Wherein I Read 4E
by, 02-15-2010 at 08:37 PM (1225 Views)
So here I am, having sworn off any large reptilian magical beasts and the locales in which they nest, with Fourth Edition corebooks. And I gots to say, they look a real sight better than the previous edition's, just from a book angle; that is, the 3E books made my eyes gloss over, and the 4E books are *readable.* Lemme tell you, having your game's rules on white (or a lighter solid color) in nice big print makes a world of difference in how I read the text.
Also, the raised foreground artwork on the covers? Tactile awesomeness. No, I don't know why, but it is. So very much. (Plus, I is in lurve with the wizardy-lady on the PHB cover. Over on the DMG cover: dragon with piercings? Neat~ And it's scrying on the PHB cover folk!)
The internal artwork overall is decent, and some of the pieces are just plain fun. The art conveys a sense of actually doing things, rather than planning for contingencies, which is effective in communicating where the intent of the game lies.
As to the writing style, I really appreciate the acknowledgment of how the game's supposed to run. Having the chapter describing the base mechanic and an example of play *before* character creation is very much a good thing. As much as some dislike the concept of "builds" (which exists in 3E, too, from my experience), the intent of the class and its abilities are communicated with a clarity not found in the previous edition (where it was rather needed, heh).
Onto the subject of Powers. I think the name is unfortunate, as it evokes a specific flavor of action; "Abilities" would have been a nice, neutral name for magical and non-magical tricks, but alas, that term is already in use in the game :P Seriously, though, I *like* the implementation of Powers, more than any other change in 4E. Spreading the "interesting combat option" love to all classes and all builds can only be a good thing - unless, of course, you want separate avenues of conflict specialization ... to which I say DnD never had good mechanical support for non-combat conflicts. (Obviously, whether it should or not is, I think, a tangent to what DnD does, as written.)
I also like the tiered power structure, and that it starts you off at 'Heroic', rather than 'Shmuck.' Again, this is where communication of what sorts of things the characters should be doing is helpful, right from the get-go.
I'll gloss over the lists of Feats and gear, as I tend to do that, anyway; in general, though, the variety of options doesn't, to me, seem worth the space. But that's hardly unique to DnD :P Some of the feat differences between 3E and 4E look promising (read: interesting) and some look like math fixes (read: blah); overall, I'm neutral to approving.
Action points. Hooray! Some form of benny is core~ Though, as much as I like them, their implementation needs a bit of work to suit my taste. Or not, depending on what I want them to do, that they currently do not do. It'll take more than a cursory glance, with this one. (Unlike Force Points in Star Wars Saga Edition; those I felt compelled to gut from the beginning. But I digress.)
Let's talk PHB2 for a moment. Two things stand out to me, about this book's rules. First, "Barbarian" really should read "Berserker" (I said this about the 3E incarnation, as well). Second, the Bard looks damned fun. Like, damned fun. A 4E version of Sera (my bard from this last DnD campaign) would kick so much butt, and be so true to her character, without the baggage that the 3E-family rules saddled her with (Intimidate is a class skill now, and 'bout time~). Also, gnomes look interesting now, something I'd *want* to have in my games, instead of the earlier "like a dwarf, but not as surly or hairy." I'd prolly change their name, or something; the association with lawn ornaments and dickish EQ players is too great. (Same boat as halflings, really; despite the makeover from hobbit in 3E, I never liked 'em then. Now? I'm warming up to 'em, but they scream "name change," too.)
Okay, enough of this player-oriented material. Let's move on to the Dungeon Master's Guide. I don't have a whole lot to say on it, right now (for several reasons, not the least of which is it's been a long day at school, heh). First, Page 42 should be enshrined somewhere, to be deconstructed and built upon by future generations of gamers.
For those looking at me funny: a) stop that or your face'll freeze; and b) this is the page where it covers contingency actions. It's a rough outline on how to handle Things Not In the Books, like swinging from a chandelier to kick an orc into a brazier of fire. A semi-impartial way of dealing with expected target numbers and appropriate damages for improvised attacks. Which is something that should also have been in the PHB, perhaps, if only to showcase the fact that, mechanically speaking, doing stuff not on your sheet can very much be worth it. As it is, telling the DM it's okay for stuff not covered by The Rules to be effective is awesome.
Other than P. 42, the advice on how to make a game your own, through use of theme and style - as well as the explicit use of what amounts to creative thievery - is good stuff, generally speaking. I love it when a game gives suggestions on how to flavor the setting/abilities to taste, or how to otherwise own the game.
The sample adventure is, bluntly, a meat-grinder. The only thing that made me look twice is, well, they stated as much in its introduction. The end room seems a bit unnecessary, what with the "boss" fight one room back; yes, yes, what would a DnD game be without one of the titular concepts, but straight off? (Though, the fact that you *can* be fighting dragons straight out of the gate is good design :P) Still, I think there's enough here to appropriate and indoctrinate to where it's not just another loot-n-scoot encounter chain.
The only core book I intentionally did not get was the monster book. Not with DDI's Adventure Tools, and access to all the currently-published foes (and the tools to easily make my own~!). I will, however, say that going back to the mindset that NPCs don't have to use the same stat set as PCs was a fantastic move; all I need to know about an NPC, beyond personality and goals, is how it interacts with the PCs. Since DnD's rules are almost entirely focused on sticking them with sharpened lengths of metal, stripping out non-essential mechanical doodads from an NPC's stat block makes it so much easier. There's still some road to go, before NPCs are the right level of complexity, but this is a great first leg.
Also, Minions. Great Haruhi, Minions. Finally, the horde can be unleased~! (Without having to track every damned mook's hp totals. Stoopid accounting.)
As a system, I like what I read so far. And, having listened to the Penny Arcade/PVP podcasts (and started watching the Robot Chicken episodes), I *see* how the game runs. I'm jazzed about getting this one into our group's rotation, though it'll have to fight TMNT & Other Strangeness for "game I run next."