Game Day: Return to D&D 4E

Giants stalk the land, threatening one of the few flickering lights of civilization. Someone needs to deal with the threat … and it turns out that’s us.

My gaming group is returning to Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition with a megashot of Revenge of the Giants, the new super module from Wizards of the Coast. I received a review copy of the book in October, and at the time I knew it was a perfect chance for my group to experiment with 4th Edition again.

We played 4th Edition back in Summer 2008, but decided we didn’t want to convert our regular campaign to the new game. A few of us have continued to dabble in 4E however, and there’s been interest in getting another game together.

Revenge of the Giants is that game and we’re going to carve off a huge chunk of it with an eight-hour marathon post-Thanksgiving session.

Our band of 12th-level heroes consists of Ballard Bozzin, a dwarven fighter (played by Lance – @LancerX), Yoshi a dragonborn warlord (played by Cory – @Hardcorhobbs), Jasper Farnsworth, a human bard played by (played by Brendan – @brm130), and my own elandrin avenger, Quilleron. It should be an interesting group, as we have two leader types, but I think that the differences in warlord and bard powers should work to our advantage.

Also working to our advantage is that we have a clue what we’re doing this time around. I don’t mean the specific rules — we’ve only played paragon tier once, and after a year I think most of us will be a little fuzzy about the specific 4E rules. I’m talking about the general thrust of 4E; this time around we know it’s a lot more about battlefield management and teamwork than it is individual effort.

There are still aspects of 4E’s black box-style mechanics that bother me. The classes where the powers are tightly built around a core concept — like the avenger’s rapid move-and-strike powers or the warlord’s leadership abilities — work well, but others can feel wonky. As one of my friend’s said, some of the powers seem to boil down to “You fart and light shoots out your butt. Deal 2W damage and gain a healing surge”.

There are also a goodly number of powers that I think tend to slow down the game. The sorcerer’s wild magic powers – with their different effects for even and odd roles — are a good example of this. They look great on paper, but in practice I felt like they were a speed bump.

To combat this as a player, I’ve avoided the arbitrary-feeling powers, and focused on those that reinforced my character concept for Quilleron: determined, vengeful hunter intent on taking down individual enemies with sudden, overwhelming strikes. I took feats like Inexorable Pursuit, Invigorating Pursuit, Agile Athlete and Defensive Mobility to make sure he had plenty of options to chase down his prey. I also dipped into the Ranger class with the “Defender of the Wild” feat to pick up Survival as a class skill and the “Hunter’s Quarry” class ability that lets me deal extra damage to a particular target.

To build the character I decided to subscribe to D&D Insider for a month, which gave me access to the full Character Builder as well as a host of Dungeon and Dragon magazine content. I’m glad I did; the Character Builder is probably Wizards’ best software tool yet, and made building my character far, far easier. I particularly liked being able to quickly browse through powers, feats and magic items, all of which let me knock out a character in an hour or so.

While I still have my reservations about 4E, I’m very much looking forward to today’s game. Giants are iconic foes in Dungeons & Dragons and I think a Saturday spent battling them is going to be a hell of a lot of fun … regardless of edition.

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