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Title: [D&D 4e] Using D&D for Introduction to Roleplaying?
Post by: Aumpa on July 31, 2009, 01:08:57 PM
Hello! I'm glad I found this site. After taking a 10 year break from roleplaying, I'm trying to get back into it again, and I want to be educated about the possibilities.

Here's the situation:

A few months ago, I picked up the D&D 4e PHB and DMG, joined a new startup group at a local game store, and played a few short sessions as a player.

Now, I want to introduce roleplaying to a couple friends and hopefully run a fun series of sessions for them. I'm not quite sure what I want for myself out of roleplaying as far as GNS goes. I do know that I would like to explore D&D4 for a bit and see what we can do with it, but I'm open to using an indie game instead.

The friends I plan on introducing to roleplaying are ethnically, culturally, and nationally Chinese. They're learning English as a second language and taking classes at a college here in California. I would be very surprised if they've had any exposure at all to anything like tabletop roleplaying. The reason I think they'd enjoy roleplaying is due to their interest in imaginative things like anime and comic books, and board games like Go and Chess.

Is starting them with D&D a bad idea? Will it give them all kinds of misconceptions about what roleplaying could be?  Are there any specific pitfalls with D&D that I should look out for?

In the beginning, I believe the play will be Participationist (if I'm using the term correctly), in that I'll be driving the story and to great extent the characters, while they'll be supplying some dialogue, characterizations, and tactical decisions. I hope that they will gradually learn to create more of character, color, setting, situation, and system, but I don't know how quickly they'll take to it.

My preliminary plan is to only bring out the dice, pencils, and blank paper, while leaving the books hidden. I want them to know that games come from people, not books. I would also like to start their characters as "level zero" humans and roleplay the selection and training of their classes, as I'm afraid handing them a blank character sheet to fill in might give them the impression that the game is mainly about a bunch of numbers.

I apologize if I've put this in the wrong forum. I didn't know if I should emphasize the level-zero modification of D&D to qualify for First Thoughts, or put it in Actual Play with the forsight that I'll be posting follow-ups to how things go, or somewhere else entirely.


Title: Re: [D&D 4e] Using D&D for Introduction to Roleplaying?
Post by: Callan S. on July 31, 2009, 02:45:21 PM
Hi Aumpa, welcome to the forge!

Your concerned about them getting missconceptions about what roleplay is, or an impression it's a game mainly about numbers - why are these missconceptions, or false impressions? What if your own idea of what roleplay is, is a missconception and false impression? It's easy to think our own ideas make sense, while the other guy is just under a missconception.

Reading the texts of D&D, up to and including 4E, is still alot like looking at clouds and seeing shapes and creatures which just aren't there. As much as cloud gazing can inspire the imagination, so can looking at any edition of D&D.

The problem is when people look into a cloud/the rules text and most assuredly assert X IS THERE! And say everyone else is wrong or has a missconception if they don't see it.

I think this mostly comes up because people don't realise they are cloud gazing, they really think X is there in the text.

If everyone realises they are cloud gazing when they read the games texts, I think it works out - everyone knows what they are seeing isn't really there, and so they can work together to meld the things they 'see' into one actual thing they all agree on, then do that thing.

Are you prepared to see the something valid in what they see, rather than just see it as missconception? Are they prepared to do the same in regards to your vision? Once you are, then you can work out a deal on what to keep and what not to keep (well, usually most people are capable of making a deal - I will grant it's possible you may not be able to make a deal between you).

If not - well, when someone sees something no one else can and they insist people do things a certain way 'because it's there', it always reminds me of religion.

What drew to introduce RP to your two friends? Was the game at the local store enjoyable in some way, or it wasn't and you wanted to run a game where it's done properly?


Title: Re: [D&D 4e] Using D&D for Introduction to Roleplaying?
Post by: Aumpa on July 31, 2009, 03:20:12 PM
I'm afraid that a hidden appeal of introducing the game to new players is so I can mold their impressionable minds to roleplay the way I guess roleplaying should be done. But I'm going to give myself the benefit of the doubt and assume that I'll be egalitarian, flexible, and open to seeing what anybody and everybody sees in the clouds.

I guess my questions are about:
1) what the players might see in the clouds of D&D, or some other game, so that I might mentally prepare myself to see those shapes.
2) what role do I have as the teacher/DM in suggesting shapes (assuming it's unavoidable that I suggest shapes short of giving them the PHB without any commentary)

I plan on dropping the use of XP.
[/non sequitur]


Title: Re: [D&D 4e] Using D&D for Introduction to Roleplaying?
Post by: Aumpa on July 31, 2009, 03:22:48 PM
Oh, and the game at the store was enjoyable enough. There's actually a session with my group starting in a few hours, but I can't make it due to a schedule conflict.


Title: Re: [D&D 4e] Using D&D for Introduction to Roleplaying?
Post by: Ron Edwards on July 31, 2009, 03:58:21 PM
Hello,

I'd like to know more about the game at the store. What happened, both with the characters (briefly please) and more to the point among the actual people?

Best, Ron


Title: Re: [D&D 4e] Using D&D for Introduction to Roleplaying?
Post by: JoyWriter on July 31, 2009, 04:48:35 PM
My idea is to play some D&D with them, and then play some totally different game, really separate to D&D, as a bit of a contrast. My basic setup is probably D&D4, Call of Cthullu, and then something more relationship based like Dogs in the Vineyard. I tried making an alternate list, but I got all carried away and came up with about 10! The thing is that the game should have a solid identity of it's own, and be one you can ease people into without it breaking down because they played it badly. There are all kinds of alternate choices for introductions, but these're just meant to have that and be tonally different from each other as well as using different mechanics.

Part of it is this though; they will play the games most that they like the most! Your introduction cannot channel them for long towards what you like, if what they like is different. Don't be afraid of giving them hefty character generation in one game if it is light in another; two other of my suggestions from my hidden list were donjon and spirit of the century, both with very different attitudes to starting situation and it's effect on play. Play games with maps and games with relationship maps. Games with secrets and hidden bidding and games with perfect information. Games where characters are precious and games where they appear and disappear like flies.

Basically contrast between games is the only thing that can truly tell people the breadth of possible rpg experience, they have to see it measured out in game form! But this theoretical suggesting strays from the purpose of this sub-forum, so I'll leave it there. I'd also like to hear about the game or about examples previously of good roleplaying that suggest the kind of stuff you'd want to introduce these guys too.


Title: Re: [D&D 4e] Using D&D for Introduction to Roleplaying?
Post by: Jasper Flick on August 01, 2009, 02:35:51 AM
I suggest not looking far into the future right now. Just look at a simple session of D&D. Look at what experiences you had and decide what you like to repeat or avoid with these new people.

However, it may well be that cultural differences will trump anything else. D&D's fluff, feel, and logic is rooted in western fantasy. If they go in with eastern cultural assumptions you'll likely flounder, especially with a language barrier. So check that out. Inquire if they know stuff like LotR, have seen some relevant movies, or read relevant books. In short, establish a common ground.


Title: Re: [D&D 4e] Using D&D for Introduction to Roleplaying?
Post by: Aumpa on August 01, 2009, 12:08:47 PM
Hello,

I'd like to know more about the game at the store. What happened, both with the characters (briefly please) and more to the point among the actual people?

Best, Ron

Sure. We've had three sessions...

The first session was a practice session to familiarize ourself with the rules. It was me, one other player, and the DM playing a couple combat encounters from the first published adventure, Keep on the Shadowfell. We the players had two pre-gen characters each. The first combat was very exciting for me, being the first I'd played in over 10 years. The whole party died in a very close fight in the second combat, but nobody seemed to mind too much, since it was just practice. In reflecting on the session, one interesting thing occurred to me. I clearly remember when we were between combats, the other player took one character to sell the looted equipment that we picked up in the first encounter, and started haggling over the price. It's laughable now, but I remember thinking what a waste of time it was to try to get a couple more silver pieces out of the deal. I didn't say anything, but I wanted to "get on with the game." I would have been happy just declaring that we sold the stuff and not even determined how much we got for it, because these were disposable characters after all, right? So there's material for at least one insight about myself (and maybe D&D).

In the next two sessions, there were two more players, and we each brought our own PC. Before we met, we determined our backstories by collaborating online and the DM introduced our starting town. So you might say the game had already been in progress by the time we met. The PC races included a drow, gnoll, dwarf, and an eladrin played by myself.  We felt it was a little bit of a dilemma how such a mix of races might come to be adventuring together, so it was decided that my character would be the common character that the other three had connections to, and would serve as the "glue" to hold the party together. So we (mostly me) came up with stories about how my character knew each of the others. When it came time to meet face-to-face, our characters were plopped down at a table at an inn together, ready for adventure.

I thought the creating of backstories was kinda fun, but I was a little disappointed that the backgrounds didn't really come into actual play at the table. Nobody talked about the past. The encounters, NPCs, and town we were in didn't refer to or seem to depend on our backgrounds much at all, accept passively in that all the PCs had a reason to have travelled there from their home locations. I would have liked more connections.

I felt that the rules are slightly at odds with the character concept I had created. I wanted a diplomatic wizard, which I made, but the charisma stat doesn't contribute much to the Effectiveness of a wizard as a wizard. I further traded combat effectiveness for diplomatic effectiveness and Color (i think is the term?) by taking a Linguist feat instead of one that would help in combat. I personally find that language, culture, and the difficulties of a language barrier are interesting, so I wanted my character to be able to speak some other languages. He can speak goblin, draconic, and giant/orcish. In the two sessions that I've played him, these languages have not come into play at all because we haven't encountered any goblins, kobolds, orcs, giants, or dragons. His skill in diplomacy has not come into play in any memorable way (except see below).

One of the players in the group has had more experience playing 4e than all the rest of us combined. I feel that he's sort of a helpful guide about "how to" play the game, but I think his share of the influence over the game is a little too great. It all seems natural and fair according to the rules, and I don't know what, if anything, to do about it. I think that as we play more, this dynamic will probably shift a bit.

One more thing worth mentioning is that it hasn't seemed that anybody has really been "in character" much while at the table. I've tried, but I feel that I need to work on my improvisational acting skills. A few times I've fallen back to describing in third person what my character would say. I don't think there's anything wrong with using the third person, but there was one glaring and embarrassing example in which I said, "[My character] says it better," when the party was depending on him, the diplomat, to explain something to NPCs after another character had failed to convince them. Roleplay: fail.

I'm going to post what I've written so far, though there's probably more to tell. How am I doing with the report?

JoyWriter,

Good idea. I'm going to PM you to ask for a list of the 10 games and what the special feature is that each one highlights.

Jasper,

Thanks for the advice. I hope the first session is fun enough that they'll want to play a second session. As far as the cultural differences go, I'm afraid that they will be hesitant to take creative initiative, but I'm confident they can learn, if they choose. This is part of why I started this thread. I don't want to only teach them the ways to be creative that I'm familiar with.


Title: Re: [D&D 4e] Using D&D for Introduction to Roleplaying?
Post by: Caldis on August 01, 2009, 09:45:38 PM

I'd suggest that the things you are seeing as problems in the D&D game you played, like the mechanics not matching the characters and players not really getting into their characters, are things you may run into if you try and run it yourself.  Not that as GM you cant push the game in a different direction, and it sounds like you tried as a player in this game, but from what I've seen of it the mechanics really push the game towards caring about combat effectiveness and not towards caring about who these characters are and why they are here.  There's a lot of fiddly little bits for the player to understand related to how the combat system works, it might be a bit much for them to worry about while they are also trying to worry about personalities.

My opinion, there are probably better games to start out with given your interests.  If you were to use D&D 4e what were you thinking of running.  Do you have a scenario idea or would you use something published?


Title: Re: [D&D 4e] Using D&D for Introduction to Roleplaying?
Post by: Aumpa on August 01, 2009, 11:46:34 PM
My plan is to introduce everything in a "natural, organic" order, as best as I can. If those terms seem meaningless in terms of teaching an rpg, let me try to draw up my plan, using only paper, pencils, and dice:

1. Introduce my role as DM and their roles as players, with foreshadowing of the characters
2. Introduce the setting, broadly, as mysterious, magical, ancient, and dangerous
3. Introduce their home village and a few NPCs
4. Elaborate more on their role as players and have them name their PCs, starting as human children, maybe around age 8. Determine some familial relationships.
5. Introduce some skills and teach them the basic mechanic of a skill check, with some situation for application.
6. Introduce the "class paths" and NPCs where they can choose to train: priestess in the village temple (cleric, paladin), old warrior at the barracks (fighter, warlord), wizard in the nearby tower (wizard, perhaps warlock) and the hermit in the woods (ranger, perhaps rogue).
7. Based on advice from the above NPCs, they'll roll up their ability scores and choose a location to train, and we'll age the characters forward into their teens.
8. Some sort of combat where they can use some class abilities.
9. Maybe introduce some specialized NPCs for their advanced training to bring them to their full class at level 1.
10. Maybe we'll skip ahead another year, and I'll ask them to make up a story about what their character did over the past year while practicing and using their class powers.
11. Bring them all back together and send them on a quest!

Steps 1-4 seem pretty solid to me. The rest I'm less sure about, but I think the direction and pace will depend on their own initiative.

Eventually I'll bring out the Player's Handbook and give them a chance to create new characters of any race, with all of the class options presented to them, and let them do the "regular" character creation process of picking powers and skills, buying equipment, etc.

I'd greatly appreciate hearing your encouragement, cautions, questions...


Title: Re: [D&D 4e] Using D&D for Introduction to Roleplaying?
Post by: Callan S. on August 02, 2009, 03:14:03 PM
Hey again, Aumpa,

What's the fun thing about doing those steps? I'm not saying there isn't fun, I'm asking if we can hear what you would describe as the fun, in your own words? And also that fun doesn't have to match my sense of fun or anyone elses to be valid or anything like that. Is that enough disclaimers? :)

Or, and this is a hard question, is it building up to fun latter on, in some latter session? There is no fun in a session where you follow these steps? It's all build up to fun latter on?


Title: Re: [D&D 4e] Using D&D for Introduction to Roleplaying?
Post by: Patrice on August 02, 2009, 04:06:52 PM
The creation/introduction/character generation steps you describe are more or less exactly those you find in Storming the Wizard's Tower (http://www.lumpley.com/storming/?page_id=72/). I just wanted to mention it.


Title: Re: [D&D 4e] Using D&D for Introduction to Roleplaying?
Post by: Aumpa on August 02, 2009, 04:35:16 PM
What's the fun thing about doing those steps? I'm not saying there isn't fun, I'm asking if we can hear what you would describe as the fun, in your own words? And also that fun doesn't have to match my sense of fun or anyone elses to be valid or anything like that. Is that enough disclaimers? :)

Or, and this is a hard question, is it building up to fun latter on, in some latter session? There is no fun in a session where you follow these steps? It's all build up to fun latter on?

I hope it will be a fun way of sneaking them in to what is probably the most complicated non-computer game they've ever played. First, it's "Oh, I'm pretending to be someone else, in a magical world." Then it's, "Oh, I've got these ability scores, and I can influence the world, too." Then it's "Oh, now we've all got to work together to win this fight." Then, "Oh, now we've got some new powers-- bring on the next challenge!" And then they're playing D&D.

I guess I'm afraid it'll be too overwhelming if I show them a blank character sheet and say, "Okay, first, you've got to fill this out."

A middle of the road path would be giving them pre-generated characters, but I thought that the steps above would give them a sense of character creation and ownership, and the numbers will be presented gradually.

The creation/introduction/character generation steps you describe are more or less exactly those you find in Storming the Wizard's Tower (http://www.lumpley.com/storming/?page_id=72/). I just wanted to mention it.

Oh! Well, I can't say I'm surprised that it's been done before. I'll definitely have to check that out.


Title: Re: [D&D 4e] Using D&D for Introduction to Roleplaying?
Post by: Callan S. on August 02, 2009, 07:01:16 PM
I hope it will be a fun way of sneaking them in to what is probably the most complicated non-computer game they've ever played. First, it's "Oh, I'm pretending to be someone else, in a magical world." Then it's, "Oh, I've got these ability scores, and I can influence the world, too." Then it's "Oh, now we've all got to work together to win this fight." Then, "Oh, now we've got some new powers-- bring on the next challenge!" And then they're playing D&D.
What I'm asking is will you enjoy those things during play, or do you only enjoy that they will eventually lead to what you'd call playing D&D? Most people will probably be able to detect if you don't enjoy those first elements, and if you the host aren't enjoying something during the act of play, they wont get what they are supposed to try and enjoy.

If you do enjoy them, no worries, but I'd then recommend verbally saying what, at any particular moment, they are supposed to try and enjoy. It's okay to say to them that nows the time to enjoy being someone else in a magical world, rather than leaving it to non verbal, almost osmotic communication to try and get that across. Lead out loud.


Title: Re: [D&D 4e] Using D&D for Introduction to Roleplaying?
Post by: Aumpa on August 02, 2009, 09:05:13 PM
What I'm asking is will you enjoy those things during play, or do you only enjoy that they will eventually lead to what you'd call playing D&D? Most people will probably be able to detect if you don't enjoy those first elements, and if you the host aren't enjoying something during the act of play, they wont get what they are supposed to try and enjoy.

If you do enjoy them, no worries, but I'd then recommend verbally saying what, at any particular moment, they are supposed to try and enjoy. It's okay to say to them that nows the time to enjoy being someone else in a magical world, rather than leaving it to non verbal, almost osmotic communication to try and get that across. Lead out loud.

Well, you've sort of got me second-guessing myself, but I think it will be a fun process for me.

I'm about halfway through the rules of Storming the Wizard's Tower, and I think it's uncanny how much of it is just what I was hoping for. I'll definitely incorporate bits of it... or I might just get all the d6 for it and use it entirely.

Thanks for the lead, Patrice!

Anybody else have comments on my above report of actual play?


Title: Re: [D&D 4e] Using D&D for Introduction to Roleplaying?
Post by: Jasper Flick on August 03, 2009, 02:48:58 AM
What jumped out most for me was that you wanted to play a diplomatic wizard but didn't really get to do so. Basically, by picking up those languages you said "Hey GM, put these creatures into the game so I can talk with them!" though you probably didn't think of it that way. The GM didn't pick up this subtle hint and totally ignored your concept. Same goes for the backstories: they didn't matter. I guess you were simply fed a pre-existing adventure regardless of your own contribution. That probably didn't help you to "get into character" much either.
So I'm guessing you want a stronger connection between your character and the situation. It's probably what you'll be gunning for when you run your game.


Title: Re: [D&D 4e] Using D&D for Introduction to Roleplaying?
Post by: lachek on August 06, 2009, 11:04:12 AM
Hi Aumpa,

Given a campaign of 4E we just wrapped up, your experiences with D&D 4E are not very surprising to me. Before I go into details - to be clear - this post is intended to steer you away from using 4E as your intro game for a set of new players.

A little bit of background: the group I usually play with are made up of a mish-mash of locals. We've played together for a few years, with some people coming in and dropping out of the group during that time. We've played maybe a dozen different games together, with slightly different group make-up between games. We're not afraid to try new systems, and a few of us (myself included) are what you might call a "neophile" when it comes to RPGs. I'd say about half of us are more into new-form, "indie" type games and half are more comfortable with "traditional" type games (D&D, GURPS, World of Darkness, etc). Coming out of a heavily drifted Ars Magica campaign, we decided the next game we'd try was D&D 4E. We'd never played any version of D&D together before with the notable exception of Castles & Crusades, a very old-school-centric version of d20/3.x. The predominant notion in the group was that D&D was counter-productive to what we wanted out of role-playing, which seems to generally jibe more with your idea of things (character- or story-first, de-emphasis on tactical combat, etc), and many in our group were skeptical to say the least.

The first session of the game was spent learning the rules in a large combat scenario. It became evident that some players - even players who originally balked at the idea of playing D&D at all - were really grooving on the "visuals" created by cool powers and the tactical elements of movement. The idea that "colour" was separate from the mechanics (such that a Warlock's attacks might actually be visually described as demons who rips people's souls out of their bodies) worked very well for these people.

One player failed to see the point entirely. He complained that the combat was not realistic enough, and took no interest in describing visuals at all. He didn't come back for subsequent sessions, although we still play other games with him (interestingly, including games which do not emphasize "realism" at all, and which have very strong visuals - it seemed to be the combination of tactical wargame and lack of realism that bothered him).

The game continued strong for several sessions after that, with the remaining players being pretty jazzed about the combat sequences. Then it seemed that tedium started setting in for a couple of the players. There were concerns about "not role-playing enough" (in the "speaking in character" sense) and that the story moved slowly due to the long encounters. The encounters themselves became less interesting when the players had already tried out all their techniques and narrated through the various visuals available to them. Mixing up the encounters with totally different sets of creatures with different tactics, integrated traps and puzzles, and so on seemed to help somewhat, but the concerns above were repeated a bit too often to believe that these players were truly having optimal fun.

We tried out a few techniques, like ensuring that each encounter was "story-changing" (as opposed to, frex, Keep on the Borderlands' multiple goblin ambushes), mixing in some Skill Challenges, and such. It kept the steam up for one session, perhaps, before the tedium re-emerged. The lack of character growth (in the XP sense) became a big factor for one player in particular - he wanted to get some new tricks to keep the encounters fresh, not unlike a bored MMORPG grinder. The question of XP rewards came up - should we boost it? Or remove it, and just level the characters whenever it seemed appropriate? Or skip forward in time to Paragon level? From my point of view, the XP reward cycle is a tricky thing, and removing it altogether in favour of scheduled character rewards removes a big factor of play which tie in with the tactics of the encounters and Skill Challenges. Rather, my opinion is that every action that's consistent with successful D&D play should be rewarded with XP - that means solving traps, overcoming social challenges, hitting specified story points, etc. All other play should be minimized - that means planning, resting, in-character chatting, etc.

Eventually, one guy who was really into the tactics of the encounters took over DMing from me and wrapped up the immediate storyline for the rest of us in a suitable yet convenient way. He claimed he could've kept playing for a long time and still had fun with the system, but that was exclusively due to the boardgamey, tactical elements of it. The rest of us were more or less bored witless with 4E and anxious to bite into something else with more character- and story-centric goals. Interestingly, the guy who took over DMing is also a very enthusiastic "indie-game" GM and another of the neophiles in our group.

To summarize, in my experience with straight-up rules-as-written D&D 4E, the game is definitively designed to cater to wargamers who want to dabble in setting their scenarios in continuous stories and see their characters advance mechanically. In this light, it is a fantastic game.

However, as soon as you start bringing "role-playing" sensibilities into this game things start to flounder. Conflicted and complex characters? No rules or guidelines to be found. Social interactions? Other than very two-dimensional "Skill Challenges" designed to be overcome in rather binary ways, not supported. Interlocking backstories? Useless in this context. Character development other than mechanical progression towards more skill and power? Not at all.

Of course, you can drift the game to support all these things, but I see a large population of existing D&D 2/3.x players who are determined never to touch 4E because their existing drifted techniques to support such play is specifically de-emphasized. For example, the emphasis on cool combat Powers and Feats make trading combat-oriented characteristics for abilities more commonly used out-of-combat or used mostly for colour a really bad deal. In D&D 3.5 and earlier, it's almost an assumption that the "party needs a non-combatant" to get you out of traps and social hazards - not so in 4E, where all characters are combat-ready and the non-optimal character/player simply has less of a chance to shine.

If I were to focus in on just one of your statements - the removal of XP from the game's equation - I'd say this is a clear indication that you're looking for something very different than what 4E offers. Rather, I'd suggest that emphasizing the continuous accumulation of XP in every possible game-supported situation is exactly how the game should be played. Removing XP from 4E would be like removing Artha from Burning Wheel, if that tells you anything.

Not to proselytize, but for what I think you're looking for, you may want to have a look at Burning Wheel (for a relatively complex system), Don't Rest Your Head (drift the setting and rename the mechanics if you like), Sorcerer (& Sword?), or FATE (for a moderately crunchy, non-tactical, non-lethal, but sometimes over-the-top system) for character- and story-driven play. I think all of these games are suitable for beginners, assuming the GM knows them well - and if the GM doesn't, remove BW and Sorcerer from that list and you should be fine. For a more traditional "starter" game, have a look at Castles & Crusades - same dungeon-crawling, monster-slaying, treasure-gathering goodness, but a less tactical, crunchy, battlemat-heavy system than 4E.


Title: Re: [D&D 4e] Using D&D for Introduction to Roleplaying?
Post by: lachek on August 06, 2009, 11:08:18 AM
To provide a more to-the-point summary of my long-winded post:

If you want to "train" your players to play tabletop RPGs the way you prefer them, I don't think D&D 4E works with your playstyle. The majority of us who played in the aforementioned mini-campaign really liked the game at first due mostly to the novelty and, frankly, excellent design of the game - but it quickly got boring for those of us whose preferences lay squarely with character-driven story play, and in that sense 4E "teaches" a very, very different style of play.