It's a list of good ideas, that's what.
1. Unique powers for monsters.
They standardized the crap out of this edition. And yet, it allowed them to do things like this.
Ferocity (when reduced to 0 hit points)
The minotaur warrior makes a melee basic attack.
Whirlwind Dash (standard; recharge 6 ) ✦ Fire
The firelasher can move up to twice its speed. It can move through spaces occupied by other creatures without provoking opportunity attacks. It must end its move in an unoccupied space. Any creature whose space the firelasher enters takes 10 fire damage.
Grant monsters special, specific, powers that both A) represent their theme and B) aren't just spell effects or basic attacks.
Of course, Mr. Pedant! Powers have been around since basic, plenty were listed in the 1e and 2e monster manual, and Pathfinder has plenty of 'special abilities' for each monster. However, this was the first edition that really approached this problem from the perspective of 'what thematic power does this monster have?' rather than focusing on the 'basic attack' and then figuring out some other stuff that the monster might do. The fact that 90% of monster powers ended up being "Melee Attack" has nothing to do with the idea, but the implementation.
The first time you hit an Owlbear but good and it lets out a stunning shriek because you hit it, well, that's cool.
2. Have game changing spells be available without a wizard and contain a resource cost.
If you've ever created content for a 3.x or earlier game at a high level, you know you have to account for the utility spell. Putting that spell list into rituals does a couple of cool things.
First, you no longer need 'wizards' or 'magic items' to solve problems. Have your ranger or rogue learn ritual caster, and welp, you have access to utility rituals!
Second, it makes spells that change the nature of the game or replace class abilities (Teleport, knock, water breathing) have a resource cost. Because they are separated out from standard spells, you can even eliminate the ones you don't want to have in your world, easily. Saying "That ritual doesn't exist" is easier then saying "You can't learn that spell" for a couple of logical reasons. It's easier to deny an external item, then a player ability for instance.
3. The game allows monster design to be different than character design.
This is really a tool for dungeon masters - as it allows monsters to do whatever they need to, without worrying about constructing them according to the same rules as players. It hearkens back to 1st and 2nd edition monster design. This also assists the Dungeon Master in selecting and designing encounters, because he can give his monsters whatever they want and yet it has strong guidelines for expectations and what's fair.
|Head Injury Theater|
Hey. Hey, you. Groggy. Grognard. Things don't always have to be the same.
I'm really talking to myself because I also like to have things be the way I think they should be in my head. But new things can be cool too.
The old planar structure was cool - the reinvention for planescape was cool, and really, a serious attempt by 4e to create a new planar structure focused on playability was also cool!
5. Presentation of the setting through game content.
I imagine this was entirely unintentional. An actual quote from 4e gameplay. "This spell (speak with dead) seems to imply that there are an infinite number of visual sensors recording information in the world!"
But still, this is the way it should be done.
6. Flatter math.
There is some benefit to the regularity in skill increases. No tracking points. Just plus 1/2 level. Useful, quick, flatter. The longer things like "doors" and "walls" can remain an obstacle for your players, the better!
Now, of course this doesn't mean that the very things I praise it for weren't done terribly elsewhere in the ruleset. But these are some of the things I keep coming back to in my own designs.
Hack & Slash