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Revisiting 4th Edition - Player Options

It's been a long time since I've utilized this blog, and instead of trying to start a new blog and start fresh, I wanted to continue the things I've started many, many years ago. There are plenty of thoughts and ideas in my mind, and this is as good a forum as any to discuss them for others to read. While I've been playing and DMing a lot of 5e, I wanted to start with some other projects I've been thinking of and start conversations about that.

4th Edition (4e) was the start to my love of Dungeons & Dragons, yet has largely been un-played since the inception of the 5e playtest. I remember being initially skeptical of 5e coming out and replacing 5e, only to embrace it wholeheartedly once the first public playtests became available.

Image result for dungeons & dragons 4e cover

I think one of the biggest struggles my friends had with 4e was that I purchased most of the books, and other players rarely showed up to the table prepared. With all the powers most of the classes had in 4e, being unprepared was a nightmare. This just led to slower gameplay overall. Ultimately though, having a group of players sitting down to play with a lack of materials created many hoops to jump through. I’m still not entirely sure why this occurred. It could have been that it was during the peak of college time for all of us, and other friends decided they didn’t want to shell out money for a book. It could also have been due to the many books that needed to be purchased in order to get the rules or resources to build a specific character. Druid was in PHB2, but the Minotaur race was in PHB3, which meant nothing because the character creation rules were in PHB1. That’s a lot of money to invest when trying to build one character.

I really didn’t get what the Essentials line was about until I opened the books, finding it somewhat strange that the hardcovers were replaced by paperbacks (and at half the cost). I liked the simplification of some of the classes while including all the rules needed for character creation. Unfortunately, by the time Essentials came out, none of my friends had time to play D&D, and they chose not to purchase any of the books either. I spent the last few months of my senior year in college playing loose D&D with a group of people on my floor, but it always felt more like a DM throwing all sorts of monsters at us with little exploring or social encounters.

As I’ve begun to review my 4e materials, I’m amazed at the depth of content that was created for it such a short amount of time. This gives me a wealth of information to plunder to create a unique 4e experience for myself and my players. As I read and collected as many 4e articles and books as I could, I felt like I should allow players to utilize all material that they could want. Ironically, when I played a one shot in January 2017, I felt overwhelmed during character creation and the choices I needed to make for powers and feats (though, in 4e's defense, I was jumping straight to 6th level).

To start, I think it’s important to decide what setting the games will be played in. This will then allow me to create a document to provide to the players with as a "campaign handbook", even if we are only playing various one shots here and there. As I reviewed my 4e materials, I decided I wanted to stick with the Points of Light setting, the default assumption for much of the lore and history in 4e. I like the size of the Nentir Vale (good for adventuring), and with the parallel planes of the Feywild and Shadowfell, there’s a good amount of locations I can use for it. I will explore this in a later post when I post a campaign guide, much like what Chris Perkins has demonstrated.

Image result for satyr 4e d&d

My 4e games will allow players to utilize the following published books for character creation:

Heroes of the Fallen Lands
Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms
Heroes of the Shadow
Heroes of the Feywild
Heroes of the Elemental Chaos
Into the Unknown

These are my favorite books, with plenty of flavorful things going on with the rest of the builds. The “Heroes of” supplements are my favorite overall character building books, mostly because they contain so much awesome flavor and story ideas. Using these books, players have the following race options for their characters.

Dragonborn (Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms)
Drow (Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms)
Dwarf (Heroes of the Fallen Lands)
Eladrin (Heroes of the Fallen Lands)
Elf (Heroes of the Fallen Lands)
Goblin (Into the Unknown)
Hamadryad (Heroes of the Feywild)
Half-Elf (Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms)
Half-Orc (Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms)
Halfling (Heroes of the Fallen Lands)
Human (Heroes of the Fallen Lands & Forgotten Kingdoms)
Kobold (Into the Unknown)
Pixie (Heroes of the Feywild)
Revenant (Heroes of Shadow)
Satyr (Heroes of the Feywild)
Shade (Heroes of Shadow)
Svirfneblin (Into the Unknown)
Tiefling (Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms)
Vrylocka (Heroes of Shadow)

The list can be slightly intimidating, since there are characters from all sorts of backgrounds and origins (especially when one compares the fey races to the shadow ones). I plan on addressing some of these hooks as I work on the Campaign Handbook. From a class standpoint, there are a few 4e classes missing, such as the warden and the warlord, but I'm ok with that (though you may disagree!).

With this baseline set for books, it's time to peruse other options and start customizing my 4e options, starting with additional races.

Kenku (Winning Races: Kenku, Dragon 411)
Minotaur (PHB3)
Warforged (Eberron Player's Guide)

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It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Kenku and all things Feywild, so bringing the ravenfolk to my games is an auto-include. The minotaur may be a little more of a unique situation, but it stems from being my brother’s favorite 4e race that he wanted to play. So, should he ever decided to sit down and play some nostalgic 4e (he was around 9 or 10 when we got into the game), I want him to be able to revisit something from his past that he loved. Lastly, I'm adding warforged, since I'm a sucker for the super cool miniatures they tend to have, and the option to play a construct is a unique addition. I realize some will decry my lack of gnomes, goliaths, and shifters (or other favorites), but based on what my friends have played, most will find this list acceptable. I have one friend who spent 4e playing a genasi and a shifter, so he may be the most upset. He's also told me that time is my biggest enemy on this project (in terms of getting people to sit down for some casual 4e), so maybe I'm just being passive aggressive here. In my mind, this is a creative exercise. The world is largely created (I just add dashes of flavor and hooks), so I don't have to create anything major as we do for our homebrewed 5e game.

Image result for warforged 4e

The new races introduced in Heroes of the Feywild, Heroes of Shadow, and Into the Unknown all include racial powers that can be taken at the appropriate level as a substitute for a class power. The kenku also has racial powers in it's article, and I want to make these options available to the players, so the following Dragon articles will be included as well. Dragonborn are in a unique circumstance: their racial powers reference a previous article that allows the substitution of their dragonbreath power with a dragonfear power. To not hamper dragonborn choices, I'm throwing in the dragonfear option.

Bloodlines of Arkhosia: Dragonfear, Dragon 388
Making Race Count, Dragon 402 (Dwarves, Half-Elves, Halflings, Humans)
Making Race Count Part 2, Dragon 405 (Drow, Eladrin, Elves)
Making Race Count Part 3, Dragon 408 (Dragonborn, Half-Orcs, Tieflings)

Unfortunately, the articles did not ever give every race utility powers, and it seems the minotaur and warforged will unfortunately be left out of these options. I don't think it will be a huge issue, simply because both are extremely cool race options, and I have some other ideas I'm considering as well.

When it comes to the available classes, Dragon magazine offered some exciting updates and other options that I wanted to include. These articles largely followed as supplements to the published books, where, either due to page count limit or readiness during publishing, they came after the books were released. There are some really cool options, and I wanted to give them a chance to shine. The following will be available to my players.

Class Acts: Assassin – Secrets of the Ninja, Dragon 404
Class Acts: Hexblades – The Lady’s Gift, Dragon 393
Class Acts: Knight – Sword Guard of Astrazalian, Dragon 395
Class Acts: The Cavalier’s Steed, Dragon 393
Heroes of the Fallen Lands: Earth Domain, Dragon 392  
Path to Conquest, Dragon 409
Pyromancy: The Magic of Fire, Dragon 391
Secrets of the Fey: A New Pact for the Binder Warlock, Dragon 406
Star Crossed: Star Pact Hexblades, Dragon 393
Weapon of the Common Man: Staff Fighters, Dragon 391

One of the later innovations of 4e was themes (introduced in the Dark Sun expansion). The “Heroes of” supplements introduced more themes, but I wanted to include some other basic options, as well as the additional add-ons to those books (as per the classes). There werebeast themes from Howl at the Moon were included due to the strong Feywild ties the lycanthropes have with Brokenstone Vale in the Feywild.

Character Themes: Born from the Feywild, Dragon 405
Character Themes: Born from Shadow, Dragon 400
Character Themes: Fringes of Drow Society, Dragon 413
Character Themes: Heroes for Hire, Dragon 399
Character Themes: Heroes of Nature and Lore, Dragon 399
Character Themes: Heroes of Tome and Temple, Dragon 399
Character Themes: Scourges of Lolth, Dragon 413
Howl at the Moon, Dragon 410
Reborn from Chaos, Dragon 408

With that entire list, there are a lot of themes (and possibly some that I might decide to throw in - the mariner being a solid example). Another major critique of 4e (as I initially stated) was that there were too many choices, which could lead to analysis paralysis or too many players looking to “break” the system by finding feats that create crazy combinations of damage, conditions, etc. One might say I’m providing just as many options, but I personally don’t feel that way for a few reasons. First, I have access to all the materials to be used for character creation. This might not seem like a big deal, but it matters because it means I will be there! Being present means I can ask questions and get a feel for what the player wants, and then point them in the right direction. The only thing I would expect the players to read/think about before showing up is the Campaign Handbook, in order to get an idea of the various themes and ideas, and they can apply them to a character. Session 0 for the win! 

This is my first attempt at putting this information together. I'm still perusing tons of articles and solidifying my ideas. Most importantly, I want to discuss my ideas and get feedback on what others are thinking. Is there a class you think needs to be included, like psionics? Did I leave out a race that you consider to be core to 4e? Maybe I missed an article or an essential theme? As I continue to dive into the rest of my resources, here's some other topics I plan on covering:

Skill Powers
Magic Items
Using Fortune Cards
Using the Despair Deck
Integrating the Deck of Many Things
Possible Use of the Book of Vile Darkness supplement
Monster Stat Blocks
Campaign Handbook

Please reach out to be via the comments section, or on Twitter @artificeralf


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