Thursday, August 17, 2017

Gingersnap's Medicine: A Guest Post Play Report on 4e by my oldest

Ever since the game came out, nearly our whole family has entertained an on-again, off-again fascination with the 4th Edition of Dungeons and Dragons. On the one hand, it is completely and utterly not DnD, and is, in fact, a tabletop adaptation of MMORPG and other video game paradigms so completely that it barely qualifies as a role-playing game. On the other hand, it is an excellent game with well-made rules and a deeply entertaining gameplay process. Our consensus is that it is what it was designed very, very well, even if that design goal may have been suboptimal, and so we've come back to it briefly time and time again.

Our most recent revisiting of the system actually led a small group of us to play it, and we recently finished the first adventure of our odd little 3-man campaign. In order to fit the need for many characters on the field with only two actual players, we're running 3 PCs each, taking advantage of the more tactical and less in-character nature of the game to make this work. The individual encounters we faced, even the large and extended ones, were actually fairly short and sweet, so we were able to slip them in over the course of our day in small doses. The result was actually quite entertaining and fairly interesting at a theoretical level.

The player disposition was as follows:
N-the Gamemaster.
   Killroy Killigan, human fighter. Killroy is a polearm specialist with well-rounded stats and a power selection focused on the survivability of himself and his allies. What little characterization he has is centered on the fact that, while he is of good alignment, he likes fighting far, far too much.
   Archibald "Archie" Dickens, half-orc rogue. Archie is totally centered on doing as much damage as possible, with a very high dex, the Brutal Scoundrel class option, and Backstabber as his first feat all allowing him to do high damage with either dagger or shuriken. As a character, Archie is, despite growing up a lonely half-orc orphan, unstoppably cheerful, painfully chipper, and convinced of the power of positive thinking.
   Genericus McGi, elf druid. Genericus is a wildshape specialist who has stacked racial and class abilities to achieve an utterly ludicrous amount of battlefield mobility. He has sacrificed some damage potential to do so, but is still a very workable controller. His dedication to protecting nature and revering the power of the untamed wild totally clashes with every other character's personality, allowing him to act as the straight man of J's group.
   Erobern, dragonborn warlord. Erobern's charisma score of 18 makes him a terrifyingly powerful inspiration-warlord. His power selection allows him to fight on the front lines with the other warriors, but still causes him to shed combat buffs on all nearby allies on a continuous basis. The only character in the party not of good alignment, Erobern entertains ambitions to one day conquer the world, though he's careful not to let his allies get too wise to this.
   Tordek Valladwarf, dwarven paladin. The culmination of a years-long running gag about a character who fulfills the party role of, "Wall of Dwarf," Valladwarf has selected all of his abilities and feats with the double goal of making himself as unkillable as possible and of making himself as much of a target as possible. He does both excellently. He also has even less characterization than the other PCs, in keeping with his role as the Wall of Dwarf.
   Stark, human sorceror, AKA, "The Swoleceror." As a sorceror, Stark has a high charisma score, but his most important stat is his 18 strength, which the Dragon Magic class feature allows him to use for spellcasting and armor class in addition to physical damage. His area of effect damage potential is enormous, even at first level, and the combination of a feat that allows him to turn any spell into a melee attack with his Dragon Magic feature allows him to literally muscle through any problem. As expected, he speaks with a, "surfer dude," accent, and is obsessed with physical perfection.

Through some bizarre, convoluted chain of events yet to be touched upon, all 6 of these characters somehow became fast friends before the first adventure. So, when Stark's estranged uncle died and unexpectedly left him the deed to his enormous mansion in a walled frontier village, the entire party decided to move in together as roommates to seek out the nearby adventures rumoured to exist all around the Village. 

When they arrived, they were greeted by the Village Elder, who turned out to have been so thoroughly briefed on the legal situation of the Mansion that he basically served as the executor of the Uncle's will. He showed us to the Manor and gave us the keys, and we were able to explore it and take stock of what was inside. The Manor was rundown and semi-abandoned, as the Uncle was just reclusive enough to not keep any servants to care for it; but the house was still far and away large and well-furnished enough to serve as a comfortable base indefinitely. 

While exploring, Genericus' preposterously high perception check triggered, and he noticed a secret door. Behind the door were stairs leading down into a large, bare room, with a jail cell-like door in the opposite well that led to another large, bare room. The second room, however, contained an inverted pentacle engraved on the floor, which contained an enormous iron snake with glowing purple eyes. Simply entering the room was enough for Erobern to become dazed and slowed, so we beat a hasty retreat.

We decided to leave this alone for now.

After we finished our tour, we were called to the stable by the Village Elder, and informed of the other part of the will. It turned out that the will also contained strict and sternly-worded instructions that Stark was to take extremely good care of his Uncle's horse, Gingersnap, which had served as a beloved pet who comforted him greatly in his last days. Obviously, he also informed us that Gingersnap had become gravely ill with an unknown disease just a few days earlier, and, after our druid rolled a 1 on his nature skill check, the only hope for the horse's survival was the eccentric herbalist Hermit who lived on the edge of town.

So, keen not to trigger any negative contingencies that might be hidden in the will, we set out to meet the Hermit. We arrived to find his hut battened down, closed tightly and surrounded by wolves, and nearly caused a severe faux pas when Genericus used a high nature roll to dismiss them into the forest, only for us to find out that the wolves were actually his tamed pets. Luckily, the Hermit was a friendly, absentminded fellow, and we were easily able to fast talk our way out of that particular problem. Unfortunately, he then informed us that Gingersnap was sick with an extremely rare disease that required many esoteric and rarely-gathered herbs to cure. Obviously, he was also currently out of said herbs due to using them to cure a nobleman's prized steed just a few months prior. The only way he knew to get more was through negotiations with a friendly tribe of lizardfolk that lived in the Baneful Swamp, a nearby landmark. He assured us, however, that this tribe was very friendly and their chieftain knew him by name, so as long as we sought out the lizardman with the large, blue headdress, we'd be fine.

With this advice behind us, we set out, and, later that same day, arrived at the outskirts of the Baneful Swamp. Not long after that, we found a forward picket for the lizardfolk tribe with a couple of guards manning it. However, unexpectedly (for our characters, at least), these guards turned out to have a xenophobic hatred for outsiders, and attacked us despite our efforts at diplomacy.

Luckily, our initiative rolls were superb, and the entire party was able to act before them. With the opening move, Archie did a shuriken sneak attack for more than twenty points of damage, bloodying one of the guards instantly. After that, all 3 martial fighters advanced in short order, and engaged the battle fairly successfully, although Valladwarf was cursed with unluck for the whole battle, and rarely landed a hit. Genericus was shouldered out of the way somewhat by this, but moved to flank regardless. Stark opened up a barrage of acid orbs and stormwalk thunderbolts, but similarly missed with his first few attacks. Luckily, the guards also had some accuracy problems, so we were dealing with them handily.

To complicate matters, however, reinforcements came shortly after the battle began. These consisted of a pair of enormous lizardmen with greatclubs and spines on their tails that dripped poison, which left us a little worried. They joined the engagement quickly, and we found ourselves in a massive brawl. Killroy and Erobern fought hard and did significant hand-to-hand damage, though Killroy was poisoned for a worrying amount of damage, and Valladwarf did his job of sucking up attacks for the rest of the party beautifully. Unfortunately, a slight mismanagement of positioning prevented Genericus and Stark from using their area of effect attacks without hitting Valladwarf, forcing Stark to use only his at-will powers, and Genericus to continue to hang out at the edge of the fray. Archie, however, proved to be the MVP of the battle. By maneuvering behind the main engagement, he was able to continue to sneak attack, and since his main at-will power targeted reflex rather than AC, his accuracy was excellent.

Before long, we noticed that another lizardman had stealthily made his way to the edge of the combat, and was loading a dart into a blowpipe in a perfect flanking position. Sensing he finally had an opportunity to contribute, Genericus charged the newcomer in wildshape form, and pounced on him. Unfortunately, it was only after he hit that he heard the dart sniper cry out in Common, "No no! I'm on your side!" Both mortified by this, the unexpected allies moved on to join the fight for real, with Dart Guy immediately starting to take potshots at the club-wielders, and Genericus finally getting a chance to do some real damage.

Not long after that, the battle was won. The same guard that got sneak attacked in the first 3 seconds of combat had also been hammered by Killroy and Stark, and was on death's door. The other guard wasn't looking too good, either. Furthermore, while one of the club users still wasn't bloodied, the other had sucked up a sneak attack and multiple hits from Erobern and Valladwarf. The real cinch for the engagement was when Archie closed to near-melee range and used the daily power Blinding Barrage to make a shuriken attack against every present. The high damage of this attack, combined with a sneak attack-ferocious strike combo against the injured club user and the attack's blinding effect, dropped half of the enemies and left the other two so vulnerable that the other characters were able to finish them with impunity. This satisfying success led me to shout, "I am an orc ninja!"

Afterwards, Dart Guy led us down a masterfully concealed path, from which we were able to distantly observe the lizardfolk village, where we could see the poison-tailed lizardfolk, led by an enormously tall and heavy-set blue-scaled chieftain, oppressively leading the bulk of the tribe as slaves. At the end of the path was a hidden gazebo where we were able to rest long enough to recover our full hit points and daily powers. While we were there, Dart Guy explained to us that his tribe was once a peaceful, friendly one led by a deeply spiritual shaman-chief. However, not long before, a human had come to their village, and led the rebellious warrior Bigscale astray, causing him to ally with the rival Poisonscale clan and conquer his erstwhile tribe. In order to maintain a hold over his new slaves, Bigscale kept the chieftain and his top men hostage rather than killing them, which was the only ray of hope for Dart Guy, who was the only warrior to escape with his freedom. In exile, Dart Guy had obsessively scouted out his village, and worked out a route that could take him with a small force right up to the prison where the Chief was kept without them being spotted. He believed that we were the just the chance he had been looking for, and promised that if we helped him save his tribe, they would certainly give us whatever supplies we needed.

We agreed to this deal, for the sake of both Gingersnap and the lizardmen themselves. Early the next morning, we set out for the attack, and before long, we sprang our sneak attack on the prison guards. Unfortunately, the somewhat difficult terrain of the boggy village area restricted our movement enough that our surprise was wasted in making a partial approach. After that, we fared poorly for the first couple rounds of combat. Archie, Stark, and Erobern all repeatedly missed with everything they tried, and the others barely fared any better. And, while the guards luckily missed with all of their encounter power Javelins, they had freakish accuracy in hand-to-hand, and did good damage to Killroy, Genericus, and Valladwarf. 

Things started to look up at the end of the second round, though. Dart Guy successfully busted the prison where the chief and his men were imprisoned, and they broke out equipped for battle to engage the nearby guards, allowing Genericus and Archie to break of their attempted flanking to focus on the force the rest of the party was engaging. Immediately afterwards, however, with the alarm being raised, two more guards arrived to fight the chief, and Bigscale himself came crashing out of the brush behind us, charging the party!

The final part of the battle consisted of all 6 PCs in a climactic confrontation with Bigscale, the one, slightly wounded guard who was near him, and the lizard-priest that led the guards, set against a backdrop of an enormous lizardfolk brawl. The sequence of events of the battle was interesting. Bigscale missed with every single attack he ever made, but the guard was freakishly accurate, and did significant damage, while the lizard-priest tied up multiple PCs for an extended period of time. At the start of the battle, things were looking fairly grim: Killroy had been repeatedly hit and poisoned, and was dangerously low on hitpoints even as he engaged Bigscale; Genericus had prioritized taking down the guard, but his low AC and HP made this much more dangerous than he anticipated; Stark had ended up in melee range when Bigscale charged, and was unable to use his ranged powers; Archie and Erobern were both trying to deal with the priest, but remained bizarrely unable to land a hit on him; the best performer was Valladwarf, but his damage output was so far rather low. Things reversed pretty quickly, though. Stark's Bladechanneling feat let him use his best powers as melee attacks, and while he missed with and wasted his encounter power, he then hit with his daily power for massive damage. Even more than that, Killroy then missed with a Comeback Strike, but used an action point to try it again and scored a critical hit, healing up and doing massive damage to Bigscale in one stroke. Unfortunately, he ended up poisoned again shortly thereafter, and continued lucky hits from the guard ultimately downed him. Meanwhile, Genericus tired of the licking he was taking, and used an encounter power to do some damage to Bigscale while shifting away, where he used an action point to take his second wind. Stark and Valladwarf continued to pound on Bigscale, but he just had too many hitpoints to be brought down quickly. Meanwhile, Erobern missed with an encounter power against the priest, and remained unable to do high damage to him, while Archie similarly remained on a miss streak. Eventually, however, his orc ninja powers returned, and he was able to take the priest from unbloodied to dead in a single enormous sneak attack, freeing up Erobern to charge Bigscale and speak an Inspiring Word just in time to get Killroy back on his feet. Against the combined firepower of a warlord, a paladin, a fighter, and a sorceror, Bigscale finally went down in a storm of arms, and, with the main body of guards routed by the Lizard Loyalists, the guard we'd been fighting surrendered, bringing the conflict to an end.

In the wake of that, the newly restored chief thanked us with a sizeable donation of herbs, as well as several magic items that belonged to his tribe and a promise of friendship in the future. Equipped with this, we returned to the Hermit, only to find that he had absentmindedly forgotten the other important ingredient of the antidote he was out of, setting the stage for us to begin the next adventure by travelling south the City to buy the remainder of the cure from the Hermit's friend, the Noble.

J's Observations:
One of the beauties of 4th Edition is that the rules are actually quite simple. Combat flows quickly and smoothly, contributing to its easy-to-use fun.
Rogues are an interesting class. We crunched the numbers, and Archie did more than half of the damage done by the entire party in the first encounter, and didn't exactly fall flat in the second, either. However, they are somewhat volatile, as they can be neutralized, at least temporarily, with ease. Furthermore, looking at their future progression, it seems they may lag behind at higher levels.
I was previously fascinated with the Wildshape-focused druid, but now I'm having second thoughts. It turns out that a character with controller stats focused on engaging foes in melee isn't the best combination. It may be that this build falls into the, "Difficult, but Awesome," camp, but it will take more analysis to be sure.
With a large party, 4th Edition combat is immensely flexible. You can fight one overlevelled monster, a mob of underlevelled monsters, a party of equivalent monsters, or anything in between. The variety also contributes to the fun of the combat.
The randomness of the combat system also gives it an enjoyable dynamism. No matter how well you lay your plan, you never know when a missing streak is going to derail it, or when a random guard suddenly becomes the boss of the encounter. Bizarrely enough, it almost gives the gameplay an Old-school feel!

It turns out that Orc Ninja is a surprisingly viable build, and it's hilarious that one of the basic druid powers is, "pounce." All I can think of is Tigger when I use that power.

It turns out that the Mighty Muscle Wizard is a viable build, too.

N's Observations
On the one hand, monsters are pretty weak for their listed level. On the other hand, the book encourages you to use overlevelled monsters. In the end, it's a wash.
Also, any monster not listed as, "solo," or, "elite," simply cannot fight a PC without being part of a mob. This seems to be by design, but is an odd dynamic.
It turns out that minions balance striker PCs. A rogue may be able to do 30+ points of damage in a single blow, but this is useless against 20 1-hitpoint monsters. This redeems the minion concept entirely in my eyes.
Designing a combat-only adventure is incredibly simple and easy, but adding skill sequences is another dimension that must be kept in mind for correct adventure flow.

S's Observations
Even though each class is listed with 3 prime stats, you can get away with only using one or two, which enhances the customization process immensely by giving you varied options.
Because of the nature of the encounters, it's very easy to break up an adventure over multiple days. This is a point in the game's favor, because you can slip the adventure into a busy schedule.
The game turned out to be very fun. 

No comments:

Post a Comment