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D&D 3E
Keep on the Shadowfell 
21st-May-2008 03:22 pm
Reading Orc

Keep on the Shadowfell

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.

The Rules:
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.

The Rundown:
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)
21st-May-2008 09:40 pm (UTC)
This is DnD as you know it. Most of the DnD hallmarks are gone

I assume there is a negative missing from one of these sentences - which?
21st-May-2008 09:42 pm (UTC)


Edited at 2008-05-21 09:43 pm (UTC)
21st-May-2008 10:02 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I appreciate the review.
21st-May-2008 10:19 pm (UTC)
I'm looking forward to it as well... coming from a pure player standpoint. It looks really fun, and I think they really made a good decision when they decided to give all classes powers - makes all classes viable instead of just spellcasters (well, at later levels).
22nd-May-2008 02:58 am (UTC)
I wish you luck, keep us updated, I admit I am curious.

It's the even number editions that I seem to refuse to play. Loved 1st ed. Hated 2nd. Loved 3rd...it's the reverse of the Trek movies.
22nd-May-2008 03:35 am (UTC)
Would you say that miniatures are needed even for small-scale skirmishes? I understand the need for those epic battles but I'd hate to "have" to play-out every little skirmish...

Also, how's the art style? From what I've seen it looks like a modern return to AD&D 2E's style. Which I fucking love.
22nd-May-2008 12:29 pm (UTC)
I think the core reason that the minis are so much more important is that players have a lot more ability to move around the battlefield now. A *lot* of powers allow you to make small, quick moves (without AoOs). A *lot* of powers allow you to move an ally or a foe.

Without a battlegrid, these movement powers aren't going to be as strong and will require a lot more mental bookkeeping to track everyone's position.

Furthermore, a lot of melee fighters have special abilities depending on adjacent enemies, or "cleaves" that hit more than one ability. And, again, while a grid is not required for this -- it certainly makes it easier to handle. Likewise, there seem to be plenty of low-level Area-of-Effect spells that have relatively small target areas, meaning that a grid will allow for more effective placement.

I see no reason why relatively simple, straightforward encounters would need a grid. However, the emphasis in 4th Edition is to encourage battles with many opponents -- such as the SEVEN kobolds in the first fight of the first boxed adventure. As all of these enemies and all of the players have potent abilities to affect the placement of the pieces on the battlefield, a map and minis (or tokens) will just make everything run smoother.
3rd-Jul-2008 12:41 am (UTC)
I say yes since there is shifting involved.. I shift/move so many people that it is hard to keep up with
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