There And Back Again
This past weekend Goodman Games sent a few of its writers to attend D&D Exp in Arlington. We had a solid group in attendance, spanning editions and styles of play, and like any good team of special agents, we all brought different skills to the table:

Chris Doyle: 3.5 devotee and the most experienced writer of the group.

Adrian Pommier: Rules scientist extraordinaire. If it can be represented in a spreadsheet, Adrian has done it. Craves vertical integration.

Me: The obligatory sucker. I’ve loved the game since I bought Mentzer’s red box set from a used book store. I was also the guy with the idea to go through the trash for WotC documents.  

Our mission, assigned by Goodman Control: determine if 4E was still Dungeons & Dragons.

We got into Arlington Friday night and headed straight down to the tables. Over the course of the two days we would play in games run by Chris Perkins and Chris Young, Wizards’ 4E designers.

There are dozens of threads over on ENworld dedicated to analysis of the merits and flaws of 4E so I’ll just offer a synopsis here. Of all the changes, the largest shift is in the envisioning of the player character classes. At any point in a combat, odds are that a character has a much better option to the usual “I guess I take another swing at the ogre.” (In fact, I’d wager that if you ever do revert to simply "attacking," you’re overlooking some advantage that could be pressed.)

More so than previous editions, 4E hinges on intelligent game play, rather than simply racking up the most plusses. Taking a passive role at the table can bury a party; in order to succeed, or even survive, a party of PCs needs to be able to work together effectively.

After wrapping up a game with Perkins, Doyle (who had worked with Perkins when he was the head editor of Dungeon magazine) managed to score us dinner with the big man himself. 

We headed out to a hibachi place and as the hostess seated us, I noticed Ed Greenwood sitting alone. Perkins invited Greenwood over, and before you could say “Holy Elminster” I was seated beside both the lead designer of Fourth Edition and the man that wrote the Forgotten Realms.

All the stories about Ed? They’re true. Over the course of dinner we discussed his experiences as a child visiting Canadian farms (and of the odd objects Ed discovered inside the animals); the merits of dragonborn scale painting (and prime locations for dragonborn body piercings); and how Ed claims to own half the DCC line. (We even discussed some of the Young Dragons but that’s for another post.)

All this, while plugging Chris Perkins for additional tidbits.

The ladies across the hibachi grill no doubt thought we were nutters, but to Adrian, Chris and I, it was geek heaven.

After dinner we walked Ed back to the hotel, then hung out in the lounge with Perkins. We were joined by a guy from Pazio, an RPGA organizer, Steve Glicker and some other folks throughout the night. The night wore on and we regretfully retired to our room --- I had a 17 hour travel day ahead of me on Sunday and we needed to get rolling early in the morning.

"But Harley," the astute reader notes, "what about the mission? Is 4E still D&D?"

To answer this properly, we need context. Take a moment and read this story about Gary Gygax and his notorious gelatinous cube:


The Mission: So I’m playing at one of the 4E demo tables run by Chris Young. Our party of intrepid adventurers just stumbled into --- you guessed it --- a gelatinous cube. The cube has swallowed up 2 members of our party, and is headed for me next. Thinking myself clever, I teleport over to the far side of the cube. Aha, Mr. Cube: We have you surrounded --- put down the explorers and step away from the jello mold.

But I was thinking in 3.5 terms, when a single cube would be the entire encounter and the rest of the area was relatively safe. Big mistake. As I’m launching arrows into the back of the blob, a crarrion crawler drops down from above. A few swipes of its tentacles and I’m starting to the envy the folks caught inside the cube.

As the cube caught up to two more of my buddies, the crawler hauled me off to its little nook in the ceiling. The tender ministrations of the crawler took hold and the last thing I saw was the cube chasing after the wizard as he fled the battle.

Near TPK? It doesn’t get any more D&D than that.



At 1:47 AM, Anonymous Cassandra said...

"TPK? It doesn’t get any more D&D than that."

That's been one of my concerns: yes I'll learn the game, it may even be fun, but I'm not sure it sounds like D&D. But it sounds as if you think achieving an old-school feel may still be possible, eh? ;)

At 2:49 AM, Anonymous J.L. Collins said...

I don't have much of an opinion on 4E yet, though I've only done cursory research on it myself to be fair.

That said, that's a great story Harley, from the dinner to the game and the Gygax anecdote inbetween.

Though I think some Young Dragons' ears are burning right now...

~ J.L. Collins ~

At 3:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

ditto that. Great story Harley.


At 5:39 AM, Blogger Jeff LaSala said...

Hah! Great story, H! Thanks for sharing this. We're all envious. :)

At 12:03 PM, Blogger Ken Hart said...

Very cool, Harley. I do like most of what I've read about 4e, and the shift from a "one monster vs. the party" base to more of a "four-on-four" skirmish sounds like a welcome change.

At 1:23 PM, Blogger Kameron said...

While not having the same exposure as you, I'd agree that the treatment of player classes appears to be the biggest change to 4E, and it's quite radical. Great stories, and thanks for sharing.

(Yes, my ears are burning, even though I hardly consider myself on WotC's radar these days. ;)

At 1:34 PM, Anonymous J.L. Collins said...

Related to your anecdotal story link Harley, and related to all of us as gamers, I don't know if you'd seen or heard this yet...


May he rest in peace.

~ J.L. Collins ~


Post a Comment

<< Home