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Dungeons & Dragons (4th edition) (2008 - 2010) was possibly the most major overhaul in the history of Dungeons & Dragons.

4th edition changed a lot of the mechanics from the previous edition, making it easier for new players to get used to the basic D&D concepts. Its setting and rules are a lot less varied than 3.5 - there's no more crafting system, most magic and attacks are made into "powers" that vary by each class, and magic items have been slimmed down - and there's more pluses in the game rather than minuses (i.e. most races get two + 2 to abilities, rather than the usual 3.5 one of +2 to one, -2 to one). To this end, the game is more fitting (and clearly designed) for a heroic campaign that is combat-heavy and very fantasy-oriented, with very few guidelines on the role-playing portion.

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Combat itself was highly revised so that each class is equally capable, but in different roles: Wizards have area-attack spells and debuffs, fighters draw attention and punish enemies who don't attack them, rangers do heavy damage with an assortment of multi-attack powers, etc., and all of these are presented in a standardized format to keep classes more or less balanced.

Dungeons & Dragons Essentials (4th) (2010 - 2014) was a new line of products that was launched in 2010, compatible with 4th edition rules. Essentials had the stated intent of offering new players a means of introduction to the game. It is, for the most part, a simplified 4E. There are some differences (for example, fighters and thieves have scaling class features that modify their basic attacks, instead of special attack powers) but nevertheless uses all the same core mechanics from 4E. It's a set of ten products (the new Red Box, dice, three tile sets, and a few extra books).

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The large changes that 4th edition introduced made it incredibly controversial with D&D fans at the time. The main problems that scared fans away included concerns that it plays too much like a MMORPG and/or a tabletop miniatures war game rather than the more flexible fantasy game that it was in previous editions. Indeed, the assumption that players use miniatures on a map is even expressed throughout the core rules, such as movement being described in squares, not feet. Fans were also unhappy with large changes to the lore of several published settings that were released along with the new edition and the removal of the Open Game License which had previously allowed third party publishers to sell additional material for Dungeons & Dragons.

These factors led to many fans refusing to switch over from 3rd edition, or to instead play the rival system Pathfinder.

     Core Books 
  • Player's Handbook - Arcane, Divine, and Martial Heroes (2008)
  • Player's Handbook 2 - Primal, Arcane, and Divine Heroes (2009)
  • Player's Handbook 3 - Psionic, Divine, and Primal Heroes (2010)
  • Dungeon Master's Guide (2008)
  • Dungeon Master's Guide 2 (2009)
  • Monster Manual (2008)
  • Monster Manual 2 (2009)
  • Monster Manual 3 (2010)

     Essentials Books 
  • Dungeon Master's Kit (2010)
  • Heroes of the Fallen Lands (2010)
  • Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms (2010)
  • Monster Vault (2010)
  • Rules Compendium (2010)


Tropes in this game include:

  • Adventure-Friendly World: The core setting of 4th edition, known as the Nentir Vale, was built around this trope... although the game also subtly points out that such a world kind of sucks to live in.
  • Alternate Continuity: In contrast to the first three editions of the game, which had shared the same meta-setting (known as the Great Wheel) and an evolving metaplot, 4th edition breaks away from that body of lore and exists in its own cosmology (the World Axis) and with its own lore invented exclusively for that edition.
    • The exception was the 4th edition conversion of the Forgotten Realms setting, which was a continuation of the setting from previous editions and which sometimes confused new players, who didn't realize that what was true in the 4e Realms was not true in the 4e core setting.
  • Always Chaotic Evil: Zigzagged. Whilst Always Lawful Good was largely scrapped, there was also a greater emphasis on the idea that traditionally "evil" races and creatures weren't always mindlessly hostile monsters to be stomped. Whilst a hobgoblin kingdom might demand regular taxes and strict obedience to their intricate codes, such a kingdom would also ensure the roads are patrolled, roaming monsters are culled, and life is generally safe to live. A cobalt dragon might be a brutal tyrant with a Social Darwinist attitude and a dark empire just waiting to conquer its neighbors if they show signs of weakness, but that same empire might be the primary thing standing between the civilized realms and the cult of icy demon-worshipping cannibals with their zombie army in the frozen north.
  • Anti-Frustration Features: Earlier editions' Vancian Magic limited low-level spellcasters to a handful of spells per day, after which they became a Squishy Wizard that was all Squishy and no Wizard. 4th introduced a "Level 0" tier of spells called cantrips that can be cast an infinite number of times per day, and often have effects that scale with character level to prevent them from being Useless Useful Spells.
  • Armor and Magic Don't Mix: Zigzagged. In 4th Edition, there's no such thing as arcane spell failure like in previous editions, but wizards still have the worst armor proficiency. They simply don't care about proficiency because A) there are magical means to protect themselves, ranging from spells to a wide variety of enchanted robes, and B) wizards are not meant to be on the front lines.
    • The swordmage, the Arcane Defender, has better armor proficiencies than the wizard, but is still quite lightly armored by Defender standards. Justified in that they literally conjure magical forcefields around themselves to ward off blows, which is translated mechanically as a flat armor-class bonus if the swordmage is wearing light armor and going around with one hand free.
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: In 4th edition, when your characters reach max level (30), the rulebooks encourage them to do this so you can start new characters. Many of the Epic Destinies specifically shape how you ascend and to what higher plane, such as psychics being able to travel freely across time and space at will or becoming a Demiurge and going off to create their own multiverse, warlocks becoming an archfey or one of Hell's nobles, and wizards building their own world from scratch or become custodians of the "story of reality".
  • As Lethal as It Needs to Be: In 4th Edition, a melee attack is supposed to declare whether it was meant to be lethal or nonlethal. The latter just knocks the target unconscious rather than outright killing them, as if they were a player character that had gone down to zero HP instead.
  • BFS: 4th edition has the "Fullblade", which is explicitly an even bigger greatsword, ala Berserk and Final Fantasy VII.
  • Cast From Hitpoints:
    • Some rituals in 4e require spending healing surges, sometimes in addition to component costs. These surges can be contributed by those assisting in the ritual.
    • An epic destiny in 4e provides a higher-risk option: Elf High Mage, which allows empowering a spell using hitpoints if the wizard has no healing surges left.
  • Changing Gameplay Priorities: The changing gameplay priorities are built right in to 4th edition in the form of tiers. Every 10 levels, your characters get a pretty significant growth in power plus new capabilities, such as flight, teleportation or, in the final tier, the ability to cheat death and resurrect themselves at least once per day. There are some pretty dramatic differences between the capabilities and priorities of a heroic-tier party, where resources are scarce and powers need to be carefully rationed, and an epic-tier party, who won't flinch for anything short of a mad god and who can fight regular enemies for days straight without resting.
  • Character Alignment: invoked The classic 9-point alignment system is simplified in the 4th Edition to an alignment line of five alignments: Lawful Good, Good, Unaligned, Evil, and Chaotic Evil. "Neutral Good" and "Chaotic Good" are compressed into simply "Good," and likewise "Lawful Evil" and "Neutral Evil" are "Evil." Most ordinary people in a setting are presumed to be unaligned.
  • Charles Atlas Superpower: Pretty much the entire point of Epic Levels (i.e. level 21 and higher). By training long enough and defeating enough monsters, any fighter or rogue or barbarian can attain a balance check high enough to walk safely upon clouds, or a tumble check high enough to survive re-entry into the atmosphere, or gain the ability to turn invisible while standing in the open under broad daylight. They're just that good.
  • Combat Medic: Most Leader classes in 4th Edition function as Combat Medics by default.
  • Critical Hit Class: In D&D 4th Edition, many players who play Avengers will choose weapons and feats to take advantage of the fact that Avengers roll twice for every attack and pick the highest roll in order to maximize the chance for a crit and maximize crit damage.
  • Damage Over Time: Fourth edition features "Ongoing Damage", which is calculated at the start of each turn.
  • Dark World: The Shadowfell, which is either in perpetual twilight or perpetual dawn; either way it is always dusky.
  • Death Is Cheap: In 4e it's considerably harder to die than in previous editions, but relatively cheap to come back from the dead. That is, until you hit epic levels, when it become free to most characters via "Once per day, when you die..." powers.
  • Determinator: 4th edition gives most Epic Destinies (and thus most level 20+ characters) a means to cheat death daily, either with instant healing, a sudden transformation (like into a platinum dragon or a spell-slinging spirit), or a simple self-resurrection seconds later.
  • Diagonal Speed Boost: In 4th edition. To simplify the movement rules, moving one square diagonally counts as one square, and one square only, leading to the speed boost. Most of the earlier editions have a slight diagonal speed penalty, in that moving one square diagonally counts as 1.5 squares. In 5e, moving diagonally alternates: The first square is 5 feet, the second is 10 feet, the third is 5 feet again, etc.
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: Gods even have combat stats just like any other monster, and are fully punchable, though they can't be killed except by extraordinary circumstances.
  • Difficult, but Awesome: Controllers in 4E; poorly played, they're a liability due to their squishiness and lack of damage output. Played by a good tactician, their ability to debuff and mez everything to the point of complete ineffectiveness will make the DM cry.
  • Elemental Plane: 4th Edition takes the traditional elemental planes and mixes them into one plane, the Elemental Chaos.
  • Eviler Than Thou:
    • This edition downplays the traditional Demon/Devil (Lawful vs Chaotic evil) Blood War in favor of the God/Primordial rivalry, but it is elaborated on in Manual of the Planes: it's been put on hold, not stopped. The devils want to make sure that it's held at a time of their choosing. On the other side of the Material Plane, each demon lord would gleefully shred devils by the score, but the first one to make a move will return (if he returns) to find his layer has been divided among his rivals, who took advantage of his back being turned. An attack on certain Abyssal sites, such as Twelvetrees, by devils (or PCs pretending to be devils) could light the tinder before you can say "Fireball".
    • The battle between the God of War, Bane, and the God of Savagery, Gruumsh. Bane is a strict, disciplined soldier who believes in The Spartan Way, while Gruumsh is the living embodiment of unbridled Unstoppable Rage. Gruumsh wants Bane's title. The kicker is that the other gods, even the good ones, recognize that Bane is truly the more evil(he plans on getting rid of that nasty little free will problem, and sponsor Gruumsh against him, figuring that if nothing else, they'll keep each other occupied.
  • The Fair Folk: Whilst fey creatures had been present throughout D&D's history, 4th edition sees a distinctive increase in their prominence, notably by emphasizing the fey roots of elves and gnomes and by offering a redesigned cosmology in which the Land of Faerie is a very important and prominent plane. Fey creatures also saw a general thematic redesign in this edition to move them away from the more "cutesy Disney fairies and sexy nymphs" style of older edition, similar to the Shadow Fey of Ravenloft.
  • Faerie Court: The Court of Stars, the closest thing the anarchic fey have to a ruling body. Membership is loosely divided between various factions, of which the most prominent are the Summer Feynote , Winter Feynote , Gloaming Feynote , Green Feynote , Coral Feynote  and Unseelie Feynote . Individual fey may drift from faction to faction as they see fit, or even belong to multiple factions at once.
  • Fish out of Temporal Water: The "Ghost of Time" theme from one issue of Dragon allows a player to play a character either sent forward from the past or stranded from the future.
  • Gaia's Vengeance: The rather vaguely defined "druid" and its nameless animistic religion of older edition was spun off into the Primal Power Source in 4th edition, creating a pantheon of animistic spirit deities — the Primal Spirits — native to the World Axis cosmology and empowering their own champions. Thus, in addition to the oft-associated druid and barbarian, 4th edition became home to the warden (a primal paladin armed with Voluntary Shapeshifting and Spell Blade powers) and the shaman (a primal leader whose healing and buffing spells were channeled through a companion spirit).
  • Gold–Silver–Copper Standard: D&D is one of the early trope codifiers. Prices are usually listed in g.p., unless they're small prices, in which case they're listed in s.p. or c.p.. 4th edition stood out by adding the new higher tiers of currency of platinum pieces and astral diamonds. The exchange rates were as follows:
    • 10 c.p. = 1 s.p.
    • 10 s.p. = 1 g.p.
    • 100 g.p. = 1 p.p.
    • 100 p.p. = 1 astral diamond
  • Grappling with Grappling Rules: 4e is the only edition that has escaped the curse of far-too-complex grappling mechanics, and then only by completely removing all grappling in the core rules except for a single maneuver. However, there's an entire fighter subtype whose attacks revolve primarily around grappling.
  • Ki Manipulation: Initially, the 4th edition designers wanted to include Ki as a power source alongside Arcane, Divine, Martial, Primal and Psionic. However, in practice, they found themselves struggling to define it meaningfully as anything other than "The Asian Power Source". As a result, the Ki source was abandoned and instead Monks were folded into the Psionic power source, with their Supernatural Martial Arts described as a unique pathway of unlocking and channeling mental energies, hence why they differed from the traditional psychic.
  • Land of Faerie: The idea of the fey having their own private realm had appeared in earlier editions, but 4th edition was the first edition to make this trope central to the cosmology, introducing the Feywild.
  • Living Shadow: One of the Epic Tier Arcane Familiars is the Shadow Incarnate. It is implied to actually be the caster's shadow separated from them, and once per encounter it can be used to determine line of sight, effect, etc. for your arcane spells.
  • Loads and Loads of Rules: 4th Edition has tons of rulebooks. Originally, there was the Player's Handbook, Monster Manual and Dungeon Master's Guide. Then came the PHB2, PHB3, MM2, MM3, DMG2, Adventurer's Vault 1 and 2, Arcane Power 1 and 2, Martial Power 1 and 2, Divine Power, Psionic Power, Draconomicon Chromatic Dragon, Draconomicon Metallic Dragons, Demonomicon, a book full of undead creatures, as well as the obligatory Forgotten Realms, Eberron and Dark Sun Campaign Setting books. And chances are this isn't even a complete list. By the time 5th Edition hit the shelves, making a proper character for 4.0 practically always required bringing at least 5 different books to the table.
  • Luck Manipulation Mechanic:
    • The Elf race has an innate power that allows the player to re-roll a single attack roll during an encounter, though they must accept the second result.
    • Most leader-type classes in Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition have powers that allows one to do this, such as the Bard's Unluck which allows him to swap an enemy good roll for a bad one and a friendly bad roll for a good one. Halflings have the power to force an enemy to re-roll a hit.
    • In 4th Edition Eberron, the Dragonmark of Detection allows one to roll twice on perception checks and pick the best result.
  • Magic Knight: The "Gish" archetype found its ultimate expression in 4th edition with the Swordmage, a class created to fill the "Arcane Defender" niche. Armed with an arsenal of unique Spell Blade techniques and relying on a mixture of magically aided mobility and short-to-mid-ranged offense, the swordmage wields martial and magical techniques simultaneously.
    • Essentials would follow up with the Hexblade, a variant warlock whose powers revolve around a patron-granted enchanted weapon, and the Bladesinger, a variant wizard armed with a sword and specialized in the use of Spell Blade techniques.
  • Magic Staff: In 4th edition, magic staves can be used both as weapons and as a means of empowering magic attacks, if you happen to belong to one of the few classes that allows it. Also, some wizards can get defense bonuses for using one, possibly by spinning it if you choose to think of it that way.
  • Mind Rape: The "psychic" damage type in 4E is implied to be exactly this. It can kill people. Of course, a Bard can also deal psychic damage with the Vicious Mockery cantrip, which means a Bard could insult someone so harshly that they die.
  • No-Gear Level: Stripping gear tends to occur if you get captured or contained. The impact varies based on edition: 4e allows all weapon or implement powers to work (unless the power explicitly requires one) with no special penalty (beyond lack of proficiency bonus.)
  • Neutrality Backlash: Dusk elves were introduced in this edition as a branch of the elven race that refused to take sides during the cosmic civil war between Corellon and Lolth. Because of this, both sides of the war decided they were enemies, forcing the dusk elves to flee to the mortal world in magically hidden enclaves under the protection of the goddess Sehanine to avoid being exterminated.
  • Obvious Rule Patch:
    • The Ranger ability that let you make continual attacks until you miss was changed in the errata to have a hard limit of five attacks, as it was possible to make a build that had an almost zero chance of ever missing, even against the strongest monster in the Monster Manual, and simply wail on the target without any chance of having it strike back.
    • The Ranger power "Unbalancing Parry" allowed the character to move an enemy behind them if they countered the enemy's attack. Unfortunately, the rules on forced movement specified that if the power didn't specifically state a maximum distance you could move an opponent, you could move them wherever you liked as long as they ended up on the square the power specified. This meant that the Ranger could "parry" the enemy through an entire battlefield, including impaling themselves on nearby spikes or entering fire hazards, as long as they ended up behind the Ranger.
    • A similar problem with forced movement arose with a rule that banned forcing creatures to move upwards. This was intended to prevent launching creatures upwards and leaving them to fall back down and suffer damage, but an errata had to be issued to state that the existence of a rising slope or staircase on the ground did not prevent all forced movement by requiring it to include an upward component.
    • The feat-based multiclassing system in 4th Edition allowed a character to gain a single ability from another class by taking a feat.. but also to then take a Paragon Path associated with that class. This resulted in the Pit Fighting Cleric, who took the Fighter multiclassing feat to take the Pit Fighter paragon path which allowed the character's Wisdom modifier to be added to damage - a small boost for an actual fighter, but a huge boost for a Cleric which is a Wisdom-based class. Errata'd by restricting the bonuses given by Paragon Path abilities to work only on abilities obtained from the original class the Paragon Path was connected to.
  • Ominous Floating Castle: The right rituals let a player make their own floating castle... or Floating Continent, whichever they prefer. Both rituals are fairly high-level. A lower-level ritual lets the caster cause their castle to teleport to their side instead, similarly to Castle Duckula.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: 4th edition notably changed up both the traditional Chromatic and Metallic Dragon setups from earlier editions of D&D. Chromatics were expanded with the Brown, Gray and Purple Dragons, whilst Metallics were no longer Always Lawful Good, the Bronze and Brass were pushed aside in favor of new Adamantine and Iron Dragons, and a wide variety of new Metallics were added in the form of Cobalt, Mercury, Mithral, Orium and Steel. Also, the Gem Dragons made no appearance, with their traditional role as "Dragon Family #3" instead being taken up by the elemental Catastrophic Dragons (Avalanche, Blizzard, Earthquake, Tornado, Typhoon, Wildfire, Volcano).
  • Padded Sumo Gameplay: 4E combat is often called "Padded Sumo" by its detractors, as damage outstrips health, and many powers focus on moving enemies around. Errata attempted to fix this, with a fairly simple formula provided that corrected the busted damage and health values of earlier monsters, but the impression stuck.
  • Percent-Based Values:
    • 4th Edition introduces a "Healing Surge" mechanic, which can be cashed in under specific circumstances for a character to heal a base value of 25% of their Hit Points.
    • Starting in 4th Edition, a full night's rest goes from healing a set amount of Hit Points to completely replenishing the character's HP.
  • Power Glows: Although optional in previous editions, several 4th edition paragon paths actually have glowing weapons as paragon path features.
  • Promoted to Playable: The bladeling (a monster introduced in Planescape and the shadar-kai (a monster created for 3rd edition) are both revised and revamped into playable races for the first time in 4th edition.
  • Psychic Powers: 4th Edition introduced psionics as a power source in the Player's Handbook 3, embodied by the Psion (Controller), Monk (Striker), Ardent (Leader) and Battlemind (Defender).
  • Rapid-Fire Fisticuffs: Explicitly the way most 4E Monk powers work (when not engaging in outright Ki Manipulation) if specced to use the "Monk Unarmed Strike" rather than a weapon, usually with flavor text that includes everything from Deadly Dodging to Offhand Backhand.
  • Reduced-Downtime Features: Prior to 4th Edition, characters recover only a limited number of Hit Points with a full night's rest, short of healing magic or other powers. 4th and 5th Editions let characters heal completely overnight and add options to recover hit points with a short rest during the day, reducing their reliance on magic or extended convalescence.
  • Spell Blade: This tends to be a go-to element for Defenders who aren't Fighters.
    • The swordmage's combat motif is one part enchanting their blade with various effects, such as turning it into a ricocheting lightning bolt, engulfing it in fire or frost, or spraying acid from it, and one part wielding sword and spell akimbo.
    • Warden powers that don't revolve around shapeshifting into a lesser elemental typically take the form of modifying the warden's weapon to convey primal magic with its strike.
    • The seeker is a ranged version of this, being an archer or a throwing weapons specialist who uses primal magic to buff their ranged attacks.
    • Many of the battlemind's powers channel psychic energy through their weapon.
  • Teleport Spam:
    • Every edition has the blink dog, a monster who teleport spams as a free action.
    • 4E has the swordmage, whose Aegis of Assault teleports him to a monster who tried to attack his allies; the eladrin knight, who can teleport every time he hits something; the warlock, who has the at-will Ethereal Sidestep and the paragon path Evermeet Warlock to make himself invisible to anyone he teleports away from and bring his allies with him; and the bard, who can specialize in teleporting his allies and enemies. Warlock and bard are often combined to form what is known as the Bard Taxi.
  • Theme Deck: 4th edition gives a wide variety of powers for characters, but they can only select one for a given slot, meaning characters have to plan in order to advance. As a meta example, these powers are also printed on cards and put into a deck.
  • Unknown Item Identification: In 4th Edition, item identification is safely performed during a short rest, with only rare or obscure items requiring an arcana check.
  • Vague Hit Points: Characters gain the "bloodied" status condition when at or below half health, so having the condition gives some information on how much more they need to be damaged to fall, but doesn't relate how many Hit Points, numerically, that is.
  • We Are as Mayflies: Dragonborn in 4e may be a subversion: They live as long as humans, but they prefer to go out in a blaze of glory, with few getting older than 70.
  • Weapon of Choice: Many fighter powers offer a bonus when used with a particular weapon type, encouraging fighters to pick their powers based on their favored weapon type.
  • Weapons-Grade Vocabulary: Fourth Edition introduced an at-will "spell" for bards called Vicious Mockery, which inflicts damage and status effects. Some bard players will use insult generators every time they use this attack.
  • World Half Empty: In 4E, there is no longer such a thing as an Always Lawful Good race, but there are tons of Always Chaotic Evil ones. Metallic dragons and other good creatures are now Unaligned (neutral), and many formerly neutral ones are now mostly evil. Good is a very, very rare individual choice. (Although any creature can make that choice now; almost nothing in 4E is "genetically" evil.)

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