Wednesday, July 23, 2008
DnD 4e: Second Look
Technically this is not a second look, maybe a third look...but a lot more in depth. Last month we all got together, and rented a cabin in the mountains and geeked out all weekend for my Master's graduation, it was cool, and come to think of it, I should do a post on it. Anyway, while we were there, of the many games we played, one was a quick run of the new 4e DnD run by our buddy Rucht. It was a cursory look at best, but did illustrate a lot of the new changes going down with the new set. We were a little pushed for time, I would've loved to have played more.
Well, Andy (do I really need to keep putting in links for this guy, it's freakin' Andy!) and I have been trying to get some more gaming lately, but with our core group being pressed for time, we reached out to the Wizards website and found a local RPGA group getting ready for a 4e campaign, Forgotten Realms at that. This week they were running a Forgotten Realms preview adventure, the third one so far, titled Death in the Skyfire Wastes. The action took place in Almraiven, which was cool because my longest stint as a 3rd edition DM in the Realms centered around this very city. Before posting this entry I tried to find a map I had made of it, but couldn't for the life of me; too bad, it was a killer map!
Anyway, it was neat to see, first-hand, finally what had become of the Realms for the new edition and post-Spellplague, officially. Apparently Calimshan, the "Arabian Nights" metropolis of the Realms was ransacked and taken over by the Djinn that had been imprisoned there forever. This is a pretty serious turn of events for the once bustling city of the south. Well, it's neighbor, Almraiven is now besieged by Djinn armies, but it won't fall. Through a series of portals and mythals it maintains minor trade and contact with the outside world. Well, a long lost relic has been uncovered in a desert tomb and if the bad guys get to it first (a pair of nefarious merc Tieflings) the city is doomed, so us heroes are called in to snatch it first.
About the system. It's great, plenty of options and feels more charged or energetic than ever before. I will say this though, when it's time for combat, the game turns into a miniatures tabletop affair, no bones about it. This is a good thing though, combat is not bogged down at all, it is streamlined, fast, and very intuitive. It leaves little room for roleplaying, but it's up to the individual player to interject a little of their own character into their actions. Plus, combat is over quicker, which allows more time for roleplaying anyway.
Combat doesn't get old either, with all of the new abilities (at-will, encounter, and daily) you have a host of things to do that are different every time. No more, "I swing, I hit/miss, rinse, repeat...) you've got 'powers' that do all kinds of cool things; and every character class has them. There is the whole notion of 'roles' in the party, like strikers, controllers, leaders, etc. I'm a bit fuzzy on it, but basically every character has a specific role to play in the party. If you know what that role is, and how to utilize your powers to facilitate said role, then the party functions on a level of efficiency like never seen before. It wasn't just combat either, we entered a whole 'skills challenge' phase too while trekking through the desert. It was kinda like a mini game by itself where we were sort of in combat, but it was all skills related with checks being rolled. It was cool, and just added a nice mechanic that didn't exist before.
The other thing I like is the way they handle magic items now; everyone, they're no longer impossible to obtain at low levels. Mind you, they're not great items, but they do add a little extra something to your character that sets them apart and makes them unique. There's also a great way they do magic item 'levels', basically if you're an 8th level character, you'll probably have an 8th level magic item. This also means you'll have a handful of lower level magic items too, but you won't be uber-powerful, because everything is scaled. A 20th level character isn't sporting an edge because they still have their 3rd level magic weapon.
The new edition sports all kinds of other bells and whistles too, I won't go into too much detail here on them. You've got new races, news classes, new ways to heal yourself for everyone; no longer just divine characters, and all kinds of other things we haven't seen before. It's not a rules update, it's not even a rules overhaul, it's a completely new game built from the ground up.
For the Skyfire Wastes preview adventure, we used pre-generated characters. Andy and I coincidentally ended up as a pair of Dwarven brothers (imagine that). He was a Cleric of Moradin and I was one of the new classes, a Swordmage. It was certainly a fun dynamic in the game, with our two characters having a little extra backstory. I could go on about how the Swordmage class was new and different, but with the new rules even the standard Cleric is "new and different". Did I like it? Yeah, now that I've got a little more 4e under my belt I have certainly "drunk the Kool-aid". In fact I was inspired to whip up a character portrait, which is a rare thing, drawing has been on the backburner for me ever since I went back to school and I haven't got back in the swing of things; I'm certainly out of practice. So here he is, Murtun Ironnblade the Dwarven Swordmage, shown with Surge Armor and a +1 Defending Longsword. Oh yeah, don't you just love pre-gen character names?