Getting fidgety waiting for your D&D 4th Edition Core Book Set to arrive? Need a tantalizing taste of what is to come? Check out the two preview books, Worlds and Monsters and Classes and Races. Written as a series of what amount to lengthy blog posts -- some of them are actual blog posts -- by the 4E development team, these two sources chart the direction 4E will be taking.
The official statement by D&D publisher Wizards of the Coast is that the new game will be be a fairly radical revision that will reshape how the races, classes, monsters, world, deities and planes interact. More than just a rules revision, everything is getting looked at with a new eye.
Here are a couple of tidbits from the two preview books I mentioned above:
Core races have been expanded to include tieflings (half-demon, half-human), drow and other races. Gray elves and high elves have been "spun off" into a new race, eladrins, while the race called elves in 4E are basically wood elves of old. Halflings have taken a step away from the race's Lord of the Rings roots and become taller, leaner and don't have hairy feet. No Shire for them, they're wanderers with an affinity for swamps and fens. Gnomes have yet to be resolved, but the early word is that they'll be present, but will not resemble the tinker gnomes of Dragonlance. Humans will be less dominant, with other races possessing civilizations and communities on par with humans'. Finally, expect to see new races. Shifters, warforged, dragonborn....
The developers looked at critters with a fresh eye. For instance, what really is the difference between orcs and gnolls? How many of the 8,000 dragon variants are essential?
Apparently every spellcaster can cast their spells at will without running out! There are warlocks and sorcerers and wizards. Warlocks, you may remember, are spellcasters who focus on curses(!) and demonic pacts(!!).
Campaigns are divided into three tiers, Heroic (1st-10th levels), Paragon (11th-20th levels), and Epic (21st-30th levels). Beginning characters seem more powerful. In one D&D Experience character sheet leaked to the outside world, a tiefling wizard had 20 hit points! Power seems to ramp up quickly, with Epic-level characters literally contesting with gods.
For the most part, the core classes of 3.5 seem identical, though each is being analyzed and tweaked. There will still be bards and druids and paladins. Of course the warlock is a new core class. The developers are also adding two new classes, warlords and swordmages. No more prestige classes! Now you get two new ways to enhance your character, Paragon Paths and Epic Destinies, that you begin to learn at 11th and 21st levels, respectively.
According to the developers, the alignment system remains, but will be de-emphasized. Most characters will be "unaligned" with only a few stalwarts dedicated to Good or Evil.
The 4E setting will be more fantastic. You'll be able to buy healing potions along with your 10' pole, or shop for griffins instead of having to capture your own. The world is darker, more mysterious. With alignment and traditional racial stereotypes de-emphasized, you'll see elven nations battling and dwarves building cities above ground. By adding tieflings and drow as core races, and making the warlock so unabashedly sinister, you'll see a lot more "gray" PCs and NPCs with unknown and shifting motives.
There is so much more. I got a really good feeling about the 4E rules; the comments from the developers seemed very thoughtful and sensible. I can't wait to see the final product!