As some of you know I am no fan of 4th ed overall but I do actually miss aspects of it. Over the last few months I have been rereading my 2nd, 3rd and 4th ed books and trying to be a bit more objective in terms of things like concepts as opposed to the mechanical implementation of things. Put simply was this a good idea even if the mechanics were wonky or if the implementation was not to my liking.
One can see elements of 3rd ed for example in 2nd ed as far back as 1989, just like one can see elements of 4th ed in various 3rd ed material. It is kind of interesting. Anyway today I will be going through the 4th ed PHB and mining it for ideas as I have recently converted various feats etc from it for use in Pathfinder. Rather than pick apart the things I do not like from 4th ed I will focus on the things I do like and try to keep the comparisons to 2nd, 3rd and D&DN somewhat useful. Also the 4th ed PHB will be looked at as just a PHB independent of DDI.
Nice an simple, brief and concise. The start of a new PHB is rarely exciting being honest but this is laid out very well. The book also looks attractive and overall a great job for something that is not the best. An improvement over 2nd eds and probably 3rd eds efforts. D&DN seems to be going down this path as well. Simple is good IMHO.
Chapter 3 Races.
One may not like things like Eladrin, Dragonborn or racial powers but the layout of the book is very good and the races are interesting enough relative other PHB. The races section is never really an exciting part of a PHB either. Each race gets 2 pages, it is well laid out and I like racial powers so overall a good job here.
Chapter 4 classes.
Ruh roh. 125 pages of classes. This chapter more than anything caused me to pass on 4th ed. Never the less I will focus on the things I did like. Some of the classic daily resources like turn undead and smite evil work better as an encounter power IMHO and my players have indicted if they had a choice they would like that in other versions of D&D. Classes concepts like the Warlord also score highly and I hope the D&DN warlock is a blend of the 3.5 and 4th ed warlock. Other changes such as the Cleric heal+hit and laser cleric are a good idea and have made it to D&DN although in a different way mechanically.Other things I like are various small things like Rogues having a bonus to hit with daggers as they kind of sucked as a weapon in 3rd ed and they were quite good in 2nd ed at least as a thrown weapon. Various powers would also make a great class abilities gained at XYZ level for various classes. Most of the artwork here also looks good.
Chapter 5 Skills. Skills are skills. I would have preferred an evolved version of 4th eds skills to be used in D&DN using elements of Star Wars Saga and 2nd eds bounded accuracy here over what we have in D&DN. Scale the numbers down, make class abilities interact with skills better like SWSE, and something similar to the Pathfinder skill list would be my ideal skill system for D&DN. Overall 4th ed is one of the better d20 based skill systems around. D&DN skill development is still in flux though so there is still hope perhaps.
Chapter 6 Feats.
Feats are feats more or less. I like them and D&DN probably would not interest me if it did not have them. Would probably prefer something like 4th ed and D&DN feats or better yet SWSE over 3rd eds feats. I will assume most of us know what feats are though. Hoping D&DN ends up with more than 4 feats. Less feat bloat from 3rd and 4th ed would be nice though.
Chapter 7. Equipment.
4th ed weapon properties I feel are a big hit and I liked them a lot. 4th ed continues D&D traditions of making armor a bit meh mechanically although I did like the why they tied it to different classes and you could cast spells in it. It is better than D&DN which has terrible armor rules. Magic items also ended up in the PHB and I am not a fan of 4th ed magic items being blunt. Pathfinder also has made a few mistakes here IMHO and I would prefer something between 2nd and 3rd eds magic items here. With the exception of the magic items one of the better equipment sections in recent years although it is hard to get excited about equipment.
Chapter 7. Adventuring.
Short, concise and relevant. Very well done here.
Chapter 8 Combat.
More or less the guts of any version of D&D 4th ed was a massive improvement here compared to 3.5 and PFRPG combat chapters. D&DN seems to be going down this path as well. Not that much to say about it really except it is really good.
Chapter 9. Rituals.
Hard to evaluate these due to various reasons. I did not like them as substitutes for the classic D&D spells. However the concept is a great one and compares very favorably to what came before it. 2nd ed for example had true dweomers in the high level hand book, and Dragon Kings had level 10 spells that were more or less an epic ritual to turn you into a Dragon King. 3rd ed provided the Epic Level Handbooks epic magic system that was blatantly terrible and the less said about it the better. Ritual magic similar to 4th eds could come back IMHO and hopefully the gold part will not be there. If you need to levitate a mountain top, ward a temple or location, summon an avatar etc I think ritual magic is better for that than the traditional vancian spell slots. If D&DN has non combat feats non spell casters could also get this which could be useful. Magic item creation could also be tied to rituals. Bruenor Battlehammer of the Drizzt books fame is a Dwarven fighter that created a magical warhammer for Wulfgar. Preventing an evil sacrifice during a ritual ceremony also makes a great plot hook that I recall from 1st ed Dungeon adventures.
In conclusion that is more or less it. I tried to keep it brief and positive for the most part. Overall a great players handbook with the exception of chapter 4 which made me pass on 4th ed.
Fear is the Mind Killer