My preorder of Keep on the Shadowfell
came in the mail yesterday. I've been following the development of 4E closely, but this is my first look at an official 4e product.
The Module is two full color soft bound books, and three large double sided full color maps. All in all it's very pretty, but with a MSRP of $29.95 it's a bit steeply prices. (I'll get back to this later) I preordered mine from Amazon for $19.77, so it wasn't that bad.
The first book is a thin (16 pages) Quick Start guide for the PCs. It has all of the basic rules the PCs need to know and 5 pregenerated characters. I'll get to the rules in a minute.
The main book is 80 pages, contains a Quick Start DM guide and an adventure suitable for 4-6 1st level characters. The adventure is standard fare for DnD. Some Evil Cultists are up to some crazy shenanigans, and it's up to the PCs to stop them. What makes this adventure nice is the way it's set up. The encounters tend to fit on a single two page spread, with maps, stat blocks, and tactical information nicely grouped together so the DM doesn't have to flip pages as the encounter unfolds. It's a little less organic, but I'm not sure if the players would even notice. I think this would be a very easy module to run, and there is just enough variety between encounters to keep things fresh.
This isn't DnD as you know it. Most of the DnD hallmarks are gone. Alignment means almost nothing, cast and forget spells are gone, saving throws are simplified, character classes seem better balanced at lower levels, skills are simplified and it looks like combat will run faster. The down side is, miniatures are almost a must. Many of the abilities PCs and monsters possess are really only effective in a tactical situation where you know where everyone is in relation to everyone else. Without minis, I for see a lot of arguments over pushing, pulling and shifting. The original DnD evolved from the Chainmail
man to man miniature game. 4E really goes back to these roots.
All in all, this product does have me hyped to run 4E. I'll probably wait until the Core books are released so my players can generate their own characters rather than stick them with pregens. Wizards has really taken a chance by radically redesigning their flagship RPG, especially when 3.5 was a fun system to play (though not always so fun to run). 4E is not as versatile as 3.5, but is is more playable. It is the logical next step in tactical table top RPGs. However, at $30, I do think this product is a bit overpriced. If this is intended to lure new people into DnD, or to sell 3.5 players on the 4E upgrade (Players who may have already invested THOUSANDS of dollars on 3.5) then I believe that Wizards would have done well to bring the price way down. As I said earlier, I was able to get my copy for less than $20 online, but many people still buy their gaming from their local hobby shops. Personally I would prefer to frequent my local hobby shop, but with my mortgage payments, student loans, and what not, I can't afford the price difference. Had Wizards lowered the price just a bit, I think this product would have more appeal.
All in all, I'm excited to run 4E. As a player, I was a big fan of 3.5, but as a DM, I really didn't like all of the prep that went into my games. 4E seems to sacrifice some of the mind boggling versatility of 3.5 NPCs for playability, with out sacrificing the player's experience. I'll know more once I've had a chance to run it. (I have the core book set on preorder from Amazon for $66, as opposed to the $102 it would cost retail)