Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Playing some 4E (v.1)

Played a game of 4E D&D last night...Well, "played" is a rather rough translation of what I did. Mostly, I just fumbled around with my character trying to finish him up and then struggled to figure him out.

The learning curve for 4E is a steep one when it comes to all of the crazy interconnected relationships between powers, feats and skills. Especially when you create a 12th level character and try to play them out of the gate. Not to mention that the character that I played is still in the beta stage for the most part: The Assassin. There's a lot of discovery going on at this stage in the game. At least there is for me.

While that sounds like it's a rather harsh critique of the system, I rather think that it's a statement about my lack of preparedness. I generally utilize the character builder, and rely upon the software to tell me all available options. Well, the assassin hasn't been uploaded yet to the character builder, so it was the old process of doing everything by hand. But since I don't have all the books and resources, it was mainly an exercise in trying to gather all the information available from all the wide-spread resources.

Complex and in-depth character building is something that a lot of people really like; they dig fiddling with the little things. Getting the numbers just right, finding the proper items, feats and powers to maximize their impact upon the game.

Me? Not so much.

Don't get me wrong, I dig getting excited while building a character. I love imagining the persona as you're rolling up the attributes and picturing the PC in your mind as you lovingly fill out the character sheet. But the process for 4E is just too bloody long. There are far too many sources for me to keep track of. Sure I could've strictly gone right out of the PHB and probably been a happy camper. And now, upon reflection, maybe I should have.

But at 12th level, with all those shiny new items and options available, why (as a conscientious American consumer) not go for the gew gaws? I did. And I paid the price. I had so many papers, powers and cards laying on the table in front of me that I was bewildered 99% of the play time. Which frankly, was a shame.

That's the downside of 4E for me. Just a lot of stuff that's very tightly integrated into how the game plays, that you really need to pay attention to. It's just very character-centric.

Here's the cool thing though, we're just starting up Mike Mearl's revisiting of the seminal Against the Giants series. This is the 4E version...and I'll tell you what, I'm absolutely jonesed about this. I LOVED the Giant series by Gary Gygax...some of the best memories I have of Dungeons and Dragons are playing through that entire series in high school. There's a steep expectation of what we're getting into because of that experience.

I can tell you this, I love my character. Sure it's not old school in any sense of the word. But he's cool: 'The Shrike of Ur' is his name. He's what they call Shadar-Kai, which is a fancy name for some race that's been living in the shadow plane. Pale, drawn out and colorless, he over compensates by being a brash and out spoken braggart. Oh, he's also an assassin. Which is cool.

Again, yeah, this isn't the usual stuff that I get into. I really do like this character though. I just need to figure him out. He's very complex and has a bunch of options open to him in any given situation. I'm not super keen on all that, but the idea of the character is just plain ol fun...

<----------------------- SPOILER ALERT ------------------------>

If you are ever thinking about playing in the WotC module Revenge of the Giants, then don't read any further.

To the module: It's early yet. More specifically, we've just been sent on our "mission" by some kind of mage who's interested in an old city called Argent. (sp?) Our first encounter was with some kind of lion-headed giant who was beset upon by some earth and fire elementals, all lead by another type of elemental(ish) humanoid-type guy. Our group whooped up on them. But, it took us quite a long time to do it. The battle lasted for nearly 2.5 hours and took up the vast majority of the night. At this pace we'll be done by 2013. Kidding.

Seriously though, while I think there are some cool little set pieces here, my first impression is that it's very heavily scripted. "Group A" is hired. They leave for city on map. Travel and "stumble" into encounter. Wherein they are introduced to creature with means to get to city and an "invitation to heroes" to aid in defense of said city. (What happened to the first mission: Finding city and looting it for mage?)

Seem a little hoakey to you? Jury's still out on this one. I'm keeping my fingers crossed. Our DM is a very proactive type, and I have full confidence that he'll fix those glaring "railroad" issues, as they pop up.

I really like the guys I play with. I really like the DM. I really WANT to like the adventure. We'll see what happens. Either way though, I'm going to have fun.

I'll keep you updated.


Anonymous said...

Maybe there isn't a railroad - do you want to be sidetracked and save the nearby city, or do you want to continue on and loot Argent?

If the module pretty much requires you to save the city first (Argent is locked and the mayor of Dangertown has the key) then oh well CHOO CHOO let's roll some d20s. But maybe it just looks railroady because the module used a hamfisted method of delivering adventure information.

If I were writing the module, it could go any number of ways. Maybe Dangertown Mayor has an old map to a cache of anti-giant weapons from a few wars back, and he will part with the map if they save the town.

Maybe the mayor has an old adventurer's journal with an account of a back entrance to the Giant Lair.

Maybe the town is the only place around to really sell off all the loot from Argent, and if they don't save it they will have to haul it all several days' travel to a large enough market.

None of these are really railroading. You get something extra if you do it, but it's not required.

Then again maybe Dangertown has nothing to do with Argent and it's just a thing that's happening. Not everything is connected. Staying focused on important goals is a skill that good players have.

Gamer Dude said...

I think that the issue in my mind was the encounter in which we met the messenger from Argent. We were headed there in the first place...that was a given. Why throw this leonine-headed messenger carrying a scroll from the "mayor" at us? Other than to get us into some kind of encounter situation of course?

The whole thing just felt very awkward and contrived, in my mind.

Sure, we can absolutely start heading off on our own now that we're in Argent...and I'm guessing that it would throw the whole thing into conniptions. (DM and module both) We'll have to see. I don't know what kind of a module writer Mike Mearls is.

I remember a few years back that I really used to like the things that Monte Cook did. Until I ran Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil. Let's just say that it wasn't my bag. Very railroady and linear. Much of it's failure could justifiably be laid at my feet though, I was just dead tired of 3E by that time.

But I suppose that if every author is expected to churn out "X" amount of product / year that they can eventually produce a dud.

The jury is out, I'm not going to pass judgement this early in the game. We have another session tonight, I'll write more afterwards.