Playtest Report - DM and 5 Players

When the call went out for players, I ended up with 6! So, I hacked together a hybrid character sheet to try to make a human Fighter. I rearranged abilities from the human cleric as best I could, tweaked the dwarf fighters powers, swapped in the Guardian theme instead and invented a new background of "Escaped Slave".  Unfortunately, at the last minute one player couldn't play so we stuck to the provided 5 characters.

I begin with all this, because it reinforced to me that building characters that have an explicit and mechanical background and theme is a lot of fun.

We played with all characters pre-boosted to level 2. The players ended up using every ounce of the benefit this provided...

Our time was short (about 3 hours), so I just provided the keep experience as a story to them, verified there was no additional equipment they desired and sent them off to the cave, sketching a rough layout of the area. I did enlarge the above ground map by a scale of 10, making the ravine nearly half a mile wide and a mile long. With churning fog, etc. it felt much more impressive.  The players choose the first cave they saw midway up on the right hand hill to approach (the first orc cave).

Scouting with the halfling went quickly, although the wisdom dump stat makes the halfling not always see everything. So, they spot the wall of heads, approach the cave entry and stand around deciding what to do next. The Magic-User decides to cast light on a fist size rock and toss it into the cave, when nothing happens he yells into the cave. At this point he Cleric of Pelor, practically bursting with radiant energy also steps up the energy, pronounces that the wall of heads shows this place is evil and must be purged. He fires a few Radiant Lances into the wall (Pelor! Pelor!). Clearly they aren't going for the subtle approach.

The two dwarves decide they might as well act like the front line that they are and begin marching into the cave while the halfling hides. As they reach the first intersection they see eight orcs, 4 on either side, waiting for them to come to the corner. We roll initiative.

The cleric of pelor wins initiative and charges into the intersection. Despite his two allies there are eight orcs within range... 'I purge you for Pelor!' - Channel Radiance, 10 points to both party allies and two of the orcs, 5 points to the other 6 orcs. When no orcs fall yet he adds "Back up!" towards the two dwarves. The rest of the round goes quickly as the dwarves scurry to get more than 20 feet from the cleric and the orcs surge foward to attack all three of them (As DM I did forget about the orc charge power here which would have been pretty effective). The dwarf fighter and cleric of pelor or less than half hit points by the end of the round. The party also notes an orc with a bow a bit farther down the left hand passage.

Second round the cleric of pelor repeats the Channel Radiance ('For Pelor!') power and runs to hide in the room on the right as he is down to a few hit points. One of the eight ambushing orcs turns to run. The rest of the party moves up and the wizard drops him with a magic missile. The orc with the bow however is running through the orc mess hall and the dwarven fighter chasing him can't quite keep up. The entire party hustles into the dining hall room (despite several of their members being nearly unconcious) to try to stop the runner. As he reaches the far corner of the room some orcs come from the common room beyond and engage.

The second phase of the battle plays out with the two dwarves far ahead of the group in melee combat, the cleric of pelor advancing through the room to try to get back into a good channeling location and the Magic User and Rogue at the far end of the room hiding in side corridors, stepping out to cast spells or make attacks and step back behind cover.

Feedback: The group really enjoyed the movement flexibility in combat. As highly tactical 3.5 and 4E players it was fun to just declare where you wanted to move and to go there, making attacks anywhere along the move you wished. No one resented being unable to 'control' enemy movement, although the orcs were dropping quickly so it was also less of an issue.

The group immensely enjoyed the 'old school' feel of a running battle that had already progressed into three different rooms. Wise? No. Fun? Yes. They started by stating they were acting like 12 year olds when they first yelled into the caves. They ended up deciding it was more like 8 year olds by the time they were recklessly running to hide in any new corridor that appeared.

The dwarf fighter goes down in the sloping side passage as he was in the lead of the group and is engaged by several more orcs. He is hit and drops to 0 hit points, beginning to die. The cleric of moradin starts making her way through the room to engage the orcs as the cleric of pelor dashes to the other side for a potential channel radiance attempt. Meanwhile radiant lance ('Pelor!') flies every turn to attempt to drop more orcs.

Feedback: This is the point where the Magic-User realized that Radiant Lance was doing more damage turn in and turn out than magic-missile as a spell and the Rogue realized it had a much better range and also better base damage than his sling. The group is strongly considering next time just bringing five Clerics of Pelor...

We liked the death and dying rules. The random hit point damage on a failed Con save was gripping. At this point the dwarf fighter wasn't in too much danger of dying, but came to the point where without help and some bad rolls it could have happened. Later in the battle the cleric of pelor did have one missed save where a roll of 6 for damage would have killed him.
The cleric of moradin fought her way to the fighter and death wards him. The second wave of orcs are now dead, but the original bow orc (the watcher) has fled into the room beyond where they can see scores more shadowy figures in dim fire light. The cleric of pelor makes the call "Retreat!" The magic-user has moved up into the room and readies a grease spell at one doorway just in time. Four more orcs come running through, two fall prone in the grease. The remaining two charge the magic-user who takes heavy hits. The cleric of moradin uses her last healing word on the fighter the cleric of pelor cures wounds on the magic-user. The fighter gets a 2 for healing, so he's up with 2 hit points. He uses his extra attack action to finish the two orcs that charged the magic-user.

Feedback: A bit mixed on healing automatically reseting you to 0 hp and going from there, particularly with how affordable healing potions are. Still it worked well here.

We really liked that standing up from prone was no special penalty beyond 5 feet of movement.

There had been archers who were going to follow the battle axe orcs charging into the room but stopped behind the grease. The magic-user blasts the two orcs in the grease with burning hands. I give them disadvantage on saving throws. They aren't dead but hurting bad. Then on their next turn I made them make a reflex save or take ongoing burning damage as though standing in flaming oil. They both missed the save and both died.

Feedback: The Magic-User felt underpowered, at least compared to the other characters. Another way to put it is that he felt the most in balance with the orcs power level. At this point he party has burned through most of their daily powers, been in one long combat and killed seventeen orcs.

With flames filling one passage and a cleric of pelor approaching the other, the orc archers decide to stay behind cover in the next chamber. Two shoot at the cleric of pelor and both hit. They drop him to the ground unconcious. No one else has healing magic left, and everyone had started to run back out. The head back for him. The cleric of pelor misses his first death save, but the damage does not quite kill him. In a coordinated move the cleric of moradin delays while the dwarf fighter runs up and drags him backwards through the dining hall. Then the cleric of moradin moves over and death wards him. A few more arrows fly into the room, dropping the dwarf fighter for a second time!

The halfling grabs the healing potion from the cleric of Pelor's belt and dumps it into his mouth. He revives and uses his last spell to heal the dwarf fighter. Then they all run out of the cave. The orcs, unsure if this is another trick, follow cautiously and not out into the daylight. The party safely gets away.

Feedback: This took about two hours and would have constituted about 4 "normal" encounters as they fought two together at the beginning and then two waves of orcs out of the main chamber. The party blew every one of their spells and most of their channel powers doing it. We did try the short rest rules and they were fine for hit points for the trip back to the keep.

The ability to make healing potions for only 25 gp each seems good, to perhaps a bit underpriced. They asked, so I ruled the Cleric of Pelor could make 6 (2 hours) that evening. As second level characters it seemed reasonable that they would each have the 30 gp contribution for components this would require.

The next day they returned and went back to the same location. The thief searched for traps and noticed that someone had been fitting something at the cave mouth, but could find no mechanism. (The orcs that night went and got allies and fashioned nets to try to trap the characters in the cave entry). Rather than go in, this time the Cleric of Pelor just stood at the cave mouth for a few minutes shouting Pelor! Pelor! Pelor! Pelor! Pelor! and systematically blasting the heads in the wall with his Radiant Lance. The magic-user decided to join in and do the same with his Magic Missile, just because he was feeling left out. The dwarf leaned on his axe and looked bored. Hearing shouts coming fromt he cave, the magic-user cast comprehend languages and heard things like "Steady... don't move... wait for them to come in... wait... hold it...". This was enough for the group to decide that outside the cave was a good place to be for now.

The dwarf, not distracting himself by looking in the cave, noticed movement on the hill above. The halfling decided to hide again and scout it out, soon spotting five orcs hidden about fifty feet above the cave entrance. He and the dwarf cleric engaged. The orcs emerged and charged. Seeing a new target the cleric of pelor turned from the cave and marched up the hill, more easily maneuvering in this open space to use two more Channel Radiance powers to good effect. The magic-user attempted a sleep when three of the orcs were wounded, but every one of them made their save. Despite being reduced to half movement they could still get wherever they wanted to anyway, so the spell was essentially worthless.

Feedback: Sleep and Ray of Frost seem simultaniously week and powerful. The slowing or stopping with no saving throw looks amazing in some cases (is it so easy as casting sleep to slow down a red dragon?) but then where you'd expect them to work - such as a group of three wounded orcs already in melee, it doesn't do much.

We pretty much stopped there. The group had killed the orcs outside the cave, but entering was still apparently a trap, and we were running low on time.

Overall feedback was generally positive. The cleric of pelor seemed well overpowered. The group agreed they would have been far more effective if they were just five of this character. Also, his powers didn't seem all that clerical. He spent most of his time doing magic ranged attacks and area effect damage.

The other characters felt a bit over powerful against orcs.  That was in part because the players were obviously being reckless, not as invested in their character and willing to spend all their daily powers and spells. The module format contributes to this and I remember it being the same when we played it 30 years ago. Charge in recklessly, try to survive, the characters who live get more powerful and by third level you start being more careful because you have something to protect. I liked that the orcs went down quickly, but damage output from the characters felt just a bit high. I'd tweak it down a die size and one less + in most cases.

As a DM I really missed having morale rules. They were of course in the version of the game that the module was originally created for. I could have used better ways to determine when the orcs would charge forward or break and run for reinforcements. The narrative is good and all, but a half page on how to administer morale (and including it in stat blocks) would really help.

The game play was fun and fast, but did lack depth and much role playing. I think that largely comes from the meta-knowledge that we are playtesting, the pregen characters, and the adventure provided. I'd like to test an adventure where interaction and exploration are a larger factor. We did have some fun about the fact that the dwarf fighter apparently can't quite remember whether or not he was in that war and the dwarf cleric was a bit too drunk to recall whether she ever made that oath of loyalty...

I think the halfling automatic 10 on skill checks is too powerful. Against the orcs I ended up ruling in most cases that hiding was automatic.

Everyone liked advantage and disadvantage.

We look forward to seeing the next round of materials.
Very nice report.  I like the way you described the game, and interrupted with commentary as necessary.  This session seemed to be very tense and cinematic.  I like it.

A Brave Knight of WTF - "Wielder of the Sword of Balance"


Rhenny's Blog:



Great write up!

You did forget to mention the "80 second work day" Tongue Out comments we were tossing about.

As the Pelor character I'd add:

The Radiant Lance feature just didn't feel right.  Fun?  Yes, but far to much video game pewpewpew sidescroller effect and very un-clerical. 

The Channel Radiance I liked.  It wasn't easy to pull off without causing collateral damage, but helped to add a bit of crowd control, which is an important element in old school style play.  One element that I felt was missing from that power was that creatures that fail a save ought to have the blind condition for a single round.  That ups the power slightly, but meshes with the themes of light and the "physics" of the effect.

Without any notion of economic scale it's hard to say, but the 25gp poitions of healing I could pump out seemed too cheap.

While there were no rules for morale present, I was playing as if they were there.  I was playing the Pelor cleric as this fantatic inquisitor and basically trying to deliver so much shock and awe on the orcs to just make them clear out.  We ended up dropping them so quickly that this never really happened, but I kept thinking about how to basically scare the pants off the orcs and make them quake in fear as "Pelor! Pelor! Pelor!" kept being yelled in the Caves of Chaos.  I'd definitely like to see a more in depth psychological warfare set of guidelines or mechanics.  Driving your foes before you is quicker and more satisfying than mop up combat play.

I really liked fighting mobs of orcs.
I really liked the move/attack/move... far far more fun and interesting than the older crippled movement systems.  You could do it in older systems with costly feats and I'm glad to see it just be a basic and assumed function of play.

I didn't like 1d6 for bleed out.  Too swingy.  Either 1d4 or 1d3 seems sufficient to give some random chaos to rushing to the aid of others and avoiding really clinical analysis of how long you have to live.
Great report, the freindly fire effect on the channel radiance made me wonder how that might play out (our Pelor cleric is an NPC and pretty sadly underrused, mea culpa).  

The cleric charging in first in order to fry the baddies?  Not very clerical, that.  Our wizard has been slapping baddies with shocking grasp like the last pimp on planet ho.
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