I am officially done with Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition as both a player and a Dungeon Master. I’m happy and a little sad about boxing up my 4e collection to make room for my growing collection of 5e books. I’ve had a chance to reflect on what I will miss and won’t miss about the 4th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons in the Nentir Vale.
A LITTLE HISTORY…
My Friday night group on Roll20 has been playing a D&D campaign set in the Nentir Vale using 4e rules since May. This has been a special group and I’m super happy to have found them. As we started playing a weird Legend of Zelda homebrew I created to test out a simplified version of 4e combat rules. The one-shot Zelda game was a hit with the players (who were mostly 4e rookies), but I found it too simplistic as it had no story and I acted pretty much like a computer controlling sprites (tokens).
The players asked me to run another Zelda “dungeon”. The prep time on a Zelda dungeon was huge and I just wasn’t motivated to be a computer again. I recommended that we try all try out a 4e Dungeon Delve one-shot. At the time, my other group playing a 4e Adventure Time homebrew that started awesome, but was starting to implode. The Adventure Time game had just lost a bunch of players once school let out and I had no choice but to do the GM no-no of switching nights. So the Friday group was suddenly turning into my main game.
I started the group out in Fallcrest in a tavern. They group got to know each other over a bar fight and there was way more roleplaying happening than required for a delve. The adventure involved saving Coppernight Hold from kobolds (Dungeon Delve p. 12). The six of them breezed through the delve made for 5 players, with a finale that involved killing a not so tough white dragon wyrmling. They rescued the few dwarves that were not eaten and began the trek back to Fallcrest. That’s when they heard the howls and later that night wolves attacked their camp, dragging off an unconscious elven archer into the woods – leaving the rest of them knocked over and bleeding. So an easy one-shot that almost ended up in a total party kill.
Our group went on to play 20 total sessions, losing some players and making some new friends along the way. The group stopped an evil cleric from destroying Fallcrest (awesome), fought some gnoll cultists (bad) and saved Hammerfast from being destroyed by a four-headed dragon and a dragonborn terrorist (awesome).
The Nentir Vale is a great setting for lower level characters who are newer to D&D and looking for a typical D&D experience. There is a ton of material to run and the Threats the Nentir Vale Monster Vault is pretty much a campaign guide. The Vale is full of kobolds, orcs, goblins, dragons, witches, barbarians, evil cults with easy hooks to visit the Feywild or Underdark. I have a feeling that I might convert a good chunk of it to 5e in the future if someone doesn’t beat me to it. The Tyranny of Dragons and 5e Started Set could easily fit somewhere in Vale if you wanted to run them somewhere other than Forgotten Realms… but I think using the Sword Coast area of Forgotten Realms as the new default is a great idea.
But it is time for our group to move over to 5e to visit the Seas of Vodari. Goodbye to the Vale, but not forever.
4th Edition / Nentir Vale – The Good
- Balanced PC options across 3 Player’s Handbooks, but some of the newer races and classes might not fit well into a Vale campaign.
- Tons of adventures to throw at your PCs from level 1 to 10 and beyond that are set in the Nentir Vale.
- Good support for monsters with Monster Manuals and Threats the Nentir Vale Monster Vault.
- Support for the setting can be found in the Dungeon Masters Guide (p. 196-209), Threats the Nentir Vale Monster Vault, in the Hammerfast Adventure Setting and other adventures. A full campaign guide would have been nice.
- The Nentir Vale has just enough history that is can be used or ignored, which makes it easy to modify the setting to be used as a base for your own campaign world.
- Great token and tile support for the setting provided by Wizards of the Coast.
- 4th edition always kept my players in the game (with second wind, short rests, long rests and so many healing surges), so we didn’t have to go back to town to rest all the time. This really helps give a cinematic feel where the exhausted party continues deeper and deeper into the adventure. It is nice to see a variation of these rules make it into 5th edition.
- For people who like grid based tactical combat, 4e provides a really solid system that is less complex than D&D 3.5/Pathfinder.
4th Edition / Nentir Vale – The Bad & The Ugly
- No Nentir Vale campaign guide books for players or dungeon masters, but support content is there if you look for it.
- 4th edition combat takes a long time versus 5th edition. Even at lower levels, combat can take over an hour for a larger encounter.
- 4th edition was focused on tactical combat. Social encounters and exploration can often feel forced in, even when designed by professionals for official adventures.
- It is very hard to kill a player or solo monster, so combat goes on for a long time and PCs die only when facing monsters levels higher or they make a big mistake. I had my a villain bumped off a gryphon and get up and fight – he just had too many hit points to die from a 50 foot fall.
- Players start with super heroes that get a ton of hit points and powers out of the box. A party of adventurers can easily be successful with a strategy of always looking for a fight, unless the DM throws serious stuff at them. If you don’t fear combat, why worry about being sneaky or using diplomacy.
- As players level up they simply get new powers that are 99% geared towards combat. I find 5e does a better job on allowing you to choose options that would be valuable in social encounters and exploration too.