A New Game Afoot

Last night, I started a new D&D (4E) game. If you expected an invitation: I apologize. I wanted to run a very small, quick, infrequent game with people who hadn't played before (or at least, in decades), so I could try out the new rules without being too embarrassed. It's certainly nothing personal.

The first remark I have to make about 4E is character generation. And when I say "have to", I mean: that's all we did. Three hours of making characters. I had forgotten just how long it took with D&D: I have been jaded by the lighter systems. A little. I mean, it really shouldn't take three hours just to make the character you're going to use in a game. 30 minutes is, IMO, a good target.

Now, if I had more than three people reading my blog (if you count the two figments of my imagination), someone would comment "I don't know about the new system, but I can make a decent 3.5E character in 15 minutes! And the new system is dumbed-down, so it really should be faster!" I wouldn't say you were lying. (...I mean, other than the fact that you are fictitious.) But you are, of course, someone who has made a dozen or more characters. (Hypothetically.) You know the system and you've already got a mental pick-list of the options you want.

For new players, it is daunting at the very least. The book, of course, provides sample adventurers and class "builds", which is all well and good for a pickup game, but if you're interested in letting your players make their own decisions, there is still a lot to cover.

So, first: it takes too long. Even with the simplified rules.

Second: there was an inordinate amount of jumping around the damn book. ...Maybe I was just "doing it wrong", but it seemed to me that the book is not organized well for character generation (which you would think is the primary purpose of the damn book), so "boo" on Wizards for that. I can't make specific suggestions on how to improve it: I would need more experience. Maybe I just need a good set of bookmarks/tabs. Or maybe THEY need to put some in. At the very least, there could have been more page references peppered in the text.

(Note to shelf: it would be interesting to design a book with a (visual) theme of crossroads: a picture at the start of every chapeter would look like a road sign, pointing to the other chapters that you may care to get to from here. You know: "races", pointing backwards, "equipment" pointing forward, and the like... with someone at the foot of the sign scratching their head while looking at a staff, spellbook, holy symbol, and a set of lockpicks...)

Third: even though we haven't started playing yet, I feel compelled to reiterate just how much I like the at-will/encounter/daily system of powers, and how balanced the classes feel because of it. I don't generally like long pick-lists as the basis for RPGs, but I think it works in this case. It gives the game a much more cinematic feel, and harkens to card-games (like MagicTG), which I don't think is a bad thing. It gives the players a little "license" in attributing flavor to their powers: I don't care if a Wizard claims to be a psion or a bookworm; they have the same effects.

I also like that they threw in some exotic/seemingly powerful effects even at first level, like the Eladrin's ability to teleport.

I also like the healing system. So much simpler, and "feels" like a movie or TV show to me.

Fourth: I broke the "rules" and discouraged the players from picking a "well-balanced" party. Okay, I have to rant about this briefly: it has always, always bothered me that every game seems to suggest the party should split roles... you know, ideally they should have a tank, a thief, a healer, and a mage, right? Miss out on one of the roles and you are sure to meet a quick demise... or so they say: we never really find out, 'cause it's SO strongly discouraged. This strikes me as... well... lame. I can see the point, but a good GM should be able to make a compelling game for ANY set of characters. Besides, it makes more sense: a group of people are more likely to have similar backgrounds (and races) than disperate ones. In fact, I've always wanted to play a series of games where the players were all the SAME class: especially mages, rogues, or druids... but any of them would work. I think it would be really cool, in terms of the story.

Well, I told the players (there were only two of them) to make two characters each, and not to give a hoot what the other player picked. Play what you most want to play, and we'll see where that leads.

The mix they ended up with was: An Eladin paladin, an Elf cleric, a Tiefling rogue (charismatic type), and a Halfling rogue (sneaky type). The interesting thing is: one player made both thieves! I thought that was interesting (and bold). The first player's "theme" was to go with a samurai and a monk. He's a Kurosawa fan. : )

I have a little trepidation about how the two players' characters will get along effectively, and have yet to devise a good enough hook. I don't expect these players to really make trouble, but it would still make me feel better.

Fifth: I, again, started the game with a Universalis-light world-creation system. I have a love-hate relationship with this system. One the one hand, it produces some of the most imaginative settings that I would hope to play in (and this was no exception). On the other, it lends itself to some silliness, unless the entire group is really dead-set against it. (Case in point: I ran one game where elves, when they died, exploded into a bunch of worms, which were the source of mana. Yeah. ...It was still fun: just weird.)

So, the world this will be played in has these key (abridged) features:

  • The world is on the moon of a gas giant, tide-locked. There are two other visible moons.
  • There will be occasional references to steampunk, thanks to 100-year-gone Dwarves.
  • There are four elemental temples, the architecture and placement of which keeps demons from invading the world. There are magical means of travel between each of them.
  • Atalantis is the Water Temple, shaped from coral by Eladrin mages.
  • All sentient creatures speak Common (I've decided this is due to a powerful spell, cast ages ago: as you learn your first langauge, you magically learn as much Common).
  • A young girl, who makes plants grow everywhere she steps. Also, an 11-year old boy who cannot be killed: he is leading an army.
[shrug] I think that's moderately cool.

There is also a fair share of whimsy:
  • "Rapelling" was one of the rules.
  • Knock-knock jokes completely (magically) distract one race, even if told in combat.
  • "Pirates!" was one of the rules.
  • A fire swamp. Complete with R.O.U.S.'s.
  • There are Triffid-like plants.
...so it goes. I will probably minimize these elements.

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