Actual Play: Keep on the Shadowfells, Session One

As I mentioned, had a chance to play the first couple events in the sort of “DnD 4th Edition Lite” Keep on the Shadowfells. What you get with this game is basically a DnD Lite version of the rules (somewhat too light in a few places — would have helped to know a few things that aren’t mentioned in the 16 page rules booklet, but it worked out), 5 pregenned characters with all the math worked out and put on a nice, easy to read sheet and their first two level-ups already worked out, and an 80-page adventure… a pretty good one, at that.
Oh, and you get all the maps you’ll need for any combat, so when I fight starts, you just lay out the map, drop down the tokens, and go at it.
Stuff I noticed about the game
1. In MSExcel-speak, 4e still tests as “True” for whatever value you assign to “Dungeons & Dragons.” A lot of people have been busting on it, saying that it’s all-combat, all the time, and there’s no support for anything else, etc. etc. This has pretty much been true for every iteration of the game. The people saying such things are very silly. We haven’t had a chance to do a skill challenge yet, but when we do, I expect good things.
2. You really do need mini’s or good counters to play this thing. I need to get better wood discs than the ones I made — smaller, and less splintery. Either pre-made, or I need to get a 3/4″ dowel and get a MUCH finer-toothed blade for the saw.
3. Combat is a lot more interesting than it’s been before, because…
3A. Everyone can contribute meaningfully to the fight, even/especially the (traditionally useless) first-level Wizard.
3B. Everyone can do a lot of crazy maneuvers and funky stuff. It’s entirely possible for everyone to “Use their Nuke” and really do something awesome.
3C. We did not make full use of it, but I did see that classes are designed to have serious synergy in combat: the Cleric’s maneuvers set up Paladin’s maneuvers set up Fighter’s maneuvers. You’re really a TEAM now. Heaven help me when Margie and Kate start coordinating their respective ‘battlefield control’ abilities — they started to get a handle on them by the middle of the second fight and suddenly my super-mobile Kobolds had a VERY difficult time moving around.
3D. The monsters are really a team too. I played stupidly with the Wyrmpriest in the second fight. I should have bombed guys with his acid bomb ability from long range for awhile first, THEN come in and drop his two AoE attacks once the battlefield set up.
3E. The monsters require so much less book-keeping than before.
3F. A lot of the crazy 3e complications are now much simpler.
3G. There’s some better rules on building an encounter so that terrain, traps, conditions, etc., matter more–the scene is more interactive… there are many more ways to interact and use terrain.
4. On the other hand, while fights require more intelligence and imagination than prior editions’ Rock-em Sock-em Robots combat system, fights last a long time.
5. There’s a disconnect at the table, because most of use have played 3.0 and 3.5 before — I’ve played a LOT, Dave and Margie and Jackie played quite a bit, and Kate’s played less, but MUCH more recently — so when a rule in 4.0 is different from 3.5, there was a bit of shock… sometimes it was “is that a new rule or a Doyce Houserule?” (disclaimer: I used no houserules) and stuff I remember from 3.5 that isnt’ true anymore (Example: Standing up from being prone doesn’t cause an Opportunity Attack — in fact a LOT less stuff does, which makes it easier to deal with… but leaves veterans with the niggling suspicion that we’re forgetting to do something.)
6. In previous editions, each class had a very different feel: if you were a 1st level Magic-User, you had to play the game very differently than a 1st level Fighter. This difference is FAR less pronounced now. Also, the classes that are “simple” versus “complicated” have changed. Paladins and clerics have a LOT of stuff on their sheets. Rogues LOOK simpler than that, but the way you apply what they can do during a fight is pretty advanced stuff.
7. There is pretty much no effort to make the mechanics hyper-realistic. Hit points are as much “morale” as they are “health”, and that kind of logic is the only way some abilities make sense. I like it.
Stuff I noticed about the play
1. All the characters are awesome. I want to play a fully tank-specced dwarven fighter so much I can taste it. Similarly, I think a rogue with a rapier, a ranged weapon (vs. twin-blade) ranger, and a cleric would all be a ton of fun. There are really no classes that, when reading about them in the PHB, didn’t sound fun and worth checking out.
2. Christ, but we are a persnickety, particular, optimizing bunch of nitwits. I mention this solely because Katherine played with us last night, running the rogue, and by the end of the night I felt positively terrible for her, because the nice nurturing adults just could. not. let. her. play. her. guy. and just do whatever she wanted, because there was a tactically better move to be made somewhere. We need to let her just ‘go in and hit that guy’ for awhile before we worry about shit like flanking and such. Let her GET flanked once or twice, and I guarantee she’ll learn to do it herself.
3. Along the same lines: good lord we’re terrified of taking an Opportunity Attack. Damn.
4. I was tired, and Kate was flat out exhausted — really, we shouldn’t have played, but I’m glad we did — it would have been close to a month before we could have gotten these specific people to the table again, and it was nice to pull out all the dice and really beat on stuff.
What happened?
Oh, Margie’s guy is friends with a sort of professional adventurer guy. Said guy is haring off on one of his wild adventures to find a Dragon’s burial site. He’ll be back in a month. It’s been three month’s and the guy’s wife comes to margie and guilts her into going and looking for him. Said dwarf recruits several mutual acquaintances to come with. His drinking pal the mage. The paladin he knows from the warrior’s guild. The cleric the paladin is tight with… and the rogue that the cleric has turned into a little “rehabilitation side-project.”
Right. Oh, and when word gets out that the priest and paladin are headed for Winterhaven, a friend of theirs in the temple who researches such things drops in while they’re packing and advises them to keep on the lookout for a death cult that was spotted heading that direction about a year ago. “You know, just in case. Sure it’s nothing. Ta-ta.”
So they’re traveling to the town and about three days in and getting close to the town they get waylaid by bandits. Little lizardmen- kobolds. There is fighting. The slinger gets away and the others die.
The group gets to town and starts talking to folks, asking after the dwarf’s buddy. Clues are had. The paladin approaches the Lord of the town and gets a promise of reward if they wipe out the kobolds that are harassing the town.
So they have to decide about what to do next: go down to the rumored dragon’s graveyard to look for the missing guy, or head for the Kobold camp? (Or even head for the old abandoned keep from the fallen empire, up in the hills — the one either haunted, or infested with goblins, or both.) They decide that the dwarf’s buddy is the first priority.
They head south out of town and are ambushed by more kobolds — a bit tougher group. The slinger had run back to camp and told such a tale of horror about the adventurers that some bigger guns were called out.
There was more fighting. A lot of “once per day” powers made an appearance, some of which healed the party for large amounts, others of which set large patches of foliage on fire. The group came out of the fight largely unscratched (thanks to healing) but with some of their bigger powers already used up for the day. They’re a little shaky about if they should move on or rest up. *mutters about over-cautious heroes*
And that’s when we called it for the night. I had a good time. I hope we play again.
At the same time? It made me really appreciate the kind of play we have with In a Wicked Age. Different (very), but also very good. I should always make sure to have a copy of that game with me when heading to someone’s house.
As a side note: I’m rolling all my dice out in front of everyone. No fudging, so there’s a good chance some folks are going to be making Death Saves at some point… heaven knows how many times I soft-pitched a fight in 3.5 to keep folks from dying (and the rogue still bit it like… what? Five times?)

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