Last Friday I got my copies of D&D 4E from Imagine Games.Â 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.