The GM had never run 4th Ed before. I had never played 4th Ed (but have read the 4th PHB and DMG) before, and one of the other players had never role-played before. We were playing 18th-level characters. Despite that hefty set of self-imposed hurdles, I was definitely impressed at how smoothly combat flowed. It's hard to imagine similar results from 18th level characters and first-time players in either 3.x or 2nd Ed D&D. 4th is really sweet, and easy to pick up.
A quick aside: This experience left me kinda wondering why I'm bothering with Savage Worlds - 4th's rules are far tighter, and character creation / advancement appears to be less fiddly than in SW. But that's a topic for another time - and rather similar to what I was griping about last week.That said, it certainly wasn't a perfect gaming experience. The game was basically two fight scenes, with a very brief bit of narration between them. This was a big shock, given that the GM (Dqniel) had run an absolutely awesome Cthulhu scenario at GwenCon 2 years back. Because of the skill he'd shown in crafting and running that adventure, I was expecting a lot this time. I anticipated getting to role-play a bit more and roll a bit less. I had my hopes up - especially after seeing the jawdropping prop he'd made (see below).
Of course, what you get out of an experience is based in part on what you bring to it. I don't check my email too often, so I missed out when he sent out the pregen characters for us to choose from. As a result, there wasn't much of a choice left for me - I got stuck playing Black Canary. I've never read a comic with her in it, and didn't know a thing about her, so had there been more role-playing opportunities, I probably would have stalled out. Lack of knowledge on both character and system was a big handicap for me. My bad - there's definitely things I could have done to enhance my enjoyment of the game. I was playing a sort of monk-ish build, and didn't really know what my combat role was. In retrospect, I think I was a Striker. A tiny bit of homework on my part prior to the game would have done wonders.
Speaking of wonders, Dqniel brought something to the game that was the gaming equivalent of one of the 7 Wonders of the World. He had a 6-foot-tall scale model of the World Trade Center. He's a graphic designer by trade, and so had assembled this breathtaking foam-core and cardstock model of all the various towers. Hands down, it's the coolest single prop I've ever seen in gaming. I can't say enough positive about it - I really wish I'd brought my camera. This prop more than made up for whatever minor gripes I may have had about the pure-combat plotline (which wasn't really pure combat either, to be fair, as there was a vital skill challenge in the midst of the second fight).
UPDATE: I found a photo one of the other GwenCon attendees put up on the web. Check it out here. He or she put a caption saying it's a 4 ft model, but I think that's selling it short. I'm 6ft and change - my eyes were maybe two inches over the tops of the towers, so I'd guess the towers about 5'3" or so. The aerial on the roof of Tower #2 reached up pretty close to the top of my head, IIRC. I sure don't think I could be overestimating by more than a foot. The photo, nice as it is, doesn't do it justice. The big towers just look white or uniform light grey in the picture. Dqniel had used Illustrator, and the panels all had grids on them to give the proper wall-of-windows skyscraper effect. Much more impressive in person then on film/screen, I'm afraid, but at least this gives you an idea what we're talking about.One last bit of praise for Dqniel - the man has patience and tact. There was a player who kept wandering away from the table, disappearing for 5 to 20 minutes at a time. Expecting that if his turn came round while he was still gone, he'd just hold his action, and get to take a turn almost instantly upon returning. Dqniel handled himself with a lot more composure than I'd have managed if some ...person... tried that at my table. Had I been GMing, the second (maybe third) time he wandered off without saying anything, I would have dropped him from the game. When he came back, I'd have said "sorry dude, you failed a save and died". I know, it's harsh. But by the end of the 4-hour block, I wanted to scream at this player - he was repeatedly disruptive and disrespectful. Dqniel kept his cool, though, didn't let it phase him at all. Buddha would have been impressed.