Saturday, August 15, 2009

Playing the 4E

This is going to be a short post...Mostly because I'm done "*making strange" with 4E. (*My grandma used to say that about babies that didn't seem to "like" someone. I've always thought that was such a wonderful colloquialism)

On with the post. The Longmont group held our monthly game of Dungeons and Dragons again last night. I hadn't played in the previous one but HAD been there the time before that. Odd thing is, the map looked exactly the same as it had the last time I left. In other words, it took two sessions to run an encounter.

This is not a new observation. Not too long ago I wrote a very similar posting regarding the same exact thing. Our group has the habit of sitting around and chatting more than we play. I think I know why. The "story" that the DM is weaving is, for the most part, forgotten from session to session. It's just that too much time passes between games for us, and when he attempts to bring us back up to speed, many of us tune out.

This is never done on purpose. Unfortunately we just don't have much invested in the story. If we play once a month (or less) then it's tough to keep any kind of emotional attachment to what's going on. Heck, most of us don't even remember our characters. So a lot of time is spent trying to bring everybody back up to speed with what's currently going on. It's a very involved story and we're a tough audience. (Again though, NOT intentionally.)

One thing that happened last night really opened my eyes to something that I've only just touched upon before. You know how in 4E each character has a slew of powers? Last night my buddy, who was sitting next to me, looks over and observes all of my powers, which are cut into individual "cards", and says "Dude, holy shit! How many powers do you have?!?" I counted through them...22. This didn't include my magic items that I had also cut out and laid out in the same format. Or my Second Wind. Or my Action Points.

I think that you can see where I'm going with this.

We're 13th level characters, so of course we're going to have a plethora of choices open to us. Especially the magic slingers, and I was playing a cleric. I said as much to my buddy. He's playing a sword mage, so he counts through his "cards" and comes up with the same number...and then my friend on the other side counts his up, 22. And he's playing a paladin.

It dawned on me then as I looked around the table. Since many of us had taken our powers and cut them out into cards and placed them in sleeves, it served as a very good physical representation of just how MANY powers each of us had. Therein lay another reason that our games took so darned long. Each of us basically had to relearn our characters each and every time we played.

As I've said above, I'm done banging the anti-4E drum. Many people actually like the fact that they have all of these options spelled out for them. And it's obvious that we've sort of shot ourselves in the collective foot by playing as infrequently as we do. What I've realized from all of this is that 4E is a game that NEEDS to be played much more frequently than pre-3E games. There's just a LOT of stuff to keep track of.

If someone needs to reacquaint themselves with their character, and / or take minutes looking through their options, then the game is stalling. As an example, last night, I was looking through some of the things that I can "do" and wasn't paying one whit of attention to the DM. I looked up while he was 1/2 through and sentence and realized what it is that I had been doing. I put my stuff down and tuned back in.

Maybe it's my fault that I don't have a photographic memory. Let's just chalk it up to that. Shall we?

Until next time, adieu.


Anonymous said...

Here's an idea: Study your character's sheet and power cards before you go to the game so they are fresh in your mind. You might even look through them once a week or so to make sure you don't lose that knowledge.

kaeosdad... said...

Earlier in the year we played a bunch of timed one shots for fun as our groups schedule conflicted frequently so there was difficulties in continuing our normal campaign. There were three ground rules for the game. 1. we had 4 hours to play set on a timer. 2. we were given pre gens, completely unoptimized unfamiliar high level characters. 3. we were given 20 minutes to familiarize our selves with the characters before the timer began.

We didn't make the best tactical choices at times, just role played our character and when it wasn't our turn studied our characer's powers. If we took too long say 10-15 seconds going "uhm.. should I do this? wait hold on..." our pc would automatically delay his action until the player was ready at which point the pcs initiative would be set to the point they came back in. This encouraged fast decision making even though it wasn't always the best decision.

So I guess my advice would be for the dm to set up a turn limit during combat rounds. This speeds things up and keeps the players on their toes. You don't always need to make the best optimal move, and improvised actions were always being done.

As an a hardcore rule that I've applied while DMing myself that speeds up combat really quick is to set a timer for 20-30 minutes during combat encounters. Whenever the timer runs out each pc loses a healing surge. It's a meta gamey way to speed things up and you could explain it as fatigue on the pcs. The players really focused on fast decision making when it came down to healing surge lost. Though you need players who wont be whiny babies about it to pull it off.

Banesfinger said...

Not sure about this observation:

But didn't D&D version 1x, 2x, 3x, etc all have class "powers" to keep track of?

Using your class (the cleric) as an example:
In any version, the cleric has spells (powers). At 13-level any spell caster has about 30 spells alone. Not to mention 1 or 2 class abilities (more if have a non-caster class). If you are playing 3x, you have a bunch of feats as well.

So why do people feel there is more to memorize in 4e than in previous versions of the game?

Gamer Dude said...

Sure...I suppose I could study up on my character prior to the game. But I'm not the only one that's coming up with this issue. We all do it (about 6 to 7 players at the table at any given time.). You've got to understand though, none of us are there for really serious gaming.

We do like to game, that's a given. We've been doing it together (the core group) since we were 13 years old. But these days it's sort of understood that we're REALLY getting together to see each other. That's why this post isn't actually a bitch session, but rather just an observation.

We could do that... It's actually a very good idea for the type of format that you're suggesting.

You're right only up to a certain point. Like I mentioned in the post, any spell-slinger definitely had more to memorize (spells instead of powers) than other classes. And in 3E there were feats and skills for all classes as well. But if you go further back than that then it starts to thin out.

Sure, you still had spells, and if you were playing a spell caster then you were usually OK with the idea that there were a lot of options each turn. (or not, if you were low level) But beyond that, the martial classes had a few things here and there, but nowhere near 22 "options" to keep track of at ANY level. (Well, unless you had 20 magic items.)

Sure, a thief had a few class abilities, the ranger did as well, and of course the monk had a slew of things s/he could do. But one beyond spell casters had 22 options.

2E added skills and some "options" later on in its life cycle, but still, nothing like 4E (and to a certain extent 3E) has done.

Again, this is an observation. If I were playing a more martial class, I could just as easily ignore the powers and just play the game. Not sure how well that would work actually...but it might be worth a shot.

Banesfinger said...

You bring up a good point. It would be worthy of a Crit or Cruddy post to examine the amount of "powers" each class has had through the various versions of D&D.

A second interesting point: in earlier versions of D&D (even 3.5), you could always introduce novice players to the game with the Fighter class, since it had the least amount of things/math to keep track of.
Now, in 4e, with all classes balanced and having roughly the same amount of powers, there is no "gateway/entry" class for new players (who might be intimidated by all the numbers).

Oxybe said...

gateway/entry classes do exist in 4th. the bow-style ranger & sorcerer from PHBs 1&2 respectively are some of the easiest classes to pick up and play and i readily recommend them to newbies.

some classes, like the defender & leader types (like the fighter & your cleric) need to keep a lot of things in consideration, like enemies & their strength, party health/status, ect... and make informed decisions on how to help out their teammates.

leaders & controllers tend to have the larger variety of effects too. leaders have a slew of different buffs to use and spread to the party. controllers have a wide range of statuses they can inflict on a large area.

guys like the bow-ranger & sorceror however, don't. they hang back, pick a target or two and pick them off. they move to get into better position or to disengage from an enemy who somehow got up in his grill.

with the right power selection you just hang in the back and the hardest things to remember are "did i quarry this turn?" or "how many damage dice?", since nearly all your powers have the same STAT vs DEFENSE formula & range, and all run off the same math.

Gamer Dude said...

I will do that...

Well, yes. There are obvious entry classes in all iterations of Dungeons and Dragons. The fighter's been a staple for the beginning player since day one. And I understand that you're responding to Banesfinger...

But, one of the things about 4E that makes it such a different game is the interplay between classes. It seems to me that it would behoove all players to understand (at least to some small degree) what role (defender, striker, controller, leader) other classes play in a tactical situation in order to make informed decisions.

Sure, as a striker, you could stand back and plink at whatever strikes your fancy, but choosing your targets wisely is a pretty important part of being a "good" striker. There's an element of understanding that goes along with roles and powers that's inherent in 4E that wasn't there to quite the extent in previous editions.

And of course, as you go up in level, those "entry" level classes soon become mobile-power-platforms.

I know that this has been done to death, but the best analogy I can think of is Magic the Gathering. You could do the easy thing and just summon creatures with which you could only attack and defend. (no special abilities) But, you'd be missing all of the cool complexity that's been built into the game. 4E seems very much this way to me.