4e PHB Readthrough – Chapter 9: Combat

We’re closing in on the end of our chapter by chapter dissection of the Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition Player’s Handbook. This time – combat!

Much of this chapter is familiar to players of any edition of D&D; I’ll stress the differences (being an intro to D&D for noobs is beyond the scope of this readthrough). Most of it is familiar, only different in the fine implementation details. As we get started, everything sounds familiar:

  • Six second rounds.
  • Roll init once per combat. It’s d10 + 1/2 level + Dex mod.
  • Surprise round starts us off, and those surprised grant combat advantage.
  • Use miniatures! Especially D&D Minis!

Much of the meat here is in the definitions. 4e isn’t’ quite as “definition based” as Spycraft 2.0, which went from a good game to an exercise in tedium in one version, but it makes a stab at it – your old Magic: The Gathering playing skills will serve you well in terms of strict interpretation.

Action types. Standard (was: attack). Move (was: move). Minor (was: swift). Free (was: free). You can do one of each of the first three on your turn, and a DM-limited number of frees whenever. Then there’s opportunity actions (was: opportunity attack) and immediate actions (was: immediate) you can take while not on your turn. Opportunity actions and immediate actions are also like the old Magic: The Gathering interrupts and instants – opportunity interrupts/precedes the triggering action and immediate go right after and don’t affect the triggering action.

There’s a confusing series of action substitutions – you can do another minor action in the place of a standard or move action, substitute a move action for a standard action, etc. This goes on for another page. Man, how’d we ever get by with “make an attack, move if you want, that’s about it?”

Similarly, it goes on to describe a melee attack, a ranged attack, a close attack, an area attack, etc. in tortured legalese (about half a page per).

The new attack roll is featured again – 1d20 + power’s base attack bonus + situational attack modifiers + power bonuses and penalties. Each different attack specifies what stat it uses and what defense it goes against – for example, a normal melee attack is the familiar Str vs AC, but a fireball is Int vs Reflex.

They go into your defenses in depth too – AC, Fortitude, Reflex, and Will are treated on the same plane as opposed to being split into AC and saves. d20 + 1/2 level plus the many, many bonus types – armor, enhancement, feat, item, power, proficiency, racial, shield, untyped… They don’t stack with the same type, as usual.

20 is an autohit and crit for max damage, and 1 is an automiss. Some powers still affect on a miss. There’s resistance and vulnerability. There’s a bunch of conditions from blinded to weakened. Cover. Concealment. Bull rushes. Crawling. Jesus, there’s 30 pages of this.

Just the high points now, I’m getting woozy. “Combat Advantage” is a new common modifier. It’s like a mix of the old “no Dex modifier” and “flanked” in that you get +2 to hit and can sneak attack ’em.

Action points. You start with 1, get one per milestone, and reset to 1 after an extended rest. You can use it to get an extra action, one per encounter. So you need to use one every other encounter, in other words – since you get one every 2 and you can only use 1 per, so banking up more than 2 = stupid.

There is no grappling. Just “grabbing.”

Hit points and healing! OK, so you have a max hit points. You’re “bloodied” when you hit 1/2 your max hit points. A variety of powers trigger off bloodied. As is traditional, when you hit 0 you’re dying. Here’s where it gets weird. You make a “saving throw!” You thought those were gone, but this is an unmodified d10 roll. 1-9, one strike. Three strikes and you’re out. 10-19, no change. 20, you can spend a healing surge. And “If you roll 20 or higher but have no healing surges left expressed as a negative number, your
condition doesn’t change.” Whatever that means. Seems wonky and weird, a foreign injected mechanic. Nothing to do with your Fortitude? Or something?

In 4e you have more constant hit points, but have “healing surges.” You regain 1/4 of your hit points when you do one. It’s a standard action called “second wind.” You can do it once per encounter, and as many times as you want between ’em.

And that’s combat! Seems generally fine, even if it’s a bit of a long laborious essay in legalese.


7 responses to “4e PHB Readthrough – Chapter 9: Combat

  1. Nick Melchior

    Is the ‘bloodied’/’blooded thing a typo? There’s just one condition right? And what sort of powers are tripped off that condition?

  2. That was a typo, fixed, sorry. And there’s everything from a tiefling racial (+1 to hit bloodied opponents) to the cleric power Consecrated Ground, where any ally who’s bloodied gains 1 + your CHA mod hp/round. There’s some powers that stop working if you’re bloodied… They’ve used it in a wide variety of ways.

  3. Monsters key frequently on being bloodied. Bloody a dragon and it gets a free breath-weapon attack on you, for instance. Orcs frenzy when they get bloodied. All sorts of cool things happen with the bloodied mechanic, and I think it’s one of the cooler bits in 4e.

    – Brian

  4. “If you roll 20 or higher but have no healing surges left expressed as a negative number, your condition doesn’t change.” That was also the one sentence in the entire book that I couldn’t understand, even after reading it about ten times. I still don’t know what it means. Doesn’t matter, I’ve played 4e and my first impressions (and your first impressions) were right. All the extra +1 and -1 mods make combat interminably irritating.

    The only way this game works is as a computer game. I’ve been writing computer games (professionally) and RPGs (professionally and homebrew) since the 1980s. It’s pretty clear the folks at WotC were building a set of rules for a computer game, not a tabletop RPG.

  5. “If you roll 20 or higher but have no healing surges, your condition doesn’t change.”

    I actually found that pretty self-explanatory. If you roll a 20, you get to spend a healing surge. If you roll a 20 but don’t /have/ any healing surges, you don’t get to spend one because you don’t have one to spend.

  6. Thanks for taking the time to put this kind of blog together. I played RPG’s back in the 80′s early 90′s and havent really gamed since then. My son recently picked up the new DnD box set and Ive been going through the rules and thinking “this aint your Daddy’s DnD”. Your blog helped clarify some points that were throwing me for a loop. This edition just made me miss ADnD or heck even the colored box sets, red (basic),expert, companion?, master and immortal. You’ve got a really good site here that helps out parents who have a good memories of rpg’s and are trying to navigate the “new” rpg wilderness on behalf of the next generation.

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