Wednesday, June 25, 2008

4th edition first impressions

Welcome to the first editorial in Claw Claw Bite! And thanks for reading. Over the almost two years that we've been putting out our magazine and posting on our blog it's been you, the reader, that we do it for, so I just wanted to start by saying thank you for accompanying us on this journey into the imagination.

The topic of this first editorial is a popular one these days: the 4th edition of Dungeons & Dragons. Like many of you we got our hands on the new rule books earlier this month and started up a new campaign to play "Keep on the Shadowfell". We've played two sessions of that game so far and I have been enjoying it immensely. Of course the caveat is that this is just my first impression as we've only hit 2nd level and had less than ten encounters so far. But overall I think 4th edition is excellent. The writing is clear and imaginative, and things are clearer than they've ever been in D&D. The downside is that that clarity and simplification of parts of the game has eliminated a lot of the fun flavor that has always made Dungeons and Dragons capture the imagination so strongly.

The thing I like about 4th edition the best is the balancing of the classes. I'm playing in this game, but I usually DM, so I really appreciate the effort they've made to keep power levels even across the classes, and the work they've done to keep the rules exploits to a minimum. Even the powergamer in our group seems happy with it, and every character has an important role to play in every fight we've been in. One of the central tenants of the design seems to be strictly limiting each player to one standard action per turn. Unfortunately this streamlining seems to have eliminated druids altogether, along with summoning spells. More on that below.

I like the way they've changed the non-combat magic into rituals that any character can potentially use. My character is a dragonborn warlord with the multiclass wizard feat, and I'm excited to be in a party that doesn't need a wizard or a cleric to benefit from powerful magics.

And I like the way combat flows in 4th ed, with character's turns going quickly, no more durations to track, and the ability that many powers give you to act on other's turns, helping allies and hindering foes. The addition of minor actions is also a big improvement. The game-rules aspects of the game are stronger and in many ways more fun.

On the downside, some of the work done balancing the classes and feats can make the characters feel a little cookie-cutter compared to 3rd edition. It's nothing like 1st or 2nd though, where every 10th level fighter is exactly the same. But the choices, especially in the feats, feels limited. Even worse are the skills, where I really miss the profession and craft skills. Of course, the 3rd edition skill system had problems in these areas as well (ie- there's a ride skill, but no sailing skill), but 4th edition leaves the players and the DM to work these things out for themselves. I could definitely see a group of inexperienced gamers asking "my character wants to re-forge his father's broken sword!" and the group getting bogged down in weather or not his character can know how to do that. Hopefully good groups will roll with it and role-play it out somehow, but it was nice to have non-conflict-oriented character details presented to you as an option. It lent substance to my claim when I said my wizard grew up a goat-herd for him to have a few skill points in Profession (farming). In terms of game play, I worry about non-combat challenges being viable with such a limited set of skills.

The lack of Druids, Bards and Barbarians is lamentable. I assume there is another book in the works, or perhaps one for each class, to cover these fantasy staples. The lack of evil clerics in the player's is also disconcerting. For me a big part of D&D has always been the scariness of the bad guys, and clerics that can't raise an army of the dead just feel wrong. The DMG suggests replacing their radiant damage with necrotic, but it feels like a poor solution. Maybe October will see another edition of the Book of Vile Darkness to cover these things (are you listening, Monte?). And the lack of summoning spells is also distressing. Other than a flaming sphere, you can't really call powerful allies from beyond to aid you, and neither can the bad buys. One of Claw Claw Bite's first posts in October will be a power that summons elementals. This power will be designed to stay within the rules balance of 4th edition and bring back my favorite thing from 1st edition about summoning them. Stay tuned to see that.

So why all this talk of October? In October this year Wizards of the Coast is planning to release a new OGL-style rules-set for 4th edition that updates the d20 license and allows 3rd party publishers like us to release material for 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons. So while we're already writing material for 4th edition, and plan on releasing adventures for both 3rd and 4th edition, we can't release any of that material until October when that license is made available. Under the terms of that license we can release products for both editions for 6 months at which point we are only allowed to release material for one edition or the other. So we have to make a decision in April 09 about which version we'll continue to support. We hope to hear from you about which you'd prefer, but we have almost a year to see what the gaming community in general thinks about 4th edition, and 6 months putting out material for 3rd and 4th edition.

So, what do you think? Leave a comment here at, or write us at to let us know.

Thanks again,
Adam Thompson
Unicorn Rampant

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