Ran the Playtest tonight, a big success!

I ran the playtest tonight for my regular 4e group.  I went into it expecting very little and came away happy.  We had a good time and everyone came away with a good impression of 5e and wanting more.  Yes, seriously.

My players:
1) Someone who had never played D&D before, ever.  A sister of a regular player.  She played the fighter.
2 and 3) Two guys who have played a mix of 1e to 3.5 and now part of my regular 4e group
4) a PF player/evangelist.  The PF player played the playtest earlier in the week, so he played two characters.  His first playtest went 'badly because everyone spent most of the time arguing about the rules'.  Specifically how readied actions work, how high you can jump, blah blah. 

My DM'ing style is very narrative and story-based, with few rules mechanics getting in the way.  I've been DM'ing 4e since it came out, heavily, and have played D&D back to 2e and the Cyclopedia days.  I'm finding that 4e doesnt really fit this style.  Combats there take too long both in preparation and play time.  I can only really fit in one or two combats per four-hour play session.

In the playtest, we got through the entire kobold and goblin sections, the ogre, and leveled to three and fought some cultists and a medusa/skeleton finale.  Combat was fast.  This was with a brand new D&D player, and everyone new to the rules!  Late heroic-tier 4e combats take us 1 to 2 hours, these were more like 10-20 minutes each. 

I ran it gridless with minis on the table as a point of reference for who was in front or in the back.  We got through all those combats plus amusing roleplay and several extended rests in the course of 4 hours of playtime.  That is practically a miracle at my game table.  Fast game play is a huge selling point and advantage. Don't do anything to slow combat down from this baseline!

Now, on to some criticism.

DM complaint #1: Advantage/Disadvantage with large groups of creatures.

My players all loved the advantage/disadvantage mechanic.  I like it too.  Until I have to do it for large numbers of dice.

Now, I intentionally did not run the 18 cave rats because of having to roll 36d20 with advantage.  But, later in the night we leveled to three and I put the party against 10 skeletons and the medusa.  It ended up being 20d20 for the skeleton attacks, along with constant CA from the medusa. 

Its just too many dice to roll. 

My suggestion is to implement a rule to consolidate groups of monsters into roll groups.  10 skeletons should be a 2d20 roll, or whatever, not 20d20.  Reduce the number of dice and still find a way to balance the amount of damage done, so a target is not critted by 10 things all at once.  I'm not asking for Swarm rules that work significantly different or require different monster stat blocks.  I want rules that work with the existing monster stat blocks, and work equally well for 6 kobolds or 20 skeletons or 100 rats.  Figure something out.  It is truly required.


Player issue: Stealth and the halfling rogue

My group's rogue didn't come out and complain about this, but it was obviously happening.  He almost never used Sneak Attack and clearly had no idea how the Stealth rules worked.  Could you stealth in combat behind a guy?  Its a gridless system, so how can you tell?  It was too confusing having one set of Stealth rules in the rules book, then modifiers on how they work for rogues, then modifiers for Halflings.  Too many variations.  Make one simple set of Stealth rules all in one place with no exceptions.  Give the halfling a bonus to Stealth, not a different set of rules for how he hides in combat (behind medium creatures).  Also, it is not good to have the DM and players constantly doing Perception rolls to find stealthed people mid-combat.  The whole system needs to be hugely simplified, an easy way to say 'yep, you are stealthed for this round' or 'nope, you are not' on one uncontested roll.


That's it really.  We had a blast.  The light rules and rapid combats kept the story flowing. 

Story highlights of the night:
1) Killing the kobold chieftain, taking his head and casting Light on a dwarven fighter.  Glowing painfully bright and with the head of their leader, he tried an Intimidating speech against the entire kobold warren with dozens of the critters.  After a long, intimidating speech I remind them they dont even speak Draconic.  But the roll is a success and the kobolds all collectively, reflexively urinate themselves in fear.  Brought tears to players' eyes.
2) The rogue scouting ahead numerous times only to fall into two traps and generally get hit in the face by everything.
3) Killing the ogre first, then going to the goblins.  They opened the secret door to bribe the ogre to help, only to see his corpse.  Run away!  Players chased the goblins...all the way to the main goblin lair with dozens of them.  Players turned right back around and ran away again, right past the one player still picking up the ogre bribe money.

Mechanics thoughts:
1) Healing surges were not missed.  We just did more extended rests, two happened in the kobold chieftain's room.  The old healing surge/encounter work day model for 4e hasnt worked for my DMing style in a long time anyway, because combat took too long so we only did one or two.
2) Opportunity attacks were not missed.  In general, I attacked the guys in the 'front' of the group marching order, with a few daggers tossed to the rear ranks. 
3) Conditions were not missed.  4e has far too many conditions and tracking of their status.  While 5e has conditions there arent many ways to inflict them in combat at these low levels, so we didn't see them come up often.
4) The removal of Minor actions in favor of free actions was a great idea.
5) Monster statblocks being one line was appreciated, but I would like Initiative Bonus and Stat Bonuses to be in there too, to do saving throws and get combats started.
6) Surprise should be +20 to the surpriser, not -20 to the surprised.  I ran it this way from the start.

 

D&D Player Reference Sheet

Dark Sun in D&D Next

 

A Good review. I agree with you on the stealth. Let's not get back into the 5 different climbing rules problem again! One rule to rule them all is the way to go. Add in modifiers for special cases like in a races write up, but the core rule should remain the same!
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