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4e "Old School Style" One Shot Report

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We had the the "4e "Old School Style" One Shot" Sunday afternoon and evening. Sadly, it wasn't as successful or as much fun as Bill had hoped. I'm held off writing about it for a few days so as not to jump on it too hard.

The main problem was combat. Although playing without minis and a battlemat worked well for the most part, it still took far too long. The main problem was keeping track of all the various short term effects and modifiers. Bill had to write everything down that affected each monster. This was a time-wasting pain-in-the-butt. It was bad enough just keeping track of these things for my own character.

If the bookkeeping could have been done away with, Bill's 4e combat without minis and battlemats could have been as much fun as combat in 1e. One thing that helped make the combat interesting was that we played just like we would in 0e, that is we did what we thought would be most effective, not just what was on on the power cards. Had we stuck with just listed "powers" combat would have been slower and even less interesting. I know 4e has rules for this, but they seldom come into play in the few straight 4e games I've played and never seem to be more used that the powers on the cards. Some powers were effectively nerfed by the lack of battlemats, but as we knew that going in, we avoid those powers -- or came up with interesting ways to use them that Rules as Written gamers would probably not like.

The general consensus was that the combat system needed too much bookkeeping to be fun -- and that all the bookkeeping made the combats last 5 to 8 minutes longer than they really should have. That's as long as some entire combats in early TSR editions. I would have hate to see one of our combats without the reduced hit points we used. Verdict: needs more work -- a lot more work.

One thing that really did work was the "general class skill." Because of this, most classes felt like they had in every other version of D&D. Rangers could track. Rogues could steal and pick pockets. The major exception was the Magic-User. The general class skill could not replace the variety of spells that pre-4e magic-users had. Even three little books only 0e had more spells variety available. Verdict: Except for MU-type classes, great.

Trying to break out of the encounter format worked, but not too well. Too much of 4e is based on everything being an encounter. There's more to it that recovering powers. GM Fiat worked great for that aspect, however. Trying to remove the focus on encounters is apparently harder than it looks. Or perhaps I was expecting too much. Verdict: So-So. May not really be possible to fix.

Dropping skill challenges worked fine, but then there is no reason why it would not have. Solving non-combat situations with roleplaying and a few die rolls has worked since 1974 with most D&D groups. 4e's skill challenges always seemed to me to be a poor-designed solution to a problem few groups really had. Verdict: Great.

The general consensus of players was that Bill might be able to talk us in to trying it again sometime, but only if he can eliminate much of the combat bookkeeping along with the minis and battlemats. Next week, back to the City-State.

Eldrad Wolfsbane said...
April 28, 2010 at 11:25 PM  

Try and make a megadungon using the 4th edition rules. The rules are set up to have roughly 10 encounters per level. A megadungeon with 10 rooms per level?

My group plays 4th edition D&D but I am trying to get them to try LL. The combat is confusing for some and TAKES WAY TOO LONG. It's an average of 3 hours per battle.

Well I guess that I am not the only one!

greywulf said...
April 29, 2010 at 5:07 AM  

@Eldrad Could of misconceptions there, old chap.

An encounter is not a room. An encounter is a group of monsters in a region - that could take up many rooms in a classic dungeon. Yes, you could run a megadungeon is 4e just as you could in any other edition of the game. I've run a fairly large dungeon crawl where random encounters accounted for about 1 encounters' worth of critters (minions and low-level foe, mainly) and 4 encounters filled the rest of a very large area.

I'd argue that 4e is much better for dungeons than previous editions as the monsters aren't just sat in isolation in their rooms waiting for the PCs to appear. If you encounter a foe in one room, the monsters from five other rooms are likely to peek their noses out and see what's happening as well :D

Also, 10 encounters do not make up a level, because PCs don't just gain XP from killing stuff. There's Quest XP (both major and minor) which is XP gained from completing the adventure and any personal side-goals. There's XP from skill challenges, not to mention the good old DM rewards for great role-playing. It varies, but in my games I'd say that encounters account for perhaps 70% of a level gain, and those 7 or so encounters would be spread over 4 or 5 sessions of gameplay. Yes, it's faster advancement (esp compared to OD&D) but it's certainly not as bad as it has been made out to be on the intertubes.

@Randall I feel your pain :D There are a lot of conditions to keep track of in 4e, and that can be tricky if the GM is writing everything down. We use poker chips to note status effects, even when we're playing without figures. The players toss me a chip (Blue for Dazed, say) if they get that effect, and I put it on the monster's name on my sheet. If he makes the save (or it's an effect which ends on the next turn), I remove it. Same for Marked, Bloodied, etc, and I throw the chips at the players if they suffer the same effects. Speeds up combat no end.

Tim Brannan said...
April 29, 2010 at 11:31 AM  

We have run into similar problems in our 4e games. Combat is just too long. We switched over to Pathfinder for our games and have enjoyed how quickly the combats have gotten.

I still like 4e and will continue to play with it, but at the moment it looks like Pathfinder is my future.

Carpe Guitarrem said...
April 29, 2010 at 12:15 PM  

On the Magic-User: what if you did incorporate a list of spells? Otherwise, you could have a more freeform Mage, with DCs for Magery tied to the affect being attempted. This is admittedly more freeform than Vancian magic, though you could also give the player a certain number of slots to populate with improvised spells with pre-determined effects.

Randall said...
April 30, 2010 at 11:02 PM  

Tim: Combat wasn't bad time-wise, by 4e standards. But it was much slower that us old school types liked. And 15-20% of that time was bookkeeping. Bah.

Carpe: Bill says that your improvised spell idea has merit. With our group, at least, it would probably work fine.

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