The 4e Thief is brutally effective… and boring

My Friday night War of the Burning Sky campaign has reached an exciting point – paragon tier! I had to delay the game by a week so that I had time to get everyone’s new and improved characters programmed up in MapTool, but we finally got together last night for some gaming with more power.

At this point, we have a party of seven PCs. We have the original five players who started the campaign in July 2010, plus two more players I added earlier this year when one of the original players got a job that caused a scheduling conflict and another player was only able to come about once every three weeks for a while. Lately, though, they’ve all been able to play, so it’s a big party.

One of the original five players was starting with a new character (11th level, of course) last night. This was the player who was running Fudrick, the gnome warlock who defected to the bad guys in the previous session. Fudrick’s player rolled up a new character – a human Thief. This is the Essentials rogue.

Meet the Thief

I had seen a second-level Thief in action once before, and the paragon thief is similar in a lot of ways. The Thief has fantastic accuracy with his attacks, especially since he has so many ways to get combat advantage. His damage is fantastic, too, with sneak attack being an almost every-round thing. Once the Thief was able to get into melee with the bad guys, they didn’t last long.

The Thief is a very effective striker, dealing out massive damage quite reliably. But after running a session with the Thief in the mix, it felt, well, boring.

I know that hitting despite a 2 on the attack die is what a Thief is built to do, but that takes the excitement out of the Thief’s attack roll. If you know you’ll only ever miss on a critical failure, there’s no drama with the attack roll.

The Math

The Thief in this party starts with a +20 to attack at 11th level. For comparison, an 11th-level monster should have an armor class between 23 (brute) and 27 (soldier), with 25 being typical (other defenses should be two points lower). Add in the fact that the Thief almost always has combat advantage (+2 to hit) and a feat (Nimble Blade) that gives him an extra +1 to hit when he has combat advantage (so we’re up to +23 now), and a feat that lets him choose whether he wants to attack AC or Reflex (which averages two points less than AC). And he can use Backstab twice per encounter for another +3 to hit.

Thus, the Thief is usually attacking at +23 versus Reflex, and twice per encounter he can bump this up to +26 versus Reflex. If by some chance the monster has a lower AC, he can attack that instead. Even-level opponents should have a Reflex defense of about 23. Level+3 opponents should have a Reflex defense of 26. With Backstab and Combat Advantage, the Thief will hit a typical foe three levels above his own on a zero, so the only chance to miss is on a natural 1.

To be clear, I do understand that “this is what Thieves do”. Their schtick is to be ultra-accurate, hardly ever missing. It works really well. And it’s boring. It’s like Magic Missile in a lot of ways (though the Thief at least gets to roll a bunch of dice for weapon damage plus sneak attack) – another power that works, but is boring.

This particular Thief is also a little boring in that if he can’t get into melee, he can’t do anything useful. Early in yesterday’s session, the party was facing down some soldiers mounted on flying drakes. The Thief actually spent one round taking the total defense action because he couldn’t do anything to a flying foe.

What to do?

So, what’s the solution for me as the DM? Well, I have a few options.

First, I could raise enemy defenses. This is a terrible idea, as making it so that the Thief needs to roll, say, a 6 to hit will mean that other PCs will need a 15 or better. Not fun for the rest of the party.

Second, I could give enemies ways to negate combat advantage. This isn’t a trait I’ve seen on many monsters, and using it would just feel like a “screw you” to the Thief, which isn’t what I want either.

Third, I could use monsters that punish melee strikers. They could have auras that deal damage or do other nasty things. I like this idea, as long as I give the melee PCs some ways to mitigate or entirely avoid the issue by doing something interesting.

Fourth, I could use monsters that are hard to get to in melee, such as fliers or artillery with protected positions. I’ll probably do this a little bit, but I won’t want to go overboard.

Fifth, I could raise hit points on monsters. I really have no desire to do this, as it leads to fights that drag on whenever the Thief isn’t hitting a particular bad guy. Plus, it’s still boring.

Sixth, I could have monsters that beat the crap out of the Thief, either by dealing tons of damage or by denying him the ability to get combat advantage by using something like immobilization (most of the Thief’s easy ways of getting combat advantage come from using move actions, though there are lots of cases where the Thief could use them even if he can’t leave his square).

I’m sure there are other options I haven’t thought of, and I’d love to hear more ideas in the comments. For now, I’ll try to think about using some enemies that are either hard to get to in melee or that punish PCs who get too close to them, but I don’t want to unduly punish the Fighter and Swordmage in the party, either. I definitely won’t make the bad guys shy about attacking the Thief when he starts dishing out massive damage, perhaps even breaking defender marks to do so. We shall see.

Heroes of Shadow – My Thoughts

I picked up a copy of Heroes of Shadow several weeks ago but only now got around to reading the thing. The content has been pretty thoroughly reviewed by others already, so I’ll try to be brief in sharing my thoughts.

Essentials or no?

First – is this an “Essentials” book? Well, that’s a meaningless distinction to me as I’m fine with PHBs and Heroes of… books at the table. But I understand where the anti-Essentials folks are coming from in referring to Heroes of Shadow as an Essentials book, because it never really acknowledges the existence of the Player’s Handbook options. The races and classes that are referred to in this book all appear either directly in Heroes of Shadow or in Heroes of the Fallen Lands or Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms. There’s no mention of goliaths, wildens, psions, shamans, etc.

That’s not to say there’s nothing that those races and classes can use in this book; the feats are open to them, as are the equipment options, epic destinies and many of the paragon paths. It’s clear, though, that Wizards of the Coast’s new books are designed to be friendly to players who aren’t familiar with the Player’s Handbook options and only know the Heroes of… books. This doesn’t bother me in the slightest, but I know it irks some people.


The first chapter of Heroes of Shadow is fluff about the Shadowfell itself, the ways that characters might tap into shadow power, and the Raven Queen. Good stuff for role-playing and rounding out a character’s background. There’s also a lot of shadowy fluff spread throughout the book in all of the race and class descriptions, and even accompanying the various powers, paragon paths and equipment.


The classes introduced in Heroes of Shadow are the Executioner Assassin, the Blackguard Paladin, the Vampire (interestingly, no subclass name here) and the Binder Warlock. There are also new powers and the death domain for the cleric, new powers and the Gloom Pact for the Warlock (Gloom Pact is for the Hexblade Warlock only), new powers for the Wizard, and new schools (Necromancy and Nethermancy) for the Mage Wizard.

I won’t opine on the power level of any of these options, as I haven’t played with them yet. My main problem with them is that I just don’t dig the flavor of shadow… which means that I probably shouldn’t have purchased this book! I prefer my characters to be more straightforward heroic rather than dark, tormented anti-heroes or anything like that.

Of the classes presented, I think the Executioner Assassin seems kind of cool and the Blackguard Paladin doesn’t seem at all Paladin-like (he’s a striker rather than a defender). The Vampire is a class that offers no choices – your powers are pre-selected when you pick the class. It doesn’t appeal to me at all. The Binder Warlock seems fine, and if you’re already comfortable playing a Warlock I don’t see any reason that you wouldn’t enjoy this controller version (my wife just started playing one of these). The Cleric and Wizard options let you create a shadowy version of the basic classes, if that’s your thing. Some of the power options might be really strong, but again, that’s not really what I’m looking at.


The races presented are the Revenant, the Shade and the Vryloka (basically a vampire). The Revenant is apparently unchanged from the version that was previously released on DDI (I never used that race, so it was still new to me). The Shade is a human that has embraced the shadows. The Vryloka is, well, a vampire. Meh all around.

Interestingly, there are several pages at the end of the race section devoted to Dwarves, Eladrin, Elves, Halflings and Humans who are “shadowy.” I was a little surprised not to see Tieflings here. It’s pure fluff, of course – examples of certain members of these races who have some connection to the Shadowfell.

Paragon Paths, Epic Destinies, Feats and Equipment

This is the chapter that cemented in my mind that I’m not the target audience for this book. I read through the paragon paths and found a couple of them to be pretty interesting. I have a 10th level Paladin for Living Forgotten Realms games who will soon be entering the paragon tier (my first paragon character), and I considered whether I’d want to take any of these paths. A couple of them had some interesting mechanics and flavor that was almost appealing… but then I saw something like a power that deals cold and necrotic damage. My good-aligned Paladin is not going to want to deal necrotic damage. If this were a home game I could re-fluff it, but not for LFR. And then I realized that if I’m thinking about re-fluffing a Heroes of Shadow paragon path, I’m doing it wrong. These options are for players who want to be shadowy. That’s not me.

One little bonus I’ll mention here is that the Ravenkin paragon path provides the character with a raven familiar. The interesting part is that this page includes the rules for familiars, which were previously only available in Arcane Power (they’re not in the DDI Compendium, frustratingly). So, if you’re a DDI user who’s been annoyed at not having the familiar rules at hand, you might have another reason to get Heroes of Shadow.


There’s a certain audience who will probably really enjoy Heroes of Shadow. Players who want to run dark characters with shadowy backgrounds now have a ton of options at their disposal. Those types of characters don’t feel especially heroic to me (I have trouble with PHB1 Warlocks, frankly), but that’s not an indictment of the book – it just means that I’m not the target audience. If you want a character who’s brooding and mysterious or perhaps flirting with evil, then you’ll enjoy the options in this book.

Me – I wish I’d passed. Oh well.

Review: Reavers of Harkenwold

Last week, I finished running my family campaign (my wife, her brother, and his wife) through the adventure from the Dungeon Master’s Kit, Reavers of Harkenwold.

I should start with a big, public “thank you” to Jeff, the owner of my friendly local game store, Enchanted Grounds, for loaning me the adventure from the store copy of the DM Kit, gratis. I had no need for the DM Kit book (I already have the Dungeon Master Guides 1 and 2) nor the tokens (I use my MapTool / projector setup for gaming), so I just couldn’t justify spending the money on the entire DM Kit just for the adventure. Jeff loaned it to me on the spot. Great guy, great store!

The Reavers of Harkenwold adventure is, in a word, excellent. It is presented in two separate magazine-type books. The first begins with a thorough overview of the plot of the adventure in both a super-brief format (here are the three or four major points of the plot) as well as a longer format for book 1 that goes over the flow of that section. It continues with some possible adventure hooks, detailed descriptions of the locations the PCs might visit in the adventure (complete with names of shops in towns and so on), and then descriptions of the non-player characters that the party might meet (including their motivations and role-playing tips for the most important NPCs). It then moves into the various encounters that the PCs may meet. Book 2 starts with the plot overview for that book, and then the encounters.

SPOILERS AHEAD. If you plan to play this adventure as a PC and you want to be surprised, I suggest you stop reading now.

The plot is straightforward, in a good way: Free a region of innocents from an evil outside army that has taken over. The players need to gather allies, fight in a large military battle, then infiltrate a keep. Book 1 contains the background material and the allies-gathering, while book 2 has the big battle and the keep.

I ran the game using MapTool online for a party of three PCs. My players were a level above the recommended range for the adventure, so I mostly left the numbers alone (higher-level PCs, but fewer of them than recommended), and it worked out okay. The only encounter that was TOO brutal, in my opinion, was Encounter D4: Yisarn’s Lair from the end of the first book. I removed the traps and one of the monsters from that battle and it was STILL too hard (the players retreated and came back the next day with an elf ally).

There is plenty of information in Reavers of Harkenwold for a party that loves role-playing to really get into the world and its people and their problems. However, that is not the kind of group that I have. My PCs prefer to get into fights and kill bad guys, and this adventure worked just fine for them, too. The order that they ran into the encounters was:

  • E1: Ilyana’s Plight
  • A little role-playing with Reithann, leading to Tor’s Hold
  • T1-T2-T3: The bullywug caverns
  • A little role-playing at Tor’s Hold, then on to the D1 to meet the Woodsinger Elves
  • D2-D3-D4: Liberating the underground lair for the elves
  • D4 again: The party retreated the first time and got a Woodsinger Elf to help them the second time (I made up a simple companion character)
  • E4: Hunted! on the way to Albridge
  • A little role-playing, leading into B1: Battle Plans
  • B2-B3-B4: The Battle of Albridge (Nazin fled when his minions dropped, and just barely got away, even with his action point)
  • Some role-playing to visit Old Kellar in Harken to learn about the Keep, then back to Albridge to talk to Dar Gremath about plans, then back to Harken for the infiltration
  • K1: Infiltrating the Keep. The PCs decided to pretend that one of the PCs was the sister of a Harkenwolder who had joined the Iron Circle and died in the Battle of Albridge, and she had been sent to collect his personal effects from his barracks. I ran this as the “Iron  Circle Poseurs” version of the challenge, more or less, and they succeeded (barely).
  • The party was escorted to the barracks in room 6, where they killed their escorts, went into the empty banquet hall (room 5) and then into the kitchen (room 15) where the servants tried to help.
  • K5: The Great Tower entrance
  • K7: Lord’s Chambers
  • K6: Gaol (after Nazin had already been defeated; the PCs produced Nazin’s head and I had the Mage therefore flee

So, I never ran E2, E3, K2, K3 or K4, and that was absolutely fine. It was refreshing to me that the adventure had more encounters than were required – it made me feel okay about not using all of them.

My players had a good time with the adventure, although they’re rather easy to please – let them kick some butt, and they’re happy. I think a party that likes more plot and role-playing and opportunities for creativity could also get a lot out of this adventure. The back story and information about all of the people and places is really well presented, and I think DMs can find a lot to make use of.

D&D Essentials: The sky has not fallen

I originally reviewed the first D&D 4th Edition Essentials book, Heroes of the Fallen Lands, shortly after it was released in September 2010. I’ve gone back to re-read my review, and I still completely agree with everything I wrote back then.

In a nutshell, the Essentials books presented some new build options and new feats and generally felt to me to be pretty much like any expansion books that Wizards of the Coast had published for D&D4e (Martial Power, Arcane Power, Player’s Handbook 2, etc.). Good new options; maybe not every player would use every option, but some would probably come in handy.

Lots of people in the online D&D4e community were worried about the Essentials books – was this a new half-edition? But I think most of that concern dissipated in the end.

Thus, I was surprised when I read Neuroglyph Games’s review of the new Heroes of Shadow book over on EN World (plus the somewhat different version on their blog) and the follow up conversation on the Neuroglyph Games blog. The review of the material was fine and useful (I just got the book today, in part because of the positive review), but the author made it clear that he saw this as an “Essentials” book and was therefore seriously considering excluding it from his no-Essentials campaign (which he referred to as “Traditional 4e” or “Core 4e”). From the poll on his review, he’s not alone – there are apparently a significant number of DMs who run “no Essentials 4e” games.

This baffles the heck out of me. I could understand excluding a book from my table if I feel that it’s inappropriate for the game I’m running, perhaps. Heroes of Shadow, for instance, is probably not going to come into play very much in the games I run because it seems to be aimed more at “dark” campaigns where PCs may be flirting with evil alignments, and that’s not the kind of game I tend to enjoy. That said, I would still allow material from the book if a player asked and it seemed to fit within the campaign.

My approach to DMing is to let the players make the choices they like, but to retain veto power. If a player picks a race that doesn’t fit in my world, I’ll let them know that and ask them to pick something else. If they pick a power that I feel is overpowered relative to the rest of the table, I’ll ask them to pick something different. If they make choices that just don’t make any sense with the rest of their character concept, I’ll ask them to change those choices.

It’s very rare that I ever exercise this veto power, and I’m always very nice about it, trying to work with the player to help them find something that both works within the game I’m running but also makes them happy.

All of this is a roundabout way of saying that I personally feel that excluding books entirely is a pretty silly way to run a game, unless every single thing in the book is completely out of line with a particular campaign. I have a hard time imagining that the Heroes of the Fallen Lands and Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms books would be completely out of line with very many D&D 4e campaigns, and I gather that the DMs who exclude them are doing so out of protest against WotC business practices, specifically a feeling that WotC has tried to sneak a half-edition by us without being forthcoming about what it really is.

I think it’s fair to disagree with WotC business practices or misleading statements and to not support the company because of it. But these DMs seem to want it both ways – they want to protest WotC’s behavior but still purchase WotC releases that are “non-Essentials.” I just don’t get it.

If a DM wants to run a non-Essentials game, they can absolutely have a lovely time running a game using all of the material that was published before September 2010 – there was a ton of great stuff already published at that point. Everything published since then will have been written with the existence of the Essentials books in mind, just as material written in the summer of 2010 was written with the existence of Martial Power 2 and Player’s Handbook 3 in mind. To expect WotC to publish books that ignore the existence of Heroes of the Fallen Lands and Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms is silly, in my opinion. Why would they do that?

Essentials is not D&D 4.5. It’s a bunch of new options, some of which you might love and some of which you might think are a waste of time. I honestly don’t understand why there is so much emotion around this topic. I’m not a DM who feels that the Heroes of… books are the greatest things written for D&D 4e or anything like that – they’re simply fine options, much like PHB2 and PHB3. I don’t see anything disturbing or objectionable about them that would lead me to consider banning those books and everything published in their style from my games. And I truly don’t understand DMs who feel strong, negative emotions about these books.

I wasn’t around for the 3.0 to 3.5 Edition Wars, nor the 3.5 to 4.0 Edition Wars. Maybe I just don’t get it. I’m pretty sure that I don’t want to get it!

Essentials thoughts: Heroes of the Fallen Lands

I haven’t posted in over a week, largely because I’ve been out of town for most of that time.  However, the time has not gone to waste from a D&D perspective, as I’ve spent time reading the new Dungeons and Dragons Essentials book, Heroes of the Fallen Lands.

This is really the big new book for Essentials – the one that people who fear 4.5 Edition are really afraid of.  This is where things are changing.

My opinion: I like it!

Here’s what you get in HotFL:

  • Improved support for five basic races (Dwarf, Elf, Eladrin, Halfling, Human)
  • New builds for four classes (Cleric, Fighter, Rogue, Wizard)
  • Some slightly tweaked rules for things like magic items

The fundamentals of D&D 4th Edition are still here, and I don’t see it as a new edition (or half edition). I see it as some rules tweaks and some new options.  It doesn’t feel more revolutionary than the second or third Player’s Handbooks or the Martial/Arcane/Primal Power books for the most part.

Race updates

Every race except human now has stat flexibility – one fixed ability gets a +2 bonus, but there’s a choice of two other abilities to get another +2 bonus.  For instance, the Dwarf still gets +2 Constitution, but instead of being locked into +2 Wisdom for the second boost, the Dwarf can choose either +2 Wisdom or +2 Strength.  Yes, it’s “power creep,” but I don’t care all that much.  I’m strangely feeling inspired to go against type anyway and build “the world’s buffest Wizard” with a big racial bonus to Strength or something like that.

The human still gets +2 to a single stat, but instead of a bonus at-will power the human gets a power that lets you retroactively add 4 to a failed roll to hit or to a failed saving throw.  Fine by me.

So races – no major changes.


Here is where some people seem to think Wizards of the Coast is making massive changes and that 4th Edition as we know it is gone.  I disagree.

There are five new builds presented in this book.  Two Fighters (the Slayer and the Knight), one Rogue (the Thief), one Cleric (the Warpriest) and one Wizard (the Mage).  The big changes are a departure from the common class structure (no longer does every class get the same lineup of at-will, encounter and daily powers as they level up – some get no dailies at all) and a breakdown of the link between class and role (the Slayer is a striker, but every other Fighter build is a defender).

These new builds are exactly that – new builds.  The Mage is not very different from other Wizard builds, nor is the Warpriest a huge departure from other Clerics.  The Slayer, Knight and Thief are undeniably different from earlier Fighters and Rogues because they focus on melee basic attacks and don’t get daily powers.  They don’t get at-will attack powers, either – they get either stances (for the Fighter builds) or tricks (special moves for the Thief).

I see the new Fighter and Rogue builds as, well, new builds.  They seem like they might even be fun for some players!  I imagine that I would personally get bored with the same few options forever as I played one of these characters up to level 20 or 30, but a player who wanted to keep things simple would probably greatly enjoy these builds.  The same goes for the Warpriest, just because you don’t have to make a lot of choices as you level up.  I personally LIKE making choices as I level up, but I respect that not everybody feels that way.

Rule changes, etc.

Magic items are now either common, uncommon or rare, and players by default can only buy common items (the others are awarded in treasure hauls as the DM sees fit).  Fine by me, as both a player and a DM.

Feats have been organized by what you want to do (have more toughness, be better at skills, wear cooler armor, etc.).  There are some feats here that I really like, such as Master at Arms (+1 to attacks with weapons, and you can use a minor action to simultaneously sheathe one weapon and draw another).  These feats work just fine with existing classes, and the new builds are allowed to take existing feats.

I’ll admit that I was confused by the table on page 344 of the book that talks about magic armor.  I haven’t played any characters above level 4 yet, so this hasn’t come into play, but apparently once you get to level 6 the inherent bonus of your armor gets better (in addition to the enhancement bonus).  I think this is a reference to masterwork armor, though I’ll admit I’m confused.  I thought plate armor was always +8 to AC, with magic plate armor adding something from 1 to 5 on top of that.  Apparently magic plate armor at level 6 is +9, and if it’s +1 armor that’s a total of +10 to AC.  I have so much to learn!

On another note, I love the “fluff” in this book – that is, the stuff that’s not pure rules “crunch”.  Races now get six full pages to help you understand what it’s like to BE a member of that race so that you can play it more effectively.  Classes get some ridiculously awesome artwork.  I’m not an artwork guy, so if I notice the art it must be pretty good.  I LOVE the elf rogue who shows up on the back cover and on page 170.  The elf knight on page 125 is way cool, too.  (I apparently have a thing for elf chicks.)  The halfling thief on page 172 is also badass (see, it’s not just elf chicks).  Good stuff.


I like Heroes of the Fallen Lands.  I could see myself playing around with some of these characters (somehow the Sun Warpriest seems like a lot of fun).  I could see using them to introduce new players to the game.  I can also see them existing merrily alongside the classes we know and love, with more options now available to those classes (feats, powers, racial abilities).  It’s good for the game, in my opinion, and I have no qualms about the direction of 4th Edition.  Essentials looks like fun to me!

D&D Essentials Game Day

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.