Thursday, July 03, 2008

"Just when I thought I was out... they pull me back in."

[Sorry, Doug. I couldn't find the screencap you suggested. So I just quoted the movie as the title of the post.]

So last night Stuart ran a couple of encounters from Keep of the Shadowfell for the group. I played Owen, a human wizard loosely modeled after the protagonist from the film Dragonslayer. Doug played Morgan Ironclaw, a dragonborn paladin straight outta the pregens. Doug noted that for once the pregens Wizards created don't suck. And Pat played Bloodaxe Axebeard, a surly dwarf and one of those new-fangled laserclerics. Why do clerics now shoot lasers every round?

When I finagled Stuart into running 4e for us I figured I'd probably end up here on the Gameblog either declaring the game the Great Satan or eating massive crow and admitting it was the bee's knees. But mostly my reaction is "meh." It's a new edition of D&D. It does some stuff differently than previous editions, A LOT of stuff. Probably too much for my taste. Those sacred cows all the hip kids wanted to see dead and buried? From where I sit D&D is made of that stuff and very little else. But that alone doesn't make this new edition a bad game.

In terms of actually playing the damn thing it just didn't knock it out of the ballpark for me. We had some fun messing around with the tactical elements of beating up kobolds, but I wouldn't say any more so than playing 3.x with this crew.

My online pal Settembrini's concern that "the game plays your character for you" may be overstated, but after playing a couple fights I certainly see what he's saying. On any given round it seemed pretty clear that there was exactly one power suited to the tactical situation and if I didn't use it I was being a damn fool. Of course I opted to be a damn fool when I went after that spellslinging kobold with my quaterstaff but the little jerk had it coming. But still, having a longer list of mechanical tricks that my first level magic-user could accomplish felt a lot more limiting than playing the poor schmuck with one spell. With earlier MU's if I ran out of spells it forced me to come up with lots of on-the-fly shenanigans to beat the baddies. To understand the brave new world of 4e imagine a magic missile crushing the darkness, forever.

The most interesting thing I've noticed about 4e so far is how powergaming the system seems to work. Some people will try to tell you that the simplified character creation makes powergaming impossible. Those people lack vision. The munchkining of the game obviously lurks in synergizing among your teammates. The era of the overpowered "character build" may be over, but I predict that the smart munchkins will be all over "team optimization" like stink on poop.

Overall I had fun last night but the system had fairly little to do with it. I could have played any of a dozen crappy RPGs and gotten the same good times with these guys. We're going to try again in two weeks but unless something new shakes loose you can count me among the non-adopters of this new edition. So far it just isn't delivering anything I want out of a D&D that I don't already have.

The best thing about last night was the birthday present Stuart gave me. He commissioned Angela of Necropolis Studios to produce one of her custom "monstrous" dice boxes. I've been saying for a while now that Angela's dice boxes will be the thing that all the cool game junkies will need to own and now I've got one of my own. Check this baby out:




20 comments:

  1. Settembrini11:10 AM

    Matches pretty much with what i experienced. Please ecompare:

    "
    I played it, and I think it´s utterly pointless.

    - Minions are an abomination, more ein actual play than I even thought
    - More Powers = less options
    - Feels VERY incomplete as a game
    - combats take longer in that it takes longer to acomplish anything. It´s like everyone is wrapped in bubble-wrap
    - No D&Disms left
    - Shadowfell is lame, just a lame name and a lame concept. ESPECIALLY as everyone uses it right now.
    - milestones suck and lead to really lame metagaming

    So, it´s not like you can´t roleplay with it. That´s a stupid thing to say. And the ONLY reason you´d need more minis is because of the minions. I´d say that´s why they were put in. So that´s also wrong criticism.

    I could not discern any tactics in the game. Using a power you are supposed to have and use is not really tactics. If 4e is a tactics game, then fluxx or UNO are tactics games too.

    EDIT: Clarification, it´s not like it wasn´t some kind of fun. But everything fun about it you could have had in any edition. So, as 4e doesn´t add new fun, but takes away big chunks of old fun, it´s utterly pointless.
    BTW, the DM was this [link] guy, and he is a pretty decent DM. Don´t blame him!"

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  2. Anonymous11:32 AM

    That chest holds infinite awesome.

    Stan

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  3. That dice box is amazing. Now I know what I want for my birthday.

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  4. The most interesting thing I've noticed about 4e so far is how powergaming the system seems to work. Some people will try to tell you that the simplified character creation makes powergaming impossible. Those people lack vision.

    There's a hilarious thread on RPGnet right now asking about whether AD&D 1e was "unpowergameable." I agree -- lack of vision is behind any claimed inability to powergame in almost any system (and certainly in any iteration of D&D).

    As for the "only one best option" -- when was that not true in prior editions? I mean, if you play with a cool group, it's a non-issue in any edition, but I remember being yelled at the one time I played in a convention AD&D game because I did something apparently suboptimal with my Paladin in a given combat turn.

    But then, I have trouble playing Arkham Horror with some of my friends because they keep figuring out the utterly optimal play for the team each turn, and I keep saying, "It's a Cthulhu game! It's probably more fun if we lose horribly!"

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  5. Jeff - There is nothing stopping you from doing non-powers-based things. The 4e system actually handles improvisation really well.

    Others - Angela is gradually putting boxes up on Etsy for sale. Up until this point she has only really been doing Con sales and the occasional commission.

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  6. wulfgar12:30 PM

    That box is really cool, I'm just trying to figure out the big thing hanging off of it.

    -A handle?
    -A tail?
    -A crank that opens it like a jack in the box?
    -All of the above?

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  7. Settembrini12:33 PM

    szilard,

    if you leavoe out the powers, what is left in 4e?

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  8. That box is really cool, I'm just trying to figure out the big thing hanging off of it.

    I'm pretty sure it's a pseudopod after manner of the mimic illustration in the AD&D Monster Manual of old.

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  9. James has the right of it. If you've got the original Monster Manual turn to page 70.

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  10. Other than powers?

    You still have a bunch of combat maneuvers - charges, grabs, bull rushes, etc.

    You still have your skills.

    The other thing you have - which is what I was referring to - is a workable system for improvised attacks and stunts and such based on ability scores vs. any of four defenses. It is a pretty flexible system that I expect will get fleshed out with examples and such as time goes on...

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  11. ...and, yes, the box is a Mimic. Most of them are boxes with eyes (sans pseudopods), but I thought Jeff would appreciate the old-skool thing.

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  12. Thanks for the report, and congrats on the dice box. That's sweet!

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  13. Very cool dice box, Jeff. If I didn't already have a great dice box (hand carved, blah, blah), then I would certainly be making inquiries!

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  14. My reaction to 4E is pretty much exactly the same as 3E and it goes like this: If this game didn't have the D&D trademark attached to it, it would pass mostly unnoticed as yet-another-D&D-like-game. Nobody would feel obligated to try it, nobody would feel obligated to give it a chance, nobody would feel any need to have an opinion about it, and it would sink or swim (or, more likely, just sort of coast into a quiet place on the shelves) like everything else.

    The most interesting thing about 4E is, IMO, exactly the same as the most interesting thing about 3E: it's another game with the Dungeons & Dragons trademark legally applied to it by those wh purchased said trademark.

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  15. Devan1:16 AM

    A few things:

    -Don't play the pregen adventures, as they suck. I played one and was wholly underwhelmed. Then, last weekend, I played an adventure my friend made up, and had an enormous blast.

    People who say it's more limiting are lacking in imagination. My group was fighting some dwarven soldiers holed up in a barn. There was one blocking the doorway, nearly immovable, fighting the dragonborn paladin. The wizard of our group was doing her best to rid us of the crossbow firing dwarves peeking out of the second floor window. My cowardly, city-rat-kid-turned-conscript rogue was doing his best to appear useful while not taking any heat, until he took a bolt to the shoulder. I built him in the direction of avoidance and mobility, figuring he was never much a fan for fighting fair, more for running away. I used an ability that let me move two squares before an attack, opting to make those two squares vertical. I made the acrobatics check to perch in the window frame upon my moving those two squares, and attacked the dwarf. Next round, after nearly being knocked unconscious and pushed out the window, I scurried in and used an ability that moves an opponent squares = to my Cha mod. Dwarves always move one square less for pushes, but I still got one square out of him; enough to trip him out of the rafters and onto his buddy downstairs, knocking them both unconscious.

    So yeah, you can absolutely do fun, creative things with this system, you just have to learn this system. I urge you to play for a while to get in the swing of things before saying "Eh, it's not for me, cause I didn't learn exactly how to play the way I want in two games." It's different, it takes adjusting, and it really is leaps and bounds more fun than previous editions, as no one is sitting around waiting for their turn with nothing to do anymore. There are fun things to do and keep track of on nearly everyone's turn.

    Also, combat FLEW by for us, so I don't know what settembrini is talking about.

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  16. Of course I opted to be a damn fool when I went after that spellslinging kobold with my quaterstaff but the little jerk had it coming.

    See, now that's playing D&D!

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  17. Anonymous6:57 AM

    We've played 4e a handful of times, and there are definitely some strong points. I think the main change is that 4e is not a "simulation" of adventuring, like previous editions of D&D, but rather, it is a game about adventuring. The mechanics enforce game balance and playability over real world physics.

    I find minions to be a great addition to the game. They're throw-away monsters that actually can have an impact on the game. A lot of other game systems have used a similar concept to great effect, and I think they work in D&D, too. I'd like to find out why settembrini thinks they are an abomination.

    The 4e experience at the table was good for us. There's a lot of great synergy between the various classes. We didn't find that fights went any quicker overall, but that during a fight, your turns were shorter and more exciting. We were playing at level 1. If it works as advertised, combat at level 25 should take the same amount of time as combat at level 1. That would be a huge improvement over 3rd edition, where mid- and high- level combat can really drag.

    I do have some big concerns with the game. Top on the list is that there is really little variety in powers or classes. I have a feeling that everything is going to seem pretty much the same after a while. For example, dwarf fighter in campaign 1 will basically be the same as dwarf fighter in campaign 2, and he'll be 90% the same as a human fighter in campaign 3. You're very locked in your class roles right from the start. My group has decided to play a lot more to see whether this holds true or not. There is some potential for paragon paths to widen things out a bit, but mostly I think wizards would like to sell you splatbooks with new options.

    I'm actually surprised with myself about how much I dislike the system based only on the fact that they threw away the old canon. I've always thought to myself that I wasn't one of those guys who was in love with D&D canon, but I look at the new books and I say "Teiflings? Eladrin? WTF? Where's my half-orc?" One of the reasons I liked Eberron so much is that it worked really hard to fit all the old tropes into a new paradigm. 4e goes the other way, and just makes up new tropes. Perhaps I'm on the first step to grognard.

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  18. asmodean66
    I'm going to steal this phrase is exactly what i need to describe 4E

    "I think the main change is that 4e is not a "simulation" of adventuring, like previous editions of D&D, but rather, it is a game about adventuring. The mechanics enforce game balance and playability over real world physics."

    About 4E, well is not for everyone I like it because is a game about adventuring. While some people hate it for the same reason.

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  19. Lawful Neutral2:25 AM

    Szilard:
    The other thing you have - which is what I was referring to - is a workable system for improvised attacks and stunts and such based on ability scores vs. any of four defenses.

    See, to me that system feels like a straitjacket. No matter what clever move I come up with, it's going to have a predefined, balanced effect. It'll be better than an at-will power, but worse than a daily - something in the neighborhood of an encounter power.

    If I manage to drop a three-ton ceiling block on the evil necromancer, it's going to do level-appropriate damage, no more, no less. It's easy as pie to rationalize, too: he took a buffeting, but narrowly got out of the way and thus wasn't crushed to paste. Yes, obviously you don't have to use this system for every improvised attack, but it sure looks like you're supposed to. I know I'd feel like I was doing it wrong if I were running a game and I didn't. It still wouldn't stop me...

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  20. In response to S. John's comment that if 3e and 4e didn't have the D&D trademark attached, they would be ignored as just being another generic fantasy game: Isn't the same thing true of 2e? Or hell, even AD&D?

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