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My Questions for 4th Ed Players

   Posted by: Avaril   in RPG

So, as I mentioned in a previous post, I’m running my first 4e game soon.  I’m not 100% sold on it, just like I’m not 100% sold on 3.5.  But, I do have some serious questions I need to ask before I go forward.

  • How hard is it for a character to die in 4e?  To me, with all the checks and healing surges, it seems nearly impossible.  That seems to really rob the game of any sense of danger.
  • Do the limited number of ‘paths’ make it difficult to truly ‘customize’ a character?  (i.e. do all Fighters feel alike?)
  • Are the number of given options in combat overwhelming or freeing compared to 5th ed?  Do they eventually get tedious?
  • Do the healing surges, in practice, really mean that you’re never carrying around any damage?
  • Is there anything I should know about the learning curve?  Any beginner’s mistakes I need to look out for?

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This entry was posted on Thursday, November 20th, 2008 at 10:32 am and is filed under RPG. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

13 comments so far


Very interesting questions. I’d like to hear some answers to these.

November 20th, 2008 at 12:38 pm

- A few sessions ago all my players went unconscious in a fight that was the normal difficulty for their level…2 died, (one of whom was a dwarf, which get 4 strikes before death instead of 3) and two managed to survive…sometimes bad luck happens, and I suspect death becomes even more likely with tougher challenges…

- No…there are enough paths for characters to take (even more so if subscribed to DDI) that fighters feel different from one another…provided the player plays them as such…there aren’t really any powers that stick out as better than their counterparts that would encourage fighters to be funneled in such a manner…

- They can be a bit overwhelming at first if you’re not quite sure how to use them…but once you learn to cooperate with teammates to use your powers to the fullest, combat becomes really fun and dynamic…if an encounter becomes tedious in 4e, it’s usually the DM’s fault for making a lame encounter…this isn’t a problem most of the time, but with solo monsters it can be…creating an interesting environment that the players and the monster can interact with really helps make solos awesome…

- Not at all…during combat, tension is high with limited healing capacities in the encounter and even afterwards, characters like paladins have a tough choice between healing themselves and saving surges to lay onto others…the more encounters you do before an extended rest, the tougher it gets…

- Keep an open mind and don’t assume that things in combat (i.e. things that provoke AoOs) are the same as in 3e…lots of things have stayed the same, but some have changed…review the combat material and get comfortable with the basics…use your intuition to settle dilemnas in-game and clarify the grey areas after the game…

November 20th, 2008 at 1:09 pm

- It is hard to die, but poor play can still kill. Also, if an encounter is not balanced, you can get a TPK without much effort…

- With just the PH, I would say fighters might feel a little more similar than 3.5 fighters, but there is still a variety of powers/feats. Martial Power should help this quite a bit.

- I find combats to run more smoothly than 3.5. Less conditions and cleaner rules.

- It will just depend on how often they get short rests. More encounters can definitely equal more carried damage.

- Some things SEEM similar to 3.5 but are different. For instance, no confirmation of Criticals. Try not to bring any preconceived notions from the previous edition.

November 20th, 2008 at 1:51 pm
Mike Lee - LFR Southeast USA Point of Contact

You might see the end coming in 4e, but healing resources are limited in combat. Fights a lot of ups-and-downs.

The roles are well-defined in 4e. Within a role, there are usually a few styles. Fighters, for example might be offensive/defensive, geared for single target combat/hold-the-line. Within that the fighter might be a two-weapon/two-handed/sword-n-board. The differences are very distinct.

The core books offer a fair number of options, but the new books coming out like Martial Powers explode the options.

There is usually a short rest between combats where PCs can regain encounter powers and use healing surges freely. Getting through an encounter is intense, but withdraw and extended rest is really a strategic option. Dead PCs often have healing surges left because the party has run out of ways to use them.

4e is a game played and learned at the table. The best thing to do is trust the mechanics initially. They may seem abstract on paper, but they play very well. Once you’ve played a few sessions, you’ll get the feel of the game. Adjust to taste from there. Oh, and forget everything you know about 3.5. There are similarities, but many profound differences. Relating to past editions will only serve to confuse.

4e has been called a tactical game, but I think that’s because, for the most part WotC is publishing crunch. They leave a lot of the RP fluff to the DM and players. Tactical combat is where you need tight rules. For RP, you have a simple yet comprehensive skill list to roll off social interactions. Skill challenges (when done right) actually support RP (and any skill-based endeavor) with a framework that makes interaction purposeful as an end unto itself instead of just a way to hit plot points and give context to combat.

November 20th, 2008 at 2:03 pm
Ben Naveaux

-I have not had a player die yet in combat but I have had 2 come close. I have to say that all the healing surges and stuff make it easier for players to keep going outside of combat. In combat even a dedicated healer or 2 will have trouble keeping up. Nothing is nastier then using a monster to split the healer away from the group, man I love chokers. Also the checks make it even easier to die than in 3.5. I also have a house rule where on a 1 on a death saving throw they don’t remove the tick until an extended rest.
My players have yet to go into and encounter and go “O its just a ogre guys we can take it.” it has been more along the lines of “Holy kord an Ogre! Maybe if we all gang up on it while it is not paying attention and get the drop we might bloody it before it tears into us.”

-My players do not feel too limited due to multiclassing being an option and because martial power is around the corner. But even without that they feel that while there aren’t as many choices as in 3.5 currently there is still a lot. In fact probably more than in the beginning of 3rd.

-I would highly suggest spending some time printing out the power cards people have put up on enworld and elsewhere for the PCS. It helps managing powers a ton. I do not think it is tedious or overwhelming to keep track of at least using this card system.

-the learning curve is easier than most rpgs but it is still there. The mistakes I make the most is keeping track of conditions of players and monsters and also remembering to give out action points. There is a helpful pdf to the first problem that I have used.

I printed these out, folded them and but them in front of players to help remind me of conditions.

November 20th, 2008 at 2:51 pm

Characters in 4e still die. My campaign is currently at 5th level, nearly 6th, and I have had no less than 4 PC deaths.

I have not seen customization to be nearly the problem that I thought it was going to be when I first read about 4e. That said, I only have one campaign and there is only a few instances of PCs with the same class. But there are choices for players to make about class, race, stats, feats, skills, powers, and equipment. With all those variables you can get some very different builds. With Martial Power and the FR Player’s Guide in the mix you have even more choices.

Powers tend to be more freeing, but I do find one player constantly unprepared for his round and having to do the math on the spot (slowly) and grinding the combat to a halt while we wait. I do think that once you’ve blown through your daily and encounter powers using the same at-will round after round can get to be a bit of a grind. But even then with dynamic encounter design you can fix some of this and it’s ultimately still a lot less true than all the previous editions.

Expect every player to walk into every combat with full hit points. It requires a bit of a shift in thinking about what hit points mean, but once you’re used to it, it works. I did a show where we addressed this:

I think these things cover the learning curve pretty well.

November 20th, 2008 at 4:17 pm

Thanks for the input, guys! It’s much appreciated:

@Bonemaster - Good! We here at DireKraken always hope that our posts are useful to more people than just us.

@Reverend Mike - Good advice, I noticed quite a few things *like* 3.5 on my read-through, but not exactly like 3.5. Enough to trip us up, though. Best to keep things moving and correct ourselves next week.

@Anthony Roberson - Great advice also, we have some “unlearning” to do after playing 3.x for years.

@Mike Lee - That’s where I see a lot of confusion surrounding 4e. Some say that it’s “roleplay-light” because it doesn’t have as detailed of a skill system as 3.5. I see that as a returning to the first edition, where you must pay more attention to what’s going on, not solely rely on skill checks. {fodder for a future post?}

@Ben Naveaux - Great idea on the cards! I may have to do the same!

@Jeff Greiner - It sounds like you got to the same conclusion I did: Hit Points don’t mean the same thing in 3.x and 4e. They’re more like ’stamina’ or something now. I’ll have to listen to your podcast to see what you recommend.

November 20th, 2008 at 4:36 pm

I’ve yet to have a player die, but that’s because my challenges so far have been lame. I play with people who probably would not respond well if I smashed their heads up. One thing to do, if you feel surges are too much and want to have a dangerous game, slash ‘em up. I have a big blog post full of house rules that I’ve personally tried, and I find that to be a very effective one. If your players are healing too much, you can limit the surges they can spend, or cut their surges in half. This makes the game more dangerous, REAL FAST.

I say the number #1 beginner’s mistake is really mindset. 4e gives you a lot of crunch – this makes people become jaded and mentally they give up on fluff because it’s not in the book, and they don’t want to come up with their own. That’s the worst mindset and it really ruins the game for a lot of people – I think they ruin it for themselves this way. Inject flavor and character into the numbers. 4th doesn’t try to wrap the mechanics into the fluff like 3rd did. That’s up to you and you should express your creativity in doing so.

November 20th, 2008 at 5:13 pm

The thing most people seem to miss with the death rules is that failed saves vs death don’t go away until after a rest. So a character can be down, up again, and down again, all in one combat, and die the second time. I’d say death is just as likely as in previous editions, but you don’t spend as much time lying around unconscious waiting for it.

I haven’t had anyone die yet, but our warlock would have if our paladin hadn’t used a power to get in the way of the hit that almost killed him.

Also don’t forget that healing surges aren’t just lost in combat. Skill challenges, especially ones with endurance checks, can drain surges as well. If my players do something especially stupid, or botch a check to move over dangerous terrain, they lose a healing surge.

All of the characters in our party play very differently, though our ranger seems to think she’s a tank. Our two defenders fight in different ways, and our two strikers are very different. I took a look at Martial Power, and I’d say if you have any concerns about character individuality, pick it up on Amazon for $20, and it will be well worth it.

Beginner’s mistake? Not having the DM screen, or at least photocopying the pages with conditions and concealment. We spent way too much time looking those up.

November 20th, 2008 at 5:43 pm

1. Pretty hard, but not nearly as impossible as it might look at first. Characters only get free access to one of those healing surges during combat, unless a power allows them to use another. (Lots of leader powers and some defender powers do; other classes, it’s a lot more rare.)

2. Do the limited number of feats in 3e make all fighters seem alike? Do the limited number of domains make all clerics seem alike? If your answer to these questions is yes, then yes. If your answer is no, then no.

More powers means more options, of course, but you could say the same of 3e.

3. It takes a little while to get used to having the options, if you’re used to playing a non-spellcaster. Aside from that, no, not really. By the time you start to feel limited by your arsenal of powers, you’re gaining a new level, and your new power opens up different combinations.

4. It means that characters will rarely enter a combat with less than 76% of their hp, yes. If they do, it means they’ve been pushed hard and haven’t been able to rest (or foolishly chose not to). This actually works pretty well with the hp abstraction — you wear down until you just don’t have any more reserves to tap, and then you’re in serious trouble.

5. As a couple people have mentioned, power cards and some form of counter or flag for condition tracking are the two things that will help you most.

November 20th, 2008 at 11:58 pm

Death & Dying in 4E: I’ve been running my campaign for about 2 months now.

One character died when he made a tactical mistake and got squeezed to death by a giant snake. Three of the characters were swimming across an underground lake to get to a dragon’s hoard, when a huge water snake started following them. They didn’t see the snake but saw some ripples in the water, I asked them if they continued on to the island or turn back to the bank… two turned back, the snake went after the one alone. He got in some crit fire (Tiefling Warlock) damage on the snake before being crushed to death.

The party encountered two different dragons at different points in the game. The first was a young black dragon the other was a young red dragon. The black dragon was a pushover, then ganged up on it and killed it with only a few dropping into bloodied-range. They tracked it back to its lair in which they found the lake, treasure, and warlock-squeezing snake.

The red dragon however was a near-TPK. The only survivors were the one cleric whose player was absent that day, and another PC who survived by playing dead. The paladin, ranger, and fighter all died, as well as the party’s hyena pet-NPC (ranger rescued him and got a nat20 on nature to calm it down, so it latched onto them as a follower)

The party re-grouped with the surviving wizard and cleric, being joined by new rogue, fighter, and cleric PCs.

A number of times characters have gotten close to dying, but with two clerics and a warlord in the group they’ve been able to save the day.

As far as learning curve goes… keep in mind my mantra, “This is D&D not D&D, forget everything you knew about D&D because it no longer applies to D&D.”
Basically, anytime you start to say “But in 3.5….” stop! This is not 3.5, or 3.0…. there may be some superficial similarities, but don’t go into it expecting to find ‘updates’. Instead expect everything to be totally different and you may be pleasantly surprised when you find one or two things that haven’t changed.

November 21st, 2008 at 4:41 am
Jason Griffith

It’s actually very easy for characters to die. The healing surges are there because you *need* them, not because they want you to live forever. The sense of danger is very light when you create your character - then you fight your first group of kobolds intending to slaughter them in two rounds, only to find that you’re spending healing surges in the third round.

I don’t have any problem customizing my characters. I don’t really feel that the paths are limited. There are certainly fewer options now due to the way that the paths are selected, but I don’t feel a loss with them.

I’ve never felt overwhelmed by my options, especially when using martial classes such as the fighter. I love having multiple options for classes other than casters now. I certainly feel that his is a great opportunity to really get into your character and make them something special.

No, the healing surges do not mean that you never carry around damage. The only time that that will be the case is when your DM does not run multiple combat sessions in each day. The thing that balances out the healing surges is the fact that you have a set number available to you each day. If you are light on combat, then yes you will be able to spend about 10 minutes of resting to become fully healed. If you have multiple battles though, then you have to conserve and prepare with the next battle in mind. You actually find more characters carrying on damage than you do in 3.5.

The new version is actually very easy to pick up. The only problems that I have seen come up are where a 3.5 player makes a 4e character assuming that all rules are the same. Do NOT skip reading a section of the rules because you recognize the heading that you already know the rules. It’s important to note that all of your defenses (except AC) are keyed off of the higher of two of your ability scores. Fort is based on Str/Con, Ref on Dex/Int, and Will on Wis/Cha. Even small things like carrying capacity have been tweaked, so be ready to read the whole book just to make sure you’re not doing it wrong. The most frequent newbie mistake I’ve seen is that Saving Throws have completely changed, but users do not realize this. Be certain to read this section.

November 21st, 2008 at 7:26 am


Food for thought.

Thanks for your comments, folks. We’ll be sure to post the reaction of our group (mostly thirties, all veteran gamers, committed 3.5 players) to a test game or two of 4e. :)

November 22nd, 2008 at 9:52 am

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