The Gassy Gnoll: Another Adventure with D&D 4e

It’s strange, but the Gassy Gnoll is happy. Ok, maybe it’s not that strange. Like many infants, the Gassy Gnoll smiles when he releases his noxious fumes into the atmosphere. But why does it seem strange? He’s been without a gaming group for months now and he seems to have finally found a new group!

I have to give a shout out to Justin and Angela who hosted (and Justin GMed) last night’s game at their house. Justin pinged me via Google+ (thanks Google+!) a couple of weeks ago and we started chatting a bit online about the gaming group he had in Colorado Springs. When he asked if I’d be interested in playing and it was actually possible with our bizarre schedule at home these days (the gnollets and Mrs. Gnoll are all soccer players, which means we’re often three places at once), I hoped things would work out.

Last night I joined the group in action (yes, sometimes the planets do align), exploring some parts of the 4e Forgotten Realms universe. I created a half-orc rogue brawler/bruiser named Grash. And we hashed out how he knew a couple of members of the party (and the world) – Rolgli, a dwarves bodyguard I’d tussled with in our last meeting (I either stole something or roughed someone up and resisted arrest or some such, which ended up with Grash thrown into a dwarves prison… and the only line that kept coming up in my head was from Airplane – “Joey, have you ever been in a… in a Turkish prison?”); and Syras the Black, a revenant assassin I’d worked with on a job a while back. Apparently Grash rubs elbows with some interesting people…

Within 30 minutes of getting started, we were chatting about events in town. I was hired by the local church to help investigate some potential human trafficking and that put me squarely in line with a side quest the group was already working on, retrieving some artifacts from a group of goblins who had attacked the town with a few undead.

We really did quite a bit of roleplaying over the next few hours, investigating some of the bits they’d found in the goblin lair, figuring out a plan for determining what a particularly slimy dwarf was doing in a transaction at the docks, and then trying to figure out whether a ship captain doing a late night rendezvous with the creepy dwarf was in on it. We even got so far as to travel up (possibly down)
the river to a ruined city with a temple where the bad guys were waiting for their shipment…

And then we got to combat, which I’ll talk about in a minute. So out of the 5+ hours I was there, I think we spent about 30 to 45 minutes creating characters, the last hour in combat, and the rest roleplaying. Not bad for a first session.

Let me first say that regardless of what I’m about to say about combat, I’m going back for another session next week. I had a good time. It’s a great group of folks. It’s obvious everyone there enjoyed roleplaying (including myself). I haven’t gamed with that large a group in a long time (7 players and 1 GM) and Justin handled it great. And the small army of cats and dogs did nothing to dissuade me from returning for more.

But combat… Way back when I tried out the 4e Encounters session over at Petrie’s Famly Games a few months ago, I mentioned that it felt very CRPG-ish. It’s almost as though you process every round of combat as if you were playing something like the old Baldur’s Gate CRPG. Move, standard action, minor action. Ta-da. I don’t know when the D&D world decided that we must micro-manage every little bit (or if I only started noticing it in recent years and got out of that mode of thinking), but it slowed to a crawl. Even with Justin and Angela managing the initiative sequence and damage taken/effects/etc. on a dry erase board, and NPC status with markers showing bloodied or non-bloodied state, it drags big-time when you have 7 PCs and 7 NPCs meeting on a field of battle.

When the story takes a back seat to the strategy side of things, I have to admit that I kind of tune out. That’s not to say that 4e is hard – it’s not. It’s better than it was in 3.5 I think, but I’m not sure that 4e “better” is really an improvement.

Yes, I know that there are people who live and die for combat. Personally I’d rather gloss over battles as exposition where players and the GM roll to deal with any collisions rather than breaking into a game of chess mixed with other wargames. It’s just not my style.

Even so, I’m willing to put up with my lack of faith in 4e so that I can game with a group of folks on a regular basis. They may even put up with an occasional GMing interlude by yours truly, so I need to figure out some system I want to give a shot and go from there. Something AGE- or FATE-based perhaps.

Fun? Check. Happy to have the potential for a regular gaming gig? Check. 4e convert? Eh, not so much.

Gassy Gnoll signing out.

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