The Tiefling and the Gnome


Elite Bulette

The earth quivers. The ground furrows. Turning earth knocks heroes from their feet, and a mated pair of mighty bulettes bursts into their midst.

All granite-hard hide, characteristic fins, and below-ground tactics, the bulette has been a staple of D&D since the early days. Fourth Edition continues to do it honor by making it an elite monster.

Elite Monsters

Elite monsters represent a greater challenge: They count as two monsters of their level for encounter building and rewards. Elite monsters have the word “elite” preceding their level and role.

Here’s how a fight against a pair of such beasts might go:

The bulettes are underground using their burrowing movement. Even though the PCs can hear the creatures (a bulette isn’t exactly stealthy), they can’t attack until the bulettes rise to the surface.
When the bulettes go, they go mean. The first burrows shallowly through the earth under the fighter and rogue – the fighter keep his feet, but the rogue falls down and makes a good target. The bulette leaves the ground to take advantage of this and bites the poor fellow, doing some serious damage.
Bulette number two uses the same opening gambit but knocks over both the cleric and the wizard, who were next to each other. It opts to burst from the ground in a spray of packed dirt and stone. The prone heroes are easier to hit and take more damage from the wave of rocks. The fighter is also in range of the burst, but he brushes the soil aside with his shield.
The party gets to act. The rogue rises. He’s not in a position to flank, but he can still try to do some damage. He doesn’t like the look of the bulette’s heavy armor, so he tries to slip his short sword between two stony plates before the bulette can react and he draws blood.
The wizard’s in a bad spot. He probably can’t lay down an attack without provoking an opportunity attack or burning his allies, so he delays. Good thing, because the cleric places fear in the bulette’s tiny mind, which doesn’t offer much resistance. The bulette burrows away, taking an opportunity attack from the cleric before he gets underground (avoiding like attacks from the fighter and the rogue.
This gives the wizard the chance to stand and cover the bulette’s space with crackling lightning -- the monster’s bulk means it doesn’t have much chance to evade the blast and it doesn’t. The fighter follows with a good, old-fashioned heavy sword swing and gets lucky: a critical hit. The bulette isn’t looking good (it’s bloodied), but now it gets to act.
Bulette number one dives into the earth so rapidly that the heroes around it don’t get opportunity attacks. Safely in the ground, it heals some damage and then burrows under the heroes, who are now clustered close enough that the bulette can affect them all. Bulette number two follows by burrowing back into the action and bursting from the ground to rain more rocks down on the party, reminding them all that it’s time for some healing.
The battle goes on. Even though there are four heroes, it only takes two bulettes to give them a run for their money. Fourth Edition has such elite monsters because you don’t always want a straight one-on-one fight -- sometimes a monster should just be bigger, tougher, and scarier than the norm.


Magic Item Levels

The Magic Item Compendium introduced the concept of levels for magic items. This primarily served to help DMs determine what magic items to place in a treasure hoard (or to give to his NPCs). Since we built that level system around the existing magic item prices, it was an imperfect solution (for instance, a few non-epic magic items exceeded the pricing scheme for level 1-20 items).

Fourth Edition D&D improves that useful tool by explicitly linking a magic item's level to its price. For example, all 9th-level magic items now cost the same number of gp to craft or to purchase. This makes it even easier to gauge a magic item's appropriateness for your game at a glance. Don't know if it's OK to drop a flying carpet into the hands of your 9th-level PCs? Well, the fact that the carpet's listed as an 18th-level item should clue you in that it'd have an enormous impact on your 9th-level game.

Does that mean that all magic items of the same level will be equal in power? Well, yes and no.

It's true that the designer of two different 9th-level magic items imagines that they'd have a roughly equivalent impact on gameplay. A +2 thundering mace and a +2 staff of the war mage, if designed and developed properly, should be equally useful in combat. That comparison generally isn't too hard, since the basic functions and utility of combat-based effects remain relative regardless of the weapon or implement. How much extra damage does the mace deal compared to the staff? If damage isn't involved, how useful and potent are the items' effects against foes? And so on.

However, that comparison quickly becomes more art than science when comparing magic items of different purposes. (This, by the way, is why relying on hard-and-fast pricing rules for magic items is troublesome at best, and actively bad for your game at worst.) After all, most magic items only "compete" with other items in a narrow category for a character's attention, so comparing their values can be quite tricky.

For example, if a rope of climbing and a +2 flaming longsword are both 10th-level magic items (and thus both cost the same number of gold pieces), that's not quite the same thing as saying that a rope of climbing is as powerful as that weapon. After all, it's unlikely that a character has to decide between those two items -- they serve fundamentally different purposes.

It's much more likely that a character interested in a rope of climbing will compare its price to other items that let him overcome similar obstacles (such as the 7th-level slippers of spider climbing or the 13th-level boots of levitation).

Alternatively, if he's in the market for a new weapon, he would compare the value of that +2 flaming sword with the more expensive +3 vicious sword (12th level), or the slightly cheaper +2 lightning sword (9th level).

What the designer is saying, rather, is that he imagines that the effect of both the rope of climbing and the +2 flaming sword are appropriate for characters around 10th level. A few levels before that, either item would have a much more significant impact on gameplay (possibly by making certain spells or powers of the characters obsolete). More than a few levels after that, either item will have lost a lot of its luster -- maybe because more characters have easy access to levitation, flight, or even short-range teleportation effects, in the case of the rope of climbing, or because they're all toting around +3 or better weapons, making the flaming sword seem underpowered.

Ultimately, assigning levels to magic items sends a message to players and DMs: Here's when this item is most appropriate for your game. Once that information is in your hands, of course, it's up to you to use it as best befits your game!


Paladin Smites

Smite -- since before 900 CE this word or some very similar Old or Middle English ancestor has meant, "That's going to leave a mark." In the first two editions of Dungeons & Dragons, smite was merely an interesting word used by folks laying down the smack. In my formative gaming years, a player of mine named Erol used to call his halfling paladin's reversed cure light wounds, smites. (Actually he was just a post-Unearthed Arcana fighter/cleric, but he called the character a paladin -- I was not farsighted enough just to let him play a paladin.) I think he just liked yelling "I smite the foul beast!" in that annoying high-pitched kid voice he used to play Sir Lore. (Yes, that's Erol's own name spelled backward in true high-Gygaxian fashion).

With the release of 3rd Edition, Erol's wildest dreams came true. Not only were halflings allowed to be true paladins, smite officially entered the paladin's toolbox. Sure, it was once a day. Sure, it wasn't nearly as good as you wanted it to be sometimes, but smites were promoted from verb to mechanic.

In 4th Edition, D&D smites really come into their own. Now a subset of the paladin's renewable (read, encounter-recharge) powers, smites allow a paladin to deliver a powerful blow with the character's weapon of choice, while layering on some divine effect (and I mean that in both meanings of the word) on allies or enemies. A divine defender, much of the paladin's smites are all about kicking the crap out of those they find anathema while ensuring that foes who want to hurt enemies have a harder time at it. Take, as exhibit one, safeguard smite:

Safeguard Smite
Paladin 1
Encounter • Weapon
Standard Action
Melee weapon
Target: One creature
Attack: Charisma vs. AC
Hit: 2x[W] + Cha.
Hit or Miss: An ally within 5 squares gains a bonus to AC equal to your Wisdom modifier until the end of your next turn.

This basic, entry-level smite has all the things a growing paladin needs to fulfill its role and lay down some hurt. A Charisma attack against the target's Armor Class, safeguard smite deals double her base weapon's damage plus her Charisma modifier in damage (paladins are a force of personality, after all), and grants a quick boost to an ally in trouble (including, in a pinch, the paladin herself). And there you have it. Your first smite -- simple, serviceable, and fun.

As your paladin progresses as a defender of the faith, smites, like all of your abilities, grow in power and utility. But unlike its defender cousin, the fighter, a paladin is more than just the guy who kicks butt and makes sure enemies focus (or want to focus) on him. Paladins have always been able to heal in some way and the 4th Edition variety is no different. Though this splash of leader flavor into the paladin's defender role comes in many forms, one of the more active and interesting ways that your paladin can come to the aid of a companion while fighting is our second example of a smite:

Renewing Smite
Paladin 13
Encounter • Healing, Weapon
Standard Action
Melee weapon
Target: One creature
Attack: Charisma vs. AC
Hit: 2x[W] + Cha damage and ally within 5 heals 10 + your Wisdom modifier damage.

You'll no doubt see the pattern between these two smites. They mix a fair portion of damage (scaled up by level, but not necessarily the amount of dice) while giving an ally a much needed boost of hit points at the most opportune moments. Selfish paladins (typically those who serve more self-centered gods or just the occasional egoist who venerates Pelor) can even heal themselves with the strike, as you're considered your own ally unless the effect of a power states otherwise.

Let's move on to smites that inhabit the levels over 20. Binding smite is another flavor of defender smite -- and as its high level demands, does the defender job more effectively, and thus more powerfully than the simple safeguard smite does.

Binding Smite
Paladin 27
Encounter • Weapon
Standard Action
Melee weapon
Target: One creature
Attack: Charisma vs. Will
Hit: 2x[W] + Wis damage and target cannot gain line of effect to anyone but you until the end of your next turn.

In binding smite you can see an example of how the effect of a smite goes up with level, while the numbers in their base form seem similar when not taking into account the accuracy and damage boosts that merely gaining levels (and having better weapons) affords. It just gets … well, better. Heck, it's epic, after all, so it has to be good, and you don't have to have 4th Edition books in front of you to realize line of effect denial is good. When you're fighting balor, ancient blue dragons, and sorrowsworn, it had better be good -- those critters don't fool around!

There you have it; just a small taste of what your paladin smites will look like in 4th Edition. While I have lost touch with Erol over the years, I hope that come this summer, somewhere out there, Sir Lore will return – a halfling with a high-pitched voice, yelling, "I smite thee, foul miscreant." I imagine his DM will just wince and sigh, just like I did all those years ago.



One of the most useful and popular additions to Dungeons & Dragons that appeared in 3rd Edition was the concept of feats: special bonuses, benefits, or actions that characters could acquire outside their normal class features.

Throughout the lifespan of the edition (and even between the covers of the Player’s Handbook), the potency, utility, effect, and coolness of feats have varied widely.

Some feats offer utilitarian but unexciting benefits, while others grant characters entire new options in combat. It’s hard to argue with the utility of Alertness, Improved Initiative, Weapon Focus, or even (for 1st-level wizards and sorcerers) Toughness, but that same feat slot could purchase Power Attack, Rapid Shot, Spring Attack, or Empower Spell.

When we started talking about feats for 4th Edition, we already knew that we wanted the bulk of a character’s powers—the exciting actions he performs in combat—to come from his class. Even character classes that hadn’t traditionally offered class-based power options (that is, non-spellcasters) would now acquire these special attacks, defenses, maneuvers, and so on directly from their class’s list of such abilities.

Once that decision was made, a lot of the most exciting feats suddenly looked more like class-based powers. Spring Attack, for example, now looked an awful lot like a power for the rogue or melee-based ranger, rather than a feat that just anybody could pick up. Manyshot, Whirlwind Attack, Two-Weapon Fighting, Shot on the Run—these were specialized powers appropriate for particular character archetypes.

So what design space did that leave for feats? After some discussion, we came to see feats as the “fine-tuning” that your character performed after defining his role (via your choice of class) and his build (via your power selections). Feats would let characters further specialize in their roles and builds, as well as to differentiate themselves from other characters with similar power selections.

They would accomplish these goals with simple, basic functionality, rather than complicated conditional benefits or entirely new powers that you’d have to track alongside those of your class.

Here are four examples of feats taken from the latest draft of the 4th Edition Player’s Handbook. The first two demonstrate the minor evolution of familiar favorites from 3rd Edition, while the other two show off some new tricks. As always, nothing’s final until you read it in the printed book, so take these with a grain of salt.

Tier: Heroic
Benefit: When you take this feat, you gain additional hit points equal to your level + 3. You also gain 1 additional hit point every time you gain a level.

Tier: Heroic
Benefit: You don’t grant enemies combat advantage in surprise rounds.
You also gain a +2 feat bonus to Perception checks.

First Reaction
Tier: Paragon
Benefit: If you are surprised, you may spend an action point to act during the surprise round.

Golden Wyvern Adept
Tier: Paragon
Benefit: You can omit a number of squares from the effects of any of your area or close wizard powers. This number can’t exceed your Wisdom modifier.



In D&D, the words "adventure" and "quest" are virtually synonymous. They both mean a journey, fraught with danger that you undertake for a specific purpose. We sometimes joke that the game is all about killing monsters and taking their stuff, but the reality is that the game is about adventures. You go into the dungeon and kill monsters with a larger purpose in mind: to stop their raids on caravans, to rescue the townsfolk they've captured, to retrieve the lost Scepter of the Adamantine Kings for the rightful descendant of those kings.

Quests are the story glue that binds encounters together into adventures. They turn what would otherwise be a disjointed series of combats and interactions into a narrative -- a story with a beginning, a middle, and a climactic ending. They give characters a reason for doing what they do, and a feeling of accomplishment when they achieve their goals.

Quests can be major or minor, they can involve the whole group or just a single character's personal goals, and they have levels just like encounters do. Completing a quest always brings a reward in experience points (equal to an encounter of its level for a major quest, or a monster of its level for a minor quest), and it often brings monetary rewards as well (on par with its XP reward, balanced with the rest of the treasure in the adventure). They can also bring other rewards, of course -- grants of land or title, the promise of a future favor, and so on.

The idea of quest rewards is nothing new to D&D. Second Edition, in particular, promoted the idea of giving story rewards of experience points when players completed adventures. The quest rules in 4th Edition are directly descended from that idea, integrated into the economy of rewards in the game. They're a rules wrapper around the story of the game, a way to keep players mindful of the purposes behind all their adventuring.

One of the suggestions in the 4th Edition Dungeon Master's Guide is to give players a visual, tactile representation of a quest as soon as they begin it. At the start of the adventure, after the baron has briefed the characters on their mission and been bullied into paying them more than he intended, you can hand the players an index card spelling out the details of the quest -- including the agreed-upon reward. In the middle of the adventure, when the characters find a key with a ruby set in its bow, you can hand them a card, telling them that finding the matching lock is a quest.

When the players have cards or some other visual representation of their quests, it's easy for them to remember what they're supposed to be doing -- and to sort out goals that might be contradictory. That's a really interesting ramification of the quest system: It's okay to give the players quests they don't complete, quests that conflict with each other, or quests that conflict with the characters' alignments and values.

For example, the mentor of the group's paladin might ask him to find and destroy the Ruby Tome of Savrith the Undying. At the same time, a shady character is offering the rogue a sizable sum in exchange for the same tome, and the wizard's research turns up a reference to a ritual contained in the Ruby Tome that the characters will need to use in order to complete another quest. Three quests stand at odds, and it's up to the players to decide what they want to do.

There's a story that's a lot richer and more interesting than simply going into the dungeon to see what treasure is there.


The Importance of Terrain

A proper command of terrain wins battles -- generals from Sun Tzu to Norman Schrwarzkopf have known this to be true. There's a similar relationship between encounter design and terrain -- a canny use of terrain can transform good encounters into great ones. One of the goals of the 4th Edition Dungeon Master's Guide is to help the Dungeon Master perform just such transformations, which includes providing a bunch of evocative terrain types and advice on their placement and use. Since the book doesn't come out for a while, let's illuminate some of the basics of terrain in 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons.

While it might seem elementary, let's first examine what we mean by terrain. Terrain is not just what litters the field in an encounter; terrain also forms the dimensions and tactile experience of the encounter itself. Knowing that, there are some things about 4th Edition D&D design that you should keep in mind when building encounters.

First and foremost, not only does the standard 4th Edition encounter tend to have more combatants than in 3rd Edition, both PCs and monsters are more maneuverable as well. This means that the 10-foot by 10-foot rooms of yore have gone the way of the dinosaur (actually that happened in 3E, but that's not relevant to this discussion). Likewise have the 20 by 20 room and even the 30 by 30 room as the sole encounter areas. In fact, the minimum amount of space you typically want to have for a standard encounter is one of those large 10-square by 8-square dungeon tiles! That's 50-feet by 40-feet for all you still counting in feet. Just hold on before you start chucking all those 2-by-2 square dungeon tiles in the garbage -- you'll still need them!

Any DM worth her salt knows that dynamic and interactive stories are more satisfying than railroading narratives. The same is true for battle areas. Larger spaces with interesting terrain that both the PCs and their enemies can take advantage of -- or be foiled by -- is infinitely more fun than a small and relatively empty room that constrains combatant choice to a small set of dreary moves.

But here's the rub -- large areas of interconnecting chambers, complete with alcoves, galleries, and antechambers, are far more exciting than just plopping down a 10 by 8 tile and sprinkling it with rubble. Creating a network of interconnected areas creates numerous avenues of conflict and creates the possibilities for a series of evolving fronts that metamorphoses same-old encounters into tactical puzzles that'll sing like legend to a gaming group. See, you're going to need all those smaller pieces!

Then, once you have the main layout done, populate it with furniture, shrines, rubble, pillars, or maybe even the occasional lightning column or patch of doomspore where needed (and where appropriate), and you've got yourself a pretty vibrant encounter area for your combatants to interact with.

Oh, here's a bit of sound advice that'll keep you out of trouble. Be careful with pits and other steep inclines, and leave 100-foot (or endless) chasms for paragon- or epic-level play. Some of that increased maneuverability of the combatants in 4th Edition comes from attacks that can move foes against their will -- which is all fun and games until someone loses a character!

That aside, D&D is more than just a tactical skirmish game; it's also a game of storytelling and heroic adventure. When designing adventures, you're doing more than just placing interesting terrain pieces for the battle that (let's admit it) will most likely occur; you are also setting the stage of your story. A canny eye toward terrain set up can also help you communicate story elements to your players quickly and without the need to say a single word. Just put down some sarcophagi, and the players will know it's a crypt. Put down an altar, and you've just communicated that it's a temple. Put down piles and piles of bones in front of a yawning cavern, and the players will know their characters are likely in a world of trouble … or you've seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail one too many times.

What the Heck is Doomspore?
Isn't it annoying when those know-it-all designers and developers drop an Easter egg in a preview article and don't back it up with any description? Yeah, I hate that too -- unless I am the one doing it. That said, I empathize a little, so here's the doomspore (or at least a recent version of it).

Doomspore (Any)
Usually found in large, natural caverns, this fungus takes the form of a clump of toadstools, some of which reach a height of about 3 feet tall. A square of doomspore is difficult terrain and provides cover to anyone standing within.

If any creature enters a doomspore's square (or uses a standard action to kick or poke at it, if within reach), a doomspore releases a cloud of spores that provides concealment to all creatures within its own and adjacent squares. Furthermore, a bloodied creature in the area of a cloud when created, who moves into the cloud, or begins its turn in the cloud, is subject to a Fortitude attack (+10) that deals 1d10 points of poison damage on a hit. In addition, a target hit by a doomspore is weakened and takes ongoing poison 5 (save ends both conditions; creatures with immunity to or resist poison 5 are immune to the weakened condition also).

This cloud (and its effects on a bloodied character) persists for the remainder of the encounter (or for 5 minutes). Once the cloud settles, the doomspore can't produce another for 24 hours.

Placement Advice: More than one doomspore in a room may give an advantage to creatures immune or resistant to poison. Intelligent undead tend to cultivate doomspore, and this debilitating fungus can often be found in caverns infested with zombies. It absolutely inundates areas of the Shadowfell as its growth thrives in the presence of undead flesh that has been shed from its host.

As for the lightning column -- well, you'll just have to wait for that one. I would say I am sorry … but you know I'm not.


The Beholder



The family of gods for 4th Edition is a mix of old and new. You'll see familiar faces like Corellon, Moradin, and Pelor, and some new faces as well, like Zehir, Torog, and Bane.

Yes, Bane.

Before I explain what the Forgotten Realms' god of tyranny and war is doing rubbing shoulders with Pelor, let me say a bit about our thinking when we created a pantheon in the first place.

There was a time when the team working on "the world" of D&D thought we could get away with creating general rules useful to clerics regardless of which pantheon existed in the campaign, and then presenting a variety of fictional and historical pantheons for DMs to adopt or adapt as they saw fit. I believe it was Stacy Longstreet, the senior D&D art director, who pointed out that this solution would leave us in a bit of a bind.

When we wanted to put a temple in an adventure, what god would it be dedicated to? We could make Generic Evil Temples™, but that would sap a lot of the flavor out of our adventures, and rob us of specific plot hooks and story lines based on the portfolios and histories of these gods.

When we wanted to illustrate a cleric in one of our books, what holy symbol would the cleric hold? Again, we could rely on a stable of generic symbols (maybe the Zapf Dingbat font?), but at the cost of a lot of flavor.

We ended up creating a new pantheon. At first, we used some of the gods from 3rd Edition as placeholder names -- we thought we'd come up with new names for [Pelor] the sun god and [Moradin] the god of the forge. Ultimately we decided that using some familiar faces was preferable to giving our players a whole new set of names to learn. Besides, if a god looks like an elf and took out the orc-god's eye like a certain well-known elf god, why not call him Corellon?

Corellon: The elf god is a good example of a god who kept his well-earned place in the D&D pantheon. But "the elf god" shouldn't be taken to literally. Sure, he's often depicted as an elf or an eladrin, and many eladrin in particular revere him. But he's equally popular among human wizards, and even dwarves who practice the finer arts are prone to offering him prayers. One of our goals with the new pantheon was to loosen the tight associations between gods and races that has in the past led to the creation of whole pantheons full of elf, dwarf, orc, and goblin deities. Corellon is still associated with elfy things like arcane magic and the Feywild, and he still hates Lolth and the drow. But his appeal is a little broader now.

Bahamut: Here's another example of a familiar, draconic face showing up in a somewhat new light. Maybe it was the Platinum Knight prestige class in Draconomicon that did it, but something convinced me a long time ago that Bahamut was a much cooler god of paladins than Heironeous ever was. Like Corellon, Bahamut's not just for dragons any more. He's the god of justice, protection, and honor, and many paladins of all races worship him. Many metallic dragons revere him as well, thinking of him as the first of their kind. Some legends about Bahamut describe him as literally a shining platinum dragon, while others describe him as a more anthropomorphic deity, who's called the Platinum Dragon as a title of respect. Exhorting his followers to protect the weak, liberate the oppressed, and defend just order, Bahamut stands as the exemplar of the paladin's ideal.

Bane: Here's another god whose placeholder name just stuck, despite some reservations. We wanted an evil war god in the pantheon, and without Heironeous, Hextor didn't make a lot of sense. We wanted the kind of heavily militaristic god whose temples you might find among non-evil societies who have spent long years at war, as well as among hobgoblins. We wanted a god who embodied just the sort of tyrannical dictatorship that Bane stands for in the Forgotten Realms. We started calling him Bane as a placeholder. He went through a number of different, unsatisfying names. Finally, someone said we should just call him Bane. So Bane he remained.

Like chocolate and peanut butter, we think Bane and Bahamut are two great tastes that taste great together. Does that mean you have to use them in your 4th Edition game? Of course not. But we think that, when you see these gods in action in our core books and adventures, you'll agree that they belong in their new places of honor in the pantheon of the D&D game.


A Technical Look at D&D Insider Applications

As part of the 4th Edition announcement, we’ve discussed the online component (collectively known as D&D Insider). To quote directly from Bill Slavicsek’s latest Ampersand column:

“With D&D Insider, we're offering an optional online component to 4th Edition D&D. It consists of magazine content, player aids, Dungeon Master tools, and a D&D Game Table that allows you to play the pen-and-paper D&D game over the Internet. These features are in addition to our regular selection of analog products. They don’t replace them.”

While we’ve introduced D&D Insider’s contribution to the new edition, we haven’t gone into too much detail about the tools themselves… until now. Didier Monin, producer for the D&D Insider client applications, provides the following overview of what we can expect from these online tools, with future articles looking at the following areas in even closer detail.


D&D Insider features a variety of resources that will help players and DMs if they choose to subscribe. D&D Insider is part client applications and part web resources. The client applications will be rich Windows clients, with some functionality only available when the user is online and identified as a D&D Insider subscriber, and others available even when the user is offline.

D&D Insider and 4th Edition
D&D Insider will launch in June 2008 with the new Player’s Handbook, but is not required to play D&D 4th Edition; it simply provides extra options that you can unlock with the subscription. These digital tools are by no mean necessary to play the game, but are designed to facilitate some of the game’s aspects.

System Requirements
The D&D Insider client applications are developed for the PC platform. Two of the D&D Insider applications (the D&D Game Table and the D&D Character Creator, both demoed in their prototype versions at Gen Con) use a 3D engine based on DirectX.

Our recommended specs for the PC platform includes Windows XP SP2, 512MB RAM, AMD XP 2400 + or Intel P4 2.6Ghz, and a graphic card with 128 MB RAM and support of Shader 2.0. These recommended specs allow you to experience the full range of lighting and Shader effects our 3D engine offers.

There are at least two reasons why we chose the PC/DirectX route. The first one is related to market research indicating that PC users are a much larger user base than Mac users, and the second is the fact that we already had a DirectX-based 3D engine in-house, and there was no point reinventing something we already had available. The other applications will be designed for Windows, but will not rely on this 3D game engine so that they can be used on lower-end PC platforms. We have not yet established our minimum specifications at this time. We’ll post those as soon as they become available.

Because the other D&D Insider applications are not DirectX driven, they should also be usable on Mac computers using the dual boot system.

The D&D Game Table

A rough prototype of this DirectX 3D application was demoed in the first part of the D&D Insider teaser movie. The D&D Game Table is meant to be an online meeting space, allowing players that can’t gather together the means to play D&D. The overarching goal is to create an experience as close to the tabletop game experience as possible.

We are designing the D&D Game Table to be as flexible as we can make it, to accommodate even non-D&D games. The D&D Game Table will not adjudicate game rules any more than your kitchen table adjudicates rules for you. DMs and players decide what they can and can’t do. DMs and players can communicate their rules adjudication through voice interaction provided by the VOIP (Voice-Over Internet Protocol), the text chat window, and the DM's settings. We do plan to offer integrated functionalities from the VOIP to allow Dungeon Masters to manage their communications and channels with their players the way they want.

In the movie prototype, dice were shown rolling on the screen. There is a special connection between the gamers and their dice, and we all feel this connection is fully a part of the D&D experience. However, visible dice rolling is a feature that can be turned off. Random numbers can be generated without having to see the dice rolling, if that’s what you prefer. Lastly, DMs will be allowed to “fudge” dice rolls if they want to; players will not have this power, however.

The D&D Game Table allows DMs to decide for themselves how things will be done in their games. For example, some DMs allow players to draw on the game map, while others prefer to do so themselves. There is no "good" or "bad" approach to this; it will be handled by the DM’s settings. Another thing that DMs can set is the speed at which figures move on the game table. There’s the "slow" motion of the miniatures seen in the D&D Insider prototype movie, or the DM can speed things up so the miniatures are moving from location to location quickly.

The D&D Character Creator

The Character Creator has two parts: the character visualizer and the character sheet. The character visualizer was demoed at Gen Con in its prototypical form, a DirectX 3D application that allows players to customize the visual aspect of their characters. Snapshots of portraits, full-screen wallpaper, and virtual miniatures of characters will also be made available to D&D Insider subscribers.

We want this tool to be as flexible as possible. Consequently, the 3D engine allows players to experiment with all sorts of tints, and lighting. They can personalize everything from a character’s build, face and pose, to the coloration and variations of their characters’ armor and weaponry.

The character sheet portion of the D&D Character Creator is a data-driven Windows rich client application designed to facilitate character sheet creation using the D&D 4th Edition rules. D&D Insider subscribers will be able to create characters using content from any published book. To get access to the full details of the relevant rules and mechanical elements, though, you will need to own the E-version of the physical book where these rules or mechanical elements were published. When you purchase the printed book, a code will grant access to the E-version of the book for a nominal fee. As a subscriber, ownership of the E-version gives you access, when you are online, to the rules content while you’re filling out or updating your character sheet. Without the E-version, however, the character sheet will give you only the barest information (such as the names of feats and such) and refer you to the appropriate published books.

The D&D Dungeon Builder
The Dungeon Builder will help create tactical maps for your games. This Windows rich client application is improving on the dungeon tile builder that is currently available for download on the D&D site. Using dungeon tiles or basic drawing tools, Dungeon Masters and players can create tactical maps that can be used on the D&D Game Table.

The D&D Encounter Builder
This application is designed for Dungeon Masters, and it allows them to build encounters quickly, and then link them together to form a ready-made adventure. The Encounter Builder uses a format that allows DMs to take their encounters and play them on the D&D Game Table. It has been mentioned in the Gen Con seminars that 4th Edition encounters are not necessarily combat encounters, but also social encounters and other type of challenges; the Encounter Builder will enable DMs to create these as well. Like the character sheet, the detailed stat blocks of the monsters will be available online, for the owners of the E-version of the book where the specific monster was published.

Character Vaults
This part of D&D Insider lives online. The Character Vault is the place where you store your characters (both visual images and character sheets) so that they can be used in the D&D Game Table. The number of characters you can store will be finite, and we are still working on the exact details of that storage space. As a player, you will also be able to present your vault of characters to the world, and publishing a journal of your adventures (via tools like blogs). You can make your character files accessible so that other players can use them in their own D&D Insider applications suite, assuming you allow this.

Some of the Character Vault’s functionalities, such as blogging, are tools that the Gleemax infrastructure provides to anyone with an account, even if they have not subscribed to D&D Insider.

Campaign Vaults
Like the Character Vault, this part of D&D Insider lives online. As a DM, you will be able to store your encounters and maps, so that they can be loaded in the D&D Game Table. You will also be able to showcase your campaigns, keep track of what is going on there, present background information to selected friends (your gaming buddies certainly, but you will be free to expand or restrict viewing as you see fit). You will have access to tools such as campaign wikis, and can also upload information taken from the D&D Insider applications suite (the Dungeon Builder and the Encounter Builder, for example) for others to use, always with the ability to choose what you want others to see and have access to.

Some of the Campaign Vault’s functionalities are basic tools that the Gleemax infrastructure provides to anyone with an account, even if they are not D&D Insider subscribers.


Zombies, Part Two

The simplest monsters are cooler in the new edition of the D&D game, and zombies are no exception. But even though they're soulless animated corpses, zombies don't have to be dead simple. The 4th Edition designers threw the new zombie a bone, coming up with a few ways that everyone's favorite corpse creatures can function in the game to give more chills and kills.

To this end, in the Monster Manual, three exotic zombies appear. The first is the chillborn zombie, the coldness of the grave given just enough volition to be bent on murder. The corruption zombie is a paragon of rot with a great throwing arm. The final new zombie is the gravehound zombie.

That list might spark some preconceived notions about what these undead do. All three possess the implacable resilience of regular zombies, but each comes with an added spin. You might expect easy clichés and predictable performances, but the ideas behind these new breeds of zombie aren't dead on arrival.

A chillborn is cold, but it's not merely an icy zombie. Whatever accursed rites or foul maledictions gave a semblance of life to the chillborn made it even tougher than normal, its body and mind hardened by the freezing hand of death. Life-sapping cold streams from the creature, and the more chillborn zombies in a group, the deeper the freeze. As might be expected, the remorseless fists of the chillborn deal some cold damage, but when a chillborn strikes you, you just might freeze in place, still able to fight back but unable to flee the biting aura the zombie exudes. All chillborn deal more damage to immobilized victims, and your inability to maneuver certainly benefits anyone relying on the chillborn to provide a defensive front line.

One creature that requires such a line of defenders, although probably provided by allies other than the chillborn, is the corruption zombie. This creature is so tainted that its body constantly exudes putrid flesh. It tears off chunks of its own rotting body to hurl at its foes, but leaving itself unharmed due to the supernatural nature of its tissues. If one of its thrown motes of corruption strikes you, however, you're in trouble -- not only does the gobbet hurt, but the unclean flesh also weakens you. Your instincts might dictate charging the zombie to stop its ranged attacks. But the stink of death is so strong near the creature, so sickening, that it can overwhelm the fortitude of the hardiest warrior, slowing his movement and enfeebling his attacks. Even so, if you can stand the smell, pressing the corruption zombie into melee might be an effective way to put an end to the creature.

This isn't true of a gravehound zombie. So named because it's usually created from the corpse of a sizeable dog, a gravehound zombie is a melee monster like many other zombies. It's much faster than normal zombies, and its bite makes up in damage what it lacks in accuracy. The real problem with gravehounds is that their bite causes continuing decomposition around the wound. That trouble can persist even after the gravehound is destroyed. When the gravehound goes down, it lashes out one final time. If it hits you, its jaws lock. Until you can use brute force to open the death grip, you have to drag the hound around and deal with the decay its teeth cause. Being hindered like that during a battle can be more than just a minor nuisance.

When you're playing D&D, you want exciting entertainment. Defeating these exotic zombies is all the more satisfying, the possibility of horrible death all the more threatening, given their terrifying abilities. They set a great precedent for the zombie category's future expansion, and the prospect of even more terrifying fun.



Shambling, mindless corpses are getting all gussied up for 4E Although it might be hard to believe that something as simple as an animated carcass needed an overhaul, with ample influences in movies and video games, the designers knew the zombie was an ideal guinea pig for applying the new monster philosophy. So they set about keeping the zombie simple to run, but they gave it a clear role and made it feel more like the zombies from the big screen.

Every 3rd Edition D&D player thinks of a zombie, at best, as a tough bag of hit points that can take a beating. At worst, the zombie is seen as a really slow fighter or grist for the turn undead mill. Unfortunately, a Large or smaller 3E zombie really required a weapon to be scary on the damage-dealing side, and they were a lot easier to take out than any movie zombie.

Rethinking the zombie required harkening to the zombie in popular culture while maintaining the D&D elements that make undead cool. Zombies move slowly, dragging their lifeless feet, and it takes a heck of a blow to kill one, so tough is right. But zombies don’t pick up weapons, even convenient ones. They tear you apart with their bare dead hands. They overwhelm you with numbers, drag you down, and eat you.

The new zombie is a brute with just enough reasoning power to know who to kill. It’s easy to hit—zombies don’t dodge—but it’s rotten body just soaks up blows that would kill a living creature. You had better be hitting the zombie hard every time, or it’ll just keep coming. If you manage to hit it really hard, say with a critical hit or a power that deals hefty damage, you might just take the creep out in one fell swing.

That’s right. I did say, “critical hit.” The zombie is vulnerable to that now, which is sweeter than a head shot in any zombie flick.

If you’re a player, take a moment right now to thank the merciful designers that turn undead is still in the game. That power doesn’t send the zombies running off to gods knows where, but if it doesn’t turn them to putrid dust, it does hold them at bay. Believe me—you don’t want zombies close to you. Even though they won’t come wielding greataxes, zombies can take your head off with their vicious slams. The bigger the zombie, the uglier the thump. And when zombies swarm you, some of them are going to grab you, maybe even pulling you to the ground. That’s not the place to be when the dead come knocking.

As a DM, you don’t have to worry about creating the gnoll zombie or the orc zombie. The one set of Medium zombie statistics should do you fine. The players won’t know the difference, except by virtue of your descriptive talents. They should be most worried about the pummeling their characters are taking anyway.

At appropriate levels, a fight against zombies should look more like a horror movie scene. Protagonists have to maneuver to keep away from the possibility of devastating damage while trying to cut their way through a relentless wall of dead flesh. The players get a thrill when a zombie goes down to massive damage, and the DM gets the satisfaction of using a monster that lives up to popular expectations.

It’s a whole new game, even from the very bottom of the undead barrel. Now if we only had a few zombies that added some spice to the basic shambling corpse recipe. Perhaps I’ll go dig a few up for our next look at zombies....


The Warlock

The warlock wasn't part of the adventuring party we originally pictured stepping out of the first 4th Edition Players Handbook. As you might expect, the original party included most all the incumbents, with sorcerers and bards alongside wizards and monks.

But the warlock was in our thoughts. Coming out of Complete Arcane, the class's chief innovation had been its eldritch blast ability, which provided unlimited arcane firepower round after round after round. After some initial shock, everyone admitted that the warlock's eldritch blast didn't break the game. The class's ability to maintain relevant arcane attack power, instead of running out of finite resources like a wizard, had a great deal of influence on our early thoughts about 4th Edition. We understood that the warlock didn't have to be the exception. All of our classes might be improved by having abilities they could count on all day long.

Fast forward a couple of drafts into the future. We'd started understanding that our power-rich approach to the classes meant that we almost certainly wouldn't be launching with every class we might want to. Our understanding of the party roles indicates that the sorcerer and the wizard might very well be standing on each other's toes and pointy hats. Then, once we saw the concept art Bill O'Connor provided for tieflings, we knew that we had to commit to including tieflings as a PC race, rather than just hopeful it would work out (more on that in a future Design & Development column).

And what class would tieflings naturally gravitate to? A class that acquired scary powers by negotiating , pacts with shadowy, infenral, or feral patrons? That worked for us. But what we didn't know at the time was how dramatically the warlock class would improve as we progressed through design. Of all the classes, the warlock has made the greatest strides from its initial concept to its final execution. In truth, we've been aided by the fact that the class doesn't have a weighty existing legacy. There aren't thousands of D&D players who have a solid and well-reasoned idea of exactly what a warlock's powers should accomplish. Whenever we came up with something cool and flavorful, we felt entirely free to try it out -- instead of qualifiedly free, as we often felt with several other classes.

Tieflings begin with a backstory of splintering betrayals and stolen power. Warlocks carry on with a fundamental choice of a pact with one of three varieties of supernatural patron. I'm leaving the specific pacts out of this, but I will say that the pacts provide direct benefits when you send an enemy you've marked to their afterlife reward; your patrons show their gratitude by giving you a Boon of Souls. And when you play a warlock, you have the tools to put your enemies away. Rather than relying only on eldritch blast, you'll also have an arsenal of curses (send enemy directly to hell for a round, then bring them back in more pieces), conjurations (maws -- connected to beings that remain thankfully off-screen -- materialize to chew your enemies), and movement powers (teleport and turn invisible, anyone?) to get you out of the trouble you're surely going to get yourself into.

From the perspective of lead designer, it's easy to see when a class is working out. I just have to notice the ease with which the designers and developers create cool mechanics for it. The warlock is feeling no pain, in contrast to her future enemies.


The Core Mechanic

Grab a d20. Roll high.

That’s the basic rule of 4th Edition just as it was in 3rd Edition, but the new edition puts that mechanic more solidly in the core of the game than ever.

Ever faced one of those life-or-death saving throws? Hours, weeks, or even years of play can hang in the balance. It all comes down to that one roll. There’s drama in that moment, but it’s drama you didn’t create, and you don’t want.

That’s gone in the new edition.

Have you played a spellcaster and been a little envious of the excitement of other players when they roll critical hits? Have you wished that you could do that for your spells?

You can in 4th.

Have you ever had some confusion or miscalculation about your normal AC versus your touch and flat-footed AC?

You won’t have to worry about it.

If you want to know whether or not you succeed in doing some action in 4th Edition, you grab a d20 and try to roll high. Just as in 3rd Edition, you add a modifier to that roll from your character sheet, and you check for any extra bonuses or penalties from the situation or from your allies. The key difference in the new edition is what you roll for and what you add.

The standard defenses remain (AC, Fortitude, Reflex, and Will) but now they all work more like AC. When a dragon breathes fire on you, it attacks your Reflex and deals half damage if it misses. The DM rolls a d20, adds the dragon’s modifiers, and asks you what your Reflex score is. The dragon might roll a 1 and automatically miss no matter how much tougher it is than you, but there’s also the frightening possibility that it will roll a 20 and deal double damage.

Folks familiar with the new Star Wars Saga system will recognize this concept, but it’s evolved a bit to better suit D&D. In 4th Edition, when a creature only needs to touch you to deliver an attack, it targets your Reflex. When you’re surprised, you grant combat advantage, but you don’t need to look at a special AC on your sheet -- the normal number works fine. When a pit suddenly opens up beneath your feet, you make a check to jump out of danger, but if a crossbow trap fires an arrow at you, it the bolt attacks your AC.

What we mean when we talk about streamlining the system is this: making design decisions that make learning and using the game less difficult, while keeping the system just as robust. And making it more fun as the result.



Secret worlds and invisible domains surround the world of the Dungeons & Dragons game. Godly dominions, elemental chaos, shadow kingdoms, and faerie realms are all part of the world. Most mortals know little of these things, but heroes are a different matter. Heroes often find that adventure calls them to distant and strange dimensions indeed.

The Feywild

The closest of these alternate worlds is the Feywild, or the realm of faerie. It is an “echo” of the mortal world, a parallel dimension in which the natural features of the lands and seas are arranged in much the same configuration. If a mountain stands in a given place in the mortal world, a similar mountain stands in a corresponding place in the Feywild. However, the Feywild is not an exact reproduction. Built structures and terrains are not copied in the faerie realm, so a valley dotted with farm fields and towns in the mortal world would simply exist as untouched, unsettled woodland in the Feywild.

The Feywild’s many vistas can catch your breath with beauty, but the Feywild is far from safe. Heroes visiting to Feywild might encounter:

A mossy forest glade where evil druids spill the blood of hapless travelers over the roots of the thirsting trees;
The tower of an eladrin enchanter;
A fomorian king’s castle in the dim, splendid caverns of the faerie Underdark; or
A maze of thorns in which dryad briarwitches guard an evil relic.
The Shadowfell
Just as the Feywild is an echo of the natural world, so is the Shadowfell. However, the Shadowfell mimics the mortal world in a different manner. The Shadowfell is the land of the dead, where the spirits of the deceased linger for a time in a dark reflection of their previous lives before silently fading beyond all ken. Some undead creatures are born in the Shadowfell, and other undead are bound to it, but some living beings dwell in this benighted realm.

Like the Feywild, the Shadowfell also reflects the mortal world imperfectly. Towns, castles, roads, and other objects built by mortal kind exist in the Shadowfell about where they should be, but they are twisted, ruined caricatures. The shadowy echo of a thriving seaport in the mortal world might be a dilapidated, desolate port whose harbor is cluttered with the rotting hulks of shipwrecks and whose busy wharves are empty except for a few silent and furtive passersby. In the Shadowfell, heroes might venture into:

A necromancer’s tower;
The sinister castle of a shadar-kai lord, surrounded by a forest of black thorns;
A ruined city swept by long-ago plague and madness; or
The mist-shrouded winter realm of Letherna, where the fearsome Raven Queen rules over a kingdom of ghosts.

The Elemental Chaos

All of the cosmos is not tied to the mortal world as closely as the Feywild or Shadowfell. The natural world was created from the infinite expanse of the Elemental Chaos (or Tempest, or Maelstrom), a place where all fundamental matter and energy seethes. Floating continents of earth, rivers of fire, ice-choked oceans, and vast cyclones of churning clouds and lightning collide in the elemental plane.

Powerful beings tame vast portions of the chaos and shape it to their own desires. Here the efreeti City of Brass stands amid a desert of burning sand illuminated by searing rivers of fire falling through the sky. In other places in the Elemental Chaos, mighty mortal wizards or would-be demigods have erected secret refuges or tamed the living elements to build their domains.

Elemental creatures of all kinds live and move through the Elemental Chaos: ice archons, magma hurlers, thunderbirds, and salamanders. The most dangerous inhabitants are the demons. In the nadir of this realm lies the foul Abyss, the font of evil and corruption from which demonkind springs. The Abyss is unthinkably vast—thousands of miles in extent—and in its maw swirl hundreds of demonic domains, elemental islands, or continents sculpted to suit the tastes of one demon lord or another. Within the Elemental Chaos, heroes might explore:

The crystalline tower of a long-dead archmage;
A grim fortress monastery of githzerai adepts;
The diseased Abyssal continent where Demogorgon rules amid ruined temples and bloodthirsty jungle beasts; or
A vast polar sea lit only by the cold glitter of icebergs and flickering auroras, in which the frozen stronghold of a frost giant warlock lies hidden.
The Astral Sea
One final extradimensional realm touches on the mortal world: the Astral Sea. If the Elemental Chaos is the manifestation of physicality, the Astral Sea is a domain of the soul and mind. The divine realms, the dominions of the gods, drift within Astral Sea’s unlimited silver deeps. Some of these are realms of glory and splendor—the golden peak of Mount Celestia, the verdant forests of Arvandor…. Others belong to dark powers, such as the Nine Hells where Asmodeus governs his infernal kingdom. A few astral dominions lie abandoned, the ruined heavens and hells of gods and powers that have fallen.

Only the mightiest of heroes dare venture into the dominions of the gods themselves. In the Astral Sea, heroes may find:

The iron city of Dis, where the devil Dispater rules over a domain of misery and punishment in the second of the Nine Hells;
An artifact guarded by race of cursed warriors whose castle of adamantine overlooks the war-torn plains of Acheron;
The black tower of Vecna, hidden in the depths of Pandemonium; or
A dragon-guarded githyanki fortress, drifting through the silver sea.
No one is knows how many astral dominions there are. Some dominions, such as the Nine Hells, are the size of worlds. Others are no larger than cities, rising like shining islets from the Astral Sea. Several dominions have been ruined or abandoned, usually because the gods who made them were destroyed or forgotten. What sorts of treasures—or perils—might slumber in such places, only learned sages could say.


Dividing Demons and Devils

In the real world, "demon" is synonymous with "devil." "Abyss" and "hell" have a similar relationship. D&D designers have struggled with these facts since 1977 when the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons game depicted demons and devils, the Abyss and the Nine Hells. The original basis for the division was alignment. Aligned planes existed to provide a meaningful afterlife for similarly aligned characters, and a need to fill those planes with natives resulted in demons being distinct from devils. As the game evolved, the original division remained, but too many similarities persisted. The advent of 4th Edition lets us accentuate the differences between the two primary species of fiends.

Throughout demons' and devils' existence in the D&D game, resemblances between them have been stronger and more numerous than differences. Both species are extraplanar forces of evil that seek souls to supplement their numbers. Each breed has wretched and implike creatures at the bottom of the hierarchy and godlike archfiends at the top. Each member of both species has a wide array of similar (and often superfluous) supernatural powers. Most demons and devils are superior to members of typical PC races in every way, including incredible intelligence. Their purposes in the material world have always been similar.

In the original AD&D Monster Manual, Gary Gygax admitted that devils “somewhat resemble the demons both in their characteristics and abilities.” AD&D 2nd Edition kept the planar structure of the original game. Demons and devils became tanar’ri and baatezu, respectively, but little made them distinct other than their categorical names. Only a conflict called the Blood War kept them from overrunning the material world. However, this evil-on-evil fight didn’t expand the possibilities for typical D&D play. On the contrary, the Blood War brought the motivations and hierarchy of demons and devils closer together. The 3rd Edition of D&D retained so many of 2nd Edition’s concepts that it did little to clarify the situation until the release of Fiendish Codex I. 4th Edition changes all that.

In 4th Edition, the Nine Hells are an astral dominion among other deific abodes in the Astral Sea (more on that in an upcoming Design & Development column). The resident deity is Asmodeus, who as an angel in primeval times, led an army of his fellows against his celestial master and murdered that god. Although Asmodeus gained divine might from his foul deed, he and his followers also suffered their victim’s dying curse. Under the power of that malediction, all the rebellious angels twisted in form and became devils. Worse still, the murdered god’s words transformed Asmodeus's dominion into a nightmarish place and bound the newborn devils to it. To this day, devils plot to escape their prison, weaving lies and corruption to ensure their eventual freedom and to seize even greater power.

Asmodeus rules Hell with despotic pride, and all devils conform to his strict hierarchy or face destruction. Within the chain of command, lesser devils use whatever power they have to mimic their ultimate leader. Devils work to gain influence in the cosmos, especially among mortals in the world. They eagerly respond to any summons and readily form cleverly worded pacts. They plan and build to meet their needs, making and using all sorts of devices, tools, and weapons. A devil might be supernaturally potent, and it might possess incredible magic items, but its greatest assets are its shrewdly calculating mind and eternal patience. Devils want to impose a sort of order -- specifically theirs -- on the cosmos.

Not so with demons.

In the Abyss, which gapes like a festering wound in the landscape of the Elemental Tempest, demons teem, eternally divided among themselves simply by their insatiable lust for ruin. Legend says that the Chained God, Tharizdun, found a seed of evil in the young cosmos, and during the gods’ war with the primordials, he threw that seed into the Elemental Tempest. There, the evil seed despoiled all that came into contact with it (some say it tainted Tharizdun himself) and created the Abyss as it burned a hole in the very structure of the plane. Elemental beings that came too close to the Abyss became trapped and warped. Any desire they have turns to the longing to obliterate the gods, creation, and even one another. They became demons.

Most demons are savage and fearless engines of annihilation. Although sometimes driven by unspeakable yearning or by horrifying demon lords to gather in groups, demons have no real organization and no singular aim. Demons don’t negotiate, and they build nothing lasting. Most use tooth and claw rather than artificial weapons. They care little or nothing for souls. Even the mightiest demon lords manipulate other demons by using threats, direct violence, or the promise of more destruction through affiliation. Although the lords of the Abyss that veteran D&D players know and love to hate still exist, no monolithic hierarchy supports any demon’s influence. Although a demon might want to destroy another creature and take that creature’s power, success only results in the winning demon using and squandering what it has seized. Demons have no regard for the responsibilities of authority, and they care little for keeping what they acquire. They’re forces of unmaking, and a universe under them would reflect the horror that is the Abyss, if that universe survived at all.

What does a clearer distinction between the two major species of fiends mean for your game? If you need a devious fiend that cares about souls and works on long-term schemes, use a devil. However, wholesale slaughter, pointless suffering, and terrifying devastation call for a demon. A villain or even a player character might bargain with devils, but those who conjure demons do so only to wreak havoc on their enemies. In short, the unambiguous division of the fiends is another way 4th Edition makes the game easier to design for and to play.

by Chris Sims / Art by David Griffith and Wayne England


Encounter Design in 4th Edition

The encounter serves as the basic building block of a D&D adventure. In the old days, DMs used their experience, judgment, and sense of drama to build encounters. The 3rd Edition of D&D gave us challenge ratings and encounter levels. They were great tools, but they assumed that the party fought only one monster. In 4th Edition, we’re doing things a bit different. We’re shifting to a system that assumes a number of monsters equal to the number of characters. This change has a few major implications for encounter design:

1. Superior Accuracy: Before we can talk about encounter design, it’s important to note that while 3rd Edition’s CR system is a useful measuring tool, it isn’t always an accurate one. A monster’s AC, hit points, special attacks, and damage all combine to determine its level. In the old days, we relied on a designer’s best guess to match a creature to a CR. While designating a creature’s level is still an art, designating a creature’s level now has more science behind it. By creating robust progressions of attack bonus, damage, and AC, level has become a much more accurate measure of a monster’s power. This step is critically important, as it now allows us a lot more accuracy in determining the threat an encounter presents.

2. More Monsters: Rather than pick one monster, you now select a group of critters. The interplay between monsters is a little more important in design. In 3rd Edition, you had to turn to significantly weaker monsters to put a pair or more creatures into a fight. Unless these monsters had significant advantages when working together, an individual character easily outclassed an individual monster in such a group. In 4th Edition, an individual creature (of a level comparable to the PC) has the AC, attack bonus, and hit points to remain a threat during a fight.

3. Monster Roles: Monsters have roles that define the basics of how they fight. The role functions in only the broadest terms. It dictates a few basic measures of a monster but describes, rather than proscribes, how its abilities work. The real strength of a role is that it gives designers a few basic targets to shoot at it in design, ensuring that every monster we make fits in with the rest of the creatures in the whole game. For instance, monsters that are good at ranged attacks love to have a beefy wall of brutes in front of them to hold back the adventurers. Roles allow you to focus in on the right monster for the encounter and spot obvious combinations.

4. Hazards: Traps, hazards, dangerous terrain, and other complications have a clearer place in the battlefield. The 3rd Edition of D&D gave us one “monster unit” to play with. In other words, the game assumed that the encounter consisted of four PCs against one monster. If you had five PCs, you had to figure out how to get 1.25 “monsters” into the encounter. Even worse, that system had to express traps, hazards, and other dangers as full monster units. It was difficult at best to mechanically represent something that was never meant to stand alone. In 4th Edition, each monster represents only a portion of the encounter. That makes it much easier to design green slime, pit traps, whirling blades, fountains that spray acid, and crumbling stone walls. One such hazard can simply take the place of one monster, leaving you with three or four monsters in the encounter. Since monster level is a more rigorous measure of power, we can turn those measures and scales around and use them to create environmental hazards, traps, set pieces, and other interesting tactical twists.

Putting it All Together

What does all this mean for encounter design in 4th Edition? When you build an encounter, you can begin from several different premises. You can start with a cool monster, find creatures that make good “teammates” for it, and run with that. For instance, you’ve always wanted to throw a medusa at the party. Looking at her stats, abilities, and role, you can then pick out other creatures that make her a tougher nut to crack. Of course, you could always throw a couple medusas at the characters and have a little sculpture party.

Alternatively, you can start with a basic idea of how you want the encounter to proceed, pick out monsters based on level and role, and throw that at the party. Let’s say that the party wizard hasn’t had sufficient trouble thrown his way recently. Ranged attackers always make life difficult for spellslingers, so you can pick out a few of them based on role. To keep the fight busy, a monster with a lot of abilities to hinder and slow down PCs fits the bill. As a cherry on top of this anti-wizard sundae, you can finish the encounter with a lurker who hides from the party, sneaks past the fighter, and springs from the shadows to chop down the caster. The key here is that, without knowing exactly which monsters to use, you have an idea of which types of critters you want.

How you fit hazards into an encounter is perhaps the most important aspect of encounter design in 4th Edition, and it brings us to the third way you can build encounters. You can now more easily add dynamic elements to an encounter and account for cool special effects, hazards, and traps. Those elements are, in mechanics terms, equal to a monster. They fit seamlessly into the encounter design and XP rules by taking up one creature’s slot. If you want to throw in more hazards, simply reduce the monster count and increase the number of hazards present in the encounter.

If you’re like me, and you read too many comics and watch too many movies for your own good, you like to pull out set pieces and crazy terrain to throw at the party. A swaying rope bridge battered by howling air elementals fits under the encounter building system. A burning building that collapses around the PCs as they fight the evil hobgoblin wizard fills a similar role, as does a bizarre altar to Vecna that randomly teleports characters around the room. Hazards, traps, and other dangers simply fill in for one or more creatures in a fight.

By expanding the tools and making them work well together, 4th Edition presents a more robust, flexible, extensible, and exciting set of encounter tools. If the 3rd Edition’s presentation of CR was the first step to taking some of the mystery out of encounter design, the 4th Edition builds on that core to produce a more accurate tool, along with additional uses for that tool.

by Mike Mearls


Wizards and Wizard Implements

Magic saturates the world and all the extraordinary realms beyond the world, an intrinsic force present in literally all things. Magic transforms and alters the natural world, sometimes actively and with sudden effect, other times subtly and over long centuries.

This arcane energy source is difficult to understand and even tougher to master. Wizards do so through years of study, practice, and apprenticeship to accomplished masters.

Wizards wield arcane magic, and they recognize reality for what it is: a thin veneer of structure supported and energized by a force that is ultimately malleable, to those who know its secrets. Though research and study, wizards learn esoteric rituals that allow them to alter time and space, hurl balls of fire that incinerate massed foes, and wield spells like warriors brandish swords. They call upon lesser and greater spells to unleash raging torrents of cold, fire, or lightning, confuse and enthrall the weak-minded, or even turn invisible or walk through walls.

What sets wizards apart from others who wield arcane magic are wizards’ unique implements. Most people recognize the three most common tools associated with wizardcraft: the orb, staff, and wand.

Any wizard can use an implement to increase the effectiveness of his spells. Just as a warrior gains a benefit when attacking an enemy with a magic sword, so does a wizard benefit from using a magic orb, staff, or wand with his spellcasting. In addition, each implement focuses magic of a particular discipline or tradition more effectively than the wizard would be able to accomplish otherwise. As a result, wizards are rarely without at least one of these tools.

The orb is favored by the Iron Sigil and Serpent Eye traditions. Serpent Eye cabalists use orbs to focus powers of enchantment, beguiling, and ensnaring. The mages of the Iron Sigil, on the other hand, employ orbs to guard themselves with potent defenses when invoking spells of thunder or force.

The staff is best suited to the disciplines of the Hidden Flame and the Golden Wyvern. Servants of the Hidden Flame wield fierce powers of fire and radiance through their staves. Golden Wyvern initiates are battle-mages who use their staves to shape and sculpt the spells they cast.

The wand is a perennial favorite for wizards who favor accurate, damaging attacks. Emerald Frost adepts use wands to help channel powers of cold and deadly acidic magic, while Stormwalker theurges channel spells of lightning and force through their wands.

A wizard without an implement is like a slightly near-sighted man with glasses: The man can still see, but without his glasses, he can’t read the road sign across the way. Likewise, while wizard traditions are associated with a particular implement, a wizard need not possess or hold a given implement to use a power belonging to that tradition. For instance, a wizard belonging to the Hidden Flame order can cast the fire spell cinder storm even if he doesn’t own, has lost, or is not holding a magic staff. But if he does have a magic staff, it aids the accuracy of his attack, and his mastery of the Hidden Flame technique allows him to deal more damage with the spell.

by Bruce Cordell / Art by William O'Conner



A thousand birdsongs resound through the cool depths of the primeval forest. These ancient, virgin, and primary woodlands have never felt the metallic sting of axe or the unnatural heat of fire stoked so hot it burns more than detritus and undergrowth. Living, bark-wrapped pillars hold aloft layers upon layers of mounting canopy that filters the high sunlight through more hues of emerald and gold that could ever be imagined.

The secrets of the deep, old woods are closely guarded, and few know of the many wild things that walk amid the shadowed boles. Silver stags, wise hares, unicorns, butterflies the size of hawks, and tree owls who’ve survived a hundred or more winters shelter in the forgiving hollow of a grandfather pine.

Few indeed, but for the elves.

Most elves are wild, free forest-dwellers, guarding their lands with stealth and deadly arrows from high boughs. Though fey in origin, elves have lived so long in the world that they have become almost inured to its difficulties. Hardened by the unruly savagery of nature and seasoned by the hard lessons that orcs, humans, and other creatures of the world are only too happy to teach, elves have gone a different route than their cousins, the eladrin. Elves rely on hard-won intuition and senses tuned to an arrow’s point instead of reason, intellect, or debate as eladrin are more wont to do. However, like eladrins, they possess a pure hate for their shared distant drow relatives.

Elves are people of deeply felt but short-lived passions. They are easily moved to delighted laughter, blinding wrath, or even mournful tears. Elves possess a profound, intuitive connection to the natural world they inhabit, and often perceive things others have not the skill or aptitude to notice. They are inclined to impulsive behavior in preference to long deliberation, though they would say they prefer to act in the moment.

Elves, sometimes also called wood elves, wild elves, or sylvan elves, usually gather in tribes or bands composed of three or more families. These tribes are less concerned with relationships or lineages than with proven forestcraft and hunting prowess, and usually choose the wisest and most perceptive member of a tribe to lead. In very large tribes, this “elf chieftain” is instead described as an “elf king” or “elf queen.” However, in most tribes, even the lowliest member doesn’t feel beyond his station in speaking his mind to any other elf, regardless of station, up to and including the tribe’s leader.

Most elves revere the natural world, but they love forests most of all. They never cut living trees, and when they create permanent villages, they do so by carefully growing or weaving arbors, treehouses, and catwalks from living branches. They prefer the magic of the natural world to arcane magic. Elves are drawn to the worship of both the fey god Corellon and Obad-Hai, the god of the wild. Both spiritual and practical, elves embody the most peaceful and the most violent aspects of the natural world.

by Bruce Cordell / Art by Lee Mayer


PC Roles

Let me tell you about my character, Nils, and how he contributed a few grace notes to 4th Edition’s concepts of character class roles.

Nils isn’t a 4th Edition character; he’s my old 3.5 character from Mark Jessup’s “Nine Chords” campaign. There are nine deities in Mark’s homebrew world, one deity each for the nine alignment slots. Each of the gods is a great bard whose personal pleasure and cosmic power flows from ritual bragging in front of the other gods about the kickass accomplishments of their worshippers. (Perhaps this arrangement will seem even more fitting when I mention that Mark is the director of marketing here at Wizards of the Coast…)

In a world like this, someone in the party has got to play a bard. But when the character class draft went down, everyone stepped back toward fighter or cleric or wizard or rogue, and nobody was willing to jump on the lute grenade. Mark was disappointed with us. I hate to see a disappointed DM, so I vowed to detour into bard-land just as soon as I was comfortable with Nils as a fighter.

Four greatsword-swinging levels of fighter later, Nils entered the path of lute-n-flute. My roleplaying opportunities increased because I was now the spokesman and PR agent for the PC group. But in encounters that focused on combat instead of roleplaying, Nils was forced into a mold pro basketball analysts call a “tweener,” too wimpy to play power forward alongside the ranger and the barbarians, and not capable of long-range shots like the wizard.

The PC group appreciated the singing bonuses Nils provided, and they appreciated his eventual haste spell, but supplying those bonuses meant that I spent at least two rounds at the start of combat making everyone else better without doing much of anything myself, except maybe moving around. Once I entered the combat, I survived by making judicious use of the Combat Expertise feat.

By the time the campaign slowed down to once or twice a year sessions, I’d played Nils for seven bard-only levels and obtained a much clearer perspective on the problems faced by D&D characters who don’t feel a clear niche. Fighters, rogues, clerics, and wizards all occupy pivotal places in a D&D PC group’s ecology, while the bard is singing from offstage reminding everyone not to forget the +1 or +2 bonuses they’re providing to attacks and saves against fear.

When Andy (Collins), James (Wyatt), and I put together the basic structure of 4th Edition, we started with the conviction that we would make sure every character class filled a crucial role in the player character group. When the bard enters the 4th Edition stage, she’ll have class features and powers that help her fill what we call the Leader role. As a character whose songs help allies fight better and recover hit points, the bard is most likely to fit into a player character group that doesn’t have a cleric, the quintessential divine leader.

Unlike their 3e counterparts, every Leader class in the new edition is designed to provide their ally-benefits and healing powers without having to use so many of their own actions in the group-caretaker mode. A cleric who wants to spend all their actions selflessly will eventually be able to accomplish that, but a cleric who wants to mix it up in melee or fight from the back rank with holy words and holy symbol attacks won’t constantly be forced to put aside their damage-dealing intentions. A certain amount of healing flows from the Leader classes even when they opt to focus on slaying their enemies directly.

Does every group need a Leader class? Not necessarily. Is it worth having more than one Leader in a party? Maybe.

We settled on crucial roles rather than on necessary roles. 4th Edition has mechanics that allow groups that want to function without a Leader, or without a member of the other three roles, to persevere. Adventuring is usually easier if the group includes a Leader, a Defender, a Striker, and a Controller, but none of the four roles is absolutely essential. Groups that double or triple up on one role while leaving other roles empty are going to face different challenges. They’ll also have different strengths. That’s the type of experiment you’ll be running in eight months. Before then, we’ll have more to say about the other roles.

One last thing before I go, since I started this note off by talking about Nils. This time, let me say a few things to Nils directly: “Nils, it’s been fun playing you. But I’ll see you again in a future incarnation, and this time around when Al-Faregh the wizard and Jum the barbarian are chopping up beholders, you’re going to be fighting on the same playing field instead of handing out Gatorade cups and singing the national anthem.”

by Rob Heinsoo


Points of Light

The Dungeons & Dragons game assumes many things about its setting: The world is populated by a variety of intelligent races, strange monsters lurk on other planes, ancient empires have left ruins across the face of the world, and so on. But one of the new key conceits about the D&D world is simply this: Civilized folk live in small, isolated points of light scattered across a big, dark, dangerous world.

Most of the world is monster-haunted wilderness. The centers of civilization are few and far between, and the world isn’t carved up between nation-states that jealously enforce their borders. A few difficult and dangerous roads tenuously link neighboring cities together, but if you stray from them you quickly find yourself immersed in goblin-infested forests, haunted barrowfields, desolate hills and marshes, and monster-hunted badlands. Anything could be waiting down that old overgrown dwarf-built road: a den of ogre marauders, a forgotten tower where a lamia awaits careless travelers, a troll’s cave, a lonely human village under the sway of a demonic cult, or a black wood where shadows and ghosts thirst for the blood of the living.

Given the perilous nature of the world around the small islands of civilization, many adventures revolve around venturing into the wild lands. For example:

Roads are often closed by bandits, marauders such as goblins or gnolls, or hungry monsters such as griffons or dragons. The simple mission of driving off whomever or whatever is preying on unfortunate travelers is how many young heroes begin their careers.

Since towns and villages do not stay in close contact, it’s easy for all sorts of evils to befall a settlement without anyone noticing for a long time. A village might be terrorized by a pack of werewolves or enslaved by an evil wizard, and no one else would know until adventurers stumbled into the situation.

Many small settlements and strongholds are founded, flourish for a time, and then fall into darkness. The wild lands are filled with forgotten towers, abandoned towns, haunted castles, and ruined temples. Even people living only a few miles away from such places might know them only by rumor and legend.
The common folk of the world look upon the wild lands with dread. Few people are widely traveled—even the most ambitious merchant is careful to stick to better-known roads. The lands between towns or homesteads are wide and empty. It might be safe enough within a day’s ride of a city or an hour’s walk of a village, but go beyond that and you are taking your life into your hands. People are scared of what might be waiting in the old forest or beyond the barren hills at the far end of the valley, because whatever is out there is most likely hungry and hostile. Striking off into untraveled lands is something only heroes and adventurers do.

Another implication of this basic conceit of the world is that there is very little in the way of authority to deal with raiders and marauders, outbreaks of demon worship, rampaging monsters, deadly hauntings, or similar local problems. Settlements afflicted by troubles can only hope for a band of heroes to arrive and set things right. If there is a kingdom beyond the town’s walls, it’s still largely covered by unexplored forest and desolate hills where evil folk gather. The king’s soldiers might do a passable job of keeping the lands within a few miles of his castle free of monsters and bandits, but most of the realm’s outlying towns and villages are on their own.

In such a world, adventurers are aberrant. Commoners view them as brave at best, and insane at worst. But such a world is rife with the possibility for adventure, and no true hero will ever lack for a villain to vanquish or a quest to pursue.

by Rich Baker


Dungeon Design in 4E

The year 2000 was a heady time for D&D players. 3rd edition was finally released after a year of previews. A game that had almost fallen off the radar of gamers everywhere came back with a bang. There was a tangible sense of energy in the air at Gen Con that year. People were excited about the toys they read about in their shiny new Player’s Handbooks and, better yet, the toys were incredibly fun.

Thus, it was with some surprise that, when I returned home from Gen Con and set to work on my first adventure, I was a little unhappy. According to the rules, a 1st level party could face a single Challenge Rating 1 monster, or an Encounter Level 1 group of beasts. That seemed reasonable, until I started designing adventures. The rules presented the following possibilities:

One gnoll
One troglodyte
Two orcs
Two hobgoblins
Four goblins

None of these really excited me. Four goblins on the map might be fun, but a fighter with the Cleave feat put that thought to bed. I wanted Keep on the Borderlands and the moat house from Village of Hommlet. My dungeons felt boring because I couldn’t fit many monsters into each room.

Admittedly, 3rd Edition brought some sense and standardization to encounters that other editions glossed over, but that didn’t change a simple fact—I wanted lots of humanoids running around my dungeon rooms, and 3rd Edition said I could do that only if I wanted a TPK.

Over the years, my initial frustration with the game never faded. By the time the party was of a high enough level to handle a fight with six orcs, the poor orcs’ AC and attacks were too low to pose much of a threat. In the end, I just fudged my encounters to create the excitement and variety I was. Despite what the game told me, a low-level party could take on three or four orcs without a massacre (for the PCs, at least).

The 4E Way: Monsters, Monsters, Monsters!

In 4th Edition, your dungeons are going to be a lot more densely populated. The typical encounter has one monster per PC in the party, assuming that the monsters are about the same level as the PCs. An encounter’s total XP value determines its difficulty, allowing you a lot more freedom to mix tougher and weaker monsters. Even better, the difference between a level X monster and a level X + 1 monster is much smaller. You can create an encounter using monsters that are three or four levels above the party without much fear. Add in the rules for minions (which will be described in a future Design & Development article), and you could (in theory) match twenty goblins against a 1st-level party and have a fun, exciting, balanced fight.

This shift in encounter design means a lot for dungeons. With all those monsters running around, you need to give them a fair amount of space for a number of reasons:

The monsters need to bring their numbers to bear on the party. Wider corridors and rooms allow the monsters to attack as a group. A monster that’s standing around, waiting for the space it needs to make an attack, is wasting its time.

Multiple avenues of attack make things scary for the PCs and make it easier to get all the monsters into the action. The typical dungeon room where the PCs are on one side of the door and the monsters are on the other grows dull after a while. The PCs kick open the door, form a defensive formation in the doorway, and hack the monsters to pieces. There’s little tactical challenge there.

Reinforcements need a route to the battle. With more monsters in a fight, you can design dynamic encounters where the orcs in the room next door come barging into the fight to see what’s going on. An extra door or passage in the encounter area is a convenient route for the rest of the encounter’s monsters to show up on the scene. Just because the encounter calls for five orcs doesn’t mean that all five start the encounter in the party’s line of sight.

Example: Dungeon of the Fire Opal

As part of an early playtest, I dug up a map that 1st and 3rd Edition veterans might recognize. Here’s an example of an encounter I built using the basic philosophy outlined above.

Notice that the map marks these rooms as separate areas, three 20 foot-by-30 foot rooms. Measured in squares, that’s 4 by 6, small enough that even a dwarf could stomp from one end of the room to the next in one move action. That’s doesn’t make for a very interesting encounter. If I tried to squeeze four or five monsters into each of those rooms, there would be barely enough room for the party and their foes to fit. The fight would consist of the two sides lining up and trading attacks for 3–4 rounds. Few inherently interesting tactical options can even come into play.

Even worse, the map offers few strategic events. The monsters might flee out the secret door in area 9 or one of the doors in area 8, but with such small rooms it would be easy for the PCs to block the exits or move next to any of the monsters before they could run.

When I went back and used this map to design a 4th Edition adventure, I combined all three rooms into one encounter area. Area 9 was a torture chamber staffed by four goblin minions. Area 8 was a guard room manned by two hobgoblin warriors, while the bugbear torturer lounged in his private chamber, area 7. In play, the party walked south toward area 9, ignoring the door to area 7 for the moment. The rogue and ranger tried to sneak up on the hobgoblins in area 8, but the monsters spotted them and attacked. When the hobgoblins yelled for help, the goblins charged from area 9 and the bugbear emerged from his chamber to attack the party’s wizard from behind.

The fight was a tense affair in the T-intersection between areas 8 and 9. Caught between three groups of monsters, the party had to constantly move to protect the vulnerable wizard, heal PCs who fell to the combined attacks of the hobgoblins and bugbear, and spend precious actions hacking down the goblin minions.

I didn’t do anything fancy with the map or add any magical elements to the fight. It was simply a tough melee in close quarters with attackers coming in from three directions at once. The dungeon was a dynamic environment, with three groups of connected monsters responding to the PCs’ intrusion into their area.

So, that’s the first rule of 4th Edition dungeon design. Now that you have more monsters to throw at the party, you can create encounters that spill over greater areas. Opening a door in one area might cause monsters to come from other areas of the dungeon to investigate. With the emphasis switched from one party against one monster to one party against an equal number of foes, you can throw a lot more critters at the PCs.

Homework Assignment

4th Edition is still a ways off, but it’s never too early to start thinking of the dungeons you’re going to design. Here’s a little homework assignment for all of you: Pick two or three closely linked encounter areas on the sample dungeon map. While you obviously don’t have access to the new rules, you can still come up with ideas for encounters. Assuming that you can use four or five monsters, pick two or three encounter areas on the map and turn them into a single fight. Post your ideas in the 4th Edition forums and see what other gamers come up with.

by Mike Mearls / Art by Christopher Burdett