6 is 4 is 1

I’ve said before that 1st level in 4e D&D is comparable to 4th level in 3rd Edition. So where’s that put it against Rules Cyclopedia-era Classic D&D? 6th level, that’s where. Here’s a straight head-to-head comparison between a 1st level (4e), 4th level (3e) and 6th level (uhhh…. 0.5e) character to see how the numbers stack up.

Just to make things interesting, the character who’s going to get a multi-edition make-over is a Human Wizard (err… Magic-User) generated straight from the Core Rules for each Edition. I’ve used 4e’s standard array (10, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, adjusted for race and level) for all the characters and max Hit Points at 1st level. For the Rules Cyclopedia, both the Skills and Weapon Mastery systems are being used (‘cos they’re the bomb) and I’ve allowed bonus memorized spells for high INT (13-15 = +1 1st, 16-17 = +1 1st & 2nd, 18 = +1 1st, 2nd & 3rd).

I used the excellent Javascript Character Generator for 4e, the rather spiffy Redblade generator for 3e and hairy chested old school pen and paper for Classic D&D. Each character has equipment appropriate to his level.

First, let’s meet the victim.


Felonius Crumbb (with two Bs) is a portly, bookish Wizard with a fascination for the magic of forgotten Empires. Much as he’d rather do his research in a comfortable chair in front of a roaring fire, he accepts that field trips are essential, and (truth be told) quite enjoys the fresh air and chance to put his more explodey spells into practise. He has a habit of muttering to himself and poking dead things with the end of his staff.

Here’s his stats in 4e, 1st level.

Felonius Crumbb, Lawful Good Human Wizard-1
STR 10, CON 13, DEX 13, INT 16, WIS 12, CHA 14

HP 23, bloodied 11, surges 5×7/day
AC 14 (robes & staff), Fort 12, Ref 14, Will 15, Init +1

Dagger +3 vs AC, 1d4, Thrown +4 vs AC, 1d4+1
Quarterstaff +2 vs AC, 1d8
Ghost Sound/w, Light/w, Mage Hand/w, Prestidigitation/w
Cloud of Daggers/w +3 vs Ref, Magic Missile/w +3 vs Ref, Scorching Burst/w +3 vs Ref
Ray of Enfeeblement/e +3 vs Fort
Acid Arrow/d +3 vs Ref or Flaming Sphere/d +3 vs Ref

Arcana +8, History +11, Insight +6, Nature +6, Religion +8
Alchemist, Skill Focus (History)

Rituals: Brew Potion, Comprehend Language, Explorer’s Fire

…. and 3e, 4th level. (* denotes memorised spells)

Felonius Crumbb, Lawful Good Human Wizard-4
STR 10, DEX 14, CON 12, INT 17, WIS 13, CHA 15

HP 16, AC 13 (Ring of Protection+1, Cloak of Resistance +1), Init +2
Fort +3, Ref +4, Will +6

Quarterstaff+1, +3, 1d6+1

Decipher Script +10, Diplomacy +4, Gather Information +4, KS:Arcana +10, KS:Geography +7, KS:History +10, KS:Local +6, KS:Nobility +10, Search +5, Spellcraft +14, Use Magic Devices +4
Common, Elven, Draconic, Dwarven, Giant, Common

Combat Casting, Investigator, Magical Aptitude, Scribe Scroll, Brew Potion, Summon Familiar

Spells 4/4/3
0: Arcane Mark, Dancing Lights*, Detect Magic**, Prestidigitation, Read Magic*
1: Color Spray, Mage Armor*, Magic Missile***
2: Hypnotic Pattern*, Web**

…. and Classic D&D, 6th level. (again, * denotes memorised spells)

Felonius Crumbb, Lawful Magic-User-6
STR 10, INT 16, WIS 13, DEX 14, CON 12, CHA 15

HP 17, AC 6 (Ring of Protection +2), THAC0 17
DR/P 11, MW 12, P/TtS 11, BA 14, R/S/S 12

KS:History+2 (18), Alchemy (16), Navigation (16), Mapping+1 (17)

Staff of Harming (Sk), A:+2, A:-1AC/2, Deflect(1), 1d6+2 or 2d6+3 (30 charges)
Dagger+1 (Sk), 15/25/35, H:+2, H:-1AC/1, d6+1

Spells 3/3/1
1: Magic Missile**, Light, Protection from Evil, Shield*
2: Web**, Entangle*, Knock
3: Fireball*

Broadly speaking, the three characters are comparable. The 3e and 4e characters have identical Hit Points and Armor Class, and the saving throws are within spitting distance of each other. The Classic D&D character, even at 6th level, has lower Hit Points (hey, it’s a Magic-User – what did you expect?), but a higher Armor Class, especially when armed with a Staff – the Weapon Mastery rules mean he’s AC 5 against the first two attacks in a round, and he’s pretty skilled at cracking skulls too. Nice. Each Edition’s Skill system makes it clear that this is a character who knows his ancient history with 3rd Edition winning out with it’s lovely granularity and 4e’s broader skillset feeling like a step backward in comparison.

When it comes to each character’s abilities in combat there’s little difference with each one more than able to hold it’s own. Where the 4e version has a multitude of at-will abilities, both the 3e and Classic characters have Magic Missiles as 1st level spells and Web ‘n’ Fireball covering the per Encounter and Daily bases. 4e’s Rituals pad out the 4e Wizard’s non-combat magical abilities.

In short, yeh, these characters are equivalent. 6 is 4 is 1, indeed.

What this means is simple. If you want to play a high-fantasy high-octane D&D game in the style of 4e but using the 3rd Edition rules, generate 4th level characters but set the XP at 0. When the players reach 1,000 XP allow them to gain another level, and continue from there.

If you want to play 4e-style in Classic D&D, generate 6th level characters, start at 0 XP and…. oh, I’m sure you get the idea. It also means that 4e’s 30 levels of play are comparable to Classic D&D’s 36 levels of play with the first 6 levels shaved off. If you want to know where D&D low-level play went to, that’s where.


UPDATE: 3e Wizard corrected, as spotted by Oz. This puts the Hit Points lower than 4e (and Classic D&D too, but that’s the way the dice fall sometimes), but the rest of the class abilities remain comparable nonetheless. Good catch!

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6 Responses

  1. benpop says:

    You’re making me really want to try out Classic D&D. Like, seriously, man, a lot. Do all your previous posts on the subject have enough info on books to get to run a game, or are there any others I should look at?

  2. PrecociousApprentice says:

    So your analysis relative to numbers is pretty spot on. The only beef I have is that you don’t compare them to the monsters. Compare them each to an orc, and you will see that they really are like.

    At level 1, a 4e character is going to have it’s butt handed to it by an orc raider.
    HP 46; AC 17; Fortitude 15, Re?ex 14, Will 12. The 4e wizard will hit on an 11 or 12, and the orc’s HP are way higher than the wizard can hope to deal with very well. The orc will hit on a 6 in melee or 7 from range, doing on average 21 or 7 damage respectively. No contest. Orc wins in a landslide.

    A 4th level 3e wizard should take out a 3e orc in the 1st round of combat. Same with a 6th level Oe wiard against an Oe orc.

    A 1st level 3e wizard is probable about an even match with a 3e orc, depending on who rolls better. Same with an Oe wizard against an Oe orc.

    Against similar opponents, Oe and 3e are pretty close to the same level. 4e is about 2-3 levels behind. You can’t compare the HP between editions. They are not the same. AC is similar in that you can’t really compare numbers that well. Saves have nothing in common between 4e and the other editions. You can more accurately compare 4e saves with earlier editions spell duration. Not the same concept.

    I hear the comparrison between editions all over the interwebs. “4e has way more HP! It is so overpowered!” These guys forget to look at a fight between easily recognised monsters and the supposedly overpowered characters. 4e is probably actually a little less powerful than previous editions. 4e has more interesting things to do with their time (more than one magic missile prepared), but really they can’t handle the same difficulty of challenges as earlier edition characters of similar level. 4e introduced minions to swing the balance back toward the characters a little, while continuing the philosophy of “characters should be able to do more interesting things than before”.

    The dirtfarmer tradition can continue as long as we get over the idea of an intrinsic meaning of HP. They only have menaing within each system.

  3. PrecociousApprentice says:

    I really need to learn to spell check ;)

  4. Greywulf says:

    @benpop You only need the D&D Rules Cyclopedia. Stay tuned for Rules Cyclopedia RPG Week, coming soon!

    @PrecociousApprentice Good points, well made. I agree that the Hit Point escalation is less relevant than first appears, but if you factor in 4e’s healing surges and recovery mechanisms characters in that edition are an order of magnitude more “combat survivable” than in any previous edition. Not that it’s a bad thing :D Your Classic D&D Orc and 3e Orc are definitely on a par, whereas the Orc Raider is more like (in 3e terms) an Orc Fighter. Comparing monsters in 4e with ones from other editions is difficult because the designers stratified them so that there’s clear demarcation lines between, say, Kobolds, Orcs and Drow. The monsters are expected to be used around the levels they’ve been assigned. That’s not present in earlier editions. Personally, I think they did a good job of it too, but it does make it hard to compare like with like.

    Me, I like all editions for different reasons. I love Classic D&D’s hackability and raw free-wheeling fun, 3e’s range of character options and 4e’s GM friendliness. Roll them all into one edition and we’d have the perfect version of D&D. Roll on 5th Edition! :D

  5. Oz says:

    Something looks wrong with the 3e wizard. His spell spread should be 4-4-3. The earliest a 3e wizard can cast fireball (or other 3rd level spells) is 5th level. Based on spells and number of feats it looks like the 3e version is 6th level.

    Ozs last blog post..I’m a Tinker

  6. Greywulf says:

    Wow. You’re right – looks like Redblade (or me, most likely me) foobarred somewhere. I’ll re-work and correct later today

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