Monday, May 26, 2008

Random Review: H1 - Keep on the Shadowfell

Module H1: Keep on the Shadowfell is the first 4th Edition D&D product to hit the stands, coming out two weeks before the core rulebooks do.  As a result, it has the burden of not only being a good module, but to be an ambassador of 4th Edition to the gaming world.  This module is the first experience most people will have with 4th Edition.  If it's a bad experience, 4th Edition will be a tough sell.  Thankfully, H1 is (mostly) successful on all of these fronts.H1

Physically, the product design is interesting.  Rather than a book proper, it is more of a Trapper Keeper style design.  Inside the folder is a 16-page "Quick-Start Rules" booklet,  an 80-page "Adventure Book", and 3 double-sided poster maps.  At first I wasn't so sure about the format, but I have become a convert since learning how easy it was to keep the module, maps, and my own adventure notes together.  Now I am hoping this will be the new module format for 4th Edition!

As for the content, the "Quick-Start Rules" contains some rules explaining the basics of the new edition and five playable characters.  The rules section is pretty sparse; with only six pages, it really doesn't contain any more than you need to run the module.  Nevertheless, it was an interesting peek into the new rules.  The five pre-generated characters round out the remaining ten pages.  They include a dwarf fighter, a halfling rogue, a human wizard, a half-elf cleric and a dragonborn paladin.  All of them include level up information up to third level.  The individual powers are described in full detail on the sheets, making them pretty easy to just grab them and run with minimal instruction on the new rules.  Seeing them in action they seem to be a pretty well-rounded bunch, and everyone got a chance to shine at the game table.

The "Adventure Book" devotes the first 15 pages to a (slightly) more comprehensive set of quick-start rules intended for the Dungeon Master.  The remainder of the book is devoted to the module itself.  The adventure itself has a serviceable if slightly stereotypical plot.  However the main point of it seems to be to show off the new combat system.  The designers obviously tried hard to grab a pretty diverse group of monsters to throw at the party.  Since a large part of this module is to "show off" some of the new features of 4th Edition D&D, I think this was probably a wise choice.  My only complaint is that it did not include a little more in the way of skill challenges and the new social encounter rules for the players to deal with.  That would probably of pushed the page count over the edge though.

As for how it acts as an "ambassador" to the new rules... I can only say that for my group it did great!  Everyone seemed to have a good time at the table, even some of the players who were not looking forward to 4th Edition.  After running the module, everyone in my group seems willing to give 4th Edition a chance.  Which is really all you can ask for.

Coming soon, either here or on Lords of Tyr, will be the recap of what happen when I ran H1 for my regular gaming group.


Tim said...

As a participant on the player end of things, I share the fairly warm review of the changes made to the game for 4th ed. It's fast paced, allows for a fair amount of flexibility in player choices, & can add a little spice to the game if you're willing to make an attempt to sell the action you're performing (the amusement of using the Warlord power to allow an ally to make a healing surge by saying 'c'mon, cowboy up & get the job done' was a personal favorite).

Having seen them in action, including the warlord from the web enhancement (which I plyed), I can say I'm optimistic about the future of 4th, but they will have to maintain a tight leash on thei rwording of what certain powers do, otherwise it'll lend itself to a serious amount of janky play. As an instance of this, there's a Warlord power that grants an Attack of Op to an ally if an opponent shifts, & there's a Rogue power that causes an opponent to slid eif you hit them... had they dropped the ball & said 'force an opponent to shift to a square of your choosing', the warlord/rogue combo would be a truely stupid combo. thankfully they seem to be keeping away from that, if for no other reason than to piss off all the silly twinktacular people that play Living Greyhawk modules.

& before anyone yells at me for not knowing what I'm talking about, I spent the day before memorial day running a friend of mine & his group thru 2 seperate RPGA mods as a favor to him, & I can speak with experience on just how badly you have to slap the rules around to survive those things... unfortunately the mindset needed to make a character that can survive one of those things tends to make you unfit to rejoin a normal gaming group after that IMO. As exhibit A I offer the character my buddy had, some ungodly mess of sorcerer, fighter, cleric & spellsword that let him in one attack, dish out 193 damage thru the use of a swift spell, a pair of feats that were never meant to exist on the same character, & the bunkness of being able to load his sword with 2 spells that discharged in impact. & he claimed an average damage roll with that total...

whoops, I seem to have turned a post about 4th ed into a rant about my dislike of the evils of the Living Greyhawk RPGA games... my apologies, I no wreturn you to your regularly scheduled blog

Chadarius said...

I suppose the more tightly controlled way of "multi-classing" in 4e will keep that nasty stuff from happening to a certain extent.

I enjoyed myself quite a lot playing 4e. I am still very curious about the full extent of the game, but our first session was definitely a fun one. I think each of the characters were able to have at least one great moment in combat.

I really liked the at will powers of the Cleric. They have the ability to do damage and heal or buff at the same time. It gives you a better sense of accomplishment when you can get a crack in on a kobold and you can buff someone.

I find that really makes you involved in everyone else's situation and pulls you into the overall tactical battle. Whereas often in 3e, it often felt like each of us were fighting our own separate battles near each other.

The overall speed of the battles was really good considering we were still getting used to how everything is working. My guess is that with 4e we would fit 3 battles in per night rather than our usual 2.

That means a few good things in my opinion. First, that we can easily fit in character development and storyline when required without feeling as rushed. Second, the story line advances faster as we accomplish tasks so we can chew through adventures faster.

I like the idea of being able to pack more content into the same about of time.