Excerpts Archive | 4/16/2008
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Tiers of Play
4th Edition DMG/PH

Only a scant few weeks remain until 4th Edition finally hits the shelves! We here at Wizards of the Coast couldn’t be more excited for June 6th to finally arrive (and then to participate with everyone at June 7th’s Worldwide D&D Game Day). For the past several months, we’ve introduced you to many of the concepts, philosophies, and details of 4th Edition, via D&D Insider’s columns and articles. So in the short time we have remaining, we wanted to share with you a little more, publishing excerpts from the three core rulebooks every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, leading up to 4th Edition’s release.

The thirty levels of your career are divided into three tiers: the heroic tier (1st level through 10th level), the paragon tier (11th level through 20th level), and the epic tier (21st level through 30th level). When you leave one tier and cross the threshold into a new one, you experience some major increases in power. At the same time, the threats you face in a higher tier are much more lethal. In today’s previews, we look at information in the Player’s Handbook and the Dungeon Master’s Guide in regards to gameplay across the three tiers, as well as a look at starting your character at a higher level.

We hope you enjoy, and be sure to return this Friday for a look inside the DMG regarding customizing monsters—plus a new monster from the Monster Manual!

The Heroic Tier

From the PH: In the heroic tier, your character is already a hero, set apart from the common people by your natural talents, learned skills, and some hint of a greater destiny that lies before you. Your capabilities are largely determined by your choice of character class and to a lesser extent by your race. You move around on foot or on a relatively mundane mount such as a horse. In combat, you might make mighty leaps or incredible climbs, but you’re still basically earthbound. The fate of a village might hang on the success or failure of your adventures, to say nothing of the risk to your own life.

From the DMG: Even 1st-level characters are heroes, set apart from the common people by natural characteristics, learned skills, and some hint of a greater destiny that lies before them.

At the start of their careers, characters rely on their own abilities and powers, and they wield mundane gear. They acquire magic items quickly, though, and might even fill their available item slots by 10th level. In combat, they can make mighty leaps or climb incredibly fast, but they’re still basically earthbound and generally remain visible. Since they rely on healing surges to regain lost hit points, heroic tier characters are likely to take an extended rest when surges get dangerously low. However, toward the upper end of the tier, even death is a surmountable obstacle because of the Raise Dead ritual.

Adventures: The fate of a village might hang on the success or failure of heroic tier adventurers, to say nothing of the characters’ own lives. Heroic characters navigate dangerous terrain and explore haunted crypts, where they can expect to fight savage orcs, ferocious wolves, giant spiders, evil cultists, bloodthirsty ghouls, and shadarkai assassins. If they face a dragon, it’s a young one that might still be searching for a lair and has not yet found its place in the world—in other words, much like themselves.

The Paragon Tier

From the PH: In the paragon tier, your character is a shining example of heroism, set well apart from the masses. Your class still largely determines your capabilities. In addition, you gain extra abilities in your specialty: your paragon path. When you reach 11th level, you choose a path of specialization, a course that defines who you are within a certain narrow range of criteria. You are able to travel more quickly from place to place, perhaps on a hippogriff mount or using a spell to grant your party flight. In combat, you might fly or even teleport short distances. Death becomes a surmountable obstacle, and the fate of a nation or even the world might hang in the balance as you undertake momentous quests.

From the DMG: By 11th level, characters are shining examples of courage and determination—true paragons in the world, set well apart from the masses.

Paragon tier adventurers are a lot more versatile than they were at lower levels, and they can find just the right tool for a given challenge. They can spend action points to gain additional effects, are able to use magic rings, and can sometimes regain limited powers they’ve expended. In combat, they exploit short-range flight and teleportation, making difficult terrain less important, and might be able to turn invisible or resist specific damage types. They also have ways to regain hit points beyond healing surges, including regeneration, so they can complete more encounters between extended rests. On the other hand, monsters at the paragon tier have more ways to thwart these new capabilities, including their own flight, damage resistance, and blindsight.

Rituals at the paragon tier begin to give characters magical ways to gather information and overcome obstacles. Divination rituals such as Consult Oracle grant access to knowledge they might otherwise not have, while View Object can make some kinds of mysteries obsolete. Exploration rituals such as Passwall and Shadow Walk let a party bypass solid barriers and quickly travel long distances.

Adventures: The fate of a nation or even the world might depend on momentous quests that such characters undertake. Paragon-level adventurers explore uncharted regions and delve long-forgotten dungeons, where they confront savage giants, ferocious hydras, fearless golems, evil yuan-ti, bloodthirsty vampires, crafty mind flayers, and drow assassins. They might face a powerful adult dragon that has established a lair and a role in the world.

The Epic Tier

From the PH: In the epic tier, your character’s capabilities are truly superheroic. Your class still determines most of your abilities, but your most dramatic powers come from your choice of epic destiny, which you select at 21st level. You travel across nations in the blink of an eye, and your whole party might take to the air in combat. The success or failure of your adventures has far-reaching consequences, possibly determining the fate of millions in this world and even planes beyond.

From the DMG: By 21st level, characters have truly superheroic capabilities, and their deeds and adventures are the stuff of legend. Ordinary people can hardly dream of such heights of power. Epic adventurers have even more ways to recover expended powers, more ways to heal damage without relying on healing surges, and more powers overall from magic items and epic destinies. In combat, flight and teleportation are routine, as well as extraordinary feats of climbing and jumping. Terrain in general is less important, unless it blocks extraordinary forms of travel. Invisibility is common. Such characters can last through many encounters before resting and can even return from death in the middle of a fight. Furthermore, epic destinies break the rules in dramatic ways.

At the epic tier, rituals include more and better kinds of divination, including the ability to spy on distant beings with Observe Creature. Epic characters can use True Portal to transport themselves instantly anywhere in the world.

Adventures: Epic adventures have far-reaching consequences, possibly determining the fate of millions—in the natural world and even places beyond. Epic characters traverse otherworldly realms and explore never-before-seen caverns of wonder, where they fight savage balor demons, abominations such as the ferocious tarrasque, mind flayer masterminds, terrible archdevils, bloodthirsty lich archmages, and even the gods themselves. The dragons they encounter are ancient wyrms of truly earth-shaking power, whose sleep troubles kingdoms and whose waking threatens existence.

Starting at Higher Level

Sometimes you don’t want to start characters at 1st level. A paragon- or epic-tier game might be more to your taste. Maybe your DM wants to run a published adventure that requires higher-level characters, or you want to try a one-shot that pits 30th-level characters against Orcus. Whatever the reason, at some point you’ll need to create higher-level characters. This process isn’t much harder than making a 1st-level character. The steps for creating a D&D character above 1st level are almost the same as those ones outlined in Chapter 2 of the Player’s Handbook for a new character.

1. Choose Race. Remember that some racial traits improve at higher levels.

2. Choose Class. If your level is 11th or higher, choose a paragon path appropriate to your class. At 21st level or higher, you’ll also need to choose an epic destiny.

3. Determine Ability Scores. Generate scores as for a 1st-level character, applying racial modifiers. Then increase those scores as shown on the Character Advancement table in the Player’s Handbook, with increases at 4th level, 8th level, 11th, 14th, and so on. (You can also use the NPC Ability Scores table on page 187 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide.)

4. Choose Skills. Make sure you meet skill prerequisites for a paragon path or epic destiny, if applicable.

5. Select Feats. You generally don’t have to worry about the level at which you gained a particular feat, since retraining allows you to have the feats you want at any given level. Do watch out for paragon and epic feats, though. For example, a 14th-level character can’t have more than seven paragon feats (those gained at 11th, 12th, and 14th level, as well as up to four retrained feats).

6. Choose Powers. You know two at-will powers from your class; remember to increase damage if your level is 21st or higher. The Powers by Class Level table summarizes the number and levels of powers you have in the other categories. These totals are not cumulative. The table assumes that you replace your lowest-level powers with those at higher levels, but you can keep lower-level ones if you wish.

Powers by Class Level
Class Level Encounter Powers Daily Powers Utility Powers
1st 1 1
2nd 1 1 2
3rd 3, 1 1 2
4th 3, 1 1 2
5th 3, 1 5, 1 2
6th 3, 1 5, 1 6, 2
7th 7, 3, 1 5, 1 6, 2
8th 7, 3, 1 5, 1 6, 2
9th 7, 3, 1 9, 5, 1 6, 2
10th 7, 3, 1 9, 5, 1 10, 6, 2
11th P, 7, 3, 1 9, 5, 1 10, 6, 2
12th P, 7, 3, 1 9, 5, 1 P, 10, 6, 2
13th P, 13, 7, 3 9, 5, 1 P, 10, 6, 2
14th P, 13, 7, 3 9, 5, 1 P, 10, 6, 2
15th P, 13, 7, 3 15, 9, 5 P, 10, 6, 2
16th P, 13, 7, 3 15, 9, 5 P, 16, 10, 6, 2
17th P, 17, 13, 7 15, 9, 5 P, 16, 10, 6, 2
18th P, 17, 13, 7 15, 9, 5 P, 16, 10, 6, 2
19th P, 17, 13, 7 19, 15, 9 P, 16, 10, 6, 2
20th P, 17, 13, 7 P, 19, 15, 9 P, 16, 10, 6, 2
21st P, 17, 13, 7 P, 19, 15, 9 P, 16, 10, 6, 2
22nd P, 17, 13, 7 P, 19, 15, 9 P, 22, 16, 10, 6, 2
23rd P, 23, 17, 13 P, 19, 15, 9 P, 22, 16, 10, 6, 2
24th P, 23, 17, 13 P, 19, 15, 9 P, 22, 16, 10, 6, 2
25th P, 23, 17, 13 P, 25, 19, 15 P, 22, 16, 10, 6, 2
26th P, 23, 17, 13 P, 25, 19, 15 E, P, 22, 16, 10, 6, 2
27th P, 27, 23, 17 P, 25, 19, 15 E, P, 22, 16, 10, 6, 2
28th P, 27, 23, 17 P, 25, 19, 15 E, P, 22, 16, 10, 6, 2
29th P, 27, 23, 17 P, 29, 25, 19 E, P, 22, 16, 10, 6, 2
30th P, 27, 23, 17 P, 29, 25, 19 E, P, 22, 16, 10, 6, 2
P: Power from your paragon path.
E: Power from your epic destiny.

7. Choose Equipment and Magic Items. Mundane equipment is much less important for higher level characters than it is when you’re starting out. Choose whatever standard adventuring gear you want from the tables in the Player’s Handbook. For magic items, choose one item of your level +1, one item of your level, and one item of your level –1. In addition, you have gold pieces equal to the value of one magic item of your level –1. You can spend this money on rituals, potions, or other magic items, or save it for later.

8. Fill in the Numbers. After noting the bonuses you gain from feats and magic items (as well as your increased level), calculate your hit points, Armor Class, defenses, initiative, base attack bonuses and damage bonuses, and skill modifiers. The Quick Hit Points table provides a formula for hit points by class.

Quick Hit Points
Class Hit Points
Cleric (level × 5) + 7 + Constitution score
Fighter (level × 6) + 9 + Constitution score
Paladin (level × 6) + 9 + Constitution score
Ranger (level × 5) + 7 + Constitution score
Rogue (level × 5) + 7 + Constitution score
Warlock (level × 5) + 7 + Constitution score
Warlord (level × 5) + 7 + Constitution score
Wizard (level × 4) + 6 + Constitution score

9. Roleplaying Character Details. Flesh out your character, using the suggestions in Chapter 2 of the Player’s Handbook or your own ideas.