Playtest Report: Reclaiming Blingdenstone

Finally got a group of players together this weekend, and we set out to create characters and play through the adventure. I was expecting quick character creation, but since everyone was new to the system and one player was new to the game, it took more than an hour!

Baldric - Hill Dwarf Sorceror 1 (Bounty Hunter background, Dual Wielding speciality, Vampiric origin)
This player was completely new to D&D (although he had some experience with WoW and similar). He definately got a bit of "options overload" at first, but really liked the idea of a Sorceror with a vampiric bloodline who tried to hide it by hiding on the edges of society. He enjoyed picking out equipment and weapons, although he was disappointed that he couldn't use his dwarven weapon training with his Duel Wielding speciality).
Weapons/armor: Short sword x2, Leather
Spells known: Magic Missile, Shocking Grasp, Charm Person, Shield

Titanius - High Elf Wizard 1 (Bounty Hunter background, Arcane Dabbler speciality)
This guy was an experienced player. He didn't talk much about his choices, but I suspect he was going for wizardly optimization with lots of spells available.
Weapons/Armor: Crossbow
Spells known: Detect Magic, Magic Missile, Light, Mage Hand, Ray of Frost, Shocking Grasp, Comprehend Languages, Feather Fall, Shield, Sleep, Thunder Wave

Meena - Human Fighter 1 (Knight background, Healer speciality, Slayer style)
Meena's player seemed to want to balance out the party, and was willing to take Healer to compensate for the lack of a Cleric. She enjoyed roleplaying as a heraldic knight, unlike the rest of the party who were generally a bit unwilling to roleplay (although Baldric and Varis' players were pretty new to the game). I decided to take the suggestion offered by one member of this forum and give her all 3 fighting style manuvers at first level.
Weapons/Armor: Longsword, Longbow, Chainmail, Shield

Varis - High Elf Rogue 1 (Thief/Thug backgrounds, Arcane Dabbler speciality, Thug scheme)
This player initially wanted to play a warlock (with a rather unique concept), but was willing to switch to a sort of "thief of magic" archetype since two other party members were already arcane spellcasters. By simply taking Magical Lore as a free skill and taking the Arcane Dabbler specialty, he had no trouble making this work mechanically... at first level!
Weapons/Armor: Mace, Dagger, Leather
Spells known: Detect Magic, Ghost Sound, Ray of Frost

In summary, I was impressed by the ease of character creation, and the incredible but simple customization options players had (even with only six classes and limited options for those classes. Hopefully there wasn't anything wrong with the system that caused creation to take so long, but that's possible, I suppose.

We only got an hour or so of play in because of time constraints, and it took a while to hash out the details of what exactly was going on in Blingdenstone and why the players were involved (We eventually decided the Bounty Hunters were there to hunt down Talabrina, and the others were convinced out of altruism or greed). I decided to walk them through the journey underground in an attempt to get some roleplaying in, but that didn't go particularly well, so after basic character introductions had been completed (awkwardly), I threw in a fight with some orcs "lost in the defensive labyrinth" to end the session with a bang, played out theater of the mind style.

The party and their guide heard the orcs up ahead and the guide instructed them to hide and be silent. Varis' player rolled a natural one, and I decided he'd made some noise and notified the orcs. The party got ready as the orcs charged down the corridor, and a Thunder Wave salvo from Titanius gave them a round to work with and some significant damage inflicted (Titanius moved 30' backward immediately afterwards - I can't blame him). I had the orcs get up, and they closed with the melee folk, who blasted them with cantrips. Meena was still effectively helpless as she couldn't see, so her player took a round to relight the lantern they'd doused in an attempt to hide. Meanwhile, an orc got a lucky roll in on Baldric, who even with his impressive 12 HP went to -1. This served as a "reality check" (as Meena's player put it) for him. Meena and Varis were able to flank the remaining two orcs they were in melee with and had no trouble one-shotting both (Deadly Strike for Meena, Thug Sneak Attack for Varis, as the guide while not armed was still around). Titanius was able to Thunder Wave both remaining orcs, and the party mopped things up. They agreed that Meena would bind the wounds of Baldric, and they would take a long rest once they reached Blingdenstone, and the session was over.

Based on this pretty short test run, I really like the system - my personal favorite editions are 1e for its ease of combat and gritty realism, and 3e for its character customization, and Next delivered on both. It was very easy to run a random encounter by pulling out the stats for an orc and rolling a d4+1 for numbers. The party had a few problems with immaturity during roleplaying, but I think that's a problem for any new group - the system can't do much to prevent that. I also liked that magic was useful, but not overpowering (as of yet) and that the rogue and fighter contributed very much equally to the combat as the Sorceror and Wizard.

Looking forward to our next session! 
Aye, I have similar experiences with introducing new players, that they don't quite understand what it means to roleplay and largely spoke causally or were mostly quiet. I find it is something you can't really get with new players that easily so the best way to get them into it is to get them into the thick of the action, present them character steriotypes that they can easily assioate with and throw them face first into the actions. Give them decisions that matter immediately and short adventures that enable them to imagine that scene. Once they have that hook in their mouth, it should be slightly easier for them to assioate with the character and to build on it.

It will be slow to get them into the roleplay and not everyone is an good roleplay, what is importent is that machanics are firmly tested and we all have fun doing it. XD

Sounds like you had a bit of fun when you got into it anyways, just as said the awkwardness needs to be overcome, and that will come in time.
@Wystenv2 - Definately. They're getting into it now, and as you'll see they've had the opportunity to make some important decisions and get in some neat combats. Defining their characters will hopefully come a bit later.

Alright, two more session reports to submit: First things first - 

Session 2
Overall, things were relatively uneventful - this session wasn't amazing. Needed some getting into the groove.
The party headed into Blingdenstone, and spent some time in Phantasmal Glamours (they didn't talk to Henkala). They then went to talk to the Burrow Warden, who gave them the House Center mission. They talked to Jalless, who I portrayed as a little demanding - they didn't take well to her generally, but she was nice to Meena, who as a fellow healer offered to help with the patients. They headed on to the House Center.
The zombie ambush went down in one round - I think it was a Thunder Wave plus an expertise die attack. Zombies need more hit points to be a threat - their combat ability is very much nerfed in other areas. The party went ahead into the House Center, tossing Meena's bell (?) to distract the fire beetles - I ruled that they could get past them.
After a bit of exploration, they found the portculis room. I played the skeletons as immoble until they triggered their ambush by walking out the other side, which took quite a while to happen. The magically talented rogue tried some impromptu necromancy, but didn't accomplish anything (I let him roll Magical Lore with an impossible DC). They eventually attacked, which resulted in a pretty long battle since neither side was rolling hits (I have decided to give monsters +2 to hit across the board, generally this has worked well). They party won, but their wizard was knocked to negative with one hit, so they decided to rest, leaving the non-darkvision human to stand watch. We ended the session because of time constraints.

Notes:
-Skill Mastery is dumb. The Rogue can make difficult challenges all the time, with ease, and gets an automatic +6 to his roll, meaning that you have to make challenges ridiculously hard for them, and therefore impossible for the rest of the party. I'm removing it until further notice; the rogue's 6 skills represents their abilites pretty well for now (in session 3, our rogue never noticed its abscese). Maybe I'll add something in later - advantage in certain situations, perhaps?

So overall summary; this session wasn't so great, but that wasn't the fault of the system. Players were still getting into their groove, as was I. Things will get better!

I'll post the next session report when I have the time. Things went much better!
Good feedback.

Yeah, I think most of us agree that Skill Mastery needs another look.

And I don't think I know of a single person that thinks the Bestiary isn't the weakest link right now.  That thing is clearly lacking attention, but I think the devs even admitted to that.

Still, all in all, it sounded like a successful night and one I would have enjoyed being a part of.  
Good read, Koga.   I'm a total fan of +2 to monster attacks across the board (as many already know).   

I'm not sure about the Skill Mastery issue.   I kind of like that a rogue feels so confident in the skills he or she is trained in that the PC is free to act more in character, and the game flows more fluidly with auto success in most cases.   In most adventures, if there is a trap or lock, I'd expect a rogue to be able to spot it, disarm it, open it.   For DMs, if they want to challenge the rogue, they'll just have to use better traps or locks (pay for those Dwarven locks man).   I would, however, still require that the rogue make a d20 roll even if the action would have been automatic.  In my games, if the rogue rolls a natural "1", I throw in a complication. I use the word complication instead of failure for a good reason.  I want to make the event more exciting.  I don't want to stop the rogue from succeeding.   Possible complicatons could be the trap goes off....the lock breaks....a wandering monster or 2 jump out of the darkness (I guess these are failures, but I like using the word "complication" better).

Keep testing.  Cheers. 

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

 

Rhenny's Blog:  http://community.wizards.com/user/1497701/blog

 

 

I am not sure, Rhenny... Auto-success, even on hard tasks, just seems... un-D&D to me.

With Rogues starting with at least 6 Skills (+ maybe extra for Specialty), the worst result they can have on any skill is 16.   For primary, DEX skills, more like 17 or 18.  That doesn't count that they get to roll first for a 50% chance of having better than their minimum.

I think I prefer the old Take 10 rules.  Give Rogues the ability to get an auto-10 if they have the time to focus, but otherwise, they have the normal chance for failure. 
@ShadeRaven - I actually like the idea of Rogues having Take 10 as a special ability - it's not too powerful, but eliminates the chance of an embarassing failure in a non-stressful environment. Their Take 10 could even improve at the regular rate!

@Rhenny - Agreed, the +2 has worked well so far. The thing with Skill Mastery is it makes those things way too tough for anyone else to solve, and we run into the old "mithrol-bound door" issue again. Bounded Accuracy really needs to apply to non-combat situations too.

 Session 3
Things went much better this time! Baldric's player was only able to come for the beginning and the end, and was really disappointed at missing so much.

We started things off with a bang. Meena, coincedintally the only character without darkvison, was standing watch, and I decided to introduce Taborlina. She shot the lantern with her hand crossbow, waking the other characters up/taking them out of trance, but depriving the fighter of light. Her Bugbear thugs rushed in, and immediately grabbed Baldric and Titanius and held swords to their throats, telling the other characters to drop their weapons. She shook off Baldric's Charm Person attempt, and I had him roll an impromptu check to conceal that he was casting mental magic, which he failed. She reiterated her threat and then introduced herself proudly, before telling them to let the Gnomes know that they had a week to leave Blingdenstone. She left, but not before gifting them a deep gnome head-in-a-bag.
This encounter was really a tribute to some of the things I like about the D&D Next system. The players felt like they were in actual danger, and didn't consider actually fighting back for more than a few seconds. I heard nothing about "well, we can just get a ressurection" or "it can't be too hard an encounter, we're only level one." They knew that in this situation, they could and probably would actually die if they made the wrong move, which is a great tool for a DM to have.

After the shock had worn off, the party decided to complete their original mission (y'know, becuase they're valorous heroes and all). Last session, the group had problems with the House Center complex. They didn't want to draw a map, we were playing totally theater of the mind, and I didn't want to give them a map like I did for Blingdenstone itself. The solution, which worked pretty well, was to assume that they explored things, having the option to "go back to that one place," and I would decide their route and which rooms they encountered first. They were fine with this.

After messing with the levers for a bit, they decided to investigate where the "clunking" noises were coming from. They fell into the spiked pit, and we got to test out the healing rules. Without a cleric, Meena was still able to patch things up pretty well and get the rogue back on his feet (with 1 HP, he rolled low) - it felt realistic, as she bandaged up his arm (presumably using her training as a knight battle medic) and he was able to get going again, but we knew if he got knocked down to 0 hp again he'd be down for the count (barring healing potions and such).

Continuing on, they found the dead gnome and looted his body. When Varis swiped the healing potion from Titanius, I realized we didn't have a "pick pockets/sleight of hand" skill, but it didn't matter. While Titanius was a bit miffed, Varis's player pointed out that it was a bit like withholding an inhaler from someone with an asthma attack. Varis also took the key, and spent the rest of the session looking for keyholes. Finding the page of Evarell's Journal was a hit - I took the time to write it out, making the handwriting on one side (the notes) really illegible and on the other (the prophecy) elegant cursive. I also burned the edges of the paper and dripped some wax on it.

They skipped the giant centipedes ("No, we don't investigate the random pile of rubble") and checked out the statue. The wizard, Titanius, likes Detecting Magic on practically everything, so I nerfed the spell to be touch range (Magic-trap vision? No.), but to make it more interesting gave him a Magical Lore roll to find out things about the type of magic. When Detecting Magic on the statue, I stumbled and forgot that Healing is now Conjuration magic (Why is that, anyway?), so I described it as having a faint aura of Necromancy magic. They were kind of worried. One player tried to break some more pieces off it: "You swing your hammer at the statue. As you hit it... you hear a lound ringing sound echo throughout the building, as though someone had struck a stone statue with a hammer." He subsequently stopped.

They proceeded past the banquet hall, and Varis was able to find some scoring on the floor in the center of the room with a Find Traps roll. They avoided that section of the floor, moving on to find the secret door and the prison cell, and messed with the barrels for a bit. 

The Stirge room was another big hit. As they spread out to investigate, a stirge fluttered down from the ceiling and landed on Varis, then another on Meena. They were able to take the first few out easily with Magic Missile and some other spells, but more kept coming (I increased the size of the die for how many come down each round. Eventually, Meena and Varis were engulfed in a cloud of Stirges, taking consistent damage, with Titanius unwilling to use an AOE spell on them for fear of doing more harm than good. Meena made good use of the Jab manuver (I've been giving all three Fighting Style manuvers at first level) to rip one off and try to kill it, while the spellcasters could use their autohit magic missiles to consistently take them down. However, the party was just taking too much damage, so they ran and slammed the door behind them.
I'm glad Next allows me to keep my players running away sometimes.

They finally proceeded to Pharran's (I mistakenly referred to him as Pharras and rolled with it) chamber, and they were in bad shape. They decided to humor the king, and Meena made great use of her Heraldic Lore skill to keep him talking while Varis took his dagger, dipped it in oil, lit it on fire and threw it at the Wight!
I gave him Advantage on the roll because Meena had been doing a good job distracting him, and he hit for no less than 20 damage (dagger+sneak attack+fire). Everyone was really excited, and combat was joined! Even at 7 HP, Pharras was pretty scary - he hit Baldric for heavy damage and put Titanius out of commission in the first round, but not before Titanius got off a good shot with Thunder Wave and took down both Skeletons. Baldric finished off their foe, and Meena mopped up... and then they found treasure.
Treasure was pretty exciting too. Baldric took the "Sunnis" medallion, while Meena took the longsword and named it. Everyone else split the cash, and they headed back to base.

They talked to Jalless for a bit, who was so shocked at seeing her friend's head in a bag that she didn't even tell them not to give the crown to Kargien.

Finally, they gave a "mission report" to Kargien. He argued very strongly for keeping the crown in his hands, and after the players failed their diplomacy checks to keep it (i.e. they didn't roll natural 20s) they finally let him take custody of it. He also payed them quite a bit in gems, which they were pretty excited about.

Finally... level up! I ditched XP and decided to just play it by ear, and this looked like a good time to level up.
Everyone was excited about the new HP and spells, even though they didn't get much else.

Overall, great session. I'm looking forward to running more. 
Another nice read.  I love the way D&DNext makes it easy to flow more seamlessly from exploration, to combat, to interaction, to non-combat encounter, back to whatever.  Your game seems to illustrate that point nicely. 

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

 

Rhenny's Blog:  http://community.wizards.com/user/1497701/blog

 

 

Rhenny said it well... sounds like a good time with creative DMing and player interaction.

There more I think about it, the more I like the 4E style of detecting magic... use of a "lore" skill with DC as a base + item level.  Item level isn't in Next, so would have to ponder that a bit, but Magical Lore with a decent DC to scan for visible magic would work for me.

At any rate, keep up the good work and fun to read reports! 
I'll go ahead and post what I'm using for Baldric's Vampiric Sorcorer Origin. I have no idea what design criteria they're using for bloodlines, so mostly I just cribbed off the Draconic one.

Vampiric Heritage
Somewhere in your ancestry, the blood of a vampire entered your lineage. Its effects do not manifest in every generation, and they do not always appear as full-fledged sorcerous powers. But in you, the blood runs true. When your willpower is depleted and your heritage transforms you, you might manifest the personality traits of a vampire, as well as vampiric physical traits. You might become haughty and proud, but turn feral when the thirst for blood takes its grip.

Hit Dice: 1d8 per sorcerer level
Hit Points: 8 + your Constitution modifier at 1st level, and 1d8 (or 5) + your Constitution modifier per sorcerer level gained.
Armor and Shield Proficiencies: You gain proficiency with light armor. Also, you are able to cast sorcerer spells while wearing light armor.
Weapon Proficiencies: You gain proficiency with basic and finesse melee weapons.

Sorcerous Powers:
At 1st level, you can spend 1 willpower to use the vampiric strike power.
Additionally, each day, after you have spent 3 willpower, you become stronger, faster, and more feral. Until you complete a long rest, you gain a +1 bonus to weapon attacks, damage, and armor class.
Level 4: You can spend 2 willpower to use the vampiric regeneration power.
Additionally, each day, after you have spent 10 willpower, you begin to thirst for blood. Until you complete a long rest, you may drain the blood of a creature as an action, dealing 1d8+level damage and recovering one hit die. If the victim is not subdued, restrained, or unconcious, you must make an attack roll with disadvantage to use this power.

Sorcerous Powers

Vampiric Regeneration
Calling upon your ancient vampiric heritage, you cause your wounds to close and heal almost instantly. Using this power takes an action.
Requirement: You can use this power only as a reaction in response to taking damage.
Effect: Before you take the damage, it is reduced by 10.

Vampiric Strike
You channel the ancient strength of the vampire, causing you to deal heavy damage.
Effect: The next time you hit a hostile creature with a melee attack during the next minute, that creature takes an extra 2d6 damage.
Session 4
After the crown was recovered, I more or less laid out their remaining options for adventure through Kargien (deal with the elementals, reawaken the Speaking Stones, deal with the kobolds, deal with the Orcs, trade mission to Mantol-Derith). They chose to help Pingtu reawaken the Speaking Stones, and I immediately realized that this was probably the most boring part of the module. At least we were able to keep the session short.
Speaking with Pingtu, the party found out what gems they needed. Since I had actually given them gems as a reward earlier, I ruled that they already had an emerald and ruby, along with a fire opal from Meena's sword. They were able to talk Henkala out of her amethyst without much trouble, but Jalless's citrine proved more difficult - they'd offended her before. Still, Meena was able to smooth things over without too much trouble.
They head on to find the sapphire under the Ruby in the Rough, with Briddick as their guide (he recently received an arrow wound, which Meena patches up). They fight off the rats with almost no trouble, and eventually come to a room with the sapphire necklace on a pedestal. Everyone expected an Indiana Jones-esque scene here, and I may have missed an opportunity in not improvising one, but they eventually took the necklace and had every gem they needed.
Finding the Drow weapons was fairly straightforward as well - I played the kobolds to the hilt, having the Dragonshield block attacks as well as it could, but they went down with no injuries on the part of the PCs. Something to note, here - monsters are much better equipped to deal with straightforward attacks than they are spells, and the once the Dragonshield went down the other kobolds ran away.
After the players had served as Pingtu's errand boys for a while, they brought back everything and the ritual to reawaken the stones was completed. Yay!
The players leveled up again (I didn't feel great about granting it because they didn't really accomplish much - maybe I should go back to XP), and were a little less thrilled with their benefits. Overall, not an amazing session.

DM Notes: It's tough to make monsters feel threatening at 2nd and higher levels - the PCs can take 1-2 attacks from them, and that's all they really need to take before they can blast them with Ray of Enfeeblement, Melf's Acid Arrow, or some other high damage spell (or a 1d4+2d6 SA, or Deadly Strikes). Maybe the adventure's not as much of a challenge here, but even so I don't feel like second level characters should have this high a damage output. More evidence of that later when I post Session 5. 

Oh, and I recently found out my players read this thread. So not spoiling the adventure would be appreciated.