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posted Tuesday, February 5th 2008 by Jonathan Drain
Fourth EditionNews, Reviews & Culture

We return with a brief foray into Fourth Edition and the official Wizards of the Coast Dungeons & Dragons website. Already my web browser informs me that the front page weighs in at a whopping 2.6MB, an incredible six minute load time for dialup users for what’s essentially an elaborate menu page. (By comparison, digg.com is one tenth of that size, and this blog is a mere one hundredth). As a freelance web developer, I’m still not happy about the cramped layout and tiny text sizes presented, but I’ll leave it up to them.

The latest news follows accusations that Wizards of the Coast have been stifling writers by allowing them to give their impressions on Fourth Edition, but only if they don’t say anything negative about it. While it’s only good marketing to aim for positive press, critics are arguing that it’s deceptive to ask contractors and employees to present a biased view. Writers like Ari Marmell seem to be presenting a positive outlook for the new system, but writers who haven’t been so impressed with the 4e playtest are finding themselves with a conflict of interest.

The most recent tidbit from the site is that negative hit points are to see a welcome change. As we know, one of Third Edition’s flaws was that it wasn’t well playtested at high level, with the negative hit points system the first casualty. Having a wounded character survive until -10HP works really well at first, but when you’re a high level character that -10 might represent only five percent of your hit points, increasing the likelihood that a single hit when you’re on low health can finish you off.

The new system in Fourth changes this. First, a character can survive into a higher number of negative hit points which increases with level, although he’s still unconscious until healed. Rather than losing one hit point per round (which could take a while if you can survive down to -60), you have a 50% chance each round to get worse (three of these without healing and you’re a goner), with any amount of healing bringing you around automatically. As usual, though, monsters can be assumed slain at 0HP.

I’ll tell you, I like it. Third edition made high level characters easier to kill but easier to raise, which cheapened death and gave players an invulnerablity complex. This made levels 15 onward very dull by dampening the sense of danger. A dying teammate is now a slightly more pressing concern, but you’re now less likely to be knocked suddenly from conscious to dead in one hit. There’s a slightly questionable clause that rolling a natural 20 to stabilize will suddenly boost you up to one-quarter hit points, but it’s not clear if that’s how the rule will work in the final game.

Comments

  1. Phased Weasel

    February 5th, 2008

    I like it! I have players dying at negative twice their Con score in my game, which is a bit deep, but I prefer less deadly combat. The scaling system is much better, and I really like dying is a much faster effect than -1 hp / rd, which could take forever.

  2. Jay

    February 5th, 2008

    Peronsally I think that if you hit negative hp then like monsters you should be dead. Give the players more Hp or something to contact monster strengths. I personally have liked that I could kill off players still at high levels. Once they are unconsious. They have more Hp than low levels so it is not like I don’t have to as a DM get through their higher hp to take them out. I personally think this new system needs to be shown more. I have lots of questions about it but I will wait to see. The overall feeling I am getting is that many people are worried that 4th edition will probably completely change the game unlike what the stupid guy on the orginal video says. The game will not be the same. Games advance I know but some thing move too quickly and this is what I see is happening with 4th Edition.

  3. Jonathan Drain

    February 5th, 2008

    Jay: Your player characters are tougher at high level, but so are the enemies, who deal commensurately more damage. -10 might represent two or three hits at level 1, but when you’re level 20 that same -10 may represent only one third of a single hit, or one tenth of a single spell.

    A high level character on low hit points is thus a lot more fragile at high level, and there’s no player benefit for that. I think what you had in third edition was that a high level character could take more hits and be raised more easily, which of course is a terrible solution because it gives the players an invulnerability complex.

  4. Count Buggula

    February 5th, 2008

    I think I might agree with Jay actually. At lower levels the player NEEDS those negative hit points because they have so few to begin with. Low levels can be really difficult to survive with many classes and the negative hit points give those 1-3 level characters an extra buffer to help them make it to the levels where they start to be more effective. At higher levels, granted the enemies are more likely to kill you at one hit (if you’re already low on HP), but you have a much higher HP total to start with, and many more tools (spells/skills/etc) to keep yourself alive and away from that dangerous low-hp zone.

    Don’t want to worry about dying in one hit when you’ve got low hit points? Don’t let your hit points get that low! It’s all about tactics, and at higher levels 3rd edition forces you to play smart instead of relying on the ability to “get back up” if you accidentally get whacked into negative HP.

  5. Branitar

    February 5th, 2008

    Sounds good to me so far. Now we just have to wait to see all teh changes in detail (as the details are what makes a system good or bad).
    It’s also good to see that they went back to a more “classical” design of the books.

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