Saturday, June 20, 2009

Once more...into the breach.

So, I'm not going to go on and on endlessly about what I find "missing" in 4E, but...

I had another experience last night that opened my eyes (yet again...will he never learn?). It was a game that I've been playing off and on for nearly two decades. The group that I grew up with (4 of us from Jr. High School through University) morphed into the group that I get together with to play about once a month, sometimes less, unfortunately.

The thing about these guys is that we've been playing D&D together since AD&D first edition. I mean we've gone through all the iterations, so we're no strangers to how these games work. We loved AD&D, played the shit out of 2E, tolerated 3E and are just now trying our hand at 4E.

So I've mentioned that we get together very rarely. Once a month if we're lucky. And it's not always exactly the same group of guys, but we always have at least 5 players there. The DM has been in his position for quite some time. Every once in awhile one of the others steps in and runs a short little adventure or three...but it almost always comes back to Bart.

Now, Bart likes a sweeping, epic story. He should be an author. He thinks on a hugely grand scale and his games are run that way. There's always a reason for things. A reason that always somehow ties into the larger story. But herein lies the issue.

We just don't get together often enough to follow the complex story, and I'm sure he get's a little frustrated when we can't put the pieces (clues) together. So, every time we gather, he has to carefully set the stage.

I'll preface my next comment with: I love his stories. They're very colorful and imaginative. But (again with the "but), I think that they're lost on us due to a bunch of factors over which no one has much control.
  1. We don't get together very often
  2. We're gossipy and chatty (due to the long periods between seeing one another)
  3. We are pretty strongly oriented to slaying and gathering (i.e. Not a lot of mindshare dedicated in-game towards our PC's role in the "story")
And what's the net? Or rather, what does this have to do with 4E? This:
  1. 4E, by nature, is not a "fast" game
  2. 4E is not a game where you can "chat and play" (due to the inter-dependencies between classes, and the tactical nature you'd better be paying attention.)
  3. 4E does not resemble D&D of old (We ALL have to read the rules now...NOT just the DM)
  4. There are now "states" that you have to log if you don't find a good stopping point. (e.g. If you're stopping the game before an "extended rest" then you'd better remember if you've spent your action point, your dailies, how many surges you have left, etc....It's no longer just HPs you have to record.)
  5. There are many more "options" available for your PCs (DDI releases, new splat books, etc.) that if, as the DM, you don't say "PHB only", then you're behind. (3E was similar...)
A fantastic example of how slowly 4E moves: I missed a session and when I came back for this session it had appeared that everyone else had missed a session as well. That is, when our DM gave us the recap and told us where we were standing, I said to myself "Yeah, I remember this." But in all actuality there HAD been a session that I missed. A battle had taken place where we had emerged from the underearth. But that's it... One melee. In 6 hours of game time!

Like I had stated above, there are a lot of factors causing this. We're old time gamers. We remember wizards casting magic missiles and the rules associated with that...Not things like if you spend a "Catch you Breath" (or whatever it's called) action, you get HPs back for a surge and a +2 for your defensive bonuses. So we spend a lot of time "learning"...forgetting by the time the next session roles around and then relearning again.

It's a whole lot easier if we can run a game off of things that have been ingrained in our systems (20+ years of playing tends to do that). We just don't have time in our personal lives for all of these new rules. When it says Dungeons and Dragons we all assumed that it would be something recognizable. Like it has always been.

In our most recent session (again from 7 pm till after 1 am: 6 hours) we moved from the ledge, briefly checked out the old temple, moved into town and got into a fight w/ 5 dragon born warriors. That took us about 4.5 hours.... The battle was supposed to only take 5 minutes (according to the DM) but ended up taking a lion's share of the evening. So much so that the DM had to fudge a cool overland journey in order for us to get to another "critical" encounter. We had to break right in the middle of the last encounter, we just plain ran out of time.

I've said this before and I'll say it again, 4E plays very much like Advanced Squad Leader for me. You're very focused on the minutiae of the tactical situation and you make very deliberate, planned out moves. It's not built for adventure and speed.

The main reason that I get together with this group is that I totally dig the people. These guys are friends that I've known for most of my life (2 of them since I was 13...over 30 years.) and I just love getting together with them. Gaming is an excuse. And this is not strictly isolated to me...Everyone (except maybe the DM) thinks this way.

So, in the end I'll have to say, I don't think that 4E is a good fit for our kind of group. I can see how it might be an awesome game for those folks who have the time to read all the rules and the energy to keep up with all of the new stuff. But for our group, no, not a good fit at all.

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