Looking at 4e again

I haven’t kept up with my resolution to write here (at least) twice a month, but I’m back and recommitting.

When I first started GMing a few years ago I was running a game of 4th Edition D&D. I liked, and still like the system. It made it easy to start out as a new DM, but it certainly has it’s issues too. By the time that campaign ended I was definitely seeing a lot of the weak spots in the system. Playing a whole bunch of other games just further emphasized some of these issues. The game is pretty big and bloated in a lot of ways. There’s a lot to keep track of, and things can move pretty slowly.

But! I’ve been playing the game again somewhat often recently and I’m also seeing a lot of the good points again.

Due to vacations, weddings, and other things I haven’t had a chance to play with my Sci-Fi game group for about a month. Luckily I’ve been able to drop into my friend’s D&D game. It’s a 4e game. I’ve been an occasional player in that game for a while now, at first just running other players characters when they weren’t there, or running npc allies to the party, and then making my own character (a Psion btw). I’ve recently changed up characters again (to a Berserker Barbarian), and been able to make it to three or four sessions in a row and it’s been a ton of fun.

I do enjoy the tactical nature of the game. There are lots and lots of ways to combine moves and actions that are fun and interesting to try to use to the greatest effect. There can be a lot of really fun teamwork in the system where one person can set up another person to be extra effective. My new character is particularly fun in this regard because he can change his role in an encounter from defender (locking down enemies and taking hits from them so others don’t have to) to striker (doing lots of damage).

The other big factor is that my friend is running the game particularly well. He’s really kept up with what the “state of the art” is in 4e and has put a lot of great advice into practice to make the game flow much more quickly than most 4e games I’ve seen.

For Combat he’s taken a lot of advice from the way Lair Assault games are set up to make combat encounters exciting and challenging (but not necessarily unfair), and with a real sense of danger to them. He’s been picking his monsters well and the hit hard, but don’t necessarily take forever to defeat. It’s really made things run more quickly. Combat is still by no means fast (particularly when players, and I’m referring to all of us here, let themselves get distracted between turns, which of course just makes everything take even longer), it is still 4e we’re talking about, but things flow much more smoothly and generally it doesn’t feel like the combats drag toward the end the way they so often can. Things move, and there’s always something new and exciting going on.

Out of combat he’s put a lot of good advice into practice to get us as players to think more “in the fiction” than just looking at our sheet and trying to figure out how to use our numbers to get things done. He’s also introduced a lot of cool characters.

The group has some good houserules too. Action points as they exist in the regular system have been replaced by two action points that everyone gets at the start of the session and don’t carry over to the next session (like bennies in Savage Worlds in fact), so you’re encouraged to use them freely, and there’s nothing to track to figure out if you should have one. They are also a bit more useful. They can be used like a regular Action point or they can be used for a re-roll. We’ve also let “milestone” powers and abilities work if you’ve spent and action point that session. These do make action points more powerful easier, but in practice that just means the DM  can make everything harder for us. It’s a good balance, and it’s fun for our group.

I’m still not sure how much I’d want to run another full campaign in 4e (I’ve got plenty of other systems I want to try out, plus my current favorite of Savage Worlds) but I have been toying with running a few short games some time soon. I recently got my Dark Sun books back from a friend who was borrowing them, and got a hold of the Ashes of Athas organized play adventures so I may try to run a few of those for some friends some time soon once I’ve read through them a bit more.

It’s been nice to be reminded of all the parts of this game I still really like. Only playing occasionally it was easy to focus on the issues the system has and not the parts I like so much. I really do enjoy the system, warts and all, and I’m glad I’m getting to continue to play it.

Good gaming!

-The Duke of Brandonshire 🎲

Stephen B @DrOct