Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide, and Monster Manual
Pages: 320, 224 and 288
Publisher: Hasbro/Wizards of the Coast
Reviewer: Moody Loner
ISBN: 978-0-7869-4867-3, 978-0-7869-4880-2 and 978-0-7869-4852-9
Summary: The latest edition of the Dungeons and Dragons game.
First, an explanation of my title - a grognard is "a longtime wargamer, particularly one concerned with game mechanics, historical accuracy and realism." In D&D circles, this has been expanded to those who prefer an earlier edition over the newest one. So, yes, I'm going to start reviewing the Fourth Edition by talking about the First.
First Edition, Old AD&D, Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. Whenever I think of "playing D&D" it is First Edition that I'm thinking about. Going into a hole in the ground that conceals an elaborate underground labyrinth extending halfway to the magma, finding some green people with fangs, killing them, and taking their stuff. Weird, elaborate traps. Gleefully copying spells from captured spellbooks into your own - after nervously rolling percentage dice to see if you learn them. Tracking encumbrance and food. Training costs. Experience points from treasure. Artifacts. Bouncing lightning bolts. Rolling huge handfuls of damage dice while the fighter and thief look on in envy. Save or die. One-hitting the villain in the middle of his exposition. Trembling in fear at first level, and striding like a god at fifteenth.
Fourth Edition is so not that. Not entirely.
First, the Vancian magic system where you memorize/prepare/whatever a certain limited number of spells? Gone. You now have powers - some per encounter, some daily, and some "at will" so when your guard falls asleep at 3 AM and your party is ambushed the wizard isn't hosed. In fact, the slacker wizard can take his turn on watch - no longer does "I have to rest to recover spells" work to keep your spellcasters out of the watch rotation.
Oh, and speaking of powers, the fighters, rangers, warlords, and rogues get them too. Theirs are "exploits" rather than "spells" or "prayers" and deal more with combat tricks instead of the big booms. Nevertheless, everyone has something to do in combat besides swing and miss and swing again.
Wait, warlords? Yes, warlords are a new class that, along with clerics, take the "leader" role. Leaders are able to give their allies extra moves and attacks and slide them around the battlefield, as well as give them extra healing on top of their own.Yes, player characters can heal by themselves during combat. And extra moves are cooler than they sound, mobility and position play a much larger role in combat now.
Your fighter and paladin, the "defenders", can bounce more damage with their higher ACs and can hurt people trying to ignore or get past them, reducing the chance that the Other Team swarms your squishier party members.
"Strikers", rogues, rangers, and warlocks, can do awesome amounts of damage, generally to one target at a time. They tend to have worse AC and hit points, so they serve as the hammer to your fighters' anvil. Usually.
"Controllers", your wizards, do damage to a lot of enemies at once. Their main role, however, is in controlling the battlefield. They have spells that can channel, move, slow, and deny areas to your opponents, making them easier to be hit and damaged by your defenders and strikers.
As far as the books themselves go, previous editions have stated that the Players' Handbook is the only book required for a player at the table. This edition delivers on that, as our group did not once have to dig out a DMG or ask the DM to look something up for their players. The only reason to have a Monster Manual as a player is if you're using one of the monster race templates in the back, and the pertinent info should be on your character sheet anyway.
The thing that impressed me the most was how our first-level characters didn't suck. I will always remember my first AD&D character with fondness. He was the first character I ever played. He was a fighter, his highest ability score was a 14, and he had two hit points.
Let's face it. He sucked.
The elven ranger I built for the Fourth Edition game using the supplied ability score arrays, on the other hand, did not suck. The pregenerated cleric my wife was running - from playtesting - did not suck. The eladrin wizard my seven-year-old daughter made, whose powers were chosen "because I like the ice ones" most emphatically did not suck.
It wasn't a Monty Haul game. There was some casual curiosity among the party as to whether or not we would survive a few of the encounters - particularly when I demonstrated my "minion sweep" maneuver against a line of skeletons that turned out not, in fact, to be minions. Oops.
But we did not suck. Each of us had valuable contributions to make to the party. There wasn't one or two broken builds and the rest of us watching them have all the fun.
Yes, the game is simplified again. Yes, the equipment, weapon, and armor lists are even smaller. Yes, they made alignments generally not worth doing. Yes, it looks a lot like Basic D&D meets World of Warcraft.
But if it can maintain the gameplay that we had at our first game across thirty levels of play, and I have no reason to see why it can't, then Fourth Edition will take its place alongside hallowed First as "Dungeons and Dragons".