Tuesday, April 21, 2009

You've Got Experience!

So far I've gotten 3 Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition sessions under my belt. All three times have been a pretty fun experience. Having played the game so much in just a month's time under different circumstances each time, it's safe to say that I can start seeing the ins and outs, ups and downs of the new system.

Though I did not play much of the older edition, I have been fascinated with Dungeons and Dragons since I could flip through a Monster Manual. I was super excited when my dad got me my own set of 3.5 core rulebooks around middle school and they still remain in pretty good condition.

At first, I was shocked to find that Wizards of the Coast had not included my beloved Druid in the first Player's Handbook nor the ranger's pet, but was appeased when I found them in later sourcebooks. Other than that, the way the game was streamlined made it like it would help the flow of the game. Still, combat in 4th edition seems to be oddly long even though I haven't run many encounters with other editions. Because of this, whenever anyone asks me what character they should pick, I usually tell them to pick a striker class. Having characters that do a decent amount of damage could help speed up the game. Another thing I noticed that my group and I usually did was that we attacked what ever was closest to us instead of targeting a single, powerful target. Instead of concentrating the damage, it was spread out and divided among the weaker enemies that ran up to us. Knowing your spells beforehand also tends to move things along. It also helps if you want to plot against the main enemy and play off each other's attacks.

Despite the length of the combat encounters, I had fun with eveyone I played with. My first time playing during DnD Gameday with my dad and brother was enjoyable even though nobody exactly knew what to do. That was more due to the fact that the game started us with 11th level characters so we didn't know the strengths, weakenesses and tricks up our characters' sleeves. The combat took up the most time. The second time, I invited my friend and my boyfriend over to play with my sister, brother, dad and I. Once again, combat dragged on but we still managed to get a good laugh out of eveything that happened ("I use fire breath and...HIT NOTHING?! But I'm in the middle of a mob of goblins!" "I don't know, that looks like a roll of 1 to me...Epic fail."). The last game I played with some friends from my library. Warning, do not do this or else you will only get through one round of combat. Some people were new to 4th edition and took a while to find out the class they wanted or had the sheet for wasn't in the PH1 which was the only player's handbook the library had. It could also be that we went on every tangent possible that strayed away from DnD. Despite only making it past the door, that game was one of the funnest and I look forward to playing with both groups again.

So class, what did we learn?
-Strikers are very valuable in combat
-Concentrate damage on the biggest/most important target
-Collaborate (or at least do some devious plotting)
-Know your spells and abilities ahead of time
-Make sure you have your character made ahead of time or at least have everything needed for your character

Having lucky dice never hurt anyone either.

"Wait, so you said we have unlimited free actions? Well, then, I use a free action to inhale. Now I use a free action to exhale. And I use another free action to inhale..."

Saturday, April 18, 2009

First impressions DMing a 4th Edition D&D Game

I finally found some time to run my first Fourth Edition Dungeons & Dragons game during my mini-spring vacation last week. My daughter Emily had recruited a couple of her highschool friends to join us, so counting my three children, we ended up having a five person group. The party mix was fairly balanced, the group was composed of: an Eladrin Bard, an Elf Druid, a Goliath Warden, a Dragonborn Ranger and an Elf Wizard.

I ran the party through the introductory adventure "Raid on Loudwater" found in the Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide. Using Dundjinni mapping software, I created and printed out a map to represent the market square where most of the action was to take place. If you haven't used the Dundjinni software before I highly recommend it, using this application, I was able to create a pretty accurate representation of the map from the book.

My oldest son and daughter had already participated in a D&D Game Day event with me, but the other players were all completely new to the game. So I let them know that we would all be learning on the fly and might miss some rules here and there as we became more familiar with the game.

I noticed something in my game that I noticed when I participated in the Game Day event. Combat in 4th Edition takes FOREVER! It's nice that every character has a selection of powers and something to do on every turn, but for some reason it seems that damage just isn't lethal enough. The non-minion NPC's can hang around for a very long time.  Granted my memory may be fuzzy, but I don't remember 2nd edition D&D taking this long to resolve combat. In fact, I recall being able to clear half a dungeon in one night's worth of play. I am not sure this is possible with the current edition.

Of course there are some factors that may have contributed to the longer combat. Neither I, nor my players were overly familiar with all the powers, but I don't think anyone took an unreasonable amount of time to select and use their powers. There were a couple of times I had to quickly look up some rules, but I remember doing this in older editions as well. Also, I don't remember any players sitting around doing nothing (except for two that became unconscious towards the end of the battle, but even then, they were making saving throws.)

After the session, I had a brief discussion with the players and made some recommendations and observations regarding the battle. First of all, the party spread itself out too thin, with almost every character taking on a separate opponent. They also failed to concentrate on what I considered the most dangerous threat to the party, a high level controller (goblin hexer). I am wondering if it will become necessary for one of the players to switch to a striker character in order to add more of the firepower that seemed to be missing. I encouraged them to come up with power combos between their different characters that might enable them to quickly chain together their attacks and mow down more of the non-minion creatures they encounter.

It's still a learning process for all of us, but I think everyone had a good time (I know I did) and I think it will get better next time. I am letting them go back through the power selection process and discard or reselect their powers now that they've had a chance to see how the character powers work, hopefully with an eye towards useful combinations. 

I have read other blogs dealing with shortening combat in 4th Edition, but I really do not want to make any wholesale house rule changes to the system until I've run through it a few more times and see if the combat pace improves with experience. Stay tuned for the results!

On a side note, I have created a twitter account for this blog. You can find it at: http://twitter.com/ResGamer