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I went up to this year’s D&D Experience in Crystal City/Alexandria, officially as a reporter from Scrye magazine, but I was mainly there to satisfy my geeky fanboy curiosity about the upcoming 4th Edition. I think I was smiling the entire drive from Richmond.

I'm in the press room talking with the lovely Katie Page, who does PR for Wizards, and this tall, physically imposing dude with long gray hair and a large graying beard walks by. My first thought?


His nametag says Ed Greenwood. Yes, Ed Greenwood!!

Before I can get over my fanboy shock to think about saying something to him, he sits down for an interview at the table where one of the Wizards dudes is taping a podcast. I've been playing Dungeons & Dragons since AD&D in the early 80s, and have played in and read many novels set in Greenwood's Forgotten Realms. It was pretty cool to see him in person, I wish I could have stayed longer and tracked him down to exchange a few words with him.

So how was 4th edition? My initial impression was very favorable. My main takeaway is that the new edition has done a lot to address the problem of resource exhaustion that makes longer adventures such a pain in previous editions of D&D, namely when it comes to spell casters. While Fighters and Rogues can do their thing all day long (provided that they get their heal on when needed), spellcasters run out of spells and they pretty much become useless. If the DM throws a particularly tough encounter at the party early in the morning, and the spellcasters use up nearly all their spells to help the party prevail, for the next 21 hours the party can't really do any serious adventuring unless they hand the spellcasters a crossbow and keep on with no spell support.

In 4th edition, spellcasters have minor spells they can cast an unlimited number of times in a day; this is often equivalent to attacking with a melee or missile weapon, but it's a spell so it’s cooler! Then they have more powerful spells they can use once per encounter-- which means they can "recharge" that ability for the next encounter. And lastly they have the big flashy spells they can only cast once a day, much like they use currently.

Other classes have similar "powers" that take the form of martial feats, racial abilities, or laying on hands and such. Here are a few examples of racial and first level class powers:

Second Chance (Halfling Racial Power)
Luck and small size combine to work in your favor as you dodge your enemy's attack.
Once per encounter
Immediate Interrupt, Personal
Effect: When an attack hits you, force an enemy to roll the attack again. The enemy uses the second roll.

Magic Missile (Wizard Attack 1)
You launch a silvery bolt of force at an enemy
At Will
Standard Action, Range 20
Target: One creature
Attack: +5 vs. Reflex
Hit: 2d4+5 force damage
Special: This power counts as a ranged basic attack.

Cascade of Light (Cleric Attack 1)
A burst of divine radiance sears your foe.
Daily Power
Standard Action, Range 10
Target: One creature
Attack: +4 vs. Will
Hit: 3d8+4 radiant damage, and target gains vulnerability 5 to all your attacks (save ends).
Miss: Half damage, and the target gains no vulnerability.

Fey Step (Eladrin Racial Power)
With a step, you vanish from one place and appear in another.
Encounter Power
Move Action, Personal
Effect: Teleport up to 5 squares.

Eyebite (Warlock/Fey Attack 1)
You glare at your enemy, and your eyes briefly gleam with brilliant colors. Your foe reels under your mental assault, and you vanish from his sight.
At Will
Standard Action, Ranged 10
Target: One creature
Attack: +4 vs. Will

Divine Challenge (Paladin Attack 1)
You boldly confront a nearby enemy, searing it with divine light if it ignores your challenge.
At Will
Minor Action, Close burst 5
Target: One creature in burst
Effect: You mark the target. The target remains marked until you use this power against another target. If the target makes an attack that doesn't include you as a target, it takes a -2 penalty to attack rolls and takes 8 radiant damage.

Each round you get a Standard action, a Move action, and a Minor action, so if you were playing an Eladrin Paladin you could issue a Divine Challenge (minor), use the Fey Step to teleport (move), and then swing your sword to attack (standard). You could do this in every single encounter of the day! I’m playing in a 3rd edition campaign now, and I run both a high level cleric and a high level wizard, and we regularly face down some really tough encounters that tend to take everything we have to overcome. It’s frustrating to feel totally drained at the end of the encounter and you are torn between the desire to retreat and rest, or to push on with no spell support, especially if it’s early in the day. I’m thrilled that R&D has found a way to address that issue, to keep the adventure rolling with each character able to stay relevant and contribute.

That change alone makes 4th Edition a winner in my book, but there’s a lot more good stuff to be excited about. I’ll be posting some more observations, stay tuned for Part 2!
One of the best things about writing for Scrye is getting to talk with the people who make the games I love to play, so I was pleased when Katie Page arranged some time to talk with Sara Girard, Associate Brand Manager for D&D, and Andy Collins, RPG System Design & Development Manager for R&D.

I started out asking about why they decided to make the change from 3E to 4E; if we were all fans of D&D as it is, why change it? In the back of my mind I was thinking of

the crew I’ve been playing with regularly for over 20 years now, and how long it took them to finally put down our beloved AD&D 2nd Edition and give 3E a try. Andy pointed out that, over D&D’s 30-year history, the flavor and intent of the game has stayed intact—it is still all about a group of friends getting together in an adventuring party to hunt down monsters and find treasure, and 4E does not change that. What each edition has strived for is improving the delivery of the promise, and 4E can be considered “Third Edition Plus.” 3E’s greatest achievement was unifying the task resolution systems; in 4E R&D aimed at divesting the game of the rules that players found frustrating, uninteresting, and flat-out boring. A big part of that was to make sure that all the characters were given plenty of strategic choices and options no matter how many previous encounters they may have had, using the example of the wizard of cleric running out of spells and being useless the rest of the day under 3E (a huge improvement in my mind, as I wrote about in Part 1).

Another significant change was to make monsters more focused on what they’re supposed to be—monsters with monstrous abilities, rather than creatures with character-like stat blocks that can become incredibly cumbersome for Dungeon Masters to wade through. A mind flayer should be a scary alien creature who wants to attack players with its mind blast and eat their brains, rather than creature chock full of wizard-like spells and powers.

The Player’s Handbook sets out the core classes and races – including Humans, Dragonborn, Dwarves, Eladrins, Elves, Halflings, and Tieflings; and Clerics, Fighters, Rogues, Warlocks, and Wizards. I naturally was curious whether and when old favorites might show up. In the upcoming Forgotten Realms Players Guide will be rules on playing a Drow, a Genasi (an elemental-themed race), and a Swordmage (a fully-integrated fighter/mage-type class). Player’s Handbook II, which is just starting the design process, will also feature new (and classic) races and classes to choose from. They also have Draconomicon and Manual of the Planes in the queue, and a high quality, thick-stock DM’s screen to replace those flimsy module covers.

I asked them half-jokingly whether there was going to be a “4.5 Edition,” and of course they’re hoping not. More than 700 people playtested 4E (with special thanks to the RGPA network) and every group gave valuable feedback that improved the game. Plus, with the online tools that are going to be rolled out with 4E, it will be much easier to update the rules database and issue errata whenever it becomes necessary, rather than accumulating a stack of fixes for problems and publishing an updated edition.

I asked what they were personally proud of regarding 4E. Andy said that when he sat down with his team in May, 2005, they set out with the goal to keep an open mind about everything, and wrote out a list of Hopes & Dreams for 4E; looking at the result, he is thrilled with just how many goals they managed to check complete from that list. Sara’s proud of the plan they put in place to communicate 4E to the public, from its announcement on through the D&DXP, and she’s pleased at the positive reaction she’s gotten from D&D players, particularly those who sat down and gave the new edition a try this past weekend.

After posting Part 1, I found that had already posted the character sheets from the Dungeon Delve—including all the powers and spells I detailed and more, so this time I figured I’d post the Magic Items sheet I got as a bonus for completing a Dungeon Delve. As far as I know, this isn’t easily available yet, so enjoy!

Ironskin Belt Level 5
This belt is suitable for a character of any class.
Body Slot: Waist
Power (Encounter): Minor action. Gain resist weapon 5 until the end of your next turn.

Gauntlets of Ogre Power Level 5
these gauntlets are good for a fighter, ranger, or paladin.
Body Slot: Hands
Property: Gain a +1 item bonus to Athletics checks and Strength ability checks (but not Strength attacks).
Power (Daily): Free Action. Activate when you hit with a melee attack. Add a +5 power bonus to the damage roll.

+1 Frost Warhammer Level 3
This is a good weapon for a fighter to wield.
Enhancement: Attack rolls and damage rolls with weapon
Critical: +1d6 cold damage
Power (Encounter): Free Action. Activate when you hit with this weapon. The target takes +1d10 cold damage and is slowed until the end of your next turn. (Cold)

+1 Delver’s Leather Armor Level 3
This armor is good for a character in light armor, such as a warlock.
Armor: Any
Enhancement: AC
Power (Encounter): Free action. Gain a +2 power bonus to a saving throw.

+1 Amulet of Health Level 3
This amulet is suitable for a character of any class.
Body Slot: Neck
Enhancement: Fortitude, Reflex, and Will defenses
Property: Gain resist poison 5

+1 Staff of the War Mage Level 3
This is the perfect implement for a wizard.
Implement (Staff)
Enhancement: Attack rolls and damage rolls with implement
Critical: +1d8 damage
Power (Daily): Free Action. Activate when you use a power with a burst or blast effect. Increase the size of the burst or blast by 1.

[Regarding the staff, I believe that Wizards in 4E utilize “implements” to cast their spells (such as wands, staves, and orbs), and so they’re not necessarily running up and cracking someone over the head with a +1 staff, but rather (I think) casting their spells through the staff gives them +1 attack and +1 damage. – Bennie]
While the real action in Dungeons & Dragons takes place in our minds as we role-play, the game has had many products that are nifty to look out, whether it is the cool fantasy art in the books, or the colorful dice, or more recently the full-color miniatures. 4E has all that stuff too, but now we’re going to have yet another dimension to the D&D experience—the online tools of the DnD Insider.

At the D&D Experience, Wizards of the Coast was presenting a demo of these new online tools, and I was very curious what it would be like. I don’t

play Worlds of Warcraft, but I have a good number of friends who are neck deep in that MMORPG so I was half-expecting that DnD Insider would be a similar, competitive product.

As best I can tell, that’s not the case. It really does seem to be more of a supplemental enhancement to the D&D game, rather than a D&D spin on WoW.

DnD Insider comes in three parts: The Dungeon Builder, the Character Visualizer, and the D&D Game Table. The Dungeon Builder is a great tool you can use to construct cool-looking dungeons or outdoor encounters quickly. Toss your graph paper out the window, DMs! The person running the demo whipped together a 10-room dungeon in about 10 minutes, complete with pit traps, treasure, and a Beholder. You can add notes to spots within the dungeon that are visible to all or only the DM, you can import your own images, and either free-hand draw or turn on a “snap to grid” to make straight lines. Once you’re done with the Dungeon you can either print it out for your tabletop game, or import it over to the D&D Game Table so you can play it online.

Similarly, the Character Visualizer gives you the ability to bring your character to life, letting you pick race, class, armor, weapons, equipment, and hair and skin color. You can add any color magical glow and adjust its brightness. You can select the pose for your adventurer and even adjust their grip on what they’re holding. The visualizer provides a race-recommended color palette so that your character fits within the flavor and form that is typical in the world, but you can of course design your look outside of those parameters. Once you are done you can now print out your character or import it over to the D&D Game table.

What I particularly like about these two online tools is that they are also useful for gamers who would much rather just play the kitchen table at home. I know I’m looking forward to creating “snapshots” of the characters I’m currently playing in 3E that I can print out and have with me so that everyone knows at a glance what my character looks like without having to describe everything verbally.

If you don’t have a group to play with in real life, or if all your old D&D friends have graduated and moved away, the D&D Game Table is a fantastic way to get together and still run your campaigns with people anywhere in the world. Game play isn’t like WoW though; it’s really just a virtual representation of tabletop play. Your characters and monsters are represented by “virtual minis” that move around on the board, either across terrain or within a keep or exploring dungeons. You roll virtual dice to hit and deal damage, and you communicate with the DM and other players through online chat or with voice through microphone and speakers.

What’s kinda cool is there are player views and DM views of the playing board, so that things the players can’t see aren’t revealed, while the DM of course can see everything. In a dungeon, you really can’t see past the edge of your torchlight, which makes the dark shadows surrounding you very much more intimidating.

One feature I have mixed feelings about is that the DM doesn’t have access to all the typical monsters the party may encounter. Apparently, you will accumulate a collection of virtual minis much like you would in real life, starting with a base set of monsters you’d get just by signing up, but then additional minis available for purchase (I was told they would be inexpensive). If you don’t have the appropriate virtual mini, you instead use a “token” that represents the monster, which looks like a mini base that’s missing the figure. Thankfully, you can upload an image to stamp the token with, so if it’s a dragon you can at least make the surface of the token look like a picture of a dragon. I can see the justification for charging for virtual minis outside of pure profit motive; Wizards wouldn’t want people to stop buying their irl miniatures because they’d rather just buy them virtually and play online. At the same though, the guy presenting the demo pointed out that they are able to do things with virtual minis in terms of detail and poses that are just not possible in the real world, so it’ll be interesting to see that sort of thing.
By Bennie Smith


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