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Saturday, June 07, 2008

Summary of Game Day

The new 4th edition of Dungeons and Dragons is out today. At some game stores they game deoms of the new system. I did not do this, I took it easy on my day off. A friend and some other people I have played games with a few game conventions played at D&D Game Day and this what happened.

From a email that was sent to me:
Well, half the folks here were at Game Day, so this may seem
redundant to them, but after playing the system through three or four
encounters today with a couple of different characters, here's my take
on some things.

The short summary is that I am very happy with the way characters
worked. Having seen things work together (or not work), I have some
thoughts on how people should try to coordinate and I have seen some
things that I need to be aware of as a GM. I saw every character
fulfill the role I envisioned for them and change the shape of the
battles they were in. And I saw that whether you used your powers or
your just a basic attack, the important thing that characters do is
*not* roll damage. It is the effects of all their other tricks that
matters, from the ability to move around or control other people's
movement to the ability to get or give bonuses or do huge amounts of
extra damage.

Garry, Eric C, Tim and I got there around 9:15-9:30 am and they
were packed. They clearly had more people than they expected in the
early morning. We signed up and wound up waiting for a GM to finish
up and open a new table for us. While we were waiting, we walked
around, saw a lot of things and met some folks. Along the way I
managed to get some questions about things that I was curious about
answered. Norm got there about 15 minutes after we did and we
managed to get him put at our table in a group of 5.

They had some games out to play with while you were not playing
D&D so four of us went to a table and played a little Inn Fighting.
This is a simple, little beer-and-pretzels game based on the generic
"you are all sitting in a tavern" scene where a bar brawl erupts.
We'd spent enough time wandering around and looking at things that we
really only got through about three rounds of the table before we were
called for our D&D game. Tim was rolling 1s so I am not sure if he
was having fun, but I thought that Inn Fighting was at least a run for
Munchkin in the beer-and-pretzels genre.

Around 11:30 we went down and met our GM, Chris Tulach, Head
Content Manager for RPGA. We got to ask some fundamental questions
about things including whether or not RPGA would be at Dragonflight
this year (sounds unlikely, but he said to keep an eye out for Penny
Arcade eXpo three weeks later where they would be in full force!). We
got started on the first scenario which was a 5-man adventure to
rescue some children who had been abducted. We were promptly
interrupted (and Chris offered us a break) by a call that all the main
developers were upstairs signing books. Tim and I went up to get
signatures and they were kind enough to sign everything that we had so
my entire gift set and Tim's StarWars Saga Edition all got love.

We got back to the table and got down to gaming for most of the
rest of the afternoon. The first adventure was a 5-man party with a
human cleric (Eric C), a dwarf warrior (Tim), a human warrior (Garry),
an eladarin wizard (Norm) and a half-elf rogue (me). As mentioned in
the car on the way up there, the rogue had taken Eyebite as his
half-elven special and although there were a few times I thought about
it (and it would have been useful) I wound up not using it. Our first
adventure was two or three or four encounters long (depending on how
you counted). The "first" encounter was a puzzle and while I would
have given experience I would not have counted it as an encounter
(this matters for the distribution of Action Points).

The second encounter was a combination of two kobolds and some
traps. Tim did exactly what he was supposed to do as a dwarven
fighter and jumped up on the crypt being used as cover where he
promptly discovered the first trap and got a lucky save to avoid
problems. The next action he had, the Kobold Tim was attacking tried
to knock him into the trap and Tim got lucky again and the trap was
"destroyed" by failed use. Seeing this, Norm promptly used his
(normally unused) minor action and a telekinesis power to disarm the
other likely trap. Important note: Minor action which could be
mistaken for flavor text on the wizard sheet is wisely used to
eliminate a trap that caused 20+ damage to a fighter at another table.

Tim's Kobold runs away around the back of a pillar and moves to
join the other behind the other barricade that Garry and I are
assaulting. I try to show off and burn some of my larger powers as
the rogue. First, I run past the two Kobolds to get a flanking bonus
with Garry (making use of Artful Dodger to avoid some of the
Opportunity damage). Then I try one Encounter attack intending to
push a Kobold into Garry's Cleave (this fails), then I spend my Action
Point to get a second attack and cripple the other Kobold so that
Garry is in a position to smash things.

Every time Garry gets a chance, he dives onto the blade of any
Kobold attacking him and as Tim comes running up behind the second
Kobold to get flanking Garry hits zero hit points and we get to see
the death and dying rules. It's pretty simple and, like everything
else in the system, favors the heroes. Eric C tosses Garry a heal
before he's even been down for a full turn and Garry is conscious if
not back on his feet while the rest of us finish the encounter.

The next encounter is probably supposed to be a single encounter
but we kinda diffused it. There's a locked door with the abducted
boys behind it and a second chamber further along the "hall". Tim and
Garry take point and examine the door and then I draw lock-pick duty.
While I am baffled repeatedly by the lock Garry moves on to see what
he can see. All hell breaks loose at the same time... Garry see's
the evil necromancer who grabbed the boys who activates some statues
in the room with the boys (stone golems?) and then sends his skeletal
minions to make trouble from the next room. Seeing the trouble
showing up all the way around, I finally figure out how to roll and
unlock the room and the boys (who are close on my heals in initiative)
come running out and away from the combat. Garry charges the
skeletons and Eric and Norm move to back him up while Tim and I look
at each other and the golems in confusion.

The combat shows a couple more nice tricks about the system...
The golems move but don't reach us (I think that Chris took pity on
Tim and I to be honest) so I slam the door in their faces and lock it
back. Then I run off toward the other fight and holler at Tim to
spike the door. The golems bang on the door and fail to break it
down. Now we're down to a one-front fight. On that front, Norm says
he was a bit frustrated because he never had a clear line of fire to
use his controller powers. (Fighters and leaders take note...
Getting surrounded causes issues because the controller cannot handle
the group of targets to provide you advantages.) Norm finally took
his encounter teleport to a far corner of the room and unleashed his
Thunderwave power (another we have talked about) and turned the fight
completely. He knocked the unreachable necromancer into the middle of
the party where Tim, Eric C and I were able to make short work of him
while Garry threw himself onto the skeletons' swords some more. This
was the end of the scenario save wrap-up and teaser for the other con
scenario.

In later conversation with Norm, I saw another thing that has not
been mentioned... Some stuff that is hidden in the DMG which most of
you probably don't know about... The system has very clear
instructions for GMs. LET THE PLAYERS DO WHAT THEY WANT! There is a
table which shows for every level what the DC and damage equivalents
are for easy, normal and hard combat actions. Their example is "if a
player decides to grab the chandelier and swing across the room into
the troll to knock it into the brazier then LET THEM!" The difficulty
should probably be medium since this is a typical cinematic stunt.
The damage should also be low or moderate for the level since it will
burn the troll but he can get out of it. The player has not asked to
knock the Troll prone so probably make it medium." Then you look in
the table, get the DC, call for it and allow the player to do damage.
Alternatively, if the player had wanted to knock the Troll prone, you
could instead make it a DEX vs. Reflex challenge and provide low
damage but also knock the Troll prone. The ideal behind the table is
to give a GM a clear idea what the character should be capable of with
his normal powers and make this an equivalent alternative... Not more
or less attractive, but a viable story-telling alternative...

Norm left after our first adventure and the rest of us signed up
for the other campaign with one open slot. We got assigned pretty
quickly (they had more GMs show up around noon so things got lots
busier). The second adventure was a single encounter with a solo
monster. The same characters... This time, I am the human warrior,
Garry is the half-elf rogue, Tim and Eric C stay with their characters
and we had a kid named Liam and his father playing the wizard. I
dunno what the others took away from this, but I learned a lot.
First, I had high initiative so I ran into the lead and Liam followed
right behind me. Then the dragon moves and charges me. That was the
only damage the dragon did to me the whole fight. Eric C followed up
right after and healed me and then Tim and Garry stepped up to short
or medium range and unloaded.

Because we knew this was a single fight encounter with a single
monster, I approached it in a way that I would not normally approach a
fight. I opened by burning my daily and my action point. My daily
missed but provided me bonuses for the duration of the encounter
anyway and my action point allowed me to hit and do damage (and mark
the dragon) before it could go after anyone else. I kept the dragon
marked the whole fight and while it never seemed to help Tim, it made
the difference between being hit and not for Eric at least twice.
Other folks followed suit and the Action Points and Daily Powers
rained down on the dragon quickly. Lesson to GM reinforces something
I read before... Try not to open a day of adventuring with a solo
monster encounter, especially not a hard one, because as cool as it
sounds, your solo will be crippled, slowed, stunned and giving combat
advantage before the end of the first full round of combat. Lesson to
players... If the fight is dire enough to need your daily powers,
spend it early since it will save you other resources over the course
of the fight. You'll have bonuses for more rolls or have less
opposition for the remainder of the fight. You may not always see it
early, but when you do, don't hesitate.

A solo encounter is a single beast designed to be equivalent to 5
normal monsters. Since they took the lid off and showed us how to
make anything into an elite or solo in the monster manual, I can give
a brief summary about how the monsters work... Normal monsters are
what you are used to from 3.0 or 3.5... They also introduced minions,
which are equivalent to a normal monster in most ways but they have 1
hit-point, never take damage unless they are hit, but never survive
being hit. Four minions equals a single normal monster for exchanges.
Elites are the next addition and they have twice the hit points of a
normal monster plus a "package" which gives them some special
abilities (usually related to a class or theme). For example, one
package is the Lich package. A gnome illusionist can become an elite
gnome illusionist lich with some necromantic bonuses, a susceptibility
to radiant damage and twice as many hit points and one new recharging
power. A single elite exchanges for two normal monsters. Finally, if
you take an elite, add another package and double its hit points again
you are close to a solo monster. You also add some Action Points and
there you are... A single monster which swaps for 5 normals and is
intended to be a complete encounter for a first level party all by
itself.


More than anything else, the thing today brought home to me is
that position is mucho important in this system. The ability to move
people and know when and how to move is a huge advantage. The first
scenario was most changed by my rogue moving and avoiding attacks of
opportunity, Norm moving and then pushing the necromancer into a bad
spot and then my rogue moving the necromancer into a worse spot...
Would we have won without out that? Yes, but not as fast or as
handily. On the flip side, the dragon tried to run away from us a
couple of times and both times the warriors had abilities to punish or
prevent the move. As a rogue, never try to move away from a
warrior... You'll pay. Dearly...

In addition to the fun day, there was also loads of schwag. I
have a dice bag for Eric A. There were dice and miniatures and RPGA
tokens and all sorts of things to be seen and had. This has just
served to whet my appetite for more in-depth play and I hope others
had as much fun as I did.

1 comment:

Dean Stevens said...

Sounds interesting. I like the idea of a simple chart for the DM that allows players to do what they want more spontaneously without greatly burdening the DM to figure out how it can be accomplished. Action points sound interesting. How do you earn them? I hope the new version hasn't shifted the balance too much in favor of the players. This made is sound like you no longer roll for damage or to hit. Is that true?