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"Goodbye, Jean-Luc, I'm gonna miss you. You had such potential. But then again, all good things must come to an end."
- Q, Star Trek: TNG

Once More Unto the 4th Edition Breach

by Ken Newquist / October 15, 2009

We’re heading back. A year after our last paragon-playtest of Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition (a one shot adventure set  continued our Planetorn campaign) we’re going to be running Revenge of the Giants, a new megamodule for paragon-level characters.

I recently received a review copy of the module and that – plus the latest round of D&D actual play podcasts -- led me to get the 4E contingent of my gaming group back together.

When last we played 4E, I was the game master, and I walked away from the table having experienced something I’d never had in 20+ years of GMing: boredom.  

The problem wasn’t that it was taking my players too long to make their decisions, it’s that D&D 4E’s inherent Boolean logic meant that their turns were never quite over. A player would take their standard set of actions, usually activating some power in the process. Many powers didn’t last more than a single round (from the time it was execute to the player’s next turn, though some lasted longer if a save was required) but they almost always granted some minor bonus or condition. As in 3E, my players and/or I would inevitably forget about when doing our combat math (even with helpful stickies posted to keep everyone on track).

The modifiers were one thing, but it was the conditional stuff that drove me buggy. I can’t recall all the specifics, but it felt like every player’s turn saw some new if/then statement come into play as monsters became bloodied, used a power, or set off some other pre-set power condition.

Combat moved, but I felt more like a stationmaster than a storyteller. I kept the trains running on time, but it felt like busy work. It felt like something a computer could have done (and done better).

We didn’t encounter this effect nearly as much at the Heroic tier, and I suspect it would have been minimized (though not eliminated) had we continued on with 4E. That said, I'd had enough and after that session I decided I wanted to take a turn on the player’s side of the screen.

Revenge of the Giants gives me that chance. We’ve gotten the 4E contingent of my group back together (a group of about five players) and we’re looking to run the adventure as a double or triple shot this fall and winter. 

Will being on the player’s side of things change my perspective of the game? I think so. As the GM I read through the books and tried to get a good understanding of the player character powers, but the great strength of 4E for the GM is that you don’t really need any of that. Think up a plot, pluck some adversaries from the Monster Manual, and you’re good to go.

Now I’ll have the chance to actually try out some of these powers, and see how they play out first hand. I don’t know if it’ll transform my understanding of the game … but it’ll sure be nice to be the hero for a change.

 

Comments

I had a chance to read this adventure through last week at Barnes & Noble. I did not like it. The over reaching plot seemed very weak and, even for D+D, to fantastic. Sort of like a cheesy movie on the SciFi channel. I could not help comparing it to the 1st ed. giant advntures, so it inevitably fell way short,

I have vague memories of the Against the Giants series. We ran through it when I was in 6th and 7th grades when we were all still more interested in killing monsters and taking their stuff than the finer aspects of adventure design.

On the other hand, the Liberation of Geoff was a major storyline for the Blackrazors (at the end of D&D 2nd edition and the start of 3rd), so we've certainly got our own nostalgia factor when it comes to giants.

As for this adventure itself, I can't really speak to it -- I glanced over the book when it arrived, and then quickly handed it off to my friend Jon so he'd have as much lead time as possible to prepare. I'll post some actual play notes after we've gotten together to play the game.

It still feels like a board game to me. I want to create and participate in every element of the world - and enjoy when mechanics are presented to aid in doing so. 4e loses that, for me.

Not that it doesn't have it's place, it's just not my thing.