4E: First Run

June 22, 2008

Ran a one shot of the first few encounters of Keep on the Shadowfell yesterday for a few folks. Group-wise, there was 3 players, 2 of whom were really familiar with the crunch of D&D 3, and one much less so. Character generation was pretty quick for everyone (arguably, the longest part? writing down power bits.) We had a Paladin, a Wizard, and a Warlord that made up the team.

The Shadowfell Encounters

Considering that this is what I’d to believe to be a bit of a “tutorial” adventure, I think kobolds are a bad monster to start folks off on. Certainly in past games, they fit the bill- weak humanoids that are like mini-lizard people. They’re still that, but the additional shifting movement powers really makes them more complex tactically. As a GM, I didn’t have too much trouble, but I could see that the players never got a chance to really consider how they could try to avoid getting flanked, since that seems to be the kobold’s speciality.

Second, though there was a lot of stuff to use as cover against ranged attacks, there really wasn’t anything that made the players want to bullrush or push monsters around. This seems to also be missing a key part of 4E’s play. While I did see later encounters had more of that, it really felt like after a point, the players just stopped trying to bother moving (well, and why bother if you’re just going to get flanked again right away as well?). The lack of things to really stunt with also felt like a let down too.

We didn’t have anything like a TPK until the very last of the Kobold encounters with Irontooth, where they had to retreat and pretty much would have gotten stomped if they continued. Given that the encounters are balanced for 5 PCs, and we had 3, I think that’s pretty good. I was worried a lot about the difficulty just because I was reading about a lot of TPKs online.

After playing, I imagine the only way this would really happen is a) players are not working together at all, and/or b) the GM is “over playing” the tactics of the opposition. The booklet tells you the tactics of the monsters, which are generally good tactics, just not brilliant or even optimal tactics. “Minions charge whoever is closest” not only fits the genre of what minions do, but sadly, also fits history of irregular forces and bandits. I could see that I could optimize the minions’ movement, back and forth, and constantly concentrate fire on one target- but that’s not really right either. Mostly, they flanked, and that’s about it. When the wizard laid down a zone of continual damage, they didn’t go charging into it. I guess I don’t think it’s fair for the opposition to have a hive mind and coordinate exactly perfectly (unless we’re talking something like mindflayers, where, yeah, they do.)

More general 4E thoughts

The big skill I think DMs will need for 4E is this: knowing when an encounter is over. In half the encounters, there would be like 1-2 monsters left, who, basically, it would take 3-5 more rounds to take out if I played them at all anything beyond suicidal. And, they’d do minimal damage. Realistically? I’d just have them run. But then that would become a chase scene, when basically, as far as I’m concerned, the PCs won and it’s not worth another 20 minutes of rolling dice as a foregone conclusion. I consider it like “giving the conflict” in Dogs in the Vineyard- “…and the camera focuses on the one monster, then spins to your party charging… and cuts to the aftermath.”

This also works going the other way. The last encounter, the party had spent their daily and their encounter powers, spent their action points, only one person had any healing surges left, and one person was down. Is it worth spending another 5 rounds playing out either the brutal TPK or them running away? Maybe if I was running a campaign, it might be worth it a bit, but as it stands, not really. I just declared, “You guys run, and Irontooth uses the fame from his victory over you to gather more forces and becomes a bigger threat to the area…”

Other random thoughts:
– Since it seems the default assumption is 5 players, I guess a lot of people will have to be adjusting down encounter difficulties with modules
– Wizards wipe minions off the map. Period.
– Less tactically minded players? Probably best with a Defender or Striker

It will be interesting to see how dungeon encounters work as opposed to outdoor encounters.

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