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New Scenery and Early Sessions

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Last week I told my group about my two latest reading projects:

1. Everything having to do with Conan the Cimmerian
2. The Kalevala - Finland's National Epic and likely the inspiration for the Bard (only, you know, powerful) and the Nightmare in D&D.

They decided to change the setting of our potential Pathfinder game from Eberron to a mash-up of the Conan-o-verse (Hyboria) and the Kalevala-verse; I'm f***ing ecstatic!

(Note: I'm really tempted to write a wall of text here about my sexy, sexy barbarian of murderousness and about alot of the other characters/plots so far, but I'll try to refrain and focus on other observations

Observations thus far:

Character creation was not at all difficult, aside from having to remember things (or how they differ from 4E) after about a year of disuse. The only thing I may not like are some of the changes to feats like Power Attack and Cleave. (You can't power attack for however much or little as you want to anymore and cleave is not a full attack - though it does trigger off of just hitting, so you don't have to kill a target anymore to make it work). Still, I reserve my judgment until I see how the changes impact balance in the new system.

There have been no balance issues so far, except that our Necromancer and the enemies seem a little weak (low HP), but that may just be first level. Mechanically, the system seems to be working well overall.

Finally, I'm not sure if this has to do with our DM trying to change his DM style to make us happy or if it truly is something intrinsic to each system (3.5 vs. 4E), but we've been roleplaying again.

Characters have backstories and interact with each other (even the DM character and NPC in the party). And combats, while maybe not as interesting mechanically as 4E (though barbarian does have rage powers now), have involved the creative use of mundane items, spells, and other strategy - like they used to - above and beyond the normal strategy of "what power should I use next and on who."

For a while now, our group has been struggling between the "4E zealots" (who were mostly power-gamers and hack-n-slashers in 3.5 - including our DM) and the "I think 4E is a robust system, but 3.5 has its good qualities too" camp (or "the heretics/witches," if you listen to the other side), who were mostly roleplayers of some sort or explorers/skill junkies in 3.5 - including me.

I had previously thought that something about 4E (that I couldn't quite place my finger on), generated the types of games that we had thus far played in 4E - since the change correlated with us changing over to 4E. Because the mechanics were now so robust/balanced, the fighting/mechanics components of the game became important to the exclusion of all else - roleplaying, while not absent, was nothing at all comparable to what it had been in 3.5. Being creative in the use of items, spells, and terrain (ex: "stone shape to make a bridge") was almost 95-99% absent.

And I for one had a hard time visualizing what some of the powers actually looked like (if you were to draw them out as a cartoon, for example) or often how to translate a characer concept into game mechanics. It was as if WotC had made this excellent fighting system, but had in no way grounded or connected it to actual actions you could imagine a character trying to do. The overly pro-4E camp cites this as a strength of a system - now you can play whatever you want without it interfering with roleplaying, which I accept as an excellent argument. But, as someone who was definitely a roleplayer in 3.5, it made it extremely difficult to translate a concept to paper or to roleplay my character in combat (as an example). It became very "I roll a die. It does damage and a condition of some sort. I have no clue what I actually did. ::shrug::"

Anyways, the point here is, is that when we decided on the new setting, since I knew the most about it, the DM and I worked together somewhat on the types of NPCs and encounters that we should face. During this process, I've come to realize that the problems of our 4E games may have had more to do with the fact that our DM is a recovering power gamer (who only recently came to appreciate roleplaying when he met me) who would concentrate on making these "interesting to power gamers/ hack-n-slasher" combats and forget that combats happen in a context. His idea of using a setting meant "well there's difficult terrain..." LOL.

He never thought of what an area's culture might be like and how that could influence NPCs' behavior or how it's architecture could be unique (and thus have combat or other implications) or that the circumstances surrounding a challenge (us being in the desert) could affect the decisions we make and whether or not there's a fight at all. And, whereas in 3.5 all of the people most interested in such things knew how to get the DM to infuse them into the game, (at least in my group), in 4E, not so much. Maybe it's general lack of experience with the system or because many of the mechanics really are counterintuitive in many ways... time will tell.

But what's important here is that (I at least) have figured out something very important - it may, in fact, be possible for us to all play 4E happily. Our DM is figuring out what sorts of things he needs to do to make the hesitant enjoy themselves. We on the other hand, need to figure out how to help him do that.

Anyways, it's just funny that even though our DM read all those tips in the 4E DMG, he didn't actually get them until he took a step back to 3.5/3.75 - and the "we love BOTH 4E and 3.5" camp didn't get what was actually going on either. I'm not sure whether sticking to Pathfinder or trying to work things out in 4E is what's going to save our gaming group, but I definitely think that we owe Pathfinder a debt of gratitude for helping us figure out the real problem.

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