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My First Look at 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons

June 4, 2008
Dungeons & Dragons

Jeez Hank, the fun was here just an edition ago. I don't know where it went!

Thanks to an unscrupulous (or should that be Chaotic Nuetral?) employee of the print company that Wizards of the Coast must have been using to print the 4th Edition Core Rulebooks for Dungeons & Dragons, I had an opportunity to look over some illicit PDFs of the latest edition of the game I love, many hate, and some love to hate. I say an employee of the print company because one of the PDFs still has pressman’s marks on it (the little trim marks and color information around the outside edge of the paper after it’s gone through prepress). While the others don’t have these marks, one of them has a font issue that could be chalked up to being a press proof.

When Wizards of the Coast (WotC) began leaking details of the upcoming 4th Edition, there was a lot of mixed feelings in the circles I run in. Some were very excited to see something new coming from the D&D camp. Some were ambivalent, not really caring one way or the other because they didn’t intend on switching away from the 3.5 edition rules. Some were frustrated, likening what they were seeing to a “dumbing down” of the tabletop roleplaying games. Not having bothered taking a look at any of the advanced detail releases, I didn’t bother getting in on the discussions.

Then, last week, this Chaotic Nuetral rogue released the 4th Edition D&D PDFs, and I decided to take a look (I’m not going to tell you how I got them – you can figure that out for yourself). What have they done to my Dungeons & Dragons?! It reads like a tabletop version of an MMORPG!

Cool downs, supernatural abilities for non-supernatural creatures, and variations in the Monster Manual that read like something directly out of World of Warcraft. On top of that, add numerous suggestions to Dungeon Masters to skip boring encounters and get the players on to the next combat, trap or puzzle. Combat rules also assume that you’re using D&D miniatures, battlemaps and dungeon tiles (all available from WotC!).

On the other side of things, though, is that 4th Edition pre-sales have outstripped 3.5 pre-sales by a wide margin, and I can’t be upset about more people involved in the hobby.


From → Tabletop RPGs

  1. I left D and D after playing a year and a half of 3.5 (which was sort of a returning to the game after having played 3.0 for a while). When I first heard about 4.0 I shrugged my shoulders… until I actually started reading about it. A lot of the “It’s an MMO!” comments make me laugh since making it more like an MMO is part of why I think the game will play better. Threat (or taunts or some other reason for the fighter to be taking the hit) should have been in the game from the beginning and now they have worked to add that and all sorts of other ways to stop characters from exploding constantly and needing to run back to the temple to rez someone in the middle of a dungeon. And you can’t tell me the “Okay let’s get him rezed… again!” feel of the game isn’t MMO like.


  2. I haven’t seen the illicit documents yet, though I might check them out at some point. I did give a listen to the 4e game run for the PvP and Penny Arcade guys, released as a podcast. Based on that, comments like yours, and what others are saying, I’m not particularly thrilled. I wasn’t intending on rushing out to buy the books unless I found a group that was or wanted to play 4e. It doesn’t sound like the game is evolving into something in which I’m particularly interested.

  3. accidentalrob permalink

    I suppose what really burns my butt are the comments I’ve seen in the books saying things like “When you’re building an adventure, try to vary the encounters you include. […But] fun is one element you shouldn’t vary. Every encounter in an adventure should be fun. As much as possible, fast-forward through parts of an adventure that aren’t fun. An encounter with two guards at the city gate isn’t fun. Tell the players they get through the gate without much trouble and move on to the fun. Niggling details of food supplies and encumbrance usually aren’t fun, so don’t sweat them, and let the players get to the adventure and on to the fun. Long treks through endless corridors in the ancient dwarven stronghold beneath the mountains aren’t fun. Move the PCs quickly from encounter to encounter, and on to the fun.” That’s not how I play, and that’s what I base my opinions on. But that’s all they are – my opinions. Not the gospel truth.

  4. JimmyJ permalink

    Thanks for the preview, Rob. And I agree 100% with you. I’ve had amazing rpg sessions with very little action, but have added many layers to both the characters & the story being told. This new edition sounds like a video game. Those “little details” that they want you to skip over are in my opinion opportunities being missed. “Niggling details over food supplies” or meeting 2 city guards at a city gate could prove to be highly entertaining or even adventures in their own right, if you give the players a chance to…role play. Sounds like they just want people to fight & total ignore things like story & character development, which is a disservice to the RPG industry.
    P.S. Did we REALLY need a 4th edition so soon?

  5. D&D4 has kicked me in the guts after I got all excited about it a few weeks ago. The MMOG on paper anology is spot on.

    If you get a moment read through some of the blog entries at and see what a few players think.

  6. searchingforserenity permalink

    I played my first 4th edition scenerio recently. And while the jury is still out until a few more sessions, my first reaction is that Wizards haven’t messed the game up too much.
    The only thing that I totally can’t stomach is the idea that an extended rest (or camp of six hours) allows you to regain all your hit points.
    So, you fight a red dragon, lose 100 hit points, but have a bit of a rest and you’re all fine again!?! I know it’s fantasty but come on Wizards, lets have a bit of reality please!

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