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.


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 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.


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?


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 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.


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.

2 thoughts on “Player’s Handbook 1 (Chapter Three)

  1. No, not really. Miniatures and tactical combat has never been a part of my roleplaying. Despite my bitching and moaning about 4e (that you may have discovered if you’ve progress further in the blog) I’m still playing fourth edition every week. We don’t use mats and miniatures, though. Combat seems to work fine, although we probably have a lot less of it than most D&D games.

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