D&D4E, Dark Sun

DS4e – Character Classes

It’s kind of funny; I expected the review of character classes to be a big one, several posts in length. In fact, I was so certain this article would be so much work, I intentionally avoided thinking about it while I worked on my various school assignments. But, when I sat down and actually gave it some thought, I realized something:

I know fuck all about changes to the character classes in DS4e.

I had planned on doing one article on the Divine, Martial and (maybe) Primal power source classes. A second article about Arcane classes, and a third about Psionic classes. But I realize now, there’s not really any official word on changes. So, with that in mind, I realize that the few droplets of information I have can be tossed out in a single post. So here we go.

First of all, there won’t be any new character classes introduced in DS4e. None at all. The gladiator and templar will be in the game, just not as full character classes – I’ll be discussing them next time, when we hit up character themes. Suffice to say that it’s a pretty cool, pretty slick addition to the game (in my opinion), but if you’re going to hate everything that changes because it’s different? You’ll hate character themes, right alongside the 4e half-giant and thri-kreen.

The basic classes (i.e. those from the Player’s Handbook series) I’ll address below:

Arcane characters (bard, sorcerer, warlock, wizard)

From what I can gather, all of these classes will be subject to the defiling & preserving rules – whatever they may be. So far, the only official commentary on the subject I’ve heard is a sort of half-sentence Rich Baker made during the panel podcast (I think that’s where I heard it) indicating defilers can dish out some damage to those surrounding them. As long-time fans will know, defiling humanoid lifeforms used to be the strict purview of sorcerer-kings (and other defilers above 20th level), so I’m curious how this will be implemented.

Also, I realize this will make the bard into a defiling/preserving class, which takes a bit to get your head around. Nevertheless, I think it makes sense – the old edition’s fix for the bard’s spellcasting ability was to remove that feature entirely, which was fine because spells were a minor component of the bard’s overall abilities. In 4th Edition, the way powers are structured make the bards abilities almost exclusively spells.

Divine characters (avenger, cleric, invoker, paladin, runepriest)

This is an easy one – they’re gone. There are no gods in the world of Dark Sun, thus there is no divine power source. As best I can tell, elemental clerics are now addressed by the primal power source and an appropriate character theme. Likewise, templars are also addressed by character themes. How exactly that works will be examined next time.

Martial characters (fighter, ranger, rogue, warlord)

I don’t really anticipate any changes to these classes and haven’t heard anything. It’s worth noting that the massive material penalties from 2nd edition (bone swords, chitin shields, etc.) no longer apply – effectively metal weapons are considered masterwork, and bone/obsidian equipment will be considered “the norm.” This should prevent martial characters from being rendered ineffectual by the absence of decent gear.

Primal characters (barbarian, druid, seeker, shaman, warden)

Though only the druid existed in the original Dark Sun, these classes fit the setting perfectly. The shaman (and possibly the druid) seems poised to take on the role of the elemental clerics, worshiping the raw elemental forces of the world (fire, earth, air, water). If you check out the sample character sheets of DS4e characters, on page 5 there’s a thri-kreen shaman named Pak’cha with the character theme elemental priest. I’ll be discussing character themes next time, but from what I can tell the primal power sources seems (thematically) a better fit than the divine source for elemental clerics, so you won’t hear me complaining about the shift.

Psionic characters (ardent, battlemind, monk, psion)

Lastly psionic characters. I am not anticipating much in the way of changes here either, though I am curious how they integrate with wild talents – which I haven’t talked about much up until this point, mainly because I don’t know anything about them. I know that wild talents will exist, and from what I understand they’ll basically be cantrip-level effects – gone are the days where a good dice roll grants you a half dozen enemy slaughtering powers. Rich Baker basically went on record saying that if a character needs more psionic might, there are character themes that augment the wild talent concept. Beyond that? Multiclass into a psionic class, or just be a psionic character if you love psionics so much. I’m fine with that, though I’m curious whether psionic characters will get an extra cantrip-effect of their own to maintain power balancing. Maybe it won’t matter, I’ll have to wait until I see the rules to really say.

Alright, another day, and another subject down. I expected to need a week or two to blitz through the character classes, and I’m thrilled to see that I didn’t. Next time I’ll be tackling character themes, a completely new rule mechanic being rolled out with DS4e. I’m actually pretty excited about the idea, and think it really adds a lot of diversity to an individual character. See you next time.

Shameless Plugs

Shameless Plug – Maps, Languages, Sports, and the Pater familias

This week, as I’ve said, I’m pretty busy so I haven’t had a lot of time to look for “cool shit” – which means that what I’m plugging this week is mostly stuff I’ve come across incidentally or in the pursuit of some other aim.

First of all, as I’m sure anyone following this blog has noticed, I’m all about mapping these days. Which means I’ve got a big plug for the Cartographer’s Guild, which is basically just a forum for map-making enthusiasts (and some pros, it looks like – I haven’t had time to dig deep just yet). I recently downloaded a new tutorial by Ascension (the CG member whose tutorial I’m mostly following while doing the World Workshop articles) – this one about mapping cities – which I’m looking forward to digging into, after I finish all my school assignments. Also, a secondary map-themed plug for the Athasian Cartographer’s Guild, which seems to be less of a community than it is a place to get all kinds of Dark Sun maps and mapping resources.

Sticking with the World Workshop stuff, I want to give a plug to Sean K. Reynolds’  awesome articles on the Dwarven, Elven, and Draconic languages (which originally appeared in Dragon Magazine issues 278, 279, and 284) and can now be found on Fantasist.net (which I haven’t had a chance to check out beyond those three articles yet). I used the stuff on the Draconic language in naming the city of Io’Rasvim, and plan on making good use of the other articles as well.

A plug also goes out to the HBO documentary Magic and Bird: A Courtship of Rivals, which is about Magic Johnson and Larry Bird’s concurrent rise to NBA superstardom, and the incredible rivalry that existed between them. People who know me, know I’m not really a sports guy, but I found this movie fascinating – if nothing else, it provides a fascinating insight on how to create a rivalry with a foe who isn’t really a “villain.”

And, lastly, a great big plug goes out to my dad. I’ve always had the habit of inventing words out of nowhere, and I always assumed that was just something I did that didn’t come from anywhere. Turns out it runs in the family, as he busted out the following gem yesterday afternoon as a way of explaining a bad habit he and I both possess:

pre-cras-ti-nate: to be completely aware of one’s tendency to procrastinate, to the point of being able to plan in advance to not do something

World Workshop

The World Workshop – Major Cities and Terrain Colors

So, ten minutes after writing a post on how I won’t be posting much for the next few weeks, here I am writing a new post. What can I say? I’m tired and worn out and, though it does take concentration, mapping soothes me. I doubt I’ll be finished with this post for a few days yet, but we’ll see. (Edit: Obviously I was right.)

Where we left off last time: three major landmasses, a few smaller ones, and murky "water." Click to see an enlarged copy.
Where we left off last time. Click to see an enlarged copy.

So, when I left off last time I’d created an outline of our new setting: three major landmasses, a few smaller ones, and some murky “water” (that will look better later on, I swear). I mentioned having intentionally creating a couple landmasses to somewhat resemble other objects – enough so to account for them having interesting names, but not so much that they look fake.

Now, before I get into the next steps of mapping, I want to discuss cities. There are three major cities in the region – “major” in the sense that every other city, tribe, clan, or kingdom is defined by its relationship (or lack of a relationship) with those three. I haven’t decided on any names yet, so for now I’ll just refer to them as City A, B, and C.

City A is the largest and wealthiest city in the region, and is in the north-west of the largest landmass (the big one on the right). One of the two major powers, City A is inland, but there’s another allied port city not far away. The port city is effectively ruled by City A – and in another couple centuries, assuming both cities continue to grow, they’ll likely merge into one massive metropolis. A mercantile society, in City A the wealthy are the ruling class. Money and power don’t influence one another – they’re the same thing. I’m not positive on cultural influences yet, but City A is definitely the closest thing to a “melting pot” in the entire region – so long as they have coin, men and women of any ethnicity are typically welcome.

City B, meanwhile, is the third most populated and second-wealthiest city is the area. The undisputed power on “Cock Island” (that snake-shaped landmass in the top-left that I really need to rename), City B is a port city on the east of the peninsula. I’m not entirely sure how politics is going to work here, but it’ll be different from City A – I’m thinking some sort of theocratic system. I’m not positive on the details yet, but they’re definitely a less tolerant society. Not evil, just a little more rigid about their culture – and a little more inclined to defend it proactively, if you get my drift.

City C, meanwhile, is not on one of the three major landmasses. Instead it exists on the large island between Cities A and B. City C is more your traditional monarchy, though without the “divine right” overtones. City B is all about being fingered by the gods to take the lead – this king takes his authority through slightly more secular, “I’m six moves ahead of you on the chessboard and I have an army” methods. City C is also only a major power because of its precarious relationship with the other two – who fought a war that ended about twenty years ago, on City C’s island. I happen to like the idea of a crafty, politically scheming king (or queen, I haven’t decided yet) who is constantly playing a balancing game between these two major powers, all to maintain his own neutrality and his own independent rule.

There are also two other important cities of note. New A is the second-most populated city in the region, is a port city in the north-eastern corner of last major landmass in the bottom left of the map, and is (unsurprisingly) a subject of City A, which founded it. And lastly there’s Io’Rasvim – which, translated from Draconic, means Treasure of Io. One of the original seven city-states that formed the ancient (and long-fallen) dragonborn Empire of Arkhosia, Io’Rasvim is a ruin – surrounded by mystery and rumor, whispered of but never visited. I’ll discuss it in depths some other time – I mainly mention it because I like that name, and don’t want to forget it. Perhaps you’ve already assumed this, but Io’Rasvim can be found on the “claw” island.

Alright, now that I have a better idea of what’s going on where (at least the broad strokes), I head back to the map to add some more details. So far I’ve got just a broad idea of where the landmasses are – today I’ll be adding some coloration to define different terrain types (plains and grasslands and desert).

Also, before I start, I would be remiss if I didn’t give credit where it is due – I’m creating these maps using a method derived from Ascension’s Atlas tutorial over at the Cartographer’s Guild. He’s a genius, and I’m just lucky he’s willing to share. 90% of this method is his, if not more so.

Picking up where we left off last time, grid (highlight), grid and base should all be hidden, the other layers should be visible. Duplicate ocean twice – name the new layers hills and land (from top to bottom, your layers should go: base, hills, land, ocean). Hide hills and start working in land, then Filter -> Render -> Lighting Effects. This brings up a panel that lets you control a bunch of lighting settings. Set the Style to Omni (make sure “On” is checked), Intensity to 6, Matte to -100, Material to 100, Exposure to 0, Ambience to 8, Texture Channel to Red (make sure “White is high” is checked), and Height to 100. Then drag the radius of the light source out so it is as wide as the entire map is. Lastly, you’re going to create four more light sources, each one of the same size and using the same settings as the first. Place one on each corner of the map, and one in the center (if you’re not grokking the written instructions, check out the screenshot) and then hit OK.

Word to the wise, the larger your map is, the more memory this takes. It took my computer almost two minutes to apply the effect after I hit OK – I strongly recommend saving both before and after you apply a major effect. Trust me, if your system crashes you’ll be glad you did.

Alright, now keep land as the active layer, and then ctrl-click on base (the little preview pane on the left, not the name itself) to select all your landmasses. Invert the selection (Shift-Ctrl-I) so the water is selected, then delete and deselect. Now we’ll add some coloration with Layer -> Layer Style -> Gradient Overlay. Set the angle to 120 degrees, the blend mode to “hard light,” the opacity to 100%, and then click on the gradient color (the actual color, not the drop-down arrow to the right of it) to bring up the gradient editor. An ordinary gradient transitions evenly from one color to another. We’re changing that by creating four points of transition (called a “stop”). Each stop is represented by the little color-arrow on the bottom of the gradient, and you add new ones just by clicking the finger pointer anywhere in the area. The stops should have the following settings:

  1. Color: Papyrus (RGB: 240, 230, 190). Position: 5%.
  2. Color: Dark flesh (RGB: 218, 192, 148). Position: 25%.
  3. Color: Olive Green (RGB: 64, 80, 24). Position: 60%.
  4. Color: Olive Green (RGB: 64, 80, 24). Position: 100%.
Some terrain coloration makes the regions of our map more distinct, giving us an idea of what sort of places these landmasses are. Click to see an enlarged copy.
Some terrain coloration makes the regions of our map more distinct, giving us an idea of what sort of places these landmasses are. Click to see an enlarged copy.

Hit OK, which will close the gradient editor, and then jump to Outer Glow in the panel on the left. Leave the blend mode on “screen,” reduce the opacity to 25%, change the color to a light blue (RGB: 64, 200, 255), and set the size to 45px. Hit OK, and you can see the results on the right.

Just a quick note about that gradient overlay – if I were mapping an entire world, instead of doing an in-depth mapping of a region, I’d have left the angle at 90 degrees – maintaining a strict North <–> South terrain transition. I’d have also added a 5th stop using the color white, to represent the arctic regions in the far north. So, if you’re following along and trying to map a whole world? Now you now.

So, we’ve got some basic terrain definition and coloration set up. Next time I’ll toss in some hills and mountains. See you then.



The subject line sort of says it all. I’m heaped underneath a massive pile of schoolwork. I’ve got four assignments due in the next eight days, one of them a 3,000 word economics paper. It’s been over a week since I took a day off. I’ll be doing my best to keep things active here, but updates may slow to a trickle for awhile.

On the plus side, the term’s over in less than two weeks, at which point my cup will runeth over with free time – which means blog posts galore.


Spam, Egg, Spam, Spam, Bacon, and Spam

Success motherfuckers! Looks like I’ve broken into the big time. Well, the not-so-small time, really.

What am I talking about? The spambots have discovered this humble blog, and have decided my comment forums are fertile ground in which to plant a bunch of shit nobody’s interested in. Gonna have us a bumper crop of penile enlargement pills and miracle weight-loss diets this harvest season. You’ll see.

Or we would, if not for askimet.

So that’s why, at the bottom of the last World Workshop posting, you don’t see any ads for London Subways maps of all the bloody things to advertise. Stupid spammers. Nevertheless, another milestone achieved.

Alright, back to my schoolwork. I’ll be cranking out another post after the weekend though. See you all then.

World Workshop

The World Workshop – Mapping Basics

I’m big on geography, when it comes to settings. More importantly, I prefer to get at least a rough sketch of the area done early on in the process – making all the important decisions about a setting first, then mapping it out, leads to things being too neat in my opinion. Much like having a history that’s well thought-out and logical, a geography that perfectly complements the details of the setting almost immediately rings false and kills the suspension of disbelief.

The Earth is as it is, and we have to make do with it. I tend to inflict similar inconveniences/cruelties on the population of the worlds I design.

So today, I set out to really sink my teeth into the geography of this world and at least get started on a proper map. I’ll warn you right now, this article is going to read in a lot of ways like a Photoshop tutorial.

Also, credit where it’s due – until I discovered Ascension’s Atlas Style tutorial over at the Cartographer’s Guild, my mapping skills were mediocre at best. I used mapping software like Campaign Cartographer 3 or Fractal Mapper (both perfectly good programs) and depended on them to do 95% of the work. If you’re looking to learn how to design your own, great-looking maps, I strongly recommend Ascension’s tutorial. I no longer follow every single step to the letter, but it is still my main reference when mapping.

The quick map sketch I did in the hotel room. Click to see an enlarged copy.
The quick map sketch I did in the hotel room. Click to see an enlarged copy.

So first off, let me get that sketch back up here. If you take a look at the enlarged version, you’ll notice that the map is 15 “units” long and 10 “units” wide. I haven’t decided how big the area is, so each unit is going to wind up being somewhere between 100 and 200 km. I’ll figure that out later.

Before I do anything else, I need to get the basic file set up. I’ll be doing all this mapping in Adobe Photoshop CS4. I’ve also decided that I want the option of taking this thing into Kinko’s (or wherever) and getting a decent poster map run off if I want it. I check common poster sizes online, and decide to map a map that’s 30 inches x 20 inches. Since I want it to be of print quality, I set the resolution to 300 pixels per inch (pppi) – if I were just going to display this on the web, I’d set it for 72 ppi, because browsers can’t display more than that. I give it a white background, and get started.

The basic grid, 15 by 10. Click to see an enlarged copy.
The basic grid, 15 by 10. Click to see an enlarged copy.

Next I set up the grid. This is pretty easy, I just do a 1 pixel-wide straight line every 600 pixels, dividing the entire map into 15 sectors horizontally, and 10 sectors vertically. I do this in a separate layer, which I call grid. The only problem is that, because the file is so big, I need to zoom way the fuck out (8.33%) to see all of it at once – which means I can’t actually see my grid. So I create another layer above it, named grid (highlight). I ctrl-click on grid to select the same area, then hit Select -> Modify -> Expand and set the expansion to 5 pixels. The selection widens by 5px on every size, and I fill it with bright red. Now my grid lines are 11 pixels wide, and perfectly visible. Ugly, but visible. I hide grid for now – the red grid is just a guide, I’ll worry about how it looks on display later.

Okay, now to actually start mapping. Just as an aside, I’m going to ignore the grid and grid (highlight) layers. Unless I specifically mention them, they always stay on the very top.

The primordial soup that your world will rise out of. Don't worry, it'll get prettier. Click to see an enlarged copy.
The primordial soup that your world will rise out of. Don't worry, it'll get prettier. Click to see an enlarged copy.

First of all, make sure your colors are set to the default black & white (D) and select the background layer. Filter -> Render -> Clouds, then rename the layer clouds. Right-click on clouds, select Duplicate Layer and name the resulting layer ocean. Create a new, empty layer, and name it base. Then fill (Shift-F5) base with 50% gray (you don’t need to change your color selection, 50% gray is near the bottom of the drop-down). At this point your layers should be in the following order (top to bottom): base, ocean, clouds. Set the blend mode for base to “hard mix” and you’ll get a sort of Rorschach-looking mess, displayed above.

Next, make sure you’re working in the ocean layer. Select the Brush tool (B). I use the “Soft Mechanical 500 pixel” brush, but keep in mind my map is 9000 x 6000 pixels, so that’s not that big – select an appropriate brush accordingly. Set flow to 10%, and then use the brush to shape your landmass – white is land, black is the water.

The basic outline of my setting: three major landmasses and a half-dozen or so smaller islands. Click to see an enlarged copy.
The basic outline of my setting: three major landmasses and a half-dozen or so smaller islands. Click to see an enlarged copy.

The final results are on the left. You may notice a couple of details about my landmasses, specifically the large one in the top-left and the island to the right of the middle. I like islands that vaguely resemble things, like the “boot” of Italy. So the grouping of islands in the lower-middle, for example, looks like a three-toed foot with claw on the heel. And, while I’ve given the peninsula in the top-left the nickname “Cock Island,” it’s actually supposed to resemble a serpent.

I’m actually very hopefully that, once I get some more terrain features on there, it looks a little less phallic. I guess we’ll see.

To finish up mapping for this week, right-click on ocean and duplicate it – the resulting layer will be called ocean copy and should appear right underneath base. Shift-click on base and then on ocean copy so that both layers are selected. Right-click on either one and select Merge Layers. The end result is that base and ocean copy should combine into a single layer, called base (everything will still look the same, however). Hide the grid (highlight) layer and then, making sure that you’re working inside base, Select -> Color Range, set Fuzziness to 200, then click on some of the black “water” area with the eyedropper, then hit OK. Hit the delete key, and all your solid black “water” will be replaced with a sort of murky, cloudy mixture. You can make the grid visible again now, if you want. This is as good a spot as any to stop, for now.

You may be wondering how this is going to turn into a map that doesn’t look like some kid’s crayon scrawling – a kid who only has black and white crayons. I wondered the same thing – but trust me, something good is going to come out of this. You’ll be surprised.

Also, I realize I spent more time talking about Photoshop layers and brush flow fuzziness whatever-the-fuck than I actually did about the setting itself. My plan is to mix discussing mapping techniques with overall setting development, but those of you reading may only be interested in one subject or another. I could separate the two, if people would rather be able to selectively choose which to read. Comments are on and opinions are welcome.

D&D4E, Dark Sun

DS4e – Character Class Basics

It occurs to me, as I go to write this, that I’m sort of doing a piecemeal analysis of 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons concurrent with my previewing of DS4e. I was sort of aware that I was doing it, but hadn’t really made any sort of conscious decision. I figure, before continuing, perhaps I should explain.

The original idea to do this blog came after I had a brief, but nerdfully-intense, conversation with legacy best-friend Glen. This geek-on-geek state of détente had, at its center, but a single topic – Dark Sun. Glen had not heard that Dark Sun, much like Jesus, was coming back from the dead. Indeed, Glen had not even perused the pages of 4th Edition. This severely curtailed my ability to explain, in the 20-30 minutes he was online, what DS4e was going to be like – I imagine it was similar to teaching carpentry to someone who has never seen a tree, nor heard of wood.

I then had an idea. I’d start a blog and write about that stuff. I immediately dismissed it – start a blog, just so I could share with my oldest friend the intricacies of a new Dark Sun? True, it would give me the platform in which to spout on and on about classes and game balance, explaining the inner workings and underpinnings. But, really? Wasn’t that a bit extreme? Maybe a little crazy?

Crazy like an Athasian fox-equivalent.

So that’s why you’re getting sort of a broad-strokes overview of 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons intermingled with your Dark Sun coverage – because my intended audience is one dude, living in the People’s Republic of China, who probably hasn’t bought a roleplaying product since The Book of Vile Darkness. I really didn’t expect many other people to show up – though they have, and I’m grateful. Knowing other people are reading what I’ve written makes me feel like blogging is the sort of thing I could keep doing for a long time. Hell, the awareness that I have an audience beyond said one dude in the PRC is why I’ve been expanding the subjects of my postings, and I was pleasantly pleased to discover I’ve got more to say than I thought.

Alright, so, character classes.

If you’ve been playing Dungeons & Dragons for awhile, character classes in 4th Edition seem – at first glance, at least – to be all sorts of fucked up. This is understandable, because the entire character class system has been completely overhauled for the first time since, really, 1st Edition. I’ll say this, the designers of 4e? Have 6d6 balls – which is to say a lot of balls. It takes serious stones to decide “fuck the sacred cows, let’s fix this shit.”

First of all, there’s the concept of roles – in a sense, these take the place of the old 2nd Edition “overclasses” (Warrior, Wizard, Rogue and Priest). The key difference? Roles are functional, not thematic – a character class’ role immediately tells you what it’s good at. There are four roles: controller, defender, leader and striker. Controllers dish out area of effect damage and otherwise impair the combat capabilities of their foes. Defenders are shields, wearing heavy armor and having plenty of hit points, built to interpose themselves between the enemy and the rest of the party. Leaders augment the tactical abilities of the party, dishing up heals and buffs. Strikes tend to dish up agony and pain, dealing damage to singular foes.

Then there’s power sources. These are mostly thematic, and give you an idea where a class’ abilities come from. Over the course of three player’s handbooks five power sources have been introduced: arcane, divine, martial, primal, and psionic. The class breakdown is like this:

  • Arcane: Bard (Leader), Sorcerer (Striker), Warlock (Striker), Wizard (Controller)
  • Divine: Avenger (Striker), Cleric (Leader), Invoker (Controller), Paladin (Defender), Runepriest (Leader)
  • Martial: Fighter (Defender), Ranger (Striker), Rogue (Striker), Warlord (Leader)
  • Primal: Barbarian (Striker), Druid (Controller), Seeker (Controller), Shaman (Leader), Warden (Defender)
  • Psionic: Ardent (Leader), Battlemind (Defender), Monk (Striker), Psion (Controller)

I’m going to ignore some of the minor things, like how skills work a little differently and how the randomness has been taken out of hit point calculations. Beyond those basic components however, character classes break down into two different elements: powers and class features.

Character Powers

“Powers” are the cool things that characters can do, and they get a special name based on power source. Arcane characters get spells, divine characters get prayers, martial characters get exploits, primal characters get evocations, and psionic characters get disciplines. Don’t let the different names fool you, however – they’re all powers and they all work exactly the same. This means that all the character classes resemble one another a lot more than they used to.

Powers are either attack powers, meaning they dish out damage or are otherwise used offensively, or utility powers that have both in- and out-of-combat applications. How often a power can be used is determined by its type: at-will powers can be used every turn, encounter powers can be used once per encounter, and daily powers can be used once per day. Powers are broken down by class – a fighter’s exploits are not the same as a ranger’s exploits, and they’re much different from a wizard’s spells. Every character starts with four combat powers from their list – two at-wills, one encounter, and one daily. They get their first utility power at level two. They get more as they increase in level – a level 10 character still has his two at-will powers, three encounter powers, three daily powers, and three utility powers (which, depending on how powerful they are, are either encounter or daily).

This changes the dichotomy of every class, in ways too numerous to count, so I’m just going to address two of the most iconic classes in D&D: the fighter and the wizard (sometimes called the mage in previous editions).

The at-will fighter exploit "cleave" - previously a 3rd Edition feat.
The at-will fighter exploit "cleave" - previously a 3rd Edition feat.

Fighters were all about the basic attack – there wasn’t a lot for them to do on turn 3 that was different from turn 2, other than maybe changing targets. Maybe the occaisonal charge. The real problem? The fighter was boring more often than not. The introduction of feats in 3rd Edition went a long way to addressing this, because there were some cool combat options available if you invested a lot of feats in getting access to them – and the fighter got a metric fucktonne of extra feats. 4th Edition has decided to throw out the byzantine process of climbing the feat ladder – most of those cool options are now fighter exploits. You pick them when you level up, done deal.

Wizards, meanwhile, had the opposite problem. They were awesome but unsustainable. Their spells, especially beyond the first couple levels, dished out more damage than a fighter’s sword – but whereas a fighter could swing that sword with equal power and skill every turn, the “fire-and-forget” spell system ensured that a wizard tended to run dry. That doesn’t happen anymore – magic missile, perhaps the most iconic D&D spell, is an at-will. Burning hands is a level one encounter power. Acid Arrow (Melf’s patent seems to have run out) is a level one daily.

Wizards don’t ever run out of fuel and start hacking with their daggers. Fighter’s don’t chop chop chop, bored by the mindless tedium. This is, to me, a good thing.

Class Features

Class features are things that don’t fit inside the basic powers framework – typically they’re special characteristics, special “exceptions” to the rules for members of that class, or a special power that is important or iconic – no paladin can choose to not have lay on hands for example, because it’s a class feature and not a power the player chooses. A great example that gets a wide range of class features is the cleric whose features include Channel Divinity, Healer’s Lore, healing word, and Ritual Casting.

  • Channel Divinity is a special sort of encounter power. Basically a cleric can channel divinity once per encounter, like any encounter power, but she has a choice of two powers: turn undead and divine fortune. She knows both, but once she uses one, she can’t use the other. There’s also a “channel divinity” feat for every deity, opening up a third choice for clerics of that god (Armor of Bahamut, Corellon’s Grace, etc.).
  • Healer’s Lore adds the cleric’s Wisdom modifier to all healing prayers. The reason this is a feature, instead of a direct component of all cleric healing prayers, is that it is possible (through multiclassing and a few other means) to pick up a power from another class. Thus, if a fighter learns one of the cleric’s healing abilities, he still isn’t as good a healer as she is because of this feature.
  • Healing Word is another special encounter power all clerics get. Basically it’s a minor heal, that’s usable twice per encounter. Three times at 16th level.
  • Ritual Casting is a feat that clerics get for free. Rituals are a whole other bag of worms, which I may discuss some other day.

So, there’s the nuts-n-bolts of the character class system. It takes some getting used to, there’s no denying that. Fighters seem more like wizards and wizards seem more like fighters than ever before. But, at the same time, it puts everyone on a baseline. Fireball and cleave, for the first time ever, are both operating with the same underlying mechanic. Game balance may not be sexy, but it makes the whole game better.

Next time on DS4e, I’ll start digging my teeth into the character classes themselves. I’ll be starting with the easy ones – divine and martial, and maybe primal. See you then.