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D&D 4e: Answers to Gnome Stew Readers’ Questions

In Boss Around the Gnomes [1], I asked Gnome Stew readers what you’d like to hear about the 4e core books from a GM’s perspective. I wrote a lengthy, detailed post about my first impressions [2], and now I’m ready to tackle the specifics.

Rather than C&P large chunks of my other post, if a question was substantially covered in my review I just pointed thataway for a few answers. It was fun answering your questions, and I hope my answers are useful.

(Questions about actual play and requests for future articles will have to wait, unfortunately — this is all based on reading, not playing.)

As with the other post: SPOILERS AHEAD. If you’re not ready to read about 4e, stop here!

Tell me about the system (TheBoeh)

Something that might really help me is to hear reviews of the system. It’s going to be quite some time before I get a chance to run 4th ed. and it would help to know where the system breaks down.

This is tough without actual play (which I know is what you asked for), but I can say that the system has fewer moving parts than 3.5e, which usually means fewer places to break down and an easier job for you as the GM. That said, I’m not great at spotting exploitable loopholes and so forth, especially not right away.

Ideas that would work in other games (ZacharyTheFirst)

Lesson learned, perhaps–any ideas you feel would translate well to other games.

Minions. Oh god are minions driftable. They’re not unique to 4e (Feng Shui had them first, as mooks), but they’d fit into all sorts of other games.

A minion has three elements: Their attacks are only a middling threat to a PC one-on-one, but en masse they can be trouble; they’re not easy to hit; and they only have one hit point — if you hit them and do any damage at all, they croak.

Skill challenges, which are described in the DMG, would also port well. The concept has no specific ties to D&D, and with a bit of trial and error on assessing the difficulty of a given skill challenge in another system, you’d be set.

They’re essentially encounters that require you to get X successes before rolling Y failures, stretched out over time and with lots of flexibility for using many different skills, plus room to improvise.

About those rituals… (Spenser)

So, if anyone gets the books on launch, I’d love to know more about rituals, and maybe see the table of contents from the DMG.

I’m wary about posting the ToC straight out, but my first-impressions review [2] goes through the DMG chapter by chapter.

Rituals look great. They’re all the spells you only memorize once in a great while, they’re pricey, they take quite a bit of time to cast and — the coolest part — pretty much anyone can cast them. Party of fighters want to use Raise Dead? All they need is a scroll or a ritual book (in the latter case, there’s a minimum level), and they’re set. No cleric needed.

If you can think of a long, infrequently used spell from 3.x, it’s probably a ritual in 4e.

Crafting encounters (Patriarch917)

It appears that 4e will give GMs a whole new set of tools for constructing awesome encounters, and I would love to have Gnome Stew give advice on how to take full advantage of the new system. Topics to address might include using terrain in an encounter (4e is far more mobile), gnomes as monsters, crafting skill based encounters (one of the best ideas I’ve seen in 4e), and how to let the monsters win a fight without breaking the game.

When I first read this question, I thought you wanted to hear more about the encounters section. Now I think you’re mainly interested in follow-up articles, which is cool but will have to come later. If I’m misreading your questions, tell me in the comments!

Skill challenges (SJarvis)

I’m interested in how to incorporate new things like skill challenges into adventures, etc.

The skill challenges are designed to be slotted in as encounters, complete with XP for success. They’re flexible enough to take plenty of time at the table and built to involve every PC — no “decker syndrome” while one PC negotiates for two hours while everyone else plays Halo.

There’s really not much to incorporating them: Any time you need several skill checks in a row to accomplish something (or have a task, like convincing an NPC to have a major change of heart, that could involve multiple checks), you’ve got the groundwork for a skill challenge.

Lots of questions! (Oddysey)

Oddysey asked several questions, summarized as: Is it easier to prep than 3.x? What’s the gnome entry in the MM like? How should GMs use the new cosmology? What’s the tone of the advice in the books?

Yes, 4e will be easier to prep than 3.5e. There are fewer fussy bits and more tools to simplify the process, as well as great advice in the DMG for using your prep time well, adapting published adventures and so forth.

Gnomes are more like fey creatures now, with very little flavor in the MM (par for course, really). They also have a PC-style racial writeup at the back, suitable for use for PCs and NPCs with the caveat that it’s not really intended for PCs.

There’s not much info on cosmology — plenty of room for expansion has been left. If you mean the gods specifically, they’re pretty generic/universal fantasy tropes.

The tone of the GMing advice is newbie-friendly, practical and grounded in real-world GMing experience and knowledge of what people actually do with and in D&D games. It’s very, very solid. I recommend reading the DMG section of my review for a full overview.

Talk to me about your feelings (Bear)

I am more interesting in the subjective stuff. How does it feel? Does it move smooth from one scene to the next. How intuitive is it going to be for the players? The GM? Is it easy to upgrade/downgrade your encounters on the fly? Do the NPCs make sense? That is the kind of information that I am looking for.

Setting aside the actual play aspects of how it feels, it feels great based on my initial reading and skimming. Very D&D, very well done.

I had some trouble wrapping my head around the powers in the PHB at first glance, so I can see players needing a good block of time to get familiar with them. Folks used to 3.5e might need longer.

As a GM, I know I’ll enjoy running 4e — and have an easier time of it — than I did 3.5e.

Tweaking encounters on the fly shouldn’t be too bad, since CR has gone the way of the dodo. It’s easier to balance monsters (individually and in groups) to match the party, and after a few sessions I think doing so by the seat of your pants would be pretty straightforward.

On the juiciness of GMing advice (Irda Ranger)

WotC has promised that there will be lots of juicy DMing advice in the DMG. I’d be interested in the Gnome’s opinions on the various chapters and suggestions the book might have, and how I could build on different options presented to get different results.

They delivered on that promise. James Wyatt wrote a killer book for GMs, with very few bad notes and a whole lot of very good stuff. The GMing section of my review answers your question chapter by chapter — take a peek.

Layout and bookkeeping (Sarlax)

First, what is the layout like? D&D has used a nonsense layout since time immemorial – stats, then race, then class, etc.

Next, I would need to know that D&D had taken a big step away from resource management. Gear and gold should not so drastically shape the course of the game. I know that players spend a lot of time agonizing over items, but as a GM, making treasure come out fairly can be tough.

In terms of structure, the order you mentioned is the order in 4e as well — but it works a lot better this time around, IMO. They make it clear that the PHB is all about acquainting you with the game and your role in it as a player, and that that starts with your main investment: your character. It flows really well.

Treasure parcels should help with resource management as well as making treasure come out right. Instead of winging treasure, you can just give out the appropriate 4 magic items (by level — you choose the items) and 6 monetary treasures per level and know that the PCs are on course.

Based on that chapter and the list of magic items in the PHB (yes, in the PHB — I love that), it does indeed look like gear is a lot less important in 4e than 3.x.

Short list, big questions (Supergnome)

Feel like D&D or (something unmentionable)?
-Color and tone what you’d expect from D&D?
-Combat have a heroic feel, or comic book feel?
Core mechanic flexible?
Any broken class/skill/spell/ability/feat/etc…?

It feels very much like D&D. It also feels like World of Warcraft in places, but I really liked that aspect.

Ditto with color and tone. They went back to the drawing board and defined what makes a D&D world a D&D world and a D&D game a D&D game, and then built an RPG around that core. The core won’t be for everyone, but I liked it.

I’m not sure what the difference between heroic and comic book feel would be for combat, but I’m going to say heroic. The powers are cool, but not superpower-y.

I wouldn’t say the core mechanic (substantially changed only by adding 1/2 your level to most d20 rolls) is any more or less flexible than it was in 3.5e. It does feel more evenly applied, though.

I’m terrible at picking out broken stuff on a first read, or without any time playing/GMing. At first blush, there’s no half-orc with +4 Str and the spiked chain seems balanced.

Battlemat required? (DarthKrzystof)

One thing I really want to know: how feasible is it to play 4E without the battlemat?

It would be a giant pain in the ass without a battlemat. Even more so than 3.5e, I’d say.

Ruleplaying vs. roleplaying (Gomez)

Ok. Easy question. How much the 4th ed is encouraging rule-play against role-play?

Between the practical GMing advice about connecting character backgrounds and building quests around individual characters and the inclusion of skill challenges, I’d say 4e puts more effort into encouraging roleplaying than 3.5e. That said, there’s still no Burning Wheel-style social combat system and you can still roll Diplomacy to change attitudes — but overall, there are some good tools for roleplaying and encouraging roleplaying.

Whew, I’m beat. It’s been long evening, but writing these two posts was fun.

Thank you to everyone who asked a question (or several)! I’m open to more Q&A this weekend, so if you’ve still got questions, bring ’em on!

20 Comments (Open | Close)

20 Comments To "D&D 4e: Answers to Gnome Stew Readers’ Questions"

#1 Comment By arthwollipot On June 7, 2008 @ 1:52 am

One thing I really want to know: how feasible is it to play 4E without the battlemat?

It would be a giant pain in the ass without a battlemat. Even more so than 3.5e, I’d say.

This more than anything convinces me that I won’t be playing 4E. I never use a battlemat. Never have. My 3.0 & 3.5 games played just fine without miniatures or counters, so I’ll stick with what works for me.

#2 Comment By gomez On June 7, 2008 @ 2:43 am

I’m reading the manuals in these days and I’ve the feeling that a session now is more a collage of scenes, like an action movie, than a story that goes smoothly from action to roleplay and backwards. How do you feel about this?

#3 Comment By zacharythefirst On June 7, 2008 @ 5:05 am

Thanks for taking the time to answer my question, Martin!

#4 Comment By suudo On June 7, 2008 @ 5:15 am

Minions/mooks are a pretty common feature in a lot of RPGs. D&D is late on that bandwagon. Very late.

#5 Comment By Patriarch917 On June 7, 2008 @ 7:05 am

You’re correct in thinking that I want follow-up articles. Maybe I’ll try to write one myself, and submit it.

#6 Comment By DarthKrzysztof On June 7, 2008 @ 8:19 am

“Giant pain in the ass.” That’s not the answer I wanted to hear, obviously, but I’m glad to hear it all the same – thanks, Martin!

Looking at the web enhancement pregen tiefling warlord for Keep on the Shadowfell was my first real warning: almost all of the warlord’s powers involves shifting, swapping places with the target, or some other movement on the grid. If I’m not planning to use the mat, then these powers are nerfed. Even assuming that there are options in the PH which players could take “instead,” there’d still be a lot of powers, feats, etc. that are “less awesome,” or outright useless, to us.

“No battlemat” isn’t just a side effect of my chat-based game, either. If I may venture into heresy territory, I don’t like miniatures. I don’t like hunting for minis that look like characters I’ve already drawn. I don’t like writing up encounters based on the minis I have, instead of the other way around. I’m terrible at painting them. I’ve got nowhere to keep them. And I definitely don’t like randomized packs of minis. If you have to burden me with this stuff, give me counters…

That being said, the online D&D Game Table might make this whole issue a moot point for my campaign. Will you have to subscribe to D&D Insider to use it? My players won’t like that, I’ll give you that for nothing.

I would really like to see some writeup on the Game Table.

#7 Comment By Martin Ralya On June 7, 2008 @ 10:55 am

You’re welcome all around, and thanks again for asking questions. I enjoyed spending enough time with the books the answer all of them, and it made for a fun night.

@Gomez: I didn’t see what you’re talking about explicitly called out in the rules, but I can see how the game could play that way — especially if you follow the guidelines for combat and noncombat encounters pretty closely.

I don’t think it would be quite as pronounced as an RPG like Primetime Adventures or Burning Empires, though — where the rules literally say “Play only the important scenes.”

@Darth: I logged into Insider this morning, and apart from the new skin and preview info on all the features, it doesn’t look like anything’s up and running yet. I also didn’t see a way to give WotC my money or start a free trial, and I’m pretty sure the Game Table is paying subscribers only. I’m curious about it too.

#8 Comment By rekenner On June 7, 2008 @ 11:43 am

You know what’s funny?
All the D&D 4e stuff I’ve been involved in and have seen done (2 in person sessions, one over IRC) didn’t use Battlemats and it was perfectly fine. Just abstract distances and such a little bit and it works fine.

#9 Comment By Matthew J. Neagley On June 7, 2008 @ 8:14 pm

Re Rituals:
Rituals are a tad more complex than you spell out Martin. First, there’s a feat: Ritual Caster you need to be able to cast rituals. Clerics and Wizards get the feat for free. The feat also has a prerequisite of either being trained in the Religion or Arcana skill. (If these aren’t class skills or you need more skills than you get at level 1, you’ll need to buy the skill with an additional feat) Once you have the skill and the feat THEN anyone can learn and cast rituals. While this isn’t a huge investment, it means that it’s likely that your group will only have one ritual caster unless you have two or more players that get freebees. I DO agree that it’s a great improvement though. It cuts down a lot of the “wasted slots on utility” that previous editions had AND provides a great way for ANY character to dabble in powerful magic for minimal investment if it suits your concept.

Re: the battle mat:
As far as I’ve seen, there are plenty of options for powers if you never want to use a battle mat. While not using one does make some of the skills/powers less (or more!) useful than they’d otherwise be, that’s been the case for every edition. That’s the price you pay when actively excising a chunk of the system. Instead of viewing those “shift” or “castling” powers as “useless without a battle mat” Try looking at them the same way everyone looked at the fireball spell in the previous edditions w/o a mat. Not using a mat allows you the narrative freedom to declare “I place the AOE so it hits all the foes and no allies.” or, in the case of shifting: “I shift the injured mage out of melee with his opponent and take his place.” With a mat, you may not be able to maneuver that exchange.

#10 Comment By Matthew J. Neagley On June 7, 2008 @ 8:26 pm

I DO feel that the books lacked a bit of spit an polish, and that production was rushed, however.

For example, the pages of my books are warped (as if the paper was wet when printed then dried during processing) and they’re not all the same depth (if you put them in the jacket, the backs aren’t even.)

Also, take a look at the gnome entry in the MM (page 134). Look at the level 3 encounter block:
2 gnome arcanists, 2 Iron defenders, 1 pseudodragon. Neither Iron Defenders nor Pseudodragons are in the ToC and no page number, or notes on where to find them are in the encounter list. You can note their level and role, flip to the indew of monsters per level by role, look them up there and find that Iron Defenders are Homonculi on page 156 and that Pseudodragons are Drakes on page 91, but those page numbers should be right on the encounter list and not putting them, or at least the monster type right on the encounter list was a pretty bonehead move.

#11 Comment By DarthKrzysztof On June 7, 2008 @ 9:35 pm

I’m sure my group can come up with -something- for the battlemat issue, but another thing that intimidates me is 4E’s assumption that encounters involve more monsters than v.3.x would. Maybe the higher head count will be easier to manage with the new rules, but the proof’s in the play, I imagine.

Really, I’m more concerned about my player who loves psionics… ; )

#12 Comment By Rafe On June 9, 2008 @ 8:10 am

As others have said, my one gripe is to do with the battlemat. You really need one, or at least some sort of representation. Combat is a great deal more tactical and mobile in 4th edition. You have to abandon the 3.x idea of “I stand there and keep hitting him, hoping he drops before I do.” You really have to control the battlefield more in 4th edition, and it’s fantastic. The amount of coordination required between players and being so enabled thanks to such complementary powers is just amazing. Trying to play 3.x style (individuals on a battlefield) will get you killed. I’ve played D&D for 15 years and have never had a TPK. We had one on the fourth encounter in the module and, after analyzing the situation more objectively, we realized we deserved it.

@Darthkrzysztof: You can have more or less monsters. If your group likes less, use a few amount of higher level monsters or elites or solos.

People keep saying that this version emphasizes X or Y. It’s D&D. You make it what you want. The new rules allow for far more flexibility than any other edition. If your group likes non-combat encounters, 4e gives you tonnes of great options for it. The choice has always rested with the group, not the system.

#13 Comment By Martin Ralya On June 9, 2008 @ 12:46 pm

I guess I have mixed feelings about the battlemat thing. Sure, you can hack up the game to function without one, but I’d argue that the amount of work required to make everything come out right (because squares and an intimate knowledge of the tactical landscape are worked into every aspect of the rules) makes a pretty strong argument for playing a different game.

I’m not saying “Use a battlemat or go home.” If you can make 4e work without one (and again, with a shaker of salt: I haven’t played it yet, with or without a grid) and have fun, awesome. I just think there’s a line in there with any RPG where the amount of work required to hack it into the shape you want makes it more viable to just start with a game that fits your tastes better.

@Matthew: Good point. Anyone with a ritual book still needs the feat to be able to use it, although my hypothetical party of fighters is fine with a scroll and nothing else.

#14 Comment By Omnus On June 9, 2008 @ 9:59 pm

I’ve already run two games of 4th Edition (Worldwide D&D Day campaigns) and I’ll say a few things that impressed me both good and bad. The balance for the game is excellent, as is the pick-up-and-go feel of the game. No one has to stand around wondering what to do or worry about feeling ineffectual. With at-will powers for your characters, you never completely scramble to be relevant to an encounter (and having played a lot of wizards in my time, I appreciate that! No one-spell-and-you’re-useless!)

In my mind, those of you who run this game with no battlemat will have a really rough time with it, as many of the classes really shine by being able to manipulate the battlefield and its participants. If nothing else, you’ll end up yanking, I suspect a lot of exploits from warlords and rogues, who thrive on setting up their foes and party members.

4th Edition will be an excellent game for newcomers. The D&D community should keep expanding, and as long as the expansions can be reigned in somewhat to trim down the amount of exploits and broken items/abilities/races, the game should survive well. Old-timers who cling to their massive libraries of 3.x books should not feel pressured to assimilate, though. It is quite different. That Heal spell you so love? Gone. Teleporting? Now a battlefield tactic to avoid attacks of opportunity. Wish? No more. Rolling handfuls of dice, massive numbers of attacks, ending battles with single spells? Not going to happen so much. But in the meantime, everyone gets to participate in a game from the beginning to the end and feel valuable.

My own thoughts are this: I’m not scrapping my own 3.25 Edition campaign to hustle to 4th Edition. I own the core books, yes, but I’m also taking a wait-and-see attitude. WotC has a lot of steps to take before I’m 100% sold on it, including getting D&D Insider online (which they admit may be months away) and putting out supplements that expand on their world (no bard, barbarian, monk or druid, but they hint that they’re coming…) Until then I’ll haunt blog sites like this one, the WotC message boards, and wait.

#15 Comment By JuanNavarro On June 10, 2008 @ 7:55 am

Let me just say awesome work guys. Base don this and your previous article I ordered my set (57.00 bucks off Amazon, free shipping!) and I’m looking forward to it.
My one worry is that with all the streamlining, 4th edition might lose flavor, but as a friend pointed out to me “What the hell did you care? You just through Pit Fiends at us like they were day old donuts, you f$#%@# a$$h073!”
So yeah, great stuff guys…

#16 Comment By DarthKrzysztof On June 10, 2008 @ 10:31 am

Yeah, I pre-ordered from Amazon too… then I got an e-mail on the day it was supposed to ship out saying it’d be delayed by at least two weeks.


#17 Comment By Omnus On June 10, 2008 @ 10:11 pm

In my mind, the DM can make up some of the flavor the game loses in translation, especially if he needs help managing encounters. The challenge increase to the players while they’re enjoying their new abilities will be worth it.

I don;t know about the wait, except that most printers have two installments in printing, a “opening rush” selection and the the “second wave” to stock in areas that sold out too quickly. It’s to reduce uneven distribution in the opening launch. Two weeks sounds about right. The wait is worth it, the books are good.

#18 Comment By robustyoungsoul On June 16, 2008 @ 12:58 pm

Great review, and also great to see you back Martin (former reader of TT here who finally discovered this site)!

Looks like D&D 4e will definitely NOT be for me based on a couple of factors (minis being one, our group having migrated to Burning Wheel/Burning Empires with massive success leaving any iteration of D&D before that in the dust), but I actually like that it sounds like they have scaled down the complexity.

In particular I’m interested in what Wizards has in store with D&D Insider. If the gaming tools make it as easy as they HOPE it will be to play some solid D&D online (even if it is largely tactical combat), it could still be quite a bit of fun and worth purchasing for some amusement outside the regular weekly tabletop game.

#19 Comment By Hautamaki On June 19, 2008 @ 3:11 am

Few comments. Btw, I have read all books thoroughly and played for about 6 hours so far.

1) I don’t like the MM cut out flavour. I like everything in the MM, but I wish it still had the flavour. It’s true that the DM should be in charge of flavour, and I pretty much use my own monsters and flavour them myself because I love doing it. But I also love just flipping through the old MM’s and just reading the entries, just for the fun of it. The old MM’s were not just game books, they were also enjoyable reads in their own rights. This MM not so much. Not a huge thing though, just a minor issue.

2) Originality and personalization of character builds/abilities/etc has been drastically reduced. In 3.5, you could imagine pretty much anything as far as character concepts go, and the rules had a way to make it work. Personally I was playing a ninja character that I made up as I went along by multiclassing rogue and fighter. I used a katana and a wakizashi and had some feats and some rogue abilities and so on and I was really happy with the fact that I could make a ninja using the D&D rules as written and had no problems. Now in 4e I HAVE to be a ranger to be able to use 2 weapons, so I had to multiclass rogue/ranger, and then I found that pretty much all of the rogue abilities were the same as the ranger abilities anyways, just with a different name, so it seemed like I didn’t have any meaningful choice. Another player was playing a sorceror/swashbuckling fighter that concentrated on buffing himself before fights and then doing some kickass Errol Flynn style shit with light armour and a rapier. Now he’s gotta be a warlock, which is cool, sure, but it’s not what HE imagined.

Bottom line is that this was done to correct the problem with powergamers poring over a dozen rulebooks to come up with insane character builds that could dominate everything. Perfect example: friend of a friend who made an aboreal druid/bard with a rhinocerous animal companion and used a spiked chain. He mashed together so many rules from so many different books and came up with a character that could easily kill the entire rest of the party singlehandedly. (My friend killed that character with water trolls 3 CR below his level that grappled and drowned him as he was trying to cross a river just to make a point about being a gay powergamer). So anyways, because there are guys like that out there, the system takes a heck of a lot of options out of the player’s hands in order to ensure balance. And if you want to houserule a custom class that matches your concept, have fun coming up with 30 levels of balanced powers. The bottom line is that in 3.5, you started with a character concept that could be 100% fantasy trope, or it could be 100% original, and then you could find the rules to accomodate you. In 4e it seems more like there are X number of classes, and each class has 2 logical ‘builds’ and you just have to choose which one of those you want to be. When people play RPG’s, they want to be original, they want to do something that’s never been done before, or at least not that they know of. So yeah, in that respect, it’s videogamey. If you just want to choose who you are from a discrete list, you might as well play Soul Calibre or a D&D computer game or whatever because the only real edge that tabletop RPG games have over video games is that in a tabletop game you really CAN do and be anything and anybody. When it comes to the actual mechanics and gameplay, videogames will always be way easier.

Another thing, 5 out of the 6 hours were spent running a boss battle. And damn do bosses have a lot of HP. The boss was not out of our range of defeatability–we did take him out and only one character came close to death once. But man it really takes a looong time to whittle down 250 hit points for a 3rd level party. The average damage output for our characters on a given hit was around 5-18 I’d say, with more for per encounter and daily powers. Only my rogue/ranger with stacking hunter’s quarry and sneak attack was able to get up over 24 average damage. And since it was 4 levels higher than us, we mostly only had about a 15 to 30% chance to even hit the guy in the first place. So yeah, I’d say combat is streamlined and fun and tactical and great, BUT, monsters have too many hp. So big advice to anyone who wants to run many short combats as opposed to one long one in a session: reduce monster HP.

Also we haven’t run a skill challenge encounter yet but I have a few reservations. For one thing, it seems like a lot of work, much more even, for the DM to design a good skill challenge that lets characters make use of a wide variety of skills. And secondly, the whole thing seems way too rigid. I don’t like how a given skill challenge MUST have x successes before x/2 failures and the DM is supposed to plan that out ahead of time. Who knows what the players will come up with? And, if the players come up with a way to succeed at the whole skill challenge that would only logically require 1 roll, then it’s going to be damn hard for the DM to suddenly pull a bunch more stuff out of his ass to justify the other 7 rolls the skill challenge is supposed to require.

Oh, and my fellow DM (we take turns running campaigns) doesn’t like the magic items at all. He’s having a nightmare of a time figuring out what gp cost/level to apply to homebrew magic items that give enhancements to skill checks and so on.

Still and all, everything else is ok, and the core rules are an improvement. Looking forward to the future books.

#20 Comment By Atomsk42 On July 12, 2008 @ 8:24 am

@ Hautomaki
Well, I’ve thought long and hard about your post, and I have to say I disagree with it just about 100%.
1) The Monster manual doesn’t have flavor text for monster description anymore, that’s true, but I think the guys at WoTC just realised that people can just look at the pictures to come up with a description. The flavor is still there, I mean, did you read the things about the Shadar-kai or Orcus? This stuff is still a good read, and much more playable too. One of my favorite suggestions from the DMG was to just take a monsters stats and give it a new name and description and voila! new monster. It worked remarkably well for me when I still lacked the MM, and had to use the stats from the adventure in the back of the DMG (which I think ran well, it was linear, yes, but it was still a lot of fun or my group.) In short, the MM is still a fun read, it just has more flexibility in terms of description and story now.
2) This is probobly the part that upsets me the most. Seriously, if you want to be a ninja, you didn’t have to multiclass Ranger. At all. You could have just taken the 2W Fighting Feat. Bam. Done. And if you didn’t have martial weapon profs, well theres a feat every two levels now, so Tada! (On a seperate note, ninjas don’t use katana and wakizashi, they use ninja weapons, such as the ninja-to or kusari-gama, which means that you were really just trying to play a mishmash of Oriental Warrior stereotypes, though that is perfectly in your right.) The statement that people must choose one of two builds, is ludicrous, because I haven’t ever used them, and 1/3 of my players were under ten, two more being teens, the remaining two being senior citizens. All of whom were able to pik their power in a timely manner because the abilities are so easy to understand now, unlike the half page entries required by 3e abilities. I think the builds make things easy if you want to speed up character creation by twelve seconds, but other than that they aren’t your only choice, at all.
3) You take on a solo monster 4 levels above you and expect it to take a short amount of time? Seriously. This is a monster designed to take on 5 PCs of four levels above you, and you expect to take it out in ten rounds? They aren’t made for that. They are made to be epic boss battles where life and death are right around the corner. If you couldn’t hit it, thats just the dice, and the AC. The HP is fine where it is. Yes the damage rarely breaks the 20hp mark, but when you multiply that by the 5 PCs that are assumed to be in the party, then that means you would do about 100 per round. Factor in that that monster was intended to be encounted four levels later, when you would have more bonuses to attack and damage, then you’re doing even more damage. The monsters are built just fine, and if it took 5 hours, then you were doing something seriously wrong. Even just looking at the DMG adventure, that white dragon took only slightly longer to defeat than the average battle, and we only had three PCs at the time, they just operated well together. It couldn’t have taken more than half an hour, tops.
4) Magic items are extremely easy to deal with now. I mean, extremely. If your DM is having trouble making custom items, then that’s his deal, not the books. Everything is very well outlined, and I think that the new “most weapons should have cool powers” outlook is really very neat, because we no longer have to choose between a +3 weapon and a +1 flaming weapon. We get the +1 flaming weapon at 1st level, and the +3 Weapon at another level. And no part of the game is broken by this. For applying skill bonuses to items, just look through the rest of the book, and compare the bonuses. If it has bonuses to more than one or two skills, then just make it a freakin’ artifact or something and stop trying to munchkin your items. Every slot has a defined purpose now, so use the items for their intended purposes. If you try and break the guidelines, DUH it will be harder. It’s choosing to walk in the road instead of on the sidewalk. On the one hand, you have a sidewalk, which is safe, on the other, you have a road, which has cars coming either from in front or behind you.
5) Skill Challenges. I see where they could become problematic, but I also know that it takes very little to avoid and be rid of those problems. If a player comes up with something clever, find a way to make it work. It is right there in the rules “If at all possible, try not to say no to your players.” If they come up with some amazing thing to make the whole challenge a moot point, let them! DON’T pull things out of your ass for the sake of rules, the new system is designed to be more flexible, so use it flexibly! It isn’t 3e, where everything is law, and the only way to get rid of an uber character is to use a set of arcane and aggravating rules (grappled by trolls in the water, anyone?) to gank them. This game finally puts the “One Rule” into effect in a meaningful way. It says in a very frank manner, if you don’t like it, don’t use it. If you think skill challenges are a bad idea, don’t do them. I for one was inspired by them though. Just hearing the concept set the wheels turning in my head, how about a sort of gauntlet of traps, I thought, where they had to make certain skill checks in succession to avoid the pit of acid, the arrows across the hallway, and so on, where failure meant taking damage and failure of too many meant not making it through the door in time, forcing them to take a longer route? The rules now allow you more in terms of leeway, they put the control back in the hands of the DM, not in the rules.
6) Creating a custom class in this edition would be easier as well. And while you say “have fun coming up with 30 levels of balanced powers” the same could be said of 3e’s 20 levels. Heck, it’s even harder then, because the powers are more complex. All you have to do is use the other classes as some sort of guideline. Hmm, a wizard has a spell that does 1d6+INT and then 5 more later if the enemy fails a save? Well, okay, so then having this “Acidic Fog of Blahblah” thing do 1d8+WIS and then 2 more later isn’t bad. It is a very simple process once you get right down to it.
All in all, I have enjoyed every aspect of my 4e experience so far (and I didn’t use a battlemat once, with no adverse affect on play) and I’m very optimistic for the future of the game. And you’re talkkinig to a WFRP player as well, and Gawd knows WFRP-ers aren’t generally inclined to feel hopeful about the future of their favorite RPGs.
So, roll them 20s!