I played in one of the D&D 4e Essentials Game Day sessions this morning at my Friendly Local Game Store and thought it might be of interest to my readers.
I had actually signed up for a Living Forgotten Realms game for this morning, but when I learned a few weeks back that today was the Game Day I wanted to switch to the Game Day adventure. Unfortunately there were barely enough people signed up for LFR to make a playable table, so I felt bad dropping out. Fortunately, when I got there everyone at the LFR table (including the DM) wished they were playing the Game Day adventure, so we just changed tables.
I chose Ander, the halfling thief, as my player character. He has two move action “tricks”, one of which lets him shift two squares and adds “knock prone” to his basic melee attack for the turn and the other of which lets him move his speed -2 and walk up walls during the move. The second one was cool, but I never found a place to make it work. The shift 2 was nice, of course, though the only time I ever used it and hit it was against a large dragon, which was too big for my small halfling to knock prone.
The adventure itself involved a minimum of backstory and a maximum of butt kicking. The setup was that we were hired to escort a dwarf sage and his cursed skull to Sunderpeak Temple where the skull could be destroyed by the priests. There was a bit of discussion about the trip from Fallcrest to Winterhaven and from there to the temple, but once we found the temple in ruins the battle was on.
We first saw two orc archers and their two guard drakes and engaged them in battle. Partway through the first round the other thief in the party noticed a bandit off to the side and engaged him. A second bandit revealed himself later on.
The combat was fast and furious, with the characters and the monsters hitting often and hard. Ander often hit for about 15 damage (d4 + 6 + 2d6 sneak attack + once per encounter an extra d6 for backstab), and there were many hits by PCs for over 20 damage. Those are some awesome melee basics!
The monsters gave as good as they got, with the orc archers using an at-will area burst 1 attack to dish out a whole bunch of arrow damage to a lot of us at once and the guard drakes doing what guard drakes always do when they’re near their allies (chomping hard). We did win the day, with most of the party ending up bloodied, one PC dropping unconscious and the warpriest using both of his healing words.
The best moment for me was when one of the wounded bandits tried to run away, and Ander followed him from across the room. I had enough speed to move and charge, but since I couldn’t actually see exactly where he had gone I wasn’t allowed to charge. So, I double moved and then action pointed to stab the crap out of the bandit (he was running, so granting me combat advantage), completely overkilling him. It was disturbingly satisfying. I decided that Ander was a rather dark character for a hero, a bit like Belkar Bitterleaf from Order of the Stick (though not actually evil – just violent).
The next encounter involved a big orc and his forty million kobold minions (plus two slingers). The mage took the lead in blowing away minions – Ander didn’t really get to do much in the battle. I liked the way the two kobold slingers determined their special ammunition by randomly rolling for it.
From there we went down some stairs and into a room filled with orcs – another blasted archer, several minions that dealt 12 damage on a successful charge, and couple of orcs that were harder to kill. The room was also filled with magic runes that could do bad things to you if you walked across them, but we managed to avoid them. I think it would have been cool if the bad guys had some abilities to let them push us into the runes, but c’est la vie.
Apparently there was another option here which would have taken us through a room full of undead, but we picked door number 1 with the orcs.
The final encounter found us facing a room with more charging orc minions, a couple of tougher orcs… and a black dragon. The dragon was SCARY, which was awesome. He started off with a darkness attack that left all but one character penalized until the end of the encounter with -2 to their attacks and vulnerable 5 acid. He then action pointed to breathe acid at those same five characters. Um, ouch? It hit for 10 (15 with vulnerability) and 5 ongoing (10 with vulnerability). The darkness effect lasted until the end of the encounter, or until a successful heal check was made on the character as a standard action (unknown DC). Rough.
This was a very, very hard battle. Our mage dropped quickly and failed two death saves. The other thief dropped and failed one death save. Ander got close to death but the bad guys had some low rolls and missed him. We did ultimately win, and it felt like a victory we had to EARN. I liked that.
Ultimately, I was happy with the character and had fun with the adventure. The thief has no dailies, but I didn’t miss them. I never felt like I had nothing to do, even though my only options were really to stab something with a dagger or to throw a dagger at something. I was very focused on getting combat advantage, and the “shift 2” power was helpful for that, as was charging.
The game still felt like 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons, though I’ll admit that it felt like it was a little bit on steroids! A LOT of damage was dealt on both sides. We made it through four serious combats in about three and a half hours with some breaks and plenty of chatting – a pretty good pace for a six-PC party by 4th Edition standards.
I think I’ll personally prefer playing more complex characters most of the time – I like my Avenger and my Paladin, thank you very much – but to mix it up with an Essentials build is fine by me. I think new players and players of earlier editions will enjoy these builds. They still feel like 4th Edition, and they still feel like D&D. Options are good, and my bloodthirsty little halfling was a cool option.