4E 6 players, 5 hours, 4th edition
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  1. #1

    Waghalter (Lvl 7)

    Rodrigo Istalindir's Avatar

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    6 players, 5 hours, 4th edition

    Got to play 4th Ed. last night for the first time. I've had a generally ambivalent attitude (I think). I've tried to avoid delving into the rumours and what not, trying to hold off on forming an impression until I got the books in my mitts. I've been mostly successful. And what things I've absorbed by hanging out here and ENWorld have been a mixed bag.

    So, I went into the game last night I think with a pretty neutral attitude. I won't deny a little anticipation, but I'm only human.

    For those that may want to play the 'Scalegloom Hall' scenario, there will be spoilers here. Then again, the scenario is really just a sequence of rooms, with nothing but combat, so there really isn't much to spoil. There's probably a fair bit of overlap here and with what others have posted as well, so if I bore you, I apologize. Any mistakes are the result of faulty memory or bad hearing The DM did a great job keeping things going, and while I'm sure some things may not have been done correctly, it's all new, so it's bound to happen.

    The party consisted of a dwarf fighter, wizard, tiefling warlock, halfling paladin, eladrin ranger (me!), and a cleric. Everyone else at the table had played in an earlier game, so I was the sole 4th Ed. virgin. There was the two page summary handout that was reasonably useful, and I picked up the essentials right away. I generally pick up rules pretty fast, and all modesty aside, I think within a few minutes I had a better grasp on them then the ones that had played already.

    The first encounter was a rectangular room with a 10'x20' slimey pit. Excuse me, a 2 square by 4 square slimey pit. :rolleyes: There were single square corridors N and E. There were kobolds slinging grenades of fire and sticky-stuff. We roll init, and off we go.

    I won init, but I was at the back of the group with no clear path forward. Not yet aware that I could shoot through friendlies with no modifier, my ranger used a per-encounter racial ability called 'Fey step' (move action) to teleport 5 squares to the edge of the pit, and a standard action to shoot one of the slingers. The melee types move to engage, more kobolds appear, and they are quickly surrounded. The sticky bombs and fire bombs serve to immobilize and burn the warriors, but eventually the kobolds are killed. I also used the 'Split the Tree' power (daily) to shoot the original slinger and one of his reinforcements. Several of the kobolds were 'minions', who need merely be hit to die. Nothing original there, but there is some room for clarification as the minions have to be hit via an attack roll, but the melee classes had some abilities that would have done damage without the attack roll, and hence the minions were immune.

    I wanted to jump across the pit to learn the jumping rules, and everyone else is 'Why would you do that when you could move around it?) (Jumping is a straight check, with 1 square jumped per 10 rolled, so for the 2-square jump, I needed a 20. Running would have given me a bonus).

    Due to the sticky pots and continuous damage from the firebombs, there were a lot of conditions that had to be tracked, saves to be made every round, etc.

    The party takes a short rest that refreshes 'per encounter' abilities, heals up a bit, and goes to the next room. Oh, and apparently, there is no timescale. Encounters are roughly 5 minutes, for example.

    Second encounter was a room with tombs and pressure-plate traps. This room was a paragon of bad design. The person triggering the trap would be immobilized, and if anyone else set off a trap, any character on a pressure plate would take additional damage. So right away, one of the players set off a trap, took some decent damage, and was stuck until they made a save *at the end of their next turn*. And if you're still on a plate, you're still triggering the trap, so you're guaranteed to take at least a second round of damage. And when the second person moved around to engage the kobolds that were closing with us and stepped on a second plate, the first person took still more damage.

    This room did give us a chance to use the 'forced movement' rules, so my ranger teleported in front of the first stuck person and pushed them off the pressure plate, and someone else pulled the second person off of theirs. We made short work of the kobolds and moved on.

    Again, there were a lot of ongoing conditions to track, and saves to remember, and the stuck until after your next move and take more damage if someone else moving to help you trips a trap wasn't fun, and I could tell several of the players were getting a bit frustrated. Having no rogue in the party was a bad choice.

    Having completed our second encounter, we got a second action point (we started with one). The apparent design intent is you get an AP every other encounter, but can use only one per encounter, and when the party takes a long? (extended? I forget the term) rest to heal and regain per-day abilities, APs reset to '1'. This encourages you to use them frequently.

    Third room, squarish with tombs and another slime pit. There's a 10' platform at the far end, with kobolds, and a door. (How many squares is 10'?) One of them had a tether-ball thingy that he used to knock the wizard back as he moved into the room. Could have been fun, but movement rates relative to the room size were so fast that it only came up once. On my action, I double-move to get past the party and close to the ledge, then spend an AP to get another move action and Fey Step to the top. Bad idea, as the one kobold I could see was accompanied by several others I couldn't.

    Still, it was fun, and I seemed to be the only more interested in exploring the system than in beating the scenario. I get dropped to unconscious in short order, but on his next action the cleric uses a word of healing, and I go from out of it to almost full health. Fortunately, the kobolds had moved in the interim.

    A couple more rounds, and it's over. There was some good melee stuff this time, as the kobolds and the fighter engaged in a chess match, with the kobolds using their ability to shift to their advantage, and the fighter using his various powers to counter. Neat to watch, but slow, and I would think playing these kinds of combats in a PbP or electronic tabletop would be excruciating.

    Fourth room. This was my favorite. A largeish room, with a 10' wall perimter forming a square in the middle, with kobolds slingers. The paladin moves in, and amid much rumbling, a large rock (ala Indiana Jones) starts rolling around the room. The party splits; I hang in a corner out of the way of the rock, the melee types move to engage some kobolds, including their leader, the casters hung back for a bit and cleaned up the minions that came out from behind the rock.

    Seeing the danger the kobold slingers pose with their sticky bombs, I again use Fey step to get to the top of the wall, and push one of the kobolds off directly in the path of the rolling rock (Str vs. Fortitude) He falls down, goes boom. The other kobolds tries to get sneaky and pull the same on me, but fails. I use a move to shift, then Nimble Strike to move another square so he won't get an AoO, and shoot the little bugger.

    The rest of the party have the kobolds and their leader cornered. One of the casters uses fear to make them run, causing lots of AoOs and much carnage.

    The final encounter was a bloodbath. The six of us fail a Perception check (at 1d20+7, vs. a 30+ DC, not surprising). The large black dragon that was waiting casts darkness over the party, then breathes acid and used some other ability (Dragon fear?) to stun us as well. 80% of the party takes 15 points of damage, plus 5 recurring until a save is made. All but one is stunned, losing their actions until a save is made. So for the better part of three rounds, the cleric is trying to keep up the healing while the dragon keeps breathing, biting, tail whipping, etc. Eventually, we are forced to retreat, with one member dead, and the rest at single-digits or unconscious. The dragon was largely unscathed.
    Last edited by Rodrigo Istalindir; Saturday, 1st March, 2008 at 09:14 PM.

  2. #2

    Waghalter (Lvl 7)

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    Part 2

    There was definitely a lot of '3e' hangover. For example, the differences in how reach works. Players kept forgetting that reach doesn't (usually) count for attacks of opportunity, which caused a little confusion and 'oh, then I would have moved here' moments. Lots of slips of the 'I take a five foot step' or counting out movement in 5' increments.

    I will reiterate my dislike for the 'squares' vs 'feet' change. It's unnatural, it unnecessarily reinforces the boardgame aspects, it's bad for immersion, and I won't use it :grumpy: Similarly, the elimination of 1-2-1 movement (all squares cost 1) caused a lot of wonky stuff. For example, in room 4 when I teleported to the top of the wall, it was a purely diagonal move, and had it been old-school 1-2-1 it would have been well out of my range. And the more squares involved, the worse it gets. For normal movement it's barely tolerable, but for running and long range spells and archery, I find it ugly and gamey.

    The change in Reach+AoOs, while it may streamline play somewhat, I don't care for. Now, Reach only counts for the creatures attacks; unless they have Threatening Reach, it doesn't come into play for AoOs. No one in the group had a reach weapon, so I don't know how it will effect their usefullness. But on the face of it it seems to nerf something where a better approach would have been to provide better ways of countering it.

    The character that died had the worst run of luck I've seen in a while. With the healing checks, saves vs acid, saves vs dying, failed stabilization rolls, etc., I counted ten consecutive 50/50 rolls that came up short before the Grim Reaper claimed his victim. This, for first level characters vs a large black dragon! So, I'm still a little skeptical that combat in normal circumstances will carry the kind of risk that I like to see. Combine the removal of 'Fight Defensively' and the reduction of Total Defense, the rapid healing during and between encounters, and it seems like there is little point in not going toe-to-toe with the enemy and just bashing it out.

    The change in attacks and saves might do something to reduce the dump-stat problem, but I'm not sure. Depending on the spread of abilities, I think it will still be entirely possible to min-max more than you can now. And it might actually make having a single uber-high stat even more effective than it is now.

    Overall, we did 5 encounters in 5 hours, give or take. The relative lack of experience with the rules was offset by playing first level characters with a relatively small number of options at their disposal (althougjh as 1st level eladrin ranger, I had 7 abilities that could be expected to come up often, and two that would be used almost every single round. It will be interesting to see what 20th level characters have at their disposal. Based on my limited experience, I don't see combat running any faster, there were just as many (if not more) die rolls by both the party and the DM, and the level of complexity for 1st level was substantially higher than in 3e. Even if the power curve is flatter, I don't see any substantial improvement in speed or playability.

    Some of the changes regarding cover, movement, and other fringe cases kinda bug me, as they really reduce the sense of the dreaded V-word. It's not any one thing, it's a cumulative death of a thousand cuts that at the end of the day makes me feel less like I played an RPG and more like I played a boardgame.

    I also think the it's going to exacerbate the effectiveness differential (for lack of a better term) between the power-gamers and the more casual players. As it is now, the causal players that weren't interested in or experienced enough to know how to use all their special abilities to max effectiveness could still fall back on the 'I shoot my bow' or something, and still contribute. Now, though, with the explosion of at-will and per-encounter tricks, a player that doesn't understand them as well is going to be even less effective than before. For groups that play regularly, it won't be as big a deal, but for the once a month or less crowd it might be.

    I also started to see some stuff I suspected would happen. Even in our relatively short session, the party's ability to optimize thier tactics started to show, and by the end, combat had already started to fall into a predictable pattern as they figured out what powers were more useful, etc. I also saw the kind of combat metagaming that drives me nuts, where the power-gamers basically plot everyones actions for the whole round before anyone does anything. Eg, Ok, the ranger goes before the paladin and the cleric, so he'll do X so that the paladin can do Y, setting up the cleric to do Z. I rather despise that when it becomes a matter of course, and the combination of at-will and per-encounter abilities, coupled with the synergy between them amongst different classes, and I think its going to get much, much worse.

    There can be no doubt that the design has been heavily influenced by MMOs. The concept of beginning every encounter at full strength is long been a balancing staple for the online games, as they learned early on that most players are extremely risk averse and would rather spend 10 minutes sitting on their asses to heal up than go into battle at 75% and risk a slight chance of losing. Similarly, the way some of the 'call out' abilities and such are designed to increase the predictibility of a combat and tilt the balance of control away from the DM and towards the players is highly reminiscent of the static nature of MMO AI.

    Overall, I had a very enjoyable time. The group was good, the DM did a great job of explaining things and keeping the combats moving. And to be honest, I'm always a sucker for learning a new game. Before playing, I was ambivalent, and afterward I'm still on the fence. There are some things I like, some I don't, and I suspect my embrace of 4e will largely be dependent on what third-party companies can do to tweak the flavor and style of the game more towards my predilictions. Some of the concepts I get really get into, but the execution seems a little overpowered for my tastes, and some of the fluff I don't care for at all. But if someone offered me the chance to play in a regular 4e game, I'd take it. At least until I saw how it played at high levels.

  3. #3

    Magsman (Lvl 14)

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    Thanks for the review, R.I.!

    About as I expected.

  4. #4

    Acolyte (Lvl 2)

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    Very nice synopsis. It seems like the dragon is a total pain in the ass! >: )

  5. #5
    I must say, this sounds like a very balanced 4E review. I'm not downplaying what anyone else has said about it, but this has both good and bad to say in about equal amounts. (Alternatively, you could describe this as 'a grousefest _on an overall positive experience_'.)

  6. #6

    Waghalter (Lvl 7)

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    Quote Originally Posted by chaotix42
    Very nice synopsis. It seems like the dragon is a total pain in the ass! >: )
    The problem with the dragon was (all other things aside) a way high AC. My ranger was probably the biggest potential damage dealer -- at-will Hunters Quarry (+1d8 damage) and Careful Attack (+10 to hit, 1d10+4 damage) -- and I hit exactly once. And no one had any way to lower the things AC, so basically we sat there and got pounded on.

    The DM said that a couple people had beaten it, but he was of the opinion that it just wasn't possible unless the DM did a crappy job of running the dragon, or the party got insanely lucky. One instance he mentioned, they didn't get surprised, got lucky and it failed a sleep save, they CdG'd it several times, and managed to win. But, frankly, I don't see how they managed to get in position to do that given the room layout and the dragon's abilities.

  7. #7

    Novice (Lvl 1)

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    That 4E might be unfriendly to, not new, but temporary players, is an issue I hadn't considered.

  8. #8

    Gallant (Lvl 3)

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    Great review. This is the type of thing I want to see more of. Details on crunch and how things actually work as well as opinions as to thier effectiveness. Give me 10-20 more of these by various people and I can start forming a realistic opinion of whether this is a game for me or not.

  9. #9

    Waghalter (Lvl 7)

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    Quote Originally Posted by Zamkaizer
    That 4E might be unfriendly to, not new, but temporary players, is an issue I hadn't considered.
    I tried to look at things based on 'my group' (although we haven't played in quite some time). For example, the Hunter's Quarry minor action gives the Ranger a +1d8 damage, but it has to be done every time they change targets, and you've got to remember to do it. Some players, that just doesn't come naturally, especially if they don't play all that often.

    There seemed to be a lot of stuff where your save was at the end of your next turn, too. That's a pain, as that might mean 10 minutes or more of real time, and by the time your turn comes around again, you forget modifiers, effects, etc. I was hoping for more stuff that was instant or single round. At the least, I'd have rather seen something like 'stunned two rounds, save for one' with the saving throw taking place immediately. It would streamline things and get all the player's rolls out of the way reducing the need to keep track of variables.

  10. #10

    Spellbinder (Lvl 16)

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    Good stuff. This is what I was waiting for - some actual play reports of 4e.
    Last edited by LostSoul; Saturday, 1st March, 2008 at 10:11 PM.

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