I’ve now run three sessions of D&D 4e. This weekend, I ran the first session of my new Greyhawk homebrew for the Friday Nighters and then ran the second session of Keep on the Shadowfell on Sunday afternoon.
There is definitely some familiarisation necessary with the system. The game does not play in exactly the same way as 3E, just as 3E did not play in the same way as 2E. However, despite the differences, it is definitely feeling like D&D to me.
Probably one of the biggest changes to get used to is the concept of teamwork. Monsters are mobile and can easily move to attack weakly defended party members, especially if they’re intelligent. The Friday night group was lucky – it didn’t face any intelligent opposition, except for a lone Priest of Chaos who went down very quickly indeed. The firebeetles and zombies just went after the nearest players. This will change.
The Sunday group has been facing intelligent enemies, and the fight against Irontooth, which started very well for the PCs (the Fighter, Paladin and Warlord formed a line that stopped the kobolds from getting through to the Wizard and Warlock), started to go against them the moment they broke the line and let kobolds into flanking positions and going after the fluffier members of the group.
Teamwork, teamwork, teamwork!
Here’s something I’ve found: first level characters are still extremly squishy. We had three unconscious and dying PCs in that combat (which lasted almost 20 rounds!) and one of those died, with another rolling a natural 20 on their Death Save and was able to stabilise the last. Combats may last longer, but your PCs will always be in danger at low levels.
Knowing your abilities and having them set down in a form you can interpret is also really, really important in 4e. First level characters don’t really have that many, although the fighter has far more than he did in previous editions. In fact, I think the fighter is one of the more difficult character classes to play, and that’s entirely due to his marking abilities.
In AD&D, the responsibility for knowing the rules was squarely on the DM’s shoulders. (This led to some really uncomfortable situations, where part of the descriptions of common spells were in the DMG and easily forgotten). In 4E (and also in 3e), it’s expected that the players will know how their abilities work – the DM is just there for reminders and running the rest of the world.
Thankfully, the actual ability descriptions are pretty clear and only use a small set of terms you need to know. Close, Ranged, Melee, Area, Burst, Blast, and 16 conditions, most of which are self-explanatory. (Prone means, you know, prone). Once you know those terms, you know most of 4e.
The big condition you need to know – and this applies mainly to Fighters and Paladins – is Marked. Here’s the basic text of what it means:
* You take a -2 penalty to attack rolls for any attack that doesn’t target the creature that marked you.
So, if a Fighter marks a goblin and then the goblin attacks someone else, that goblin takes a -2 penalty to hit. Marked says, “stay here and fight me!” It’s the prime ability of being a defender. You need toknow how to mark something and what that means. It’s worthy of an article of its own, so I’ll do that and leave this for now.
A couple of other notes about how I run games and the adventures I’m currently running…
Puzzles – I like puzzles. I’m rarely going to put in a puzzle that is necessary to win the adventure (if I do so, I’ve likely made a big mistake), but puzzles will be there to allow bonus treasures, encounters and situations to occur. There may be some encounters you can get past by just rolling dice, but the “puzzle” encounter is one where you have to think for real. I might give clues with appropriate skill rolls, though.
Generally, if you find me giving a lot of description about an area and not letting you make rolls to disarm traps, you’ve found a puzzle. The opening of the secret door with the besieged castle mural is one such. You don’t need to get through that door. You can safely ignore it. However, if you want to have another go at getting past it, be my guest. 🙂
Yes, there will be regular Skill Challenges and Roleplaying Encounters as well. (Garnell the Great, Sage of Castle Greyhawk is a Roleplaying encounter, if you didn’t know). I like to break things up. There are more combats about if you
Towns and Roleplaying – The home base of a group of adventures, when done well, can lead to a lot of really, really good roleplaying. One of the problems with the Adventure Paths and published modules is that they really don’t allow enough development of the base, or they take the PCs away from it too soon. Both Sassarine and Diamond Lake got a lot of development by Paizo, but both – the former, especially – really never came into the adventures much.
I’m happy to develop the personalities and places of your home base further if you want me to. With the Keep on the Shadowfell adventure, there’s actually quite a number of personalities and places already defined which gives me a lot to work with. Of course, we’re unlikely to stay in the town for that long, but there are some people you need to talk to.
With my homebrew City of Greyhawk campaign, we’re talking about a place I’ve run adventures in over many years, so there are definitely people to talk to. This isn’t to say that we’ll spend all of our time roleplaying and not adventuring, but I would like to build up some good relationships with key NPCs.
The new edition of 4e is proving to be a learning experience for all of us. Personally, I think it has enhanced combat and kept roleplaying pretty firmly in the hands of the players and DM. There are still rough edges, but I guess we’ll see with further play whether they’ll be a problem or not.