Honestly, the main reason I hadn't tried to run a game for Marty and his friends already is that I didn't know if they were mature enough to manage it. Games should be fun for everyone involved, and if we had to deal with discipline issues rather than playing the game, that would have ruined it for everyone. It's hard to bring people back to something later if they have a rotten experience the first time out, and I wanted them to like it.

Fortunately, they were fantastic.

Second, although 4E is billed as much easier to learn and play than the last edition, it's still a terribly complex game. Partly that's just the nature of roleplaying games. Modeling something as complicated as a fantasy world isn't simple. That's why the core rulebooks come to a total of 832 pages.

However, creating characters was more challenging than it needed to be. I spent a lot of time flipping through the rulebook-especially the table of contents and the index-hunting for information. Because I was so familiar with earlier editions of the game, I wanted to make sure I wasn't getting the new bits wrong, and figuring out what the right answers to our questions were often proved difficult.

All rulebooks serve two purposes. First, they need to teach you how to play the game. Second, they have to serve as a reference tool once you already know how to play.

The 4E books seem to excel at the second purpose, but they are not particularly good at the first. What I wanted was a step-by-step character creation guide that took me through building a character and explained the rules to me along the way, making sure I didn't miss anything vital. If it could have come with reference charts that let me compare the impact of available choices in the process, that would have been even better.

Despite the fact the process frustrated me, though, the kids didn't seem to mind. I had to go over all sorts of details with them, like the benefits that came along with each race, class, and so on, but they just soaked it all up and kept asking for more. Still, standing before them and going over the finer points of just how an elf differs from an eladrin made me feel more like a lecturer than a Dungeon Master. Often I wound up glossing over details or giving them strong recommendations for certain choices I knew would work better for them.

After the session was over, I realized there had to be a better way. I poked around Wizards' website and found the "Test Drive D&D" page, which features a quick-start rules PDF and a couple of introductory adventures, all for free. None of these, though, address creating a character from scratch. Instead, they give you pre-made characters and set you on your way.

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