Wizards Presents: Races and Classes

Races and Classes is an odd book. It has the new fourth edition livery, it’s crammed with full colour fantasy art, and it’s written by the designers of the fourth edition game; but it’s not a roleplaying book. This is the first of two “fourth edition preview books” that are being released in the run up to D&D fourth edition.

There are no rules in this book. Races and Classes highlights the design process and seeks to explain why certain decisions were taken in favour of others. At best it is an interesting insight into the development of the new edition at Wizards, at worst it is little more than an expensive advertisement for books that are yet to be published. This is hardly essential reading for the new game – it’s more of a coffee table book for roleplayers with very small coffee tables.

And yet, and yet….

Buried in the descriptions and the dense text are snippets of information that tell us how the new game will function. There’s no actual rules, but there’s plenty of material about the rules. There are essays about the shortcomings of third edition, why some of the old rules didn’t work, and what was done to change them. That’s the sort of insight you won’t get from the new Player’s Handbook (and rightly so), and to me it is far from worthless.

In this article I am going to analyse the content of Races and Classes, teasing out as much information as I can. I’m not going to dwell too much on the new rules that are mentioned. There will be plenty of time for that when I analyse the new PHB. What I will do is look at the new D&D ethos, back story and policies and see how well I think these will translate to Iourn.

An Introduction

Work on the fourth edition game began in May 2005, about two years after the release of D&D 3.5. The remit was to create a better game that played up storytelling aspects, heightened the need for party cooperation, and gave the players interesting and meaningful options at every level. One of the goals was to expand the “sweet spot”.

What’s the sweet spot? Glad you asked. Traditionally, D&D has always played best at low to mid levels. For the first three levels you’re terrified that one sword stroke is going to end your character. From about level twelve onwards (according to me, Wizards say level fifteen) your character is too powerful. It has access to too many different abilities and powers and divinations that a group of adventurers of this level can basically nix any adventure before it starts.

This is what I really hate about D&D in its current incarnation, and we have seen it to some extent in the Games of Souls campaign already. When characters get to a certain level they are given a host of abilities that seem specifically designed to circumvent roleplaying. Want to play a compelling mystery? There’s no point, the PCs have access to legend lore and find the path. Have a series of wilderness encounters planned? No point. They can just teleport. The GM needs to write very different sorts of adventures to challenge these characters. It isn’t impossible, it’s just not very much fun. At least, not to me.

Fourth edition is designed (or so they say) to make the game fun and easy to run at any level. If that works, then every penny I spend on this edition will be money well spent. Unfortunately, another remit the designers were given was to make the new game compatible with the miniatures battle system. I still hate miniatures. Still, you can’t have everything.

From reading Races and Classes it is clear to me that more thought has gone into fourth edition than went into third. I’m not talking about more thought into the rules, arguably the fourth edition rules haven’t been as extensively play tested as third edition was. No, more thought has gone into rational behind everything. The designers have asked questions at every possible opportunity. Why does magic work this way? What is the source of magic? What role do gnomes actually play in the game?

All the sacred cows, all the rules that have survived from edition to edition simply because they have always been there, had to justify their existence. What is the point in wizards memorising spells in advance? If the Wish spell is so damn difficult to adjudicate then why is it in the game in the first place? If polymorph slows the game down to a crawl then ditch it and replace it with something that works better. If the gnome doesn’t have an identity beyond smaller dwarf then it needs one!

Everything needs to make internal sense. This was the approach I took when designing Iourn, and it’s nice to see the official game finally embracing the importance of consistency, rationalisation and believability (in context, of course). The problem is that some of these rational solutions that underpin fourth edition are not the same as the ones I used in creating Iourn. That’s the sort of thing that creates friction. I’ll come to those in a moment.

The Basic Mechanics

Roll 1d20 add modifiers and compare with a difficulty number; the higher the roll the better. This is still the d20 system. The mechanical differences between third edition and 4e are minimal. The big changes are conceptual ones: rules have been streamlined, building characters is much easier, monsters, NPCs and PCs don’t necessarily follow the same rules anymore.

Character advancement has been standardised. Reading between the lines, I think that all characters gain +1 per two levels to their base attack bonus, armour class, fortitude, will and reflex defences, and to all their skills. At every odd level they gain a talent, at every even level they gain a feat. Talents are class abilities (such as evasion, wildshape and so on). Some talents will have prerequisites and all classes will have access to at least three talent trees. Some abilities that used to be feats (e.g. Whirlwind Attack) are now talents. The feats gained at even levels will be from a specific list related to the character class.

There’s no mention of characters also getting a general feat every three levels as they do in third edition. However, this might still be the case. There is also no mention of a PC augmenting his stats by +1 every four levels. Again, Races and Classes, is far from a complete overview.

Even though all classes have the same bonus to base attack, defences and skills the selection of appropriate talents and feats can greatly increase these numbers, even at first level. So although, the fighter and the wizard will have the same base attack bonus, the fighter will still be much better in melee than the wizard because of his choice of talents and feats.

The blanket bonus to skills is interesting. The number of skills are reduced by half in 4e. Certain effects are combined (Listen, Spot and Search become the new Perception skill, for example). In the new Star Wars roleplaying game, which was the blueprint for 4e, the skills system completely did away with skill ranks: you either had the skill or your didn’t, and even those that didn’t still accrued a bonus as they went up levels. It seems 4e could be leaning this way as well, but we do not know for sure.

Options to advance from levels 1 to 30 are found in the new PHB. Thirtieth level will be the upper end of advancement, there is no level 31. The speed of advancement is even quicker than in third edition, with characters expected to gain a level every 2-3 sessions. That’s obviously ridiculous. At that speed Elias Raithbourne would be about sixtieth level by now, in fact he would had to have been retired at the end of the Notoriety of Kings campaign. I’ll be quietly ignoring that.

From eleventh level, PCs get access to “paragon paths”. These are more powerful talents that take the core classes in a more specialised direction. From twenty-first level, PCs get access to “epic destinies” which are even more powerful talents, for the most formidable characters. Whether a character gains a paragon path or epic destiny instead of, or in addition to, his normal talents is unclear.

Between them, paragon paths and epic destinies replace the concept of prestige classes. That’s right kiddies, there are no prestige classes in fourth edition!

What does all this mean to Iourn? Not a sausage. These are the mechanics that build characters, not the characters themselves. There are no story elements here, and nothing that changes the way Iourn works. Just because there are no prestige classes doesn’t mean that there can’t be highly specialised PCs or NPCs with weirdo abilities. Indeed, all the paragon paths presented in the new PHB will have names that any prestige class devotee will recognise.

Alignment

Can I pause for a quick mention of alignment? As you should be aware, I hate alignment. It’s pointless and annoying. I hate the way that it’s hardwired into third edition so you can’t excise it without dismantling the whole system. Well, guess what? Alignment is one of those things that is going away in fourth edition. You can’t see me, but I’m doing the dance of joy.

Good and Evil still exist as abstracts, so you still have angels and demons. However, most creatures and most characters will be completely oblivious to this. They will be unaligned. I’m still dancing. That means there will be no spells or abilities that can detect alignment, no spells, abilities, magic items or damage reduction that reflects alignment. It’s gone. Kaput. So long alignment. I’m dancing like Michael Flatley on speed.

But what does this mean to Iourn? I built Iourn to work with third edition, so I included alignment in its make-up. Does that cause trouble? In the origin of Iourn, it was Io that accidentally created the concept of morality. Io didn’t lean toward good, evil, law or chaos. When he created the dragons, his creations reflected the ninefold nature of his personality. In creating the dragons Io created Aduro (the Light), Barathrum (the Dark) and all the spaces inbetween. The interaction of these sources of conscience with the fabric of reality eventually gave rise to the Ancient races.

I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that there are powerful creatures such as angels, demons and so on that gravitate toward a certain type of behaviour. The reason for this can still be their primordial origins as laid down above, but there’s nothing saying even the Ancients have to behave in a prescribed manner. You can have evil Gold Dragons in fourth edition. There may even be mortals (like paladins) who champion one abstract over another, but that doesn’t necessarily make them “right”. What about the druids? Well, they are crusading against extremism. They want balance. Alignment doesn’t have to exist as a tangible entity for that to be true.

By getting rid of alignment, D&D has grown up and Iourn will too. Alignment is as infantile as it is pathetic, and we should all be very pleased to see the back of it!

The Races

Races and Classes presents seven iconic races, and it is a safe bet that these seven races will be the ones that appear in PHB1. In fourth edition, a lot of trouble has been taken to provide believable and compelling back stories to all the races. Some had ancient empires that warred in the dim past, others were slaves who rebelled and so on. While this is all very interesting, it is utterly irrelevant to Iourn. I have perfectly good origins stories and gods for these races, I don’t need to change them. What I want to know is whether the mechanics of the races, and indeed the choice of races that appear in PHB1, will require me to alter anything in the setting.

Powerful Races and Level Adjustments

But first a word on level adjustments. As the players of the Game of Souls campaign are aware, the third edition rules for level adjustment don’t work. I have cobbled together a temporary fix to balance the Tharkis PCs, but I’m not convinced it would hold up to scrutiny. The game seems to be working, I have nineteen sessions left to run, so I’m willing to let it lie.

Fortunately, fourth edition provides a completely different mechanic for playing powerful races and it looks as though it is far superior. Let’s face it: it couldn’t be much worse. A player’s choice of race will play a much more important role in a character’s make-up. Rather than gain a few minor abilities at first level and that generally forget about your race after that, you can continue to gain racial abilities as you advance in levels. However, those racial abilities will be at the expense of class abilities.

The first step in this progress has been to eradicate ‘vanilla’ races. All the races in fourth edition are more powerful (i.e. they get more powers) than in third edition. This brings all races up to about ECL 2 in third-edition speak. So you can play a drow from first level because the drow is no more powerful than an elf (or rather the elf is now as powerful as the drow).

One way of making races more powerful was to remove all negative stat modifiers. So all dwarves keep their bonus to Constitution, but no longer have their penalty to Charisma. Presumably there will be some races or monsters in the game that will have lower average stats than a human, and therefore have attributes that enjoy negative modifiers, but they are not PC races – at least not ones that appear in PHB1.

Not all racial abilities are gained at first level. In order to activate these abilities you will need to select a racial feat. However, if you take a racial feat then you are not using that feat slot for anything else. For example, in third edition drow can levitate as a spell-like ability. In fourth edition, levitation is not something drow can do from first level – it’s too powerful. A drow fighter who wants to levitate needs to select the appropriate racial feat, but by taking that feat he hasn’t taken expertise, or power attack or some other feat. And so it balances.

This is pure conjecture, but I’m guessing that monsters are built on racial feats. Something like a pit fiend will probably have all its feat slots filled up with racial abilities. That’s what the designers mean when they say monsters are built using a shorthand system of character generation: they just don’t have the same options. Presumably, a PC pit fiend could mix and match racial and class abilities like anything other character. I suspect those are rules for a far distant supplement.

Obviously, we haven’t seen how these rules work in practice but I’m optimistic that this could be just he change that the game needs. And now let’s look at those seven iconic races.

Humans

Well, it goes without saying that humans would be part of PHB1. They are still the most prevalent and versatile race. Their back story depicts them as a largely godless people, which makes they vulnerable to corruption, but also capable of acts of supreme good. The essays on the design of humans is actually very interesting. Because the game is written by humans all the other races are really just humans in different hats, how do they make humans suitably different?

In third edition, humans were given an edge in terms of extra skill points and a bonus feat. It was a neat package that made humans a desirable racial choice. They still have an edge, although Races and Classes is quite woolly about what it is. I suspect the human edge will be something to do with action points. Mark my words.

Dragonborn

The what now? A humanoid dragon race? Where did that come from? The dragonborn were first introduced in the Races of the Dragon supplement. In that book they were billed as the Dragonborn of Bahamut. They were not a race in their own right; members of any race could go through a Rite of Rebirth and become dragonborn. This is not the case now. According to their back story, the dragonborn were created by Io at the same time as the dragons, and were dragon worshippers through much of their history. Recent wars and the destruction of their empire has turned them into wandering mercenaries.

The dragonborn have already made an appearance in the League of Light campaign. The servants of Bahamut trapped in the Walk Between Worlds were dragonborn. They made up the army led by Nicos and Sulmaleera that battled Elias’s army of evil Tiamat spawn. So what dragonborn were these? A race in their own right, or other races that had been transformed into dragonborn?

Does it really matter? I think the setting is broad enough that both types of dragonborn can co-exist. I’ve no problem with that level of diversity. As to their back story, that will inevitably be quite different on Iourn. You may not believe me, but I had been intending to use the dragonborn again, and make them more prevalent in the setting. Their introduction as an iconic race is actually quite timely.

As you probably expect, dragonborn racial feats enhance the race’s draconic attributes. As characters gain levels they can choose feats that given them draconic wings, breath weapons and so on.

Although we won’t see a hitherto unheard of dragonborn enclave springing up in downtown Uris, the dragonborn will (over the next couple of years) begin to appear more often in campaigns. The new weekly game, scheduled for September 2008, will allow Dragonborn PCs.

Dwarves

The role and general demeanour of dwarves hasn’t changed. However, their back story has gone through some drastic changes. Dwarves were apparently the slaves of giant-kind for centuries, hence the enmity they have for the tall folk. The creation myths and history of dwarves on Iourn has never been properly mined (if you pardon the pun) so it’s quite possible I’ll incorporate anything that seems suitably nifty.

The biggest change to dwarves (and indeed many PC races) is that darkvision doesn’t exist in fourth edition. Dwarves can see better in the dark than a human, this equates to low-light vision (like a cat). Put a dwarf in a dark room and he can’t see a thing.

I can appreciate why this change was made. Darkvision is hell to adjudicate if you’re a GM. No race is the real world has ever evolved such a weirdo ability, but every other race in D&D seems to have it. My view is that we’re better off without it. However, this has an interesting side effect. As dwarves now need light to see underground, their cities and their way of life has gone through a profound shift.

In the default fourth edition background, dwarven cities are no longer underground (or at least no exclusively). They have enormous fortresses on the surface, and they farm just as humans or halflings do. Dwarven mines are lit by torches, and now all races can appreciate subterranean dwarven architecture because they can actually see it. This is a much more Tolkien view of dwarves.

This change can and should be incorporated into Iourn as it makes more sense. It’s also quite a painless addition. The clanhold Underbarron is partially above ground anyway. Bracks’s home of Kûlhazan is buried deep below the ground, but that is an exception rather than the rule. I’ve never properly fleshed out Dûnhazan or any of the Dwarven cities in the Auld Kingdom. I think it will all fit together reasonably well.

Elves and Eladrin

It makes sense for me to take these two races together. In fourth edition the elves and eladrin are the same race, divided by history. The official back story states that once there was one race of elves that dwelled in the Feywild (a plane of existence). This race as divided into three: the drow who live underground, the eladrin who remained in their castles in the Feywild and wield powerful magic, and the elves who live in forests and woodlands.

Elves and eladrin are playable characters with different modifiers and abilities. They encompass the two stereotypes of the elf: the woodland hunter and the proficient spell caster. Powers, abilities and racial feats will play to these strengths. But how does this distinction fit in with Iourn? Very well as it happens.

I already have a plane of Faerie in the setting (which I plan to rename the Feywild as it is a much cooler name), but there’s no need to keep that in the background of either race. I think it’s quite obvious in the context of the Iourn setting, that the elves who left Iourn for the Greymere are the eladrin, and those that stayed behind (like the Arboreal Guardians of Faerauth) are the elves. Problem solved? Not quite.

In third edition the eladrin are something in their own right. They are a group of celestial fey – they are to Arborea what the baatezu are to the Nine Hells. The eladrin in this form seem to have been completely written out of D&D. I can’t be having that. Aylisha Allenkai was an eladrin, after all.

In the Iourn mythology, the eladrin arose as one of the Ancient races. They had an affinity toward magic and gravitated toward Lolth. Some of the eladrin gave up their personal power in order to manipulate the Weave of Magic that Lolth had created. Thus the elves were born. There was a rebellion against Lolth and those elves that remained loyal to her (the drow). The Seldarine, the eladrin and the elves who stood against Lolth managed to imprison her in the Abyss. The drow fled.

In my setting the eladrin exist as one of the Ancient races. This doesn’t stop the elves of the Greymere (or perhaps specific sects within the Greymere) from calling themselves eladrin. Perhaps they aspire to become what they were before their race attached themselves to Lolth’s apron strings. It adds an extra dimension to the elves in the setting, and if the PCs haven’t heard of the eladrin before… well, it’s not as though you’ve had much contact with the elves is it?

Halflings

The halflings have gone through a succession of changes since second edition. Back in the days of AD&D halflings were hobbits, cast in the Tolkien mould. In third edition, the creators of D&D attempted to create their own identity of halflings. Instead of stay-at-home genealogists halflings became nomads, thirsting for adventure. They also wore shoes. In fourth edition, halflings are still travellers, but they have been given the rivers of the world as their home. They have also been greatly ‘Kenderfied’. The core race and its Dragonlance equivalent have come much closer together.

What I said about the dragonborn holds true here. I like diversity in my races. The halflings of the Wold in Norandor are Tolkien’s hobbits. They are sedentary and generally peaceful unless you rile them. But this is not to say that there isn’t room for the third edition horse nomads or the fourth edition boatmen in Iourn. It’s a big setting after all. I don’t see any problems here.

Tieflings

Hello, here’s another new face. The tiefling was first introduced in Planescape, and was a very popular PC in that setting. A human, or human-ish, creature with an infernal ancestor. No two tieflings looked he same, some might have horns, others might have forked tails and so on.

Things have changed for the tiefling in fourth edition. They are no longer descended from demons and devils; tieflings are a proper race in their own right. They all have the same look: ram’s horns, forked tails and red eyes. Obviously their race itself has an infernal origin, but you’re no longer going to get a tiefling throw-back born to human parents, or a demon siring a mortal and producing a tiefling. Or are you?

Once again, I think Iourn is broad enough to encompass both ideas. There is a race of beings known as tieflings. Vaguely demonic looking humanoids with infernal ancestors are also called tieflings. There are at least three distinct races known as changelings in the setting, and that hasn’t been confusing. I’m happy to stick with that idea.

Like the dragonborn, the race of tieflings will begin to make their presence felt in the setting the closer we get to the Great War. Tieflings are natural warlocks, and as warlocks begin to reappear, so too will this race.

Other Races

That is the seven iconic races that will appear in PHB1. I hope you have noted the missing races from the third edition game. Races and Classes goes on to talk about the celestials (presumably what they intend to call aasimar in fourth edition), the drow, the gnome and the warforged. All of these races are up for consideration and will may appear in PHB2. We’ll see some of them before then. The gnome will appear in Monster Manual I although it won’t have all the options of a PC race, it will still be playable. We’ll see the drow in the new Forgotten Realms campaign setting.

There is absolutely no mention of half-elves or half-orcs. Are the half-races out of vogue? That would impact on the Iourn setting and no mistake. Of course, it looks as though it would be easy to recreate them using the rules for races. I have read that there is conceptual opposition to bringing the half-orc back. It is a race based largely on rape, after all. Quite why rape should be unpalatable and making pacts with demons acceptable is anyone’s guess. I’m not removing any races from Iourn just because they’re not supported by the current edition of D&D.

Character Classes

According to Internet rumour, the new PHB1 will include eight core classes: cleric, fighter, rogue, warlock, wizard, ranger, paladin and warlord. Only the first five are described in any depth in Races and Classes, but remember that this book went to bed in August 2007, at which point the game wasn’t finalised.

What this does mean is that the sorcerer, monk, barbarian and bard have not made the cut. They will probably appear in PHB2 in June 2009, but for now they have not been updated for the new edition. I think this is a mistake on the part of Wizards. I can see why they have done it – put something fresh and new in the Player’s Handbook; don’t just make it a regurgitation of third edition. The fourth edition of the game needs more distance between it and what came before than version 3.5 did from version 3.0.

However, this means most existing campaigns can’t easily convert from third edition to fourth edition because the classes played by half the party won’t be supported. If you take the Chosen of Narramac, Arvan, Ravenna, Raza and to some extent Elias, cannot be converted. And that’s the reason the League of Light campaign won’t be using the fourth edition rules from the get go.

Class Roles

We all know that everyone has a role to play in an adventuring party. You need a fighter, rogue, cleric and wizard to have a well rounded group, right? Well that remains true in fourth edition, only the roles have been more formally defined. 4e identifies four roles in the adventuring party: the defender, the striker, the controller and the leader.

The defender is the hit point monster who puts himself between the rest of the group and harm and dishes out the damage. The fighter and the paladin are examples of defenders. The striker can dish out a lot of damage to a single foe, but can’t take it in return like the defender can. Warlocks with their eldritch blasts, and rogues with their sneak attacks are strikers. Controllers are those with the poorest defences who like to stand back from combat and annihilate their foes from a distance. That just screams “wizard!” doesn’t it? Leaders are not necessarily in charge of the other characters. Leaders have powers that improves the other characters, by increasing their chances to hit or do more damage; leaders also heal. Bards, clerics and warlords are the leaders in fourth edition.

These role demarcations mean nothing in game. They are simply a guide to building an adventuring party. In fourth edition every class is supposed to be able to pull its weight both in and out of combat. A balanced party will include a mix of the four roles. It’s not to say that you can’t have unbalanced parties (the Chosen of Narramac are all over the place), but this guidance is very useful especially for starting players. It doesn’t affect Iourn of course, but I thought I’d mention it because I like it.

Power Sources

Now, here’s something that will affect Iourn. In fourth edition every class will get “powers”. These might be spells, benedictions or simple martial manoeuvres. It isn’t clear from Races and Classes what the difference is between a power and a talent, but I’m sure that will be cleared up when we actually have the rules in front of us. If you’re wondering what a fighter’s “powers” are going to be like then get hold of a copy of the Tome of Battle.

Now, you’ll remember that I said earlier that more thought had gone into fourth edition than third? Well, in giving away all these powers the designers actually took the time to consider where the power actually comes from. For more ‘mundane’ abilities, such as a fighter’s Jon Woo inspired ostentations, one can chalk the power source down to skill. For spellcasters, the sources are different.

Fourth edition will “create more vivid differences between sources of magical power”. Arcane magic is good at blowing things up, divine magic is better for healing. Why is this? What makes them different? It’s an interesting train of thought, and something that really should have been thought of during the conception of third edition. But can you hear the alarm bells ringing yet?

In my treatise on magic, I ask similar questions. Where does magical power come from? However, my answer was based purely on the need to keep Iourn working within the third edition rules. All spells and spell-like abilities drew power from the Weave. The different practices of arcane, divine, psionic, song, nature and so on were all different ways of manipulating the weave, but the effects were similar. Supernatural abilities (like clerical powers) had a direct line to a different source of power. In fourth edition, I doubt there will be any such distinctions.

We know that the wizard spell list will be light on enchantment and necromancy because much of the high level enchantment magic is going to be given to the fourth edition psion, and the necromancy to the new necromancer class (maybe in PHB2). In fourth edition magic and psionics are different. This is probably the route I would have gone down in third edition, but I couldn’t be bothered to follow the ramifications through the whole system. There would have been many.

Also, I have been very keen on getting away from the idea of the cleric as a healer. Why should the god of toads grant healing magic? Shouldn’t spells be thematically linked to a god’s portfolio? Why should clerics be able to do anything else? Set ideas such as that loose in fourth edition and they are going to fly into a brick wall. So what is to be done?

Well, here’s the sneaky thing. I know that I have laid down in the Iourn site the nature of the Weave and the differences between all the different types of magic, but how much of that has actually come across in game? Think about it. How many times has the nature of magic, its source, and the way magic works been underlined during play? And I don’t mean players taking the magic rules into account, I mean the rules actually having a fundamental affect on the story? I changed the way bard magic works in 2002 and no-one really noticed.

Yes there have been a few occasions: among the moon gods, only priests of Vítaeous have healing magic, and that whole Potentate debacle are two good examples. But if the new system of power sources is flexible enough, I think those old stories could be made to work within the context of the new rules, and without having to impose an artificial story-based reason why magic works differently these days. Although, I do have one of those up my sleeve.

Incorporating power sources from fourth edition into Iourn will be a challenge. Once I get my hands on PHB1 we’ll see how much of a challenge.

Use of Powers

So, character classes get all these natty powers, but how often can they use them? There is no, or very little, “preparing spells in advance” in the new edition. Also powers that have durations expressed in units of time, or combat rounds are things of the past.

There seems to be four types of powers. Those useable at will; those useable once per encounter; those useable once per day; and rituals. Rituals are magical powers that seem to be useable at will, but take a very long time, special circumstances or special equipment to create. The others are pretty self explanatory.

Most powers seem to last for one either one round or one encounter. Quite how this works out of combat is anyone’s guess. If you create a burning bush for “one encounter” how is that adjudicated if you want to use that bush to keep you warm all night? But again, we don’t have the actual rules yet so I’m willing to cut them some slack on that.

Clerics

As you would expect, much of the discussion of the cleric ties it to the default pantheon presented in PHB1. This is not the same group of gods as third edition. There are less of them, and their relationships are less complex. I don’t have an exhaustive list but Corellon Larethian (now just Corellon), Bahamut, Asmodeus, Moradin and Bane all feature. However, as this is generic background material it has little impact on the Iourn game. I’m going to continue the practice of including any god that has been mentioned in any edition of the game. The more gods the better, dammit.

Gods in fourth edition are neither omniscient or omnipotent. The designers wanted gods to be able to interact with the world, and they wanted suitably epic heroes to be able to challenge and destroy gods. I’m therefore guessing that what were avatars in second edition, and aspects in third edition are now the gods themselves. This is no big deal. In the Iourn setting most gods are usually just phenomenally powerful Ancients who have accrued power through worshippers. All that seems to fit.

In fourth edition the cleric has battle prayers, spells and rituals at their disposal. Rituals are for more complex effects like raising the dead. Quite what the difference is between battle prayers and spells is anyone’s guess – perhaps something to do with how often they can be implemented. With the removal of alignment-based magic and all summoning spells (!), the cleric list has been augmented with a ton of new spells that we haven’t seen before in D&D. However, the text heavily implies that all clerics have the same spell list, and that all clerics can heal.

If this is true, it disappoints me and means that I’ll have plenty of work to do converting Iourn clerics into fourth edition. Perhaps if the description of the power source is compelling enough I might be convinced to let all clerics heal. We will see. However, I think it bears mentioning that in fourth edition everyone can heal.

In 4e, a character that has been reduced to half hit points is considered “bloodied”. Characters so wounded are at a disadvantage in combat. Fourth edition embraces the abstract nature of hit points to the full, and the amount of damage a character has taken is a combination of physical wounds and fatigue – it’s how they justify high level characters having so many more hit points than low level ones. Self-healing is not, therefore a magical effect. It is more akin to getting a second wind. Quite how this will be adjudicated is unknown. In the new Star Wars game, the character has to take partial actions for three rounds. However, I suspect self-healing in D&D will be dependent on action points. We know that action points have a role to play in fourth edition, although it will be different to the role they currently have in the Eberron game.

In any event, with healing in the hands of everyone, the need for the cleric to be able to heal at all is lessened. While I would love to use the cleric right out of the book I fear that this will be the class (once again) that will require the heaviest modification.

Fighters

There’s nothing campaign altering about the changes to the fighter. Weapon selection and specialisation are the fighter’s friend in fourth edition. Whether you choose to fight with two weapons, a two-handed weapon or a sword and shield there will be a plethora of talents and feats that make you significantly better with that weapon than any other.

Equipment has also been modified so that the difference between using a spear and using a long sword is significant. Fighters are better at wearing armour than any other class (they can retain a larger amount of their Dex bonus for example).

The combination of different feats, talents, weapons and techniques mean that players can create hundreds of different variations of the standard fighter. No two need be quite the same. Vive la difference. We have come a long way since second edition.

Rogues

Like fighters, there’s nothing in the alteration of the rogue’s abilities that affects the integrity of the campaign setting. The rogue’s primary weapon remains his sneak attack, which he can now use far more frequently. It is useable whenever the rogue has a “combat advantage”. This is a new game term, that I suspect will have wide-ranging ramifications once we actually understand what it means. Sneak attack is also more effective because there are very few immunities in fourth edition; the ability now works perfectly well on most undead and constructs.

The rogue still gets the most skills, but instead of non-combat skills being used to balance a rogue’s lack of combat prowess, the 4e rogue should be just as effective in and out of combat. When a rogue sneak attacks, he deals a tremendous amount of damage.

Warlocks

The fourth edition warlock makes its third edition counterpart look feeble. In third edition, the big selling point of the warlock was that it could use its powers repeatedly every round – but now all classes can do that, so the warlock needs a new selling point. In 4e the warlock from Complete Arcane combines elements of the Hexblade (Complete Warrior) and the Binder (Tome of Magic). He doesn’t just shoot eldritch blasts, now he lays nasty curses on you as well.

Warlocks don’t study like a wizard or pray like a cleric, they bargain. Their powers are a result of a pact they have made with a specific entity. There is a choice of four pacts: Fey, Infernal, Star (cthuloid entities by the sound of it) and vestiges (forgotten gods, spirits of powerful warlocks). The powers they acquire depends on the pact, and the most powerful warlocks can have more than one pact.

Warlocks haven’t made a big impact on Iourn yet. We know that a thousand years ago a number of warlock schools existed, and that the leaders of these schools remained neutral in the Great War until the end was nearly upon them – at which point they sided with the grand alliance against Karatath. An army of warlocks marched into the Great Dark and took the war right to Karatath’s front door. They might have even defeated him if they hadn’t been betrayed by their own leader, Takash, who switched sides and was remade as Eligos of the Thirty for his trouble. After this, the warlock schools were broken and most of the warlocks involved were either killed or imprisoned in the Great Dark when the elves created the enceinte.

All of the above was part of the background INdran and I worked out for his warlock ghost, Clara, in the ongoing Game of Souls campaign. It’s passed into canon, and although the idea of schools for warlocks seems at odds with the notion of a solitary pact-maker, I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that at some point in Iourn’s long history warlock schools did exist. I’m not saying that all warlocks were necessarily members, or that all the different types of pacts were represented in the schools. Indeed, it seems likely that all these schools were teaching their students to treat with the same entity.

However, INdran took Clara’s background a stage further and wrote some really very interesting histories of the warlock schools, and origins of warlocks in general. Much of these histories are at odds with what is written in Races and Classes, but we’re both working on adapting it. The end result will hopefully satisfy everyone – not that this will have a great effect on the game for quite a while.

I think this will make things more interesting for INdran as he won’t know how much of his histories are true, and how much inaccurate supposition. It puts a little mystery back into the warlock that would have been missing if I subscribed to a definitive history so early in the class’s inception.

As a core class, we’ll be seeing more of warlocks on Iourn. Of course, this begs the question of where they’ve been hiding all this time. I think that the fact that they haven’t turned up so far, only indicates that they aren’t very prevalent in civilised Urova, or that they have been mistaken for sorcerers or the like. With the start of the second Great War, all manner of odd races and classes will be crawling out of the woodwork. I don’t have a problem with this.

Wizards

By far the biggest changes seem to have been reserved for the wizard. Take a deep breath and here we go. First up, arcane spell failure is a thing of the past. Wizards still might not be skilled in wearing armour, but armour itself doesn’t intrinsically stop arcane magic. This is a good thing as far as I’m concerned because arcane spell failure never made any sort of sense. I came within a whisker of eradicating it from the game; if wasn’t for the number of third edition classes whose main raison d’etre was to defeat spell failure, I would have gone ahead with it. Instead, I just rolled out spell failure to all classes. Everyone should be glad that is disappearing too.

So where does leave Ravenna, who has invested a couple of levels in the Spellsword prestige class? In game, Ravenna got Elias to teach her how to fight so she could use the Blade of Charity more effectively and defend herself better in combat. The spellsword was just a mechanically apt way of showing that. We can still recreate the same sort of thing easily enough. Ravenna would be better trained in wearing armour, and could wear heavier armour than a regular sorcerer.

Back to wizards. The schools of magic no longer exist as part of the game mechanics. Although there’s no reason why a character couldn’t refer to the nine schools in game, they are no longer how wizards learn or specialise. Instead, each spell is linked to a foci – a staff, an orb, a wand and so on. Wizards usually favour one token over the others and use that to channel their magic. Seeing what focus a wizard is using is an indication of the sort of magic that wizards favours.

Specialist wizards such as Illusionists and Necromancers will eventually become core classes in their own right. This means that there are fewer potent illusion and necromancy spells in the core wizard spell list. We won’t see specialist enchanters at all, as all the potent enchantments have been ceded to psionics. This is an attempt to give psionics their own unique voice in the system, and I applaud that. Finally, we won’t see specialist diviners, because alignment has gone, and most remaining divinations are no longer spells; they are rituals. Yes, it will take a serious effort to cast a legend lore in fourth edition!

This obviously means the mechanics for specialist wizards will have to change. Elegant though my house rules are, if they’re not compatible for fourth edition then they are out of the window. Will these changes affect the story of the setting? Well, it’s been established that specialisation in the schools of magic was an Hadradan thing, and that most wizards left on Urova are generalists. The only exceptions are the gnomes of the Five Colour Kingdom who specialise in illusions, and the Masters of the Schools of Magic in Arcanus.

Every specialist wizard in Urova (and I’m mainly looking at the clan De Chesiré here) has gone to Sorostrae and studied under one of the Masters to become a specialist. Now, I believe that the nine schools of magic can still exist in the Iourn setting as academic classifications of magic, even if they have no game effects. There will still be ‘specialist wizards’ in the game, but these are new core classes that haven’t been published yet. Necromancer and Illusionist are safe bets, but although we probably won’t see Abjurers or Transmuters I’ll bet that there will be talents, feats and paragon paths that heighten the effectiveness of certain styles of wizard. Specialist wizards continue to exist in one form or another.

But what about spellcraft? That skill has been used dozens of times in game to reveal the school of magic. Well, it has, but all that’s really happened is the spellcaster has used his knowledge to work out what a spell or magical item does, and then couched that knowledge in terms he understands. It isn’t really a fundamental shift.

What about the new classifications of magic: tomes, daggers, staves, wands, orbs and so on? This is a very different way of doing things. Well, that is a shift. Wizards didn’t use these things before fourth edition… or did they? What if, the study of magic in the Hadradan Empire has moved on. What if they long ago abandoned the using the schools of magic to classify spells, and moved onto these foci? We’ve only visited Hadrada once in game, and no time was really spent dwelling on the way magic worked over there. Perhaps, these new techniques are now beginning to be felt in Urova. Maybe they’re already common in Sorostrae and haven’t yet found their way as far east as Norandor. Say, aren’t the Chosen going to Sorostrae during Roleplaying Retreat IV?

Moving on, the rational behind magic seems to be that when a wizard casts a spell, a certain amount of time needs to elapse before that spell is available again. It works a little like Recharge Magic from Unearthed Arcana. Within that structure, the wizard has three types of magic:

Power words are useable at will. These are like specialised spells, that the wizard is so familiar with that he can cast ad infinitum. I’m guessing these are low level effects, but as the wizard gains levels they could become more powerful. Most spells can be called upon once per encounter. I guess this stops the wizard from casting fireball round after round. The most powerful spells (which are the most powerful PC powers in the game) are only useable once per day.

Mechanically I think this could work quite well. I’m prepared to abandon spell points in favour of doing things this way. It makes some sense to me. Whether it makes sense within the context of Iourn is another matter. I think it could be made to work. Wizards would still get their powers from study. It looks as though they still need their spell books, and they still need to rest to regain their spellcasting ability. Is that enough to justify the Arcanum Incognita and the Potentates? The jury is out on that one. Ask me again in June.

Metamagic and Item Creation feats no longer exist. The versatility afforded by metamagic will be built elsewhere into the system. The creation of magical items is now a ritual, and won’t require the burning of experience points.

It also looks as though the wizard (or indeed any spellcaster) will find it very difficult to cast spells without provoking attacks of opportunity (aka opportunity attacks!) Concentration could well be a thing of the past.

The wizard is the last class that is given significant space in Races and Classes. The book now dwells very briefly on another character classes, including the ones from third edition that didn’t make the cut. Seven of the following classes aren’t going to be in PHB1. Add in the Necromancer and this might be a list of the classes we’ll see in PHB2. Perhaps that is looking too far ahead.

Barbarians

Although not finalised for PHB1, barbarians are going to be all about raging, which seems fine to me. Heightening this class ability will further distance them from the fighter. Barbarians are to be linked more closely to druids as the sword-arm of their faith. That works well enough for Bronx, but not for all barbarians on Iourn. Fortunately, this looks to be a story-element which can be ignored.

Bards

Bards are also still a work in progress. At the moment, the bard draws power for his spells and abilities from an otherworldly patron who admires the bard’s work. This is a fundamental change to bards (on Iourn bardic magic is just the stunted descendent of elven sonorism). I will have to see how this can be properly incorporated. Frankly, the 4e explanation sounds more interesting.

Druids

Because druids are effectively good at everything, 4e has decided to focus the druid more sharply. While druids will still have spells in 4e, they won’t be at the heart of the character. The druid will be all about wildshaping. That is how the druid will fight his battles and solve his problems. In keeping with changes to the polymorph ability, druids will only be able to change into a finite number of forms. On the whole this change could have been written for Iourn. I have no problem with it at all, and it will fit in perfectly.

Monks

It seems that little work had been done on the monk by August 2007, although the designers do seem committed to keep the little bleeder in D&D. Sorry, Marc. The monk will probably be highly mobile striker (like a rogue) able to enter a battlefield and give the smack down to an enemy. I hope that the monk will be in PHB2.

Paladins

These will almost certainly be in PHB1. Conceptually the class remains the same. Mechanically, the paladin’s smite has been given a make-over, and can now do different things and has different effects as the paladin advances in levels. What I said for the barbarian also applies for the paladin: it will be nice to give the class an ability that grows as the character advances. It also seems that the paladin’s warhorse won’t appear with a snap of the fingers in fourth edition. Yay.

Rangers

The ranger will become the rogue of the wilderness. They are going to be the masters of guerrilla tactics, and seem to depend on mobility to be truly effective in combat. I suspect a number of the abilities from the Scout core class (from Complete Adventurer) has been folded into the ranger. Conceptually, the ranger hasn’t changed and I don’t think that the mechanical alterations will affect the game. Even if they do away with ranger spells in favour of other abilities, it isn’t really going to make much difference to the big picture. However, if the ranger becomes more rogue and less front line brawler, I suspect that a reconceptualised Brack will carry more levels of fighter than he currently does.

Sorcerer

Now that wizards can cast spells more-or-less when they want, the abilities that marked out the sorcerer as unique have gone. According to Races and Classes the sorcerer will be much a less sophisticated magic user than a wizard. They are instinctive casters, born with their abilities who barely seem in control of their magic. They use the example that a sorcerer who blasts an enemy with a cold spell might create a aura of ice around herself that protects her from the cold. The fourth edition sorcerer seems to be one part wild mage, and one part Wilder (from the Expanded Psionics Handbook). Does any of this sound like Ravenna?

The problem with Ravenna is that Jon created a sorcerer in the first session of the first campaign, before I really came to appreciate the inherent story-related differences between wizards and sorcerers. If I could go back and do it over again, I would have looked at Jon’s character concept and suggested Ravenna be a wizard instead. Sorcerers don’t have mentors, they are untutored beings with an innate understanding of arcane magic.

During the last seven years, I’ve never really known what to do with sorcerers. Yes, they gain their powers from having dragons somewhere in their ancestry, and from that I extrapolated that all arcane magic comes from draconic magic – this is something that might not hold true in fourth edition. I’ve given them a very different mechanic for casting spells, which is all very cool but does cause a fair amount of friction with the elements of the game rules I haven’t changed. I’ve looked time and again at changing the sorcerer, and introduced no end of house rules to try and make them different to wizards. I’ve never been completely happy with the results.

I suspect that I will end up adopting the sorcerer as it is written in fourth edition, and then looking how the different mechanics could have realistically been made to work in previous adventures. As for Ravenna, it could be that the most logical build for her in the new system is some sort of sorcerer/wizard/fighter hybrid. But then PHB2 is probably going to throw the Swordmage into the mix (see below) which could be tailor-made for Ravenna. In short, we’ll have to wait and see. Sorcerers are a problem for another year.

Swordmage

The swordmage will be a class that combines martial prowess with arcane power, much in the same way as an elven bladesinger. The swordmage will have magical powers and spells that increase his ability in mêlée – things like magical enchantments on weapons and armour, spells that make him faster and so on. This is the sort of character class that could be dropped into the setting without making much in the way of ripples. They’re effectively multiclass wizard/fighters with a tighter focus and (presumably) different talent trees. While it will be interesting to see how organisations like the Arcanum Incognita relate to swordmages, there’s nothing in the concept that I find particularly offensive.

Warlord

The warlord will be the eighth class in Player’s Handbook I. So, what the hell’s a warlord? The warlord is a non-magical class, in the Leader role. Warlords are skilled battle leaders and motivational speakers. They can raise their allies to new found heights, and coordinate them more effectively. They are based on the Marshal class from the Miniature’s Handbook, although they have greater utility than that class. I suspect that the rules for team working may also be folded into this class.

Warlords are actually quite common on Iourn. Why have the parties never met them before? Well, they probably have and didn’t notice. I seldom bother to stat NPCs, so I have a certain degree of latitude when assigning classes to them. Perhaps Arvan’s father was a warlord; maybe Alberdark has been a warlord all this time? Dropping the warlord class into Iourn isn’t going to change anything, except it gives players who would otherwise be playing fighters another option. It’s not as if warlords actually go around calling themselves warlords.

I think warlord is a much better fit for Elias Raithbourne than fighter. It will be really interesting to see how the Chosen of Narramac come out of a fourth edition conversion process.

In Conclusion

And that was Races and Classes. Definitely some food for thought here, especially in regard to power sources and the spellcasting classes. Everything else will probably slide into the Iourn setting without too much hassle. This article has been far longer than I intended, but it’s been fun going through this preview of the new edition.

Next up is the companion book, Worlds and Monsters, which is published in January 2008. You can read the blurb here. This book will concentrate on the default world and planes of existence that the designers have built, and we will also see how the powers and special abilities of monsters will work in 4e.

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