The first session of the 4E campaign I’m running at the school’s game club is over and it went reasonably well. To minimize my prep time I’m using parts of The Keep on the Shadowfell, modified to fit the campaign concept we created. The adventure has the added benefit that it has tips & rules guidelines right in the module’s text which is nice since I’m still learning the system as well.
If you haven’t played KotS, there are some very minor spoilers below (mainly about the nature of the preplanned encounters).
In our 3 hour play session we started up with the characters talking to the high priestess of Pelor in Fallcrest and then setting off for Winterhaven to investigate the elven council head’s visions. On the road to Winterhaven they were ambushed by a small band of kobolds. The battle that followed took up the rest of the session (2+ hours), but that wasn’t really the fault of the system but rather the group’s unfamiliarity with the rules as well as attention span of they typical 12-16 year-old boy (“Harry…it’s your turn. Harry….. Harry!”). One of the big issues was the fact that they had to do a lot of looking up of their powers to see what they did which involved passing around the PHB and a lot of page flipping.
During the fight both the paladin and rogue got pretty beaten up; in fact both were down to single digit HPs by the end. The rogue’s player main issue was that he was trying to play the character has a front line fighter-type which obviously doesn’t work well with a lightly armored character, high DEX or not. The paladin, OTOH, suffered mainly because he was the only defender type and took a lot of hits. The party’s cleric, trying to be a frontline battle cleric managed to whiff nearly every round (you’ve got to love the flat frequency curve of a d20…or maybe not) which was pretty discouraging for his player.
- Overall 4E is fun but has a lot steeper learning curve than its predecessors. The biggest issue is that the exceptions-based rules on many powers are very tough for the students to parse, especially if they’re not a native English speaker. I think the kids will get the hang of their powers and start using some tactics once they have some more sessions under their belts.
- A map and miniatures is a must for combats to run smoothly – there is no way you’re going to be able to play this game IMO without a map and some sort of way of tracking player position.
- My first priority for the next session is to find a way to make accessing the power descriptions faster and more handy.
- Prep for the game seems better than my experiences with 3.5, but it’s still ridiculously long compared to some of the indie RPGs I play.
- Combat takes a long time.