In Ropecon I played Fane of the poisoned prophecies as GM’d by mister Raggi. After the con I’ve played four sessions of 4e.
Minor spoilers regarding the Fane shall follow.
Both of the games were mediocre, but for different reasons. The Fane felt somewhat directionless; we entered the place, killed some stuff, discovered some healing herbs, moved on, encountered a Cthulhuan camel, and so on. There was a big secret that we did not uncover, though the clues were there. I’m not certain that figuring out the secret would actually have been useful. On the treasure side we did find the herbs and one shelf of books, but the value of either was dwarfed by the appetite of the disenchanter-camel. Overall, I think the game might have been better if we had had a concrete goal or reason for being there. A good resource hoard to search for, say, or something more personal. Also, second journey in would likely have been more meaningful.
On the system side, we had one combat that felt too long (the moon chamber). All of them did nicely evoke a sense of danger and the need to move on, which was, I think, the point.
Overall: The play itself was fun; interacting with the environment and guessing at the level of risks. The combat system is pretty incidental I’d go as far as to further simplify it or abstract it away, since what happens inside combat is not, at least for me, that interesting. Props to James for not naming the monsters. It does make them feel more sword and sorcerish, probably due to facing the unknown and otherwordly, and less like D&D fantasy (Dragonlance, Forgotten realms, …).
Yeah: Every character made it out alive, though two, including my fighter henchman, were unconscious.
As for the game of 4e, we had some fights, found some traces of drow conspiracy, had some fights, attacked some underground temple and were all killed. Verdict: 4e is far more deadly than old school D&D. Maybe our only healer being one-shotted during surprise round also was a contributing factor.
4e does not prohibit people from roleplaying; I don’t see any relevant differences when compared to 3rd edition. What is relevant, and what is striking in contrast to old D&D (which does not have much encouragement for roleplaying, either) is that modern D&D has combats that take awfully long time. I take it that people enjoy such combats, but I would rather be roleplaying. In addition, such awfully long combats create the illusory dichotomy between using rules and roleplaying, so harming much discourse on rpgs.
Our game would have been better if we had more players familiar with the rules. Right now there was insignificant amounts of fumbling and me and the GM keeping track of rules for other players. Roleplay was, as always, as meaningful as we made it.
Overall, I probably will be playing 4e (or 3rd edition) only when there are no other interesting games available. They are still preferable to almost all board and card games, though. Chess might be counterexample, if I bothered learning it properly.
So, mediocre games but for different reasons. Clearly different games, also, with similarities being in the name and some cosmetic stuff.