D&D 4E Let's Talk About 4E On Its Own Terms [+]


4e really want less, more complicated fights.
100%! I mean, really, 200%!

This is from Worlds & Monsters, p 14:

no more 10-by-10 rooms with two orcs. Encounters should occur in areas with interesting threats - from encounter traps that activate every round to hazards that were formerly considered monsters, such as assassin vines or gray ooze.​

One of my personal favourites from my own 1st-to-30th 4e campaign: https://www.enworld.org/threads/und...mons-beholders-elementals-and-a-hydra.330383/

log in or register to remove this ad


Staff member
In my experience, the 4Ed combat grind came from having too many powers & abilities giving too many short-duration combat modifiers. Players were constantly having to recalculate their attack bonuses & damage. I noticed newer players struggled the most, but even some veterans had issues. In a sense, that was a very real source of complexity.

Having bonuses last longer would probably not have been game breaking, though they might have had to institute bonus caps.

It’s not like most powers gave anyone BIG bonuses, after all; +1 here, +2 there.


In my experience, the 4Ed combat grind came from having too many powers & abilities giving too many short-duration combat modifiers.
Over in the Ben Riggs' "What the Heck Happened with 4th Edition?" seminar at Gen Con 2023 thread, it was mentioned that apparently someone unilaterally decided to buff all monster hp just before sending the files off to the printer. That feels like a source of a lot of the grind: more hp obviously means longer fights, and disproportionately so because you already used your encounter powers to knock down the proper amount of hp, and now you're limited to at-wills to deal with the extra.

100%! I mean, really, 200%!

This is from Worlds & Monsters, p 14:

no more 10-by-10 rooms with two orcs. Encounters should occur in areas with interesting threats - from encounter traps that activate every round to hazards that were formerly considered monsters, such as assassin vines or gray ooze.​

One of my personal favourites from my own 1st-to-30th 4e campaign: https://www.enworld.org/threads/und...mons-beholders-elementals-and-a-hydra.330383/

Yeah, 4E was clearly leaning into the idea of cinematic set piece fights that are interesting and important, rather than the more traditional, naturalistic idea based around attrition and "combat as war" stuff. The problem was that the adventures were doing the classic D&D thing of fighting the last generation's dungeon instead of embracing the new design, which just reinforced the old way of thinking rather than helping people understand the new paradigm they were trying to create.


The dark one :)
Does anyone know ifvtgere is a viable VTT implementation?
I use a customized version of takehara's framework for 5th edition in Maptools but I don't play online, only in-person with a projector as it has no automation for 4th (except for initiative in my tweaked version).

I just added a character sheet framework for 4th for players (can't remember the author of the framework) on top of it


and for monsters, I use the simple statblock from takehara's framework with tokens exported from my excel sheet and it's just enough for running in-person games


The downside is that it has no automation at all (you can roll attacks, saves or the like but you need to track hit success and damage by yourself as it's not applied automatically when playing online)

And a few shortcuts for the GM


So I want to talk about a class I like for the opposite reasons that most people like 4e classes. You know how some players like playing something simple? Like the kind of person who in 5e, picks Champion Fighter and seems satisfied to just say "I hit it with my sword" every round of combat and watch all the damage they do? I'm glad simple classes exist for people like that, and once Essentials came out, those options came to 4e without replacing the more complex options. Like I had one campaign where my girlfriend was happy to play a slayer and just say "I hit it with my sword" every round while everyone else was engaging with more complex tactics, and it felt like she was contributing about as much as everyone else. But for whatever reason, it seems customary for the simple options to all be martial stuff. Like in 5e, it's definitely simpler to be a warlock than a wizard, but it's still a clear step up in complexity from an average fighter. 4e designers realized that some people who want something very simple might also have the fantasy of being able to use magic, and thus we got our new sorcerer class: the Elementalist. An elementalist picks an element (air, water, earth, or fire), gets a single target at-will ranged 10 attack called Elemental Bolt, one of two options for an at-will AoE attack for their element, and an encounter power to add additional targets and boost damage of one of those other two attacks. And that's basically it. It's a perfectly good class for someone who just wants to say "I throw fire at it" every round of every combat. I'm glad this option exists, and I find it kind of surprising that 5e didn't move forward with a similarly dead simple magic option.
Last edited:

Some incoherent thoughts:

One of the things I noticed over time how the implied setting - which was started in the "Worlds & Monsters" books before the PHB was even released - really appealed to me. It used lots of components I knew from D&D 3E (my first D&D edition) ,put a new spin on it, and created something very coherent, but without being too detailed. You had plenty of room to tinker and make it your own story.

Playing it, it was surprisingly easy to DM. The monsters were more simply to both create and play, and handling a combat encounter was much easier than I knew from other games (Shadorun 3E, D&D 3E and Monte Cook's Arcane Unearthed) being the primary games I had DMed or GMed before).
That didn't make creating the "story" of the campaign or adventures easier, but it freed a lot cognitive workload to focus more on that.

I also noticed that I barely knew the powers the player characters had, because the rules framework made it easy to adjudicate everything. And it's fun to be surprised by some of the powers that existed, and seeing how an enemy would end up in a very bad situation, or how a player could escape a similar bad situation with tricks I didn't knew (or at least didn't remember) he had.

The Warl*** classes were probably my favorites. Warlock had great flavour (or flavours, depending on your patron choice), and Warlord was just something I had always been missing. It seemed that very often the "guy with the sword" was the party leader in fiction, and finally there was a fighter type class that could actually pull it off. And on top of that, you could also do the "lazy" Warlord, which was a very interesting concept that I wish more games were offering.

Overall, as a player, I liked that there was more focus on character play than character building. It's not that you didn't plan your character and carefully selected your powers, but the fights felt rather different because positioning and the environment mattered more, and you had more ways to affect it, too. Especially the force movement powers and zone creation abilities tended to create a more dynamic battlefield. You could really work towards subgoals in combat.

I enjoyed the Mark mechanics and the related "punishment" mechanics. It felt better to not just have the enemy be "mind-controlled" by some aggro mechanic like common in computer games, and it also meant interesting choices to be made - do I take the Defender's punishment, or do I focus on a more vulnerable but dangerous target. It's not always clear what is best, and either way, the Defender's presence will matter.

I think the healing mechanics also played into these dynamics. You could be reduced to bloodied (brilliant invention) in very few turns, increasing the tension, but a healer (or sometimes a non-healer ,including yourself) could allow you to spend a healing surge (plus some extra healing) and really avoid you acutally dropping (and potentially losing turn of actions). It can be a bit of a Yo-Yo effect, but only in your hit point values, your character is (usually) not actually dropping. Without such a mechanic, it's really just a matter of straightforward attrition, which tends to start boring and in the end gets a nailbiter, but you can't do much about it once it happens. With the healing surge mechanics, you kept some of the attrition (but usually across multiple enounters), but keep forcing people to act and react, and it happens not just at the end of combat, but the entire time.

While it did also slow down play, the many interrupts, reactions and opportunity attack abilities meant that even when it's not your turn, you need to keep track of what was going on, keeping you more engaged. (Even though sometimes I wish these abilites were more streamlined).

Overall that is why I think I agree with many that D&D 4 really benefits from bigger set piece combats and not much from a series of lower difficulty encounters. If you have a challenging fight 2-4 levels over party levels (at paragon or epic tier maybe more), because all this really starts to matter and work together to create a very interesting combat, even if takes time to play.

I think that kinda benefits my gaming group. We're playing online with Maptools or Foundry, and we only have 2 hours or so of gameplay a week, with many multi-week-long breaks due to vacations, ilnesses or what not.
Low difficulty fights tend to be not that exciting, and having to track minute resources like spells/powers per day and per encounter tend to be difficult and take time away from the storytelling and character play.

Paragon Paths and Epic Destinies were cool and often inspiring elements. When I read the words "Once per day, when you die" for a special ability I really knew Epic meant Epic.

D&D Essentials had some interesting ideas, like trying to create "simple" versions of classes that avoided the AEDU concept to appeal to gamers that didn't enjoy them. It probably needed more finetuning, but ultimately it came too late.

Still part of me thought it would be fun if they had started with an Essentials like approach, or at least created some mini-starter that would use Dwarf and Elf as "classes", and then later in a full game reveal that they are just a 4E Dwarven Slayer and an Elven Two-Weapon Ranger or Swordmage in a trench-coat.

The digital tools were a great addition, especially since they incorporated errata, but primarily because they made managing all the supplements so much easier. And they made NPC/monster building and adjusting so much easier.
I wasn't a big fan of the move to the online version of the tools since the character builder became less responsive, and the monster builder was never quite done. Kept using the offline monster builder for a long time, even if it meant having to readjust some stats to the new monster math. But the worst aspect of that was of course that when the digital support went offline, the tools were gone.

I actually used 4E as basis to create a Star Wars rule system, which allowed me to run another campain over several years.
I still am a bit creatively burned out after the years of DMing (even though we share DM duties in my current group), but one of the serious contenders is a 4E based campaign using the Diamond Throne setting.

I will preface this by saying I wasn't a 4e fan but not because I thought it was a bad game. I thought it was a well executed set of mechanics that were too far from what our groups expected from the d&d brand.

Things I really liked:
  • monster classifications were an excellent tool for teaching new GMs. An ogre can go from solo to elite to minion, brute to soldier. Roles help design encounters.
  • Leader powers were a solid way to boost NPCs but also let PCs debuff them.
  • minions - "1hp Mooks" were a great idea to make an encounter more complex without adding much GM book keeping
  • ritual caster - I was happy a form of it survived to 5e and irate when 5.5 proposed nerfing it almost entirely
  • I like systems where grid/battlemat play is the default.

Remove ads


Remove ads

Upcoming Releases