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By James Treu
Well, here it is the long-promised review of the 4E DMG.
Some preface is necessary. First of all, this core book was obviously written with a philosophy of making it seem not so overwhelming to newbies. Given how hard it apparently is for players to find a Dungeon Master (DM) that will run something other than a one-shot, (let alone find a decent DM), the need to simplify things and increase the DM population is understandable. Therefore, this book is relatively short, about a hundred pages shorter than the 3.5 (DMG) Dungeon Masters Guide. So obviously stuff has been left out, stuff that will likely be seen in a future sourcebook. The 75 or so pages about magic items are obviously missing, since magic items are in the Players Hand Book (PHB) now (and even there, the magic item section is pretty short). A smattering of other stuff is gone too, but in general, what is missing from the 4E DMG in comparison to the 3.5 DMG are the details-and the detailed explanations.
Just one example: The number and kind of traps. Very small in the 4E DMG compared to the 3.5 DMG. Other things are similar. Terrain is a big thing in the 3.5 DMG; in the 4E DMG it is almost invisibly small outside of combat applications. One can hope a DMG II or III will have something about them as well as a lot of 3.5 DMG II things that would have been nice to see.
Okay, onto the chapter by chapter review:
Every chapter has an overview and a table of contents with a short description of the major things in the chapter. Neat feature.
The beginning chapter gives some good info on how to be a DM, including a pretty good section on player motivations that will help DMs help players fulfill what they want out of the game.
Chapter 2 on Running the Game features two-page artwork that is straight from the Lost Caverns of Tsojancth module, but brand new. Great stuff! Anyway, this chapter includes a two-page section on dispensing information. It mostly agrees with what I’ve been saying about information release, divinations, etc. For instance: “If allowing the ritual to succeed would throw a monkey wrench into your plans for the adventure, you’d be within your rights to rule that the ritual failed to locate the intended target because the caster’s description wasn’t specific enough.”
The chapter concludes with a section on teaching the game to newbies.
Short, but good.
Chapter 3 covers Combat Encounters, and has a section on actions the rules don’t cover, complete with DC and damage by level. The DCs have already been errated by WotC. The rest of the chapter has all the usual, although streamlined, stuff on things like aquatic combat, mounted combat, and flying, but also features the new disease rules, which feel more like diseases now that they have a progression and recovery sliding scale. These have been heavily errated by WotC too, so be careful (and cripes, even their errata is terribly done, with mistakes and typos in it!). The poisons of the game are here too, with their market costs and attacks and damage.
Chapter 4 is about building encounters, and is actually well presented given the assumptions of 4E. The monster roles, building the encounters to level and balancing them, are well done considering that, and even include encounter templates. There’s additional stuff on terrain, including fantastic terrain, but only as dealing with “encounters.” There’s stuff about light sources, vision, etc. Illusions are cleared up considerably: they DON’T do any actual damage, and interacting with them probably reveals their true nature.
Damage to objects doesn’t include a hardness category (DR for items). It’s all about hit points now. This is oversimplification. This kind of thing gets you punching through stone walls, or smashing iron chests with little more than your bare hands. Yuck. Sure, the irritating 3E situation of adventurers carving their way physically through a dungeon was stupid, but that sort of thing should have been corrected, not replaced with overly simplified foolishness like this.
Chapter 5 is about noncombat encounters. Skill Challenges are here, and various samples given. They’re done a bit oddly, however. After inexplicably making History the most lame skill in the game, they don’t even include it as one of the three primary skills you can use to discover Secret Lore! And Skill Challenge for research in general doesn’t even use History as one of the skills!
The chapter also has a lot of information on puzzles, plus some information on traps and hazards, with a few samples.


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