Subedei's 4E Campaign Journal & Gameplay Discussion

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Prior to actually running a 4E game myself I have had the privilege of reading many other players and DMs account of their experiences with the system. With my vicarious knowledge, I feel I began my campaign with a much better grasp of how to effectively utilize the system. Now that I’ve got a campaign of my own in full swing, it is my hope that others will likewise find my ideas useful in their own campaign, and that those who have not yet played 4E might get an impression of what the game is like in actual play. And who knows? You might even find it entertaining.

If you’re interested in knowing a little more about my campaign world, I’ve included a quick primer in spoiler blocks. My comments on the game mechanics can also be found on spoiler tabs periodically distributed between descriptions of the actual events.

We are not currently using any house rules, though you’ll find I make liberal use of the open ended skill/ability/defense system in resolving things the rules do not specifically cover. I believe this is the way the game was intended to be played, and based on developer and playtester reports of gameplay it seems to be the way WotC plays it themselves. As such I believe this to be an accurate representation of 4E gameplay despite the inclusion of many things that aren’t specifically covered in the rulebooks.

Campaign Primer:
The game takes place in the small village of Asilo (population 392). The settlement is built into opposite cliff walls of a canyon (think Native American cliff dwellers in the south-western United States) and are connected by a large wooden bridge that spans the 200’ gap between the canyon walls. Nearly a mile below runs the ancient river that cut the canyon into the ground long ago.

The village is surrounded by a great desert, with endless dunes to the east, great mesas to the west, deadly quicksand seas to the north, and the ocean roughly a days travel to the south at the mouth of the canyon. The people of Asilo are aware of other villages, though they are far away and no one has ever visited one. It is almost completely isolated by the harsh desert it resides in, the only outside contact being from nomadic Kobold traders that visit the village once a year.

The town was founded nearly 400 years ago by refugees from a much larger, more prosperous, and more technologically advanced city state that was destroyed by drought and sandstorms. Their former home lies many months to the north-east, across the dunes and has not been visited since its abandonment.

The technology level is roughly Neolithic, though several technologies from the old city still survive. Tools and weapons are made from bone, wood, hide, and obsidian. Clothing is made from animal skins, as well as plant fibers found on the river banks and shoreline. Houses are wooden framed, and walled with either clay bricks or a combination of cured animal skins and large leaves that become extremely tough when dried.

The people of Asilo are primarily hunters, fishers, and gatherers, though they make use of small crops where they can find the space to grow them. They may seem primitive at first glance, but they make use of many advanced technologies from the ancient world. Asilo is supplied with mechanical power by a series of windmills situated at the top of the cliffs, the primary purpose of which is to draw water up from the nearly a mile below by means of Archimedes screws. The town has running water and a sanitation system comparable to that of ancient Rome.

The villagers have no metallurgy skills, and most of them wouldn’t even recognize metal if they saw it. Rather than imposing penalties for ‘primitive weapons’, I’m leaving all the PHB weapons statistically the same. A long sword might be made from the particularly hard and strong thigh bone of a great desert lizard, a dagger might be made the tooth of a dire shark, and an arrow head might be made from obsidian (which explains why they break when used once!). The bone they use for weapons and tools comes from fantastic creatures and is superior to real world examples. It is roughly equivalent to bronze.

Metal weapons are viewed as legendary artifacts from the ancient world. A steel scimitar might grant +1 or +2 to attack and damage like a magical weapon. It isn’t really, magical, but the people of Asilo would probably regard it as such. A magical bone knife might be statistically identical to a mundane steel one, though a magical steel knife is superior to both, granting +3 or more to attack and damage and likely a special power.

Dramatis Personae:
The main party:

Our first Fighter is a Dragonborn who uses a hide shield and battleaxe. Even though he joined the village less than a year ago, he is well respected and generally accepted by the mostly human and dwarf villagers due to his naturally responsible and caring temperament. Though he is very protective of the village children, they are rather frightened of him. The came to the village after wandering the desert for some time, having been forced to leave his previous home due to severe drought. As far as he knows he is the only survivor, and the Asiloans did not know of the other settlements existence until his arrival. It is located to the north-west of Asilo, though likely entirely abandoned.

Our second Fighter is a 15 year old human. He is exceptionally strong for his age and size and wields a curved, two handed sword made from the thigh of the great, burrowing, Drogos lizard. He is brash, arrogant, and eager to prove he is the equal of adults in manly pursuits. At the age of 15, each child in the village is taken into the desert by an experienced hunter to display their hunting and survival skills to prove they are worthy of being considered an adult. He was supposed to have undergone this test with his peers a month ago, though much to his dismay was forced to remain behind due to an unfortunate case of the Flu.

Our Cleric is a dwarf who follows the teachings of the Old God Bahamut. The Asiloan people use the standard pantheon from the PHB, though it has changed to be a bit more south-west Native American in the last 400 years. The civilization that the Asiloans come from was similar to ancient Greece, as such I think the Greek-like standard D&D gods make a good deal of sense. The cleric is a rather practical, utilitarian man.

Our Rogue is a member of the race of nomadic Kobold traders that visit the village annually. He is not a native speaker of the Asiloan language, and as such his verbal skills are still somewhat lacking. Though a shrewd businessman, he felt out of place with his people and decided to join Asilo to see if he’d fit in better here. From my observations he seems highly clever and highly materialistic, viewing the acquisition of wealth as a primary goal in life.

We had some guest players for the first session that will probably not be joining us regularly in the future. They include:

A gnome Wizard from the Feywild that was mysteriously transported to this dimension with no memory of his past. He was found half-dead in the desert about a month ago. He has a rather disagreeable personality and enjoys frightening the village children, who he has convinced he intends to eat. He spends most of his time in one of the windmills that he has claimed as his home.

The village Boatmaster, an elf Warlord. In his youth he was an accomplished warrior, hunter, and explorer. He loves water, boats, and fishing, and has more or less retired to persue these relaxing activities. He is the sole crafter of the village’s canoes and rowboats, and is quite sentimental about them. Many adults find him impersonable and at times somewhat creepy, though he is very popular with the children to which he frequently recounts his great adventures. He is the father of twin children, a son and daughter of 15 years who are currently undergoing their trial of adulthood in the desert. Their mother passed away several years ago. He claims to have seen the shadowy form of a huge sea monster underneath his boat a few days ago while fishing.

An Elf Hunter whom I know basically nothing about.
Episode One – June 17th

The game started off on a seemingly normal day, early in the morning. I wanted to solidly establish who the characters were, and so I started off by having them describe their houses (the kobold lives in a basket that hangs underneath the bridge!), morning routines, and having them interact with various NPCs around the town. They soon ran into each other and some good role-playing with much characterization ensued.

Eventually they noticed the village children were in an unusual state of commotion which seemed to stem from the discovery of a “treasure chest” the 9 year old boy Malvin had seen float into a cave while he was fishing in the river. As the children could not venture into the caves themselves, they tried to get the players to help them find it. All but the Dragonborn Fighter seemed eager to discover just what it was, and I suspect were probably planning to take it for themselves, even at this point (such responsibility and maturity!). The children lead them down the long, winding path down the cliff to the river, and the Dragonborn followed along to keep an eye on them.

Their differences blossomed into two competitive teams at the river, and they ended up borrowing the boatmaster’s two largest boats. A race ensued and soon escalated into a small battle. One of the boats fell behind, and the wizard decided to catch up by shattering the leading boat’s oars with magic missiles. The trailing boat then proceeded to ram the lead boat once it caught up. There was much whacking with oars and jumping from boat to boat that promptly ended with the second boat being capsized when the Dragonborn attempted to jump onto it and missed, hitting the side. The wizard was trapped underneath the capsized boat and finished it off by blowing a hole in it to save his books from the water. Everyone migrated to the second boat (which thankfully was the one containing all the children!), which forced a temporary truce.

Boat-Battle Commentary:
Aside from the odd use of bluff, diplomacy, and insight, this was our first real application of the 4E ruleset. Although I was tempted to use this as an opportunity to test out the skill challenge system I decided against it as the situation didn’t seem quite appropriate. I determined the players could use athletics to accelerate or decelerate the boat by 1 square at DC10, plus another square for each 10 points by which they beat the DC. At the beginning of their turn the boat would naturally lose 1 square of speed, and could reach a maximum speed of 12 squares/round. Additional rowers would assist the primary rower. Rowing took two move actions, and as a minor action they could attempt an easy difficulty endurance check to gain a +2, medium for +4, or hard for +6 on their athletics check. If they failed an endurance check they’d take a -2 penalty to subsequent physical skill and ability checks until they took a short rest.

When the Wizard started attacking the other boat’s oars I treated it as a normal attack vs reflex against the character who was rowing, only the damage was applied to the oar instead.

I didn’t believe ramming would cause anything but relatively superficial damage to such small boats, so I didn’t bother with that. When the boats collided, I called for an Acrobatics (balance) check to remain standing which was based on the speed of the boat (1-3=easy, 4-6=medium, 7-12=hard). The DC ended up being medium, and all but one of them failed.

Jumping across from boat to boat was fairly straightforward using the standard rules, and I required a medium difficulty Acrobatics check to avoid falling prone upon landing, both from the jumper and everyone else in the boat. Needless to say, there was a lot of falling prone, and a bit of falling overboard into the river.

The standard damage system worked fine for non-lethal attacks such as swatting with oars. We just treated all “hits” as actually hits and the damage as relatively minor. You could be knocked out, but you couldn’t really die save for perhaps the danger of drowning. The only one actually knocked unconscious during the confrontation was the Wizard, and instead of having him stabilize with a successful saving throw, I let him use a healing surge.

Malvin directed them upstream (north) to the cave which he claimed he’d seen the chest float into, and the overburdened boat coasted in. It was around this time the ruins of the second boat floated past the boathouse, causing a mixture of anger and rage in the boatmaster, who immediately set out to save his other boat. An argument ensued over whether it was too dangerous to bring the children along (with the Dragonborn on one side and everyone else on the other). Surprisingly he seemed to win out in the end, right around the time the boatmaster found them. After some amount of discussion he decided to allow them to continue using the second boat, but only under the condition he come along to watch out for its safety. Thus, he transferred to the larger boat and his boat was used by the Dragonborn to transport the children back to the village. When all was settled, they cautiously drifted into the cave.

While I never require the players to use diplomacy, insight, or bluff amongst themselves, I find they often elect to do so and then factor it into their roleplaying. The player is the ultimate judge of whether they think their character suspects someone of lying, but a good or bad result on an insight check is often a great guide.

Navigating the calm subterranean rivers they eventually came upon a tunnel lined with thick webbing. The ranger made an excellent Nature check and through examination of the web, the smell, and his knowledge of the local environment determined it to be the nest of a mating pair of large, highly poisonous tunnel spiders. The spiders are nocturnal hunters, so they would not be active at that point as it was still late morning. I also informed him that while the spiders could swim, they greatly disliked the water and could not swim well, a fact they would take advantage of later.

They decided to float into the nest for some reason, and soon came upon the spiders. The bluish glow of their bioluminescent moss powered lamp reflected off the many eyes of one of the spiders, though the other remained well hidden. Naturally, they preemptively attacked, causing the confused spider to flee back into the nest. They chased it, and as the boat coasted into the middle of the small cavern the second spider ambushed them from above by catching the young human Fighter with a sticky strand of web, pulling him out of the boat, and proceeding to slowly draw him up towards its terrifying mandibles. They cut the silk rope, retrieved the Fighter, and continued into to chase the first spider while the second pursued them along the ceiling above. They round a corner, and the first spider attacked them from the wall, while the second unsuccessfully continued to try and pull them up with its webs. They used the water defensively, keeping the spiders from engaging them in melee until the very end, when the enraged and heavily wounded second spider descended from the ceiling onto the boat. They swiftly killed both, and knocked them off the boat into the water. They cautiously searched the nest above, finding the remains of a hunting party that had disappeared several years ago, and then moved on.

Spider Battle Commentary :
One of my favorite aspects of 4E is how easy it is to create new material for it, consistent, balanced material no less. I whipped up these level 4 Elite spiders in about 5 minutes using the monster manual spiders as a guide. They worked great, and seemed to prove both intimidating and challenging, without being frustrating. The players made excellent use of the water to keep the spiders at bay, as the large-size spiders could not easily attack in melee to bring their dangerous poison to bear without putting themselves in greater risk. The spiders had to wait for the boat to drift closer to the wall, at which point it scurried over and started attacking in melee. They swiftly knocked it into the water, rendering the spider nearly useless for the rest of the encounter as it madly attempted to stay afloat and reach the safety of the wall. The second spider jumping onto the boat itself was quite risky, and ended up giving the players combat advantage against it as it could not easily balance on the small craft. With it’s lifeline cut it could not easily return to the ceiling either. With both spiders trapped, the PCs killed them pretty fast. I think the fight would have been a lot more difficult had the water not been there to protect them.

They eventually came to a massive cavern containing an underground lake. There was a small rock shelf to the left of the passage they entered by with a camp fire and a small tent. Upon closer examination they found crude tools, bits, of food, and a flag that said “Property of King Malvin” driven into a crack in the rocks. Even with the Wizard’s Light spell they couldn’t quite see the far end of the cavern, so they decided to explore a fork in the cave a while back first. Down the alternate path they discovered a tunnel leading into the wall that unfortunately, lay below the waterline. The Human Fighter, the Dwarf Cleric, and the Kobold Rogue decided to risk diving under to see if they could reach the other side, while the others waited in the boat. They discovered a cavern brightly lit by moss with another tunnel below the waterline to the left, and a tunnel above the waterline with a fresh breeze coming from it to the right. They decided to dive to the right, tunnel, and after about 30 seconds of swimming surfaced in another huge cavern with an underground lake. At about this time the other group got tired of waiting for the trio, and set out back for the underground lake.

Cavern Navigation:
The cave system wasn’t all that complicated here, but I think a larger, more confusing system of tunnels would be an ideal place for a skill challenge. Anyone have some good ideas for this type of maze navigation challenge? I imagine it’d involve a lot of dungeoneering and perception checks, and rest heavily on interaction between DM feedback and contextual decisions.

The Kobold tied some of the glowing moss from the previous tunnel to a rock and threw it into the center of the cavern. To his surprise, the rock hit something solid in the middle and remained visible. They swam out to the middle of the cavern and found a large, flat topped rock shelf laying just a few inches under the surface of the water. They also discovered that the lake was so deep they could not see the bottom despite how clear the water was, and that in many places huge stalagmites rose from the depths, some coming to within a few feet of the surface. I believe it was the Kobold who finally noticed the tunnel mouth with the rock shelf next to it, the fire, the tent, the flag, and the fact that this cavern was in fact the other side of the massive cavern they had previously discovered. The Kobold swam over to the campsite, and then upon swimming back to the submerged rock shelf in the center of the lake caught the glint of something shiny under the water on the side of the shelf. Upon investigation he found it to be an old chest bonded with the rock. The three of them pulled it up and the Rogue got it open. Their eyes were met with a brilliant gleam and the Cleric immediately grabbed for it, cutting his hand badly. Upon more careful inspection they found a long, straight bladed sword, knife and scabbards for each. Both were decorated with snake motifs and what’s more, were made from brilliantly gleaming blue-white steel, something they had never seen before.

Of course, greed got the better of them and they began to argue about who should have them. The Kobold Rogue argued they were his because he found the box and opened it, the Human Fighter because he dislodged it from the rock, and the Dwarf Cleric because he was the first to touch the sword, and was still holding on to it. The Cleric attempted to run with the sword and dagger, and the Fighter grabbed him. The Cleric attempted to grab the sword but the Fighter stopped him and restrained him while the Kobold tied his legs together. The Fighter and Rogue then decided to compromise, the Kobold taking the dagger, and the Fighter taking the sword, leaving the box to the displeased Cleric.

Thievery and Grappling:
Passive perception works a lot more fluidly than calling for perception checks, or even making them for the players. You just mentally set the DCs for noticing various levels of detail, glance over your handy list of passive perception scores, and then tell the players with high enough passive perception what they see. It’s also nice for planning, as it’s much more predictable than rolling. Knowing the capabilities of your group, you generally know beforehand how close they’ll need to get to something before one of them sees it, for instance.

After realizing the chest was impossible to open without dislodging it from the rock, and not wanting to try and open it underwater, they opted to tie a silk rope they got from the spiders nest around the box and pull from the top of the rock shelf. This lowered the DC from Not Humanly Possible to just 25, and with two assists the Fighter managed to pull the chest loose. The Rogue took 20 on the Thievery check to unlock it. All pretty standard stuff, and similar to how 3.5E functioned.

Grappling is where it got interesting. The Fighter first wanted to just grab the Cleric to stop him from running away, which is covered in the standard grappling rules. When the Cleric tried to draw the sword I had to get creative as preventing the drawing of a weapon is clearly something you should be able to do with grapple. I ruled this as an Athletics “attack” vs the Cleric’s Fortitude defense. The Fighter easily beat the Cleric, and prevented him from drawing the weapon. In hindsight I wonder if I should have had them roll initiative to see if the Fighter could react fast enough, as he clearly didn’t expect the Cleric to do that. I also wonder if Reflex would have been more appropriate…or perhaps opposed Athletics checks? The improvised grappling rules worked great, though I think with a little more thought I could come up with a better framework for things.

I ruled the attempt to tie the Clerics feet up as a Thievery attack at a -10 penalty vs the Cleric’s reflex defense, and required 3 results to succeed. The Rogue got very lucky on the rolls and won. The Cleric was only partially restraint, so I didn’t want to set a precedent for this kind of maneuver being easy in combat.

The swam off to the submerged tunnel with their prizes while the dejected dwarf used the airtight chest as a makeshift boat to float in the opposite direction to the campsite, just in time to notice the light from the boat rounding the corner in front of him.

As he slowly made his way across the lake, he noticed a huge black shape rapidly moving up towards him. He paddled furiously, but to no avail! A head the size of a small car connected to a knock that extended down into the depths and out of sight broke the surface around him and snapped shut over the dwarf and his box. Luckily, the box kept its jaws from fully closing, and the dwarf jumped out of the creature’s mouth. He proceeded to desperately swim towards his companions, while they rowed the boat towards him. The creature, figuring out the box wasn’t edible, dropped it and descended back into the water, leaving the lake eerily silent but for the splashing of oars and dwarf legs.

Dinocephalosaurus Attack!:
As an “attack” vs passive perception, stealth works smoothly, and can be graduated to determine how soon the defender notices the stealthy attacker. In this case the sea monster, on its exceedingly low roll, only failed by 4 points, thus I determined the dwarf would get a single action before the creature reached him (it was moving relatively slowly). He questionably decided to try and paddle away from it, which obviously didn’t accomplish much.

Much like with the Spiders, the creature was easy to design, took less than 10 minutes, and left me quite satisfied with the results. It was a level 5 Solo. I gave it only moderate defenses and attack bonus, though solid abilities and a lot of HP. The thing was huge, so I wanted to really convey its size by giving it powerful, yet inaccurate attacks requiring a lot damage to actually take it down.

They pulled the dwarf aboard, and then began hastily rowing for the exit when the creatures head slammed into the bottom of the boat, throwing it into the air, and them into the water. Luckily, they were close enough to the rock shelf to get out of the water before it rounded on them again. From the rocks they defended themselves against the sea monsters vicious bites and slams. The Kobold, hearing the commotion, began swimming back to the lake. The battle drew on with arrows thudding into scales, jaws snapping against shields and whatnot. In the midst of the fight the Kobold Rogue made it back over to them, and while the creature’s neck was somewhat horizontal due to attempting to headbutt the Dragonborn Fighter and missing, hitting it’s skull on the rock, the Kobold ran up it’s neck and attached himself to the back of it’s head. Throughout the rest of the fight the Rogue would proceed to stab at it and attempt to disrupt it’s activities while the creature attempted to fling him off (many time successfully, but the Kobold manages to keep getting back on). In rage, the creature swam fully to the surface, and leaped onto the rock. A few rounds of vicious fighting later and the creature fall back into the depths of the water, dead.

Dinocephalosaurus Revenge!:
It could bite for 2d6+6 damage, and automatically grabbed any creature it successfully bit. A grabbed creature could escape with an Athletics check vs it’s 24 Fortitude, but not with an Acrobatics check. It’s “Improved Grab” ability also differed from the norm in that it did not need to make another check to move the grabbed creature, and could choose to fling it in any direction a number of square equal to 1d6+str (which was pretty cinematic in play!). With something grabbed, it obviously couldn’t use it’s bite attack.

The sea monster’s mother basic attack was a headbutt that only did 1d6+6 damage, but stunned the target until they successfully saved. This worked great with it’s counterattack ability.

It had two recharge abilities; one was a close blast 5 vs reflex dealing 1d6+6 damage and knocking the targets prone. This recharged on a 4, 5, or 6.

The second was an Immediate Reaction when someone missed it with a melee attack that allowed it to make a bite or headbutt attack, and recharged on a 1, 2, or 3.

Towards the end of the battle I pulled off a nice combo with it by counterattacking with a beatbutt to stun one of the PCs, then on the creature’s turn, biting him while his defenses were down, then using an action point to hurl him 9 squares into the water, where he took additionally damage from smacking into it, and needed to save against the stun to avoid drowning.

The Kobold running up the creature's neck and latching onto it is exactly the kind of thing I like to encourage. I treated it as an acrobatics check vs the creature's reflex defense to grab on initially, then an acrobatics check to hang on as the creature attempted to fling the Rogue off. While he stayed on it's neck, I gave him and everyone else combat advantage as if they were flanking, which proved an excellent incentive for maintaining the tactic as they were having great difficulty flanking it due to being restricted to the ledge. It was a nice reward, with a great risk, as the Rogue was subject to some very dangerous falling damage when he got flung off into the floor, or worse yet, a wall.

All in all I felt the creature was a well balanced challenge for a 1st level party of 7, and my impression of the 4E encounter creation system is that it’s surprisingly easy to scale to whatever number of PCs you happen to have, and to design new content for. Easily one of the best improvements over 3.5E.

The Wizard used a ritual to repair the boat, the Kobold swam down and removed the sinking creature’s eye as a trophy, and the group eventually returned to the village.

The Dragonborn Fighter set off to inform Malvin’s parents of how he’d been sneaking off inside the caves despite being forbidden to do so, which angered the boy greatly. The Boatmaster and the Kobold ran to the town square to tell everyone about the sea monster and show the eye off. After lots of role-playing that I won’t get into here, the group was summoned to the village elder’s home on urgent business.

Upon arriving, the elder informed them that the coming of age hunting party that the Boatmaster’s two children were a part of had not met with the scouts set to meet them upon their return. They were over a day late, and he was becoming extremely concerned. He was sending three teams out to look for them, and after hearing of the group’s exploits in the cave, thought it an excellent way for the newcomers to prove their worth to the village. He would be sending the Boatmaster and another of the most trusted and capable members of the village to accompany them, along with the Human Fighter, who would be officially taking his adulthood test on this mission. The group was set to leave that night, and had the intervening time to prepare.

The session ended with the party acquiring equipment, supplies, and determining how much food and water they could carry without slowing themselves down too much and what the best method of traveling across the desert would be.
Running a real game was a very different experience from the previews I'd done. I think our attitude of playing rather than testing, and the fleshed out characters and world was largely responsible for this. I admit the preview games felt a little boardgamey, but I think this was largely due to a lack of roleplaying rather than an increasing in boardgame aspects.

I felt the more streamlined rules really refocused the game back onto roleplaying as compared with 3.5. The system is very flexible and intuitive for adjudicating actions the rules don't already cover. Ironically, I felt the way characters were designed and interacted with the rules actually shifted the focus away from thinking in terms of what special powers your character has, and more towards what your character can do in that moment, with your general set of tools.

The environment is a really big deal in 4E, and I found the more I emphasized it in combat, the more fun the battle became. At least at 1st level you're going to be using your at-will powers a LOT, which can easily turn into a slug fest of "It bites you, take 13 damage" then "Ok, I shoot it with Twin Strike again" over and over if you let the players and their enemies just stand there and attack each other. It seemed like the players didn't even notice that they were largely using the same attacks every round when I brought more motion and environmental interaction into the battle. Having the battle take place in relatively unstable boats with more defensible "islands" that the PCs can choose to spend actions getting to made things a lot more interesting, as did having the creature constantly disappear under the water for unpredictable amounts of time. The ability to maneuver into more advantageous positions is more important than it may seem when you factor in large differences in terrain, like solid rock and water. Since the creature had a pretty effective means of moving the PCs around, a lot of the challenge was just trying to get out of the water where they were vulnerable and couldn't attack effectively and the creature biting them and throwing them back in at tactically opportune moments. The PCs also had a dilemma of both wanting to surround and flank the creature, and not wanting to set themselves up for an AoE sweep attack. The fairly consistent counterattacks with their powerful secondary effects kept things very lively, even though the creature didn't technically have any more actions than the PCs.

Though it didn't come up in this battle due to the resiliency of the environment, it come up with the boats in a way, that attacks changing the battlefield can be very interesting. A powerful explosion, for instance, could cause a bridge the battle was taking place on to collapse into the rushing water below, turning a battle against enemies into a battle against the rocks and the current, and then into a battle to reach the shore, which would turn back into a battle against the enemies. A fight in an old cathedral against golems could involve the golem missing a PC who's taking cover behind a pillar and knocking the supporting pillar down, causing part of the roof to collapse.

4E combat is all about interacting with the environment and movement, movement, movement!
Tune in this Sunday for a more crunch-heavy episode, when our heroes venture out into the harsh wastes of the desert. What dangers will befall them in the treacherous sands? What has become of their missing friends? Are the western mesas truly haunted by cursed spirits? What will Subedei do with the Skill Challenge mechanics?

Find out next week!
Of course, greed got the better of them and they began to argue about who should have them. The Kobold Rogue argued they were his because he found the box and opened it, the Human Fighter because he dislodged it from the rock, and the Dwarf Cleric because he was the first to touch the sword, and was still holding on to it. The Cleric attempted to run with the sword and dagger, and the Fighter grabbed him. The Cleric attempted to grab the sword but the Fighter stopped him and restrained him while the Kobold tied his legs together. The Fighter and Rogue then decided to compromise, the Kobold taking the dagger, and the Fighter taking the sword, leaving the box to the displeased Cleric.

Please tell me this is role playing and this was in (albeit dysfunctional) character and your players are not always like this.

Very cool, thanks for posting this.

I've got to remember to include more terrain elements in my 4E campaign...
nice game you got there,and very good DMing.

You are good storyteller too,so i am looking forward to next episode
this is an awesome breakdown!

did you use miniatures for it? or did you improvise narratively? mix of both?

wish i live in OH, i'd jump in on this in a heartbeat! great stuff, looking forward to more.
Please tell me this is role playing and this was in (albeit dysfunctional) character and your players are not always like this.


The players certainly aren't like that. I wouldn't put it past the majority of the characters though.

The thing you've got to understand is that my group views a little inter-party conflict as a vital aspect of an interesting campaign. In the last game I ran the players were Redcloaks working for the Brelish government. Being well disciplined soldiers, there wasn't any inter-party conflict, which was kind of unusual.

So yes, it's roleplaying, and yes, it's all in good fun.
this is an awesome breakdown!

did you use miniatures for it? or did you improvise narratively? mix of both?

wish i live in OH, i'd jump in on this in a heartbeat! great stuff, looking forward to more.

Thanks for the positive feedback people, I'm glad to hear others find our exploits entertaining :D

We used "miniatures" for the battle with the spiders and the sea monster. The environment was drawn out on an extra large battle mat with wet erase markers. I actually hate D&D mini's, I find them very distracting and inaccurate to the way I visualize characters and creatures and whatnot. We use multi-colored D6's for medium size characters & creatures. The large size creatures in these battles were represented by roughly 2x2 square box lids.

We like to keep things abstract.
Very cool, thanks for posting this.

I've got to remember to include more terrain elements in my 4E campaign...

Yeah, it's like night and day. I'd say making interesting encounters in 3.5E was primarily about giving the enemies diverse, unique, and interesting abilities.

In 4E making interesting encounters is primarily about running them in a diverse, unique, and interesting environment, preferably one that changes with the battle.

The other things are very important as well, but I think the focus has changed.
i have a way of using printed out avatars(in appropriate size to match the squares or a bit less)then glue PCs(or pin monsters)on a piece of cardboard.
that way you can print out exactly how you wont your pcs and monsters to look like,and its a 5 min job
Moved at VCL request.
Bumped for awesome.
i have a way of using printed out avatars(in appropriate size to match the squares or a bit less)then glue PCs(or pin monsters)on a piece of cardboard.
that way you can print out exactly how you wont your pcs and monsters to look like,and its a 5 min job

Can you e-mail me this system, better yet, can you make a thread for it?
Sounds like a great way to spend less money on better roleplaying!!!
I actually play one of the characters in this campaign, and it's gotten much better as it goes. There's a lot of characters falling in and out, but that's sort of the nature of our group right now.

I'm trying to make him post more.
I actually play one of the characters in this campaign, and it's gotten much better as it goes. There's a lot of characters falling in and out, but that's sort of the nature of our group right now.

I'm trying to make him post more.

That would be super, it sounds like an interesting campaign.
Game sounds intersting and is certainly one of the better reads on this forum.

I have one question though and am looking for your input Subedei or the input of others who can answer a question.

It all looks good but your constant comments about 4e allowing a better chance for roleplaying then the previous editions puzzles me. I have ran all the editions of D&D including 1st and the only thing I can come up with would be that it is simpler(Which I disagree with but thats not for this thread) which would lead to less reading of the rules etc.. What perplexes me is this, After playing a edition of the game for about a couple months AT MOST I had memorized everything and had usually house ruled what was necessary. Even my players, and I run for 8 people in different combinations often, were able to memorize not only the material for the classes they usually played but that of others on top.

So where does the freedom that is being touted come from in 4e? Is it that I am a lucky DM and have highly intelligent players who aren't a proper representation of the Dungeons and dragons communtity as a whole now a days?

Please give me your input in hopes that I might understand.

As a bit of backround for posters I have ran 4e game just for the purpose of learning the rules with 5 of the 8 people I usually run for.

I have run 2, 1 shot adventures for 4 of the people I usually run for and..

I am currently running a campaign off and on in our bored time between our other games for all 8 of my players.
So where does the freedom that is being touted come from in 4e? Is it that I am a lucky DM and have highly intelligent players who aren't a proper representation of the Dungeons and dragons communtity as a whole now a days?

Please give me your input in hopes that I might understand.

Walker, I have played 3.5e (loved it) and have started playing 4e. I think I can explain the role-playing "freedom that comes from simplicity" that many 4e players talk about.

A mid-level PC fighter in 3.5e might have whirlwind attack - but by the time that he has that feat, he also has numerous other combat feats and abilities that are usable on most any turn (spring attack, maybe improved trip, etc.). A mid-level opponent NPC wizard has an even longer, more complex list of abilities (spells).

AFTER INITIATIVE IS ROLLLED, it is a complex list of options that these two characters have to choose from. Expand that complexity for the rest of the PC party and the NPC minions. During combat, there is little room for adding the complexity of a drifting boat in a dynamic environment.

In contrast, a third level Fighter in 4e can sweep. But he can only sweep once per encounter. He has a short list of powers, including Sweeping Blow, that can be used once per encounter or per day. The mechanic of almost all of the powers is the same, roll D20 add 1/2 level + stat mod [str/dex/int/...] vs. defense [AC, Fort, Refl, Will]. In other words there is much less complexity. Compare these to the rules for spring attack, trip, & sweep in 3.5e.

IN CONCLUSION, the game mechanics are much more invisible and roleplay is enhanced while the dice are being rolled during combat and especially during a skill challenge.

During non-dice rolling portions of play ("I search the chest, what do I find?"), there is no direct impact on role-play content.

Does this make sense?
In 4E making interesting encounters is primarily about running them in a diverse, unique, and interesting environment...

Completely agreed. I've found environments to be the most memorable part of battles, but it's also by far the hardest to generate, due to the lack of tools.

There is a tiny selection of traps and hazards in the DMG, but even if it were fuller, traps/hazards alone don't necessarily make an interesting battleground. It's also really hard to predict how different environments will effect the challenge rating of the fight (sometimes the party has found cleverer ways to use the terrain than I have, sometimes it's just been to the advantage of my baddies).

I've included several fun backdrops so far, but I still wish there were some dedicated guide to creating a wide variety of maps in a more or less formulaic or random way, for those nights when I'm throwing an extra encounter or two together at the last minute.
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