Core Fourth Edition

A Walk Through the Planes – Part 122: Fourth Edition’s Core




Ever since people caught onto the fact that I’m not so keen about D&D‘s Fourth Edition, I’ve been asked why I feel so strongly about it. After all, the game has had many editions before it, and is about to have a second one since, so what makes this particular edition so different from its many brethren. To this, I can respond by talking at great length about how much shit it poured on the game’s mechanics or about its nonsensical lore. And while the two of these are intertwined, they’re also a bit more separate than you might at first think. Since I’m rarely, if ever, going to talk much about the edition’s mechanics again, I figured that would be a good starting point for looking into the cursed edition’s many, many changes. 

Originally, D&D came out of the wargames community, and served as essentially a way of turning mass battles into individualized affairs. If you read the original D&D books, you’ll even find many references to Chainmail, the wargame that was largely adapted into D&D before the later game gained more of its own identity. As such, combat was a huge focus early on, and much of the original content reflects this. Lore is minimal, and adventures’ plots really only serve to get players into a dungeon. But the game changed and adapted. Tracy Hickman’s work in the 1980s had a big effect on this, with the Dragonlance modules and the original Ravenloft adventure, but just as much influence came from other RPG’s. Unlike D&D, many of them put an emphasis on parts of the game that weren’t combat. They cared more about storytelling, mood, tone, character, etc. The influence of these other games was monumental, and while combat never left the game even in settings like Planescape that wished to put the emphasis elsewhere, the fact that you can play a modern session of D&D without any encounters makes for a wildly different experience from how the game would’ve played in the 1970s. 


One of the revolutionary parts of Third Edition, in my experience, was the advent of skills. Now, any character might be more focused on horse riding or climbing than on wielding a halberd. Nonweapon proficiencies had been added to the game in the Player’s Option: Skills & Powers book for Second Edition AD&D, which led to what many consider edition 2.5, but it wasn’t until Third Edition that they really felt like an intrinsic part of the game. This change made it possible for fighting to no longer be the primary way of interacting with the world, an option that opened up the possibility space of the game. Really, this is the main reason I wish Planescape had been developed in this later edition, as it would’ve helped its adventures, which were sometimes constrained by the game system they were being written within. 

Is this book’s lore canon? I have no idea, but if you want to have any clue what’s happening in the game, it’s practically necessary to read through, even though most people have never even heard of either of the Wizards Presents volumes.

Fourth Edition keeps skills and feats around, but it minimizes them by putting an incredible emphasis on battle positioning and maps. The idea behind this is that focusing on moving miniatures around a board causes a more strategic type of play, and to a certain extent this is true. But in my experience, it means that more creative options are usually ignored. The imagination involved with having a bard swinging around the roof feels impossible when constrained to moving about a grid, and this is even more emphasized when we consider the actual abilities of the classes. My personal experience with Fourth Edition was that the codified nature of what you could do on your turn meant that these were the only options, and as a result skills were only relevant outside of combat situations. 

Further emphasizing this focus on combat was the removal of traditional spells, in favor of “attacks.” Now, essentially all spells are combat oriented, with the exception being “Utility Spells,” most of which are also only useful in combat, they’re just not literally damaging to enemies. How spells are going to work outside of combat is rarely explained, and as such they’re barely relevant there. Spells and abilities are essentially things you do in order to hurt things, and while there are exceptions, they are generally fringe, and often hard to justify choosing when options are so limited and the game is so combat focused. 

The removal of traditional spells coupled with the decision to make them an intrinsic part of every class may sound good, since making fighters as fun to play as wizards has always been an uphill battle, but effectively it flattens the classes such that every single one plays the same. Does it matter that your wizard’s damaging spell and your warrior’s damaging ability have different names when they are mechanically the same? Not really. This becomes even more of an issue when considering that in order to balance things more precisely, Wizards gave each class one or more roles to fit within: controller, defender, leader, and striker. The end result is that regardless of their class, every defender plays essentially the same, every striker plays essentially the same, etc. It barely matters if you want to play as a ranger or a warlock, as either way you’re mechanically going to be functioning on the (now necessary) board semi-identically. 

This also couples with my final mechanical frustration with Fourth Edition, which may initially sound small but is in fact a large one in practice. In every other edition of D&D, what you ultimately need to play as a PC is a character sheet. One member of my regular in-person group was adept enough at writing small that he’d create his on an index card and then put this in his wallet so as to prevent forgetting to bring it. Likewise, I could make a Fifth Edition character casually in a few minutes if needed, and I’m not just talking about a first level one. Conversely, Fourth Edition characters are complex as hell and every one of them requires access to their own Player’s Handbook (or its sequels) to function. Because every goddamn ability has its own asinine name, it’s impossible to remember what they do unless you play very, very regularly, and as a result you will end up looking things up constantly. Character creation beyond early levels is a pain in the ass, but trying to play a higher level character without bringing them up yourself is absolutely miserable. From a sales perspective, requiring every single player to have their own book with them in order to play seems fantastic, but as far as usability goes, in my experience it was a nightmare that constantly slowed games down. Want to play a fighter? Well you’d better be familiar with the differences between Crack the Shell, Dizzying Blow, and Rain of Steel. What’s that, you can’t remember what the endless litany of meaningless words means? Well then it’s time to look it up, again and again and again. 

I got a little out of hand with that last paragraph, but as one final note, the actual descriptions for attacks and abilities rarely make sense to me and are frankly difficult to imagine. You don’t hit a guy with a sword, you use a “Giant’s Wake” to “Lay about with heavy, sweeping blows, hewing your enemies left and right.” Does this description add to the game’s feeling of verisimilitude? Nope, just the opposite, as in reality you’re only choosing based upon mechanics, and when a DM asks, “Ok what do you do?” you’re constrained with the ridiculous descriptions already provided rather than discussing what your character does in particular that’s interesting. In essence, it’s another flattening of the roleplaying aspects of the game, a way of making every character move and act similarly, their only differentiations being decisions they made while leveling up on a boring flowchart. 

Remember when tieflings were exciting? Well we’re now a long, long way from that with Fourth Edition.

As a result of all of these changes, I simply think that Fourth Edition isn’t as good as Third or Fifth in terms of playing the type of roleplaying game adventure that I most enjoy. If you’re looking for a dungeon crawl gauntlet and you’ve got a full group of players, each of whom has their own Player’s Handbook handy and are familiar with everything their character can do, this is probably the best system the game has ever had. But then, if that’s what you’re looking for, why would you not simply play Gloomhaven, or Descent, or so many other games instead? Roleplaying systems are essentially all about showing how characters overcome obstacles and conflicts, and in my experience the answer in Fourth Edition almost always ends up being combat, as that’s what it’s good at. Not every single feat is combat-oriented (though most are), and there are still skills, but so much emphasis being put on your combat abilities means that games focus on this single aspect of roleplaying. 

When the edition first came out, I always heard people describing how much it felt like playing World of Warcraft. This seemed to be intentional, and though Wizards of the Coast was careful not to mention this during its heyday, since then we’ve had at least some form of confirmation that this is what the company’s executives wanted. The thing is, what WoW did well both tended to be clunky when emulated on the tabletop, and also wasn’t a great fit for adventures focused on anything besides combat. De-automotizing things like cooldowns that the game did for you automatically made for slower, more tedious game sessions, in which it often felt more like you were a bookkeeper than an elf. 

While that entire talk by Ben Riggs that I linked to above was reported on but never fully uploaded, it still points to other issues leading to the system’s problems, such as that “right before the 4E Monster Manual went to the printer, someone on the management team (he didn’t say who) looked at the book, decided that the monsters’ hit points were too low, and raised them all. There was no oversight, no review, no playtesting (in fact, the lack of any sort of organized playtesting for 4E among their fan-base was another point that was brought up), and the result was that a lot of fights against monsters early in 4E’s life felt like a slog.” I’d love to have the actual designers talking more frankly about their own feelings about the system in retrospect, though I doubt that will ever happen. Perhaps Riggs and others will do some of that work for us, and of course if you know of any good other sources about the whole Fourth Edition rollercoaster ride please contact us with information, as I’d love to read more on the topic. 

If you’re interested in Wizards of the Coast’s at-the-time justification for making such massive changes to D&D, I suggest reading through the smug and self-congratulatory duology Wizards Presents: Races and Classes and Wizards Presents: Worlds and Monsters, a pair of 96-page books with a ton of information about how this all came to pass. No other edition has had this sort of weirdly promotional preview, and in hindsight these seem like a particularly bad idea considering what a disaster the edition was. But they do offer us some glimpses of the thought process behind many, though not all, of these changes. To a large extent, the first of these books covers the Player’s Handbook while the second covers the Dungeon Master’s Guide and Monster Manual. Which is handy, because without them, many changes seem to be made less for any real reason and more simply for the sake of change, though that wasn’t the case. So yes, let’s look at the lore, the fluff, the roleplaying part of the whole roleplaying game genre, going book-by-book with this core set to see what alterations were made.

The largest and most important of the new core books, Fourth Edition’s Player’s Handbook is pretty much the game on its own. As far as I’m concerned, the biggest changes in lore come from the choice of classes and races, a rundown of which I’ll quote from Shannon Appelcline, whose entire series on of this trilogy is necessary reading. 

 The 4e Player’s Handbook contained an impressive eight races and eight classes, but the exact races and classes that were highlighted surprised some.

D&D 4e’s core races included the dragonborn, dwarf, eladrin, elf, half-elf, halfling, human, and tiefling. Of these, the dragonborn, eladrin, and tiefling all appeared as core races for the first time. They’d all been floating around in the D&D mythos for a while—with the tieflings being the oldest. However, this was a big upgrade for them.

Meanwhile, the character races were also extensively reimagined, with the designers thinking of new ways to give the races niches and to make them more evocative. This was the first insight that many players got into the massive reconception of D&D‘s fluff that was at the heart of D&D 4e. It would appear much more extensively in 4e’s other books from 2008.

D&D 4e’s core classes included the cleric, fighter, paladin, ranger, rogue, warlock, warlord, and wizard. Again there were two surprising newbies. The warlock and warlord had both appeared in D&D 3e days, but hadn’t been a core part of the game previously.

With so many new races and classes, it’s not surprising that some classics got dropped. The gnome and half-orc were the most notable omissions from the race list, while the assassin, bard, and druid were all classics that were missing from the class list. 

Aside from the surprising decisions as to what would be included—and many, many more races and classes would be added during the edition’s short lifespan—what concerns me most about the changes were what they signified about how Wizards wanted the game to be played,  as I’m not exactly in love with, say, gnomes and druids. Particularly rough was that very few of these changes would ever be recognized as such within the actual core rulebooks, instead they just off-handedly pretend things were always this way. I don’t mind changes, but using the same words to mean different things is a way of being confusing, especially when it’s unclear how all-encompassing these changes might be. Anyhow, let’s start with those races. 

These folks may look like elves, but really they’re eladrins. Who are elves.

Tieflings used to be those with a smidge of fiendish heritage. “Part human and part something else” is how they’re originally described, and though that something else became strictly fiends in a relatively short time, it had always been a matter of fantasy-genetics. Now “They are descended from human nobles who bargained with dark powers,” but they still have an “infernal bloodline”? In essence, they now have a single dopey reason for existing, and the broad and free-wheeling way of players being able to define their individual heritage in the past is gone, replaced with a strict mythology focused on an ancient curse. This is a bit of a synecdoche for how the entire edition approached lore. While theoretically the changes were being made for the sake of the players and “fun,” for instance never defining the world’s map (or even its name…) as if that’s remotely helpful to anyone, in fact it’s far more strict and codified. 

All tieflings issue from the wicked root that was Bael Turath. They’re creatures descended from the devil-tainted rulers of that fallen empire, doomed to carry and pass on fiendish blood. In deciding on this single origin for tieflings in the world, we aimed to make them as easy to use as any other mainstream race. 

A common origin meant we could give tieflings a unified appearance, and that look could be edgy instead of ugly. This cohesive origin allows players to imagine what their individual tiefling is like, as they would with a human, without worrying about a list of possible devilish traits. Further, knowing that every tiefling shares a similar body shape makes it easier to write new material for tieflings.

Everything here is about limiting ideas and scope. Yes, the origin is cohesive (so as to promote being “edgy”….. ick), but it means the roleplaying possibilities are infinitely smaller than before. The world and cosmology ends up smaller as a result, and it feels like a free-wheeling race that players used to be able to define on each individual basis is now both uniform and uniformly dull. 


Even more drastic is the change made to eladrins. No longer are they celestials, now they’re the original race of elves. To quote Richard Baker:

Given the story we’d settled on for the high elves (a race of fey lords who live in castles in Faerie), it seemed that it would actually be counterproductive to also bring forward the eladrin into the new edition (a race of fey lords who live in Arborea, a plane that looks a lot like Faerie). In a sense, eladrin and high elves were competing for the same conceptual space, so we chose to combine them into a single race of fey lords and made the Feywild their home. The name “eladrin” became available to use as the name of the “high elf ” player character race. Now there are three races—not subraces—of elvenkind, and each is equally distinct from the others: Drow, Eladrin, Elf.

This issue with “conceptual space” caused many of the lore changes and confusion. This simplified the universe, but did so in a way that meant relying entirely upon new lore that contradicted what came before, and also prescribed a particular version of the game’s world. One of the reasons for the proliferation of elven races was that players simply liked having more unique types of elves out there. Now, though, those options are gone. Simplification yet again means limiting the game and its imagination space. This also means a ton more confusion when Fifth Edition decided to return to the Great Wheel, yet kept much of the Feywild eladrin concept. And for the most part, I found that this change only caused confusion, because the eladrin are only culturally different from their brethren, which makes it so that I fail to see the need for any differentiation between them and Prime Material elves in the first place. It’s messy and confusing and seemed like it never accomplished anything except for muddying up the lore, especially since this edition did weirdly little with the Feywild. 

If this isn’t what you want from your roleplaying, then Fourth Edition is not for you.

As far as classes go, the mechanical changes mean that everyone is wildly different from how they were before, even if the lore surrounding the classes tends to ignore this fact. However, in the case of the warlock, this isn’t the case, as essentially they’re a new spin on the binders from Third Edition, except that they’re not binding vestiges, instead “Warlocks channel arcane might wrested from primeval entities.” Remember how fascinating and flavorful all those vestiges were in Third Edition? Well, umm, instead it’s just undefined entities, eldritch, fey, infernal, or star, though not a single one of these individuals is detailed. Each one of these tracks offers marginally different abilities, but players don’t actually get to pick them, instead you’re just going to end up getting every star ability if you picked star at level one, and you’ll like it. Your only real decision was made the moment you picked this class, and from then on you’re going to play it as intended by the game designers.

Given how fun and interesting binders were, why did they pick for this dull, rudimentary, and stripped down version of the same concept for Fourth Edition? “The pacts, like binder vestiges, didn’t have benefits that all pointed to a single theme or play style. Since we wanted to emphasize certain builds, these got narrowed and focused so when you take a pact, you really know what type of character you’re playing.” Essentially, players had too many choices before, and that needed to be squashed. When asked “Why play a warlock,” this is literally one of the main reasons offered: “Wizards are controllers. Warlocks are instead strikers, focused on dealing a lot of damage to one foe at a time.” Nothing about lore, nothing about fun, just mechanics. But there are plenty of other striker classes, too, and don’t worry, they’ll all mechanically function identically to warlocks, so you might as well pick one of them instead. Essentially, a ton of effort was made at Wizards of the Coast to define this and other classes as one (or sometimes even two!) specific thing, removing chance from character creation as much as possible but also choice. Any two star warlocks of 15th level are going to be functionally the same, regardless of what entity they worship or anything else about them. That’s by design. 

The Fourth Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide contains the biggest shifts in lore of the three, despite that only taking up a few pages of the entire book, much of which is devoted to helping people learn how to run the game and as a result essentially worthless to veterans. Hell, I don’t believe I’d ever really looked at it until now, because parts like magic item lists that made this volume indispensable in earlier versions had now been excised. If you decided not to ever purchase this book, thinking it was unnecessary, well… you were right. Smart choice.

All of the book’s lore is essentially compressed into the wild ride that is Chapter 9: The World. While the goal of previous fantasy worlds within D&D was to make a coherent, functional location that both made sense and was fun for adventuring, that idea is now shelved in favor of a world that makes no sense but is more exciting. Theoretically. I’m not going to spend a lot of time on the whole “points of light” setting, except to say that it in no way attempts to make any sense of how this could function as a real society. And really, compared with what they did with the Forgotten Realms during its time jump, it’s hard to even complain. In essence, the world is now an MMO world, and once you leave the city gates random mobs will attack you. 

There’s also a few other assumptions about the game’s world design that I don’t want to skip over. One with vast implications, though moreso for monsters than the planes, is that, “Any monster or player character race we make in the game should occupy a unique space in the D&D world.” While theoretically this makes a certain amount of sense, that implies the game is being designed in a vacuum (which, hilariously, is addressed in the previous sentence, saying, “Creatures shouldn’t be introduced into a vacuum,” though this is exactly what’s happening). The problem is that creatures all have pre-established identities. Deciding that bugbears are too similar to orcs and changing them would make sense, had bugbears not been an integral part of the game for the past 40 years prior. We’ll deal with the fallout of this decision plenty in the Monster Manual section below, but the desire to make every monster unique generally meant keeping names the same as in prior editions, but little else, thereby adding confusion and frustration for anyone who played the game before now. 


But my least favorite change about the world is this one: 

Adventurers are Exceptional: The adventurers created by the players are the pioneers, explorers, trailblazers, thrill seekers, and heroes of the D&D world. Although some nonplayer characters might have a class and gain power, they do not necessarily advance as the PCs do, and they exist for a different purpose. Not everyone in the world gains levels like PCs. An NPC might be a veteran of many battles and still not become a 3rd-level fighter; an army of elves is largely made up of nonclassed soldiers.

This is ultimately the assumption that all other changes circle around, that the world now revolves around the PCs. I hate this both philosophically and as a dungeon master. Suddenly, NPCs really aren’t people at all, they are only a backdrop, while the only actual protagonists of their own lives are the players. This saps all sense of realism from the world, replacing it with solipsism, and also makes every story into an implicit savior power fantasy. If you want to play a fun roleplaying game, you need to believe that your characters are interacting with a real, or at least realistic, world, one where characters have their own motivations and abilities. On the whole, this is such a fundamentally bad philosophy for the world that it ended up dragging down the rest of Fourth Editoin’s lore in order to make it function. 

This is all there is to replace the Great Wheel. Notice how unsymmetrical it isn’t.

How does this effect the planes? Well, one of the beautiful things about the planes of the Great Wheel is that they and their denizens do not give a shit about the players. The multiverse is too vast and the plots too complicated, its monsters too strong and its heroes too legendary for anyone to pay much attention to the PCs. It was always difficult to adventure there because the planes were not designed for the players, or for any mortals, they were simply the shape of the multiverse. But now that’s been replaced with an easier to use planar landscape, centering the PCs just as much as anywhere else. 

Here’s James Wyatt’s explanation for the changes made for this edition. 

The Great Wheel is dead.

One of my mantras throughout the design of 4th Edition has been, “Down with needless symmetry!” The cosmology that has defined the planes of the D&D multiverse for thirty years is a good example of symmetry that ultimately creates more problems than it solves. Not only is there a plane for every alignment, there’s a plane between each alignment—seventeen Outer Planes that are supposed to reflect the characteristics of fine shades of alignment. There’s not only a plane for each of the four classic elements, there’s a Positive Energy Plane, a Negative Energy Plane, and a plane where each other plane meets—an unfortunate circumstance that has resulted in creatures such as ooze mephits.

The planes were there, so we had to invent creatures to fill them. Worse than the needless symmetry of it all, though, is the fact that many of those planes are virtually impossible to adventure in. Traversing a plane that’s supposed to be an infinite three-dimensional space completely filled with elemental fire takes a lot of magical protection and fundamentally just doesn’t sound fun. How do you reconcile that with the idea of the City of Brass, legendary home of the efreet? Why is there air in that city?

So our goals in defining a new cosmology were pretty straightforward.


• Don’t bow to needless symmetry!
• Make the planes fun for adventure!

The thing with symmetry and the planes has always been that it doesn’t care about the players, or anyone else, it’s just how things work. That’s also what made such fantastical locations feel real. The impossibility of adventuring there made a successful adventure in a location like Vacuum or the Positive Energy Plane fun and exciting. Now, the world caters to making things easy for players, and as such doesn’t feel real or even adventurous. Why is there air in the City of Brass? Well, there isn’t, that’s how it’s reconciled. Sucks to be you if you need air. “The planes were there, so we had to invent creatures to fill them.” This job was already completed, they all had denizens, the information was right there and easy to use.

The overall implication is that this was too complex and difficult for your average player to understand, which it certainly wasn’t, largely due to the symmetry. I’m not sure what problems this symmetry ultimately causes, but I was amused that even his redesigned multiverse relies on symmetry, with mirroring between the Feywild and the Shadowfell, and likewise between the Astral Sea and the Elemental Chaos. It’s simply easier for our brains to grasp a cosmology that involves a certain amount of logical assumptions, and so as a result this returned in Fourth Edition despite Wyatt’s edict, just in a way that made each of these locations muddier and less defined. 

The worst thing about all of these changes to the multiverse, though, is the decision to use the same names while meaning different things. The Astral Sea is not the Astral Plane, but confusion between the two is almost guaranteed. It’s that issue with the eladrin all over again. Had they not used the same name for this race/concept, it would’ve removed confusion, but instead it ends up a hindrance to any older players. Being suddenly told that your background as a tiefling with heritage from Hades can’t function in the new game, even though tieflings still exist, can only frustrate players. 

This sweet drawing of Orcus is from those Wizards Presents books. He’s sufficiently metal, I approve.

Perhaps the single most confusing thing about these changes, though, is how little they’re actually covered in the Dungeon Master’s Guide. “The Elemental Chaos and the Abyss” covers something like a fifth of this entire cosmology, yet is given only three brief paragraphs and less than half a page of coverage. The Wizards Presents volumes I keep quoting from go into extreme length about these planes and their denizens, but not only did most people not have them (I for one didn’t even know they existed until recently—I remain baffled as to why anyone would’ve spent money on them given that it’s like paying to watch a movie trailer), the edition still wasn’t completed when they were published and it’s unclear how much here is actual canon. Information about Asmodeus is great to have… but would it be changed by the time he’d appear in the “official” Fourth Edition releases? Who can say, and as a result everything except for the process information about creating this edition must be taken with a grain of salt, thus why I’m not covering these books on their own. Ultimately, players wishing to understand what’s happening in this edition who skipped straight to the Core books are going to be lost and confused, which was certainly the way I and my group felt at the time. There’s a lot of changes but sometimes they’re hard to make sense of because the same words are being used in wildly different ways, and the Dungeon Master’s Guide does a terrible job of telling you what exactly has been changed or defining what the new status quo really is. The more interested you were in the game’s lore before now, the worse off you were once Fourth Edition came in and blew everything from the past up without telling you what it had deigned to keep the same. 

I quite dig this aboleth drawing. In general Fourth Edition’s art doesn’t do it for me, but sometimes it doesn’t just look like a bad World of Warcraft knockoff.

As for the Monster Manual, I decided to approach this weird tome by covering which monsters either were planar before or are now planar, and with this noting relevant changes. Overall, I find the book a lot uglier than the Third Edition versions, partially because there’s so much white space. Rather than filling large sections up with flavor or lore, they’re simply left blank for uniformity. A result of this is that practically every single monster has been reconceived, but figuring out how is largely up to you. 

  • Aboleth – Now from the Far Realm, a change that seems fine, even if it’s not as interesting as before. You could probably copy and paste this sentence and reuse it for every entry here (replace Far Realm with whatever plane crops up), but I’ll try to figure out more to say for other monsters
  • Abomination – Astral Stalkers, atropals, blood fiends, phanes, and tarrasques are all grouped together here as a lazy catch-all category. They are now “living weapons that were created during the ancient cosmic war between the gods and the primordials. Some of these are planar, some aren’t. I guess I’m glad to see atropals featured more, but since it’s Fourth Edition we’re talking about, is that even a good thing?
  • Angels – Goddamn this is dumb. To quote yet again from Worlds and Monsters, “Until the version 3.5 edition of the Monster Manual, the D&D game had never included angels by name, though it had plenty of things that looked and acted like them.” This is a sentence I find so dumb it hurts my brain, akin as it is to saying, “I don’t know a single Matthew. I mean sure, I know a lot of Matts and Matty’s, and that’s short for Matthew, but….” Seriously, the game had angels, it just had other names for them, which was legitimately a good thing. Insanely, not only are planetars and solars now gone, angels no longer act like angels in that they’re not all good… which makes them less angels than they were before! 
    I had to quit writing this for a moment to bang my head against my desk, but I’m back, only slightly worse for wear. This change of alignment was made because players didn’t fight angels enough, and I guess the designers disliked the idea of ever coming upon something they couldn’t punch in the face. So now they’re not good, and they’re not memorable or unique, but at least they are… hmm, there’s gotta be something good about this change that I just can’t think up. Oh well, maybe it’ll come to me later. *checks in a week later* Nope, still everything about this change seems fucking dumb. 
  • Archon – There’s nothing wrong about having a race of “militaristic creatures native to the Elemental Chaos,” but why give them one of the names you used for celestials before! Who thought this was a good idea, or that we needed more boring ass elementals? 
  • Azer – They’re back, now in pog form!
  • Banshrae – Now properly in the Feywild. I mean, probably, right? It never actually says that, but presumably all of the fey can be found there? This type of lore is exactly what’s missing from anywhere in this book, so I guess who the hell knows.
  • Bat – Yes, bats. Because fire bats and new Shadowfell shadowhunter bats are included here. However, things like fire beetles aren’t planar, so consistency be damned.
  • Berbalang – These used to be planar, but nothing here says if they are anymore or not. Why is this book so goddamn bad?!?!
  • Bodak – Now they kick it in Shadowfell. All of their cool and terrifying backstory is as gone as they are from the Abyss.
  • Cambion – Now the offspring of devils and mortals, I guess because things weren’t confusing enough before. Another bold choice made for seemingly no reason except to make things different.
  • Crocodile – The feymire crocodile lives on the Feywild. Woo-fucking-hoo.
  • Cyclops – Don’t ask me why, but they’re now from the Feywild, in particular its Underdark. Which is apparently a thing. 
  • Dark One – Now from the Shadowfell, which legitimately makes some sense! I prefer this to their original conception, which proves I’m not biased because I liked a single change they made for this edition. I get the sense this joke is going to be missed because people on the internet are really bad at reading….
  • Demon – In addition to a handful of entries, we get a sidebar on “The Birth of the Abyss.” This not only tells a dull story that tries to make Tharizdun the big bad of the multiverse, it also off-handedly retcons Demogorgon, Baphomet, Orcus into primordials. I hate it.
    Oh, and mezzoloths and nycaloths are now mezzedemons and nycademons, immoliths are now a thing, and a new demon named “evistro” was for some reason created, perhaps just to make me sad. 
  • Devil – Surprisingly they weren’t combined with demons, even though they should be niche-mates as much as anyone else. I find it particularly odd that the Hell sidebar explains that things are pretty much the same as before, considering that it’s the only part of the whole multiverse that’s largely unchanged.
    Imps are now full-fledged devils (quasits aren’t in the book at all), and we now have legion devils, war devils and succubi amongst their ranks. Wait, succubi? The well-known tanar’ri? That can’t be right can it? *rereads section to double-check* Shit, I guess it is. God I hate Fourth Edition, why did they have to make everything contradictory when erinyes are right there?!
  • Devourer – Now this race is explained by “When a raving murderer dies, his soul passes into the Shadowfell. There it might gather flesh again to continue its lethal ways, becoming a devourer.” There’s a few variants, but all of the art for them is miserable so it’s kinda hard to care.
  • Displacer Beast – Now from the Feywild. You know what, sure, why not?
  • Efreet – They’re back. Yup. No longer interesting, but they’re around.
  • Eladrin – See: the Player’s Handbook section above. *sigh*
  • Elemental – There’s still four, but they have stupid fucking names, and the closest thing to a water elemental is the “thunderblast cyclone.” Why does everything in this edition, every ability and monster let alone city and NPC, have the stupidest name imaginable?
  • Fomorian – From the Underdark, too, but mostly from the Feywild? I never found these interesting and don’t think I’ve ever seen them used in a game, but, umm, I guess someone liked them so much that they received a full page of artwork. I don’t know if they really count as planar or not, and I refuse to spend more time trying to figure that out. 
  • Foulspawn – Yes, that’s really the name used for “deranged humanoids corrupted by contact with the Far Realm.” I really don’t understand what it means for the Far Realm to be further from other planes, and like, their entry implies all aberrations are from that plane, including, say, Beholders, whose entry mentioned nothing of the sort. You’d think that this trilogy of books might clear that up, but I legitimately don’t think the authors knew for sure what was going on in that regard.
  • Galeb Duhr – “Long ago, all dwarves were slaves to the giants and titans. More than one variety of dwarf failed to escape during the initial revolution, including the galeb duhrs.” – Sooo suddenly they’re dwarves? What the fuck?
  • Gargoyle – Now elementals, because just about every fucking thing is planar in this edition. That is literally the only rationale I can think of for this change. 
  • Ghost – I fail to understand if they’re planar or not, as they are shadow creatures, but nothing about that plane (and obviously not the Ethereal) is ever mentioned. They’re just kinda there seems to be their retcon, which is better than most of these, so I guess I can’t complain. 
  • Ghoul – Abyssal ghouls are elementals. Fuck if I know why, and I even read the bit of lore here about a dumb fucking Ghoul King and their Court of Teeth. 
  • Giant – Death giants/titans are from Shadowfell, earth titans are elemental (but not the giants, I guess because James Wyatt hates symmetry), fire giants/titans are elemental, storm giants/titans are elemental. I’m tired now. 
  • Gibbering Beast – Including the classic mouther and a couple variations, linking them with the Far Realm makes some real sense. Another good change. That’s like two so far with this edition, not bad!
  • Githyanki – Now in the Astral Sea, which is fine, but they’re not building on dead gods but just “dead entities.” So much less cool. Umm, at least the art for them is nice.
  • Githzerai – Now in Elemental Chaos. Also have nice art.
  • Gorgon – Even these beasts are now elementals. 
  • Griffon – There’s even an elemental variant here, the rimfire griffin. I don’t know who thought this shit was cool, when really it’s just exhausting. Maybe not every single monster needs an elemental variant? Just a thought.
  • Hag – They’re now from the Feywild, even night hags.
  • Harpy – They’re fey, and unlike the druid that I skipped seem like maybe they’d be in the Feywild? Like, is that supposed to be implied by that category or not?
  • Helmed Horror – Remember how I said even gorgons are elemental? Yeah, even these fuckers are elemental now.
  • Hound – Hell hounds are elemental because everyone is. Shadow hounds are from the Shadowfell because of course they are. 
  • Hydra – Primordial hydras are elemental, blah blah blah.
  • Lamia – Fey-ish, “a lamia is a swarm of black scarab beetles assembled into a coherent mass around the flesh-stripped bones of a powerful fey creature.” This is one hell of a retcon considering lamias in every single other edition of the game. A cool concept, but why not come up with a new name? I’m long past assuming that they’re confusing us on purpose.
  • Magma Beast – No shit they’re elemental. Some truly basic material here.
  • Marut – No longer inevitables, maruts are just Astral mercenaries, and with this almost completely uninteresting now. 
  • Mind Flayer – Now from the Far Realm originally. Which, I mean, sure, they have tentacles. Not nearly as exciting as their old lore, but it could be worse.
  • Naga – Primordial nagas are elemental because there weren’t enough randos in that plane already. 
  • Nightmare – Now from Shadowfell. Whatever.
  • Nightwalker – Essentially unchanged. 
  • Orcus – He gets his own huge write-up. Still rules Thanatos in the Abyss. Aspects are apparently still a thing, which is… fine, I guess. Oddly, they seem far more like the original conception of aspects than what they became later in Third Edition. 
  • Owlbear – Another fey with questionable links to that plane. 
  • Panther – Fey panther and spectral panthers, because down with symmetry etc.
  • Quickling – Fey actually from the Feywild. It fucking says so, for once. 
  • Rakshasa – A weird case of a planar being no longer being planar, except perhaps in the distant past. Everything else is now planar, so I guess we’ve gotta lose the planar aspect from old things in order to make up for this. *smacks self in head again*
  • Roc – Why are phoenixes listed as rocs? In order to confuse and annoy people, presumably. Good job, Wizards, it worked great. Also: thunderhawks are go!
  • Roper – Another one of those monsters labeled as elemental, despite no other indication as to this origin. In fact, its lore specifically says they’re in the Underdark. Make of this what you will.
  • Rot Harbinger – Undead elementals, though the elemental part is never explained. 
  • Salamander – Still elemental.
  • Satyr – Fey. Also Feywild? Who knows.
  • Scorpion – Hellstinger scorpions live in Hell. Stormclaw scorpions, however, are just normal beasts on the Prime. 
  • Shadar-Kai – Now given a new, dumb background involving a new, dumb character called the Raven Queen. Their art is pretty lame, but then again, so are they in this edition. 
  • Slaad – Tadpoles are “detailed” (as much as anything is in Fourth Edition) for the first time. There’s some dumb lore about black slaads I’m going to pretend don’t exist, plus we learn that “Slaads worship no gods and believe they were the first creatures in the cosmos.”
  • Snake – Flame snakes, but also goddamn shadow snakes. It’s all just so, so basic.
  • Sorrowsworn – An obscure monster from Third Edition I’d totally forgotten about, they’re no longer demons and now hail from the Shadowfell. Good for them, maybe now someone will remember they exist.
  • Specter – As with all the fey creatures, I’m still unsure if these being “shadow” creatures means they’re from Shadowfell. But this isn’t a book about clarity, it’s about stat blocks, and we do get two of those.
  • Spider – Demonweb terrors are elementals, using the increasingly stupid technicality that the Abyss is now elemental. 
  • Tiefling – No longer planar. That’s right, they hated Planescape so much at this point that they kicked the race that originated from the settings out of the planes, despite practically every other monster being suddenly planar.
  • Treant – Another fey who may or may not be wilding. 
  • Unicorn – Now fey, and confirmed to be wilding.
  • Wraith – Another shadow who may or may not be… felling?
  • Wyvern – Fell wyvern are the shadowfell variants, duh.
One of these panthers is a normal earth jungle cat, the other is a whispy cute lynx variation. You mess with either and I cut you.

Oh my god, I did it, I actually did it. No, I didn’t read through the entire book, carefully scanning through each statblock, but I did look at every ugly page and do my best to try and figure out who amongst this new crop of beasties is and is not planar. In general, unless it’s humanoid, it’s probably planar, and even then there’s a good chance it is anyhow unless it used to be planar in older editions, i.e. rakshasas and tieflings. The new meaninglessness of this term almost makes me want to stop caring about this for at least Fourth Edition, but considering that I’ve gone this far, I might as well trudge on. As a last note about this, more clarity is added regarding planes and monsters in the Worlds and Monsters book, but as I said earlier I’m unsure how canonical any of that is supposed to be. Hell, do those books even count as Fourth Edition? 

This has been exhausting, and I know that despite Fourth Edition’s short period of time, it had an absolute ton of planar material, very little of which (possibly none of which…) is at all good. But at the very least, now you can be assured that the foundation it’s all built upon is terrible, so none of the later disasters should come as any surprise. 

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