I have never played fourth ed, I have read most of the new books, but it is so different as to be quite foreign to my play style. Is there a primer or guide out to help 3.5 DMs switch to 4th smoothly? If not what are some key points I will need to take into consideration as I attempt to finally make the switch?

Related but I am more wondering what, as a DM I need to do to my design/playstyle to make a smooth conversion from leading 3.5 to leading 4th.

Example: "2nd ed focused more on descriptions and story telling, because the game didn't have a robust tactical system. 3.5 has a much stronger tactical system and so is more regularly played with a battle map and strict adherence to its combat system. Also, Attacks of Opportunity ensures a more stable flow of combat and feels more like a tactic game then an old Final Fantasy game"


"While kits were almost meaningless in 2nd ed, in 3rd ed a lot of players will design their characters around what prestige class they want to end up with."

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ Your quoted text is inherently erroneous assertions, by the way. 2E had an optional book that was almost identical to 3.0's combat mechanic: Combat & Tactics. And 2E kits were often derided for being too meaningful - so much so that playing without one was not an option for many, since they often included special abilities and extra proficiencies, and functioned very much like sub-classes. \$\endgroup\$
    – aramis
    Commented Feb 16, 2012 at 20:01
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ IMHO, RTFM and you should be fine. \$\endgroup\$
    – DForck42
    Commented Feb 17, 2012 at 18:03

3 Answers 3


They're not the same game. While that seems obvious, many people take the lessons and assumptions from 3.5 and try to port them directly to 4e is a grave mistake. The best example of this are the early monsters which try to use player-available weapons and other player-assumptions to inform monster design. This has led to horrible monsters in early adventures.

It's a complex and digitally enabled game. Characters have remarkable and intimidating complexities in them. While it is certainly possible for an experienced player to make her character by hand, the digital tools out there allow for a much smoother experience. However, players tend to forget things that don't appear on power cards, so that while a digital character sheet is an excellent choice to start with, players should hand craft their own sheets, their own cards, and their own checklists. I personally recommend power2ool.com for power cards, and google docs for making a checklist. (Rationale behind the checklist: powers are hideously complex. No really, people have 3 actions a turn and only 3% of powers analyzed above only do damage. By working through the tactics ahead of time, players can actually engage in combat without trying to figure out their options as perfectly spherical adventurers).

Loot is part of character, not a reward per se. 4e features a ... pretty decent simulacra of advancement through bigger numbers without... actually changing any fundamental relationships between accuracy or damage. There are pretty useful guides (random or list, depending on which DMG you're using) in the DMGs for loot to drop, and players should generate wishlists, or you should use intrinsic bonuses. But don't monkey with the math without thinking about the implications of that. More difficult encounters should come from the environment, higher level monsters... not depriving the characters.

Don't simulate. 4e is a game of combat-as-sport. Players don't have scry & die, save-or-lose, or any of the other... quirks of 3.5's combat-as-war. This presents something of a problem when players spend too much time planning ahead. Figure out your general policy when your players choose to engage in combat-as-war and tell your players about it. If you're OK with players facerolling an encounter because of prior planning, make sure they know that you won't negate their successes. If you're not, make it part of the social contract and make sure your players won't be adversely impacted by not planning.

The party is the fundamental unit of interaction. Make sure that your players have a functioning party. The difficulty of the game is determined by how well the party works together. A good party will triumph over remarkable challenges, a bad party will have trouble with equal level challenges. Tailor the challenges to the party and allow them to plan and communicate and roleplay.

The quality of RP is a function of the DM. If you don't reward roleplaying, you won't get any. Combats can certainly be taken in a boardgamey feel or in an RP feel depending on how the DM guides them. Verbal rewards ("Cool!") are fine as is verbal description (but reduce the number of enemies accordingly, or their HP, to compensate for the increased time that combats will take.) I prefer both verbal acknowledgement and to give out a floating "+2 bonus" that they can use in the same encounter.

Skill challenges present interesting challenge to the DM Scenes are no longer resolved by "roll diplomacy" ... instead it can sometimes turn into "everyone in the party roll diplomacy many times." You need to figure out your own philosophy towards skill challenges and a way that they will be fun and interesting to your group. Many many thousands of words have been dedicated to them and I still haven't found a framework I'm happy with.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Regarding the complexity, If you play an essentials game it is far less complex. I've been able to play many sessions of 4e Essentials without pen, paper, and one time, even with missing charachter sheets :) \$\endgroup\$
    – GMNoob
    Commented Feb 17, 2012 at 7:19

Combat can take much longer in 4th ed (especially if your players don't understand the tactics or what their powers do), so its very useful to have your players study their character sheets and encourage them to plan their turns ahead of time. Because of the high HP of some creatures you can have many turns devoted to a small number of enemies.

Also, as a DM, having a DDI subscription is an invaluable asset as it gives you access to all of the monsters, trap, diseases, and magic weapons (in addition to other things that are useful to the players), which will help immensely when trying to create your encounters and problems for the session.

As mentioned in the question you linked to, the rules are for combat. Outside of combat you have to use your DM sense to determine what makes sense and what is fair and progresses the story along. They tried to implement Skill Challeneges (see here for more information) to deal with them but they are difficult to work out and again probably just better to use common sense.


I'm not terribly familiar with 4e, but I have a little bit of experience with both groups; here's my insights when I tried 4e DM'ing versus 3.5 DM'ing.

4e was more combat heavy; my 3.5 was pretty combat heavy too, but when I ran 4e it felt like a constant string of battles while 3.5 was more open. This could have been on account of the (pre-written) adventures I was running, but I found that 4e characters all have a very heavy focus on combat and a good deal of them can fight up close, while some 3.5 characters didn't seem to care as much about combat or more intimate battles.

I definitely ran my 4e games more digitally integrated; the different combat system and the like made it practically necessary for me to run the game with a grid on a tabletop for things to make any sense, and I'm too cheap to buy miniatures so I used an epic amount of MapTool for it.


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