Geeking It Up: D&D 4th Edition

The new 4th edition of Dungeons and Dragons was just recently released, and after listening to the Penny Arcade/PVP podcasts of their pre-release sessions with the game, I decided that it would be a fun way for me to get back in to tabletop RPG games after an extended hiatus, as well as a great way to bring my friends together and introduce them to the joys of D&D.

After sitting around and chatting for a while over snacks, we got down to the business of creating characters. Since I had bought the books, and had already done the planning, I handled the role of Dungeon Master, though on several occasions I was assisted by one of my players who had done some of his own boning-up on the new rules. As we discovered, character creation in the 4th edition is somewhat convoluted and unclear. Despite the slavish devotion to rules and tables that characterized the old AD&D, I must admit that I missed its fairly straightforward character creation. That, combined with all of us being new at the game itself (and most to tabletop RPGs in general), made for a somewhat tiring experience, though it did provide us all the opportunity to learn about the different races and character classes Spoiler: There are several new races, and a couple of new character classes.

After a couple of hours, we had all the characters rolled up and ready to go. I introduced the players to the environment, and ran them through their first combat encounter. At first, it was a little choppy, as most of the players were learning how combat works in D&D, and I was still learning some of the new rules. However, within a few attack rounds, everyone seemed to be getting the hang of it, and I think by the end of the encounter, everyone had at least a rough idea of what was going on. I found the new combat encounter system to make a LOT more sense than the original D&D or AD&D rules (having never played D&D 3rd edition, I can’t comment on its system, but I suspect it is similar to the 4th edition). In particular, the simplified hit rules (everything hits Armor Class, Fortitude, Will, or Reflex) and the much more balanced skills system (which allows magic-using characters to participate without worrying too much about using up ALL their magical ability on a single encounter, unlike previous versions) lead to a successful conclusion for all the characters.

My overall feeling is that this is a good start, but that the Player’s Handbook needs some work in terms of explaining how to build a character – The labeled diagram of the Character Sheet is nice, but it doesn’t really explain the process all that well. The Dungeon Master’s Guide is definitely solid, and covers pretty much everything needed. The lack of Dungeon Master’s Screen (slated to be released in August) is, as far as I’m concerned, a serious oversight on the part of the company who developed the new rules – Most DMs prefer to have a screen to roll behind, or at least keep a few tricks/props/etc stashed behind. The first pre-packaged adventure, Keep on the Shadowfell, is very nicely put together – the art on the map is nice, the Quick-start rules are pretty solid for those who may not have already bought the books, and having some pre-rolled characters would be a fast way to get rolling. One minor quibble there is the lack of miniatures to go along with the adventure – I know that they’re going to be releasing the new D&D Miniatures along with some new rules very soon, but a basic set to go along with the adventure would’ve been really handy. Still, the maps are a definite plus, and I feel that the adventure is fleshed-out well enough that a rookie (or rusty) DM would be comfortable picking this up. Another heartening development is that the online community has already come up with some nice things, like a typeable form PDF of the Character sheet, and cards to represent skills and powers. I’m looking forward to experimenting with these tools during my next game.

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