Tabletop Weekend Report Part 2: D&D Game Day.

So at the end of our Hunter session, I had brought up the possibilities of running a game for the group for when the Hunter game completed. After going over some possible ideas, I brought up D&D 4E and it apparently perked some interest in the group.

A little backstory

chx25415Mercer and his wife have been regular gaming buddies of mine for coming up on a decade. However, the bulk of our gaming sessions is usually with World of Darkness games. His wife did buy me a major library of d20 products as they were marked down over the years, but our actual D&D campaigns have been brief and far between compared to games like Vampire. I’ve always been under the impression that when I run D&D, while the characters and concepts were appealing, the system was frightening to Storyteller veterans.

The Setup:

I ended up making some calls to Mercer and my buddy Jdogg to see if they’d be up for a D&D 4E 1-shot. Usually for just random game nights with this group I’ll sometimes pregen characters and hand them out randomly; the guys love to game and aren’t affraid of just picking a character and running with the stats.

While we were out and about, I was looking around at our local Hastings and took notice to the D&D Starter Set box game that they had for only about $17. While I own a physical copy of the Player’s Handbook and have access to a friend’s copy of the DM’s Gude and Monster Manual,  as well as the nice perks of their online supplements and compendium, I decided that since this would be first time running it as well to give the Starter Set a spin. If nothing else, I’m out a few bucks and have another set of Dice and a bunch of cardboard punchout minis and map pieces.

Sitting down and reading through the Quickstart rules guide, I found it handy for a quick summary of the basic rules but that the pre-gen’d characters were lacking even for a quickstart. For one, the pre-gen’d characters were part of the rules booklet and not handouts like previous editions of the game had. Second, a lot of Abilities and other stats were left out. While I understand they did this to not bog the new players down, I’m usually a fan of the idea of giving something that when the players feel like graduating to the full game they can have all the information available to keep playing their characters. After all, a lot of people who play this set will actually have these as their first role playing characters.

The Quickstart DMG, however, totally made up for it. Not only did I have the quick and dirty referrences for the important parts of running the game, it provided some decent starter encounters, a nice beginning setting and some decent random encounter generators for later. Also, the book comes with the full D&D 4E stats (including abilities scores…wtf?) of Monsters and NPC’s for up to level 5.  I definitely would recommend this product for someone who wants to try Dungeon Mastering for the first time, or someone new to DM’ing 4E (like myself).

Instead of handing my players stripped down characters from a booklet I’d have to tear apart, I just hopped on my PC and re-did the classes as closely as I could, although taking some creative liberties,  using the DND Insider Character Builder. I was able to print out full, legal characters with their powercards giving full stats and rules for their abilities.

Gameplay Experience

The session began with everyone picking a character to play. Jdogg went with the Dwarven Fighter, Mercer went with the Halfling Rogue and my fiancee Shel went with the Eladrin Wizard.  I ended up turning the Cleric into an NPC and just kept his initiative last during the whole game.

Before actual game play, we spent about 10 min having some Q&A over how the game mechanics worked and letting the players get familliar with their power cards and character sheets.  After that, the adventure began. Things started off with the completely cliche’ segment of the band of wary travelers ariving at the Cliffside Inn after a long travel of looking for adventure. Before I had a chance to even start dropping the hooks for the crawl, the players went right to role playing and we had some really classic moments just in the initial pub scene. My favorite one being the Halfling Rogue attempting to hit on a bar wench, and the Wizard using Ghost Sound to make a rather crude fart noise coming from behind the half-pint and ruining his chances.

The adventure played out in a few encounters and each time, I was surprised by the players clever thinking. After the first couple rounds of a combat scenario I threw at them, the tactical aspect of the game play along with the variety of class abilities really began to shine with my players. These guys usually loathed doing anything tricky or complicated in d20, and often times wound up having to re-read the passages in the book for stuff they wanted to pull off. Now, they’re leaping into battle and using some clever maneuvers.  We all couldn’t help but feel like even at first level, the characters actually felt like real heroes capable of real combat and not subject to dying at the first goblin that sneezed on them.

Also, there is the fact that a group that usually sticks with abstract systems like World of Darkness/Storyteller games was able to really get into the use of miniatures and were really enjoying the combat encounters. We even found some great ways to role-play some of the more odd-ball abilities. For example, one of the Goblins scored a very deadly critical hit with a Javelin on the rogue, ending his turn by flipping off the Halfling and running for cover. Mercer noticed at the end of the Goblin’s turn that one of his powers allowed to force an opponent to re-roll their successful attacks. I decided even after having played out the Goblin’s full action, being our first combat encounter, to give it to him since he was still learning what all he could do. I re-rolled the attack, and the natural 20 became a natural 1.  For story’s sake, we played it out that the full critical  hit he suffered happened as a split-second vision, causing him to immediately duck out of the way and let the Javelin fly by him. The goblin still flipped him off, now out of a missed shot, and ran off for cover.

Everybody had their moments of awesome.

The Eladrin would teleport after an escaping Goblin and blast him with burning hands. The Fighter would land a critical shot on a Firebeetle, delivering the killing blow and erupting it in a burst of flames. It wasn’t all just the new combat powers, either. The Halfling would put on Goblin clothes and the Wizard would cast a spell Prestidigitation to make him green (Sure he’s not an object, but it was too clever and funny to let go.) Contrary to popular criticism, the “video game” design of 4E didn’t take away from any ripe Role Playing moments. It was also the first time in years that we looked up and said “Damn, is it 3AM already?”

By the time we wrapped up the session, what I thought was going to be a quick and cumbersome beginner encounters became an evening of fun that we haven’t felt in quite some time. Amazingly enough, the departing conversations we had during the last smoke break/fresh air break of the evening included discussions of what classes/races they were wanting to try out, how often we thought we could get together to play regularly and even the players considering investing in the core books and other supplements to play for the long term. This is literally the first time out of many editions of D&D where I heard these guys wanting to actually get into it hardcore.

So in the end, I’m pretty confident 4E actually achieved what they set out to do: To make a new iteration of the game that non-D&D players could sink their teeth into and really get excited over. It’s streamlined enough to not bog game time down with book keeping, detailed enough to where players think and consider their actions, and the teamplay focus is there to where nobody outshines anyone else and everyone is motivated to work together.

Guess I’ll be rebuilding my library afterall.