The 4th edition Player’s Handbook (Arcane, Divine and Martial Heroes) was written by Rob Heinsoo, Andy Collins, and James Wyatt. It is a high quality book with a good binding, glossy pages and over 300 pages of new content.
Races & Classes
There are eight races (Dragonborn, Dwarf, Eladrin, Elf, Half-Elf, Halfling, Human, and Tiefling) and eight classes (Cleric, Fighter, Paladin, Ranger, Rogue, Warlock, Warlord, and Wizard). It uses the six familiar abilities (Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, Dexterity, Constitution, and Charisma) to describe characters and, as before, expands a character’s abilities with skills and feats.
Skills have changed and, in my opinion, are more sensible and better laid out than before. Fourth edition skills are: Acrobatics, Arcana, Athletics, Bluff, Diplomacy, Dungeoneering, Endurance, Heal, History, Insight, Intimidate, Nature, Perception, Religion, Stealth, Streetwise, and Thievery).
Feats work pretty much as they did before. Many new feats have been added, some have been removed and others have been modified. Characters have been divided into three groups by level. Level 1 to 10 characters are in the Heroic Tier. Level 11 to 20 are in the Paragon Tier. Level 21 to 30 are in the Epic Tier. Feats are then also defined by tier, so that a character must be of the paragon tier before she may select a paragon tier feat.
In addition to feats, 4th edition adds powers. Some powers are combat powers while others are utilitarian. Each class has its own sets of powers and at each point where a character may select a power, there are a number of options available. By selecting different powers at each of these points, a character may follow a different path, individualizing the character by the choices that are made.
The biggest change is that spells have been removed. However, most of the powers available to typical spell-casting classes produce spell-like results so it could be argued that spells weren’t removed so much as they were renamed as powers. However, the number of powers available to wizards and clerics does not come anywhere close to the number of spells these classes had available to them in previous versions. There is a feat that arcane/divine casters can learn that allows them to perform rituals. A ritual is essentially a spell with a lengthy casting time and expensive material components. By including rituals, a “spell caster” can extend her repertoire beyond a handful of spell-like powers and regain some of the versatility offered in earlier versions.
Another large change is the addition of the healing surge. Each character has a limited number of healing surges that they have available each day. In most cases, when a cleric heals you, instead of healing you directly she casts a spell that works as a trigger allowing you to spend a healing surge. This surge then can heal you, typically for about 25% of your maximum hit points. Various powers work as triggers allowing you to spend a healing surge and others require the use of a healing surge. Although healing surges usually heal you, sometimes they serve to create other effects instead. After a rest, you may spend as many healing surges as you wish to heal yourself but you do have a limited number of surges a day. An extended rest (a night’s sleep) restores all your healing surges as well as any damage you may have suffered.
Combat works pretty much as before. You have four defenses (Armor Class, Reflex, Fortitude and Will Power) and Hit Points. Melee attacks are usually 1d20 + half your level (rounded down) plus your strength bonus and are made against the target’s armor class. Ranged weapon attacks differ only in that they replace the strength bonus with a dexterity bonus. Each class has various powers that alter these attacks, most of which using the ability bonus for the primary ability of that class.
Magical items are described in the player’s handbook instead of in the dungeon master’s guide. This seems strange at first. But in 4th edition any character can create any magical item, within the restriction of level and the cost of the item. This necessitates moving magical item info from the realm of the dungeon master to that of the player.
Overall, my favorite feature in this version is the increased sense of structure throughout the book. Powers are described in specific terms of what happens if you hit, what happens if you miss, how ongoing effects are handled and how saves are made. Magical items each have a specific level associated with them and everything is quantifiable.
The most important tenant in dnd is, has always been, and hopefully always will be that the rules are just a guideline! Every DM must interpret the rules herself and make whatever changes are necessary to increase the enjoyment of the group. That being said, I think it is equally important for rules to be stated as clearly and unambiguously as possible.
The fourth edition Player’s Handbook has done an excellent job of clarifying a few things. They have also made a number of very interesting changes.
I never take a new rule set entirely on its own. I view it more as source material where I take out chunks to add to, or replace portions of, my existing rule set. I have come away from 4e with a great deal of new information to add to my game.
Even taken entirely on its own, it looks to be a very enjoyable game system indeed!