[guest author] Adventures in 4e DM-ing
Everyone wants to play the latest game hot off the presses and of course no game can match the molten lava power of the new D&D 4e. Even though we don’t play a lot of D&D or fantasy combat now, would we even be gamers if we weren’t curious about a new version of the staple of the gaming world?
To satisfy our curiosity, I’ve been running Keep on the Shadowfell, the introductory 4e module. Save an ill-fated AD&D game in college, I’ve never been behind the DM screen. I’ve also never been one for spending a lot of time statting characters (the longest series of games I’ve run used Truth & Justice) let alone dungeon-craft, so running the intro module was definitely the best way for me to get out of the gate and to the table. I am pleased to say, it’s been fun. But, I’m surprised to say it’s been really fun, and we all want to play more when I thought maybe we’d play once or twice and call ourselves educated. I’m even finding myself thinking about the higher level modules due to come out later this year, heh, heh, while the players flip through the PHB plotting their next level.
My job with this module has not been one of creativity. After all, it’s all there on a platter right down to where each monster is placed on the map. Instead, it’s been an exercise in restraint. There’s an agreement that the deal is to kill monsters on a battlemap and the players don’t need much of a plausible reason to do so, but it still can’t insult their intelligences. I’ve tried with varying degrees of success to eliminate the ridiculous elements of the module to keep it a reasonably serious affair. For the most part that means scrutinizing the town, townspeople and so-called town encounters. I’ve tried to keep people behaving and interacting like normal human(oid)s instead of video game barkeeps and merchants (“Good day to you, adventurer! Would you like to see my wares?”). Despite my best intentions, though, it’s been tough to get all of these things working well.
I think as a introductory module for 4e, it’s not bad and the encounters have been different enough and challenging for the players. 4e seems to offer a lot of choices for the players, and they have to coordinate to get the most out of their abilities. Speaking as a newbie DM, because we are all happy to learn the rules together, I thankfully don’t have the extra burden of having to teach anyone the system or police it alone. My job is to know the module, run the monsters and run the game. That’s complicated enough because the goal seems to be for every monster to be a unique star in the monster firmament. Every kobold has different powers and movement. This one shifts if someone moves near it, that one shifts if someone misses an attack. This one does fire, that one does acid. It’s not that it’s overwhelming even if sometimes I forget which one’s which, but it means that I have to be sure to understand each monster’s powers and what tactical and descriptive effect they have and how they work in a particular environment which also seems to be purposefully unique for every encounter. If you’ve seen one kobold in the wilderness, you really haven’t seen them all.