Wednesday, September 24, 2008

4e General First Impressions

So I got to play a proper session of 4e yesterday. This is opposed to the, supposedly, improper session I played last week. My group, separated by a couple hundred miles, plays over Skype. Skype was acting up last time due to the slow connection of one player, and so made the session not fun.


So the first 'real' session of Fourth Edition went pretty well. I've heard complaints from here and there about various game bits of 4e, and frankly I don't bother internalizing that sort of thing. I prefer to do something myself before I go and judge it. One thing that really struck me as different about 4e, on a fundamental level, is how differently the game plays in combat. My group has never been heavy into long conversations with NPCs, so basically the captain of the steamboat we were working for passage on lectured us about the nature of the world a while, and we sat in a bar and listened to other people apparently lecture each other on the nature of the world for a while, before attacking some goblins when we floated by a town that was getting attacked.

Ok, so at this point the PCs started actually paying attention. The Captain told us his nephew (in his twenties) was in a certain building, and that he'd be appreciative if we'd go help. The party Ranger/Rogue (Actually Ranger with one or two Rogue abilities, per 4e 'multiclassing') negotiated pay, a trifle silly given the circumstances, but eh. We marched into town and shortly were in a combat with a couple gobbos.

Now the setup was a little weird to start with. Level two party of five characters, fighting five goblins, three of which were minions, as we found out shortly. Suffice to say, it was not a terribly challenging fight. What was interesting, however, was that immediately everyone started helping each other. Now, this might sound trivial to some people, but it's a weird shift for my group. We end up, usually, by level ten or so, with a party of five individuals who act like they aren't even in a party. We've never had a team, per se. However, this time, every ability gave an ally some sort of bonus. Marks would help your ally as well as helping yourself. The goblins couldn't do what they wanted, because if they did, they'd take damage, miss terribly every time, or fail in a myriad of other ways. The teamwork surprised me, even in the stupid low-challenge first encounter.

After that, we continued down the railroad, to fight more goblins. The next group was three minions, three warrior guys of some variety (Skull splitters?) and two casters. This encounter took a while longer, but I still don't think anyone in the party was in any danger. What interested me in this encounter was the mobility everyone showed. In 3.5, combats tended to devolve, at least for fighters and their ilk, to "Ok, I swing again" at first level, to "Ok, I swing six times again" at 20th. In 4e's combat, people moved around. The goblins shifted from here to there, the players had enough HP to take an Opportunity Attack here and there for better positioning. The goblin casters could shift effects and attacks to their minions, which made it interesting to try to combat them. People were knocked prone commonly, but it wasn't unfun; you could get up and attack again readily. The combat felt much more dynamic.

The third encounter, as well as the penultimate of the evening (Which averages encounter time to roughly an hour and a half each, though that's not accurate since some were longer than others, as well as having noncombat time), was a combat against a pile of Hobgoblins, as well as their dozen minions scattering about. The party isn't built for stealth, so we ended up just running in and hitting things. The thing is, in the first round, everyone blew action points. All the minions died to our dragonborn as well as our Forgotten Realms spellsword guy. Area of effect knocked them all down. Then, everyone ganged the leader. I don't think the DM expected the number of horrible effects on the poor hobgobbo. Anyway, the combat was fast-paced, laced with teamwork and helping one another, and generally fun.

We talked to the nephew and he gave us some heirloom sword he had (Seventh level magic item, I got it as other people had decent weapons/didn't use swords), and we ended the session.

Overall take? 4e combat seems like a lot of fun, and I haven't run into the "Padded Sumo" issue I've heard people talk about. The combat was quick, fun, and generally well paced. So far, I'm fairly bully on 4e. I'll grant that from a simulationist perspective, a lot of the rules don't make sense, but the game is fun, so I'm fine with it. Just my two cents.


Aeolien said...

I'm so glad you're enjoying 4e! I've been wanting to run a game via Skype with friends back home, but we aren't sure how to resolve the dice issue. How much trust do you give your players?

David said...

We generally have played with just rolling dice and telling others the result. To be honest, it does seem a bit suspicious that there hasn't been a TPK since we started playing over skype.

Nonetheless, most people are reasonably decent, and won't cheat at something like D&D, which isn't even supposed to be competitive. If your friends cheat, they really shouldn't be playing.

Still, another option is to use some virtual tabletop. There are a few free ones.
Tthe only VTT I've used is Fantasy Grounds 2, but that costs money.

Anyway, I say just roll the dice and play. Skype has a couple whiteboard sort of attachments that you can use to draw rooms and keep track of combat, if you need that sort of thing.

Good luck!