Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition

From 1d4chan
Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition
RPG published by
Wizards of the Coast
Authors Monte Cook
Chris Perkins
First Publication 2009
Essential Books Dungeon Master's Guide
Player's Handbook
Monster Manual
Player's Handbook 2
Player's Handbook 3
Monster Manual 2
Monster Manual 3
Dungeon Master's Guide 2
Heroes of the Fallen Lands
Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms
Heroes of the Feywild
Heroes of the Elemental Chaos

The fourth edition of Dungeons & Dragons, the most controversial edition of the system. Replaced 3rd edition, then superseded by D&D 5e.


The setting of 4e is highly abstract and designed to give the DM a relatively blank canvas to paint on. This default setting consists of a wild sort-of-medieval landscape in which isolated human and demihuman communities (Points of Light) struggle to survive after the fall of a greater empire. This provides an explanation for the large areas of wilderness and many ruins for monsters to hide in, and the need for adventurers as opposed to more regulated militias. Despite what you might think, this design style is actually pretty old; it's basically the style that old-school Greyhawk, the Forgotten Realms and "generic" AD&D embraced as their core... if you're familiar with Keep on the Borderlands, you've basically got the core idea of 4e's base setting down pat.

The "ground" setting of 4e has become known as the Nentir Vale, after the particular region of the World used for most official non-planar adventure modules.

The Great Wheel cosmology, present in 2e and 3e since popularized by Planescape, has been replaced by a new metaphysical cosmology, known as the World Axis. This multiverse follows a more Classical/Norse mythology-based approach to the planes, dividing existence up into the World (what used to be the Prime Material), the Feywild (Land of Faerie), the Shadowfell (Land of the Dead), the Astral Sea (Realm of Gods, World of Spirit), the Elemental Chaos (Font of Creation), and Far Realm. Advice is given on how to reset the cosmology back to the Great Wheel in the Manual of the Planes.

The DMG contains an extensive section explaining the tropes of the setting and how they might be used, and also suggesting ways in which the DM can deviate from them to make the setting his own.

Perhaps the biggest difference from, say, Greyhawk or Forgotten Realms is that PoLand has very much shaken off Gygax's beloved "humanocentric" approach to setting design. Demihuman and beastfolk races aren't off lurking in dungeons or skulking around ancient ruins, but vibrant and active parts of the setting. Some of the setting's greatest empires were founded by dragonborn (Arkhosia), tieflings (Bael Turath), minotaurs (Ruul) and hobgoblins, whilst there are still thriving demihuman dominated settlements everywhere, especially if you go to other planes. The setting encourages you to play whatever you want and builds a world where you don't have to always be human.

One of the things that poses the biggest hassle to get over when trying to approach the setting for veterans is that 4e's core setting is very much the Mystara to 3e's Greyhawk - there are similarities, and even some retained legacy lore, but it's fundamentally approached as an entirely different universe with its own unique lore; no Celestials, no racial pantheons, Metallic Dragons aren't Always Good, etc. Despite some misconceptions (or confusion with the 4e Forgotten Realms), this isn't intended as a retcon.

Old-School Nods[edit]

Whilst 4e aggressively asserted its identity as a brand new edition in terms of both fluff and mechanics, a lot of older material is actually given the nod in various subtle ways, increasingly so as the edition aged and became more confident with its basic identity.

Roles stem from the AD&D archetypical party, as explained below.

The rules for Hybrid Classing, introduced in the PHB 3, are actually a surprisingly well-handled translation of the original AD&D Multiclassing rules - in comparison to 3e & 5e's multiclassing mechanics, which actually have their roots in AD&D's Dual-Classing system.

Dragon Magazine #418 actually brought back several ancient monsters that 3e had passed over; the Decapus, the Magen, the Rhagodessa, and the Thoul. It wasn't the only article to do so, either; Dungeon Magazine #195 brought back the Dusanu, for example.

Multiple factions from Planescape returned, in the form of the Mercykillers, Sensates, Ciphers and Xaositects.

The (sadly underdeveloped) Domains of Dread articles paid homage to the original "Weekend In Hell" version of Ravenloft, with even its hardcore campaign setting fans admitting that the 4e version of the Headless Horseman Darklord was better.

Multiple famous old-school dungeon modules were said to have a place within the Nentir Vale setting. Some even received 4th edition updates; the Tomb of Horrors returned once again, whilst Dungeon Magazine ran an adaptation of the complete Against The Giants module series.

Heroes of the Elemental Chaos revived the idea of the Urdunnir, a long-forgotten species of earth elemental dwarves.


Nearly every roll consists of making a single d20 roll, plus a modifier, against a target number. Saving throws have been replaced with Defenses that work like AC; the term 'Saving Throw' now refers to a 55% (DC 10) roll every turn to recover from a persistent effect.

Gameplay is divided into encounters. The GM selects monsters and traps up to a total experience value as recommended for the size of the party, and the encounter plays out as a tactical miniatures game. Non-combat encounters consist of "skill challenges", where skill checks (sometimes of multiple types) are made in sequence. XP is awarded for non-combat challenges and quests, as well as for combat encounters.

Each character can take one standard action (such as an attack), one move action, one minor action, and any number of free actions per turn. Each character also gets one immediate interrupt or immediate reaction per round, which may be used outside of the regular turn order. Generally each character will use their standard action to make use of an attack power. Characters are highly specialized as noted above, and fit into combat roles of controller (status effect and mass-attack focused), defender (durability and counter-attack focused), leader (buffing and healing focused), and striker (single target damage focused).

Characters level up from level 1 to 30; with the scope of the game changing every ten levels. Levels 1 to 10 consist of battling localised threats eventually scaling to national threats. Levels 11 to 20 consist of battling national threats that eventually scale to world-wide threats. Levels 21 to 30 consist of battling world-wide threats that scale to multi-versal threats. At 30 characters are expected to undergo some form of apotheosis, effectively becoming demi-gods or equivalent in power.

All-in-all, 4e has been compared to vidya like World of Warcraft and all that shit, which shouldn't necessarily be a bad thing if it wasn't oddly stiffing in a mild way. Order of the Stick summed this up perfectly in their limited edition Dragon Magazine book; the 4e team relies on spacing and managing cooldowns and per-battle abilities, while the 3.5 team just blows all their gold and spell slots on as many game-breaking potions and spells as they want before standing atop a hill and whoring the fuck out of arrows and magic traps.

4e vs. WoW[edit]

Although comparing 4e to World of Warcraft was the most common thing to do back in the day, in actuality, most of its "WoWish" aspects were derived from unspoken assumptions and core mechanical aspects of D&D going back throughout its history. The sourcebook "Wizards Presents: Races & Classes", a teaser book that covers a lot of the design process leading up to 4e, talks quite extensively about the process - for example, roles have always been part of D&D, ever since we had the Fighting Man, Magic User and Thief, it's just that actually thinking about what makes their combat role work and using that to avoid the tiers system of past editions was new to 4e.

The major source of "4e=WoW" comments comes from this related meme: "All 4e classes are spellcasters!" That meme stems from the core of the combat system; the AEDU System. Each character gains access to a pool of distinctive combat options as they level up, which are categorized according to their use; at-will, once per battle, or once per day - Utility powers are non-offensive powers that provide a boosting effect in some way, such as healing, gaining defense bonuses, gaining a new movement rate, teleporting, etc. The big issue is that this system is universal; all classes use these basic mechanics, in contrast to warriors using their own little pool of of subsystems for combat stunts (which were often dependent on "DM, May I?", and/or arbitrarily blocked by monster type - although so were many spells, due to higher-grade monsters typically having the "Immunity to X" trait) and everybody else using the Vancian Casting system.

This meme looks sensible on the surface, because martial exploits and caster spells do use the same basic terminology and system - a push is a push, whether you use it with a Howling Wall spell or a Body Slam attack. But it might not be that simple. Whilst martial classes having fantastical techniques that are limited by a cool down period is indeed a famous aspect of the Warcraft games, stemming all the way back to their RTS days, it has precedent in D&D even before then. Beyond the immediate comparison of the Barbarian and its Rage ability, it goes all the way back to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, where Rangers, Paladins and various Fighter kits all had special tricks they could only do so often. The main differences are that, one, even Mages (with high STR) ought to be able to do simple things such as a push, as opposed to it being a "magical" class-locked ability, and the fact that the "martial arts/stances/tricks" get very fantastical, bordering on outright magical, as opposed to the more grounded (if still not strictly realistic) stunts of the old editions. Another point on comparing martial exploits to magical spells is that their outcomes are intentionally designed to reflect different themes; you don't have fighters throwing lightning bolts (unless they have a magic weapon that lets them do that) or teleporting (unless they have a magic item that lets them do that), whilst you don't have wizards body-slamming people off of their feet, grabbing them as a human shield, or stabbing them deep and twisting so they start bleeding out (which is, as stated earlier, partially quite odd, as overtly simple things like a body-slam might be something that anyone can do). So, it's an understandable perception.

Part of the problem, of course, is that 4e has a very distinct "Action Fantasy" basic genre assumption, in comparison to the Low Fantasy/Sword & Sorcery/Realism assumption of earlier editions. Whereas the "presumed archetype" for an AD&D or 3e fighter was something like a grizzled but realistic man-at-arms, 4e's "presumed archetype" for a martial character is something more along the lines of Hercules, Cu Chulainn or, well, pretty much any Shonen anime hero. This was an an intentional part of the design for 4e, since the edition was crafted from the ground up to avoid the Linear Warriors, Quadratic Wizards trope and the resultant placing of martials so low on the Tier System. When one guy's skill-set is "swing sword like a real-world trained warrior" and the other's skill-set is "fuck reality like a nympho slut", balance kind of falls apart.

Another element that invites comparison to WoW is the very unusual healing system. In past editions, healing magic was exclusively the province of the cleric and healing potions, although it broadened out in 3e with things like bards having access to Cure spells and Wands or Scrolls of Cure Wounds being added to the game. In 4e, a system was ported over from Star Wars D20 Saga Edition: Second Wind. Once per battle, a character could dig deep and find a reserve of vitality to keep soldiering on despite their wounds, action movie protagonist style. This was reflected as a boost of hit points and a +2 bonus to all defenses for a turn. But 4e didn'tstop there. It added a whole new subsystem: Healing Surges. In essence, these represented the "spare lifeforce" that a PC has available; the vast majority of healing type powers or effects in the game have the rider that they consume one or more Healing Surges as a side effect - if no Healing Surges are left to spend as fuel, then no healing takes place. Basically? A 4e character is limited in how many times per day it can have a healing effect applied to them, whereas in previous editions characters could be healed as often as there was healing magic free to spend. It also didn't help that aside from some specific circumstances, you would have to forgo a turn you could have spent actually hitting the enemy to get this healing.

Many anti-4e reports portray all 4e classes as being able to heal themselves as much as they like, at will, because of this Healing Surge system. Which is... not exactly true? Outside of the universal 2nd Wind system, there is a wide class-by-class variability in how much access a given character can tap into their Healing Surge stockpile. Generally speaking, only Defenders (whose core combat role is based around being the front-line warrior, so they are expected to have some level of action movie protag style "shake off the wounds and keep going" tankiness) or Leaders (whose core combat role is aiding other characters) have access to powers that key off of Healing Surges - the former spending Healing Surges to bolster themselves, the latter being able to consume their ally's Healing Surges to heal or otherwise augment them. In comparison, Strikers and Controllers generally have no ability to use their Healing Surges for healing and instead depend on the presence of Leaders or magic items to heal them if they need help.

Two examples of this from the first PHB are the "Iron Warrior" power for Fighters and the "Death Ward" power for Paladins - both are Defenders, but the latter has a dash of Leader in it, reflecting the traditional access to low-level cleric spells. "Iron Warrior" can be used once per day; the Fighter regains healing surge value (1/4th maximum HP, rounded down) Hit Points, plus a further 2d6 + Constitution modifier hit points, and gets to make a saving throw against a "save ends" type effect laid on them. It's flavored as the Fighter being just too tough and stubborn to die, despite the beating they've taken - which is playing on the Fighter's general "action hero" flavor that it has in 4e. "Death Ward", in comparison, can be used once per day on a dying companion; the Paladin burns a healing surge, but their companion regains 1/2 their maximum HP, plus bonus HP equal to the paladin's Charisma modifier. It's flavored as... well, a variant on the old Paladin ability to Lay on Hands. Both powers are Daily types - they can't be used again until the character completes a 6 hour rest. And neither is accessible until you reach level 16. Hardly the "at-will healing" that many anti-4e trolls will claim all classes have; but, it still means that all classes - just to varying degrees - have access to their own, "magical", healing. Not to mention that, even if that is played off as "it's not on all the time forever" (which is fair enough - it isn't), it's both still something that can be considered a problem (if a limited one), and also - if playing off of the "different classes use their healing surges for different things" - it goes right back to to all classes being spellcasters, as it then just becomes another word/function for "mana" or "power points". Now, all classes have "healing surges" that they can use for "special abilities", or; all classes have "mana" that they can use to "cast spells".

But this argument will probably never die, because it's an easy target to attack for anybody who doesn't like 4th edition. Even Art & Arcana, a licensed WotC product covering the history of D&D up until 5th edition and providing samples of art from across its lifespan opens its chapter on 4th edition by describing elements of its design as being "influenced by MMOs".


Arguably one of the biggest class-based mechanical changes in 4e was the introduction of Roles. Whilst often compared to World of Warcraft, this actually stems from the designer team asking themselves "Okay; the iconic D&D party is a Fighting Man, a Cleric, a Magic User and a Thief - now, why is this? What does each class give to the party?"

Roles were their answer; a simple "mission statement" of what a class aims to achieve in combat. The most popular classes are always those that have a strong mission statement, and when that statement gets wobbly, then you end up with problems - hence the infamous Tier system of 3e. Roles became a defining outline for creating classes, both for the designers and the players; a clear shorthand as to what sort of stuff this class should do in order to meaningfully contribute to a battle. Roles also allowed for a divorce of sorts between what a character did (role) and how they did it (power source), allowing for characters to engage in certain types of actions without being tied to a particular archetype. This is especially notable with the Leader role, which allowed for skilled healers that weren't divine spellcasters (in core 3rd edition, the only non-divine healer was the Bard, who wasn't a full caster).

Defenders are the "tanks" of the party. A defender's job is to keep the party alive by intercepting enemies and keeping them away from the squishier members of the group. To this end, WoTC decided that a proper defender should not just be capable of taking hits, but they should also be "sticky"; they needed some way to mechanically encourage enemies to not want to get away from the defender, and to punish them if they did - what good's a fighter if the enemy just shoves past them, taking a hit in the process, and proceeds to whomp the wizard? Each defender has their own unique way of pulling off this stickiness; the common Fighter is more focused on pouncing on enemies that try to back off, whilst the Swordmage is more of a hit-and-run character, since they can punish "fleeing" enemies from a range. All of them have some way to enforce "marks" on an enemy, a sort of means of catching the enemy's attention so that they have a harder time targeting anyone else.

Strikers are the "critical hitters" of the party. Opportunist attackers, strikers specialize in dealing out lots of damage to opportune targets. They usually can't take so much damage, but they can bring down big foes quick, which is their job. These are second-line warriors, working in tandem with defenders when done well; the defender's the anvil, the striker's the hammer. All strikers have some unique way to boost up their damage against an individual target, such as the iconic Rogue sneak attack.

Leaders are the "supporters" of the party. They focus on aiding the other party members, be it by healing, granting extra opportunities, buffing, etc. What makes them different to the "healbot" cleric of editions past is that WoTC noted a lot of people complained that whilst clerics were useful, they were often boring. So, leaders were designed to have "double-duty" powers; abilities that would help the rest of the party and still let them get stuck into the fray. Leaders tend to have at least one class feature that lets them provide a passive boost to their allies - for example, the Warlord has the Commanding Presence feature, a subclass-based boost to any ally who spends an action point.

Controllers are the "tacticals" of the party. They manipulate the overall flow of battle, specializing in winnowing out weaker foes (mowing down minions with Fireball, for example), impeding stronger foes, and in manipulating the battlefield to force enemies to make hard decisions that benefit the party. Controllers don't tend to have any unifying class features; their ability to alter the battlefield and blast large groups comes from their AEDU System powers more than anything.

It bears repeating that Roles do not apply outside of combat. They measure your tactical contributions/combat specialty in the party during a fight, and that's all. The player with a Leader type class does NOT have to be the party's meta-game leader unless the party wants them to be. It is perfectly acceptable, if not encouraged, to set up interesting contrasts between a character's Role and their personality. For example, the snooty, supremacist aristocratic elf warlord whose tactical genius can't be denied, but who is such an asshole that the party only keeps him around because he's useful in a fight, and certainly doesn't let him dictate what they should be doing outside of battle.


As everyone knows, alignment is one of D&D's oldest raging arguments for which no peace can be given, right up there alongside "do dwarf women have beards?", and more virtual and literal ink has been spilled talking about the "proper" definition of alignment and how it interacts with classes that have mandated alignment requirements. To this end, 4e made two rather deep cuts to the sacred cow:

First, classes would no longer have alignment restrictions of any kind. Bards, barbarians, and bardbarians could be lawful, monks could be chaotic, and paladins could be whatever alignment they damn well pleased without losing all their class features. This got some murmuring at first, but it eventually died down, hence its survival into next edition. After all, at least one campaign setting had similarly relaxed many of these rules, and it didn't immediately collapse from there.

Second, and much more controversially, the design team stripped out more than half of the existing alignments, collapsing together "chaotic and neutral good" into just "good," "lawful and neutral evil" into just "evil," and all three neutral alignments into "unaligned." Their arguments for these were, essentially, that the existing alignment system promoted debate and hurt feelings, and that a certain stratum of player saw these alignments as straitjackets restricting characterization rather than tools through which to understand it. And it hearkened back to the very olden days, when alignment was a spectrum instead of a grid, thus: Law - Good - Neutral - Evil - Chaos.

It should be added here that there was some justification for doing this, although it was done rather poorly. Chaotic good was always a slippery alignment to get right (you usually wound up with somebody who was much more chaotic than good, or much more good than chaotic) so collapsing it together with neutral good into a unified alignment of "cares about doing the right thing without necessarily following the rules slavishly" helps ease the problem, and if you're removing that, why not go for the poorly defined line between lawful evil and neutral evil as well, since both similarly often seemed to end up in the same pot of "evil, but has some personal rules about it"? Lawful good and chaotic evil, on the other hand, both had their own very well defined identities completely separate from generic "good" and "evil"; lawful good had specific definitions of what "good" was, which the other "good" alignments did not, while ordinary evil does evil for self-interest rather than pleasure, as chaotic evil supposedly did. On top of that it can charitably be seen as a return to the original Alignments before they were expanded into a system in AD&D back in the days were Gygax had the PC's be on the side of law and order against the evil chaos of monsters

Everything might have worked better if they left in the lawful neutral and chaotic neutral alignments as "lawful" and "chaotic" (both of which had much firmer identities than neutral good and neutral evil). But, there was a complication: "chaotic neutral" is one of the most famous problematic sacred cows in the alignment system, infamous for being abused by the same sort of "LULSORANDUMB" players who give Malkavians a bad name, treated as "carte blanche" to do whatever the fuck the player wanted without actually writing "evil" on their character sheet, or otherwise used to enable anti-social, anti-group behavior behind alignment as a shield. Indeed, many suspect that this whole process was initially kicked off by a desire to remove "chaotic neutral" from the alignment system altogether for exactly this reason.

Unfortunately, this was very much a "trying to please everyone, and succeeding in pleasing no one" scenario. People who liked the old alignment system hated the new one, seeing it, fairly or unfairly (and there are some eloquent defenses of it in the PHB) as a dumbed-down, stripped down version of the old one, tearing out more than half the options and leaving nothing to really replace them. People who hated the old alignment system continued to be unhappy with this one, since it was, after all, still an alignment system, only with even fewer options. And even the people who liked it (for indeed, the fractious nature of alignment-based discussions all-but guarantees there are people who see no difference between neutral and chaotic good, or lawful and chaotic neutral) got to get blasted by the heat of the raging flame war this choice unleashed.

Worse, a setting that was somewhat-popular with the indie crowd that liked using the game to explore ideas more than actually playing it was pretty-tightly tied to the traditional alignment system, and completely-revamping the entire alignment grid from the ground up necessitated plucking it up by the roots after the last edition had instead been content to subject it to malign neglect. And a variety of traditionally-friendly monsters were revamped into evil-or-at-least-dickish ones under the internally-consistent-but-externally-dubious logic that everything in the Monster Manual should exist to get killed, and putting in monsters that don't was just wasting everyone's time, leading to accusations that the alignment system was drastically revamped primarily to justify putting "it's okay to kill this, really" alignments next to as many critters as possible.

It was ultimately undone in the transition back to 5e, along with several of the changes to the setting cosmology 4e made, and, as with many 4e design choices, leaves the impression that, perhaps, the design team's vision might have been better served by just abandoning the old D&D system of alignment altogether rather than trying to tie it to the property.

Character Generation[edit]

Chargen is simplified compared to 3rd Edition (although still time consuming). Skills are all-or-nothing, you either have training in them or you don't. The core of character generation for 4e, in many ways, is the AEDU System, a universal mechanic for handling class combat options. This results in intimidating large lists of potential options that players need to check, but for newcomers, it is fairly easy to break things up into just the options they need to pick between.

Other unique aspects of Chargen for this edition was the system of the Paragon Path and the Epic Destiny. This was then supplemented by the optional system of the Theme (see below).


The races of PHB 2. People were upset that the Gnome and Half-Orc were not in the core book.

Level Adjustment, Favored Class and the concept of negative ability scores are all out the window in 4th edition. 4e goes for a "accentuate the positive" design methodology, and embraced what TVTropes calls the "Square Race, Round Class" trope - now you could experiment with unconventional race/class combos and you wouldn't be crippling yourself in the process. Your racial traits would align better with some classes than others, but still, you would never be outright terrible at a given class unless you deliberately made yourself crippled. Even the Monster Manual races, whilst maybe not AS powerful as a Player's Handbook race, would still be competitive, they just wouldn't have the bounty of racial feats and Paragon Paths that PHB races did.

Races in 4e followed a simple but robust formula:

  • +2 to two different Ability Scores. Certain races play with this mechanic, and from the 3rd PHB onwards, it was retconned that all PC races without unique Ability Score modifiers instead used the formula of +2 to one ability score, +2 to one of two ability scores" - Tieflings, for example, started out with a mandatory +2s in Charisma and Intelligence, and then were erratated so they could choose to boost either Intelligence or Constitution instead.
  • A racial speed, measured in "squares" (which amount to 5 foot per square, so a "Speed 6 squares" character can move 30 feet per round).
  • Size, which is pretty much identical to 3e, but with fewer bonuses/penalties inherent to specific sizes, so Small PCs were no longer quite as handicapped.
  • Vision - distinct vision ranges were dropped in this edition, so you simply had normal vision, low-light vision, or darkvision, and they tried to reduce the presence of darkvision as much as possible.
  • +2 to two different skills
  • At least one, and usually more, racial features; these are "ribbons", a vast array of passive traits, such as a bonus to one of your Non Armor Defenses or an attack bonus against Bloodied creatures.
  • A racial Encounter power, using the AEDU system - this trait was particularly malleable, with many races putting their own unique spins on it; humans, for example, get a bonus at-will for their class instead, whilst half-elves can select an at-will power from a separate class and use it 1/encounter.

The race selection was hugely controversial; responding to letters and forum posts indicating a general lack of a fanbase for gnomes and half-orcs, WotC chose to leave those races out of the 4e PHB, instead replacing them with a new race, the Dragonborn, and the Tieflings, one of the most popular "monstrous" races in 3rd edition. This added to the shit-storm from the PHB's release, even though both races were soon released afterwards in the 2nd PHB - and were usually begrudgingly acknowledged as having fixed a lot of their traditional problems.

By the end of 4th edition, the race list had grown as vast as any other edition before it. For the full array, see here.


4th edition's classes changed enormously, and were without a doubt the most controversial aspect of the edition. This is due to all classes prior to the release of Essentials being built around the AEDU System.

A class has the following traits:

  • Role: As described above, this covers your combat role; Defender, Leader, Striker or Controller.
  • Power Source: Describes the origin of your class's power; Martial characters rely on physical training, Divine characters call upon godly might, Primal characters commune with the Primal Spirits, Psionics use the power of their minds, Arcane characters perform general magic. This is mostly a flavor thing, although there are a rare few mechanical options locked behind power source, mostly the odd feat, Paragon Path or Epic Destiny.
  • Key Abilities: Describes what Ability Scores your class most relies on.
  • Armor Proficiencies
  • Weapon Proficiencies
  • Implement: Certain classes use special items to "focus" their powers, mostly casters. Implement describes just what that is, such as the Cleric and her Holy Symbol.
  • Bonus to Defense: All classes increase one of their Non Armor Defenses by +2.
  • Hit Points gained at 1st level
  • Hit Points gained at level up
  • Healing Surges per Day
  • Trained Skills
  • Class Features

Additionally, every class comes with "Build Options", which are basically little guidelines to the precise selection of features, powers, feats, races, etc to make a solid, functioning "archetypical" example of that character, such as the sword & board fighter.

Compared to classes in other editions, 4e classes are hugely front-loaded; whereas classes in other editions follow a paradigm of "gain X class feature at level Y", 4e classes gain all of their features at first level (although they do retain the aforementioned level-locked paradigm for Paragon Paths and Epic Destinies). The difference is that 4e classes have relatively few features, averaging about three or four. One of these features, and sometimes more, is always "modular", presenting a player with options to choose from that fundamentally affect the way the class plays. For example, the Fighter has the feature "Fighter Weapon Talent", which can either grant them a +1 attack bonus with either two-handed or one-handed weapons, or it can be traded for alternate features like Battlerager Vigor, Tempest Technique, or Brawler Style, each of which has a very different effect. The Wizard, meanwhile, has the feature "Arcane Implement Mastery", where they can choose one specific kind of implement and gain special bonuses whilst using that specific implement.

Character versatility is predominantly carried out through the AEDU System. The vast array of different powers gives each PC their own specific set of tricks to use, so two members of the same race and class will play in very different manners. To try and avoid the problem of overwhelming players with options, similar to complaints about the book-keeping needed for casters in previous editions, PC characters have a very small set of powers, gaining new power "slots" as they level up, until they reach their maximum power set (ignoring the bonus powers granted by a Paragon Path and an Epic Destiny) at level 10, which consists of: 2 At-Will powers and 3 each for Encounter powers, Daily powers, and Utility powers. From the Paragon tier (11th level) onwards, leveling up allows a player to replace their weakest power with a power from their new level - for example, at level 13, you replace your now outdated and weak 1st level Encounter power with a 13th level one. This system of dropping powers as you level is controversial, but does keep the book keeping down, as it's a matter of replacing your powers and not just expanding the list.

At 11th level and 21st level, respectively, a player picks up a Paragon Path and an Epic Destiny, which further cements the kind of character they want to play and grants bonus class features and powers to match that theme.

The (Power Source) Power splatbooks provided new powers, variant class features, paragon paths and epic destinies, and were essential to fleshing out the player's options array; it's telling that the weakest of the AEDU System classes were the Rune Priest and the Seeker, who never had the chance to get options beyond their default 2 class feature variants and 3 paragon paths because they were released after their power splats and relied on Dragon Magazine for covering up holes.

...And then along came Essentials, and made things way more complicated! Based on the idea of Variant Classes, Essentials classes can be found and described here.

4e Classes table
  Leader Defender Striker Controller
Martial Warlord Fighter Ranger
Divine Cleric
Paladin Avenger Invoker
Arcane Bard
Swordmage Warlock
Primal Shaman Warden Barbarian Druid
Psionic Ardent Battlemind Monk Psion
Shadow Assassin

Classes from the second PHB are:

  • Avenger (Role: Striker, Power Source: Divine)
  • Barbarian (Role: Striker, Power Source: Primal)
  • Bard (Role: Leader, Power Source: Arcane)
  • Druid (Role: Controller, Power Source: Primal)
  • Invoker (Role: Controller, Power Source: Divine)
  • Shaman (Role: Leader, Power Source: Primal)
  • Sorcerer (Role: Striker, Power Source: Arcane)
  • Warden (Role: Defender, Power Source: Primal)

Classes added in the third PHB are:

  • Ardent (Role: Leader, Power Source: Psionic)
  • Battlemind (Role: Defender, Power Source: Psionic)
  • Monk (Role: Striker, Power Source: Psionic)
  • Psion (Role: Controller, Power Source: Psionic)
  • Runepriest (Role: Leader, Power Source: Divine)
  • Seeker (Role: Controller, Power Source: Primal)

Classes in other books include:

  • Artificer (Role: Leader, Power Source: Arcane) from the Eberron Campaign Guide
  • Assassin (Role: Striker, Power Source: Shadow) from Dragon Magazine 379
  • Swordmage (Role: Defender, Power Source: Arcane) from the Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide
  • Vampire (Role: Striker, Power Source: Shadow) from Heroes of Shadow

Essentials added new, simplified "subclasses" for every every class in multiple different sourcebooks:

  • Bladesinger (Base Class: Wizard, Role: Controller, Power Source: Arcane) from the Neverwinter Campaign Setting
  • Binder (Base Class: Warlock, Role: Controller, Power Source: Shadow) from Heroes of Shadow
  • Blackguard (Base Class: Paladin, Role: Striker, Power Source: Divine) from Heroes of Shadow
  • Executioner (Base Class: Assassin, Role: Striker, Power Source: Martial) from Heroes of Shadow
  • Sha'ir (Base Class: Wizard, Role: Controller, Power Source: Arcane) from Heroes of Elemental Chaos
  • Elementalist (Base Class: Sorcerer, Role: Striker, Power Source: Arcane) from Heroes of Elemental Chaos
  • Mage (Base Class: Wizard, Role: Controller, Power Source: Arcane) from Heroes of the Fallen Lands
  • Knight (Base Class: Fighter, Role: Defender, Power Source: Martial) from Heroes of the Fallen Lands
  • Warpriest (Base Class: Cleric, Role: Leader, Power Source: Divine) from Heroes of the Fallen Lands
  • Thief (Base Class: Rogue, Role: Striker, Power Source: Martial) from Heroes of the Fallen Lands
  • Slayer (Base Class: Fighter, Role: Striker, Power Source: Martial) from Heroes of the Fallen Lands
  • Witch (Base Class: Wizard, Role: Controller, Power Source: Arcane) from Heroes of the Feywild
  • Protector (Base Class: Druid, Role: Controller, Power Source: Primal) from Heroes of the Feywild
  • Berserker (Base Class: Barbarian, Role: Defender and Striker, Power Source: Martial) from Heroes of the Feywild
  • Skald (Base Class: Bard, Role: Leader, Power Source: Arcane) from Heroes of the Feywild
  • Hunter (Base Class: Ranger, Role: Controller, Power Source: Martial) from Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms
  • Cavalier (Base Class: Paladin, Role: Defender, Power Source: Divine) from Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms
  • Sentinel (Base Class: Druid, Role: Leader, Power Source: Prime) from Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms
  • Hexblade (Base Class: Warlock, Role: Striker, Power Source: Arcane) from Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms
  • Scout (Base Class: Ranger, Role: Striker, Power Source: Martial) from Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms


Themes are a mechanic added late in 4e's lifecycle with the release of the 4e version of Dark Sun. In basic concept, they can be likened to AD&D's kits or 5e's backgrounds; they're a defining character background element that is taken as an option at character creation, granting options based on the Theme chosen - sort of a Heroic tier version of the Paragon Path or Epic Destiny. The idea spun out of early experiments in "prestige classes" for D&D 4e, with things like the feat-based dhampyr race and the multiclassing based Spellscarred "motif".

In fact, themes underwent a revision, so there are two distinct mechanical styles.

The first version debuted in the 4e Dark Sun Campaign Setting slatbook; this version provides the player with a bonus theme-based Encounter Attack power, and the option to take theme attack and utility powers, which contained built-in "upgraded" versions to replace them at higher tiers. Dark Sun "subclass themes" consist of the following:

  • Athasian Minstrel
  • Dune Trader
  • Elemental Priest
  • Gladiator
  • Noble Adept
  • Primal Guardian
  • Templar
  • Veiled Alliance
  • Wasteland Nomad
  • Wilder
  • Escaped Slave (Dragon #390, the others appeared in the DSCS splatbook)

The second version debuted in the Neverwinter Campaign Setting, a post-Essentials "subsetting" for the Forgotten Realms, and this is the version that became the default. "Neverwinter Style" themes grant the player a bonus Encounter Utility power, as well as new class features at levels 5 and 10, and an assortment of Heroic tier Encounter and Utility powers they can decide to take. This version of the theme appeared in both the aforementioned splatbook and in the subsequent Player's Option trilogy (or, at least, the Elemental Chaos and Feywild ones; they were absent from the Heroes of Shadow book), the Dungeon Survival Handbook, and the Book of Vile Darkness; it was the pages of Dragon Magazine that truly filled out the ranks of the themes.

Neverwinter Campaign Setting Themes:

  • Neverwinter Noble
  • Oghma's Faithful
  • Harper Agent
  • Dead Rat Deserter
  • Iliyanbruen Guardian
  • Pack Outcast
  • Heir of Delzoun
  • Renegade Red Wizard
  • Scion of Shadow
  • Devil's Pawn
  • Spellscarred Harbinger
  • Bregan D'aerthe Spy

Dungeon Survival Handbook Themes:

  • Bloodsworn
  • Deep Delver
  • Escaped Thrall
  • Trapsmith
  • Treasure Hunter
  • Underdark Envoy
  • Underdark Outcast

Book of Vile Darkness Themes:

  • Cultist
  • Disgraced Noble
  • Infernal Slave
  • Reaver
  • Vile Scholar

Players Option: Heroes of The Feywild Themes:

  • Fey Beast Tamer
  • Sidhe Lord
  • Tuathan
  • Unseelie Agent

Players Option: Heroes of The Elemental Chaos Themes:

  • Demon Spawn
  • Earthforger
  • Elemental Initiate
  • Friecrafter
  • Ironwrought
  • Jannissary
  • Moteborn
  • Primordial Adept
  • Watershaper
  • Windlord

Dragon Magazine Themes:

  • Alchemist (#399)
  • Animal Master (#399)
  • Order Adept (#399)
  • Wizard's Apprentice (#399)
  • Ordained Priest (#399)
  • Scholar (#399)
  • Seer (#399)
  • Chevalier (#399)
  • Guardian (#399)
  • Hospitaler (#399)
  • Noble (#399)
  • Explorer (#399)
  • Guttersnipe (#399)
  • Mercenary (#399)
  • Outlaw (#399)
  • Student of Evard (#400)
  • Gloomwrought Emissary (#400)
  • Iron Wolf Warrior (#400)
  • Fatedancer (#401)
  • Son of Alagondar (#402)
  • Seeker of Illefarn (#402)
  • Hordelands Nomad (#404)
  • Sohei (#404)
  • Samurai (#404)
  • Yakuza (#404)
  • Wild Hunt Rider (#405)
  • Oracle of the Evil Eye (#405)
  • Sariofal Feywarden (#405)
  • Callidyrr Dragoon (#405)
  • Black-Hearted Knave (#406)
  • Infernal Prince (#406)
  • White Horn Knight (#406)
  • Moon Hunter (#406)
  • Soaring Rake (#406)
  • Purple Dragon (#407)
  • Cormyrian Battle Mage (#407)
  • Sentinel Marshal (#407)
  • Brazen Ambassador (#408)
  • Chaosmade (#408)
  • Stormraider (#408)
  • Blackstaff Apprentice (#409)
  • Halaster's Clone (#409)
  • Masked Lord (#409)
  • Werebear (#410)
  • Wererat (#410)
  • Werewolf (#410)
  • Mariner (#412)
  • Bregan D'Aerthe Mercenary (#413)
  • Elderboy (#413)
  • Melee-Magthere Champion (#413)
  • Sorcere Adept (#413)
  • Drow House Priestess (#413)
  • Widow of Arach-Tinilith (#413)
  • Ooze Master (#413)
  • Secret Apostate (#413)
  • Skulker of Vhaeraun (#413)
  • Cipher (#414)
  • Sensate (#414)
  • Xaositect (#414)
  • Misshapen (#416)
  • Haunted Blade (#416)
  • Beguiler (#420)
  • Occultist (#420)
  • Ghost (#420)
  • Inquisitive (#426)
  • Courtier (#426)
  • Spy (#426)
  • Vigilante (#426)
  • Ghost of the Past (#430)
  • River Rat (#430)

D&D Essentials[edit]

D&D Essentials, also known as D&D 4.5, was a marketing ploy/systems update that came into being during the final few years of 4th edition's life. Officially released as an attempt to make a more "newbie friendly" version of 4e, and/or to appeal to players more comfortable with older editions of D&D. The system failed to do either and is widely considered amongst 4e's fanbase to have basically signed the edition's death warrant.

Essentials first appeared as a pair of Player's Handbook equivalents; "Heroes of the Fallen Lands" and "Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms", each of which offered a recap of the standard set of rules, including some errata, as well as new "simplified" versions of several pre-existing 4e classes; these variant classes consisted of the Warpriest (variant Cleric), Knight (variant Fighter), Slayer (variant Fighter), Thief (variant Rogue) and Mage (variant Wizard) in the Fallen Lands splat, and the Sentinel (variant Druid), Cavalier (variant Paladin), Hunter (variant Ranger), Scout (variant Ranger) and Hexblade (variant Warlock) in the Forgotten Kingdoms splat. Later supplements included the Protector (variant Druid), Skald (variant Bard), Witch (variant Wizard), and Berserker (variant Barbarian) from the Feywild Splat, the Elementalist (variant Sorcerer), and Sha'ir (variant Wizard) from the Elemental Chaos splat and the Blackguard (variant Paladin), Binder (variant Warlock), and Executioner (Variant Assassin) from the Shadow splat.

All of these classes tweaked the class formulas in different ways, but the basic approach of cutting down the options and removing the potentially overwhelming array of powers that the older AEDU System classes had presented remained universal. Caster classes like the Mage and Warpriest tended to be slightly more complex than martial characters like the Knight and Slayer, who tended to particularly shun the old way of doing things to focus on stances and at-will powers. Additionally, the writing method would change from the clear but impersonal "manual-like" methodology of the 4e classes to a more "natural language" style.

So, what went wrong? Several things.

Firstly, Essentials was initially marketed as a side-line; promises were made to players that the Essentials classes would consist of just their two debut books and the rest of 4e would remain in business as usual. But this turned out to be a great big lie. Books that were promised, such as the Nentir Vale gazetteer, were cancelled. Books that fans had been waiting on were replaced with more books full of Essentials content, in the form of the Heroes of Shadow, the Feywild and the Elemental Chaos trilogy. Dragon Magazine likewise focused on new Essentials-related crunch content. This left fans feeling betrayed. In addition to this, organized play sessions hosted by WoTC would only play with these, making a lot of the stuff they released completely useless.

Secondly, and just as importantly, the Essentials classes were... well, let's be blunt; they were crap. In contrast to their predecessors, the Essentials classes were unbalanced as all hell; the best of them were strong in the Heroic tier but fell behind at higher levels, whilst most just could not match up to the power of a 4e class. Their dearth of powers made them, frankly, one-note and boring by comparison. And that's not getting into their individual flaws, such as the vampire and its status as a Striker that burned up its own Healing Surges as a resource. This led to a considerable backlash from 4e fans, since they found the Essentials classes to be so much more badly designed than their predecessors.

Finally, it was really a doomed idea to begin with; those who disliked 4e were not any more inclined to try Essentials, since it still relied on the "videogamey" concepts of powers to begin alongside the "miniature wargaming" concept of tactical positioning and battlefield manipulation, while the revisions alienated actual fans of 4e as it negated what actual strengths the game had.

So, Essentials was a trainwreck that crashed into the station and leveled the whole place, forcing Wizards to throw out the baby with the bathwater. It caused a marked drop in 4e's sales, making it the first point where Pathfinder actually began to outsell 4e, and soon after 4e was cancelled and replaced with Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition. Which, if you look closely, does look an awful lot like Essentials under the hood...

In fact, it bears mentioning that WotC themselves seemed to realize that Essentials was shaping up to be a disaster, with both "Heroes of the Feywild" and "Heroes of the Elemental Chaos" releasing new classes that were more the 4e equivalent of 3e's Variant Classes than completely new classes like the "first generation" Essentials classes, but it was too little, too late.


Wizards of the Coast didn't exactly keep it secret that several of their projects before the release of 4E were actually experiments with design ideas they planned for 4th edition. Known prototypes include Tome of Battle, Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game Saga Edition, the Binder from Tome of Magic and several parts of the Magic Item Compendium. Unlike 4E, all of these products were well liked, and only the first was remotely controversial. Even the Knight from Player's Handbook II and the other 2/3rds of Tome of Magic, some less well received prototypes, were well liked concepts hampered by bad writing and balance. Truenamer's problem of getting worse as they increase in level is suspiciously similar to the problem of Page 42 however... Ritual magic as something any class can do is known to show up as early as D20 Modern Urban Arcana.

D&D 4e on /tg/[edit]

The "shit Twinkie", /tg/'s most famous reaction to 4e.

Since its announcement 4e has been a source of controversy and trolling on /tg/. Its supporters consider it to have made D&D simple and fun. Its critics have numerous objections to the system and setting, often referring to it as 'shit twinkie' (with the implication that they had been expecting a certain type of D&D goodness and sorely disappointed by what was actually delivered). More cogent arguments against 4th Edition by people tend to decry 4th over some of its perceived issues (character homogenization, signed-in-blood role enforcement, etc).

This is not surprising, given that the Dungeons & Dragons fandom on /tg/ is about as fractious as the Transformers fandom on /co/ and /toy/. This was the exact same thing that had happened when 2e switched over to 3e, it's just that A: the internet gave us a much wider sounding-board than the scattered messaging boards and mail column of Dragon Magazine did, and B: /tg/ is /tg/ and hates on everything, though not nearly to the extent of say, /v/.

However, since the release of 5th edition, /tg/'s actually gone and mellowed out a lot about 4e. The most common statement on the matter is that the calculated "nostalgia-appeal" motif of 5e makes it honestly feel a little bland compared to 4e, whilst others feel free to admit to actually enjoying 4e's mechanics now that hating on it is no longer the hip thing to do. The common sentiment is that 4e would have actually been well-received if it was presented as a standalone fantasy combat simulator, but attempting to sell it as the successor to 3e doomed it to skub. While no one is blind to its flaws as a game and as a system (the combat is still widely seen as overcooked and mathy, and the D&D elements are often perceived as not really being well married to the game that was forced to use them), it does get some posthumous credit for engaging in daring experimentation rather than playing it safe, even among people who consider the ultimate result a failure.

In perhaps a great twist of irony, Pathfinder 2e has, according to many fans, taken large bits and pieces of 4e into its own design concept. Needless to say this had led to much debate.


Though /tg/ frequently jokes that they don't actually exist, 4th has some legit fans. As hugely popular as Pathfinder was and remains, 4e actually had huge sales throughout its lifespan, only starting to slow late in its lifespan. Since the release of 5th edition, the "4erries" have become both more common and more mellow, focusing mostly on just quietly talking about what they loved and occasionally needling 5e on what they see as negative choices in development - the loss of the Warlord and reworking Gnolls into basically fuzzy demon-bred zombies first and foremost.

Of course, spending more energy on hating on another game's flaws than promoting its own virtues was arguably the original sin of 4e marketing, so... here we go again...

Beyond 4chan[edit]

4e has been growing a rather peculiar reputation in mainstream D&D culture, one of misunderstanding and hate filled bile, a few rumors have been spread about 4e among the Critical Role fans that make up a fair part of the Mainstream fandom, which have spread elsewhere, rumors like; "4e was so mechanically complex (THAC0 called, it wants its place as the most misunderstood D&D mechanic back) because they were also making a virtual tabletop to go along with it, but it never saw the light of day so we got stuck with a math heavy game never actually intended to be played with regular dice (The part about the virtual tabletop is true, but I can't find any sources to back up the claim as a whole).

It's also said to be too bloated, this is usually followed up by the amount of powers a PC gets, ignoring that a) 4e slowly paced your power progression throughout Heroic, and b) you are actually supposed to trade out your lowest leveled powers for stronger ones as you gain levels. A 30th level character has a grand total of 17* powers; 2 At-Wills, 4 Encounters, 4 Dailies, 7 Utilities, and this is literally just a single Utility power more than a 20th level character, who themselves has just +1 Encounter, Daily and Utility power over a 10th level character. Anyone remotely familiar with the Wizard or Cleric spells per day total since at least Advanced Dungeons & Dragons would laugh at calling this a "bloated" store of powers. Even in 5e, spellcasters still tend to get more spells than this, at least if they're full casters.

  • Okay, a Player's Handbook human or half-elf gets a bonus At-Will or Encounter power respectively, and a Wizard doubles their Encounter, Daily and Utility pools via their Spellbook feature (but can still only use the same 4/4/7 powers-per-day as any other class), but still, the point remains that it's a pretty small pool of powers.

This is accelerated by shit like semi-famous D&D Animator Puffin Forest giving a bunch of 4e Noobs level 8 characters because "They were experienced with other D&D Editions" and then throwing a fucking Umber Hulk and several elite monsters (elites being equal to 2 monsters of the same level) at them all while claiming he was doing the game "by the book."

See also[edit]

External Links[edit]