Updated feedback from the Caves of Chaos

This is an updated report from my previous post found here:  community.wizards.com/go/thread/view/758...


This is a long post, so here's the TLDR:  Improved gameplay based on feedback from forum posters; new classes outperformed the older characters.  Had to build 'optimal' characters in some cases to accomplish this.



This past Saturday our group gathered for another exploration through the Caves of Chaos.  As the new ruleset came in the night before, we implemented the obvious changes identified in the Read Me file, and had to redo our spells but otherwise most of the changes seemed cosmetic.


As we finished last time with a TPK we decided to roll up new characters (at 3rd level) instead of resurrecting these tired adventurers for a fourth time.  Our group changed from:



  • Blackguard Paladin to Assassin Rogue (Human)

  • Wood Elf Bow fighter to Protection Mountain Dwarf Fighter

  • Scholar Wizard to Mountain Dwarf Protection Cleric (the dwarves were dubbed the ‘Twins’ and had some great roleplaying interactions in Scottish/dwarf accents)

  • High Elf Lifegiver Cleric to Wood Elf Shapeshifter Druid


With a group of all melee characters we thought we were going to be in trouble, but thanks to the clarifications from other forum posters the rules were interpreted better and this group performed much better than the last ‘balanced’ group.




Class Feedback:


Rogue:  With darkvision no longer seeing dim light as bright (clarified) stealthing in the caves was now useful and allowed for a few surprise attacks by this character.  Backstab/Sneak attack was quite a useful combination with this group and was available almost every round.  When it hit, this character was taking out monsters each round.  He could not take a hit, so fortunately had spring attack to retreat behind the dwarves.  The Distract ability needs some work as it costs an action and a reaction to use.  Something like the fighter’s parry ability would be more in line, or perhaps it makes the attacker suffer disadvantage?  This class was a lot more useful to play than the Paladin as Rogue class features were used regularly.  The Paladin by comparison held onto his spells/channel divinities for the right time to use them (which were not often) so that class felt like a poorer version of the fighter.


The Twins (Fighter and Cleric):  The Dwarves worked very well together but were built to counter the weaknesses of the previous group.  Darkvision, weapon and shields, and dwarf armor bonus got them the highest AC available (19) and used interposing shield on attacks for each other, forming an impenetrable wall.  Their Con scores at 16, the other stats at 8 for non essential class abilities.  Monsters didn’t have a problem hitting them, but they survived each battle without falling unconscious.  This was a positive change from the previous group, but the players felt they had to meta the system so that a player wasn’t dropping each encounter


Druid:  Shapeshifting and versatile spells allowed for a very dynamic character.  These options outperformed the Wizard in the previous group.  As spells had changed (roll to cast instead of roll to save) we weren’t sure if this was a factor in the improved performance.  The only downside was that the Druid changed into a large creature that limited her ability to get through the 10ft wide caves.  In large rooms it was much easier to maneuver.  Overall a better experience than the Wizard.


Encounters:


We continued where we left off in terms of exploring the caves having found the maps of the previous party.  We went into the Hobgoblin caves to clear out the remaining groups.  There were very few hobgoblins left here and we fought 2 battles here in groups of 5, and 9.  These smaller battles made for an easier experience (in addition to rule clarifications for the Disciplined ability) than before.  9 hobgoblins was still tough, but still no one died/dropped but the fighter was down to a few hit points at the end.  We took a short rest after this to heal (cast healing spells and spend hit dice).  As this now took an hour with the new rules this was like hitting a speed bump in the plot/gameplay that a long rest usually takes.


We then explored the cave with the owlbear and ooze.  The owlbear needs to have its vision clarified (currently it has only regular vision?) which didn’t make sense as this dark cave is its lair.  Our DM gave it darkvision and lowlight which made sense.  With the addition of lowlight, the owlbear saw the sneaking rogue and took him out in 1 round (3 attacks with surprise, coming out of darkness/hidden, etc…) The dwarves moved in able to see it with their darkvision.  A round later the owlbear was down when the cleric healed the rogue who stood up and used backstab/sneak attack.  That felt cathartic for the rogue!


A few rounds later a horde of dire rats attacked the party.  These rats did more damage than the owlbear and due to their numbers and turned out to be the harder battle of the day.  Fortunately, the fighter had cleave and the twins stood side by side in a hallway to prevent the rats from swarming around the party.


A gray ooze came by and due to a knowledge check from the dwarves knew that it dissolved weapons stood their ground (dodge actions) to block it off while the druid and rogue fired ranged attacks.  The rogue got bored and attacked with two daggers (least valuable weapons) and was able to use backstab/sneak attack on the main hand and killed the ooze.


Both single monster encounters were over very quickly (2 rounds) so I can see the complaints from others on these forums.  When a horde of rats is more of a challenge than an owlbear something is wrong.


Our last encounter was a test to see if we could have a long rest in the caves.  Usually a bad idea and it was in this case.  Down on hit points and hit dice, the group retreated to the previously cleared kobold caves and set up camp in the kobold leader’s room.  Resetting the pit trap, and setting a few of our own (caltrops, ballbearings and other alarms), the party set to rest with a rotating watch.


A group of 6 gnolls burst in on us (apparently our watch wasn’t attentive enough) until they were just outside the door and caught up in the caltrops.  Fortunately this prevented a surprise round against the PCs.  However, due to rolling poorly on initiative, most of the party was still lying down when the gnolls entered the room.  The dwarf cleric (who was on watch by the door) was brought to 0 in the first round (so much for 19 AC!), the rest went after the druid by the fire who was also taken out.


The fighter and rogue fought with their backs against the wall and were able to revive the other two with healing kits.  Tense rounds passed as players dropped, got up, went down again against the gnolls.  In the end after all the healing spells had been used every player was kept alive with 1hp by the cantrip (now a full action and a touch) against one gnoll.  Due to poor dice rolling on our part, that 1 gnoll was cornered (with 1hp as well!) for 3-4 rounds on its own (we couldn’t roll above a 10 for the life of us!)  The rogue was rolling 3d20s (2 for advantage with backstab, and one for the off hand weapon) and still couldn’t land a blow.  It turned out to be very funny as this one gnoll was wiping the floor with us but couldn’t get away or down us all at once.  When it finally went down we breathed a sigh of relief and vowed to never sleep in these caves ever again!


Overall we managed 6 encounters in one day which was much better than we’ve ever done before.  Single monster encounters are very easy, multiple monsters of any level are hard.


 


Rule updates:


Crit rule:  The rule update seemed to work in our favor (monsters got a few of them today, but rolled poor damage) so we were no longer seeing the massive damage we previously experienced.


Dying rules: The change worked in our favor again as the rogue would have died against the owlbear by the older outright kill you rule.  Killing orcs in one round with the relentless ability I expect to get harder now that you have to do massive damage in one attack to ‘kill them’ (as opposed to stacking low damage until they die in one round).


Short rest = 1hr?  This is too long and interrupts gameplay/plot.


Spells: seemed to be better in regards to healing (no more range/swift cast).  Rolling to hit was a lot more fun for the player than calling out DCs.


Shooting into a melee:  It looks like this falls under Cover rule now (+2 AC) for any obstruction, enemy/ally between the shooter and the target.  Is this right?  Also, we think there should still be a penalty, or attack of opportunity for creatures using ranged weapons in a melee.

Agree on the "short" rest issue; taking a leaf from B/X and making it the post-battle wrap-up using the remainder of the turn would be a much better approach.
Agree on the "short" rest issue; taking a leaf from B/X and making it the post-battle wrap-up using the remainder of the turn would be a much better approach.



My group makes short rests 5-10 minutes long. The characters sit down, maybe eat a small bit of their rations and get their breath back before continuing on their adventure. I like this because it means you still have to be in a relatively safe location for a short rest, but it doesn't take away from the pace of the adventure.

"Guys give me a minute, I need to catch my breath"

"Alright, alright. Everyone take a short rest"

-twenty minutes later-

"Uh guys we can go on now, I wasn't that tired..." 
The Oberoni fallacy only applies to broken rules, not rules you don't like. If a rule you don't like can be easily ignored, it should exist in the game for those who will enjoy it.
Thanks for the feedback!

We feel the same way and hope short rests changed back to 5-10 minute periods in the next packet.  We're trying to avoid houseruling and play the rules as written now so that we can point out any 'bugs'.

We did more in the Caves of Chaos and beat the Minotaur, the Bugbears, and started into the cultist's cave.  This weekend we may finish, or die trying.

The minotaur was very strong, but only lasted 3 rounds.  It was a boring fight.  Our DM made it get disadvantage every round for the +10 damage bonus, but It never missed our dwarves with 19 AC (again hot dice!).  A character would go down in one hit (as we not at full HP... this was due to not taking the 1hr short rest for plot reasons).  Then it would be up to another character using a healer's kit/spare the dying to get them back into combat.  The minotaur would attack the character that just got up, but couldn't do nearly enough damage to kill them (thanks to the new dying rule).  I would have rathered keeping the dead at -10 HP just to make it possible to die.  The Minotaur did not have enough actions to keep us all down/unconscious and could not do enough damage to get the fighter or cleric to their negative total HP (-33).  We were impressed that the monster could hit and do so much damage (roughly 15-20 if i remember correctly), but in the end it was just a bag of HP and it was inevitable.

There has to be a better way to do minor healing.  I think that there should be a way to get some amount of HP back through a cantrip, but not to the point where players jump back into the fray after falling unconscious.  It has either delayed the player's defeat a round or two, or gave us the edge to last long enough to beat the encounter.  Perhaps if it had a time limit, ie could only be used on a character 1/hr or something it would prevent characters from this style of play.  You could take out the part about it only healing characters that are at 0 to compensate.  This way it could speed up healing in a rest period, but not be a huge combat mechanic.  1hp is not much in the grand scheme of things (going from 9 to 10 hps means little difference) but it is a huge factor in going from 0 (unconscious) to 1 (fully active in combat).  Maybe it should scale as you get higher in level, as hp pools get bigger and 1hp means less at 10th level than it did at 1st.

We find that AC doesn't matter at this stage in the playtest.  You will get hit, and the only way to avoid death is by having enough HP.  I can see in higher levels the difficulty sways to the players favour by having huge HP pools, and the monsters don't do enough damage.  As combat is so fast we're finding its more effective to attack and out damage monsters in combat, than to come up with something creative/tactical.

When it comes to monster abilities like the Minotaur's rage I think there should be a limit to when it can be used.  If the party does something tactical and imposes disadvantage on it, it shouldn't be able to use the ability that round.  I believe its spelled out this way for the Rogue's Sneak Attack (can't be used in a scenario where you already have disadvantage) but it should be the same for other abilities, or make it into the description for advantage/disadvanate.  Otherwise it just incentivies players to just attack and do damage.

Monsters need more work, and perhaps this will be done once the characters have been better structured.  Currently encounters with 1-2 monsters are a cake walk.  But as soon as the party is outnumbered its very hard.  The d20 is quite swingy and when every monster gets a +5, no one is safe.