Monday, July 21, 2008

3.5 to 4th edition conversion

This is a post for all those who have not seen the conversion for 4th edition and have characters they wish to bring to the new game rules.

When it comes to converting characters from 3.5 to 4th Edition, we’ve previously stated that “there's no conversion guide that could adequately cover the vast array of options that have been published over the lifespan of the game.”

That said, we also recognize that if you don’t wish to set aside your favorite character in order to start up a new 4th Edition campaign, some amount of conversion will be attempted. To that end, Andy Collins put together the following recommendations for playing your favorite 3.5 character in 4th Edition.

This week, we look at those classes from the 3.5 Player’s Handbook.
Player’s Handbook v.3.5

Most barbarians fit best into the great weapon fighter build (p76), though barbarians wielding a pair of weapons should instead consider the two-blade ranger build (p104). Note that the former build slots you into the defender role and the latter into the striker role, so be sure you’re happy with the destination.

Either way, feat selection can also be useful in helping recreate your former identity. For example, Power Attack is still good for the greataxe-wielding barbarian, while Toughness replicates your d12 Hit Dice. Fleet-footed gives back some of your speed boost, and Blood Thirst certainly feels appropriate for the savage barbarian.

4th Edition doesn’t yet offer a rage mechanic to mimic the 3E barbarian’s iconic class feature, so you and your DM will need to get a little creative if you want to retain that flavor. For example, perhaps once you use Power Attack, you can’t stop using it until the end of the fight (but it gives you an extra +1 damage). Or perhaps you can just announce at any time: “I’m taking +4 melee damage at the cost of -2 AC for the rest of the encounter.” Whatever you come up with, keep it simple and easy to use… and keep your eyes open for barbarian class previews on D&D Insider later this year.


In 4th Edition terms, the bard would likely be an arcane leader: that is, a character who uses arcane spells to keep his comrades healthy and boost their combat efficiency. The 4E Player’s Handbook doesn’t offer a perfect translation of this character—the 4E bard is slated for future publication—so you have two basic options:

1. Focus on your leader abilities, selecting either the inspiring warlord or tactical warlord build (p144). Recast the flavor of your powers from bold commands and exhortations to inspiring songs or odes. Select one or more wizard or warlock multiclass feats (p209) to pick up a selection of arcane spells with bardic flavor (such as beguiling tongue, otherwind stride, sleep, or invisibility).

2. Focus on your arcane powers, translating your character into a control wizard (p157) or a deceptive warlock build (p130). Select one or more warlord multiclass feats to recapture some of your team-boosting powers. With your DM’s permission, you can even call these powers “arcane spells” if you want.


The cleric is one of those 3rd Edition classes that had the ability to cover multiple roles—sometimes simultaneously—which means 4th Edition had a mandate to bring the class in line with the other characters of the party. No longer can your 4E cleric tank as well as a fighter, blast as well as a wizard, and still heal better than anyone else in the game; in other words, be prepared to give up some of that super-versatility (believe me, the rest of the players in your group will appreciate it).

As leaders, 4E clerics are now defined first and foremost by their ability to support the entire party via healing and buffing. That said, clerics haven’t given up the ability to stand up to attacks or blast the monsters—they just don’t overshadow their comrades when they do so.

The traditional, “generic” cleric of 3E matches most closely to the devoted cleric build (p61) in the 4th Edition Player’s Handbook, which focuses on keeping your allies healthy and optimized. If your cleric prefers to mix it up in melee with the monsters, you should choose the battle cleric build (p61); or, alternatively, one of the paladin builds if you want to move formally into the defender role.


The druid’s still waiting for her big debut on the 4th Edition stage… so until then, you’re probably best off reimagining your character as a cleric of a nature-friendly deity (such as Corellon, Melora, Pelor, or Sehanine) and choosing either the battle cleric or devoted cleric build (p61).

This still leaves a lot of druid class features out of your grasp, but with your DM’s permission, any or all of the following tweaks might help you retain some of your druidic flavor:

1. Gain automatic skill training in Nature instead of Religion, and use Nature in place of Religion for all aspects of ritual casting.

2. Gain fluency in Druidic, a secret language known only to druids.

3. Change the damage type of your cleric prayers to fire or to lightning.

4. Replace divine fortune from your list of Channel Divinity options with the ability to speak with beasts for the rest of the encounter, and/or replace turn undead with the ability to briefly take bird form and fly up to 8 squares as a standard action (returning to normal form at the end of the move; your stats don’t change during the move).


It’s easy to assume that your 3E fighter should just use the new 4E version of the class, but before you do that you should ask yourself about your preferred style of play. Does your fighter stand in the middle of the fight, taking on every monster that comes his way, relying on his high AC and hit points to see him through? If so, then you sound like a traditional defender, and you should choose either the great weapon fighter or guardian fighter build (p76), depending on whether you wield a two-handed weapon or a weapon and shield.

On the other hand, if you built your fighter to be a high Dexterity, two-weapon-wielding engine of destruction, you might be happier using the two-blade ranger build (p104) than either of those fighter builds. And if you’re one of those fighters who disdained melee combat entirely in favor of a good ranged weapon, then the archer ranger (p104) is your likely best bet. It’s even possible that the brawny rogue build (p117) might be the optimal choice for you (particularly if you also picked up a couple levels of rogue along the way).


At a glance, the player with a 3E monk might think that he’s out of luck until the 4E monk releases—there’s no unarmored, unarmed melee fighter option anywhere in the Player’s Handbook. However, with your DM’s permission you can create a martial-arts striker who captures much of the monk’s style by following this process:

1. Choose the two-blade ranger build (p104). (Don’t worry, this will make sense in a minute.)

2. Give up your leather and hide armor proficiencies, gaining a +3 bonus to AC when wearing no armor or cloth armor. You’re now only a point behind the normal ranger’s AC.

3. Gain a +2 bonus to Will defense (in addition to the ranger’s normal defense bonuses).

4. Replace Dungeoneering and Nature on your class skill list with Arcana, Diplomacy, Insight, and Religion. Choose five trained skills from your class list.

5. Give up your martial weapon proficiencies. Grant your unarmed strike a +3 proficiency bonus, increase the damage to 1d8, and add the off-hand property. Now you’re wielding two melee weapons that are as good as the martial melee options available to the ranger.

6. Rename Hunter’s Quarry as Monastic Battle Focus, and lose the Prime Shot class feature. (You thought you were getting that +2 bonus to Will for free, didn’t you?)

7. Focus on mobility-oriented powers, particularly those that reward a high Wisdom score (such as evasive strike, yield ground, and weave through the fray). As desired, you can rename those powers with a flavor that befits your monkish heritage (peerless balance of the crane instead of fox’s cunning, for example).

8. Pick up feats to recreate other 3E monk class features—Evasion, Fleet-Footed, Long Jumper—and use multiclass feats (p209) to replicate the supernatural features. For example, the warlock has several teleportation powers reminiscent of abundant step.

This doesn’t faithfully recreate every element of the 3E monk, but it’s definitely a reasonable stopgap if you’re really committed to sticking with the character. Feel free to experiment with additional tweaks, and by all means please share your results on the D&D message boards!


Of all the classes in 3rd Edition, the paladin might be happiest to see his new incarnation in the 4E Player’s Handbook. Gone is the weak nod to divine spellcasting, replaced by the wide variety of divine smites and smashes that now define the class. That’s not to say that you’re a one-track defender; you still have lay on hands, and a range of utility and daily powers retain just enough of the classic paladin’s “backup leader” flavor. Your ability array will point you either to the avenging paladin (high Strength) or the protecting paladin (high Charisma) build (p90).

If your 3E paladin felt more like a leader than a defender, the battle cleric build (p61) might be more your speed… or maybe you just need the Initiate of the Faith and a couple of power swap multiclass feats (p209) to gain cleric powers in place of your paladin prayers.

There’s no option for a paladin’s mount in the Player’s Handbook; instead we gave the paladin a few utility powers that can move him across the battlefield quickly to his allies’ aid (such as benign transposition, radiant charge, and angelic intercession).

Just as in 3rd Edition, the 4E ranger offers two distinct combat styles, making it easy for you to identify the right build for you. If you favored two-weapon fighting, take the two-blade ranger build (p104); archers should select the archer ranger build (p104).

However, 4th Edition intentionally removed two familiar but decidedly second-tier ranger class features—spellcasting and the animal companion. The ranger now sits firmly alongside the fighter and rogue as a non-spellcaster, and he doesn’t bring along four-legged cannon fodder.

You can recapture some of the divine spellcasting flavor of your previous ranger (assuming you gained enough ranger levels for spellcasting to be noticeable). Pick up Initiate of the Faith (for one healing word per day) and one or more power swap feats (p209) for other cleric powers. There’s no option in the Player’s Handbook for a ranger animal companion, however… but rangers missing their pets should check out the Martial Power sourcebook, releasing October 2008.


Most 3E rogues fit very easily into the 4E rogue class, choosing either the brawny rogue or trickster rogue build (p117) based on their ability scores and skill preferences—the former for high Strength, climbing and jumping rogues, the latter for high Charisma, fast talking rogues.

That said, there are some viable 3E rogue builds that fit better into the 4E ranger class. If your rogue wields two weapons, you can either choose feats to support that style or go whole-hog by using the two-blade ranger build (p104). And if the whole idea of melee combat repulses you, the archer ranger build (p104) is probably more your speed. (In either case, a few multiclass rogue feats (p209) will help you recapture your sneaky identity.)


Beyond their mechanical methods of gaining and expending spells, the sorcerer and the wizard effectively did the same thing—drawing from the same spell list, for example—and thus you face the same decisions as the wizard player does (see the Wizard, below). Unlike the wizard, however, it should be easier for you to identify your character’s spell preferences since you’ve been using the same subset of spells over and over again for most of your career.

Yes, you have a new version of your class in the Player’s Handbook… but that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to translate every single one of your spells. Like a few other classes, the 4E wizard has a narrower range of power options than the 3rd Edition wizard. Some of these powers are coming later (summoning and illusions, for example), while others simply aren’t appropriate for the character role. Wizards don’t have a lot of party-buffing spells, for example; that’s more appropriate for leaders than for controllers. Taking those spells off the wizard list helps keep that class from overshadowing other characters in the party (see the Cleric, above).

If your 3E wizard focused on area-damage spells such as fireball, lightning bolt, and cone of cold, the war wizard build (p157) is for you. On the other hand, if you preferred spells that hampered your enemies’ ability to move freely and act effectively (such as ray of enfeeblement, stinking cloud, and slow), you’re better off with the control wizard build (p157).

Some 3E wizards might actually find the warlock class more to their liking—particularly if they fancy themselves more as “single-target killers” than battlefield controllers. If your 3E wizard is defined by his scorching ray, vampiric touch, enervation, and similar one-target ranged attacks, check out either the scourge warlock or deceptive warlock build (p130).

Well folks, that covers the 3.5 Player’s Handbook. Join us next time for a look at classes from Complete Adventurer!

About the Author

Andy Collins works as the system design and development manager for D&D at Wizards of the Coast. His development credits include the Player's Handbook v.3.5, Races of Eberron, and Dungeon Master's Guide II. He is also one of the lead designers for 4th Edition D&D, along with Rob Heinsoo and James Wyatt.

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