My 4th edition summer game, the "get the band back together" game, is now officially over. I had a lot of fun running it, and the usual levels of hair-pulling frustration, and I think my players had a good time, too. In the end, a good game.
We even managed to give it a decent finale. It was clear, and had been for a while, that there was no way we would actually finish the module, if we played through it as written. I'd decided already that there was also no possibility of ever picking it up again to finish it, at least with this group, but I was reluctant to leave yet another adventure permanently unfinished, with no sense of closure. So I boosted them to 3rd level and cut out most of the second level of the dungeon, bringing them straight to the final two fights.
Not a method I'd recommend in most circumstances, but this time, it worked out okay. Mostly because it turns out that (a) the stunt rules are easy to handle and (b) the wight raining crackling purple death upon them was standing right next to a pit. Cue the Wilhelm scream, splashing, and helpful wight sound effects provided by Alefist. (Reeeeee!) After the battle, they amused themselves by dropping various objects on the very wet, very angry, and very trapped wight.
Other than that, the fight was pretty standard. They all ganged up on Kalarel at the end, neatly demonstrating that the primary purpose of having all those monsters is to distribute fire; five levels above them, he lasted about two rounds.
It had the usual near-death moments, which I'm beginning to think are an artifact of the way healing works rather than a sign of actual peril. The damage/healing system, to put it most simply, is subject to negative feedback. There are, of course, monsters that are more dangerous against bloodied foes. But those effects are dwarfed by the basic dynamic of the PCs healing abilities: the more wounded they are, the easier they are to heal.
Mostly it comes down to the death and dying rules. There are a couple of powers I know of that exacerbate the effect, but they're not what drives it. Sooner or later, the death and dying rules kick in whenever a PC takes damage. And they don't just make it impossible to die within less than 3 rounds after hitting zero, giving their friends plenty of time to get them back on their feet with a simple skill check. They also guarantee that when the character does get back into the fight, they do so with a quarter of their starting hit points -- any healing on a dying character resets them to zero before hit points get added, and that basic heal check option gives them a free use of a healing surge.
Having those back up systems in place means the monsters can have a lot of hit points, and do a comparable amount of damage to the PCs, and the only effect will be 3 rounds of "peril" before the character gets back up and pummels the monster, who does not have the healing surge trampoline. Which isn't a bad thing, exactly, but I do wonder what would happen if the player's figured it out. Is there an intermediate setting in a 4e fight, between "artificial danger" and "certain doom?"