My thoughts on Pathfinder, based on the Core Rulebook

I’ve finished reading through the bulk of the Pathfinder Core Rulebook in preparation for the campaign in which I will soon be a player, and I thought I’d share my thoughts here. My background with RPGs is:

  • I played a little bit of D&D 3.0 around 2002. I got the core books, read them, loved them, played a session or two, wrote an adventure, never found a good group to play with, drifted away.
  • I started playing D&D 4e in early 2010, and here I am now. I’ve played and DMed a ton of 4e over the past year and a half.
  • In that year and a half, I’ve also had the chance to play one session each of AD&D 1e, GURPS, Savage Worlds and Call of Cthulhu.

So, I’m approaching Pathfinder as an experienced D&D 4e player, with some exposure to other games, including earlier editions of D&D – but just a little.


The first thing that struck me about the Core Rulebook is that it opens with some mild politics. I understand that this is about the OGL and such, but it’s really awkward to read all the references to Pathfinder being an evolution of “the 3.5 version of the world’s oldest roleplaying game.” I get it – they don’t own the rights to the Dungeons and Dragons name, so they can’t say the name, but the OGL lets them say a lot of other stuff… it’s very weird.

I love that the single book is basically the Player’s Handbook and Dungeon Master’s Guide rolled into one. I’ve really only been focusing on the player sections of the book, but I appreciate that the game master sections are right there if I want them.

The glossary on pages 11-12 is well-placed, too. Understanding things like Combat Maneuver Bonus right up front is helpful. The index in the back of the book seems to be pretty good, too. If you’re going to write a book that aims to be accessible to new players, a good glossary and index help a lot.

“Generating a Character” on pages 14-15 is not as helpful as it should be. I wish this had been an easier-to-follow step-by-step process, but it involves a crazy amount of flipping all over the book. I think an example would have helped a lot.


Not much to say here. I’m fine with the races that get penalties to certain stats; it’s more flavorful. The races generally seem to have more flavor expressed in mechanics than 4e races do, but this isn’t always a winner for me. Some of the flavor is quite fiddly in practice, such as dwarves getting a dodge bonus to AC against giants and a bonus to Appraise checks involving precious metals or gems. I get the flavor, really, but the mechanics seem likely to be forgotten.

One other note: The illustration of the half-elf woman is fantastic. Half-elf males are lucky critters!


I see what people mean when they refer to the Essentials class presentations as being more like older editions. No two classes are alike in Pathfinder. They all have their own progression of different features that come at different levels, and that’s cool. Fiddly, yes, but I think the fiddliness comes from not having a Character Builder with power cards. If all of these special abilities were easy to follow and reference on the character sheet, they wouldn’t feel any more fiddly than 4e characters getting powers as they level up. So, no complaints about the progression of the classes themselves here, just a complaint about the lack of an easy-to-use character builder (though I’ve heard good – and expensive – things about Hero Lab).

It strikes me that Pathfinder seems to be a game that relies more on GM and player interpretation rather than rules – often phrased as “rulings rather than rules”. I’m fine with that, but it’s a meaningful difference with 4e.

Some things in Pathfinder make character creation harder than 4e, which gives each class a key ability score (and yes, there are some V-shaped class builds in 4e that depend on two different abilities, I know). When I tried to build a cleric in Pathfinder, I found myself gravitating toward a high Wisdom score. I then realized that Charisma is pretty important, too. And then I saw that if I wanted to have anything to do other than throw off the occasional healing spell, I’d probably want good Strength to get into melee, in which case I’d need reasonable Constitution in order to have some hit points and not just die in one shot… it’s just very different. If it leads to well-rounded characters, well, great! But it’s a very different approach.

Also, I love the way deities and domains are presented in the Core Rulebook. It’s a whole new pantheon of deities, of course, but I love that clerics pick a deity and then get spells and abilities from two of the deity’s domains. Again, good flavor.

Spells are, of course, one of the areas where D&D differs most from earlier editions and Pathfinder. All spells are “dailies” in Pathfinder (Vancian Magic). I have to say that based solely on reading the books, I prefer the 4e system. Any system where the wizard spends the first four levels of his career hiding from combat most of the time until he can start throwing the occasional fireball doesn’t seem that great to me. Yes, I know that the wizard becomes all-powerful later, but reading through the books does not make me a fan of the Linear Warriors Quadratic Wizards phenomenon. Maybe it will be more fun in play.

I’m also annoyed by the difference between character level, caster level and spell level. I get it, but it’s terribly inelegant.


Again, more flavor than 4e. More judgment calls. More proliferation. More stuff that comes up outside of combat. It’s good, it’s bad… it’s just a difference.


I didn’t read them all, as you might imagine. But this feels like an area where 4e really didn’t change much from 3.5e / Pathfinder. Feats felt very familiar to me.


Again, much like 4e in most respects (at least for starting equipment; I haven’t delved into magic items).

The various weapons confuse me a bit, as there seem to be cases where weapon A is Pareto superior to weapon B… is the difference really just flavor, or am I missing something? The Morningstar, for instance, just seems better than the Heavy Mace. It’s cheaper, it’s lighter, it deals two different types of damage… all I can figure is that dealing two types of damage is bad in some circumstances (such as against a creature that resists piercing damage, even when it’s paired with bludgeoning). I have much to learn, I guess.

A minor innovation that I actually like from 4e is the introduction of the Adventurer’s Kit. I personally think it’s fun to pore over the list of oddball equipment I could buy for my character, but I think it’s a good idea to provide a “default gear” option for players who aren’t interested in that sort of thing.

The illustrations of gear in this book are very nicely done too, in my opinion. Good artwork in lots of places… it’s strange that I’m not seeing artist credits on the images.

Additional Rules

It’s a little weird to me that we don’t see alignment spelled out until this chapter, but I guess there really wasn’t a good place to stick it earlier. I tend to think of alignment as being a very fundamental part of the character creation process. My only other comment on this section is that I find the changes to ability scores as characters age to be annoying rather than flavorful. I guess it’s both… sigh.


Okay, I read this chapter in detail. And I have to say that this is one where I’ll largely need to reserve judgment until I play the game. So many things are fundamentally different about combat between 4e and Pathfinder that I can’t accurately judge it until I try it.

I get that there’s sort of a Standard – Move – Minor action economy in this game, but I also understand that it’s still a different animal. Full-round actions have no clear analogue in 4e, except maybe the monk’s Full Discipline… but you can still take a 5-foot step with a full round action. It’s going to take some learning by doing on my part for sure.

I will say that combat seems a lot more complicated in Pathfinder. The difference between a weapon attack, touch attack and ranged touch attack is flavorful, but harder to follow. Holding a charge on a spell – also flavorful and hard to follow. Saving throws – I think the 4e system of different defenses works much better. Concentration checks for spellcasting seem like a huge pain in the butt. All the options to do things like fight defensively seem overly complicated. The different buckets for lethal and nonlethal damage seem like a pain. And oh, all the tables! It’s going to take a lot of learning for me.


Much like combat, I’m going to have to see it in action in order to really judge. Concentration, counterspelling, the shapes of spell areas, areas that originate on a grid intersection rather than in a square, spell resistance… again, it seems really complicated. More “realism” at the expense of clarity.

The Rest

I flipped through some of the spells. I haven’t touched Prestige Classes or the GM parts of the book. I haven’t delved into multiclassing, though I understand the gist of how it works.

Overall impressions

So far, Pathfinder looks like a game that does a much better job of handling the game world “realistically” than 4e, though at the expense of simplicity. I know that tomes have been written about “gamism versus simulationism” by people who’ve spent far more time comparing and contrasting various systems than I have, so I don’t have much I can add. Until I actually get to try the system out at the table, it will be hard for me to say which (if either) I prefer.

Fortunately, I’m not too worried. I had the chance to meet with my awesome GM, Phil, and I know it’s going to be a fun game. He’s not overly concerned about rules, and he’s interested in us focusing far more on the stories of our characters rather than their mechanics. Having played in his Call of Cthulhu game at Genghis Con, I’m really excited about playing in an ongoing campaign that he’s running. I honestly don’t think the system is going to matter all that much – with good people at the table, I’m going to have a good time.

I’m starting to learn Pathfinder

Most of my RPG experience so far has been with D&D Fourth Edition. I only started playing in earnest in early 2010, and it’s mostly been 4e home games, 4e online games, and 4e organized play games. I had the chance to try GURPS, Savage Worlds and Call of Cthulhu at Genghis Con in February. And I had a little bit of experience with D&D 3.0 about eight or nine years ago.

Pathfinder, as I know, is basically D&D 3.75. I know that it’s a pretty popular game, and that their adventure paths receive a lot of praise, even from people who don’t really play Pathfinder. It’s somewhat popular at my local store, too, though there seems to be far more D&D 4e organized play there. The store owner, Jeff, is a big fan of Pathfinder, and he encouraged me to try it out, offering to run a “learn to play” session sometime if I was interested.

I’m more of a book guy, frankly, so I decided to check out a copy of the Pathfinder Core Rulebook from my local library. So far I’ve read the introductory chapter, the Races chapter, a little bit of Classes, and most of the Combat chapter.

I want to reserve judgment on the system until I’ve finished reading more of the book, but I know that lots of folks out there probably have some insights to offer me that might help me better understand the game. What should I be looking for? What might not be obvious from a pure rules read-through that would enhance my understanding of Pathfinder?

Just to be clear, I’m perfectly happy with 4e, but I love lots of games and thought it would be fun to learn another one, just for variety’s sake. This is not an edition war – I’m pretty confident that I’ll find something to love about most RPGs out there. It’s all good!

Why does dislike for an edition get so heated?

I’m not much of an Edition Warrior. I only started playing D&D in earnest in early 2010, and I spend most of my time playing 4th Edition. I’ve had the chance to play AD&D First Edition as well as some other games like GURPS, Savage Worlds and Call of Cthulhu, and I’ve enjoyed them all. I look forward to trying out Pathfinder and more games in the future. I’m firmly in the “Can’t we all just get along?” camp.

Mxyzplk over at Geek Related put up a link to a post he wrote in 2009 that I found fantastic and enlightening. Basically, he explains that people who like older editions of D&D have a legitimate reason to express their concern about the direction of D&D 4th Edition even if they don’t play the game. The reason is that new players and new published material will tend to gravitate toward the currently supported edition of D&D, and thus it will become hard for people who like a different style of game (less emphasis on minis and battlemats and tactical positioning in combat) to find groups and new material in the future if the current edition is too different from what they enjoy. It was a very well-written, well-reasoned post.

However, just today the same author put up a post in which he described the newly announced Lair Assault program (which, to be clear, was first announced in January without the official name) as “4e Wallows In Its Own Filth” and causing him to “throw up in [his] mouth a little”. That’s a lot of hate.

Similarly, Greyhawk Grognard describes Lair Assault as confirmation that “4e is aimed at min-maxing twinks” and derides 4e as being an adaptation of mindless MMORPGs; it’s not really a role-playing game.

Here’s my take

Lair Assault doesn’t look like much fun to me. I feel dirty when I min-max a character. I enjoy story and role-playing, and Lair Assault promises to have as little of those as possible. It requires Fortune Cards, which I don’t personally enjoy.

However, that doesn’t mean that D&D 4th Edition is all about Lair Assault. The D&D Encounters program that I’m currently DMing does a good job of introducing story and opportunities for role playing – a better job than I would expect from an organized play event. My home games are tons of fun and involve maybe half of the session time (maybe less) spent in combat, which works for me. The Shadowfell: Gloomwrought and Beyond boxed set is a rich adventure setting with tons of ideas to help inspire DMs to create interesting stories. I expect more of the same with the Feywild boxed set that’s coming out later this year. Those have nothing to do with min-maxing and ceaseless combat and tactics.

The passion

I’m completely comfortable with criticisms of 4th Edition. I personally am not thrilled with the Lair Assault announcement, either, and I think that if Wizards of the Coast pours its D&D resources into programs like that, I probably won’t enjoy the game as it evolves over the next couple of years compared to where it is today. I think it’s reasonable for me and others to speak up and let WotC know that we’re not big fans of that type of program.

Where I get uncomfortable is when I see hate. The posts from Greyhawk Grognard and Geek Related about Lair Assault come across as very hate-filled toward 4e. Maybe that’s intentional on the part of the authors; maybe not. But the tone really matters a lot, at least to someone like me. When I see such hate directed at 4e in general, and I’m a person who enjoys the game, I feel that the hate is directed at me by extension, even though I’m sure that’s not the authors’ intent.

I fully support the Old School Renaissance, Pathfinder and independent RPGs, even though I spend most of my gaming time with D&D4e. I respect that fans of older editions of D&D are concerned about the direction of the game because a bad direction could mean that it will be really hard for them to find new players and new materials for their preferred style of game in the future. I think they SHOULD make their voices heard on these topics, even if I don’t feel the same way they do.

I don’t support hate. Reasonable people can disagree about things in a civil way without using such strongly negative, passionate language. I loved Mxyzplk’s 2009 post. It was strongly anti-4e, but I didn’t feel hated or that there was unreasonable negative emotion in the post. If more posts (on blogs and on message boards) that take aim at something unappealing about an edition were written in that way, I think we’d have much less fretting over edition wars. I think that would also lead to a stronger gaming community.

Recruiting new players – like me!

Think about it this way: If you’re a fan of an older edition or Pathfinder, wouldn’t you WANT someone like me to read your thoughts and think, “Wow, this is good stuff. This is someone I’d want to game with. I should check out that game because the people who play it seem to be awesome.” That’s a completely reasonable possibility! I’m still in the discovery stage of role-playing games, and I could very well settle on games other than 4e in the end.

But when someone like me sees such hate from supporters of other games, well, it makes me nervous about joining those communities. Do I really want to game with people who are filled with such passionately negative emotions about a different version of the game that they play? Honestly, I don’t want that.

Keep in mind that hate can turn people off, people whom you might really want to join your community. Is it really necessary?

D&D Essentials: The sky has not fallen

I originally reviewed the first D&D 4th Edition Essentials book, Heroes of the Fallen Lands, shortly after it was released in September 2010. I’ve gone back to re-read my review, and I still completely agree with everything I wrote back then.

In a nutshell, the Essentials books presented some new build options and new feats and generally felt to me to be pretty much like any expansion books that Wizards of the Coast had published for D&D4e (Martial Power, Arcane Power, Player’s Handbook 2, etc.). Good new options; maybe not every player would use every option, but some would probably come in handy.

Lots of people in the online D&D4e community were worried about the Essentials books – was this a new half-edition? But I think most of that concern dissipated in the end.

Thus, I was surprised when I read Neuroglyph Games’s review of the new Heroes of Shadow book over on EN World (plus the somewhat different version on their blog) and the follow up conversation on the Neuroglyph Games blog. The review of the material was fine and useful (I just got the book today, in part because of the positive review), but the author made it clear that he saw this as an “Essentials” book and was therefore seriously considering excluding it from his no-Essentials campaign (which he referred to as “Traditional 4e” or “Core 4e”). From the poll on his review, he’s not alone – there are apparently a significant number of DMs who run “no Essentials 4e” games.

This baffles the heck out of me. I could understand excluding a book from my table if I feel that it’s inappropriate for the game I’m running, perhaps. Heroes of Shadow, for instance, is probably not going to come into play very much in the games I run because it seems to be aimed more at “dark” campaigns where PCs may be flirting with evil alignments, and that’s not the kind of game I tend to enjoy. That said, I would still allow material from the book if a player asked and it seemed to fit within the campaign.

My approach to DMing is to let the players make the choices they like, but to retain veto power. If a player picks a race that doesn’t fit in my world, I’ll let them know that and ask them to pick something else. If they pick a power that I feel is overpowered relative to the rest of the table, I’ll ask them to pick something different. If they make choices that just don’t make any sense with the rest of their character concept, I’ll ask them to change those choices.

It’s very rare that I ever exercise this veto power, and I’m always very nice about it, trying to work with the player to help them find something that both works within the game I’m running but also makes them happy.

All of this is a roundabout way of saying that I personally feel that excluding books entirely is a pretty silly way to run a game, unless every single thing in the book is completely out of line with a particular campaign. I have a hard time imagining that the Heroes of the Fallen Lands and Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms books would be completely out of line with very many D&D 4e campaigns, and I gather that the DMs who exclude them are doing so out of protest against WotC business practices, specifically a feeling that WotC has tried to sneak a half-edition by us without being forthcoming about what it really is.

I think it’s fair to disagree with WotC business practices or misleading statements and to not support the company because of it. But these DMs seem to want it both ways – they want to protest WotC’s behavior but still purchase WotC releases that are “non-Essentials.” I just don’t get it.

If a DM wants to run a non-Essentials game, they can absolutely have a lovely time running a game using all of the material that was published before September 2010 – there was a ton of great stuff already published at that point. Everything published since then will have been written with the existence of the Essentials books in mind, just as material written in the summer of 2010 was written with the existence of Martial Power 2 and Player’s Handbook 3 in mind. To expect WotC to publish books that ignore the existence of Heroes of the Fallen Lands and Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms is silly, in my opinion. Why would they do that?

Essentials is not D&D 4.5. It’s a bunch of new options, some of which you might love and some of which you might think are a waste of time. I honestly don’t understand why there is so much emotion around this topic. I’m not a DM who feels that the Heroes of… books are the greatest things written for D&D 4e or anything like that – they’re simply fine options, much like PHB2 and PHB3. I don’t see anything disturbing or objectionable about them that would lead me to consider banning those books and everything published in their style from my games. And I truly don’t understand DMs who feel strong, negative emotions about these books.

I wasn’t around for the 3.0 to 3.5 Edition Wars, nor the 3.5 to 4.0 Edition Wars. Maybe I just don’t get it. I’m pretty sure that I don’t want to get it!

My players are smarter than I am – lucky me!

As a relatively new dungeon master, I take the approach that I still have much to learn.  This education can even come at the hands of my players.

Now, I’m not talking about rules knowledge or information about D&D canon – I might have some gaps there, but those are no big deal.  I’m talking about knowledge of what makes an adventure fun.  When I get a great idea from my players, I’m proud to say that I quash my ego and run with the idea (or I try to).

This came up most recently on Saturday, when I was running my in-person campaign through my home brew world.  The adventurers are currently exploring an underground complex that they’ve learned is populated with duergar.  I’m actually taking the Second Edition module “The Gates of Firestorm Peak” as a source of inspiration here.

The first time the party encountered the duergar, it was in a guard room.  The room had a 20-foot ceiling and was about 30 feet square.  Running right across the middle of the chamber was a 10-foot wall made of rocks held together with some kind of mortar, and liberally spiked with shards of glass, pointy sticks, etc.  It could be climbed over without cutting one’s self to ribbons, though it wouldn’t be easy.  There was also a door hidden in the wall, though the latch was trapped.

The party found the door but not the trap, and combat began when our monk tried to open the door and found his hand nearly taken off by a bear trap.  At this point, the four duergar guards on the far side of the wall Enlarged themselves to become 12 feet tall (something that I gather was much more common in 2nd Edition than 4e, but I ran with it).  Now they could swing their warhammers or toss their throwing hammers over the wall.

In the first round of combat, the PCs threw some ranged attacks at the duergar while the two melee characters positioned themselves closer to the wall, perhaps in an attempt to try a climb or jump or another shot at the door in the next round.  One of my players said something interesting at the end of this round:

“Man, I hope they don’t push the wall over on us.”

Hmm… they weren’t going to, but only because I hadn’t thought of it before!  But now that I had three gigantic dark dwarves lined up along the non-spiky side of the wall, ready to take their turn… heave!

I had the duergar make some strength checks to push on the wall, which I was glad I had described as being somewhat makeshift.  No problem – over it goes!  I had the debris make attacks against the two PCs who were near the wall, going against Reflex (they could try to dodge out of the way), and I hit both of them.  I decided that this should deal some pretty significant damage (I believe I went with 3d6+7 for these 6th-level characters) and knock the PCs prone.  It also created a zone of difficult terrain where the wall fell.

I wrestled a bit with whether to tell the players that I was doing this on the fly thanks to their suggestion but ultimately decided not to bother.  On the one hand, they might have gotten a good feeling from having come up with a creative idea that I used.  On the other hand, I wouldn’t want them to hold back from sharing this kind of idea in the future!  So, I let them believe that this was all part of my grand plan.  Of course, if they read this post that illusion is gone, but I’ll live. 🙂

What do you think? Do you ever incorporate your players’ ideas for what terrible things might befall them on the fly?  If so, do you credit them for thinking of it, or act like it was all part of the plan?

Fourth Edition for people who prefer earlier editions

Karl (one of the people I had the pleasure of playing old-school D&D with last week in Albany) made an insightful comment on the blog that got me thinking.  He pointed out that some people don’t like all of the emphasis on tactical movement in D&D Fourth Edition, and also that there has been a collapse of many different skills into a smaller number (with the “taking ranks in a skill” concept radically changed to just a zero-one binary of being trained in a skill or not being trained in it).  It got me thinking: What should a person who doesn’t like some of these elements of 4e do?

The simplest option (and the cheapest), of course, is to play an earlier edition.  OSRIC lets you play something like First Edition for free, and as I understand it the System Resource Document lets you play something like Third Edition or 3.5 for free.  So, if you prefer an older edition, you can play one.  That’s what Shawn’s group does, and it seems to work for them.

But are there things you could take from 4e and combine with earlier editions to make something more to your liking?  I think there are.  When I think about it, 4e feels like it could be quite modular if you wanted it to be.

First, flavor.  If you just love the flavor of Fourth Edition and want to use it with an earlier rule set, that’s obviously very easy.  Sure, you’ll have to change around numbers on monsters and so on, but their descriptions can be identical and their powers can be adapted to a different set of rules.  If you like the 4e gods, use them.  Setting information, dungeon maps, whatever you like can be easily transferred to another edition’s rules.  I’ll admit that I don’t personally have strong feelings about the flavor of 4e, but if you do, have at it!

Next, powers.  This is one that I think you either love or hate about 4e.  In Fourth Edition, characters start with (in general) two at-will powers that they can use as much as they want, one encounter power that they can only use once every battle, and one daily power that they can only use once per day (and they get more as they go up in level).  In earlier editions, the only equivalents you had to at-will powers were melee or ranged basic attacks (I swing my sword, I shoot my crossbow, etc.).  You could also do something that’s pure role playing (I talk to the bad buy or my allies, I try to hide, I jump onto a table, etc.), and that’s still there in 4e, too.  Magic users in earlier editions had a certain number of spells they could cast per day (very few at low levels), which gives them a little bit of a daily power feel, but other classes don’t seem to have any equivalents.  I like the whole power system in 4e, partly because everyone has at-wills that are useful in combat and partly because I like the tension of when to use dailies and encounter powers versus saving them for later.

Could you use this power system in an earlier edition?  I don’t see why not.  Some powers have certain ranges on them or a number of squares that they affect, but I think a good 1e DM could handle that stuff without breaking out a battle map.  Weren’t there the equivalent of bursts and blasts in earlier editions, such as with a fireball?  I assume the DM would say, “Okay, these three bad guys are clustered together, so your fireball hits all of them, but the other two are far enough away that they’re safe.”  Same idea here.  Powers that generate something like difficult terrain would be tougher without a battle map, and you probably wouldn’t want to use those unless the DM really liked mentally keeping track of this stuff.  Even there, you could rule that a power that created difficult terrain around a bad guy would make it hard for them to charge you on the next turn, and it’s up to the DM to say whether they can get to you or not.  This is basically playing 4e without a map or minis, and while I like the map and minis, I think a group could absolutely play a great 4e game without them, as long as they weren’t nitpickers for EXACTLY how close imaginary point A is to imaginary point B.

How about the collapse of skills?  Here’s an area where it’s almost totally unrelated to combat, so you can separate the two.  If you love the powers and maybe even the map-and-minis combat of 4e but you prefer the larger number of skills where you spend ranks in them, as you had in 3e and 3.5, then just go with the older skill system.  I think the new skill system was probably designed to be easier for new players to grasp, and I agree that it’s likely a sign of Wizards of the Coast de-emphasizing role playing to emphasize tactical combat.  If you are cool with more complexity in your skills, though, use the older skill system and enjoy!

Now let’s talk about numbers.  I must say that the transition to “higher AC is harder to hit” in Third Edition was a good change, period.  Maybe someone can convince me that the old system, where you want to lower your AC and you have to figure out your THAC0 and all of that, makes good sense.  But I personally don’t see it.  This is something I would adopt wholesale, even if I wanted to play an older edition.  I also think that having to use a table to look up whether an attack hits a monster, depending upon the class of the PC who hit, seems overly complex and doesn’t add anything to the game, at least as far as my limited understanding goes.  But hey, if you love the tables, stick with them.

I don’t know enough about the other numbers in older editions to say how they would differ from 4e, but I get the impression that HP totals are lower (for both characters and monsters) in 1e, and that it’s probably true that battles are swingier (you get lucky and kill a bad guy right at the start, or you get unlucky and he kills you with one hit).  That’s fine if you like it, but I imagine that if you didn’t like it, you could probably use 4e as a guide for hit points and damage output.  Of course, some people complain about “grind” in 4e, with battles taking too long due to the high hit points all around, so maybe there’s a good middle ground.  I know that I personally wouldn’t want to be a wizard running around with 4 HP and scared of my own shadow, but hey, maybe that’s just a great opportunity for role playing!

There are lots of other little details that could probably be taken from 4e by themselves if you wanted, and I think doing so would be easy enough if you’re cool with house rules.  Character creation using a point buy system is something that’s not unique to 4e, and I would personally use it over rolling dice (now that I’ve had a chance to try it both ways).  Using Fortitude, Reflex and Will as defenses other than AC that an attack might go after is something I could take or leave, and if you preferred using them as saving throws as in older editions, you certainly could do so.  Conditions that “save ends” seem fun to me, and you could easily introduce those to a First Edition game, and so on.

Ultimately, you’ve got to go where the fun is for you and your group.  If you’re happy with the rules of one edition (or one non-D&D game) as written, then life is easy for you.  If there are things that annoy you about the rules of your current edition, you might be able to pilfer different rules from other editions.  Me, I like 4e just fine as written, but if I got to the point that something about it just grated on my nerves, I wouldn’t hesitate to use house rules to change it.