The Case for Fourth Edition

4egreendragonthumb.jpgWizards of the Coast has gone and done it. They’ve announced that Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition will be released mid-year 2008.

And I’m totally pumped.

Marketing and digital stuff aside, looking through what the announcements are consisting of, it’s clear to me that Wizards is concerned about game design. And not just about fixing broken prestige classes or whatever. They took a long look at what works in the game, what doesn’t, what doesn’t end up “playing”, how to make the game most interesting, how to make it easier to remember all the rules in play.

In short, they focused on making the game simpler, more elegant, and more thematic. They sound like they’re taking a pretty strong tear down approach to the game, and tossing out some “sacred cows” of D&D design. The end result is making a leaner, meaner, better game. In my style of game design, it’s hitting all the right notes.

Here’s some of the design issues they looked at:

  • Races only matter at first level. This is an issue that I had never noticed before, but it’s true. A high level dwarf fighter is pretty much the same as a high level half-orc fighter. Not only are they fixing this, they’re going with an elegant solution that also eliminates the level adjustment rules for high powered races, which were annoying anyway.
  • Some weapons are better than others. In 3.x, there were some weapons worth using, and many you only would use if they happened to be magic with stuff you wanted. The design diary on class makes the different weapons sound interesting, and creating more differences between characters of the same class- an emergent property.
  • Some levels are lame. No feat, no ability score, no new abilities? That always sucked. That’s probably a big reason I liked multiclassing so much: I could get could stuff at every level. Not only are they trying to fix that issue, they’re extending what they call “the sweet spot” of D&D to make every level of play fun. If they can figure out a way to balance having cool stuff while not having tons of book-keeping, I will be very impressed. But it sounds like that’s what they’re shooting for: a good experience at every level from 1 to 30. (Yes, 30!) As someone who has tried to run high level and epic level campaigns in the past, I’d look forward to a ruleset that makes it run well, and not bog down in someone’s 20 attacks per round.
  • Resource management. I was talking to DarthCthulhu at the last Balticon, who said that he liked the idea of a spell system that encouraged interesting choices in what to cast and preparing ahead, but it never worked out that way. Wizards and Clerics prepared their best stuff all the time, only adjusting based on very specific encounters. I wracked my brain for a solution to this, and the only ones I could come up with were total revamps of the system. This may well be the first new D&D edition EVER to radically overhaul the magic system in the core rules. I’ll have to reserve judgment on the final product, but I’m glad they identified this as an issued to be fixed, and are ready to do a tear-down.
  • Your magic items matter more than what you can do. This is specifically the issue that Iron Heroes addressed, and my own attempts to develop a new game looked at this too. The”business” of magic items seems like a big part of the whole D&D image, but it’s bad for the game. Hopefully they’ll find a way to reconcile the two and make magic items cool and special again, but still not as cool as what your character can do.
  • Less prep time. It’s a lot of work to be a DM, as I’m discovering. The developers promise that 4e will be easier to run for DMs, and that monsters will be simpler. I still can’t believe all the work you have to go through in 3.5 to stat out a dragon… in a game where it’s in the title! It just makes sense that Dungeons & Dragons will knock down the barriers to running a game with… dungeons and dragons.
  • I was never happy with the distinctions between different skills. Make hide and move silently checks versus spot and listen checks. Make double the rolls for something that should be routine. And does anybody really enjoy the minutiae of where to put skill points, except for qualifying for prestige classes? Choosing skills should be a character matter. If the rules from Star Wars: Saga Edition are any indication, skills are easy and fun again. I’m almost dreading making NPCs for what will probably be my last 3.5 campaign, for partly this reason.
  • Ever tried to trip someone in combat? Use a fly spell to buzz overhead? Or heaven forbid, GRAPPLE? When I’m a player, I just want to make a roll to grab somebody, not consult a four step process, and then consult another page of rules to see what my victim and I can do while grappling. As a DM, I don’t want to look up what my maneuverability rating means- I just want my dragon to be able to fly around the room. These are big weaknesses in the rules for every iteration of d20, and I will not miss them. Bring back the fun.

I’m sure there will be more changes, like how combat rounds work, or how armor operates, or hit points… but to me, those are secondary. If they can even just fix the above issues, 4th edition has already proved its value to me.

[Image and some quotes taken from ENWorld]

About Dave

Dave "The Game" Chalker is the Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder of Critical Hits. Since 2005, he has been bringing readers game news and advice, as well as editing nearly everything published here. He is the designer of the Origins Award-winning Get Bit!, a freelance designer and developer, son of a science fiction author, and a Master of Arts. He lives in MD with e, their three dogs, and two cats.


  1. This has me very excited…

    Of course, that may mean that my memorization of the grappling rules will become useless…that’s one of my favorite things to do with all of my characters because the DM never expects it and often the enemy has a relatively POS grapple mod…makes me feel good when my halfling fighter can wrestle an unsuspecting ranger to the ground ad start punching him with his own fists…

  2. Did you name the character “Grapfling”? Or “Holdo”? Or “Samwise Wrestlemania”?

  3. Lol…

    Actually I based him off of a character from one of my favorite “cartoons”…his gender is questionable…his name is Ed…

    Note that “his” is talking about my character and not the Ed from the show…

    Also, I tend to grapple with all my characters…bards and monks alike…

    Halflings and Ibixians are my favorite race to play…my most recent, however is a half-giant barbarian named Lars…he’s chaotic good but I gave him the berserker rage alteration from PH2…so he has a split personality that comes out once he hits a certain number of hitpoints…his name is Herakles…he’s CE…

    He’s an angry drunk due to Con damage…

  4. I’m looking at it this way: 3E was so much better than 2E that I actually laugh at how bad 2E was. Any nostalgic benefit from 2E is simply not worth all the absurdities of the system. If 4E does the same damn thing that 3E did to 2E I’ll be suitably impressed.

  5. Very exciting news and good post Game. Could you specify what your link about fixing the racial issue details? I clicked on it, but you need to be a subscriber to Dragon.

  6. You don’t, yet (but eventually will have to pay $10/month to see), you just need to do a Guest login in the corner. But to summarize, they’re going to spread out racial advantages through the levels, and also have racial feats available for certain levels. And powerful races, like Drow and whatnot, will be the same way where they get more powers as they gain levels, so you can finally start by playing a Derro or Ogre or whatever without giving up levels.

  7. As long as they get WAR to do all of the artwork, I’m sold! (he did the pictured image, unless they found a perfect knock-off artist?)

  8. That’s Mr. Reynolds alright. Wizards has said that they’re trying to go back to more traditional fantasy-style art, which seems to be a popular decision. I hadn’t realized that there was so much hate on the style of 3.x, which is often described as “anime/punk”.

  9. I’m scared about the online. I don’t like Gleemax at all. Today there was on frame that had an error 404 on the homepage of Bad omen.

    I’m really excited about the books though.

  10. They definitely made a mistake by launching a hideous placeholder where Gleemax will be, but by the looks of what they were showing off at GenCon that’s all it is: just a placeholder. (The action shots look great.) But I think you’re right to be cautious anyway… no system that ambitious is going to be put together correctly at launch. Another argument for making me a beta tester 🙂

  11. Just the name ‘gleemax’ bothers me, possibly because it makes little sense to me and does not speak of “gaming network” at all?

  12. I bet some corporate fuck heads at Hasbro paid some retarded consulting firm a cool million to shit out the name “Gleemax.”

  13. TheMainEvent is always so much more elegant with his insults than I. Thanks!

  14. Not true… Gleemax goes back before the Hasbro buy-out. It was an inside joke among the R&D guys that a giant alien brain named Gleemax really developed Magic. Not saying it’s a good name, but it’s about as un-corporate committee than you can get.

  15. Wow, with the tale behind Gleemax now I actually have an argument for allowing empty suited MBAs to smack some sense into the R&D guys… bring on the million dollar consulting firm!

  16. I should add that Gleemax is NOT the same, precisely, as the digital portion of D&D4e. That is called “D&D Insider” which has Dungeon, Dragon, online play, etc. Gleemax is the overall social networking component.

  17. You mentioned they may start charging $10/month? I hope not because I think they benefit as much or more from letting people view it for free. $10 is steep!

    I am excited about fourth, although I worry at the cost of getting all the books & acessories again.

    On the case of a giant alien brain called “Gleemax!” I would think he may have created psionics. Magic seems like something that would have to be from something fantasy and not sci-fi.

  18. The $10/month charge is pretty definite. It’s optional- you don’t have to belong to D&D Insider to play D&D4e- but it will have a lot of features that I think are pretty cool.

    And yeah, Gleemax should have been the one to invent psionics, but I think they meant the joke was that Gleemax invented the card game Magic: The Gathering, and was secretly designing all the cards. (Because what else but an alien brain could design that many cards?)


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