You’ve all heard the argument, and indeed many of you have probably even said it a couple of times, that “4th Edition has less content in the core books than previous editions of D&D.” But I’ve wondered if this was accurate. My instinct and a hunch were telling me one answer, but I set out to find out the truth!
The first, and possibly biggest, difference between the two books is that all 3rd Edition books are a lot more wordy than the 4th Edition material. They have more words per page, which is not a surprise since one of the stated goals for the new edition was to clean up the books, add more white space, and simplify everything. This is not necessarily a good thing, however, as it largely contributes to the overall feeling of the 4th Edition books containing less overall content.
3rd Edition Core Book:
- Avg. words per page: ~1,200
- Approx number of words in PHB: 328,800
4th Edition Core Book:
- Avg. words per page: ~750
- Approx number of words in PHB: 236,250
Since there are two schools of thought about the difference in word counts, I wanted to go much further and begin to compare the mechanical content provided in the books to see which edition really provides us with more “game” than the other.
3rd Edition PHB
- Races: 7 (Human, Dwarf, Elf, Gnome, Half-elf, Half-orc, Halfling)
- Classes: 11 (Barbarian, Bard, Cleric, Druid, Fighter, Monk, Paladin, Ranger, Rogue, Sorcerer, Wizard)
- Levels: 1-20
- Skills: ~44
- Feats: 74 total – 55 + 8 Item Creation Feats + 8 Metamagic Feats + 3 Special Feats
- Melee Weapons: 54 Ranged Weapons: 14
- Types of Armor: 12 Types of Shields: 6
- Spells: 116 pages (out of 274 – 42% of the book for 7 out of 11 of the classes use)
- Magic Items: 0
- Prestige Classes: 0
4th Edition PHB
- Races: 8 (Dragonborn, Dwarf, Eladrin, Elf, Half-elf, Halfling, Human, Tiefling)
- Classes: 8 (Cleric, Fighter, Paladin, Ranger, Rogue, Warlock, Warlord, Wizard)
- Levels: 1-30
- Skills: 17
- Feats: 150 total — 81 Heroic, 52 Paragon, 17 Epic
- Melee Weapons: 31 Ranged Weapons: 6
- Types of Armor: 18 Types of Shields: 2
- Spells / Powers: 116 pages (out of 315 – 37% of the book) + 20 pages for rituals
- Magic Items: 176 total – 28 armor, 20 weapons, 7 holy symbols, 7 orbs, 8 rods, 7 staves, 9 wands, 10 arm slot, 13 feet slot, 8 hand slot, 14 head, 13 neck, 9 rings, 6 waist, 13 wondrous items, 4 potions
- Paragon Paths: 32
- Epic Destinies: 4
The first aspect of making a character in both books is race, which 4th Edition clearly has more content for, but it falls behind on the number of classes. The next metric that a lot of people overlook is that 4th Edition now allows players to play all the way up through the Epic tier using the core rules, something which previous editions did not do. While 3rd Edition had more classes to play, it arguably contained a lot less content because it lacked 10 whole levels of play! Everything else that was measured is more or less simple metrics, 4th Edition has fewer skills but over twice as many feats.
Overall 4th Edition has a smaller selection of weapons, armor, and equipment in the core books, but the PHB itself contains 176 different magic items that were not present in the 3rd Edition PHB. However, that will be balanced out when I look at the DMG for each edition. The 3rd Edition PHB presented no options for Prestige classes, while 4th has many options for Paragon Paths and 4 Epic Destinies, but these are further examples of a move of content from previous edition’s DMG to the new edition PHB.
Which PHB has more content? 4th Edition – content all the way up to level 30, plus magic items, paragon paths, and epic destinies really seal the deal on this one.
3rd Edition Monster Manual
CR 1 or lower: 94 monsters
CR 2-4 = 133
CR 5-10 = 170
CR 11-20 = 49
Total Monsters: 446
4th Edition Monster Manual
1st-10th levels = 225 monsters
11th-20th levels = 191 monsters
21st-30th levels =73 monsters
31st+ levels = 1 monster
Total Monsters: 490
One of the biggest differences between 3rd and 4th Edition monsters is how they are scaled versus a group of adventurers. 3rd Edition scaled monsters by Challenge Rating (CR) which indicated what constituted a challenge (defined as taking 20% of the party’s resources) for a party of 4 characters of equal level to the CR. 4th Edition, on the other hand, went more in the direction of clearer math and gave monsters a level themselves and associated XP values. I have grouped the number of monsters from each Monster Manual into appropriate clumps representing different tiers of play and as even a spread of monsters within those tiers.
The first thing that I noticed is that there was a huge number of monsters in 3rd Edition that were CR 1 or below, and that there was a surprisingly small number of monsters between CR 11 and 20. Compare these numbers to 4th Edition, and you can see that the there is a much more even spread of monsters across the levels of play, even if you only consider up to level 20. The other thing that surprised me was that both Editions present a comparable number of total monsters to pit against the heroes in the core books.
Which MM has more content? 4th Edition – a total of over 400 monsters in 3rd Edition and only 49 of them account for HALF of the playable levels? No way, 4th Edition not only has more monsters but they’re also more evenly distributed.
3rd Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide
Prestige Classes: 6
Magic Items: 532 total – 19 Armor Abilities, 18 Shield Abilities, 10 Specific Armors, 8 Specific Shields, 24 Melee Weapon Abilities, 15 Ranged Weapons Abilities, 27 Specific Weapons, 51 Potions, 41 Rings, 18 Rods, 12 Staffs, 59 Wands, 183 Wondrous Items, 29 Cursed Items, 11 Minor Artifacts, 7 Major Artifacts
4th Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide
Paragon Paths/Epic Destinies: 0
Magic Items: 4 Artifacts
The DMG is where 3rd Edition catches up, presenting a lot of comparable content to what was moved to the PHB in 4th Edition. It also features more customizable magic items, and on top of that a TON more magic item abilities in total. The 4th Edition DMG is a smaller book, and consists mostly of advice and guidelines for being a DM instead of actual mechanics and rules. It does present 4 unique artifacts which are magic items that are more plot devices than simple hand outs.
Which DMG has more content? 3rd Edition – clearly contains more content, and actually has more magic items in total than the 4th Edition PHB does by far, but still falls short on additional content like Prestige classes.
So now if we go back to the question, “Which Edition has more content?” If all that you consider is word count than clearly you’ll think 3rd Edition, but I consider that to be like saying that the Dictionary is a better book than most simply because it has more words in it. There’s no denying that 4th Edition has less fluff in it than its predecessor, but in my opinion the fact that Wizards is not simply reselling us the same fluff (which is not edition specific) over and over again is actually very encouraging. We can easily take fluff from previous editions, actually making use of our old books that are otherwise sold, discarded, or gathering dust and apply it to a new set of rules.
Looking at the straight mechanics, I think it is pretty clear that the 4th Edition core books actually provide more content, the biggest slice of which is allowing players to extend their characters beyond level 20 and through the epic tier. 3rd Edition has a lot more customization when it comes to magic items and a wider selection of classes, but falls behind when you look at monsters.
Taking a closer look at exactly what kind of content is provided in each of these core book sets, I have realized that what most people percieve and express as a general reduction in content is most likely a pure reaction to the reduction in word count even though the books themselves are not particularly smaller. There is some content missing that has been presented in previous editions, such as more detailed monster write-ups and more fluff in general throughout the rules set, but as I expressed earlier these are things which I feel we’ve already purchased in previous editions and don’t necessarily need to spend money on all of that again.