell list. YOU own aboleths. YOU own the drow and driders. YOU own the Outlands and the Abyss. YOU own D20 Modern (whether you want it or not). Formians, druids, clerical domains, sneak attack, psionics, epic advancement; the list goes on and on and YOU own it. YOU can do whatever you want to with it. That is an amazing power to give people.

    Hasbro doesn’t want this. They even attempted to revise the Open-Gaming License soon after they took over, but the fact that all versions of the OGL are included in the OGL meant that they couldn’t repeal the rights offered in any way.

    4th Edition is the childish response to this. “If we can’t own it exclusively, we’ll change it so it doesn’t resemble anything you do own.”

    Without going into the “World of Warcraft” nature of the rules and adventures I have read, this is enough of a reason for me to declare that D&D is dead.

    Long live D20 system.

    – Doc –

  5. admin says:

    Sorry for the long wait. I get your point. Without going into details, its still pretty sad that the game has become so boring. Instead of making a version that is even better, they made some silly nerfed D&D lookalike game. Every new campaign I’m starting right now is all 3.5, not 4th, just because the rules are… Well… Better!

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