Once More Unto the 4th Edition Breach

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.