During a recent trip to the public library, this writer observed a copy of Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition for Dummies by Bill Slavicsek and Richard Baker, sitting unnoticed on a shelf in the sports and gaming section. The text was initially borrowed for amusement purposes; after all, most books in the “for Dummies” series are so basic and generic in nature that they are often useless to anyone even remotely acquainted with the topic at hand.
The book is composed of five parts: a D&D Crash Course, Building a D&D Character, Playing your Best Game, the Art of Dungeon Mastering, and the Part of Tens.
The first two parts contain very basic information most D&D fourth Edition (4e) players would know from simply reading the rules – the book is for “dummies,” after all. But the subsequent parts include a surprisingly large amount of material that sheds light upon what the game designers had in mind when creating 4e game mechanics, and how those mechanics differ from prior editions of the game.
Consider this example. The first chapter of Part III, Playing Your Best Game, is titled “How to Handle Yourself in a Fight.” It contains a section on setting up opportunity attacks. While virtually every player knows that these attacks are useful, the authors illustrate how vitally important they actually are by defining the mechanic in mathematical terms, a perspective this writer had never entertained. Citing that statistically, most fights are over in five rounds or so, and that most heroes will engage in four to six battles on a given adventuring day, an average character gets between 20 and 30 standard actions in combat each day. Since most attacks are standard actions, we can say that the character will get about the same number of attacks on a typical day.
Reasoning from those numbers, it follows that if the character participates in six battles on a given day (containing an average total of 30 attacks), and positions himself during those combats so that he can make two opportunity attacks during each, he’s raised his total number of attacks from 30 to 42, a 25 percent increase in his offensive capability. In light of that observation, feats that improve the chances of a character successfully making opportunity attacks or increasing the damage of such attacks suddenly become more important.
While players with a wargaming background may find maximizing offense in this manner to be top-of-mind, players new to the game – or those who learned to play D&D prior to the release of its third edition in 2000, when opportunity attacks made their official debut in the core rules – may not automatically consider the mathematical implications of the opportunity attack when choosing character powers. Given the broad spectrum of players and play style of the D&D game, addressing the opportunity attack mechanic in this manner shows that the authors understand the width of their audience, and they also provide a level of sophistication well beyond that expected from a “dummy.”
The book features “advanced” sections, covering topics such as the finer points of character creation, using multi-class feats to customize a character’s abilities to match the needs of her party, and even a section on effective “Min/Maxing” for “munchkin” or power-gaming types.
An entire part is devoted to the task of Dungeon Master (DM), which players new to the role of DM will find to be of immense use. The chapter helps a new DM differentiate between different modes of play, outlines a sample combat, and provides step-by-step instructions for combat encounter creation. A sample, detachable battlemat with counters is bound into the book for reference.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly for players familiar with the 4e rules, the book concludes with a section called “The Part of Tens,” in which the authors provide a series of “Top Ten” lists on topics such as character powers and feats, along with the reasons for their selections. While one could argue that these are largely matters of opinion, the reasoning behind the choices is illustrative. For example, the Toughness feat – which provides an additional five hit points at each tier of play – is recommended for all characters; the rationale behind the choice is that extra hit points are useful in every encounter, a distinction not enjoyed by all feats.
As the title implies, the book is certainly useful for “D&D Dummies,” but it also contains information useful to more experienced players. And with online vendors selling new copies of the book at approximately $15 U.S. and used copies selling for as little as $1 U.S., it is well worth the investment.
Unless you’re fortunate enough to borrow a copy from your public library, in which case the advice can be obtained free.