D&D 4e: the verdict

Having now played all the way through Keep on the Shadowfell (including 4 extra sessions at Continuum) I now feel like I’ve got a well formed set of opinions on D&D 4e. To be honest, I think any game needs decent table time to really check out the nooks and crannys.

My players; my wife, always up for a challenge, hardly ever roleplyed except in an abortive Trail of Cthulhu session. My old gaming mate Steve who got into gaming with D&D 3.0, and his partnet Tracy, another newbie. Dan, a lapsed gamer who did some White Wolf stuff back in the day. Finally Julio, and Mark, both of whom I’ve been playing with for years, the most experienced and rounded gamers. A mixed bag of experience to be sure.

The Good

 

Powers
Loving these in general, and some I’m loving in particular. The at will/encounter/daily split really works well for my group. Took a little getting our heads round at first, but soon enough there were ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ when dailys got announced. Shame so many poor rolls mess ’em up. The at wills were a boon for the players as they replace the tendency to simply say ‘I attack’. As I said, my players are all different but one thing they have in common is that they aren’t natural extroverts so their roleplaying can be quite internalised, for want of a better word. I believe the powers system helped bring their actions to life.

Party Balance
Everyone ot to be a part of the game, for the whole of the game. I never once saw a yawn at the table, nor did I ever see anyone want to take a step back from the spotlight. It also makes my life as a DM easier if I know I don’t have to pull any punches, or otherwise make allowances for characters. There’s no starter class anymore either, the fighter has as much complexity as the wizard, who isn’t an overwhelming choice for the newbie either.

Dragonborn
They’re cool. I can picture them in the scenes. Wish they had tails though.

Warlocks
The three different types are a nice touch and they feel like they deserve a place in todays fantasy settings.

Warlords
Again, a class that was needed in the core. This one didn’t get a whole lot of use in my games, but when it did we all liked what we saw. maybe it’s just because it’s new and still shiny, but I can picture the moves he pulls off. It could so easily have just been a support character which was great for the rest of the party and not so much for the actual player. I think they got the design just right.

Encounter building
Simple, straightforward and fun, couldn’t really ask for much more. Whenever my group size changed due to real life getting in the way or whatever, it was really easy to make the right adjustments. You can definitely see the difference in the monster roles and I like that as a DM I get to play groups rather than a single high level magic user as the Big Bad.

Experience awards
Compared to CR charts? I’m never looking back.

Quests
My players have always had a tendency to go ‘off mission’ which is fine and all, except half the time it was because they forgot what the basic mission was in the first place! I didn’t think these would work but they have. It’s also a nice way of pacing level gains.

Healing surges
Earthdawn got this right a long time ago. Good to see it in D&D. I wasn’t a fan of Wands of CLW and all the associated number crunching. The players love the Second Wind mechanic too.

Crits
They got cheers at my table, what else does a game want?

Skill challenges
Didn’t get many chances to use them, but i’m intrigued by the possibilities. I kept some secret from the players and some public. They went better than the forums would have you believe. I’m ooking forward to putting more of them in future games.

The DM
A good read from start to finish, that, to my surprise, was actually useful. It does exactly what it says in the title, and that’s without the crutch of magic item lists.

Magic items
Speaking of which… We have only gotten to third level so there’s not many in our game yet, but I can see how they are going to add flavour to the characters without replacing the characters.

Action points
The players love using them, and when they do, exciting things happen. In slow motion in my mind.

Minions
Yep. Good. Not to be underestimated. Still unsure as to whether or not I’d like them to be a little stickier though.

Monster abilities
Fun for me, a surprise for the players. And the abiities don’t overwhelm either, I feel like I’m doing the game justice when I’m running the monsters. Lack of study prep doesn’t hurt either.

The DM screen
Good design, no logos, clear rules with page references, sturdy. Shame about one chart being wrong, but the biggest shame is that I’ve never had to use it as a reference!

The poster maps
Better than I can draw on a battlemap, that’s for sure. Also, they’re exactly thhe sort of thing that you can take for granted with D&D, there’s not many other games that give you this level of support.

Nentir Vale
It’s like Karameikos.

And then there’s the parts of the game that, while not outright bad, still need to convince me. They’re not dealbreakers, but they are a little stone in my shoe.

Immobilised and Slow
I have difficulty seeing them working in my minds eye. The ghoul attacks, the character is immobilised, yet it can still attack? Same for Slow, you can still run?

Alignment
I liked it before, but wasn’t precious about keeping them either. What we got was a compromise and I can’t understand the point of it.

Area attacks as squares
I know, I know, but Shock Sphere has a clue in the title.

Healing skill use in combat
Another difficult immersion breaker for me, and not incredibly needed either, so why not make it different? Players always ask if they can use healing Word outside of combat to avoid using up surges. I dunno, it just doesn’t sit right with the rest of the game.

Marking, combat challenges and opportunity attacks
The only rules I have to read before every session and I still make bad calls during the game. when the paladin and the fighter double teamed kobolds my brain hurt.

Stats all being good
I like the idea of flaws, and although D&D has never had disadvantages, I liked seeing low stats as a characterisation thing. The whole 3-18 thing is pretty much gone now I suppose.

The need for 5 players, rather than 4
Means a doubling up of roles. Makes the game slower. Harder to get the group together. Essentially more cons than pros.

Compulsory minis
Which I can’t buy to order, that’s the issue! Thank God for Fiery Dragon.

Milestones
Doesn’t feel natural, and makes Action Points slightly less neat to track to.

The pregens and sheets
Looked like a last minute job, and were the very first thing my players changed. The pictures didn’t represent the characters, some of the rules were wrong or incomplete, and info was small and easily lost. Bah.

Tieflings
Silly looking. Name makes me smirk, not a great first impression.

Charge & Run actions
Should be simple to understand, yet I keep having to look it up between games?

Finally, there’s the parts of the game I haven’t yet fully encountered. We’ll see…

D&D Insider
I need this to be good, and I’m getting increasingly annoyed it’s not ready yet,

Rituals
Not used ’em yet. Sorry. It hasn’t come up.

Power creep
I’d like to be able to buy new interesting books for sure, but I just haave this sinking feeling…

Tiers
I’m a dyed in the wool heroic type player and DM, but I’m looking forward to something a bit more out there.

Rangers/Eladrin/Elves
No-one’s played them yet. If I get the chance to play I want to give one of these a run out.

So there you have it. All my opinion of course. In summary: it’s a great game that’s given half a dozen gamers three solid months of good times, with no end of that in sight. I’m happy. You?

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