On the Brink of Paragon: Some Thoughts on D&D 4th Edition

Last night my group reached level 11 in our Dungeons and Dragons campaign. We have been playing this same game since early last June, giving us over eight months of play time so far. If the next two tiers go at a comparable speed we will reach the end of the whole campaign (should we see it to its conclusion) at right about the two-year mark.

Overall I have enjoyed the new D&D quite a bit and I just thought it would be interesting to comment on a few of my observations as we have just reached a major milestone in the game.


In my post Feeling So Low About Solos I explained that I had a pretty terrible first impression of Solo monsters. That initial impression has softened somewhat as I feel I have managed to make a few encounters with Solos fairly interesting. However I do still feel the title, Solo, was a mistake. I have had a few encounters that involved only one monster (a Solo) and those encounters were rather bland and uninteresting.

One of the great things about 4th Edition (something I have loved from the start and that was commented on last night in our session) is the fact that the battle moves across the space provided. Terrain plays its part and players and monsters alike vie for the best positions to use their abilities.

In 3.5 movement was discouraged and players did their best to get a spot and stay put but with the new rules come much more dynamic battles, that I find a good deal more interesting.

At any rate, as I was saying before I wandered off a bit, Solos should have been called something else. Perhaps Champions would have worked? A lot of Solos simply work much better, in my mind, with a group of puds with them. Still, Solos can be created to be interesting by themselves. Almost like a boss fight in an MMO. I haven’t really done anything like this yet but I do plan to try it in the future.

To sum up, I don’t hate Solos. They serve their purpose but I don’t like using them too often.

Daily Powers

Daily powers as a concept were a bit of a catch in my mind from the beginning. In the lower levels where you only have one power (levels one through four) of the Daily variety (well… you could also have a “daily” Utility power… Wizards really has issues when it comes to naming things sometimes – Blast and Burst is another obnoxious example) it often seemed that players would simply hold their Daily until an elite or other scary guy showed up and then absolutely destroy him/it. This lead me to dislike Dailies.

The Barbarian preview didn’t help my opinion either as all of the Barbarian rages were Dailies and of course since they last until the end of the encounter are best used at the beginning of said encounter. I preferred (and essential still do) the idea of turning to dailies when things got bad, not using them immediately before the challenge level was fully realized.

However as my players gained more Dailies and I became a bit better at mixing up the challenges they were facing I came to appreciate Dailies. Players would use one or two when things looked grim and turn things around for themselves. This, I think, is the effect Wizards was hoping they would have as it mimics the ebb and flow of battle (cinematic battle at any rate).

Essentially daily powers are one of the expendable resources that persist over multiple encounters and, along with healing surges, help players feel like their characters should feel when they are running low on resources: spent. So, more or less I have changed my view as the Dailies do not have as insane an effect on the monsters as they once did and yet they do still have interesting and important effects.

Six-Player Games

While I like having a large group because it lets many of my friends experience something I have created, I have to admit that I feel 4th Edition would play better with a group of four or five. It was primarily designed for a group of five players but we have been playing with a consistent group of six.

The primary reason a smaller group would be better is time. With a larger group of players comes a larger group of monsters, often six real threats plus on occasion some minions, all of which – players and monsters – need to take their actions each round. In one of our average battles there will be 12 figures on the board and thus 11 turns before a player gets to go again. This leads to a high amount of table talk which of course causes some distractions and makes things even take longer.

With a smaller group I feel I would not need to make every encounter matter as much as I feel they currently do. With six players, I feel it is a waste of our time to set the players against an easy encounter as it will still take a lot of time and yet feel rather pointless in the end.

On a similar note it is very hard to set the players against an encounter that is too hard. With so many monsters on the board it is too easy for things to get out of hand too quickly. I am not the kind of DM that likes killing my players and I worry that it would happen should I start sending them against much harder encounters.

This results in a very limited amount of XP budget I feel I can spend when building my encounters. I tend to stay in the range from 200 under budget to 400 over budget. While I am still able to mix things up and make them easier or harder by putting in different opponents, I feel a smaller group would allow yet more flexibility.


Being able to tell a story again without the burden of alignment getting in the way makes me so happy I felt I needed to mention it here. While it does still exist it hardly comes into play (and in fact the way we play it really doesn’t come into play) and is very easily ignored if the need arises.

In some ways, at least as far as role playing is concerned, this is almost the most important change from past editions.


I’ve talked a bit about roles in the past and I only wanted to briefly mention some of my thoughts about them here. Our group of six originally had one defender, three strikers, one leader and one controller but then a striker was dropped for a second defender after the majority of the party wiped.

The two-defender group seemed to do a lot better in general than the one-defender group but there were still times when things got hairy. On the brink of paragon the controller player plans to drop this character down to a more NPC-like status and bring in a second leader. While this has more to do with player preference it also doesn’t seem as though the loss of the controller will be so terrible.

I feel there have been some issues with the controller role from the beginning of 4th Edition. One problem is obvious, there was only one choice: the wizard. This created an issue if the group wanted to stay balanced and felt it needed a controller, a player who didn’t like their character and was playing a wizard had no other class they could switch to.

While this may not be a major problem for some groups, our wizard player has played two wizards (and actually started as a cleric) and is only now returning to cleric as another wizard build does not seem enjoyable. So, while things will get better once there are more options for controllers and even better once the arcane book comes out, at the moment things are pretty bleak.

The other major issue I see is that unlike strikers (extra damage dice), defenders (ability to mark), leaders (ability to heal), controllers got nothing to set them apart other than their powers, which of course all other classes have as well. In the future it appears things will be shaken up slightly, barbarians for example don’t seem to have a way to curse/quarry/sneak attack but instead just do extra damage (though this might have changed since the preview) but for the first book it held true.

The wizard simply did not get anything that made it truly feel special. Yes, a lot of its abilities could mop up minions, but other classes have minion killers as well. Sure, they also got abilities that can “control” the battlefield but it just never felt like quite enough.

Some of these problems will be resolved in the future however but it does seem a bit disappointing how disposable the controller role feels. Of course, only time will tell exactly what impact the lack of controller will have on the game.

Pulling Towards the Middle

One problem I, and some others, have had with 4th Edition is that most actions seem to have a near 50/50 shot of happening. Most AC or Non-AC Defense are constructed such that something near an eleven on a twenty sided die will hit. This creates some frustration as many times you feel more like you are just rolling a die and your stats don’t really matter. The same thing happens with making skill checks.

While I do see this as a problem, the only solution I have managed to come up with is to make sure to mix up the roles in my combats. For example, I will have a brute that has very low AC but higher Fortitude, a Soldier with high AC but low Will and an Artillery with Medium AC but high Reflex and high Will. While this is not a perfect solution it does allow people to roll low occasionally and still hit if they are attacking a target that is easier for them.


A feel I need to say that 4th Edition simply feels far more fun than the other editions I have played. The combat is so much more tactical and engaging and while some of the game has been simplified, often I find simplicity to be more enjoyable than complexity.

More than ever before, my players are excited about getting a new level. They will discuss possibilities and show off their cool new powers. Their is a good deal more excitement with leveling than I have seen in an RPG before.

As I go Forward, I am Unafraid

In the past I have had a lot of problems running high level campaigns. D&D was not the only culprit but it was one of the greater offenders. As players reached about the mid point (nine/ten or so) it became very hard to build interesting encounters that were not easily defeated by one of their spells or magic items. With 4th Edition I have no fear of what is to come at Paragon and in fact I am looking forward to it.

A Conclusion of Sorts

There are lot of other things I could write about but honestly these are the biggest on my mind at the moment. I hope that some of my players take a moment and perhaps comment on their experience so far in my game, it would be good to get a bit of global feedback.

While I would not say D&D 4th is a perfect game, I do feel that it does what it does exceptionally well. For me, this game system has revitalized my interest in fantasy in general and I am very glad for the changes they have made.

Feel free to comment below!


    Great post, Josh. My gaming group is currently 7th level and we’re really looking forward to shifting into the Paragon tier in the coming months.

    We too have six players at our table and have suffered from the same delays and table talk that you describe. Take a look at our article on Speeding Up Your Game and see if any of our suggestions might work for your group.

    Our party began with two defenders, two leaders, and two strikers and we DOMINATED the battlefield. Then one of the strikers switched to a controller and that leveled the playing field considerably.

    We’ve really enjoyed 4e D&D and agree that in many ways it’s a lot more fun than previous editions. The variety of powers provides more options and keeps things exciting. We have tried many strange and new combinations of powers and feats knowing we can retrain if it doesn’t work out as expected.

    I look forward to hearing more about your game and how your players find the Paragon tier.


    Though I’m not into D&D, I find myself curious about the higher levels in your game.

    My past experience was the same, higher levels were definitely a problem in most role playing games.

    Should you get the chance to dissect what D&D does right in that regard, I’d be interested to read it.


    Thanks Ameron, glad you enjoyed it.

    And Scott, I am convinced that you would like the current D&D if you played it. That is, if you played it with the right group that was running a game of a type that you could enjoy.


    I added a section on Daily Powers. I had it in my notes to comment on them but then forgot to do it when i originally typed it up.

    Matt Says:

    Typical to my normal play experiece, I’m changing my character from Wizard back to Cleric. I liked the Cleric at early levels, but an untimely death caused him to be shelved and I switched to Wizard to allow our previous one to move to Paladin (our 2nd defender). I have to say I don’t generally have a problem with Wizards, but they just aren’t for me.

    The first build I made used Frost spells as a base and was a Staff of Defense. The spells for the most part seemed useful for locking enemies down for a couple turns (most frost spells seem to have slow or imbolize effects). And it made for some interesting tactical setups especially with our Infernal Pact Warlock in the group (imoblizing enemies in a high-damage zone the Warlock could lay down). But there seemed to be something missing.

    At that point I changed to a different Wizard which had a more direct place in our story and some more status effects that would seem useful. I even added some multi-class powers with Cleric, but even then it just wasn’t enough. As Josh stated there just isn’t anything to set it apart from the other classes. Sure they have the biggest selection of Area and Close effects, but if you really wanted those types of powers you can grab them in almost any class. I think the status effects is what really sets the Controler apart, but the Wizard seem to be lacking in that varity. I would’ve like to see more Weakened, Prone, single target Stuns (something like if you hit them they come out of it, or one round effects). But most of the effects seem to be slow and immoblized or ongoing damage. I’m not knocking those abilities as they do make a difference on the field of battle if you hit with them or they miss saves. Also you can make a very damaging AoE type wizard and skip all status effects. But again that’s not why I got into it.

    Moving onto paragon, I’m getting a chance to play the Cleric some more and use the lessons learned from the first Cleric I made as this one will also be a melee-centric one. The difference here is I’m picking up a couple of ranged abilities. The paragon build I’m going with is the Angelic Avenger and is seems to be a great fit for that type of build. This was after discovering how potiental broken Radient Servant is for our setting (a Close Burst 8 encounter power that is 3d8 + Wis and stuns all undead and deamons hit in a setting that seems to be undead based could be problematic, oh did I mention all Radient skills crit on 19-20 with that path).

    As far as the game itself goes I have to agree with Josh in many of those aspects he outlined in this article. I’m glad the group as a whole warmed up to Dailies. I always liked them from the begining, but I had ones that didn’t need to be triggered early to get it’s full effect. The powers I had always seemed like ones that could be used if we needed to turn the tables a bit. So my feelings on that were probably baised at first but since then my opinion hasn’t change much on them.

    I am a little disappointed to hear though that there is some imbalance that’s been discovered in our respective groups between race and class combinations. While I wasn’t looking for complete balance in the system things like Ranged based Elf Rangers, and Dwarven Fighters just seem head and shoulders above other combinations. I don’t think it deters other combinations to be played it does cause me not want to play those combos. I tend to go with the roads less traveled in class-based games and seeing (hearing) how gross they can be it turns me off from them.