More on Four

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, 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.

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