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An Introduction To 4th Edition

Written by Krystal - Published on June 30, 2010

Alright DnDers, I’m about to step into the world of 4E — now do not be alarmed! I am not leaving behind 3-3.50 editions of dnd, I’m simply stepping into both realms as I have recently been playing fourth edition. For anyone who has not tried fourth edition yet (if there are any of you) let me give a brief introduction.

4E is commonly referred to as an MMO, I’ve played it several times and my computer was rather unnecessary for the process. In 4E characters do not have “Spell’s per day” or “Basic Attacks” they have powers each split into four parts; Utility Powers, At Will Powers, Encounter Powers, and Daily Powers. Every character has these abilities and it’s not limited to one class or race, as well as they have the classes set into roles to help the parties; Striker, Defender, Controller, and Leader. They have it readily available to use miniatures a lot easier, as well as tile sets you can lay out and create your own map. Miniatures are now available in a plastic alternative, though you can still get the heavier and classic miniatures if you want. When you buy a set of miniatures from the official Dungeons and Dragons 4E sets they come with “Power Cards” which lays out the level, hps, ability scores, and their powers (each monster has it’s own special ability). The combat turn now utilizes it’s actions more efficiently. Standard action is anything like attacking, picking locks, using a skill etc. Minor actions are now more useful, as you have powers that are considered part of the ‘minor’ action slot, and of course the movement action as well. Now that I’ve mentioned a little bit about 4E for those of us who may not have played it yet, let’s get more into detail.

Third edition I’ve always thought a magic caster was hard to play since they can cast their four little spells then are almost useless or suicidal after that, the thing I like about fourth edition is the usage of “At will” abilities since it gives magic users something to do on a regular basis without having to run out of spell points — Since they are innately magical it only makes sense. Now it’s not like their most powerful abilities are at wills, those are usually either Daily powers (which obviously can only be used once a day) or Encounter powers which can be recovered after a short rest.  Usually after a combat, the players takes a 5 minute break before continuing onward.  For out-of-combat use of encounter powers, as long as you have 5 minutes of rest, you can use the encounter power again.

Fighters and melee classes also seem a bit more fun to play considering the fact that they too have special abilities such as “Sure Strike”, which allows you to target a single creature and it’s your Strength +2 VS AC, you give up the extra points of damage that your strength would usually do in order to get an extra plus 2 to hit, as opposed to say “Cleave” you hit one enemy and cleave into another, when you hit you do your regular damage and an enemy adjacent takes damage equal to your strength modifier. So being a fighter gives you a little more leeway and choices then it did in previous editions.

Milestones or action points is another thing that’s been added in, action points give your character an extra action; for example they can use an action point when in a pickle to get off a second attack or use a potion or something along those lines. Action points reset every time you rest but the DM can give you extra action points after you beat a boss or hit a “Milestone”, which are hit at the end of every second encounter, whether it be a skill challenge or combat encounter, and these are what give you extra action points.

They’ve also added in the ability to regularly heal yourself using healing surges, and upped your hit points. Hit points are calculated by your constitution SCORE plus a number depending on class, and an extra 5-8 a level depending on class. Half of your hit points causes you to be “Bloodied”, bloodied may do nothing, but it also can give you special attacks or bonuses depending on your skills, it may also give the enemy advantages or disadvantages depending on their skills, bloodied is a very versatile and interesting trait added into fourth edition. Half of your bloodied score is your healing surge value, you get a certain amount of healing surges a day and they can not be used during battle. Instead they have come up with “Second Wind”, which is an Encounter Power and it gives you the use of one healing surge and a bonus to your defenses until next turn. I know a lot of people who have complained about this saying it was stupid, well, if you were still playing third edition and you were given the ability to heal yourself for free could you really complain?

This brings us to Death, when you hit zero you drop and need to start making saving throws. You roll a D20 and if you get a 1-9 then you fail, if you fail three times you die or when you reach your bloodied value in the negative. If you roll a natural 20 then get ready! Since you are able to use a healing surge and it counts as if you were at zero hit points, so even if you had negative hit points you don’t have to heal those, simply start counting at zero and stand up!

Saving throws for anything are handled in a similar manner, you can be affected by poisons, sleeps, or ongoing damage during combat, a save usually ends these effects. Saves are commonly done after your turn and after you take the ongoing or whatever affect hits you, unless you have a special ability which sometimes lets you do it before. A save is simply a D20 and 1-9 you fail, 10 or above you succeed and end the negative effect.

As for AC the AC theory is almost the same, except that you add one half your level to your defenses and a few other things, which I really like. As a character levels he should get some sort of bonus, and half your level isn’t too Gody but it’s just enough to be something, Your reflex, willpower, and fortitude now work just like your AC with 10 + your ability modifier + ½ your level and whatever other misc. modifiers you might have.

Spot checks have been changed into “Passive Perception”, they also have “Passive Insight”, this makes sense because if you are not actively looking for something, how good is your character at noticing things? This takes away chance and makes it a bit more realistic, but you can still actively look for things as well and you get a check when you are doing so.

The skills are compacted, which I appreciate, it doesn’t take twenty years to fill out our skill points — despite the fact that I do enjoy some of the 3rd edition skill sets and I have a lot of fun with them, not having them doesn’t mean I can’t use them still, they are simply compacted. I’m not going to give up third edition mind you, but switching back and forth can be a fun change in things for awhile.

Another nice thing they added was Minions, minions are exactly like whatever monster you choose only they have one hit point, this is so you can throw hoards and hoards of monsters at your player characters and make things seem epic without slaughtering your group. This is also good for solo adventures when you have one regular monster and three more backing it up that are considered minions. Minions still hold the exact same AC, powers, abilities and stats as the monster chosen so they can still be quiet a handful.

The other day while playing my Changling Hybrid Rogue Swordmage (it sounds epic, and it really is just an experimental character that I threw together for fun) I really would have to say I enjoyed skill challenges, as it feels like 4E pushes for skill challenges a bit more, which is awesome. They have group skill challenges and just solo challenges in which give you experience, I’m not sure exactly how it works yet but I know you get so many tries and after so many fails/successes determines the outcome, it’s not simply one fail and it’s over, you get a few graces. From my experience it’s ‘don’t fail three times’.

What’s really going on in this article here is I encourage you whom have not tried it yet to try it, it’s not an MMO, and it can be played very similarly to the former editions with a few tweaks; I’m not saying convert over to it completely but it is a good game, and this is coming from a group of non believers (I was excited for 4E but my group wasn’t) so go, try it out! And for those of you who know 4E really well, I encourage you to comment and tell us your favorite parts of 4E and maybe correct some of my information in case I messed up. Being a new player, it’s fun to hear what other people have to say about fourth edition. And haters, you too! If you played and tested and bought all the books and hated it, tell us! Until then, happy gaming guys!

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Written by Krystal

At a young age, my mother opened up her own gaming store. We had two game rooms, an office, and the front area which had a ton of miniatures and books. I helped manage that store for several years, my mother teaching me the ropes and treating me like an adult so I could learn. Even beyond that she played games at stores like Haster Hobbies and several other places. In fact, my parents met gaming! DnD kind of runs in my blood, as well as any other gaming you can think of. I’m simply a gamer at heart, an artist, and a jack of all trades. I love to write and that’s why I’m here at Dungeon Mastering! I’m going to be going to school for Video Game Design, and my bf is going to school so he can publish Core Rule Sets. In the short few years I’ve been with him I’ve learned all about how to create my own rule system and create a game from the ground up! But my expertise is not limited to DnD alone. I’ve ventured far into Call of Cthullu, and beyond to games like Shadowrun and some White Wolf games..though I’m not a big fan of dice pools. :)

Anyways! Gaming is my passion and my life. I game constantly, go to conventions, and so much more! Maybe I’ll see you there! Happy Gaming!

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17 Responses to “An Introduction To 4th Edition”
  1. Tialla says:

    A few comments from to confirm I’ve read, the article’s quite good:

    Encounter powers are regained at the end of a short rest. Usually after a combat, you will take a short rest, a 5 minute long break, before continuing onward. For out-of-combat use of encounter powers, as long as you have 5 minutes of rest, you can use the encounter power again.

    Milestones are hit at the end of every second encounter, whether it be a skill challenge or combat encounter, and these are what give you extra action points.

  2. Krystal says:

    Ah! After every second encounter, my DM’s been cheating us! Ahaha! Thanks for the comment, Tialla. My DM owes me a lot of action points….

  3. Brett says:

    I have found playing a magic user is very fun in 4E. There was nothing worse than running out of useful spells, and finding something to do in fights.
    I would say that battles tend to last a lot longer in 4E than 3-3.5. Yet I have been playing off and on for 20 years, and this is my favorite edition.

  4. Gordon says:

    I used to play ADnD v2, and V3 when I was a lad, and now with my own kids, 4E just rocks. Easy and quick to learn, simple for the kids to grasp, and an incredible amount of fun.

  5. roaet says:

    I have found it easier to DM in 4.0. All the materials appear to lend themselves to newer DMs and, for the most part, are organized in a more logical way.

  6. anarkeith says:

    I encourage players new to 4e to see their powers as role-playing opportunities. They have cool names and flavor text for a reason. Skill challenges I explain as an opportunity for them to tell me (the DM) the story, using their skills to achieve the objectives they’ve outlined.

    For example: See that pirate, swinging from the rigging and raining death on the party? The rope he’s on passes through a pulley secured to the mast, right? OK, I shoot the pulley with my crossbow to drop him 30′ to the deck!

  7. Kocho says:

    Eh, 4e is great for beginners, but if u want a system that’s really easy, set the newbies up as 3.5e psionic characters.
    Never used a better system, and 3.5 is just more robust in general. There’s more support for it as well.
    The only complaints I have as a switcher is 1) that low level characters are much weaker, 2) the higher level monsters require more work to play (they have spells and spell-like abilities!) and 3) I miss the elemental chaos, but wait, I can bring that over since it’s mostly flavor!
    There’s more “templates” given to homebrew with, and it’s a much more mod-able system.
    Just my two cents.

  8. Shane says:

    Healing surges actually are often used in battle — when your cleric uses a healing prayer or your warlord calls out an Inspiring Word, these powers are fueled by your healing surges. If you’ve used all of your surges for the day, those healing powers are useless.

    It is also worth noting that when you make a death saving throw, you can spend a healing sure on any modified result of 20+ — this means that if you take feats that give you a saving throw bonus, you can jump up on a dice result of 19 or maybe less!

    Skill Challenges are more of an art than a science. If you ever decide to look into them further, take every bit of the DMG and every article written online as more of a guideline than anything. More than anything, a Skill Challenge works best as an opportunity for freeform roleplay to overcome a situation or obstacle than it does a structured encounter.

    My group has developed a really fun method for playing out skill challenges. Feel free to email me if you’re at all interested in an explanation — I won’t take up tons of comment space for it.

    Glad to hear that you are enjoying 4th Edition — it’s nice to know there are others out there who can enjoy both and haven’t set themselves firmly against one or the other.

  9. As someone who loved 4e at the start, has every book and has been playing/running 4e since release… I can safely say I’ve learned to hate it. I dislike the design choices shaping the edition, I dislike the artificial feel of encounters, I dislike well, now, nearly everything. My group were eager adopters of 4e, but now, we’re done with it.

    Good luck with your endeavor… I loved it once…

  10. Kocho says:

    @Rhetorical Gamer:
    Yep. 4e is great until you’ve learned it really well and tried combat in it. It just doesn’t feel as natural. Though it’s nice for occasional things to bring into other games, the books are mostly useful for flavor, IMHO.

  11. Brent Rose says:

    At some point, and not after long, you come to realize how astonishingly well-balanced 4e is. The game simply can’t be broken. All previous editions of the game, most especially 3.5, were put together haphazardly, with just the idea that, “We’ll add this rule or that item, and the stats for it ‘feel’ about right,” with no thought to how the rest of the game could be broken or how the treasure or skill might affect the game. In 4e, there is almost mathematical precision to how everything is played, how DMs should award magic items, which monsters should be used by DMs and in which combinations, etc. The game doesn’t need a computer because it’s sufficiently balanced within itself.

  12. gull2112 says:

    I may bot have embraced 4E except that I came upon it from an specific angle. I was playing in a Star Wars SAGA campaign and after awhile I said “Hey, D&D should play like this, I’m going to start converting it over.” Well, many weeks of head-aches and false startsd later I found out that WotC was putting out a fourth edition and it was going to be based on SAGA. I was very excited and have been an eager enthusiast ever since.

    One thing I don’t get is when people say that it is too limiting. You can do so much more with 4E. I always had a character concept that involved a halfling fighter using a shield offensively. In all previous versions it didn’t really work and if it did at all it wasn’t until very high levels. With 4E my PC gets a definite feel right at first level and by fifth it is a definite concept. Finally, at 11th there is a specific paragon path that address his fighting style!

  13. Kocho says:

    The thing is, 4e IS much more limiting for many reasons:
    1) the lack of a book in the style of unearthed arcana (if you want to homebrew things like that, be my guest)
    2) multiclassing in 4e is hell and often not very useful (hybrids are closer, but can’t be picked in later levels)
    3) The power system, while nice, leaves you with much less flexibility. Which would be more flexible, a 10th lvl 4e sorcerer with 2 at wills, 3 encounter, 3 daily, and 3 utility spells, or a 10th lvl 3.5e sorcerer with 9 0th lvl spells (6 casts per day), 5 1st lvl spells (6 casts per day), 4 2nd lvl spells (6 casts per day), 3 3rd lvl spells (6 casts per day), 2 4th lvl spells (5 casts per day) and 1 5th lvl spell (4 casts per day)? Which would be more customizable? Which would be more flexible in various situations? Which could be used to serve as something other than a blaster? The 3.5e sorcerer, not the 4e one. Sorry, but your argument that 4e is less limiting is moot.
    I have no problem with you liking it better, but please make sure that your arguments make sense. A wizard 4/barbarian 3 is probably much more mixed than a 4e wizard with a barbarian multiclass feat. That same level of customizability just disappears. In 3.5 you can run a druid 5/wizard 3/rogue 4, whereas in 4e you CAN’T have more than 2 classes unless you’re a bard, and even then there isn’t much incentive to multiclass since the feats you get are almost useless, especially compared with others.

  14. Kocho says:

    @Brent Rose:
    Very few people would actually want to play those characters, so it didn’t matter. You actually are almost yelling my point about 4e being too limiting. If they throw things like that in, you don’t want to play the broken character. There are 2 reasons for this:
    1) It takes a lot of the fun away to play one.
    2) Angry dm’s are a sight to behold.
    Also, it’s not like there aren’t broken things in 4e. May I point you to http://community.wizards.com/charop/wiki/Broken/Broken ?
    Personally, I’ll keep using 3.5 until 5e, which has a chance of being good, but will probably just be more limitations added on to 4e.

  15. Tialla says:

    @kocho: At the same point, the things you talk about are some of the most unbalanced parts about DnD 3ed, where if not kept tightly under check with a DM, you destroy a game’s balance entirely.

    Unearthed Arcana, or the similar version that comes out in most versions of DnD, is a book that is filled with suggestions…but many of them tend to be unbalancing–from minor changes, to huge sweeping ones like gestalt characters.

    Multiclassing can be hugely beneficial if done cleverly, and isn’t meant to be too powerful. They didn’t want people to have a huge benefit to multiclassing, like they did in 3.5. In 3.5, most optimized builds required mixing and matching from different classes like crazy, picking and choosing so you could get just the right amount of benefits from a class–2-4 of fighter for feats, a few levels of psychic warrior if your DM lets you…and so on. They wanted the ability to add a little flavor from another class, without giving any huge benefit to make it necessary. And for some characters (Bards, for instance), multiclassing frequently to get these tastes of other characters is a huge benefit.

    Regarding your point on sorcerers–the problem is simply that they wanted to simplify things there. Yes, you have less options per day. You also have at-wills, so you never run out of spells. Which is more fun to play, on your fourth battle in a day, the level 1 Sorcerer from DnD 4ed, where you have 2 at-wills and an encounter left, having used up your daily, or the level 1 Sorcerer from DnD 3.5, where you’re running on fumes because your 5 Level 0s and your 4 Level 1s for the day are probably already out. They streamlined things by giving at-wills, to take away the usual problem of sorcerers vs fighters–that sorcs and wizards weren’t fun at first level, but were OP at twentieth. Now, fighters and sorcerers can have the same mechanics of at-will, encounter, daily, without power creep.

    Wizard/Barbarian? That’s a Wizard/Barbarian hybrid. They work pretty well, by the way! I have a friend who’s statted one up to emulate the ‘rage mage’ ideal of 3.5. ;)

    4e has limitations. 4e removes some of the flexibility of 3.5, by trying to remove the fragility of it. 3.5 made you go out of your way not to make choices that overpowered your character–because some of them were really obvious and always in your face. 4ed makes you go out of your way if you want to truly ‘break’ a character.

    In the end, it’s a choice of styles. Just because 4e is out, doesn’t mean 3.5 is invalidated and must be burnt! ;) You play your stuff, and I’ll play mine.

    Oh, and regarding the combat? I’m signing off as a LFR player and fan, and don’t have that stated problem. Given that I’ve gone through hundreds of combats to get my characters… ;)


    LFR characters:
    Kyrren – L15 Cleric
    Bryltar – L12 Warlock
    Aurican – L9 Bard
    Theren – L5 Avenger
    Iago – L4 Ardent
    Tialla – L3 Cleric
    Vayshan – L2 Runepriest

  16. Bobby says:

    I started off on 3.5 and I love it to death I still love playing 4th edition with my new group. here are the reasons why I like playing 4th 1) I find it easyer to roleplay with each other. 2) All magic charcters are fun to play now thanks to the encounter attacks. 3)Minions are a blast to kill. even if my dm goes a bit crazy with the numbers.. 4) If you’re new to dnd 4th edtion is a great intro to the games it’s easyer to learn compared with 3.5 and once you can play 4.0 u can play 3.5 a lot easyer.

    I’m currently playing both 3.5 and 4.0 i highly recomend both to new and old players. and if you don’t like 4.0 wait a bit longer for more of the books to come out andmaybe you will change your mind.

  17. James says:

    It is extremely clear that the main proponents of 4e like it for one obvious reason: its focus on roll-playing over role-playing.

    3e is clearly more open-ended and *un*limited than 4e when it comes to role-playing, there is NO question on that.

    However, some people enjoy the “game” aspect of it more. Basically going for the MMO experience. For example, Tialla plays LFR. LFR is basically 0% role-playing and based purely upon combat.

    Personally I honestly don’t see the point in playing D&D for that mmo experience of running a dungeon to get a +1 epic loot so that next week I will be able to get my +2. Its rather pointless when you can do the exact same thing in a real MMO without wasting a DM’s time.

    Yes you CAN role-play in 4e (not in LFR, but i digress), but clearly 3e facilitates it much better. Frankly D&D is utterly pointless without role-playing, and to me its the whole point of the game. If all I wanted was combat I’d definitely play a MMORPG or other game that is actually designed to give some sort of challenge– not D&D where its not only almost impossible to die but expected that you never fail (moreso in 4e of course).

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