Initial D&D 4th Edition Thoughts: D&D Experience February 2008

by Mike Shea on 28 February 2008

Note: This article was originally published on Tumblr back in 2008. I'm archiving it on Sly Flourish for historical preservation.

After a cold ride on the Metro, a cold walk back home, and a warm Korean dinner in my belly, I am finally home.

How do I feel about D&D Experience? I feel like my head is going to explode. For months we've been reverse engineering 4e from every little scrap of paper a Wizards employee may have dropped on the ground with two digits on it. For months we've been building a compendium of house rules in the hopes of building something 4e like.

Now we've actually tried it. We know what healing surges do, we know how action points work, we know what they mean when they say the sweet spot for a D&D character starts at level 1. It is so much data, so much to process, that its hard to know where to begin.

I suppose I'll start with what I liked best: Powers.

One of the things I loved about 3rd edition after playing second for so many years were feats. These were the skills I always wanted to see. These were ways to really make a character come alive.

Powers are the next evolution in feats. All of us who loved maneuvers in the Book of Nine Swords know how these work and will be happy to see them in action. All classes now play like the three BoNS classes did. Even the cleric is interesting.

Every one of the classes looked like they were fun to play. My dwarven fighter was shield-bashing kobolds through doors and zipping around doing a per-encounter cleave-style attack.

My wife's halfling paladin avoided a critical hit by forcing the DM to reroll - how great it is from a story perspective to watch a halfling thwart the gods by forcing the gods to reroll a critical hit. That's a great way to encapsulate the halfling's luck.

Wizards run the same way. Our wizard player was on the other side of the table and I was paying too much attention to myself to really see all he could do. At level 1, however, he was tossing magic missiles (which now require an attack roll) and dropping sonic orbs that can hit one square out in a splash attack.

Our ranger used her per-day ability to kill two kobolds with two shots in one action for a total of 44 points of damage - at level one, mind you.

I never had a chance to use it, but my fighter's daily ability could do up to 3d8+5 damage - at level one!

It was clear that even at level 1 the game is very fun. I have no idea how it plays at level 5 or 10 or 20 or 30, but it's a blast at level 1.

I have two big problems with what I saw today, however:

First, the game doesn't really go that much faster. I'm sure it will later on in the epic and paragon tiers, but at level 1 there's a lot to do and a lot to learn. Figuring out which one of your abilities to use can take some time. I know how tactical my players can get and I'm dreading them arguing about the single move of a single character, weighing all the math and all the probability in. We'll have to institute a "just get on with it" house rule to force people to decide what to do.

Adding to that problem, the die rolls are fewer but not that much fewer. Area spells still require rolling lots of dice, but instead of 10d6 and twelve saving throws its whatever D whatever and twelve attack rolls. That's still a lot of dice for a player to roll. I understand that a single attack roll for hitting a variety of beasts could swing too far one way or the other, but I can see a fireball taking a lot of time.

My second big problem is sort of a fanboi problem. I don't know what to do with myself until June. I have two ongoing campaigns, one in Ravenloft and one in Eberron. I've house-ruled both of these campaigns almost to the point that no one has any idea how to really play. The modules I run don't work because my 4e style house rules have radically altered the power levels of the characters. So now I have to customize them as well. It's like writing 4e myself at this point. June can't get here fast enough, that's all I can say.

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