In Part 2 of our look at 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons, we will take a broad look at how the new class system works. Players of MMO’s will quickly see the inspiration for the new system, and should be able to pick up the play styles easily.

As I read over the new classes in 4th Edition, one thing became very clear. Love it or hate it, 4th Edition is trying hard to appeal to the video game culture. If you play RPGs, or MMOs you will see elements pulled straight from your video games, right into the new pen and paper game.

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Identifying Class Roles
One of the first things we decided to tackle in redesigning D&D’s character classes was identifying appropriate class roles.

Defender: A character with high defenses and high hit points. This is the character you want getting in front of the monsters and absorbing their attacks. Fighters have been doing this job in D&D for 30 years. Ideally, a defender ought to have some abilities that make him “sticky” in other words, a defender should be difficult to move past or ignore so that he can do his job.

Defenders aren’t just fighters; there are several classes that can fill this role (more of that in Part 3). In 3rd Edition one of the biggest issues with the fighter was the ability of the monster to ignore him and go bash on the wizard. 4th Edition has an answer for this.

The second quality a defender requires is an ability to keep the monsters focused on him. We called this “stickiness” around the office-once you get next to a fighter, it’s really hard to move away in order to go pound on the party wizard or cleric. Fighters are “sticky” because they gain serious bonuses on opportunity attacks, have the ability to follow enemies who shift away from them, and guard allies nearby through an ability called battlefield control. Once the fighter gets toe to toe with the monsters, it becomes very dangerous for the monsters to do anything other than battle the fighter… which is of course, what the fighter excels at. Enemies ignore fighters at their peril!

This really allows fighters to create that front line that we always want, but previously was so easy to get around.

Striker: A character who deals very high damage to one target at a time, either in melee or at range. This is the job we want to move the rogue toward-when she positions herself for a sneak attack and uses her best attack powers, she deals some of the highest damage in the game. Strikers need mobility to execute their lethal attacks and get away from enemies trying to lock them down.

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One big improvement for the rogue is the ability to Sneak Attack almost everything now. No longer will constructs and undead be your bane. Rejoice rogues everywhere!

Rogues excel at hitting unprepared enemies to cause the most harm. One of the ways a rogue gets high damage is an old favorite: sneak attack. In fact, sneak attack is now easier to pull off and works with a new, simple system that defines when creatures are particularly vulnerable to attack. Not only will the fighter be giving the rogue a flanking bonus, but more spells and attack powers will set up sneak attacks.

Another source of extra damage comes from a rogue’s follow up attacks, which can be tacked on to successful attacks. These allow a rogue to turn a normal attack into a truly vicious one, dealing huge amounts of damage and dishing out major penalties to the target.

At the highest end of the rogue’s power list comes difficult maneuvers that incorporate multiple attacks and tactical movement. These flashy assaults make short work of powerful monsters and more importantly-impress the rest of the party.

Rogues rejoice, you will get to do more of those impressive big damage attacks much more often.

Controller: A character who specializes in locking down multiple foes at once, usually at range. That involves inflicting damage or hindering conditions on multiple targets. The wizard is a shining example of this role, of course. Controllers sacrifice defense for offense; they want to concentrate on taking down the enemy as quickly as possible while staying at a safe distance from them.

The wizard has undergone some changes as well. Schools of magic are now gone (more of this in an upcoming post). The wizard now has a unique spell list that he does not share with the sorcerer. Besides his normal spell compliment the wizard has magical attacks that he can do every round. So even when a wizard runs out of spells, he can still do something fun every round.

Leader: A character who heals, aids, or buffs other characters. Obviously we thought about just calling this role “healer,” but we wanted leaders to do more than simply spend their actions healing other characters. The leader is sturdier than the controller, but doesn’t have anywhere near as much offense. The cleric is the classic example. All leaders must have significant healing abilities to live up to their role, as well as other things they can do in battle.

For those that think this is just a new name for the same old cleric, its not. No longer will you be sitting in the back of the party healing. Everyone has the ability to heal themselves to some extent, so the cleric can spend time debuffing, buffing, and killing.

All 4th Edition characters have some ability to heal themselves and all leaders can increase that healing. A cleric grants all allies near him an increase to their self healing, and he can also cure their wounds by using healing words. A cleric doesn’t spend the lion’s share of his actions healing others.

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Rituals allow a cleric to heal persistent conditions, create wards, and even bring people back from the dead. Many 3E spells have become rituals instead, allowing the cleric to fill his spell and battle prayer lists with proactive attacks and enhancements.

It seems they have worked hard to make sure each class is fun to play. Any MMO player will easily see the inspiration for these roles. There are many old school players that might want to shun 4th Edition, but personally this old school player has read enough to at least give it a shot.
It’s clear that WOTC is reaching out to younger gamers, and video gamers in particular. Some might find this troubling, but without new blood, new players out there buying the game, the genre will slowing wilt and die. While I see some things that really worry me with 4th Edition, I applaud WOTC’s effort, and hope the game delivers all the good things we are hearing, and manages to avoid all the pitfalls that can also come with MMO’s.

In the coming days we will look closer at classes and races in 4th Edition, until then, May all your hits be crits!

As a special treat, courtesy of WOTC we have a first look at the Adamantine Dragon!
image Illustration by Lars Grant-West. © 2008 Wizards of the Coast, Inc.

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