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D&D General How would you redo 4e?

James Gasik

We don't talk about Pun-Pun
Well, here's the thing. Spell schools are mostly arbitrary. Several spells have changed schools over the years for various reasons, and sometimes you really have to squint to understand why.

Like in 2e, Burning Hands and Color Spray were Alteration. Why? No idea. So was Teleport. Cure Light Wounds was Necromancy.

In 3e, Cure Light Wounds and Teleport were sorted into Conjuration. Fear, amusingly, became a Necromancy thing. Why? Uh...Necromancy bad, I guess?

Now in 5e, Cure Light Wounds is an Evocation. But in the One playtest, it's Abjuration.

Speaking of Abjuration, you'd think that'd be the school with all the defensive spells, but Mage Armor (or Armor) was Conjuration in 2e and 3e, and Shield was an Evocation in 2e, not being properly sorted into Abjuration until 3e!

So what are spell schools, really? Are they descriptions for how the spells work, or what the spells do? It's flip-flopped quite a lot over the years. Spells that could be put into multiple schools are usually put in one or the other, as if having a spell share schools is some kind of cardinal sin.

Further, while all spells have schools, only Wizards care about the division. Clerics have had their spells sorted by completely different criteria, and other classes just have a hodge-podge of spells that "feel" like something they should be able to cast, something which can change dramatically; Rangers used to cast Wizard spells, Bards used to have Druid training. Now Bards are arcane with a preference for mind-affecting spells like Enchantments and Illusions, but they also get Cure Wounds and sonic spells (like Shatter) because, well, it feels like a Bard thing.

Even in 5e, only subclasses care about schools, like Eldritch Knights, Arcane Tricksters, and most (but not all) of the Wizard subclasses- and since Wizards can cast any spell they want now, they only really care about whether or not a subclass ability interacts with it.

Elves used to have a resistance to the Enchantment school, now they only care about specific conditions.

Nothing cool has been done with the schools of magic in a very long time, and even now, you could find spells that make you scratch your head, like why Flaming Sphere is Conjuration, but a Wall of Fire is an Evocation (no, don't say "because one conjures fire from another plane and the other just creates fire". That's a distinction without a difference at this point).

Spell schools were never anything more than arbitrary enforced flavor. The game tried to have mechanics interact with them, but really they were more of a restriction than anything worthwhile.

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Hilariously, I also gave my players a similar power! I made it an At-Will named "Do something Creative!" that simply reminded them to use their other powers and abilities in creative ways, plus to never forget to "1e" it with strategy, tactics, and guile...

That works too. The "do something cool" (encounter) and "do something awesome" (daily) was just a way to balance interacting with the set powers and the "improvised powers". If people are improvising all the time then it's a different game. We felt this struck the right balance for us. We also let the dailies be shared -- so it was more like 4 extra dailies amoung 4 players in any which way. I also really leaned into the power -- these improvised powers got at least as good if not better dmg and effects as regular powers.

Interesting that you put single skill use close to tactical combat vs including it as part of the realm of SCs. For 3e (and 5e) the two would be single (potentially gatekeeping) skill use, and full blown combat. For me 4e's skill challenge fits in the middle of those, primarily in the world of skill use but with the encounter framework of multiple actions leading to the outcome.

Regardless, whether it was explained well enough in the original DMG, well it seems not since still to this day misconceptions about them seem common. :/

The reason I put it there is that 4e seems to have these different abstractions of mechanics using the same game elements like skills and rituals depending on the framing. In some circumstances a skill has very specific uses of a skill spelled out -- "lets you jump X more squares", etc. This is this the tactical combat use but also often the "single use" effect. Single use with DM deciding the next step and when the scene "ends" tends to use skills as descrete effects. For a skill challenge it really doesn't matter if you jump X or Y -- the success indicates you made progress. Normally I don't describe things that precisely in a SC but rather -- it's a long jump but you could probably make it. Or if it is higher Tier play you can just let the PCs do mythical stuff with the same check. Or if it is unrealistic to jump that far in Heroic Tier -- success indicates that circumstances still let you make progress somehow -- the dragon swoops by at the right time and you jump on its back and get thrown off across the chasm, etc.

Same with rituals. It will always do X. But in the context of the skill challenge that gets you 1 or 2 successes, it may or may not lead to complete success. There will be an added complication if there are successes left.


What I've learned from this thread is that a decent number of people seem to hate spell schools. It's odd to me since, other than 4e, spell schools have always been tied into multiple crunchy bits of the rules.
I don't hate the idea of extensive keywording to tie in effects.

I just find the existing schools to be bad keywords to hang things off of. We have conjuration and evocation, which are the same thing but one also summons, we've got abjuration, which is a lazy catch-all that used to mean 'wards', only wards also used to be a thing but not a school, necromancy, which has been mutated and devolved into evil undead school while enchantment is 'evil school the game doesn't have the stones to call evil', and... the other ones that are fine, I guess.

The need to force spells into the schools causes more harm then good, IMO.

Like necessarily, anti-magic field should not be a school spell. Or a spell at all, but that's getting into others issues not limited to 4e.

James Gasik

We don't talk about Pun-Pun
Customization! Fun!

Feats are the thing 3e got mostly right; it just didn't give enough of them or locked them to stupid chains that required suckful ones to get to the good stuff.
I like Feats too, but the more you have, the harder it is to keep them balanced. I mean, look at 5e. There's what, 75 Feats, and the gulf between the top tier and the utter trash is huge.

Red Castle

What I've learned from this thread is that a decent number of people seem to hate spell schools. It's odd to me since, other than 4e, spell schools have always been tied into multiple crunchy bits of the rules.
I don’t hate them, I just don’t care about them and don’t need them.

But if I were to develop a wizard school in my 4e campaign (there is one but I never had to develop it) and wanted to distinguish magic schools, I would probably just go with the keywords: Fire, Cold, Charm, Illusion, Summoning… I always wanted to make a wizard that specialise in one kind of elemental, like just take powers with the Fire keyword.

James Gasik

We don't talk about Pun-Pun
Just out-of-curiosity, which ones you consider top tier and which ones you label as utter trash?
Top Tier: Warcaster. This Feat doesn't quit! The advantage on concentration checks is very nice, and a few builds appreciate being able to cast with a shield without having to put their weapon away. But turning a 1 action spell into a reaction? That's insanely good when you compare that to what Sorcerers have to do just to quicken a spell to a bonus action. Healer is also really good; in the game I'm in currently, my character took it, and it's really freed up the Cleric and the Bard to use their spell slots more creatively.

Way Down There Tier: Weapon Master. If your class doesn't give you proficiency in a weapon, you're likely not really built to use it in the first place. Keen Mind seems really niche to me as well; contrast and compare to Observant.


Honestly, I couldn't find any way to significantly improve the 4e skill system, and just left it alone. Frankly, if a player wants his PC to make a living as a brick layer, or whatever, why worry about mechanics for that? Its an FRPG, that mundane stuff is not really a part of it, aside from being in the fiction. It doesn't NEED rules.
For sure... again, it's how it was handled in early editions. If you described your character as coming from a family of builders, who helped create the church in the local city, and if your DM was willing to let that that mean something, then you could riff on that for both narrative and mechanical benefit. Of course, that was true of nearly EVERY skill in the game at that time -- which, while flexible and expansive could also have its perils.

To which is why I liked the middle ground, creating at least a touchpoint for a character's background/professional skills that could be folded into the mechanics of both skill checks and skill challenges.

I always felt like appraisal (and architecture) should have been explicitly rolled into Dungeoneering (or even Streetwise when it comes to resell value) and acting should have been specifically be folded into Deception. We did have a ritual to craft magic item AND a feat to craft alchemical recipe later down the line.

I very much was delighted to see the skill list in 4e, with its consolidation of many of the unnecessarily separated, granular, or hyper-specific skills into skills with broad applications. Appraisal into something else, and into multiple something elses, so nice. Stealth instead of Move Silently/Hide in Shadows, finally! Dungeoneering as a skill, cool!

And, I think this needs a special call out, detect magic as a trained use of Arcana? Excellent!

For a revisit of 4e, I'd consolidate further, such as merging Acrobatics and Athletics into a single skill, as well as Diplomacy and Intimidate into a single Influence skill, place Bluff and Thievery under Scoundrel, maybe add another broad skill or two, and absolutely 100% decouple specific attributes from specific skills to allow the proper calling of the what (skill) and the governing how (attribute). :)

I loved the Mc feats! they gave you a unique water downed version of a class feature. My Cleric took the Paladin one to get a Divine Challenge once per encounter. I think there should have been multiple MC feats per class so you could invest more of your resources into it, with only the first one gate keeping the rest. I could see a MC Paladin feat that gives your another use of Divine Challenge and one that gives you some Lay on Hands charges. And I think those feat should be enough to qualify you for the Paragon Path of that other class.
Seconded! The MC feats were a nice way of doing it, though I would have gotten rid of the feats required to get powers from the MCed class -- just let the player pick 1 of each so long as they have an equal or more number from their primary class. I too would then create follow-up feats that granted more abilities.

(I also am a fan of Hybrids -- some of the most amazing character concepts and fun on both sides of the screen came from those.)

Ya know, next time I'm DM-ing, the 'Square' will be an actual in-world unit of measurement mostly used for indoor room plans. 1 Square will be equal to 25 Tiles, with the Tile being originally a legal standard for slate flooring tiles in a Capital city that was known for those and wanted to protect its citizens from being swindled by undersized tiles. Inspectors would go around the various shops with a model and make sure the tiles were within an appropriate margin or the merchant would lose their sale licence.

Not unlike how rooms in Japan can be measured in units of tatami mats.
I totally love this... :D

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