The Magic Tree


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By James Treu


Encounter design was modified so that typical encounters are usually with more than one monster, and those monsters are rarely pathetic (their attack and defense ratings don’t scale so fast that they need to roll 20s to hit).  For a baseline of 5 characters of level X, the baseline encounter has four monsters of level X and often they will be monster mixes.  That is, maybe two of the same monster and two of a different monster, and those monsters have different (and often synergistic) roles to make things more difficult and fun for the PCs.

All of this tasks the resources of characters a bit more, and makes situations potentially more hairy, than a typical encounter in 3E.

“Given that the typical monster has a lifespan of 3-5 rounds, it really only needs one or two “signature” abilities in addition to its normal attacks.” (p. 86)  Encounters are therefore easier for a DM to run, and easier to gauge proper power level.  Round by round combat is faster (although playtesting supposedly shows little to no decrease in total combat time).  And Chris Perkins says “we’ve made  Attacks of Opportunity (AoOs) dirt simple by reducing the number of things that provoke AoOs and keeping the list short, intuitive, and free of exceptions. We’ve also made it so that no single players’ turn takes a lot longer than any other player’s.” (p. 86)  And with 4E giving “players better character options at every level, making DMing less of a chore, and speeding up round by round combat” and talent trees providing diversity, the fun factor is increased. (p. 87) “Making being a DM easier (and making it easier to be a good DM) is going to get more people to try running a game, and DMs will recruit players.  More players = healthier hobby.” (p. 93)

There are monster roles, largely variations of PC roles (see Races and Classes review).

And monsters of a given level are not created equal: there are elite, solo, and minion monsters.  There are even different sized versions of some monsters, the “normal” and the “mythical.’  These larger types are not only bigger, but often have a new power to make it a more challenging threat to higher level characters. (archer, orc mystic, orc bloodrager)

Some specifics:

Constructs don’t have lot of immunities in this edition.

Demons are opposed to the gods (and all their creative instincts and creations), the gods’ immortal servants, and the gods mortal worshippers.  Except for demon lords and other powerful demons, demons are birthed by the Abyss, live out short and violent lives, and are reabsorbed into it.  The “notion of demons as primordial and destructive creatures” is “reinforced more strongly in the new edition so that demons feel distinctly different from devils and other evil planar beings. “ (p. 65) Indeed, a good concept and execution!  And demons have few if any humanoid features, which further differentiates them from the humanoid like devils.  They stress offense and damage dealing, not defense or armor, and have little concern for their well-being, and become more dangerous and reckless when hurt. (p. 65) Despite their disorganization, they have the advantage of numbers, and the endless spawning and non-eradicable evil root of the Abyss means even the gods know demons can be contained but not truly eliminated.  Mechanics: demons have a handful of trademark powers but aren’t too complicated to DM.  They may even get a “variable threshold” that allows them to immediately gain resistance to damage of a chosen type, a limited number of times per day to reflect their adaptation to the destructive elemental conditions of the Chaos without granting immunity. (p. 67)

Angels are the servants of ALL gods, and take on the expression of the god they serve, but in a cold, clinical way. “Frontline warriors in the wars among the gods, and generals and champions for mortal followers.  An angel has more in common with an artificial intelligence than a true living creature.” (p.72)

Devils: Although individually weaker than the other two big D’s of the game (demons and dragons), devils are organized, will work in groups, and are intelligent, cunning, and deceitful.  Their careful planning and direction combine with the above to make them the most dangerous opponents adventurers can face. (p. 76) “Once, the devils were divine servants of the gods.  Unhappy with serving a greater power, they rebelled against their masters.  Asmodeus, ruler of all devils, led this uprising, slaying a god and stealing his divine power.” (p. 76) There’s more to the story, but it’s a good backstory.  Eventually, the gods transformed the devils’ form and cast them into the depths of the slain god’s once beautiful domain, thereby containing them. (p.76) It is hard for a devil to leave its domain, but certain rituals might do so.  And devils make pacts with evil gods and mortals, and as long as the pacts are carefully worded, stick to them.

Illithids are mostly the same, but their mind blast and dominate powers are usable just once per encounter, to make them less complex (and overwhelming) in combat.  The Underdark in general has all the creatures you’d expect, but many of the adventuring locales there are lit in some manner.

Dragons are opponents who can do a lot, even when it’s not their turn, and the older they get, the more options they get, and they’re NOT just copies of PC abilities or spells. “Each dragon has all the info you need to run it, self-contained in its stat block.  Each spread gives you tactics, descriptions, encounters, and lore for the dragon at hand.” 9p. 94)

There are new dragons (iron and adamantine), but confusing types that were too similar have been melded or put off for future monster manuals. And metallic dragons aren’t all good.  Nor are all chromatics evil.  The page space emphasis is on the “baddies” in the Monster Manual, that is, the monsters PCs will fight.  That’s why chromatic dragons are featured in Monster Manual I.  The other dragons and so forth will be in future Monster Manuals.

Giants were created by the titans and still revere the primordials and reflect an elemental nature about them. They don’t like the gods’ following races obviously.  They look a bit more supernatural than in previous editions. All giants have both Large and Huge versions.  The huge versions are the titans, and they are both more tied to the Elemental Chaos and have awesome powers to reflect it.


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