Customer Reviews: Dungeons and Dragons Core Rulebook Gift Set, 4th Edition
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on November 9, 2008
Depending on what you are hoping for from this new edition, you will either love it or hate it. It is definitely not for everyone, as can be easily surmised from the highly mixed reviews. You should be clear about what you want out of the time and money you will invest before buying the books. Like anything in life, it depends on what type of experience you value. One thing is for sure - this edition is a very radical departure from the previous D&D and accordingly will provoke a radical reaction, depending on how much you liked or disliked playing 3rd/3.5 Edition D&D, how long you have been playing the game, and what sort of game you like.

If you are hoping for a more streamlined game that takes the bookishness and vast amounts of reading and reference out, and makes the combat system more interesting and fun, you will love it. It lends itself well to people who like fast-paced, action-packed games and want to spend as little time as possible on character and adventure design so they can just get straight to the action. This edition takes much of the time out character and adventure design and puts it on the action. This change can be quite fun if action is what you like. For the casual or new RPG fan who enjoys playing but does not have time to truly immerse themselves in details of the game, this edition is the best one yet. Most people who will buy these books will probably fit into this category. So for the casual gamer, this is a good edition to buy. It's definitely a more practical edition to play.

On the other hand, if you are a die-hard D&D nerd with dozens of books, custom made campaign worlds, and more than a decade of experience, hoping for an upgrade path to your current campaign and body of books to make it more playable while keeping the foundation, this is the abomination you have been dreading. The game is now so different from what you have grown to love that it will probably feel like an insult to your hard-earned mastery. If you love spending hours on character creation and adventure design, if you loved the quirks of the system and the differences in how characters progressed, if you loved the various attempts attempts in the rules to simulate reality, you will feel insulted by this edition and will probably want to return the books and just keep playing your old edition.

Players who began playing the game in its 1st and 2nd editions and have stuck with it for this long have grown to love the quirks of the D&D system and are by and large not pleased with this new edition because Hasbro/WotC have essentially ended the product line while keeping the brand, which is smart for them getting new customers but unfortunate and deceptive for the long-term fan base. They did this by throwing out a huge number of D&D conventions such as saving throws, spell memorization, bards, rolling for hit points, and basically everything that made the game quirky, unpredictable and hard for new players of the ADD (attention deficit disorder) generation to understand. It streamlined the game a lot, but also did away with much of its character as a unique rule system. The baby by and large went out with the bath water.

Thankfully for the die-hard D&D nerds there is an alternative, and it is called Pathfinder. Repeat: 4th Edition has ZERO backwards compatibility with any previous edition, meaning it is not possible to translate a 1st, 2nd, 3rd or 3.5 edition character into a 4th Edition D&D game. This is a huge blunder on behalf of Hasbro in my opinion, and will cost the company a large part of its dedicated fan base, which will migrate to Pathfinder, stick with older editions, or try out new games altogether. This is not an upgrade path by any means.

While it is true that most of the 4th Edition rules have largely turned it into more of a fast-paced action/strategy game than a true RPG, this pace of gaming fits what some players want. This does not necessarily take the possibility of role-playing out of the game. Indeed, there is more time for role-playing now, at least for people who don't have time to get deep into the books, since the rules are now much less cumbersome (and also thereby less realistic).

In all fairness, however, D&D was always a combat-centric and less versatile game compared with other systems like GURPS and Mage. It always had a fair amount of adaptability to different playing styles, but the way your character advanced always had way more to do with defeating monsters than anything else. It is much less versatile than many other systems. If you think that fighting monsters is one of the less fun aspects of role-playing, or if you are more into the magical elements of the game than the hero aspect, you would probably have a whole lot more fun playing GURPS, Ars Magica, or Mage: The Ascension than any version whatsoever of D&D.

It is not hard to see what caused Hasbro to take the direction it did with this game. The progression of D&D from 2nd to 3rd Edition by and large made the game more complicated. Specialized terms like THAC0 were discarded in favor of the more general bonus system and the weird proficiency system was replaced by the more sensical skill system. But the new system of bonuses quickly became quite cumbersome and actually involved more calculation for most things than the 2nd Edition equivalents, especially when it came to calculating experience. This resulted in a more detailed and realistic game, but also one that took far more time to learn and play. The complexity of the rules actually became a major obstacle for many players, who were more confused about the changes than excited about the additional detail and versatility.

4th Edition reversed course and did away with that direction of evolution, much like a child destroying a sand castle. While much of the new 3rd Edition rules needed some serious streamlining, many people agree that Hasbro went a bit too far and destroyed a lot of good things about the game that people had grown to love. New players or people unfamiliar or daunted with the old structures will probably be excited about this new edition, whereas people who labored to make the 3rd/3.5 Editions work for them and met with some degree of success will see 4th Edition as an insult to their hard-earned efforts. 3rd/3.5 Edition required a lot of time to become familiar enough with to be usable, but once that time had been invested, it was perhaps the most versatile and adaptable edition and could be a lot of fun with players who were fluent in the rules.

4th Edition, by contrast, is a usable with far less time investment. For example, character creation now takes only about 30 minutes. Putting an adventure together as DM take easily half the time it used to. The new pre-made modules require much less reference to the core books. If you are fairly new to the system, you will spend far more time actually playing and far less time reading.

A couple more points worth mentioning - you need a solid five people to make a 4th Edition game work because the mechanics have changed to become much more strategic. The game, sadly, is no longer workable with a DM and one player or a DM and two players. This is very limiting and makes it harder to get a game together. Also, while non-combat elements are certainly possible to integrate into the game, there are few rules to provide for them. Last but not least, all measurements for spells and weapons have been reduced to "squares" instead of feet, making combat virtually impossible without the use of a board and miniatures unless conversion is done. This is not terribly difficult, but is still a pain for those who prefer to play without miniatures.

All in all, this is a complete game redesign. It represents a major split in the continuum of the game, and will most definitely split most of the fan base into two different camps - one going toward the 4th Edition style of play, and the other going toward Pathfinder or remaining where they are.

For my part, I like the Revised 2nd Edition of D&D the best. It is only slightly more complicated than 4th Edition in terms of its mechanics, but is also quite expandable and to me strikes the best balance between realism and practicality. The real kicker for me, however, is the fact that it contains the best and most imaginative campaign setting ever released for D&D, with by far the best art ever - Planescape!
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on June 6, 2008
The meteoric rise of Massively Multiplayer RPGs has created a unprecedentedly-large case study about what works for class advancement and balance. When I was first looking through the promotional material I noticed concepts from the MMO space cropping up: defender(tank), striker(dps), controller, and leader(support). I was initially disappointed by this, but the more I thought about it the more the idea began to grow on me. Every class now has a role within the group so there's no question about what each character should be doing.

The options for character advancement are fewer than previous versions. Whereas 3.x gave you the tools to create just about any type of character, that's not so much the case in 4. For the advanced players who enjoyed making odd concept characters, this is going to be their primary gripe with the system. I'm talking, frothing-at-the-mouth, storm-the-Bastille forum fanboy crazy.

For the rest of the players, who just want to _play_, it's going to be great. You don't have to worry about some powergamer creating a monstrosity of character that starts an arms race with the DM. Even if you don't have a powergamer around, there's very little chance of a player accidentally creating a character that's isn't effective in the group.

What excites me as a player is the fact that you get something cool at every level. It was always kind of boring as a fighter in 3.x: "Another feat. Yawn. This'll be interesting in another dozen levels when my build finally comes together". In 4e, I get something new to play with each time.

What excites me as a DM is that my life got easier. There aren't any "Attack of opportunity" or "grapple" nightmare rules like before. There's less opportunity for rule-lawyering and general powergaming. The various social skills have been streamlined, giving the DM the chance to RP with interested players, while disinterested players can just roll their way through it.

What doesn't excite me is the online component. From what I've seen I don't think WotC has the staff necessary to put out quality software. Anyone remember the e-tools they touted in 2000. No? There's a reason you don't. They got delayed for _years_, and when they finally came out they were terrible, unusable even. Software development at that scale is hard and it's even harder if you're not a software development house and aren't used to managing the projects.

Some people will complain that the new rules are too much like an MMO. It's their choice as to whether that's something they'll enjoy. One thing to keep in mind is this: It doesn't matter if you've been DMing for 30 years, any given MMO sees their rules exercised more in a single weekend that you've done in your career. A MMO is a crucible for finding rules that require a _minimum of human intervention_.

It boils down to this: if you enjoy the act of playing with your group and the rules are an accessory, then you'll love 4e. If you enjoy playing with the rules and your group is an accessory, then you'll hate 4e.

The MM is what you would expect: 150 or so monsters for heroes to fight. There's not much info that would be useful to the player. To help the DM, most monster entries (maybe all?) have an "Encounter Group", which is gives a list of creatures that, together with the current one, would make an appropriate encounter for a group of PCs and that makes sense in the D&D universe. The encounter group gives the recommended level and resulting XP. (Unlike 3.x, XP rewards don't scale based on the PC's level compared to the Challenge Rating. It's like 2E, where each monster has a set XP reward)

If you read the DMG2 for 3.x, the 4e DMG will be quite familiar. Most of the rules have been moved to the PHB, leaving MUCH more space available for giving advice to the DM on how to run a successful game. (If you DM 3.x and haven't read the DMG2, it's worth taking a look at, even if you don't choose to move up to 4e).

The DMG takes a back seat at the table. This is a benefit for both players and DMs. Players don't need to buy it for the magic items(which are now in the PHB) and well-prepared DM could get away with leaving the book at home.
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on July 6, 2008
I was really looking forward to 4ed. The idea that you can just pick-up and play without having to decipher lots of fine print and sub-rules and supplements and so on, this seemed like a good idea. (Although, frankly, the mastery of D&D minutiae is most certainly the appeal for some geeks.)

Surprisingly, I've had to literally force my way through the Player's Handbook. It's all so ... boring. Part of the fun of D&D (for me, as a DM) was reading through all the possibilities, and imagining more. 3ed had this in spades: You could do just about anything, and it gave a lot of room to go in interesting and unique directions.

4ed, meanwhile, maps everything out. Everything is classified in terms of how often you can use it, and you add this power or that feat at each level according to a unified formula. It reminds me more of Diablo than anything.

I'm not being dismissive, either. Really, 4ed is an impressive piece of work, streamlining and cleaning up a very messy game. I give it three (of five) stars because it's so easy to read and has big type with every detail clerly spelled out. (I don't like the artwork but that's my own taste.) It will surely be easier for people to casually pick up and play. What I can't figure out is why they--or really, why =I= would want to play it.

I gather that a lot of issues with 3ed came about because of pickup and competition games. There are such things as "powergamers" and "rules lawyers" and they found ways to drag the game down. And, of course, not all classes in previous editions were equally powerful, if you crunched the numbers. (It never occurred to me that this was a problem, but then I do everything I can to keep my players from focusing on the numbers.)

So, I guess 4ed is good in that regard. Every character boils down to one of four combat roles, and all the features they can acquire are centered around those roles, one of which they'll likely specialize in. (It's probably not as boring as I just made it sound there.)

Now, I run a very DM-centered game, and 4ed diminishes that greatly. The races have a back story which implies a pre-made, common world; Clerics pick from a variety of bland, pre-made deities; The magic items are listed in the PHB and a player can acquire them easily based on level, which implies a world where magic becomes banal at some level.

This is great for a pick-up game, I'm sure. And of course, the DM who doesn't care for all this can do as he pleases. But at some point, as you're sitting there thinking, "Well, I can ignore the two gratuitous elf races, drop the half-demon and half-dragon races, bring back the full nine alignments, assume that stuff that I miss, like gnomes, druids and illusionists will be back with the PHB II, bring back real multiclassing and prestige classes...", you have to wonder, "Why 4ed at all?"

Here's a fun fact: In AD&D (what's now referred to as 1ed), you rolled a d20 to attack and checked against a table to see if you hit. Then the monster rolled a d20, etc. Magic-users would use a spell, thieves would try to sneak attack, etc. But that was combat in the original. It was said to represent one minute of fighting, including all the feints, dodges, parries, tumbling, etc. It was detail free, basically, except as the DM described the action. There were no critical hits, there were very tight minimum and maximum ACs. There was no distinction between "touching" and "causing damage" when you hit; it was really very loose and vague.

Of course, the whole thing was a deliberate simplification. And since D&D's roots were in wargaming, with its considerable, meticulous measures and calculations, you can safely assume the creators weren't afraid of complexity. (I run 3ed like 1ed, essentially ignoring the absurdly extensive 3ed combat rules.)

4ed, on the other hand, is basically a tactical board game. The rules--I mean, =all= the rules--are pretty much set up to facilitate putting figurines on a grid and having them combat in turn, taking equal amounts of time, doing roughly similarly powered things, and measuring everything in terms of causing damage.

Hell, you could easily put the character's actions into a computer program and let the players use hotkeys to select which power they want--and I'm sure they're working on it.

A lot of people seem to love the new rules, and it's not that I looked at the changes and couldn't see exactly why they changed them and why that was a "good thing" (except for the elimination of half the alignments). I get it. I really do get it.

It just leaves me cold.
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on July 15, 2008
So, after telling myself that I wasn't going to do it, that I was happy with 3E and that I didn't need to go through the "D&D arms race" again, I finally broke down and picked up the three new 4E corebooks. Although I did not purchase the slipcase edition, I figured that this would be the best place for this review, as I did purchase the three books at once, and I'm trying to review the system as a whole, as opposed to any single book.

I'd like to be able to give this game an exact 2.5-star rating, as I feel that it falls neatly along that line, but as Amazon seems to want to restrict me to whole stars, I'm going to use the D&D method and round down.

"Ease of use" seemed to be the watchword for the designers of this new edition, and pretty much everything in the system, from the nuts-and-bolts math of "add half your level to everything," to the choices present in character creation, to the revision in combat options, seems to be pointed in that direction. It's hard to create an useless character in this game, and that eternal hobgoblin of game balance -- combat -- has been addressed by focusing a large amount of energy into making sure that everyone comports themselves equally well on the battlemat.

Gone is BAB; instead, every character adds half their level to the appropriate stat bonus for their roll. Yes, this means that your wizard is as combat-trained as your friend's fighter, with only your Strength bonus as a difference. Gone are saving throws; the old saves from 3E have been translated into defenses similar to AC that the "attacker" (be that a monster, trap or other) rolls against. Anything that offers a save merely asks that you roll a 10 or better on a d20, again guaranteeing that every character has an equal chance to save against a prolonged effect. Even armor class has been altered quite a bit; armor itself provides less protection, but again you get to add half your level, in a move reminiscent of the Defensive Bonus from such games as Iron Heroes (in fact, Mearls contributed to this edition, and both the AC revision and healing surges are his brainchildren from that previous game).

Gone is multiclassing; a broad range of feats and the ability to take Paragon Paths at 10th level and Epic Destinies at 20th step into the gap, but allow nowhere near the breadth of options found in 3E. Gone are the grappling rules, replaced by the simpler "Grab" option; gone, too, are sundering and disarming attacks. Gone are the long and often bewildering lists of spells available to spellcasters; what they're left with are the cream of the crop in combat ability, but offer little outside of that arena (those "utility" powers that are still available are generally unusable more than once a day).

It's a game that knows what it wants, and it's pretty sure it knows what you want, too. And that's not exactly a bad thing. Given the options present in games like Exalted or Deadlands (or, God forbid, GURPS), I've seen players go into Decision Paralysis that completely shut down their ability to create a character or go through a simple combat, due to one overriding thought -- "What if I choose poorly?" You can't choose poorly in 4E. You copy your stats from the Players' Handbook to your character sheet, fill in a few blanks (with a wink and a nod as to what you should be filling them with), and proceed to move your character through his routine, confident that he'll never underperform (or overperform) when things go south and the swords come out.

Ultimately, it's a very safe game decision-wise, but it's true that it also lacks the ability to accomodate a very wide variety of character types. So, for example, if you were hoping to focus most of your character's abilities on skills and languages, making her the party's "knowledge battery" at the expense of her combat prowess, you'll need a new character concept. Skills are either trained or untrained (there is no accumulation of skill points from level to level), and again, half your level comes into play, so no one character can really be more or less skilled than another; they're only proficient in different areas. And while it's true that WotC will no doubt offer us a buffet of additional powers in upcoming supplements and through "D&D Insider," those powers will still be laid over the safety-net foundation of the core rules, and doubtless balanced to be completely even with other powers from other classes.

In the end, it's a hard game to screw up, but it's a hard game to excel at, too, simply because all decision trees present in the game have been perfectly balanced for exceeding, almost painful, equality. True, this eliminates a lot of the nightmares of the previous edition, but it also eliminates a bit of the beauty, leaving us with a game that contains a lot of function, but very little form.
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on July 7, 2008
4th edition seems more like a successor to 2nd edition than it does to 3rd/3.5. The 2 hallmarks of 3rd edition were (mostly) sensible codified rules, and freedom, especially from arbitrary rules (like race restrictions on classes). While there are exceptions to both in 3.x, these trends permeated the system as a whole, and it was a better game than its predecessor in virtually every way I can think of.

4th edition doesn't mess too much with with the first hallmark (though it does seem like a tiny step backward), it really reverses itself on the second. Not completely; it's not as bad as second edition, but it's sad to see this in 3.x's successor.

Classes are once again very rigid, and with little room to deviate on the narrow path (or often two paths) it sets in front of you. Want to use two weapons? Only a Ranger gets to make any extra attacks with them. Want to be able to use a bow/crossbow? Ranger is your only real choice (well, rogue has some minor ranged stuff for a crossbow). It's very Video game / World of Warcraft inspired; it's a shame they carried over the bad stuff from video games (massive constraint), eliminating a lot of the strength Pen & paper RPGs have over video games. For the record, I'm not bashing video games, I'm an avid player of both).

Multiclassing is one of the biggest victims. While there were problems with 3rd edition multiclassing, the method of doing so was nearly flawless. The discrepancies between multiclassing martial classes (good) and caster classes (bad) came from the way martial classes were front-loaded with diminishing returns and caster classes had weak starts with near god-like endgame powers.

As a DM, I loved the finely crafted enemies in 3.x that you could build with the care and attention to detail that a player takes in creating PCs. Getting a Race/Class combination, choosing feats/equipment to suit them, etc. That's gone. Enemies are pretty much all off the shelf with the possibility of small changes like across the board generic +1 to 5 or -1 to 5 too defenses/attacks. Templates are a little bit better, but are almost as much work as fine-tuning a 3.x enemy for almost none of the customization.

But, it's not all bad. For all the sacrifices that they made to the game, they did add some benefits. The game is more streamlined now. 3rd edition codified rules instead of making DMs wing a lot of it, but in some respects it went too far. No longer do you have to worry about 7 different penalties from 3 different sources for holding 2 weapons. That wasn't very fun. Grapple is now a single check instead of 4 separate rolls (whose modifiers were arbitrary and changed with every new release of the FAQ). Spells/effects typically only last for 1-2 rounds or the end of the encounter so you don't have to worry about having 12 different buffs with varying durations on you. Basically, once you've got your character sheet made, the game chugs along with minimal stoppage for rules consultations, and questions like "has it been 16 minutes since that last battle, I've got 3 buffs that wear off then?" etc. or recalculating attacks/saves past a common +2 you might have from this ability and a bonus for attacking a prone opponent, etc.

While it will be many months until I can really comment on the overall balance of the classes compared to one another, abilities do seem much more spread out over the levels. There are no more "empty" levels where you get nothing but HP and a few skillpoints. The fighter class isn't nearly so boring as a feat every other level (in a game where feats never got more powerful past 6th level until years later with supplements).

The one big change that I am most fond of is more per-encounter balancing of the game. I am pleasantly surprised they finally ditched Vancian spellcasting sacred cow (you're next: alignment!), and make a low-level caster fun to play (no more 3 spells and then stuck with weak crossbow abilities for the rest of the game). This is really the defining positive feature of this edition in my opinion, and does shore up some of its weaknesses, even if it's not enough to raise my rating over 3 stars.

So, all in all, a much streamlined game, but one that sacrificed a lot of its ability to micromanage and customize its aspects. I'll likely have fun with it for a little while, but I also see that fun ending much quicker than with 3.x edition. You'll almost have to purchase expansion books to keep anything more than the campaign itself from being trodden ground (like the guy that plays the same character over and over again with only a letter change in his name)...then again, that could have been Wizards of the Coast's intention all along...
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on October 26, 2008
I think that what it all boils down to is this: Folks like me who have been playing D&D since the Blue Box days and have played through the various editions seem to hate 4th edition. Players who are new to the genre seem to like it.

So what is it that's upsetting the older, more experienced players?

While listening to the Wizards of the Coast podcast on the differences to 4e they often mentioned wanting to remove the "15 minute adventure day." This is the aspect of D&D where you go in, you fight hard, take damage, and then have to go rest for a day or more to heal up. It's very true that this can be typical of a D&D adventure, especially lower level adventures where the spell casters are very weak. But by changing the rules to eliminate that aspect they profoundly changed the feel of the game.

In 4e each player has a set of "healing surges". They can use these throughout the day to heal 1/4 of their hit points. At first glance this may sound like a good idea. But what ends up happening is that a character can be beaten and bloodied (or even unconscious and just moments from death) and use a healing surge to bounce back up to full strength in no time. In fact, if they're unconscious and dying but make their saving throw against death the character can bounce back from near death to 1/4 of his total hit points in 2 combat rounds (12 seconds). If you roll a natural 20 you "wake up" with zero hit points and immediately get a free healing surge. So with the proper roll you can go from dead to fighting in 6 seconds of game time. That seems a bit unrealistic, even for a world full of goblins and dragons.

One of the other aspects of D&D is that spell casters are very weak at lower levels. In 4e the spell casters can blast away even at first level. In fact, they have "per encounter" spells that they can cast once per encounter no matter how many encounters they have that day. In every edition before 4e the Wizard or Sorcerer's spell casting would drain them mentally and they'd have to recover from the exertion of calling in powers from other magical planes of existence. The feeling that it's hard work to cast a spell seems to be missing from 4e.

This is the kind of thing that the detractors are talking about when they say that 4e is a "dumbed down" version of D&D.

On The Other Hand: There are really 2 parts to a D&D game. The combat part, and the non-combat part (the role playing part). The role playing part of the game is still up to the DM and the players. It would take a huge change in the rules to destroy the role playing portion of the game experience. But because the risk of death is lessened, the power of spell casters is increased, and the bounce back healing surges exist I think that the new rules may, in fact, be a big enough change to effect the role playing experience. Players can put themselves into situations that they wouldn't in edition 3.5 because they know they can bounce back and keep going. The strength of the magic users and the power of clerics to heal change the dynamic of the game enough that the role playing part is effected.

There's one last thing to consider as well. Did edition 3.5 need to be updated? There may be small things about 3.5 that could be tweaked, and the Pathfinder RPG has done a wonderful job of that. Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Beta (Pathfinder) But did 3.5 really need to be gutted and changed? I don't think so. It seems to me that Wizards really needed to produce a new product line to continue to build sales and 4e was that new product line. But the decision seems to have come from a marketing and sales point of view rather than from the point of view of "what's best for the RPG gamer". Pathfinder, on the other hand, seems to be written from the point of view of "What's the best way to continue the arc of the 3.5 story line? How can we give the players more within the 3.5 edition and the open gaming license." I think they succeeded.

At this point in the D&D world we have a split. The new players will probably enjoy 4th edition. But the experienced players will most likely stick with 3.5 and use Pathfinder. My prediction is that within the hard core gamer circles Pathfinder will replace D&D entirely. And in a way, that's too bad. There's a feeling of history with D&D. The older players remember the Gary Gygax days. We remember playing in a game where Mordenkainen and Leomund (Gygax's personal characters) existed and influenced our world. We remember grinding out adventure after adventure as a spell caster just waiting to become so powerful that we can change reality with a wave of our hand. There was a certain feel to the older versions of the game that's profoundly different in 4e.

And that's what we miss. That's what makes 4e not feel like it's Dungeons and Dragons any more. 4th edition is a great, well designed RPG. It's just not D&D any more.
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on July 9, 2008
I'll admit, I'm not going to be kind, but I think this ruleset is getting what it deserves.

4E does has its good points. Slimming the rules down is something the game needed. Combat is extremely tactical. If you like lots of combat or are into table-top combat games, you'll enjoy this part of the game immensely. There are plenty of tidbits that could allude to hours worth of roleplaying. The DM has more control over the game (though I wish they would quit ending each rule with "...unless the DM says otherwise." Stop being wishy-washy WotC, and we ALL know the DM can change the rules any time he feels like it anyways. We don't need it beaten over our head every few paragraphs.)

But for every good point 4E has, it has at least twice as many strikes against it.

The rules have been slimmed down to the point that they are often confusing, contradictory or incomplete. The current hubbub surrounding the Stealth skill is one example. Several other areas of the rules feel incomplete or are just badly worded. And in many cases, pieces of a rule you need can be scattered between three and four different sections, thanks to keywords and WotC's sometimes baffling organization of the information.

Roleplaying is mostly ignored; though you are thrown scraps here and there that could easily be developed and fleshed out, the focus of the game is clearly on combat, with a dash of plot mixed into the mess. You're "on your own" for justifying the use of any of the powers, skills or other pieces of the game outside of combat, as if ignoring the world beyond combat was a perk to the system, not a bug. I could just as easily roleplay with games like Descent, Heroquest, Dragon Strike or Warhammer Quest and get in about the same amount of combat. Really, this doesn't feel like a roleplaying game so much as a board game with a running group of loosely interconnected scenarios that someone slapped the label of "story" on it.

Feats have become worthless - to the point of ignoring them won't hurt your character at all. Rituals are forgettable as well as now. And while Paragon classes will get you extra "cool powerz", they don't allow you to really build on the concept of your character to build it in other ways beside being good in a fight.

There is a serious disconnect between logic and the game. You can do things that mechanically make sense, but have a huge disconnect in why it would work. Don't put too much thought into the whys of the game; the fragile suspension of belief will simply crumble away. Just get it in your head it's a game and move on. Your brain will hurt less.

If you've made one character, you've pretty much made them all. Two strikers pretty much will have the same defense scores and dish out the same damage, even if one's a ranger and the other is a rogue. Your unarmored rogue will have about the same AC as scale & shield fighter. The cleric and the warlord can heal party members for pretty much the same amount. If you're not a striker, everybody deals pretty much the same amount of damage. In a way, it's sort of blah. The only difference is the effects you deal with your base damage, and that loses its charm very quickly. Expect your first few combats to be exciting, but it quickly starts degrading into the same sort of pattern as the old "I charge, I swing, I hit, I miss, etc.", except it becomes "I move here. I use this power. I hit, deal this damage and inflict this effect. He makes his save. I move here, use this power ... rinse and repeat."

Half of the game is missing - or at least it feels like it. If you're a veteran of previous editions, there is so much missing from just the core books that I felt quite dismayed. From missing races, classes, whole groupings of spells (summoning and polymorph just to start) and a disappointing list of weapons, armor and equipment (heck, they forgot to list lamp oil in the equipment list to fill up those lanterns you can buy!). Whole groups of magic items are gone - it feels like basically anything in the game that's use was primarily outside of combat.

Telling us that these things, that were previous in the core book will be available "down the road" is a copout for the true problem with 4E. This is a system that will nickle and dime you to death to get the "full-blown" system. Don't fall for it.

Oh, and to top it all off, there's the fact that books are very shoddily constructed. The ink in my DMG has smeared at a touch, and I have about 3 pages where the ink at the time of print left a red streak that runs down the page (the pages are in the "Adding templates to monsters" section, and the ink is obviously from the red headers on those pages). Also, the interior book binding is splitting away from the covers/spine. Another player in my group has had his PHB less than a month (in a bookbag in the car, only coming out for our once-a-week game), and the pages are falling out of his book already. I'm afraid to even take the books down from the shelves anymore.
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on July 10, 2008
This is not a bad product. But this is such a radical departure from what Dungeons and Dragons has been for so long, it is hard to review. They did fix many of the game's long-standing problems (useless, fragile, low level wizards, the bizare healing rules that caused adventurers to rest as soon as they ran out of healing, meaning they sometimes rested 23 hours a day and every party had to have a Cleric, who spent most of his energy casting healing spells, fighters with almost no useful skills and unable to spot an ambush, etc.). However, they threw out most of what we knew as D&D while doing it. I think many of the problems could have been fixed without junking the whole existing system. Spells are basically gone, as are most other class abilities. Instead all classes get the same number of often equivalent powers. So once a day your wizard can cast a spell that does 6d6. And a fighter the same level can make a melee attack for 6d6. Classes are so balanced as to almost not be distinctive.

For the DM, it seems worse than any previous edition. Now players mark creatures, which has an in game effect. And each creature has a battery of special powers, usable at will, once an encounter, or once a day, depending on the power. So a DM running an encounter with 5 players battling 1 goblin leader, a goblin spellcaster, 6 goblin soldiers, and 2 goblin slingers might have 16 powers of three types to manage, while keeping track which 5 goblins are marked each turn. The new game emphasizes movement, which is cool, but when you have 16 figures moving around a map, keeping track of which goblin is which can be hard, and you need to, since you need to know which goblin has used which encounter power, has been marked, damaged, etc.

If it had been created by another company, as a wholly new game system to comptete with D&D, it would have been interesting to see the reaction. But other than the logo, this is not really D&D.
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on November 10, 2008
When I first heard about 4th edition I was quite excited. I couldn't wait to get my hands on all the brand new shiny rules. I read all the updates about the new races and classes from Wizards of the Coast online, and I thought "hmmm a little bit strange that they seem to be making so many changes, but they still sound like great ideas". When the books finally came out, I bought my copies right away, and read through them. At first I was confused by the fact that the new game was COMPLETELY new. There was basically nothing left of the old editions in 4th edition. It was a totally new game. Strange, I thought, but I ignored that little voice telling me to be wary and went ahead and started up a game with some of my friends, all D&D 3.5 players who had also been waiting for the new edition to come out... all except for one friend who refused to play because he hated the new changes. I tried to explain that they weren't changes as much as it was a whole new game, but he said that was even worse. I ignored his opinions, but now in hindsight, he was absolutely correct.

As we played the game, at first we thought the game was a blast. It was fun having special "powers" as a fighter, and being able to use spells over and over again, but as the weeks progressed we started to notice some things as we reached higher levels (I think that 12th was the highest level anyone in our group reached). We weren't really enjoying the game like we did the first few times when it was still new, and 2 players started making excuses not to show up at the game, and 1 other player though he came to the game every time, constantly expressed an interest in going back to 3.5 or playing a totally different system. Essentially everyone was bored with 4th, and after having only played for about a month and a half. We'd had 3.0 and 3.5 games that had lasted years without players leaving or expressing boredom. No one was looking forward to the next game session and no one really cared about their characters. We played a few more times, but then agreed to quit and started a new 3.5 game, but we decided to use only the 3 core books of 3.5 (PHB, DMG, and MM) to see if we became as bored with it as quickly as we did with 4th. Needless to say, that game is still going (but we did allow one player to use a prestige class from complete mage).

Overall, while 4th edition seemed fun at first, we quickly realized that character building choices, such as feats and powers mattered very little in the long run. It was almost impossible to build an interesting and unique character. Even the classes bled together, despite having different powers. The only element of the characters that seemed unique was the race, but still every character of the same race seemed the same, and if "you didn't play enough different characters to know if they can be unique or not" is your counter argument, then you would be wrong as far as I'm concerned. We played 2 times a week for almost 2 months, and with 3 complete parties wiped out by assorted "balanced encounters" each of us played at least 4 characters.

Which brings me to another point that I haven't seen many people mention; the increasesd lethality of this edition. Our DM started with a module (keep of the shadowfall or something like that) and we were killed (one person escaped) by a group of kobolds. We chalked it up to inexperience with the new system, and tried to use better tactics next time. We made it through to the end of the module but were almost wiped again by the final encounter (2 people out of 5 died, but only 1 person was left actually conscious when the bad guy died). We figured that maybe the module was just designed to be a meat-grinder style adventure so the DM started planning his own game with encounters balanced according to the DMG. Two games later our party was wiped out completely (no one escaped) by an elite solo monster that was supposedly a balanced "boss" encounter for our party level. After this another player wanted to DM for a while, so we started new characters but at the same levels as our last characters. It went pretty good for a while, but then one player stopped showing up to games, for various reasons, and then some number of games after that (i think it was about 2 levels since we started over, I can't really remember) our party was TPKed again. In between the start over and the TPK 2 people had died in isolated situations but those seemed normal at the time. Even though we were TPKed the DM said that we'd "been captured" and we had to fight our way out of prison, which was kind of fun, but it felt fake and undeserved.

When 4th edition info first started to appear on the internet, there was talk of characters being "pumped up" with hit points and that this would increase early level survivability. It turns out the opposite is actually true. The characters have more HP but so do the monsters; unbelievable numbers of HP in some cases. Fights seem to drag on and on as the players swing and do minor amounts of damage to the creatures massive HP scores which are in every case but "minions" equal to or greater than the players HP scores. Minions on the other hand may seem like a good idea; monsters that can be used as a howling horde of weaklings, but die quickly. However, in practice they take the fun out of the battle. When you hit a minion it feels like a "gimme", like patting a little kid on the head and saying "good job! you hit the ball!" (straight to the firstbaseman). They all have one hit point and die from a single hit, but they feel very gratuitous, almost pointless. Not only are they simply an annoyance, but they deprive the player the fun and excitement of scoring a critical hit for maximum damage, or even of rolling for damage at all. Very disappointing.

I could go on detailing other oddities of play experience that our group encountered, but other reviews listed here have pointed them out over and over, and in greater detail than I really care to, mainly because I simply don't care anymore. 4th edition was an opportunity for WotC to fix and update the previous edition, but instead, judging by the final product, the only thing they truly ever intended to update was the company's stock price (Oooh, he made a joke about Wizards only being out to make a profit! Get him! Nerd Rage!). They created a detailed but boring board game, from which I am sure they will make quite a bit of money off of those fooled by the brand label still attached to this unrecognizable edition. I plan to recoup some of what I gave to Wizards by selling my books back to the local game store, since in just a couple of months I've had my fill of 4th edition.
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on July 10, 2008
While I do feel there are some good points to this system (and yes, I do own the books) I feel there are some major mistakes that I need to bring up with the general public.
1) The classes just didn't inspire me like previous editions or other game systems as it's much more restrictive than most other game systems or even older editions. To do a lot of "old" concepts we'll have to wait for new books but I feel that an important component to a tabletop RPG system is that when you get the "core" or "base" books that you are able to do put together the base structure of anything you want and further books enhance the experience. 4th ed so far seems as though I NEED more books to come out to make the new "multi-classing" system work in the campaigns I would be involved in.
2) The magic system (for combat purposes) has become much more mundane than almost any other magic system I can think of in a tabletop RPG game. Also, the combat itself is designed so that the powers are used similar in fashion to a video game or card game, where you "tap" or put on "cooldown" a given ability.
This lends itself to another one of it's major flaws, the general combat system through all classes feels a bit repetitive to me.
With all that stated I do think that 4th edition has some strong points, it brings known concepts for other types of gamers such as CCG and Video/Console gamers into the system. While this makes it a system I am not particularly fond of for my tabletop experience it can be a useful introduction into the tabletop RPG genre for many people. I believe this is something that very much was important to the developers as Hasbro's ownership of WotC has definitely pushed for all of WotC's products to be more "approachable" for a wider audience.
Have a friend you want to get into tabletop? Well this system might just be for you.
Sadly, for me, I need a character creation system that works with me rather than hinders me and I need a much less mundane feel to my magic system. It's not fun for me to have everyone be "the same but different."
Thanks for reading my babbling, I hope in some small way my review has been helpful.
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