We’ve been using the 4E ruleset for a couple of months now through Google Wave, and although we’re all in a learning process, it’s worthwhile to share my thoughts and impressions of the rules and their implementation.

Our group has a mixture of a couple of players that are very familiar with the Advanced 2nd Edition rules, a couple of complete novices to D&D and tabletop roleplaying games, and a player with bits and pieces of a number of different systems but no real hardcore experience.

Character creation was relatively straightforward thanks to the Wizards of the Coast character generator – the free version was pretty useful in this regard, allowing the first level characters to be drawn up very quickly. Most of the group had a fairly solid idea of what their character type would be. One of the main comments was that the generator was perhaps too comprehensive!

With brief dicussions with myself as DM over various power choices the characters were established fairly quickly, and with only a small bit of encouragement they fell into the Striker/Leader/Controller/Defender roles right at the outset. I’ve limited the races in my campaign to the basics (human, elf, dwarf, half-elf, and halfling) to begin with, in order to aide this process, and only classes from PHB1 and PHB2.

For the record we have an Elven Cleric, a Dwarven Warlord, a Half-Elven Wizard, a Human Fighter, and a Human Rogue.

All of the guys are happy with roleplaying in general (having spent a lot of time in MMOs that have a heavy roleplaying element) so they only aspects they needed to get to grips with was the general ruleset (and using Google Wave, but that’s another matter).

For me, the majority of the ruleset boils down to combat – all other parts, with the exception of a few skill checks or challenges along the way, are pure roleplaying. This may or may not be the right attitude for 4E, but it certainly seems to be working for us right now.

We started fairly simply, just a couple of the guys who had their characters ready first thrown into a house with a couple of goblins and a guard drake (chosen for no other good reason that their maplib.net icons looked like that!). With frequent checks to the rulebook, particularly for what actions a character could take in a round, and how combat advantage worked, the combat began.

With two level 1 goblin skirmishers and a level 2 guard drake the players were overpowered before they started. However, they gave a good account of themselves, before a couple of Saves vs Death were required, and we all learnt a number of the rules along the way. I would definitely recommend the learn as you play approach with a couple of example combats.

Gradually we turned the result of the combat into a small prelude story as other characters joined in (even to the point where mystically the original goblins and drake turned into human bandits and a guard dog in later posts). Combat became more organised as players found their feet and became more confident with what they could and could not do. With new combats I chose monsters with differing powers so we could play out som of the effects such as daze, diseases/poisons, etc.

All in all we’ve had four or five combat encounters now, and the players seem to be much more confident in their characters’ abilities. We’re almost over with the prelude now – one more combat to come, and then we’re into the main campaign.

The rules for combat lend themselves very well to a logical and sequential mind (and seem ideally suitable for implementation in a computer game whether intentional or not). Each round has it’s own sequence of events, each turn has it’s own sequence, and there are simple rules on what can and cannot be done within that sequence. Attacks, powers, conditions, and modifiers are well described and laid out and are pretty clear. Remembering to apply them is the key! Google Wave helps a lot here, as it is easy to add a marker to a character in an initiative block post, and you have more time to decide your next action.

The biggest difference that the 2nd Edition players (and DM!) is finding so far is that combat is much more tactics-based than before, with players and monsters alike relying on what each other does and how the combat evolves. So far I like what I see!

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