By - August 20, 2008 - 7 Comments

D&D4e learning curve – simple rules, complex game

Random thoughts

Back from GenCon. I feel like I haven’t slept in weeks… Which is great!

Streamlining your D&D game – especially combat

Great games are complex but that complexity comes from simple rules. After 5 D&D games in 6 days I can say that it is the case for 4E. I hardly ever looked in the PHB to check on rules yet combat encounters lasted forever. Even in the games we played sober!

Note that in 3.x I had to resort to dirty tricks to make combat longer! Now that the tactical game is more balanced all players have to contribute to make encounters shorter!

How can that be?

The character learning curve

The game is simple, but the characters are complex. Your PC has many options, even at first level, that it makes the learning curve steep for players. It is even steeper in games started with high-level characters.

The good news is that you don’t have to learn the hard way – you can run a smooth game from the get-go.

Here are a few suggestions that should help you run a smooth game:

  • Take more time for character creation. Everyone is eager to get started. It’s understandable. But considering that the first scene potentially sets the tone for a whole campaign, it can be good to spend extra time on character generation. We all love creating characters and no one will complain if your first session is mostly, or exclusively, character creation.
  • Make sure your players know the rules. The PHB looks thick but the D&D rules are simple – they can be summed up in about 40 pages.
  • Look up all the rules. Look up all the rules you read about during character creation. And take notes right on your character sheet or DM screen.
  • Print or make power cards. Every player, every power. It’s not that hard to just write them yourself either if your printer isn’t working – about half the printers in the world are out of ink apparently.
  • Talk strategy. Encourage players to tell everyone what powers they chose. D&D4e can be way more tactical than it’s predecessor. If your players work well as a unit they’ll dispatch easy challenges quickly and have more fun facing the tough encounters. Total party kills are usually not fun anyway (but if you have to kill everyone do it with style!)
  • Work on character background. While some players take the time to check out all their character options, players more familiar with the game can work on their backstories. It never hurt a campaign.
  • Work on character paths and destinies. Maybe your players are done with their 1st level stats. They’re also done with their backstories. Well, it’s never too early to look up higher level powers and feats. It will help everyone get more familiar with the different kinds of powers available, and it will motivate them for the long haul.
  • Merge backstories. Ask your players to decide why they’re adventuring together and why their character get along. It seems obvious but it helps a campaign over time so it’s worth mentioning. Building a little conflict intentionally is great too.
  • Set a time limit on a player’s turn. If a player takes to long to choose an action declare than they have 10, 20, or 30 seconds left to decide. Some players don’t react well to this one. But it can be very effective. Use it parsimoniously.
  • Drinks and d20s don’t mix. I like to play sober better than drunk. I have just as fun drinking but the game itself is more enjoyable when everyone is focused. Warning to all DMs out there: running a drunken D&D game could break your brain!

I hope this will help someone out there. Have fun gaming!

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Leave a comment (7 comments so far) »

  1. Breaking the DM is apparently even more fun…You should tackle that post, it’s right up your alley.

    Great post Yax! Enjoy the rest!

  2. DNAphil says:

    One of the things we did in getting use to 4e, was to have some beta gaming. That is, we all made up our characters and the GM ran a series of mini-adventures and encounters. We were allowed, during this time, to change any part of our character in-game. If a power was not working for you the way you thought, change it up for another one. Between games, you could make up different characters, change classes, or races.

    It was also during that time, that we really worked out how to play within our roles (not letting the strikers get tied up in Melee, etc.), and we started to figure out how to use our powers as a team, not as individuals. We did this for a few weeks, until the group really got settled into their characters, tested out their powers, and found what they liked best.

    Our actual campaign starts in two weeks. At that time, all character builds are locked, and we start playing the official campaign. I highly recommend the beta gaming concept.

  3. Yax says:

    I like the beta gaming concept. I’m pretty sure that a couple of sessions would be good enough considering that characters can change 1 power every time they level up.

  4. MadBrewLabs says:

    Power cards. I think they are probably the number one thing that expidited the games I played in during GenCon (9 games @ 40 total) with the RPGA. Having to flip through the books takes a ton of time. Also, I would say printing effects and every action from the combat section on cards would be worthwhile too.

    Besides the cards, having very visible items to identify minis that are marked, quarried, cursed, bloodied, make the game faster as well. This way you can make quick decisions about options instead of waiting for a DM or player to look up/calculate/remember who has what.

    Also, if you have all these things available, make sure players are aware where they are in the iniative sequence and have them be prepared with their action ahead of time. I would go so far to tell players they have a 30 second to 1 minute cap on making their decision, defaulting to a standard melee or ranged attack if they reach that time limit. If most everyone is a newbie, increase the time and scale it down as they get better.

    Make cards for characters as well, and have them fold it and place it as a nameplate in front of them. Have them include their init mod, passive insight and perceptions, their AC and Defenses (and any potention modifiers to these), and their best three skills and their values. This keeps the DM from having to ask and players looking up, “What’s your perception?” “Does a 21 beat your Reflex?” and whatnot.

    The beta gaming would be icing on the cake.

  5. Satin says:

    Power cards and quick reference sheets (like Cliff’s Notes, for important rules) are extremely helpful.

    Another thing you could do is have players experiment with creating a few characters on their own before the first game, just to get a feel for the process and so they can browse through feats, powers, and skills at their leisure without holding everyone else up.

  6. Shadowdancer says:

    Power cards are a neccessity, esp. because you can opt to change powers at each level. As for having a visual to determine status changes we use coloured tiles (cut from construction paper and lamenated) we place the appropriate colour under the PC’s miniature, once players learn the colour code it’s simple to see who’s under what change. A player’s log is another handy tool, keeping track of choices, annecdotes, treasure, and much more. It help’s when a campaign is long running and creates continuity.

  1. [... Random thoughts Back from GenCon. I feel like I haven't slept in weeks... Which is great! Streamlining your D&D game - especially combat Great games are complex but that complexity comes from simple ...]

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