Yesterday was Free RPG Day. It’s a promotional effort not unlike Free Comic Book Day, where RPG publishers pool sample materials to be freely distributed at game stores across the land. In its third year, Free RPG Day seems to have garnered more participating companies than ever before.
In my own case, I went down to the local store, Quarterstaff Games to check out the action. In addition to picking up a mess of swag — listed below — I actually got to play something. This is a Free RPG Day first for me, since promotion and attendance has been rather haphazard in the past. (In fact, it was this year, as I had offered my services to run Geist: The Sin-Eaters and never heard back from the management, but as no one showed up jonesing for that game, I guess there was no harm.)
In all, there were two GMs, arranged beforehand by the store, and six players. So we split up into two groups. One played the Rogue Trader demo and the other an adventure for Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition. Wanting the chance to finally give 4E a try, I got into the D&D game.
It was…a mixed experience. With only three players, we were horribly outclassed by the challenges, even with the GM removing critters from encounters. The first battle at the cave mouth literally ended in a total party kill. The GM declared a reset and we forged on, getting our clocks cleaned in a less abrupt fashion right until the last third of the penultimate encounter, when we lost a party member, the half-elf sorcerer. At that point, there was no hope of putting in a decent showing in the final battle, so we decided to call it quits.
So clearly, adventures for 4E are strongly balanced against a full five member party. I find that disappointing. I have to imagine there are methods for adjusting for smaller groups of characters, though. In our GM’s case, he came from a very deep D&D v3.5 background, so I suspect he was using rules of thumb for adjusting encounter difficulties that may not be very effective in 4th Edition.
On the roleplaying side, I think that was the most I’ve done to really get into the mindset of a character. It wasn’t deep or total, as I probably played a pretty stereotypical paladin, shouting “For the glory of Mumblemumble*!”, standing valiantly in the path of oncoming foes and refusing to wear unholy emblems of fell gods. Gotta start somewhere, though. (Fun fact: the first and only other time I played a paladin, it was in a convention scenario also set in Eberron.)
Still, in the long run, I think it was good to support Free RPG Day, even if the play experience wasn’t immensely satisfying. Next year, I hope, it will be better advertised and supported by the local store. The goal to beat is eight participants.