Ten Things You Can Do In Fourth Edition Part Two

….. that you couldn’t do in Third Edition (easily).

Continued from here.

6. Combatless adventures

No, seriously. Bear with me on this one.

While 4e D&D seems to be all about the battles, there’s also a rather good skill system fighting to get out. The Skill Challenges do a great job of involving all of the players in non-combat encounters, to the point where it really is possible to run an adventure from start to finish without a single combat. Imagine a D&D version of Sherlock Holmes or Scooby Doo, and you’re there. Wherever there is. For the first time, we’ve got solid mechanics for handling investigations, deduction, interrogation and the rest. With a little imagination, D&D could become the RPG of choice for Fantasy Noir detective stories. Yum!

In 3e, such an intense combatless scenario would leave the poor Fighter twiddling his skill-less thumbs. He’d be relegated to guard duty while the skillful Rogue or Bard did all the intellectual heavy lifting. And 3e was a vast improvement over what it replaced – at least 3e has the (brilliant and underused) Aid Another option which lets even unskilled characters lend a hand.

4e takes it much, much further though with Skill Challenges involving every character by design. There’s plenty of role-playing potential in those rolls too, but I’ll leave that for another post, another time. Suffice to say that 4e Skill Challenges rock, and it’s very possible to run a feature-packed, exciting adventure without a single sword being drawn.

7. GM-free games

For all it’s hand-holding, 3e needs a GM. It needs someone to control the monsters, handle the plotlines and keep everything roughly on track. Conventional wisdom says that all role-playing games need a GM; you can take away the dice and rules, but you always need a GM. Right?


Grab a couple of characters each, a few minis and a battlemat and 4e D&D plays just fine for some PvP action. Call it a Gladiatorial Fight Club, and you’re all set. We’ve covered this already, so won’t dwell on this too much. For a little added variety, use the Random Dungeon Generator from the DMG, prepare a random encounter table and march your minis through a whole dungeon without a DM in sight. Sure, you could do this in any edition of D&D (or any other RPG for that matter), but 4e’s predictable Powers system and emphasis on battlemat play makes this so much easier than before.

Ironic, considering 4e is also the Edition which hands the reins of control back to the GM too!

8. First Edition feel, Fourth Edition rules

(With apologies to Necromancer Games)

Strange as it may seem amid all this chatter about 4e being inspired by/derivative of/a blatant copy of World of Warcraft, CCGs and computer games in general, it’s also the closest edition in feel to Classic D&D. The characters have defined roles that bring them closer to the original Fighter/Cleric/Magic-User/Thief concepts (apart from the Rogue, who’s much more of a swashbuckler than a cutpurse. But I digress). The whole Points of Light concept takes us right back to the days when GMs designed a village and a dungeon, branching out as required. Winterhaven (from Keep on Shadowfell) even reminded me of Threshold, the original D&D Point of Light!

To an extent, this is because 4e is a new Edition without the tons of baggage that 3e had gained over the years. It’s a fresh start, and that by definition means you’re looking at a simpler, leaner system. There’s a handful of races, a similar number of classes (and TOO FEW POWERS, but that’s another story), meaning the characters have to work that little bit harder to be original. It’s refreshing as only a new Edition can be.

Can 3e do the same? Sure, in spades. But which gamer group will really, honestly let you remove all their options (and favourite race/class combos) from the table without kicking up a stink? :D 4e takes away their protests. It is what it is. At least, for now.

9. Make up rules on the spot

“I want to out-wit him in an arm-wrestling contest.”
“You heard me. I want to out-psyche him. It’s a contest of strength and wills. He might be stronger, but I reckon he’ll back down if I stare him down. I’m going to use my strength to break his will.”
“(laughing) Ok, Contest. You roll Strength, he rolls Wisdom. Highest wins.”

4e. True.

4e gives the game back to the GM and says “I trust you”. 3e holds our hands and tries to provide rules for every situation. That’s a good thing too, but 4e plays just a touch faster and looser. Which,IMHO, is even better.

10. ????

Now it’s your turn. What could take this Number Ten spot as something 4e does, that’s not so easy in 3e? Do tell!

In the interests of balance (HATE that word!), here’s Ten Things You Can Do In Third Edition that you couldn’t do in Fourth (easily). In short, and no particular order:

1. Binders

Not the kind you put paper into, but the kind in the Tome of Magic. The Binder is easily my favourite non-Core Class in 3e, and one I’d love to see as a straight conversion into 4e. Faking it with a Cleric just doesn’t cut it.


Not yet, anyhow, and they won’t be the same when they do arrive. I like the 3e Power Points mechanic and completely different flavour of the Psionic classes in 3e. I suspect 4e’s versions will lose a lot of that in the translation and they become just another “Powers at-will, per encounter or daily” class. Ah well.

3. Purchase a flask of oil

Or a mule. Or a 10’ pole. Or a cloak. The 4e PHB equipment list is woefully inadequate. ‘Nuff said!

4. Learn lots and lots of Spells

Wizards’ giveth, Wizards’ taketh away. And it’s the Wizard class that gets shafted. Oh,the irony. All those lovely spells form Third Edition (and especially the ones in the Spell Compendium) are great fun – if you happen to be playing a spell-caster class. Migrating over to 4e is a big wrench. Suck it up, folks!

5. Dire Animals

I’ve said this already. Animals. Dire template. Please?

6. The Isle of Dread

No dinosaurs in the MM = no dino adventures on the most famous island of them all. I suspect a 4e Isle of Dread Campaign Setting is in the works. We can only hope, eh?

7. In your head fantasy

4e needs a battlemat to play. 3e doesn’t, though it’s optional. This is a deal-breaker for many, and I see no easy fix for this one either. Either you crack open the minis (or jelly babies, my miniatures brand of choice), stick with 3e or move to another system. I hear Microlite20 is rather good………

8. Low-magic settings

From 1st to 4th level, 3e D&D is a terrific game for a low-magic campaign. The feel is just right whether you’re re-creating Thieve’s World, Olde England (complete with Robin Hood and his Merrie Rangers!) or want to keep magical excesses firmly under control. On the other hand, as we’ve seen before, 4e’s 1st level is comparable to 3e’s 4th level, meaning it starts just as the magic ramps up. As all the classes have been emPowered in some way, there’s simply no room for low-magic in 4e.

9. Play via IRC

Needing a battlemat means ‘net play demands a dedicated app such as the one promised with D&D Insider. Unless anyone else knows differently (or you’re willing to play combatless – see above), it looks like IRC-based gaming is dead in the water with 4th Edition.

10. Bring your characters into the Modern day and far Future

….. or anywhere else. 3rd Edition D&D is compatible enough with d20 Modern that it’s ridiculously easy to mix elements of the games. Want to play a Charismatic Ogre Celebrity? Want to pull your fantasy characters into modern-day New York (with hilarious consequences!) – no problem. Elves in Space? Grab d20 Future and you’re there, just add your own Giant Space Hamster for added Jammin’ goodness. And I know of at least two Halfling Jedi characters. I kid you not.

4e has no such cross-game compliance. Yet!

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