Playtest Review – Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition

Our local gaming group has been playing a few sessions of the 4th edition of Dungeons and Dragons, with our characters working our way up to second level. Working from my basic character philosophy (“play something new”), I went for Lieutenant Khalziras, a dragonborn warlord who’s a feytouched pact initiate. For non-players, that means a reptilian lightning-breathing drill sergeant with ties to faerie that allow him to use an evil eye.

What I like:

  • Powers: You won’t just be “rolling to it” much, as was common in previous editions. Instead, you’ll be choosing among a broad selection of powers, each of which is slightly better than that “normal” attack. Some you can use any time you want, others can only be used once per fight, and others can be used once per day. My character will always have at least two powers to choose from, and possibly as many as seven. Some of these are good for…
  • Cooperation: Especially for the warlord, there are quite a number of nice powers that give immediate benefits to your friends, such as an extra movement or attack. And there are some for…
  • Healing: Most of us remember the cleric and what a pain it was to blow all your neat spells just so you could heal the group. Now each character has a number of “healing surges”, one of which can be used in each combat to return some needed hit points. Some classes (such as my warlord) have powers that can allow additional healing surges to be spent, or give people temporary hit points. This isn’t so bad, because of…
  • Different actions: A number of actions have been downgraded to the minor status. For non-gamers, that means that Khalziras can move into position, attack, and still have time to drink a potion, or use his lightning breath, or heal someone. And I can’t think of a transition to…
  • Rituals: D&D has had many useful spells that just wouldn’t get used too often, making you choose between a potential combat spell and a more utilitarian one. Now, these are treated as rituals that require components but that can be cast outside of combat using none of your precious resources.

What I don’t like:

  • Encounter balancing: This is a little trickier, from what I’ve seen. You especially need to be careful if you’re trying one of those staple encounters from my old D&D games: the single-day encounter with a huge bruiser. Our DM gave us one of those, and in the first round we threw an entire day’s worth of resources in and did 133 points of damage between five characters.
  • Hidden modifiers: The game has a number of little bonuses (proficiency bonuses with weapons, initiative bonuses for level, armor class bonuses for not wearing armor – really) that one keeps forgetting.
  • More powerful magic is harder to detect. Really. I just don’t get it.
  • Lack of realism: Yes, it’s a fantasy game, but it still irks me because the new edition embraces it whole-heartedly. One example is a feat that gives an elf an extra point of movement – and also does the same for his companions. That’s right. Somehow the elf gets everyone to move more quickly by her mere presence.

Another key example is magic items. You can buy a magic item for 600 gp. If you were to turn around and sell it, however, you’d only get 120 gp. Don’t ask me how that economy is supposed to work.

Now, there’s considerable hand-waving that can excuse these examples, and I recognize that there are valid mechanical reasons for them. Still, it seems like a giant leap backward into the era of 1st edition, when only thieves and assassins could sneak up on guards and wizards couldn’t wear armor or use metal weapons except when they did wear armor or use metal weapons (older grognards will know precisely what I mean here). I have faith that rules can be created that are fun, balanced, and realistic, so why they chose to abandon this, I just don’t know.

Still, I’m enjoying myself, and I might say more about this later.

Published in: on July 9, 2008 at 11:07 pm  Comments (1)  

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  1. […] will be followed by me taking over our local 4th edition Dungeons and Dragons game.  I think our current DM really wants to play a character for himself.  I’ll have them […]

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