I admit, I’m having fun DMing but I do miss playing a character. I also sort of miss not having moved to 4e, simply because it’s new and fresh. Namely the ‘new’ part of it. I love systems and mechanics and building things within the confines of the system. I also like picking away and the system and pushing the envelope, even if I don’t end up getting to use it. That said, I am trying to take a lot of the philosophies of 4e and apply them to 3.5e where they could work out well.
Yes, we’re still playing a patched up version of 3.5e which is good, but I do still see some glaring issues with it. Namely the whole CR mechanic. Seeing some of the CRs in the modules I’ve run, I can’t help but feel some of them are overrated while others are underrating (these are coming up). I’m not sure how four 2-HD creatures without any special abilities really amounts to a CR 7. I ended up doubling the number of creatures and giving it the same CR. On the other hand, I’m not sure how a Dire Shark that can swallow a player whole without much effect is the same CR as the encounter I mentioned above.
This is something that 4e looks to have changed. It still has a CR sort of system, but it also works on building encounters. Almost like a point buy system where you build the encounter out of lower CRs, or so it seems. I still have to read it thoroughly and put that off because I’ve got to focus on the 3.5e stuff.
Another thing they do well in 4e, is scale the treasure up for party size. It’s nice to see they’ve taken that into account. It was something sorely missing in 3.5e. I think it’s even worse in some of the modules. There is one thing coming up which could kill off all the players (I’m not kidding either) and the reward is something like a 500gp piece of jewelry. That just seems wrong to me. Perhaps they make up for it later, but even where I’m thinking, there is a cost to it so I’m not sure that is a fair trade off.
Future DMs are also looking at various optional rules to handle what we call the Death Spiral, where one character falls behind the others because of an untimely death then they continue to fall behind because the difficulty of the creatures increases as the rest of the group advances which makes things all the more dangerous for that lower level player. So they die again… and again.. and again.
This has gotten better. A few things we’ve changed was making separate initiatives for all creatures in challenging areas. This had a big impact.
Another thing I’ve been doing, is that rather than throwing one big creature of a suitable or higher CR at the players, I create more lower creatures and usually have a larger leader (or not). This is something I thought about for awhile and sort of had some validation on it with 4e’s system. I don’t always follow that pattern either. The idea is to work up to the recommended CR/EL for the party. If you want it to be really challenging, have fewer creatures of higher CR. If you want it to be a bit of a brawl, lower CRs that add up to the bigger CR. In other cases, I might give the encounter some advantage to top it up to the CR I’m looking for.
By scaling the encounters this way, you can have different flavor to the encounters but still have them work up to about the same CR. It also works for scaling the encounter up over the group’s CR in a way that is less devastating. If you were to throw a CR 14 creature at a group that is a CR 7, you’d probably wipe them out. If you build up an encounter from various parts that add up to a CR 14 it becomes more intimidating for the players but it is still manageable for them because there is nothing in the encounter that has an instant-death type hit. Also, the creatures they face can fail and miss because they’re not like facing off against a creature twice your level which they cannot effect, cannot hit and cannot damage.
I’ve ordered a couple of other 4e source books, which should be arriving soon. One is an equipment and gear supplement while the other is the FR Player’s Guide. I’m curious to see what is in that one. They apparently add a new class for players.
There is another book due out in November which is supposed to add oodles of melee type combat abilities. I believe it’s named Martial Powers. Due in the early next year are Divine Powers and Arcane Powers. Also a PHB2 which might have some more classes and races available.