As he moves into middle school, my son is taking up the Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition role playing game; as part of his introduction I’ve been figuring out which books and supplies are really necessary for the game and which are superfluous. Because it’s been 20 years since I last picked up an old AD&D book and because so much has changed since then, I thought that Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition For Dummies would be a useful read. I was wrong.
The job of any book in the “Dummies” series is to simplify a complicated topic, and Dungeons & Dragons 4e is certainly complicated, with distinctions between attacks, actions, feats, spells, powers and skills in the offensive aspect of combat alone. But authors Bill Slavicsek and Richard Baker somehow manage to write a “Dummies” book over 100 pages longer than the book it summarizes (the Player’s Handbook). That’s a bad sign. The pages in this “Dummies” book are padded with repetition. For instance, in two pages of Chapter 3 we find out that:
As the name of the class implies, the fighter has the best all-around fighting capabilities. A fighter usually has a good Strength score to better use melee weapons, such as swords and axes. Fighters can use most weapons and most kinds of armor and shields without penalty. They are trained in close-combat fighting.
A fighter provides combat prowess, high hit points, and good defense to the party…. As part of a team, the fighter is the defender — protecting the other party members and wading in to lock down the tough opponents. In other words, the fighter’s job is to fight.
If you think that being in the center of most combat encounters will appeal to you, or if you like the idea of playing a physically powerful character, then the fighter is the class for you.
Fighters live for the thrill of combat and the excitement of adventure. And woe to any evil that happens to cross their paths! Have fun with the idea of being a physical powerhouse, a combat expert, and a master of weapons. That’s the fighter’s portfolio, and you should play it for all it’s worth.
Just as each player has a position on a sports team, every character has a role in the adventuring party. For the fighter, that role is defender.
Chapters 3, 4, 5 and 6 are hardly chapters at all, struggling through this sort of repetition to reach a meager 3 pages of text each. Each of these chapters is essentially a Mad Libs template filled with stock paragraphs into which the authors just stuff different verbs, nouns and adjectives:
In this chapter, we provide a bit of advice on who might want to play a [noun] character and how to play a [noun] character. The rest of the chapter features three ready-to-play [noun] characters that you can use to kick-start your adventuring career.
Just as each player has a position on a sports team, every character has a role in the adventuring party. For the [noun], that role is [noun]. As a [noun], it falls to the [noun] to…
Any of these characters make a great [noun] and a worthy member of any adventuring party. Pick the one that most appeals to you and then turn to Chapter 7 for a quick overview of game play.
Those four chapters could have been boiled down to one very short chapter, but then the authors wouldn’t have made the Dummies page quota.
Throughout this book, repeated misspellings hinder readers from picking up necessary terms: in the space of two pages, a sample character is referred to as “Redgar,” “Regdar,” and repeatedly “Regular.” Even more confusingly, the authors fail to define arcane D&D terms like “Fortitude,” “Action Surge,” “Melee,” “gp” and “Saving Throw” before they use them in the book. It’s enough to make a novice reader’s head spin, and novices are supposed to be the target audience of this book.
If you want to pick up a short, well-written book to succinctly and incrementally teach you to rules for playing Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition, you’d have to be a Dummy to stick with this book. Pick up the original and complete source book, the Player’s Handbook, instead.