Come into the Dungeon, Maud

I’ve cracked. I said I wouldn’t play D&D 4th edition, because it didn’t feel like D&D anymore; but now I am playing it with the kids, and we’re enjoying it.

It was Nick who changed my mind. I moved from D&D 3.5 to True20, and then to Savage Worlds, in search of a fast, fun game that I could run with minimal preparation. Nick stopped roleplaying about three sessions in to the Savage Worlds campaign, and when I eventually asked why, he explained that the combat system wasn’t complicated enough to interest him. I didn’t see that one coming. Then it turned out that one of his closest friends was already playing 4e, so off we went.

4e is still complex, but once you ditch the idea of character sheets and start thinking of a character as a collectible card game deck made of power cards, it actually plays pretty quickly, especially if you print off the cards and literally play your character as a deck. It needs much more prep time than Savage Worlds, but as long as I’m using WotC commercial scenarios that’s not too bad; the new encounter layout in things like Keep on the Shadowfell helps a lot.

Currently we’re partway through the Kobold Hall adventure in the Dungeon Master’s Guide. The party consists of a warforged fighter with a greataxe (Nick), a longtooth shifter cleric (Guilia, who likes being a furry), a dungeoneering ranger wielding a whip in either hand (Anna), and an NPC wizard, who rounds out the party with the traditional four classes (fighter, cleric, wizard, thief – or in this case, ranger) and whom I intend to play as my PC if he survives long enough and we start playing random dungeons.

Session 1 – 10th May 2009

The group was hired by the Lord Warden of Fallcrest to get rid of the kobolds raiding caravans along the Kings Road. This led them to the ruins known as Kobold Hall. As Dungeon Master, I learned that while the Player Characters do massively more damage than in previous editions, even dinky opponents like kobolds now have enough hit points to soak that up; and that the combination of free shifts and bonuses for mobbing up on PCs means kobolds are now actually dangerous – they only failed to kill Giulia because of her shifter regeneration while bloodied.

I’m not sure if the designers realised that kobold cowardice (they flee if bloodied) meant the scenario created a tidal wave of kobolds falling back in front of the party until they could flee no more, then falling on them to fight like cornered rats. I did approve of the encounter room layouts, which encourage PCs to try jumping over pits of sludge. Of course, they all fell in.

Session 2 – 17th May 2009

Further into Kobold Hall, and the DM discovers what is more fun than a giant stone boulder rolling down the corridor towards the PCs – namely, a giant stone boulder rolling down the corridor towards PCs who have been immobilised by kobolds using their Glue Shot power.

Oh how we laughed. Well, I did, anyway. Evilly, of course.

We started sprouting house rules in this session. First, my usual d20 one; we don’t roll for initiative, we just assume everyone rolls 10. Second, based on Anna’s reaction to Giulia being glued to the floor in front of a rolling boulder, we determined that pointing and laughing at a colleague’s misfortune is a minor action. Finally, I (re)introduced my normal standing orders for NPCs; there is a list of options, in descending order of priority, and each NPC takes the highest priority option possible for him:

  1. If threatened by ranged weapons, take cover.
  2. Buff or heal oneself or an ally. (Only one buff per character though, or NPC clerics do nothing else.)
  3. Make a ranged attack on the enemy with the worst armour. (This means they always shoot the spellcasters if at all possible, which are after all the most serious threat.)
  4. Charge, flank, or gang up on foes and make a melee attack on the one with the worst armour.
  5. If allied to the PCs, move towards the one with the best Charisma.

Fear not, players in my Play By EMail campaigns; I shan’t change the rules on you again. Savage Worlds still works better for those.