We had the the “4e "Old School Style" One Shot” Sunday afternoon and evening. Sadly, it wasn’t as successful or as much fun as Bill had hoped. I’m held off writing about it for a few days so as not to jump on it too hard.
The main problem was combat. Although playing without minis and a battlemat worked well for the most part, it still took far too long. The main problem was keeping track of all the various short term effects and modifiers. Bill had to write everything down that affected each monster. This was a time-wasting pain-in-the-butt. It was bad enough just keeping track of these things for my own character.
If the bookkeeping could have been done away with, Bill’s 4e combat without minis and battlemats could have been as much fun as combat in 1e. One thing that helped make the combat interesting was that we played just like we would in 0e, that is we did what we thought would be most effective, not just what was on on the power cards. Had we stuck with just listed “powers” combat would have been slower and even less interesting. I know 4e has rules for this, but they seldom come into play in the few straight 4e games I’ve played and never seem to be more used that the powers on the cards. Some powers were effectively nerfed by the lack of battlemats, but as we knew that going in, we avoid those powers — or came up with interesting ways to use them that Rules as Written gamers would probably not like.
The general consensus was that the combat system needed too much bookkeeping to be fun — and that all the bookkeeping made the combats last 5 to 8 minutes longer than they really should have. That’s as long as some entire combats in early TSR editions. I would have hate to see one of our combats without the reduced hit points we used. Verdict: needs more work — a lot more work.
One thing that really did work was the “general class skill.” Because of this, most classes felt like they had in every other version of D&D. Rangers could track. Rogues could steal and pick pockets. The major exception was the Magic-User. The general class skill could not replace the variety of spells that pre-4e magic-users had. Even three little books only 0e had more spells variety available. Verdict: Except for MU-type classes, great.
Trying to break out of the encounter format worked, but not too well. Too much of 4e is based on everything being an encounter. There’s more to it that recovering powers. GM Fiat worked great for that aspect, however. Trying to remove the focus on encounters is apparently harder than it looks. Or perhaps I was expecting too much. Verdict: So-So. May not really be possible to fix.
Dropping skill challenges worked fine, but then there is no reason why it would not have. Solving non-combat situations with roleplaying and a few die rolls has worked since 1974 with most D&D groups. 4e’s skill challenges always seemed to me to be a poor-designed solution to a problem few groups really had. Verdict: Great.
The general consensus of players was that Bill might be able to talk us in to trying it again sometime, but only if he can eliminate much of the combat bookkeeping along with the minis and battlemats. Next week, back to the City-State.