The encounter opened with a Chaos Priestess and two accolytes around an altar. Some banter was RP'd - I had as much fun with it as I could, because I'd looked at the stats and already had a sinking feeling about it.
For perspective, I had missed the week before last, so last week we 'rushed' through 2 encounters, one of them the Reptile God. Both combats lasted about 2 rounds. The Reptile God, itself, barely lasted into round 2 and the balance of round 2 was mop-up. The Chaos Priestes has almost as many hps as the reptile god - but there was cause for hope, she had the highest AC of any monster in the module!
So, initiative is rolled. A rogue wins, and shoots the priestess with an arrow, 11 points out of 27, not bloodied, though, so she still looks tough. The Cleric steps up, wiffs, and the accolytes go after the cleric, one tagging her for more damage (thanks to +1d8 fire damage on top of weapon damage) than the party's seen in a while, but they're 3rd, so she can take it. The Cleric is now in melee with all three of the enemies present at the start of the combat, one of whom, the Big Bad, has not acted yet.
The Wizard steps up, and pops an elevated, maximized Thunderwave, that excludes the Cleric and handilly tags all three evil priests. 32 damage, save for half. The accolytes have 17 hps, they both fail their saves and die. The Priestess has 16 hps left, she makes her save and dies.
Then 4 zombies shamble in. Thanks to their funky save-vs-damage mechanic, they hang out, for a few rounds. The other rogue discovers how the zombies work, leaving two of them at 1 hp. The Barbarian demonstrates how to kill them: just hit for 20+ damage.
Bottom of the round, the skelleton, which rolled '2' initiative finally shambles out, attacks the wizard, and drops him.
Round 2. Now, the fight has really been over since the wizard dropped the priestess, but there are mindless undead to mop up.
The first Rogue does a little damage to the skelleton, the cleric CLWs the Wizard and bonks a skeleton which makes it save, the Wizard destroys the skelleton. The Rogue and Barbarian mop up all but one of the skeletons.
Round 3: The party beats down the remainings zombie, which finally fails its save vs the second rogues attack.
Now, that wasn't exactly the best climactic battle I've ever seen. But it got worse.
To stop Miska, the party has to de-activate the 3 alters using the 3 items they've collected (virtually the only treasure in the entire adventure). The adventure didn't say so, explicitly, but I decided that using an item to destroy an altar destroyed the item. The wizard is carrying two of the items. He fails to destroy one altar with the circlet, then the cleric tries and succeeds. The wizard then uses the scroll to destroy another altar. It's down to Rogue #2, who has had the Chaos Blade since week 2.
He won't do it. The first two week, both rogues were dropped (rogue #1 was killed outright in week 1) in every combat, they felt extremely fragile. In week 3, Rogue #2 discovered that the Chaos Blade healed him when he killed something, and he got very good about dropping enemies, never getting dropped again durring the season. That item /made/ his character. He refused to give it up.
The Wizard decides to emulate Haffron and jumps in the Chaos Mote, sealing it for a century or few.
Through most of the playtest, I did notice that 5e monsters were too low-AC and low-hp to last through anything like an interesting combat. At 1st level, so were the PCs, they were dropping in every combat, and the Cleric, who hadn't figured out what "Word of Power" meant, was having PTSD flash-backs to AD&D (once we noticed "Word of Power" she was consoleable, though she did miss a few sessions, and only played last week because we needed a third player for the minimum to run an encounters table). I felt that was all undesireable, of course, but I had forgotten something else. So, I started playing D&D in 1980, and only a year or two in, I encountered variants that gave 1st level characters max hps, extra hps, started them at 2nd with 0 exp, gave them an extra d6 for '0 level' and so forth. It was a given that 1st level characters needed more hps, and I got used to that. Some of those became official in 2e, and 3e alos started with max hps plus more generous CON bonuses. 4e, obviously, had high starting hps.
5e has really gone all the way back to first principles, with 1st level hps, and a phenomenon has returned that I'd outright forgotten. Disposeable 1st level characters ingrains in the players the reality that life is cheap. Once you've internalize 'life is cheap,' you're not a hero anymore. I'm shocked at how quickly this happened to players who had been playing 4e Encounters, for years. In prior seasons, PCs routinely did the 'heroic' thing time and again (the Drow Season being an obvious exception!).
Not this time. Week one and two, they subdued the possessed squires and brought Sir Moonbrook in, and saved Otis. Cool. Week three they went to the moat house and our chaos-blade-weilding rogue happilly dispatched enemies with it to get hps back and stay in the fight, they captured Enda and turned her in for a reward, they also brought in the two merchants. After that, something snapped. There were no survivors of the chaos cult. The Golden Grain Inn saw only one survivor who was tortured for information and killed. Likewise the Reptile God (though the Cleric did save the Abbess).
By the final battle, we were lucky to have one player who went ahead and did the 'heroic' thing.
While I think the too-low hps of PCs and monsters is a mechanical, encounter-balance problem, I'm afraid it also wrecks the 'heroic' part of 'heroic fantasy' that D&D is supposed to be going for. It's a little counter-intuitive, I suppose. RL heroism means facing /real/ danger selflessly. With the more durrable PCs - common, IMX, from 1e via variants through modern D&D - players can do the 'heroic' thing without being 'punished' by losing the character, or being unable to participate in swaths of the adventure while they languish at negative hps. It's not /really/ heroic, since they know they're taking pretty-survivable risks, mechanically - but, then, it never is, because they're just imaginary character. If those imaginary character have 'plot armor' like the genre characters they're modeled on, though, that imaginary heroism can be fun.
5e really needs something like Wrecan's SARN-FU to support "Theatre of the Mind."
"You want The Tooth? You can't handle The Tooth!" - Dahlver-Nar.
"If magic is unrestrained in the campaign, D&D quickly degenerates into a weird wizard show where players get bored quickly" - E. Gary Gygax
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