Only two years after it came out, I finally played 4th Edition D&D. Some of you may remember that my my first impression of 4E was not entirely favorable. Now that I’ve actually played it, I have rather more to say. But first, here’s how the adventure and the game session went.

The Adventure

My (ir)regular gaming group had a couple of people who couldn’t make it, so we couldn’t really play our regular campaign. I figured this was a great opportunity to create a batch of new 1st-level characters and take 4E for a spin.

I ran the published introductory adventure, Keep on the Shadowfell. Back when 4E was new, I shelled out 30 bucks for this baby in all its glossy, full-color glory. So I was none too happy when a year or so ago Wizards of the Coast released it as a free PDF download. The lesson here is clear: don’t buy D&D products now. You’ll be able to get them for free later. I’ll say more about that when I write about D&D Insider.

How it Played

Keep on the Shadowfell is actually a pretty well-written adventure. One thing that really encouraged me was there was explicit advice for the DM about how to set the mood and build tension. It is not, in fact, all hack ‘n’ slash. So I was optimistic about how this might play out.

The result can only be described as a disaster. My players were too smart for this adventure. Without giving away any spoilers, they went through the initial encounter on the road, arrived in Winterhaven, had some nice role-playing as they asked all the right questions and found out a lot of information, then left town and walked straight into Encounter A1 just like it says they’re supposed to.

My players made the obvious connection that Encounter A1 indicates the presence of a serious threat to Winterhaven and they decided to set aside their personal agenda and go deal with it. This led them straightforwardly to Encounter A2, and then A3. At the point they reached A3 they were of course still first level (having been through three encounters total since we started playing 4E about three hours earlier). Encounter A3 is a Level 6 encounter. The inevitable result: TPK (Total Party Kill).

So, in my opinion Keep on the Shadowfell has a major design flaw. It seems to me that any group of adventurers with half a brain will follow exactly the same path my group did, with the same result. Who the heck playtested this thing?

More to Come

I have more to say about the actual play experience of the 4E rules, but that will have to wait for another post.