My copies are still in the mail, but I had a chance to read someone else’s. Once I have time to read in-depth, I will have reviews at the book site, but I wanted to post some metagame thoughts. That is, while I have not played 4th Edition, there are many things to be said about the direction the rules have taken and how 4th Edition will work as a product line.
If you have any interest, you have already heard that things have been simplified. The 3rd Edition push to unify subsystems has been taken further. Notably, there is one table for how everyone gains abilities. Page 29 is it. No longer do Fighters gain bonus feats on even levels while Rogues gain sneak attack on odd levels, with every caster class having its own table of how many spells of which levels they gain at each level. Everyone uses the same table, with each class having its own list of abilities to choose from. (Reference City of Heroes/Villains, which uses the same ability selection model for its dozen archetypes.) Page 29 is it.
The game takes a menu approach. Every level you pick one of about four options. Level 1 Wizards no longer pick from fifty spells, although they do get a spellbook that gives more options between days.
Again, this applies to everyone. Fighters get level 29 “exploits,” their equivalent of spells. (Reference Tome of Battle for the first draft of how this works.) Seeing level 29 spells after all these years is a bit disconcerting, but it will probably make more sense in the long run than “you get 9th level spells at caster level 17 [list disclaimers and exceptions here].”
MMOs stole most things from pen and paper, and now D&D is stealing them back. Classes are channeled into one of four roles: tank, DPS, CC, support. A Fighter is a tank, a Ranger is DPS, and a Cleric is support. That CC category is sparse, just Wizard for now, and Wizards can double as AE damage or support, but your tank will have abilities that are effectively debuffs and battlefield control.
Switching to product line comments, you will notice that there are only eight classes in the Player’s Handbook. You may not have noticed the subtitle for the PHB on the title page: “Arcane, Divine, and Martial Heroes.” The plan is to publish future books with the other “power sources,” so the Barbarian and Druid will be in the primal power book, with at least five power sources in the queue. Yes, psionics will return. My expectation is for Player’s Handbook 2 to release in about a year, with Player’s Handbook 3 a year after that, etc. Maybe publish them more like the Complete series, who knows.
The structure lends itself to expansions in other directions. You can add new items to classes’ menus the way you added spells in previous editions. “Paragon paths” will be the new prestige classes, with a dozen in every new book alongside the feats and magic items.
If I might digress, I was excited about the 3rd Edition multi-classing rules. After years of seeing a new class in every Dragon Magazine and every other accessory, easy multi-classing was a more elegant approach. If you wanted a class that was 80% Fighter, 15% Rogue, and 5% Wizard, just make a Fighter 16/Rogue 3/Wizard 1, using the existing tools instead of re-inventing the wheel. (In practice, gameplay did not support this as a strong option.) And then the DMG introduced a few “prestige classes,” which multiplied like gremlins at a water park and came to dominate all the future publications. How many versions of the fighter-mage do we need? At least 20, it seems. (Enjoy it though I did, it seemed like an unfortunate design space to explore.)
Anyway, I am expecting 4th Edition books to go there. Every new book can have two pages for a new race, ten pages detailing a new class (its menu of powers), five pages of new options for existing classes’ menus, five pages of new paragon paths, five pages of epic destinies, five pages of feats, ten pages of magic items, and ten pages of new monsters, along with five pages of role-playing discussion of the new race, ten for the new classes and prestige paths, and five for the epic destinies. If the book introduces a new power source, add thirty pages so that you can have four new classes, one each for tank, DPS, CC, and support. Let’s see, that puts us at 102 pages, so add 15 to discuss role-playing these other new classes and the new power source, a title page, table of contents, introduction page, character sheet (front and back), and two pages hawking the rest of the product line. 124 pages, and 128 is a standard book length, so we can toss in a new god and its church at four pages, or just leave them as slack for pictures or a section that is running long.
There, we just developed a template to sell hardcover books for those other five power sources. We can produce one of these every six months, no sweat. Ooh, better yet, add a new power source every year, with a mid-year book expanding the existing sources. PHB2, 3, … every June, with a juicy supplement six months later, in time for Christmas. Release a smaller accessory the other two quarters, something themed like 3rd Edition’s Frostburn or Races of the Wild. Add an adventure and a novel per month, and let’s round out the product line with a setting specific book each month: Forgotten Realms and Eberron once per quarter, with the third month rotating between other settings. Release a miniatures set and a pack of miniatures tiles each quarter. Am I on to anything here? I have not checked the actual product schedule.
Enough product line speculation. Back to the books!
Magic items have moved to the PHB. The DMG is now mostly fluff rather than crunch. It discusses being a dungeonmaster, novel enough. Here are some player types and what things interest them. Here is how to pull together an interesting encounter. Here are some ways to put together your ideas and facilitate your players’ ideas. I spent the least time with this book, so I will move on.
The Monster Manual still has monsters. Comforting. The basic format is one monster-type per page, with two or three versions on that page (or more spilling across extra pages). If we are talking about lizards, you get a giant lizard for level 4, a flaming lizard brute for level 12, and a dark lizard harbinger for level 26. MMO players will be familiar with fighting the same lizard with a different color palette every five levels.
The monster descriptions have been trimmed to fit all that on a page or two. The stat box is much smaller than 3rd Edition. Remember the 2nd Edition Monstrous Compendiums, which luxuriated in discussions of monster ecology? Yeah, that’s gone.
Monsters have also been channeled into their own roles, like brutes and artillery. Note also minions (1/4 monsters, and they drop in one hit), elites that count as two, and “solo” monsters that count as five. The standard encounter now has more enemies, with experience totals returning to expel Challenge Ratings. Beholders and dragons become relatively nastier when they are designed to be as effective as a comparable-level troll warband.
Oh, and the ever-popular Tarrasque is back. His latest incarnation hopes to make him a big threat again, including an aura that brings flying foes within his reach.
This got too long a while ago, and I am not even delving into specifics much. Please toss in your own thoughts, or link to your blog where you posted a similarly rambling discussion. We end with a classy note from the credits page: “Dedicated to the memory of E. Gary Gygax.”