First impressions of D&D 4th Edition

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I got a chance to play in Worldwide D&D Game Day this past Saturday. I arrived at the Game Depot (my FLGS) and went to the table I was assigned to. We all introduced ourselves and then selected our characters from the pre-built choices. I picked the rogue and went looking through the character sheet provided with the figure. A lot of what I saw on the front side of the character sheet was familiar to me from older editions of the game. The same 6 attributes are still on the sheet and continue to use the same modifiers that were first introduced in 3rd Edition. Initiative and AC are calculated the same way as in 3rd Ed, but the saving throws are gone. In there place are Saving Defenses (Reflex Defense, Will Defense, Fortitude Defense) that are fixed values that an attacker rolls against to hit someone just as they would when shooting a bow or swinging a sword. The biggest changes to the system that I was introduced to in the demo game are the change of spells and abilities from X/day (like a wizard with 4 1st level spells per day) are now either At Will, Per Encounter or Per Day and all classes have a new ability called Healing Surges which allows the character to heal hit points without the need for a cleric or other healer type in the party. In fact the healer’s spells actually grant the player the use of one of their own healing surges to restore hit points. A secondary thing to the healing surges is the ability called Second Wind that a player can use if they get Bloodied, less than half health, which allows a healing surge as a minor action (free or quick action from previous editions). For example, the 1st level rogue had 27 hit points, 8 healing surges per day (that heal 6 hit points each time) and is bloodied at 13 hit points. One surprising change to occur to accommodate the new system is that Magic Missile is no longer an auto-hit spell, but is an At Will spell that one has to hit the Reflex Defense of the target to do damage. I’ve heard some complain that this change means that D&D really doesn’t have a Magic Missile spell any longer (first time in 30 years). All classes in the Player’s Handbook have Feats and Powers that fit into the above category and races have racial abilities. Wizard’s spells are no longer spells per se, but are powers that a player can choose from while creating the character. The rogue had a few abilities that were a series of combat maneuvers that could be used At Will (Piercing Strike and Sly Flourish), Per Encounter (Positioning Strike) and Daily (Easy Target). Each maneuver took one action and had certain requirements to meet for using them (e.g. a ranged weapon, or a certain kind of melee weapon). Skills have been collapsed and broadened so that instead of the rogue having half-a-dozen different skills (lockpicking, sleight of hand, pick pockets, etc…) they are all rolled under the skill Thievery. Spot, Search and Listen are gone and are replaced with a Perception skill and all characters have a Passive Perception attribute that is 10 + Perception, so now a GM doesn’t have to ask player’s to make a spot check while on guard duty to detect the rogue sneaking by. Instead, the rogue just rolls his Thievery vs. the Passive Perception of the guard. The alignment system has been revamped and reduced from 9 alignments to just 5 with all the neutral alignments being rolled into Unaligned. The demo game itself was a little haphazard partly due to the fact that the GM and players had less than 24 hours from the time of the release of the core books to the game day and so none were really familiar with the rules. Our goal, rescue or find out the fate of two young boys that had gone missing from the town. A little role-playing preceded the combat with the characters getting to use the appropriate skills to help find information and talk to people in the town before moving out to perform the rest of the adventure. The player’s were able to discover that someone in town had helped pick out the two boys for a tall, lithe elf and two brutes. They had taken the kids to a relic of a mausoleum that housed the remains of an ancient line of warlord successors (fathers and sons) that were worshipers of Pelor, god of the sun, and Bahamut, father of all dragons. Arriving at the mausoleum the players gained entry to find themselves in a room of six sarcophagi with statues of Pelor above three and Bahamut above the others. A statue stood in the center of the room and no other exits were visible. Examining the dust on the ground the players were able to determine that others had been there recently and had only disturbed dust around the central statue and a small trail going out to each sarcophagus. Examination of the ruins caused a specter to come out and declare “From sinister entrance… when son follows father the truth shall be revealed” or something to that effect. We argued and moved around the room and then the rogue, me, discovered that the heaviest disturbance of the dust was between the two sarcophagi in the middle on each side of the room. Another player realized that “sinister entrance” meant from the left of the entrance (sinister is latin for left). So, swapping the two statues above the sarcophagi resulted in them being Bahamut-Pelor-Bahamut-Pelor-Bahamut-Pelor, Father-Sun-Father-Sun-Father-Sun. This caused the central statue to open up revealing stairs leading down. The first taste of combat occurred at the bottom of the steps when the group was ambushed by a pair of hobgoblins behind sarcophagi that had been moved to close off the other exits out of the corridor. This allowed most of the players to get a taste of how the new system works with healing and abilities. It took a little doing, but eventually the 5 of us were able to work up tactics to deal with the hobgoblins and then take a quick breather before moving deeper. The next move was through a series of natural tunnels instead of constructed rooms. The players found a doorway in one cave and heard something that sounded like crying behind it. They found the kids chained up inside a magic circle in a room surrounded by statues of what looked like tieflings. The kids warned the party that they had been told that if they left the circle then a quake would collapse the tunnel and bury them alive inside. The party left the kids chained up and explored the other tunnel and came upon the elf necromancer who summoned up several undead to aid him. The final fight ensued with the group barely taking down the necromancer before time was called on the game as the next batch of players was arriving and table space was needed. All-in-all I’d say the game was fun and enjoyed my time with the group. The example characters sheets were short, clean and concise with the information relatively easy to find. I’m just waiting to order the books online rather than front the $105 price tag of the three core books.