Sunday, June 8, 2008

Forget guesswork. It's finally game time!

After nearly six long months without any DnD, our group finally got together to kick off the 4e version of the game. Here then, are my first impressions.

First off, character creation is very much a step by step follow the recipe kind of process. The only thing that really slowed me down was finding where everything was on the character sheet. After that it was just following along and plugging in the numbers and picking powers. The latter was a little disappointing in terms of the sparse selection.

I understand that it's just the first book and that next years PHB2 will have many more powers to pick from, but for now I found that there was very little to get excited about among the powers. For my wizard it was pretty much a choice between a 1d6 + Int mod close burst versus a 1d8 + Wis mod range 5 blast. Certainly nothing to make him stand out amongst the other first level wizards in his graduating class.

"I majored in Scorching Blast while my buddy Dave majored in Magic Missile." Ho hum.

Feats are another disappointment. For me, feats were the defining element of 3rd edition. Feat selection alone could differentiate every fighter from every other fighter. In 4e that's gone, or at best very underdeveloped. Sure, my wizard gets a billion feats thanks to one coming every other level, but there's very little to pick from. Armor and weapon proficiencies will be nice. An extra trained skill or two might come in handy. I might even dabble in a Warlock pact. Otherwise nothing to really look forward to. Again, this will no doubt be expanded upon in further releases but for now it gets a Boo-urns.

On the other hand, skills seem much better now. At first getting a one time +5 for being "trained" seemed, well, stupid. But I now see the real beauty in the design. It keeps those set DCs from becoming obsoleted by ranks. No longer can I put 20 ranks into Tumble to move through the battlefield without ever drawing an Attack of Opportunity. So huzzah to the new skill system.

(Side note: why the hell did they have to change the term "Attack of Opportunity" to "Opportunity Attacks"? Did they think that we're all so stupid that we might mix up the rules of 3rd and 4th editions because they share a common term? Attack of Opportunity (or AoO) rolls off the tongue and has a cooler acronym. "Opportunity Attack" falls from the lips like a brick and just sucks.)

Weapons and armor selection are just as sparse. Only six types of armor? Not much in the weapon lists to choose from either. It was all very simplistic too (once I got past the terms like "versatile" and "high crit" and the new range deal). Not a knock that, but not really a plus either. The inclusion of the "adventurer's pack" in equipment was a nice touch, especially since I buy the same routine items for every character. The simplification of encumberance was a sweet deal too. So I'll call this area a draw, mostly because it continues to give me the feeling that WotC held back about 35% of their material solely to fill other books that are soon to be released.

The game itself felt like a beloved pair of old boots. We ran through two seperate combats with an "extended rest" in between and while they took as long as any 3rd edition encounter (possibly longer) that was just because we're still getting familiar with our powers etc... In the long run, I see combats being considerably faster after the learning curve is climbed. Mainly thanks to no more saving throws in response to attacks/spells. While I still felt a little powerless (and robbed of my hand in fate) when that caster fired that gob of acid at me, I can appreciate how much easier it must be on our DM Crwth to be freed from rolling saves for all the various monsters.

Tactically it played out quite nicely. The extra slides some of the baddies had made the battlefield much more fluid, which was fun. It made picking my spots for dropping those burst spells that much trickier. Small compensation for having only two to pick from but whatever. My 3rd edition sorceror didn't have much to pick from at 1st level either. Also the question of when to use that precious Daily power kept things interesting. I thought both of my fellow players used theirs too early in the day, but then I followed suit and wasted mine as well.

I'm still mixed on Action Points. I don't think they really add any value to game play, in that it would still be fun without them. The extra action is nice and since they recharge after two "milestones" (why not call them encounters?) I can spend them whenever I want to without worry or regret.

The module "Keep on the Shadowfell" has been good so far. While we only just barely dipped our toes the encounters were varied and interesting. Also there seem to be two or three seperate storylines that we can follow, and it'll be interesting to see if any of the threads converge or cross as we go along. I'm definitely looking forward to exploring Winterhaven more as it seems to be nicely fleshed out with some interesting NPCs.

All in all, while 4e was disappointing in some areas it also provided some surprising goodness. Enough goodness that my 3.5 books will stay tucked away and continue to gather dust. For now.

1 comment:

Crwth said...

The one thing you forgot to touch on was our discussion about hit points.

It seemed to be a general consensus that the extra hit points at first level weren't too many nor too few, but quite appropriate for Goldilocks.

No one died, no one got rendered unconscious, but getting beat on was a noticeable event and one that couldn't be ignored - it felt balanced, for first level anyway.

It will be interesting to see how well the hit points scale as levels increase, especially since it's a very static increase.