D&D 4th Edition: First Impressions

In June Wizards of the Coast released the three new core books of D&D 4th Edition. Even before the release it was certain that the 4th iteration of the classic roleplaying game isn’t your father’s D&D. Some races (like the gnome) and classes (like the bard) got lost in translation and the vancian spellcasting got the boot. At the core D&D 4th Edition still uses the d20 System. But almost everything else has changed. I won’t give you a complete overview here, since there are a lot of great reviews all over the web. During the last weeks I had the opportunity to play with the new rules and I wanted to share some of my impressions.

“I am the lord of hellfire and I bring you … FIRE!”
Since I never had the opportunity to play a warlock before, I decided to create an infernal warlock. I always had a soft spot for dwarves, so my new character is Thoradin, unaligned dwarven warlock. Character creation was a bit faster than in the last edition partly because the rules provide you with some skill and feat recommendations. Figuring out the new character sheets took a bit longer. The other two players chose an eladrin priest and a dragonborn paladin. The three of us met in a tavern and our adventure started with a loud noise from the basement and a collapsed wall. During the session we had several fights with rats and even some zombies.

Miniature combat!?
A lot of people are complaining that D&D 4th Edition is turing D&D into a board game since you supposedly have to use miniatures and a battle mat. Our DM decided not to use miniatures and we played out combat like we always did: he descibed the situation and we decided on how to act. And even without visual aid using all your nifty powers is no problem. In my opinion the powers are what makes the latest edition of D&D so great. My level 1 warlock already had a couple of powers at his disposal and it was fun trying them out. Even at level 1 every character had a lot of tactical options. And although we hadn’t used the new rules before it only took us a few rounds to figure them out. During our second session we already felt very comfortable with our characters’ powers.
Another change from previous versions is that combat is much more abstract than in any other RPG I’ve seen. Combat really feels a bit like in a miniature game or even a MMORPG, but that’s not a bad thing. If you don’t think to much about how the powers are supposed to work, you just have fun using them. And being able to heal much more easily and having more hitpoints was not bad either. Don’t make the mistake to think that combat is less deadly than before. We almost died on several occassions. But after a short rest our group was ready to face more dangers. That may not be very realistic, but it felt more epic, more like what a high-fantasy RPG should feel.

“Phear my 1337 skillz!!!!!11111Oneeleven!!!”
D&D 4th Edition has dropped skill ranks completely, which is great! The skill bonusses are now calculated by adding the abilty bonus, half the character’s level, a miscellaneous bonus and the trained bonus (+5) for trained skills. Every character can use every skill, so most players now have access to more skills than in previous editions. The new system makes creating the character and levelling up much faster. But there are some minor problems. Arcana, Religion and History are the only lore-related skills left and sometimes you need a lore skill that is not covered by those three. But this is only a minor drawback and a GM can pretty easy create a house rule for that occassions. From what I understand skill challenges are not a completely new concept but something we have used for a long time for simulating chases, certain feats of strength and the like. But it’s nice to see that they included something like this into the rules.

“Ia! Ia! Cthulhu ftaghn!”
Don’t fear, we didn’t do a D&D/Call of Cthulhu crossover. Last but not least I want to talk about my thoughts on perhaps the greatest feature of the new edition: rituals! Powers are aside from a few utility powers completely combat oriented. So when you check the priest’s or the wizard’s powers section you will miss a lot of cool spells they had before. But fear not, they are still there. When I created my character, I chose the “Ritual caster” feat which allows me to cast rituals. And instead of just mimicking the old spells, rituals often add a lot of additional flavor. Cure Disease for example can now cause damage to the recipient if the ritual doesn’t work as planned and reviving the dead is now a long and expensive ritual and not some simple spell. I wasn’t able to try rituals out yet, since I hadn’t had enough gold to buy one, but in theory they look great. And the greatest thing is that now even non-casters can learn certain rituals. Imagine the weaponsmith enchanting his finest weapons or the rogue using rituals to improve his thievery skills. Nice!

“D&D is just like WoW now!”
This is a sentence I have read a lot during the last months and I have to disagree. D&D (even with its abstract combat system) is a pen & paper roleplaying game through and through. And it’s certainly no miniatures game, if you don’t want it to be one. We played without the help of miniatures and it worked fine. But it’s not you father’s D&D anymore. In my opinion it has evolved. It’s a D&D suited for the 21st millenium and if WotC manages it to bring new players to the table, even better! If you don’t like the changes, just stick to D&D 3.5, 3.0 or whatever suits you. I enjoy playing with the new rules and I don’t think I will go back!