The Stray's Playtest Report

Finally got a group together for this, so I'm diving in to give my views on this, as we played this out.

Some background on our group:

DM (Me, Stroyteller/Actor with some Power Gamer tendencies, have been playing since 2nd Ed., most recently played 4e up until the release of Essentials)
Iyllah, Female Halfling Rogue (Actor with Storyteller tendencies. Gravitates to "clever" characters, either through rogues or spellcasters. Long time member of our group, has played about as long as I have, from 2e up to 4e)
Ghallus, Male halfling Rogue (Power Gamer with some Thinker and Actor tendencies. Likes playing the sneaky character a lot in our games. Most of his D&D experiences is 4e)
Thral Nordin, Dwarf Fighter (Explorer/Storyteller with Power Gamer and Thinker tendencies. Has often played martial classes in our games. Also long-time gamer, with 2e-4e experience)
Dilithiel, High Elf Wizard (Thinker/Actor with Explorer tendencies. Often gravitates to spellcasters and Leader-type characters, chose the wizard as a change of pace. Has experience with 3e and 4e)
Durn Orzakr, Herald of Moradin, Dwarven Cleric Of Moradin (Power Gamer with some Watcher and Actor tendencies. Tends to play fighting magic user types and gravitates towards the Tank role. Has exepriance with 3e and 4e)
St. Larry Rasputin, Human Cleric of Pelor Morywn (New player to our group. From what I've observed, has many Thinker tendencies. Has played 3e, no 4e experience.)

Session One: Introduction

The session began with a quick blurb I read to introduce the scenario. The players were refugees from the area surrounding Koskun Keep, a small keep on the borderlands of a mighty empire under siege from the forces of The Witch Lord. Koskun Keep had protected a small mining community called Irontown, but a detachment of the Witch Lord's army had sacked the small town and forced townsfolk from all over to flee to the keep.

We ran a small round of introductions. Eyellah had lived in Irontown as a brewer in the the local Tavern, and had lost most of her family (her parents and sister) when the forces attacked. She'd fallen in with a band of thieves that got captured in Koskun Keep, and had volunteered for the scouting mission to the caves rather than serve a jail term.

Kallus was a hunter in the local forests. He spent most of his times in the woods surrounding the area, but the army has been poaching most of the game and he's volunteered to put a stop to their depredations.

Kharus was a mercenary. The Dwarven kingdom of Keregorn had recalled all its warriors and sealed its borders because of the Witch Lord's army, but Kharus had ignored the summons because he was having too much fun out in the world. He's in this strictly for the money.

Durn, on the other hand, had heard the summons, but arrived at the gates of the dwarven kingdom too late and was unable to return home. He is at the keep because he's at loose ends, and has joined the group to do some good in the world.

Dilithiel was a researcher tracking down a relic stolen by The Witch Lord's forces (what this relic is remains undefined for the present). She's interested in collecting knowledge and tracking down this relic.

St. Larry was an itinerant priest of the Dawn Mother, and had been sent out to the borderlands mostly because he'd been a bother to this superiors in the the church hierarchy. His fondness of "gnomeweed" was something of an irritation to the church superiors, but he's still a decent person and volunteered for the mission to the caves because of his desire to do good.

Most of the session was spent gathering information about the caves. The keep had captured an acolyte, who claimed to have turned a new leaf and wanted to warn the keep of an impending attack. They learned that the cult was searching for the Eye of Gruumsh The Bloody One, an artifact that could potentialy grant total control over monstrous humaonids such as orcs and goblins. He also mentioned that the Orcs and the various goblinoid tribes did not get along, and that the kobolds were generally beneath notice. Eyellah, being from the area right around the caves, knew that the Kobolds and the humans working the mines once had an alliance and might be allies against the forces of monsters.  He also let slip that the cultists kept control over one of the orc tribes by holding their leader, a medusa, hostage. St. Larry does him with a hallucinogen, hoping to get him to open up more, but the man turned into a gibbering wreck and had to be chained down as he screamed nonsense. Apparently the acoylte's god was quite unhappy with him.

The party gained the robes, mask, and holy symbol of the acolyte, with the plan that St. Larry (the only human in the group) infiltrate the cult. They gathered supplies in town and headed out.

The first spot they reached was the ruins of Irontown, where the party spotted an ill-prepared orcish ambush. They sprung the trap and forced the Orcs to come to them. They slaughtered a great many orcs, so many that the rest broke and ran, and then managed to capture one orc for questioning. Then they looted the bodies and resolved to head back to the keep and rest.

Playtest notes:

* Several players really hated the layout of the playtest character sheets. They mentioned that information seemed very hard to find.

* Many of the players expressed disappointment that characters didn't get more skills. The rogues in particular had some issues with this, as their skills got spread out over two pages. Since this was a skill-based session, this was a bit of a problem. The players felt more confused than liberated by the open-ended skills, and wondered where the skill list was. The rogues didn't even realize that skill training applied to the bonuses...they thought that the skills had the ability mods already baked in them. They started to grok it toward the end of the session, but this is going to be an issue that should be looked at.

* The Dis/Advantage system was something everyone liked. The rogues wanted more ways of getting advantage (and I as the DM would have liked more guidelines to give it to them). during the battle, none of them tried to stealth, because the situations changed so much that if they wasted a round being stealthy they'd have had almost no effect on the battle. Perhaps a feat that allows them to get stealth as part of a movement?

* The lack of opportunity actions was commented on, generally as a negative.

* The cleric of Moradin felt distinctly lacking. His player felt Death Ward was pretty useless, especially when all the other spellcasters got some beefy attack powers as at-wills. All the spellcasters wanted more spells per day, but the cleric or Moradin in particular wanted more minor spell options. Perhaps some kind of smite as a minor spell? OTOH, He got a lot of mileage out of Crusader's Strike, and dished out a ton of damage.

* The cleric of Pelor mentioned he wanted to be able to do more healing, as he felt having only 2 uses of Cure Light wounds per day was very limiting. He didn't particularly care for having the Turn Undead ability and wanted to trade it out for something more suited to the character.

* While skills were a bit confusing to the party, everyone liked their background talents. That added quite a lot to the game. The temple services and researcher ones in particular got a lot of mileage.

* I personally dislike that healing potions only grant a single die to heal rolls, so I allowed players to add their Con mod to Healing Potion and Hit Die rolls.

* Much to my surprise, the fighter quite enjoyed the simplicity of his character, and the rogues didn't feel they lacked options. The hidden bump to damage dice to slings in the hands of halflings turned those weapons into very effective ranged attacks, on par with the Radiant Lance of the healer.

* 15 orcs were surprisingly easy to take down. They felt like minions, dying in one or two hits, and the players barely felt challenged. Part of this was the fact thwy they spotted the ambush and forced the orc to come to them, part of it was that I forgot about their furious charge ability, and part of it was simply that they were, in fact, that easy to take down. I would have liked orcs with more HP to serve as shock troops. I miss the Minion/Standard/Elite distinction, and would certainly like to see that make a return, even if I DON'T miss the game bogging down into a ton of tactical grid considerations. I'll try doubling the hit points of monsters meant to provide a more substantial challenge later on and see how that goes.

* Electrum Pieces were interesting. All the orcs had a few, and I used the "coinage of an ancient empire" bit to interest the party. This made the Commerce skill quite useful, as it's what allowed the halfing to discover what they were.

*Overall, the feelings were positive. Aside from a few niggling nitpicks, the game flowed well, and the fight I set up off the cuff worked extremely well for something I pulled out of my posterior. I will certainly be trying out a few house rules next session, allowing players to change out things and make the characters more their own. I'll mention these changes in the next session.
56816218 wrote:
What I find most frustrating about 4E is that I can see it includes the D&D game I've always wanted to play, but the game is so lathered in tatical combat rules that I have thus far been unable to coax the game I want out.
When the Cat's a Stray, the Mice will Pray
> * Several players really hated the layout of the playtest character
> sheets. They mentioned that information seemed very hard to find.

Y'know, if there's one thing that truly unifies all D&D editions...
Don't I know it?
56816218 wrote:
What I find most frustrating about 4E is that I can see it includes the D&D game I've always wanted to play, but the game is so lathered in tatical combat rules that I have thus far been unable to coax the game I want out.
When the Cat's a Stray, the Mice will Pray

Session 2:

The party returned to the keep with their orc captive to take a long rest and sell their loot. Saint Larry had some more questions for the other prisoner, but the players that went to question him were in for a rude surprise...some one (or some thing) had gotten to him first, messily murdering the prisoner in his cell and scrawling the word "traitor" above his corpse in blood.

Investigation pulled up some clues--the prisoner had been raving about "bloody blades" coming to kill him. There were no obvious trails, which suggested he'd been done in by magic. The guards hadn't let anyone in or out since the prisoner had last been interrogated. Further information reveals that the assassin was either a ghost or had some sort of etheral power. And old legends talk about a boogieman known as The Bloodyblades who would come when called by his name, but resented his servitude and would act against those who called on him.

The party met up at the tavern (which is apparently a tent, and has bad ale) and shared their discoveries. Then they sat down and chatted, getting to know each other better. At this point we introduced a new character, Zash Thunder (another Dwarven Fighter) to the party. The priest of Pelor Morwyn revealed that he'd been orphaned and taken in by the church, only to annoy his superiors to the point that they started sending him on missions they didn't expect him to return from. The elf wizard revealed she was searching for a scrying mirror that had been stolen from the school of magic she'd studied at. The Priest of Moradin revealed he'd not received any word at all that the gates of the Dwarven city were to be closed, though he was certain such word had been sent.

The priest of Pelor Morwyn got a surprise when Tayce Bloodyblades himself appeared in his room, asking for the priestly robes, mask, and holy symbol he'd taken from the prisoner. The priest was quick to speak to the spectral assassin, pointing out the robes. He managed to get some information out of the demon thing by asking politely, learning that the high priest Kalereal had been alerted to the foray in Irontown and was seeking the priestly robes to prevent any infiltration. He also learned that Kalereal laired in one of the upper caverns, and that Kalereal and his crew were necromancers (which meant that any dead bodies they left around could potentially be used against them).

The party met up in the morning, and the priest told them about his encounter. They stocked up on lamp oil fir their return to the caves.

This time they decided to chart a course into the woods to avoid the ruins of town. They got to the ravine...and found themselves surrounded by a welcoming party of the zombies of the orcs they slew before, as well as a small band of hobgoblins keeping an owlbear in check. The leader of the hobgolbins, a wizard calling himself Kwan Sung Yu, informed them that Kalareal had instructed him to bring any trespassers to him. While Kwan attempted to negotiate the party's surrender, the wizard and one of the rogues hatched a plan to release the Owlbear by attacking the hobgoblins holding it tied and hoping it would go after them.

The rogue shot a sling bullet at one guard, while the wizard used mage hand to forege the rope out of the grip of the other. With that, the battle got started. The hobgoblins and the wizard got some licks in and ran away from the immediate area of the owlbear, which proceeds to start ripping into the party.

The fight is long and dramatic, and the party looks like it's about to die several times as party members go down, but in the end they are successful. The hobgoblin wizard is captured, and the party plans to interrogate him to see what he knows about the area. he surrended himself, and seems to have something of his own agenda...the plot thickens!

House Rules:

I played around with some house rules this session, to see how they played.

* We gave the Pelor Cleric Healing Word in place of Turn Undead as his Channel Divinty power. This worked out exceptionally well, allowing him to pump out healing and still act as part of the team. During the batle he used almost all of his Healing Words and both of his Cure Light Wounds, and it's generally accepted that the party would not have survived the encounter without the change. This change allowed the Cleric of Moradin to save his spells for other effects (Crusader's Strike and a Healing Word to save himself at one point).

* Speaking of the Cleric of Moradin, we gave him Shocking Grasp as an orison. This worked extreamely well. He could either attack with the hammer or use it to deliver the electricity bolt against metal-armored foes. It worked out quite well, and let the Cleric feel a bit more magical.

* We allowed some of the players to switch around skills. Skills remain a sore point for the characters who are familiar with 3e and 4e skill lists, though.

Playtest notes:

* Got to play around with consequences from last session and develop the scenario. As a DM, I enjoyed how easy it was to build an anecounter that felt organic, rather than one I had to build to a notion of balance.

* We played with several house rules this session. See above for details.

* Ray of Frost is overpowered. The Owlbear was a threat only until the wizard got a Frost Lock on it. Without any sort of AoO mechanism, the Owlbear was trivialized. I will be nerfing this next session.

* I was able to create several new monsters fairly easily. The Hobgoblin wizard was made by extrapolating things from the 3rd level wizard, while The Bloodybldes is even more out there. They didn't fight The Bloodyblades this session, though, so I have no idea if I've built a competant monster, a weakling, or a party killer.

* The players seemed able to improvise a bit more than I saw them doing in 4e, which I was happy at. The rogue and the wizard conaispred to use Light on a sling stone in an attempt to gain some Advantage, and I found a few more ways to give advantage to the rogues.

* The party complained about the skills being vague. While this is being touted as a feature and not a bug, the open-ended natures of the skill system has been something of a turnoff for some of the players. They would like to see a more defined list so they know what their characters are capable of. For instance, three characters have skills related to nature. Each have different names (Survival, Wilderness Lore, Natural Lore), and there's absolutely no guidelines on when each skill would apply. Would you use Survival to try to calm a raging owlbear, for instance? Wilderness lore? Is an owlbear a natural creature? Would it be affected by Animal Handling? There's also some confusion as to why some characters had 3 skills in their backgrounds, and why some had 4. There didn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to it.

* EVERYONE complained about the lack of transparency in how PCs were built and where their bonuses were coming from. We want to know where these things come from, WotC!

* The rogues fought with slings over going into melee with daggers. While they had fun with the power they had with their slings, they lamented that it felt "off." "Rogues should be better at fighting with knives," one of the players commented. This is in spite of the fact that halflings already get a bonus to using daggers. As it was, it was easier for the rogues to get and maintain Advantage as ranged fighters creeping about the trees than leaping in and stabbing from hiding.

* There was a massive misunderstanding about longbows and crossbows. It should not have been this difficult to figure out what a fighter's attack bonus is when using a longbow, but because there's some sort of hidden bonus baked in to the fighter's attack scores, it was a pain to figure out. More transparency in future playtest materials, WotC!

* On the note of the crossbow, is there any reason why it uses strength instead of Dexterity? This caused some confusion when it got noticed.

* We got to see the Death and Dying rules in action, as both the Cleric of Moradin and the wizard went to negative HPs. I was left wondering if healing started at negative hp, or if it brought the person back up to 0 before being applied. I ran it as healing started at the negative total and healed the person back up from there. I might run it the other way next time to see how it goes.

* I got to adjudicate an attempt with mage hand to force a hobgoblin to drop a rope. I used the contest rules, having the wizard roll a magical attack opposed by a hobgoblin's strength. This was fun!
56816218 wrote:
What I find most frustrating about 4E is that I can see it includes the D&D game I've always wanted to play, but the game is so lathered in tatical combat rules that I have thus far been unable to coax the game I want out.
When the Cat's a Stray, the Mice will Pray
Session 3:

Last session had a lot of fire in it.

The party dealt with Kwan Sung Yu, the hobgoblin wizard who surrendered himself last session. Kwan offered a proposition...he'd help them destabilize the situation in the ravine by point out key targets, and in return they'd help him get rid of his warlord, who has gone crazy and turned to cannibalism. He pointed the party towards the ogre (who acts as an enforcer to keep the other monsters in line) and the minotaur, and also mentioned the Bugbears have a monopoly on a certain herb that goblins are fond of (catnip get goblins high, apparently...). He also offered to take a couple of party members up to meet Kalereal as a distraction, and put them in a position to free The Stone Queen who is being kept hostage to keep one of the orc tribes in line.

Two of the party members offered to go with Kwan while the rest struck out for the ogre's cave and the secret door there leading deeper into the goblin cave, to head for the secret door in the goblin store room leading up to the Warlord's chambers.

We also had yet another new player join this session, so we gave the player their choice of the remaining pregens. He chose the dwarven cleric of moradin, so the party now has four dwarves, two halflings, a human who is less than 5 feet tall (the player decided he wanted to play a midget)...and an elf wizard who was 6 feet tall. Several "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves" references were made.

Our new player was introduced bound hand and foot in the ogre's cave, presumably as a meal for the beast. He tried to escape his bonds, but wasn't able to get anywhere before the party got there.

Iyllah (one of our halfling rogues) went in to scout the area, but saw the "bear" in the dim light, thought it was a sleeping bear, and slipped back out to tell the party what she'd seen (she'd also heard the ogre eating something in the other chamber, and didn't want to get caught between both monsters). The thing she didn't see was the dwarf in the corner struggling against his bonds. The party concocted a plan to startle the "bear" awake, with the idea that it would charge in to the ogre's lair and cause some confusion. They turned a bottle of lamp oil into a Molotov Cocktail and sent it into the cave.

Well...the "bear" turned out to be a bear rug on a bed of leaves, and the saw that they had narrowly missed cooking a captive. Oops! The party went to the captive's rescue. Of course, this brought out the orge, and a furious fight ensued. The Orge used his reach to his advantage, avoiding a charge into a readied action by stopping just short and swinging. The original dwarven cleric, Durn, used his shield to great effect, keeping the ogre's club away from the squishier wizards as well as from his own dwarven brethren.

Eventually, after taking an arrow to the knee, the orge had had enough and began to run for the secret door to the goblin caves. He got the door opened and alerted the goblins just before being killed by the rogue's sling and a magic missile, and the goblins began to shout their "Bree-Yark!" warning cry. The party had a short time to organize their defense...and spent it looking for treasure. They found the ogre's really heavy treasure sack and a keg of some sort but didn't have time to explore more before five goblins poured through the secret door from the goblin caves.

The dwarves formed a shield wall to choke the goblins from getting deeper in, and one of our dwarven fighters got the idea to use the ogre's cookfire as an ignition source for yet another flask of flaming lamp oil. This cooked the goblins a bit, at least enough for the wizard to get in and use burning hands to finish them off. The last goblin was crushed under the weight of the ogre's treasure sack when the other dwarven fighter used it as an improvised kosh.

After this, the party took a quick survey of the room beyond, grabbed the keg of water (and the sack of 250 sp within) and retreating to close the door. They began inventorying the treasure, finding the first really good brandy they'd had in weeks (brandy that came from the halfling thief's tavern in the town that got destroyed) and finding thousands and thousands of coins in the sack. Before they had time to count, the goblins set the mouth of the cave on fire, and we ended on a cliffhanger.

House Rules:

* Ghallus' player wanted to switch around his Wisdom and Charisma scores, since he's been playing his character much more like a Ranger than a Rogue anyway. I allowed it, as it didn't significantly change much.

* We nerfed Ray of Frost to Slow enemies instead of Immobilize them. This proved a bit too drastic a change (which I'll explain in the playtest notes) so I'll be tinkering with it some more. My thought is to use the 4e version (1d6 damage and slowed) so that the Wizard has an at-will attack that does damage that isn't quite as boring as magic missile proved to be.

Playtest notes:

* Fire! Everyone got a kick out of lamp oil this session, and a lot of the players put it to creative use.

* Improvised Weapons were fun. A couple of characters used them (one threw a rock, one used the oger's treasure sack as a humongous kosh). My ruling was simple: improvised weapons didn't get a proficiency bonus (the sort of bonus that seems to be baked in to all the other pregens). having Proficiency be a bonus, rather than not being proficient with a weapon proving a penalty, is a really good idea. It tricks the brain (people are more adverse to avoiding negatives than to going without a positive) and allows for lots of lateral thinking.

* I nerfed the Ray of Frost spell too much. I'm going to use the 4e version of Ray of Frost (1d6 damage, slowed) instead and see how that works out.

* Without the ranged Ray of Frost to fall back on, the wizard complained that she had to get much closer to enemies than she liked, especially with her poor hp and AC. I might point out next time that Sleep has a longer ranger than Burning Hands and see how she likes it then.

* There's over 3,000 coins in the orger's treasure sack. Going by the suggested coins-per-weight guideline, that means that the sack weighs over 60 pounds. Not an easily portable treasure, but one of the players had the bright idea of using it at as improvised weapon.

* The wizard used mage hand to pick up the bear rug and beat out the flames on it. I had no idea what to do here, so I defaulted to letting her roll an attack roll, even though she wasn't actually attacking anything. I'd like to get some guidelines for actions like this in the future. It felt right at the time, but I worry about what might happen if she were to try to use it directly as an attack. I'll keep an eye on this as the playtest goes on.

* Lamp oil rocked on toast. This group has had a long-standing tradition of Plan B, where Plan B is "set something on fire." During this encounter, Plan B worked well. First they used lamp oil as a molotov coctail in order to startle the "bear", which I ruled created a zone of flame in the middle of the room (it lasted longer than the 2 rounds suggested in the equipment section, but it added a lot more excitement to the battle that way). Later on, one of our dwarven fighters got the idea to hurl some lamp oil into a cook fire, hoping the force would break the bottle and spray a bunch of goblins on the other side. I ruled this as a cone centered on the cookfire that dealt 1d6 damage with a dex save to avoid. This worked beautifully. I would like to see a table of improvised damage values like 4e's "page 42" in the actual game later on, but I felt comfortable handling improvisational actions this way for now.
56816218 wrote:
What I find most frustrating about 4E is that I can see it includes the D&D game I've always wanted to play, but the game is so lathered in tatical combat rules that I have thus far been unable to coax the game I want out.
When the Cat's a Stray, the Mice will Pray

Thanks for the playtest report. The game sounded fast in play and flowed, to pinch one of your terms, 'organically'. 

Thanks again for a good read!

* We got to see the Death and Dying rules in action, as both the Cleric of Moradin and the wizard went to negative HPs. I was left wondering if healing started at negative hp, or if it brought the person back up to 0 before being applied. I ran it as healing started at the negative total and healed the person back up from there. I might run it the other way next time to see how it goes.

Not sure if you've noticed it yet, but page 13 of the How to play packet, under the Healing subsection, says that healing brings you up to 0, before it applies.

I am currently raising funds to run for President in 2016. Too many administrations have overlooked the international menace, that is Carmen Sandiego. I shall devote any and all necessary military resources to bring her to justice.

Great reports.  I really enjoyed reading them.  It is terrific to see how players improvise and how DMs keep the game rolling along.

Keep playtesting.


A Brave Knight of WTF


Rhenny's Blog:



Not sure if you've noticed it yet, but page 13 of the How to play packet, under the Healing subsection, says that healing brings you up to 0, before it applies.

I did not notice that, no. I'm going to have to mention that next time we get a PC down to 0.
56816218 wrote:
What I find most frustrating about 4E is that I can see it includes the D&D game I've always wanted to play, but the game is so lathered in tatical combat rules that I have thus far been unable to coax the game I want out.
When the Cat's a Stray, the Mice will Pray