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.