Monthly Archives: August 2009

Encounter critical

I promised my brother that I’d talk about my thoughts on D&D4 after playing through a demo some time ago, but I kept putting it off. He probably doesn’t care any more, since his group is playing D&D4 now, but I don’t want to be a liar, so I’m going to post something now before even more time passes.

Now, to be clear up front, nobody in our group had played D&D4 yet, except maybe Steve (the GM running the demo). A couple of us have the first set of core books, but hadn’t really looked at them yet. The demo we were playing was the one put out by Wizards of the Coast for the Players Handbook 2 launch events, so it was built for 11th level characters. Not necessarily ideal for folks brand new to the game, but it certainly gave us a feel for how the characters work after they’ve been around a while.

I think that D&D4 makes for an interesting approach to the game, and it can certainly be fun to play, if you’re playing in the fashion intended by the designers, which is basically to concentrate on missions or dungeon delves, and not really on the time between them. However, I find that the whole system of powers for everyone, and a concentration on types of roles governing those power groups (strikers get up close and hit people, controllers shape the battlefield, etc.) makes for a remarkably bland experience. Yes, I said bland.

Even though everyone has all these cool powers to use all the time, and I like cool powers, too, they don’t really feel all that different between the various classes. I had no real sense of “that is so cool”-ness about one type of power over another. Sure, the specifics of the powers are different, where strikers are pretty specifically one-target kinda hitters, while controllers maybe have some area effect abilities, but all the effects seem so similar when you get down to the basics of things: more damage, maybe a position shift, maybe a condition change. That guy can do it at range, while this other guy has to hit you with his sword first.

I even felt that there are way too many things that let you shift your position or your opponent’s, so that it felt a lot like you’re sliding around on ice for some reason half the time. I don’t know if that’s a PH2 thing, or inherent in powers over all, but while it was very useful in the combats, it was kind of annoying, too.

I do like the fact that everyone has powers to use, even the fighters, so that nobody is entirely dependent on magic items, as older D&D fighters were at higher levels. I like that magic users always have some basic power to use, so that they aren’t useless once they’ve used all their best spells. But when everyone has powers, and all the powers are roughly the same types of things, and they’re all roughly the same capability, everything totally ends up feeling very similar, and that ends up feeling bland.

Now, outside of combat, they also have this thing called skill challenges, where the adventure has some kind of challenge that must be overcome by successfully making skill rolls. Get enough successful skill checks before you get too many failures (both set by the challenge designer), and you succeed, otherwise you fail. This is a pretty ingenious way to incorporate certain types of skills into an adventure at certain points, and I can see it being quite useful for certain types of challenges, but I didn’t like the way it was used in the demo adventure we played. Basically, in our case, the skill challenge was there so that no role-playing would be required, and so the GM wouldn’t have to decide if a particular effort was good enough to get the job done–instead, just roll until you succeed over all, or fail, and you get (or don’t) the info available. That irks me, because it prevents a clever bit of role-playing from overcoming a mostly social (in this case) challenge. There’s no reward for cleverness. (Let me clarify, the challenge was actually in two parts, the first physical, which was fine, and the second social, which I didn’t like.)

That would normally lead me into bitching about the lack of non-encounter-oriented skills in the new D&D4, which takes away a bunch of what I like in various role-playing games. It might also lead me into bitching about how much I dislike the new skill picks system for skills. But I’m not going to get into that, because it would take a while, and didn’t really come up from the demo we ran, anyway. Instead, I’m going to conclude this post with a quick wrap up.

In the end, I mostly enjoyed playing the D&D4 demo, and some day perhaps I’ll play in a game that starts at 1st level, and builds up the way you normally would. Play in a game that concentrates on encounters, as intended, and I suspect you can have a lot of fun breathing your own life into the powers and such your character can do. However, I really don’t have any particular need to ever play D&D4 again, as I get a lot of fun playing things between encounters, not just during the missions themselves. For me, D&D4 is an excellent piece of focused and targeted design, that results in a type of RPG that I’m not really interested in playing most of the time.

There you go bro, sorry it took me so long to get around to it.


I got my network printer, a Xerox Phaser 6250 DP, to work by taking it off the network, plugging in in via USB instead, and letting Windows 7 auto-find and install it when I turned it on. It now seems to work just dandy, although I haven’t been able to find that nifty status indicator thingy that I had briefly before, where it would tell me the toner levels and such. Oh, well, at least I can print to the faster, color laser printer now.

I’d tried hooking up the Phaser via the same USB-to-Parallel printer cable gizmo that I’ve been using for the HP LaserJet 4000 for years, but that didn’t work either. No idea why, but maybe that’s also why only the PCL5 driver worked for the HP? Dunno, but when it failed with the Phaser, the direct USB cable worked instead. I hadn’t even remembered that there was a USB option on there, so I’m glad I noticed it when moving things around so cables would reach.

Now I don’t have any way to reach the HP unless I put it directly on my desk, which I may still do (the text quality is better on the HP). However, as it no longer seems capable of printing clean pages, maybe I’ll just use the Phaser from now on. Will think on it some more.

It’s a mirage.

I still keep getting incredibly frustrated trying to work with VB.Net. I can’t even figure out how to get my user control to appear in the toolbox once I’ve compiled it. It’s in the bin\release folder as it should be, but that’s about it. I can’t seem to find it in any of the selection options to add it into the toolbox.

I shoulda been a ditch digger.

Oh, also, on the Windows 7 front, I have printer issues. I got my HP LaserJet 4000 to install and work, but only with the PCL5 driver; the PCL6 driver and the PostScript driver both crash the printer, instead of printing to it. And my Xerox Phaser 6250 DP won’t print, although it appears to interact, since the status info in the printer gizmo appears correct. Still, any attempt to print results in nothing but a printer error in the queue. Bummers.


I just wanted to pop in a little note to my previous post, talking about Internet Explorer 8 and Windows 7. My IE8 was working fine once I rebooted, so something was off, but not a normal kinda of thing, I guess. IE8 had no problems on MSN or other sites I tested after the reboot. I’ll still be using FireFox for most things, but I thought I ought to post the correction.

Windows 7

I now have Windows 7 installed on my workstation. I installed it yesterday because, yet again, my copy of Windows XP on this machine decided it wouldn’t boot any more once it finished integrating the latest updates from Microsoft. So, no more of that, and hopefully things will be better with the brand new OS. (For the record, it continued being able to boot into Safe Mode, but would hang during startup trying to get into regular Windows. I don’t know why.)

On the whole, I’m liking it okay. Some stuff I quite like, other stuff I just find irritating. And, of course, finding some things will take some getting used to. I decided to install the 64-bit version, too, so we’ll so how that works out, although I don’t really expect any major issues. I’m still in the process of re-installing things, though, so there’s still plenty of time for disasters.

One interesting factoid: I opened Internet Explorer 8, which automatically goes to, whereupon it promptly gets stuck trying to load what looks like some ad-server stuff. It never succeeds in completely loading the page, so it just sits there loading forever, and not letting me close the tab or the browser. Nice of Microsoft to make MSN not even IE8 compatible, when it automatically directs all the browsers there on startup. Also nice how they allow the user to graceful abort out of these situations – NOT. Won’t be a huge issue over all, as I usually use FireFox, but I’ll definitely have to try avoiding in the future, which I’m sure was Microsoft’s plan all along.

Added Note: It appears IE8 is either broken, or incredibly stupid. It’s not just that it has problems with, and it will not let me Stop or Back Up out of pages that are having issues while loading. This is not good, as I don’t have any problems with FireFox on these pages.

Hollywood annoys me, again.

I love movies, all kinds of them. I love them enough that I buy a lot of DVDs, and now I buy blu-ray discs, too. But I hate that blu-ray often costs so much more than a regular DVD. And now Hollywood seems on the way to making things even worse.

It’s not bad enough that they are already including a very much unwanted (by me) digital copy disc in most blu-ray packages, basically charging me even more for something I don’t want. Now they’re offering only a single option for the Up blu-ray package, which is a 4-disc package including a digital copy and a regular DVD. WTF? And this is compared to the only DVD option, which is apparently a single-disc version.

Why is there no single-disc blu-ray option? Or even better, a two-disc version that includes all the extras, but not the other formats? Why must I pay a fortune for a package that includes two additional formats of the movie that I don’t want? It wouldn’t be so bad if I wasn’t paying for those extra discs, but I certainly am. The blu-ray package retails for $45.99, while the dvd retails for $29.99. Yes, those prices ARE absurd. Street price isn’t quite as bad, $31.99 and $16.99 respectively, at But WHY do I have to pay $15 more to get the blu-ray version with all that extra crap? Why can’t I get a beautiful blu-ray for just $21.99, which is the more common $5 price premium over DVD?

People who buy blu-ray right now already pay more, so they’re apparently considered purchasers of “luxury” items, and they’re now being offered only the “luxury” package. The price differential between blu-ray and regular DVDs in the past had already put me off of buying quite a number of blu-ray discs, opting for the cheaper version instead. This kind of thing will only ensure that this continues. And that sucks, because I really enjoyed Up in the theater, and really wanted a nice high-def version for my library.

Please note: I recognize that for some people, such as those that have kids and who travel a lot, these extra discs really fit the bill, as they allow for a parent to watch the blu-ray, let the kids watch the DVD on their player, and allow for a traveler to use the digital copy. But I don’t want those, and should be offered a package that doesn’t include them.