The Gassy Gnoll: After-Action Report (Thanksgiving 4e Session)

Last week this gassy old gnoll talked about the prep he was doing to run a 4e game for his family
and his best friend’s family the night before Thanksgiving. I’m here to say that not only was it a success, but we might do it again over the Christmas holiday while the kids are out of school. Crazy, isn’t it?

So last week I settled upon running a D&D 4e game using “The Forbidden Crypt” from In Search of Adventure from Goodman Games, Masterplan, and a lot of luck. It had been quite a while since I’d run anything of a D&D vein and other than running Secret Lives of Gingerbread Men for a group of kids at a birthday party, I wasn’t sure about keeping 8 or 9 players interested for two hours, let alone more.

Beyond the preparation, I printed a number of the maps from “The Forbidden Crypt” – ready to run the first 6 encounters old-school on the table with the pogs from the new Red Box and the Monster Vault. I had to enlist the aid of my daughters in printing, cutting, and taping those 6 maps as well as punching out all the cardboard pgs. And I have to say it was a rather large pain to go from the little map to blowing it up big enough and adding the 1 inch grid for 5’x5′ squares. But we got it done.

Turns out that the combination of 4e and Masterplan worked better than I could have hoped. I set up my trusty laptop with a second monitor and was able to show player handouts and maps on the external monitor while running encounters on the laptop display. And once I stumbled through getting the first encounter started, we got on a pretty steady groove.

We had 9 people playing in total, varying in ages from 7 to 42. Some (the adults, my girls, and the teenagers) had played D&D before, but not 4e. It took us about 90 minutes to create 6 characters for my friend and his family. We used the Character Builder from DDI and it went pretty well. Mostly we just used the defaults for the various PCs. I’d already created a NPC cleric (3rd level) to tag along as the medic and my wife and daughters built characters the weekend prior. All in all we ended up with the cleric, three fighters, two druids, three rogues, and a wizard. Quite an eclectic bunch. My wife sat out the first encounter but joined when we lost two players who weren’t feeling well, but we stayed steady at 7 or 8 players all night.

We used the printed map with the pogs for the first encounter (the group of 8 characters went up against 6 gnolls) and that didn’t work all that well because I was having issues tracking physical pogs with markers on the map in Masterplan. The second encounter (7 characters vs. an ankheg) we forgot about the physical map and I just showed the map on the player screen. That seemed to work better since we were all crowded around a dining room table without enough room to really do much with the second map.

As you might imagine, with such a large party it took forever to get through a round of combat. We struggled through 4 rounds (24 seconds) plus the surprise round ahead of it all and it took us a little more than 90 minutes when all was done. I believe the second encounter was similar as we slogged through all the hit points the ankheg had. But other than a few close calls, the PCs were only slightly damaged after both combats were complete.

As far as my own expectations went, the 4e character sheets from the Character Builder worked beautifully for players young and old, offering a nice menu of options that they could quickly scan through to figure out what they wanted to do. Because we were playing 1st level PCs, most players decided to only try one or two powers in combat – and most eventually settled on one (Melee Basic or Magic Missile mostly). Even so they hacked through the enemies eventually.

I think everybody had a good time overall. We had some players losing focus (the young ones mostly), but so long as we were rolling dice and trying to hit things or solve mysteries, they all did well. It was the pauses as we rotated through the initiative order that killed us.

However, ultimately I had fun. I think everybody had fun. And I had most of the players mention they’d like to continue the adventure over the Christmas holiday. So I must have been doing something right. 🙂

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