Four Into Three

Here’s the thing. You’ve got shelves-upon-shelves of 3rd Edition D&D material ranging from adventures to campaign settings and game supplements then along comes 4th Edition just like we knew it would.

What do you do?

At first glance, there’s two choices – jump, or not jump. Either ignore all the hoohar and stick with the 3rd Edition you’re playing now or make a clean break with a fresh campaign and put your 3rd Edition books on eBay. The first option is the most appealing to gamers who’ve already invested heavily in the game while the latter appeals more to folks new to the hobby and Wizards’ itself who would much rather you’re 100% behind 4th Edition from the start. There is another way though, and all it takes is a small change in perception.

Why not use the 4th Edition core books as supplements to your current 3rd Edition game?

Think of the books as roughly akin to the Book of Nine Swords part two and cherry pick the best of Fourth Edition for implementation in your current campaign. This gives you the best of both worlds – access to the thousands of existing published Monsters, hundreds of Classes and Races and all those 3rd Edition resources you currently own, but with an extra layer of 4th Edition sparkliness.

Here’s a quick bluffer’s guide to the highlights that using such a crossbreed will bring.

Starting level & Powers

As we’ve already ascertained in ThirdAndFourthHeadToHead, First Level in 4th Edition is roughly equal to Fourth level from 3rd Edition (follow that? Good!), so if you’re starting a new campaign or running a one-shot begin with 4th level characters but only assign equipment equal to 1st level. Allow the characters to select 2 at will, 1 encounter and 1 daily Power from the 4e PHB and gain new Powers as they advance in level. Trough through the ENWorld forums and select from other classes for classes not currently supported by 4th Edition. Replace the Wizard class entirely with the 3rd Edition Sorcerer but allow Wizard-style Specialization. Sorcerer Illusionists rock!

Playing using the 3e rules gives you back your Monk, Barbarian and specialist spell-casters, and means the players have access to the hundreds of cool Races we’ve grown to know and love, so that player who loves his Catfolk Ninja will be happier still when they can add new Powers to their character sheet.

As the characters are 4th level they have access to a whole range of Level Adjusted Races so encourage diversity. This will emphasize the ramped-up power level of the game and re-inforce that you’re not so much playing 4e, as 3e++ :)

When it comes to Powers, several of them replace or replicate 3e Combat Feats – most notably Cleave. In this case, favour the Power but allow it to be taken by any martial-oriented Class. A Paladin with Cleave is great (and a weakness in 4e that this requires a multi-class Feat to achieve), but a Cleaving Sorcerer is out.

Where Feats exist in both 3rd and 4th Edition, select which best suits your style of play on a case-by-case basis, then stick to that decision. In general, favour the 4e variant to stay closer to that style of play. When you’re using Feats from supplements, consider making them Powers instead, especially if they seem overly powerful in comparison to the 3e Core Rules Feats. Many are.

Small characters such as Halflings will rejoice at the weapon-size rules from 4e, so use those and get rid of 3e’s different damage rules entirely. Now your Halfling can use any old dagger just fine, and wield a Longsword two-handed just as nature intended. As an aside, this makes treasure allocation much easier for the GM too!

Decide whether to use the 4e rules for Fort, Ref and Will. This largely depends on whether you want the players to roll the dice or prefer to handle this yourself. If you go the 4e route, use the calculation for the saves as per 3e then add 10 to the result.

As the characters advance, use the 3rd Edition advancement rules to calculate BAB, assign Feats, select Skills etc but grant new Powers as per 4th Edition. Where classes gain a special ability as per 3rd Edition, make that an ability usable at will, per encounter or daily depending on the intent and design of the power. Use post-it notes in your 3e PHB to show how the abilities become Powers and stick to your choice.. Your players won’t be happy if their Rogue can Sneak Attack once per encounter but that NPC Rogue is using it at will. Be consistent!

Use the 3e multi-classing rules, but keep a close eye on the number of special abilities (ie, new Powers) gained. If the character doesn’t have enough Power slots to fit the new Powers they’ll have to want a level or two before they gain all of the tricks of the new class.

When it comes to existing characters, grant them Powers appropriate to their level-3 and take away their multiple attacks. Some of their Powers slots will be filled with their current special abilities (converted to Powers) but there should be more than enough slots for them to gain kewl new stuff too. Drop in a world-changing scenario to explain the shift, and you’re done.


Use a battlemat for that 100% 4e feel, and implement the 4e movement rules where a square is a square whatever the direction. Optionally, say GoodbyeToTheGrid and allow the characters to move anywhere, anyhow for complete freedom of movement. Y’know, just like they do in computer games :)

To balance all of these kewl new Powers you’ve thrown at the players, remove multiple attacks from the game. This speeds combat up immensely and keeps the players on their toes as now they won’t be able to power nap while the whirling-dervish-of-death Ranger makes his umpteen attacks.

Use 4e’s rules for Bloodied and healing surges. This will keep the characters aliver for longer, and as necessary for many of their Powers. Use the 3e Weapon Proficiency rules, but roll criticals as per 4e. A natural 20 is maximum damage, though some weapons (see the 4e equipment table) are High Crit and do additional damage too.


Use the 3rd Edition spell system as Rituals are Rubbish. When the spellcasting character gains a level, allow them the option of gaining a spell as a Power instead and decide whether it’s to be at will, per encounter or daily. All spells now require attack rolls (goodbye auto-hit Magic Missile) but these can be against AC, Fort, Ref or Will – select and write a post-it note.


Use all those 3e Monsters you know and love. Replace any special abilities with Powers and add new Powers to make the critters interesting. Use the 4e Minions rules too, so toss a handful of 1hp Monsters into every encounter. Assign XP and design encounters as per the 4e DMG page 56 rather than 3e’s convoluted process. A Monster’s Level should be roughly it’s CRx2 (I think – we need a better calculation for this), and adjust to suit.

When creating new monsters, use the 4e rules. They’re much, much better.

Why note just move to 4e?

If you’re making all this effort, why not just play 4e instead?

There’s several good reasons, top of the list being we may have existing campaigns we’re unwilling to sweep away. By bringing 4e elements into your game rather than wiping the slate clean we’re introducing the players to new concepts and playstyles gradually. This means that when they’re ready for a fresh start with the 4e rules wholesale (hopefully by which time the PHB II will have filled in a few gaping holes) they’re already familiar with the game.

Just as important is that 3e has a full System Reference Document complete with classes, monster stats, psionics and more. 4e on the other hand….. doesn’t. Instead 4e has page references, definitions and elements useful for game designers but of little use to we ground-floor gamers. Ah well.

Finally, 3e isn’t that broken, but it could benefit from a healthy dose of 4e sparkliness. By using the 4e Core Rules as a supplement to your existing 3e game, you’re adding a fresh coat of paint onto an already much loved game.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.