Lessons Learned From 4th (keep and lose part 2)

Posted on September 18, 2012 by


Last time we discussed the non-mechanical, world building elements that Wizards brought to DnD with Fourth Edition. While I’ve already shared a bit of my dissatisfaction with 4th’s system, I’d like to get a bit more specific about my feelings on the mechanics of the Edition, with another installment of Keep and Lose:


1. Monster Stat Blocks

I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: In my opinion, Fourth’s greatest successes came with monsters: monsters had levels, they were easy to level up/down, their stat blocks were easy to use, and any powers they had were right there on the page; no consulting another book for their spells and spell-like abilities. Minions and Elites were fun to implement and mess with, and it was a great step to have each monster count as a player threat (so a party of 4 would fight 4, easy-peasy). Solo monsters were…more difficult to use well. Probably because of the multitude of status effects…well, we’ll get there.

I feel like monster powers were more successful than character powers. In no other editions did each monster have a unique set of abilities like they did in 4th. Making up monster powers and adapting them was really enjoyable as a DM. In fact, the monster adaptability, re-flavoring, and creation was really honed in 4th ed.

Example: in the Miranda Campaign, the heroes consistently ran up against the Iron Army of Bane. I wanted to really reflect this army as a massive machine of war, perfectly in harmony and deadly as hell because of it. I had soldiers who could knock down and slide the heroes, to hold them down for the raging bugbear brutes that would smash them into pieces. Warlords and Priests would grant their allies attacks and increase their effectiveness. The archers were just minions, but whenever they hit you, you would provoke an opportunity attack: A perfect chance for a soldier to knock you down and pin you, or a bugbear to knock a healing-surge’s worth of HP from you. Plus, kill an archer and they have a free attack to hit you with! The natural choice was to go straight for the minions, but the soldiers were there to mark you.

They were total douchebags.

Yeah, my party LOVED those guys. It would have been far more difficult to craft an army of that size for them to fight in any other game, I feel. Smashing up against groups of 10+ soldiers of Bane gave the game a feeling that it was really them against an endless army.

So far, the monsters in Next look fairly promising. I’m hoping they come up with a better system for determining challenge, but I like that they already changed it so monsters have their abilities in their blocks. I also like that they are using spells from the wizard/sorcerer spell list, but including it in the monster block. I feel like that helps give magic in the world a cohesive feeling. Then again, I actually like vancian magic, sooo…

2. Abolition of Fullround actions.

While I have serious issues with Powers, I do like that they replaced the escalating full-round attack option. Fighters were actually given new powers, instead of just a weaker additional basic attack every five levels.

3. Modular play

While I was initially skeptical of Essentials, I grew to really appreciate it as it developed. The simplification of characters, the better monster manuals…basically everything. I just think it was a better system. And it worked surprisingly well within a non-essentials game. People on the forums constantly cry “Complexity Equals Powers ALWAYS!!1!1!!”, but I think essentials proves that pretty fucking wrong. Strikers like the Thief and Blackguard are incredibly good classes, and outclass most regular strikers, with the exception of the Ranger, because fuck the Ranger.

Fuck you forever.

I think modular play, while a bit strange at first, is a really smart, fun system. A more simple game, like a heroic tier one shot, does not need any complexity. A game that has considerable warfare and strategy would be benefit far more from complex combat rules than a horror story or mystery. Including multiple options in the systems means each game can have the best system for it.

4. The Three Tiers.

I’ll be honest: Whatever I hate about Epic tier in 4th is nothing compared to how much I absolutely loathe the Epic Level Handbook from third. Breaking the game into a new ten levels, and tiering them was a great concept, in my mind. Each level had a much different flavor, and it made for amazing cliffhangers, “season ends”, and finales when the players finally achieved the next tier.

I’m hoping Next starts with just twenty levels, then releases an Epic Level Handbook that is more in line with epic levels in 4th than in Third, including epic themes, or “specialties” as they are now called.

5. Different attack/defense abilities.

The fact that wizards attacked with intelligence instead of dex with their rays. The fact that the cleric could use wisdom to attack. The bard attacking with charisma. I really appreciated that, even when it was silly (“My Avenger lifts his massive warhammer and uses it to smash the dragon’s head in, with his WISDOM!”). So far in Next we’ve seen that clerics still use melee attacks with strength (let’s be honest, it makes sense), while they use spell attacks with wisdom. So, we can still make a strength based war cleric, as long as they have some wisdom, or a completely wisdom based character who only uses spells. Badass. I love it. And a good lesson from 4th. I’ll never have to use my strength score to hit with Inflict Minor Wound. And Rogues will continue to attack with Dex without having to waste a feat for Weapon Finesse. Also good.

On the same level, it’s nice having strength used for Fort (or Fort saves), or charisma adding to Will. I much prefer that, as certain characters don’t have to spread out stats as much.

“I like myself FAR too much to be dominated, thank you.”

6. Powers

I’m about to completely contradict myself in a few paragraphs, but I will say, powers did some good. Clerics being able to attack while healing is a big one. Racial powers played a major roll in setting the races apart. Fighters finally got something to do. All good things… to a point. So where do we draw the line? I’m seeing thing like combat maneuvers, and enjoying them. We could borrow some stuff from Essentials, like the Knight and Slayer’s stances. Anything but encounter powers, please.

7. Racial Distinction

Elves literally had accuracy built into their system. Humans were not only good at anything, but had mechanics that represented their drive and will (Action Points and Saving throws). Dwarves were really fucking hard to put down. Racial feats supported tielfings being the best enchanters in the world, Eladrin being able to use swords expertly, and Dwarves being really godsdamn sturdy motherfuckers. I liked this.

She has literally never missed a single shot in her life. And she’s 342.


Uh, to be honest, this list is going to be a bit longer. I’ve already included a lot of it in “Why I’m Done With 4th”, but I’ll get more specific here.

1. Powers.

This is the big one. I’ve already written a lot about it, so here are some bullet points on why powers stopped working for me.

*They take too long, especially at higher levels. Each class has too many of them.

*They become repetitive. Once you have the powers you want, you will use them in each encounter, often in the same order.

*They make every class too similar.

*Encounter powers are the worst, because they make the game into separate, Final Fantasy style encounters, instead of a fluid, natural feeling game.

*They make the characters too isolated from their environment. Difficult terrain is the only thing that matters in the environment. There is no reason to ever interact with anything (Pushing an orc into a fire, swinging on a chandelier, etc) because your powers will, without a doubt, be better.

*They force the characters to do a specific thing, and do not inspire creativity in a game that is supposed to be about creativity. My group is a good one; they flavor their own powers, they use them creatively, when they can. But the game simply does not support that. My group plays well in spite of a system that actively discourages it.

So far, the introduction of combat “maneuvers”, which lack flavor and have a small technical bonus that can be used in different ways each turn, is my favorite part of Next. I also like the return to spells, but apparently I’m alone in that.

2. Items


Except that one.

3. Self Healing

Seriously, no more taking 6 seconds to heal practically to full. The fighter can’t just flex hard and seal his wounds. Maybe, maybe at higher levels they have a ring of regeneration or some shit. And yeah, that puts a lot of responsibility on the cleric. Tough. Potions, healing scrolls, resting: these are what heroes should rely on, not their own constant healing ability.

4. Bonuses

Pelor’s Light, did bonuses ever get out of hand in 4th! Half Level+Attribute+Feats+Proficiency+Magic Item Level+Situational+Combat Advantage+Etc. It was the situational ones that really got out of hand. Your cleric’s healing might give you a plus 5 on your next attack only, but because you used a particular power last round, you also gain a +3 to all attacks and damage for the next round. Same time and they don’t stack, so check what type they are. Have you hit that monster yet? No? Still 2 away? Don’t forgot he’s in difficult terrain! I’m sorry, has it taken twenty minutes to determine your attack? Awesome. So much fun.

5. Feats

Related to bonus: tax feats suck. Simple as that. Lose them and let’s never look back again.

6. Statuses.

Regulating each status and normalizing everything was good. At first. But then every monster started to feel the same because all of their powers did one of 8 possible things. A few of them were bad enough that you built a character to never be affected by that power (stun and dominate, e.g.). Plus everyone knew about each status and exactly what it did. This was good, in theory, for speeding up gameplay, but it also made monsters lack mystery. That vampire is looking at me! Oh, duh, dominate (save ends). Also deafen was stupid and useless.

It’s cool. I got a periapt of cascading health. I’m good.

Okay, so that’s it. For now. But I promise to stop ranting about the mechanical issues of the games for at least a few weeks of posts.

Posted in: Game Talk, Miranda