I like D&D 4th edition. It certainly has its flaws and it can easily move into a style of play I don’t care for unless you work at it a little. I actually need to write up a full post on 4e at some point to go into my feelings on it. This post though, I want to talk about a new product for 4e from WOTC: Fortune Cards.

Each card has a little character buff on it. Plus +1 for this or that in a particular situation or you knock someone prone in another situation.To get a better idea of what they are read up on fortune cards here: http://www.wizards.com/dnd/Article.aspx?x=dnd/drdd/20110223

There is not much if anything I like about fortune cards. 4e is “gamey” enough as it is with how abstract a lot of the mechanics (powers, hit points, and healing surges) are. To add another level on top of that with the fortune cards doesn’t sit well with me. 4e already has a billion powers and feats built into it from the get go. This is adding another layer of unneeded complexity. I don’t want to play in a game where the players are fumbling with cards trying to figure out what they want to do. 4e has enough options for the players and fumbling around with powers as it is. Players have enough options in combat as it is without fortune cards. That’s a major factor in long combats and now you adding in extra options with cards or trading cards with players. I think the Essentials approach of reducing complexity for players was the right way to go and this going in completely the opposite direction.

Also, I don’t like the idea of player built decks either.  They come in random booster packs, so you don’t know what you’re getting. They’re adding this collectible card game element to a game that doesn’t need it. Giving a player mechanical advantages in the game for buying real world stuff is just antithetical to how I want to play the game. Further, I don’t want to play in a game where I have to buy cards to so my character can be better. It makes sense (I guess) in a competitive game like Magic, but not in a collaborative game like D&D.

It feels like Wizards of the Coast is flailing around with 4th edition. Essentials, Fortune Cards, canceling the minis line, the focus on boards games. They are really going in a lot of directions at once.  Maybe they are taking some risks in trying new things, to give them the benefit of the doubt. But, it feels more like they are struggling to find a direction. The Fortune Cards are certainly a misstep.

Of course, Fortune Cards are entirely optional and you can play the game how you want. That’s one of the wonderful thing about tabletop RPGs, it’s your game to play how you see fit. If there are people who want to play with Fortune Cards, that’s fine, I just don’t want to play that way.

The new Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition Starter Set (or Red Box) was released this month.  It is designed as the main entry point into D&D, a sort of on-ramp for beginners and lapsed gamers.  It is also the first release in the new D&D Essentials line which is a new direction for D&D that includes simpler class builds and lower priced books.  While D&D Essentials is not a new edition (although there has been much debate about this), it is a shakeup of the status quo.  The D&D Essentials line probably deserves a post of its own at some point.  The Red Box goes directly for the nostalgia factor by using the same cover as the Basic D&D Red Box that came out in 1983 and brought many people into the hobby.

The new Red Box has a low price point of $20 ($13 on Amazon).  You get a lot for the price.  The box contains a player’s book which includes a solo adventure that contains character creation (more on that later) and a dungeon master’s book with the rules, an adventure, and some monsters.  There is a nice set of thick card stock character and monster tokens, a large double-sided poster map, and a set of dice.  Finally, there are several sheets of somewhat flimsy power cards that describe the PC powers.

First, I’ll talk about what it does well.  The new Red Box does a fantastically good job at what it is designed to do: get new people into the hobby.  This is mainly due to the player’s book included in the box.  It contains a “choose your own adventure” style solo adventure.  The original, old-school red box had something similar.  But in the new Red Box, it’s not just a solo adventure.  It’s character creation, too.  This is brilliantly executed.  Speaking as a relatively new gamer, this tackles two of the biggest hurdles to getting into pen and paper RPGs: 1) Just getting your head around the concept  2) Character creation.  Before I got into gaming, I had a hard time even understanding how RPGs work.  ACs, attack rolls, damage rolls, just the general flow of the game.  All foreign concepts and difficult to understand if you’ve never played.  The solo adventure really helps introduce these concepts.  Character creation is very intimidating to new players.  When you don’t understand the basics of the game, it’s hard to create a character because you are required to make decisions on concepts you don’t understand.  The solo adventure walks you through these concepts and at the end you have created a character and have a basic understanding of the game.   I feel confident I could hand the solo adventure to someone who has never played an RPG before and they would be off and running without any help.  In fact, you could give a group of complete newbies the Red Box and, in an hour or two, they’d be running an adventure.  That’s huge.  I don’t there has been a product on the market that you could say that for since the original Red Box.  It cannot be understated how important it is for the hobby to have a product like this on the market.

The Red Box and the Essentials line in general is a departure from the original 4th Edition class design philosophy.   When 4E first came out all the classes had roughly the same distribution of powers.  All classes had At-Will, Encounter, and Daily powers.  The idea was for each class to have the roughly the same level of tactical options and combat complexity.  While I think they accomplished this, it added a extra layer of complexity to all the classes which makes it more difficult for new players.  Essentials shakes up that philosophy.  The new Fighters no longer have at-will or daily powers, both of which were a little problematic anyway.  Rogues don’t have daily powers any more either and have more movement powers.  The result is that the class designs are easier to run and make a little more sense in general.  I think these new class designs might also have the benefit speeding up encounters.  It is important to note that the new Essentials fighter does not take the place of the original 4E fighter (or any of the other classes).  It is in addition to it.  So, you can have an original 4E fighter fighting alongside the new Essentials fighter in the same game with no problems.  It’s all still 4th edition.

That said there are a few things that the Red Box fails on.  The main thing is that while it is a great starter set, it is only a starter set and nothing more.  It is not a full game. It only covers levels 1 and 2.  Character creation only exists in the solo adventure.  Which can be annoying if you want to create multiple characters or if you have multiple people building characters all at once it would be hard if you only have one Red Box.  A quick summary of character creation would have been nice.  There is no equipment list for some reason.  It doesn’t have a lot of fluff describing races or the world.  Powers are only described on the power cards.  So, if you lose a card, you’re out of luck.  The Red Box is only useful if you are brand new to the hobby (or a long lapsed player).  Anyone else would be better served by the other Essentials products coming out.  The Red Box is very much geared to getting you started, then steering you on to other products rather quickly.

I think Wizards of the Coast is heading in the right direction with the Red Box and Essentials.  They should be focusing on new and lapsed players.  The old school folks are well served by the retro-clones and the OSR.  The 3.x edition folks have Pathfinder.  4th edition is a great system for new players with it’s consistent clearly spelled out rules and PC abilities and it’s very easy to DM.  I’m glad to see that WOTC is playing to that strength.

Overall, I’m pretty happy with the new Red Box.  It accomplishes what it set out to do.  It is probably the best and most accessible starter set to come out since the original Red Box.  There really should have been a product like this for every edition of D&D.  4th edition should have had something like this from the start.  I like it so much that I plan on running a beginner’s D&D session using the Red Box at Rincon in a few weeks.  I also plan to lean on the solo adventure for character creation whenever I get a game going for my family. It’s a great product and I recommend it if you are looking to get into the hobby.

A few weeks ago I ran my first public game at the monthly Tucson RPG Guild Gathering.  It was only my second time as DM. I ran a modified version of the module Rescue at Rivenroar.  This is a free adventure for D&D 4th edition put out by Wizards of the Coast and is the first adventure in the Scales of War adventure path.

The gathering was more sparsely attended than ones I’ve attended previously.  I’m not sure why that is.  It might be due to the success of the weekly 4th edition Living Forgotten Realms nights.  Or it was summer.  Or who knows? But, there were enough people there to have  a full five players in my game and enough players for another game running.  Only one of the players had ever played 4th edition before.  The rest were RPG players with experience in the various other versions of D&D.  This didn’t present too much of a problem since 4th edition is pretty easy to pick up.  A couple of guys from my gaming group came out to play including my DM which was fun.

First of all, I’ll talk about what I think went well.  I think I did a good job of keeping combat moving and flowing.  One of the biggest problems with 4th edition in my (and many others) opinion is that combat can get really bogged down.  I enjoy tactical, crunchy combat.  I detest long, tedious combat.  In my experience 4th edition can easily swing from one to the other especially in the hands of a poor DM and/or indecisive players.  I think I succeeded in keeping the rounds quick and moving along.  I used the initiative tracking method of writing all the PC names on slips of paper and hanging them on the DM screen.  This worked well for me and helped keep things moving.  I also tried to encourage creative thinking and players trying crazy things in combat.  I gave bonuses for stunts and crazy ideas (after the appropriate skill check of course).  I also played somewhat loose with the rules.  For me, fun trumps rules.  And with people new to 4th edition who are getting used to the new style of combat, I wanted to allow for some leeway on things.

Some things didn’t go quite as well.  The session was very combat heavy and there wasn’t a lot of role playing.  Partially this is due to being a public game with pre-generated characters.  But, I think I could have done more to encourage RP and my RP skills aren’t exactly strong.  RP one of things I struggle with at times in RPGs. Also, tThe session was very railroady.  Again, it was a public game with a limited amount of time and I was running a module.  My ability to encourage players to forge their own paths was very limited.  It was also hotter than hell in the room where we played.  Of course, I had no control over that, but it did make things a little uncomfortable.

One thing I was surprised about was how difficult the first two encounters were for the PCs.  I ran the first two encounters as written in the module.  Rescue at Rivenroar starts with an encounter in a bar and then an encounter in the street with a fire wielding ogre.  These encounters are what drew me to the module in the first place because of interesting elements such as fire and they take place in interesting environments.  In the first encounter, the cleric was dropped a couple of times.  This was due to a unlucky placement of the cleric and some really bad rolls by the players and good rolls by me.  Also, everybody was getting still settled in to their character and 4th edition combat in general.  In the second encounter with the ogre a pc was actually killed.  Like, killed killed.  That really surprised me.  He was taken down by a massive hit from the ogre.  To keep things moving, I let that player jump back into the game as the PCs twin brother.

I ran the module pretty much as written (except for taking out the skill challenges which didn’t add anything) until the players got to the dungeon.  The dungeon in the module is massive, rather grindy, and many of the rooms are really uninteresting.  It would take multiple sessions to crawl through this dungeon, so I cherry picked and modified two encounters.  I took one encounter and changed the layout a little.  I used some 3D dungeon tiles from the Harrowing Halls to give the encounter some elevation.  The last encounter was with Sinruth, the modules “Big Bad”.  I completely changed the layout of this encounter.  I lowered Sinruth’s AC a little because the players weren’t at level 2.  I think the module assumes that the players are at level 2 when they get to this encounter.  I also gave Sinruth a new power, an invocation to the god Tiamat that shook the room and created pits.  It made things a little more interesting.  These encounters went much more smoothly and the PCs had less trouble with these.

I had help modifying Sinruth and the module from the folks at RPG.net.  Thanks to all the feedback in this thread.

Overall, I think things went well and I hope the players had fun.

Last Thursday I went out to the Friendly Local Game Store to partake in Living Forgotten Realms.  LFR is shared-world campaign that is played throughout the country.  Essentially you can create an LFR legal character, take it to any LFR event, and play it in an ongoing shared setting.  The Tucson RPG Guild organizes a weekly LFR event at Hat’s Games. It’s an easy way to get a D&D 4th edition fix without any commitment.  Although I enjoy going and I’ve had fun the few times I’ve gone, these LFR events have their advantages and disadvantages.

I like it for several reasons.  It’s a nice way to socialize and meet new people.  The Tucson LFR is averaging about 25 people each Thursday.  Like the monthly Tucson RPG Guild Gatherings, you get to meet and mingle with people outside of your regular gaming group.   It’s really nice for trying out different characters.  You can roll up a new character and try it out, but you won’t be saddled with it for the entire campaign like you would in a traditional campaign.  There’s no commitment.  I’m a busy guy with a full time job, wife, and two small kids.  It’s hard for me to commit to much of anything regularly.  Somehow, I’ve managed to make all my bi-weekly Swords & Wizardy games, but anything outside that is hard for me to make.   I like being able to drop into a game when I feel like it.

Another big thing that LFR has going for it is it’s very friendly to the RPG newcomer like me.  There are generally pre-generated characters available if you are not comfortable with character generation.  Like I said before, it’s a great way to try out characters.  It helped me with learning character generation, because I built a character, took it to LFR, realized some mistakes I made, but wasn’t stuck with those mistakes.  It can also be a way to find a regular game.  I’m sure that there are plenty of folks at LFR events looking for players.

There are some thing I don’t like about it though.  The few modules I’ve played have been rather bland.  The stories have been rather uninteresting and tend to be light on role-playing.  The combats were not particularly well designed.  Also, you can end up with a DM who is unfamiliar with the module they are running, since they may have not had time to prep and they don’t have the control over the story that they would in a home-brew campaign.  Luckily, Thursday, I had a great DM who handled the RP really well and kept the game moving which is important in 4th Edition.  The last time I went, which was some time ago, my DM was not so well prepared, though.  So, the DM’s can be hit and miss.  You don’t really get a sense of an ongoing story or shared world.  At least I haven’t.  Maybe I haven’t played enough to really get that experience though.  Since it is a shared world, you don’t really have any way to affect it in any meaningful way.  One other thing is, you don’t quite have get camaraderie that you get from a regular game with the same group of people which is a big part of what I like about the hobby

Still, the trade offs are worth it to be able to drop in on a game, no muss no fuss.  Check out Living Forgotten Realms some time if you’re a fan of 4th edition.