Monday, June 23 2008

4th edition Dungeons & Dragons

Braving the heat on Saturday, we gathered at Scott’s to try out the new D&D rules, using the commercial 1st-level module that’s available. We had fun, we felt vaguely heroic, and we narrowly avoided a TPK, so I’d call it a success. The occasionally-subtle, usually significant rule changes didn’t interfere too much, and many of them contributed to making for more dynamic, exciting encounters. We’ll play again. With a cleric.

Character creation was annoying. As usual, the rules are scattered across dozens of pages, and with so much that’s new, you really need to read up on how things work to understand the decisions you’re making. Due to the poor layout of the rules and the character sheet, it would have gone very slowly if I hadn’t already run through the process several times and taken notes, including page numbers.

The game can run very smoothly if the DM has a summary sheet of the characters’ defenses and passive skills, but the supplied “combat cards” are just a cargo-cult imitation of the init cards I and others designed for 3rd edition. They’re slightly more useful than tracking combat on a sheet of scratch paper, but have no value for handling situations like “everyone make a spot check” or “make a saving throw… okay, nothing happened”.

The character sheet wastes a great deal of space on trivia, while leaving you little room to record information that’s needed in combat. For instance, there’s no place to record the range of a ranged weapon or the area of effect of a power. A few fan-made sheets have turned up, but I’m not impressed. We’ll have to make our own, and we’ll definitely have to design a useful combat card before the next huge event at Kublacon.

Here’s my character-generation cheat-sheet (pdf). Hopefully it will clarify the process a bit for others.

One more note on character creation: we decided to try the new point-buy system for stats. It was fairly easy to use, but there’s just something un-DnD-ish about min-maxing your stats, so I decided to knock together a random generator that produced N-point characters. Unfortunately, doing that well is more work than simply generating all possible N-point characters, dumping them to a file, and selecting one at random, so I did that instead. It turns out that there are exactly 118 22-point stat arrays.