I just listened to the latest round of D&D podcasts where the guys from Penny Arcade, PvP, and Wesley Crusher go dungeon crawling. I didn’t listen to the first round of podcasts, thinking that it would be boring to listen to other people play d&d. It’s actually not. It’s more like a radio play with a lot of in-jokes (where the audience is “in”). I find myself actually caring about what happens to the characters in a similar way as I do with online comic like OOTS or chainmail bikini, etc. Of course I don’t think I’d like to devote an hour a week to listening to someone else game, but it has been quite instructive to listen in on someone else’s session, especially as I am still figuring out how to play 4e.
One of the biggest surprises for me is that the DM (Chris Perkins from Wizards) announces which of the enemies are minions, and reveals the monster roles (although this is sometimes discovered after a few rounds). I think it makes a big difference knowing ahead of time which guys only have 1 hit point, and it certainly tailors what you do with the characters. The 1st & 2nd edition AD&D DM in me is hesitant to agree with announcing minion-ness, but the 4e player in me sees how this could be more fun and probably in line with the balance as designed chosen. I could see myself using the gray magnetic markers from Alea Tools to indicate minion status on the game board.
I hope that the podcasts cover skill challenges and more roleplaying, but so far it has only confirmed my fear that 4e is much more about combat than role-playing. Also I’ve come to conclusion that combat itself is faster paced than previous versions but overall not any faster; the podcast encounters seem to take as long as they do at my game table.