When the first Next package came out, my regular group gave it a go with the classic Caves of Chaos adventure. Just a single session, and it was fine. Bit deadly, plenty of exploration, quick combat. Overall, I enjoyed DMing it as a change of pace, but I could see my players champing at the bit for a bit more… sophistication?
So we returned to our regular 4e game, a conversion of the Pathfinder AP, Serpents Skull.
It’s been rumbling along for a while now. The first part, Souls for Smugglers Shiv, was superb. Like a modern day Isle of Dread. Loved running it, and 4e was a great fit. The second part Race to Ruin, wasn’t so hot. I don’t blame the scenario particularly, but it wasn’t a great fit for 4e, and by this time I’d been running that system non stop for five years. Even I, a huge fan of 4e, was starting to see some of the cracks that the internees edition warriors had been shouting about. For me, the straw that broke the camels back was that we just weren’t getting through the adventures at a fast enough pace. Two set piece encounters pretty much filled our sessions, and at that rate it would be a month or more per level.
Add to that the fact that my least favourite part of DMing is combat. Don’t get me wrong I still love it, but I love exploration more and interaction, when it flys, is a thing of wonder. My players had long ago defaulted to playing out their combats by laying down their power cards and talking through their discreet actions in pure rules language. I DMed exactly the same. The game demanded it for clarity’s sake. Yet I missed the more casual freedom of ‘say what you want to try, I’ll tell you what to roll’
And then we had a chance to reboot with a couple of personnel changes in our weekly group. So I told the guys about my growing sense of dissatisfaction, and they were good enough to go with me.
We changed to Next, the packet before the most recent one.
The players generated 6th level characters independently, with pen and paper. It was straightforward enough, and they enjoyed the race/class/background/speciality framework very much. It helped having to produce your own character sheet, as it gave them a chance to see how it all fit together. Having to work up your own spell reference was a bit of a pain.
We played a few sessions, and they went down pretty well overall. From my perspective it was great. Combats went along at a decent clip (I prefer 20-30 mins for a big fight). I adored the skill rules. I loved asking for an ability check, and having the player retort with a specific skill. The skill dice made an ordinary roll something to look at for all. I really enjoyed not feeling like I had to roll out the battlemat for every fight. We did some in our heads, some with tiles, and some sketched out. They all had a place. In fact, we had a couple of encounters that would have been very hard to replicate on a grid at all as they were very three dimensional. I liked the flow of the sessions, with the exploration element of the game coming more to the fore.
From the players point of view, I think they did miss the full on tactical combats, and the feeling of choice that a range of powers gave them previously. I have sympathy for that view, and would like to see what WotC will deliver on a module for this. They also found martial damage dice to be effective but dull. Resource management over the round would have been better than by turn.
My negative aspect was all to do with encounter design. The xp values were all over the place, and I really missed the variety and ease of encounter building from 4e. The monsters themselves were easy enough to run, if anything too easy. I could have stood a bit more complexity in them. I also struggled to convert a PF stat block. I like that it could be trimmed right back, but the bounded accuracy of Next was at odds with 3rd edition expectations. Especially with treasure and spells.
The latest packet brought lots more goodies online for us all, and after a single session, the changes have gone down very well. The new fighter and rogue stuff is better suited to us. I can’t speak much of the spell casting unfortunately as no one is playing one! But, after a death this week, we will have a paladin to try out next time.
Overall, I enjoy DMing Next and that must be coming across in the way the sessions go. Yes, my players could stand for more options, but I know they’re coming down the track. Right now, the test is as good as its ever been, though far from perfect. I’m really optimistic, and I’m back to looking forward to our sessions.
Can’t ask for much more than that!