Updated March 15th, 2008.
4th edition ...................................................... 1 Pin the Foe ............................................... 12
Welcome ....................................................... 1 Brute Strike .............................................. 13
Why 4th Edition and why now? ....................... 1 Second Commandment: Play Well with Others
Online or Tabletop? ...................................... 2 .............................................................. 13
Conversion.................................................. 2 White Raven Onslaught .............................. 13
The Core Mechanic.......................................... 2 Third Commandment: Order Up! ................. 13
Death and Dying .......................................... 3 Iron Dragon Charge................................... 14
What We Hated......................................... 3 Wizard ..................................................... 14
What We Wanted ...................................... 3 PC Roles ..................................................... 14
What We Did About It ................................ 3 Feats .......................................................... 15
The Breakthrough ..................................... 4 Cosmology .................................................. 16
Try It Now!............................................... 4 The Feywild .............................................. 16
Critical Hits ................................................. 5 The Shadowfell ......................................... 16
Critical Damage ........................................ 5 The Elemental Chaos ................................. 16
Beefing Up Your Crits ................................ 5 The Astral Sea .......................................... 17
Crits in Play .............................................. 5 Pantheon .................................................... 17
Races ............................................................ 5 Corellon ................................................... 17
Elves .......................................................... 6 Bahamut .................................................. 17
Halflings ..................................................... 6 Bane ....................................................... 17
Classes.......................................................... 7 Encounters .................................................. 18
Martial power source .................................... 7 Putting it All Together ................................ 18
Paladin ....................................................... 8 Monsters..................................................... 19
Safeguard Smite ....................................... 8 Demons & devils ....................................... 19
Renewing Smite ........................................ 8 Traps ......................................................... 20
Binding Smite ........................................... 9 Points of Light ............................................. 21
Rogue ........................................................ 9 Quests ........................................................ 21
Rogue Overview ........................................ 9 Magic Item Levels ........................................ 22
Creating a Rogue ...................................... 10 Magic Item Slots .......................................... 22
Brawny Rogue .......................................... 10 Primary Slots ............................................ 23
Trickster Rogue......................................... 10 Secondary Slots ........................................ 23
Rogue Class Feature .................................. 10 Other Items.............................................. 23
Rogue Powers ........................................... 10 Example................................................... 23
Deft Strike ............................................... 10 Dungeon Design in 4E .................................. 24
Piercing Strike .......................................... 11 The 4E Way: Monsters, Monsters, Monsters! . 24
Positioning Strike ...................................... 11 Example: Dungeon of the Fire Opal ............. 24
Torturous Strike ........................................ 11 Homework Assignment .............................. 25
Tumble .................................................... 11 Playtest Reports .......................................... 25
Crimson Edge ........................................... 11 Castle Smoulderthorn ................................ 25
Warlock ...................................................... 12 Tomb Under the Tor .................................. 28
First Commandment: Directing Damage....... 12 Prophecy of the Priestess ........................... 29
For the first time, the D&D game would consist of four integral and integrated parts. In addition to the physical
products—the core rulebooks, supplements, adventures, miniatures, and accessories—the D&D experience
would be enhanced by robust Community features (powered by Gleemax.com), a fully integrated Organized
Play program that will offer benefits to convention and home play alike, and the digital initiative we’re calling
Why 4th Edition and why now?
Because the time was right. We reviewed all the data we’ve been collecting and see if we could make the d20
Game System (the engine that powers the D&D game) better, more intuitive, and more fun. When I saw the
first expressions of that effort, I knew we could make D&D better, stronger, faster, more fun. We could rebuild
it. We could take the d20 Game System we all know and love and rocket it to the next level.
At the same time, we also began imagining a robust and exciting suite of digital features that could enhance
and complement the roleplaying game. It became clear to me that we had two winning directions that would be
even more powerful when we combined them, and that’s when we made the decision to move forward with
D&D 4th Edition.
4th Edition contains the same D&D we all play on a regular basis. It’s still going to be a tabletop roleplaying
game. It’s still set in a medieval fantasy world of magic and monsters. It’s still the d20 Game System. But the
rulebooks appear more vibrant, more visually stunning, and much easier to use. The game mechanics have
been amped up to eliminate the game-stoppers, accentuate the fun factors, and make play faster and more
exciting. D&D Insider provides its members with immediate access to Dragon Magazine and Dungeon Magazine,
to enhanced and expanded content tied to the newest physical book products, to an amazing suite of digital
tools to make Dungeon Master preparation and campaign management easier to handle, to a Character Creator
that provides not only an interactive character sheet but a visualizer that lets you determine the exact look of
the characters you create—and, D&D Insider provides a digital D&D Game Table that turns the Internet into
your kitchen table. This amazing application, which we’ll talk more about as the weeks go on, allows you to
supplement your face-to-face gaming 24/7, helps you find a group to game with if you don’t happen to have a
face-to-face group, or lets you hook up with gaming buddies who long ago scattered to the four winds. Take a
look at the prototype movie we showed at Gen Con to get a first taste of the D&D Game Table.
Online or Tabletop?
The earth is still round, the sun is still the center of the solar system, wizards still cast fireballs, and D&D 4th
Edition is still a tabletop roleplaying game.
We love the analog world. We love physical products and interacting in person with our gaming groups. We love
books and miniatures and dice and dungeon tiles and maps and frosty beverages and snacks and … well,
everything related to sitting around a table and playing D&D with our friends. It’s not only what we do
professionally, it’s our hobby and our passion.
These things are not going away. I’ve got the D&D R&D schedule right here in front of me, and it shows that
we’re working on at least one hardcover D&D game product every month for the length of this very long
spreadsheet (we’re talking years here). It shows three sets of D&D Miniatures booster packs every year. It
shows adventures, supplements, accessories, and Dungeon Tiles coming out on a regular and frequent basis—
all of which will be on sale at your brick-and-mortar, real-world game, hobby, comic, and book stores (as well
as other places) each and every month.
With D&D Insider, we're offering an optional online component to 4th Edition D&D. It consists of magazine
content, player aids, Dungeon Master tools, and a D&D Game Table that allows you to play the pen-and-paper
D&D game over the Internet. These features are in addition to our regular selection of analog products. They
don’t replace them.
Can you play D&D over the Internet using the tools available with D&D Insider? Absolutely.
Can you play D&D in person, around a table, with your real-world friends? Absolutely. We’re not
eliminating options here; we’re adding more ways to interact with the hobby we love. It’s your choice. We
fully expect that, for many people, the way to play D&D will continue to be your regularly scheduled face-
to-face game, supplemented with additional games on the D&D Game Table. For others, it will be all
analog, all the time. Some groups will even go the all-Internet route due to preference, or because they
don’t have access to an analog game group.
Concerning conversion of characters from 3rd Edition rules to 4th Edition rules, there are a few key concepts
that need to be made crystal clear so that everyone understands them.
First, 4th Edition D&D is still powered by the d20 System. At its core, if you know how to play 3rd Edition
D&D you’re going to know how to play 4th Edition.
Second, this is a new game. It uses all of the trappings of the current d20 System, but it approaches all of
the rules from a new and exciting perspective. That means that while you’ll know how to make attack rolls,
skill checks, and damage rolls (the broad concepts), you won’t necessarily know all of the nuances of the
fighter class or the arcane power source, or the death and dying rules (the details).
Third, we can’t physically replicate eight years of products and options right out of the gate. It just can’t
With these things in mind, straight-up character conversion won’t be possible. However, you’ll have no problem
expressing the concept and story of your 3rd Edition character within the framework of 4th Edition. As we’ve
seen during playtesting, in many ways the new rules allow you to better match the rules to the character
concept you had in mind than the 3E rules ever did.
In essence, using the 4th Edition rules, you’ll be able to rebuild your character around the same concept and
backstory as before, but there won’t be a magic formula that says, “change this number to that number” or
“this power to that power.”
The Core Mechanic
Grab a d20. Roll high.
That’s the basic rule of 4th Edition just as it was in 3rd Edition, but the new edition puts that mechanic more
solidly in the core of the game than ever.
Ever faced one of those life-or-death saving throws? Hours, weeks, or even years of play can hang in the
balance. It all comes down to that one roll. There’s drama in that moment, but it’s drama you didn’t create,
and you don’t want. That’s gone in the new edition.
Have you played a spellcaster and been a little envious of the excitement of other players when they roll
critical hits? Have you wished that you could do that for your spells? You can in 4th.
Have you ever had some confusion or miscalculation about your normal AC versus your touch and flat-
footed AC? You won’t have to worry about it.
If you want to know whether or not you succeed in doing some action in 4th Edition, you grab a d20 and try to
roll high. Just as in 3rd Edition, you add a modifier to that roll from your character sheet, and you check for any
extra bonuses or penalties from the situation or from your allies. The key difference in the new edition is what
you roll for and what you add.
The standard defenses remain (AC, Fortitude, Reflex, and Will) but now they all work more like AC. When a
dragon breathes fire on you, it attacks your Reflex and deals half damage if it misses. The DM rolls a d20, adds
the dragon’s modifiers, and asks you what your Reflex score is. The dragon might roll a 1 and automatically
miss no matter how much tougher it is than you, but there’s also the frightening possibility that it will roll a 20
and deal double damage.
Folks familiar with the new Star Wars Saga system will recognize this concept, but it’s evolved a bit to better
suit D&D. In 4th Edition, when a creature only needs to touch you to deliver an attack, it targets your Reflex.
When you’re surprised, you grant combat advantage, but you don’t need to look at a special AC on your sheet -
- the normal number works fine. When a pit suddenly opens up beneath your feet, you make a check to jump
out of danger, but if a crossbow trap fires an arrow at you, it the bolt attacks your AC.
What we mean when we talk about streamlining the system is this: making design decisions that make learning
and using the game less difficult, while keeping the system just as robust. And making it more fun as the
Death and Dying
Character death is one of the ultimate threats in any RPG, and D&D is no exception. Besides the obvious, um,
“inconveniences” that death might cause your character and his allies in both the short and long term—
inconveniences which vary based on your level, the current situation, and of course your attachment to that
particular character—death is a mark of failure. In some hard-to-explain but very real way, a dead character
symbolizes that you just “lost” at D&D. That can prove a bitter pill for many players, and in my experience is
even more frustrating than paying for a resurrection.
What We Hated
Early in the design process, Rob, James, and I identified a number of ways that we were unsatisified with D&D’s
current death and dying rules. For example, we strongly disliked the inability of 3rd Edition D&D’s negative-hit-
point model to deal with combat at higher levels—once the monsters are reliably dealing 15 or 20 points of
damage with each attack, the chance of a character going straight from “alive and kicking” to “time to go
through his pockets for loose change” was exceedingly high; effectively, the -1 to -9 “dying” range was
meaningless. Ask any high-level fighter whether he’d prefer the second-to-last attack from a monster to leave
him at 1 hp or -1 hp; I’d put odds on unconsciousness, and how lame is that?
Among other problems, this also meant that characters effectively had no way to “lose” a combat except by
being killed. This removes a lot of dramatic possibilities for the story—for instance, the classic scene of the
characters being captured and thrown in a cell from which they have to escape using only their wits and a pack
of chewing gum (or whatever).
On top of all that, the game added a complex state of being at exactly 0 hp, which wasn’t quite like being fully
capable but also wasn’t quite dying. Honestly, though, how often does any character actually get reduced to
exactly 0 hp? Why did the game need a condition that existed at exactly one spot on the big, broad range of hit
What We Wanted
We wanted a death and dying system that added fun and tension at the table, scaled well to any level of play,
and created the threat of PC mortality (without delivering on that threat as often as 3rd Edition did).
Characters had to feel that death was a possibility in order for combat to feel meaningful. If it seems impossible
to be killed, much of the tension of combat disappears. However, if the majority of combats result in death (as
is the case for a lot of high-level play in previous editions), the game is forced to reclassify death as a trivial
obstacle in order to remain playable. 3rd Edition accomplished this with popular spells such as close wounds,
delay death, and revivify—mandatory staples of any high-level cleric’s arsenal due purely to the commonality of
death. But that removes the tension, and now what’s the point of death at all?
The system also had to be simple to remember and adjudicate at the table. Being able to keep the rule in your
head is important, because you don’t want to be bogging the game down flipping through a book when a
character is clinging to life by a thread—that should be high-tension time, not slowdown time!
Finally, it had to be believable within the heroic-fantasy milieu of D&D. (Believability isn’t the same thing as
realism—an error which has ruined more games than I can count.) Put another way, it had to feel like D&D—
one of those tricky “you know it when you see it” things.
What We Did About It
Back in 2005, this was obviously a much lower priority than, say, creating the new model for how classes and
races worked, so we put it on the back burner to simmer. As the months passed, we and other designers
proposed various models that tried to solve the conundrums set out above, varying from exceedingly abstract
to witheringly simulationist. We playtested every model, from death tracks to life points, each time learning
something different about what worked or didn’t work. A few times, we even temporarily settled on a solution,
claiming that the playtesters only needed time to get used to our radical new ideas.
Thankfully, our awakening came well before we released the game (or even before widescale playtesting began,
for that matter). Despite some quite elegant concepts, none of our radical new ideas met all the criteria
necessary, including simplicity, playability, fun, and believability.
The system had to be at least as simple to remember and at least as easy to play as what already existed. For
all their other flaws, negative hit points are pretty easy to use, and they work well with the existing hit-point
It had to be at least as much fun as what already existed, and it had to be at least as believable as what
already existed. In ideal situations, negative hit points create fun tension at the table, and they’re reasonably
believable, at least within the heroic fantasy milieu of D&D, where characters are supposed to get the stuffing
beaten out of them on a regular basis without serious consequences.
Every one of our new ideas failed to meet at least one of those criteria. Maybe they were playable but too
abstract to feel fun or believable, or they were believable but too complicated to remember. Nothing worked,
and I admit we experienced a couple of freak-out moments behind closed doors.
Side note to all those would-be game designers out there: When you hear yourself making that claim, you
might be in danger of losing touch with reality. Sometimes you’re right, and your innovative game design
concept just needs a little time to sink in. (The cycling initiative system used by 3rd Edition D&D is a good
example of that—back in 1999, some very vociferous playtesters were convinced that it would ruin D&D
combat forever. Turned out that wasn’t exactly true.) But every time you convince yourself that you know
better than the people playing your game, you’re opening the possibility of a very rude (and costly)
Eventually we got it through our heads that there wasn’t a radical new game mechanic just waiting to be
discovered that would revolutionize the narrow window between life and death in D&D. What we really needed
to do was just widen the window, reframe it, and maybe put in an extra pane for insulation. (OK, that analogy
went off the tracks, but its heart was in the right place.)
Characters still use a negative hit point threshold to determine when they move from “unconscious and dying”
to “all-the-way-dead,” but now that threshold scales with their level (or more specifically, with their hit point
total). A character with 30 hit points (such as a low-level cleric) dies when he reaches -15 hit points, while the
15th-level fighter with 120 hp isn’t killed until he’s reduced to -60 hit points.
That may seem like an unreachable number, but it’s important to remember that monsters, like characters,
aren’t piling on as many attacks on their turn as in 3rd Edition. At 15th level, that fighter might face a tough
brute capable of dishing out 25 or 30 points of damage with its best attack… or nearly twice that on a crit. The
threat of “alive-to-negative-everything” on a single hit remains in play, but it’s much less common than in the
previous edition. That puts that bit of tension back where it belongs.
The new system also retains the “unconscious character bleeding out” concept, but for obvious reasons speeds
it along a bit. (There’s not really any tension watching that 15th-level fighter bleed out at a rate of 1 hp per
round for 30 or 40 rounds.) Thanks to some clever abstractions, the new system also removes the predictability
of the current death timer. (“OK, Regdar’s at -2 hp, so we have 8 rounds to get to him. Yawn… time for a
It’s also less costly to bring dying characters back into the fight now—there’s no “negative hit point tax” that
you have to pay out of the healing delivered by your cure serious wounds prayer. That helps ensure that a
character who was healed from unconsciousness isn’t in an immediate threat of going right back there (and
you’ll never again have the “I fed Jozan a potion of healing but he’s still at negative hit points” disappointment).
Monsters don’t need or use this system unless the DM has special reason to do so. A monster at 0 hp is dead,
and you don’t have to worry about wandering around the battlefield stabbing all your unconscious foes. (I’m
sure my table isn’t the only place that happens.) We’ve talked elsewhere about some of the bogus parallelism
that can lead to bad game design—such as all monsters having to follow character creation rules, even though
they’re supposed to be foes to kill, not player characters—this is just another example of the game escaping
that trap. Sure, a DM can decide for dramatic reasons that a notable NPC or monster might linger on after
being defeated. Maybe a dying enemy survives to deliver a final warning or curse before expiring, or at the end
of a fight the PCs discover a bloody trail leading away from where the evil warlock fell, but those will be
significant, story-based exceptions to the norm.
Oh, and speaking of zero hit points? You’re unconscious and dying, just like every new player expects it should
be. It’s not as harsh as the “dead at 0 hp” rule of the original D&D game, but it’s still not a place you want to
be for long!
Try It Now!
If you want to try out a version of this system in your current game, try the following house rule. It’s not quite
the 4th Edition system, but it should give you an idea of how it’ll feel.
1) At 0 hp or less, you fall unconscious and are dying.
Any damage dealt to a dying character is applied normally, and might kill him if it reduces his hit points far
enough (see #2).
2) Characters die when their negative hit point total reaches -10 or one-quarter of their full normal hit
points, whichever is a larger value.
This is less than a 4th Edition character would have, but each monster attack is dealing a smaller fraction of the
character’s total hit points, so it should be reasonable. If it feels too small, increase it to one-third full normal
hit points and try again.
3) If you’re dying at the end of your turn, roll 1d20.
Lower than 10: You get worse. If you get this result three times before you are healed or stabilized (as per the
Heal skill), you die.
10-19: No change.
20: You get better! You wake up with hit points equal to one-quarter your full normal hit points.
4) If a character with negative hit points receives healing, he returns to 0 hp before any healing is applied.
In other words, he’ll wake up again with hit points equal to the healing provided by the effect—a cure light
wounds spell for 7 hp will bring any dying character back to 7 hp, no matter what his negative hit point total
5) A dying character who’s been stabilized (via the Heal skill) doesn’t roll a d20 at the end of his turn
unless he takes more damage.
To score a critical hit in 4th Edition D&D, do the following: Roll 20.
Simple enough, right? Just one number to remember. And more importantly, just one roll.
Yes, the confirmation roll is gone. So why did we get rid of it? Because we, like so many players, had rolled
crits only to have the confirmation roll miss. And we didn't like it. We don't think that many people did. Having
one roll is faster, and it's more fun. It keeps the excitement of the 20, and ditches the disappointment of the
failure to confirm.
Here's the part that's going to take some getting used to: Critical hits don't deal double damage. This changed
because doubling everything 5% of the time led to some pretty crazy spikes that were very unpredictable.
Let's say you roll a crit with a power that deals 1d10+4 normally. So the crit deals 2d10+8. The next turn, the
monster attacks you using a power that deals 3d6+4 damage. He crits, dealing 6d6+8. Between the extra dice
and the doubled ability modifier, that's a pretty huge difference! (And a pretty painful one.)
Instead, when you roll a critical hit, all the dice are maximized. So your 1d10+4 power deals 14 damage and
the monster's 3d6+4 deals 22. Generally speaking, randomness is more of an advantage to monsters than PCs.
More predictable critical damage keeps monsters from instant-killing your character.
Having maximized dice also helps out when you have multitarget attacks. You'll roll an attack roll against each
target, so maximized dice keep you from needing to roll a bunch of dice over and over -- you can just write
your crit damage on your character sheet for quick reference.
Beefing Up Your Crits
PCs also have some extra tricks up their sleeves to make their criticals better. Magic weapons (and implements
for magical attacks) add extra damage on crits. So your +1 frost warhammer deals an extra 1d6 damage on a
critical hit (so your crit's now up to 14+1d6 damage in the example above). Monsters don't get this benefit, so
PC crits outclass monster crits most of the time.
Crits can be improved in a couple of other ways. Weapons can have the high crit property, giving extra dice on
a crit. Like this:
Weapon Prof. Damage Range Cost Weight Category Properties
War pick 2 d8 - 15 gp 6 lb. Pick High crit, versatile
In addition, some powers and magic items have extra effects on a hit. So crits are doing just fine without all
Crits in Play
"It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Crit-mas": critical hits come up more often. Fortunately, hit points are higher,
especially at low levels, so there's a bigger buffer to keep those crits from killing people too quickly. It still feels
great to roll one, but the fight goes on.
We've tried to corral the numbers but keep the feel that a critical hit is a special event. So grab your d20 and
your big, nasty magic axe, and get ready to crit for the fences!
In 3rd Edition, class and magic items were two big pieces of the PC pie. Race was important at 1st level, but by
the time you hit 20th, there was rarely much to distinguish a dwarf fighter from a half-orc fighter. The
difference between a +2 here and a +2 over there was drowned out by the huge bonuses from magic items and
character level—it didn’t matter any more.
We wanted race to matter all the way up through a character’s career. We wanted there to be some difference
between two characters of different races, all other things being equal. We had tried out mechanics like the
racial paragons in Unearthed Arcana and the racial substitution levels in the Races of . . . series of books, and
we liked the results.
In May of 2004, we started kicking around ideas like “the 20-level race.” In a 20-level race, at each level you
gained, you’d get not only new class features, but also new racial qualities. Your race might predetermine which
ability scores you increased at some levels, so a dwarf’s Constitution would always have an edge over
characters of other races. It would grant you new special abilities as you advanced in level, always appropriate
to your level, of course.
One key advantage we saw to this system was that it made it much easier to find room for new races without
resorting to the kludgy and awkward mechanic of level adjustments. If we spread the tasty magical abilities of
drow out through their levels, they could start at 1st level on a par with other character races. Races like the
githyanki already anticipated some of that idea by granting new spell-like abilities at higher levels.
Well, over the next few years, things changed, as things are wont to do. We blew the game out to thirty levels,
but put your most significant racial choices in the first ten. Above that, other choices started to crowd out room
for special abilities coming from your race.
In the final version of 4th Edition, most of your racial traits come into play right out of the gate at 1st level—
dwarven resilience, elven evasion, a half-elf’s inspiring presence, and so on. As you go up levels, you can take
racial feats to make those abilities even more exciting and gain new capabilities tied to your race. You can also
take race-specific powers built into your class, which accomplish a lot of what racial substitution levels used to
do: a dwarf fighter with the friend of earth power can do something that other 10th-level fighters just can’t do.
The rules have changed a lot since that first idea of the 20-level race, but they still serve the same purpose: to
make sure that your race stays not just relevant but actually important all the way up through thirty levels of
A thousand birdsongs resound through the cool depths of the primeval forest. These ancient, virgin, and
primary woodlands have never felt the metallic sting of axe or the unnatural heat of fire stoked so hot it burns
more than detritus and undergrowth. Living, bark-wrapped pillars hold aloft layers upon layers of mounting
canopy that filters the high sunlight through more hues of emerald and gold that could ever be imagined.
The secrets of the deep, old woods are closely guarded, and few know of the many wild things that walk amid
the shadowed boles. Silver stags, wise hares, unicorns, butterflies the size of hawks, and tree owls who’ve
survived a hundred or more winters shelter in the forgiving hollow of a grandfather pine.
Few indeed, but for the elves.
Most elves are wild, free forest-dwellers, guarding their lands with stealth and deadly arrows from high boughs.
Though fey in origin, elves have lived so long in the world that they have become almost inured to its
difficulties. Hardened by the unruly savagery of nature and seasoned by the hard lessons that orcs, humans,
and other creatures of the world are only too happy to teach, elves have gone a different route than their
cousins, the eladrin. Elves rely on hard-won intuition and senses tuned to an arrow’s point instead of reason,
intellect, or debate as eladrin are more wont to do. However, like eladrins, they possess a pure hate for their
shared distant drow relatives.
Elves are people of deeply felt but short-lived passions. They are easily moved to delighted laughter, blinding
wrath, or even mournful tears. Elves possess a profound, intuitive connection to the natural world they inhabit,
and often perceive things others have not the skill or aptitude to notice. They are inclined to impulsive behavior
in preference to long deliberation, though they would say they prefer to act in the moment.
Elves, sometimes also called wood elves, wild elves, or sylvan elves, usually gather in tribes or bands composed
of three or more families. These tribes are less concerned with relationships or lineages than with proven
forestcraft and hunting prowess, and usually choose the wisest and most perceptive member of a tribe to lead.
In very large tribes, this “elf chieftain” is instead described as an “elf king” or “elf queen.” However, in most
tribes, even the lowliest member doesn’t feel beyond his station in speaking his mind to any other elf,
regardless of station, up to and including the tribe’s leader.
Most elves revere the natural world, but they love forests most of all. They never cut living trees, and when
they create permanent villages, they do so by carefully growing or weaving arbors, treehouses, and catwalks
from living branches. They prefer the magic of the natural world to arcane magic. Elves are drawn to the
worship of both the fey god Corellon and Obad-Hai, the god of the wild. Both spiritual and practical, elves
embody the most peaceful and the most violent aspects of the natural world.
Rivers and streams crisscross the world, and upon these waterways, the nomadic halflings quietly do the same.
Legend says that Melora and Sehanine together crafted the halflings, instilling in these small folk a love of
water and nature, as well as an innate wanderlust and stealth. The same stories say that both goddesses then
left the halflings to their own devices.
Left to themselves, halflings lived for ages. They formed close families and communities, centered on their
wisest elders. Clans of halflings wandered creation, never stopping for long, and rarely claiming any particular
spot as their own. Their traditions formed and survived among a population constantly on the move and
influenced little by the ways of other races. Unassuming, resourceful and independent, halflings hardly ever
attracted much notice.
But Avandra, the goddess of boldness, luck and travel, took note of the halflings traversing the world. It
seemed to her as if these little people, whom she didn’t create, were hers nonetheless by virtue of the fact that
they were living manifestations of her best-loved ideals. Halflings say Avandra smiled on them that day,
adopting them as her people and blessing them with good fortune through their worldly struggles. Anyone who
knows halflings has little doubt that chance is indeed on their side.
Halflings, for their part, hold fables such as these as true, and their rich oral tradition of such tales is an
important part of their culture. Young halflings learn the lore of their people, clan and family from hearing
stories. From these, halfling children also pick up lessons on morality and knowledge of many subjects. Outside
the political struggles, wars, and other concerns of nations and empires, but widely traveled, halflings have
observed and preserved what they learned in their common yarns.
Favorite sagas retell the life and deeds of halflings bold enough to strike out on their own to see the world, right
a wrong, or accomplish a great task. Most halflings are practical folk, concerning themselves with the simple
things in life. Adventurous halflings are of the same stripe but practice such habits in a different way. A halfling
leaves the security of family and clan not for high ideals, fame, or wealth. Instead, he goes to protect his
community or friends, to prove his own capabilities, or to merely see more of the world than his nomadic
lifestyle can offer.
A halfling hero might be the size of a preteen human child, but he has quick feet, deft hands and quick wit. He
is forthright, bold and nigh fearless. His talents run toward sneakiness and craftiness. Pluck and fortune carry
him to success where others would fail. He is an expression of all that halflings esteem, and so he is a valuable
ally and a daunting foe.
All this went into creating halflings for the 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons game. The popular halfling of 3rd
Edition is only slightly re-imagined so the race’s mechanical elements make the story elements true. Halflings
are still Small, even though they are not 3rd Edition’s versions—in which halflings are the size of 3- or 4-year
old humans. They still make great rogues, but they also make good rangers. A few new aspects, such as a
tweak to Charisma and a slight influence over luck, in addition to making halfling warlocks viable, reinforce the
halfling as a lucky, loveable protagonist. A halfling can also be a hard-to-kill enemy sharp of tongue and blade.
In other words, halflings are exactly what veteran D&D players expect from the 4th Edition refinement to
something that worked well in 3rd Edition. Similar flavor, mechanical underpinning to the story, and as much, if
not more, fun.
Here’s a highly probable conversation lifted from the future, one year from today, as two players who’ve just
met at a convention discuss their PC choices for their upcoming D&D game.
“I’m playing a 3rd-level human fighter named Graelar.”
“Cool. Is he weapon and shield or two-hander?”
“He’s sword and board, man.”
“Yeah. I thought about going high Con and using a hammer, but I wanted to start with the chance to make
a couple of attacks, so I’m using rain of blows as my good weapon attack, and I went with high Wis so that
I can switch to the better oppy powers later.”
“My elf fighter uses a spear. I like the speed and the option to go past AC. But you’ve got the fighter
covered. I’ll play a halfling rogue.”
The names and destinations of the powers mentioned above might have changed by the time the game is in
your hands. What won’t change is that fighters care about which weapons they use much more than other
characters. Other character classes have specific weapons and weapon types that they tend to rely on while still
maintaining access to a larger chunk of the weapon chart. The fighter is the only current 4th Edition class with
capabilities that depend on the weapon they have chosen to train the most with. Even at 1st level, a fighter
who uses an axe has a different power selection than a fighter who relies on a flail or a rapier or a pick. In the
long run, fighters can diversify and master powers related to a few different weapons, but most will opt to focus
on the weapon that suits their personal style, helps their interactions with the rest of the PCs in the group, and
carries all the magical oomph they’ve managed to acquire.
Many fighters will opt for swords. Swords have the most flexible assortment of powers. In a fighter’s hands, the
longsword is the queen of the battlefield and the greatsword is the queen’s executioner. But each of the other
significant melee weapons offers the fighter unique advantages and opportunities. For the first time, you’ll be
able to say “I’m an axe fighter” or “I’m a flail fighter” and that will mean something cool.
Martial power source
Power sources are an important part of 4th Edition. They answer the question, “How does your character do
what he does?” Wizards tap into arcane magic. Paladins and clerics call on the power of the gods. For classes
such as these, the answer is self-evident. Pose the same question to a fighter or rogue and the answer
becomes more difficult. What separates the fighter who marches into the dragon’s lair from the local village
militia? In a world of mighty gods and boundless magic, what marks the line between an average guy with a
sword and a fighter?
In 4th Edition, the martial power source provides the answer. Some people, through intense training,
dedication, or just plain old toughness, rise above the rest of the pack. The fighter might walk into the dragon’s
lair out of a noble sense of duty or a selfish drive to prove himself mightier than a mere wyrm. He lacks the
ability to control arcane magic or the dedication needed to gain power from the gods. Instead, he has his
toughness, self-discipline, and supreme mastery of his fighting skills. Other characters seek to master energies
from other planes or beings. The martial character seeks to master his potential—to convert it to a fully realized
mastery of a fighting form.
A martial character is much like a world class athlete. An Olympic sprinter doesn’t have any special muscles or
super abilities. Through a mix of inborn talent and supreme dedication, she pushes herself to achieve speeds
that no other human can match. In the same manner, a fighter achieves skill with weapons and armor that soar
beyond a typical person’s abilities. Like a skilled athlete, a fighter draws on his intense dedication, relentless
training, and supreme focus. Potential isn’t enough, as the sports world is filled with talented people who fail to
apply themselves, as well as physically limited individuals who use a combination of dedication and smarts to
outplay their opponents. A martial character draws his strength from within.
In terms of flavor and description, the martial character/athlete analogy guided many decisions about the way
martial characters push themselves beyond the limit. At low levels, martial characters have abilities that are
impressive but don’t stretch the boundaries of what is or is not possible. Only at the highest levels do we see
martial characters verging into the truly impossible acts of agility and strength attainable only in fiction.
Weapons and how fighters use them provided a blueprint for their design. A skilled halberdier can hack a foe
with his weapon’s blade and spin around to smash a second foe with the haft. A fighter with a longsword
disarms her foe with a flick of her wrist, while a battle hungry axeman cleaves through shields, armor, and
bone. The design for fighter maneuvers came down to looking at weapons, figuring out how a fighter could use
one, and deciding on special effects that felt cool for the weapon and proved useful for the class. Check out the
Design & Development column on fighters and their weapons for more on this concept.
Rogues have a similar relationship with skills. A nimble rogue dives through the air to tumble past an ogre,
while a charismatic one tricks an enemy into looking away just before she delivers a killing blow with her
dagger. Just as fighters do more with weapons than any other character, rogues push skills beyond the limits
that constrain other PCs.
The martial power source is about taking resources and abilities that have clear limits for other classes and
demolishing those limits through focus, training, and skill.
Smite -- since before 900 CE this word or some very similar Old or Middle English ancestor has meant, "That's
going to leave a mark." In the first two editions of Dungeons & Dragons, smite was merely an interesting word
used by folks laying down the smack. In my formative gaming years, a player of mine named Erol used to call
his halfling paladin's reversed cure light wounds, smites. (Actually he was just a post-Unearthed Arcana
fighter/cleric, but he called the character a paladin -- I was not farsighted enough just to let him play a
paladin.) I think he just liked yelling "I smite the foul beast!" in that annoying high-pitched kid voice he used to
play Sir Lore. (Yes, that's Erol's own name spelled backward in true high-Gygaxian fashion).
With the release of 3rd Edition, Erol's wildest dreams came true. Not only were halflings allowed to be true
paladins, smite officially entered the paladin's toolbox. Sure, it was once a day. Sure, it wasn't nearly as good
as you wanted it to be sometimes, but smites were promoted from verb to mechanic.
In 4th Edition, D&D smites really come into their own. Now a subset of the paladin's renewable (read,
encounter-recharge) powers, smites allow a paladin to deliver a powerful blow with the character's weapon of
choice, while layering on some divine effect (and I mean that in both meanings of the word) on allies or
enemies. A divine defender, much of the paladin's smites are all about kicking the crap out of those they find
anathema while ensuring that foes who want to hurt enemies have a harder time at it. Take, as exhibit one,
Encounter • Weapon
Target: One creature
Attack: Charisma vs. AC
Hit: 2x[W] + Cha.
Hit or Miss: An ally within 5 squares gains a bonus to AC equal to your Wisdom modifier until the end of your
This basic, entry-level smite has all the things a growing paladin needs to fulfill its role and lay down some hurt.
A Charisma attack against the target's Armor Class, safeguard smite deals double her base weapon's damage
plus her Charisma modifier in damage (paladins are a force of personality, after all), and grants a quick boost
to an ally in trouble (including, in a pinch, the paladin herself). And there you have it. Your first smite -- simple,
serviceable, and fun.
As your paladin progresses as a defender of the faith, smites, like all of your abilities, grow in power and utility.
But unlike its defender cousin, the fighter, a paladin is more than just the guy who kicks butt and makes sure
enemies focus (or want to focus) on him. Paladins have always been able to heal in some way and the 4th
Edition variety is no different. Though this splash of leader flavor into the paladin's defender role comes in
many forms, one of the more active and interesting ways that your paladin can come to the aid of a companion
while fighting is our second example of a smite:
Encounter • Healing, Weapon
Target: One creature
Attack: Charisma vs. AC
Hit: 2x[W] + Cha damage and ally within 5 heals 10 + your Wisdom modifier damage.
You'll no doubt see the pattern between these two smites. They mix a fair portion of damage (scaled up by
level, but not necessarily the amount of dice) while giving an ally a much needed boost of hit points at the most
opportune moments. Selfish paladins (typically those who serve more self-centered gods or just the occasional
egoist who venerates Pelor) can even heal themselves with the strike, as you're considered your own ally
unless the effect of a power states otherwise.
Let's move on to smites that inhabit the levels over 20. Binding smite is another flavor of defender smite -- and
as its high level demands, does the defender job more effectively, and thus more powerfully than the simple
safeguard smite does.
Encounter • Weapon
Target: One creature
Attack: Charisma vs. Will
Hit: 2x[W] + Wis damage and target cannot gain line of effect to anyone but you until the end of your next
In binding smite you can see an example of how the effect of a smite goes up with level, while the numbers in
their base form seem similar when not taking into account the accuracy and damage boosts that merely gaining
levels (and having better weapons) affords. It just gets … well, better. Heck, it's epic, after all, so it has to be
good, and you don't have to have 4th Edition books in front of you to realize line of effect denial is good. When
you're fighting balor, ancient blue dragons, and sorrowsworn, it had better be good -- those critters don't fool
There you have it; just a small taste of what your paladin smites will look like in 4th Edition. While I have lost
touch with Erol over the years, I hope that come this summer, somewhere out there, Sir Lore will return – a
halfling with a high-pitched voice, yelling, "I smite thee, foul miscreant." I imagine his DM will just wince and
sigh, just like I did all those years ago.
You’re going to see something called “builds” in the information that follows. Builds present themes that you
can use to guide you as you select powers and other abilities. You can follow the advice of a build, or you can
ignore it. It’s not a constraint, but instead provides information to help you make informed choices as you
create your character. Using a class build isn’t required; builds exist to help guide your decisions through the
process of character creation and each time you level up.
Role: Striker. You dart in to attack, do massive damage, and then retreat to safety. You do best when teamed
with a defender to flank enemies.
Power Source: Martial. Your talents depend on extensive training and constant practice, innate skill, and
Key Abilities: Dexterity, Strength, Charisma
Armor Training: Leather
Weapon Proficiencies: Dagger, hand crossbow, shuriken, sling, short sword
Bonus to Defense: +2 Reflex
Hit Points at 1st Level: 12 + Constitution score
Hit Points per Level Gained: 5
Healing Surges: 6 + Constitution modifier
Trained Skills: Stealth and Thievery plus four others. From the class skills list below, choose four more trained
skills at 1st level.
Class Skills: Acrobatics (Dexterity), Athletics (Str), Bluff (Cha), Dungeoneering (Wis), Insight (Wis), Intimidate
(Cha), Perception (Wis), Stealth (Dexterity), Streetwise (Cha), Thievery (Dexterity)
Build Options: Brawny rogue, trickster rogue
Class Features: First Strike, Rogue Tactics, Rogue Weapon Talent, Sneak Attack
Rogues are cunning and elusive adversaries. Rogues slip into and out of shadows on a whim, pass anywhere
across the field of battle without fear of reprisal, and appear suddenly only to drive home a lethal blade.
As a rogue, you might face others’ preconceptions regarding your motivations, but your nature is your own to
mold. You could be an agent fresh from the deposed king’s shattered intelligence network, an accused criminal
on the lam seeking to clear your name, a wiry performer whose goals transcend the theatrical stage, a kid
trying to turn around your hard-luck story, or a daredevil thrill-seeker who can’t get enough of the adrenaline
rush of conflict. Or perhaps you are merely in it for the gold, after all.
With a blade up your sleeve and a concealing cloak across your shoulders, you stride forth, eyes alight with
anticipation. What worldly wonders and rewards are yours for the taking?
Characteristics: Combat advantage provides the full benefit of your powers, and a combination of skills and
powers helps you gain and keep that advantage over your foes. You are a master of skills, from Stealth and
Thievery to Bluff and Acrobatics.
Religion: Rogues prefer deities of the night, luck, freedom, and adventure, such as Sehanine and Avandra. Evil
and chaotic evil rogues often favor Lolth or Zehir.
Races: Those with a love for secrets exchanged in shadows and change for its own sake make ideal rogues,
including elves, tieflings, and halflings.
Creating a Rogue
The trickster rogue and the brawny rogue are the two rogue builds, one relying on bluffs and feints, the other
on brute strength. Dexterity, Charisma, and Strength are the rogue’s most important ability scores.
You like powers that deal plenty of damage, aided by your Strength, and also stun, immobilize, knock down, or
push your foes. Your attacks use Dexterity, so keep that your highest ability score. Strength should be a close
second—it increases your damage directly, and it can determine other effects of your attacks. Charisma is a
good third ability score, particularly if you want to dabble in powers from the other rogue build. Select the
brutal scoundrel rogue tactic, and look for powers that pack a lot of damage into every punch.
Suggested Feat: Weapon Focus (Human feat: Toughness)
Suggested Skills: Athletics, Dungeoneering, Intimidate, Stealth, Streetwise, Thievery
Suggested At-Will Powers: Piercing Strike, Riposte Strike
Suggested Encounter Power: Torturous Strike
Suggested Daily Power: Easy Target
You like powers that deceive and misdirect your foes. You dart in and out of the fray in combat, dodging your
enemies’ attacks or redirecting them to other foes. Most of your attack powers rely on Dexterity, so that should
be your best ability score. Charisma is important for a few attacks, for Charisma-based skills you sometimes
use in place of attacks, and for other effects that depend on successful attacks, so make Charisma your second-
best score. Strength is useful if you want to choose powers intended for the other rogue build. Select the artful
dodger rogue tactic. Look for powers that take advantage of your high Charisma score, as well as those that
add to your trickster nature.
Suggested Feat: Backstabber (Human feat: Human Perseverance)
Suggested Skills: Acrobatics, Bluff, Insight, Perception, Stealth, Thievery
Suggested At-Will Powers: Deft Strike, Sly Flourish
Suggested Encounter Power: Positioning Strike
Suggested Daily Power: Trick Strike
Rogue Class Feature
All rogues share these class features.
At the start of an encounter, you have combat advantage against any creatures that have not yet acted in that
Rogues operate in a variety of ways. Some rogues use their natural charm and cunning trickery to deceive foes.
Others rely on brute strength to overcome their enemies. Choose one of the following options.
Artful Dodger: You gain a bonus to AC equal to your Charisma modifier against opportunity attacks.
Brutal Scoundrel: You gain a bonus to Sneak Attack damage equal to your Strength modifier.
The choice you make also provides bonuses to certain rogue powers. Individual powers detail the effects (if
any) your Rogue Tactics selection has on them.
Rogue Weapon Talent
When you wield a shuriken, your weapon damage die increases by one size. When you wield a dagger, you gain
a +1 bonus to attack rolls.
Once per round, when you have combat advantage against an enemy and are using a light blade, a crossbow,
or a sling, your attacks against that enemy deal extra damage. As you advance in level, your extra damage
Level Sneak Attack Damage
Your powers are daring exploits that draw on your personal cunning, agility, and expertise. Some powers
reward a high Charisma and are well suited for the trickster rogue, and others reward a high Strength and
appeal to the brawny rogue, but you are free to choose any power you like.
Rogue Attack 1
A final lunge brings you into an advantageous position.
At-Will [ ] Martial, Weapon
Melee or Ranged weapon
Requirement: You must be wielding a crossbow, a light blade, or a sling.
Target: One creature
Special: You can move 2 squares before the attack.
Attack: Dexterity vs. AC
Hit: 1[W] + Dexterity modifier damage.
Increase damage to 2[W] + Dexterity modifier at 21st level.
Rogue Attack 1
A needle-sharp point slips past armor and into tender flesh.
At-Will [ ] Martial, Weapon
Requirement: You must be wielding a light blade.
Target: One creature
Attack: Dexterity vs. Reflex
Hit: 1[W] + Dexterity modifier damage.
Increase damage to 2[W] + Dexterity modifier at 21st level.
Rogue Attack 1
A false stumble and a shove place the enemy exactly where you want him.
Encounter [ ] Martial, Weapon
Requirement: You must be wielding a light blade.
Target: One creature
Attack: Dexterity vs. Will
Hit: 1[W] + Dexterity modifier damage, and you slide the target 1 square.
Artful Dodger: You slide the target a number of squares equal to your Charisma modifier.
Rogue Attack 1
If you twist the blade in the wound just so, you can make your enemy howl in pain.
Encounter [ ] Martial, Weapon
Requirement: You must be wielding a light blade.
Target: One creature
Attack: Dexterity vs. AC
Hit: 2[W] + Dexterity modifier damage.
Brutal Scoundrel: You gain a bonus to the damage roll equal to your Strength modifier.
Rogue Utility 2
You tumble out of harm’s way, dodging the opportunistic attacks of your enemies.
Encounter [ ] Martial
Prerequisite: You must be trained in Acrobatics.
Effect: You can shift a number of squares equal to one-half your speed.
Rogue Attack 9
You deal your enemy a vicious wound that continues to bleed, and like a shark, you circle in for the kill.
Daily [ ] Martial, Weapon
Requirement: You must be wielding a light blade.
Target: One creature
Attack: Dexterity vs. Fortitude
Hit: 2[W] + Dexterity modifier damage, and the target takes ongoing damage equal to 5 + your Strength
modifier and grants combat advantage to you (save ends both).
Miss: Half damage, and no ongoing damage.
The warlock wasn't part of the adventuring party we originally pictured stepping out of the first 4th Edition
Players Handbook. As you might expect, the original party included most all the incumbents, with sorcerers and
bards alongside wizards and monks.
But the warlock was in our thoughts. Coming out of Complete Arcane, the class's chief innovation had been its
eldritch blast ability, which provided unlimited arcane firepower round after round after round. After some initial
shock, everyone admitted that the warlock's eldritch blast didn't break the game. The class's ability to maintain
relevant arcane attack power, instead of running out of finite resources like a wizard, had a great deal of
influence on our early thoughts about 4th Edition. We understood that the warlock didn't have to be the
exception. All of our classes might be improved by having abilities they could count on all day long.
Fast forward a couple of drafts into the future. We'd started understanding that our power-rich approach to the
classes meant that we almost certainly wouldn't be launching with every class we might want to. Our
understanding of the party roles indicates that the sorcerer and the wizard might very well be standing on each
other's toes and pointy hats. Then, once we saw the concept art Bill O'Connor provided for tieflings, we knew
that we had to commit to including tieflings as a PC race, rather than just hopeful it would work out (more on
that in a future Design & Development column).
And what class would tieflings naturally gravitate to? A class that acquired scary powers by negotiating , pacts
with shadowy, infenral, or feral patrons? That worked for us. But what we didn't know at the time was how
dramatically the warlock class would improve as we progressed through design. Of all the classes, the warlock
has made the greatest strides from its initial concept to its final execution. In truth, we've been aided by the
fact that the class doesn't have a weighty existing legacy. There aren't thousands of D&D players who have a
solid and well-reasoned idea of exactly what a warlock's powers should accomplish. Whenever we came up with
something cool and flavorful, we felt entirely free to try it out -- instead of qualifiedly free, as we often felt with
several other classes.
Tieflings begin with a backstory of splintering betrayals and stolen power. Warlocks carry on with a fundamental
choice of a pact with one of three varieties of supernatural patron. I'm leaving the specific pacts out of this, but
I will say that the pacts provide direct benefits when you send an enemy you've marked to their afterlife
reward; your patrons show their gratitude by giving you a Boon of Souls. And when you play a warlock, you
have the tools to put your enemies away. Rather than relying only on eldritch blast, you'll also have an arsenal
of curses (send enemy directly to hell for a round, then bring them back in more pieces), conjurations (maws --
connected to beings that remain thankfully off-screen -- materialize to chew your enemies), and movement
powers (teleport and turn invisible, anyone?) to get you out of the trouble you're surely going to get yourself
From the perspective of lead designer, it's easy to see when a class is working out. I just have to notice the
ease with which the designers and developers create cool mechanics for it. The warlock is feeling no pain, in
contrast to her future enemies.
First Commandment: Directing Damage
Don't play the warlord if your only idea of a good time is personally wreaking havoc on your foes. I love the
name of the warlord class. I supported using the name instead of the original "marshal" name we'd drafted
from 3rd Edition. But some players' first impression on hearing the name "warlord" is that the class must be
tougher than all the other characters, the nastiest battlefield hack-and-slasher in the game. The warlord can
hold his own in melee and will frequently save the day thanks to outright combat mojo, but every warlord is
more effective as a commander than as a lone hero.
For example, the warlord's 1st-level daily attack power, pin the foe, does as much damage as the best of the
fighter's 1st-level daily attack powers, brute strike. Pin the foe's advantage is that it locks down the target's
movement whether the attack hits or misses. This pin effect only functions if the warlord has allies with him to
team against the enemy. So the power might be a big enough hit to slay the enemy outright. But against an
extremely tough foe, or when pin the foe misses, the power creates a tactical advantage that depends on
teamwork between multiple party members to keep the target from shifting freely around the battlefield.
At that stage, with an enemy who is pinned and fighting to the last breath, the warlord isn't as likely to be the
party member who gets in the killing blow. Take a look at the fighter's brute strike power again. While the
warlord's cool 1st-level daily exploit sets up a teamwork benefit, brute strike has the keyword "Reliable,"
meaning that the power isn't expended if the attack misses. Eventually, as long as the fighter is alive to swing,
that brute strike is going to connect -- the warlord doesn't have that certainty. If you're the player who always
wants to be finisher, the party's sword-wielding ass-kicker, play a rogue, ranger, or a fighter who uses two-
Pin the Foe
Warlord Attack 1
No matter where your foe turns, one of your allies is waiting for him.
Target: One creature
Attack: Strength vs. AC
Hit: 3[W] + Strength modifier damage.
Effect: Until the end of the encounter, the target cannot shift if at least two of your allies (or you and one
ally) are adjacent to it.
Fighter Attack 1
You shatter armor and bone with a ringing blow.
Martial, Reliable, Weapon
Target: One creature
Attack: Strength vs. AC
Hit: 3[W] + Strength modifier damage.
Second Commandment: Play Well with Others
This is the shiny-happy side of the previous commandment. Fourth edition has fundamentally selfish classes
that care only about their own combat tricks and successes. Fourth edition also has extremely unselfish classes,
and that's where the warlord fits in. Different players at the table are likely to take a different approach to the
combat encounter portion of the game. If you enjoy cooperative games like Reiner Knezia's Lord of the Rings
boardgame or Shadows over Camelot, you're much more likely to enjoy playing a warlord. For example, your
warlord can provide the entire party with an extra movement option with a power such as white raven
During the early stages of design, we often used a sports metaphor, casting the warlord as the quarterback.
Now that I think about it, I'm not sure quarterback is the right analogy -- after all, quarterbacks tend to land a
huge percentage of the glory, MVP awards, and Hollywood girlfriends! Basketball point guard may be a more
apt comparison. Not every combat depends on the warlord/point guard, but they distribute benefits the rest of
the party thrives on. Without the warlord's assists, the party is often left only to its own devices, which might
not be enough to triumph in a given encounter. You can operate without a warlord, but when you get to the
playoffs against powerful competition, parties that don't have a warlord (or possibly some other to-be-designed
tactical leader) have a rougher time of it. If you feel a glow of accomplishment when your assists combine with
your attacks' damage to help the party succeed, the warlord is for you.
White Raven Onslaught
Warlord Attack 1
You lead the way with a powerful attack, using your success to create an opportunity for one of your allies.
Each of your comrades in turn seizes on your example and begins to display true teamwork.
Target: One creature
Attack: Strength vs. AC
Hit: 3[W] + Strength modifier damage, and you slide an adjacent ally 1 square. Until the end of the
encounter, whenever you or an ally within 10 squares of you makes a successful attack, the attacker slides
an adjacent ally 1 square.
Miss: Choose one ally within 10 squares. Until the end of the encounter, the ally slides an adjacent ally 1
square after making a successful attack.
Third Commandment: Order Up!
If you often find yourself suggesting a tactical course of action to your fellow players, the warlord might be for
you. Back when we designed the original version of the marshal class for the Miniatures Handbook, the marshal
owed a good deal to the vision and example of Skaff Elias. Skaff is famous for having excellent suggestions for
what other players should be doing with their turns. The warlord class, as a descendant of the marshal, is partly
an exercise in turning that sometimes annoying habit into a positive contribution that will be appreciated by
other players, rather than resented.
Iron dragon charge is an example of how we're trying to make this type of guidance a welcome addition to
another character's glory. Getting to charge as an immediate reaction when it's not your turn is a fantastic
addition to any melee character's life, not an onerous order that forces your ally to spend their turn following
your commands. Few players complain when the warlord in the party uses a well-timed exploit to give their PC
a charge, another basic attack, or the chance to shift away from encroaching foes. Ditto for warlord powers that
simultaneously allow the warlord to attack and inspire his allies to attempt a saving throw or recover hit points.
The warlord doesn't have unlimited license to boss other players around. Taken to extremes, that style of
gameplay is still annoying. But if you're the type of player who loves studying tactical situations and trying to
puzzle out the best way to get everyone through alive, the warlord provides roleplaying hooks and flexible
powers to support your play style in a way that will endear you to your allies.
Iron Dragon Charge
Warlord Attack 9
Like a rampaging iron dragon, you hurl yourself at your adversary, landing a terrific blow that inspires your
allies to charge as well.
Target: One creature
Attack: Strength vs. AC
Special: You must charge as part of this attack.
Hit: 3[W] + Strength modifier damage.
Effect: Until the end of the encounter, as an immediate reaction, an ally of your choice within 5 squares of
you can charge a target that you charge.
Magic saturates the world and all the extraordinary realms beyond the world. Magic is an intrinsic force present
in literally all things. Magic transforms and alters the natural world, sometimes actively and suddenly, other
times subtly and over long centuries.
This arcane energy source is difficult to understand and even tougher to master. Those who do so through
years of study, practice, and apprenticeship to accomplished masters are called wizards.
Wizards wield arcane magic. Wizards recognize reality for what it is: a thin veneer of structure supported and
energized by a force that is ultimately changeable, to those who know its secrets. Thus wizards research
esoteric rituals that allow them to alter time and space, hurl balls of fire that incinerate massed foes, and wield
spells like warriors brandish swords. They call upon arcane strikes, power words, and spells to unleash raging
torrents of cold, fire, or lighting, confuse and enthrall the weak-minded, or even turn invisible or walk through
What sets wizards apart from others who attempt to wield arcane magic are wizards’ unique implements.
Most people recognize the four classic tools associated with wizardcraft: The Orb, Staff, Tome, or Wand.
Each implement focuses magic of a particular class slightly better than the wizard would be able to accomplish
bare-handed. Thus wizards are rarely without wand and staff, orb and tome, or some other combination
A wizard’s orb grants better access to powers of terrain control and manipulation (such as clouds and walls), as
well as retributive effects, detection and perception effects, and invisibility.
The staff is best suited to powers that forcefully project powers from the wizard, such as lines of lightning and
cones of fire; however, a staff also has resonances with effects related to flight and telekinesis (pushing,
pulling, or sliding creatures or objects).
A tome is tied to powers that reduce or neutralize an enemy’s capability in combat in some fashion, whether by
slowing the foe, dazing, or through some other fashion. Tomes are also often important for spells of
teleportation, summoning, shapechanging, and a few physical enhancement effects.
The wand is a perennial favorite, as it is an ideal conduit for powers that create effects well away from the
wizard’s physical position, effects which include explosions of fire, bursts of cold, and other long-range effects
that can affect several enemies at once. In addition, personal protections and countermagic effects may lie in
Thus a wizard without an implement is like a slightly near-sighted man with glasses; the man can still see, but
without his glasses, he can’t read the road sign across the way. In like wise, while wizard powers are associated
with a particular implement, a wizard need not possess or hold a given implement to use its associated power.
For instance, a wizard can cast the wand spell cinder storm even if he doesn’t own, has lost, or is not holding a
magic wand. However, holding the associated implement grants a benefit to the wizard’s attack that is just like
the benefit the warrior gains when attacking an enemy with a magic sword.
Let me tell you about my character, Nils, and how he contributed a few grace notes to 4th Edition’s concepts of
character class roles.
Nils isn’t a 4th Edition character; he’s my old 3.5 character from Mark Jessup’s “Nine Chords” campaign. There
are nine deities in Mark’s homebrew world, one deity each for the nine alignment slots. Each of the gods is a
great bard whose personal pleasure and cosmic power flows from ritual bragging in front of the other gods
about the kickass accomplishments of their worshippers. (Perhaps this arrangement will seem even more fitting
when I mention that Mark is the director of marketing here at Wizards of the Coast…)
In a world like this, someone in the party has got to play a bard. But when the character class draft went down,
everyone stepped back toward fighter or cleric or wizard or rogue, and nobody was willing to jump on the lute
grenade. Mark was disappointed with us. I hate to see a disappointed DM, so I vowed to detour into bard-land
just as soon as I was comfortable with Nils as a fighter.
Four greatsword-swinging levels of fighter later, Nils entered the path of lute-n-flute. My roleplaying
opportunities increased because I was now the spokesman and PR agent for the PC group. But in encounters
that focused on combat instead of roleplaying, Nils was forced into a mold pro basketball analysts call a
“tweener,” too wimpy to play power forward alongside the ranger and the barbarians, and not capable of long-
range shots like the wizard.
The PC group appreciated the singing bonuses Nils provided, and they appreciated his eventual haste spell, but
supplying those bonuses meant that I spent at least two rounds at the start of combat making everyone else
better without doing much of anything myself, except maybe moving around. Once I entered the combat, I
survived by making judicious use of the Combat Expertise feat.
By the time the campaign slowed down to once or twice a year sessions, I’d played Nils for seven bard-only
levels and obtained a much clearer perspective on the problems faced by D&D characters who don’t feel a clear
niche. Fighters, rogues, clerics, and wizards all occupy pivotal places in a D&D PC group’s ecology, while the
bard is singing from offstage reminding everyone not to forget the +1 or +2 bonuses they’re providing to
attacks and saves against fear.
When Andy (Collins), James (Wyatt), and I put together the basic structure of 4th Edition, we started with the
conviction that we would make sure every character class filled a crucial role in the player character group.
When the bard enters the 4th Edition stage, she’ll have class features and powers that help her fill what we call
the Leader role. As a character whose songs help allies fight better and recover hit points, the bard is most
likely to fit into a player character group that doesn’t have a cleric, the quintessential divine leader.
Unlike their 3e counterparts, every Leader class in the new edition is designed to provide their ally-benefits and
healing powers without having to use so many of their own actions in the group-caretaker mode. A cleric who
wants to spend all their actions selflessly will eventually be able to accomplish that, but a cleric who wants to
mix it up in melee or fight from the back rank with holy words and holy symbol attacks won’t constantly be
forced to put aside their damage-dealing intentions. A certain amount of healing flows from the Leader classes
even when they opt to focus on slaying their enemies directly.
Does every group need a Leader class? Not necessarily. Is it worth having more than one Leader in a party?
We settled on crucial roles rather than on necessary roles. 4th Edition has mechanics that allow groups that
want to function without a Leader, or without a member of the other three roles, to persevere. Adventuring is
usually easier if the group includes a Leader, a Defender, a Striker, and a Controller, but none of the four roles
is absolutely essential. Groups that double or triple up on one role while leaving other roles empty are going to
face different challenges. They’ll also have different strengths. That’s the type of experiment you’ll be running
in eight months. Before then, we’ll have more to say about the other roles.
One last thing before I go, since I started this note off by talking about Nils. This time, let me say a few things
to Nils directly: “Nils, it’s been fun playing you. But I’ll see you again in a future incarnation, and this time
around when Al-Faregh the wizard and Jum the barbarian are chopping up beholders, you’re going to be
fighting on the same playing field instead of handing out Gatorade cups and singing the national anthem.”
One of the most useful and popular additions to Dungeons & Dragons that appeared in 3rd Edition was the
concept of feats: special bonuses, benefits, or actions that characters could acquire outside their normal class
Throughout the lifespan of the edition (and even between the covers of the Player’s Handbook), the potency,
utility, effect, and coolness of feats have varied widely.
Some feats offer utilitarian but unexciting benefits, while others grant characters entire new options in combat.
It’s hard to argue with the utility of Alertness, Improved Initiative, Weapon Focus, or even (for 1st-level wizards
and sorcerers) Toughness, but that same feat slot could purchase Power Attack, Rapid Shot, Spring Attack, or
When we started talking about feats for 4th Edition, we already knew that we wanted the bulk of a character’s
powers—the exciting actions he performs in combat—to come from his class. Even character classes that hadn’t
traditionally offered class-based power options (that is, non-spellcasters) would now acquire these special
attacks, defenses, maneuvers, and so on directly from their class’s list of such abilities.
Once that decision was made, a lot of the most exciting feats suddenly looked more like class-based powers.
Spring Attack, for example, now looked an awful lot like a power for the rogue or melee-based ranger, rather
than a feat that just anybody could pick up. Manyshot, Whirlwind Attack, Two-Weapon Fighting, Shot on the
Run—these were specialized powers appropriate for particular character archetypes.
So what design space did that leave for feats? After some discussion, we came to see feats as the “fine-tuning”
that your character performed after defining his role (via your choice of class) and his build (via your power
selections). Feats would let characters further specialize in their roles and builds, as well as to differentiate
themselves from other characters with similar power selections.
They would accomplish these goals with simple, basic functionality, rather than complicated conditional benefits
or entirely new powers that you’d have to track alongside those of your class.
Here are four examples of feats taken from the latest draft of the 4th Edition Player’s Handbook. The first two
demonstrate the minor evolution of familiar favorites from 3rd Edition, while the other two show off some new
tricks. As always, nothing’s final until you read it in the printed book, so take these with a grain of salt.
Benefit: When you take this feat, you gain additional hit points equal to your level + 3. You also gain 1
additional hit point every time you gain a level.
Benefit: You don’t grant enemies combat advantage in surprise rounds.
You also gain a +2 feat bonus to Perception checks.
Benefit: If you are surprised, you may spend an action point to act during the surprise round.
Golden Wyvern Adept
Benefit: You can omit a number of squares from the effects of any of your area or close wizard powers. This
number can’t exceed your Wisdom modifier.
Secret worlds and invisible domains surround the world of the Dungeons & Dragons game. Godly dominions,
elemental chaos, shadow kingdoms, and faerie realms are all part of the world. Most mortals know little of
these things, but heroes are a different matter. Heroes often find that adventure calls them to distant and
strange dimensions indeed.
The closest of these alternate worlds is the Feywild, or the realm of faerie. It is an “echo” of the mortal world, a
parallel dimension in which the natural features of the lands and seas are arranged in much the same
configuration. If a mountain stands in a given place in the mortal world, a similar mountain stands in a
corresponding place in the Feywild. However, the Feywild is not an exact reproduction. Built structures and
terrains are not copied in the faerie realm, so a valley dotted with farm fields and towns in the mortal world
would simply exist as untouched, unsettled woodland in the Feywild.
The Feywild’s many vistas can catch your breath with beauty, but the Feywild is far from safe. Heroes visiting
to Feywild might encounter:
A mossy forest glade where evil druids spill the blood of hapless travelers over the roots of the thirsting
The tower of an eladrin enchanter;
A fomorian king’s castle in the dim, splendid caverns of the faerie Underdark; or
A maze of thorns in which dryad briarwitches guard an evil relic.
Just as the Feywild is an echo of the natural world, so is the Shadowfell. However, the Shadowfell mimics the
mortal world in a different manner. The Shadowfell is the land of the dead, where the spirits of the deceased
linger for a time in a dark reflection of their previous lives before silently fading beyond all ken. Some undead
creatures are born in the Shadowfell, and other undead are bound to it, but some living beings dwell in this
Like the Feywild, the Shadowfell also reflects the mortal world imperfectly. Towns, castles, roads, and other
objects built by mortal kind exist in the Shadowfell about where they should be, but they are twisted, ruined
caricatures. The shadowy echo of a thriving seaport in the mortal world might be a dilapidated, desolate port
whose harbor is cluttered with the rotting hulks of shipwrecks and whose busy wharves are empty except for a
few silent and furtive passersby. In the Shadowfell, heroes might venture into:
A necromancer’s tower;
The sinister castle of a shadar-kai lord, surrounded by a forest of black thorns;
A ruined city swept by long-ago plague and madness; or
The mist-shrouded winter realm of Letherna, where the fearsome Raven Queen rules over a kingdom of
The Elemental Chaos
All of the cosmos is not tied to the mortal world as closely as the Feywild or Shadowfell. The natural world was
created from the infinite expanse of the Elemental Chaos (or Tempest, or Maelstrom), a place where all
fundamental matter and energy seethes. Floating continents of earth, rivers of fire, ice-choked oceans, and vast
cyclones of churning clouds and lightning collide in the elemental plane.
Powerful beings tame vast portions of the chaos and shape it to their own desires. Here the efreeti City of Brass
stands amid a desert of burning sand illuminated by searing rivers of fire falling through the sky. In other
places in the Elemental Chaos, mighty mortal wizards or would-be demigods have erected secret refuges or
tamed the living elements to build their domains.
Elemental creatures of all kinds live and move through the Elemental Chaos: ice archons, magma hurlers,
thunderbirds, and salamanders. The most dangerous inhabitants are the demons. In the nadir of this realm lies
the foul Abyss, the font of evil and corruption from which demonkind springs. The Abyss is unthinkably vast—
thousands of miles in extent—and in its maw swirl hundreds of demonic domains, elemental islands, or
continents sculpted to suit the tastes of one demon lord or another. Within the Elemental Chaos, heroes might
The crystalline tower of a long-dead archmage;
A grim fortress monastery of githzerai adepts;
The diseased Abyssal continent where Demogorgon rules amid ruined temples and bloodthirsty jungle
A vast polar sea lit only by the cold glitter of icebergs and flickering auroras, in which the frozen stronghold
of a frost giant warlock lies hidden.
The Astral Sea
One final extradimensional realm touches on the mortal world: the Astral Sea. If the Elemental Chaos is the
manifestation of physicality, the Astral Sea is a domain of the soul and mind. The divine realms, the dominions
of the gods, drift within Astral Sea’s unlimited silver deeps. Some of these are realms of glory and splendor—
the golden peak of Mount Celestia, the verdant forests of Arvandor…. Others belong to dark powers, such as
the Nine Hells where Asmodeus governs his infernal kingdom. A few astral dominions lie abandoned, the ruined
heavens and hells of gods and powers that have fallen.
Only the mightiest of heroes dare venture into the dominions of the gods themselves. In the Astral Sea, heroes
The iron city of Dis, where the devil Dispater rules over a domain of misery and punishment in the second
of the Nine Hells;
An artifact guarded by race of cursed warriors whose castle of adamantine overlooks the war-torn plains of
The black tower of Vecna, hidden in the depths of Pandemonium; or
A dragon-guarded githyanki fortress, drifting through the silver sea.
No one is knows how many astral dominions there are. Some dominions, such as the Nine Hells, are the size of
worlds. Others are no larger than cities, rising like shining islets from the Astral Sea. Several dominions have
been ruined or abandoned, usually because the gods who made them were destroyed or forgotten. What sorts
of treasures—or perils—might slumber in such places, only learned sages could say.
The family of gods for 4th Edition is a mix of old and new. You'll see familiar faces like Corellon, Moradin, and
Pelor, and some new faces as well, like Zehir, Torog, and Bane.
Before I explain what the Forgotten Realms' god of tyranny and war is doing rubbing shoulders with Pelor, let
me say a bit about our thinking when we created a pantheon in the first place.
There was a time when the team working on "the world" of D&D thought we could get away with creating
general rules useful to clerics regardless of which pantheon existed in the campaign, and then presenting a
variety of fictional and historical pantheons for DMs to adopt or adapt as they saw fit. I believe it was Stacy
Longstreet, the senior D&D art director, who pointed out that this solution would leave us in a bit of a bind.
When we wanted to put a temple in an adventure, what god would it be dedicated to? We could make Generic
Evil Temples™, but that would sap a lot of the flavor out of our adventures, and rob us of specific plot hooks
and story lines based on the portfolios and histories of these gods.
When we wanted to illustrate a cleric in one of our books, what holy symbol would the cleric hold? Again, we
could rely on a stable of generic symbols (maybe the Zapf Dingbat font?), but at the cost of a lot of flavor.
We ended up creating a new pantheon. At first, we used some of the gods from 3rd Edition as placeholder
names -- we thought we'd come up with new names for [Pelor] the sun god and [Moradin] the god of the forge.
Ultimately we decided that using some familiar faces was preferable to giving our players a whole new set of
names to learn. Besides, if a god looks like an elf and took out the orc-god's eye like a certain well-known elf
god, why not call him Corellon?
The elf god is a good example of a god who kept his well-earned place in the D&D pantheon. But "the elf god"
shouldn't be taken to literally. Sure, he's often depicted as an elf or an eladrin, and many eladrin in particular
revere him. But he's equally popular among human wizards, and even dwarves who practice the finer arts are
prone to offering him prayers. One of our goals with the new pantheon was to loosen the tight associations
between gods and races that has in the past led to the creation of whole pantheons full of elf, dwarf, orc, and
goblin deities. Corellon is still associated with elfy things like arcane magic and the Feywild, and he still hates
Lolth and the drow. But his appeal is a little broader now.
Here's another example of a familiar, draconic face showing up in a somewhat new light. Maybe it was the
Platinum Knight prestige class in Draconomicon that did it, but something convinced me a long time ago that
Bahamut was a much cooler god of paladins than Heironeous ever was. Like Corellon, Bahamut's not just for
dragons any more. He's the god of justice, protection, and honor, and many paladins of all races worship him.
Many metallic dragons revere him as well, thinking of him as the first of their kind. Some legends about
Bahamut describe him as literally a shining platinum dragon, while others describe him as a more
anthropomorphic deity, who's called the Platinum Dragon as a title of respect. Exhorting his followers to protect
the weak, liberate the oppressed, and defend just order, Bahamut stands as the exemplar of the paladin's ideal.
Here's another god whose placeholder name just stuck, despite some reservations. We wanted an evil war god
in the pantheon, and without Heironeous, Hextor didn't make a lot of sense. We wanted the kind of heavily
militaristic god whose temples you might find among non-evil societies who have spent long years at war, as
well as among hobgoblins. We wanted a god who embodied just the sort of tyrannical dictatorship that Bane
stands for in the Forgotten Realms. We started calling him Bane as a placeholder. He went through a number of
different, unsatisfying names. Finally, someone said we should just call him Bane. So Bane he remained.
Like chocolate and peanut butter, we think Bane and Bahamut are two great tastes that taste great together.
Does that mean you have to use them in your 4th Edition game? Of course not. But we think that, when you
see these gods in action in our core books and adventures, you'll agree that they belong in their new places of
honor in the pantheon of the D&D game.
The encounter serves as the basic building block of a D&D adventure. In the old days, DMs used their
experience, judgment, and sense of drama to build encounters. The 3rd Edition of D&D gave us challenge
ratings and encounter levels. They were great tools, but they assumed that the party fought only one monster.
In 4th Edition, we’re doing things a bit different. We’re shifting to a system that assumes a number of monsters
equal to the number of characters. This change has a few major implications for encounter design:
Superior Accuracy: Before we can talk about encounter design, it’s important to note that while 3rd
Edition’s CR system is a useful measuring tool, it isn’t always an accurate one. A monster’s AC, hit points,
special attacks, and damage all combine to determine its level. In the old days, we relied on a designer’s
best guess to match a creature to a CR. While designating a creature’s level is still an art, designating a
creature’s level now has more science behind it. By creating robust progressions of attack bonus, damage,
and AC, level has become a much more accurate and robust measure of a monster’s power. This step is
critically important, as it now allows us a lot more accuracy in determining the threat an encounter
More Monsters: Rather than pick one monster, you now select a group of critters. The interplay between
monsters is a little more important in design. In 3rd Edition, you had to turn to significantly weaker
monsters to put a pair or more creatures into a fight. Unless these monsters had significant advantages
when working together, an individual character easily outclassed an individual monster in such a group. In
4th Edition, an individual creature (of a level comparable to the PC) has the AC, attack bonus, and hit
points to remain a threat during a fight.
Monster Roles: Monsters have roles that define the basics of how they fight. The role functions in only the
broadest terms. It dictates a few basic measures of a monster but describes, rather than proscribes, how
its abilities work. The real strength of a role is that it gives designers a few basic targets to shoot at it in
design, ensuring that every monster we make fits in with the rest of the creatures in the whole game. For
instance, monsters that are good at ranged attacks love to have a beefy wall of brutes in front of them to
hold back the adventurers. Roles allow you to focus in on the right monster for the encounter and spot
Hazards: Traps, hazards, dangerous terrain, and other complications have a clearer place in the battlefield.
The 3rd Edition of D&D gave us one “monster unit” to play with. In other words, the game assumed that
the encounter consisted of four PCs against one monster. If you had five PCs, you had to figure out how to
get 1.25 “monsters” into the encounter. Even worse, that system had to express traps, hazards, and other
dangers as full monster units. It was difficult at best to mechanically represent something that was never
meant to stand alone. In 4th Edition, each monster represents only a portion of the encounter. That makes
it much easier to design green slime, pit traps, whirling blades, fountains that spray acid, and crumbling
stone walls. One such hazard can simply take the place of one monster, leaving you with three or four
monsters in the encounter. Since monster level is a more rigorous measure of power, we can turn those
measures and scales around and use them to create environmental hazards, traps, set pieces, and other
interesting tactical twists.
Putting it All Together
What does all this mean for encounter design in 4th Edition? When you build an encounter, you can begin from
several different premises. You can start with a cool monster, find creatures that make good “teammates” for
it, and run with that. For instance, you’ve always wanted to throw a medusa at the party. Looking at her stats,
abilities, and role, you can then pick out other creatures that make her a tougher nut to crack. Of course, you
could always throw a couple medusas at the characters and have a little sculpture party.
Alternatively, you can start with a basic idea of how you want the encounter to proceed, pick out monsters
based on level and role, and throw that at the party. Let’s say that the party wizard hasn’t had sufficient trouble
thrown his way recently. Ranged attackers always make life difficult for spellslingers, so you can pick out a few
of them based on role. To keep the fight busy, a monster with a lot of abilities to hinder and slow down PCs fits
the bill. As a cherry on top of this anti-wizard sundae, you can finish the encounter with a lurker who hides
from the party, sneaks past the fighter, and springs from the shadows to chop down the caster. The key here is
that, without knowing exactly which monsters to use, you have an idea of which types of critters you want.
How you fit hazards into an encounter is perhaps the most important aspect of encounter design in 4th Edition,
and it brings us to the third way you can build encounters. You can now more easily add dynamic elements to
an encounter and account for cool special effects, hazards, and traps. Those elements are, in mechanics terms,
equal to a monster. They fit seamlessly into the encounter design and XP rules by taking up one creature’s slot.
If you want to throw in more hazards, simply reduce the monster count and increase the number of hazards
present in the encounter.
If you’re like me, and you read too many comics and watch too many movies for your own good, you like to
pull out set pieces and crazy terrain to throw at the party. A swaying rope bridge battered by howling air
elementals fits under the encounter building system. A burning building that collapses around the PCs as they
fight the evil hobgoblin wizard fills a similar role, as does a bizarre altar to Vecna that randomly teleports
characters around the room. Hazards, traps, and other dangers simply fill in for one or more creatures in a
By expanding the tools and making them work well together, 4th Edition presents a more robust, flexible,
extensible, and exciting set of encounter tools. If the 3rd Edition’s presentation of CR was the first step to
taking some of the mystery out of encounter design, the 4th Edition builds on that core to produce a more
accurate tool, along with additional uses for that tool.
4th Edition dragons are among the most dynamic, exciting monsters in the game—as they should be. They’re
different from each other, across categories (the metallics aren’t like the chromatics), across colors (reds and
whites don’t have all the same attacks), and across age categories (fear the ancient dragons). Here’s just a
taste of what a fight against an ancient dragon might feel like:
On the dragon’s turn, the first thing it does is burst out in an inferno of flame, searing every PC within 25
feet—a free action. Then, with a standard action, it slashes out at the fighter and the cleric with its two
front claws (even though they’re both 20 feet away). As another free action, it uses its tail to slap the
rogue, who was trying to sneak up behind it, and pushes her back 10 feet. It’s getting angry at the wizard,
so it uses a special ability to take another standard action: it spits a ball of fire at the wizard, setting him
on fire. It has a move action left, which it uses to fly into a better position for its breath weapon. That ends
the dragon’s turn.
It’s the fighter’s turn. He charges the dragon and manages to land a solid blow, dropping the dragon down
below half its hit points. Oh—that gives the dragon the opportunity use its breath weapon as an immediate
action. A huge cone of fire bursts from the dragon’s mouth, engulfing all four PCs. But at least the dragon
is below 500 hit points!
Now the rogue moves around to flank with the fighter. Ordinarily, that would let the dragon use its tail slap
again as an immediate action, but the dragon has used its immediate action already. That’s lucky for the
rogue, who actually gets to make an attack this round! Unfortunately, she fails to hit the dragon’s AC of
The wizard fails to put out the fire, so he takes more damage. Worse yet, the dragon’s breath scoured
away the wizard’s fire resistance, so he takes the full amount. He blasts the dragon with a ray of freezing
cold, but this isn’t 3rd Edition. The dragon takes normal damage, but it’s not enough to slow it down.
Finally, the cleric is up. Calling on the power of her god, she swings her halberd at the dragon—a critical
hit! The damage isn’t bad, but even better, the wizard gets a nice surge of healing power.
He’s going to need it—it’s the dragon’s turn again.
Demons & devils
In the real world, "demon" is synonymous with "devil." "Abyss" and "hell" have a similar relationship. D&D
designers have struggled with these facts since 1977 when the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons game depicted
demons and devils, the Abyss and the Nine Hells. The original basis for the division was alignment. Aligned
planes existed to provide a meaningful afterlife for similarly aligned characters, and a need to fill those planes
with natives resulted in demons being distinct from devils. As the game evolved, the original division remained,
but too many similarities persisted. The advent of 4th Edition lets us accentuate the differences between the
two primary species of fiends.
Throughout demons' and devils' existence in the D&D game, resemblances between them have been stronger
and more numerous than differences. Both species are extraplanar forces of evil that seek souls to supplement
their numbers. Each breed has wretched and implike creatures at the bottom of the hierarchy and godlike
archfiends at the top. Each member of both species has a wide array of similar (and often superfluous)
supernatural powers. Most demons and devils are superior to members of typical PC races in every way,
including incredible intelligence. Their purposes in the material world have always been similar.
In the original AD&D Monster Manual, Gary Gygax admitted that devils “somewhat resemble the demons both
in their characteristics and abilities.” AD&D 2nd Edition kept the planar structure of the original game. Demons
and devils became tanar’ri and baatezu, respectively, but little made them distinct other than their categorical
names. Only a conflict called the Blood War kept them from overrunning the material world. However, this evil-
on-evil fight didn’t expand the possibilities for typical D&D play. On the contrary, the Blood War brought the
motivations and hierarchy of demons and devils closer together. The 3rd Edition of D&Dretained so many of
2nd Edition’s concepts that it did little to clarify the situation until the release of Fiendish Codex I. Fourth
Edition changes all that.
In 4th Edition, the Nine Hells are an astral dominion among other deific abodes in the Astral Sea (more on that
in an upcoming Design & Development column). The resident deity is Asmodeus, who as an angel in primeval
times, led an army of his fellows against his celestial master and murdered that god. Although Asmodeus
gained divine might from his foul deed, he and his followers also suffered their victim’s dying curse. Under the
power of that malediction, all the rebellious angels twisted in form and became devils. Worse still, the murdered
god’s words transformed Asmodeus's dominion into a nightmarish place and bound the newborn devils to it. To
this day, devils plot to escape their prison, weaving lies and corruption to ensure their eventual freedom and to
seize even greater power.
Asmodeus rules Hell with despotic pride, and all devils conform to his strict hierarchy or face destruction. Within
the chain of command, lesser devils use whatever power they have to mimic their ultimate leader. Devils work
to gain influence in the cosmos, especially among mortals in the world. They eagerly respond to any summons
and readily form cleverly worded pacts. They plan and build to meet their needs, making and using all sorts of
devices, tools, and weapons. A devil might be supernaturally potent, and it might possess incredible magic
items, but its greatest assets are its shrewdly calculating mind and eternal patience. Devils want to impose a
sort of order -- specifically theirs -- on the cosmos.
Not so with demons.
In the Abyss, which gapes like a festering wound in the landscape of the Elemental Tempest, demons teem,
eternally divided among themselves simply by their insatiable lust for ruin. Legend says that the Chained God,
Tharizdun, found a seed of evil in the young cosmos, and during the gods’ war with the primordials, he threw
that seed into the Elemental Tempest. There, the evil seed despoiled all that came into contact with it (some
say it tainted Tharizdun himself) and created the Abyss as it burned a hole in the very structure of the plane.
Elemental beings that came too close to the Abyss became trapped and warped. Any desire they have turns to
the longing to obliterate the gods, creation, and even one another. They became demons.
Most demons are savage and fearless engines of annihilation. Although sometimes driven by unspeakable
yearning or by horrifying demon lords to gather in groups, demons have no real organization and no singular
aim. Demons don’t negotiate, and they build nothing lasting. Most use tooth and claw rather than artificial
weapons. They care little or nothing for souls. Even the mightiest demon lords manipulate other demons by
using threats, direct violence, or the promise of more destruction through affiliation. Although the lords of the
Abyss that veteran D&D players know and love to hate still exist, no monolithic hierarchy supports any demon’s
influence. Although a demon might want to destroy another creature and take that creature’s power, success
only results in the winning demon using and squandering what it has seized. Demons have no regard for the
responsibilities of authority, and they care little for keeping what they acquire. They’re forces of unmaking, and
a universe under them would reflect the horror that is the Abyss, if that universe survived at all.
What does a clearer distinction between the two major species of fiends mean for your game? If you need a
devious fiend that cares about souls and works on long-term schemes, use a devil. However, wholesale
slaughter, pointless suffering, and terrifying devastation call for a demon. A villain or even a player character
might bargain with devils, but those who conjure demons do so only to wreak havoc on their enemies. In short,
the unambiguous division of the fiends is another way 4th Edition makes the game easier to design for and to
Traps have been a part of the Dungeons & Dragons game since its earliest days, fiendish perils that stood right
alongside monsters as primary hazards to adventurer life and limb. Some adventures, like the classic Tomb of
Horrors, featured traps as the chief threat to life and appendage. Unfortunately, they've rarely had a positive
effect on the game. In the early days, DMs all too often felt compelled to demonstrate their cleverness and
punish players for making "wrong" choices -- even a choice as simple and random as which passage to explore.
Old-school players in the hands of such a DM responded by changing their characters' approach to dungeon
exploration. The "right" way to play the game was to slowly and laboriously search each 10-foot square of
dungeon before you set foot on it, or to use magic that made traps completely pointless. Neither option was
By the time 3rd Edition rolled around, traps had become a much smaller part of the game, something you
might run across once or twice in an adventure -- and rarely very satisfying when you did. Who wants to roll an
endless series of mostly pointless Search checks? If the players decided to simply explore the dungeon and
search for the "fun" and got whacked by a trap instead, they felt like they'd been sandbagged by the DM.
Consequently, we thought about simply "disappearing" traps from the game, but then we decided to take a
shot at fixing them first. Making traps work right certainly offered some significant upside. Traps are a good
way to showcase skills. They're a good way to introduce puzzle-solving into the occasional encounter. They're
an excellent way to complicate an otherwise bland combat encounter and add a highly interesting hazard that
players can exploit -- or must avoid. And sometimes it simply makes sense in the context of the story that the
builders of a dungeon might have built a trap to guard something.
The first thing we did was spend more time and attention on traps as components of existing combat
encounters, or as multi-component encounters in and of themselves. The Encounter Trap system described in
the Eberron sourcebook Secrets of Xen'drik offered a great starting point. By treating a trap like a group of
monsters with different components operating on different initiative scores, a trap became a real encounter
rather than random damage. Most traps work best when they "replace" a monster in a combat encounter, or
serve as a hazard equally threatening to both sides. We think that our ideal encounter consists of some of the
PCs battling monsters while some PCs deal with a trap or similar hazard. Meanwhile, everyone on both sides of
the battle must contend with some sort of interesting terrain element (although the advantage probably lies
with the monsters there -- after all, this is their home). In this way, traps become an integral component of an
encounter, rather than an afterthought or something a bored DM springs on unsuspecting PCs between fights.
The second significant change to traps in the game is changing the way we look at searching and exploring.
Rather than requiring the players to announce when and where they were searching, we decided to assume
that all characters are searching everything all the time. In other words, players don't need to say "I'm
searching for secret doors," or "I'm searching for traps." Instead, characters have a passive Perception score
that represents their Take-10 result for searching. When something hidden is in the area, the DM compares the
passive Perception scores of the PCs with the DCs of the various hidden things in the area. In the case of
hidden creatures, the DC is the result of their Stealth check. For things like hidden traps, hazards, or secret
doors, the DC is usually static.
While Perception is usually the most important skill when it comes to sussing out a trap, it's not the only skill
useful in determining the danger of traps. Based on the nature of the trap, skills such as Arcana,
Dungeoneering, or even Nature can give a PC the ability to learn of the existence of a trap, figure out its
workings, or even find a way to counter it.
Lastly, we wanted to expand the ways in which you could counter a trap. Much like figuring out that sometimes
you wanted other skills to allow a character to recognize a trap's threat, we made an effort to design traps that
could be countered with an interesting skill uses. Sometimes we're pointing out what should be obvious, such
as that an Acrobatics check can be used to jump over a pit; other times we're going to expand the uses of
some skills with opportunistic exceptions, like granting a skill check that gives the characters insight on how a
trap acts and ascertain something about its attack pattern.
Don't fret, rogue fans. That class and other characters trained in Thievery are still the party's best hope to shut
down traps quickly and well. The goal was to make traps something that could be countered when a party lacks
a rogue or the rogue is down for the count, not to mention make traps more dynamic and fun. In doing this, we
quickly came to the realization that canny players, in a flash of inspiration, can come up with interesting
solutions to counter even the most detailed traps. Instead of trying to anticipate these flashes though design,
we give you, the DM, the ability to react to player insight with a host of tools and general DCs that allow you to
say "Yes, you can do that, and here's how." We think this is a better approach than shutting down good ideas
from the players for interesting story and challenge resolution, simply because you lack the tools to interpret
their actions. After all, you should have the ability to make the changes on the fly that reward interesting ideas
and good play. This is one of the components of every Dungeons & Dragons game that allow each session to be
a fun and unique experience. Traps, like all things in the game, should embrace that design philosophy.
Points of Light
The Dungeons & Dragons game assumes many things about its setting: The world is populated by a variety of
intelligent races, strange monsters lurk on other planes, ancient empires have left ruins across the face of the
world, and so on. But one of the new key conceits about the D&D world is simply this: Civilized folk live in
small, isolated points of light scattered across a big, dark, dangerous world.
Most of the world is monster-haunted wilderness. The centers of civilization are few and far between, and the
world isn’t carved up between nation-states that jealously enforce their borders. A few difficult and dangerous
roads tenuously link neighboring cities together, but if you stray from them you quickly find yourself immersed
in goblin-infested forests, haunted barrowfields, desolate hills and marshes, and monster-hunted badlands.
Anything could be waiting down that old overgrown dwarf-built road: a den of ogre marauders, a forgotten
tower where a lamia awaits careless travelers, a troll’s cave, a lonely human village under the sway of a
demonic cult, or a black wood where shadows and ghosts thirst for the blood of the living.
Given the perilous nature of the world around the small islands of civilization, many adventures revolve around
venturing into the wild lands. For example:
Roads are often closed by bandits, marauders such as goblins or gnolls, or hungry monsters such as griffons or
dragons. The simple mission of driving off whomever or whatever is preying on unfortunate travelers is how
many young heroes begin their careers.
Since towns and villages do not stay in close contact, it’s easy for all sorts of evils to befall a settlement without
anyone noticing for a long time. A village might be terrorized by a pack of werewolves or enslaved by an evil
wizard, and no one else would know until adventurers stumbled into the situation.
Many small settlements and strongholds are founded, flourish for a time, and then fall into darkness. The wild
lands are filled with forgotten towers, abandoned towns, haunted castles, and ruined temples. Even people
living only a few miles away from such places might know them only by rumor and legend.
The common folk of the world look upon the wild lands with dread. Few people are widely traveled—even the
most ambitious merchant is careful to stick to better-known roads. The lands between towns or homesteads are
wide and empty. It might be safe enough within a day’s ride of a city or an hour’s walk of a village, but go
beyond that and you are taking your life into your hands. People are scared of what might be waiting in the old
forest or beyond the barren hills at the far end of the valley, because whatever is out there is most likely
hungry and hostile. Striking off into untraveled lands is something only heroes and adventurers do.
Another implication of this basic conceit of the world is that there is very little in the way of authority to deal
with raiders and marauders, outbreaks of demon worship, rampaging monsters, deadly hauntings, or similar
local problems. Settlements afflicted by troubles can only hope for a band of heroes to arrive and set things
right. If there is a kingdom beyond the town’s walls, it’s still largely covered by unexplored forest and desolate
hills where evil folk gather. The king’s soldiers might do a passable job of keeping the lands within a few miles
of his castle free of monsters and bandits, but most of the realm’s outlying towns and villages are on their own.
In such a world, adventurers are aberrant. Commoners view them as brave at best, and insane at worst. But
such a world is rife with the possibility for adventure, and no true hero will ever lack for a villain to vanquish or
a quest to pursue.
In D&D, the words "adventure" and "quest" are virtually synonymous. They both mean a journey, fraught with
danger that you undertake for a specific purpose. We sometimes joke that the game is all about killing
monsters and taking their stuff, but the reality is that the game is about adventures. You go into the dungeon
and kill monsters with a larger purpose in mind: to stop their raids on caravans, to rescue the townsfolk they've
captured, to retrieve the lost Scepter of the Adamantine Kings for the rightful descendant of those kings.
Quests are the story glue that binds encounters together into adventures. They turn what would otherwise be a
disjointed series of combats and interactions into a narrative -- a story with a beginning, a middle, and a
climactic ending. They give characters a reason for doing what they do, and a feeling of accomplishment when
they achieve their goals.
Quests can be major or minor, they can involve the whole group or just a single character's personal goals, and
they have levels just like encounters do. Completing a quest always brings a reward in experience points (equal
to an encounter of its level for a major quest, or a monster of its level for a minor quest), and it often brings
monetary rewards as well (on par with its XP reward, balanced with the rest of the treasure in the adventure).
They can also bring other rewards, of course -- grants of land or title, the promise of a future favor, and so on.
The idea of quest rewards is nothing new to D&D. Second Edition, in particular, promoted the idea of giving
story rewards of experience points when players completed adventures. The quest rules in 4th Edition are
directly descended from that idea, integrated into the economy of rewards in the game. They're a rules wrapper
around the story of the game, a way to keep players mindful of the purposes behind all their adventuring.
One of the suggestions in the 4th Edition Dungeon Master's Guide is to give players a visual, tactile
representation of a quest as soon as they begin it. At the start of the adventure, after the baron has briefed the
characters on their mission and been bullied into paying them more than he intended, you can hand the players
an index card spelling out the details of the quest -- including the agreed-upon reward. In the middle of the
adventure, when the characters find a key with a ruby set in its bow, you can hand them a card, telling them
that finding the matching lock is a quest.
When the players have cards or some other visual representation of their quests, it's easy for them to
remember what they're supposed to be doing -- and to sort out goals that might be contradictory. That's a
really interesting ramification of the quest system: It's okay to give the players quests they don't complete,
quests that conflict with each other, or quests that conflict with the characters' alignments and values.
For example, the mentor of the group's paladin might ask him to find and destroy the Ruby Tome of Savrith the
Undying. At the same time, a shady character is offering the rogue a sizable sum in exchange for the same
tome, and the wizard's research turns up a reference to a ritual contained in the Ruby Tome that the characters
will need to use in order to complete another quest. Three quests stand at odds, and it's up to the players to
decide what they want to do.
There's a story that's a lot richer and more interesting than simply going into the dungeon to see what treasure
Magic Item Levels
The Magic Item Compendium introduced the concept of levels for magic items. This primarily served to help
DMs determine what magic items to place in a treasure hoard (or to give to his NPCs). Since we built that level
system around the existing magic item prices, it was an imperfect solution (for instance, a few non-epic magic
items exceeded the pricing scheme for level 1-20 items).
Fourth Edition D&D improves that useful tool by explicitly linking a magic item's level to its price. For example,
all 9th-level magic items now cost the same number of gp to craft or to purchase. This makes it even easier to
gauge a magic item's appropriateness for your game at a glance. Don't know if it's OK to drop a flying carpet
into the hands of your 9th-level PCs? Well, the fact that the carpet's listed as an 18th-level item should clue you
in that it'd have an enormous impact on your 9th-level game.
Does that mean that all magic items of the same level will be equal in power? Well, yes and no.
It's true that the designer of two different 9th-level magic items imagines that they'd have a roughly equivalent
impact on gameplay. A +2 thundering mace and a +2 staff of the war mage, if designed and developed
properly, should be equally useful in combat. That comparison generally isn't too hard, since the basic functions
and utility of combat-based effects remain relative regardless of the weapon or implement. How much extra
damage does the mace deal compared to the staff? If damage isn't involved, how useful and potent are the
items' effects against foes? And so on.
However, that comparison quickly becomes more art than science when comparing magic items of different
purposes. (This, by the way, is why relying on hard-and-fast pricing rules for magic items is troublesome at
best, and actively bad for your game at worst.) After all, most magic items only "compete" with other items in a
narrow category for a character's attention, so comparing their values can be quite tricky.
For example, if a rope of climbing and a +2 flaming longsword are both 10th-level magic items (and thus both
cost the same number of gold pieces), that's not quite the same thing as saying that a rope of climbing is as
powerful as that weapon. After all, it's unlikely that a character has to decide between those two items -- they
serve fundamentally different purposes.
It's much more likely that a character interested in a rope of climbing will compare its price to other items that
let him overcome similar obstacles (such as the 7th-level slippers of spider climbing or the 13th-level boots of
Alternatively, if he's in the market for a new weapon, he would compare the value of that +2 flaming sword
with the more expensive +3 vicious sword (12th level), or the slightly cheaper +2 lightning sword (9th level).
What the designer is saying, rather, is that he imagines that the effect of both the rope of climbing and the +2
flaming sword are appropriate for characters around 10th level. A few levels before that, either item would have
a much more significant impact on gameplay (possibly by making certain spells or powers of the characters
obsolete). More than a few levels after that, either item will have lost a lot of its luster -- maybe because more
characters have easy access to levitation, flight, or even short-range teleportation effects, in the case of the
rope of climbing, or because they're all toting around +3 or better weapons, making the flaming sword seem
Ultimately, assigning levels to magic items sends a message to players and DMs: Here's when this item is most
appropriate for your game. Once that information is in your hands, of course, it's up to you to use it as best
befits your game!
Magic Item Slots
One of our goals in 4th Edition was to reduce characters’ reliance on magic items. The most important portion
of this goal involved removing a lot of the magic items that were essential just so your character could feel
effective, like stat-boosting items, amulets of natural armor, and the like. We also felt like these items weren't
as exciting as magic items should be, yet characters depended on them heavily to feel adequate in proportion
to their level. We felt that the cool stuff a character can do should come from that character’s abilities, not his
Items are divided by item slot, much like they were in D&D 3.5 (though it took until Magic Item Compendium
for the system to be quantified clearly). As before, you can only wear one item in each slot. The number of
slots has been reduced (by combining slots that were similar), to keep the number of items manageable and
easy to remember. You still have a ton of choices for items in the game, and when we were still using more
slots, our playtesters reported that it caused information overload.
We've preserved a number of items that have traditional “plusses.” These are the items we expect everybody to
care about, and the ones that are factored into the math behind the game. If you’re 9th level, we expect you to
have a set of +2 armor, and the challenges in the game at that level are balanced accordingly. Here are the
primary item slots:
Whether you’re swinging a mace or blasting with a magic wand, you have an item that adds to your attack and
damage. These weapons also set your critical hit dice (the extra dice you roll when you score a critical hit, see
the Design & Development article, "Critical Hits"). Even though this is called an item slot, that doesn’t mean
you can’t wield more than one weapon, because that would make the ranger cry. 3.5 Equivalents: Weapons,
holy symbols, rods, staffs, wands.
This category now includes cloth armor, so the wizard in robes has magic armor just like the rest of the group.
Magic armor adds an enhancement bonus to your Armor Class. 3.5 Equivalents: Body, torso.
An item in the neck slot increases your Fortitude, Reflex, and Will defenses, as well as usually doing something
else snappy. The most common items are amulets and cloaks. 3.5 Equivalents: Shoulders, throat.
These items don’t have enhancement bonuses. That makes them essentially optional. You could adventure with
no items in your secondary item slots and not see a huge decrease in your overall power. Take what looks cool,
but don’t worry about having empty slots.
These are bulky items that fit over your arms, such as bracers, vambraces, and shields. You’ll notice that
shields no longer have an enhancement bonus. Instead, shields have special defensive effects and items you
wear instead of shields, like bracers, are more offensive. 3.5 Equivalents: Arms, shields.
Focused on mobility and special movement modes, you can be pretty sure what you’re getting when you look at
magic boots, greaves, or sandals. 3.5 Equivalent: Feet.
Thinner items that fit on your hands fall into this category. This includes gauntlets and gloves. They usu-ally
help out your attacks or help your manual dexterity. 3.5 Equivalent: Hands.
These items increase your mental skills or enhance your senses. Helmets, circlets, and goggles all fall in this
category. Another major subcategory here includes orbitals, such as ioun stones. If you see someone with an
orbital, it’s a good bet you’re dealing with an epic character. 3.5 Equivalents: Face, head.
This slot has changed quite a bit. A starting character isn’t powerful enough to unleash the power of a ring. You
can use one ring when you reach paragon tier (11th level) and two when you’re epic (21st level). And before
you get started about how Frodo sure as hell wasn’t epic, let's be clear: the One Ring was an artifact, not a
magic item any old spellcaster could make. Artifacts follow their own rules. 3.5 Equivalent: Rings.
Items you wear around your waist are usually about protection, healing, or increasing your Strength tem-
porarily. 3.5 Equivalent: Waist.
Some items don’t use item slots. Some of them aren’t useful in combat. Others can be useful in a fight, but
only once in a while.
Potions are consumable items, and they're mostly focused on healing effects.
This category no longer includes wearable items. These are utility items that don’t take up space on your body
or act as weapons.
Here’s what my 11th-level gnome warlock, Dessin, is wearing right now:
Implement: +3 rod of dark reward
Armor: +3 leather armor
Neck: +2 cloak of survival
Arms: Bracers of the perfect shot
Feet: Wavestrider boots
Hands: Shadowfell gloves
Head: Diadem of acuity
Rings: None right now, sadly
Waist: Belt of battle
Wondrous Items: Bag of holding
Dungeon Design in 4E
The year 2000 was a heady time for D&D players. 3rd edition was finally released after a year of previews. A
game that had almost fallen off the radar of gamers everywhere came back with a bang. There was a tangible
sense of energy in the air at Gen Con that year. People were excited about the toys they read about in their
shiny new Player’s Handbooks and, better yet, the toys were incredibly fun.
Thus, it was with some surprise that, when I returned home from Gen Con and set to work on my first
adventure, I was a little unhappy. According to the rules, a 1st level party could face a single Challenge Rating
1 monster, or an Encounter Level 1 group of beasts. That seemed reasonable, until I started designing
adventures. The rules presented the following possibilities:
None of these really excited me. Four goblins on the map might be fun, but a fighter with the Cleave feat put
that thought to bed. I wanted Keep on the Borderlands and the moat house from Village of Hommlet. My
dungeons felt boring because I couldn’t fit many monsters into each room.
Admittedly, 3rd Edition brought some sense and standardization to encounters that other editions glossed over,
but that didn’t change a simple fact—I wanted lots of humanoids running around my dungeon rooms, and 3rd
Edition said I could do that only if I wanted a TPK.
Over the years, my initial frustration with the game never faded. By the time the party was of a high enough
level to handle a fight with six orcs, the poor orcs’ AC and attacks were too low to pose much of a threat. In the
end, I just fudged my encounters to create the excitement and variety I was. Despite what the game told me, a
low-level party could take on three or four orcs without a massacre (for the PCs, at least).
The 4E Way: Monsters, Monsters, Monsters!
In 4th Edition, your dungeons are going to be a lot more densely populated. The typical encounter has one
monster per PC in the party, assuming that the monsters are about the same level as the PCs. An encounter’s
total XP value determines its difficulty, allowing you a lot more freedom to mix tougher and weaker monsters.
Even better, the difference between a level X monster and a level X + 1 monster is much smaller. You can
create an encounter using monsters that are three or four levels above the party without much fear. Add in the
rules for minions (which will be described in a future Design & Development article), and you could (in theory)
match twenty goblins against a 1st-level party and have a fun, exciting, balanced fight.
This shift in encounter design means a lot for dungeons. With all those monsters running around, you need to
give them a fair amount of space for a number of reasons:
The monsters need to bring their numbers to bear on the party. Wider corridors and rooms allow the
monsters to attack as a group. A monster that’s standing around, waiting for the space it needs to make an
attack, is wasting its time.
Multiple avenues of attack make things scary for the PCs and make it easier to get all the monsters into the
action. The typical dungeon room where the PCs are on one side of the door and the monsters are on the
other grows dull after a while. The PCs kick open the door, form a defensive formation in the doorway, and
hack the monsters to pieces. There’s little tactical challenge there.
Reinforcements need a route to the battle. With more monsters in a fight, you can design dynamic
encounters where the orcs in the room next door come barging into the fight to see what’s going on. An
extra door or passage in the encounter area is a convenient route for the rest of the encounter’s monsters
to show up on the scene. Just because the encounter calls for five orcs doesn’t mean that all five start the
encounter in the party’s line of sight.
Example: Dungeon of the Fire Opal
As part of an early playtest, I dug up a map that 1st and 3rd Edition veterans might recognize. Here’s an
example of an encounter I built using the basic philosophy outlined above.
Notice that the map marks these rooms as separate areas, three 20 foot-by-30 foot rooms. Measured in
squares, that’s 4 by 6, small enough that even a dwarf could stomp from one end of the room to the next in
one move action. That’s doesn’t make for a very interesting encounter. If I tried to squeeze four or five
monsters into each of those rooms, there would be barely enough room for the party and their foes to fit. The
fight would consist of the two sides lining up and trading attacks for 3–4 rounds. Few inherently interesting
tactical options can even come into play.
Even worse, the map offers few strategic events. The monsters might flee out the secret door in area 9 or one
of the doors in area 8, but with such small rooms it would be easy for the PCs to block the exits or move next
to any of the monsters before they could run.
When I went back and used this map to design a 4th Edition adventure, I combined all three rooms into one
encounter area. Area 9 was a torture chamber staffed by four goblin minions. Area 8 was a guard room manned
by two hobgoblin warriors, while the bugbear torturer lounged in his private chamber, area 7. In play, the party
walked south toward area 9, ignoring the door to area 7 for the moment. The rogue and ranger tried to sneak
up on the hobgoblins in area 8, but the monsters spotted them and attacked. When the hobgoblins yelled for
help, the goblins charged from area 9 and the bugbear emerged from his chamber to attack the party’s wizard
The fight was a tense affair in the T-intersection between areas 8 and 9. Caught between three groups of
monsters, the party had to constantly move to protect the vulnerable wizard, heal PCs who fell to the combined
attacks of the hobgoblins and bugbear, and spend precious actions hacking down the goblin minions.
I didn’t do anything fancy with the map or add any magical elements to the fight. It was simply a tough melee
in close quarters with attackers coming in from three directions at once. The dungeon was a dynamic
environment, with three groups of connected monsters responding to the PCs’ intrusion into their area.
So, that’s the first rule of 4th Edition dungeon design. Now that you have more monsters to throw at the party,
you can create encounters that spill over greater areas. Opening a door in one area might cause monsters to
come from other areas of the dungeon to investigate. With the emphasis switched from one party against one
monster to one party against an equal number of foes, you can throw a lot more critters at the PCs.
4th Edition is still a ways off, but it’s never too early to start thinking of the dungeons you’re going to design.
Here’s a little homework assignment for all of you: Pick two or three closely linked encounter areas on the
sample dungeon map. While you obviously don’t have access to the new rules, you can still come up with ideas
for encounters. Assuming that you can use four or five monsters, pick two or three encounter areas on the map
and turn them into a single fight. Post your ideas in the 4th Edition forums and see what other gamers come up
Before we begin play, another player is giving Rich grief about one of Rich’s character’s abilities that grants the
rest of us a blanket +2 to saves; it just ain’t sexy. Rich says something like, “I don’t know, I doubt I’ll use it
that much, but who knows, maybe everyone in the party will get entangled.”
Sure enough, not 10 minutes later this fire-crazed flame priest has entangled half the party with fire snakes!
Rich throws up his +2 to saves and, voila, at least two of us get free immediately. I guess that power isn’t so
corner case after all.
In my case, I’ve thrown together a “psion.” It’s because prior to the shift to the new playtest rules, I was
playing a psion elan named Infandous. You wonder, why the scare quotes? Well, just between you and me,
updated-Infandous-the-psion is actually a wizard with the serial numbers filed off.
Anyhow, I missed the last few sessions, so I’m slightly confused when the session begins—apparently the group
is still breathing hard from their last session, not even rested or healed, when we hear a shuffle of footsteps
from behind a set of double doors. The doors aren’t completely closed, so I “mentally” whip them open from
across the room.
Coming down the hallway is a troop of azer, some sort of burning serpent, and the flame priest I mentioned
earlier. And it was a fight! And . . . we won. Without really breaking a sweat, either, truth be told.
Emboldened, we advanced down that hallway now littered with azer remains and ash, took a right, and pretty
quickly found a dusty lintel inscribed with the words: Tomb of the Black Host.
“Sounds like someplace loot is stored,” said Infandous, eager to expand his repertoire of cool equipment. A
little more discussion, and we pushed on the door. It opened . . .
And Dave spent nearly 10 minutes constructing (using Dungeon Tiles!) an ominous, crypt-lined ruin complete
with three golden sarcophagi that emanated magic. Dave did a good job laying out the floor plan of the room.
Such a good job that we lingered in the door looking into the shadow-lined mausoleum for a minute, then,
another . . . then decided as a group that, loot or no loot, perhaps it would be better to let whatever lay in the
deathly quite of the tomb alone. So, we closed the door and continued down the main hallway.
I’ve been playing a chaos gnome warlock in Dave Noonan’s 3rd Edition Eberron game for a while now. When it
came time to start playtesting the new edition with non-Wizards employees, Dave decided to convert the
current campaign instead of beginning anew. We’re smack-dab in the middle of the floating fortress Castle
Smoulderthorn, so it would have been unfortunate if we didn’t get a chance to untether its bound elemental
and send the whole evil place floating off to Siberys.
I was playing with Rich Baker, Bruce Cordell, and Toby Latin-Stoermer (our resident non-WotC employee). Our
characters were Karhun (originally a warblade/warmage played by Rich), Infandous (an elan psion played by
Bruce), Hammer (a warforged paladin played by Toby), and Dessin (a chaos gnome warlock played by myself).
Conversion was far from 100% accurate. Not only have the classes changed, but we’re also using plenty of stuff
that wasn’t in the playtest document. Several of us needed new races. Luckily, we had some versions kicking
around. These hadn’t been developed yet, but we used them anyway. Rich’s character was tougher. He was
playing a warblade/warmage in the 3rd Edition game, which didn’t really convert at all. Fortunately, he was
able to pick a class that was focused on tactics, and he picked up some wizard powers to feel similar to the old
character. We didn’t have a psion for Bruce, so he rolled up a wizard and tweaked some of the names to fit
The characters were pretty different now, but we all had some pretty interesting stuff to do. We were very
curious what Toby would think since he wasn’t familiar with the system like the rest of us. Turns out he enjoyed
himself (but we found out the warforged he was using was kinda broken).
We started off the session just after the encounter we had last week. Before we had time to heal up, we were
attacked again. Our enemies crossed a snake theme with a fire theme, so they had a fire snake, a fire sorcerer
who turned into a snake, and six azers who brought plenty of fire but forgot about the snake bit. Dessin, my
warlock, mostly stayed at the back. He was just making enemies attack each other, firing some eldritch blasts,
and concentrating fire on badly damaged foes (turns out that makes him do more damage). Most of the azers
got taken down relatively quickly. The big surprise of the encounter was the sorcerer becoming a snake and
grabbing our poor paladin. Turns out that even if you’re a snake, and even if you’re on fire, adventurers will still
After the battle, it was a little different than the procedure that follows a 3E battle. Turns out the enemies don’t
need magic weapons to be effective (because the math doesn’t need them to), so we didn’t have a bunch of
magic loot that we didn’t really need and would only end up selling. It was a bit of a disconnect, but nothing
we’d miss in the long run. We got to cut out the middleman and grabbed some coins and XP (though later we
did find some cool magic loot that we could actually use).
As it turns out, I play in the same evening game that Bruce and Logan do, so I’ll try to talk about different parts
of the game session than they have.
We’ve been playing in Dave’s Eberron game for several months now, and the party’s reached 6th–8th level with
a fair bit of turnover due to mortality and players coming and going. Our current mission is to destroy Castle
Smolderthorn, a huge fortress floating high in the air. It’s tethered to the ground by several long cables or
chains made of pure elemental fire, and there’s a bound elemental that holds the castle in place. Release the
key elemental, and the whole evil place soars up into the cold dark reaches of space and we heroically abandon
hundreds of evil minions to their icy, airless doom—justly deserved, of course.
My character is Karhun. In the 3E incarnation of our game, Karhun was an illumian warblade/warmage, mixing
up Nine Swords stuff with a decent amount of arcane firepower. Unfortunately, we haven’t yet gotten to
illumians, warblades, or warmages, so I was faced with a pretty tough translation for my character. I eventually
settled on making Karhun into a human warlord, and then using our multiclass system to dip into some
wizardly bits. I’ve been tanking a lot for the party anyway, so converting to a melee-competent base class
seemed pretty reasonable, and multiclassing wizard means that I can get more out of my character’s
outstanding Intelligence score. The wizard abilities I gained give Karhun a couple of decent ranged area attacks
each encounter, something warlords otherwise wouldn’t get a lot of. That means I’ve got lots of flexibility. If it
doesn’t work out, I’ll just have to get hopping and design the swordmage class we’ve been talking about.
After we fought the flame priest and his minions (see Bruce’s and Logan’s entries if you don’t know what I’m
talking about) we eventually found ourselves confronting a chamber very ominously named the Tomb of the
Black Host. We explored other rooms around it to see if there were a different way to go, but no dice—we had
to go through. The walls were burial niches chock full of old corpses, and there were three big golden
sarcophagi in the middle of the room. We tried to quietly file through without disturbing anything, but you can
imagine how that worked out. In the blink of an eye a dozen vampires poured out of their hiding places in the
walls, and mummies starting climbing out of those big sarcophagi. It seemed like every square in the room had
something dead standing in it.
Our first instinct was to begin blowing things up. Logan’s warlock laid down a Mire of Minauros on one side of
the room, dissolving a couple of vampires and creating a nice acidic bog to guard our right flank. Infandous,
Bruce’s “psion,” blasted another bunch of vampires with an area-effect attack. Then Karhun got his turn; I used
one of those multiclass abilities I was talking about, and used a wand attack on more of the vampires. We
discovered, much to our relief, that we were facing vampire minions—dangerous if they mob you, but otherwise
easy prey for some big AoE attacks like the sort we were throwing out.
On my next round I saw several bad guys lined up in a row, so Karhun dashed a few squares over and used
another wizard ability—my once-per-day scorch, a powerful fire attack. Karhun blasted two mummies and a
hapless vampire minion for a pile of fire damage. After that, we were down to just a couple of monsters left, so
Karhun switched over to melee attacks and spent the rest of the fight laying about him with his sword. I rolled
pretty badly from that point on and managed to miss for the next three swings. Fortunately, the other players
picked me up, and we finished off the mummies without too much trouble.
As it turns out, Toby’s warforged paladin is essentially indestructible under the current rules. I suppose a
warforged ought to be tough, but the really odd thing is that his damage resistance (any DR, really) ignores
psychic damage and poison damage. I’m not sure things ought to work that way; it seems to me that some
sorts of damage ought to bypass DR by their very nature.
By now, you’ve probably read playtest reports from Bruce Cordell, Logan Bonner, and Rich Baker. They’re all
players in my Thursday night Eberron game. And they’re really good at capturing feedback—good, bad, and
ugly—so I won’t duplicate what they’re trying to do. But I have a perspective they lack. Because I’m the DM,
I’m also “playtesting” how the game functions away from the table. It’s crucial to get the game itself to work, of
course. But it’s also important to get NPC creation, encounter design, and adventure-building right.
That’s the subject of this playtest report: How the game is functioning when the dice aren’t rolling.
Session One: Welcome to 4th Edition
My Thursday night group is about half Wizards game designers (including the aforementioned Rich, Logan, and
Bruce), and half guys and gals in their thirties who work in various high-tech jobs here in the Seattle area. It’s
a big table—seven regulars, and we get five or six of ‘em for every single session.
For years, they’ve been a personal testbed for whatever my day-job design task was. They played the Player’s
Handbook II classes before anyone else, battled their way through Shattered Gates of Slaughtergarde, and
faced off against the denizens of Monster Manual V. So back in June, they were among the first groups to try
out the new rules.
At the time, the new rules weren’t complete, and they sure weren’t pretty. I dropped a lot of three-ring binders
in the middle of the table on that first night, gave a little lecture (complete with whiteboard diagrams) about
some of the overarching rules changes, and said, “Create a new version of your character that’s as faithful to
your existing character as you can manage.”
It took about 90 minutes, because this iteration of the rules is fiendishly complex. (We’re paring it down as I
write this, actually.) There were a couple of pieces I knew I’d be missing. The gnome and warforged races
hadn’t been written yet, but Logan and fellow designer Chris Sims came to my rescue with serviceable versions.
Bruce’s character, Infandous, used both a race (élan) and a class (psion) that we hadn’t written yet. In his
case, we punted. We’re using the mechanics for a human wizard, but Infandous is still acting like an élan and
describing his abilities in psionic terms. For now, that’ll do.
I suppose the good news is that we pulled it off. We got rolling again that night, using the new rules. We only
played two encounters, but my players were drinking from the proverbial fire hose, so that was probably for the
And the first session cheered me in another way. I felt like I probably saw a process that’ll be replicated in
basements everywhere come next year. It’s probably inevitable that early on, other gaming groups are going to
have to “reinterpret” their characters rather than slavishly “convert” them. There’s just no way that on release
day, we’ll have the same amount of character options that it took us eight years to write in Third Edition.
But if we could do it with fragmentary rules in three-ring binders, you can do it with the nicely polished rules
we’re going to deliver next year.
Session Two: Lots of Prep Time
My players had to get used to the idea of reinterpretation rather than strict conversion. Like Bruce’s “I’m a
psion, not a wizard” character, they had to use one rules element but pretend it was another. That was a
technique I needed to employ, too.
When we started out playtesting, we had 139 pages of monsters. That sounds like a lot, but spread out over
the entire level spectrum, it really isn’t. And when you apply the “monsters you’d realistically find in Castle
Smoulderthorn, a Blood of Vol fortress floating over Karrnath” filter, the number of available monsters shrinks
A small monster supply was my first dilemma. But I wasn’t sure just how small the monster supply was,
because (forgive me if this seems obvious) no one had playtested yet. I didn’t know how far up or down the
level scale I could travel and still build fun encounters for my 7th-level PCs. Could I run 9th-level monsters?
11th? 13th? Where does it become just too hard? We have answers we think are right based on the
fundamental numbers of the game, but no actual at-the-table yet.
But I had enough monsters to work with for that first session:
Azer minions and a magma brute for the fire level? Check. That’s a pretty easy swap for the azers and fire
elementals I had planned there.
Bonecrusher zombies and a zombie hulk go into the reliquary. That’s a bit different than the Blood of Vol clerics
I’d slotted in there, but I wanted to put the new monsters through their paces. (And a robust NPC creation
system is something we don’t have… yet.) I had to knock back some of the walls to give the zombie hulk room
to maneuver, but that’s an easy architectural change. But I didn’t stop there, coming up with some shaky
ceilings that just might collapse if the zombie hulk rampages too close to the pillars.
The ossuary has wraiths and rot scarab swarms. That’s an upgrade from my 3.5 design, which had just wraiths
in there. I added some alcoves for the rot scarab swarms to scurry out from, and built a little positional/timing
tactical puzzle. PCs that kept their wits about them could avoid inciting the rot scarabs for a few rounds, but
PCs that rushed in pell-mell would have to face all the monsters at once.
I saved the entrance platform for last. There I originally had a bunch of Emerald Claw elite soldiers backed up
by some Blood of Vol warlocks. I spent a lot of my prep time rebuilding those soldiers and warlocks, because I
knew that work would pay dividends for future sessions. Those soldiers and warlocks are spinkled all across
Castle Smoulderthorn. I built them as monsters—after all, my players would never know the difference, right?
And at this point in the game’s design, monster creation is much more a function of benchmarking than a
function of deriving statistics by formula (which is pretty much the 3.5 design technique). I begin with the end
in mind in terms of AC, hit points, and all the other salient statistics. I add cool attacks, plugging in relevant
numbers there, too. And voila! I’ve got my soldiers and warlocks.
The most exciting part of my four-room redesign was that in each case, I was adding more monster variety to
the mix and some more complex environmental nuances. With 4th Edition, I can get away with that now
because the inherent “processor load” on the DM is much, much lower than it is in 3.5. Because I have only a
fraction of the bookkeeping/information management duties, I can add that complexity back in fun ways. For
this session, I’m going to run lots of heterogeneous monster encounters. I’m keeping everything right at level
7; nothing but strictly level-appropriate encounters.
Session Three: Holy Hannah, I’ve Got a Game Tonight
Let’s fast-forward a week. Suffice it to say that my four rooms worked like a charm. During the second session,
I found myself with extra time on my hands—I think I was actually burdened less by minutiae than my players
were. (And like I said, we’re working on the player complexity issue.)
But my day job kept me busy. So busy, in fact, that I found myself at 5 p.m. on Thursday asking myself, “How
can I come up with a whole session of material in less than an hour?”
My answer: Be like Bruce.
In the previous session, I’d used up a lot of the monsters that would be “appropriate” for Castle Smoulderthorn.
But that left all the inappropriate ones, which I could probably put to work if I just put them into some Eberron-
and Smoulderthorn-appropriate clothing.
The hellsword cambions from the monster three-ring binder? Now they’re my “fire minotaurs.”
I filed the serial numbers off the githzerai monks and githzerai zerth and turned them into Vol’s “Sentinels of
the Ancestral Bloodline.”
The yuan-ti assassins became Blood of Vol assassins, and I merely moved the poison from their fangs to their
weapons, and pretended like they had legs all along.
And at the table, I totally got away with it. This isn’t a technique I recommend as a matter of course, but when
you’re dealing with both time constraints and monster-supply constraints, it worked like a charm. I had the
whole session buttoned up and ready to go with time to spare.
Tomb Under the Tor
We work hard at Wizards, but some of our work is all play. I recruited my gaming buddies to test the game
further at home and to see what its like to DM with the new rules. The players got to test the character side of
things, and I got to experience adventure building and monsters.
My players like a reason to adventure together beyond being mutually employed by the same bloke who relies
on the local watering hole to hire mercenaries. So they created a mostly human party of 1st level PCs who are
all affiliated with a local count. The warlord, Domna, is the baron’s youngest daughter, and Tian, the rogue, is
Domna’s lifelong friend and also the son of the leader of baron’s personal mercenary troop. Sasha, the wizard,
is daughter to the baron’s chancellor, and guarding her is Robozcniek, a warforged fighter. Rounding out the
group is Heron, and eladrin ranger who was a childhood friend of Tian and Domna. Long story short, the
political situation made the count’s having a team of specialists with a little legal authority a good thing. My
having a party under direct influence of a local ruler was even better.
I wanted to whip up something that showcased the new game’s tech, but I wanted to do it quickly. Using Own
K. C. Stevens’s A Dark and Stormy Knight as inspiration, I designed a haunted tomb under a tor. One of the
count’s barons had been rewarding retiring soldiers with frontier land near the tor, and these farmers recently
spotted goblin scouts ranging toward a fallen tower built atop the tor by citizens of a long-gone hobgoblin
kingdom. Then a little girl disappeared, along with some livestock. The count dispatched Domna and her friends
to investigate the situation.
After traveling to the outlying farmsteads, which were fortified yards surrounded by fields, and speaking with
one of the farmers, the PCs determined that one home might have come under attack the night before. They
investigated, and they soon saw the farm’s stockade gate was open and the inner yard, where livestock was
usually kept at night, was empty but drenched in blood. Heron noticed some large wolf tracks leading into the
yard, and the party cautiously entered, expecting goblins.
Right they were. To the east, Heron spotted saddled wolves in the barn and a goblin archer in the barn’s loft.
Tian spied another goblin peeking out of the modest farmhouse to the north. Neither chose to warn their
oblivious comrades, so a surprise round was my players’ first contact with 4th Edition combat.
Their second impression came squarely from the three arrows with which Heron skewered the hapless goblin
sharpshooter in the loft. That poor goblin fired on Heron, missing but triggering an immediate counterattack
from the ranger, who followed up with two more arrows on his turn. The sharpshooter was dead before the
third arrow struck home.
Taking a cue from Heron’s boldness, thinking the fight might be over quickly, Tian rushed to the house despite
protests from Domna that he was overextending himself and thereby the party. Tian arrived at the closed front
door and threw it open, but couldn’t quite reach the javelin-wielding miscreant within.
Too far out in front, Tian and Heron soon learned their mistake. The wolves rushed Heron, easily flanking him
and pulling him to the ground. The goblin skirmisher in the house hurled a black-shafted javelin at Tian and
scored a critical hit! Tian lost more than half his hit points in one blow, and to add insult to injury, the goblin
then scampered out of the house’s open back door to a tree on its west side.
But then the first regular round started. Domna rushed a wolf and missed it, after shouting encouragement to
her friends (providing a small bonus to them). The wolves continued to tear at Heron, almost sending the
unfortunate ranger to death’s door. Sasha used a wizard strike with her staff, not only injuring a wolf, but also
pushing it away from the prone Heron. This gave Heron the room he needed to stand, move away from his
assailants, and regain a few hit points with a second wind. On his first regular turn, Tian used his second wind,
then pursued the goblin by leaving the front door and running to intercept at the tree. He missed the wily
skirmisher with his attack. The goblin cackled and backed away, then hurled another javelin at Tian—for
another natural 20! Down Tian went, dying. Moving closer to Tian, the skirmisher started to reach for the knife
on his belt to finish the rogue off. Robozcniek cut that thought short, literally, running across the battlefield,
then charging the skirmisher and finishing the little dastard with one swift longsword stroke.
On the second regular round, Domna struck the wounded wolf, trying to keep it off Heron. That wolf attacked
Domna, but she fended it off with her shield. But the uninjured wolf smelled blood, and it took Heron down
again, this time knocking the eladrin out. Sasha maneuvered to blast both wolves with another strike from her
staff, pushing the one attacking Heron away again. Robozcniek rushed across the battlefield a second time, and
he terribly wounded the wolf that had been attacking Heron.
As the initiative count came to the top again, Domna used her tactical acumen to attack in such a way that the
wolf she hit opened itself up to Robozcniek. The warforged struck true, and the wolf collapsed in a heap. Badly
wounded and alone against many enemies, the remaining wolf tucked tail and ran, but Sasha was having none
of it. She pulled out all the stops and set off a fiery blast around the fleeing beast. It tumbled down, still
Their first real battle over, the heroes still standing aided their fallen friends—who had learned a valuable
lesson. Investigation of the farmstead and more adventure remained ahead of them.
Prophecy of the Priestess
Before I dive into an account of what happened during my first session running a 4th Edition game, a little
about the characters:
Kriv Hartsfire is a dwarf rogue with some background in the divine and fighting arts. Kriv is from a religious
mercantile family in the southern lands of Ionia, and has recently journeyed into the human middlelands to
seek fame, fortune, and a spiritual purpose.
Wilbur Hammermeister is a half-elf fighter that has led a troubled life, having been displaced from his
home, and spent time traveling the middlelands with mercenaries. He is a skilled and heavily armored
fighter who has a penchant for provoking people despite any supposed half-elf social acumen.
Malazreal, or simply, “Mal”, is a tiefling warlord. He believes that a destiny lies in store for him and that if
he is to meet it, he must travel and seize fate—as it were—by the horns. He has a commanding presence,
yet demonstrates a clear value and concern for his allies.
Gerhart Draken is a human wizard. Gerhart, at the disappearance of a member of his family, took up the
arcane arts and then ventured forth into the world. Although cool and composed on the outside, a fire
burns inside him—a fire reflected in his preferred arcane powers.
The first session was an introduction to the setting and campaign, both of which are very story-driven. Still,
there are undoubtedly some elements of gameplay that are elucidated here.
The campaign begins with the adventurers’ arrival in the city of Telder, a city of commerce and culture in the
center of the human province of Teluvia. They arrive separately, for as of yet, the adventurers know nothing of
each other or the imminent crossing of their fates. Despite arriving on the holiday of Autumn’s Birth, the
adventurers find the town empty and quiet, devoid of the celebration one would expect. The players use their
skills to deduce what might be the source of this strange absence of celebration. They learn a little, but because
they are foreigners to Teluvia, they cannot pinpoint an explanation.
They hear the clamor of voices near the center of the city and, following the sound, they discover a crowd of
peasants circled around a statue. They exchange minor acknowledgments to each other, for they have
apparently all arrived fortuitously into a situation of which they know nothing. With caution, they approach the
crowd and soon observe the source of the crowd’s fervor.
A woman, clad in little more than rags, stands chained upon the statue of a dragon, sticks piled below her. A
priest incites the crowd with zealous words and looks beseechingly at a group of people sitting high above the
city square. The PCs take a quick moment to appraise each of the people who are part of this dramatic
situation. There is little to distinguish the woman besides her long auburn locks and pale skin. She is obviously
a foreigner, and, the PCs reason, must be of some importance, for she bears a seal upon one finger. What the
seal indicates, the adventurers fail to discern. Men, nobles by appearance, comprise the group that is perched
high above the city square. Two wear crowns; the others are more difficult to distinguish.
Looking over these people, the players use a combination of skills and logic to try and deduce what the
situation is. Gerhart, with his knowledge of this land, manages to reason that this is not the work of a mob but
instead a lawful execution. Similarly, Mal manages to observe something of the exchange between the priest
and nobles—he discerns a questioning look upon the priest, one that seeks approval from the nobles. Although
he is distant from the group, he moves closer and succeeds in reading the expression of the two crowned men;
one bears a hardened, grim expression; the other watches stoically except for a hint of sorrow in his eyes.
The PCs have not yet communicated with each other besides an exchange of serious, questioning glances. They
position themselves amidst the crowd, watching as the priest gives the sign to ignite the wood beneath the
woman. The adventurers train their eyes upon the woman, who carries no fear in her eyes—only a fire as fierce
and angry as the flames that begin to lick her flesh.
As the conflagration consumes her, she gives a curdling scream with an otherworldly quality to it. The strident
scream is short, and despite the obvious pain, she speaks out: “I lay a prophecy before you—you who act from
fear. Before Spring’s Birth, the middlelands shall look into the eye of change, and there shall see an end to all
nations. Behold a fragment of the Hellstone, the source of your destruction.”
The PCs strain to see amidst the crowd; both Kriv and Wilbur have moved to the middle ranks of the mob.
Gerhart and Mal stand back further. None of them succeed in perceiving exactly what happens next, besides to
say that Kriv notices the woman give a flick of her wrist, which results in an explosion of force that washes
through peasants and adventurers alike.
The force appears like a swirling opalescent fog. Tendrils of it snake outward from the woman, splitting into the
composite colors of the opalescence, ranging the whole spectrum: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple. The
tide of gray knocks all but Mal and Kriv from their feet. As the currents of what can only be magic wash over
the common folk, some begin to twist and writhe.
The PCs make a quick appraisal of the situation around them. The woman, consumed in flames, seems wrapped
in a fog of the opalescent gray smoke. He flesh bulges and twists. Beside her, tendrils of darkness wrap about
the guards; under the effect, their flesh sloughs from their bodies. Near the PCs, a cord of putrid green light
strikes a pair of peasants, whose bodies seem immediately to rot away, becoming like living corpses. Last
among these hideous transformations are several villagers whose bodies contort, becoming gnarly and sinewy,
their skin taking a deep umber color.
The PCs now face four skeletons, two zombies, and two goblins.
Gerhart makes a quick check on his knowledge of such arcane transformations, but despite scoring an excellent
roll, finds that this is unlike anything he’s ever encountered. None of the PCs have ever seen anything like this.
Gerhart can only speculate that the chaotic energies of magic have warped these people into monsters.
One player makes the quip, “I always wondered where goblins came from.”
Time for Initiative! Battle begins and the players all score better initiative than the monsters. For both monsters
and players, the first round is spent mostly standing up. A few that are close enough are able to stand up and
attack. The players that succeeded in maintaining their balance against the magical force immediately engage
Despite the complexity of the battle, events move quickly. In the midst of combat though, these chaotic
magical energies begin warping the terrain as well. Using several suggestions from the playtest document,
including some interesting and exciting new terrain features, the battlefield becomes dreamscapelike, with the
ground shifting and changing color, spontaneous fogs of poison appearing, and the like. Incidentally, a fog of
poisonous gas appeared on a pair of horses who, having already succeeded against fear, also managed to fend
off the poison. Go horses!
The PCs manage well, despite a critical hit from a zombie and goblin. They focus on the weaker undead first
before launching after the goblins who, in the meantime, slay several fleeing peasants. The nobles rush to aid
the adventurers, but several swift and skillful blows manage to eliminate the threats before the nobles can
The classes work well together, with Mal lending aid to his allies in need, Kriv taking advantage of his
movement and flanking (not to mention getting a critical with a great axe), Wilbur controlling the movement of
his foes as well as himself, and Gerhart supporting them with the precision and consistency of his arcane
Success is bittersweet, however, for several townsfolk die amid the violence of battle, and the woman strapped
to the statue escapes. However, before escaping, she undergoes a hideous transformation, sprouting wings
from her hands and arms, and taking on the mutated form of some half-beast. Mal makes a valiant effort to
stop her, but the result is a release of the chaotic energies pulsating inside her. After seeing the violent effect
this magic has on the terrain around, he turns his attention to helping his new allies and saving the
The mechanics of battle ran smoothly. Having just played through 3.5 battles this weekend, the difference was
noticeable. I found myself infrequently referring to the stat blocks, for I was able to remember, even with three
creatures, what the monsters were capable of. I was able to keep my head in battle instead of behind a piece of
paper or in my computer, and I think this improved the drama of the events. The first encounter was designed
as a dramatic introduction to the varying effects of magic and as an opportunity to get the PCs working
together, but it also succeeded in acquainting everyone with the pace of gameplay and mechanics of combat.
The second playtest session introduced more NPCs and included mostly social encounters. It also introduced
Michele Carter’s character, Valenae Alstaer, an elf from the Aryllien Woods. Valenae and her people have
recently been displaced and she, unlike most of her people, is curious about the world. She has joined an order
of paladins known as the Shield, who had helped defend her homeland from Shadar-kai and the unknown evil
that drove them to invade the forest. With the Shield, she has traveled eastward, where she is soon to meet
the other PCs.
The battle with skeletons, zombies, and goblins concluded with the PCs intact, finishing the last of their
adversaries just as unidentified nobles arrived to offer aid. The magic-touched city square is disfigured from
chaotic energies. A gaping chasm spans across the southern side. The ground in some areas has adopted a
suspicious red tinge. Buildings phase in and out of existence. Terrible brambles block passage down the roads.
Whatever power has warped the landscape and townsfolk is certainly powerful—now the PCs must learn more
of this woman who was slated for execution, this Witch Queen. And they must find out more of this “Hellstone”
if they are to uncover the terrible source of the chaos.
Introductions come swift, with Mal and Kriv offering names and respect to the nobleman who, in turn, offer the
same back. One of the crowned men is hard-faced and middle-aged, and he introduces himself as Clauden
Teluvis. The other young man, a bright-eyed youth whose eyes seem to reach in and search one’s soul, is his
nephew, Thander Teluvis. Clauden is the regent of Teluvia while his nephew, still sixteen, waits to come of age.
While Mal and Kriv listen attentively and respond in turn, Wilbur is ignored, having quickly earned the
disrespect of Clauden by cleaning his blade on the shirt of one of the corpses.
Gerhart receives the attention of a fellow accompanying the rulers, a merchant named Aban Aldoria who hails
from Littoria, far to the south. He immediately identifies Gerhart as a magi and explains that he is a dealer in
magical items and well-acquainted with the arcane arts.
Clauden recognizes that the PCs have selflessly offered their aid to his countryman and so extends an invitation
for them to accompany him to the keep where they might further discuss the events that transpired. The
course of their conversation on the way reveals that the woman being executed was a queen and priestess of
the barbarian nation of Karthia, which lies several provinces to the east. Her people were recently responsible
for the death of Thander’s parents, and the people of Teluvia demanded justice be done.
Nothing is known of the chaotic magical energies that ravaged the square, beyond what Gerhart can deduce—
clearly the magic was a chaotic effect that combined various composite forces. None of them know anything of
the so-called “Hellstone” that the priestess mentioned, but Clauden thinks that it bodes ill for his countrymen if
it even remotely compares in power to the force she unleashed. He explains that war has been mounting
between the Karthian barbarians and the civilized nations of the middlelands. He believes that the escape of the
priestess may be enough to push them over the precipice.
The PCs arrive in Telder’s Keep and are introduced to several other important personages. Clauden’s other
nephew (and Thander’s cousin), Gaelen d’Cygniette, arrived earlier that morning from the far off city of Eleusis.
He is alarmed by the reports of what happened in the city square, and he questions the PCs about what
happened. He also introduces several knights of the Shield, who are part of his retinue. These include ranking
officer, Gavin Arnoldt, and junior members Kira Usil and Valenae Alstaer, Michele’s character.
The flow of this playtest session demonstrated the need for a social encounter system. Dave Noonan mentions
something of the design of this system, but I don’t know whether this encounter format has been fully
developed yet. I saw one example of a social encounter in my daily editing work—whether this type of
challenge becomes part of canon remains to be seen.
Over the course of several conversations, characters managed to put together several key plot points. They
discovered that war with Karthia is imminent and that efforts are being made by Thander Teluvis to unite the
fragmented human lands. Wilbur eagerly rose to the possibility of going into Karthia to learn more of the Witch
Queen and the “Hellstone.” Mal supported the idea. Valenae preferred diplomacy over espionage. Clauden
Teluvis reserved the decision for upcoming days, though, for despite the aid the PCs offered to the town, he
was hesitant to trust the PCs with such an important mission.
The PCs also met with a diplomat of Delos, a city in the province to the east. The man’s name is Garen Vindal,
and though he expresses an interest in the PCs, particularly the elf, Valenae, he offers little of himself and his
feelings on the events that transpired. He expresses concern that this Hellstone could endanger his people. Mal
tries to coax more forward, honest words out of him, but meets with little success. Kriv, who comes from a
family of merchants, quips that diplomats are like traders without goods, for they have only words to offer.
During the discussion after the diplomat’s departure, a stabbing headache strikes Kriv. He has a vision, of sorts,
in which he sees another place that appears to be a den or study. There, he sees hands holding a sheet of
glass, and within the glass he sees a view of himself and his companions, as though from a bird’s eye view. The
vision is brief and when it ceases, the headache stops and the strange muddled sensation that had plagued him
and the other companions since the encounter with the chaotic magic ends. He tells his companions of this, and
they are alarmed to learn that someone may be watching them; they wonder if perhaps it is the Witch Queen.
Kriv, however, is not the only one to experience a strange vision. Each of the characters appears to have some
sort of strange quality or effect that resulted from their exposure to the chaotic magic. As a DM, I chose to add
these extraneous qualities (whether one considers them a gift or a curse) because as of yet, that sort of
material isn’t in the 4E core books. Materials from books like Heroes of Horror, Unearthed Arcana, DMG2, and
PH2 will doubtlessly appear to some extent in the core books, but until subsequent supplements appear, I am
borrowing ideas from 3E material to add a little flair to the campaign. I believe there is a variety of 3E material
unrelated to mechanics, which will still be pertinent as 4E campaigns begin; the older books won’t become
entirely obsolete. Indeed, I find myself often referring to 3E books as I work on my 4E campaign.
The next character to have an extraordinary experience was Mal, who has a vision of two spectral forms
standing over Thander Teluvis during dinner. No one else can see these spirits, and he describes these forms to
the NPCs, who were mostly alarmed, especially given that their descriptions matched Thander’s deceased
parents. Mal, like Kriv, feels better after his vision, as if his head and body were cleared of the crawling
sensation that had plagued them.
The PCs and NPCs retire for the evening, awaiting further discussion the next day with regards to the Karthia
situation. The night is not to be peaceful, however, and Gerhart is the next to have something strange happen.
In his dreams, he sees a disturbing vision of his younger sister, covered in blood that is not hers. Then he
becomes her, only covered in his own blood from a wound above his heart. A figure stands over him, wearing a
featureless alien face unlike anything he’s seen before. In the midst of this dream, he awakes with a start,
calling out and waking several of the other PCs. Looking around, he sees a dark figure poised to strike him a
Battle begins with a surprise round that includes all who awaken at Gerhart’s call. I tried to incorporate some of
the rules for character condition following waking up, but I found that they delayed the drama and action and
instead moved the PCs directly into battle.
The battle itself is swift, only a few rounds, and the PCs dispatch the adversaries with relative ease, especially
given that none of the PCs were armored. This alarmed me a bit because I had intended the encounter to be
more threatening and instead, the foes hardly scratched the PCs (despite Wilbur’s complaints of the grievous
wound he suffered).
Once victorious, the PCs discover that the men, who were dressed darkly and bore the crest of the Teluvian
house, were not humans at all but doppelgangers which Gerhart identifies with a skill check. The PCs consider
that the Karthians might have been responsible, but it seems to soon to have arranged assassins. They do not
come to any consensus, but during their discussion, Wilbur is affected by the strange headache that has struck
the other three magic-exposed PCs. Within himself, he senses strange disembodied feelings, as though from
some other source. He feels an inexplicable suspicion toward the Littorian merchant, Aban Aldorian. He also
feels a sense of fear. He cannot discern the sources of the feelings. Aban had warned him earlier that the PCs
were in danger, but they did not heed the warning and during the discussion in the aftermath of the
assassination attempt, the Littorian merchant gives Wilbur a significant look.
Clauden promises to have trusted guards posted outside the PCs quarters and invites them on a hunt the next
day, promising to discuss matters of Karthia and the assassination further….