Cast of Characters
Robert - Trebor, Male Dwarf Fighter
Brian - Nairb, Male Halfling Rogue
Dennis - Sennid, Male Human Cleric of Pelor
Erika - Akire, Female Elf Wizard
This is my first Playtest Session for D&D Next. I have two groups, this is Group A. Group B will be meeting on Wednesday. For Group A, a seasoned 3rd Edition group, we decided to go Theater of the Mind combat, and to focus on PC ingenuity over hard numbers. Characters were named using the old (OLD) convention of spelling their actual names backwards (it's interesting to note that Dennis, the player using the Human Cleric, spelled backwards is Sinned. This was changed to avoid irony.)
At first meeting, I made sure that all players had signed up for the Playtest, agreed to the relevant agreements, and filled out the initial survey. Once that was done, we looked over the character sheets, discussed the various abilities, and reverse engineered the stats (because that's how they roll). After a few out of game examples of combat, skill usage, and movement we decided to wade into the adventure "Caves of Chaos" included with the Playtest Packet.
There was actually very little in the way of preparation done. Because the characters had very little coin on them they didn't really have any purchasing power, though the players did seem to relish the resurrection of the expanded equipment list (the block and tackle, for some reason, particularly).
I narrated a little about the background of the Caves of Chaos, giving them the main hook: monsters have been harrassing the village of Lapis Grove (a nod to my hometown of Bluefield) and several people have been kidnapped. The adventurers learn about the kidnappings and also know that there is a ten pound reward of gold (500gp) for the return of King Randor's son, Prince Adam (what's up He-Man reference).
The PCs, thirsty for adventure, decide to head out and try their luck with the rescue. At this point, Erika (Wizard) wanted to see if her character Akire knew anything about the Caves of Chaos. I improvised some basic information about the past, foreshadowing the cult activity going on there. This seemed to intrigue the group, of which I made a quick note.
Finding the Caves
After a brief travel montage (I even broke out the travel music on my iPod: Theology/Civilization from Conan the Barbarian [Basil Poledouris]) the heroes reach the edge of the map, so to speak, and the adventure begins.
I showed the players a homemade copy of the map that was included in the adventure. I just drew it on 1/4" grid paper and removed the "interior" sections, showing only the contours, tree lines, and cave mouths. The players decided to start with Cave A (lucky for them) and headed up there, using the trees as cover as much as possible. Once they neared the cave mouth, I sprung the hidden Kobolds from the woods upon them.
We used the rules for Surprise, and heroes were definitely not happy (but the players enjoyed it). Trebor waded into the reptilian nuisance with reckless abandon, swinging his greataxe and shouting "Baruk Khazad!" even though I reminded him that this wasn't Middle-Earth. By the second round of combat, four Kobolds were dead, one was running toward the cave mouth to warn the others, and both Akire and Sennid had lost a few HP. Once the remaining Kobolds had been handily dispatched, the PCs headed for the cave mouth, not knowing what to expect.
The Kobolds hadn't had a whole lot of time to react to the news that they were under attack, but the guards in Area 1 were prepared and the pit trap was pretty obvious since the Kobold tattle-tale had left a plank in his haste. This is where things took a nasty turn.
Though they knew the trap was there, what they didn't realize was that I had the runaway Kobold heading straight for the Chieftain's lair to let him know the bad news. Then it was only a matter of time before these halls were crawling with little scaly minions.
The PCs avoided the trap, and were attacked by the guards from Area 1 as well as the rats from Area 2. Akire used her burning hands spell to deal with the rats while Nairb and Trebor ganged up on a couple of the guards. Meanwhile, Sennid was unsure of what to do. He didn't want to waste his spells in the first encounter, but his attack bonus was low. I threw a d20 at Dennis and told him to roll it or forever be shunned. He killed second Kobold of the day and smiled broadly.
By this time, the Kobolds from Areas 4 & 5 were on their way to the entrance, while our friendly little Paul Revere Kobold ("The Heroes are coming! The Heroes are coming!") headed back toward Area 6 to prepare the reserves and protect the whelps.
The Kobolds from Area 4 & 5, including the Chieftain, headed into the combat and the players, rather than feeling overwhelmed, gritted their teeth and relished the impossible odds. For every Kobold that fell, two more took its place. The heroes were waning. Sennid had run out of healing magic, and had only one potion, which he gave to Trebor. The poor dwarf, despite his ability to deal damage on a miss, was swamped by Kobolds poking and prying at him. Nairb was in his element - the darkness - often using his ability to hide behind larger creatures (namely, his allies) to take advantage of his sneak attack and lurker abilities, while Akire blasted her foes with magic missiles left and right.
The bodies were piling up, now. The Kobolds were down to nearly half their numbers when a group of ten came out of reserve from Area 6. The players were sweating. Let me repeat that. The PLAYERS were sweating. The PCs fell back, and regrouped. The Kobolds formed ranks. Suddenly, Dennis said something that made me smile. "Parley!"
The rest of the group looked at him with expressions of mottled disgust and confusion. I, on the other hand, had anticipated this. I decided long before we ever started playing that the Kobold Chieftain's major priority was to stay Chieftain. That means a) the survival of the tribe is paramount. After all, what is he the Chieftain of if his entire tribe is slaughtered? And b) he doesn't wish to appear weak in front of his tribe. Otherwise, they may consider someone else for the position of the Chieftain.
Dennis tried. He really did. But none of his arguments were good enough to make the Chieftain come out of this in a good light. The fight continued. The PCs rallied, the Kobolds waned, the Chieftain was slain. Area 6 was taken after the PCs managed to break down the door, which the Kobolds inside had barricaded. The PCs didn't have the heart to slay the whelps, even if they ARE Kobolds. They intimidated them into retreating and let the noncombatants as well as their remaining defenders escape.
The complex was cleared and we had only been playing for about an hour. The players wanted to take stock of their loot and head back to town to cash in and re-equip. They took their time, going over every single item, weapon, and scrap of material they could find. This took up the rest of the session (we're fairly detailed when it comes to this kind of stuff) and I was glad to hear them say, in one form or another, "I finally got my D&D back!"
We loved the rules as they were written, though there was some missing information, it wasn't enough to break the game.
The advantage/disadvantage system worked wonderfully, though I'd like to have some more detailed examples of when and how it would apply in various situations.
Surprise was cool. I liked that it didn't add a confusing surprise round but instead made fairly sure that surprised creatures would act last in combat.
Simplified actions worked wonders to speed up play. No longer did I have to consult the rulebook to see if something was a minor action or a move action or a standard action or a free action or an opportunity action, ad nauseum ad infinitum.
The abilities from the Themes and Backgrounds were useful and a lot of fun to see in action, and the Halfling racial abilities kicked ass as far as racial abilities go.
All in all, we had a lot more fun than we've had in years. I can't wait to tackle the character creation rules, and I plan on running the rest of the adventure for this group. I think with Group B, I may start them at a higher level and tweak some of the abilities as per the suggestions in the latest Legends & Lore column.
Until D&DNext time (<-- cheesy, I know)...