I originally posted this in response to some comments about the forth edition of Dungeons & Dragons on another forum, but wanted to save it.
From my reading through the PHB (about to start on the DMG) and various posts in different places, I would make these comments.
- Yes, you need to use a battlegrid. But as a mostly CRPG player, thats fine with me.
- They have simplified combat, and especially simplified character creation. Mostly for the better IMO.
- I would say that the system is an attempt to make it easier for new players to get into the game.
- They seem to be following the “Rule of Fun“, which is basically give the players something cool and fun to do as often as possible. No more healbot clerics, or level one mages out of spells after two magic missles.
- They’ve really made an attempt to give everyone something cool to do, while at the same time streamlining it so that turns go by more quickly, meaning everyone gets to be more active in a fight (or even non-combat encounter).
- The game is less of a fantasy simulation now and more like being part of an epic fantasy movie or adventure.
One example of that is the concept of “minion” monsters. Minions are monsters with pretty decent stats, but only 1 hp. Their whole purpose is to get slaughtered and by in the way when you’re trying to beat on the encounter boss. An encounter seems to normally consists of 2-4 minions, 1-3 other guys and then a leader. Minions are really very unrealistic. But its fun to have a bunch of guys that get beat down easily, and to have the battlefield littered with corpses at the end of a fight. And remember that minions can still hurt you, dealing the same damage as normal monsters.
For a good look at how 4.0 actually plays, I would recommend downloading and listening to the podcasts that Wizards has of the Penny Arcade and PvP guys playing through an adventure with a couple guys from the Dev team at Wizards DMing. There are 6 episodes, each about 45-60mins in length. Actually it looks like they just put up #7. You may have to sign into D&D Insider to get to them (free sign up) but I think the direct links may get past that. Spoiler Alert: It looks like they are playing through the Keep of the Shadowfall module.
Update: The eight and final episode is online now.