Old D&D Dinosaur Looks At Fourth Edition (4E) D&D For Neverwinter

I’ve written a lot about Neverwinter Online lately after playing two weekends in the beta. A few nights ago after getting frustrated by the cleric in Neverwinter, I researched the topic online and found that the Cleric class is widely considered nerfed in 4E for various reasons.

I had been too lazy to spend hours studying 4E before playing Neverwinter. Clerics don’t raise dead now. Anyone with the heal skill can pay 500 gold and raise almost anyone from the dead by waving their hands around and pretending to be pious in something officially called a “Ritual”. Who knew?

“You bend over the body of your slain comrade, applying
sacramental unguents. Finally his eyes flutter open as he is
restored to life. Level: 8 Component Cost: 500 gp”

I don’t think I’m alone in being ignorant (and skeptical) about 4E D&D. A lot of players, and maybe the great majority, are going to be confused when entering Neverwinter and seeing this new version of D&D that looks nothing like what they are used to, much less in previous Neverwinter campaign games.

I almost wonder if Cryptic should call their game “Neverwinter 4E” or “Fourth Edition” to make it more clear where all of my beloved cleric and mage spells went. It’s also the fourth Neverwinter CRPG, I believe, so that works two ways.

In this post, I want to take my research further with a survey of the D&D 4E game manuals with notes-to-self from a complete 4E newbie. I do want to enjoy this game. It’s a must-play. I have played only up to 3E through the original Neverwinter and all expansions, and Neverwinter 2.

I also played the original D&D books briefly, then advanced D&D with pencil, paper, and friends. Those days were also the dawn of computer games. Speaking of 2E, I purchased the Baldur’s Gate:Enhanced Edition tonight for $19.99 on Steam.

I want to support Beamdog and Overhaul Games (they are looking for an entry-level graphic artist in Edmonton, by the way) for their work on BG1 and the coming BG2 re-release, and I really want to support the possibility of a Baldur’s Gate 3, but this is a topic for another post.

My first impression is that BG:EE is no joke hard. My level one party wiped three times to random encounters on the very first road we took, using the second-easiest game mode. Save games–hello old friends!


I quit playing pencil and paper D&D in 1986. According to Wikipedia, that was before 2E when supposedly “references to demons and devils, sexually suggestive artwork, and playable, evil-aligned character types – such as assassins and half-orcs – were removed.” (Wikipedia).

That statement conflicts with the fact that the first Manual of the Planes was published in 1987. Yes, we had lots of trafficking with demons and devils in those days, but I see that even the newer Monster Manual has no such qualms about demons.

Moreover, there was the Planescape setting published in 1994 that further elaborated on the cosmology put forth in Manual of the Planes. Today this manual looks wonderful, with lots of information on the Astral plane, the Feywild, planar travel, and Sigil, City of Doors, which featured in the great RPG Planescape Torment.

I frankly love planar adventures. I have been hoping that Rift (the MMO) would take advantage of its cosmology to take adventurers to other planes, but so far they have only hinted that it might come at some point.

As an old timer, I have one reservation about these reams of detailed information. Back in the day, the information was very sketchy, so there was lots of room for creativity. The Astral Plane was almost a total unknown prior to the Manual of the Planes. You could make things up and use your imagination.

These days you have to be a lore scholar to run a campaign. You need to study the canon. It’s a whole different ball game. It looks like a lot more work to be Game Master. If anyone is actually reading this, here is a quote from the Dungeon Master’s Guide that a lot of MMO and RPG writers should pay more attention to:

“In a campaign, the DMs work together to maintain some continuity from session to session and make sure that adventures advance the larger story.”

In the Neverwinter beta, the story seemed to go around in all directions. Save everyone. I’m not sure why this is suddenly my character’s goal in life. So. It’s a golden rule of writing long fiction (novels), and I believe MMOs too, that all subplots should relate to the main plot in some way.

Gear And Mounts

Reading the Adventurer’s Vault book, a compendium of arms of equipment, I was surprised to see “slots” featured prominently. That’s how old my D&D is. We never used to use the word “slots”.

“Masterwork” armor has become a big feature, which I like because it adds realism. I remember first seeing basic Masterwork armor drop in Icewind Dale in 2000. This has been expanded into lots of special names like “Stalkerhide” and “Rimefire” armor.

Neverwinter is offering a spider mount (video–welcome to advertising), which is actually an official listed mount in the Adventurer’s Vault book. I would have thought spider mounts to be an exclusive mount for Drow. Or something.

But no, go ahead and jump on that there spider, ye halflings, half-orcs, and everyone else who wants to hand over $200 before the game launches. I’m waiting for the plain brown Camel, personally.

The only other observation is that I found it strange that there is a price tag on everything, or even a bunch of tiered values depending on the level of the item in question. Apparently buying items, selling items, and accumulating enormous quantities of gold is important to D&D players these days, like in MMOs.

Gold accumulation was non-existent back in the day. It wasn’t relevant unless you wanted to build a castle with it. Magical items were very rare and were found off big bad guys, almost never purchased like they are today for astral diamonds or whatever currency in Neverwinter.

Characters in 4E

This is the big one, so it has to be sketchy. There are three players’ handbooks for 4E. PHB1 is the main release edition for 4E. PHB2 is an expansion players handbook including mostly primal classes. PHB3 is a second expansion PHB offering mostly psionic classes, and the Monk finally makes an appearance. Significant features include:

group role: 4E has introduced group roles, which are controller (wizard), leader (cleric or warlord), striker (rogue, ranger, warlock), and defender (fighter, paladin), which represent the classic four-member party of wizard, cleric, rogue, and fighter. These roles are meant to define which classes can stand in for each other.

These new role things seem a little pointless and overly video game-oriented to me. A good pen and paper D&D game should not really need these.

power types: D7D classes now have “at-will” powers, “encounter” powers, and “daily” powers. These work a little differently in Neverwinter the MMO, so there is no point in discussing in depth.

power Source: Every class also has a power source. Arcane (drawing on magic energy that permeates the cosmos), Divine (magic that comes from the gods), and Martial (sheer physical training and dedication.)

PHB1: I was curious to see that Dragonborn and Eladrin (Fey) are considered PHB1 races alongside dwarves, halflings, humans, tieflings. Whether these races will feature in the Forgotten Realms campaign setting of Neverwinter may be another story.

I was surprised that Eladrin were considered needed since we already have a variety of elves. I did not see any mention in the 4E PHB of sun-elf or moon-elf, etc., like in 3E., but apparently they still exist.

The 4E PHB1 classes are fighter, paladin, ranger, rogue, cleric, wizard, warlock, and warlord. The Warlock and Warlord are apparently new to 4E. The Warlock looks a lot like the stereotypical World of Warcraft warlock who throws curses and summons demons. The Warlord sounds like a Rift Warlord soul combined with a battle/buffer cleric.

PHB2: The expansion player’s handbook offers five more races and eight more classes. These latter are more Fey oriented. For example, the druid, shaman, barbarian, and warden are grouped as classes that draw power from a “primal power source” having to do with the spirits of nature, which in turn relate to the Feywild (plane of existence).

The PHB2 offers a nice cosmological explanation for these powers, so if you play one of these classes in Neverwinter you might want to read the PHB2. (These classes are not currently in Neverwinter.)

The remaining three PHB2 classes are Invoker, Bard, and Sorcerer. The sorcerer can choose either Dragon magic or Wild magic. I am disappointed that the druid is a controller role and not a leader. On the other hand, a Bard is considered a leader, which is interesting.

The PHB2 expansion races are goliath, gnome, shifter, half-orcs, and devas. These are considered more rare races. Gnomes are apparently identified mainly with Fey. shifters are indeed lycanthropes, which are apparently playable races these days.

The PHB2 also describes “racial paragon paths” for all races in 4E, which apparently are how you are going to be a werewolf and a mage at the same time, for example, and get some more level-up based dragonborne powers.

PHB3: I won’t touch on these, since they are a medley of more exotic classes I’ve never heard of, except for the monk. Here is an overview of 4E character classes.

Neverwinter the MMO is simplified from these rules. For example, the PHB explicitly says every elf can use a longbow. That will not happen in Neverwinter. Also, Neverwinter makes no use of “alignment”, i.e. chaotic, lawful, good, or evil. I believe there are no dialog options for roleplaying your character that I have seen, either.

Starting up Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition tonight, I took the time to read every alignment description when making my character. The game warns the player that alignment will be important and have potential consequences depending on the dialog decisions you make. Lovely.

There are normally 4-5 options for each dialog, and they are not always obvious what alignment they are, like they would be in Star Wars: Knight of the Old Republic, for example. I’m liking the game reboot so far.

It could be noted that Neverwinter does use the dice-rolling style of creating your character attributes, like in the old Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale 2E D&D games, which I actually like and appreciate.


I remember having few problems picking up the 3E rules when I sat down to play Bioware’s Neverwinter Nights in 2002. 4E seems simplified, but not really less obtuse. I liked the old wizard/sorceror/bard classes being related by arcane magic and having spells divided by schools instead of each class being distinct now.

I also noticed that my level one wizard starting Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition tonight had over 20 spells to choose from. I feel sure my level twenty cleric in Neverwinter probably had less than that, including the Divinity shift that modified and empowered all of her spells for a short time.

Neverwinter does seem to following the 4E D&D rules much more closely than I would have expected, being totally unfamiliar with said rules. Now that I am more informed, I feel like I’ll be able to cope, although the cleric will still not be for me. I liked my old cleric too much.

This post just scratches the surface of 4E D&D. I just sat down for this evening to look at these things. I might add to it later, but I want to get back to some actual gaming. For more information, Google more or do we did back in the eighties: visit your local bookstore.


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5 responses to “Old D&D Dinosaur Looks At Fourth Edition (4E) D&D For Neverwinter

  • wumpus

    I’m not that familiar with 4e. The PR buildup made it sound like they were doing their best to kill off D&D. It was if they asked everyone at the table of “DM of the Rings” to describe issues with D&D and then built the game (or at least the PR) around it. As far as I can tell, most of the things that I hated about the promised game (complete destruction of even the idea that you were playing in a world, not a simple chess board) wasn’t in the shipping game (or removed quite quickly).

    Ye Old Dungeon’s Masters Guide (with flaming Efritti on the cover) does include prices for everything: sword +1:400gp, plate mail +4:3,500gp, Wand of Orcus: 10,000gp. Gary Gygax did give plenty of warnings not to put them in any shops (and claimed even a +1 dagger was precious), but nobody ever listened to *all* the rules in AD&D (real old school DM’s would let you buy such things (well, not the Wand of Orcus) … just go to the bazaar at Deva and make a deal).

    I was under the impression that you couldn’t strip down 4e much further. I suppose that this was an impression from the first 3 books. Neverwinter seems to be using many more. Well, I’ve signed up for the launch (or open beta – whichever comes first).

    • Jacquotte

      The new (to me) Adventurer’s Vault seems awash in price tags because a single item has more different types and is represented by a table. So Breaching Armor will have 6 different qualities +1 through +6, with a price attached to each. +4 plate of several different types goes for 85-125k.

      For a fighter type, 4E seems like an upgrade. I’m interested in seeing ranged weapon classes in the game (Ranger). Another thing missing is the ability to equip a sling with a cleric, a crossbow with a sorcerer, a rogue with a short bow, etc. Immersion does seem de-emphasized in favor of the combat, and Neverwinter seems to reflect that.

      • wumpus

        From various forum chatter I think that the “buy whatever you want” attitude was started in D&D 3.0. There were a few catches where the more expensive the item was, the bigger the city you needed to find it in, but it worked out that a small town had every possible low level magic item available.

        Also judging from the forum chatter, this implied that a D&D character was no longer what he/she did. It became how the build was put together, much like a computer game. In the computer game, that is understandable because everybody has to go through nearly the same plot, but it seemed to be a huge problem for D&D. 4e did away with this, but it always seemed to me they threw the baby with the bathwater.

  • Felight

    Sun and Moon elves are now a subgroup of Eladrin and have optional changes to racial features like different weapon proficiencies and skill bonuses.

    Warlock was introduced in the 3.5e NWN2 video game and is ridiculously good at pve encounters due to their unlimited uses of invocations that have a non capped dmg output (rising every few levels and more at epic levels). After other casters spent their spells the warlock was still throwing acid and gods know what at you, your friends and your dead relatives in the city of the dead.

    At 4E as a caster you’ll still have the use of your at will lesser spells but in 3.5 unless you had some combat abilities you were screwed royally when your spells were used. The only thing that can describe a situation that pathetic is the ending of the movie Resident Evil: Apocalypse. Shooting at the horde of zombies that surround you, putting the gun to your head as they are about to grab you and ‘click’ you’re out of bullets as you wasted the last one just a second ago. They descend upon you ripping you apart as you wait for your own bomb to go off and blow the whole place to bits. Now just switch the gun to magic missiles and the bomb to a delayed fire blast or the like and we have an arcane caster.

    • Jacquotte

      Ok, I didn’t get that any sort of elves could be subraces of Eladrin. I’ll have to look at it again. Thanks, Felight. Based on what you’re saying, it almost sounds like Warlock was an experiment that they decided to go all-in with.

      I miss buffing my allies. Bull’s Strength, Stoneskin, etc. I did not see a lot of buffing and classes working together to support each other and mesh in Neverwinter, but I was only L20. It will be interesting to see how party and raid coordination in Neverwinter will be able to get, aside from heals, tank, DPS, get out of the red. At least there is a semblance of a trinity. Resident Evil: too funny. 🙂

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