Sunday, June 8, 2008

A Fourth Edition

A special sort of person reads this site, and we expect that many such readers are well aware that Wizards of the Coast has updated Dungeons & Dragons for today's short-attention-span, video game playing, adolescent male audience.

Yes, D&D has buried the third edition, and resurrected a fourth. Jack Kirby, we presume, would be so proud.

If we didn't have a copy, if we didn't have an opinion, then this certainly would not be The Middle Room.

Of course, while this is supposedly the fourth edition, our count differs. By our reckoning, this is at the very least the FIFTH edition of Dungeons & Dragons. The discrepancy originates with the shift from Second Edition ADVANCED Dungeons & Dragons to Third Edition Dungeons & Dragons. By discarding the distinction between "Advanced" and "regular" Dungeons & Dragons, they ought to have admitted an additional edition, since, technically, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons first edition was really a second edition of Dungeons & Dragons.

But, as is so often the case, we have digressed from our topic.

In the interest of full disclosure, we must admit that while we've begun studying the vast tome than is the Fourth Edition of The Player's Handbook, we are far from fully comprehending all its secrets.

And that is as it should be. We are not here to review this book for you, to tell you whether you should purchase it or not (if you've any interest in gaming in the next seven years, your die is already cast, as it were). Rather, we view this as an opportunity for discussion and reflection.

Over the next few days or weeks or months (the future is clouded), we shall explore these pages together and meditate on the game, just as a Eladrin spend four hours in a meditative trance to regain their many powers and healing surges. But perhaps we're jumping ahead of ourselves.

The first thing we realized perusing the Player's Handbook is that, truly, this is a new game. The changes are more pronounced than anything we'd ever imagined. In itself, this is neither good nor bad, but make no mistake, this is no mere illusion but a total alteration, more akin to Polymorph Other than Alter Self (to borrow 2nd Edition terminology).

So jarring were the changes, that at first it seemed that converting from previous editions of D&D to the new system is all but impossible. While we assume there are many web pages offering suggestions on turning 3rd edition characters into 4th, we believe we've already located the most practical option available.

There are new races as well: the core races now include Dragonborn, Tieflings, and Eladrin, while the Gnome and Half-Orc are nowhere to be seen. While we anticipate seeing Half-Orcs in later supplements, we fear that gnomes may be extinct. If so, we suspect, the Dragonborn are to blame.

It should be noted that Dragonborn strike us as notably "dwarfish" in behavior and temperament. On the other hand, some of them can breath fire. We aren't certain why it was decided to give so odd a race a coveted spot in the Player's Handbook. At first glance they strike us as somewhat silly, but time may yet soften our opinion.

Tieflings, who we know from Planescape, are a welcome addition to the core rulebook. While they may not be appropriate for every game, they are quintessentially fun, and a very good fit for the tone of the book.

Eladrin are, more or less, elves. There are not a great number of differences between them and elves themselves (in previous editions, Eladrin were referred to as "high elves," and did not require a separate listing). We are not sure why they required two types of elves, nor do we fully understand why Eladrin are able to teleport once per encounter. But there is much in this book that confuses us.

At a glance, there are things that impress us and things that irritate us. We love that first level wizards are able to survive a mauling by a house cat, for example (an improvement from previous editions). On the other hand, we are discouraged to see that they've turned clerics into... well... D&D clerics, which is to say fighters with priest spells. In previous editions, this was easy to ignore, since priests were separate from clerics, and no one ever played a cleric (they just don't make sense). But priests have gone the way of the gnome, so that option is out.

On some strange level, all of the classes in 4th Edition feel like fighters with magic powers (including fighters, oddly enough). This may turn out to be a good change, though it concerns us. We will try to refrain from judgment, however, until we've completed the book.

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