John "The Gneech" Robey (the_gneech) wrote,
John "The Gneech" Robey

4E Play Report

sirfox ran a session of D&D 4E for us tonight, taking us through Keep on the Shadowfell. The first part of the evening was mostly character generation and writing up power cards; the actual adventure part consisted mostly of some not-so-random encounters with kobolds, a little bit of investigation in town, and then a biggish fight at the site of a dragon graveyard.

The Good

I like the Warlord class (although it should really be called the Captain, or if you must, keep its original name of Marshal, because whatever these guys are, they aren't warlords). Since the early, early days, D&D has needed an interesting melee class that didn't have the religious baggage of clerics and paladins, the one-trick nature of fighters, or the narrowly-defined role of rangers. As another character who fills that buff-and-heal slot, without being "just another cleric," the Warlord does the job nicely. Now I want to come up with a 3.5e version (that's more interesting than the Marshal, who has no healing ability).

There are a lot of positive changes to combat overall, but most of them are in Saga Edition already, without all of the problems of 4E.

The Bad

Well, where to start? I think the biggest problem was the never-ending juggle of modifiers. Remember how everybody complained about 3.5 being a pain to deal with at high levels 'cause there were always a ton of buffs, debuffs, and temporary effects flying around? Well 4E starts with all that crap right out of the box, and I can only imagine the accounting hell that's going to come later. On any given round, we had two sticky tabs (for "marking" or to keep track of "save ends" effects) and two or three post-its set around the table, plus people keeping track of which of their daily or encounter powers they were using, if they spent their action point or used their second wind for this encounter, etc., etc., etc.

The whole random-and-arbitrary-powers thing was pretty much as bad as I expected it to be. Sure, the players had random-and-arbitrary-powers too, but that doesn't make it any less irritating. D&D has always been a step or two away from reality, but 4E doesn't even make a pretense of caring about things like physics, historical context, or cause-and-effect. Come up with the game pieces, and then put a skin over them that's close enough to run with. You can do huge amounts of damage, but only once per day; you can do moderate amounts of damage, but only once in any given fight. Eladrin can teleport, theoretically an indefinite number of times per day, but only once per "scene." And so on.

The Ugly

Our informal name for our adventuring band is going to be the Missed By Ones. Because all night, nine die rolls out of ten, we missed by one. If we needed an 11, we'd roll a 10. If we needed a 10, we'd roll a 9. If we needed a 20, we'd roll a 19. Sure, that's just the luck of the dice and not the game system, but it was still a frustrating factor. Between every creature's turn taking 10 minutes to figure out all the modifiers etc., and the fact that even the "speed bump" encounters were a long, long slog, the game felt like it was crawling.

Sure, system mastery would have helped, but honestly I doubt it would have helped much. What made the players' turns go by more slowly was picking powers to use. ("Move and attack? That's so dull. How can I use a power here?") Between the at-wills, the encounter powers, and the daily powers, we each had four or five power cards to sift through each round to try to maximize our effectiveness, and any turn in which none of the powers were useful and we had to settle for "I attack him" felt like a wasted opportunity.

sirfox, on the other hand, was rolling like a man possessed. In one encounter, my warlord took something like 20 points of damage before he ever got a turn, just from all the monster powers pounding on us. But even if he hadn't been, even if all the die rolls were exactly average, it would have been a tough session. Our attacks generally had to-hit bonuses around +4, with the enemy defenses starting around 18. And with us having 18-24 hit points each, getting hit with 7, 9, 12 points of damage made for a lot of healing surges getting used up. At one point it seriously looked like we were going end up turning around and going back to town after our first encounter of the day — hardly a prestigious start for such "turned up to 11" heroes as we supposedly were.

So, bottom line? Eh, it's playable and I will enjoy it well enough. Saga Edition is a better system overall, and just about any previous edition of D&D has better "flavor text." I don't know that I'll ever be able to stomach the idea of running it, but as long as sirfox is willing to run, I'm willing to play. I would like to see a 3.5e warlord (and no, not the Marshal).

-The Gneech

PS: I went with Arcangalad. His miniature is very cool, and I will post some pics of that when I have 'em.
Tags: arcangalad, dungeons & dragons, gaming
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