Movement and Position

Right, it’s house rule time again.

As we have seen, combat in fourth edition is written around tactical movement. Movement is measured in squares (not feet), combat manoeuvres, powers and feats demand that you move your character. The fact that the move action can no longer be used to take extra attacks, makes movement a much more attractive proposition than in third edition. In fact, if you play 4e then you’ll want to move your character – I’ve played a ranger and personally testify that this is the case.

As a result of all this, the need to know where everything is on the battlefield (to within one square) is of much greater importance than it ever has been. That ethos does not fit well with the way that I run combats. Without miniatures and a grid, some of the rules for movement, measurement and position are going to have to be tweaked to preserve the utility and the options of the fourth edition game.

These are utilities and options well worth preserving. Combat in fourth edition is fun – it really is. Each class has unique tactics hardwired into its abilities, feats and powers. It is well worth playing and well worth us going to the trouble of protecting the designers’ intent.

So, we’re going to look at the combat chapter from the PHB1 (chapter nine) and go through it, altering all the rules that depend on exact measurement and absolute position to very similiar rules that have identical effects, but can be easily adjudicated in a freeform system. Once we have done this, we’ll have a list of changes that can then easily be applied to all feats and powers. I’m not going to hunt down all the feats and powers that need to be modified (as I did for opportunity attacks). I think once the basic premise is down, then everything else slots neatly into place.

Unlearn what you have Learned

The fourth edition rules teach you to see the world in squares. I’ve never played with a battle grid and never want to, but after reading the rulebooks I couldn’t help seeing the effects of powers in terms of squares and straight lines. The breath weapon of a dragon born, for example, is a blast. It emenates from the square where the dragonborn is standing and engulfs everything in a three square by three square area.

But dragonborn don’t vomit up a burst of fire in a perfect square do they? The 4e rules assume that they do, and this is excellent for adjudicating who is or is not caught in the area of effect, but in reality the breath is going to be in a cone, or an arc.

We have to stop looking at the game world in the artificial terms imposed by the rules, and start looking at it through the eyes of the characters. They don’t see distance in terms of sqaures, they see it in terms of feet (or whatever weirdo fantastic measure exists in your campaign world). A fireball is a fireball. The clue is in the name.

If we take away the rigid definitions of squares and straight lines then combat immediately becomes more fluid and workable. It also becomes more believable. It’s much easier to immerse yourself in the actions of your character, when you’re not counting off squares on a battle grid.

Distance and Speed

The first change is easily made. All measures in the game are represented in five foot squares. An elf with speed 7 can cover seven squares (thirty-five feet) as a move action. A power described as Ranged 10 will hit a single target  within ten squares (fifty feet) of the origin square. Conversion here is simple: take the distance in squares, multiply it by 5 and you have the distance in feet. No problem.

If you’re mathematically challenged (like me) and find multiplying by 5 takes up slightly too much brain power, it’s much easier to multiply by 10, and then divide by 2. Have a go, you’ll see I’m right. Does everyone agree with me here? Changing from squares to feet is dead easy, isn’t it? Right?

Well…

We do have a small problem. Namely, that all characters (of small and medium size) are considered to inhabit a square five feet to a side. So if you think that a spell goes off from the middle of that square then something denoted as “Ranged 20” actually reaches 102½ feet from a medium-sized character. My solution to this problem is to ignore it. Ranged 20 is 100 feet, we won’t count the starting square. Everyone happy with that?

The ability to convert seamlessly from squares to feet is complicated somewhat when an ability targets an area instead of an individual. A little work needs to be done regarding the three key units of measurement for powers: blasts, bursts and walls.

Blasts, Bursts and Walls

Blasts, bursts and walls are normally used to describe the area of effect of magic or supernatural powers, such as a dragon’s breath weapon, or a wizard’s spell. Sometimes more mundane powers use them as well. A fighter using a power to spin on the spot and hit all the enemies around him is using a burst power. The Bloody Path power of the rogue, that was mentioned in the post on Opportunity Attacks, affects enemies in a burst.

Let’s look more closely at this:

Blasts

The text on p272 of PHB1 states that “a blast fills an area adjacent to you that is a specified number of squares on a side”. So something designated as a Close Blast 3 would affect an area that was 3 squares by 3 squares. In our terms a Close Blast 3 translates as a square area 15 feet to a side. Blasts orignate from the caster (or fighter, or whatever), and do not affect the caster. The caster must be adjacent to the area of the blast – which means you cannot cast it at a distance. However, you can be standing at any point along the edge of the area of effect, so you can manipulate where the blast falls.

Squares are not a good mechanic for adjudicating what is obviously a cone effect. So here are my rules on blasts: unless, the text states otherwise, a blast affects everything in a 90° arc, with a radius equal to indicated distance. The arc emenates from the caster. So, the dragonborn’s breath weapon is a burst of elemental pain that extends 15 feet from the dragonborn in a 90° arc.

Adjudicating such an arc is not as difficult as it sounds, if you assume that the caster can always engage in a little fancy footwork to be facing in the most profitable direction (which is something 4e assumes anyway). Just follow these guidelines:

Firstly, you can direct your blast on foes attacking you in mêlée combat. However, there is a limit to the number of such foes that you can get with one blast. The actual number depends on the size of the character initiating the blast and the size of the target, as can be seen in this table:

Target
Small/Medium
Large
Huge
Gigantic
Caster
Small/Medium
3
2
1
1
Large
3
2
1
1
Huge
5
3
2
2
Gigantic
5
3
2
2

The figures on the table represent the maximum possible number of mêlée targets you can catch in your blast. It assumes that they are all helpfully standing next to one another and attacking you from the same side. This may not be the case.  Maybe they deliberately aren’t standing together because they know you have a blast power. Maybe circumstances mean that they cannot be next to one another. It is the GM’s responsibility to adjudicate this fairly. The GM also has the power to rule that you can affect more than the usual maximum with your blast, for example all the dragonborn’s enemies are hiding in his wardrobe, he opens the door and the breathes on them.

Secondly, unless you have a blast with a five foot range, it is going to affect targets beyond normal mêlée range. Beyond mêlée, a blast will hit everything in the caster’s line of vision up to the range indicated. It may be obvious who is standing there, it may not. But the GM will have the final say on the matter.

Thirdly, it should be noted that a blast only requires line of effect, so invisible creatures would be affected if they happened to be standing within the cone.

Now, where the borders of the cone falls is evidently open to interpretation and could be the source of disagreements between players and the GM. However, if the GM is doing his job correctly (and perhaps scribbling the more complicated fights on a white board), then everyone should share the same rough idea of position in relation to everyone else. If in doubt, refer to these guidelines:

  • The GM should make it abundantly clear to the player where the area of effect of his cone will fall before the power is used. Surprising a character with a deep-fried ally is only funny once.
  • Blasts are neither subtle nor precise. It is not usually possible to target (or exclude) a specific target with a blast.
  • If you use a blast against an enemy that is engaged in mêlée combat with one of your allies, then you are also going to catch that ally in the blast. So what if the caster backs off so that the mêlée between enemy and ally is happening right on the edge of his range, what if he says he is going to time the blast so just to catch the back of the enemy as the opponents spar in their deadly dance of death? Assuming such manoeuvres are possible then by all means allow it. Have the PC make the attack on the intended target at a penalty (the GM can assign it). If he hits then everything goes as the player planned. If he misses (regardless of what he rolled) then he must also make an attack roll on his ally.

Blasts without battle grids are not as easy to adjudicate (and certainly take more text to explain). However, I believe that they are straight-forward enough. As long as the GM displays a consistant approach to blasts – whether they are initiated by players or NPCs then we won’t go far wrong.

Bursts

There are two types of bursts. Close bursts are centred on you (and don’t tend to affect you unless the text of the power says otherwise). Area Bursts are targeted at a distant spot. They have an area of effect and a range. The range dictates how far away the centre of the effect can be placed from the caster. The area of effect is measured in squares, but translating them into a true measure of distance requires a little more clarification.

For example: Flame Strike is an Area Burst. It is described as Burst 2 within 10. The range is 10 squares (50 feet) and area of effect is 2 squares. But what do those 2 squares represent? A burst 2 power affects the origin square and everything within 2 squares of it. So imagine a grid. The flame strike affects the origin square (five feet by five feet) and then everything within 2 squares (10 feet) of it on all sides. This creates an area that is 5 squares (25 feet) to a side.

The easiest thing with bursts is to imagine them as a blast radius. Everything within a certain range of the caster (if its a close burst) or a distant spot (if its area burst) will be affected. However, that means that a Burst 2 Flame Strike affects everything in a 12½ ft radius. 12½ radius? Oh no, we can’t be having that.

Just as with Ranges I suggest that we drop the origin square from the calculation. It makes the radius of a burst slightly smaller than the rules suggest, but to be honest it’s not going to be a deciding factor in a game with no battle grid. It also makes it easier to work out. A burst 1 is everything in a five foot radius, a burst 10 is everything in a fifty foot radius and so one and so forth.

So how many creatures can you catch in a burst? Well, the easy answer is as many as the GM thinks you can. A burst centred on you will affect at least everyone engaged in mêlée combat with you, and probably many beyond. Unlike blasts that are genuinely tricky to work out on the fly, circular bursts are pretty simple. The key is communication.

The player tells the GM that he wants to use his burst power, and wants to catch as many of the bad guys as possible within it. The GM then refers to either the whiteboard, the notes, or simply the images running through his head and tells the player what he can hope to achieve with his burst in this context, and where his character needs to move to do the most damage. Consistency on the part of the GM, and trust on the part of the player will see us through.

Bursts are like blasts in that you cannot target them precisely. Use the rules for blasts above if a player wants to hit the villains but avoid his allies with a burst effect.

Walls

Like area bursts, walls normally have a range (so they can be cast at a distance). In the official rules, all walls are five feet thick (the thickness of one square). Their length is measured in squares, and the description of the power will explictly state how long and how high a wall has to be (they are usually ten feet high). Think of the wall as being made up of a series of 5 ft by 5 ft building blocks (of a height determined by the power). You can then arrange those blocks how you like as long as they are touching one another.

What this means is that a wall must be 8 squares (40 feet) in length to completely surround a medium or small sized character. It must be 12 squares (60 feet) in length to completely surround a large character. What utter nonsense. This is an example of the rules coming before common sense. It sounds all right on paper. A wall is five feet thick, you can only create square or rectangular walls (because of the grid). Therefore it takes a 40 ft wall to surround a space 5 ft by 5ft, and a 60 ft wall to surround a space 10 ft by 10 ft. We obviously need to do something about this.

The problem is that in the real world, a normal medium sized creature does not take up a five foot by five foot space – not even the really fat ones. The solution here is to work out the area that each wall can encompass, and the GM can use that as a guide for how many people can be trapped within the wall. As it happens, there are only four powers in PHB1 that have the wall area-of-effect. We might as well be thorough and look at all of them:

Blade Barrier (Cleric Daily Attack 9; PHB1 p67): The wall can be up to 5 squares long and 2 squares high. Proposed fix: The blade barrier takes the form of a wall ten feet high, five feet thick and up to twenty-five feet in length. The blade barrier can encompass an area that is eight feet across (four foot radius). Two medium sized creatures could be imprisoned in such a wall.

Wall of Fog (Wizard Daily Utility 6; PHB1 p162): The wall can be up to 8 squares long and 4 squares high. Proposed fix: The wall of fog is twenty feet high, five feet thick and up to forty feet in length. It can encompass an area that is twelve feet across (six foot radius). Five medium sized creatures could be concealed within such a wall.

Wall of Fire (Wizard Daily Attack 9; PHB1 p163): The wall can be up to 8 squares long and 4 squares high. Proposed fix: The wall of fire is twenty feet high, five feet thick and up to forty feet in length. It can encompass an area that is twelve feet across (six foot radius). Five medium sized creatures could be imprisoned within such a wall.

Wall of Ice (Wizard Daily Attack 15; PHB1 p165): The wall can be up to 12 squares long and 6 squares high. Proposed fix: The wall of ice is thirty feet high, five feet thick and up to sixty feet in length. It can encompass an area that is twenty feet across (ten foot radius). Nine medium sized creatures could be imprisoned within such a wall.

The width of the area inside the wall was calculated from the radius of a circle of the indicated circumference. I rounded it to the nearest significant number. The number of medium sized creatures that could be contained in these walls is a guide only. I based it on the game’s assumption that one character takes up 25 ft² and compared that figure to the area of the circle in square feet. It assumes that all these characters are adjacent to one another when the spell is cast. It’s up to the GM to decide exactly how many individuals could fit inside a wall on any given occassion.

More on Position

The above deals with most of the movement and distance related problems faced when running 4e without miniatures. However, there are instances mentioned in PHB1 that may require a little clarification. We’ll have a brief look at these now:

Cover and Concealment

The rules state that you find out if someone has cover by drawing a line from the corner of your square to the each corner of your target’s square. If any of those lines cross a barrier then the target has cover of some kind. This is likely to be the kind of cover that imposes a -2 penalty to hit. Obviously, that doesn’t make any sense without a grid. Use the following guidelines instead:

  • Cover only applies to ranged attacks. There may be some exceptions, but on the whole you only need to worry about cover if you are attacking from range.
  • Area effects (blasts and bursts) ignore light cover (the -2 penalty to hit), but not superior cover (the -5 penalty to hit). This is a change to the rules, but one I think makes sense – and also makes play easier. Everyone will forget about cover modifiers when the wizard drops a fireball in the middle of the archduke’s banquet.
  • The responsibility for cover rests with the player. The player has to remember that he has cover, and the player has to be the one who actively seeks out cover for his character. Asking the GM “Does this give me cover?” is a good question to ask before attacks are rolled.
  • If you are engaged in mêlée combat then you have cover from your foe (and your foe has cover from you) against ranged attacks. This is another change to the rules. The official rules state that your allies don’t grant cover to your enemies; which is utterly ridiculous. This rule change slightly penalises bowmen, so I’ve written a heroic tier feat to get around it (see below).
  • I’m excising any existing house rules for accidentally hitting an ally when firing into mêlée. Those rules didn’t exist in third edition, I just made them up. They were a bit fiddly, and were never properly utilised. Let’s forget about that for the time being.

PRECISE SHOT [Ranger]
Prerequisite:
Archer Fighting Style
Benefit: You ignore the penalty for light cover (-2 to hit) when making ranged attacks. You still take the full penalty (-5 to hit) from targets enjoying superior cover.

Thoughts on the feat? Too powerful? Should it be a paragon tier feat? Should it be for all classes and not just the ranger? Should it just allow the archer to ignore the -2 cover penalty of mêlée combatants? In introducing this rule, I am giving the archer a disadvantage that he didn’t initially possess in the system. By making the fix a feat, I am compelling most archers to consider this feat – and if they take it, then it’s one less feat they get to spend on something else. I therefore wanted to give the feat some utility above and beyond the changes I have made to the rules. Have I gone too far?

Occupied Squares

The rules go to some lengths to inform players how they cannot end their move in an occupied square, cannot move through the squares of enemies, or stand up in a square occupied by another person. It’s all irrelevent without a battlegrid – see how I’m really simplifying things?

Difficult Terrain

Your speed when moving through difficult terrain is halved. I don’t really see what more you need to know than that to be honest. The rules are full of largely obvious points – such as if a square is completely filled with an obstacle you can’t go through it, or that you can ignore difficult terrain if you are flying. There’s nothing specific to adapt. There’s also stuff on diagonal movement which just does my head in. No, we’ll be glossing over mostly everything that’s written here.

Flanking

I’ve mentioned the house rules for this before on this blog, but I’ll reiterate them just to be thorough. The official rules for flanking state that in order to flank you need to be adjacent to your enemy and on opposite sides of that enemy’s space. This is very hard to adjudicate without a grid. Here’s the house rule.

You and one or more of your allies are engaged in mêlée combat against a single foe. As long as you outnumber your foe by 2:1 then you are considered to be flanking. Flanking grants combat initiative.

Forced Movement

Many powers enable you to push, pull or slide (move in either direction) a foe. The distance is expressed in squares, but is easily converted. I quite like the mechanic – it’s nicely cinematic to have the PCs throw their enemies around the combat like rag dolls – and be thrown around in return! There are some silly elements to these rules, though.

You can push, pull or slide any opponent. So a halfling could use a martial exploit and push an ancient red dragon back fifteen feet. There are a number of powers that force opponents to move without giving them any chance to resist the impulse, or bothering to explain why the movement should take place. Fine if the PCs are using the power on a bunch of koblolds, not so fine if the power ever gets used on the PCs.

However, for the time being I’m going to let the forced movement rules stand. I need a better feel for how they work in context. I don’t want to rule that you can only push, pull or slide creatures of one size category higher than you or smaller – at least not yet. It may be what I eventually do, but not yet.

Teleportation

There’s not much to say here. You move to a point a given distance away without crossing the intervening space. You need line of sight for most teleports, but not all of them. On the whole there’s nothing here that doesn’t easily fit into what we have discussed above.

It’s all Relative

All the above changes may seem a little much. However, I’ve been using most of the changes in third edition for some time, and this blog has simply given me the opportunity to formalise them. There’s more work to do on this, specific powers to look at and adapt but these are the principles and the guidelines I’m going to run with.

When adjudicating movement in a gridless system remember that, more often than not, movement is all relative. The movement of one PC only really matters in context to the movement and the position of the NPCs. If a PC teleports 90 feet out of combat, all you as the GM needs to know is that it’s going to take him three rounds to walk back. Knowledge of his absolute position is seldom necessary.

Life without the battle grid is not as daunting as it seems.

Next

Back to PHB1, and we’ll have a look at the character classes.

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Opportunity Attacks

During the last eight years of running third edition, I have come to the conclusion that opportunity attacks are pain in the neck. Adjudicating them is a nightmare – in fact you can’t adjudicate them fairly and consistantly without resorting to a battle grid and counters. In a freeform combat system, the GM and the player continually argue about whether a certain action will provoke an attack. Even if the disagreement is amicable, it’s still annoying. As a result, these rules generally just get ignored by everyone concerned.

If fourth edition had not been released, I would have spent some considerable time over the next year modifying third edition. Attacks of Opportunity would have been one of the things what were changed beyond all recognition. In looking at the 4e rules, I have come to the conclusion that a radical solution is needed to this perennial problem.

Drumroll please…

Proposed Rule Change:
Remove Opportunity Attacks

The way I see it, if we can’t adjudicate a rule fairly then why bother having it at all? It just bogs everything down. I’ve never liked the mechanic, so let’s just ditch it. Is this too extreme? Is there a solution within the rules that I am not seeing? If you can think of a way around the problem then tell me, we’ll discuss it.

I know what you’re thinking: opportunity attacks are fundamental to the game.  Remove them and the house of cards that is D&D 4e begins to totter. Literally dozens of powers, features, feats and other abilities rely on the Opportunity Attack mechanic. Removing opportunity attacks invalidates those abilities – so I am faced with the prospect of either excising those abilities from the game, or modifying them so they are thematically similar, but no longer reference opportunity attacks. This is the problem we face with any major change to the rules. Start picking at one thing, and suddenly you are unravelling a whole range of seemingly unrelated rules. The question is whether the work we need to do to remove opportunity attacks is worth it.

However, for the purposes of this post I am going to assume that we have decided to remove opportunity attacks. I will investigate the ramifications of this, and list suggested fixes for the problem powers, traits and feats in the core rules. Please feel free to comment on all or any of this. It’s what the blog is for.

Opportunity Attack vs Opportunity Action

Opportunity actions are free actions that a character can take at any point in a combat round. Opportunity actions require a triggering condition, and there is no limit to the number of opportunity actions a character can take in one round. Opportunity Attacks are merely a type of opportunity action. Even if we get rid of opportunity attacks, we cannot get rid of opportunity actions. They are still important to the game. This may not sound like a big deal, but I can assure that it is important for the wider coherence of 4e.

Opportunity Attacks Transformed

At present there are a number of tactics and move-related actions that provoke opportunity attacks. Additionally, there are feats, powers, racial traits, monster abilities, magic items and more than reference opportunity attacks in some way. In removing opportunity attacks I have to be consistant, therefore all of these rules will be altered in one (or more) of three ways:

  1. If you are granted a modifier to hit or defence against opportunity attacks, then this modifier may apply instead to all attacks or actions in the Surprise Round.
  2. Alternatively, if you are granted a modifier to hit or defence against opportunity attacks, then this modifier may apply instead to all attacks or actions when you grant (or have) Combat Advantage.
  3. Where the positions of the characters are completely unambiguous, and an opportunity attack would have normally been provoked, then the attacker can instead have a “free attack as an opportunity action”.

Now, generally all problems powers, feats etc. can be adapted to the new system with option #3 above. But, because this “free attack as an opportunity action” is likely to come up less often then the printed rules intend opportunity attacks to come up, some feats and powers would feel underpowered if option #3 was all I did that. So options #1 and #2 will appear in certain cases. This is not an exact science and you should feel free to disagree with me.

What Changes without Opportunity Attacks?

I have gone through the three core rule books and identified all the things we would have to change if we excised opportunity attacks. I present them below. I have also proposed possible fixes to these necessitated changes. Take a look and see what you think. Some of the fixes come from d20 games that don’t use attacks of opportunity (such as d20 Call of Cthulhu). Some of them are inspired by second edition.

The Fundamentals

You do not threaten the area around you. Creatures passing you and within your reach (or your “threatening” reach if you’re a nasty monster) do not provoke an attack. That one change completely revolutionises combat, and makes it so much easier to run a fight without a battle grid. However, free attacks are still regularly provoked on two occassions:

Retreating from Mêlée: Fleeing from mêlée allows your foe to make a free attack as an opportunity action against you. You can avoid this by using the Shift action. Shift is a move action, and allows you to step five feet safely and without provoking any attacks against you. You must shift beyond the threatening reach of the foe. For 95% of foes their threatening reach is 5 feet regardless of what weapon they are wielding, so a normal Shift will get you out of trouble. Some monsters have Threatening Reach, that allows them to threaten out to 10 feet or even 15 feet. In these cases, you might find that you shift but still provoke an attack when you turn to run for the hills. Some powers allow you to shift more than 5 feet, or to shift as a free action (or part of another action). Unless you have a power that allows it, you cannot shift in difficult terrain. You can imagine how annoying that might be.

Using a Ranged or Area Attack: If you are engaged in mêlée combat and you try to use a Ranged or an Area attack, then your foe can make a free attack against you as an opportunity action. You could Shift out of reach and then use your Ranged or Area attack if you want (or if you can), but if you try and put an arrow in the face of the gnoll barbarian from six inches, he is going to force his tomahawk into your ear canal.

Any free attack you take as an opportunity action follows the same rules and limitations that governed opportunity attacks. It must be a basic mêlée attack. You can only take one during any combatant’s turn. It takes place before the action that triggered it (so before your foe runs away, or before your foe fires his ranged weapon). You must be able to make a basic mêlée attack – so you cannot be Dominated, Dying, Helpless, Petrified, Stunned, Surprised or Unconscious. You must be able to see the target, so you can’t be Blinded, fighting in total darkness or facing an invisible foe.

Okay, so that’s the fundamentals out of the way. Let’s get onto the specifics:

Racial Traits

Nimble Reaction (PHB1 p44): All halflings get a +2 racial bonus to AC against opportunity attacks. Proposed Fix: Halflings get a +2 racial bonus to AC against all “free attacks as opportunity actions” as defined in the fundamentals above. Additionally, they gain a +2 racial bonus to AC during the surprise round.

Class Features

Arcane Riposte (PHB1 p169) Class feature of the Battle Mage paragon path, gained at 11th level. When making opportunity attacks you can use your hands to deliver 1d8 + Intelligence Modifier in cold, fire, force or lightning damage. Proposed fix: You can imbue any basic mêlée attack with cold, fire, force or lightning damage. Your attack inflicts 1d8 + Int modifier damage. Increase to 2d8 + Int modifier damage at 21st level.

Artful Dodger (PHB1 p117): One of the two options open to Rogue characters. They are granted their Charisma modier as a bonus to AC against opportunity attacks. Proposed fix: The Rogue gains a bonus to his AC equal to his Charisma modifier in the Surprise Round, and against all “free attacks as opportunity actions” as defined in the fundamentals above.

Battle Surge (PHB1 p113): This is the 16th level class feature of the Battlefield Archer paragon path. When you spend an action point to gain an extra action, you also gain a +5 bonus to AC against opportunity attacks until the end of the encounter. Proposed fix: The Battlefield Archer gains a +5 bonus to AC against all attacks made by the target of their Hunter’s Quarry for the duration of the encounter. Note, that Hunter’s Quarry is a class feature of the ranger that all Battlefield Archers will have access to.

Blade Storm (PHB1 p115): This is the 11th level class feature of the Stormwarden paragon path. It only works if you are able to make opportunity attacks. See Force the Battle below for the fix.

Combat Superiority (PHB1 p76): This is a fundamental feature of the Fighter class. When making opportunity attacks, fighters gain a bonus to hit equal to the Wisdom modifier. An enemy struck by the opportunity attack stops moving, if a move provoked the attack. This is fundamental because 4e fighters are designed to protect their companions. They hold the line, and none may pass. By allowing their opportunity attacks to stop running or charging foes fighters are able to blunt attacks, and stop enemy mêlée monsters from getting to the soft and squidy wizards. Something like this has to remain in the game. The proposed fix still depends on gauging which enemies pass within a fighter’s reach, which could still prove problematic. I’m not satisfied with this fix, so please have a think on it.

The fighter may add his Wisdom modifier as a bonus to all “free attacks as opportunity actions” as defined in the fundamentals above. Additionally, he is granted a free basic mêlée attack as an opportunity action against all foes who attempt to move past him without directly engaging him in mêlée combat. The foes must pass within five feet of the fighter (or within range of the fighter’s reach if the fighter possesses the Threatening Reach ability or is using a reach weapon like a polearm). The attack is an oppotunity action and takes place on an opponent’s turn at the moment the opponent leaves the fighter’s threatened area. If the fighter successfully hits a foe, then that foe must stop moving. If the foe still has actions remaining, he may use them to start moving again.

In Defence of Order (PHB1 p100): Class feature of the Champion of Order paragon path. If you are adjacent to the target of your Divine Challenge, then the target provokes an attack of opportunity from you if it makes an attack that doesn’t include you. Proposed fix: Nice and easy. The paladin gains a free basic mêlée attack as an opportunity action against the target of its Divine Challenge if the paladin is in mêlée combat with the target, and the target makes an attack that doesn’t include the paladin. We can keep the mechanic because in order to make a basic mêlée attack the paladin has to be right in the face of his target… and therefore everyone’s positions should be obvious.

Press of Arms (PHB1 p155): Class feature of the Knight Commander paragon path, gained at 16th level. All allies within 3 squares gain a bonus on damage rolls when making opportunity attacks equal to your Charisma modifier. Proposed fix: All allies within 15 feet gain a bonus on damage rolls equal to your Charisma modifier when they have combat advantage.

Twin-Blade Storm (PHB1 p115): This is the 16th level class feature of the Stormwarden paragon path. It only works if you are able to make opportunity attacks. See Force the Battle below for the fix.

Warpriest’s Challenge (PHB1 p74): This is the 16th level feature of the Warpriest paragon path. When a warpriest hits an enemy with an at-will mêlée attack then the target is marked until the end of the encounter; the next time the creature shifts or attacks someone other than the warpriest it provokes an attack of opportunity from the warpriest. Proposed fix: Becasuse the circumstances under which the opportunity attack is triggered are so specific, we can keep much of the flavour. We can rule that if the marked creature steps away from the warpriest or attacks anyone who is not the warpriest, then the warpriest can make free mêlée basic attack as an opportunity action.

Powers

Angel of the Eleven Winds (PHB1 p70): This cleric prayer (level 22 utility) grants one target with range the ability to fly and a +4 power bonus to AC against opportunity attacks. Proposed fix: The power grants a +4 power bonus to AC against all attacks. Well, it is 22nd level.

Astral Defenders (PHB1 p66): This cleric prayer (level 9 attack) conjures two ghostly soldiers. They don’t attack foes proactively, they can only deliver opportunity attacks. The cleric positions them on the battle grid to make maximum use of this ability. This is a really tricky one, as the whole power is built on the opportunity attack mechanic. This is my proposed fix to the effect of the spell:

You conjure two soldiers, each occupying the space of a medium-sized creature. Once per round on the caster’s turn, each the soldier makes a Wisdom vs. Reflex attack on all foes within a 5 ft radius (this a Close Burst 1 in 4e-speak). On a hit, the attack deals 1d10 + Wisdom modifier radiant damage.  You can move one soldier or both a total 15 feet as a move action. Allies can move through the soldiers as if they weren’t there. The soldiers last until the end of the encounter. 

Banish to the Void (PHB1 p139): This level 27 warlock attack power can be used once per encounter. In addition to blasting the target to another dimension, upon return the target is treated as an enemy (with respect to provoking opportunity attacks) by everyone and then makes opportunity attacks against all his friends. Bascially, the power deals damage and then has the effect of Bewitching Whispers (see below). Proposed fix: After returning from the void, the target is compelled to make make a free basic mêlée attack against all creatures in a 5 ft radius. Each free attack is an opportunity action.

Bewitching Whispers (PHB1 p136): This level 13 warlock attack power can be used once per encounter. It makes a target treat everyone in range as enemies for the purposes of attacks of opportunity, and the target must make every attack of opportunity possible. Proposed fix: The target makes a free basic mêlée attack against all creatures in a 5 ft radius. Each free attack is an opportunity action.

Bloody Path (PHB1 p123): This level 15 rogue attack power can be used once per day. It is also hilarious. I love this power. The rogue moves his speed through combat. Every foe who can make an opportunity attack on the rogue must make one. However, rather than attacking the rogue each enemy actually winds up attacking himself as wild swings go awry. Fabulous, but how do we play this in the a system without opportunity attacks? I also have a problem with the nature of the power itself. One has to think – what if it was used on a PC? How would a PC react to being told to damage himself without so much as an attack roll being made against him? My fix is below. Much of the power has been rewritten:

Standard Action – Close Burst (radius = half character’s speed)
Target: Each enemy in burst you can see
Attack: Dexterity vs. Will

You run across the battlefield, deliberately inviting wild attacks from your enemies. All enemies affected by the power, must make a basic mêlée attack against themselves. You trick them into attacking you, but they actually hit themselves. You stop moving at any point within the area of effect of the power, including the point where you started. Using this power does not grant your enemy combat advantage.

Cause Fear (PHB1 p63): The movement induced by this cleric prayer provokes attacks of opportunity. Propose fix: none. The opportuntiy attacks are secondary, the power is all about getting the enemy further away from you or an ally.

Close Quarters (PHB1 p122): This is a level 10 Rogue utility power that can be used once per day. The rogue moves into the space of an adjacent larger creature (of at least Large size) and gains various combat bonuses. However, stepping into the space provokes an opportunity attack. Provoking this attack is the risk the rogue takes in order to pull off some pretty stylish footwork. My fix retains this aspect of the power. Here is the rewrite of the “effect” section of the power:

You dart between the legs of a creature larger than you and at least Large size. As an immediate interrupt, the creature can make a basic mêlée attack against you. Once under the creature’s legs you gain combat advantage, and the creature takes a -4 on attack rolls to hit you. When the creature moves, you can choose to move along with it – retaining the advantage gained by your position. On its turn, the creature can try to kick or fling you out. It makes a Strength or Dexterity vs. Reflex attack (as a standard action, but without the -4 penalty). If it succeeds you are thrown five feet from the creature and the effect of this power ends.

Close Quarters Shot (PHB1 p108): This is a level 9 Ranger Attack power that can be used once per day. It allows you to make a potent close range shot with a ranged weapon (you fire a long bow within 5 feet of the target). The weapon does quadruple damage, and the attack doesn’t provoke an attack of opportunity. Using a bow in mêlée was a big thing in third edition, there were very few ways that you could imitate Legolas from the Lord of the Rings films. The ability to do this and not provoke an opportunity attack should be seen as a fundamental part of the power. Proposed fix: none. The power allows you to fire the bow at a mêlée target without provoking a free attack as an opportunity action. The mechanics are unchanged.

Defy Death (PHB1 p152): This is a level 29 warlord attack power than can be used once per day. The warlord sees an ally about to be attacked and charges to the rescue, he moves up to double his speed (without provoking opportunity attacks), lands a blow on the foe that does septupal damage, and the ally can spend a healing surge as an immediate reaction. Proposed fix: None. The fact that it ignores opportunity attacks is irrelevent in light of the general kick-ass nature of the power. Using this power would allow the warlord to avoid the effects of a fighter’s Combat Superiority class feature (or anything else in the game that mimicked it), and any other “free attacks as opportunity actions” as defined in the fundamentals above.

Exalted Retribution (PHB1 p98): This level 25 Paladin Attack is a daily power with a potent benefit. For the duration of the encounter, the target provokes an opportunity attack from you whenever it attacks. These attacks do not need to be directed at you. Proposed fix: I think we can keep the true flavour of this one. The paladin gets a free basic mêlée attack as an opportunity action (as modified by the power’s effect) against the target, every time the target makes an attack. Obviously, the paladin needs to be in mêlée range to take advantage of this.

Force the Battle (PHB1 p86): This level 29 Fighter Attack only works if you are able to make opportunity attacks. Proposed fix: None needed. Saying that a power “only works if you can make opportunity attacks” is just a short-hand way of saying that you cannot use this power if your foe is invisible, or if you are blinded, dazed, dominated, dying, helpless, stunned, surprised, unconscious or any other common-sense condition.

Frenzied Skirmish (PHB1 p107): This level 5 Ranger Attack allows you to attack two foes, moving a distance of up to your speed between them. This movement does not provoke an attack of opportunity. Proposed fix: None. The power is all about attacking two targets at opposite ends of the battlefield. Allowing the ranger to avoid opportunity attacks has only been put in to make the power worth taking. Removing it doesn’t lessen the power’s usefulness in my view.

Hit and Run (PHB1 p105): This level 1 Ranger Attack Power can be used at-will. If the ranger moves in the same turn after attacking an opponent, leaving the first square adjacent to the target does not provoke an opportunity attack from the target. Proposed fix: None is needed. The first five feet of the ranger’s movement is considered a shift for the purposes of avoiding free attacks made against him.  Nothing has really changed.

Precision Cut (PHB1 p88): This level 11 attack power of the Swordmaster paragon path can be used once per encounter. It is a Strength vs Reflex attack that inflicts triple weapon damage + Strength Modifier. The text states that it can be used as an opportunity attack. Proposed fix: Precision Cut can be used whenever the character can make a free attack as an opportunity action. Granted this will be less often than an opportunity attack in the published rules, but it is still a worthy advantage.

Rain of Steel (PHB1 p79): This level 5 Fighter Attack only works if you are able to make opportunity attacks. See Force the Battle above for the fix.

Reaper’s Stance (PHB1 p85): This level 25 Fighter Attack only works if you are able to make opportunity attacks. See Force the Battle above for the fix.

Unbalancing Attack (PHB1 p123): This is a level 13 Rogue attack usable once per encounter. You attack for triple damage, and the target cannot shift until the end of your next turn. A Shift is a five foot step that doesn’t provoke an opportunity attack and is usually used for retreating safely from an active combat. If the target does shift then the rogue gets a bonus to subsequent opportunity attacks. My proposed fix is below, it replaces the “Hit” section of the power description.

3[W] + Dexterity modifier damage, and the target is knocked completely off balance. The target is unable to retreat safely from this combat. If it tries to shift away from you before the end of your next turn you can have a free basic mêlée attack as an opportunity action against the target. You gain a bonus to the attack roll and the damage roll equal to your Strength modifier, and you knock the target prone on a hit.

Unyielding Avalanche (PHB1 p82): This Level 15 Fighter Attack only works if you are able to make opportunity attacks. See Force the Battle above for the fix.

Viper’s Strike (PHB1 p145): This one of the warlord’s level one at-will powers. After a successful hit, if the target shifts before the start of the warlord’s next turn then it provokes an opportunity attack from an ally of the warlord’s choice. Proposed fix: After a successful attack with this power, the warlord has manoeuvred the enemy into a tactically disadvantageous position. If the target shifts away from mêlée combat with the warlord before the beginning of the warlord’s next turn, then the warlord can nominate one of his allies to make a basic mêlée attack against the target as an opportunity action. If no allies are in a position to make such an attack, then the power has no effect.

Feats

Blade Opportunist (PHB1 p194): Heroic tier feat. Grants a +2 bonus to opportunity attack rolls when using a heavy blade or a light blade. Proposed fix: Grants a +2 bonus to attack rolls when using a heavy blade or a light blade and delivering “free attacks as opportunity actions” as defined in the fundamentals above. The bonus also applies in the surprise round of combat.

Blind Fight (PHB1 p206): Paragon tier feat. Adjacent creatures don’t gain the benefit of concealment or invisibility against you. This means you can make opportunity attacks against creatures you cannot see. Proposed fix: Invisible opponents gain combat advantage over their targets. If you have the Blind Fight feat then invisible or concealed opponents within mêlée range do not gain combat advantage. Additionally you not suffer the -5 penalty to hit a totally concealed foe, if you attack an invisible opponent in mêlée. Also any power that states that it only works if you are able to make opportunity attacks, will work against opponents you cannot see.

Combat Reflexes (PHB1 p194): Heroic tier feat. Grants a +1 bonus to hit with all opportunity attacks. Proposed fix: Grants a +1 bonus to attack rolls delivering “free attacks as opportunity actions” as defined in the fundamentals above. The bonus also applies during the surpise round of combat.

Defensive Mobility (PHB1 p194): Heroic tier feat. Gain a +2 bonus to AC against all Opportunity Attacks. Proposed fix: Gain a +2 bonus to AC against any “free attacks as opportunity actions” as defined in the fundamentals above. The bonus to AC also applies against foes that have combat advantage over you. Note your foes still have +2 to hit you, so the net result is 0. This feat doesn’t help against the other effects of granting combat advantage – rogues still get their sneak attack damage against you, for example.

Flanking Manoeuvre (PHB1 p207): Paragon tier feat. You can move diagonally even if a wall corner normally blocks such movement. You can move through enemies’ spaces. You provoke opportunity attacks for this movement as normal. You can’t end your move in an enemies’ space. Proposed fix: This feat is unusable for several reasons, and not only because it mentions opportunity attacks. Frankly, I don’t even know why moving diagonally is so important that it even merits a paragon tier feat. This feat needs a complete rewrite. I have borrowed the solution from the Vexing Flanker feat, from the third edition Player’s Handbook II:

Prerequisites: Dex 17, trained in Acrobatics
Benefit: You use your natural acrobatics to harry and distract a foe, making it more vulnerable to the attacks of your companions. When you are flanking a foe, any of your allies who are also flanking the same foe get +4 to hit the target instead of the normal +2.

Heavy Blade Opportunity (PHB1 p203): Paragon tier feat. When making an opportunity attack with a heavy blade, you can use an at-will attack power that has the weapon keyword instead on a basic attack. Proposed fix: When you are granted a free attack as an opportunity action, while wielding a heavy blade, you may substitute an at-will power that has the weapon keyword.

Polearm Gamble (PHB1 p204): Paragon tier feat. When a nonadjacent enemy enters a square adjacent to you, you can make an opportunity attack against him, but you grant combat advantage to all foes until the end of the enemy’s turn. Proposed fix: On your turn, make a free basic mêlée attack against any one foe within 10 feet. Whether you succeed or fail, you grant combat advantage to all enemies until the end of the enemy’s turn. You must be wielding a polearm to use this feat.

Two-Weapon Flurry (PHB1 p207): Paragon tier feat. If you make a successful opportunity attack with your primary weapon, you can also attack with your secondary weapon at a -2 penalty. Proposed fix: When you are granted a free attack as an opportunity action and you hit the target, you can also attack with your secondary weapon at a -2 penalty.

Underfoot (PHB1 p206): Paragon tier feat (halfling only). You can move through the space of a creature two sizes larger than you (minimum Large size) without provoking an attack of opportunity. Proposed fix: There’s a bit of lateral thinking required here. I propose that this feat grant a halfling a +2 bonus to armour class against foes of Large size or larger. This is completely different to what the feat actually does, but certainly in keeping with the halfling – especially as they were described in third edition.

Templates

Clever Escape (DMG1 p178): The power granted by the demagogue template allows the character to move twice its speed as a move action without provoking any opportunity attacks as long as it is moving away from its foes. Proposed fix: The demagogue can shift up to twice its speed away from its enemies as a move action.

Monster Powers and Abilities

AC Bonus (MM1 p161): The Wild Hunt hound gains a +2 bonus to AC against opportunity attacks. The Quickling Runner (p215) gain a +4 bonus. These can be handed like the halfling’s Nimble Reaction ability. Proposed fix: The Wild Hunt Hound and the Quickling Runner gain a +2 and +4 bonus to AC respectively against “free attacks as opportunity actions” as defined in the fundamentals above. These bonuses also apply durig the surprise round.

Bonus to hit vs Opportunity Attacks (MM1 p165): Primordial hydras and nightmares gets +2 to hit with its opportunity attacks. Proposed fix: The creature gets +2 to hit when delivering “free attacks as opportunity actions” as defined in the fundamentals above. The bonus also applies during the surprise round.

Breath Weapon (MM1 p78): The signature of ability of all dragons doesn’t provoke opportunity attacks. There’s nothing to change here.

Bullette Bite (MM1 p38): Bullettes (and dire bullettes) can make a standing long jump as a free action, followed by by a bite that does not provoke opportunity attacks. Proposed fix: None. The benefit of the power is in the free jump.

Cover Retreat (MM1 p149): An ally adjacent to a Battle Guardian does not provoke opportunity attacks when moving. Proposed fix: As long as you remain adjacent to a Battle Guardian, you do not provoke a free attack by withdrawing from mêlée combat.

Dark Step (MM1 p49): A power of Dark Ones, the dark step enables such creatures to move up to four squares (20 feet) as a Move action, gain a +4 bonus to AC against attacks of opportunity, and then gain combat advantage against any foe that it ends its move adjacent to. Proposed fix: This a nifty and distrubing power that I feel compelled to retain. I would keep this unchanged, except that the bonus to armour class applies to all attacks, not just opportunity attacks, and lasts until the end of the dark one’s turn.

Divine Retribution (MM1 p101): The eidolon’s power to strike a foe with divine radiance when it is attacked, does not provoke opportunity attacks. There’s nothing to change here.

Eye Rays (MM1 p32): The eye rays of monsters like the beholder and the gibbering orb do not provoke opportunity attacks when used despite being ranged attacks. I think the beholder has enough going for it to leave this unchanged.

Fey Beguiling (MM1 p257): This power of the unicorn affects a single target. That target cannot attack the unicorn and must make opportunity attacks at +2 against any creature within reach that attacks the unicorn (save ends). Proposed fix: The creature affected by the power must spend its three actions per round to defend the unicorn; he will attack anyone attacking the unicorn with mêlée or ranged weapons (whichever is most advantageous). The affected creature will not use powers or action points, so each attack will be a basic one. This isn’t quite the intent of the power as worded, but it doesn’t make too much sense otherwise. A save still ends the effect.

Fiery Swoop (MM1 p27): Fire bats can shift up to four squares, attacking up to four characters in those four squares and without provoking opportunity attacks. Proposed fix: None. The main benefit of the power is in making multiple attacks as part of a move action. If four targets are standing next to one another then the fire bat can attack them all.

Flyby Attack (MM1 p27): A common ability possessed by Shadowhunter bats, Vrocks, Green Dragons, Spiretop Drakes, Pseudodragons, Gargoyles, Hippogriffs, Rimefire Griffons, Crownwings Wyverns and Fell Wyverns. This power allows the monster to fly a certain number of squares and attack at any point during the movement without provoking an opportunity attack from the target it attacked. Proposed fix: None. The ability to attack during a movement (as opposed to the beginning or the end of it) should be benefit enough. It was good enough in third edition after all.

Gladiator’s Strike (MM1 p86): When a dragonborn galdiator hits a foe with a successful opportunity attack it automatically knocks the target prone. Proposed fix: This power works in the same way as the Combat Superiority feature of the fighter. The dragonborn gladiator is granted a free basic mêlée attack as an opportunity action against all foes who attempt to move past him without directly engaging him in mêlée combat. The foes must pass within five feet of the gladiator (or within range of the gladiator’s reach if the gladiator is using a reach weapon like a polearm). The attack is an oppotunity action and takes place on an opponent’s turn at the moment the opponent leaves the gladiator’s threatened area. If the gladiator successfully hits a foe, then that foe is knocked prone.

Golem Rampage (MM1 p142): Both flesh and stone golems can run amok, moving up to their speed +2 and attacking all targets whose space they pass over. They provoke opportunity attacks normally when doing this. Proposed fix: A golem rampage works like a close burst, and not a normal mêlée attack. The golem makes a single slam attack against all foes in a radius equal to half its speed +1 (5 foot). This translates to a twenty foot radius for both flesh and stone golems. It doesn’t provoke an opportunity attack when doing this.

Hobgoblin Spear Attack (MM1 p140): If the hobgoblin commander makes a successful opportunity attack with his spear then he shifts one square. Proposed fix: When the Hobgoblin Commander makes a successful attack with his spear he may shift five feet.

Burning Mobility (MM1 p182): Anyone attacking a magma strider with an opportunity attack takes an ongoing 5 points of fire damage (save ends). Proposed fix: Anyone making a mêlée attack against the magma strider takes an ongoing 5 points of fire damage (save ends). This makes the ability more powerful, but it seems appropriate if you’re fighting a giant chunk of ambulatory magma.

Mangler’s Mobility (MM1 p112): This ability of the Foulspawn Mangler grants it +5 to AC against opportunity attacks provoked by movement. Proposed Fix: The foulspawn mangler gains +5 to AC against any free attacks made against it as opportunity actions when it withdraws from mêlée combat, attacks from a Fighter using his Combat Superiority class feature, or any other free attack as an opprtunity action that is dependent upon movement. This captures the spirit of the power, but makes it slightly more complicated.

Mesmirising Glare (MM1 p72): The power of the dracolich to stun opponents that attack it. The rules make a point of stating that the use of the power doesn’t provoke opportunity attacks. Proposed fix: None.

Mobile Mêlée Attack (MM1 p14): A common power available to Angels of Battle, Blackspawn Gloomwebs, Gnoll Claw Fighters, Halfling Thieves and Wild Hunt Hounds. These creatures can move half their speed and make one mêlée attack at any point during the move; they don’t provoke an opportunity attack when moving away from a foe as part of this manoeuvre. Proposed fix: This works exactly the same as flyby attack (see above) except the creature can only travel half its speed, and it gains the benefits while flying or walking. As with flyby attack, I rule to leave the power unchanged aside from the lack of opportunity attacks in my version of the game.

Mobile Ranged Attack (MM1 p137: A power available to Goblin Warriors. The creature moves half its speed. At any point during the movement it can make one ranged attack without provoking an opportunity attack. Proposed fix: This is the same as Mobile Mêlée Attack (and the third edition feat, Shot on the Run). We’ll leave this power unchanged.

Mocking Eye (MM1 p47): The power of the Cyclops Rambler. Any foe in the aura of the eye (effectively within a fifty foot radius of the cyclops) takes a -5 penalty to all opportunity attacks as long as they remain in the aura. Proposed fix: All enemies within the aura take a -5 penalty to all attacks against AC or Reflex defence. This makes the Mocking Eye much more powerful. Is it too powerful? Any alternatives to this?

Pursue and Attack (MM1 p156): The Iron Defender can shift 1 square either before or after an opportunity attack as a free action. Proposed fix: The Iron Defender can shift five feet before or after any attack it makes.

Ravenous Frenzy (MM1 p208): Dorsain the Ghoul King, Exarch of Orcus, can move up to 8 squares without provoking opportunity attacks, and make a ‘cloak of mouths’ attack against each creature he moves adjacent to during the move. Proposed fix: Dorsain can move up to 40 feet attacking as many as eight medium-sized creatures during his move with his ‘cloak of mouths’ ability. He doesn’t provoke any free attacks as opportunity actions from any source while he does this (be they from a fighter’s combat superiortity, a warlord’s Viper Strike or so on).

Relentless Opportunist (MM1 p37): A power of the Boneclaw; if the monster scores an opportunity attack against a foe then it may immediately make another opportunity attack agains the same target. Proposed fix: This is very similar to the feat, Two-Weapon Flurry. When you are granted a free attack as an opportunity action you may make two such attacks.

Short Sword Riposte (MM1 p233): Power of the razorclaw stalker (a type of shifter). When an enemy makes an opportunity attack against the razorclaw stalker, it can automatically make a short sword attack against the enemy as a free action. Proposed fix: The shifter can use Whirling Riposte against any foe that attacks him in mêlée. However, instead of it being a free action it is an Immediate Reaction, so the shifter can only do it once per round.

Stab of the Entangling Blade (MM1 p102): This powerful mêlée attack of the eladrin fey knight can be used as an opportunity attack as well as a standard action. Proposed fix: This works like the Heavy Blade Opportunity feat. When you are granted an free attack as an opportunity action then you may substitute Stab of the Entangling Blade as long as it is recharged.

Speed of the Dead (MM1 p234): Skeletons get a +2 bonus to hit and deal +1d6 damage when they make opportunity attacks. Proposed fix: Skeletons get +2 to hit and +1d6 damage when they deliver “free attacks as opportunity actions” as defined in the fundamentals above. These bonuses also apply during the surprise round of combat.

Swarms (MM1 p283): A swarm can enter a character’s space without provoking an opportunity attack. If a character that enters the space occupied by a swarm provokes an opportunity attack. Proposed Fix: If you enter a swarm then the swarm gets a free basic attack on you as an opportunity action.

Tactical Step (MM1 p155): When the Helmed Horror hits with an opportunity attack it can shift 2 squares as a free action. The Greater Helmed Horror can shift three squares. Proposed fix: After a successful mêlée attack the Helmed Horror can shift 10 feet as a free action (the greater helmed horror can shift 15 feet). Basically, this means that the Helmed Horror steps outside the range of mêlée weapons and must force his opponent to come to him.

Tentacle Net (MM1 p43): Chuuls (and chuul juggernauts) attack with two claws each round. If both hit the same target, then the target is immobilised until they make a saving throw. If a target is hit by one of the chuul’s opportunity attacks then it is immobilised until the end of the chuul’s next turn. Proposed fix: Getting hit by one of the chuul’s claws immobilises you until the end of the chuul’s next turn. Getting hit by both claws will immobilise the target until they make a successful saving throw.

Threatening Reach (MM1 p28): Plenty of monsters get threatening reach, including the Battlebriar, Boneclaw, Enormous Carrion Crawlers, Displacer Beasts, Fen Hydras, Mordant Hydras, Primordial Hydras, Salamader Nobles and War Trolls. A creature with threatening reach can make attacks of opportunity against any one within its reach, not just within five feet. Proposed fix: See the fundamentals above. Threatening Reach is still useful when it comes to making free attacks as opportunity actions.

Trample (MM1 p13): The trample ability is possessed of many monsters including the Tarrasque, Earthrage Battlebriar, Iron Gorgon, Storm Gorgon, Warhorse, Celestial Charger and the Yuan-ti Anathema. Basically, trampling provokes opportunity attacks. Proposed fix: The targets of a trample gain a free attack as an opportunity action against the trampler.

Twin Scimitar Strike (MM1 p235): The Skeletal Tomb Guardian can make two attacks with the scimitar as long as it attacks the same target – this is true for opportunity attacks as well as standard attacks. Proposed Fix: The skeletal tomb guardian may also make two attacks when granted a free attack as an opportunity action.

Vicious Opportunist (MM1 p249): The opportunity attacks of the swordwing inflict an additional 2d6 damage. Proposed fix: The swordwing deals an additional 2d6 damage when it has combat advantage.

Whirling Riposte (MM1 p95): A power of the drow blademaster. When a blademaster’s movement provokes an opportunity attack, the drow can make a free attack against his attacker. This is an at-will power. Propsed fix: The drow can use Whirling Riposte against any foe that attacks him in mêlée. However, instead of it being a free action it is an Immediate Reaction, so the drow can only do it once per round.

Whirlwind Dash (MM1 p104): This is the power of a Firelasher (a type of fire elemental). These creatures can move up to twice their speed without provoking an attack of opportunity. They pass through their targets, damaging all within range of their movement. Proposed fix: The firelasher moves twice its speed. Any enemy in its path takes 10 points of fire damage. The Firelasher doesn’t provoke a free attack by withdrawing from mêlée by using this power. The GM will have to adjudicate this one on the fly, to work out out who could be affected. The GM knows that the Firelasher can cover 80 feet in any direction as long as it doesn’t double back on itself. Assuming a medium sized creature takes up the five-foot space the rules indicate, then up to sixteen medium-sized creatures can be targeted by the creature. By using those two facts as a guide the GM should be able to fairly judge each situation.

White Dragon Bite (MM1 p84): White dragons inflict additional cold damage from their bite on a successful opportunity attack. Proposed fix: The extra listed damage for the dragon bite is added (rolled normally) to each successful hit when the white dragon has combat advantage.

Wingclap (MM1 p79): Ancient blue dragons can fly fifty feet as a move action, and then clap their wings together catching everyone in a twenty foot radius with a sonic boom. It doesn’t provoke an attack of opportunity in the printed rules, and there’s nothing for us to change about it either.

Items

Dancing Weapon (PHB1 p233): Among its many powers, it is stated that a dancing weapon cannot make attacks of opportunity. Proposed fix: None. It can’t take free attacks as an opportunity action.

Sunleaf Armour (PHB1 p231): When an enemy hits you with an opportunity attack, you can deal the attacker radiant damage as a free action. The power is usable once per day. Proposed fix: When an enemy hits you in combat with a mêlée attack, you can deal the attacker radiant damage as a free action. The power is usable once per day.

Other Rules and Conditions

Dazed (PHB1 p277): You cannot take opportunity attacks if dazed. Propsed fix: None. Dazed carries plenty of other penalties that still make it valid in the game.

Flight (DMG1 p47-48): Flying creatures provoke attacks of opportunity normally in the game, but they cannot make opportunity attacks themselves unless they can Hover. I will keep this rule. If you can fly, and you gain a “free attack as an opportunity action” then you cannot take that attack while you are flying (unless you have the ability to Hover).

Mounts (DMG1 p46): If the movement of a mount provokes an opportunity attack, then the attacker can choose to attack either the mount or the rider. If the opportunity attack is provoked by the rider alone (e.g. the rider uses a ranged attack), then the subsequent opportunity attack must be directed at the rider. Proposed fix: As there are no opportunity attacks, most of the above does not apply. However, if a character is granted a “free attack as an opportunity action” against a mounted foe, then he can direct that free attack as described in the printed rules.

Grab (PHB1 p290): The simple fourth edition version of Grapple states that any action that prevents you from taking opportunity actions, also prevents you from sustaining a grapple. This is just a short hand form of reference and doesn’t have anything to do with opportunity actions per se. Basically if you are dazed, stunned, surprised, unconscious etc. you cannot maintain a grab and you must let go of the target. See Force the Battle above.

Invisible (PHB1 p281): If you are invisible, you do not provoke opportunity attacks from enemies that cannot see you. Proposed fix: None. Again, invisibility is its own reward.

Shift (PHB1 p289): I think I’ve already covered Shift pretty thoroughly in this post. There’s going to be more on it in the next article on Movement and Position.

Over to You

This isn’t a review or an editorial. I’d like some feedback on this please. After having read through my arguments and my proposed changes, what are your thoughts? Here are a few points to direct the discussion:

  • Do you agree that we need to remove opportunity attacks from the game?
  • If you don’t agree, then do you have an alternative solution that makes them playable?
  • Removing opportunities attacks means changing lots of other rules, as listed above. Is this too much work? Are there too many changes? This is only the core rules, I would have to look at every sourcebook that is released for the edition.
  • If you think it is worth making these changes, then have I got the changes right? Are there any of these powers, feats etc that you would modify differently? And if so, how?

Let’s get this show on the road!

Player’s Handbook 1 (Chapter Nine)

Those reading this review on the day its posted, will notice that my review of the PHB1 has leapt from chapter three to chapter nine. Do not fear, I will go back and look at the other chapters in due course. However, I really want to get on to a nice juicy discussion about the rules, and the changes I feel I need to make to the rules to run the game sans miniatures. Before I do that, we all need to know where we stand in the new edition. Which leads us inevitably to chapter nine…

Combat

“The Thrill of Victory, and the Agony of Getting Shot” as Tales from the Floating Vagabond once put it. Let’s not delude ourselves, the D&D rules are built around combat and always have been. Out of combat activities have enjoyed a little more time in the sun in third and fourth editions, but they pale into insignificance when compared to the sheer number of options that cater for a player’s more violent and murderous urges.

Combat in fourth edition is very similar to combat in third, but it’s just different enough to be confusing in play. I’ll go through the chapter and point out what has changed and what has not, and hopefully set the scene for discussions to come.

Before I begin, I’d like to point out that the first page of the combat chapter has a section on “visualising the combat”, which announces some very telling (and extremely annoying) conceits of the new edition. Here they are for your edification:

  1. Position is everything: you need to know exactly where you and everyone else is standing in order to make use of various abilities, feats, opportunity actions and more.
  2. Combat is complex… so visual aids are a must.
  3. Terrain matters. So it’s important to realise what areas of the combat have difficult terrain, which don’t, which are zones etc.
  4. Imagination needs help. You can’t rely on a bunch of players to be visualising the same thing no matter how well the GM describes it, so you need a common frame of reference. You need… a battle grid!

Yes, a battle grid. Combat isn’t combat without a battle grid! Each square represents five feet in the real world, so a grid eight squares by ten squares works for most combats. You can use beads or coins to represent where everyone is, but you really want to use miniatures – they’re the most fun you can have in a role playing game!

Fortunately, I am not a violent man. I am the master of my rage. I am able to smile (though clenched teeth) and tell you all how happy I am that those players who like using miniatures in their roleplayinggames have the means, the rules and the resources to do so. I’m very pleased for them. I am a little put out that I have to overhaul the entire combat chapter, as well as numerous powers, feats, items, and skills if I want to run 4e D&D without using miniatures. This is my choice, and I am at peace with that. Just don’t bring it up in conversation.

The Combat Round

The combat rounds lasts six seconds (as it did in third edition). In those six seconds, each character has a turn. In this turn, the character can perform a finite number of actions as dictated by the rules -we will get to those actions in a moment. Generally, each combat follows a pre-established pattern, that will be familiar to many of you.

  1. Determine Surprise. If one side of a battle is initially unnoticed by the other then there will be a Surprise Round before the main combat. Skill checks (notably Perception or Insight) are used to determine surprise. Those characters who are surprised cannot act in the surprise round. They also give their attackers combat advantage. They may take no actions. Those who are not surprised may take a Standard Action, a Move Action or a Minor Action (but not all three). They may also take Free actions. They may not spend Action Points. More on all those options below.
  2. Roll Initiative. Everyone rolls initiative to see when they act. Remember those who are surprised won’t act until after the surprise round. Initiative is your Dexterity modifier + half your level + any other modifiers (like the Improved Initiative feat, for example).
  3. Take surprise round actions. Everyone who can act, does so in order of their initiative – remembering that they have limited actions.
  4. Take turns. After the surprise round, Round One begins and everyone can act. In third edition there was a condition called Flat Footed that applied to all characters before they first acted in a combat. So you could fail to notice your opponent and be flat footed for the surprise round, and then roll a low initiative and be flat footed when the opponent attacked again in round one. That has gone in fourth edition. If you are surprised, you don’t act in the surprise round and you give all your opponents combat advantage (see below). Then you act normally from round one onwards. There are no further complications.

Action Types

Now, pay attention: this is important. Third edition veterans will remember different types of action. In version 3.5 there were standard actions and move actions. You could attack witha standard action, and move with a move action. But the move action could be used for any number of other things. You could drop your standard action for a second move action (but not vice versa). You could combine your standard action and your move action into a full round action – which was essential for characters with more than one attack per round. There were also swift actions, quickened actions (which were effectively the same thing), immediate actions, free actions and even things that were not an action. If you’ve played version 3.0 you may remember partial actions and move-equivalent actions too.

Forget all you know of third edition. Fourth edition uses the same terminology, but the terms mean subtly different things. It is just as complex as third edition, but it’s complex in a different way. It may take a little getting used to. Here are the three core actions that you can take every time you have a turn. You may take them in any order.

Standard Action: This is the core of any combat. Attacking with a weapon, using a power (which could well be a spell) or a complex combat manoeuvre (such as Charge!) are standard actions. Some powers may not be standard actions, so be sure to check the power description, but most of them are.

Move Action: In fourth edition you take a move action to move. There is no such things as a move-equivalent action. The move action is spend moving – be it walking, crawling, running or shifting (more on shifting later). By having a dedicated action each round that you use for moving it’s much easier for characters to be mobile during combat. There’s more moving about, so combats take place over a wider area. This is a deliberate design technique to tie the combat closer to a tactical miniatures game. We’ll explore how well movement without miniatures works later on.

Minor Action: These are described as “enabling action” – they’re simple actions that can lead to much more exciting actions. So sheathing an item, drawing a weapon, opening a door are all minor actions. Some powers are minor actions too.

Free Actions: As in third edition the only limit to the number of free actions you can take in a round is the GM’s common sense. Free actions normally happen on your turn and not someone else’s. Examples would include dropping an item, releasing a grabbed opponent and speaking a few sentences. This is extremely important for taunting the bad guy.

So, on your turn you can take all of the actions above. As in third edition, you can trade down an action. So you can take a Move action instead of a Standard action, or a Minor action instead of a Standard or a Move action. You couldn’t swap out a standard action for a move, or a move for minor. This boils down to five choices:

  1. Standard, Move, Minor
  2. Standard, Minor, Minor
  3. Move, Move, Minor
  4. Move, Minor, Minor
  5. Minor, Minor, Minor

So you could draw your sword (minor action), move to engage the enemy (move action) and hit the enemy with a shiny martial exploit (standard action) all in one round. Or you could spend the same amount of time opening three doors. Eveyoneclear with that?

The above are just the actions you can take on your own turn. In fourth edition, there are a whole host of options you can take on someone else’s turn. These actions are called Triggered Actions because something else has to happen for you to get to use one of these actions. Excited?

Opportunity Action: If an enemy lets its guard down then you might be able to take an opportunity action. The most common of these are opportunity attacks – which are a bit like the third edition Attacks of Opportunity but less heavy on the rules. There’s a big section on Opportunity Attacks coming up in this post. Quick preview: I hate them. You can take as many opportunity actions in a round as you like, but you can only take one on each opponent’s turn – which means you cannot make multiple opportunity attacks against the same target. In third edition, the only way you could take more than one opportunity attacks in one round at all was to have the Combat Reflexes feat, so there has been a relaxation of the rules in this regard. The text in the 4e PHB states that an opportunity action “interrupts” the triggering action. This doesn’t mean it invalidates the triggering action. If a wizard provokes an opportunity attack by casting a spell, attacking him doesn’t stop him from casting the spell. It means that the opportunity action (an attack in this example) is resolved before the action that triggered it. This is a fundamental shift from third edition, which I will discuss at greater length soon.

Immediate Interrupt:This is an action that let’s you jump in and take an action on an opponent’s turn. Your action happens before the opponent’s action. For example, you might have a doody power than allows you to shift out of reach if an opponent attacks you. The foe brings up his sword to strike you, you activate the power as an immediate interrupt and suddenly you’re out of reach of his sword and the attack fails. Just like opportunity actions, an immediate interrupt doesn’t prevent the triggering action from taking place – it just happens before it. So what’s the difference between an opportunity action and an immediate action? You can only take one immediate action (be it an immediate interrupt or an immediate reaction) in one round. Are we clear on that?

Immediate Reaction:This is an action you can take on an opponent’s turn, but you take it in response to something that has already happened. It is a reaction. The clue is in the name. For example, you might have a second doody power that alllows you to trigger a healing surge if you are damaged by a fire spell. You get hit by the spell, take the damage, and then you usethe power as an immediate reaction. You can’t take both an immediate interrupt and an immediate reaction in the same round. One immediate action is all you get. Don’t get greedy on me.

Taking Your Turn

You now have a list of all the actions you can take in combat. What more is there to say about taking your turn? Well, fourth edition formalises the turn you take in a combat round. It divides each turn into three parts – the start of your turn, your turn proper, and the end of your turn. It introduces a consistant procedure to manage all those little housekeeping measures that are often forgotten.

To a degree this changes the turn into something more akin to a turn in a board game, or a collectible card game. I don’t think that this is such a bad thing because there are so many things to keep track of in D&D (of any edition) that anything that makes it easier for the players to stay on top of their characters is fine by me.

So, when it comes to your turn in a combat round, these are the steps you take:

Start of Your Turn: You take no actions at this stage. If you are taking ongoing damage from any source then you lose hit points now. Likewise, if you have regeneration then you gain hit points now. If there are any other effects in play on your character, then you face the music and take their effects now at the beginning of your turn. Some of your own effects and powers may automatically end at the “beginning of your turn”, if they do then they stop now.

The Turn Proper: This is where you take your actions. One standard, one move and one minor – or any combination of actions as listed above. You may also spend an action point at any stage of this phase of your turn. It’s possible that other characters take immediate or opportunity actions against you during this part of your turn as well.

End of Your Turn: You take no actions at this stage. If you are suffering from any conditions that allow you to make a saving throw once per round, then you make that saving throw now. Check the actions you have spent. Some powers can be sustained as long as you spent an action during your turn proper doing so. If you didn’t then those powers end now. Some effects automatically end at the “end of your turn”. They stop now, too.

This may look horrific to all you Cthulhu GMsout there, but this is no more complicated than third edition. I think that it’s really helpful to formalise where everything happens in a combat round. If could be really important to know at what point in a round your regeneration kicks in, for example. It might take a little while for players to get used to the book-keeping, but after a few sessions it should become second nature.

I should point out that if you delay your turn to act later in the round, then a fair amount of the housekeeping is undertaken at your original initiative point. You can’t extend any effect by simply delaying until the end of the round. I won’t bother to explain what the rules are, just take it from me that they exist.

The important thing is that none of the rules for the combat round or actions actually require you to use miniatures, so these rules can stay completely intact. At least for the time being.

Attacks and Defences

This lengthy part of the combat chapter is all about making attacks and damaging your foes. There are various types of attacks and these are covered in some depth. This section doesn’t include Actions in Combat – what were called Special Attacks in third edition. These are actions like grapple, overrun, bull’s rush and so on. I’ll get to those a little later. This is just the basics.

Attacking is the same as third edition. Pick an attack, pick a target, roll to hit, if the roll is higher than the defence you apply damage. In fourth edition this principle is expanded. Everyone rolls to hit. There are no such things as automatic hits any more – the wizard is rolling to hit with his magic missile and with his fireball. And if he’s casting fireball then he’s rolling to hit everyone within the area of effect.

Attack rolls are set at half your level + a related attribute modifier + any other modifiers. So the wizard attacking witha fireball would start with half his level, add his Intelligence modifier and perhaps a bonus to hit granted by focusing the fireball through his wand. He would roll a d20, add all the relevent numbers and compare the result to the targets’ Reflex Defence.

There are four general attack types in fourth edition. Some of them are self explanatory, others take a little more exposition. Let’s have a look at them:

Mêlée Attack:An attack (usually with a weapon) that targets a single enemy within your mêlée reach. Most characters will have a reach of 1 square (five feet), so you can hit anything that is adjacent to you. Some weapons (like polearms) allow you to make a mêlée attack beyond your normal reach. Unlike in third edition, a Reach weapon can be used to attack anyone within reach – so a polearm is just as effective at five feet as it is at ten feet. Note that in fourthedition, attacking with two weapons has completely changed. See the section below on multiple attacks.

Ranged Attack: A strike against a distant target within range of the weapon. Ranged attacks normally target single targets. Powers may set a specific range, such as “Ranged 5” (5 squares = 25 feet) or “Ranged Sight” meaning if you can see it, you can hit it. Ranged weapons such as crossbows and longbows have two ranges: e.g. 20/40 for a longbow. The first figure is normal range, and the second is maximum range. If a target is beyond normal range, but within maximum range then you take a -2 penalty to hit. That’s it, just a -2 penalty. There’s none of this -2 per range increment as there was in third edition. If the target is further away than long range then you cannot even attempt to hit it.

Close Attack:A closeattack originates from you and affects all foes within a certain range. This can either be in the form of a Blast (which is like a cone was in third edition, affecting all foes in a particular direction), or a Burst which attacks all foes in a certain radius of you. Magical powers and martial explots can bothbe closeattacks. One can imagine a martial close attack that ressemblesthe third edition feat, Whirlwind Attack, for example. You must make an different attack roll for every enemy that could be caught in the area of effect, but only one damage roll. Normally, you can choosenot to hit your friends but that isn’t always an option. For a close attack to work you must have Line of Effect (see below).

Area Attack: In an area attack you pick a certain spot within range of the power. That spot becomes the centre of the area attack. The attack is either a burst (all targets in a certain radius) or a wall. You must have line of effect for an area attack to work. You don’t need to see the target “square” – you can still lob a fireball into a dark room and hope for the best.

I will post a discussion topic about converting blasts, bursts and walls from squares to feet. It isn’t quite as simple as you might imagine.

Multiple Attacks

Okay, so I hit with a standard action but as I gain levels I can make more than one attack a round, right? If I’m wielding two weapons I get an extra attack too, don’t I? No! You are living in the past! Multiple attacks are game destabilising… they slow things down and generally skew combat. Fourth edition is all about party balance and speed. I’m not convinced I necessarily believe that, but we’ll see when we start playing it.

In fourth edition no-one gets multiple attacks based on their level. You have one standard action in a round, and in that standard action you can make one basic attack. There are certain powers that allow you to break those rules. Obviously, things like fireball hit multiple targets, but the equivalents of cleave and whirlwind attack are now powers, so a fighter can still attack multiple opponents if he has taken the right power, and if that power is available to him.

As for attacking withtwo weapons – well, that’s completely changed. You can hold a weapon in each hand if you like (as long as one is an off-hand weapon), but you can’t attack with bothof them in the same standard action. You can choosewhich of the two you attack with, but that’s as far as it goes. There is a feat called Two-Weapon Fighting but all that does is give you +1 to damage. This situation is improved by (you guessed it) powers. The only class withpowers related to two-weapon fighting is the ranger. So, if you want to be effective with two-weapons then you have to play a ranger or multiclass into ranger. In 4e the ranger has been divested of his namby-pamby tree-hugging roots, so he is a more attractive choice for players who want the powers but not the associated baggage.

Targeting your Foes

My word, there’s a lot of text describing how you count squares to determine the range of your foes. Lucky we can ignore all that, eh? The general point that the rules are trying to make is that in order to hit something it needs to a viable target. There are two terms that you need to get a handle on as they are used repeatedly by powers and feats: line of sight, and line of effect.

Line of Sight:Can you see the target? If you can’t then powers that rely on line of sight won’t work. Most short range teleports are line of sight, so you can blip around he battlefield, but you can’t teleportto the other side of a closed door. If you can partially see the target then that target has either cover or concealment. We’ll get to them later. While the rules make a bit of a meal of working out whether a target has cover or concealment I don’t think its that important. It should be obvious. If it isn’t then the GM makes a call, just as he always does.

Line of Effect: Line of Effect powers require an unblocked path between you and the target. You might be able to see you target and still not have line of effect. Maybe you can only see them in a mirror, or they are the other side of a force wall for example. Cover makes it more difficult to hit with line of effect powers, but it doesn’t make it impossible unless the target has total cover. Concealment isn’t a barrier to line of effect powers at all, as long as your willing to cast at an area instead of individual.

Bonuses and Penalties

We all know the story from third edition. There are numerous bonuses that accrue from feats, spells and magic items. Some of these stack and some of these don’t. In third edition you could have (deep breath) circumstance, competence, deflection, dodge, enhancement, insight, luck, morale, natural armour, profane, racial, resistance, sacred, shield, size and untyped modifiers. By and large, bonuses gained from the same type of modifier did not stack. So if you had a +2 enhancement bonus from a ring, and a +4 enhancement bonus from a broach then you took the better value, you don’t add them together. Because the system is largely designed to shaft PCs, penalties always stacked with one another.

In fourth edition there is a similar, but far more prosaic approach. There are nine types of bonuses that can be applied to your statistics. Except for untyped bonuses, these bonuses do not stack with themselves. Penalties always stack with each other (there are a couple of exceptions, but as a rule they don’t). The bonuses are as follows:

  • Armour bonus: This is granted by your armour and applies as long as you are wearing armour. It provides a bonus to AC.
  • Enhancement bonus: Usually this is added to a magic item. If its added to a weapon it improves your attack and damage rolls. If its applied to armour, it improves your armour class. If it’s applied to certain magic items it will improve you Fortitude, Reflex and Will defences. You can benefit from several enhancement bonuses at the same time as long as they are applying to different things. A weapon, shield, armour and cape are all fine. Trying to put on two pairs of magic boots is not. The chapter on magic items explains how different magic items interact.
  • Feat bonus: This is a bonus granted by a feat. You have the bonus as long as you have the feat. Feat bonuses that modify the same thing (e.g. your speed, damage rolls) do not stack.
  • Item bonus:Is a bonus derrived from a from certain magical items.
  • Power bonus: A bonus that is granted by (you guessed it) a power.
  • Proficiency bonus: This is the bonus to hit you get from being proficient in a weapon. If you use a weapon to deliver a power (i.e. the power has the “weapon” keyword) then the proficiency bonus applies to that as well.
  • Racial bonus: This is conferred by your race. They do not stack. Having one elf in the party grants all allies a +1 to perception checks. Having two elves does not grant a +2.
  • Shield bonus: This is granted by your shield and it applies to both your AC and your Reflex Defence.
  • Untyped bonus: If the text does not explicitly tell you what the bonus is, then you can assume it is an untyped bonus. Untyped bonuses stack with everything – including themselves. For example, many feats give you bonuses, but not all those bonuses are “feat bonuses”. If a feat gives a feat bonus it will tell you (e.g. Iron Will). If it doesn’t tell you, then it’s an untyped bonus (e.g. Combat Reflexes).

Roll Some Dice!

The chapter now tells you how to calculate your attack roll (for all attacks and powers) and how to work out your defence values for AC, Fortitude, Relfex and Will. I’m not going to dwell on this. It’s pretty straight forward, very similar to third edition, and I’ve no intention of changing any of it. There are just two things I want to spell out here:

Damage: Damage is either expressed in terms of dice, or in terms of the notation [W]. [W] represents the weapon damage. So if a longsword wielding fighter with a strength 18 is asked to inflict 1[W] + Strength Modifier in damage then he’s doing 1d8+4. It he’s asked to do 7[W] + Strength Modifier then he will roll 7d8+4.

Automatic Hits and Misses: A natural 20 is always a hit and a natural 1 is always a miss. No change here from every other edition, but still worth mentioning.

Critical Hits:If you roll a natural 20 then it is a critical hit. You don’t need to roll to confirm the Crit in fourth edition. A natural 20 is a critical pure and simple. Critical hits do maximum damage (not multiple damage). So the fighter who normally rolls 1d8+4 would inflict 12 damage on a critical hit. This has the effect of making the criticals significant, but no longer combat altering. In third edition one lucky shot could completely alter the course of a battle – as anyone who has been on the receiving end of a critical hit from a battle-axe wielding orcbarbarian can testify. Some weapons, feats and powers extend the critical range. High level characters might critical on an 18, 19 or 20 for example.

If you require a natural 20 to hit, then that hit is not a critical hit. Likewise if you have an extended critical range and an 18 or 19 would normally be a miss, then its still a miss.

If you inflict any extra damage on your critical hit (you are wielding a magic or a high crit weapon that does additional dice of damage), this extra damage is not maximised. However, damage from class abilities such as a rogue’s sneak attack is maximised on a critical hit. It should also be apparent that becauseyou have to roll to hit witheverything, the rules for critical hits apply to everything. So it’s quite possible to critical hit with your 29th levelmeteor swarm. As an aside, there are no such things as critical misses in fourth edition D&D.

Resistance and Vulnerability

Energy Resistance, Damage Reducation and Spell Resistance do not exist in fourthedition. Instead they have been replaced with resistances and vulnerabilities. They still work in a similar way, though. If you have Resist 5 Fire then any time you take fire damage you reduce the damage by 5. Some powers or monsters might have Resist 5 All – in which case all damage rolls are reduced by 5. Fortunately these are rare.

Vulnerabilities work the same way, but in reverse. An undead creature might have Vulnerable 10 Radiant. This means when ever it takes any radiant damage (a new category of damage, that sort of replaces positive energy) it takes an additional 10 points of damage. Hit that creature with 2d6 radiant damage, and it’ll actually take 2d6+10.

Where this leaves us with the PCs <cough> Brack <cough> who had managed to get their hands on damage reduction is unclear. Resistance to mêlée weapons is extremely unusual. I think I will have to see the game in play before I make a call on that.

Conditions

Often in combat you are going to be struck with an ongoing condition. You might be deafened, or blinded, or unable to tie your shoe laces. Like its predecessor, fourth edition formalises this process by giving each condition an absolute defintion. Powers only need to refer to the condition and everyone knows where they stand. Well, if you’ve memorised the conditions that is.

There are sixteen conditions identified in PHB1. This is the same list printed in Keep on the Shadowfell. The conditions are: Blinded, Dazed, Deafened, Dominated, Dying, Helpless, Immobilised, Marked, Petrified, Prone, Restrained, Slowed, Stunned, Surprised, Unconscious and Weakened. I’ve no intention of changing any of those definitions per se, but changes to other rules may require tweaking them a little later on.

Ongoing Damage

There are many effects that deal ongoing damage on your character. A snake’s venom deals ongoing poison damage, a spell might inflict ongoing fire or acid damage and so and so forth. As mentioned above you take ongoing damage at the start of your combat turn before you make any actions. At the end of your turn you can attempt a saving throw to shake off the effect, and prevent you from taking any more ongoing damage the next round. Damage of the same type does not stack. So if you get bitten by a snake for 5 ongoing poison damage per round, and by a spider for 10 ongoing poison damage each round, then you only take the higher value.

Durations

Ah yes, here’s a sticky one. Some powers have instanteous durations. Others last “Until the Start of your next turn” or “Until the end of your next turn”. The durations of some rituals are measured in hours or days. All theseare easy to adjudicate. But what about powers that last until the “end of the encounter”. How long do they last? And importantly, how long do they last if you cast them outside of a combat encounter?

If a power lasts “until the end of the encounter” then it ends whenever you stop for a rest, or when five minutes have expired – whichever is less. So all these types of powers effectively last for five minutes.

Some powers have a sustained duration – which means you have to spend an action every round to keep the power going. For example, the power Astral Storm is “Sustain, Minor”. That means you have to spend a minor action every round to keep the power going. Unless the power says otherwise, you can only sustain a power for a maximum of five minutes (50 rounds).

Saving Throws

In an earlier post I said there were no saving throws in fourth edition. I lied. Saving throws do exist, but they are completely altered. If you are affected by a persistanteffect or condition such as blindness or ongoing damage, that can be shaken off by a saving throw then you make such a saving throw (one for each condition or effect) at the end of your turn each round. You will know whether you’re allowed to a make a save, because the affliction will have “save ends” written in the description.

A saving throw is a straight d20 roll. If you roll a 10 or higher then you shake off the effect. You therefore have a 55% chance to shrug off anything at the end of each round. Very few things modify saving throws. You might find some feats or powers that give you a temporary bonus, but on the whole a straight roll is what you have.

Is this appropriate? Coming from third edition we expect saving throws to be dependent upon character level. As you get more powerful your saving throws improve. However, that was in a system where the difficulty class of effects also escalated, creating an arms race between defences and attacks. Third edition worked from the premise that a character has a 50% chance to resist (or affect) a target of an appropriate challenge level. Isn’t this the same thing? I’ve no intention of changing these rules initially. We’ll see how it plays. But for those of you who think it’s a bit odd or undesirable, I know exactly what you mean.

Attack Modifiers

This section lists the most common modifiers to attack rolls in combat. There’s nothing particularly revolutionary here, but I’ll dutifully point out the differences. I’m really very good to you all.

Combat Advantage

You’ve heard the term bandied about for months, but what is combat advantage? Combat advantage represents a situation where the defender cannot devote his full attention to defending himself. He is distracted, or beset by multiple foes, or surprised. Attackers with combat advantage have a +2 to hit their target. Some powers and features only work (or work better) if you have combat advantage. For example, a rogue’s sneak attack only works if you have combat advantage.

So how do you get combat advantage? The PHB  provides a definitive list. If you are balancing, blinded, climbing, dazed, flanked by an attacker, helpless, prone, restrained, running, squeezing, stunned, surprised, unable to see the attacker, unaware of the attacker or unconscious then you give your attacker combat advantage. Remember this, it’s important.

Cover and Concealment

In D&D Cover and Concealment have two distinct definitions. Cover is physical barrier between you and the target. You might be able to partially see the target, but there’s something in the way that could interfere with your attack. Concealment is something that makes it harder to see the target. The barrier is intangible, but for whatever reason (fog, darkness, incorporeality, invisibility) you cannot see exactly where your target is. Cover generally applies to ranged attacks, while concealment can more readily be applied to all attacks.

In third edition, Cover was expressed as a penalty to hit the target, whereas concealment was expressed as a percentage miss chance. You rolled to hit normally, and then rolled a miss chance (50% for an invisible foe) to see if you actually connected. The rules for determining cover and concealment were simplified between version 3.0 and version 3.5. This trend continues in fourth edition.

Cover and Concealment in fourth edition are expressed as penalties to hit, not bonuses to armour class. This is because, cover and concealment apply to all four defences. A ranged attack against a target’s Will defence is made harder by cover. With that in mind, let’s walk through the modifiers.

Cover

We have two levels of cover in fourth edition; cover and superior cover. This is a step up from the one-size-fits-all definition of cover from version 3.5, but it’s stil a little simplistic by third edition standards.

Cover: Imposes a -2 penalty to attack rolls. Examples of this sort of cover would be crouching behind a bush, standing just behind a low wall or a small tree.

Superior Cover:Imposes a -5 penalty to attack rolls. Superior cover is standing the other side of an arrow slit, or a portcullis. It represents a siginificant defensive advantage.

Area Attacks and Close Attacks: Burst and blast attacks, be they at close range or at distance are also subject to cover. Shoot a fireball at someone standing behind a tree then you have -2 to hit with the spell.

Creatures and Cover:According to the rules enemies can give other enemies cover (-2 to hit) against a PCs’ ranged attacks. However, allies never give enemies cover and there is no mechanic for accidentally hitting the wrong target when firing into mêlée. This is a bit ridiculous, and I can feel a houserule coming on. However, there it is for the moment. Creatures also don’t providecover for one another against area effect powers. That I’m slightly happier with.

Concealment

The fourth edition game gives us three different levels of concealment, and then gives us two penalties between them. Concealed creatures can be lightly obscured (the light is dim, there is heavy rain, light foliage or snow); heavily obscured (heavy fog, heavy smoke or dense foliage); Totally Obscured (utter darkness, the target is invisible). Here’s how the mechanics play out:

Concealed: Imposes a -2 penalty to attack rolls. Lightly obscured creatures, and heavily obscured creatures in adjacent squares are considered concealed. As we’re not using squares this is a pointless differentiation. If you’re concealed then foes have a -2 penalty to hit you.

Total Concealment: Imposes a -5 penalty to attack rolls. Do you begin to see a pattern here? The penalties for cover and concealment are the same. I guess there’s less to remember that way. Obviously, totally obscured foes have Total Concealment.

Mêlée and Ranged Attacks only: Common sense should make this abundantly clear, but I’ll say this anyway. Concealment penalties only apply to attacks that target individuals. Area attacks don’t impose a concealment penalty. As long as you aim for more or less the right area then you’ll hit.

PHB1 p281 then has an interesting section on targeting foes with Total Concealment (such as invisible foes). As you can imagine this works by way of contested skill checks between Perception and Stealth. However, it should be noted than an invisible character doesn’t get a bonus to their stealth check if someone is looking for them. Looking at it logically, Stealth is supposed to represent the ability to move silently and hide so perhaps this isn’t too far-fetched. However, those expecting something akin to the +30 hide bonus conferred under the third edition rules are in for something of a shock.

Movement and Position

I’ll run through theserules quickly because I intend to change almost all of them. All the rules for movement rely on a battle grid, and all movement is measured in squares and not in a real-world measure. Although it is largely simple to convert from squares to feet, there are several occassions where it is either tricky or undesirable to do so. To mention that here would be stepping on the toes of a future post. So here are the edited highlights.

Creature Size and Space

A whole page basically informing us that bigger creatures take up move space than smaller ones. An interesting side note to third edition veterans is that size categories of creatures now run: Tiny, Small, Medium, Large, Huge and Gargantuan. Fine and Colossal are no longer categories in their own right. Also, size has absolutely no measurable impact on the rules as far as I can see except for the space the creatures occupies and its reach.

Tactical Movement

This refers to your movement during combat. As in previous editions, this doesn’t necessarily marry up with overland movement rates if your character is walking from one town to another. The information for that is in chapter eight, and we’ll get to that in due course. The tactical speed of your character is the base for your race (usually 6), modified by your armour (heavy armour gives you -1 to speed), and by any feats you might have (e.g. Fleet-Footed gives you +1 to speed; Fast Runner gives you +2 to speed when you are running or charging).

The text dwells on the importance of diagonal movement, whether you can end your move action in an enemy’s square and so on. Without a battle grid, all this is irrelevent. Difficult terrain (such as rubble, undergrowth, shallow bogs, steep stairs) are defined as follows: “Each square of difficult terrain you enter costs 1 extra square of movement”. This is just a convoluted way of saying that you move at half speed in difficult terrain.

This section is also where we find the new rules on falling. I guess this is because there wasn’t a “lack of tactical movement” section. Falling damage hadn’t changed since first edition: 1d6 per ten feet falled, maximum of 20d6. Well, it’s changed now. Now you take 1d10 per ten feet fallen and there is no cap to the amount of dice you roll. Fall of a 1000 foot cliff and you’ll take 100d10 damage. It suggests taking an average result. It’s odd that in a game where the damage potential of so much else has been toned down, that the lethality of falls has been increased in such a manner.

Forced Movement. Now, here’s a tricky one. Various powers say that you can push, pull or slide (move in any direction) a foe. In fact you’ll find that you’ll be flinging enemies and allies across the battlefield with gay abandon in fourth edition. There are only three things to really note. Firstly, you must have line of effect between where the target is, and where you want it to be. Secondly, forced movement doesn’t replace the target’s own move action. They can still come back on their turn. Thirdly, if you fling an enemy over a precipice, they can always get to make a saving throw to “catch themselves”. Whether this means they didn’t fall at all, or are hanging on my their fingernails, seems to be GM fiat.

Actions in Combat

This is the section that corresponds to Special Attacks in third edition. What this amounts to is a list of all the options a character has in combat above and beyond “put the sharp end into the bad guy”. There are less options in this list than there were in third edition. Now, the designers helpfully point out that this list isn’t exhaustive, and that PCs can effectively try anything, which is all well and good but without concrete rules support you wonder how often some things would be attempted. How many players are going to attempt something knowing that success or failure is completely dependent upon the GM’s whims? Some actions that anyone could attempt in 3e (such as disarming), have been turned into powers. We’ll have a look at how that fits in as well.

Action Points

All characters have one action point per tier (some monsters may have more). You can spend no more than one action point per encounter. What does an action point do? It gives you an extra action. Spend the action point (as a free action) and you can choose to take an extra standard, move or minor action when it matters the most. All paragon paths give you an alternative (or additional) benefit for spending an action point, but you can still only spend one per encounter. You get your action point back after you take an extended rest (six hours). GMs can also award an additional action point every two encounters if you don’t rest. I’ll talk more about that when I get onto chapter eight. I like this mechanic, as it empowers the PCs to be extra-heroic at a dramatically appropriate moment.

Aid Another

The rules to aid another haven’t changed much since third edition, and can be used inside or outside of combat. In combat, you make a basic mêlée attack roll against a foe. Your target is AC 10. If you succeed, you deal no damage but your action helps an ally who is also attacking the same foe. That ally gets a +2 bonus to their next attack roll, or +2 to all their defences against the foe’s next attack (you choose). Note, that there is nothing stating that the benficiaryof your aid needs to be in mêlée combat with the target. You could make the foe more vulnerable to a ranged attack from a sniping ally.

Outside combat you can grant a bonus to an ally attempting a skill check or an ability check. First you must make a successful check against DC 10. If you succeed then the ally gets a +2 bonus to his roll.

Up to four people can attempt the Aid Another action on the same ally at the same time. Third edition said that the number of allies that could help was limited, but never actually spelled out how limited. Four is an arbitrary figure, based on the fact that the default party size in the fourth edition game is five characters. However, it sounds about right. And it means that you can get up to +8 to a roll if you work together as a team. Aiding Another is a standard action.

Bull Rush

A Bull Rush is simply an attempt to push away the enemy without dealing any damage to it. The rules for the Bull Rush in third edition were quite complex, and involved attacks of opportunity, specialised feats and the concealment rules. In 4e, adjudication has been streamlined. You simply make a Strength vs Fortitude attack (don’t include modifiers for the weapon you use). If you succeed then you knock the foe back one square (five feet). You travel with the target, so you end up standing where the target was at the beginning of your action. Therefore, you end the action in mêlée range of the target.

The text points out that you can only bull rush creatures of a size category one place higher than your own or less. So a medium-sized creature like a human, has a chance to bull rush an ogre but not a dragon. Obviously, you can bull rush foes from tall buildings or into bubbling pits of lava. However, a saving throw would apply in these circumstances. Bull rush is a standard action.

Basic Attacks

Obviously, in a combat you can take a basic mêlée or a basic ranged attack as a standard action. A basic mêlée attack is Strength vs AC (and your strength modifier is added to damage), a basic ranged attack is Dexterity vs AC (and you add your dexterity modifier to damage). Add your dexterity modifier to damage? How egalitarian is that? Now the elven archer doesn’t need a high strength to pack a wallop with his arrows. Whether it makes any sense is another matter.

Basic attacks tend to be the attacks you make when you run out of powers. A wizard’s magic missile, and a warlocks’ eldritch blast are considered basic attacks so the spellcasters always have their fingers on the trigger in that respect. Opprtunity attacks and free attacks are always made with basic attacks. Some powers will allow you to make a basic attack in addition to the effects of the power.

Interesting, the damage you deal with a basic attack increases as you gain levels. Epic characters (level 21 and up) deal double weapon damage with their basic attack. A normal longsword does 2d8 base damage in the hands of an epic character.

Charge

Charge is a standard action. During the action you move up to your speed (but at least 10 feet) and make a basic mêlée attack or a bull rush at the end of it. You receive +1 to the attack roll. After you make the attack roll you can take no further actions unless you spend an action point. Difficult terrain can hamper charge, and you must run in a straight line to build up momentum.

A charge in third edition granted +2 to the attack roll, and gave you a -2 penalty to AC. In comparissonthe 4e charge doesn’t seem to be worth your time. There’s a little more versatility in 4e for the battle-map generation as you don’t have to spend a full round charging as before. You can useyour move and minor actions for something else. Feasibly under fouth edition, you could drink a potion, climb a wall and then charge a foe standing on the roof.

Coup de Grace

In third edition the coup degrace was brutal.  Take a full-round action to attack a helpless defender. You automatically hit and score a critical hit. The target must make a Fortitude saving throw at DC 10 + damage dealt or die instantly. Now, you could say “fair enough” – the coup de grace is designed to represent lying peacefully on the ground while a mad dwarf takes a lump hammer to your skull, it should be fatal. However, it can be annoying.

The combination of an attack that renders the foe helpless (even temporarily) followed by a coup de grace is a disturbing one in the hands of players. When a GM starts doing it, then mayhem can ensue. As a GM I can imagine plenty of monsters and NPCs that would want to make sure their foes aren’t going to get up again. To give them an opportunity to deliver a coup de grace and not take it would be playing them out of character. However, I don’t want to kill my PCs by virtue of random bad luck.

The 4e coup degrace is more to my liking. The target must still be helpless, and probably offers a -5 penalty to all defences because of it (therefore it is not as certain that your coup de grace will hit). A successful hit is still an automatic critical, but crits tend do less damage in fourthedition. There is no death saving throw, but if the attack deals half the characters hit points or more in one blow then the target dies. Still dangerous, but not quite as dangerous. Coup de Grace is a standard action.

Crawl

As a move action you can crawl. In order to crawl you must be prone (dropping to the ground is a minor action). While crawling you move at half your speed, therefore crawling over difficult terrain means you move at a quarter your base speed. Crawl is still movement and provokes opportunity attacks like any other type of movement.

Delay

By far the most complicated rules in the whole game are thosefor what happens when you choose to delay your action in a combat round. I won’t repeat them here, as I’ll end up copying them all out verbatim. Bascially, if you delay you must delay your whole turn (and not just bits of it). Therefore effects that lasted until the “beginning” or the “end” of your next turn cease at your original initiative point. Equally, if you have a magical effect running that requires you to spend an action to sustain it, then delaying your action means that you delayed spending that action, so the effect ends.

Grab and Escape

These are the new grappling rules. The third edition grappling rules were infamous for their complexity – although unless you’ve played Rolemaster you have no concept of complex. Suffice to say the rules were a barrier to even attempting to grapple – certainly, you could master them, but any rules that the 3e Rules Compendium could only succeed in condensing to two pages needed to be looked at again. In fourth edition, grapple is divided into two actions: Grab and Escape.

Grabbingis a standard action. The target must be one size category larger than you or smaller (so no grabbing EarthTitans). You make a Strengthvs Reflex attack, and if you succeed then the target is Immobilised. Immobilised is a condition. It means that you cannot move from where you are, unless someone else forces you to, or you teleport. That one roll is all the grabber has to do. A grab can be maintained each round as a minor action. As long as the grabber doesn’t move away from the target, or is affected by a condition such as dazed, stunned, surprised or unconcscious) then he can continue to hang on. He can even spend his standard actions normally.

If you grab a target you can attempt to drag them off. This requires another attack from the attacker, this one is Strength vs Fortitude. If you succeed you can move half your speed and take your prisoner with you. If you fail, you don’t move. This is also a standard action, so you grab in round #1, and drag away the target in round #2.

Of course, the target is not still during all of this. He can attempt to Escape! Escape is a move action. This means that if your first escape attempt fails, you can convert your Standard action into another move action and try again. You can choose to make an Acrobatics check vs Reflex, or Athletics check vs Fortitude to escape. If you succeed then you are free, if you fail you are still immobilised.

Now, seasoned third edition players may think that there simply isn’t enough complexity to grapple. What actions can you perform while grabbed? Can you cast a spell? Can the grabber hit you with their great sword? Can the grabber further restrain his victim? Enquiring minds need to know!

As it is written, all the Grab rules do is stop your opponent from moving. It is the equivalent of holding onto someone’s t-shirt in the school playgroup. A grabbed opponent can use a move action to escape the grab, or he can stay where he is and usehis standard action to hit the grabber over the head withhis two-handed battle-axe. Actually he can do both. No actions are precluded if you are grabbed. You can still cast spells, shoot a ranged weapon or compose a sonnet. Grabbed characters can’t be overpowered, tied up or similarly restrained. The rules don’t work that way.

So is grab useless? No, not as long as you are using a tactical battle map. Because so much of the fourth edition came is dependent upon movement, stopping someone from moving (even for one round) can be tactically advantageous. It gives the rogue chance to move in and flank an opponent, or stops the grabbee from using his own funky move related power. However, this is of small comfort to those of us not using a battle grid, and not measuring everything in squares.

If you want a system that even vaguely simulates the real world then you need to have these options. If you don’t have them then D&D will run more like a computer game than a RPG. As in third edition, there are increasingly serious conditions relating to restraint. Here they are:

  • Immobilised:You cannot move from where you are standing. You can teleportor be forced to move by a push, pull or slide. Grabbed characters are immobilised.
  • Restrained: You are immobilised. Additionally, you grant combat advantage, you cannot be forced to move with a push, pull or slide and you take a -2 penalty to attack rolls.
  • Helpless:You grant combat advantage. You can be the target of a coup de grace.
  • Unconscious: You’re helpless. You take a -5 penalty to all defences, you can’t take any actions, you fall prone (if possible), you cannot flank an enemy (well, duh!).

Do we feel a houserule coming on here? Could we maintain the shadeof the old grappling rules in 4e. You already have to take a second standard action to move someone who is grabbed, what if you could also take a second standard to restrain someone? Another Strengthvs Reflex attack to impose the restrained condition. Now, restrained is a lot like Pinned was in third edition, but it’s not quite the same. You can still take actions, for example, and there’s nothing to say that you could then be further subdued. Would we look for a third roll to induce the helpless condition – but you can stil take actions if you are helpless in  fourth edition.

I’m not going to get into a house rules discussion here (maybe later!). I will add, that the trouble with altering grab as I have outlined above is that there are several powers that do properly restrain a target, or otherwise give the attacker the benefits of the old grapple/pin rules. These powers are Garrote Grip, Stab and Grab, Bigby’s Icy Grasp and Bigby’s Grasping Hands in PHB1, but you can imagine that will be more of them, particularly when rules for the monk class are published. Change the fundamental nature of grab, and you invalidate some of the utility of those powers.

As they stand the grab rules aren’t really fit for purpose. They are fine as a clever tactic in a wargame, but they do not accurately reflect how a grapple would work in real life. They are simpler to be sure, but in this case simpler is not better. We need to find a way to work around this problem.

Opportunity Attacks

Attacks of Opportunity are now Opportunity Attacks. The same mechanic but with 12% less syllables! Who said 4th edition doesn’t streamline the system? For those of you who have forgotten, never knew, or just weren’t interested… since third edition every character (be they PC, NPC or Monster) threatens an area around them. If foes take certain actions within that threat range then the character can have a free attack against them. There was a very long and complicated list of what provoked an attack of opportunity in third edition. In 4e, the list is shorter. This is what it says on page 290 of PHB1:

  • Mêlée Basic Attack: An opportunity attack is a mêlée basic attack.
  • Moving Provokes:If an enemy leaves a square adjacent to you, you can make an opportunity attack against that enemy. However, you can’t make one if the enemy shifts or teleports, or is forced to move away by a push, pull or slide.
  • Ranged and Area Powers Provoke: If an enemy adjacent to you uses a ranged power or an area power, you can make an opportunity attack against that enemy.
  • One per Combatant’s Turn: You can take only one opportunity action during another combatant’s turn, but you can take any number during a round.
  • Able to Attack: You can’t make an opportunity attack unless you are able to make a mêlée basic attack and you can see your enemy.
  • Interrupts Target’s Action: An opportunity action takes place before the target finishes its action. After the opportunity attack, the creature resumes its action. If the target is reduced to zero hit points or fewer by the opportunity attack, it can’t finish its action because it is dead or dying.
  • Threatening Reach: Some creatures have an ability called threatening reach. This lets them make opportunity attacks against nonadjacent enemies. If an enemy leaves a square that’s within the creature’s reach, or if an enemy anywhere within the creature’s reach makes a ranged attack, the creature can make an opportunity attack against the creature.

I hope you can all tell how hellish it will be to try and and adjudicate opportunity attacks in a freeformcombat system. Because there is no way to verify where everyone is standing, you just can’t tell if a foe is crossing, or standing within a character’s threat range. I have a proposed solution, it’s rather radical, and the subject of the next post on this blog.

However, before moving on, I’d like to point out how these rules have changed between editions. Moving out of an a threatened area provokes an attack as before, as does using a ranged weapon within the threat range. That hasn’t changed. However, spellcasting (or using powers) doesn’t necessarily provoke an attack. You only provoke one if it’s a ranged or an area power. If you are casting a spell on yourself, or if it affects a radius that is centred on you then you don’t provoke an attack of opportunity. There is no concentration skill in fourthedition, so there are no rules to see if your casting has been disrupted. Even if you choose to usea ranged weapon or cast a ranged spell, being hit by an opportunity attack doesn’t stop you following through with your action. The spell still goes off, the arrow is still shot – you just had to run the gauntlet to do it.

In short: attacks of opportunity are neither as versatile, nor as potent as they used to be. The only way they can prevent an action from taking place is if the opportunity attack reduces the target to zero hit points. I’ll leave the discussion there for now.

Ready an Action

When you ready an action you prepare to react to a creature or an event. “When that happens, I will do this!” You can choose to ready a standard, move or minor action. The readied action becomes an Immediate Reaction, but the actual act of readying an action takes up your standard action for the round. You don’t act in a round until the condtions of your readied action are met, so it’s likely your initiative will change, and the rules for Delaying an Action will come into play.

Run

Ah the favoured tactic of all cowards and wizards. Run works very differently in fourth edition. If you run then you add +2 (+10 feet) to you Speed. Running still only occupies your move action for the round, but you move an extra ten feet. In exchange for this burst of speed, you grant combat advantage to your attackers, provoke opportunity attacks from anyone you pass and suffer a -5 penalty to attack rolls. Is it really worth it? 

You can also double move in a round – that is, you convert your standard action into a second move action. If you do this then you apply the +2 bonus from the Run manoeuvre twice. Feats can augment this. Fleet-Footed gives you +1 to Speed, Fast Runner gives +2 to Speed when you run or charge. These bonuses apply to both move actions. Example: a human normally moves 30 feet with a move action. The run manoeuvre adds 10 feet. The Fast Runner feat adds 10 feet. Fleet Footed adds 5 feet. If he double moves he could move 110 feet in one round, which is about 12½ miles per hour. That sounds about right.

Second Wind

The Second Wind action allows you to spend a healing surge during combat. All creatures have healing surges, but far fewer can actually use them in the heat of battle. All PCs can do this which gives them something of an advantage over the common man (or the common dragon). Using second wind is a standard action, but you can only use it once per encounter. As a side effect of restoring hit points, it all so makes you feel so good about yourself that you gain +2 to all your defences until the start of your next turn.

Shift

Shift is a form of movement that does not provoke an opportunity attack. You move 1 square (five feet) as a move action. It is primarily used for withdrawing from mêlée combat. You spend your move action to shift away form your foe and then use your standard action (or an action point) to turn around and run for the hills. You can’t shift if the movement requires a check of any kind (swimming or climbing, for example). You also can’t shift over difficult terrain.

Without a battle grid the importance of Shift is diminished. However, if I decide to keep the principle of attackers having a free attack on you if you flee from mêlée then Shift will still have its uses.

Squeeze

You attempt to move through a space smaller than you. There are rules stating how many squares a squeezing character of different sizes occupies. This is irrelevent if there’s no battle grid – the GM just adjudicates this on the fly. All we really need to know is that squeezing characters move at half speed, grant combat advantage to their attackers and take a -5 penalty to attack rolls. Squeezing is a move action.

Stand Up

No, this isn’t some sort of improvised comic routine. You need to spend a move action to get back on your feet if you are lying down, knocked prone or crawling somewhere. I can imagine that this will come up quite often, so it’s probably worth remembering.

Total Defence

As a standard action you can choose to go on a complete defensive. You gain +2 to all defences. You still have a move and minor action in the round to spend as you see fit.

Use a Power

Well, it goes without saying that you can use a power in round. I’ll just remind you that although most powers are Standard actions, some are Move actions and some are Minor actions. There’s nothing stopping you using three powers in one round if you happen to know one of each type.

Walk

Okay, this is getting silly now. Did the PHB really need an entry for Walk? Did this blog for that matter? Anyway, Walk is a move action – in fact, it’s the default move action. You move a number of squares equal to your speed during a walk action. Nothing special or fancy about it.

‘Missing’ Combat Actions

So what was in the third edition Player’s Handbook that is missing from the 4e list?

Disarm: In third edition disarm was an opposed attack roll than anyone could do, and those with the Improved Disarm feat could do better. In fourth edition, there is no mention of the mechanic except in the Exorcism of Steel power – and that is a 17th level Fighter Attack power. Why make it so hard and so specialised to disarm a foe. Can’t regular characters of the heroic tier even attempt it? Do we need a house rule for this?

Feint: It’s not in the combat section, but the rules for Feint can be found in the description of the Bluff skill (see PHB1 p183). It works in a similar fashion, but can only be used once per encounter. I’ll get to it a little later in these blog posts.

Mounted Combat: This is now covered in the DMG. Characters can take the Mounted Combat feat and gain access to their mount’s special abilities, as long as they make the prerequisites of the mount. For example, a hippogriff grants its rider a +1 bonus to all defences as long as that rider is friendly, 5th level or higher and has the Mounted Combat feat. This is how 4e attempts to balance mounted combat. There are no rules in the game for a paladin’s special mount at the moment – I think that is coming in the Martial Powersourcebook, due in October. I’ll touch on mounts more thoroughly in a later post.

Overrun: In third edition, this action allowed you to barge past opponents. They could choose to avoid you, if they didn’t then you knocked them prone – the Improved Overrun feat helped a lot. There’s no black and white mechanic for this in fourth edition, but it is not difficult to see how to implement. Overrun works like Bull Rush except that you’re not trying to knock an opponent over.

Sunder:This is the ability to target the weapon and not the opponent. The sunder action allowed characters to damage (and perhaps break) weapons. Again there was a feat called Improved Sunder that made you much better than this – third edition was nothing if not consistant. In fourth edition there is no sunder action per se. The DMG1 (p65) has rules for object hit point points and resistances. From there it’s possible to extrapolate how many hit points an orb, weapon or wand might have. But as to breaking that item while it is being wielded by someone else… that’s currently in the realm of house rules and very specific powers.

Trip: Oddly, the ability to push someone flat on their face is not covered in the combat section. Numerous powers knock an enemy prone, but there’s no specific rules for just anyone to put their foot out and give it a go. However, like overrun this could be easily adjudicated. Dexterity vs Reflex as a standard action, perhaps? Success results in the target falling prone. Not as powerful as powers that knock you prone, but good enough for something off the cuff?

Healing 

Hit Points in fourth edition have taken on a more abstract form than ever before. Your hit point total does not soley represent your ability to take damage. In addition to sheer physical endurance they are your character’s luck, his morale, his skill and his ability to get out of the way in the nick of time.

A 1st level character and a 30thlevel character both take 20 points of damage from an attack. To the 1st level character, this represents pretty much all his hit points. He is badly wounded, and could be about to kark it. To the 30th level character, this is but a flesh wound. What’s the difference? Well, the 30th level character is no more able to take a sword to the gut than a 1st level character can. The difference is that the 30th level character has seen the blow coming, and rolled with its force; or the stroke has bounced off his epic level cigarillo case; or he has been shot so many times by a fireball that he knows just how to roll to avoid the worse of its effects.

The wounding and the healing system is built around the abstract nature of hit points. This is nothing new to D&D, but fourth edition takes it to new levels. So if you tied a character down so he can’t move at all, then you kill a 30th level character with one blow from a dagger? Potentially, yes – although the coup de grace rolls do not adequately represent that. Actually – I’m not sure that it should.

Your class, level and constitution score determines your maximum hit points. As you do not have to roll these any more, and as your Constitution modifier no longer plays a role in the calculation, there is no longer a great disparity between PCs of the same class. When you take damage it comes off your maximum hit point total, and your current hit points can never exceed the maximum.

When you have been reduced to half your hits points or lower, you are considered “bloodied“. This is a measure of how wounded, pooped and out of luck you are. It has no effect on your character in its own right, but certain conditions, events and powers come into play when you are bloodied. For example, when certain dragons are bloodied they get very cross, and lash out in the form of a free attack against everyone.

When you reach zero hit points (or lower) you fall unconscious and are dying. More on this later, but it’s not very pleasant and can be quite brutal.

Healing Surges

A healing surge equals one quarter of your maximum hit points (or one quarter plus your Con modifier if you’re a dragonborn). You have a finite number of healing surges that you can spend in one day – this is usually about 7 + your Con modifier, but is dependent on your character class. This is every character’s own personal pot of healing, so use it wisely!

During a combat encounter, you can spend a healing surge by using the Second Wind action (chronicled above). You can only use second wind once per encounter, so you can only spend one healing surge – regardless of the number you may have remaining. Second Wind exemplifies the abstract nature of hit points. A fighter that spends a healing surge, isn’t actually healing his wounds – he is shaking his head and regaining his composure, he is gritting his teeth against the pain, hefting his sword with one hand as his other keeps his colon in place. A healing surge is a player’s way of stating that his character isn’t as badly injured as it first appeared – that there’s still some fight in him yet.

I like healing surges – which is just as well, as I’m not sure fourth edition could function without them. They mean that you don’t necessarily need a magical healer like a cleric to keep the party going. There is magical healing, but this all relies on the healing surge mechanic. A power might allow you to spend a healing surge without using second wind, or it might restore hit point “as if you had spent a healing surge”.

Outside combat you can throw around as many healing surges as you like to restore you to full hit points. But be aware that you only have a finite number of healing surges to use. Because I know that I’m not going to be throwing the number of encounters per day at a party that the rules suggest, I might be tempted to reduce the number of healing surges available. But, it’s not something I’m going to introduce any time soon.

As a note, NPCs and Monsters tend to have one healing surge per tier. So Epic adversaries would only have three healing surges. For combat this is fine, as mostly such opponents are only there to be killed. But healing surges play a role in other rules as well – notably those for drowing and starvation. I think that to be fair, foes must have the same healing surges as PCs, even if they never use them.

Regeneration

Some powers or magical items give you the ability to regenerate a number of hit points each round. Regeneration happens at the “start of your turn” phase of your turn. You cannot regenerate hit points above your maximum level, and regeneration doesn’t work if you drop to zero hit points or lower. Importantly, regeneration doesn’t stack. So if you have regeneration from two different sources, you take the higher value –  you don’t add them together.

Temporary Hit Points

Some powers and abilities grant you temporary hit points. This is like having a second pool of hit points. They are not added to your maximum hit point total, but they exist as a separate entity. Any damage you take comes off the temporary hit points first, and when they are gone then they are gone. Like regeneration, temporary hit points do not stack with one another. Take the higher value if you are lucky enough to have them from more than one source.

Death and Dying

When you reach zero hit points you fall unconscious and you are dying. Any further damage continues to subtract from your hit points. So if you are taking ongoing fire damage, you continue to burn when you are unconscious. It is unclear whether you can make a saving throw to end ongoing effects when you are in this condition. That’s a piece of further research I need to do.

When you are dying to need to make a Death Saving Throw at the end of every round. This is a normal saving throw, so you are usually looking for a 10 or better. If you have any abilities that modify saving throws, then they also apply to your death saving throw. If you succeed then nothing bad happens to you. If you fail you are one step closer to death. Fail three times and your character dies. If you roll a natural 20 you automatically spend a healing surge and leap to your feet. See healing the dying below.

Your character dies if he fails three death saving throws, or he takes damage enough to reduce his hit points to minus half his hits (your bloodied value as a negative number). First level characters can still go from healthy to irrevocably dead in one blow in fourth edition, trust me: I’ve made it happen.

Monsters and NPCs usually die when they reach zero hit points. They don’t get to benefit from these rules. However, if it’s a significant NPCor villain, then the GM is well within his rights to rule that they stabilise from a wound.

Knocking Creatures Unconscious

Third edition had its subdual damage (later renamed non-lethal damage) to measure attempts to knock creatures unconscious. Fourth edition doesn’t have anything like it. In fourthedition, whenever you strike a blow that would reduce a foe to zero hit points or less you can choose to knock them unconscious instead. You can even decide after the damage is rolled. Unconscious characters wake up after five minutes with one hit point.

Now, this seems a little preposterous to me. You would think that this sort of thing would be difficult, or that it would at least have to be intentional. This doesn’t offend me so horribly, that I immediately want to change it, but I’ll certainly keep an eye on how this works in play.

Healing the Dying

If you are reduced to negative hit points, and you receive healing from any source (including your own healing surges) then you are considered to be on zero hit points for the purpose of regaining hps. For example, the fighter is down to -30 hit points; his healing surge value is 25; when he spends a healing surge he is actually on 25 hit points, and not -5 hit points.

As soon as you have positive hit points, you become conscious and are no longer dying. You are still prone and must spend a move action to stand up. If you are required to spend a healing surge while dying and you haven’t got a healing surge remaining, then you are restored to 1 hit point.

If you die then some powers and the Raise Dead  ritual can be used to bring you back to life. Resurrection and raise dead do not cause you to lose Constitution or experience points in fourth edition. But getting resurrected might be slightly trickier.

Next

Well, that was a mammoth chapter. This blog is as much about me learning the rules as it is providing information and opinion to the readers, I think. Anyway – next time, we are going to take a break from the PHB and look at some new house rules. We will consider a world without Opportunity Attacks.

Play Testing 4e

So… last night’s Call of Cthulhu was called off, giving the remaining players a chance to play fourth edition for the first time. Sorry INdran, it was a spur-of-the-moment thing. Marc, Dan and Graham generated three first level characters between them and I ran through two combat encounters I quickly cobbled together from the Monster Manual.

The party consisted of Nebbit (Graham’s halfling warlord), Zap Eriss (Marc’s human wizard with a taste for velour) and Rood Bogbrush (Dan’s dragonborn paladin of Bahamut). Character generation seemed to go smoothly and quickly. We started at about 7:50pm and we were ready to go by 9:00pm. That’s not bad considering this was the first time anyone had attempted character gen.

Creating the Encounter

Fourth edition is designed to make the GM’s life easier. I was able to run two encounters straight out of the Monster Manual without any note taking. To be fair, I could have done the same thing with third edition, but the fourth edition stat blocks are easier to read. Because creatures only tend to be able to do a handful of things, the information is clearer and easier to work with. I’m not judging it at this stage, merely stating a fact.

I decided to use the rules as presented in the Dungeon Master’s Guide. To build a balanced encounter, you take a pot of XP and use it to build up the PCs’ opponents. For example, if you had a pot of 500 XP to spend on monsters you spend it on a level one solo monster (500 XP), two level one elite monsters (200 XP each), and one standard level one monster (100 XP) and so on and so forth. I’ll explain all this in slightly more depth when I get onto the DMG.

In order to find the value of this XP pot, I needed to take the XP value of a monster of the party’s level and multiply it by the number of PCs. A first level monster is worth 100 XP, there were three PCs so I had 300 XP to spend on monsters for an easy encounter. A hard encounter can be up to four levels higher than the PC level. A fifth level monster is worth 200 XP, so an encounter of that level would be 600 XP.

So I assumed that I had between 300 and 600 XP to spend on monsters for three first level characters. The more I spent, the harder the encounter would be. I wasn’t entirely correct. I decided for a spidery theme for the encounters – there’s been little but kobolds, drakes and goblins in the published scenarios, so I thought that a little variety would be nice.

Encounter one would be two Deathjump Spiders (MM1 p246). These are level four skirmishers worth 175 XP each. Together they were 350 XP, so that was on the low side and should make for a easy-ish first encounter.

Enounter two would be a group of three ettercaps (MM1 p107). I went for two Ettercap Fang Guards (level 4 soldiers), and one Ettercap Webspinner (level 5 controller). The soldiers were worth 175 XP each, and the controller was worth 200 XP. This added up to 550 XP, so it was on the tough side, but within the ability of the PCs. Or so I thought.

What I didn’t do was read the “Considerations” section on DMG1 p56 – and I don’t know why I didn’t because it’s in big red type. I managed to confuse the Encounter Level with the level of the individual monsters making up the encounter. Basically, any monster that is 3-5 levels above the party’s level is going to be a hard encounter regardless of how much XP I have spent.

Two Deathjump spiders are only worth 350 XP, which should only make for a level 2 encounter for three level one characters. However, the spiders themselves are level four. They would be hard foes for first level characters regardless. So, what I had done was to create two hard encounters. The second even harder than the first.

Encounter One

This became apparent within one round of the combat starting. The spiders gained surprise and leapt on Zap and Rood (ignoring the halfling as he had less meat on him). They quickly bit and poisoned these two PCs. Even though I forget that this attack should knock the target prone, and even though I didn’t realise the spiders could keep using this jump attack every round, the PCs were still on the verge of calamity.

The dragonborn went down to negative hit points, and had to be rescued from the jaws of death by Nebbit. If it wasn’t for both the the dragonborn (before he went down), and the halfling, Zap would have been killed twice over by the vicious spider.

Eventually, they did kill both spiders, but only after expending all their daily powers and most of their action points. This surprised me greatly. I thought it would have been an easier fight. Considering the amount of comment on-line about how difficult it is to die in 4e, all the players commented that the fight felt extremely dangerous.

Encounter Two

I felt so sorry for the party, I let them take an extended rest before the second encounter to allow them to heal all their wounds, regain their daily powers and replenish their action points. In a normal adventure, these encounters would have run into one another – so putting two hard encounters in close juxtaposition is probably not the best way to go.

As the party advanced they were surprised again (largely because of their bickering). The ettercap webspinner cast a web on the area that immobilised all the party members. Then the two ettercap fang guards ran in (they weren’t affected by the webs) and both of them laid into the dragonborn. I like the way that the monsters have different tactics spelled out in 4e.

After a surprise round of being chopped upon, Rood was in a very bad way. What followed was an unlikely collection of failed attack rolls from Rood that turned a hard encounter into a fatal one. While zap traded ranged attacks with the ettercap controller on the ceiling, Nebbit and Rood were engaged in mêlée with the two fang guards. These spider-monsters were wielding battle-axes and if they hit they were dealing significant damage.

As an aside, I noticed that although the fang guards had several tactics (including webbing and poisoning opponents), the most effective thing they could do each round was keep hitting with their big sharp axes. There were also various occasions where the PCs didn’t need to use all their actions because they didn’t want to move, or they had no use for a minor action. I’m not sure if this is common in 4e. I did find it odd that, as a GM, I didn’t feel as there was much point using all the options at my disposal.

The mêlée combat was extremely hard, and made harder by Rood’s inability to hit with his daily power, and many of the free attacks that Nebbit dutifully used his warlord powers to provide. Rood went down into negative numbers (again) and was restored. However, a few rounds later a single blow from the ettercap dealt enough damage to kill him outright. One PC down, and Nebbit was facing two ettercaps.

By this time, Zap had managed to kill the ettercap on the ceiling. Zap wasn’t wounded at all, largely because the ettercap’s ranged attacks immobilised instead of damaged. Nebbit ran towards Zap so the PCs could fight together. The ettercap took an opportunity attack against him, scoring a critical hit and cutting the hobbit in half. Two PCs down.

Zap was now facing the two ettercap fang guards on his own. Two hits from them could kill him, so he could have gone down in one round. Fortunately, the monsters were badly wounded by this time. Zap stepped back and took down one with a spell. The second attacked, but missed him, and Zap was able to kill it the following round. One PC standing.

Evaluation

No quite a total party kill, but nearly. The second encounter was hard for the PCs’ level, but it was winnable, so why did this happen? Well, I think a lack of familiarity with the rules contributed, but on the whole it was all Dan’s fault. His total inability to hit with any of his significant powers left the foes with more hit points that the party could cope with. They were unlucky. However, I was accused of being excessively brutal.

One thing that was obvious from the fight is that fourth edition is a game designed around the cooperative party. If you aren’t using your actions and your powers to help bolster each other, and get each other out of a fix then you are going to get wiped out. The warlord continually spent his standard actions and abilities to open up the opponent for the Dragonborn. Even though the Dragonborn kept missing all of these opportunities with a flagrant disregard for probability.

I will also mention what I feared would be the case: running the game without a battle grid and miniatures is very  tricky. Forced movement, opportunity attacks and area effects of bursts and blasts are very hard to adjudicate. Marc asked whether he could use his thunderwave to hit both ettercaps without hurting Graham, and I couldn’t make a definitive and unquestionable ruling because no-one occupied an absolute position that we could all reference. The combat was playing out in our imaginations, but we were all seeing it slightly differently.

Work has to be done to remove the dependence on measurement and ‘squares’ from the game. Lessons can be taken from second edition and version 3.0 that didn’t rely quite as heavily on this element of the game. I have some ideas that will appear on this blog over the next few weeks.

From a GM’s perspective I found the mechanics used to build the encounter to be quite robust and satisfying. Now I know how to avoid building a hard encounter by default, I will be able to avoid those pit falls. No, I would never actually award experience points for killing monsters as it suggests in the book. However, I would use to create a balanced and challenging encounter for my PCs in a weekly campaign. It certainly works much better than the CR system.

I would also like to add that I really enjoyed the session. It was a lot of fun to run. There are some teething troubles – we’re all still learning the rules, and the miniatures thing is a bit of a headache – but the game works and hangs together really well. The session lasted two and a half hours and in that time we fitted in about 12 rounds of combat, plus the traditional provarication and roleplaying. I would like to say that 4e runs faster, but this was a session for three first level PCs (and I’ve just come from running a campaign for seven ECL 19 PCs) so it’s hard to compare. It does seem faster.

I’m sure that we’ll play again soon. Marc says that he’ll run next time, so I’ll get a chance to play.

Player’s Handbook 1 (Chapter Three)

Right, back to our originally scheduled programme. The third chapter of the fourth edition PHB devotes itself to character races. Clocking in at eighteen pages, background information and colour is a little thin on the ground. In fact there’s far more useful information printed in the Races and Classes preview book than there is here.

I’ve already mentioned how the eight new races are likely to fit into an Iourn campaign, and have little more to add on that front. In this post I’m going to be taking you through a few of the new rules for PC races, how this fits (or doesn’t fit) with what we see in the Monster Manual, the rules for playing more powerful races, and the new racial feats. Deep breath and here we go.

Races

Dragonborn, eladrin, elf, dwarf, human, half-elf, halfling and tiefling. The identity of the eight races have been known for quite a while. The loss of the half-orc is keenly felt in the Iourn setting, where they are fairly common in Norandor and Kerikal. I’ll deal with that when I have to. In a moment, I’ll go through each race individually and look at each one in depth. However, all the races in fourth edition have a few commonalities that it behooves us to look at.

The first thing that you’ll notice is that the base races are much tougher than their third edition counterparts. This is a deliberate change on the part of the designers – I can understand why they have done it and, on the whole, I approve. By raising the bar for the ‘standard’ races the designers make it much easier for themselves to make other races available for players – races like drow, gnolls and genasi. In third edition, these races were so much more powerful than your basic human or dwarf that they merited a level adjustment.

Now I’m not going to get into a discussion about third edition level adjustments here. Suffice to say that they really didn’t work, and few people wanted to play a race that was saddled with having one. By giving humans, dwarves and elves more toys they put them on a par with (e.g.) the drow, which makes for much less of a headache. Obviously there are still some races that are inherently more powerful than any of the races depicted here. If you wanted to play a mind flayer and your GM was mad enough to let you, then it isn’t going to balance.

It is here that the key foundations of third edition and fourth edition differ. In third edition all races were built in the same way, and all races were advanced in the same way. Whether you were gaining levels by adding racial hit dice or levels in a character class, the mechanics were the same and the result was the same. This is not the case in fourth edition. Monsters and NPCs are built with a short hand system designed to make them easy to generate and easy to run for the GM. Player characters need to be more complex and more consistant. They use a different set of rules for character generation. The results of both are comparable, but a monster or NPC’s stats are not sophisticated enough for players, and a PC’s stats are probably more than the GM needs to know.

This is a big change. It harkens back to the days of second edition, and not everyone likes it. One of the great strengths of third edition was the unified system. It was the great attraction for me. However, I’m being slowly won round to this way of thinking – largely based on the fact I haven’t been bothered to fully stat out a monster or an NPC in third edition for about six years. And if I wasn’t doing it anyway, then that’s a very good argument for fourth edition’s approach.

I’m in danger of going off topic here. Suffice to say that some races are designed to be player characters and some are designed to be monsters. In fourth edition, there is no easy way to take a ‘monster race’ and turn it into a PC race. All player character races need to be built from scratch. I am happy with this because, although third edition gave you the illusion of being able to play anything you wanted direct from the Monster Manual, it didn’t actually work that way. I’m going to return to this later in the article, but let’s stick with eight core races presented here to begin with.

The commonalities of player character races are as follows:

  • Attributes:All PC races receive +2 to two attributes. No PC race gets penalties to their stats any more. This is not to imply that dwarves, for example, aren’t usually less charismatic than elves, just that this particular PC dwarf doesn’t suffer this disadvantage. Remember different rules for PCs and NPCs. Humans are a slight exception to this rule, as they only get +2 to one stat. However, they get other goodies to make up for this.
  • Height and Weight: You don’t have to roll this any more (did anyone in the first place?). Each class merely gives you a common range for the race and you choose accordingly. Some of these statistics have changed greatly between editions.
  • Age: There’s no information in the PHB about ageing characters. There are no longer any ageing modifiers and no definitive random date when the character dies of old age. The text tells you how long the race normally lives, and that is all. Ageing modifiers are ripe for abuse – particularly by players wanting to play old spellcasters. They didn’t really represent old-age decline particularly well anyway. I think I’m happy to see them go. If the life expectancies of the races have altered markedly then I’ll probably stick with the third edition rules. I may not. Or I may pick and choose. I’m capricious like that.
  • Speed: Most races have speed 6 (they move 30 feet in a round). This is the same as in third edition. However, it is true to say there is more variety in the speeds now. Elves and dwarves are both a bit faster than they used to be.
  • Vision:As I may have mentioned in previous reviews, darkvision or infravision doesn’t exist as a standard accessory for most races. Very few creatures can see in pitch-black darkness. The races will either have normal human vision, or low-light vision. Those with low-light vision see in Dim light as if it was Bright light. These are specific terms, explained in more depth later on.
  • Languages: Each race starts knowing a handful of languages. You need that Linguist feat if you need any more. Here are rules that are ripe for the changing.
  • Racial Powers:Some races get an extra power than can be used either at-will, once per encounter or once per day. The dragonborn’s breath weapon is an example of an encounter power.
  • Other traits: Skill bonuses, weapon training, bonus feats and so on are also common additions to the racial package. Races that don’t have a racial power will often have more of these to balance things out.
  • Physical Qualities: Each race gets a paragraph on their appearance, physical powers, limitations and other traits.
  • Tips for playing the race:The defining characteristics of the race are laid bare and suggestions are given to how you would play such a character in the game. Dragonborn are honorable adversaries (even the evil ones), for example. There is also a suggested list of names that is reminiscent of the old Hero Builder’s Guidebook for third edition. To be honest, there’s not really enough in this section to make it that useful. There’s a couple of hooks, but if every PC used them then members of each races would come out a bit samey. Still, I suppose it leaves room for the racial splat books that will inevitably appear later in the release schedule.
  • Example Adventurers: This is quite good though. Three example character backgrounds to show how you put all the racial traits into practice. Each is only a paragraph long, and its a bit like Roleplaying 101 but the thought is there. Those who have never played D&D will find it useful, I think.

So, onto the races. I’m getting into a bit more mechanical detail here than usual because I want my future players (who may not have the books) to understand the full rubriks of each race:

Dragonborn

Dragonborn are enormous, standing between 6’2″ and 6’8″ and weighing in at between 200 and 320 lbs. They live as long as humans, but mature more quickly. They are medium-sized lizardine creatures with standard speed (30 feet per round) and normal vision. Their +2 stat bonuses are applied to Strength and Charisma. They can speak two languages (which are Common and Draconic from the standard list), and get a +2 bonus to the History and Intimidate skills. In addition to this they have three extra racial traits.

Dragonborn Fury allows gives them +1 to hit when they are bloodied (half hit points or less). Draconic Heritage lets them add their Constitution Modifier to the number of hit points usually restored by a healing surge. Both of these are quite minor abilities; Dragon Breath is not.

A dragonborn can vomit up a blast of energy once per encounter. This is defined as a “Close Blast” which means that it affects three squares by three squares on the combat grid (a square 15 feet to a side). Everyone in that area takes 1d6 + Con Mod damage. The damage increases by 1d6 when the dragonborn ascends to paragon tier (level 11) and epic tier (level 21).

If you think that this does sound like much damage then you have spotted one of the new truisms of fourth edition: everything does less damage. Even the biggest, baddest red dragon you could ever meet is only dishing out 4d12+10 damage with its breath weapon. It is also quite interesting to note how each player can personalise their dragonborn’s breath weapon.

At first level you get to choose which form of energy the breath is made of: Acid, Cold, Fire, Lightning or Poison. This reflects the heritage of your dragonborn. Also you can choose which stat governs your ability to hit with the breath (either Strength, Constitution or Dexterity). This means that you don’t have to min-max during character generation. You can concentrate on building your character class, knowing that you will probably have one reasonable stat that will govern your signature racial ability. Yes, this is a bit artificial, but once the numbers are on the character sheet, I can’t see it affecting the game too much.

Dwarf

Dwarves stand between 4’3″ and 4’9″ (up a couple of inches since third edition) and weigh between 160 and 220 lbs. Fourth edition dwarves live for between 150 and 200 years (it was 250-450 in 3rd ed). They still medium-sized creatures and have a speed of 5 squares. This translates as 25 feet per round, so they are faster than in third edition, but still a little bit slower than humans. They also have low-light vision, so although dwarves cannot see in the dark, they can see better in lower levels of light than humans. Their +2 stat bonuses are applied to Constitution and Wisdom. Dwarves can speak two languages (Common and Dwarven), and gain a +2 bonus to the skills Dungeoneering and Endurance.

Dwarves don’t have a racial power like Dragon Breath. Instead they have a plethora of lesser abilities. Cast Iron Stomach gives them +5 to saving throws against poison. Considering the fourth edition saving throw rules this is very powerful – it’s really not worth trying to poison a dwarf.

Dwarven Resilience allows them to use second wind and spend a healing surge as a minor instead of standard action. I’ll talk about minor, move and standard actions in the combat chapter. But suffice to say that this is quite useful, as dwarves can heal themselves in a combat round while still doing something else meaningful.

Dwarven weapon proficicency gives them proficiency with the warhammer and the thrown hammer. Not with the axe, oddly. I might be tempted to allows players to choose between hammers and axes, but that’s not something I’ll introduce in the first campaign.

The Encumbered Speed trait allows dwarves to move at their full speed even when carrying a heavy load. So the dwarf in full plate is moving at the same speed as a human in full plate.

Stand Your Ground seems to be a trait that is dependent upon the battle grid, but I think that it’s easily converted. If any effect forces a dwarf to move (he is pushed, pulled or slid by something) then he moves 1 square (5 feet) less than indicated. This means that forced movement that moves him five feet or less, doesn’t move him at all. Also, if a dwarf is subject to an attack or effect that would knock him prone, then he can make a saving throw to avoid being knocked prone. Now, that is useful.

All in all, the mechanical traits and abilities of the dwarf succeed in bringing the dwarf of cliché to life. Here is a hard drinking, hard fighting hard-ass who keeps coming back regardless of the number of times you hit him on the head. But does the design constrain roleplaying? It is very much pointing a player in a certain direction: dwarves are fantastic fighters, whose racial abilities synergise with those of the fighter class. How much support is there here for playing against type?

Eladrin

The elves of the feywild (or the Greymere on Iourn) are the elves most closely associated with magic. Fourth edition have called them the eladrin, stealing the name from an old celestial race that doesn’t exist in the 4e rules set. To all intents and purposes these are the high elves of second edition, and instead of supporting a sub-race, Wizards of the Coast have divided the species into different races. Eladrin, elves and drow are now a triumverate of races with common roots. What this means is that eladrin can have different stats to elves.

Elves in third edition stood between 4’7″ and 5’5″. They were even smaller in second edition. In 4e, eladrin stand betweem 5’5″ and 6’1″ (slightly taller than elves for some unknown reason). However, at least the official game has acknowledged that short elves are a bit silly. Tolkien got it right the first time, and there’s no reason to mess about with that. Eladrin weigh between 130 and 180 lbs – far more than before. They are as solid as humans now.

Eladrin live for up to 300 years, a little less than the 750 years of third edition. Of course, elves in Iourn are immortal, so I’m going to stick with that. Eladrin are medium-sized creatures and have a speed of 6 – the standard 30 feet per round. They have low-light vision. Their +2 stat bonuses are applied to Dexterity and Intelligence. Eladrin can speak two languages (Common and Elven), and gain a +2 bonus to the skills Arcana and History. They have following other traits and powers:

Eladrin Education gives them one additional trained skill. Considering how few skills there are in fourth edition, this is not to be sneezed at.

Eladrin Weapon Proficiency gives skill in the longsword regardless of their class. All very elven, and we can’t help but approve of that.

Eladrin Will is also quite good. Take a +1 to you Will defence, and also a +5 racial bonus to your saving throws against Charm effects. If you can’t poison a dwarf, you definitely can’t charm an eladrin.

Fey Origin gives the eladrin the status of a fey creature when it comes to determining any effect that is dependent upon racial type. As the elves of Iourn are fey, this doesn’t seem to be much of a stretch to me.

Trance is an ability that has its origins in various fantasy roleplaying games. Eladrin don’t sleep. When they take an extended rest they can do it in four hours rather than six, and during that time they are awake and alert. I guess it’s the poor eladrin who is put on watch while the rest of the party get a good night’s sleep.

Finally, Fey Step  is an encounter power than eladrin receive in addition to any other power they might have. This allows them to teleport twenty-five feet. Now out of combat they can use this every five minutes. A PC who can teleport effectively at will, from first level? Is this game breaking. Actually, I don’t think it is. Short range teleportation only works if you have line of sight. Put the eladrin in a cell with no window and close the door and he’s still trapped. In fact Fey Step and the Greymere elves’ ability to pop into and out of the Greymere don’t seem a million miles away from one another. That could work quite nicely. Obviously, all chasms encounted by the party will be 26 feet wide.

Elves

Fourth edition elves stand one inch shorter than eladrin (obviously the Feywild has certain engorging properties), and are a little lighter as well. They live to be 200 years old, even shorter lived than the eladrin. They are medium sized creatures with a speed of 7 (35 feet per round). This makes them the fastest player character race. Like the eladrin they have low-light vision. Their +2  stat bonuses are applied to Dexterity and Wisdom. They can speak two languages (Common and Elven) and get a +2 bonus to the Nature and Perception skills. They also have the following:

Elven Weapon Proficiency gives the elves automatic proficiency in the longbow and the shortbow. Therefore the traditional weapons of the elves (bows and longswords) have been divided between these two sub-races.

Fey Origin applies to elves just as it applied to the eladrin. Considering that these are effectively the same race, it would be odd if this did not apply.

Group Awareness is an ability that confers a +1 racial bonus to perception to all of the elf’s non-elf allies within 5 squares (25 foot radius) of the elf.

Wild Step allows the elves to ignore difficult terrain when they shift. This doesn’t translate well into a game with no battle grid, so I will have to rethink this power. At the moment I am thinking of some sort of trackless step ability akin to the third edition druid. However, I will mull it over a little more before making a final decision.

Finally, they get an encounter power called Elven Accuracy. This power allows the elf to reroll a failed attack roll. They have to accept the second result even if its lower. I suppose it’s intended to reflect an elf’s sharpshooter skills, but there’s nothing to stop them using it with a mêlée weapon.

Fourth edition elves in the Iourn setting will be the elves that didn’t retreat to the Greymere one thousand years ago, and remained on Iourn. We have already met the Arboreal Guardians of Faerauth in the League of Light campaign, but its a safe assumption that there might other pockets of elfdom somewhere in the world.

Half-Elves

The fourth edition half-elf is a charismatic and open-minded creature. They are diplomats, leaders and negotiators designed to slot very well into the warlord or paladin role. Presumably they’ll be good bards too, as soon as that class is published. There’s no mention of the surly loner shunned by both elven and human cultures in this edition, which is a change of emphasis for the race. Of course, that sort of material is easily reintroduced. You should note that half-elves are just that: half-elves. They are not half-eladrin.

Half-elves stand between 5’5″ and 6’2″. They are a little taller than eladrin and elves, but slightly shorter on average than humans. Equally, they are more solidly built than their fey progenitors, but lack the bulk of humans. In third edition, half-elves had an enormous range for their height and weight, and could have been anything from 4’9″ to 6’1″. This is a change for the better, and far more in keeping with what I imagine a half-elf to be. In this edition, half-elves live as long as humans. Half-elves are medium sized, have standard speed and have inherited the low-light vision of the elves. Their +2 stat bonuses are applied to Constitution and Charisma. Unlike the other races, half-elves start with three languages (Common, Elven and one other). They get a +2 bonus to the Perception and Insight skills.

In addition to all that, half-elves have three racial powers. Group Diplomacy grants all allies within 50 feet a +1 bonus to their Diplomacy skills. Presumably a disaproving look or frantic hand gestures from the half-elf prevent the dwarf from putting his size 15s in it. Dual Heritagee nables the half-elf to qualify for any racial feat intended for humans or elves (not eladrin) as well as those specifically designed for half-elves.

Finally, Dilettante, which cemenets the half-elf’s role as a bit of a dabbler. This allows the half-elf to select any at-will power from another character class and use it as an encounter power. Considering the heavily demarcated roles of the fourth edition character classes, this is quite a significant advantage. We’ll talk about how significant in chapter four.

Halflings

With the departure of gnomes, the halfling is the only Small-sized PC race left in the PHB. In fourth edition, Size does not play the significant role that it once did. It doesn’t provide you with a bonus to armour class, or to hit, or to hide rolls or to the other inumerable things that it used to help with. Neither are Small PCs necessarily weaker than larger characters. You can have a halfling with a Strength of 18 if you want, although you will be playing decidedly against type.

As already discussed in previous posts, these are no longer Tolkien’s hobbits. The halfling is a wandering boatman – sort of an aquatic gypsy. They have also been heavily influenced by the kender from the Dragonlance setting. The result is a unique race that doesn’t owe anything to Middle Earth. The 4e hlafling is an entirely different race, so different that I don’t see why the halflings depicted in second edition, third edition and fourth edition can’t live side by side in the same world.

So what do these new halflings get? They stand between 3’10” and 4’2″, and weigh in between 75 and 85lbs. Third edition halflings stood between 2’8″ and 3’4″ never weighed more than 40lbs. This is a definite and noticeable size increase for them. However, despite their size they still move at the same speed of humans (30 feet per round) – another step up from third edition. However, they have lost any special vision that they possessed in earlier editions of the game. They have the same life expectancy as humans.

The +2 stat bonus common to all races is applied to Dexterity and Charisma. In addition they get +2 to the Acrobatics and Thievery skills. They speak two languages: Common and another of their choice. There is no Hobbit tongue in this edition. They have two other feature and one racial power.

Bold gives them a +5 racial bonus to saving throws against fear. That’s the fearless nature of Krynn’s kender poking through. Nimble Reaction gives them a +2 bonus to AC against opportunity attacks. Now, we’ll have to do something about that in a game without miniatures. I have some ideas that I will come to in a future post. The power, Second Chance, allows the halfling’s player to force a reroll of any attack made against them. It represents the halfling’s luck and can be used once per encounter.

Human

In previous editions, humans were the yardstick from which all other races were measured. In fourth edition, humans stand on their own as a race with their own unique abilities and point of view. In third edition, human was the optimal choice – the extra skill points and bonus feat really made the race stand above its fellows. In 4e, humans are still good but they’re not so good that the min-maxer would always choose a human.

The credo of the human is versatility. They are able to adapt to various different roles and their abilities reflect this. For example, humans only get a +2 bonus to one stat, but they get to choose which stat they enhance.

As for their standard statistics, according to D&D all humans stand between 5’6″ and 6’2″ and weight somewhere between 135 lbs (9 st 9 lbs) and 220 lbs (15 st 10 lbs). Hmmm. They are medium sized creatures with a move of 6 (30 feet), and have normal vision. They can speak two languages (Common and one other). They do not get a +2 bonus to two skills like every other race does. Instead they have following:

Bonus At-Will Power provides with an extra at-will power from their character class. This is over and above their normal number of powers. It’s not any more powerful than the ability of the Dragonborn, or the halfling, but it is more versatile. Bonus Feat confers one bonus feat at first level. Given the new status of feats this isn’t quite as useful as it was in third edition, but it is still not to be sneezed at. Bonus Skill provides the human with an additional trained skill from their class list. And finally, the Human Defence Bonus grants a +1 to Will, Reflex and Fortitude defence. That is all-round useful as you can imagine.

It is worth pointing out that human racial feats concentrate on different uses for Action Points. This makes humans the quintessential action heroes. We’ll talk about action points later.

Tieflings

Tieflings have an impressive pedigree in the D&D game. They were introduced as a player character race for the Planescape campaign setting, and they fitted into that setting perfectly. They were a mortal race with something fiendish in their ancestry. They have all manner of different appearances, but their statistics remained the same. The tiefling was updated for version 3.5 of the game in the Planar Handbook. The third edition tiefling had the following:

Tieflings were outsiders native to the Prime Material Plane. They received +2 Dexterity, +2 Intelligence and -2 to Charisma. They had the same speed as humans, and possessed darkvision (as did most races in the last edition of the game). They gained a +2 bonus to Bluff and Hide checks. Importantly, they could cast darkness once per day as a spell-like ability, and had Energy Resistance 5 to Acid, Fire and Cold. That little package translated into a +1 level adjustment for the race.

Now it’s fourth edition, and the origin story of the tiefling has been streamlined to the point of obsolescence. Now all tieflings are of human origin, descended from an empire than made a fiendish bargain several hundred years ago. Now they all have the same appearance. Whether tieflings are descended from fiends, whether they’re descended from careless pact-makers, or whether they can be both really isn’t the point though. How do their statistics compare?

The fourth edition tiefling stands between 5’6″ and 6’2″ (in third edition they stood between 4’7″ and 6’6″). The 4e tiefling is also heavier. They are still medium-sized creatures with a speed equal to that of a human. Their darkvision has become low-light vision. Their +2 stat bonuses are applied to Intelligence and Charisma (something of a turnaround from third edition). They can speak two languages (Common, plus one other), and get a +2 racial bonus to the Bluff and Stealth skills. They have two class features, and one power:

Bloodhunt grants the tiefling a +1 racial bonus to hit foes that are bloodied (on half hit points or lower). They also have Fire Resistance equal to 5 + one half their level. Their energy resistance is now focused on fire, but has the potential to be much better than it was before. Finally, they have the encounter power, Infernal Wrath. This gives you +1 to hit an enemy that you hit during your last turn, and allows you to add your Charisma modifier to the damage in additon to any other modifiers that may exist.

Personally, I don’t see the need to have changed the background of the tieflings. I also don’t see any reason to be upset about it, as it is a simple matter to change it back. Mechanically, the tiefling looks a little underpowered, but that fire resistance could come in very handy. They work very well with Infernal pact warlocks. But then they would really, wouldn’t they?

Playing More Powerful Races

Okay, I’m taking a little bit of licence now. I’m no longer talking about chapter three of the PHB but this seems a thematically appropriate time to raise the matter of more powerful races. What if you want to play a drow, or a sahuagin or an awakened dire geranium? What are the rules for that in fourth edition?

In third edition if you wanted to play a character race that was more powerful than the norm, then you had a variety of options. For example, let’s say you wanted to play a half-dragon. At character generation you are faced with numerous choices. Firstly you could take your normal race and add the half-dragon template from the Monster Manual. This template has a +3 level adjustment. Your 1st level character would be considered 4th level, and you’d have to earn sufficient experience points for 5th level to advance to level two.

Alternatively, you cold build a character with a view of entering the Dragon Disciple prestige class. The class is largely intended for sorcerers who can enter the prestige class at sixth level. Other classes can qualify, but it will take them longer. The prestige class effectively gives you the half-dragon template over the course of ten levels. A sorcerer 6/dragon disciple 10 is far more powerful than a sorcerer 13 with the half-dragon template. Already there is discrepency.

Alternatively, you could use the rules for Bloodlines published in Unearthed Arcana. You gain special dragon powers every level as you advance, but you have to pay for them by picking up a +1 level adjustment at levels 3, 6 and 12. Again, this method doesn’t produce a comparable result to either the template or the prestige class.

Fourth edition takes a different approach.

In fourth edition, the entire character class is put under the microscope. Fourth edition says that every player character race is entitled to powers and abilities on a par to the eight races depcited in the PHB. In addition to that each PC will gain a paragon path, an epic destiny, seventeen powers, eighteen feats and +24 to their attributes over thirty levels of advancement. It is entirely up to the player how he chooses to spend these additions to his character.

There are racial feats, racial powers and racial paragon paths that are available if the player wants to take them. The drow PC race will be published in new the Forgotten Realms campaign setting. It is still more powerful than the elf and the eladrin so a number of the drow’s signature abilities (such as the ability to levitate, or conjure darkness) will be available through special feats and powers. Now, players of drow characters can choose to select these common racial abilities, but they do so at the expense of their class abilities. Therefore, a 30th level human wizard, and a 30th level drow wizard should be of the same power level. However, the drow has probably chosen far more racial feats and powers to get where he is than the human.

There are racial feats in the Player’s Handbook for all of the above races. Many of these feats improve upon the racial abilities that I have already mentioned. For example, the Dragonborn can choose a feat that increases the area their breath weapon affects; Tieflings can choose a feat that pushes foes back every time they use their infernal wrath.

One of the goals of the designers of 4e was to make your choice of race matter even as you advanced in levels. If you wanted your dwarf to be more ‘dwarfy’ you could choose racial feats and powers that further exemplify the dwarf. I think they have succeeded in this goal.

I suspect that some of you will be thinking that all this is completely unrealistic. That a 30th level drow wizard should be more powerful than a 30th level human wizard simply by dint of what it is. From a story persepctive, I would agree with you. But this is not about the story. Character levels are solely there to provide a means to balance player characters with one another, and to help GMs gauge the sort of threats he can realistically throw at a party. They aren’t meant to represent anything in the game world itself.

In fourth edition, I know that a 15th level character – regardless of their race, their class or their weirdo background – is going to be the equal of any other 15th level character. In the context of the world, the setting and the story this is meaningless, but in the context of the adventuring party this is everything. No one player character should be more powerful than any other player character, that is the very foundation of cooperative roleplaying. This is very complicated in Dungeons and Dragons. We’re not playing Call of Cthulhu, in D&D every character has so many toys that it becomes increasingly difficult to balance them all out. If fourth edition has done this, then it is an acheivement of which the designers should be justly proud.

Enter the Monster Manual

Nearly done, bear with me a bit longer.

The fourth edition Monster Manual  lists an additional sixteen races that may be used as player characters with the GM’s permission. These races are: Bugbear, Doppelganger, Drow, Githyanki, Githzerai, Gnoll, Gnome, Goblin, Hobgoblin, Kobold, Minotaur, Orc, Shadar-kai, Shifter (Longtooth and Razorclaw flavours) and Warforged.

This is a quick fix. This entry is largely presented as a GM’s tool. These races are not optimised for player characters. If you compare the Monster Manual entry for the Warforged with the way the player character version turned out in Dragon #364 then there is really no comparisson.

Without going into too many details I would like to point out a few things, and in order to do that I’m going to take the Minotaur as an example. In third edition, you could take any monster presented in the Monster Manual and see how a PC version would work. The third edition Minotair was presented as having the following attributes: Str 19, Dex 10, Con 15, Int 7, Wis 10 and Cha 8. From that you could extrapolate the attribute modifiers that PCs would enjoy: Str +8, Con +4, Int -4 and Cha -2.

The fourth edition Monster Manual gives us three different versions of the minotaur: the Minotaur Warrior (Str 23, Con 18, Dex 10, Int 9, Wis 14, Cha 13); the Minotaur Cabalist (Str 22, Con 17, Dex 12, Int 13, Wis 17, Cha 16) and the Savage Minotaur (Str 24, Con 20, Dex 12, Int 5, Wis 19, Cha 12). What stat modifiers do PC minotaurs get? +2 to Strength, and +2 to Constitution.

So what is the game saying? Is it saying that PC minotaurs will always be less powerful that NPC minotaurs? No, it doesn’t, but what it is saying is that player character races and ridiculously high stats are a thing of the past.

The minotaurs in the 4e MM1 are not first level. They are 10th, 13th and 15th level respectively. A PC who starts with the basic array suggested in the Player’s Handbook (16, 14, 13, 12, 11, 10) and adds in the racial bouses, and then adds in the stat bonuses he gets from gaining levels is going to reach 10th or 13th or 15th level with stats that are comparable to these minotaurs. They may not be exactly the same, but they will be close enough.

And here is the point worth making, and worth remembering. In third edition the monsters in the MM are average for their race. From those average stats you could derrive attribute modifiers. However, because the PCs were not average those modifiers were quickly blown out of all proportion. Which is why you could get a starting minotaur with Strength 27. In fourth edition, the emphasis is more on party balance, and player choice. You could play a minotaur and choose to have an obscene strength, but you could also play a dragonborn, or a warforged or a halfling and make the same choice.

The system is simpler, it is less open to abuse and does not adversely affect the setting’s verissimilitude. It is grounded firmly in the assumption that D&D is an heroic game, and that the PCs are larger than life heroic characters. I will speak about that assumption in a later post, but for now I think we should be content that races seem to balance with one another in a way that they didn’t before. This may mean I actually allow some of these races in the game.

Next

The next chapter of the Player’s Handbook looks as the new character classes, but we’re not going to do that. I’m jumping to Chapter Nine to look at the combat rules.