first things first: this wasn't what i expected when they first started shilling it. i thought it was going to be a breakdown of mechanics on current races, a sort of nuts & bolts behind the scene. it isn't. i'm not mad about it, but that isn't what this is. instead it is entirely a fourth edition preview: it could have been clearer. as it stands only a tiny little banner on the corner says that. whatever, by now everyone is probably hip to it via scuttlebutt, but a better title would have been nice. that is all i'm saying. the other subject i want to deal with here, before i get into the gristle, is getting your audience to pay for advertising. now, i don't care, personally; if people are interested, & you have that vehicle to disseminate the information, then no problem. at the end of the day, though, twenty dollars is a heck of a lot of money to spend on something devoid of later use. i guess you could cut out the art & make a collage. you could do that.
so lets get into it, shall we? i'm excited about a new edition. dnd is the most visible face of the hobby, which makes it the flagship by default. it is due for a make over- i think we've got plenty of "lessons learned," & it shows. so without any further ado, let me just sort of flip though this thing & toss off a couple of first impressions. first: races. ready? set? go. human weakness. corruptibility is whatever. i actually really liked the human build in third edition. rather than the boring old "no pluses, no minuses," it actually had adaptability built right in. keen! i like the humans being dealt with that way, being sort of "special" in the racial mechanics. i hope that isn't lost, but at the same time, who can say, with this "flaw" thing. maybe it is just a general idea, a story angle, & nothing more. oh, speaking of weaknesses, apparently the dwarf's is "racism?" or at least there is a blurb in there about how immigrants (orcs) are trying to just steal the fruits of the hard working honest dwarves, moving in, dropping property values. shame to see that.
there are a couple of newbies to the table; some newer than others. i'm excited to see tieflings make it to the core rules. they've carved out a niche in dnd all of their own: i like when the mythology of dnd is self-created & not just lifted (though i'm not saying lifting is bad by any means! quite the contrary!). i don't like that they are giving tieflings a "standard look." that really takes away part of the fun. & anyhow, what is so diabolical about a fat dragon tail? no, i'll be ignoring that, thank you very much. the other race is fresh for the new edition (or mostly fresh): dragonborn. oh....kay. i'm going to have a hard time with this, i think. i'm not totally closed off to the idea. it is a little bit...cheese? video game? high magic? something, for my taste. it doesn't hurt that races of the dragon was a stinker. no good! & that the spawn of tiamat....sucked. then again, i need to remind myself that there have been cool dragon-people in dnd; think of the draconians! anyhow, these guys are a cipher for now; we'll see how it goes. oh, & eladrins. i like that they are just high elves with a fancy name. i'm okay with those guys.
there are a few blurbs about guys who are going to be coming later. gnomes is on that pile. i'll tell you what: it was only last year that i came around on gnomes. i totally see why there is a question about them. our group just focused on them as the most magical race. they so are. i really like the direction paizo is going in their pathfinder books: one of the simple things they've done is to give gnomes day-glo hair. you know, a tiny little guy with electric blue hair & purple eyes is totally different than a halfling. i recommend porting that over to your game, dungeon masters. i'm also interested in seeing how warforged are handled; they're a very strong concept, but totally unplayable in their current incarnation. or at least, totally broken. i would like to see them a little bit more generic, too: automatons of all stripe are interesting. then there are drow: i like the reduction of elves to the three base races. that...is all i really have to say about that.
one thing that really stands out to me is the art direction, & the attention paid to it: you've got discussions on how humans as the youngest race still use representational art while the other races are more abstract, you've got essays on how to deal with dwarven women (the answer: piles & piles of hair. i like it. elegant), you have talk about alphabets & their design, on weapon design (making tiefling swords all ridiculous high fantasy is okay with me. making things like that an indicator of alieness is smart).
i worry about one thing. history. many of the races (the humans, the dragonborn, especially the tieflings) have ties in with the meta-setting. now, it might just be there, just to make the story smooth, the game playable out of the box. okay. i mean, the third edition had the gods of greyhawk standard, & that didn't get in the way of anything. i just want dnd to keep with that ethos: making things generic & portable is the best way to handle it. i don't want to have to work to scrape off those serial numbers.
the classes were also really interesting, but with more mechanics being needed to really understand them, there is less to really "see." there are a number of things i've got my tail in a knot over. i mean that in a good way. first off: WARLOCKS. yay. they have been slowly growing on me ever since i was convinced to give them a second glance in kingtycoon's one-shot. the third edition incarnation is interesting & more exciting, totally balanced. promoting them to core material is a good idea, especially given the connection to tieflings. i'm very pleased. on top of that, now i find out they are adding some of the flavor of tome of magic? i saw "vestiges" & i got all a-flutter. very exciting!
besides that, you've got hints that the ranger is going in a scout direction, with skirmish; that is a good idea. i had a lot of fun with the scout class. wizards are going to have rituals, which i had already had in my last d20 game; i am curious about this "object of power" thing. it IS a shame dagger didn't make it; giving wizards an althame makes the "wizard with a dagger" schtick classic, rather than silly ("pick up a sword, idiot!" "i can't, i am not allowed!"). again, i'm concerned that it might make them specific, rather than generic, but i'm not sweating it...yet. hooking the barbarian & the druid up in the same way that the cleric & the paladin are connected is smart; making the druid the consummate shapeshifter is also really appealing. oh, & pointing out that "i rage" is a newly classic phrase is fun; i hadn't really thought about it, but it so is. i'm excited about the paladin's smite being the big part of his build; nice idea, that. i can't wait to see what is up with the warlord: everyone seems very curious, & all the playtesting i've heard coming out of wizards makes them seem very cool. swordmages? huh? show me. sorcerers? you know, the "lingering magic" description they give is...actually pretty cool. the sorcerer tosses a fireball & for the next round his body is on fire. damn. & oh, here guys, a freebie: instead of making the monk a "striker" (to use your terminology), why not make him a "controller"? why not let him run across the map & kick a group of people with a flurry of blows? how much more awesome is that?
the basic changes discussed here are also good. or sound good; too soon to weigh in totally. giving everyone powers is smart. i mean, it is a fundamentally good idea. reading shelly mazzanoble's column, when she talked about picking her at will spells, her limited spells, & her one-shot spells, i was like "huh. that...makes a lot of sense." & creating "unaligned" characters is smart as well. i wonder if it will be more like the paladin & cleric's "aura of good" class feature. there is mention of "only some monsters" being aligned; i hope they mean like, devils & angels. i can only imagine they do.
elder evils by robert j. schwalb.
whew! that was a lot. here we go with a much smaller review blurb. first things first: i sure like horrifying monsters. what i think is funny is how...low level most of these are! these aren't cr 56 hektonchire or anything crazy like that; in fact, they are mostly under cr 20. schwalb does a good thing, though, to make that the case: he makes the actual things unfightable. like, an evil moon. not a bad way to go, actually. you know, i like the signs of apocalypse, too. those would be the things i'd be more likely to get use out of; well, & the vile feats. yum. the two most charming to me are they godkilling sphere of annihilation (no kidding, really? i like that? me? that is basically my self-image. okay?) & the guy zargon. hey! that old first edition game was rehashed by kingtycoon once upon a time very memorably! i killed that guy! but it sure wasn't easy. i had to get swallowed & then i blew him up with my prismatic helm. anyhow, these are actual encounters you don't have to scrub clean; you can just pick them up & set them down in your game almost as-is. & hey, a book of campaign enders! just in time for the new edition! how lucky!