We’ve now played the C1: Citadel of Pain module twice. This will be a review of Fourthcore through that lens. This seems appropriate, since it was the grandfather of the genre. Take this into account, however, in case there are peculiarities of the module that are not representative of the general experience.
What is Fourthcore?
There was a complaint that Fourth Edition D&D was a bit too measured and safe for the player characters. As I understand it, Fourthcore was essentially a reaction to that sentiment. Taking inspiration from the old deathtrap dungeons, it intended to present a tangible challenge to the players (as opposed to the characters.)
If Citadel of Pain is any indication, there’s definitely challenge aplenty. The obstacles are legitimately difficult, and failure generally results in one consequence: character death. I’ve now lost more characters to this game than the rest of my gaming career combined.
This is not to say that it’s violence-focused. We’ve encountered far more puzzles than combat. However, those puzzles can be tough, and, at least in some cases, are almost as hard even when you know how they work.
The combats we have encountered haven’t exactly been slouches either. We’ve lost characters to each one so far. They’re just not the focus of the game.
It’s probably in reaction to the extremely challenging nature of the Fourthcore games that the players become less attached to their characters. When PCs have such small odds of surviving the game, it just doesn’t make sense to put a whole lot of investment into them. In addition, the obstacles probably challenge the player more than the abilities of the character.
All of that promotes a more detached mode of play than I’m generally used to. It got to the point where I started naming my successive characters in alphabetical order so I could remember which one I was on. When I think back to the games, I generally don’t picture the situations from the character’s point of view. Rather, I remember looking down upon the map. Also, I noticed myself switching into third person, “He walks over there”, when I generally role play in first person.
Perhaps it is obvious from the last section, but role play is severely disincentivized in Fourthcore. It can only hurt your chances of surviving. For those new to the blog, that’s about as opposite to my usual style as you can get. It’s probably a testament to my RP zealot ways that I even tried to add a veneer of it.
Then again, I can’t call it “roll play” either. If you’re rolling dice, there’s a pretty good chance you’re about to lose a character. There’s almost always a way to think your way to a solution. Again, however, this stresses the player’s skills rather than the character’s.
Likewise, telling a good story is not the focus. It’s got just enough of a dusting of plot to keep things interesting. Fourthcore is about the game, not the story.
You might expect, given my story/RP focus, that I wouldn’t like Fourthcore. However, you’d be wrong. The key, here, is to take it for what it is. If you come in expecting role play and story, you’re going to be disappointed. You can’t knock it for that, though. That would be like criticizing Settlers of Catan for its lack of narrative.
I couldn’t play in a regular Fourthcore game. It just doesn’t have what I’m looking for in an RPG. That’s because it’s essentially an elaborate board game. Coming into the night expecting that, however, I laughed a lot, drank some beer, watched my characters die horrible deaths, and had a lot of fun. If that’s what you’re looking for, go try Fourthcore!