4e Review: PHB, Part II: The Good, The Bad, and the slightly more Bad

Opening note:  “bad” is a relative term here and likely inappropriate.  “Less good” or “not quite as awesome” might be better.

The Good:

UPDATE:  Forgot about the no penalties thing!  All defenses are modified by 1 of 2 possible stats.  You choose which at character creation.  Have a lumbering fighter with low dex?  No problem, simple add your strength to AC instead of dexterity!  A wizard smarter than she is nimble?  No problem, use intelligence to determine your reflex defense in place of dexterity.  Again this all serves towards the general trend of defining your character by what the CAN do rather than by what he/she CAN’T do.

Save for opening chapter the PHB lacks fluff and is super crunchy.  Not different from previous editions, but reads more like a Manual than other editions.  Essentially this lets the player learn the game before settling into a campaign, and leaves the DM free to craft the environment and atmosphere of the campaign world.  I’ve always felt that established campaign worlds have a lot of baggage for a DM to manage, by sketching only the barest outlines of a game world WotC leaves things wide open from a creative standpoint.  Of course this leaves later, non-essential, supplements to add flavor and fluff to the campaign world.  For those who love their established settings late 3.x saw WotC place emphasis on the Player’s Guide to [insert Campaign Setting]; a trend I like and a trend that will continue with September’s Player’s Guide to the Forgotten Realms.  The separation of Player info and DM info is a good thing and a published guide for Players certainly takes some of the onus off of the DM for conveying the mountain of information often needed to introduce a new campaign setting.

Read on for more…..

Fourth edition offers a clear set of rules for non-combat encounters.  Detractors, at least prior to release (you know who you are!), claimed this discourages roleplaying, but I would argue that the opposite is true.  By designing specific rules for handling skill based encounters WotC has, in essence, created an outline by which to guide roleplaying; not to override it completely.  The example in the DMG of a Skill Challenge is heavy on the role-playing with each player’s in-character reactions unlocking different skills to use throughout the encounter.  In this instance structure begets possibility.

Magic Items are now in the PHB.  How many times as a DM in 3.x have you had to hand over your trusty blue book to a player on a shopping spree?  Or had more than one player clamoring to take a look.  I know I’ve lost count.  With magic items in the hands of the players this is now a non-issue.  Changes to the function of many magic items make them more interesting though not necessarily more powerful.  Elemental weapons now deal all elemental damage rather than additional (this can be turned on and off) and all magic weapons deal additional damage on a critical (d6 per enhancement bonus, if I’m not mistaken) and, in addition all items (that aren’t just a generic +x whatever) typically have some sort of cool daily ability to use.  Certain types of items are gone completely, namely items that grant static enhancements to ability scores, instead an increased rate of ability point gain is built into character progression (yay!) leaving magic items to enhance, not determine, what you can do.  All in all, really cool stuff.

No extraneous rolling.  Things that required two or more rolls in previous editions are, as far as I can see, down to 1 roll.  Things like grapple and critical hits.  You do have to confirm a critical hit (something not mentioned Keep on the Shadowfell) but it doesn’t require a second roll; only that your natural 20 (an automatic hit, regardless) modified by your attack meet or beat the target defense score (i.e. a natural 20 with an attack modifier of 6 is a critical hit vs. AC 17).  I can’t see many cases where this is really an issue, especially at lower levels.

The Bad:

Multiclassing.  Already said my piece in my overview, but non-min/maxers that liked mixing classes are SOOL here.  Min/maxers are supremely screwed in multiclassing; but I’m not going to cry about that.  Not a deal breaker but certainly a bit of a let down.

We are missing a  lot of core classes.  I love druids, which are M.I.A.  Monks, and bards are missing as well, though the Warlord functions similar to the 3.x bard, and is class I really like.  The druid’s emphasis on his animal companion is the likely source for his exclusion.  As much as I like the animal companion as a player, as a DM they can be a bit of a headache, and I won’t cry too much when the 4e druid shows up minus his furry friend (Note:  suspected but not confirmed).  The Sorcerer is also gone, but hints abound on the ‘net already regarding his ongoing redesign (wild magic anyone?).  I’m curious what the Sorcerer will look like in 4e, since his 3.x self had been crying for some kind of redesign since its release.  With the stated intention of releasing new Player’s Handbooks on a vaguely regular timetable we will most certainly see the return of classes missed in this initial outing.

The ascetics of the books are little too clean for my tastes.  The clean lines and starkly contrasted colors, while an aid to readability, deprive the books of some character.  Not a deal breaker, but a little of an attempt to replicate that old school feel would have been appreciated.  I was particularly distressed to see that same uniformity of design carried over into the Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide as setting books have, in the past, had their own unique look and feel.

The epic destinies chapter was a little sparse for my tastes.  I would have liked this chapter expanded and moved to the DMG, or at least expanded in the DMG, to provide some tips on how to integrate some of this material in a campaign.

Not really a bad thing I admit, but everything is awesome.  This makes character creation difficult.  Every class has something I like, every race is cool making character creation an arduous process.  I just want to play everything.  You hear me WotC!  Make things less awesome…or don’t.

The Badder:

A sudden steep drop off in productivity?  If I were still in school I might be lamenting the sudden cliff-like drop in GPA thanks to devoting too much free time to play D&D.  If that’s the worst part, and so far it is, congratulations WotC on a frickin’ kick-ass product.

Honestly, I can’t think of anything to put here.  At least, not this early in my experience with the game.  Once I’ve seen more and gotten a better handle on leveling and power scaling I might have something to add here, I hope not, but you never know.

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5 thoughts on “4e Review: PHB, Part II: The Good, The Bad, and the slightly more Bad

  1. A bunch of reasons. They were a widely varied class that doesn’t fit into any particular class role. 3.5 druids were casters, scouts and front-line fighters with the potential to excel at all three. I love the 3.5 druid, but if I’m being honest I have to admit that the class is a bit broken.

    Party line is that they’re “not ready yet.” Druids will make it in 4e, I have no doubt, but finding a way to make them jive with the new mechanics has got to be a challenge. Given that they could do so much in 3.5 finding a particular role to shoehorn them into is likely a bitch. My bet is on “striker,” mobility and high damage. But the PHB is already striker heavy (Ranger, Rogue, Warlock) so they could go another way.

  2. I would like to see the druid as more of a controller. Using things like earth, wind, and water to move or immobilize enemies, and if TPTB allowed the ‘furry friend’ mechanic, I could see them being used as well to control the battlefield. In that same vein however, I would argue that the rogue is at least partially a Controller. Even with acrobatics and such, he is still a little too squishy for my liking; especially when he can “latch” on to a target and push them around for an entire encounter. My .02.

  3. The controller idea occurred to me as well, and given that there is only one controller so far (the Wizard), that might be the way to go.

    I see your point on the rogue, but the rogue is designed to work against a single enemy (at least as far as I can see). The Wizard, the only controller we’ve seen, has AoE spells targeted specifically for mobs at varying levels of power (Scorching burst at will, icy terrain as an encounter, and sleep as a daily; to list the level 1 options). But again the Wizard balances out that major battlefield control with a certain level of squishiness that I don’t think the druid should reflect.

    Regardless it’s a difficult balancing act for a 4e Druid. I do remember reading somewhere (likely over at Enworld) that an early play-test druid used more elemental based powers, which reminded of the nature aspect variant from 3.5 Unearthed Arcana.

  4. Pingback: Summer Gaming Mallaise « King of the Nerds!!!

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