This is a great resource for a tactical miniatures game. The system of powers and feats actually involve a lot of emergent complexity which only shows up when actually playing the game. In other words, the powers combine with each other in interesting tactical ways, and that's a fun (tm) part of 4e.
Beyond this? Nothing. Failure after failure.
Skill challenges suck. The role-playing advice sucks when it's provided at all. Magic items are included in the PHB instead of the DMG, so the players can shop to get the "best builds evar". The art is more dungeonpunk, off-the-roof Comic like, than ever. There's no ambiance in this game, no sense of wonder. It's instead "Koolz" World of Warcraft, Pokemon over-the-top Uber-Fantasy!!1!ONE!ELEVEN! Why? Because it seems "MOAR!" is ALWAYS Fun (tm), didn't you know?
It's all about tactical encounters and gaming the rules system. That's it. And it does that fairly well.
It would have been okay as a tactical miniatures game with strong role-playing elements. As a "role-playing game", it's alright, though it streches my suspension of disbelief more than once. As "Dungeons & Dragons", it fails miserably. As a gateway to the role-playing games hobby? God no, not this game.
- Too many monsters iconic to the Dungeons & Dragons experience are missing. You can feel the marketing ploy of spreading the critters through multiple volumes to squeeze dollars out of the fans.
- Monsters exist for one purpose, and one purpose only: fight the PCs for a few rounds. That's it. Period. Ecologies are useless, any considerations beyond tactical roles in the game are useless.
- Critters are off-the-wall stupid rather inspired on actual mythology. The actual cultural inspiration of D&D is absent from this book beyond what was done by previous editions. What's actually "new" here is just bad pop variations of known quantities rather than genuinely new and cool stuff. You can see that the designers just don't give a crap about the classical roots of the game.
For these reasons, and more, I have to fail this book. 1 star. Abysmal failure of a game. Try again.
This edition of the game basically gave up on the idea of being the archetypal fantasy role-playing game. Instead, it defines very tightly what its designers think is "fun" (tm), and it sticks with it.
In other words, this is a tactical miniatures game with role-playing options included for good measure (i.e. skill challenges). You sure can get a good role-playing experience out of it with a good DM, but we all know it: a good DM can run a good session with any piece of crap of a game out there.
The tactical rules themselves are excellent, and though the powers look very similar to each other as you read through the books, the true value of the game's design can only be appreciated via actual play. And there, it shines, when you like such things.
The Monster Manual describes monsters as completely different rules constructs than players' characters. In other words, PCs are different from anything else in the game world. They evolve according to a separate, different logic than the rest of the people and creatures around them. This is supposed to make the game easier to manage on the DM's side of the screen. Some people will appreciate, others will not.
The Dungeon Master's Guide is an abysmal failure of a guide. Its advice is ridiculously one-dimensional, stereotypical, concentrating on what the game designer thinks is "Fun" (tm) while everything else has, obviously, to be "Unfun" (tm). Some pieces of advice are so stupid... it's actually shocking, in a "did this guy actually run a game, ever?" kind-of way. The worse of the three books, by far.
To conclude: if this game hadn't been called "D&D", but still a "role-playing game", I would have given it 3 stars. If it had been called something else, and branded a "tactical role-playing game" or some such, I would have given it a 4 stars. Maybe. But this is called "Dungeons & Dragons", and as such, it is supposed to be "the" Flagship of the Role-playing game hobby. And there, it fails miserably.
This is a tactical game, using "powers" copied on the design of Magic: the Gathering game cards, with the aesthetics of World of Warcraft, with some interesting emergent complexity uncovered when actually playing it, but this is definitely NOT what I would call "Dungeons & Dragons".
For these reasons, I have to fail this game. 1 star. Try again.
This DMG is a complete waste of time. The advice is partisan, so focused on a single, biased definition of what "Fun" (tm) is and is not, that the whole thing ends up being more about building walls, not bridges, for DMs to overcome in order to get what they really want out of this game.
When they do, there is still the second surprise: the fact that 4e mechanics cater in fact to this single type of "Fun" (tm), a very narrow, gamist definition of what D&D is and isn't that is sure to disappoint the passionate hobbyist who loves the tradition of the game sooner rather than later.
A piece of crap that is not even worth selling on eBay. The authors should be ashamed.
This book presents a game that is the continuation of the D&D tradition I love and care about.
In many instances, it simplifies game play (skills and ranks, combat maneuvers) while adding to its fun experience in others (additional class abilities). It fixes some of the issues the 3.5 fans had with the rules(polymorph). It keeps the whole heavily recognizable as truly "D&D" (all classes in one book, Vancian casting system, et cetera), through and through, and yet, the game ends up being its own thing, nonetheless.
It feels great.
Legacy D&D is alive. I have found my path.
Thank you, Paizo Publishing, for the awesome game.