As the sidebar indicates, I’m currently in the process of running Reavers of Harkenwold (from the 4E Essentials Dungeons Master’s Kit) for a group of six (that hovers around four to five per session due to real life).
I’m running it because 1) I wanted to play some 4E and nobody else was running it and 2) I wanted to see how running a game based on a module would work. My previous 4E effort felt like it required more active preparation than I really have bandwidth to perform said active preparation, and module does all the work, right?
Also, I’m functionally a new GM. I’ve stabbed at running games infrequently over the years, but nothing truly extended. It’s something I want to do, partly because it’s something I want to do and partly because there are games I want to play and if I don’t run ’em nobody will. The only way to go from being an inexperienced, poor GM is practice. (Well, maybe not the only way, but you take my meaning.)
Reavers is wrapping up, approaching its climax. I have some thoughts on the game.
People who think 4E is not deadly are NUTS. I’m running a published scenario, one that is judged to be “good.” Without ever intending to, I kill a player almost every game.
I don’t go out of my way to make fights difficult. Encounters always have “Tactics” sections; I never get to them. I fumble around, pushing NPCs across the grid and rolling dice for them and making quiet “derp” noises. And, in doing so, I’m butchering PCs left and right like I hate my goddamn players, heaping their mangled corpses like firewood by the dungeon entrance.
That “Death Saving Throw” thing neckbeards like to complain about? :shudder: According to Untimately (though I don’t think he realizes it), that sucker makes 4E more deadly than AD&D, 3E, and a heap of retroclones. In most of these games, you have a range between -X and 0 in which you’re down but not dead. 4E has the the same… but with a timer: fail three Death Saving Throws and you’re gone. On average, it should take 7 DSTs (I think?) to kill a character. At my table, with my players and with their dice, it runs more towards the 4-5.
Heck, I even had one character go from “standing” to “greasy, scorched stain on the cavern wall” in a single hit, with damage that blew past zero and then moved on to negative bloodied.
Worse: because encounters in 4E are intended to be difficult, having a PC drop at the wrong moment makes everything harder for everyone still standing… and makes it that much more likely that someone is about to go down.
Of six starting characters (and a dog) , two of them might see the end of the module. (Not the dog.)
We decided, from the beginning, that we were going to let the dice do their thing, but I don’t actually want my games to be quite as deadly as this 4E game has been. I’d like the threat of character death to be real and present, but I’d like to have players have the chance to get a little invested in their characters before their ripped apart by bullywugs.
Fights, fights, fights. Nobody will argue that 4E module design leaves something to be desired. They focus on encounters and not much else (which, frankly, isn’t terribly different from the OSR modules I’ve read, but still). Since I’m approaching the module from a “save me time” perspective, this inevitably meant that the game was about getting from Fight 1 to Fight 2 to Fight 3… lamentable.
This is as much my fault as the module’s though. I’m confident that, if I were running something where I had more room to improvise, less direction about fight this then that then this other thing, and room for my players to become attached to their characters, I’d have been more satisfied with the game.
The Module saved me time? I’m not sure it did. Yes, it saved me from having to plan out encounters (:cough:), but I had to review half the dang module before every session to make sure I (relatively unsuccessfully) kept the details and facts about what was going down straight.
Where I improvised and inserted details that worked well (“The Iron Circle are a bunch of anti-demihuman racists!”) were, inevitably, contradicted by the module (“Except for all the Tieflings and Dragonborn running around the final fortress!”), which made (at least a bit) more work for me.
I like 4E. A lot. I don’t think there’s any game out there that does combat as tactical and interesting as it does. (That I like it is a good thing; the shelf full of 4E books proves I’m invested in the system.) As I spent the bulk of my free time fiddling with miniatures, I very much value systems that use them. I don’t think the problems I’ve had with this game are endemic to 4E, either.
I do think that the module experiment has run its course, though. Hopefully we’ll wrap things up with the next session (and, the way things are going, it likely will, with a TPK :/ ) so I can move on to the next thing.