Reading an edition wars argument recently, I discovered that a lot of third edition players had misconceptions about D&D fourth edition, or had tried to play but found the rules differences a little much to take in all at once. It hit me that Wizards never wrote an update booklet to help third edition players convert to the new game. To help, I’ve written a short summary of the changes new to D&D fourth edition, for players currently familiar with third edition.
- Most rolls now add one-half the character’s level. This includes attack rolls, skill checks and ability checks. This prevents powerful high-level characters from having a puny +1 to a skill.
- Fort, Reflex and Will are now called Defenses, and work like AC: they have a base of 10, and the enemy rolls his attack versus your flat number.
- Saving throws refer to a different mechanic: at the end of each round you roll with a 50% chance to end an ongoing effect, such as being poisoned or on fire.
- Players have “healing surges”, a sort of resource that renews each day and can be expended to restore hit points. A misconception is that this allows characters to freely heal themselves in combat. Rather, healing still requires a cleric or similar, and healing surges are limits on how much healing a character can receive in a day. Some 1/day or 1/encounter abilities allow a character to spend a healing surge on their own. Clerics can heal at-will out of combat, to the limit of each character’s remaining healing surges.
- Most races have +2 to two ability scores. This contrasts with third edition where most races had +2 to one and -2 to another.
- Level adjustment is gone. Monster races can be played, but at a reduced power level equivalent to a player character race.
- Tiefling and dragonborn are playable races. Gnome and half-orc are gone from the Player’s Handbook but are re-introduced in an expansion.
- Classes are divided into four roles, being defensive, offensive, area offensive and healer. A similar division existed in third edition (warrior, rogue, wizard and cleric), but it’s more pronounced.
- Multiclassing is limited. A feat lets you take a class ability of another class, but you can’t take levels in separate classes. This may be remedied in a further expansion.
- All classes have numerous combat abilities, or “powers”. “Powers” is a general term for a wizard’s spells, a fighter’s combat techniques (like Cleave), and so on.
- Warlord and warlock are core classes. Barbarian, bard, monk, druid, sorcerer and specialist wizard are missing, but are or will be re-introduced in future class books.
- There are 17 skills, where 3.5 had 36 skills plus 10 knowledge categories. Skills are fewer, but more useful: for example, Perception covers spotting, listening and searching, while Thievery covers all lockpicking/trap-disabling/pickpocketing attempts.
- Most rolls add one-half character level, as mentioned.
- Skill training works differently. Rather than spend points, players pick a number of skills to train in at character creation. Trained skills receive a +5 bonus. Although this bonus does not increase, it is in addition to the usual ability score modifier and one-half character level bonus.
- Characters receive feats more often. A 20th level character will have 12 feats.
- Magic item creation no longer requires feats. Instead, it requires only a Ritual (see Magic, below), which works like a spell in third edition.
- Weapons and armour no longer have multiple properties. You can still find a Holy Avenger, but not a +3 keen icy burst greataxe.
- Scrolls and wands of combat spells generally don’t exist. However, non-combat spells appear in scroll form as rituals (see Magic, below). The old wand of cure light wounds for between-combat healing is no longer necessary.
- Items sell for less. Mundane junk is unsaleable, and most magic items sell for only one-fifth their buy price. This discourages hoarding junk to sell. Your DM is encouraged to make your desired treasure easier to find in treasure, perhaps as part of a quest.
- Players can take three actions: a standard, a move, and a minor. A minor action is something like drawing a weapon or sustaining a spell by concentration.
- Multiple iterative attacks are gone. Instead, fighter types gain powers which grant extra opportunity attacks, deal hefty bonus damage or cripple an opponent.
- Critical hits work differently. You no longer need to roll to confirm a critical hit, but instead of rolling double damage you simply deal maximum damage. Wizards can get critical hits with their spells.
- Almost all attacks are either at-will, 1/encounter, or 1/day. Cleave, Magic Missile and a basic melee attack are all at-will, Cause Fear an encounter power, and Fireball a daily. Most attacks take a standard action.
- Action Points let you take an extra standard action in a round. Action Points reset to one when you sleep to regain daily powers and hit points, and you gain one more for every two encounters you go without sleeping.
- Tactical movement is more important. Certain abilities of enemies or allies force movement, and certain terrain hinders movement. A lack of full-round actions and move-equivalent actions encourages movement.
- Miniatures are strongly recommended. The game rules assume you use a combat grid, even if it’s just coins and dice on graph paper.
- Diagonal movement no longer costs more squares. In other words, if my speed is six squares (30ft. in old measurement) I can move six diagonally the same as I would horizontally or vertically. The same goes for weapon ranges.
- Wizards now roll to attack with spells, against rather than a fixed DC against the opponent’s Fort, Reflex or Will roll.
- Spell preparation is essentially gone, as mentioned. However, wizards can still know more daily spells than they can cast per day, and choose their daily selection from this.
- Non-combat spells are now called Rituals. A common misconception is that fourth edition only includes combat spells. This is because non-combat spells for all classes are hidden away in the back of the Player’s Handbook. Rituals are spells which typically take longer than one round to cast, including Discern Lies, Knock, and Drawmij’s Instant Summons.
- Area effects have only two types. A burst is an area centered on a point, while a blast is a square area. Area effects can be “close”, meaning adjacent to the caster: a close burst is centered on the caster, while a close blast has at least one square adjacent to the caster (such as a breath weapon).
- The game standardly runs to level 30. This contrasts with AD&D 1st edition through D&D third edition, where twenty levels was the default limit and epic levels were introduced in expansions.
- Higher currency changes slightly. Platinum pieces are now worth 100 gold rather than 10, and a new 10,000gp denomination called the Astral Diamond (AD) is introduced.
- There are only five alignments: Lawful Good, Good, Unaligned, Evil and Chaotic Evil. Almost no spells or classes rely on alignment, however, so retaining the old alignment system shouldn’t cause problems.
- There are several minor changes, too many to list here. They include weapon damage changes, armour proficiency changes, pleasant minor tweaks, a simpler grappling system, and a somewhat different implied setting with a different standard deities list.