Monday, March 22, 2010

4E, or not 4E. That is the question.

We started up Pat's 4E campaign on Saturday night. I'd like to say I'm keeping an open mind about it, but I know I'm not 100% there. I'm biased against it, but I'm gonna at least give it a go. We're running through the "Keep on the Shadowfell" module, but I won't bore you all with details (or spoilers for those that might play through it).

Here are my initial impressions:

1. I had fun. Of course, with the guys I play with, system may not matter for that. But nothing about 4E cut into that.

2. On paper, characters look hearty, but not having looked through the Monster Manual, I didn't realize that monsters (at least non-minion ones) are equally hearty. Fighting kobolds was a challenge for our 1st level characters.

There's number inflation, so when you think about it, it would be akin to playing any TSR version with the listed hit points, but with weapons limited to 1-2 points of damage.

3. Crits are just max damage, rather than a multiplier. Simple, and no need for a confirmation roll.

4. We only played through 2 combat encounters and some town talking encounters, but I can see how encounters might be tedious in the future. Old versions suffer the problem of 'roll to hit, roll damage' but 4E looks to have the problem of 'I use my at-will, roll damage.'

5. Character creation was easier than 3E, but managing the character with the official sheet from the back of the book was tedious.

6. Pat let us roll 4d6 drop lowest for stats, and Josh and I got to roll two sets (Alex was fine with his first set), which meant we had ability scores above the norm, but then we only had 3 characters--I played a Dragonborn Cleric, Alex was a Human Wizard, and Josh was a Dwarf Fighter.

7. The battles were a bit tough with only 3 characters instead of the recommended 5, but we won both of them without anyone dropping to negative hit points. So while there is some number inflation off-set, healing surges and what not DO make the game much more survivable. The monsters didn't seem to have any healing powers among them.

8. If we can, we're gonna try and get two more guys to join us next time, otherwise Alex and I might run 2 characters each... That should slow the game down considerably.

9. We spent about an hour BSing and talking about what we'd all play, about an hour making characters, and 3 hours playing. For 5 hours of play, we only had 2 battles, and talked to some folks in town.

10. Healing potions in this edition don't heal you, they let you use one of your own healing surges for the day. WTF?


  1. My group never got over the healing potions thing.

    I hope 4E works out better for you than it did for me and mine.

  2. Yeah, the healing potions really should be useful to your character when you DON'T have any surges left, IMO...

    But with 3 players and not 5 or 6, you are probably getting a much faster game. It can really get slow and boring during combat with all the power/feat/skill combinations sometimes.

    Best wishes with it, tho'!

  3. I've been running a game of 4E for a smallish (often one on one!) group as well and have a few observations I'll throw in. :)

    4: A major downside to the powers structure in 4E is it can hinder the outside of the box thinking in combat I'm used to in OD&D. Using the DM's helper rule (+2 to interesting situations; DMG pg 42) to encourage looking away from the power cards occasionally is beneficial!

    5): I too hate the official sheet. What a jumbled mess. I'm tempted to pull the important data and just jotting it down on a notecard to sit next to the power cards (assuming you are using the Character builder demo to print your sheets, of course).

    7: Did the DM scale the encounters to less players? The game is deceptively deadly (not OD&D deadly, but moreso than 3E IMO) which I am enjoying!

    8: If the DM has access to the DMG2, there is an excellent section on companion characters These are the liferaft in my game. Giving each player a henchmen that is as easy to run as a monster is has been quite successful in bulking up the party and filling missing roles. If you do not have nor wish to purchase the DMG2, just pick a monster from the Monster Manual (Like a Halfling Thief or Dwarf Hammerer, for example), use the scaling rules to bring them to the level of the party, and let the players have full control over them. Much better than having to run two fully statted out characters IMO.

    10: Yeah, I dunno. I've heard reasoning for this but I'm not sure I buy into it. As using surges in-game isn't as easy as it appears on paper, I'm sure houseruling this wouldn't hurt anything.

  4. Thanks for the tips, Meepo!

    I'll pass things along to Pat, the DM, and see what he thinks. The idea of henchmen seems like a good idea to me.

    Since we're just trying out the system and only Pat has the books (and only the original 3), I'd printed off relevant pages from the pdf I've got for all of us players. Shifting through the character sheet (printed from the pack pages of the pdf, not with the character creation software), plus a page or two for the race and 4-5 pages for the class during play was somewhat tedious. Doubling the pages would be more hassle, but as you suggest a 'monster' henchman or two might be a good idea.

    Pat said he wasn't scaling encounters. Since we all had above average ability scores, he thought we might be able to handle the challenges, and we did. So a few NPCs that we can control might be all we need.