Wizards Presents by gradenko_2000
Races and Classes 1Original SA post Wizards Presents: Races and Classes
This book was released by Wizards of the Coast in December 2007 to serve as the first preview of D&D 4th Edition. It was later followed by Wizards Presents: Worlds and Monsters in January 2008.
I wanted to do a read-through of this book because it presents some of the design decisions that went into 4th Edition, specifically as far as how it was still very much based on learnings from 3rd Edition, and not WOTC trying to reinvent the wheel, as it were. I'll be taking excerpts and quotes straight from the book, to let the authors' words speak for themselves.
4th Edition Design Timeline - Rob Heinsoo
Design Work, Orcus I: June through September 2005
Team: James Wyatt, Andy Collins, and Rob Heinsoo.
Mission: Our instructions were to push the mechanics down interesting avenues, not to stick too close to the safe home base of D&D v.3.5. As an R&D department, we understood 3.5; our mission was to experiment with something new.
Outcome: We delivered a document that included eight classes we thought might appear in the first Player’s Handbook or other early supplements, powers for all the classes, monsters, and rules.
First Development Team: October 2005 through February 2006
Team: Robert Gutschera (lead), Mike Donais, Rich Baker, Mike Mearls, and Rob Heinsoo.
Mission: Determine whether the Orcus I design (as we named it) was headed in the right direction. Make recommendations for the next step.
Outcome: The first development team tore everything down and then rebuilt it. In the end, it recommended that we continue in the new direction Orcus I had established. This recommendation accompanied a rather difficult stunt accomplished in the middle of the development process: Baker, Donais, and Mearls translated current versions of the Orcus I mechanics into a last-minute revision of Tome of Battle: Book of Nine Swords. It was a natural fit, since Rich Baker had already been treating the Book of Nine Swords as a “powers for fighters” project. The effort required to splice the mechanics into 3rd Edition were a bit extreme, but the experiment was worth it.
So that confirms what I had heard previously, that the Tome of Battle was used as a test-bed of ideas that would ultimately be used as a basis for 4th Edition's AEDU model
One Development Week: Mid-April 2006
Team: Robert Gutschera, Mike Donais, Rich Baker, Mike Mearls, and Rob Heinsoo.
Mission: Recommend a way forward.
Outcome: In what I’d judge as the most productive week of the process to date, not that anyone would have guessed that beforehand, Mearls and Baker figured out what was going wrong with the design. We’d concentrated too much on the new approach without properly accounting for what 3.5 handled well. We’d provided player characters with constantly renewing powers, but hadn’t successfully parsed the necessary distinctions between powers that were always available and powers that had limited uses.
Flywheel Team: May 2006 to September 2006
Team: Rob Heinsoo (lead), Andy Collins, Mike Mearls,
David Noonan, and Jesse Decker.
Mission: Move closer to 3.5 by dealing properly with powers and resources that could be used at-will, once per encounter, or once per day.
Outcome: A playable draft that went over to the teams that would actually write the Player’s Handbook and the Monster Manual.
Right there, the development team acknowledges that they were actually moving too far away from 3.5, had to rein it in, and further flesh out the distinctions between At-Will, Encounter, and Daily powers
The Process of Re-Creation - Rob Heinsoo
The one-week ORCUS development team realized that Orcus II, as well as earlier drafts, had failed to properly account for attrition powers. Earlier designs had been working too hard on our newfangled renewable powers and hadn’t properly addressed D&D’s legacy of attrition-style powers, powers that went away after you used them once or twice.
So the Flywheel team’s main job was to nudge the eight player character classes away from the flamboyant precipices they’d occupied in Orcus II toward expressions that would look more familiar to players of 3rd Edition D&D.
There's that acknowledgement again of building off of 3rd Edition, and that a core mechanic to D&D's design is attrition .
The chapter goes on to mention that one of the core 8 classes supposed to be the Swashbuckler, but that was abandoned and its cooler powers given to the Rogue and Ranger instead, and then the PHB team created the Warlock instead.
Mike Mearls also gets a special mention as the guy behind the Barbarian and the Druid, which would later appear in the PHB 2.
Design Guideposts - Rob Heinsoo
Guidepost 1: Encourage Player Choice
This talks about how a character should have an interesting choice to make every time they advance in a level, an interesting choice to make concerning their actions with every round of combat, and an interesting choice to make about which and how much of their resources they'd like to spend in-between encounters
Guidepost 2: Provide Information to Help Players and DMs Choose Between Compelling Alternatives
The set of powers that every character class has should help them fill at least one valuable role in an adventuring party, and the players should be aware what those roles are so that the players are making a conscious choice when divvying up the classes between themselves. Likewise, the Monster Manual should contain monsters that similarly serve different roles.
This is also where it's decided that DMs should always let a player know when a monster is Bloodied, so that players don't have to guess how well they're doing, on top of having another property that abilities can key off of.
Notebook Anecdote - Andy Collins
Things That Would Make Me Happy
All classes effective at all levels. Game is fun and playable at all levels. Dungeon excursions last through many encounters. Game rewards tactical play; smart decisions are “right” (and vice versa). Defeat is meaningful but (usually) not final. Game’s expectations are clearer to players and DMs. Character classes provide compelling archetypes. PC team is a collection of interchangeable parts. All characters can participate meaningfully in all encounters.
In hindsight, we know that "fun and playable at all levels" can tend to break down past Paragon due to the sheer number of powers involved, but "all classes effective at all levels" is a compelling statement to make in the wake of the history between martials and casters.
Orcus Design Tenets - Bill Slaviscek
5. Three-dimensional Tactics.
We want to continue using miniatures in 5-foot squares. We want to design minis game (skirmish) to work with the RPG. More discussion on how this occurs to follow.
Email: What Is and What Could Be - Andy Collins
We must force ourselves, instead, to evaluate what the rules set aims to achieve with its various new elements and determine if we believe that a) its goals are appropriate, and b) it’s headed in the right direction to achieve those goals.
For example, whether Class A is better or worse than Class B, or whether the attrition mechanics hit the right balance, is largely immaterial at this stage of design.
What’s much more significant (using the latter example) is whether we think that the idea of reworking D&D’s traditional attrition mechanic to encourage longer-term adventures is a) a good goal that b) we can achieve by developing the concepts presented in the rules set. (That’s one example of a goal/concept from the rules set, mind you, but certainly not the only one.)
I'm almost certain that this mention of longer-term adventures (and again in Collins' Notebook Anecdote) is a reference to Healing Surges as the attritional mechanic and how it allows for parties to engage in many more combats per day than in previous editions.
Heroes in the World - Rob Heinsoo
3rd Edition had a sweet spot. Somewhere around 4th or 5th level, characters hit their stride, possessing fun abilities and a number of hit points that allow the player characters to stick around long enough to use them. Somewhere around 13th or 15th level, the sweet spot gets a bit sour for many classes. Skilled players frequently disagree with that assessment, but the truth is that many D&D campaigns more-or-less rise out of existence. As PCs pursue the most fun reward in the game—leveling up— they get closer and closer to the levels where the abilities of the strongest characters eclipse those of the weakest characters, where hard math and a multiplicity of choices push DMs into increasingly hard work to keep their games going.
Okay, so on top of acknowledging that the first couple of levels of 3rd Edition were not so good because you were so frail, there's also the note about how the increasing competency and capability of some classes at high-level allowed them to greatly outshine other classes, on top of making it more and more difficult for DMs to create interesting scenarios when these classes have the tools to dismantle a lot of potential obstacles.
The passage ends by explaining that it was a deliberate decision to turn monster creation in 4th Edition away from how 3rd Edition did it - no longer would you construct monsters using class levels and the same use as building PCs, because the PCs are supposed to be "center stage" and the monsters are only as important as their interactions (including combat situations) with the players.
Longswords and Lightsabers - Rodney Thompson
This passage talks about how the Star Wars Roleplaying Game: Saga Edition was, alongside Tome of Battle, another testbed for the ideas that would eventually make it to 4th Edition's core design:
1. Give players options when designing their characters
2. Keep the combat round quick and easy to understand
3. Ability score increases should be handed out more often
4. No more assigning skill points
5. Instead of the defender making saving throws, the attacker would roll to beat a static defense score
6. No more ability damage
7. No more iterative attacks
Chris Perkins is mentioned by name as the main designer behind the Star Wars book and consulted with the 4th Edition developers on porting over these ideas from Star Wars to D&D.
Power Sources - Mike Mearls
Power sources have always been in D&D, but no one ever bothered to pay attention to them. From the earliest days of the game, it was clear that wizards (then called magic-users) tapped into a different source of magic than clerics. Later on, classes like the druid and illusionist seemed to tie into similar sources, but it was never completely clear. As the game expanded, psionics clearly staked out a completely different source of power.
4th Edition makes the move to create more vivid differences between the sources of magical power. It also creates a source of power for characters who don’t use magic, such as fighters and rogues. While these characters don’t cast spells, at epic levels they eventually gain the ability to perform superhuman feats. After all, some of the greatest heroes of myth and legend toppled buildings with their bare hands, wrestled gods, diverted rivers, and so on. The martial power source allows us to draw a clear line between a mighty hero and the average person in the world of D&D.
The exciting thing about power sources lies in the design options they open up. Divine and arcane magic are built to serve as independent magic systems, rather than as the core definitions of how magic works in D&D. This decision has a subtle but important impact on design. As noted above, it lets us avoid a kitchen sink approach to spell design. We no longer have to put every single imaginable spell effect into divine and arcane magic, relegating other forms of spellcasting to merely copying existing spells. We are also free to create bigger differences between classes without worrying about straining credibility. A class like the wu jen or the hexblade might use a completely new and different type of magic, allowing us to reinvent the ground rules rather than use what has come before. Since those classes clearly use magic in a different manner when compared to a wizard, we shelve them under a new power source, build a system of magic that works for their needs, and create spells tuned to them rather than simply use the 3E wizard/sorcerer spell list.
There's a lot packed into these three paragraphs.
Power sources were always a thing, they were just never formalized with such a term.
Martial classes needed their own 'power source' to give them the ability to pull off supernatural actions that are still not spells
Spells were the basic building block of every supernatural action (if not just actions, period) in previous editions of D&D, and the fact that there were only either Divine or Arcane spells meant that they all had to be classified into one or the other.
This also meant that without a formal system for creating or defining new power sources, every other class' powers in previous editions had to be based off of an existing spell.
Next up: Races
Races and Classes 2Original SA post Wizards Presents: Races and Classes
Choosing the Iconic Races - Richard Baker
We decided very early in the process that we wanted character race to play a more important part in describing your character. In earlier editions, your character’s race was something that you chose at a single decision point during character creation. Your race pick bestowed a whole collection of static, unchanging benefits at 1st level (many of which were useless clutter on your character sheet), and never really “grew” with your character. A 20th-level dwarf had the exact same amount of racial characteristics as a 1st-level dwarf—and during the nineteen intervening levels, the overall importance of that long-ago race selection had diminished to a tiny portion of the character concept.
That led directly to the first philosophical shift in the way we look at races: Rather than consider a race a simple package of ability modifiers and special abilities you choose at 1st level, we decided to include higher-level feats that you can choose for your character at the appropriate time. For example, dwarves are extraordinarily resilient, so they gain the ability to use their second wind [a healing ability] one more time per encounter than other characters can. Eladrins gain the ability to step through the Feywild to make a short-range teleport. You might remember that races such as githyanki or drow gained access to unique powers when they reached certain levels; this is an extension of the same principle.
It goes to describe how the idea of feats that only specific races could choose was borrowed from The Forgetten Realms and Eberron Campaign Settings to further allow your racial selection to remain relevant all the way to higher levels.
And then a comparison of designing races from 3rd Edition to 4th Edition:
A small problem that handcuffed our design in 3rd Edition was the lack of “space” for ability bonuses and special benefits. Because the races in the Player’s Handbook were all balanced against each other, we couldn’t add new races in later products that had significantly better ability modifiers or benefits, because they’d obsolete the core races of the game. The patch we used in 3rd Edition was the notion of level adjustment (more on that later), but with the new game we have a new opportunity to address this problem. Character races now offer a “net positive” on ability score modifiers , so there’s more room for new character races to stand.
By the end of 3rd Edition's run, Baker counts that there was a total of 135 possible player races, so this 4th Edition team had to sit down and cull the list down to what they felt were the most evocative and interesting ones. They toyed with the idea of including a "talking animal" race, especially in the wake of the popularity of the Narnia movies, but had to can the idea because the mechanical design would probably be too difficult and players might regard it as a bad joke.
It was out of that discussion though that lead them down to Dragonborn: 3rd Edition already had multiple varieties of "a dragon man", so they thought of combining them all into a single distinct character race with an interesting backstory and a mechanical niche. As well, the Dragonborn was a sort of commitment (or perhaps one might say token) to introduce a new race into the mix, instead of the first crop of races all being ones that had been created before.
Tieflings were included because they were one of the most popular of the "second-string" races during the 2nd and 3rd Editions, and because they were a good natural fit for the new Warlock race.
It was also during this period that the Halfling was axed:
For example, halflings were simply too small in 3rd Edition. You could create a halfling who weighed as little as 30 pounds. That’s like a human toddler, not a heroic adventurer. Halflings also lacked a real place of their own in the world; elves had forests, dwarves had mountains, but halflings didn’t really live anywhere.
Humans - Matthew Sernett
The 3rd Edition Player’s Handbook describes humans as “the most adaptable, flexible, and ambitious people among the common races” and human adventurers as “the most daring and ambitious members of an audacious, daring, and ambitious race.” When considering their role in 4th Edition, that seemed great. It’s the same way that humans are portrayed in other works of science fiction and fantasy from Star Trek to Lord of the Rings, and people have a tendency to think of humanity that way in the real world. Yet an aspect of that description bugged us: It’s all positive.
Dwarves are described as suspicious, greedy, and vengeful. Elves are known to be aloof, disdainful, and slow to make friends. Gnomes are reckless pranksters. Half-orcs have short tempers. Each race in the 3rd Edition Player’s Handbook brings with it classic flaws—except humans. Maybe that was because we know human flaws so well, or maybe humans were described in such glowing terms as a means of explaining why we presented them as the dominant race in all of D&D’s published settings. Whatever the reason, it seemed like something that needed to change for 4th Edition.
Humanity needed a weakness—a trait common to all humans that could counteract their adaptability and ambition. It couldn’t be a simple personality trait, such as bad temper, because the infinite variety of personality traits all stem from humanity in the first place. It also couldn’t be something that might come off as odd when highlighted in humanity. If we say that “being fractious” is a big feature of humanity, it makes sense. We fight a lot of wars. Yet highlighting that feature of humanity implies that other races are less fractious, and we want elves fighting elves to be just as likely as humans fighting humans. So what negative trait typifies humanity and works to counteract their potential? What keeps humanity for holding onto the great things it achieves?
In a word: corruptibility.
Sernett then goes on to describe not so much that all humans are corrupt, but that they like to take roads that are paved with good intentions: sometimes it works, and other times it leads down to where that saying says it leads. Humans are ambitious, and that makes them capable of great things, but that ambition can also take the form of a hunger for power. Humans are brave, but bravery can also lead to rash and irresponsible actions. Humans are adaptable, but that adaptability can take on a darker shade when it means people can warp morality into rationalization. Corruption means that the traits humans possess are both their "staunchest ally and most dangerous enemy"
There's also a sidebar from artist William O'Connor about the visual design of humans in 4th Edition: "The candle that burns twice as bright, only burns half as long". Because humans are so short-lived relative to the rest of the other races, human aesthetics are reckless, scavenged and asymmetrical - they don't really care if their boots, gloves or armor aren't matching, because they too busy going all Carpe Diem! on everything for it to matter. Similarly, humans use a lot of representational art such as tattoos, heraldry, crests and standards because they haven't quite reached the sophistication and maturity that has allowed, say, dwarves and elves, to pursue and develop abstract art.
Finally, there's a couple of paragraphs from Logan Bonner on designing the mechanical benefits for humans. It was tricky because all the other races are "humans, but ...", which then leaves you hanging on how the humans actually distinguish themselves. Bonner says they mostly just inherited the 3E design: their attribute bonuses are generic, and they get one free feat - this means they're not really specialized towards one class or role, but at the same time it's never a bad idea for a human to be in any class or role, which suits their theme of adaptability. By the final PHB, the final human bonus was a +1 to defenses, but here Bonner describes it as:
Humans are our most resilient race. Though they don’t have more hit points or higher defenses, they recover from damage and conditions more quickly than other races can. Humans are all about dramatic action and dramatic recovery. Many of these benefits come from racial feats.
Using the racial feats to emphasize humans’ advantages gives the race an interesting dynamic. Even though they have more potential for some classes, it’s never stupid to play a human of any class. Most classes’ racial abilities intentionally make them lean toward some classes, but humans really can take on any task.
Legend of the Dragonborn - James Wyatt
Note: there's actually a lot of words on every race's chapter about their in-universe origin and other backstory. I'm mostly skipping it as out-of-scope from what I'm trying to relate in this read-through.
Dragons are such an iconic monster of fantasy that we named the game after them. Until now, though, playing a dragon meant either using a lot of variant rules (as in the 2nd Edition Council of Wyrms campaign setting) or taking on a hefty level adjustment to play either a dragon or a half-dragon.
Not any more.
If you want to play a proud, battle-bred warrior, if you want to sprout wings and breathe fire as you go up levels, or if you just want to touch the coolness that is dragons, you’ll want to play a dragonborn.
Designing the [Dragonborn's] Visual Look - Stacy Longstreet
Everyone agreed that this should be a really cool race that everyone would want to play. Yet everyone had different ideas about what it should look like: How much should it resemble a dragon versus how much should it resemble a human? There were lots of discussions and we started with trying to make the head unique by creating a blending of human and dragon. It became very apparent that this had been tried before. We quickly determined that we needed to go in the other direction and work with a more draconic head on a humanoid body.
Designing the male of the race was easier than the female. Like the earlier versions of the dwarves, we did not want the females to look so similar to the males. We wanted them to be more feminine and recognizable as female dragonborn. We gave them the curvy figure of a female and while they are more slender then the males, they are still stronger and bulkier than a human.
Finally, Gwendolyn Kestrel weighs in that it was very much a deliberate decision that they wanted players to be able to play as dragons/a dragon-like race from the very beginning of this edition because of the power and majesty built up with their name over the years of the fantasy genre.
Dwarves - Matt Sernett
When we designed the 4th Edition of the D&D game, we knew we needed to improve how the game handled special kinds of vision. Out of the three 3rd Edition core rulebooks, only humans, halflings, and lizardfolk need a light to see normally at night. Every other creature possesses some special sight that allows it to see in dim light or even in darkness. That seemed a little crazy , and when we thought about it, the inequality of special vision also complicated the game. To play appropriately, the DM has to describe the big dark room one way for the drow (who has darkvision 120 feet), one way for the dwarf (who has darkvision 60 feet), another way for the elf (who has low-light vision), and still another for the human holding the torch. And there’s one more problem with many creatures having darkvision: The PCs don’t get to see the scenery in caves or large dungeon rooms.
To eliminate those problems we took darkvision away from most creatures, including dwarves. Now dwarves illuminate the homes they build into mountains. They possess low-light vision so they don’t use as much light as a human might, but when the PCs enter the dwarven city, it’s likely everyone can see its splendor.
Besides the gameplay-based change, what stood out to me is that this statement also includes how the lore of the universe reacts to it: Dwarves don't have darkvision anymore, and at the same time the world's internal logic has the dwarves putting up lanterns and sunroofs in their fortresses.
Chris Sims then sets up the racial tension between Dwarves and Orcs: simply having them both live in the mountains would cause conflict out of competition for resources, but then there's also "the two peoples' diametrically opposed world views" : the Dwarves gather and build while the Orcs scavenge and destroy; the Dwarves and dutiful and industrious while orcs are "treacherous and lazy" . The Orcs don't see a point to establishing large and strong permanent shelter nor engaging in agriculture or mining when they can just take stuff from the Dwarves, while the Dwarves have been pillaged by the Orcs so often that they regard them as nothing more than murderers, thieves and despoilers.
And then he has this to say about their mechanical design:
In the evolution of the D&D game, dwarves have changed little. They’ve always had a clear place and role. In the new edition, the dwarf is a model for how races can be flavorful and still have clear mechanics.
From the early days of the game, dwarves have been tough and soldierly. Only with the advent of racial ability adjustments in the ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS Player’s Handbook did they gain a penalty to Charisma and a cap on Dexterity. Dwarves have been apt at stonework and able to see in the dark since the D&D Basic Rules. In 3E, dwarves still made great fighters, but they became worse clerics than ever due to turning’s reliance on Charisma.
The new edition’s dwarf gives a nod to all its ancestors, while acknowledging the needs of the new edition. Dwarves make great fighters and paladins, and they can excel in leader roles as well, especially as clerics, since they have no Charisma penalty. Flavorful abilities round out the package, reinforcing the dwarf as a defender and as a creature that likes to live underground. Only darkvision, a troublesome game element, went away in favor of low-light vision.
Dwarves still play into the expectations of veteran players, and they live up to the conceptions of myth and fantasy literature. But now, they might fit their intended place in the D&D world better than ever.
Sims then goes on to talk about how they decided to change Dwarves (or some clans of Dwarves) from a fully underground race to a part-surface-dwelling race. It meshes well with how they only have low-light vision: now they need to have their keeps and forts partly aboveground so that sunlight can illuminate the inner halls during the day. As well, it allows the depiction of large dwarven settlements as covering hills or being built into the sides of cliffs or running alongside a mountain instead of just being a large door covering a hole in the ground. Finally, it allows the dwarves to engage in agriculture and raise livestock without having to invent some special grain or special underground-dwelling cow.
In Praise of Dwarf Women - Rob Heinsoo
Back in the early days, back before D&D first became Advanced . . .
. . . back when D&D players had three pamphlets in a brown or white box . . .
. . . back when Tactical Systems Rules (TSR!) published wargame rules in the same pamphlet format on topics such as modern micro-armor tank battles . . .
. . . back then when D&D was new, there were two topics that resurfaced endlessly in gaming magazines.
First, people argued about the best way to handle lightning bolt and fireball spells. The eventual publication of AD&D provided concrete rules, though that only intensified the Great Fireball Debate.
Second, people argued over whether dwarf women had beards. Yes, it’s true—”Hirsute Dwarven Women” wasn’t a bad-hair band, it was a debate that flared through half a decade of fandom. Remarks by early D&D creators, particularly in reference to GREYHAWK, sparked fanbase suspicions concerning the apparent absence of female dwarves in Tolkien, despite the fact that they were said to be on the scene. Did female dwarves grow beards and move unremarked among dwarf males? Did female dwarves have to shave? Et Tedious Cetera.
So thank Moradin we’re eight years into the Zeds and Bill O’Connor has gifted us with a magnificent new look for dwarf women. Strong, sensual, earthy and feminine, with an exotic beauty that no one would think to splash a beard on. Questions of dwarven female beauty have been buried once
for and all. We’ll have to make do with the Great Fireball Debate.
The Eladrin: Why Fey and Feywild? - James Wyatt
D&D is emphatically not the game of fairy-tale fantasy. D&D is a game about slaying horrible monsters, not a game about traipsing off through fairy rings and interacting with the little people.
On the positive side, though, there is something very appealing about the legends of a faerie land, a world that’s an imperfect—or a more perfect—mirror of our own. There’s something genuinely frightening about the idea that a traveler in dark woods at night might disappear from the world entirely and end up in a place where the fundamental rules have changed. Magic is more real there, beauty is more beautiful and ugliness more ugly, and even time flows differently in the fey realm. Books like Susannah Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell depict that world in vivid language.
The 3rd Edition Manual of the Planes introduced the idea of Faerie as a plane of existence that lay outside the standard cosmology. It was a parallel plane like the Plane of Shadow, touching the world in many places, similar to it in general form and landscape, but hauntingly beautiful and inhabited by fey. That’s the plane we adopted into the cosmology as the Feywild.
What, then, to do with the cute sprites and good-hearted nymphs? Well, we put the wild back into the Feywild. One aspect of legendary and literary Faerie is that the fey are curiously amoral. They don’t think of Good and Evil in the same way that mortals do, and they can be cruel or murderous almost on a whim. Those are the fey we wanted in the Feywild. The Feywild is home to unearthly eladrins who might call up the Wild Hunt and rampage through the mortal world to avenge some real or imagined wrong, or just because the moon is in a certain phase. Its dryads walk into battle alongside their treant allies, slashing about with branchlike arms. Its nymphs can kill with a glance or enchant mortals to act as their slaves.
Not really much to say here, as this section was mostly about the Eladrin's lore and not much about their mechanical design. The earlier comment about how the Eladrin's teleport remains relevant up to the final level is probably the most relevant.
Next up: Elves, Halflings, Tieflings, other races, and fixing level adjustment
Races and Classes 3Original SA post Wizards Presents: Races and Classes
Reconcepting the Elven Look - Richard Baker
If you take a look at the height and weight suggested for elf characters in previous editions, you’ll discover that elves used to be exceptionally small and slight. It wasn’t unusual for elf characters to stand only about 5 feet tall and weigh less than 90 pounds—about the size of a typical 12-year-old. It’s hard to make a character of that stature look slender and graceful without making him or her extremely small, at least as compared to the humans, dwarves, or half-orcs in the party. So we decided to revisit elf stature for the new edition.
They've modified the Elves to be as tall as humans, if not slightly taller. They're physiques are now "athletic" instead of "emaciated". They're not and won't ever be linebackers, but they do have the long legs and light builds of born runners.
Elves retain several of their distinguishing characteristics from earlier editions, most notably the pointed ears and the slight tilt to the eyes. And elf males don’t have facial hair. They’re not effeminate; they’re lean, athletic, and clean-shaven. That’s not to say that elves never look feminine—female elves sure do!
All Yesterday's Subraces - Richard Baker
Somewhere around twenty years ago, the D&D game started to suggest differences between varieties of dwarves and elves. Dwarves were either hill dwarves or mountain dwarves; elves were high elves, wood elves, or gray elves. Of course there were drow too, so that suggested the dwarves might have an evil variety, and thus the duergar were born. Different campaign worlds came up with unique and flavorful names for these varieties, and different abilities too, making even more subraces. So before we knew it, we had a game with a dozen varieties of elves and just as many dwarves—and most had different mechanical characteristics from the basic elf, turning one character race into a dozen.
For 4th Edition, we decided to take a big step back from that. We decided that most of the differences between different types of elves (drow excluded) were cultural, not physical.
The two archetypal Elf characters are the woodland Ranger and the highly-intelligent Wizard, so all of the other Elven subraces were just compressed to those two: Gray Elves, Sun Elves, Moon Elves are all just part-and-parcel of Eladrin, or High Elves, while Wild Elves, Wood Elves and Green Elves are just ... Elves. That trimmed it down to just those two, plus Drow, all three of which are very distinct from each other, especially with the Eladrin having their own unique noun now.
The Evolution of the Halfling — Dave Noonan
In the beginning (which we’ll call 1974), halflings were hobbits straight out of Tolkien. The D&D game —at that point three booklets and some reference sheets costing $10— even called them hobbits. But then D&D made the transition from an overgrown hobby to a full-fledged product line, and by 1977 all the hobbits became halflings.
Throughout the 1970s and the early 1980s, the D&D halflings still looked and acted like something right out of the Shire—they were often a little plump and they walked around with their fuzzy feet bare. Most of them were thieves, a class that’s conceptually similar to what we’d call a rogue today.
In the mid-1980s, halflings started to move away from the Tolkien vision—spurred on by tens of thousands of D&D players. Bilbo Baggins might have been a reluctant thief, but D&D tables everywhere were full of mischievous, wisecracking, and enthusiastic halfling thieves. The players drove D&D halflings into new territory, and the little fellows became a key repository for much of the game’s humor.
The look of halflings started to change, too. Subraces emerged: the traditional hairfeet, the somewhat dwarflike stouts, and the tallfellows, who were associated with the elves and were only tall when compared to hairfeet and stouts.
Then came the DRAGONLANCE version of the halflings: kender, a diminutive, vaguely elfin race. Talk about a race designed for a mischievous player —kender are impossibly curious, utterly fearless, and they have an instinctive desire to “borrow” things from the pockets and backpacks of whomever is standing nearby. Some players embraced the kender, while others found them a little too far in the “comic relief ” territory. Whether the antics of the kender PC at your D&D table were hilarious or annoying tended to determine how you felt about the kender as a whole.
With the onset of 3rd Edition D&D in 2000, a consensus quickly emerged: retain the halfling’s natural enthusiasm, but shade them a little darker than the kender so they could be more than comic foils. Get them out of their comfortable homes, and for heaven’s sake let them wear boots like everyone else. Halflings became nomadic and had a measure of whimsical trickery—but whimsy that could turn sinister at a moment’s notice. Their visual identity changed, too. Halflings got the lithe physique of gymnasts rather than the portly physique of rustic gentleman farmers.
As we began our work on 4th Edition, we decided that we still liked the 3rd Edition look and feel of halflings—but we needed to continue to evolve the halfling role and appearance in the game.
A long quote, but I thought it was a good historical breakdown. I didn't even know that Kender was supposed to be a direct spin-off of Halflings.
Richard Baker then talks about having to establish where the Halflings would live: Forests went to Elves, Mountains and Hills went to Dwarves, Humans lived in plains (and plains themselves are not very distinctive), so they chose swamps and marshes
There was apparently some apprehension with choosing that as their native terrain because of the generic perception of people that live in swamps as "backwater rubes", but Baker makes the case that it makes sense as far as swamps leading to rivers and coasts, which then follows that sea-travel is the road of choice for non-industrialized societies. As well, swamps are excellent defensive terrain, and fits the 4th Edition depiction of halflings as "waterfolk, skilled boatbuilders and fishers".
Baker ends with a sidebar on halfling size: He acknowledges that their depiction in 3rd Edition as 3 foot, 35 pound humanoids was waaay too small, as that's about the size of a preschooler. The team decided to let adult halflings grow to about 4 feet and 65 pounds. That's still significantly smaller than a human, since the target was "the size of 9- or 10-year old kids", but it's supposed to be much more believable now.
Tieflings - Bruce Cordell
Since they're one of the new races of this Edition, I'm going to include a quote about their origins:
Sundered from humanity by their ancestors’ overweening ego, tieflings are a race whose bloodline stems from an infernal bargain made nearly a millennia ago.
Lacking any knowledge of their creator and without a purpose instilled by a caring maker, humanity determined its own purposes, but often only by accident. Unpredictable and adaptable, this strangely malleable race claims many an ancient and long vanished empire. One such empire birthed the tiefling race.
Do you recall the whispered stories of Bael Turath? The empire of Bael Turath’s reach exceeded its grasp, but the empire’s ruling nobility were addicted to their own power and glory. They vowed they would retain their rule, no matter the consequences, no matter the cost, no matter what they had to give up. Even their own humanity.
Bael Turath’s brash promises were heard in a distant, burning realm amid the silvery Astral Sea . . . a realm called the Nine Hells.
Whispered secrets slithered into the dreams of those who thirsted most for the continued dominion of Bael Turath, and upon waking, the red-eyed dreamers repeated their visions in the day’s wan light. Those visions were instructions for how the nobility could achieve its ends. A grisly month-long ritual would be required, one that every living ruling house of the empire needed to participate in if the desired effect was to be achieved. The ritual included unsavory and terrible deeds that had to be enacted by each of its participants.
A few houses, even in decadent Bael Turath, refused. These houses were exterminated, and the remaining houses conducted their ritual without naysayers to question their grim certainty.
The ritual began in darkness and blood, and deep into the small hours of the second night, the first devil appeared from Hell’s iron doors. The first was followed by others, each more terrible than the last, and to each pacts were sworn by the power-mad leaders of Bael Turath. Infernal bargains were avowed with names such as the Scarlet Claw of Hunger, the Iron Crown of Madness, Night’s Loving Void, and the Million Pains of Eternal Torment. Though hardly remarked upon at the time of their swearing, the pacts bound not only the nobility present in the hideous ritual, but also promised to mark the descendents of every one present, even unto their last generation, so that no one would ever forget what Bael Turath had agreed to.
And so was born the tiefling race.
Promotion - Chris Perkins
Tieflings trace their origins back to the 2nd Edition PLANESCAPE® Campaign Setting. With their horns, tails, and wicked tongues, tieflings quickly became the exotic “bad boys” and “bad girls” of the Outer Planes. Sly, sexy, and a little sinister, they afforded D&D players a chance to flirt with the dark side without actually crossing the line into full-blown evil. Why play Drizzt when you could play the great-grandson of a pit fiend?
Tieflings reappeared in the 3rd Edition Monster Manual as one of the “plane-touched,” inexorably bound to their dogooder cousins, the aasimar. Forgive my bias, but I’ll take horns and brimstone over sunshine and perfection any day. Sometimes it just doesn’t pay to be the super good guy.
In 4th Edition, tieflings finally claim their rightful place among the core races. Including them in the 4th Edition Player’s Handbook was an easy, early decision. Their infernal heritage gives them plenty of angst and an excuse to “get medieval” whenever the mood suits them. However, unlike their Machiavellian rivals for coolness, the Underdark-dwelling drow, tieflings are neither confined to the darkness nor afraid to mingle with the surface dwellers. They also carry less evil baggage and enjoy far more autonomy.
In fact, they can pretty much go anywhere they want and do as they please. Players can take the race to either extreme, portraying tieflings that embrace their inner devilspawn as well as tieflings who strive to transcend their twisted heritage and lead honest to semi-honest lives. Or they can play tieflings who walk the line between Good or Evil without fully embracing either.
That kind of versatility makes for a great core race and places tieflings on a footing comparable to humans.
Chris continues to talk about the "cultural appearance" of Tieflings. They adopt Human culture and garb as a means of blending in, but they also try to get away with "infernal-wear" whenever they can. For Tieflings low on the totem pole, it might just be a hellsteel dagger that to a human just looks like a twisted shard of metal, but higher-level Tieflings will often shed all pretense of wanting to fit in and will don outfits specially tailored to show off demonic origins once they're powerful enough to not need to be bashful.
It's Good to be Bad - James Wyatt
Playing a tiefling (or a warlock, or a drow or half-orc, or any other “bad boy” of D&D) is different from playing an evil character. Part of the appeal of playing a tiefling is that being a hero is both more challenging and more dramatic when you’re overcoming the weight of heritage and stereotype to do it. If Han Solo had burst into the room to save Luke from the Emperor at the end of Return of the Jedi, it would have felt contrived. But the fact that Darth Vader, the great villain of the trilogy, sacrificed himself to save his son—that was powerful. Drizzt Do’Urden is a compelling hero because of the evil society he grew up in, the fear and prejudice he faces on the surface world, and the hatred the other drow of Menzoberranzan still hold for him.
It’s fun to flirt with danger—to walk the edge of the dark side without crossing over. There’s an appeal to playing a character who might not be Evil, but who might be described as “Evil-curious.” It’s a chance to give expression to our dark sides, the parts of our own personalities that we suppress for the sake of getting along in society. Tieflings almost literally embody that dark side, our shadow selves.
Bruce then goes on to describe a design concept for racial ability progression: at first level, a player would choose a single minor ability out of a list, that would grant some small benefit. As the character grew in levels, they would get to choose more traits and even feats, but the initial and succeeding selections would serve as a sort of tree that would chain to some choice while also locking out others. He then ends with a disclosure that this idea had to be refined over three drafts as being overcomplicated.
Other Races: Celestials - Rob Heinsoo
I won’t lie: making Good-associated creatures as exciting as their Evil-curious counterparts is a challenge. I call the challenge the “Ave Maria” problem, a reference to Walt Disney’s original Fantasia, a wonderful animated film that ended with musical meditations on Evil and Good. Evil got Night on Bald Mountain, accompanied by an evil-storm orchestrated by a whip-wielding demon. Good followed up with barely animated candle-bearing keepers of the faith proceeding across the screen singing Ave Maria. It’s a sweet piece of music, and it certainly speaks to the possibilities of Good, but the animation just didn’t hold a candle to lightning storms on Bald Mountain.
So now you know our mission: celestials who sizzle bright enough to hold their own against Bald Mountain lightning storms. We’re working on it!
He then goes on to explain how he had to campaign to drop the term "aasimar" completely and just go with Celestials instead.
Other Races: Drow - Chris Sims
Elves. Lolth. Spiders. Underdark. Drow are iconic in the D&D game, and we didn’t fix what wasn’t broken. Drow have changed only to fit into the world of the new edition, evolving in ways that make them more accessible as characters and villains.
Drow are cruel and matriarchal, focused on the dogma of Lolth, their mad spider goddess who was once the deceitful eladrin goddess of shadows and the moon. Lolth took the spider as her symbol, so drow revere all things that share this form.
Another significant change is that drow are fey, but in type only. Drow don’t live in the Feywild, and they don’t work with other fey. They live in the Underdark beneath the world, from where they surface regularly to raid and take prisoners.
The most exciting change is that drow will be available as a player character race without any level adjustment. The average drow isn’t much more dangerous than a human peasant, because drow gain significant abilities as they gain levels.
Other Races: The Trouble with Gnomes - Matt Sernett
Gnomes lack a strong position in D&D. If you ask someone to name the important races in the world of D&D, gnomes always seem to come in last. They’re elf-dwarf-halflings—a strange mixture of the three with little to call their own besides being pranksters. DRAGONLANCE presented an iconic image of the gnome, but the concept of tinker gnomes and their crazy machines has now been thoroughly used by games such as World of Warcraft, and many D&D players dislike the technological element that version of the gnome brings to the game.
So, what to do with the gnome? How can gnomes be repositioned or reinvented so that the race has a unique position in the world?
World of Warcraft namedrop alert!
Sernett actually ends this section by acknowledging that they haven't actually decided yet. They considered making the Deep Gnome or the Forest Gnome as the standard Gnome, but that seemed to still have the same problem, except more exaggerated. The Whisper Gnomes from Races of Stone were advisors to Elves, so that wasn't a very good idea either since it just continued to make the race play second-fiddle to another.
Finally, they thought about taking the Whisper Gnome idea and putting a darker spin on it: the Gnomes are Feywild fugitives that were former servants to Evil Fey. They weren't too hot on the idea either as being too distant from the Gnomes' roots.
As a sidebar, I'm going to lift a passage from the PHB 2 to see what they had eventually decided upon:
In the Feywild, the best way for a small creature to survive is to be overlooked. While suffering in servitude to the fomorian tyrants of the Feydark, gnomes learned to hide, to mislead, and to deflect—and by these means, to survive. The same talents sustain them still, allowing them to prosper in a world filled with creatures much larger and far more dangerous than they are.
Gnomes were once enslaved by the fomorian rulers of the Feydark, the subterranean caverns of the Feywild. They regard their former masters with more fear than hatred, and they feel some degree of sympathy for the fey that still toil under fomorian lashes—particularly the spriggans, which some say are corrupted gnomes. Gnomes are not fond of goblins or kobolds, but in typical gnome fashion, they avoid creatures they dislike rather than crusading against them. They are fond of eladrin and other friendly fey, and gnomes who travel the world have good relations with elves and halflings.
So ... actually fairly close to the last idea Sernett wrote in the preview, but with a somewhat more hopeful tone: they're escaped former slaves , rather than actively working for the Evil Fey.
Other Races: Warforged - James Wyatt
People are often inclined to play warforged as unfeeling robots, but that’s not how I see them at all. They’re living creatures, and part of living is emotion, attachment, grief, and love. They might have trouble expressing their emotions because of their blank, almost featureless faces, but to my mind, at least, they feel them just as strongly as humans do.
Constructs in 4th Edition don’t have the long list of immunities that they do in 3rd Edition, which made it a lot easier to make warforged playable as 1st-level characters. (Other races also got beefed up a bit, so the 1st-level bar is set a little higher.) You can’t poison a warforged, but you can paralyze him or sap his strength. They’re good at resisting some effects that can hamper other characters, but if you prick them, they bleed—those cords and fibers in their construct bodies carry fluids just as vital to life as blood is to humanoids.
They no longer carry a list of immunities, but warforged are still an attractive option for fighters, paladins, and warlords who can benefit from the stamina and endurance that come with this race
Fixing Level Adjustment - Richard Baker
Baker outright says that they were not happy with the concept of level adjustment. While it made sense from a design standpoint, it was difficult for inexperienced players to understand.
Further, it was "absolute poison" to low-level characters and to any kind of spellcaster. It was maybe okay to compare a level 14 Human Fighter and a level 13 Genasi Fighter, [/i]"but taking a one-level hit on spell progression was just so bad for spellcasters that players quickly learned to not create Genasi wizards and sorcerers."[i]
Dumping level adjustment was a top priority for 4th Edition, and Baker describes a two-pronged approach:
1. Make the basic races more powerful - if even a Human has enough of a racial modifier to be the equivalent of a "+1" or "+2 level adjustment" race, then it's easy to justify giving the more esoteric races the abilities and powers they need to match their in-universe lore.
2. Move the more powerful racial abilities to higher levels
everyone knows that drow can levitate and cast darkness. But they don’t have to automatically be able to do it at 1st level, do they? Now you decide if you’re playing a drow whether or not those abilities are worth a feat pick (and presumably many or most NPC drow make exactly that choice).
And that ends the section on Races
Next up: Classes
Races and Classes 4Original SA post Wizards Presents: Races and Classes
Classes Overview - Richard Baker
Character classes are the heart of the D&D game. Fighters wear armor and mix it up with monsters in melee. Wizards are fragile but use potent spells to swing entire encounters. Clerics heal and rogues sneak. All those things have been true for 30 years, and they’re going to remain true in 4th Edition
I thought the description of Wizards was particularly revealing. It sort of implies that spells should be as potent as Sleep, or that Fireball shouldn't just deal enough damage to hurt a group of monsters, but to guarantee right then and there that you're going to win this particular fight.
Identifying Class Roles - Richard Baker
One of the first things we decided to tackle in redesigning D&D’s character classes was identifying appropriate class roles. In other words, every class should have all the tools it needs to fill a specific job in the adventuring party. Clerics must heal, fighters must lock up monsters in melee to protect weaker characters, and wizards must deal damage to multiple enemies at range. If you want to exchange characters in the party—for example, replacing a cleric with a druid, or a fighter with a paladin—you should still maintain a mix of high-defense characters, healers, and damage dealers. If you drop in a character who can’t fill the role of the class he’s replacing, you’re weakening the adventuring party and damaging the table’s fun.
We debated long and hard about which roles actually existed, and which classes corresponded to them. Ultimately, we came up with four important roles:
Defender: A character with high defenses and high hit points. This is the character you want getting in front of the monsters and absorbing their attacks. Fighters have been doing this job in D&D for 30 years. Ideally, a defender ought to have some abilities that make him “sticky”—in other words, a defender should be difficult to move past or ignore so that he can do his job.
The defender description I like because it shows that the team understood that "being a tank" was not just about having a bunch of HP and a lot of armor - if the monsters don't want to attack you and they can do that , it doesn't matter.
Striker: A character who deals very high damage to one target at a time, either in melee or at range. This is the job we want to move the rogue toward—when she positions herself for a sneak attack and uses her best attack powers, she deals some of the highest damage in the game. Strikers need mobility to execute their lethal attacks and get away from enemies trying to lock them down.
Notice that at no point do they mention the Rogue as a "skill-monkey" or as a trap-detector-and-remover, and that they don't call her a Thief anymore
Controller: A character who specializes in locking down multiple foes at once, usually at range. This involves inflicting damage or hindering conditions on multiple targets. The wizard is a shining example of this role, of course. Controllers sacrifice defense for offense; they want to concentrate on taking down the enemy as quickly as possible while staying at a safe distance from them.
Leader: A character who heals, aids, or “buffs” other characters. Obviously we thought about just calling this role “healer,” but we want leaders to do more than simply spend their actions healing other characters. The leader is sturdier than the controller, but doesn’t have anywhere near as much offense. The cleric is the classic example. All leaders must have significant healing abilities to live up to their role, as well as other things they can do in a battle.
This paragraph hits on 2 key points that we'd eventually see as part of the 4E design:
1. A Leader's ability to heal was in placed in the action economy so that they could do it while simultaneously smashing faces in, rather than as a mutually exclusive choice
2. The Warlord wasn't just known for being able to heal characters (by shouting), they were known for granting additional attacks for the rest of the party, ditto the Bard for granting additional mobility, and so on.
One Progression Instead of Four - Richard Baker
In 3rd Edition D&D, each character class began with a skeleton consisting of four distinct progressions: Attack Bonus, Fortitude Save, Reflex Save, and Will Save. In 4th Edition, these have been combined into a single level-based check modifier that applies to all of your character’s attacks, defenses, and skill checks. All 10th-level characters have a +5 bonus to AC, all three defenses, attacks, and so on. Naturally, your ability scores, class abilities, and feat selection impact this single progression, so you can expect that a paladin’s Fortitude defense will be significantly better than his Reflex defense, and likewise better than the rogue’s Fortitude defense. In fact, every class features important attack or defense boosts at 1st level that distinguish their best traits from their ordinary ones.
We think this significantly simplifies character creation and advancement and improves the interaction of characters and monsters. In earlier editions, it was far too easy to accidentally create a monster who could hit the party’s fighter at a reasonable success rate but then would never miss the party’s wizard —or one who hit the wizard at a reasonable rate, but then could never actually land a hit on the fighter. Characters still have significant and important variations in their attacks and defenses, but it’s driven from one simple progression now instead of four.
And here we see the genesis of the Half-Level Modifier. They recognized the problem with good vs poor progression tracks causing problems when comparing one class to the other.
As a related sidebar, there's a section in the 3rd Edition Unearthed Arcana called Maximum Ranks, Limited Choices as an alternative way to track skills. Instead of receiving skill points every level and allocating them across your skills, you simply picked a number of skills you would "specialize" in, and then you would just assume that you always had the maximum possible ranks in that skill.
A Fighter could specialize in [2 + INT modifier] skills.
If they were specialized in Climb, they'd roll [d20 + characterLevel+3 + STR modifier], where characterLevel+3 represents putting all possible skill ranks toward that skill. For any skill they weren't specialized in, they'd roll [d20 + stat modifier].
And therein lies the problem: it was simple to track, yes, but after a few levels you wouldn't have a snowball's chance in hell of hitting the DCs for anything you weren't specialized in, so there'd have to be something added to the non-specialized formula to give you a chance at doing the easy stuff, and maybe even the moderately difficult stuff if you were lucky.
So, let's take this Maximum Ranks, Limited Choices skill system, and make a few changes:
1. Add half your character level to all checks, whether specialized in them or not
2. Consolidate the number of skill categories to about half
Now doesn't that start looking more like the 4th Edition skill system?
Every Class Gets Powers - Richard Baker
Perhaps the single biggest change in 4th Edition D&D is this: Every character class has “spells.” In other words, every class has a broad array of maneuvers, stunts, commands, strikes, heroic exploits, or what-have-you to choose from, just like clerics and wizards in previous editions had a wide assortment of spells. Ultimately, a spell, curse, weapon trick, or command is at heart a “power”—a special ability that a character can trigger in a fight.
There are a couple of reasons we decided to do this.
First, all previous editions of the game simply placed far too much of the adventuring party’s total power in the spell selections of the cleric and the wizard. These classes were simply better than other classes by any objective standard. Characters such as fighters and rogues accompanied the adventuring party to protect the spellcasters while the spellcasters defeated the encounters. We decided to shift to a model in which all characters were equally vital to the party’s success. That required offering powers for the fighter and rogue to choose from, just like the cleric and wizard.
Second, choosing and using powers is fun. Fighters in 3rd Edition D&D had many more options than fighters in previous editions thanks to feats such as Power Attack , Spring Attack, and Combat Expertise, but for the most part, fighters still spent 90% of their rounds doing the exact same thing time after time— taking a basic melee attack. A selection of powers to choose from means that fighters now have real choices available to them in combat. From round to round, they decide whether to employ one of their once per encounter abilities, expend a precious once-per-day power, or conserve resources and execute one of the simple at-will attacks they know. Every round is different for the fighter in 4th Edition D&D, and that’s lots more fun.
We’ve also given characters something to add to their power mix at every level, so that a character always gets meaningfully better every time he or she advances a level. There’s always a choice, and always something cool to look forward to every time you level up your character—and that just adds to the fun of the D&D game.
I'm just going to let that stand on its own with emphasis because by God if that doesn't sum up the core of 4th Edition for me. You just wanna frame it.
Next up: The Cleric
Races and Classes 5Original SA post Wizards Presents: Races and Classes
He doesn’t necessarily hit you with his sword arm. He hits you with his faith.
—Andy Collins, March 2006
Class Role - Logan Bonner
The cleric is the archetypal leader. They use their divine magic to buff their allies and prevent them from dying. The different deities that a cleric would worship will grant them unique benefits, such as a preferred weapon or a defense bonus.
They are melee combatants, and their physical attacks are empowered by their divine magic. An individual cleric might choose to specialize in singling out enemies for death, or lowering an enemy's defenses, or increasing an ally's prowess.
Their main combat powers are in the form of battle prayers and spells. Effects that they're capable of include fire and light coming down from above, inducing an enemy to free, or preventing an ally from getting hurt.
All 4th Edition characters have some ability to heal themselves and all leaders can increase that healing. A cleric grants all allies near him an increase to their self-healing, and he can also cure their wounds by using healing words. A cleric doesn’t spend any of his other spells to use them, nor will he need to spend the lion’s share of his actions healing others.
Rituals allow a cleric to heal persistent conditions, create wards, and even bring people back from the dead. Many 3E spells have become rituals instead, allowing the cleric to fill his spell and battle prayer lists with proactive attacks and enhancements.
Just pretend I bolded the whole passage, because these are all key points in 4E's design:
1. Everyone can heal themselves
2. Leaders are "healers", but not just healers
3. Even when leaders are healing, healing isn't supposed to come at the expense of more "interesting" actions
4. Critical/powerful/epic/game-changing spells have been urned into rituals, so casters are still capable of them, but they're not taking up a caster's "spell slots"
Sidebar: Why we changed the Gods - Matt Sernett
We didn’t move forward in 4th Edition with that pantheon [from 3rd Edition, which was heavily based on the Greyhawk campaign setting] because its deities weren’t designed for the improved experience of D&D we were forming. Also, its ties to Greyhawk and its uses in 3E wouldn’t sync up with the new cosmology and mythology we’ve designed to be better for play. We struggled with what deities to put in the game for a long time, and many factors influenced our final decisions:
• We don’t want deities to be thought of as omniscient and all-powerful. Omniscience and omnipotence makes it difficult to use gods in adventure plots or have them interact with characters.
• We want epic characters to be capable of challenging gods and even of becoming gods.
• We wanted deities to be designed for play in the D&D world. Sure, it’s realistic in a sociological sense to have a deity of doorways or of agriculture, but it’s hard to figure out how a cleric who worships such a deity honors his god by going on adventures.
• We wanted fewer, better deities. In your campaign, you can have as many deities as you want, but in order to design classes, a cosmology, and products that work well together, we wanted a good set of deities that cover most players’ needs without that pantheon being too complex and cumbersome.
• We wanted deities to represent the new game and new vision for the D&D world.
For a long time we wanted to design a pantheon that was wholly new, but the harder we pushed it in that direction, the more it seemed like some of the deities of the 3E pantheon were a good fit for the game’s needs. Thus, the pantheon is a blending of old and new.
3E Clerics Rule! 4E Clerics are Better - Logan Bonner
It’s no secret that 3rd Edition clerics are really good. 4th Edition clerics are no longer better than other classes, but are more fun to play.
The huge difference between the two versions is that clerics no longer spend all their time healing and buffing. Moving a modest amount of self-healing into every class has really loosened up the reins on the cleric, as has putting healing in its own bin so it doesn’t overshadow offensive magic. We expect that, in an average encounter, a cleric will use one standard action to heal and will be using the rest of his actions for offense.
Bonner then goes on to explain how they had to chop down the 3E Cleric spell list. Everything that belonged in rituals, such as restoration, raise dead, cure x, and wards were all moved there, and lots of healing prayers were also removed or made into rituals.
This is also the first mention of "alignment no longer has a major mechanical effect" , and that's another big pile of spells that can be done away with. Summoning spells were also removed, but were expected to come back in later books.
In exchange, the designers were able to play around with all sorts of new effects instead:
we wrote a ton of new cleric powers! We wanted persistent magical effects that the cleric could maintain over many rounds (such as spiritual weapon), big magical attacks (like flame strike), and short-term buffs. Most persistent effects sit in the battle prayers, so a cleric drops one in every fight, usually to keep an enemy under control. Big attacks can be found in battle prayers and in spells. They include big explody things like flame strike, supernatural weather (inspired by storm of vengeance), and spells that utterly crush a single opponent. Short-term buffs are much improved because we did away with the duration-tracking that was such a big part of cleric life in 3E. Most short-term buffs lasts until the end of the encounter. That’s it. It’s simple, it’s clear, and the effects are more powerful since the duration’s shorter.
So you might miss the 3E cleric if you just have to be a bit overpowered or were such an altruistic soul that you liked healing somebody every round, but we think most players will prefer the new cleric over the old.
If you don’t choose a defender, the monsters will choose one for you.
—Richard Baker, November 2005
Class Role - Richard Baker
Fighters are the classic defenders. They get in front of the monsters and keep the monsters from attacking less resilient members of the party.
They have the most HP and can wear the heaviest armor. There are even certain feats that will allow a Fighter's DEX to be added to their AC even while wearing heavy armor, that only Fighters will have access to. Fighters also have the most self-healing, and only a Paladin is supposed to even come close to being as tanky.
The second quality a defender requires is an ability to keep the monsters focused on him. We called this “stickiness” around the office—once you get next to a fighter, it’s really hard to move away in order to go pound on the party wizard or cleric. Fighters are “sticky” because they gain serious bonuses on opportunity attacks, have the ability to follow enemies who shift away from them, and guard allies nearby through an ability called battlefield control. Once the fighter gets toe-to-toe with the monsters, it becomes very dangerous for the monsters to do anything other than battle the fighter . . . which is, of course, what the fighter excels at. Enemies ignore fighters at their peril!
Fighters have Power! - Richard Baker
In previous editions of the DUNGEONS & DRAGONS game, the fighter has always been the character who didn’t have any spells or special class powers. Generally speaking, a player running a fighter character did the same thing every round: He took a swing at the bad guys. In 3rd Edition D&D more options became available through the use of various feat trees, but it was still true that the fighter offered none of the resource management or battle strategy of a spellcasting character. Tome of Battle: The Book of Nine Swords introduced a new twist on the 30-year-old mechanics of the fighter class by describing fighterlike classes who used a variety of spectacular martial maneuvers. Using Tome of Battle you could play a fighter (well, a warblade) with the tactical challenge of choosing when and how to use dramatic maneuvers. The new DUNGEONS & DRAGONS 4th Edition game improves and expands this concept even more.
Baker then mentions the AED system for the first time:
At-wills are attacks that are simple, but the Fighters knows and can do all the time. The example given is a Defensive Strike that gives the Fighter an AC bonus whenever the Fighter hits.
This next passage settles a debate that AFAIK kept cropping up on the internet back in the day:
Per-encounter powers are special weapon tricks, surprise attacks, or advanced tactics that can only be used one time per fight. The fighter doesn’t “forget” a power once he uses it, nor does a power deplete any innate reserve of magical energy. He can’t use it again because it simply isn’t effective more than once per battle. If an enemy has already seen your dance of steel maneuver, he won’t be taken in by it a second time. Because you can use one of these powers once per battle, the challenge is to find the exact right moment to use each one for maximum effect
And finally per-day powers "represent a single act of incredible strength, endurance, and heroism; the fighter digs down deep and finds what he needs to make the ultimate effort." The example given is Great Surge that will let a Fighter deal a devastating attack while also tapping into their healing reserves simultaneously. If the interesting part of using an Encounter power is which round of the fight to use it in, the interesting part of a Daily power is deciding which of the battles within the day do you really need it.
Supporting Different Builds - Stephen Schubert
The fighter has always been one of the four iconic pillars of the D&D game (along with the cleric, wizard, and thief/rogue). As the game progressed, the fighter grew into an extremely customizable class, especially in 3rd Edition D&D, where a fighter’s feat choices could change the way he looked: was he a lightly armored, Spring Attacking, glaive wielder? A Power-Attacking, greatsword-swinging, damage dealer? An impregnable, Combat Expertise-using, sword and board AC junkie? Or maybe just a spiked chain trip monkey?
The new fighter still allows for such customizations within the role defined for the class. The class “builds” are supported through feats, class features, gear, and power selection, with each aspect of character creation adding its own flavor to the mix.
Schubert acknowledges that the main divide for Fighter builds tends to be between the sword-and-shield Fighter and the two-handed weapon Fighter.
For the former, there are feats and powers that improve a Fighter's AC and ability to defend their allies, but the designers didn't just want to give the Fighter nothing but defensive bonuses, so there are always powers that would allow the Fighter to quickly move around to battlefield, to get in the way of monsters before they reach the rest of the party, or to pursue and stop monsters that are trying to slip away.
For the latter, the Fighter will have access to "Power Attack-like abiltiies that give the options of dealing more damage with a less accurate swing" , but also attacks that trigger when the Fighter's allies are attacked, effectively allowing this kind of Fighter to still defend their team by threatening the enemies with massive damage if the enemies try to attack someone else.
The powers system is supposed to be flexible enough to support multiple playstyles: if the game needed a build for a "dancing fencer" or a "two-weapon Fighter" , it would just be a matter of adding appropriate powers and feats for it. Finally, the term "build" isn't supposed to be a strict choice. If a sword-and-shield Fighter wants to pick up powers to let them deal more damage, they can choose even those that were originally designed for the two-handed weapon Fighter.
Sidebar: Influence of Book of Nine Swords - Richard Baker
If you think you’ve seen the idea of per-encounter powers for fighters before, you’re right. Tome of Battle: Book of Nine Swords built a system of maneuvers for martial characters that presaged many of the nonspellcaster powers coming up in 4th Edition D&D.
At one point in our power design, we examined the idea of whether or not character powers could be constructed more or less like a card-game model. In other words, all the power choices available to you would be your “hand,” and when you used a power in a fight, you’d “discard” it. In fact, you might even have important “draw” or “refresh” mechanics to return discarded powers to your hand. One of the most aggressive ideas of this sort was the notion of a character who drew his hand randomly as the fight progressed. So, to test the acceptability of these changes to our audience, we adopted the classes in Book of Nine Swords to use an execute, discard, and refresh system for their maneuvers.
While the Nine Swords classes actually work fine with the system (even the crusader!), we eventually moved away from the idea of maneuvers refreshing in an encounter. We decided that we didn’t want to make the players play a game of managing their “hands” at the same time they were playing a game of defeating the monsters. But we learned a tremendous amount from watching D&D fans play with the rules in Book of Nine Swords. And heck, they were fun enough that most of our D&D games around the office saw plenty of Nine Swords characters enter the dungeon.
Next up: The Rogue
Races and Classes 6Original SA post Wizards Presents: Races and Classes
Class Role - Logan Bonner
The rogue is the prime example of a striker. Capable of delivering more damage to a single target than many other characters, a rogue has to spend some effort setting up such a boost. By skillful maneuvering, the help of allies, and the occasional dirty trick, a rogue sets up devastating attacks. In exchange for high damage, a striker ends up frail compared to a defender.
The rest of the section talks about how hiding in shadows, jumping over enemies and scaling walls are all tricks that the Rogue uses to set-up their attacks, and they can do these things because they can use their skills more effectively than other classes, and that the skill system for 4th Edition itself has been revamped.
Sneak Attack is also touted as a source of a Rogue's damage, and it's been made easier to use and more widely applicable. Both the skill revamp and the Sneak Attack changes will be talked about further in.
The last source of a Rogue's bighuge damage is supposed to be their "follow-up attacks", which are tacked onto the end of successful normal attacks to make for flashy results and also good numbers output.
Sneak Attack - Mike Mearls
In the beginning thieves had the backstab ability, and it was good. A +4 bonus on attacks and double damage were great back in the day, but they came with a catch. It was really, really hard to actually complete a backstab. The rules were vague about how they worked, and most DMs shied away from allowing thieves to use this ability on a routine basis.
When D&D 3E arrived on the scene, gamers who loved rogues had reason to celebrate. Sneak attack, while perhaps not as swingy as backstab, was clearly implemented and easy to use. Those extra d6s of damage were great. At least, they were great when the rogue got to use them. Entire categories of creatures, most notably undead and constructs, were immune to sneak attack. Without the offensive boost provided by this ability, rogues were severely crippled.
For D&D 4E, we’ve made sneak attack more flexible while retaining its basic mechanic. You can now use sneak attack whenever you have combat advantage, a combat modifier gained whenever an opponent’s defenses have been compromised. Flanking a foe gives you combat advantage, as do some special abilities. More important, immunity to sneak attack has been scaled back to almost nothing. Almost every creature a rogue now faces has the requisite vulnerable spots needed for a sneak attack to take place. While a construct might lack internal organs, you can still smash its knee or find a weak point in its construction to deal a fistful of extra d6s in damage.
This change reflects one of the important philosophies behind D&D 4E. Some abilities are so key to a character’s class that they should rarely, if ever, face a blanket immunity. Monsters that shut down one character are more likely to make the game dull for a few characters, or force the spotlight on to a sole player character, rather than create interesting situations for the entire party. The rogue relies on sneak attack for his or her offensive abilities, so we’re much better off making it a reliable tool
As a rule, immunities are almost completely gone from D&D 4E. In their place we have damage thresholds to reflect resistances and invulnerability. A fire elemental might ignore a wizard’s fireball, but an elder red dragon can still blast it into oblivion with its breath weapon.
In the design of D&D 4E, the team sought to create a game where a reasonable Dungeon Master could create a reasonable challenge for everyone at the table. A DM must make a conscious decision to shut down a PC or close off a set of options. For this reason, sneak attack now functions against a wide variety of monsters.
There's really not much more that can be said about this: they recognized that the use of Backstab/Sneak Attack had to be formalized and structured in such a way that it could be reliably used, they recognized that 3E's wealth of sneak attack-immune monsters was a bad idea, and they expanded it out to a general principle that monsters that are completely immune to a particular class' abilities is not fun, either.
What's New With the Rogue - Mike Mearls
The core concept of the Rogue is still being retained: light armor, light weapons, lots of skills, and extra damage if your enemy is unaware or otherwise occupied. They're also going to be adding powers that key off CHA for Rogues that want to work off the trickster/deceiver theme, and granting a bonus to trained skill checks if the Rogue has high INT.
The designers also recognized a slight shift in the Rogue's theme: on top of being a "skill monkey", the Rogue should be more like a swashbuckler. They're not as heavily armored as a Fighter, but they're still a threat because of how much damage they can put out, and put out quickly. Working with this concept gives the Rogue a clearer role in a fight, whereas previously it was less clear what they were actually supposed to do if the party didn't have any traps that needed disarming.
This design decision highlights one of the principles of D&D 4E design. In prior versions of the game, designers would sometimes use out-of-combat abilities to balance combat deficiencies. A rogue might have low AC and low hit points, but a lot of skills were supposed to balance that. True, the rogue had sneak attack, but moving into a flank also left him vulnerable to being flanked himself. Since D&D 4E moves from a model of “the party versus one monster” to “the party versus an equal number of monsters,” this problem became even worse.
To better balance the classes, the design team set aside noncombat functions and looked solely at what each class does in a fight. We then balanced their abilities across the board, while following a similar process for noncombat abilities. By cutting off any bleed in balance between those areas, we created characters that are on equal footing across every part of an adventure, rather than creating a situation where player characters are balanced only if you look at all the encounters as a whole.
Along with a clearer fighting archetype, D&D 4E strengthens the rogue’s core competencies both inside and outside of combat. Rogues are now the best skill users in the game. Not only do they get more skills than other classes, but they also have more options and abilities relating to those skills.
At this point I'm sort of wondering where this particular Mike Mearls went, because it really does not sound like this is the kind of guy that would end up making Essentials and then 5E.
Skills - Logan Bonner
Bonner begins with outlining the problems with 3rd Edition's skill system:
* You had to assign ranks to skills on every level-up, and that lead to a lot of fiddly book-keeping
* All the book-keeping isn't really worth the effort, because all you're doing is keeping up with the rising skill DCs
* There were 2 strategies to allocating skills: pick a few and dump all your points into them at every level-up to keep a few maxed, or dabble across a bunch of skills. Only the former was valid, because trying the latter approach would mean that you couldn't ever keep up with the rising skill DCs
* There were way too many skills. It's acknowledged here that part of the problem was that since PCs and NPCs had to be assembled with the same rules, they had to create skills that were never ever going to be used by PCs that actually behaved like fantasy swords-and-sorcery adventurers. Beyond the fact that Profession was useless to someone in a dungeon fighting all the time, there was a lot of frivolous skills or way too narrow skills: Use Rope , Appraise/Decipher Script/Forgery being three different skills, Sleight of Hand and Open Lock being 2 different skills, Listen and Spot being 2 different skills, Hide and Move Silenty being 2 different skills, etc etc
We greatly simplified the skill system to fix these problems. We stripped the list down and combined skills that were pointing in the same direction (Open Lock and Sleight of Hand appeal to the same character, so they’re now functions of a single skill). Knowledge (arcana), Spellcraft, and Read Magic have all been combined into a single Arcana skill.
As of this writing, we have cut the number of skills in half (while maintaining most of the functions). The Star Wars Roleplaying Game Saga Edition includes some of our experiments with skill simplification, most notably in the way it removes the need for constantly increasing skills.
Of all the classes, rogues are the most skill-focused (followed closely by rangers). Many classes have a few skills that are crucial to their functionality, but rogues get the widest swath of options.
Another major change to skills was the removal of several skill functions that we no longer believe should be default parts of skills. The prime example is using Tumble to avoid attacks of opportunity. To have a check (one that can even be made untrained) be able to bypass such a fundamental risk of the game is just too easy and ultimately not all that much fun. Now, skill functions like this are either unlocked by taking a feat or are incorporated into specific powers.
Another idea that’s been bandied about lately is converting some skills to passive “defense” values. Spot and Listen are good examples. Telling the players to roll Spot checks, first of all, tells them that something is up. Also, if you have everybody roll every time there’s something to see, there’s a high probability at least one party member will see it just due to a lucky roll. Skills like this might work better as passive values: Every player character could have a value equal to 10 + skill bonus. Then, when there’s something to see, the Dungeon Master can compare the DC to notice it to the player characters’ “take 10” numbers. So far in playtests, no one has batted an eye and it’s easier on the Dungeon Master—and on your d20.
I don't know when Monte Cook started talking about Passive Perception, but that right there is Passive Perception.
Sidebar: Sample power write-up from an early draft of the Player's Handbook
You send a ranged attack against your foe to get its attention and lure it in your direction. Then, you spring from the shadows and deliver a devastating follow-up attack.
The Rabble Yammer in Terror
You deliver a stinging blow to an enemy who besets you. His allies shrink back from you, each unwilling to draw your ire next.
Go Ahead and Hit Me
Your daunting glare gives you an edge over foes who dare attack you.
Traps and Rogues - Mike Mearls
"Traps have always been a part of the D&D experience, but they’ve never really had a stable place in the game. D&D 4E changes that on a two [sic] levels."
Traps are now things that threaten the entire party. A spiked wall will crush the whole hallway. Opening floodgates will fill the whole room. Awakening skeletons will now cause combat for the group.
At the same time, since traps threaten the whole party, then the whole party must have the means to get avoid, mitigate or neutralize traps. A Fighter can bash the trap into breaking, or a Cleric can heal through damage, or the Wizard can zap its mechanism, and so on.
A rogue can still disarm the trap, but that is just one option among many. Furthermore, Trapfinding is now a feat. Rogues receive it for free, but anyone can become skilled in disabling traps.
This decision points to a larger trend in the game—challenge the party, not a single character. We don’t want one character handling everything in an encounter , and our new trap rules reflect this. After all, D&D is about an adventuring party, not a single character. Not even a cool one , such as the rogue.
Next up: The Warlocks
Races and Classes 7Original SA post Wizards Presents: Races and Classes
Part 1 , Part 2 , Part 3 , Part 4 , Part 5
I think you should only be able to get soul blast if you take the Pact of James Brown.
—Logan Bonner, March 2007
Class Role - Richard Baker
Warlocks are arcane characters. They learn their powers from magical entities they commune with through ancient rites. These may be dark, primal fey spirits, old as the earth itself; the restless shades of ancient warlocks and demipowers long dead; strange, magical intelligences associated with prominent stars; or infernal beings bound by ancient laws the warlock knows how to exploit.
In battle, warlocks are strikers. They are highly mobile and elusive adversaries who scour their enemies with potent blasts of eldritch power and harry them with a variety of potent curses. They deal high damage to one or two enemies at a time. Warlocks have few powers that attack multiple foes at once, but they excel in dealing with small groups of enemies.
Warlocks are not very durable, but they are quite good at avoiding attack by magically evading their enemies. They possess highly accurate and highly damaging short-range attacks and shift easily from ranged to melee combat.
The Warlock gains two new tools in 4th Edition: Pacts and Curses
Pacts describe who or what the Warlock had to bargain with gain their power: Fey, Infernal, Star or Vestige. The different Pacts offer different abilities: the Infernal Pact is more "control" focused with effects that trap or hinder enemies, while the Vestige Pact has more direct-damage through its Soul Blast power.
Each Pact has its own set of Curses. These represent the Warlock's Encounter powers. They cause high amounts of damage while also causing movement and action restrictions, and their Eldritch and Soul Blast attacks deal more damage to Cursed targets, and the Warlock will gain an additional follow-up effect when a Cursed target is killed.
Warlocks are described as specializing in weakening, slowing, immobilizing or otherwise "debuffing" enemies with Curses.
Warlocks Have Changed, Why? - Logan Bonner
The reason warlocks changed is simple: Their cool, unique thing isn’t unique anymore.
Since their resources don’t deplete over the course of the day, warlocks hold a special place in D&D 3E. In 4th Edition, any spellcaster can use a power every round without worrying about running out, so warlocks need something new to differentiate them.
The early changes from the 3E warlock to the 4E version included access to powerful sustainable curses that gave penalties to their enemies and picked up the binder’s vestiges as “hellpacts.” All this pointed them toward the same sort of maybe-this-guy-is-a-little-too-nasty-to-hang-out-with-our-party vibe that the 3E version has, but gave him some new tricks so he’s not playing in the wizard’s sandbox quite as much (duplicating spell effects and the like). It also brought forward some elements from other interesting, but less popular, 3E classes. Of course, the warlock kept eldritch blast, along with abilities that modify the blast.
These were good ideas, but they weren’t quite clicking in playtests. The pacts, like binder vestiges, didn’t have benefits that all pointed to a single theme or play style. Since we wanted to emphasize certain builds, these got narrowed and focused so when you take a pact, you really know what type of character you’re playing. They also aren’t just “hellpacts” anymore. You can make pacts with various powers, each of which has its own build focus and a strong hook for your backstory. Curses were, initially, imparting penalties and giving advantages to the warlock if he voluntarily ended the curse. Unfortunately, this usually meant that a warlock spent his turn invoking a curse, then watching the target die before he had a chance to do anything else. This was an easy problem to fix: We cranked the curses up. Now the curses themselves could put down a ton of damage and impose huge penalties on the target’s actions.
Why the Warlock? - Chris Sims
1. The target of the design team was to have at least 2 classes representing each power source. The Wizard was already the first Arcane class, so the Warlock would be the second.
2. The other target was representing the role. The Wizard is an Arcane Ranged Controller, and the Rogue is a Melee Martial Striker, and the Ranger is a Ranged Martial Striker, so the Warlock would be the Arcane Ranged Striker.
3. The Tieflings were the "dip your toes in evil" race, so the expectation was that they also needed a "dip your toes in evil" class, and the Warlock was a natural match.
4. The Warlock was apparently the most popular 3rd Edition class outside of the original PHB and Tome of Battle.
Warlock Evolution - Stephen Schubert
The design team built off of the experimentation with alternate magical systems that was done with 3rd Edition's Tome of Magic and Magic of Incarnum. The Binder's Pacts served as inspiration for what would eventually become Warlock Pacts, while the Shadowcaster's method of selecting Mysteries was an early model for the Powers system as far as being able to pick-and-choose.
Alignment - Logan Bonner
Alignment is one of those systems that’s been in flux for a while because everybody has a strong opinion about it. When one person’s saying “kill it entirely” and another is saying “keep it as it is,” you know there will be a lot of time and discussion about the topic. R&D is really just like a big gaming group: We all have our opinions about what alignment should be.
To tackle this issue, an elite team of special agents (Michele Carter, Bruce Cordell, Steve Schubert, and Bill Slavicsek) convened to figure out why people do and don’t like alignment as it has appeared in previous versions of the game. We wanted to keep the recognizable names of alignment, but we also had to recognize the failings the old systems had.
A major change to the system is the concept of unaligned characters. Most people just never choose sides, and never dedicate themselves to an ideal—they just do what they can to get by. Alignment is now a system you don’t have to play in if you don’t want to. Only characters with strong ideals will take up the cause of Good or Evil. This allows players more latitude. They can play a character who isn’t all that nice, but can still be in the same party as the bright and shining paladin and not have much difficulty. An “Evil-curious” character might be underhanded or bloodthirsty without crossing the line into evil.
We also wanted to emphasize the difference between personality and alignment. For a long time, people have used alignment as a guide to roleplaying, but that ends up being too restrictive and predictable. While alignment should influence your actions, it shouldn’t define your entire personality. A Good-aligned person can be surly, or even do something that’s not exactly “good” once in a while. This doesn’t mean the person isn’t trying to uphold the virtues of a good alignment—and the dedication to keep trying is what’s important about alignment.
Perhaps more important than any other change is the deemphasis of alignment. Instead of the overarching system of previous editions, alignment is now a much smaller part of the experience. Only a minority of people (and monsters) is aligned at all, and most spells and abilities that key off of alignment have been eliminated. For a player, choosing a Good alignment won’t make your character more susceptible to evil attacks. Dungeon Masters get the freedom to create storylines with intrigue and deception that can’t be derailed by a detect evil spell. Shades of gray can make a campaign deeper and ultimately more rewarding. PCs should decide for themselves whether they think someone is evil, not rely on spells to make their decisions for them.
That third and fourth paragraph is really aces and could serve as a good guide to alignment whenever it rears its head.
Cube Chatter - Logan Bonner
Sometimes these warlock powers get written up so horrifically that they sound like they should be freaking your allies out as well as your enemies.
— Rob Heinsoo, May 2007
I worked on the Player’s Handbook with Rich Baker and Dave Noonan (this was in the third stage of the process). We all sat within two cubes of one another, close enough to shout out whatever weird thing one of us had just come up with. Even though people in nearby cubes were working on different projects, they would occasionally hear one of these snippets about the Player’s Handbook. Usually, this was some oddball placeholder name Rich had written for a warlord power, but warlock powers were a common topic, too. I think our neighbors might have known more about the warlock than any other class, actually.
I wrote up the basic structure of the warlock and established the over-the-top descriptions and effect names the class would use (stuff like the curse of the bloodfang beast and iron chains of misery). The power-writing stage came after that, and Rich was in charge of taking the few powers already written and fleshing out the list (while incorporating changes the development team had made to the overall class structure).
Whenever Rich would write up a crazy power (and the warlock is master of crazy, mean powers), he would relay it across the cube walls to Dave and I, and thereby give everybody else nearby a dose of warlock joy.
Once or twice a day, Rich would say something like, “Okay, here’s a new one: hurl through hell. You banish a foe to the depths of the Nine Hells. During his journey he takes a bunch of damage. He returns prone in his former square, suffering from fear.” Everybody in earshot would have an evil chuckle (Dave’s is the most evil, by the way) and think about the reaction the hapless monster will have when that happens during a game.
Rich (and maybe all of us) really wrote his most entertaining stuff when he was getting punchy at the end of the day. The warlock is a great class to work on when you just need to cut loose and write the most insane powers possible, and he’ll likewise be more fun to play the more exhausting your day has been.
I can’t wait until people first get their hands on this class and say, “I can do what?” And the reactions of the other people at the table will be even better. You just might hear your party’s cleric saying, “I know I said we should punish these evildoers, but ouch!”
Next up: The Wizard
In the end, you are the most powerful adventurer in the group but only when you work with their allies as a team. A lone wizard faces death at the end of foe’s weapon, yet a wizard alone can call down powers that overshadow any other adventurer’s attacks. While some wizards sequester themselves in isolated towers, far from other folk, the mightiest wizards achieved their great deeds with the help of equally legendary warriors, clerics, and rogues. Sure, they might not provide the most intellectually stimulating campfire conversation, but they do have their uses.
Ah yes, there's the Mike Mearls we all know and love.
Races and Classes 8Original SA post Wizards Presents: Races and Classes
Part 1 , Part 2 , Part 3 , Part 4 , Part 5
Wizards Make Things Go Boom - Stephen Radney-MacFarland
It’s really just that simple. The wizard is, and always has been, the quintessential battlefield controller. Fireball, lightning bolt, meteor swarm, even magic missile—they’re all iconic wizard spells that deal damage to multiple opponents at a distance. They are fun, evocative, and the new wizard gets them in spades.
But the wizard is more than a simple arcane howitzer. The wizard has always had a huge bag of tricks, and the new wizard is no different. In previous editions, those trick’s natures were expressed by way of the schools of magic, and while many of those tricks endure, the new wizard identifies them by implements of her art—the orb, staff, or wand.
Wizards who wield an orb flavor their blasts with terrain control and manipulation and focus on retributive and perception effects. If you see a wizard with a staff, you can count on her magical might smiting you with lines and cones, and you can expect to go flying across the battlefield as a consequence of the spell’s effect. A wand wizard is the truly long-distance controller who sits behind layers of magic protection—he’s a hard nut to crack.
But don’t get comfortable thinking that you’ve got a wizard’s number after you’ve spied his arcane implement. The wizard’s specialization doesn’t preclude any of the other powers; it just improves the power and versatility of spells thanks to the focused implements.
We would eventually see this make it live in the form of the different Arcane Implements.
Feats - Stephen Radney-MacFarland
"Lots of things in D&D are changing, but don’t fret too much: You’ll still get feats."
The designers had to dump metamagic and item creation feats. They got rid of the metamagic feats because they no longer wanted feats that were "conditional on a specific effect" . That is, if you were going to make a round-to-round decision, it should be in the form of which power you were going to use. They wanted feats to do one thing, and do it passively, all the time.
They then dumped item creation feats because they did not want players to be spending feat slots (nor experience points) on feats, when feats should have a more focused purpose. These were instead moved to rituals.
The intent was not to limit choice, but rather to create new and interesting ones for the wizard (and the other classes). Feats can increase the potency of arcane powers. Many of these choices will seem self-evident for the role of the traditional wizard—feats that increase defenses, feats that limit the penalties for using powers in melee, feats that increase speed—but others, called skill feats, add breadth to skills. Cherry-picking skill feats can enhance the know-it-all nature wizards exude.
Oh, and here’s something for martial-minded wizard players (fans of the warmage and the duskblade, listen up): arcane strikes, power words, and spells of the wizard don’t have anything like the arcane spell failure of past editions. And while the wizard starts with very few armor and weapon proficiencies, feats can expand those choices. While you’ll never reach the melee might of the fighter and paladin, it’s easier to play the controller with the sharp pointy bits and the tough outer shell that hurls lethal arcane energy across the battlefield!
The last thing mentioned about feats is that while feats might require a specific race, or specific skill, or a minimum level, they will never require a class. The designers wanted to encourage players to either pick feats that compliment their build, or play against type, or to look for interesting interactions and synergy by not limiting feat selection to specific classes.
Of course, we know that what happened in the end was that feats end up having class restrictions anyway, but you can take a Multi-class Feat to let you count as a member of that class for the purpose of meeting prerequisites, but here they envisioned the "Class Training" feat as a much bigger package: you wouldn't just be able to get skill training in a Fighter's class skills, you'd also be able to select a certain number of powers and abilities from that class.
Balancing the Wizard - Stephen Schubert
When we set out to determine the right power level for each class, we first had to establish a baseline, independent of any particular class. Once that was in place, we could discuss the aspects of each class in relation to that baseline, comparing the components of a class’s offense, defense, and utility. The wizard has always been high on the offensive scale and on the lower end defensively, and much of that flavor has been maintained. We set out to preserve the idea that the wizard is very powerful, with abilities that affect multiple opponents at once, but he doesn’t last long if the enemy brutes start wailing on him. Thus, the wizard’s powers follow our higher curve of output, using spells and abilities that hit lots of enemies in quick bursts (as opposed to other high-damage classes like rogues or warlocks that do lots of damage to a single opponent, or spread their damage out over a few rounds).
With potent spells and powers, the wizard can clear away weak minions with fireballs, and he can also control the actions of multiple opponents through directly targeted control powers or indirectly by changing the battlefield with walls and clouds. But where the D&D 3E wizard had many “save or die” spells in his repertoire, to cast over and over until the opponent finally failed a save, the new wizard has fewer powers that can eliminate a worthy foe with a single shot (critical hits not withstanding). Many of the wizard’s direct control powers affect targets for a much shorter duration.
Acknowledgement of the save-or-die dynamic notwithstanding, the differentiation of the Wizard here compared with the Warlock and the Rogue is an eye-opener, especially since the Wizard is supposed to be a Controller and those two other classes are Strikers.
Are Schools of Magic Dead? - Logan Bonner
4th Edition would categorize spells according to their effects rather than their thematic links. The 3E comparison made here is how Melf's Acid Arrow and Scorching Ray both deal energy damage, and both of them even use the "Ray" mechanic to define their in-game effect, but because one of them creates a real object , they're in different schools. 4th Edition is moving away from this because it's not really a useful way to define spells, and instead are looking more the Orb/Staff/Wand arcane focuses as the differentiating factor.
The use of focuses also meant that spells and effects that were only ever useful outside of combat have been moved over to rituals, so that you can access them via an investment of gold rather than having to spend spell slots on it when those slots might otherwise be used when fighting for your life.
So where are the schools now?
Abjuration’s long-term wards and restorative effects like remove disease moved to rituals. There are still plenty of midcombat protective spells, especially in the cleric list.
Conjuration’s long-distance teleportation moved to rituals.
Divination spells have moved almost entirely to rituals.
Enchantment is still around, but expect future classes to emphasize it more than the classes in the first Player’s Handbook.
Evocation is all about blowing things up and, since the wizard fills the controller role, we need more options for blowing things up.
Illusions are common in the wizard’s list. Still, much more are coming.
Necromancy is the most diminished set of effects, but this was an intentional change for the good of the game. Save-or-die effects were too unpredictable, and high-level play was a nightmare because of them. Negative levels also make the game less fun, and penalties are now more focused and generally don’t last longer than the combat encounter.
Transmutation is a school I can’t really understand. What the heck binds these spells together? Anyway, since this school is a bit of a grab bag, expect some things to show up and others to not. You can bet that polymorph won’t be making an appearance (at least, not as a single spell).
So schools have obviously disappeared, but does this really mean they’re dead? Well, all the coolest spells are still there. A school is really only dead as its spells. All we did was remove “school” as a mechanical division. If you want to play an “abjurer,” you can grab all the defensive spells you want —and if wall of force seems like abjuration to you, go for it! Removing the word “school” from our spell vocabulary doesn’t mean the effects and themes have gone anywhere. Some future classes will even be based more heavily on past schools. Don’t be surprised if you see illusionist or conjurer appear as classes or paragon paths at some point.
I personally never really got to understand the different D&D magic schools compared to CRPG classifications based on element, or practical classifications such as direct damage, damage-over-time, crowd-control, and so on. After I read the 5e PHB I eventually got it (never did during my Baldur's Gate days), but it still didn't seem like a particularly useful set of distinctions, so this section resonated well with me.
Experiments in 3rd Edition - Stephen Schubert
Here it's said that while we know that Tome of Battle was a test-bed for 4th Edition ideas, specifically for martials, that the designers were also using other 3E books to tinker with ideas that would eventually become the 4E Wizard.
Complete Arcane's Warlock class showed that it was possible and desirable for a class to have an always-available at-will magic strike.
While the warlock continued to evolve into its own new class, the lesson had been learned: Every class should be able to do something interesting each round, even at the lowest of levels. The wizard needed to have a power, or better yet a selection of powers, that he could use every encounter or even every round. Of course, this thinking was part of the core of the new system, where every class would be a different mix of at-will, encounter-based, or daily resources.
Complete Mage introduced the role of the blaster , which was when the designers began looking at really firming up and strongly defining the role that each class should fill within a group. It also introduced Reserve feats: a Wizard could cast a minor at-will power as long as they had a thematically related spell available to cast in their spell slots.
[Excerpt from Complete Mage follows as an example]
Clap of Thunder [Reserve]
You can deliver a thunderous roar with a touch.
Prerequisite: Ability to cast 3rd-level spells.
Benefit: As long as you have a sonic spell of 3rd level or higher available to cast, you can deliver a melee touch attack as a standard action. This attack deals ld6 points of sonic damage per level of the highest-level sonic spell you have available to cast. Additionally, the subject must succeed on a Fortitude save or be deafened for 1 round.
As a secondary benefit, you gain a +1 competence bonus to your caster level when casting sonic spells.
Hurricane Breath [Reserve]
The power of elemental air you hold in your mind allows you to exhale the wind.
Prerequisite: Ability to cast 2nd-level spells.
Benefit: As long as you have an air spell of 2nd level or higher available to cast, you can attempt to knock a single creature within 30 feet back with a blast of wind. This requires a standard action and functions much like a bull rush; roll 1d20 + the level of the highest-level air spell you have available to cast opposed by your opponent's Strength check. If you succeed, you push the creature back 5 feet.
As a secondary benefit, you gain a +1 competence bonus to your caster level when casting air spells.
The designers then built off of this concept to simply give the Wizard (and all other classes) the ability to have "interesting" at-will attacks available to them every round, with the Reserve feats' requirement of saving a particular spell in a slot.
These trends speak to the greater issue of extending the amount of fun players can have, by extending every class’s resources over many more encounters. While wizards still have the opportunity to cast (and run out of ) spells, they’ll have a few other powers to use much more frequently, allowing them to continue to contribute even once their spells run out.
Tracking down the Complete Arcane and Complete Mage books was yet another eye-opener: I've heard it said that Pathfinder was where at-will cantrips got their start, but here we have the designers explicitly calling out a book that came out three years before Pathfinder as where they got the idea for Wizard at-wills, and where they start playing around with explicit definitions of role: the "Blaster" is really just an Archetype with a list of feats and spells for the player to rely on as a guide, but then there's also the "Booster", and the "Controller" and the "Sniper".
Next up: Other Classes
Races and Classes 9Original SA post Wizards Presents: Races and Classes
Part 1 , Part 2 , Part 3 , Part 4 , Part 5
Barbarians - Mike Mearls
Here Mearls recalls an instance of his Barbarian character rolling a crit with a greatsword, killing an enemy, then critting on the follow-up Cleave attack to kill a second enemy. 'The words "I rage" are a great part of D&D'
The direction they had intended for Barbarians is to give them many different forms of Rage , rather than just a single generic Rage. As well, they want the relationship of Barbarians and Druids to be similar to that of Paladins and Clerics: the latter are the heart, but the former are the violent speartip.
As well, they've moved the "weapon tricks and mastery" solely into the Fighter's Powers, so Barbarian Powers are going to be more feral, brutish, direct.
On a historical note, my playtest barbarian character used a rage ability called lightning panther strike to move across a dungeon chamber and chop down five skeletons in one round. He also had an unhealthy tendency to follow up strikes from his axe with a quick bite attack. Barbarians are more feral and, well, angrier, than ever. All that stuff might not make it into the final draft, but that’s the direction we’re headed.
Bards - Logan Bonner
A master of artistry and social grace, a bard is a leader who wields magic both dramatic and subtle. Harnessing a natural talent for creativity (be it song, painting, dance, or oratory), a bard draws magic from otherworldly patrons that admire the bard’s work. This is fundamentally different from the relationship other spellcasters have with their power sources. A bard is not a subservient worshiper like a cleric, nor does he bend forces to his will like a wizard. The relationship between a bard and his patrons is one of mutual respect, and the magical gifts given cannot be taken away.
Very little here on mechanical design, apart from the fact that even at this junction they knew that they wanted the Bard to be in the Leader role.
Druids - Mike Mearls
The druid presents an interesting problem for D&D 4E design, in that the class in 3E covers so much ground. Is the druid the guy who summons monsters? Is he the guy who transforms into monsters? Is he a spellcasting healer like a cleric? Many gaming groups consider the D&D 3E druid one of the most powerful classes in the game, and for good reason. The druid does a lot of things well, though it takes an experienced player to see and fully utilize the possibilities inherent in the class.
Some interesting admissions here from Mearls - Druids were one of, if not the most, powerful class in 3E, but at the same time the versatility that they had in 3E leaves them rather unfocused going into 4th Edition.
Mearls then elaborates that the team decided that where they wanted to take the Druid was as a shapeshifter: other classes already do the spellcasting thing, and other classes can (eventually) do the monster summoning thing, but only the Druid can turn into bears and elementals, so that's what they wanted the 4th Edition Druid's core to be.
As we'd eventually see in the final product, Druids can Wild Shape much more often than they could in 3rd Edition, and the idea presented here was that they'd choose which animals and forms to take much the same way that other classes would select maneuvers, spells and other abilities, and then they'd only get a token number of utility and ranged attack powers to use outside of their Wild Shapes to give them something to work with when they're in humanoid form.
Monks - Logan Bonner
This section is, like the Bard, similarly thin on details:
In battle, no one is faster or more agile than the monk. After darting across the battlefield, a monk can execute rapid maneuvers that send his opponent flying, knock it to the ground, or stun it into submission. A monk’s defenses are also strong—an awareness of his own body and his surroundings lets a monk avoid attacks, and he can channel his ki to heal his own wounds.
The monk class is still on the horizon, but we know it will work great in the game’s new structure. Since the monk relies on mobility, the class will likely be a striker, putting down high damage with unarmed attacks.
Paladins - James Wyatt
Here the designers says that while the concept of the Paladin is very cool, the actual execution is not:
In practice, I hate playing paladins. They live somewhere between the fighter and the cleric, but they get none of the bonus feats of the fighter and none of the cool spells of the cleric.
Smite evil, the paladin’s best attack, is limited to a few times per day and it’s useless against a non-Evil foe. Not only that, it has a terrible tendency to not work at all when you use it!
A paladin can summon a warhorse that’s pretty much useless in a normal dungeon environment, and he or she can use remove disease a couple of times a week.
Whoop. De. Do.
The direction they want to take the Paladin is similar to what they've done with the Barbarian: whereas the Fighter accomplishes his Defender role with martial skill, and the Barbarian accomplishes his Striker role with Nature's fury, the Paladin as a Defender gets the job done through divine power. The armor and the weapons are more of a channel, rather than the actual tools of the trade.
Further, a Paladin is going to have different Smites that have different functions, in yet another parallel to how Barbarians won't just be using a single generic Rage anymore.
Finally, the designers intended on making Evil Paladins a "normal" occurrence.
Rangers - Chris Sims
Mostly lore-based descriptions again, although it mostly confirms what we already know: Rangers will be a Nature-flavored Striker, they can use the bow or the dual-wielded weapon on equal terms, and they're going to have mobility-emphasizing powers.
Sorcerers - Mike Mearls
Here Mearls says that Sorcerers were a challenging class to design for in 4th Edition because they used virtually the same spell list as Wizards, except they had spontaneous casting, but now that spellcasting is radically different, they don't have that distinction to kick around anymore. So instead, they tinkered more with the idea that Sorcerers tap into magic in a way that's more innate and raw than how Wizards do it.
Not only do sorcerers in 4E use different spells, but they utilize a different method of spellcasting.
The design team posited a class that has a more rudimentary, simplistic style of magic. Sorcerers use inborn talents, giving them a leg up on wizards when it comes to learning spells. The magic they use is more art than science, driven more by a feel for the ebb and flow of energy than by hours of study and practice.
To capture this flavor, the design team built mechanics that reflect a caster who barely controls the power he wields. A wizard creates magical effects by carefully reciting a magical formula. The sorcerer reaches into the magical energies that burn within him and lets them loose on the world with little real control.
The power wielded by a sorcerer is powerful enough that even after a spell is done, ambient energy swirls around him. A sorcerer who blasts you with a cold spell is protected by a small, swirling cloud of snow and ice for a short time. One who unleashes a fireball bursts into flames that scorch enemies who try to attack. The sorcerer is one with his magic, and he (in some cases quite literally) wears it like a second skin.
Swordmages - Richard Baker
Baker talks about how the the Role + Power Source model makes it easier to slot-in class concepts that might otherwise have been harder to find a niche for, and that the Swordmage is a good example of using the different Role + Power Source combinations to create a class that D&D has never really seen before. Whereas the Fighter is a Defender that defends using Martial skill, and the Paladin is a Defender that defends with their Divine faith, the Swordmage is a Defender that uses Arcane magic to accomplish their mission.
Instead of heavy armor, they wrap themselves in wards and spell-shields, and instead of smites from a deity, they channel elemental energy through their blades to deal damage. It's also an inversion of the Wizard insofar as this is a class that's expected and supposed to go toe-to-toe with monsters, even as they use the same magics as a Wizard.
Sidebar: Feather Me Yon Oaf! - Richard Baker
I often use placeholder names in feat and power design until I figure out exactly what I want to call something. For example, in Book of Nine Swords I came up with a Tiger Claw power I simply called Tear His Damn Head Off. But the single most egregious example from the Orcus design process was the warlord rally I called Feather Me Yon Oaf. Basically, the warlord uses the power, and everyone in the party gets an immediate opportunity to yank out a missile weapon and shoot the target creature the warlord designates—in other words, “shoot that guy for me” or “Feather me yon oaf!”
Warlords - Richard Baker
Here Baker says that the original idea for the Warlord came from the Marshal, which was a class from 3E's Miniatures Handbook , but where the Marshal was a 3/4 BAB class that mostly projected different auras to provide small numerical benefits, they wanted the Warlord to have a more fleshed-out set of Powers, and for those Powers to have a more direct impact than a +2 bonus to various rolls.
The warlord does not rely on magic; he is a martial character. The leadership qualities of a warlord vary, but they’re all from his own personal power.
Warlords are resilient, front-line leaders who significantly increase the party’s damage output by using powers that help other characters to fight better. In addition, they help others to recover from damage and shield them from harm almost as well as clerics do. But their distinguishing characteristic is an unprecedented control of battlefield positioning. Warlords are tactical masters who can reshape the lines of battle in a way that no other D&D character has ever been able to.
As a final note, this emphasis on Warlords granting mobility and positioning seems like an outgrowth of the Marshal: it was the Marshal's key special ability to be able to grant an ally an extra Move Action 1/2/3 times a day.
Next up: The Three Tiers of Adventuring
Races and Classes 10Original SA post Wizards Presents: Races and Classes
Part 1 , Part 2 , Part 3 , Part 4 , Part 5
The Three Tiers of Adventuring - Mike Mearls
Tiers are one of those things that existed in D&D 3E without any official acknowledgement. Anyone who played the game from 1st level on up to double digits likely noticed a subtle, continuous shift in the game. Monster damage grew high enough that low hit point characters could take only a hit or two before going down. Saving throws became more important, as more monsters had save or die effects. Once teleport came into the game, the PCs could go anywhere they wanted, helping to make traditional dungeons more difficult to run. Wands became affordable, allowing a smart party access to unlimited healing, flight, and invisibility. In short, D&D changes across the levels that it covers. The tier system seeks to quantify those changes and define the roles of adventurers across the levels.
In a book filled with acknowledgements of things that always existed in D&D but were never formalized, Mearls drops another one.
Heroic Levels - Mike Mearls
The Heroic tier is, of course, the very start of the game, when characters only have their basic abilities to work with, and they're only starting to pull away from the capabilities of the average person. The locations that the characters frequent are stereotypical Middle-Ages Fantasy: analogous to real world cities and castles and dungeons, just also with non-homo sapien humanoids and with just a sprinkling of magic.
The characters might face fantastical monsters, and they might hear about non-Euclidean dungeons filled with warped monstrosities, but they'll still sleep at an inn after slaying the former, and latter are still mostly rumors.
The enemies are also still classic D&D: skeletons, zombies, orcs, goblins, kobolds, and the traps are fairly standard fare with pits and darts and spikes.
Mearls does make mention that they've revised and broadened the scope a little to accommodate the 10-level spread of the Heroic tier:
* Goblins and Kobolds are the target adversaries for the early part of this tier
* Orcs and Hobgoblins compose the middle part, but can make early appearances or still pose threats at the last part of the tier in large numbers
* Gnolls and Troglodytes are the final set of Heroic enemies, the latter having Abyssal monsters as allies, and the latter residing in the outskirts of the Underdark, where they might have a single Drow combatant with them as an exceptional challenge to Heroic characters
* Dragons may appear at the tail end of the Heroic tier, but only the youngest and smallest of their kind
* Similarly, characters may have to fight lesser demons, but not much more than imps
"The Heroic tier is the stuff of classic dungeon crawls" , and here the names Hommlett, Caves of Chaos and the Temple of Elemental Evil are called to mind. The characters are clearing out dens of evil that have fallen into disrepair and are only just being reactivated, or they're pursuing minions of a greater evil, or criminal gangs in a city, or budding evil cults. Their threat only goes as far out as a single town, and while the characters might find evidence of a much larger looming threat, they won't have the chops to fight that just yet.
Paragon Levels - Andy Collins
When a character reaches 11th level, he crosses a significant threshold. No longer a mere adventurer, he is now known as a paragon hero.
Paragon-level adventurers see the bigger picture. It’s not enough for a paragon just to protect a town from evil cultists, or to root out the band of ogres preying on travelers. Paragon adventurers are the type of folks you call on to save the kingdom from an army of giants massing in the mountains, or to uncover the fiendish plot to overthrow the empress and replace her with a pawn of Asmodeus. They’re also the adventurers brave enough to enter the trap-filled tomb of a deadly lich, or to take out that red dragon that’s been demanding sacrifices for the last five generations.
Paragon adventurers battle many of the D&D game’s mightiest classic monsters—giants, demons and devils, beholders, mind flayers, rakshasas, yuan-ti, and, of course, dragons—along with a few new or updated foes, such as rune carved eidolons, elemental archons of fire and ice, and the fomorians, the dreaded tyrants of the darkest caverns of the Feywild. They venture ever farther from familiar locales, exploring the gloomy reaches of the Shadowfell and delving deep into the Abyss to battle their enemies.
At this point, the Paragon Path is introduced as a mechanical conceit - it's a way for a character to further specialize their abilities, allowing one Fighter to differentiate themselves from all other Fighters (insofar as any two Fighters are already not going to have the same Powers and Feats, but even further).
From an in-game perspective, the shift in scope and scale also shows: you're no longer just Jarvis the Fighter, now you're Jarvis the Vigilant Defender.
Epic Levels - Bruce Cordell
D&D has always contained the seeds for high-level play. Did you, like my friends and I, choose gods from 1st Edition’s Deities & Demigods book to fight each other? Those were some epic battles indeed.
The thing is, all previous editions of the game have added Epic level support only after the core rules were out the door. No matter how great these efforts, support for high-level play in products not specifically designed as such was nil to patchy. Therefore, only a fraction of the players ever routinely advanced a character beyond 13th level.
With the new edition, we bring Epic level play into the core experience. Every player can run a character from 1st to 30th level, and during the final ten levels of play, they shake the pillars of heaven and hell to achieve their epic destiny. Your character’s epic destiny describes the mythic archetype you aspire to achieve, perhaps from the moment you began adventuring. Whether you’re a wizard who dreams of assuming the mantle of an archmage or a fighter finally realizing your previous lives as an eternal hero, your epic destiny is what you were born to become.
One thing that bears mentioning here is that in their description of Epic levels, there are only supposed to be a few benefits, but the key is that they are extraordinary and they represent the character passing the bounds of the earthly realm and shedding the laws of the universe.
The destiny is also supposed to create a situation where the character accomplishes some final quest , and that will cap off the campaign and allow the player to narrate their riding off into the (galactic) sunset.
Paragon Paths and Epic Destinies - Logan Bonner
The Paragon path was intended to replace the Prestige class. We're down to the penultimate page of text and the book is still dropping bombshells.
We have new ways to expand on your character at higher levels. You’ll pick up a paragon path at 11th level and it will carry you through 20th. At 21st, your epic destiny kicks in and you’ll become a legend. In some ways they’re similar to prestige classes (and a few prestige classes have made the jump to paragon paths), but they’re much cooler because you don’t give up anything. As you’re leveling up in your main class, you’re also gaining abilities from your paragon path or epic destiny. At the same time the requirements are much simpler; they’re easier to understand and won’t make you jump through hoops.
Bonner then outlines some salient points of the Paragon path design:
* There's a set pace of progression similar to normal leveling, such as all Paragon paths all getting an Encounter Power all at the same time
* Less restrictions for taking a Paragon path, and it's explicitly mentioned which paths are supposed to go with which classes, instead of the 3E design where you looked at the prerequisites, the lore and the abilities to guess at who the Prestige class was really "meant" for
* Of the twelve Paragon paths to be included in the first PHB, each path was based on the combination of two classes, so that each class would generally have three paths to pick from
* Bonner mentions having worked on the Cleric/Paladin, Paladin/Fighter, Fighter/Ranger and Wizard/Ranger paths
Epic destinies are a smaller group, but each one gives you some huge benefits. Only a few are planned for the Player’s Handbook, but when you have the option to serve as the right-hand man to a god, become an undying warrior, or call dragons with a wave of your hand, more than a few choices will make your head explode in a burst of awesome. By the time you finish your epic destiny, you’ll be stomping down all challengers, breaking rules of science, and odds are you’ll be immortal.
There's still one more part I'd like to present before ending this book: a collection of essays and anecdotes from the various designers on their reflections on both 3rd and 4th Edition's designs.
Next up: Staff Thoughts
Races and Classes 11Original SA post Wizards Presents: Races and Classes
Part 1 , Part 2 , Part 3 , Part 4 , Part 5
Part 6 , Part 7 , Part 8 , Part 9 , Part 10
To cap off this book, I'm going to do one last round of quotes from the various designers commenting on their work on 4th Edition.
I’m so excited about 4th Edition I can barely contain myself. Running the Delve in our booth yesterday was awkward—I saw so many of the things I have grown to dislike about 3E come into play. Oh, the poor rogue’s useless against all these plants and elementals. Oh, the poor dwarf didn’t confirm his crit. Oh, look at all the people forgetting about attacks of opportunity (especially at reach) and getting pummeled as a result. I can’t say too much about it, but you can be sure it’s not just grapple that got an overhaul.
I’m playing a ranger in Bill Slavicsek’s weekly game. I’m not sure I’ve played a ranger since the one who stood on top of a pile of gnoll bodies while my magic-user friend killed Yeenoghu in the early days of AD&D. I’m having a blast. I’m playing a paladin in Andy Collins’ monthly game. I love paladins—I seem to keep writing about them in my fiction. (Check out “Blade of the Flame” in the Tales of the Last War anthology for a concise example, or read my other novels!) But I’ve never liked playing a paladin. At one point during the design of this game, I made a paladin for a game where we were testing out Dungeon Tiles, and it made me so sad. I could smite evil once. Then I was done—down to swinging my sword once per round. I wasn’t sad when I died. I love my new paladin.
You can’t really just convert a character directly from 3E to 4E. We pretended you could do that from 2E to 3E, but that conversion book was pretty well bogus. The fact is, as I explained it a lot at Gen Con, that your character isn’t what’s on your character sheet: your character is the guy in your head. The character sheet is how the guy in your head interacts with the rules of the game. The rules of the game are different, so you’ll be creating a new implementation of that character, but the character needn’t change much. In fact, I propose that in 4E your character might actually be truer to your vision of him than in 3E. You might finally see him or her doing all the cool things you imagined doing but that never quite came out on the 3E table.
So Corwyn, our human knight, became a human fighter. His player said yesterday that the character was informed by some of the features of the knight class, but that as a 4E fighter he was a better expression of what he’d wanted the character to be. (The fighter and the paladin pretty well ganged up on the poor knight and divvied his stuff between them.)
Zurio, the illumian spellthief, became a multiclass half-elf rogue/wizard. His player, too, felt strongly that this multiclass combination was a better expression of what he’d wanted out of the spellthief class than anything in 3E, which actually was a huge relief to me—I’d been a little concerned about whether our multiclassing system was going to work.
That left Larissa and Aash. Larissa was a catfolk druid who was more of an archer than a spellcaster (thanks to that level adjustment thing). Her player decided to start from scratch with a dwarf cleric. Aash was my xeph swordsage. That wasn’t a concept that would be easy to translate at this point in the game’s design.
And here’s where we get into roles. In 4E terms, our previous party consisted of:
The knight, a front-line kind of guy.
A ranger, a spellthief, a warlock, a swordsage, and an archer druid, all sort of doing the single-target, high-damage job.
A couple wands of cure X wounds, which served as the party healer.
Now we have this:
Fighter and paladin holding the front line.
Ranger and rogue/wizard in the high-damage role, with the ex-spellthief doing some AoE stuff mixed in.
Cleric doing the clericky thing.
The interesting thing is that both the fighter and the paladin are greatsword wielders, giving up some AC in exchange for more damage, and thus leaning a bit toward the higher damage role. All of which is to say, again, that the roles aren’t there as straitjackets, but to help you build a party that works well together. We were still playing the fighter and paladin we wanted to play, filling our role in different ways while kickin’ monster butt with our greatswords.
New multiclassing rules, you ask. Yep, we’ve got ’em. Multiclass characters are running at a couple of our internal playtest tables right now. Early results are promising, but we’re talking about only a couple of characters, so we haven’t seen broad proof of concept yet.
It’s easy to critique 3E multiclassing rules, but it’s also important to remember that they represent a massive, doublequantum leap from multiclass/dual-class rules in 1E/2E. We really like the configurability and freedom of 3E multiclassing, the way it’s extensible even when you add new classes to the mix, and how it respects (to a degree, anyway) the changing whimsy of players as their characters evolve.
But it’s got some problems—and in particular, it doesn’t tackle the gish very well. There’s the arcane spell failure problem, which takes some levels of the spellsword PrC, a little mithral, and some twilight enhancement to take care of. But beyond that, the low caster level can be just crippling for the fighter/wizard who wants to blast the bad guys into oblivion, rather than use his spellbook as a really good utility belt.
So that’s one big problem—the caster level situation. In 3E, we’ve cemented over that with some prestige classes and feats. But there’s another problem: Your journey through the “Valley of Multi-Ineffectiveness.” For the gish, it’s hard to truly be, well, gishy at low levels before you’ve figured out a reasonable answer to the armor problem. You can’t really wade into melee like a fighter, because you’re gonna get creamed. So you have to take an “I’m basically a wizard for now” or “I’m basically a fighter for now” approach. That works, but you’re just biding your time until you get to play the character you want to play.
So the improvement we’re seeking from the multiclass system is something that solves some specific math problems (the caster level thing) and some specific career-path problems (letting you feel like a blend of classes from the get-go).
The Gish, Today: So what does this mean for our gish PC at the playtest table? Well, from very early levels, he’s wearing armor, stabbing dudes, and casting spells. He’s not as good at stabbing as the fighter, nor as good at casting as the wizard. But he’s viable at both. In theory.
In theory? Well, like I said, the gish characters don’t have a lot of mileage on them yet. And creating hybrid characters involves a careful balancing act. Multiclass characters can’t be optimal at a focused task (because that horns in on the turf for the single-class character) and they can’t be weaksauce (because then you’ve sold the multiclass character a false bill of goods and he doesn’t actually get to use the breadth of his abilities). There’s a middle ground between “optimal” and “weaksauce” that I’ll call “viable.” But it’s not exactly a wide spot of ground.
Finding that viable middle ground isn’t a problem unique to 4E. The 3E designers (myself included) took lots of shots at it; the bard, the mystic theurge, and the eldritch knight are all somewhere on the optimal-viable-weaksauce continuum. I really want to get the gish right.
It might sound crazy, but most of the monsters designed for 3rd Edition D&D are designed with only a hazy understanding of what numbers are appropriate. Monster design is dictated by the math and rules of design, rather than the math and rules serving a fun play experience.
In 3rd Edition, if I want to design a monster, one of the first decisions I must make is creature type. Creature type has tremendous ramifications. If I choose fey, the monster might have half the hit points and miss three times as often as the dragon I create that has the same number of Hit Dice.
One of the next things to do is pick ability scores, and this is done based largely on a comparative basis. Strong as a cockatrice? Wise as a phantom fungus?
Monster abilities are often a seemingly logical collection of elements already designed for the game. Is it big with tentacles? Well then, it must have improved grab and constrict foes. Is a magical beast that stalks prey? Then it probably has scent and a camouf lage power. Is it a demon or devil? Don’t forget to give it a dozen spell-like abilities it will almost never use ...
Then, after making a bunch of decisions and completing the design, you attempt to discover the creature’s CR (Challenge Rating). Maybe it’s about as strong in a fight as a manticore but has twice the hit points. Maybe it’s as fragile as a pixie, but deals twice the damage. Maybe it looks a lot like three different monsters, each with a different CR. Thankfully, we use a tool here at Wizards of the Coast that provides target numbers based on type and CR, and we can build a 3rd Edition monster in it to get close to those numbers. Yet even that process is crazy. We end up jumping through dozens of hoops set up by the rules of monster design. If I don’t use all the monster’s skill points, it’s “wrong.” If I give it more than the “correct” number of feats, I have to explain that it has a bonus feat. And don’t even think about putting that ogre in full plate without advancing it enough to gain the Armor Proficiency (heavy) feat.
Good grief. I want to design a cool monster, not wrestle with the game system for hours.
Thankfully, 4th Edition is doing it completely differently. Monsters are being designed for their intended use—as monsters. We’re not shoehorning them into the character system and hoping what comes out works in the game. Of course, they look alike in many ways and use the same game system, but now the results matter, not the rules for minutiae.
When I designed monsters for the 4th Edition Monster Manual, I thought first about what level the PCs should generally be to fight the monster and the role in the combat the monster would occupy. Then I devised the cool new attack mechanic the monster should have, given its flavor and role. Then maybe I thought of a unique defense power, and maybe another attack power. And then I was pretty much done. The numbers and exactly how it gets there, or varies from the standards, are the last step.
This description of the 3rd Edition monster creation process is interesting in the light of how 5th Edition goes back to the Challenge Rating system, has a 20 step process in the DMG for creating monsters, and that we do have Mike Mearls on record saying that they do have this internal tool for quickly matching CRs.
The game makes the DM’s life easier in many ways. For one thing, monsters are more fun to play. A monster doesn’t need thirty spell-like abilities to be cool. Given that the typical monster has a lifespan of 3 to 5 rounds, it really only needs one or two “signature” abilities in addition to its normal attacks. The new game also makes it a lot easier for the DM to determine appropriate challenges for the party with an encounter-building system that’s much more intuitive than the current EL/CR system. It also doesn’t hurt that we’ll have a data-driven, plug-nplay encounter builder tool on D&D Insider.
The 4E game system also speeds up round-by-round combat by smoothing out some of the clunky or less intuitive mechanics. For example, we’ve made attacks of opportunity dirt-simple by reducing the number of things that provoke AoOs and keeping the list short, intuitive, and free of exceptions. We’ve also made it so that no single player’s turn takes a lot longer than any other player’s turn by eliminating things that cause players to stall on their turns (the shapechange spell as currently written is a fine example).
Do you feel you may face backlash from players who enjoy 3.0 and 3.5 and don’t want to upgrade their rules or campaigns?
We faced a similar situation with the change from 2nd Edition to 3rd Edition, so we assume that not every 3rd-Edition player will switch over to the new game overnight. All in all, 4th Edition offers a much better gaming experience for players and Dungeon Masters. Even though 3rd Edition is an excellent game, 4th Edition gives players better character options at every level, makes DMing less of a chore, and (as mentioned above) speeds up round-by-round combat. I expect that the improvements in game play will convince even reluctant players to switch over to 4th Edition. I also anticipate that the majority of d20 publishers will support 4th Edition going forward.
We’ve been reading a lot about talent trees in 4th Edition. Will 4th Edition characters progress similarly to those in an MMORPG and was this sort of play dynamic the inspiration for the new 4th Edition rules?
Talent trees aren’t unique to MMORPGs. Wizards has produced other games that use talent trees, such as the d20 MODERN Roleplaying Game and the Star Wars Roleplaying Game Saga Edition. The theory of game design, regardless of platform, is constantly evolving. We’ve taken our gaming experiences over the past decade, as well as player feedback on the games and supplements we’ve produced in that time period, to build a system for character creation and advancement in 4th Edition that draws inspiration from numerous sources, but isn’t exactly like anything that’s been done before.
It seems as though many of the changes and new rules in 4th Edition were inspired or emulate the ease-of-use of the current generation of MMO. How has the popularity of such systems affected D&D and how has it contributed to creation of 4th Edition’s game systems?
Just as MMOs have looked to the D&D game for inspiration, so too have we learned a few things from MMOs. (And not just MMOs, but games of all kinds.) However, the D&D game is not an MMO, nor are we turning it into one. As it happens, certain things that work well in MMOs also work well in tabletop RPGs. For example, we like the idea of being able to create different “builds” within a single character class, so that one player’s 5th level fighter can look and feel different from another player’s 5th-level fighter. This is something we experimented with in various other game products produced by Wizards in recent years.
We’ve been reading a lot about class roles and how creating clearly defined roles (and different ways of approaching those roles) are a large part of what will differentiate 4th Edition.
Party roles existed in 3rd Edition, but they were never discussed openly in the core rules. We simply assumed that a typical group of players would know enough to make sure their party included a frontline fighter-type character, a cleric or other healer-type character, a wizard or other artillery-type character, and so forth. In the interest of helping less-experienced players build stronger parties, we’ve addressed the issue of party composition more openly and directly in 4th Edition by explaining party roles and the importance of having characters who can fill these roles. Each base class in 4th Edition has been designed to fill a specific role, but that’s not all the class aims to do, and every base class has things that it can do outside of its primary role.
3E got a lot of things right, but anyone who has played it for a time knows that it gets things wrong. There are also legacy issues with the game that have persisted unquestioned for years. 4E is all about taking the things that work in D&D, keeping them in the game, and fixing everything else. That’s the goal, and I think we’re heading there.
And that about does it for the book. I found it fairly insightful as a set of "developer diaries" that we get rather often in the video game industry, but not so much in the TRPG hobby, or perhaps, only recently as we've seen a growing shift towards greater interaction with social media. Certainly it serves as a counter-point to the theory that 4th Edition was supposed to a great departure from D&D's tropes (or really, tropes that were only mostly established with 3rd Edition).
I rather enjoyed doing this whole thing, and so much so that I started putting it up on a separate site , as much for posterity as for anyone that might want to get people to read it outside of SA.