Thursday, June 4, 2009

Something positive about 4e D&D

Here at Dragonskull Mountain blizack make this comment.

One thing I was thinking about was that the encounter-design structure of 4e makes it hard to do a traditional, Wilderlands-style "sandbox" (or "hexcrawl") campaign.

My experience it doesn't effect sandbox play. Why? I ignored the fact that nearly all modules published are in encounter format.

If you read the DMG it gives the encounter format as a means of exposing the math behind 4e.

On one hand you can use it to make your game like the published module with everything tailored to the level of the characters.

On the other hand you can use it like I did. Just to get a sense of the relative power of the various entities I populate my setting. If the player run into Orcus, so be it.

Yes I realize that the advice in Chapter 3 to 5 (Combat Encounters, Building Encounters, Noncombat Encounters) has a stronger tone than the advice given in Chapter 2 Running the game. If followed literally it leads the encounter format published by many.

Yet look at Chapter 11 Fallcrest, followed by Nentir Vale you see the Borderlands/Wilderlands style in full flower with only four stat block sprinkled throughout 10 pages.

There is more to running a sandbox game than I can put in this post. I ran a couple of games in my Majestic Wilderlands using 4e. The characters felt more "Over the top" but other than that it ran like any other Wilderlands session using D&D 3.X, AD&D, Fantasy Hero, or GURPS

One thing I found that I liked about using 4e and sandbox play is that I would run off all the cards for the denizens of a region. Say Dearthwood east of City-State.

When I wanted the stats for something on the map. I just shuffled through the cards and pulled out the ones I needed. The 4e Stat Block format meant I didn't have to go into the rulebook like the other systems. The fact that the cards were truly complete ruleswise was really great.

Certainly this is possible for AD&D and earlier D&D. I recommend doing this for those games. But I like detailed combat systems and 4e is the first game since my AD&D days that I could hold everything in my hand without looking up stuff in a rulebook.

Ultimately what does 4e in for me is the "feel" of the powers. Not the mechanics. If somebody came out with a gritty 4e (warriors instead fighters, priests instead of clerics, etc) then I would be interested. Despite the feel 4e is fun and works for sandbox as well as encounter style.


redbeard said...

I like the tactical mini-game of 4e (there are things I don't like... length of combat being one.)

I suppose this is the 'mechanics' and not the powers, but here are some 4e-ish grid combat rules for Castles and Crusades.
They have only barely been tested.

Axensmash said...

I've been reading this blog for a while now - you have some great insights - and what initially brought me here were a few posts that you did on sandbox play - it's a topic I am very interested in but one that I have trouble getting started on - have you hever though about doing a series of posts on setting up and running a sandbox game? Something that showcase everything that went into the prep from beginning to end and then how to use the material to the best effect - I think that a guide like this would be most helpful. I have read the Ars Ludi posts and while they are great for inspiration they do lack in details on how to set such a game up...just a thought.

Al said...

One important factor of sandboxing is how easily you can run stuff "on the fly". 4E critters are definitely better in this regard than 3E's, which often require some midterm-style study sessions to fully grok;-)

Robert Conley said...

@Axensmash - I will see what I can do. The main reason for a lack of specific posts was that I intended to incorporate that information in an independent publishing project. However after review where it was going to originally go I decided to axe that part as it didn't fit. Likely that information will now start appearing here.

@Al - After writing Thieves of Badabaskor I despise the D20 statblock.

Donny_the_DM said...

For every fun sandbox moment where we killed something that was technically more powerful than us, there were 5 more where it was a boring cakewalk, or an utter slaughter.

5 lame encounters to 1 fun one is not a fun use of my time.

4E works just fine as a sandbox system, you just have to WANT to use it so. The cake is a lie.

Gothridge Manor said...

This is a topic Rob and I discussed several times, especailly when 4ed was released. Rob was trying to introduce the new system to a few people who of course hadn't played it and were reluctant to try it. He used the initial introduction module Shadowfell and it was a huge flop with our group. Rob and I talked about it and part of the poblem was there were no RP elements in the intro. It makes sense because the RP element hadn't changed and the combat system was completely new. When Rob introduced the RP elements, left Shadowfell behind, and allowed the combats to occur naturally it was much more successful. The problem was some who tried it the first time were not willing to give it another try.

Scott said...

Yeah, Shadowfell was a rather poor module to use as an introduction. Even the revised version they have up as part of the quick-start rules is not a whole lot better.

Of course, Sunless Citadel was also no great shakes...

As far as the feel of the 4e powers, though, I'd think that would be reasonably easy to change. The flavor text is entirely mutable.