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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

4e: What I love about thee

Now, before we start, regardless of this post's title, this isn't a love letter to 4e. On the contrary, I want to dissect the things about 4e that I really, really, really like and think set it apart from other editions or even systems.

I started thinking about this off and on when I first started playing 4e again in comparison to my other go-to game, Pathfinder. I started thinking about this more frequently, though, when designing my 4e variant, Legend4ry

So, without further adieu, 

  • Healing Surges - I love the idea of healing surges as an abstraction of a more realistic health for a character. I know 4e is far from simulationist, but I like the realism more than anything. A human (or insert race here) can only take so much punishment throughout the course of any given day before catching ones breath (short resting) and magic healing take their toll or are just no longer effective. In order to heal, a body needs real rest, an extended rest as it were. While this isn't entirely realistic, I like the idea of it and it just clicks in my head perfectly. 
    • Subsequently, I also love Second Winds. Being a runner myself, I understand how crucial and awesome a second wind can be in real life. It turns the race around, it makes you strive to finish when otherwise you'd be likely to give in. You're beat, bruised, battered and yet still you persist as you get that tiny burst of energy to send you over the top. If I can do that, why can't my character? Oh, wait, I can, thanks 4e!
  • Multi-Class Feats - I know I might catch some flak for this, and that's fine, but there is a reason for this, I swear! It mainly involves the overall narrative of a game. Sure some games are beer and pretzels, some are just straight up "don't get attached to your numbers on a sheet as they will die" dungeon delves, and others are just narrative madness that I don't quite understand. Regardless, I've never really understood multi-classing in previous editions. Sure I know how it works mechanically and have done it in the past, I get that, but what I don't get is how it fits into the narrative even if the only narrative for the game is going on in my mind. For example: Oh Mr. Fighter wants to delve into the realm of wizardry and multi-class into the first level of Wizard. Cool. But from what I understand of magic, it's hard to grasp and takes years of concentrated study. So when is Mr. Fighter actually taking time to study? Between monster slaying? Is he taking night classes while everyone else is sleeping? For me, this makes no sense. So let's re-imagine this situation in 4e terms: Mr. Fighter wants to learn a little bit of magic, so he goes to the party magic user and over the course of a few weeks Miss Mage teaches Mr. Fighter a single Arcane spell. That just makes sense, and I love it. If Mr. Fighter wants to learn more magic, he can invest in it at later levels. Perfect.
  • Hybrid Classes - Now this one doesn't make sense in terms of the "real world" examples I've given above and that's fine. I like the concept for pure customization. I like being able to break out of archetypes or maybe build a character from fiction that I really, really like. Or maybe I just want to build something silly out of two classes (here's looking at you surprisingly effective Cleric Vampire...) I like the Hybrid Talent Feat to unlock more of Class A or B's abilities, I like the customization, I like the fun, I like... Wait, well there is one thing I don't like about it. I don't like being forced to have an even balance of Class A and B powers. I understand this is so someone doesn't dip into one class only to reap the benefits and only take Class B powers, but it doesn't make sense. Maybe Mr. Fighter/Mage needs to focus for a level or two only on Mage powers or visa versa. This is one thing that I don't think breaks any balance whatsoever and is easily fixed, at least in my games, by house-ruling said restriction out.
  • The Warlord - In my opinion after having played every Leader save for the Runepriest, this is the best Leader out there. In play I've done some crazy things that have been game changing (this happens most sessions, in fact) and on the other side of the screen I am always amazed at how a well-played Warlord dominates the battle field with heals, strike directing, and more. This is my favorite class in 4e, hands down.
  • The Warlock- Before 4e I was never interested in the Warlock class mainly due to watching someone play a broken one in 3.X. It just never appealed to me, I didn't care for the fluff and then 4e came and changed that. I love it's fluff, I love the options, and I love the versatility. You can build a Warlock to be a little bit of everything and it's great. In my opinion a well-built Warlock could effectively solo (though the same argument could be made for a well-built Avenger.) Also, as a comic book nerd, the Warlock is my go-to class simply from power diversity for recreating super heroes. Dr. Doom? Warforged Warlock. It's just perfect fluff-wise and works well mechanically. 
  • Essentials Classes - I know, I know, I'm in the minority and about to get roasted. You know what? That's fine.  I love Essentials. They offer simpler classes that are great for beginners and keep you from being bogged down by way too many choices power-wise (thanks ___ Power line...) Now, don't get me wrong, I love choices, I love the AEDU classes (as noted above) but I also dig the older edition/school feel of Essentials classes much the chagrin of Grogn4rds everywhere. Essentials classes are what brought be back into 4e after a bad introduction to the game (admittedly I was experiencing my first bout of grognardia when transfering from 4e and kept thinking of 4e from a 3.X mindset, my bad.) I mainly like the synthesis of the Essentials line; they effectively boiled down the basics of a class, the iconic bits, and got rid of the extra stuff leaving you with an effective and not bogged down version. It's great and they work great in unison with AEDU classes as well. 
  • The Racial Options - Seriously. There are so many races. I love it. Now, don't get me wrong, I love the archetypal PHB1 races as much as the next guy, but I also like being able to spread by wings and play as the Half-Vampire Vryloka or a Pixie for Orcus' sake! (Disclaimer: I will never actually play as a Pixie. This is the one thing I disliked about Heroes of the Feywild.) I love the lack of Level Adjustments and being able to jump right in as a Minotaur without having to worry about investing 8 levels into actually being one. 

Well, now I'm drawing a blank and I know for a fact that I hard a larger, longer list in my head. Perhaps I'll mention them in future posts when I remember! What are your favorite aspects of 4e?

As promised, next time I'll post the adventure entitled: Escape from Bitterkeep Stronghold

Until next time,


Edited to add: How could I forget two of my favorite things of 4e?!

  • Inherent Bonuses - This is easily  my most favorite aspect of 4e. I don't have to worry about magic items and still the math works, if I do decide to give magic items out it doesn't affect anything mathematically and if anything, it makes magic items rare and dynamic, which is how they should be.
  • Encounter Building - Seriously, this is fantastic. I don't have to mess with CRs and other nonsensical stuff that makes it hard to properly build an encounter that is a challenge yet doable. 4e? No problem due to experience budgets and what not. Monster/Character roles help here tremendously as well. 


  1. Just wanted to stop by and add one thing that not many people know regarding healing surges. You can, in fact, still gain the benefit of any bonus healing above and beyond your surge value. For instance, if you get an inspiring word used on you, but you're out of surges, you'll still gain d6 hit points (in the early levels, that obviously changes later). Combined with taking a few "short rests" in a row it's entirely possible to rest up for maybe 15 minutes of game time (much longer than normal) and get that flat healing applied again and again until you are full hit points. You can keep going, it just gets really hard. I think that's pretty cool (even if I do wish you couldn't necessarily heal all the way back to full between each fight, or something along those lines).

  2. Fantastic point, and one that I often forget!

    One method to limiting the healing between fights that I've seen in play and considered myself is limiting what a "short rest" means, ie. one or two healing surges max instead of spending as many as you have/need. I don't think this breaks the 4e mechanics overall and leads to some really interesting scenarios and play.

    Another design idea is homebrewing up monsters, traps, or auras (or if you're really cruel, all three!) that "steal" or spend a set number of surges predicated upon a hit. It's vicious, mind you, but it leads to really interesting scenarios and short rests where healing surges are a commodity that is used when neccessary instead of willy nilly!

    Man, I could talk about D&D design all day...

    Thanks for the comment and pointing out something I had totally over-looked!