Thursday, July 03, 2008

4e: Running the game

Last night, we began playing through Keep on the Shadowfell. I was running the game. Pat was playing Bloodaxe Axebeard, a dwarf cleric. Jeff was playing Owen, a human wizard. Doug was playing Morgan Ironclaw, a Dragonborn Paladin.

We only made it through the first two fights... there was a lot of chatting and discussion, which is to be expected with new rules.

I'm going to detail the encounters, so if you plan on playing in KotS, you may not want to read further.

I toned the encounters down a bit, because we only had three PCs. I will say that 4e makes adjusting encounter levels very easy. Raising or lowering the level of a monster by a level or two can be done in seconds. The xp value of the monsters/obstacles in an encounter are a measure of its difficulty, so you can add or subtract threats until you hit the difficulty level you want.

The first encounter was an attack by kobold bandits. There were about half a dozen kobold minions, a kobold slinger, and a kobold dragonshield. The dragonborn and the wizard each took out some of the minions early on, so I didn't really get to play with them much. I don't think the minions were a problem though. It is nice to be able to throw a ton of kobolds at first level PCs without totally overpowering them.

The kobold slinger, though he didn't last too long, was the star here. He used his glue-shot to keep the paladin stuck in place for a good bit of the fight. One issue, which I can see being a potential problem in 4e - at the end of the fight, the slinger still had one "special shot" left. Jeff had his wizard take it and use it as a grenade later. That's cool, but there weren't any particular rules for using it as a grenade. It is a piece of non-standard equipment that exists in the monster write-up. There are a lot of those sorts of things in 4e, and - while I am perfectly content to make up my own rules - there probably ought to be some rules for PCs wanting to use or misuse them... or duplicate them.

The second encounter was an ambush by nastier kobolds (revenge, perhaps?). In this one we had two dragonshields, a skirmisher, and a wyrmpriest. The kobolds were a lot more mobile than the PCs, and they used this to good effect - swarming in to use their mob tactics and flanks, and then shifting away to (relative) safety. The wyrmpriest acted as effective artillery - using his 'shifty' ability to hide behind cover after his attacks - and almost got away at the end. I kept forgetting to use the dragonshields' tactics ability to make immediate shifts, though.

In this fight, I decided to see just how much damage a first level paladin can take. The answer? A lot.

Some general thoughts:
  • We could have really used a fourth character, preferably a melee combatant. We talked about trying to recruit someone for next time.
  • The cleric seems primarily ranged with his Lance of Faith. That's a bit odd.
  • What are wizards supposed to spend their starting money on?
  • Healing in combat via second wind and cleric/paladin powers didn't seem unnatural.
  • Combat itself seemed to go relatively smoothly. The fights each took a while, but that was largely because they lasted a large number of rounds (and we'd occasionally look up rules). Rounds seemed to go by pretty quickly, particularly for our first time with a new system.
  • The wizard relied largely on magic missile. I think that was mostly a function of the terrain: the only cluster of foes was around the wizard's allies... so he couldn't really use his area-effect powers much.
  • The paladin seemed to be pretty straightforwardly effective at dishing out and taking (as I mentioned) damage.
  • GMing 4e is very different for running 3.x. Easier in most ways. Encounter design is easier. Knowing what a monster can do is more straightforward. The tricky bit is knowing how to use a monster's powers effectively. There's definitely a learning curve. The 'tactics' section of the adventure helped a bit, but it was somewhat too general.
  • The PCs were limited by the terrain of the two encounters (mostly open, outside, with some cover for snipers). This allowed the kobolds to mob them and make use of their high mobility. There was nowhere to box them in... and there wasn't anywhere interesting to push them. This will change in the next set of encounters. It was noted that the PCs were a cleric, wizard, and paladin... and that they probably should have been at a bit of a disadvantage out in the open.
  • I appreciate that tougher monsters last longer in 4e, but those kobolds might have been a bit too tough.

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