Encounters went very well tonight. The material finally arrived so we were able to start the story line and 12 people showed up to play, including my friancee Bre. It was her first time playing 4th edition and we converted her old 3.5 druid over to the Essentials druid.  The two DM’s ran two separate groups of six each and it ran for about an hour and a half.

The group composition at our table was the first time that I’ve played in a 4th edition game where all of the roles were represented and I really got to observe and enjoy how the system of class roles works together.  We had a Hexblade, Wizard, Druid, Paladin, Slayer, and Cleric (me). In other words, 2 strikers, 2 leaders, 1 defender and 1 controller. From a tactics perspective our group worked together really well. We faced two large sized creatures and the paladin pushed one of them away from the party, then the slayer charged it. For the rest of the encounter the two of them piled on to that one until they killed it. It never escaped away from them to come back and harass the squishier party members, but they stayed close enough so that I could heal and buff them without leaving the other group.

The Hexblade, Druid, her wolf and I formed a line against the other ochre jelly with the wizard hanging back behind us. The jelly didn’t even try to get past us as we kept it busy, and the wolves aura meant that we didn’t even have to flank it in order to get combat advantage. We lined up and traded blows with the jelly until the paladin and slayer finished theirs and came over to put ours to bed. During the course of the battle I spent both of my healing words and the druid spent one of hers. None of the characters had to use their Second Wind.

There are two points that I want to draw from this combat encounter, two things that can make or break an encounter for a party.

1. Tactics. We all knew our roles in the party and used our abilities to their fullest in fulfilling those roles. To borrow from a common MMO, the paladin tanked and generated threat while the slayer pounded it. The other party members formed a solid line that the jelly couldn’t get though to reach the Wizard in the back; it would have had to go around, provoking an opportunity attack from 4 players. That would have carried serious hurt.

As an example of bad tactics I’ll use the random encounter we played the first week of Encounters when the material wasn’t there. The party started out in the bar when lizardfolk appeared outside the bar, surrounding the common square. Instead of trying to draw the lizardfolk into the bar, creating a choke point, we all rushed out into the open and charged whoever we could reach. The problem was that the enemies were in little groups of 2 and 3  and spread out in clumps in a vague semi-circle around the courtyard. From round 1 we were divided, with each character going after different clumps of enemies. I won’t relate the whole battle, but it ended in a TPK. In that battle we had a Slayer, Thief, Paladin, Hunter, and Wizard. Yep. No Leader. Which brings me to my second point.

2. Dual Leaders. There aren’t too many options for 1st level Essential characters, but I choose the options for my cleric with the design goal that all my abilities should help the other members of the party. I choose the Disciple of Light feat so that if I have to Second Heal my allies get a short buff as well, and other abilities like the at-will attack that grants a saving throw. So my cleric was designed to be the party band-aid. The druid (spring) was a mix of healing and offense. She didn’t have as many small healing abilities as my Cleric, but her two encounter uses of Healing Word, combined with the at-will that granted an ally temp HP, really helped out with the duty of keeping everyone alive. Not once did a character drop below 0 HP. I think only 2 characters even got bloodied, the paladin and the slayer.

I’m not advocating that a party should have 2 leaders. After tonight’s session I think it’s almost something of an over-heal (zing!). While the first weeks TPK showed the dire need for a Leader, tonight’s session didn’t have that, “Oh man half the party is bloodied, the fighter is unconscious and the cleric is out of heals! Drop that monster fast!” There wasn’t a point where I felt that we were going to lose. I’m not saying that every combat a party has they should feel like they’re almost about to all die, but in tonight’s encounter I barely felt a sense of danger. Sure, there’s always the danger of the uncertainty of the dice, will the strikers hit or miss, is this creature going to crit the hexblade, etc…but I didn’t feel like any of the characters were threatened. In short, it didn’t feel like a challenge, and I think a successful combat encounter should be one where the players were challenged (though not necessarily to the brink of death each time).

The players that are going to be in my Friday night game (which I have dubbed Break the Iron Circle)were in attendance tonight at Encounters. I chatted briefly with the players, mostly just reinforcing the starting time as we had pretty well hashed out who was playing what over e-mails. I’ve got 5 players for sure (including Bre) and 1 maybe.  I’m excited about getting the game started and am glad that I’ve been going to Encounters to get a better feel for how the mechanics of the game have changed. My DM hat isn’t too dusty (ran a short D&D 3.5 Mask of the Red Death/New Orleans game last fall) so I’m not too worried about breaking out old DM skills. But I am a little nervous about the second 4th edition game that I’m going to DM, which will be the next day (Saturday).

I’m going to run the Fourthcore delve Revenge of the Iron Lich on Saturday, starting at noon. It’s 16th level, comes with pregens, and from the talk around the internet it’s hardcore. I’d give you an example but I don’t want to ruin the adventure for those who want to play it.

To recap: On Friday night I’ll be DM’ing my first 4th edition game. The party will be 2nd level and it’s a fairly balanced adventure published by WoTC. The next day I’ll be running a hardcore adventure for 16th level characters that I’m sure will test both their wits and mine.

Nothing like the old trial by fire I suppose.


Good gaming!