Limiting 4e Source Material

by Mike Shea on 24 January 2011

It's been two and a half years since the release of Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition. For the past 30 months Wizards has released dozens of sourcebooks and hundreds of Dungeon and Dragon magazine articles. Each of these contains new component rules for our game, some large, some small. At the time I'm writing this, there are 38 races, 60 classes, 3,031 feats, 7.476 powers, and 8,756 items. That's a whole lot of material and there's a lot of broken combinations within that material.

We might look at all of this as a giant mess of rules, or we might look at it as an opportunity to build the game that we want. All we need do is pick and choose the rules we want for the game we want to run.

Why limit options?

There are many good reasons to limit the material we run at our game. You might choose to limit options for a story reason. You might choose to limit options to simplify player characters, make it easier for newer players, and speed up your game. You might choose to limit options to reduce the possibility of encounter breaking combinations. Any of these are good reasons.

Today we'll look at two ways to limit player options to build different types of games.

Going Essentials Only

D&D Essentials might be seen as a reboot of basic 4th edition. It revises and rebuilds some of the basic classes found, mostly, in the original Players Handbook.

Limiting your campaign to Essentials only sources has a few advantages. First, D&D Essentials classes are much better balanced than the classes found in older material. Broken capabilities like critical hits on anything other than 20 and weird combinations of powers from multi-classing are removed from the core Essentials books. Melee classes are easier to run, the number of magical items is greatly reduced, and feats are streamlined and easier to pick. Also, the DDI Character Builder includes a simple Essentials-only mode that makes generating Essentials characters very easy.

Unfortunately, some players who enjoy sorting through piles of options when building their characters will find Essentials-only characters far too simple for their liking. Options at every level are greatly reduced, often to a single option. Some might enjoy this, but many are likely to fee too limited.

For this reason, an Essentials-only campaign is probably a good idea for a shorter series of adventures than a full level 1 to 30 campaign. In particular, it works very well for a small series of adventures at high levels where Essentials shows the greatest benefit in speed and balance.

Consider an Essentials-only campaign for one-shot adventures or a short run of adventures especially at the epic-tier.

Choosing options for Dark Sun

Dark Sun is a campaign world that, by default, limits player options by removing divine classes. We can go a step further by limiting the races and classes to those that fit well into the Dark Sun universe. For my own campaign, I'm likely to limit it to the following races:

and the following classes:

I've replaced typical PHB1 classes with Essential classes which works for everyone but the Warlord. Allowed sources includes Essentials, PHB2, PHB3, the Power books, and the Dark Sun Campaign Book. This eliminates PHB1, Dungeon, Dragon, Eberron, or Forgotten Realms books. Dark Sun already supports fixed enhancement bonuses so items shouldn't ever be selected by players, instead chosen or randomly selected by the DM as the campaign moves on.

This should keep things balanced and focus PC options around those that best fits the Dark Sun campaign world.

Unfortunately, the current build of the online DDI Character Builder has no good way to filter out specific sources of information. This will put a big burden on players to filter out feats and powers of these options. Hopefully limiting source material is one of the features on the list for future updates.

Building the game you want

The wide range of existing source material can overwhelm your players and your game. Instead, think of 4e as a modular system of pieces and parts you can put together to build the sort of game you want to run. Talk to your players and think about your story and your intent for the game you want to run and choose what options are available. Your game can end up running faster, easier, and with more fun.

If you enjoyed this article, you might enjoy the Lazy Dungeon Master. You can also support this site by using these links to purchase the D&D Starter Set, Players Handbook, Monster Manual, or Dungeon Master's Guide. Send feedback to @slyflourish on Twitter or email mike@mikeshea.net.