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Saturday, February 22, 2014

10 Awesome Things About D&D 4th Edition

"Is that a bewb? Oh.. nevermind."
I love 4th edition. I'd guess that I played more of it than almost anybody on the planet. That said, I know it is far from perfect. The fights take way too long... usually at least 45 minutes. Too many powers. And try picking a feat for a 14th level character. See you in an hour.

I had a friend who put it best. He told me, "It's D&D Tactics".

But every edition has its' flaws. I do not hate 3.5 or Pathfinder. I simply embraced 4e and let it be what it was, and worked to make it as enjoyable as possible.

Now, with 4e in its' death throes, I'd like to look back and salute 10 things that I thoroughly enjoyed about 4th edition:

1. It was so easy to DM: You know how long it took to prepare a session of D&D Encounters? 10 Minutes. 10 minutes of reading allows you to run it for an hour an a half and everyone loves it. Yes, that's because it's basically one fight on a poster map that takes the entire session, but I prefer that to this new season of Legacy of the Crystal Shard where you have to read a 30 page adventure book, a 64 page campaign guide, print out a 30 page stat book and know it all.

The monster stats were so ridiculously simple. It was so easy to level them up, level them down, or re-skin them. 

"Yes, my hentai pop-up book is nearly complete!"
2. The art of William O'Connor: Why does this man get overlooked so often? Wayne Reynolds, I know, is the guy. He seems to primarily do Pathfinder, but he did the major 4e books as well. Our man William quietly filled in everything else, pumping out piles of great art in a fresh modern style.

At the beginning of this article is his rendering of Orcus killing the Raven Queen with the shard of evil. It is awesome. Look to the right. That is a lich modifying a ritual book he stole from Bahamut the dragon god. It is also awesome. 

I like to think as time goes on, and the veterans of this edition war look back, they will come to appreciate how this man defined the look and feel of 4th edition. 

3. It was balanced: Yes! Yes it was! Anything that popped up, like Frostcheese or hybrid abuse, would be errata'd a few months later. But the scary thing was, at least in my experience, there really wasn't much imbalance to be dealt with. The biggest issue was the early monster math. The monsters did too little damage and had way too many hit points. The early epic tier adventures in particular suffered from this.

Any issues could be handled with minimal effort, and, by gum, you could take a character from 1st to 30th level and not have to deal with certain classes being more powerful than others. I know that concept is not for everybody. But I liked it, and the dozens of people I played with liked it too.

4. Poster maps: Here's what you do in 4th edition. You buy yourself an adventure, like, say, E3 Prince of Undeath. You roll out that poster map of Orcus' Chaos Ship, you put your heroes' minis on there, you fly through the abyss fighting demons and freak out because it is so awesome!

The Care Bears' home lies in ruins
Why did I run Lair Assaults? For the free poster maps. Look to the left. That is a floating temple, partially destroyed, hovering far above the world. Lightning energy crackles between it.

Your heroes, riding hippogriffs and pegasi must fight monsters while avoiding the lightning and plunging to their doom.

Yes, this fight will take an hour and a half. And you will love every minute of it.

5. The Deck of Many Things: In one of the final big releases of 4e, the boxed adventure Madness at Gardmore Abbey, included an actual Deck of Many Things. I know it's been made by other companies before. And I know a different one was published in Dungeon Magazine which, I guess, you could bring to Office Depot and pay to have printed out...?

But here, we had an official, snazzy deck to use forever.

The Deck of Many Things has popped a few times in the games I've run and played in over the years. It truly is a campaign killer. I remember way back in 2nd edition drawing cards from it over and over, until I finally pulled the death card. I've always enjoyed random charts, like the wand of wonder, the wild magic table in the Tome of Magic. This is just a cool thing to own.

"Whoops - That's my gall bladder"
6. The Character Builder and Compendium: I don't know why, but it seems like whenever Wizards of the Coast announces stuff, they go a little overboard. When 4e was on the horizon, they made a lot of noise about all of the digital offerings they would have for us. Maybe, what, half came to fruition? 

Gleemax didn't work out. I understand that the online gaming table didn't last. But the builder and the compendium, for me, were resounding, thunderous successes. 

The builder literally let you make your character with all the info from all the books and the magazines right there. Just click on it. It saved so much time. It was so easy.

The Compendium made it so simple for me. I could look up any monster. When I was cooking up treasure, it was all right there, organized by level and type. The compendium alone was, for me as a DM, worth the monthly price of DDI.

7. The Scales of War Adventure Path: I always feel like this just doesn't get its' due. Yes, in 3.5, Age of Worms was awesome. Savage Tide was fantastic. The Pathfinder paths are incredible. I am dying to run Carrion Crown. But nobody ever talks about Scales of War.

This is a path about Tiamat and the githyanki invading the world! You go the astral sea! You go to The City of Brass! You fight Dispater! Bahamut is killed, and you try to bring him back to life. You fight Tiamat on a floating platform in her lair.

I know that the heroic tier adventures are shaky. They needed an editor to connect them all better. There's one or two adventures in there that are basically useless. But the second adventure is one of the best 4e adventures ever made. And The Mottled Tower was one of the coolest. 

"Guys - I think  have something in my eye."
This path also has the single best encounter I've ever run in any edition. Look to the left. That's the map of The Fortress of Three Sorrows. Yes, that is a stone head floating in the astral sea used as a githyanki base. Those chains connect to three earthmotes with ballistas on them.

Your heroes must attack this mote, which is full of githyanki, on an astral skiff. Githyanki riding red dragons fly out to attack as more githyanki open fire with their ballistas. And yes, since this is the astral sea, your heroes can fly up to meet them.

This took 3 hours to play out. Nobody was complaining. Because it was the most awesome thing ever done in 4th edition.

8. The D&D Encounters and Lair Assault programs: Encounters is run in a game store every week. The idea is to get people to try it, like it, and buy D&D stuff. Lair Assaults were for players looking for a challenge - cool encounters to show off what 4e could do.

Neither was perfect. I had very few players who could handle or enjoy the Lair Assaults. And some of the Encounters adventures were truly dull (Dark Sun, I am looking at you). 

But for me, there were a couple of benefits. First, I got free stuff. If you look on ebay, these things sell for $25 or more. And they're just cool to own. The poster maps can be used over and over.

The biggest boon, though, was that I got to meet so many awesome players to add to my "pool" for my home campaigns. You wouldn't believe the cool guys, the hot girls (yes that's right) and the fun people that I met and became friends with. 

9. The Epic Tier: When I first began playing D&D way back when, our 2nd edition characters started to become unwieldy at about 12th level. We had so much stuff, so many powers, that the DM just couldn't challenge us without handcuffing us.

I did not play much of 3e, but I have read many threads about people discussing the problems with high-level play.

In 4th edition, it was fixed. You can play all the way to 30. I had two groups do it. There was a problem with monster math, but that was easily fixed. I ran the Tiamat fight from Scales right out of the adventure, and it ran perfectly. It was challenging and deadly, but the players still got to use all their cool stuff.

10. Chris Perkins: He is "The Best DM in a Building Full of Good DMs." I am talking specifically about his column - The Dungeon Master Experience. As 4e was going on, he was running two games a week in his awesome Iomandra setting. And his columns were about what he learned both about 4e and about the art of being a dungeon master.

It was so useful. Because he was playing so much, he was working out the kinks of 4e faster than most. He began running just one set piece (tactical) encounter per session, and lots of little stuff. I followed suit. My players loved it. 

Yeah, you had to jury-rig stuff in order to run your games Perkins-style, but your night was suddenly full of less tactical combat and more of everything else that makes D&D so much fun. 

A few years back, Wizards did a thing where you could call their "DM Hotline" for a single day. I called. Guess who picked up? Chris Perkins! For one hour, he helped me work on my campaign. He was full of great ideas. He was a great listener. He is a very smart person.

So there you go. Again, I know 4th edition is not perfect. But it always pains me to see people go on about how bad my little buddy is. It has merit. It brought me great joy for many years. While I am thrilled with this new edition, I will always look back on 4th edition with great fondness.

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