Category Archives: 4th Edition

Why 4e Fans Love 4e

Whether you’re curious why 4e fans love our edition so much, or you need a reminder of why you love your edition so much — because there’re so many reasons! — welcome all! If you’re a D&D vet, there’s something you should know about 4e fans before I get into all the reasons to love it.

As a general rule, 4e fans don’t care about tradition. Or at least, tradition takes a back seat to fun when the two clash. We’re grateful to Dave and Gary for inventing this incredible hobby, but we don’t particularly care how they played the game or what they might say about how we play. They said themselves that the game is what each group makes it. (Or something to that effect.) Our definition of the D&D experience isn’t limited to highly personalized ideas or memories; for us D&D covers a wide range of play styles and rule sets. For us, the D&D experience requires approximately three things: 1) funny dice, 2) bizarre monsters, and of course 3) loot to steal, claim or otherwise acquire.

Now that that’s been cleared up, lets get to the lists. The first is a broad list of the reasons we love 4e so much, and the second list has more detail. These lists are only a generalized summary; individual 4e fans may of course disagree on certain points.

Balance. This is probably what 4e is known best for among gamers; it’s the first D&D edition where the designers really focused on parity. So long as you follow the advice in your class’ chapter and take an Expertise feat and Improved Defenses at some point*, you’ll have a competent hero! The 4e system is also highly resistant to power gaming; dominating the game requires a lot of planning, and can’t happen accidentally. In short, all PCs are essentially capable adventurers. It’s also very hard for DMs to accidentally over- or under-challenge the PCs, thanks to consistent math.

* If you’re a DM, I highly recommend using the ‘expert’ variant from the Complete 4th Edition; or at least giving each character Expertise and Improved Defenses. These two feats are 4e’s one glaring relapse into the system mastery of other editions. Many DMs and players call them feat ‘taxes’ because the game expects PCs to have them.

Big Damn Heroes. 1st level characters are not knights without shining armor or butter-fingered rogues or magic-users with mere thimblefuls of magic; they’re able adventurers right out of the gate! Characters can perform their shtick and take a few goblin stabs, even at 1st level.

Tactics. Want to role play and enjoy great tactical combat? Well 4e lets you have your cake, and eat it too! 4e is the first D&D edition where the designers ensured that everyone can manage character resources and make fun decisions in combat. Early 4e monsters suffered from a few pacing issues, but have improved dramatically.**

** If you’re a DM, use Monster Manual III and the Monster Vaults whenever possible. And when all else fails, tweak damage and hit points using my Marvelous Monsters guide!

Death is Dramatic. Spontaneous death is rare in 4e; it usually comes at the end of a long and dramatic boss fight. This means that time spent naming your character isn’t just time that you could have spent writing that back-up PC that you’ll probably need. Because unless you do something really stupid, the odds are in your favor even at 1st level!

Easy to Play. Regardless of which side of the DM screen you’re on, 4e is easy to plan and play. Character building, encounter building, and monster building are all straightforward and intuitive. 4e’s simple, unified core system makes combat easy to learn; and the skill challenge provides great guidelines for other kinds of encounters.***

*** Skill challenges have been down a rocky road since they first appeared in the Dungeon Master Guide, and they can be a mixed bag for players and DMs alike. If you’re interested in SCs a DM, I strongly suggest using Stalker0’s Obsidian Skill Challenge System.

Transparency. 4e isn’t coy about its underlying math and gameplay assumptions. It doesn’t tell us how to play the game, but it does tell us how it assumes we’re playing the game. This makes it easy to improvise, to anticipate potential problems, and to make house rules. The 4e rules make DMing easier by explaining how the game works, and then getting out of everybody’s way.

Fantasy Adventure. 4e doesn’t pretend to simulate a realistic world. It doesn’t draw a curtain over the oddities which make D&D fun in order to create an illusion of realism. The worlds of D&D are magical, so it only makes sense that their rules aren’t always the same as ours — even the laws of physics and biology are different!

Dramatic Battles. 4e encourages a few longer dramatic battles, rather than many minor ‘attrition warfare’ skirmishes.

Rule Innovations. 4e is full of innovations, great and small, that make the game more fun in a variety of ways.

New Fluff. This is probably the most subjective point on the list, because fluff is purely a matter of taste. Many 4e fans don’t like all of its fluff, but 4e makes it easy to refluff anything and everything.

Now that we’ve covered 4e’s broad appeals, here are some specific reasons to love 4e, in no particular order.

Monster-Making is Easy. Thanks to monster levels, and explicit monster roles and castes, writing your own monsters from scratch is easy. I’ve spent a lot of time making monsters, and my Marvelous Monsters guide is all about it. I know I’ve already mentioned MarMon, because it’s just that useful!

Encounter-Building is Easy. Thanks to the XP budget, it’s easy to create a variety of encounter styles and scale any of them to groups of differing sizes. (Though parties of less than four PCs can be problematic.)

No Random Stats. Point buy is default. Hit points are static. Everyone gets enough cash to buy basic 1st level gear, and everyone gets loot they can use. (And not necessarily from the highly controversial wish list; the DMG’s real advice to DMs is simply “If nobody in the party uses a long bow, don’t give them a magical long bow as loot!”)

Errata. 4e is the first edition where the designers fixed what few issues escaped editing with free errata. (The infamous ‘math hole,’ which is fixed by the aforementioned feat taxes, being the only glaring exception.) This really demonstrated the designers commitment to the game’s quality and its fans’ happiness.

Magic is balanced. Casters don’t dominate high level games. Utility spells don’t ruin plots.

Simple Rules. There are no long-winded or byzantine rules. 4e uses grab instead of grapple, and every action uses the d20 mechanic — including Turn Undead.

Page 42. The 4e DMG has some great advice, and page 42 provides a set of clear guidelines that make improvising easy.

Everything is in the Stat Block. DMs and players don’t need to go searching through the PHB for spell descriptions during combat, because everything needed to run PCs and monsters is already in their stat blocks.

No Sudden Jeopardy. 4e has no save-or-lose spells, no death from massive damage, or other sudden death effects.

DDI. DDI puts all of the game’s resources at a DM’s fingertips, and the character builder makes making and maintaining your character easy.

Fewer Legacy Quirks. Xth level powers become available at Xth level, rather than at some odd level. Attackers always roll; static defenses rather than static spell DCs. AC and initiative improve with level. Turn Undead is simple. Alignment doesn’t matter.

Retraining. Retraining is default, which takes pressure off of players to optimize, because no mistake is forever.

The Math Works. 4e is the first edition where the designers put real thought into the game’s underlying math, and it shows during play. Even the humble +/-1 modifier remains relevent all the way to 30th level.

Saves as Duration. Rather than act as active defenses, the 4e save determines the duration of harmful effects. This cuts down on in-combat tracking, which speeds it up considerably.

Inherent Bonuses. 4e makes low-wealth campaigns possible, even without extensive system familiarity or lengthy house rules.

Explicit Class Roles. By explicitly labeling each class with a role, the designers told players what they could expect of each class — and more importantly, provided themselves with clear design direction. As a result, every 4e class is good at something.

There’s a Class for That. Every power source (arcane, divine, etc.) has at least one class of each role, which means that  ‘filling out the party’ never leaves anyone playing a kind of character they’d rather not be.

Marks. Marks allow defenders to do their job without relying on 10’ corridors or DM fiat.

Healing Word. Healing word, and similar minor-action heals, allow healers to do their job and have fun too.

Monster Levels and Explicit Castes. Hordes of weaker monsters can reliably hit PCs; boss monsters can survive the action economy. This allows for a wide variety of encounter styles, without accidentally over- or under-challenging the party.

AEDU Classes. The At-Will/Encounter/Daily/Utility scheme ensures that everyone has fun things to do during combat.

Ritual Magic. Magic-users don’t have to choose between utility and combat spells. DMs don’t have to worry about spells ruining the plot.

Healing Surges and Action Points. These two things mitigate the infamous ‘five minute workday.’


A 4e Heresy

I don’t like the character builder. Yeah, it makes character creation and maintenance easier for a lot of players. Believe me, I know—I’ve known a few players who really should use it. But at the same time, the CB makes me want to shout “When I was your age, we didn’t have fancy software to make our toons for us. We wrote them on scratch paper with our own hands, with pencils and blood and sweat; and we thanked the good lords Gygax and Arneson that we could do that!”

(Did you know that Socrates was alive during the time that the Greeks discovered writing, and were just beginning to write things down on clay tablets? Well, he was, and he was pretty opinionated about this new technology. Socrates thought that writing things down, and thereby not having to memorize each individual scrap of knowledge in order to pass it on to the next generation, would make us lazy and stupid. Well I’m sure that years from now, when our children’s children record their character sheets on cerebral bio-chips and paper can only be found in museums, the CB will be proven as benevolent a tool as the clay tablet. But damnit, I just don’t like it.)

See, I use house rules, and I expect other DMs to use house rules too. In fact, I can count on half a hand the number of by-RAW (rules as written) games I’ve played. With 4e, and its CB, I’m seeing less house rules and more RAW. The CB exerts a kind of insidious pressure on house rules. Of course, it doesn’t tell anyone NOT to use whatever house rules we want, nor does it crash if we add an extra feat here or an extra bonus there—but its very existence makes the RAW a much more solid entity. Just like the printing press eventually standardized written English–did you know that Shakespeare spelled his name in about seven different ways, none of which were ‘Shakespeare’?–the CB is standardizing our characters.

Standardization is great for casual gamers, who can’t be bothered to think about problems like the Expertise feats—just like standardization is great for all the Joe Shmoes, who can’t be bothered to think about why ‘English’ is pronounced with an I but starts with an E. But for someone like me, who knows that these anomalies are ultimately mistakes, standardization makes it harder to fix them. The CB is only designed to accept a limited number of house rules—bonus feats only, as far as I know. If I want my players to use any cruncy house rules other than that, they have to ‘trick’ the program into doing what I want—the result of course, is that I feel bad that my players jump through those hoops for the sake of my house rules. Of course they don’t have to jump through those hoops; they could just write their character sheets the old fashioned way, but that defeats half the purpose of the CB—printing off their tiny-print color-coordinated power cards while they crack open another can of Mountain Dew.

Like the printing press, DDI is a living engine that spits out what most players look on as THE source of content—though much of it is of questionable quality, and some of it downright lazy once you apply a mote of judgment. But because it’s always being updated (at least until 5e comes), the CB creates a subtle but inexorable current of standardized rules that flow against all house rules. In other words, the CB is a mixed blessing—it tends to drag the game’s flaws into our sessions as well as its virtues.

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Posted by on 24/05/2010 in 4th Edition, Character Builder