Dungeons & Delvers Doesn't Feel Like a 4th Edition Hack

While watching one of RPG Crawler's videos (pretty sure it was this one), he mentioned Dungeons & Delvers and how even though it's a 4th Edition hack he still considers it OSR. I think that's good, because it tells me he was at least open-minded enough to give it a fair take (especially since it's virtually nothing like 4th Edition, which I'll get to in a sec).

I'm not really sure what the definition of OSR is. Like Failing Forward and Session 0 it seems like there are various definitions; the wikipedia entry on OSR defines it as "a movement among players of tabletop role-playing games (especially Dungeons & Dragons) that draws inspiration from the earliest days of tabletop RPGs in the 1970s".

Since Dungeons & Delvers: Black Book is intended to be an homage to the easy-to-master black box (even though it's got skills, ascending AC, talent choices, three saves, etc), which was based on the Basic Set published in 1977, then sure I guess it fits well enough. But, what I really wanted to talk about was the whole 4th Edition hack thing.

Technically it's true.

No, wait, come back!

Waaay back when Melissa and I began playtesting Dungeons & Delvers it was originally called FrankenFourth. We started out playing 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons by the book, because we wanted to see what we did and didn't like at that point in time. Very quickly we removed everyone getting a bunch of powers, healing surges, how clerics received and used their spells (which I was calling miracles), how wizards used their magic, etc. Some of this was after the first session, and plenty of it went through a variety of changes before being finalized (looking at you, fighter).

In the end there was very little of 4th Edition left. The big thing is that monsters have levels, but only their Wound Points, Vitality Points, and a bit of math is based on level (+1 to some things every five levels or so), and monsters don't autoscale to the party's level (so you don't fight level 1 goblins at level 1, and then level 10 goblins at level 10).

By default Wound Point and Vitality Point gains are also static, though one of the free Appendix D zines included with the PDF has rules for random amounts in case you want to go that route. But given that there was houserules in at the latest 3rd Edition on "taking the average" I wouldn't call this a 4th Edition-specific thing.

The recharge mechanic is in both 4th- and 5th Edition, so I also wouldn't call that a 4th Edition thing.

There's the whole short- and long rest mechanic, but you don't long rest to automatically regain all of your WP (it comes back in small amounts based on your level and Constitution). Clerics can only pray to regain Favor for free once in a given day (otherwise it requires sacrifices), and wizards gradually regain Mana: it only takes a few hours to get it all back, but then in every other edition a night of sleep gets you all your spell slots back anyway so I also wouldn't call that a 4th Edition thing.

The other maybe kind of 4th Edition thing is that most classes get to choose things at every level. Unlike 4th Edition though, you don't make a bunch of choices at 1st-level, plus feats and maybe racial stuff, and the powers you choose aren't always terribly complicated. For example, clerics get to choose two Domains to determine what sort of miracles they can perform, and rogues get to make a talent choice that can make them better at using certain skills, better at getting out of trouble, inflict more damage with Sneak Attack, and so on.

It's way simpler and faster, and even if you're playing, say, a wizard you can somewhat control how complex things can get: you can stick to straightforward blasty stuff if you don't want to think too much or just want to blow everyone up, or go into illusions for more complicated, subtle magic. Even better you can shift gears as you go: you can start out with evocations, and then start picking up enchantment and illusion stuff down the road.

Fighters are the odd class out in that they have to exchange their Damage Bonus class feature to choose another talent at 1st-level, and are sometimes stuck with an Attack Bonus or Multiattack. Yeah, the talent choices include special attacks, but they aren't like 4th Edition in that you don't have to take them, and you aren't limited to a per-encounter or -day basis: you attack something, and if your attack roll is high enough you can trigger one of them.

Again, sure, Dungeons & Delvers started as a 4th Edition hack, technically, but there's virtually nothing of it left. I've seen people describe it as something like B/X, Rules Cyclopedia, or something in between 3rd and 5th Edition. So even if you hate 4th Edition with the fiery passion of a million burning suns, I'd check out Dungeons & Delvers anyway: I think you'll be pleasantly surprised, and even if it doesn't become your game of choice there's plenty you can mine for other d20 games.

You can now get a physical copy of Dungeons & Delvers: Black Book in whatever format you want!

After months of doing other things, we turned our attention to and released The Warden. It's based on the 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons class of the same name, but judging by the responses we did an excellent job converting it over.

Dwarven Vault is our sixth 10+ Treasures volume. If you're interested in thirty dwarven magic items (including an eye that lets you shoot lasers) and nearly a dozen new bits of dungeon gear, check it out!

Just released our second adventure for A Sundered World, The Golden Spiral. If a snail-themed dungeon crawl is your oddly-specific thing, check it out!

By fan demand, we've mashed all of our 10+ Treasure volumes into one big magic item book, making it cheaper and more convenient to buy in print (which you can now do).


  1. To be honest, you did your best to put me off. I am a big fan of 4E Essentials and even more so D&D Gamma World based on 4E. Insisting there is nothing left of 4E in this game and how haters might love that game gives me the impression, that I am not the target audience. I wish you the best of luck, though. Looks like you‘re passionate about the game and that‘s great.

    1. Dailor:

      Whether or not you'd enjoy this depends entirely on why you enjoy 4th Edition in the first place. You get a lot of control over your character, you just don't make as many choices, and they don't rack up as quickly.

      Races are generally good at any class, but there are some they'd be obviously very good at: I'm playing a kobold fighter in Melissa's game and I'm doing way better than if I was running a halfling in 3rd Edition.

      There aren't any healing surges, but the VP pool helps avoid a reliance on magical healing (which was something I liked about 4E: you want a healer/leader, but that healer/leader doesn't HAVE to be a cleric, which also means you can do aa completely non-magical campaign without breaking anything).

      There's no half-level bonus, but that's because if everyone gets a half-level bonus and the monster levels and DCs keep going up anyway, why have the bonus at all? Why not drop the bonus, goblins can stay in the level 1-3 range, and they become more challenging because you fight more of them?

      Multiclassing is more like 3E, but since there isn't a bunch of assumed math you can pretty much do whatever and it works (Melissa's rogue/ranger/wizard mashup is pretty damned cool).

      Removing the pseudo-Vancian magic wasn't something I did because it was a 4E thing: I've NEVER liked pseudo-Vancian magic. Same reason I changed up how cleric magic works: I always thought it was kind of lazy how all spellcasting classes used the same mechanic.

      Combat is pretty fast by the book (no need to halve Hp or anything like that), which was a common complaint with 4E.

      Everything a monster does is contained in the stat-block: you don't gotta go flipping around other books for spells and abilities.

      The purpose of the article wasn't to say that 4E sucks. I played 4E for years and still have every 4E book there is. I'd still run it if I had a group that wanted to play it. The fact is that people don't like 4E and since this started as a 4E thing I know that some of those people won't even bother giving this the time of day because of it. The point was to say, yeah, it started out that way, but it honestly doesn't come across as a 4E hack.

      But, if you can tell me what specific things you like about 4E I can better provide an answer for you.


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