In a strange parallel universe where the laws of book publication are twisted, 4th Edition D&D came out before 3rd Edition. Through a temporal digital wormhole I have received a review of 3rd Edition D&D from the perspectives of a long-term 4e D&D player called “The Gray Wolf”. I submit it here, unedited, for your perusal.
It’s been a long time coming, but at last I have the latest Edition of the core D&D rulebooks in my hands. I know there’s been a lot of speculation and rumour on the internet about whether the Powers system has survived the revision, so let’s deal with that first.
Powers. Are. Gone.
Yes folks, in this Edition there’s no Powers at all. The good folks at Sorcerers of the Coast have listened to player feedback. While Powers are great for teaching newer players how to play the game, their “cookie-cutter” nature meant that attacking with the same 4 or 5 “kewl Powerz” all the time got boring, fast. Instead, you’re on your own and encouraged to actually role-play through the combat, describing each swing and attack as you see it in your mind’s eye. While that’s always been possible with Powers, few folks did, instead just saying “I use Riposte Strike” and letting the role-play fall by the wayside. In this Edition you’ve got your character, your sword and your imagination. It’s…. liberating.
No Powers also means there’s less of a need for a battlemat and minis. Whilst that style of play is possible – and encouraged – by the ruleset, it’s also very easy to play without as an entirely “in your head” experience. Congratulations to SoTC for creating a truly Internet-friendly Edition of D&D. This is a game that can be played via IRC, email or even Twitter. Thank you thank you thank you!
It is also an Edition of D&D that steps away from the combat-intensive and more console-gamey style of play and gives us a purer and (dare I say it?) old-school rpg experience. The skill list has been expanded to include skills that aren’t directly applicable in combat including (at last!) Ride. We’re also given the meta-skills of Craft, Perform and Knowledge which further subdivide depending on type of craft, performance style or area of Knowledge. Arcana, Nature, History, Religion and Dungeoneering all fall under the Knowledge meta-skill, and they’re joined with Architecture, Geography, Nobility – or anything else you can imagine. All in all, the expansion of the skill list means character generation can focus as much on what the character can do outside combat, as well as in the thick of battle. I like.
On to the specifics themselves.
In the Players Handbook we’re given 7 Races with a few changes to the line-up. Eladrin are (thankfully) gone, having been subsumed into a single Elven race entry. If you want to play Gray Elves (the new, and IMHO better name for Eladrin), you’ll find them in the Monster Manual instead. This fixes the “too many elves!” criticism of the PHB. We still have half-elves though, and they’re largely the same diplomats who walk between the two races we known and love.
More surprisingly, Tielflings and Dragonborn have also falied to make the cut, having been replaced with the Half-Orc and Gnome. I suspect that the Gnome’s popularity has elevated it to core Race status, and it’s good to see the Half-Orc there too as a noble savage – again, this shows that this Edition’s focus is on role-playing rather than kewlness. Still, the cynic in me expects there’s plans for supplements all about the “missing” Tiefling and Dragonborns in the near future.
When it comes to classes there’s – get this – ELEVEN of them, right from the start, including the Druid, Monk and Barbarian! The Warlock and Warlord are gone, though as with the Dragonborn I’d expect to see there return soon.
One word of warning – characters in this Edition of D&D are a LOT less powerful that we’re used to! A 1st level character will have only a handful of Hit Points and there’s no fiddly Healing Surge tracking to keep him alive. According to the designers that’s intentional at it opens up a whole new avenue of gritty, low-level, street-level play between levels 1 to 4. If you want to play a character comparable in abilities to your existing Edition character, start at 4th level.
Me, I’m excited by the possibilities of street-level play where the players must rely on their wits rather than swish Powers to solve a situation. Bring it on!
Over in the Monster Manual, things have changed too. We’re given far more information about the ecology and nature of each creature, and even without Powers the statblocks have doubled in length! I’m not sure this is a good thing, and it certainly looks much more complex to create your own monsters in this Edition. I’d expect more GMs to try it, once, then stick to what’s on the page. Oh, and Dragons are SCARY! We’ve got them right back at the top of the tree again just where they belong. They look a lot more complex to run than the Dragons we know and love, but that at least should solve the problem of every scenario ending with a Dragon Fight :D
Finally, there’s the DMG. It’s a good, solid tome but seems to be lacking somehow. There’s no ready-made setting, no ready to run dungeons and nothing to kickstart the game right form the start. What we do have is the Magic Items here instead of in the PHB. In some ways that’s a good thing because it means the DM can keep their secrets all to himself, but I know the players are going to miss picking their magic goodies for higher-level characters without the GM looking over their shoulder.
One last mention has to go to the Open Gaming License. SoTC have created something truly remarkable by opening up the entire game system (barring a few proprietory name and terms) to third-party developers. This, more than anything else, is going to drive the RPG industry forward for years to come. It’s forward thinking like this that has put SoTC right at the top of the industry, and it’s what will keep them there. I pray they never change.
Overall, this Edition of D&D is one to watch. Less combat focused, more role-playing intensive and….. dare I say it….. more fun?
Only time will tell.