I am in agreement that 1st level characters in 4e are overpowered. Well, I guess that’s not exactly right. They aren’t overpowered, they’ve got too much stuff. I’ve heard the criticism that 4e PC’s start out with super-powers. While I wouldn’t describe it like that, I get what that means. 4e is a very different beast from AD&D. The foundation is the same, but the structure has had a complete makeover. I will admit though, I might not have felt so overwhelmed if I had been with 4e from the beginnning. I am literally coming in while 4e is on its way out.
Someone pointed out to me that there is an awful lot for a new character to have to choose. I love the character creation process, and I enjoy making characters in 4e; but I have to agree whole-heartedly that there is a crap ton of information and too many options for a 1st level character in 4e. I am someone though that likes multiple options, and I really like looking through all the classes/races/skills/abilities/feats but after a while it feels very tedious. It makes the later choices, as you advance in levels, feel slightly underwhelming. I don’t know the time-line for how Wizards rolled out all the player features in 4e but I can guess that it was met with enthusiasm when it was new. I think I would have been very excited to see a Players Handbook 2 and then sub-sequentially a Players Handbook 3 become available. Then all the “Powers” books would have been a welcome addition, but having to start with all of that right from the get go is too much.
But never mind all the options available, the 1st level character has too many “powers” to begin with individually. Just to list, off the top of my head, once you’ve decided name, alignment, gender, race, and class the real work begins. You’re automatically given more than a handful of powers with your race selection and then class specific powers that you need to choose. Then there are your skills and your feats; and finally we get to the heart of what makes 4e different- at-wills, encounter and daily powers. I enjoyed creating characters in 4e at first, but now I easily tire of looking up all the different feats and powers and how a character’s race effects the class powers and all the class specific race specific feats. . .
I have heard the criticism that 4e is too focused on combat, or that there is too much emphasis placed on combat, and I would agree with that. But, I would also say that that does not need to take away from how one plays the game. While the combat rules may be much more involved there is always the option to be selective in how you use the rules. I am not familiar with any other grid based combat systems so I can’t speak to the quality of play that the 4e rules allow, but I am finding that it is a bit cumbersome. At first, I was intrigued and excited about combat, but the novelty has worn off a bit. I think I over-indulged and am ready for some good old-fashioned theater of the mind role-playing. This doesn’t mean I need to scrap the whole system, I believe 4e is still a perfectly viable RPG.
The problem I’m having with the 4e combat system is entirely in my head. I’m over-thinking how the combat is going to unfold. The 4e system puts forward so many “suggestions” on how to compose an encounter that I’m thinking way to hard about how each of the combatants is going to react and it’s taking me out of the spontaneity (and excitement) of D&D combat. There are so many “conditions” that can effect the combatants that it almost always takes me out of the story. I have been suffering from encounter to encounter gaming- the how and why is sidelined for combat. The hard part about it all is that I would really like to see the combat aspect work well. I think it is an interesting part of 4e, and if done right could be a challenging game within the game.
I would like to pit my grid combat skills against the players- of course, this isn’t how D&D works, at least from my point of view. It is not a game of DM vs. PCs. But this is a discussion for another post.
Skills challenges in 4e are an interesting addition to D&D. I’ve never played 3.5 but I’m thinking that this is a new phenomenom to the game. I think that if done well, it is an exciting way for the story to be narrated by the players. I’ve tried to incorporate it into my game and haven’t quite got it tweaked to the point where I feel it is working to its maximum effectiveness. I have heard it used by other GM’s quite successfully. (check out the great Rodrigo of Critical Hit) I’ve adopted some house rules from Rodrigo in order to make the skills challenge a little more interesting. First, a player cannot use the same skill that the previous player just used. Second, the player cannot use the same skill they used on their previous turn. This allows the players to think creatively and come up with imaginative ways to accomplish their goal. I found out, in this session, that it is imperative that all the players know and understand exactly what is their objective.
Improvisation is the magical ingredient in running a game (an ingredient that I often run short of, but am looking to stock up on). When the players start meandering from their stated objective, especially in a skills challenge it throws a wrench in the role-playing aspect of the game. This is probably another piece in the criticism surrounding 4e, there is seemingly more influence placed on the roll playing as opposed to the role-playing. The skills challenge does exactly this- it takes what could normally be role-played and makes it a roll play. I think that if you have a group of players that are at ease with role-playing, then there is little need to emphasize player participation. But, if you have a group of people who don’t know each other (as in the case here) and are playing over skype (and at some point I will address the serious disadvantages to not being situated face-to-face around a table) this little bit of “forced” player narration is helpful in drawing out character personalities.
I am finding that 4e is heavily skewed toward the combat aspect of the game, but that won’t stop me from trying to find ways to bring more role-playing to the table, er. . . the skype.
Episode 9 Way back in the day, when dragons roamed the realms and slightly deranged wizards sought to alter reality, there was a far stranger and more erratic power at play terrorizing the minds of hapless adventurers- the random encounter table. Hidden behind DM screens, polyhedrals produced unimaginable circumstances for parties already expecting the unexpected. While each edition has produced its own take on the Random Encounter Table, none will ever achieve the mesmerizing mind-numbing miasma of monsters that is Appendix C of the 1st edition Dungeon Master’s Guide. I’m quite sure my grandma had no idea that the genie she unleashed when gifting me with that magical tome one xmas morning would keep me occupied for many days and nights through middle school and eventually resurface almost 30 years later.
To those who are unfamiliar with Appendix C it is twenty pages of small font typeface that details the encounter possibilities for hundreds of possible circumstances in multiple tables- a percentile dice tossers wet dream! Second Edition AD&D didn’t even try to replicate this feat, with a paltry ten pages of mostly text (perhaps a half dozen random tables). And 4th edition takes a completely different approach by offering a suggestion on how one might go about creating their own random encounter generator.
It seems as though Gary Gygax could envision what would become hordes of players huddled around kitchen tables, scarfing pizza and soda rolling dice and battling an endlessly advancing line of adversaries; and he knew that he would have to provide young DM’s with the tools necessary to keep the bloodthirsty PC’s satisfied.
Episode 8 begins with the party returning from the dragon’s lair with all the loot. The party gave up early on trying to decipher what the magic items do on their own, so they bring the goods into town and have someone take a look at them. I’m not sure why this became the norm, other than no one in the party is trained in Arcana and they weren’t doing very well at getting a clear idea of what the items did once they found them. As the DM, I have a hard time bridging the gap between illustrating what the item looks like, how it “feels” to the players, and just flat out stating “that’s a Floating Lantern, you can find its specs on page 84 of Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Emporium.” Some of the items can be woven into the story, but most are just loot that the party expects to come across anyway. And if it isn’t a vorpal bad boy of decimation +90 then it is not really worth their time.
To quote one of my players “I’ll take the rabbit’s foot if it makes me hit everything I swing at.” Bottom line: what’s in it for me? A magic item is only as good as how much bonus it gives to your ability to smash the bad guys. I’m consistently amazed by how easily the time flies by as I sit poring over the endless list of lists that contain every imaginable enhancement and some that are neither imaginable or even understandable. It has gotten way out of control, but I don’t think I would ever recommend that WotC pull in the reins even a little bit. Each magic item is a story in itself, and D&D, at least for me, is all about the stories. Right from the beginning D&D has always been about what’s around the next corner? What are we going to find? Is it the little elfling lord who ran away and was corrupted by the traveling carnival barker, or perhaps the spirit of a decapitated adventurer wailing its woeful warning, or maybe just a big old chest full of gold and magic.