A few newbie questions!

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Just getting back into D&D after a fairly long break. I picked up the Red Box, Monster Vault, Dungeon Master's Kit, and some tiles. My fiancee and I have both read through the Red Box's players guide and created characters but stopped at the first real encounter/session.

Only problem is that right now I only have her and myself to play with. On rare occasions two friends will be joining us to make a better group of 1 DM and 3 players, but right now I'm wondering if there's any way to really play properly with just my fiancee and I! Basically 1 DM and 1 player.

I think I may play with Essentials for a while and move into the core books or even try playtesting Next.

A couple other questions I have are:

1. If I attend a local Encounters group, since I've only played Essentials, am I going to be overwhelmed and also have to create a new character since it will be 4e instead of Essentials? I'm not sure how wide of a gap there is between the two.

2. When playing a premade adventure that came in one of the Essentials boxes, are they tuned for 1 DM and 4 players automatically? How would I adjust the tuning so that I could play it with 1 DM 1 player or 1 DM and 2 players? 

Thanks for all the help and I'm excited to get into this again! 

Hello there !

1 - There is no gap. Essentials is 4E and so is 4E Essentials. The confusion is a testament to [very strong word] poor marketing. The only difference there is between the 2 is the design type. "Classic" 4E classes can be slightly more complexe to build (and sometimes play) but only slightly - since they offer more choices to make.

Rest assured, you can play an Essentials character in 4E and the reverse - it's a false dicotomy.

2 - Not sure if it's 4 players or 5 (the earlier books assumed 5 PCs). As far as tuning goes, there are many variables to take into consideration. That being said, 4E is very stable and can handle a good deal of "mucking about". So here is my take on it (this could get a little "dry") :

 - the prime concern is action economy. If you are not familiar with this concept, it can be boiled down to : how much PCs (or NPCs) can make meaningful actions. The concern is from powers, effects and situations that limit (or remove) actions. If you have 5 players, and you stun one of them, the party as a whole can still function. If you have 1 player and you stun it... well, there's not going to be much he can do about it... So make sure you take special care when using foes that can remove actions from players : dominate, daze, stun and in certain situations: restrained, immobilised, and even slow. I'm not saying you CAN'T use them, just be ultra-aware of their effects.

- encounter building, I've never really bothered with xp budget. I go with:  1 PC : 1 same-ish level NPC and work from there. With very few PCs, I would higly encourage you to use minions and minion-variants (2 hit minions, minions with DR, minions that save, etc.) when you would like your player(s) to face more than a single foe.

- self healing (this is keeping with action economy) I've done the following and it works very well : make second wind a minor action once per encounter for everyone (I give the goaliath's DR to dwarves as consolation) and allow using it again (at will) as a standard action. If you offer situations where your player(s) has access to very short (1-2 round) reprevies during combat, it works very well. Otherwise, second wind is a stupid move to make for a single player... ** I'll discuss ways of doing this latter.

- battlefield control, if you have very few players, depending on their class choices, you will find some roles sorely missing, ridiculous or obsolete (control, healing and defending respectivly). You needn't disallow any class though, it's just that some core abilities might never see use. Witch is something to keep in mind, but not dictative of choice. Also, I recommend you give your players a bit of free control (action denial): a daze 1/encounter or some such. Remember that it's a little bit frustrating for you when your critter can't act, but you always have to option of using more. It's REALY frustrating for a player to not act... Also keep in mind the range of attack you player has - it can become very important to keep them in mind.
  --- NOTE: none of this is meant as being dictative. Constraints are what can build the greatest stories. They make great motivators and can make the player feel like he's being pro-active when he acts to find help or other means of success. HOWEVER, it's a fine line between constructive constraints and just being a jerk. The line isn't in the same place for everyone and everybody and their cousins would give you conflicting advice about it. As always, it's something to keep in mind when you're building your settings, encounters and challenges. (This was always the case, but with 4-5 players, it's a good bet somebody has the [whatever] required. With only 1 or 2, the risk of the "impassible wall" becomes greater.)

**Ways of allowing "breaks" in combat : 
a) with a stealthy character, create encounters with plenty of hiding and allow the easy creation of distractions so that the player can hide and rest for a little bit. You are well within your rights to claim that the 3rd+ attempts face a MUCH higher difficulty of success...

b) create situations where characters can create temporarly impassible obstacles (great walls of burning oil, a collapsed roof section, etc). Be very upfront (in a direct or discriptive manner) about the fact that the ennemy cannot cross right away - and don't take that trust away. Be descriptive about how much time the character has.

c) the ennemies come in waves, and the player knows it ! Examples could be slow moving zombies roving in packs that the character can see, demons spawned by a portal every few rounds, etc.

The important thing is to make it a good tactic : if it costs an action's round to gain a round, you've not gained anything... And if the player doesn't know it's a real option, he might not risk it.

So that's my ranting... All this may look complicated (or not) but I can assure you that you can figure it out very quickly in play.

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