This weekend, I went to a local hobby shop, Brookhurst Hobbies in Garden Grove to play in their homebrew D&D 4e campaign. They had 3 tables with a DM on each running a game with about 5 players per table. The DMs all run different adventures but all within the same shared-world. The premise of the game is that the characters belong to a Mercenaries Guild that hires out its members for various missions in service to the local merchants and notable city officials of the city of Brookhaven.
This was my first game, so I had a 1st Level Longtooth Shifter Seeker. I basically channel primal magic through the use of spirits into my Longbow and arrows. The game was delayed in starting because several players showed up with no characters and had to spend time making them, which isn't easy to do when some are brand new to D&D 4e. This kind of annoyed me as I think such people who show up unprepared really disrespect those who showed up on time with character in-hand.
Anyway, so the adventure finally starts. We have a 1st Level Dwarf Cleric, a 1st Level Half-Orc Fighter, a 2nd Level Deva Wizard, a 1st Level Halfling Thief and my Seeker. Apparently, this adventure was designed for a 3rd Level party and we were told we might have a tough time. Understatement of the Century.
The Guild has sent us on a mission to go into an abandoned section of the city of Brookhaven, to escort a Mage into some catacombs. The catacombs has a ley-line running through it which has become tainted with necrotic energy, which the mage will then conduct a ritual to cleanse it. So, this tells me that this is going to be mostly Undead we will be fighting.
The First encounter was pretty easy. All minion Zombies that we easily trashed. The DM did a good job describing the chambers that were piled with bones and skulls like many of the Ossuaries in Europe.
The Second encounter was challenging but a pain in the ass. The DM made some custom undead creatures called Tortured Corpses. They could fire from their fingers, shards of bone that did necrotic damage and slowed you down. They fired on us and then retreated down the hall to where it ended and then scuttled up a 10' vertical wall to a tunnel that continued near the ceiling where they sought cover. We discovered that the last 20' of the hallway before it dead-ended was covered in caltrops. These things were immune to the caltrops so the undead were able to move at full speed when they retreated to their perch. For the characters, unless you only moved 5' per round to avoid the caltrops, you would take damage and be forced to end your movement. The melee-based characters were kind of screwed in this encounter as they were being fired upon by the undead who had a height advantage and could attack at range, while they had to slowly make their way down the hall. The few of us who had range couldn't really do too much damage as there were 4 of these things. We finally managed to close the distance and the Wizard managed to get a few area attacks in which helped kill a few of the things. The melee characters mopped up the rest.
The Third Encounter we could have avoided altogether, however we failed a Skill Challenge to breach a stone door that had a puzzle-lock. We did manage to get the door open by the use of brute force, but this alerted the Big Bad Evil Guy, who braced the door closed. There was a contest of strength to see if we could push the door open, but we rolled miserably and the door was finally forced shut and braced. We had to go the other way.
This encounter was just brutal. It was essentially a small maze, thereby severely reducing line of sight due to alot of turns and obstructing walls. Lurking within the maze were 4 Tomb Wraiths. They have phasing abilities so they could fly through the walls and attack and then they would flee afterwards making it very difficult to counterattack. The real shit-kicker to this was when they attacked, they weakened you, so you would do half damage on a hit. Combine that with their Insubstantial property which automatically halved any damage, so you were effectively only doing a quarter of your damage. And these things regenerated each round! Did I mention there were 4 of these things? Oh yeah, the DM told us afterwards that he removed one from the encounter! Thanks alot. Several times during the fight at least one member of the party, including myself fell unconcious. The poor cleric had a hard time trying to help us stay alive. I think this encounter took 2 hours to play through at least. We finally managed to defeat these things, but it wasn't easy and I'm suprised none of us died. I almost did.
The final encounter was with the Big Bad Evil Guy, who pulled off his parting taunts to us before he disappeared into mist, leaving us to deal with a large-sized Corruption Corpse with wings that kept out of reach of the melee characters. Most of us were immobilized by a huge area effect power the thing threw at us, called Grasp of the Grave. Basically hands erupting friom the ground grabbing our legs to keep us from moving. Only two characters managed to not be in the zone when it triggered. This encounter dragged on for for about another hour and a half as this thing had about 250 HP and it too regenerated!!
I'll have to give kudos to the DM for having the monsters make use of terrain to their advantage, but I think these creatures were very over-powered, given our level. I think the DM was expecting one player to show up who had a Mace that could unleash Radiant damage that severely hurts Undead and interrupts their regeneration. But that player never showed. None of us in the party had any powers that would unleash radiant damage except the Cleric, but that was a Daily power, so that wasn't too helpful for most of the adventure, since he could only use it once.
It's still bad design to focus an adventure that succeeds with a very narrow skill or power set. And knowing that most of the group were 1st Level characters, the encounters should have been scaled appropriately. This adventure took 6 hours to complete when it should have taken 4 hours. We probably could have finished sooner if we had started on time waiting for characters to be created. The game was mostly frustrating and a brutal slog-a-thon. By the end of the encounter with the Wraiths, I was getting really tired and wanted to pack it in. I didn't care if I lived or died at that point. I really wanted to go home and get something to eat.
Don't get me wrong, I like 4e D&D. This is not a complaint with the system. It's a complaint of the design of the adventure. I was made aware that the general details of each adventure were posted on the website for the campaign. Had I known the general gist of each of the 3 adventures, I would have made 3 characters. I would have played a much different character that the one I used for this adventure. One that could spam Radiant damage thats for sure.