Last Friday we played yet another session of D&D 4E.  It began as a bit of roleplaying, which was a nice change of pace except that my mother called right as it began to tell me that my father has skin cancer.  He's had skin cancer before (and for that matter, a cancerous tumor on his kidney) but it was no way to begin the evening.  Then, in the first combat of the encounter we were ambushed by barghests and hobgoblins and my PC, the tiefling warlord, was knocked out in the second turn.  So with the rest of group tied up and me being the only healer, I got to sit and watch for an hour until the encounter was over.
After they somehow managed to beat off the attackers and poured a healing potion down my poor PC's throat, we moved onto the next encounter, getting ambushed again, this time by a blue dragon.

First round the dragon breathes lightning on me, and I'm knocked out again, this time in the first round.  In this battle, however, when the dragon is bloodied, it unloads a close burst that knocks out all by the Goliath Warden as a reaction.  Then the DM rolls a critical hit on the Warden, and he's out.  What's really bad is that the DM hadn't really been keeping track of how badly we were doing until that moment, and now he's got a TPK.

Okay, a little sidebar here.  I get that doing +2 or more encounter levels is part of the game.  But our team has a serious flaw--no ranged PC's except our wizard, who is mostly working with range 10.  So on several occasions now the pre-written adventure the DM has running has had encounters that are largely "snipers" attacking at range.  Now we're hit with a Level 12 Solo Artillery attacking us from beyond the range of not just most of the PC's, but all of them.  That's what we call in the business a "no win situation."

Second sidebar.  I've had PC's die before, but it was in games where life was cheap and dying was easy.  I don't have a problem dying, if I know that I'm going to die because I'm either a) stupid or b) putting myself in a situation where I could die easily.  If I'm in a "realistic" RPG and the other guy pulls out a gun, I get that being shot with a bullet may kill me.  If I do something really asinine, I get that I could pay the price.  Getting ambushed by a more-powerful range-oriented opponent who basically hammers us in five rounds into complete submission isn't fun. 

And then there's what comes next.  The DM is completely flat-footed, takes a little time then comes up with this "you're in a dungeon" situation, runs a few really grim and dark torture scenes, then leaves us virtually unguarded.  Hey, the Eladrin and the Warden both teleport, so they're out.  I'm thinking we can now do this cool "let's scrounge for weapons" bit but no, it turns out all our equipment is in an easy-to-open chest right outside the door, because most prisons keep weapons in the same wing as the prisoners.  I get he's trying to get us back on track, but it was almost worse doing it in this heavy-handed way than knocking us all out in the first place.

A lot of the players were pretty upset about the whole thing.  My son was actually weeping in his room that night, because it was his blow that triggered the interrupt that took out his friends.  I had to explain to him that things like that happen, and if it wasn't him to caused him to drop to bloodied, it would be someone else.  But the inevitable reaction from the players was to immediately begin to think about changing PC's.  This is my big problem with 4E--that challenging encounters aren't met with clever roleplaying, but heightened optimization.  Everyone wants us to switch to having bow-themed rangers and the like to make sure we can take that person out (of course, then we're vulnerable to close-up combat).  I'm thinking more along the lines of "it might be time for us to take a break and do something else."


  1. At the risk of sounding like an elitist wanker, I don't think 4E is the only problem at your table. The scenario you were expecting - you're all imprisoned, no weapons, now break out - would have been cool, would have been some sort of meaningful consequence. What you got... wasn't. And that choice wasn't forced by the system.

  2. This morning, after reading your comment, I realized that one factor in this is that the DM is nearing the end of this pre-written adventure we've been working our way through for the better part of a year. And frankly I suspect he's ready to be done. For one thing, he's committed himself to running two other campaigns (one admittedly for a short period of time). I wonder if the "reset" button he hit with the dungeon encounter wasn't just to try to get us back on track as quickly as possible.

    I caught the "only" comment. I do think there's some 4E-related issues, not the least of which is the "culture" of the game. I'll write on that some time.

  3. I once read a similar account but of a more traditional war game. A 5'x9' table full of immaculately painted 25mm Napoleonic figures, hand crafted terrain, the works. It opened with a cavalry advance on the wing then the dice went weird. A random cannon ball takes out the cavalry general, the wing rolls badly and breaks and then the rest of the dominoes come crashing down and the whole army routes. Weeks of prep and hours of set up gone in under 30 minutes of play.

    I will say here what I said there: Accept your loss, shake hands with the DM offer to buy him a beer for the TPK and push that reset button hard. Stuff happens that neither side wants - get it over with and carry on. We play games to have fun, to enjoy ourselves and to be challenged. If that isn't happening, then change it.

    Dragon's minion: "Hey boss what should we do with these losers?"
    Dragon: "Take 'em down stairs and see what you can get out of them - they're probably decoys for a group of real adventurers"
    Minion: "You want we should put their stuff in storage?"
    Dragon: "No, it's probably all faked up junk -they were such walk overs. Go through it for any information then trash it."
    Minion: "Ok Boss"

    You wake up in a dungeon battered bleeding and wondering why the H you are still alive...


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