Third And Fourth Head To Head

One of my main impressions of 4th Edition D&D is that Wizard’s have shifted the goalposts of the starting level. 1st level characters in 4e feel and have a power level roughly equivalent to 3rd Edition’s 4th level. That makes sense as conventional wisdom is that 4th level is when 3e comes into it’s own and the game really starts to shine. The Keep on Shadowfell re-inforced this impression, playing very much like a typical 4th-level adventure from the pages of Dungeon magazine.

Whether it’s a good or bad thing depends on your style of play; if you’re the kind of gamer who favours low level, low magic adventures then you’re left out in the cold with this change. On the other hand, if you prefer your D&D with a bit more of a power crunch, then this’ll be right up your street.

To test this theory, I generated two characters – one in 3e, the other in 4e – both based around the same character concept. Let’s see how the numbers match up. Even though we’re not strictly comparing like-with-like – 3e and 4e are very different games – it should give us some idea how the power level has shifted.

Let’s meet the victim.
Rendered in Poser, just for this blogpost. Wowee!

Here’s Keira (pronounced kee-ira), female Elven Rogue. She’s no last name, having been abandoned at the doorsteps of a city Church as a babe – a very unusual act for any elf to commit. She’s tomboyish, agile with a catlike grace and was a capable burglar until the City Watch gave her a choice – join a legitimate acredited Adventuring Party, or eat prison food. She’s a likeable personality and tends to see the good in most folks, though has little concept of personal ownership. If it’s not nailed down and she wants it, she’ll take it. Blame her Church upbringing…….

Here’s Keira’s stats in Third Edition:

Keira, CG Female Elven Rogue-4
STR 12, DEX 18, CON 8, INT 13, WIS 11, CHA 14
hp 16, AC 17 (Mwk Studded Leather), Init +4
Fort +0, Ref +8, Will +1
WP: Elf’s & Rogue’s, AP: Light, Acrobatic, Weapon Finesse
Uncanny Dodge, Sneak Attack +2d6, Trap Sense +1, Trapfinding, Evasion
Immune to Sleep, Low-light Vision, +2 vs, Enchantment
Mwk Rapier +8, 1d6+1, 18-20/x2
Mwk Longbow +8, 1d8, 20/x3, 100’
Balance +6, Climb +5, Diplomacy +4, Disable Device +8, Hide +11, Jump +8
Listen +9, Move Silently +11, Open Locks +11, Search +10, Spot +7, Tumble +13
Langs: Common, Elven, Gnome

3e Keira was generated using my standard array of 10,11,12,13,14,15. Despite being a 4th level character, I gave her equipment equal to 3e 1st level to keep the playing field level, though did allow her Masterwork armour and weapons. You’ll see why later.

While she’s not optimised, 3e Keira is a pretty good all-rounder with a clear emphasis on being the skill monkey in any team. Consistent with her backstory she’s an awesome acrobatic thief with plenty of second-storey skills which will help any dungeon party get past traps, obstacles and the like. Combat-wise she’s more of a harrier-type, likely to hit regularly but for comparatively low damage. If cornered alone, she should be able to hold her own; in a team she’s more likely to hang back and use her Longbow to good effect. Add her Sneak Attack (and +11 Hide skill!) into the mix and she’s one heck of a sniper too. Nice.

Now onto her Fourth Edition incarnation.

Keira, Good Female Elven Rogue-1
STR 12, CON 10, DEX 18, INT 13, WIS 13, CHA 14
hp 22, bloodied 11, healing surges 6, Init +4
AC 16 (Leather armour),Fort 10, Ref 16, Will 12
WP: Elf’s & Rogue’s, AP: Cloth, leather
Speed 7, Low-light vision, Fey origin
Group Awareness, Wild Step
First Strike, Rogue Tactics:Artful Dodger, Rogue Weapon Talent, Sneak Attack +2d6
Light Step
Deft Strike/will, Sly Flourish/will
Elven Accuracy/encounter, Positioning Strike/enounter, Trick Strike/day
Short Sword, basic: +4, 1d6+1
Longbow, basic +6 1d10, 20/40, Load free
Acrobatics* +10, Bluff* +7, Nature +3, Perception* +8, Stealth* +10, Streetwise* +7, Thievery* +9
Langs: Common, Elven
*denotes Trained skill

(I’m intentionally not detailing the Powers. Go buy the books and look ‘em up, already!)

This version of Keira used 4e’s default array of 10,11,12,13,14,16, and were allocated to the same stats in order. Overall, her stats end up a little higher than her 3e sister’s (despite the 3e version getting a +1 to her DEX at 4th level). That’s in line with 4e’s “Penalties are Bad” ethos.

First, a few observations about the 4e Rogue.

I’m somewhat shocked that neither the Elf race nor Rogue class gets Rapier as a weapon proficiency, especially given that so many of a Rogue’s Powers are swashbuckling in style. This should be a no-brainer inclusion, but it ain’t there. It’s like we’ve gone back to the Classic D&D list of Thief’s weapons, but bolted on a Swashbuckling style. That’s what design-by-committee gets you, I guess. Still, rules are rules, and rather than burn a Feat, I’ve given this incarnation of Keira a Short Sword instead. Makes no sense with the style of her Powers, but it’s as close to that Elf-with-Rapier feel as I can get. Ah well.

Keira’s alignment is now Good rather than Chaotic Good, but it means much the same. I’m on the fence regarding the dumbed-down Alignment system. I feel it takes a little something away from the D&D flavour, but adds the intriguing Unaligned option to the mix. Personally, I’d have rather they kept the matrix and added the Unaligned option too, but it’s no great loss overall.

One thing worth noting is 4e Keira’s Sneak Attack power. It adds exactly the same amount of damage as her 3e 4th level counterpart (+2d6), right from the start. That’s quite a boost form the original +1d6 at 1st level, and adds the overally feeling that the game has shifted starting points.

When it comes to Feats, I wanted to emphasise Keira’s acrobatic cat-like nature, especially as her combat abilities were more than covered by 4e’s Powers system. If anything, the 4e Feats choices are better than 3rd Edition’s. At last, Feats have class-based prerequisites rather than being tied to some silly artificial “class-feature” restriction, and the range of Feats available in the PHB are excellent. It almost makes up for the limited, crappy and repetitive range of Powers choices. Almost :) Light Step is a perfect Feat choice for Keira – it gives a bonus to her Acrobatics and Stealth skills, increases the overall party movement rate and makes her harder to track too. Neat! Much as I’m not a fan of huge chunks of 4e, the new seriously Feats rock.

Skills-wise, 4e Keira is slightly lower in skill than her 3rd Edition 4th level counterpart, but not by much. Her Stealth and Acrobatics are a touch lower than the equivalent, but it’s only a couple of points. I’d say that overall, the two characters are a reasonable match, especially given 4e’s much broader skill definitions. For example, Acrobatics encompasses the old Escape Artist and Balance skills, and Thievery covers Disabling Traps, Opening Lock and general Sleight of Hand.

I gave 4e basic (rather than Masterwork) weapons and armour because she gets a bonus due to proficiency anyhow; add in the Powers and this puts her at a comparable level to her 3rd Edition 4th level counterpart, especially with her Short Sword. Add in the Elven Accuracy and her Longbow is more than a match for her 3rd Edition counterpart.

For example, with her Deft Strike, Keira is at +6 to hit with her Short Sword for 1dd+4 damage, and move up to 2 square to do it, in addition to her regular Move. That take 3e Keira’s Rapier +8 for 1d6+1 damage, spits on it and tramples it right into the ground! :)

In short, I reckon my feelings were right. 4th level is the new 1st level. If you want to play 4th Edition, only without the additional expense, generate 4th level 3e characters, but with 1st level equipment :)

This is the third character I’ve generated for 4th Edition, and I’ll admit it’s the first time I’ve enjoyed the experience. Maybe it’s because I’m getting used to the (very poorly laid out) PHB, or it’s the first time I’ve given the Skills and Feats system a closer look. Either way, it’s growing on me. I just wish there weren’t so few Powers, so much emphasis on Battlemat combat and so many other problems with the system. But that, as they say, is a whole other blogpost.


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1 Response

  1. September 10, 2008

    […] Hit Points and their father’s rusty sword to their name. As I’ve said before, 1st level in 4e is comparable to 4th level in 3e; they’ve stolen our first three levels to get to that much-vaunted “sweet spot” […]

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