Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition – the Red Box


The first time I held the original D&D Red Box in my hands I was 8 years old. My friend Khidr had received the Dungeons & Dragons Red Box as a gift from his Aunt and Uncle. It came with the Players Handbook and Dungeon Masters Guide. Those rule books seemed intimidating at the time, but now I think back and laugh at how simple they were compared to most.

We also received what truly got us involved in role-playing games, a set of polyhedron dice. Completely alien to us, these dice were like little treasures that required diligent safekeeping.  Strange shapes in a myriad of colors, this was what caused us to pull up chairs to what would become our gaming table and dig through these newfound books.

As soon as I found out there was a “Dungeon Master” who controlled the monsters and wrote the story line I knew that’s what I wanted to be. I have always loved creation.  I get excited about writing songs, building model scenery, and building websites.  These things give my life purpose and get my gears turning.

Fast forward 25 years and at Christmas we happened to find our old gaming group in the same room again.  Despite thousands of miles of separation, our parents living in the same city had reunited us yet again over the holidays.  As we leaned on the kitchen counter chatting over the eating bar and drinking coffee our eyes wandered to the Christmas tree.  My son had just received the Dungeons & Dragons Red Box for 4th edition as a Christmas present.  The very same box that we had used to learn D&D as children.  Wow, 25 years ago… had it really been that long?

We told my son to call up his friends and get his dice.  We were going to sit down and play D&D with them.  We would teach them a thing or two, or so we thought!

Apparently D&D has changed drastically over the years.  This version of the game came with character sheets, a flip-mat, miniature tokens that represent heroes and monsters, playing cards, and two small books.

Dashiell decided to take the role of party leader showing everyone how to roll up their characters.  While Khidr assisted in drinking all the coffee.  I sharpened pencils and prepared the miniature tokens.  Rolling up characters proved a difficult task as the initial character stats were already determined for you.  Perhaps this was to assist new players and GMs in getting started.  Hopefully this would speed things up and we would be playing within the half hour!

Almost two hours later we still weren’t playing.  The statistics for each character were hidden deep within a detailed story meant to help new players.  If anything it complicated things and was very frustrating digging through all this fluff just to begin playing.  We felt cheated out of creating our own characters.  One of my absolute favorite parts of playing a RPG is rolling up and creating my own unique character!  At least the Pathfinder Beginner Box provided your stats and gear already printed on the ready to play character sheets.  If you’re going to start me out with a pre-rolled character at least get it ready to go so we can get started and learn the game.

So, like I said… 2 hours later and we only had a bit of time left, luckily we had finished our characters.  We initiated the trial combat contained within the small Dungeon Master’s Guide!

I played DM and set up the mini tokens and flip-mat.  Everyone rolled initiative and battle began.

 

As combat progressed I noticed many changes in regards to combat in 4th edition:

  • Combat has a faster pace than most RPGs
  • Players and Monsters hit 90% of the time
  • Damage caused is almost 4 times what we experienced in older editions
  • Players have a smattering of cards which can be used strategically
  • All players can use a special ability called a “Healing Surge” to regain lost hit points

Introducing cards into the game seems like a good idea and I’ll need some more time to see how I really feel about this.  I do enjoy a faster paced combat, but it sure seems like the constant barrage of wounds is more akin to a video game than a tabletop RPG.  When flipping through the books I did notice that a focus on combat encounters overshadowed the exploration or role-playing factor.  The latter two aspects of role-playing games are what puts the “role” as opposed to the “roll” into the game for me.

Surely we need more time with the game than just a practice encounter, but I fear that Wizards is on a path which leads away from the dreams of the late great Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson.

My son and his friends enjoyed the encounter and were ready for more.  During combat one of the kids came up with a creative use for the Mage Hand spell and moved a small boulder over the head of an enemy and dropped it causing extra damage.  He wanted to keep going after his turn was over so he could cast spell after spell.  I told him if he got to do whatever he wanted, so did I and would loose an army of enemies upon the group.  He said “go ahead, I have a ton of spells I want to use!”  Wisdom 3, Enthusiasm & Courage: 18!

When all was said and done I realized that this version of D&D, although different from previous editions was original in and of itself.  It is a NEW game and thus is an interpretation of the great D&D game, played for generations.  Surely it has a place among my other gaming books and boxes.

It is my son’s turn to start a collection and forge his own memories and experiences in the world of Dungeons & Dragons.  Perhaps in 25 years he will be teaching his son how to play.

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About Jonathan G. Nelson

Jonathan G. Nelson is the editor-in-chief and owner of NERD TREK. He is also owner/publisher at AAW Games / AdventureAWeek.com, a tabletop gaming company based in Snoqualmie, WA. Connect with Jonathan via Facebook.