My group played D&D4e for the first time last night. We have a strange and quirky bunch of characters, but once we got into combat the role-playing part fell away almost completely in favor of figuring out how to use the rules. It was fun, but definitely not the kind of fun I usually play RPGs for.
Anyone who says that 4e characters are “superheroes” is totally full of shit. The heroes’ numbers are higher, but so far even the weakest monsters are consistently vicious and dangerous. Kobolds with slings were dishing out as much as 9 points of damage at a time, where my fighter has 31 hp (the highest in the party). And that’s before we mention the fire beetles. We really had to go all-out using powers, Second Wind, and other little tricks just to avoid a TPK. (Though it doesn’t help that the rogue has a sub-optimal build, something the DM will hopefully let him fix before we play again).
The logistics of playing the game are a bit more intensive too. We played the game with minis and a map, and after doing so I really can’t imagine playing it without them. There’s also the matter of referencing powers, which in turn has us wanting to make cards or worksheets with the necessary info. (This site has links to lots and lots of promising stuff) I found that just writing the page number down on the character sheet (a trick I got from some Japanese RPGs) helped ameliorate the difficulty somewhat, though even with 3 copies of the PHB we were contantly having different people trying to grab a copy to look stuff up. But regardless, the powers were consistently useful, though some more than others. I almost got to use Cleave once, but Sure Strike was very important tactically.
We got through two encounters, so apart from some initial role-playing and killing kobolds, not a whole lot happened that session. However, all my friends who’d played 3.5 marveled at how fast it went.
Update: We wound up playing D&D again and finishing the dungeon on Sunday. I had bought a pack of cardstock (why is it they sell packs of 250 sheets of white cardstock for $12, and packs of 100 sheets in funky colors for $10, but not packs of 100 sheets of white for $4-6?) and printed out power cards for everyone. My friend Tim brought card sleeves to go with them, and they definitely did help. Everyone is also getting to know the rules better and generally adjusting to the attendant paradigm and avoiding stupid mistakes.
The final battle was against a young white dragon. It first used its presence attack ability and its breath weapon, which hobbled half the party with status effects, but once we recovered enough the rogue got his Blinding Barrage off on it, the fighter and paladin flanked it, and we all generally pounded on the thing until it died (though the paladin took a lot of bad hits and was knocked out just before the battle ended).