So one of our player in my regular campaign, the tank, couldn't make it this week so we decided to give 4e a try. I busted out "Keep on the Shadowfell" and gave the newness a test drive. Now I liked 4e a lot just from reading it, and I had done a test run over lunch at work with the rest of the design dept, and been a player in a 4e campaign on Saturday. But either it was too short (one encounter) or mostly RP (not very systemic) so this was the chance to get the real feel of 4e. I rolled up some character based on what the party wanted to play and we got down to it.
I had a blast.
Now I will confess that the most fun I have as a DM is to push the party to the breaking point, get them right up to the brink of what they feel may be a TPK (Total Party Kill) and then watch as they get their act together and get out of trouble by the skin of their teeth. So tonight's session went well from that perspective. It was the vindication of anyone who said 4e was too easy with all the hit points at first level. A player was dropped in three of the four encounters, and the last one they were down to just the wizard left standing. It instilled a real threat of death, and from the lowliest of the Monster Manual's creature, the kobold.
I love those shifty guys. They skitter, they leap, they used their little superpower of a minor action shift to great effect, running all over the battlefield, surrounding the over eager ranger who ran out early on the initiative, they all skittered back after granting the dragonshield a +6 to hit so the poor bloodied soul could wolverine strike them dead. Judging just from this one creature type I'd say that the 4e designers did a great job in giving creatures personality just through their mechanics.
The patry soon learned some hard lessons of the 4e game map; yes you can run all over the place you are far more mobile, but if you don't stay together and coordinate your actions you quickly get surrounded and the beat down happens. But if you do co-ordinate, a shift here, an extra action there, a bonus granted at just the right time and you have set the enemies up the bomb.
I had gone out and bought a bunch of cheap poker chips and a container that had red, green, white, blue, and yellow chips. Invaluable! Red was for bloodied, yellow what a mark, curse or hunter's quarry, green a status effect, while combat advantage, blue an ongoing effect. I'm glad I spent the money or I wouldn't have been able to keep track of all that. My only complaint was that the chips were a little bigger than 1x1 inches so the map was a little crowded. If someone were to release 1x1 status chips I'd spend the money over again for them.
At least at low level the different races and classes were able to really distinguish themselves. The dragonborn made a great fighter with his breath weapon (good for blasting minions) and when he got bloodied (as tanks often do) he strarted hititng harder. The tiefling blast wizard was great with fire, and was hyper aware of when enemies were bloodied as he cruely picked on the hurt enemies. The warlord has some problems at first until he got synced up with the party and got them to move with him and then he was able to shift them into position and pluck out squishy enemies with his longspear. And once the melee ranger stopped leaping into the fray without backup he was able to act like a steathy assassin beating down critical mobs before they could react.
So I liked it, it was fun and cinematic the characters seemed to be powerful but couldn't just mow down their enemies, it required team work. Mobs had a nice synergy in their abilities rather than just having to turn things up to 11 to make them feel a threat.
If only the digital tools weren't non-existant to awful.