Sunday, January 17, 2010

4E Kick-Off Meeting (12/20/2009)

After some discussion early in 2009 our Sunday Night D&D group has decided to give D&D Fourth Edition (4E) a try. The plan was that once Scott’s dungeon was completed that I would run a 4E adventure, Keep of the Shadowfell (KotS). Each of the group members has at least a copy of the Players Handbook (PHB) with the intention that we would at least get a chance to page through it before we started later in 2009 or early 2010.

In other posts I write about about the 4E experiences Brian and I had at Gencon plus we had a practice 4E night one Sunday when Scott was absent. A simple generic map was printed, generic character sheets were provided, and an encounter or two ensued. Much of the night revolved around discussion of the game mechanic, how all of the new powers and features worked. This was to be expected – our group had skipped 3E completely and many of the new play features it provided, so going from 2E to 4E was a big jump.

The 4E version of the game is very map and miniatures oriented. Many of the feats and powers, including movement, require specific spacing and location. As part of the planning for this adventure Mark and I worked out a plan where Mark would be provided a map (i.e., a spreadsheet) that would allow him to keep up with the map we are using here, as long as each of us calls out their character movement (i.e., “my character moves from A1 to C3”).

Before the 4E Adventure could start I took the following preparation steps:
1) The maps from the published KotS adventure book were duplicated in a spreadsheet so they could later be printed with cell addresses for local use and so that Mark would have an identical copy to follow along with. Printing the maps is easy, with generally nine sheets making a 3X3 combination to be taped together. This makes the cells large enough for the miniatures and markers and the size also makes it a little easier on our collective eyes.
2) Monster sheets were printed out for each encounter from the DDI Adventure Tool. This was done to allow the DM to keep notes, track damage and power usage per monster per encounter.
3) Initial monster locations on the map were all compiled from the KotS adventure book. This allows us to take advantage of the cell addresses printed on the spreadsheet copy of the map in quickly and accurately placing monsters at the beginning of an encounter.
4) Character sheets were cobbled up. A wide range of races and classes are being used to provide maximum exposure to the different range of new features. The DDI Character Builder (CB) tool was used. All of the races, classes, feats and powers from all of the various 4E books are available for use through the CB tool, but for the purposes of this adventure only data from the PHB was used. The character sheets are printed to a PDF file using CutePDF and the PDF files are e-mailed to the individual player.
5) A one-page character background sheet was also written. Each player was provided with background information, maybe a secret or two, a quirk, some background as to the one piece of magic they were assigned, and most importantly a reason for attending a meeting where they would meet each other and be given their assignment. Note: It was originally intended to include these in the individual character sheets themselves but it is a known bug for the CB tool that text blocks only have the first 5-6 lines of a text block printed.
6) Miniatures for each of the character were selected. Models or miniatures for all of the monsters to be encountered may or may not exist, so a combination of miniatures and generic numbered markers will be used.
7) Initiative for each character and monster will be documented and sorted on individual 3X5 cards. This will allow us to have a unique initiative sequence for every encounter.
8) Markers for “Marked”, “Bloodied”, and “Other” (i.e., dazed, stunned, sick, flying, cursed, etc.) were created by cutting out nickel size pieces from red, black, and blue foam sheets.
9) The other thing to consider is that the KotS adventure is written for a part of five adventurers. Given that we are a party of seven each of the encounters had to be adjusted slightly upwards. Assuming an encounter provides 500 XP worth of monsters (500 XP / 5 players = 100 XP per player per encounter) I would now need to ensure that the encounter had 700 XP worth of monsters for our seven players to get the same number of XP. This will also ensure that the encounters are not too easy as well.

The goal for this night was to hand out the character sheets, talk through issues and mechanics, and to have "The Meeting" where the characters meet each other and are given their assignment. We will not meet next week (Christmas) and the adventure will then actually begin the following Sunday (01/03/10).

Once the character sheets and backgrounds were distributed to each player they were instructed they could purchase whatever mundane items they might want, they could switch feats or powers if they choose, and that they had two attribute points they could assign (maximum of 18) to their characters. Given that we had two weeks off before actually starting there was no real rush to do this and that e-mail would be the best way to relay this information to me and then in turn receive the updated character sheet.

I also reiterated to everyone that even though I was the DM I was not going to pretend that I knew all the rules and that for at least the first few encounters this would be a highly collaborative effort. Much of the night was reviewing the character sheets, asking questions, making notes, and generally having a highly interactive discussion as to what all these terms on the character sheets mean, i.e., I used to be able to do this, now to do the equivalent I do that.

Once the discussion died down we went through “The Meeting” (thanks to Mark for proofreading and offering his suggestions). The next post contains the text that was read to the players.

Update (02/21/2010): I want to update item #7 from my list above:

7) Create initiative cards consisting of a 4X6 index card, one color for players and another for monsters. At the beginning of the encounter all initiative is rolled, documented on the cards, the cards are sorted, and thus initiative order is established for that encounter. Also included on the player initiative cards is "play data" information cut/pasted out of the players character sheet. These cards include the player and character names, their hit-points, attributes, defenses, and passive insight and perception. This character snapshot minimizes DM searching as needed.

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