Quick Guide to 4E.

Character Roles & Class Builds


Building a character in 4e Essentials is about more than traditional classes from previous editions. Broadly defined, each character plays one of 4 “roles” in combat, and a party is most effective when each role is covered (although it’s not absolutely necessary). The four roles are:

Defender: a defender’s role is to anchor the party’s position in combat. As a result, they receive the brunt of attacks, so defenders have more HP and higher AC than other characters. Knights and Cavaliers are defenders.

Striker: a striker’s role is to deal high amounts of damage at once, either dealing the final blow or softening up an enemy for an ally to take down. Strikers have special abilities to help them deal extra damage and to allow them increased mobility in combat so they can use hit and run tactics. Slayers, Thieves, Scouts, Executioners, and Hexblades are strikers.

Leader: a leader’s role is to grant allies advantages in combat by healing or providing enhancements to attacks, defenses, or movement (the name of this role is a misnomer; a “leader” is not necessarily the boss or captain of the group. Personally, I wish WotC would have come up with a better title for this role). Warpriests and Sentinels are leaders.

Controller: a controller’s role is to create disadvantages for the enemy in combat by pinning enemies down, hampering their movements, or creating area effects that damage multiple opponents at once. Mages and Hunters are controllers.

Class Builds

Each character has a class build that defines his or her role. A class may have more than one build, each of which fill a different role. For this reason, it may be better to think of your character in terms of its specific build rather than just its class.

For example, the Knight is a fighter build that fills the traditional role of a fighter from past editions (i.e., defender). However, the Slayer is also a fighter, but its role is striker. So playing a Slayer as though it were a defender is not the ideal strategy, nor is treating a Knight as a striker.

In the Essentials materials, only the fighter and ranger currently have more than one build, but future releases from D&D will provide additional builds for each class.


On your turn, you can make one of each of the following types of actions:

1. Standard Action
2. Move Action
3. Minor Action

Additionally, you can forgo a standard action and take an additional move or minor action; and you can forgo a move action and take an additional minor action. So your turn could look like any of the following:

A. Standard Action + Move Action + Minor Action
B. Standard Action + Minor Action + Minor Action
C. Move Action + Move Action + Minor Action
D. Minor Action + Minor Action + Minor Action

You can also take any number of Free Actions within reason without sacrificing one of your other actions.

There is also a type of free action type called an Immediate Interrupt. Some powers (see below) are triggered when an opponent tries a pre-specified action. In this case, you get to use the power as a free action and it may interrupt whatever the opponent was trying to do.

Action Points

An action point can be spent to gain an additional standard, move, or minor action on your turn. You can only spend one action point per encounter. If you make it through two moderately difficult encounters without taking an extended rest (see below) you gain an action point.


The biggest difference between 4e and previous editions are character powers. Powers work the way spells did in older versions of D&D. However, every character has powers. Wizards have arcane “spells”, clerics have divine “prayers”, fighters have martial maneuvers called “exploits”, and so forth. But they are all basically options each character has on his or her turn.

There are two categories of power:

Attack Powers: used (obviously) to attack something.
Utility Powers: used for other purposes

Further, powers are categorized by how frequently they can be used:

At-Will Powers: can be used once per turn
Encounter Powers: can only be used once per encounter
Daily Powers: can only be used once per day

One key thing to remember is that only under rare circumstances should your character just make a basic attack. Every class has at least one type of At-Will attack power or an At-Will utility that enhances their basic attack; you should always use an At-Will power in some way if you aren’t going to use an Encounter or Daily power, unless the circumstanced disallow it.

Finally, each power is designated as to what type of action it requires (see above). It is therefore possible to use three powers on one turn if one constitutes a standard action, one a move action, and one a minor action.


Each character has a Speed score that indicates the number of squares on the battle grid he or she can move on a turn, assuming the character has not used a power that takes up the move action. Your movement doesn’t have to be done all at once. If you can split it up and do your other available actions in between segments of movement.

There is one special case to be aware of regarding movement. If you are adjacent to an opponent, the only safe movement is a 1 square Shift. If you try to move more than one square, the adjacent opponent gets an Opportunity Attack as a free action. To withdraw safely, you will typically have to forfeit your standard action in order to take two move actions, using one to shift 1 square away and the second to move normally.


In older editions of D&D, everyone relied or a cleric or druid to make sure the party could heal itself up enough to keep moving through an adventure. 4e tries to make a designated healer less of an absolute necessity by given characters more HP at 1st level and allowing everyone to heal themselves through use of Healing Surges Each time you use a healing surge, you regain 1/4 of your hit points. In fact, a lot of magical healing is really just allowing you to spend a healing surge in a situation that normally would not allow it.

Every character has an encounter power called Second Wind. This power requires a standard action and let’s you spend a healing surge.

Outside of combat, you can spend as many surges as you have at once if needed to heal up.

Rest and Recovery

There are two types of “rests” in 4e. An Extended Rest lasts at least 6 hours; a Short Rest is basically anything less, but can take as little as 5 minutes.

During a short rest, you can spend healing surges, reapportion you gear, or discuss the next move with your companions. Other than that, little else happens. After a short rest, you also regain the use of your encounter powers.

During an extended rest, it’s assumed that you sleep and fully recover. Your HP go back to full and you start over with all your healing surges, daily and encounter powers, and 1 action point (you can’t save up action points beyond an extended rest. No matter haow many you have accrued, you start over with 1).


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