D&D 4E – Mine At Last!

Last Friday I got my copies of D&D 4E from Imagine Games.  On Saturday, I ran several sessions of the Worldwide Dungeons & Dragons Game Day adventure, Into the Shadowhaunt. On Sunday, I rested and finished reading the rules.

First off, I want to thank Pedro and Wendy at Imagine Games for letting me run the demos at their store and taking such good care of me while I was there. It was a blast.

I also really want to thank everyone who came out to play. You folks really made it a fun experience; I hope you enjoyed it, too.

The adventure was pretty good – a nice collection of four encounters that ran about two hours and included combat, traps, and puzzle solving. The support from Wizards of the Coast was awesome! The box we got contained five copies of the adventure, five sets of dice, five poster maps for the encounters, five sets of player minis, five sets of monster minis, five sets of pregen characters, twenty-five giveaway d20s, and five sets of trivia and other games to play. With only me running demos, and only time to get four in on Saturday, we sent everyone who played home with their character sheet, mini, a free d20, and sometimes a few of the monster minis, as well.

Kudos to Wizards for a great launch package!

The one question I had was if anyone out there managed to see the other Game Day adventure, which is supposedly called Against the White Dragon? It’s mentioned in Shadowhaunt, and I’m curious as to whether it was sent out this time, or if it’s being used on the next Game Day. Anyone know?

Now, I’ve read the rules and I’ve run the demos. What can I say about 4E?

  • Overall, I like it.
  • The books are very nice. The mix of satin and gloss finish on the covers works well, they’re colourful and attractive, they seem very sturdy, and the interior art is fantastic. In particular, I liked the spread that opens the Skills chapter of the PHB, which shows you what facing a trap can feel like in 4E. I got the collection with the slipcase, and that seems a little sturdier than the 3.5 collection slipcase, but that could be my imagination.
  • Also layout and design. I don’t like fancy layouts; I like clean, easy to read, easy to use layouts that still look attractive without detracting from the content. That’s what we’ve got here.
  • In general, editing is pretty good. Can’t think of any errors I spotted off-hand.
  • I really like the way the information is divided between books. Everything a player needs is in the PHB, including magic item stats. The MM is just monsters. All the tools the DM needs are in the DMG.
  • I still love the way monsters work. I love the way the rules support the flavour of different monsters without huge, multi-page stat blocks. I love the way pretty much every creature has some neat little trick to use in combat.
  • Expanding on that, the section in the DMG for customizing monsters is very clear, very simple, and very easy. No more spending an hour applying a template and extra hit dice to create a custom monster. I figure 10-15 minutes, tops.
  • As with, I suspect, everyone who reads the book, I was somewhat nonplussed by some of the choices of monsters to include and omit in the MM. The ones that specifically made my brow wrinkle will be different from others, most likely, but that’s the danger in a new MM, right? Everyone’s going to be asking, “Why this and not that?” So, I’m writing that one off to personal preference.
  • Skill challenges. They rock. It looks like they’ll take a little longer to set up than combat encounters, at least until I get used to them, but I like the way they’re structured, and I like the flavour they have. The samples included in the DMG show off the wide variety of things you can use them for.
  • There are different ways to disable traps, beyond just throwing a rogue at them. They make sense, and they add to the excitement of any encounter that features a trap.
  • Combat flows. When you get into it, it flows very well. And quickly. It’s fluid and exciting, and everyone has interesting things to do on their turn.
  • I was worried about the roles; now, I am less so. In the demos, I had people who played to their roles, and they were very effective. I had people who didn’t, and they were very effective. The one real benefit of roles is that when all the roles are filled, and everyone plays to his or her role, the party is a juggernaut.
  • Rituals. I like ’em. That’s just personal taste, there; the mechanic is so compelling that I go, “This is great!” I just like the flavour and idea of them.

So, that’s a lot of positive stuff, and I haven’t addressed all of my concerns. Let’s talk about the unaddressed concerns, and then the one thing I’m less happy with.

First concern: Is it going to feel like a video game? Yes and no. There are some things that have been learned from the MMORPGs and incorporated into the game design. The idea of powers, for example, and the way some powers work. I’ve decided I have no problem with the implementation, because it lets me colour the effect enough to make sure it fits the feel of my game. And really, I have no problem with things being taken from other sources. It makes sense to look at other successful games, see what’s working for them, and see if those things can be adapted to your game without losing the core of what your game is. This is, I think, what Wizards has done with 4E, and I think the game is better for it. And if you run across something that feels a little too WoW for you, it’s easy to change the flavour.

Second concern: Can I build a light-weapon-using, agile fighter, or a wizard who whacks people with a sword? Yes, but not the way I expected. If I want to build my swashbuckling fighter, I don’t use the fighter class. I use the rogue class. I wind up with the exact type of character I wanted, but the name of the class is different. As for the sword-and-spell-wielding wizard, the multi-class feats make that pretty simple, too. You can build against class role within the class if you want, but you may find too many cool things drawing you toward the class’s stated role. I found that I was better off considering the role of my concept first, then picking the appropriate class based on power source. It takes a bit of rethinking, but I’m happy with the flexibility.

Now, for the one somewhat negative thing about the new system. Not enough choices right off the bat. Oh, I realize that this feeling is a product of the wide variety of options available over the life-cycle of 3.5, and I know that it’s going to get addressed in supplements, but I still feel that way. I want more powers for each level of the classes. I want more feats, more weapons, more rituals, more magic items, etc.

But what I really want are more classes. This is where I think the game is weakest.

See, there are eight classes. Four of them use the martial power source, two of them use the divine, and two of them use the arcane. There are two defenders (martial or divine), two leaders (martial or divine), three strikers (two martial, one arcane), and one controller (arcane).

Ideally, what I would have liked to see is character class using each power source in each role, so that there would be a martial, divine, and arcane defender, leader, striker, and controller. Twelve classes. Failing that (and I know that would have added at least forty pages to the book), why not two of each role? There’s only one controller option right now, and three strikers. Why not two of each?

Well, these are rhetorical questions now, and I’m sure they were discussed at length during the design and development process. I’m not saying that the choices are wrong, just that I want more. Call me greedy.

Anyway, overall, 4E gets a big thumbs-up from me. I’m just going to hold off starting a campaign until a few more options are available.

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9 Responses to D&D 4E – Mine At Last!

  1. Rechan says:

    deally, what I would have liked to see is character class using each power source in each role, so that there would be a martial, divine, and arcane defender, leader, striker, and controller. Twelve classes. Failing that (and I know that would have added at least forty pages to the book), why not two of each role? There’s only one controller option right now, and three strikers. Why not two of each?

    From various designer blogs/interviews:

    The designers stated they weren’t interested in “filling a greed” out of pure desire for symmetry. For one thing, because it became hard to come up with a concept for a Martial Controller that didn’t come off as silly (Please, please, I don’t want to get into a discussion of the monk).

    Also, there are 112 pages devoted just to eight classes. Four more would’ve been 56 extra pages, putting the phb close to 400 pages. Yikes!

    The notion of class design is simply “What can you bring to the table that No Other Class can?” And I think trying to needlessly fill a grid may have not succeeded in that.

    Finally, the warlock started out as a controller, but as it went through the developmental stage, it slid towards striker.

  2. Rick Neal says:

    This is fine, of course. I understand the restrictions and the difficulties of trying to fill niches created by design theories. And I’m not as interested in filling the grid as I am in offering player options. The disappointing thing is that, to fill all the roles for the party, right now, each party MUST contain a wizard. Of course, you don’t have to fill all the roles; I’ve run tests with as few as three players, and they did fine.

    As for the idea of “What can you bring to the table that no other class can,” well, the emphasis on roles seems to weaken that argument. The design posits the four things that “need” to be brought to the table – defense, leadership, striking, and control. The question then becomes, “How can you fill this role in an interesting, different way?” They approach this with the idea of juxtaposing role with power source to define a class. And, speaking of grids, that’s how you build one: defining two aspects which unite to produce a third. The class grid is role and power source; the character grid is class and race.

    Maybe it would have been better not to restrict themselves to just three power sources in the book. After all, the information tied directly to the power sources is, in fact, minimal; most of the ideas about the power sources come from the description of the powers, not from write-ups on the power sources themselves. By introducing another power source in the PHB, it might have opened up some of the difficulty in coming up with another controller class, which is the big lack of choice that I see.

    What it comes down to is that the 4E PHB has 8 classes and 8 races, for a total of 64 possible mixes. By contrast, the 3.5 PHB has 11 classes and 7 races, for a total of 77 possible mixes. Yes, I understand that the new rules require significantly more pages per class entry. Yes, I understand that they wanted a nice mix of classic and new material to appeal to longtime fans and new markets. Yes, I understand that they need to save something for DDI and later supplements. Yes, I understand that some of the 3.5 mixes are, shall we say, sub-optimal. And yes, I understand that the book is already pretty big.

    But you can’t tell me that 64 is equal to or greater than 77.

    I said it in the post, and I’ll say it again: I, and others like me, are spoiled by the wealth of options in 3.5, and it can make 4E look a little thin. I have no doubt that the options will expand quickly and regularly. Within six months or a year, I expect that this complaint will be completely buried under the wealth of new material.

    Really, this is all Monday-morning-quarterbacking. I like the new game. A lot. I think it’s a huge step forward, and a significant improvement over all the versions that have come before as far as actual play goes.

    But when there’s only one controller option, you can’t tell me I’ve got a range of choices, yet.

    I understand the design theory, the desire to not be tied by the symmetry of a grid, the pressures of deadlines, the restrictions of word and page counts, and how things change in the construction. I understand why the designers and developers made the decisions they did. I just wish they’d found a way to make one different one, and make sure that the players have an option of controller.

    It’s not a huge deal. Hell, I’ve run whole campaigns where none of the characters were using any spells above third level, even when they reached epic levels. You can get by without a controller if you don’t want to play a wizard. I just think that there should have been a choice.

    Maybe we’ll get one on DDI soon.

    Anyway, I think this dead horse is well and truly beaten. I’m done.

  3. Rechan says:

    But when there’s only one controller option, you can’t tell me I’ve got a range of choices, yet.

    I don’t disagree. A second controller would’ve been real nice. I would’ve liked them to have added the Swordmage (Arcane defender appearing in the Forgotten Realms player book), or some Divine controller (Flamestrikes and blade barriers and suchlike).

    Now, I will point out one thing you’re overlooking: class builds. Each class has 2 builds. Each level has 4+ power options. So you could have two paladins radically different than one another, or two charisma-based paladins who still have different power choices. That’s at least 34 different choices right there.

    The place that I feel the Core is really lacking is the feat department. It just feels really skimp. If you’re not picking up weapon feats, then things feel real limited.

  4. Rechan says:

    Oops, did my math wrong: 8x2x4 = 64.

  5. Rick Neal says:

    I wasn’t counting the builds, for the same reason that I didn’t count different builds in 3.5. Once you factor in feats, powers, spells, etc., the combinations grow drastically for both editions.

    And really, each class has waaaaaay more than two builds. Those are just there to get you thinking, IMHO.

    Anyway.

    As I said, this is a pretty minor complaint. It shows how much I like the game that I have to look this hard for something to complain about.

  6. Alex says:

    I played the White Dragon scenario on Saturday; basically it was a big fight against a white dragon; the dragon hit hard and got two attacks, as well as a breath weapon he only used once (he never rolled the 5-6 recharge).

    I also ran a game tonight in which a group of 4 people who all had little knowledge of 4E (one had never even played D&D before) got through 4 encounters in three and a half hours. The prep time was about 2 hours, but I’ve still got 5 encounters left. This is AMAZING.

    Also, I don’t quite understand why you think that there are very few options in 4E yet. Everything is new! Eight new classes to try out, two+ builds for each, each race has a nifty power… what’s not to love?

    My only real problem lies with AOEs. Simply put, I HATE the silly looking squares. The fix? you target a sqare as the origin, and the first diagonal counts as two spaces. And no lines? Some of my favorite moments playing a wizard were times when I was able to set up an awesome AOE; one time I filled an entire burning hands with bad guys without hitting any allies.

  7. Rick Neal says:

    First off, thanks for the info on the White Dragon scenario. Just wanted my curiosity satisfied. 😉

    Second, the fact that you got through four encounters in three and a half hours thrills me. I never liked the way a single big combat in 3.5 would expand to fill the entire evening. And two hours of prep to build nine encounters – fantastic! I love that.

    And it’s not that I think there are very few options in 4E yet. Part of my take comes from the fact that I don’t have the pieces to migrate either of my current campaigns (need druids, barbarians, half-orcs, artificers, and Dragonmoarks – we play in Eberron), and part of it comes from the distribution of classes among the roles. And these are just the gripes of a spoiled gamer, not serious criticism of the game. It says something about the situation that my complaint is that I can’t get enough 4E.

    Personally, I love the new AoEs. Soooooooo much simpler to deal with. But I can definitely see your point; my first impression was very similar, but the ease of use during play won me over. But we each have our pet peeves, right?

    Thanks for stopping by.

  8. Alex says:

    Yeah; not having Druids, Artificers, Half-orcs and Dragonmarks sucks. Though I think that the Half-Orc and Dragonmarks (the basic feats, not the related PrCs) wouldn’t be too difficult to cobble together.

  9. Kalad says:

    I can’t agree with liking the layout of the Player’s handbook, I can’t stand them cramming ALL the powers and Paragon stuff for a class right next to it, so I have to flip several pages just to get to the next freaking class. They should have taken all the main, non-paragon powers, made a powers section, and segregated them by class in THAT.

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