Dead Computers, D&D, and a trip to Shevacon

Well, my laptop died, my girlfriend scratch-built a new computer for me, I’ve been away to Shevacon last weekend, and 4th edition D&D is really on my mind…

Shevacon is a wonderful, friendly con of about 800 or so in the Roanoke, VA area. If you’re anywhere close and haven’t gone, I highly suggest you try them out. I hear a rumor they’re changing hotels. I hope the new place gives them more space for the big events, like the concerts and the auctions… Tons of fun, tiny little space. Thing I love most about Shevacon is the people. They’re friendly, outgoing, and overall seem really passionate about their convention. It’s a con I go to, not for the gaming or the major events, or usually, even the guests. It’s a con I go to for the atmosphere, because the people there love being there. And they always have a very nice dealer’s room. A vendor room at a con is a gamer-trap. We just cannot resist spending money… We even buy stuff we just don’t need. It was no different this time… I bought Battlemechs (with someone else’s money no less) and a 4th ed. D&D book called Martial Power 2

Which brings me to my 4th edition rant. Except, this isn’t a rant about how awful it is. Instead, this is a tale of how 4th just might win back my heart. When it comes to gaming, especially D&D, I am an early adopter. I had second edition on release day, I was there for the 3.0 and 3.5 releases with a big smile on my face. While initially skeptical, I was an early convert to 4th edition as well. I only had to play the prerelease event and I was hooked. I loved it. And, unlike 3rd edition, as each new book came out, I found myself more excited instead of less. Until Player’s Handbook 2. That little book nearly killed my love of 4th altogether…

Why?

Simple. The Expertise feats. See, I didn’t understand the need for them. They were clearly overpowered, clearly wrong, what was Wizard’s thinking? We debated them in our home group, we debated them at game stores, we talked online. Finally, we just banned them and moved on. But, despite knowing better, I made the rookie mistake of reading the official D&D forums. A more joyless group of fans I don’t think I’ve ever seen… and I’m a Dolphins fan who lives near DC. And at the forums, I discovered people arguing about the feats too. Very, very angry arguing. I watched, read, weighed in a little. Kept the feats banned at our table. The forums did one good thing though. They helped me identify what was bothering me about 4th now. Somewhere between PHB and PHB2, it feels like the game shifted from a party orientation, to an individual, optimizer orientation. And this really upset me. One of the best parts of 4th is the focus on party play. I know that not everyone has the luxury of having a group of five gamers all the time, but it seemed as if the party player was being ignored and the “Char Op” would be what the game became about. And so, by the time Primal Power came out, we were pretty much done with 4th ed. We were frustrated, grumpy at the system, and we wanted something, anything else. I stopped buying the books, thought about whether I’d renew my DDI subscription this time around… Just, done.

Then I bought Martial Power 2. Maybe I just needed a break? I was reading this and really liking it. This was a great book. I already started thinking of ways to tinker with an old tiefling warlord character. I was excited again. I’m not going to say too much about the book itself, it was a great read. I went back to the website, checked the latest batch of updates to the rules. As of March 2, this document is 88 pages long, and shows a sense of dedication to making the best game possible that I am amazed to see. Thank you Wizards of the Coast. I realize that you guys take a beating from the blog world, from your detractors, and most of all, from your fans. But I’m glad to be back. Maybe this summer, once grad school calms down, I’ll have time to play that warlord again.

I’m still bothered by that issue of the math though… why Expertise feats? But that’s another post.

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2 responses

  1. I am a big fan of Shevacon. I’m sad I couldn’t make it this year.

    I’ve been really frustrated 4th ed. D&D lately, and I think I’ve finally figured out why: It’s a fun game to play, but not so fun to GM. Given the number of splat books that have been published, along with feats and powers found in Dragon, a player can come up with a very satisfying character that can really be different and really speak to how the player wishes to play the character. The powers structure allow the players to do awesome things that are not just a variation on ‘I hit it with my sword’.

    However, when GM’ing D&D, I found that I needed to put in a lot of prep work for very little return. The power and healing surge systems limit what encounters I can throw at the players. I cannot have them attacked by bandits while they camp, because it will interrupt their extended rest and will not only make them re-start the extended rest, but the players don’t gain any benefits from an extended rest until it’s completed, so many of the players may be out of healing surges and daily powers. Also, the extended rest system creates a need for a very uniform set of encounters – easy-ish to mid-level encounters until the end of the day, where it’s finally safe to throw something tougher at them – otherwise, it’s very possible for an on-level encounter to kill party members just because they were out of resources. Also, because resources cannot be regenerated during the day, there is a limit on the number of encounters that can be run during a ‘day’.

    But I think my biggest annoyance with D&D right now is the length of the battles. When I running my game, my group was pretty knowledgeable of the game and really knew their characters well. However, it still would take us at least an hour to complete an on-level encounter. If it was particularly difficult or interesting (different kinds of terrain, interesting powers, etc.), it could take 2 hours or more. That means for an average play sessions (ours were about 3 1/2 – 4 hours), we could get in 2, maybe 3 battles and have little to no role playing. However, we could take the entire session fighting one encounter. This, combined with how many encounters needed for to level up (about 10ish), the game felt slow and stagnant. More role-playing could have helped this, but it’s hard for the players to feel like they’re going anywhere if they only level every 2 1/2 months or so.

    And don’t get me started on how useless skill challenges are…

  2. Heh.

    Actually, I would love to get you started on Skill Challenges. That’s a great conversation to have.

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