This past weekend was a momentous occasion! My first round of D&D 4th Edition! Ok, so it was quasi-forth edition, but it was still 4th edition. I was lucky enough to be able to play one of the 4E preview mods from the D&D Experience. And I am excited to finally get to blog about the new edition of D&D from actual experience!
Full disclosure: This review is based solely on the information in the mod/pre-gen characters that came out for the D&D experience (formally Winter Fantasy). As these were created before 4E was finalized, some stuff has and will change. Some stuff that I say is cool, maybe will not be cool anymore. And, some stuff that I say is missing may not actually be missing. So just understand that.
The module itself
This mod, as an all around D&D game, pretty much sucked. However, as a 4E preview mod, it was perfect. Let me explain. This is what you would call a railroaded mod, or a dungeon crawl. Basically, it was just fighting. There were no social interactions what-so-ever. You were box-texted to the first fight, then the second, and so on. Now for full discloser, this was one of 4 or 5 total preview mods that they had, so others could have showcased the social side of the new rules. Also, these were probably written back in Oct-Nov to have them ready for the D&D experience, so maybe they were still polishing the social side of things back then. Regardless, this mod was an excellent preview of combat mechanics for 4E. And a good glimpse and some of the oldie but goody bad guys (skeleis, hobgoblins, etc).
The Fun Factor
Oh wow, this game was fun! Part of it was that we had a good group of players that know how to play and roleplay well. Part of it was the excitement of the new experience. But pulling back the shroud of euphoria, this game is more fun then its predecessor; at least for first level characters. There is more to do during the combats, but it doesn’t take as long to do it at higher levels. And I say higher levels, because at 1st level, normally your character can’t do squat, so it might take a little more time now that you have cool stuff to do.
I played Corrin Reedson, a male Halfling Paladin of Tymora. Let us compare the 3.5E to the 4.0E Paladin. In 3.5 during combat, a first level Paladin had his detect evil at will and his smite evil once per day. Other then that, he only had a whole lot of beating with his weapon of choice. Playing a 1st level anything makes it hard to hold back your excitement (sarcasm included).
The 4E Paladin also has a whole lot of beating with his preferred weapon as an option during a combat. But in addition to that Corrin had a ‘Bolstering strike’ at will (gave me temp HP), a ‘Divine Challenge’ at will (a creature was damaged if they attacked someone other then me), a ‘Holy Strike’ at will (Radiant aka Holy damage). A ‘Lay on Hands’ 3 times per day (the Paladin love slap). Once per encounter I could ‘Channel Divine Mettle’ to give someone an extra saving throw chance, ‘Channel Diving Strength’ to add some damage to an attack, use a ‘Second Chance’ to force an enemy to re-roll an attack, or do a ‘Shielding Smite’ to bump up a teammates AC. And finally, once per day I could bring down the fury with ‘On Pain of Death’ and bring the noise. This is ALL at first level.
There has been a lot of noise saying that now you can automatically heal yourself and that a cleric isn’t needed for the 4E party. I am here to tell you that that is an out-of-tune hootenanny. The whole healing surges thing was great! It was basically healing potion management without the healing potions and accounting skills. But you can only use one during combat normally, so healing is still very important. Besides the cleric saving my butt a few times with healing (I did that too as the Paladin), he knocked around the undead like the beeeeeotchies that they are. I feel a 4E party can survive without a cleric only marginally better then a 3.5E party could. So start bribing your new table for someone to take on the roll. Though, this cleric could do some cool things too. The 1st level cleric has a total of 9 powers it could use.
I think spell casters got the biggest adjustment in the new rules, and for the better. The new powers system makes it so much easier to play a spell caster. No more worrying about memorizing spells (to some extent, some dailies are still picked) and while power curve has been rumored to cut them down on the high end a little, they are now usefully for the full day, even at low levels. No more firing off a couple ‘Magic Missiles’ and calling it a day. You can now fire off your ‘Magic Missiles’ until you are blue in the face. Sure, they don’t automatically hit anymore, but they are unlimited. Spell casters finally get to join D&D reality.
Saves – I like the new rules where the player gets to role to hit a save rating on the opponent instead of that opponent reacting to the effect with the saving throw. It gives the player more control, more to do, and more dice to roll (everyone likes rolling dice). And most importantly it takes work off of the DM. And speaking of saves, the effect system is SO much better. No more remembering how many rounds something lasts. The game is changed to put that into the effected person’s hands, not the caster. Hard to describe, but once you are playing, you will love it.
Critical Hits – thank goodness! A 20 is an automatic critical hit. No more disappointment when you roll that 20 on a major boss, only to follow-up with a 4. And it gets rid of the cheese-weasels as crits now just to maximize damage. More often, less carnage, all the same great excitement. Perfect!
Death – I was there a few times, so I got to test these new rules first hand. It is just as easy/hard to drop to negatives as in the 3.5E game. Actually maybe a little harder for those spell casters who were doomed before. However, raising the cap on what it takes for you to be dead-dead worked great. Lots of leg-room to keep from being gone forever. And the stabilization rules are good too.
Marked – Marked is a condition where two creatures are connected by some force. I though marks were really cool, and the Paladin had a great one. However, I think that too many characters could mark too often. But maybe that is just because it was new or only relevant at low levels. More study is needed here.
Powers – I blogged about the powers previously (even though Trask labeled the post as spell descriptions). It is Spells, abilities, everything. Everything is worked into the power system. After using them, I can attest that they work. They are very easy to figure out and very easy to use. I think most of the benefit will be seen at high levels and on the DM side, but it gets two thumbs up.
There is one potential problem with the new D&D 4E. We all know that player that takes FOREVER. And when that player is playing a spell caster, you can go get lunch once their turn hits. People have implored tactics such as timers or throwing salt packets to speed them up. In 4E, the potential for this is baaaad. Everyone has powers galore, so indecisive players will have to be kept on a short leash no matter what class they play. Even the 1st level fighter is impacted. Before they could hit, or hit, or charge and hit. Can now do all of the combat tactics plus they have 4 powers to boot. A page full of powers at high levels will put the slow player at molasses speed. But make sure they know their character, know the groups tactics, and have them decide what they are doing, when it is not their turn and you will be fine.
Ok, I think I have ranted for long enough. Some people say 4E is great, some say it sucks. Both viewpoints are bias and unfounded if coming from people who have not read anything more then teasers and rumors (which it all pretty much is) and especially if they have not played it. Well previously I was in love with the concepts of 4E, withholding judgment for the actual game. Now that I have played, I have little doubt that this will be my RPG rule set of choice. However, the social side of D&D is important to me. I doubt they ruined it, but time will tell.
The entrails have spoken…
Haaldaar – The Holy Knight of Haruspice