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D&D 4E 4e needs a Definitive Guide

Dungeoneer

First Post
The Late to the 4e Party thread has got me thinking: for tables thinking of giving 4e a try, getting started is intimidating. The first Player's Handbook has a lot of issues that were later corrected and is missing some important classes and races. The skill DC chart was revised twice. The first Monster Manual is completely obsolete. The early adventures were horrible.

Cobbling together an 'optimal' version of 4e requires deep system knowledge. The DDI tools help, but they are on borrowed time. Someone needs to create a 'definitive guide' to 4e.

The reason things are so confusing is that 4e was in many ways a 'living edition'. It got constant updates in the form of online errata. Some of it fixed serious problems in the game. Some of it you could pretty easily live without. Later books superseded earlier books in many ways (example: you really ought to use the Monster Vault rather than the first Monster Manual for your standard monster selection). There are multiple versions of many classes (Should I use a Mage or a Wizard? A (Battlemaster) Fighter, a Slayer or a Knight?). There are racial variants, too. A lot of this stuff genuinely improved the game which was great. But it could easily overwhelm new DMs and players.

4e also offers the players an enormous number of sources for class powers and feats. There were three PHBs; I don't know how many 'Heroes of...' books; two volumes of Martial Power plus Arcane and Divine and Primal Power; settings books; many volumes of Dragon magazine filled with options; the occasional 'power card' that came with a pack of minis; and a lot of other stuff I can't be bothered to remember.

Now we can debate whether 4e ultimately held up its end of the 'everything is core' bargain, but if nothing else that is simply TOO MANY OPTIONS for people new to the game to wade through.

A related issue is that 4e players and DMs have always relied heavily on the DDI tools. The char builder and the compendium gathered the hundreds of options in one place and made sure that where rules applied they were the most up-to-date ones. Well, we all know that DDI is living on borrowed time. In the best case scenario it will live on for a couple of years, but when it is gone it will get a lot harder to build correct characters, especially for 'teh n00bs'.

I think a few brave volunteers need to put their heads together and create a guide that cuts through the cruft and outlines what you REALLY need to play the best version of the game. Here are some things that should be in it:


  • Which books you need?
  • Which errata is essential and will really improve your game?
  • What is the correct DC skill chart?
  • Which classes are the 'good' classes*?
  • What sources for feats, powers and magic items should a DM allow?
  • Which published adventure modules don't suck?
  • Also, which supplements are not required for play but would be nice to have access to? (my ex: Arcane Power)

The guide should focus on telling players and DMs what the bare minimum is that they need to play the game the way it was meant to be played. It should not attempt to be comprehensive.

Is anyone interested in working on this?

Now that I've thrown this out there I have to admit that I cannot be the one to take the lead on this. I just don't have the time these days. I hate to be all, "Here's a great idea that other people should totally do!" but I think something like this would be really valuable to future players and DMs. So I really hope others are interested.

If nothing else, we can brainstorm. I'm curious to hear others' answers to the above bullet points.

* Maybe this will be an area where people disagree, but I think there is a consensus that things like the Binder and the Vampire are crap and there's no point in even looking at them. The original PHB Paladin is also widely considered problematic.
 

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Remathilis

Legend
The Late to the 4e Party thread has got me thinking: for tables thinking of giving 4e a try, getting started is intimidating. The first Player's Handbook has a lot of issues that were later corrected and is missing some important classes and races. The skill DC chart was revised twice. The first Monster Manual is completely obsolete. The early adventures were horrible.

Cobbling together an 'optimal' version of 4e requires deep system knowledge. The DDI tools help, but they are on borrowed time. Someone needs to create a 'definitive guide' to 4e..

I don't play 4e, but would not a good starting point be the Essentials line? I know they themselves are a bit contentious, but the Essentials seem like the closest to a "modern" version of the 4e rules: the Rules Compendium was fairly updated, the monster math was fixed, the classes were better balanced, etc. You really couldn't go wrong with the the Two Heroes books, the DM box, and the Two Monster Vaults (+ a RC for quick reference) as far as choices go and expand on from there.
 

Dungeoneer

First Post
I don't play 4e, but would not a good starting point be the Essentials line? I know they themselves are a bit contentious, but the Essentials seem like the closest to a "modern" version of the 4e rules: the Rules Compendium was fairly updated, the monster math was fixed, the classes were better balanced, etc. You really couldn't go wrong with the the Two Heroes books, the DM box, and the Two Monster Vaults (+ a RC for quick reference) as far as choices go and expand on from there.
A lot of us feel that the Essentials classes themselves leave a lot to be desired and strip out a lot of what we liked about 4e. That's not universal, btw, I think the Essentials Mage is a little bit better than the original Wizard. On the other hand some of the weakest classes in the game were also 'essentials'. It's hard to just recommend everything with 'essentials' on the cover for that reason, although the Rules Compendium and the first Monster Vault would def. be part of any '4e starter set' I put together.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Cobbling together an 'optimal' version of 4e requires deep system knowledge.

Yes, but someone just trying it out does not *need* an optimal version of 4e. They need a working, functional version of 4e. They then learn what the system is like, and figure otu what, if anything, they really want to do with it, and *then* optimize to fit their personal needs.
 

Quickleaf

Legend
[MENTION=91777]Dungeoneer[/MENTION]

I tend to agree with [MENTION=177]Umbran[/MENTION]. If you're just getting into 4e any starting point is fine. More precision about the optimum experienced is better suited to those with some system mastery.

And I've done my part to make the system more accessible for DMs with my 4e DM Cheat Sheet. A read thru of DMG or the DM's Kit, a few sessions experience, and reading that thread will enable a DM to use just that cheat sheet (and whatever adventure/monsters they need) at the table and no other game books.
 

MoutonRustique

Explorer
For my 2cp, I believe 4e could be presented as such:

Players - take anything you feel like, it all works. Some things are stronger than others, but not by much and you'll get a feel pretty fast.

DMs - have a little care : buy the Monster Vault (personally, I would suggest the MV:TttNV - man I love that box) and we could list a few of the "easier / more approachable adventures" a list of perhaps 5-6 total w/ 2-3 1st level and the others going up to 6th? Also a short discussion on Skill Challenges, what they are, what they are meant to be and present (vs explain in depth) some of the easier alternates. Lastly, a brief exposé on items / inherent bonuses and the real impact of those items : i.e. not that big a deal at the lower levels!

The thing about 4e, IMO, is that it is intimidating only in that it looks intimidating. If you can show people a "corner piece" the rest of the puzzle always seems to fall into place easily enough...

I see all these posters complain about the "mathy-ness" of 4e, when my experience has been that the game is really hard to break. If you really change the amount of treasure or something, you'll feel some effects in game, sure, but nothing that isn't easier by /miles/ to adjucate and wing than in prior editions (I'm talking about the DM side of things.)

Disclamer : I /am/ glad so many seem to have "found D&D again", but I am very, very sad that 4e was killed-off so quickly... I see so many roads not taken, so much... just, SO MUCH that will never be...:.-(
 


Tequila Sunrise

Adventurer
  • Which books you need?
I'm personally a fan of the C4 pdfs, so on the players' side I say 'nothing.' If a player really wants to hold a solid book in hand, I always suggest the original PHB.

On the DM side of things, you can't go wrong with the MV 1 and the DMG.

  • Which errata is essential and will really improve your game?
I hardly remember what the errata document actually looks like, so I'm just going to say "Stealth errata, and give all PCs the Expertise bonuses and Improved Defenses."

  • What is the correct DC skill chart?
Damned if I know. 10/15/20 + half adventure/enemy level works for me. Admittedly, I don't run skill challenges though.

  • Which classes are the 'good' classes*?
As Mouton Rustique says, they're all good...at least until you get to the E-classes. Can't make any specific comments here though, as I don't touch 'em with a ten-foot pole.

  • What sources for feats, powers and magic items should a DM allow?
Any and all!

  • Which published adventure modules don't suck?
That's a good question. I've heard that the later 4e adventures are good, but I mostly run my own stuff, so the only definitive suggestion I can give is: Don't play Keep on the Shadowfell!

  • Also, which supplements are not required for play but would be nice to have access to? (my ex: Arcane Power)
If you're interested in fluff, any and all! If you're interested in crunch, anything that doesn't begin with 'Heroes of the....'

Can you guess how worthwhile I think the E-half of 4e is? ;)
 

delericho

Legend
I don't play 4e, but would not a good starting point be the Essentials line?

I would agree with this, particularly as a starting point (but skip the Red Box - the best thing about that is the box). Once familiar with that starting point you can then add any and all options you want from other books, since Essentials is almost* 100% compatible.

* I say 'almost' because of the ongoing revisions that 4e saw, which means that very early supplements will work with Essentials, but maybe not terribly well. But then, for anyone running 4e I would strongly recommend the DDI suite, for as long as it lasts anyway.
 

Since I've DMed 4e far more than played, it's easier to look at the DM side of things for me. I'd propose a list of the best adventures, including from the free LFR adventures. (I've never run any of those yet, so I can't review any properly.)

From the player side, I'd propose a list of classes that are not only good at their role, but fun, and what sort of optimization the class may need if it's on the weak side. Something like this, but more professional: "The fighter is great at its role. The ranger and fire elementalist sorcerer are great at their roles, but might be considered boring since you're doing variations of the same thing over and over again. The warden is okay at its role, and needs optimization, here are some tips..."

Players - take anything you feel like, it all works.

That's not really true. There are some classes that are really weak at their role, or require a lot of optimization to work, such as the binder and vampire. 4e is well-balanced. It is not perfectly balanced. It is clearly written. It is not perfectly clear.
 


MoutonRustique

Explorer
From the player side, I'd propose a list of classes that are not only good at their role, but fun, and what sort of optimization the class may need if it's on the weak side. Something like this, but more professional: "The fighter is great at its role. The ranger and fire elementalist sorcerer are great at their roles, but might be considered boring since you're doing variations of the same thing over and over again. The warden is okay at its role, and needs optimization, here are some tips..."
While I do agree about the general idea, I have to say that this approach usually ends up being fairly heavy. When you start to offer critiques of classes and more in-depth analysis, I feel it's putting the cart before the horse/mule/other cart pulling creature. (I see that is not what you offered, but it often builds up to it...)

I strongly feel that it is best to keep the first couple of interactions with the system as... simple is not the right word... pain-free? I hope my meaning gets across...

Perhaps offer both "vantages" : you want to play X-style character? Grab Y class, it rocks!

Other way around : a list of classes and a very quick (terse even) comment. Something like:
Fighter - will be great at locking down a big foe and tends to deal pretty high damage. Can offer advanced tactical options.
Paladin - will be great at locking down a single foe and can offer some healing and buffs to your fellow party members.
Vampire - maybe hold out on this one as it requires some game mastery to be truly effective.


Perhaps a small paragraph stressing the option to ignore the class names?

I guess the main difference is the use of keyword types (or the non-use of) like role, etc. Those kinds of words are great once you get going, but right at the start they tend to feel like a new mechanic needing to be learned (as opposed to an informative label.) I tend to prefer people to play and then link the role with how the class plays as opposed to giving the definition first and then having people try to play that. The clarity and exhaustiveness of 4e can feel stifling to some - when they just play, the roles come out organically.

I guess, I do agree with you, I'm just weary of the implementation... I'm nitpicking really...

MoutonRustique: It all works.
The response: That's not really true. There are some classes that are really weak at their role, or require a lot of optimization to work, such as the binder and vampire. 4e is well-balanced. It is not perfectly balanced. It is clearly written. It is not perfectly clear.
That is true (your rebuttal). My perspective was that, with a starting group, the difference in effectiveness might not even be apparent. But a list of "harder to use well" options would be a good idea - to avoid disappointment is a very, very good idea.
 


Dungeoneer

First Post
Well I'm glad to see some folks think this is a good idea. Again, my concern is for new groups like the one in the "late to the party" thread where the DM seemed very overwhelmed by all the options. Honestly it is hard to fault him for that, for reasons I outlined in my OP.

And it's not just DMs who might be overwhelmed, but players.

Players - take anything you feel like, it all works.

I would dispute this slightly (I recently had a Swordmage with some White Lotus feats playing at my table and it seemed seriously overpowered). But we're not just concerned with balance here. When I open up the 'feats' section of the character builder I am confronted by hundreds of feats and dozens of powers. Even for an old hand this is a lot to sift through.

And the truth is, most of it is crap you won't use.

For instance I don't think the feats and powers from Dragon magazine can probably be safely excluded. Most of them are fine balance-wise (although... see previous comments about White Lotus Riposte) but they don't add much to the game. If you don't use them, you won't miss them, although you might notice that building a character is a little faster...

I'm also inclined to look sideways at anything from Heroes of Shadow. That book just seems to have issues, period. Another book that has issues is the Red Box/Starter Set, as others have previously stated. I would exclude both of those from an Approved Sources list.

I don't think the Essentials classes as a whole are bad... but they're kind of confusing. I have a Fighter, why do I need a Slayer and a Knight? Should I play a Paladin or a Warpriest? Wizard or Mage? These are the questions we should help n00bs answer.

I actually think the Mage is a little better than the Wizard, but I haven't really spent time with any of the other e classes. Can anyone speak to that?
 

MoutonRustique

Explorer
MoutonRustique: Players - take anything you feel like, it all works.
I would dispute this slightly (I recently had a Swordmage with some White Lotus feats playing at my table and it seemed seriously overpowered). But we're not just concerned with balance here. When I open up the 'feats' section of the character builder I am confronted by hundreds of feats and dozens of powers. Even for an old hand this is a lot to sift through.
Again, :p yes this is true - my thought was more along the lines of "don't worry over-much about it". Since there are so many options, being told to not worry about it too much can be liberating - you can just choose a feat because the name looks cool (or any other criteria).

I know this will produce sub-optimal builds or very powerful ones. But we're talking about first-timers here. Most won't have a reference to measure /to/ so that power difference doesn't really matter. The game does work fine even with "weak/strong" PCs. By the time they notice the difference in effectiveness, they're ready to dig-in : they're past a basic "Here's a starting point/How does this game work" situation and climbing into a "How do I get the most out of this".

I believe there should probably be 2 (or maybe even 3) guides to 4e : a very friendly "Hello! Here are some suggestions for your starting game." and a second "So you've decided to give 4e a try - here are some suggestions about building an awesome game!" The third would mainly be links to CharOp I guess :p (and links to blogs and posts for better play, mechanics variation, new skill challenge paradigms, etc, etc.)

Sort of like what the "red box" was supposed to be and then a "True Starter Set".

And the truth is, most of it is crap you won't use.

For instance I don't think the feats and powers from Dragon magazine can probably be safely excluded. Most of them are fine balance-wise (although... see previous comments about White Lotus Riposte) but they don't add much to the game. If you don't use them, you won't miss them, although you might notice that building a character is a little faster...

I'm also inclined to look sideways at anything from Heroes of Shadow. That book just seems to have issues, period. Another book that has issues is the Red Box/Starter Set, as others have previously stated. I would exclude both of those from an Approved Sources list.

I don't think the Essentials classes as a whole are bad... but they're kind of confusing. I have a Fighter, why do I need a Slayer and a Knight? Should I play a Paladin or a Warpriest? Wizard or Mage? These are the questions we should help n00bs answer.

I actually think the Mage is a little better than the Wizard, but I haven't really spent time with any of the other e classes. Can anyone speak to that?
While none of what you've said should not be discussed and presented - I feel that, for a first experience of the game that much detail is counter-productive. But, of course, that is IMO.
 

That's not really true. There are some classes that are really weak at their role, or require a lot of optimization to work, such as the binder and vampire. 4e is well-balanced. It is not perfectly balanced. It is clearly written. It is not perfectly clear.

I tend to think it is all well within the realm of reasonably functional. I mean people don't say "never run a 3.5e bard" yet its a horrible class that is relatively speaking 9/1000's as powerful as a 3.5e wizard, whereas the 4e Binder may be 50% as good as 4e Ranger or Wizard. I don't think there's anything really wrong with the Vampire though. At the heroic and low paragon levels that 99% of games are at this class is pretty potent, though it requires understanding how to play it right.

Mostly I think the "get all the Essentials books" advice really is pretty good though. You will end up with the MV, the DMK, and the RC, which all have a lot of utility (The DMK book is maybe not that useful if you plan to get into the rest of the game, but the screen, adventure, etc are all handy enough). At that point you can play. That was the IDEA of Essentials after all, a playable subset of the game. From there you can buy DMGs, MM3, PHB1 and 2, and then branch into source books and/or splat books.

The problem is 4e really has VERY little content that is truly crappy. Maybe 30% of Heroes of Shadow is questionable, and PHB3's classes and races were forgettable (but still interesting to some people and perfectly usable for the most part). I think I have pretty much every book and I don't regret buying any of them. The only one I skipped was Psionic Power, just never interested me.
 

I don't think the Essentials classes as a whole are bad... but they're kind of confusing. I have a Fighter, why do I need a Slayer and a Knight?

The fighter and knight cover the same role, only the knight is simpler. So it's reasonable to say you don't need a knight since the role of martial defender is already occupied. Of course, if you just want a simpler PC...

The slayer, by contrast, is a martial brute striker. I'm not sure if there's any other class like it. (The barbarian is pretty similar, but it has daily powers, "primal" powers and is more complex.) It's nothing like the fighter except the flavor text. Part of the problem is the term "fighter" is too generic to define a class. Frankly a ranger who uses a bow and never uses his Nature skill could be described as a "fighter" or "archer" and never use the term ranger, but the mechanics are different enough that he needs to use a class beside the "fighter".

Should I play a Paladin or a Warpriest?

They cover different roles, although there's a lot of flavor similarity between a pair of heavily-armored melee divine PCs. A more important question is "should I play a warpriest or a Strength cleric?" since they cover the same territory, and even have about the same amount of complexity.

Wizard or Mage? These are the questions we should help n00bs answer.

The difference between the wizard and mage is minimal. Basically give up implement abilities (cool) for school abilities (cool). Personally I think the wizard is slightly more powerful, only because you're not encouraged to stick to the same category of spells so you can attack all defense types. (An Enchanter will probably take mostly Enchantment Will-targeting powers, because school benefits do not apply to, say, Fort-defense-attacking Stinking Cloud. That sucks when you go up against a beholder. Useful advice would be to remind the player to diversify a bit. The Enchanter doesn't force you to be a one-trick pony, it just encourages it.)

IMO the wizard's best features are its powers (along with the invoker). This is partly because it's difficult to design good controller class features. As the wizard and mage have the same powers, you're stuck between choosing what amounts to a decent utility power or an all-the-time bonuses to a small group of powers.

I actually think the Mage is a little better than the Wizard, but I haven't really spent time with any of the other e classes. Can anyone speak to that?

I've not actually played a mage. I'm currently playing a wizard though. In the game I'm running, we had a mage for a couple of sessions (before he got beaten to death in a flank attack) and I think the lack of rituals was telling... but there's nothing preventing a mage from taking that feat. He certainly wasn't weaker in a combat situation, it's just that the PCs were conducting a sabotage campaign.
 

Der-Rage

First Post
The fighter and knight...

They cover different roles, although there's a lot of flavor similarity

The difference between the wizard and mage is minimal.
I think we all know these things (or can ascertain them by reading the classes), but the point is these are issues that can be extremely overwhelming to newbies. One of the many reason I wish we'd gotten a 'Fifth Edition' that is actually a cleaned-up progression of 4E and not something completely different.

Honestly I don't know if a definitive guide is even possible with all the errata, Essentials, etc. It almost seems like It would be easier to splice together a Rules Cyclopedia like metaPDF of all the best material.

For what it's worth, I'd submit: PHB1&2 for the core classes, DMG1&2,Rules Compendium for basic rules and good advice, the Monk, Knight, Slayer, and Mage from PHB3 and HOTWTF*, the Warforged race (Eberron), Swordmage class (Forgotten Realms), and MM3 and the two Monster Vaults for creatures. Along with notes that you only actually NEED one book from each category.

*Heroes of The Whatever the F--k
 

Jhaelen

First Post
For instance I don't think the feats and powers from Dragon magazine can probably be safely excluded.
Uh, I think you meant to say 'I think the feats and powers from Dragon magazine can probably be safely excluded', right? Our group has banned almost all of the Dragon material (excepting a few backgrounds) and I consider that a very good decision.

I also agree there's way too many feats, even if you ignore all the ones from Dragon. For me it's the most time-consuming part of creating/leveling a character. (The next-most time-consuming being looking for magic items to put on my wishlist - although you could play just as well without using wishlists, I guess.)

I agree about Rules Compendium and Monster Vault being good choices for a start. But I didn't like the DM's kit much (excepting the adventure, which is awesome) and found the Essentials PHBs to be awful.
Instead I'd prefer the DMG2 and PHB2 - but I'm not sure if they would be sufficient for a starting player.
 

Quickleaf

Legend
I've seen a whole lot of classes in play between levels 1 and 13 and nothing stood out as totally broken or severely underpowered...

If players are overwhelmed by the Character Builder (and what new player wouldn't be ?) I suggest either using the Essential only option or just making characters with paper, pencil, and books. It's funny how I've seen many of my 4e players balk at pen-and-paper character sheets and then at the same time complain about how unmanageable all the options in Character Builder are. I mean, you can't have it both ways.
 

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