July 16, 2009

{Quest Log} Let's Get This Party Started 3 & 4

First of all, sorry for not updating last week. I'm still trying to balance my life between play time and work time and working at a game store doesn't help very much because priorities can get a little mixed. It has not only affected my biological clock but also my blogging routine which some of you may know has been greatly reduced.

So, to make up for last week I will be making this entry doubly long for your reading (or despairing) pleasure.

Final Prep
After two weeks of bad planning and schedule clashes on my part, we confirmed 4 players and set a date for character generation using the free character builder and discuss on when and where should we be playing. The party consist of:
  • Zed, Human Rogue
  • Chant, Tiefling Bard
  • Kurndash, Dragonborn Fighter
  • Narakh Nukem, Dragonborn (infernal) Warlock
After char gen, we agreed on a date and location for the game to be held. Seeing that neither of the players' houses would be convenient to have us in, we agreed to play in a boardgame cafe called Carcaseon.

Normally, the cafe is meant for people who wants to play any of the boardgames they offer but after speaking with the owner, he was alright with us bringing in our own grinds, miniatures, dices and the whole lot as long as we paid for drinks.

For the adventure, in between procrastination and working hours, I planned out 5 encounters with a goblinoid theme. As I said in my previous post, goblins are a very versatile monster race. With the right mix of minions, lurkers, soldiers, controllers and leaders, you could easily make encounters ranging from EL 1 to 4.

I was having the most trouble designing a skill challenge. My initial approach was trying to scientifically build a skill challenge that would present a challenge at the same time allowing the PCs to shine. Although it would be rewarding for the characters, it actually places a limit on your imagination when you are thinking of matching both criteria. In the end, I went with designing a skill challenge that matches with the narrative of the adventure than matching it with the characters.

With the framework of encounters and skill challenge laid out, all that was left is to create a narrative to tied them up together. I was actually stumped for ideas that wasn't cliche at first until the very last hours before the game was about to start. After writing some general notes and sketching out the battle grinds for each encounter, I was prepared enough for the game.

Character Builder FAIL!
What I am about to say about the Character Builder may seem like I'm blaming it but I believe it's more of a matter that the character builder just doesn't sync with our group style. It might actually be because we are just not used to it or expect too much from it.

Nevertheless after this one-shot, we pretty much agreed that we won't be using the Character Builder again until something convinces us otherwise. In terms of usability and convenience, it actually created more hassle for us than solve them.

One issue that I have about the builder is during the equipment stage. When Chant's player double clicked on the equipment that he wanted, the builder added it into his character list at no cost. Without realizing at first that he was 'buying' equipment for free and when we later found out that he was not being charged for it, we sold the items which caused a great imbalance in the amount of cash he was having.

Although it didn't affect the one-shot game since they didn't had to spend anything for the adventure, it was still weird that double-clicking an item in the equipment stage, adds rather than buys the item.

Another minor complaint that I have for the builder is that while giving us the character sheets filled in is very nice, it isn't transferable if the other computer doesn't have the builder. This made printing out the sheets a problem for us since the group didn't have a printer connected to a PC that has the builder in it. In the end, we had to borrow the cafe's printer and plug it into my laptop.

It would have been better if there was a way to turn the completed character sheets into a pdf file or something that doesn't require the builder.

After the character generation, I asked one of the more experienced players if they prefer using the builder or doing things with good old pencil and paper and his answer reflected my sentiments exactly about the builder. While the builder is really fast, our style of character generation is more to planning the progression of the character than to simply put them together.

On the other hand, the inclusion of the power cards in the character sheet was very handy to the extent that it feels like a must-have for the 4E table. However, a couple of the players who were completely new to the system found it a little confusing to understand the numbers.

One of them in particular didn't understand how the builder could calculate out a certain number for his powers and it was hard to deduce the modifiers since it doesn't state out the exact calculation. The other player who was playing the rogue, thought that the formatting of the numbers made it harder to understand how much damage he dealt including his sneak attack and didn't realize that he had made a mistake until after the session.

That basically sums up our experience with the builder and we probably won't be using it again to generate characters except for filling in the numbers and printing out the sheets after we have made our choices on paper.

The One-Shot Session
The gist of the adventure is that the PCs have to track a warband of goblins that raided a heavily armed caravan, looting everything particularly magical items which belonged to the town wizard who hired them. After following them to the nearby marsh, they find the goblin encampment beside a half-sunken eladrin keep and enter it to find the stolen goods.

Combat was generally fun with some good laughs at the 4E mechanics like the warlock giving the enemies the finger as his way of cursing them. I didn't feel the grind that some complained about combat. In fact, I, as the DM, was having more fun during combat than I was in 3.x because the battle changes almost on every turn when monsters and PCs throw powers at each other.

I managed to see forced movement in play with the bard using Shout of Triumph and my goblins using Goblin Tactics which really adds a tactical dimension to battles. I noticed that there's quite a large disparity between the damage being dealt by PCs and monsters with the latter doing much less when they are fighting toe-to-toe against the PCs.

When the PCs reached the skill challenge which was to find a way into the half-sunken keep whether by swimming or climbing to the top of the battlement, I used the DC in the rules update and it was easily overcome when the PCs simply decided to just take 10 on them. It wasn't a real challenge at all and the PCs didn't even notice that they had just went through one.

Maybe I'm doing it wrong. Maybe the DC was just too low or I shouldn't have allowed them to take 10 for skill checks in a skill challenge.

I didn't even bother counting successes and I'm not sure if there's a point of doing that. I just let them through as long as they came up with a solution that sounds reasonable enough to overcome the skill challenge.

Anyone has some suggestions or something to point out about running skill challenges?

Wrapping Up and Post-Session
We didn't manage to finish the one-shot after 5 hours but we ended with a good cliffhanger at the entrance of the last encounter. Everyone had a great time despite moments in between encounters where I slipped due to lack of detailed preparation.

We are currently planning for the next session which should be a short one just to go through the final encounter. I'm thinking whether I should add in another encounter to extend the gaming hours. What do you think about putting two EL4 encounters back-to-back with a short rest in between? Do you think the PCs (they are level 1 by the way) would be able to hold it up?

Overall, 4E seems to stick well with me and the new players despite the technical stumbles we had before the game. It would be interesting to see whether this game would be our system of choice for a long term campaign which we might do after we finish with this delve.

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