Now let me say that I don't fault the DM that ran the game. He is a fun person to game with, engaging and intelligent, and I have played with him a number of times. I also don't fault the players, as they were really just playing 4e as designed, with cherry-picked magic items and optimized characters that are honestly encouraged by the rules as written. I can't really blame someone for playing the game the way it was designed to be played.
The adventure was typical LFR fare: a bit of roleplay at the beginning, then a three encounter combat slog, like something from the "Dungeon Delve" book. The first encounter was basically a joke; the monsters stood no chance against us. Almost immediately, the flow of combat degenerated into a string of soulless reactions and interrupts, moving at a snail's pace. An hour in and we were just going through the motions, as any monster with even a modicum of intelligence would have fled or surrendered by now. I was groaning to myself, hurrying through my turns, disengaged, checking to see what the wife was watching on TV.
The second encounter was another big set-piece deal, with some creatures that would basically rise again after you killed them. After the first round of combat (another 40 minute-plus slog of reactions and interrupts and synergistic charop approved item powers) we realized this. The party began to make its way to a door on the other side of the room to escape. This took another hour or so. As my character stood there in the center of the room, soaking up damage, I had a breakthrough. I was in trouble, no doubt, but I could have escaped by using a combo of my second wind, a heal spell, and another round of *shudder* combat. Yet I knew this would take at least another 30 minutes, likely much longer. We were already hours into this grueling thing. I couldn't take it anymore. I told them to just go ahead and run and let my PC die. I gave a half-hearted attempt at roleplaying it. "I'll hold them off! Get out of here!" I thanked the DM and wished everyone well and dropped out. You know a game is bad when you really WANT to die...when character death is a blessing, like cool water to a dry mouth.
I had to reflect a little bit after the game. I mean, I run a site that is mostly dedicated to 4e. I own every book. I have defended it hundreds and hundreds of times. Hell, I put out a 4e zine! Was it possible that I had been kidding myself all of this time? After all, I have houseruled every part of the game, from items, to combat and monsters, to traps, to diseases, to skill challenges, to rituals, and on and on. Is it possible that I actually hate 4e?
The answer is yes. I loathe it. I despise it. But, that isn't the only question. The other question is, "Is 4e worth saving?" And I think it is. Underneath the garbage, 4e has a lot of wonderful potential. Lots of creative and fun character options. A simple skill system that can get out of the way if you let it. Easily hackable design. Clear, understandable rules. There is good in the game, enough good that, perhaps against all logic and reason, I press on trying to perfect it.
Now, I want to say that if you like things about the game that I don't, that is fine and dandy. I am not trying to convince anyone that my way is best. I just wanted to share what I had gone through recently as a way of getting it off of my chest. I don't want this post to end on a negative note; rather, I encourage everyone out there to make the games you play your own. Be honest with yourself about what you like and dislike, and adjust accordingly. I realize now that playing in casual, traditional 4e games is really not something I enjoy. On the other hand, I love tinkering with the game and running it as something wholly different from what was apparently originally intended.
So, enlightenment came through suffering. Isn't that like a Zen koan or something?