Published at: March 1, 2008, 5:09 p.m. CST by quint
Hola all. Massawyrm here.
With the rebalancing of all the classes, WotC has given a static, steady progression to leveling up. No longer are there any plateau levels like level 5 (when you get Flight and Fireball) in which players get access to something radically more powerful than what they possessed just a single level before – and no longer hamstringing DM’s by what monsters are effective at one level and not the next. Monsters are now also scaled the same way. There are no more monsters that while being a specific level, possess abilities that make them completely inaccessible as opponents to lower levels. Sure, a 10th level monster will still decimate a first level party – but not because they lack the spells or abilities to so much as touch it. They’ll get their ass kicked because it is simply far more badass than they are. But there are no more monsters that a DM cannot throw against his players because they don’t have the right spell or equipment to fight it.
This opens up a whole world of opportunities and possible combinations. But more importantly, it also allows the quick and easy creation of your own monster stat blocks. Every monster is built with a simple series of equations in which you plug in their level and modify them by their role in combat and get exact, solid scores for their Hit points, damage output and defenses. Of course that doesn’t mean that every 2 nd level monster will have the same amount of hit points and do the same damage with an attack. It takes various factors into account, but if creature of a certain level should be doing five points of damage on average he could do one attack that does 5 straight damage, have an attack that does 1d8+1 or two attacks that do 1d4 a piece. You won’t notice that average of 5 damage, but it will be there hidden in the mechanics.
It takes roughly 5 minutes to stat out a new critter. Is there something missing from the MM that you love? Odds are the answer is a BIG YES (more on that in a bit.) Well, stat it out.
The first thing you’ll notice about the monsters is that they broken down into roles and toughness. The roles are pretty self explanatory and WtC has been all about talking about them. These are things like Lurkers (monsters that hide and attack from shadows or while invisible), artillery (ranged attackers), brutes (big damage dealers), soldiers (tanks), and controllers (spellcasters and creatures with abilities that allow them to move players around or hinder their movement.) A good monster mob has a healthy mix of two or three of these types. This isn’t so much of a game altering change as much as it is just a great system for eyeballing what a given encounter needs or what a creatures stats look like.
The big change is really the new classifications of monster power level. You’ve got Minions, Elite and Solo types as extra modifiers. Elites are just pretty much twice as tough as your average monster. There’s both listings for Elite monsters and rules for beefing one up to Elite (for example having a group of 3 Ogres led by a super tough Ogre Chief.) Solos are pretty self explanatory – they’re meant to be fought alone or only with a little help. These are your dragons, your aspects of deities, or super tough large monsters. Solo’s have proven to be the trickiest to work with as you have to choose just the right point in the adventuring day to unleash them on your party. Too late in the day and they don’t have enough powerful daily abilities left to take it out – too early and they have too man, stacking status effect after status effect on it to the point of silliness. You haven’t encountered 4E frustration until you’ve put a Red Dragon as an early encounter and watched him hobbled, slowed, dazed and covered in ongoing damage before he gets to round 2.
But my favorite addition so far is minions. These are super weak monsters that amount to an average of 4 monsters to a character of equal level. But this by no means is to say that they don’t pose any kind of threat. Quite often they can do much more damage when attacking en masse. These are your zombie hordes or your weak demon spawn and the like. Our very first game began in a tavern, with a brawl (yes, the cliché) but was interrupted by a woman bursting through the door screaming. Two zombies rushed in after her and tore her apart. Our brave fighter rushed forward, hacked them to pieces and threw open the door ready for 2 or 3 more. Only to discover 2 dozen zombies shambling toward her.
Overkill? Not in 4E. 24 Zombie Rotters are a standard encounter for 6 level 1 PCs. You don’t HAVE to run minion fights that large, but man are they a good time. They make your PCs feel highly effective as they drop zombie after zombie beneath their feet, but also prove tactically challenging as they have to fight off swarms with completely different tactics. It also lets you have a little fun by replacing several of the minions with a regular fighter type of the same monster. Why are there only 13 zombies this time? Because one of them is a level 3 nasty. Guess which one it is before it eats your cleric.
Most of your time as Dungeon master will be spent on two things: planning the story of your game and planning the monster and tactic selection. It really is challenging. 4E fights really have a different feel. It’s not about running across some random fight anymore. It’s about planning, it’s about strategy, it’s about the fun or frustration of the big beat down. You are encouraged to get exotic – and that equals fun for all.
So I’ve been incredibly positive up until now. I know there’s many of you out there who have got to be wondering if there’s anything about 4E that I don’t like. Yes. There is, but it’s almost all entirely nit picky stuff about what they chose to release. Personally, I’m just a wee bit annoyed that certain monsters were held back for other monster manuals – especially in lieu of the fact that there are quite a few new editions to the core monsters.
Dungeon & Dragon Miniatures fans (like myself) will be happy to know that several of your favorite minis have been added to the core book. The awesome Boneclaw is core, the Kruthik has worked its way in, and Flameskulls have two different incarnations (one Heroic and one Epic.) But there are no metallic dragons in the core MM. And while Metallics have for the longest time been GOOD creatures, the new 4E lack of standard alignment allows you to be pitted against ANYTHING as long as there’s a good reason for it. No more ALWAYS LG means a crazed, deluded or simply ornery Silver dragon could actually be an opponent for the party. But not on release it can’t. The lack of certain classic giants like the Frost Giants is a bit lame – they include Death Giants, but not Frost? But don’t worry, Fire, Hill and Storm all make appearances. It’s not that there are bad choices and aditions – it’s just that you have to ask why a whole section on Kruthiks but not one on the metallics. I’ll trade you know. It’s not called Dungeons and Kruthiks.
Then there are dragons. First of all, dragons ROCK. Every chromatic dragon fights and plays much differently than each and every other type now and they are ALL nasty. Every last one of them. AND, just to sweeten the deal, there are now real, honest to god dragon encounters set as low as level 3. Yes, you can actually fight a white dragon in a tough fight at level 1. That’s pretty damned awesome, once again deserving its title Dungeons & Dragons. So what’s wrong with dragons? Well, for starters, there is longer any dragons smaller than LARGE size. To many of you that won’t mean anything. But to those of us who have collected Dungeons and dragon Minis from way back in harbinger – we’ve just gotten screwed. I have a whole drawer of small and medium dragons that no longer serve any use. I mean, I guess I can paint them and use them as drakes. But not as dragons. Especially since many of them weren’t exactly easy to come by. That got me a little pissy.
Which leads to the one glaring problem some folks will have with 4E. It is very dependant upon maps, terrain and miniatures. That’s great for guys like me with a closet full of toys. But for others, especially those who like to play much more esoteric games all through discussion rather than using maps and positioning – they’re going to find it a lot harder to covert over to that style of play than 3.5. Most abilities and classes are built around their existence on a map grid. And a lot of the abilities just don’t translate to the abstract. I’m not certain why percentage of players out there still play this way – but they’re going to have the strongest argument against converting to 4E.
But for me these really are some minor gripes compared to the sheer number of mechanics that 4E has fixed. There are no more wallflowers in combats. No more totaling up each players loot to make sure they are equally matched to the monsters they’ll be facing. No more resting before the party needs to. No more “Why can’t I buy this magic item anywhere”. No more broken min/maxing. No more all human parties because the free feat and skill point are worth more. There are a thousand little things that are streamlined, that are better. And once people have had the chance to sit down with it, all the prerelease gripes will go away. It really is like digging into 1st Ed all over again.
This weekend WotC is taking the muzzle off of us playtesters, so over the next few days and weeks, sites will be flooded with all the details. I’m dying to see how closely other groups experiences match my own – but I’m also confident that we’re about to see a lot of positivity out there. This is a great game. Whether you’re a long time player or an online gamer looking for a little more face time with your friends, 4E has a lot to offer the table top community. It’s a revelation and a revolution. And it’s gong to change the way you play forever.
Man I can’t wait to have these in hardback.
Until next time friends, smoke ‘em if ya got ‘em.