My group had its first official playtest session tonight, though we had done a quick skirmish to test out the combat rules last week. I figured I would post my thoughts.
I'll preface this with a bit of information about me and my players. I have been playing for over 25 years, starting with the old red box, and them moving from 1E to 4E. 4E is my favorite version, but I miss a number of things from 3E. Of the five folks I played with tonight, one had started with 2E, a couple more with 3E, and the others with 4E, so we have a wide range of experiences and expectations. The sandbox style of the module is not our group's preference, and we usually play with a very full inventory of miniatures, Dwarven Forge, buildings, and terrain pieces.
Combat was generally pretty quick, but occasionally ground to a halt due to our lack of experience with "theater of the mind". Figuring out spell area of effect was a chore too, and led to a lot of discussion. For the most part it was well received.
We struggled quite a bit with the skills. As a DM, I didn't too much difficulty assigning an ability check, but it did add to the (already considerable) DM burden. For the players, there were a lot of questions about what exactly their skills represented (what falls under Folklore vs. Forbidden Lore? What's the difference between Wilderness Lore and Survival? What exactly is Commerce?). It was frustrating having no guidance, and based on recent posts related to the lack of a set skill list I am concerned. On three separate occasions this stopped the game.
Most of the magic worked fairly well, though the presentation of the spells, having no easy-to-reference stat block with key details like range of save slowed things down. At-will spells were well received. We got a chance to try out Comprehend Language on the goblin they left alive. The lack of two-way communication through the spell went over like a fart in church, and there was more DM adjudication as the team tried to make checks to pantomime and draw their questions.
Things that worked:
- Advantage & Disadvantage: Though I'd love some better direction for when these apply, the mechanic works very nicely. It's probably my favorite part of the game.
- Hit Points & Healing: The HP levels feel right for the characters, and the hit dice work quite well (though the fighter's roll of a 1 on a d12 took the wind out of her sails). The damage output on both sides seemed about right.
- AC & Attack: I like the constrained accuracy quite a bit. I have always disliked the constant arms race of escalting attack bonuses and defenses.
- Combat Speed: I liked how fast it played. We got through four fights, along with some exploration in well under 3 hours. The exploration (thanks to skills) took a lot longer than the battles.
Things that need work:
- Skills: Hands down this was the work part of things. I have no problem with skill not being directly tied to an ability, but I would much rather see a set, defined list, that has two or three suggested abilities, with a clearly stated option to allow others if the situation warranted.
- Crits: We had a few crits, and I could actually see the player's go from elated to crestfallen as they realized they just did max damage. We played the DDXP version of the game (which was the least fun I have ever had a gaming table), the ONE thing I actually really liked from that version was that each class had a crit die they added to the max damage. Please bring that back and make crits awesome again!
- Saving Throws: This feels a bit forced to me. There was much talk about saving throws being part of the language of the game, but these felt like ability checks that were simply called saving throws to use the term. I feel that Fort, Reflex, and Will are far more a part of the language than a "strength save" or a "charisma save". That said, I'll take this over the return of "Rod/Stave/Wand" saves.
- Combat Interest: While the speed of things was nice, combat was less engaging than in 4E for the fighter and the rogue after the first fight. For the rogue, who only got off three sneak attacks in four fights, it was less engaging than in 3E. I know martial maneuvers are in the works, but they cannot get added quickly enough for me and mine.
- Monster Statblocks: I won't belabor it because I know they have done very little work on this, but the monsters statblocks are terrible. I had to constantly refer back to the Bestiary rather than use what was in the adventure, and even then I had trouble finding things (like languages).
On the whole, it wasn't bad. There are a number of things I really liked, but it still needs work. The most encouraging part for us was how much it had changed since we played in January. I feel it proves that the designers are really going to be responsive to feedback. I'm eager to see what comes next.
I love D&D more than I could ever love a human child.