I should be sleeping, but instead I thought I’d start sketching out my first impressions of the new 4th Edition books. Like many others, I got mine as early as possible, and have seen certain PDFs that might allegedly exist which may or may not have leaked about a week before the official release.
This first bit will be pretty brief, and I’ll get into more detail in later posts.
First, the Player’s Handbook
The art and production values, layout and so on are top notch in my opinion. I’ve found very few typos and misspellings or syntax errors as I read through the text, and in general I think it is an upgrade from the previous editions physically and in terms of layout and overall design.
That being said, I can’t say I’m happy with the direction they’ve taken things. I’ve already expressed my disdain for healing surges, and that feeling remains. They’re unnecessary and don’t appear to increase fun or verisimilitude, meaning they are useless and should be cut. The only concern I have is that encounters which WotC publishes for 4E will assume you have them, so they’ll probably be a little tougher than they would be without the surges. Again, we’ll see about that.
The WoW ripoffs continue with disenchanting magic items. I knew about this before-hand, but it was still disappointing to read about it. I shouldn’t be surprised I suppose. 4th Edition is very clearly Tabletop WoW.
The Warlord is a crap class. You can quote me on that, and I’ll stand by it. I suspected as much when it was described by WotC, and in reading through it, I am re-affirmed in my suspicion. Clerics do what the Warlord does, and they do it better and for better reasons.
I can’t think of any reason to drop the Bard and add the Warlord. The Bard could easily fill the role of Arcane Leader and could do the Leader job in a far more interesting way than the Warlord does.
As it stands now, the Cleric, Fighter, Warlord, Paladin, melee Ranger and melee Rogue will all be literally jostling each other, shoulder-to-shoulder trying to squeeze in melee attacks against their foes so that they can use their abilities. For a game that’s supposed to be tactical, I see a lot of clumping in the future, since there is no such thing as a Cleric who can stand back and cast or a Warlord who can lead from anywhere but the front of melee combat.
Also, a side note on saving throws – WTF? You just roll 10 or better on a d20? That’s it? More powerful effects aren’t harder to resist? And it breaks the established system of [1d20 + 1/2 level + ability modifier + other modifiers] that everything else functions on? Why the hell would you do that? Its just stupid.
I haven’t gone through it as thoroughly as the PhB, but overall I think the DMG is a big imporvement on its predecessors. It offers a clearer method for creating encounters which are skill challenges or puzzles or traps and more directly ties experience points to these kinds of non-combat encounters.
There are much better rules for things like negotiation or interrogation – far more interesting than rolling Diplomacy and consulting the NPC Attitute Chart. You might actually have viable, interesting social conflicts which the rules let you do something with. Everyone I know had house rules for 3.5 to handle this, but its nice to have these rules in the book as well.
Finally, the Monster Manual
This book is the best of the three. Smaller stat-blocks give you all the info you need to run an ancient dragon in combat in 1/4 of a page of text. There are also a lot of new, interesting tactical options for basic fodder like Goblins and Kobolds. I can’t wait to combine Goblin Hexers with Goblin Cutters, or to have PCs brought low by Kobold-swarms as sling-thrown bombs rain down on them.
The art is notched up once more. Some of it is recycled, like the Vampire art, and some of the redesigns, like the Troglodite, are steps backward, but a lot of the changes are good. I’m not sure why they changed the head structure of the Green Dragon but not of the other kinds of chromatic dragons, but I do like the new Troll look – a little more Tolkienian and hulking rather than lanky.
Overall First Impression
In an act of grand irony, I give D&D 4th Edition 3.5 out of 5 stars. Improvements in the DMG and MM don’t out-weight the problems I see with the basic class and ability design in the PhB – and the PhB is the thing you reference most. I’ve also moved bit by bit farther away from a D&D style of game. I think if D&D is your game of choice overall, this might be more like a 4 out of 5.
One result of reading the new core rulebooks has been a slight surge in interest in both Pathfinder and in expanding on Hack20 to use in a future game. Hack4? Maybe. I defintely see the beginnings of a few new house rules.
Individually, I’d give the core books:
Player’s Handbook 3/5 (excellent writing, layout, design – system is…ok. Should not have cut Gnomes. Should have Druids, Bards, Barbarians, and Monks in the core player book, or replace them with something a heck of a lot better than Warlords)
Dungeon Master’s Guide 3.5/5 (excellent writing, layout, design, leaves a little to be desired compared to all that was in the 3.5 DMG)
Monster Manual 4/5 (excellent writing, layout, design, and an improvement on every MM or Monster-focused supplement to date)