First game with August play test (sixth game overall)

I was impressed overall.  The game is improving for sure!

I liked the skill advancements at 2nd level and above.  It was hard to find them... some of the character advancement is with the classes (hit points), skill training is mentioned in classes but defined in backgrounds.  Would be great to have that all spelled out with advancements, and then repeated in short in the other locations as necessary.  For example, define how HP bonuses by level works with advancements, and then define the Hit Die and default HP in the classes themselves.  Define that you have a skill training with the advancements, but then also mention that skill training by level is discussed in detail with the backgrounds section.

I had the lord of the keep put up a tome of Forbidden Lore (DC 17) captured from the borderlands as a reward for whomever rid the lands of the goblin threat (they killed 1/2 the orcs and all the kobolds in the past adventures), and the party was all over it.  Great idea people... the concept went over really well.

AO was wonderful.  We used it on grid and off grid for combat and it made things much nicer and shortened combat.

I was shocked to see the ogre drop for 80+ HP to 32 HP.  However, that reduction meant a shorter combat and less healing required afterwards.

Overall, reducing the HP all around meant the combats were shorter, and the party walked away with more HP then they would have before.  Indirectly, I see how that reduction boosts the longevity of the party in the dungeons.  I thought it would not work, but I was surprised (at least so far... I am still a bit sceptical).

The disengage action is quite powerful.  You can move to the far side of a threat, then use your disengage action to move away 10', then continue your movement.  Off grid, I adjucated and said that disengage removed you from 1 threat (which could be a group of monsters).  So if you needed to move past an ogre on one side of you and 2 goblins who flanked you, you could disengage from one of the two groups of monsters.  If the person was not flanked, I would allow the monsters to all be in 1 group (I hope that makes sense).  It worked easily for us.

I noticed on the advancement tables lots of bonuses (including +1 to 2 ability scores) at level 4, and no love at level 5.  How about moving the ability score bonus to level 5?  I also suggest moving one of the ability score bumps to a higher level... having 2 of them is a huge boost in 1 level!  We are just not moving to level 3, so we have not crossed this bridge yet, so this is just a rumination.

Speaking of level advancement, what is up with the experience points?  You went from really slow to really quick advancement.  My level 2 party from before would now be level 4 with these rules.  I think having something a bit slower and using round numbers would be great.  7975 XP for level 5?  Do we really need to have to constantly check the books and see?

A suggestion... since XP is a bit arbitrary anyways, why not just go all the way.  Make each level 100 XP.  Make each encounter worth up to 15 XP.
     0-5 for combat, 0-5 for roleplay, 0-5 for story.  
     3 for combat means average encounter. A 1 would be really easy, and a 5 would be very hard.
     3 for roleplay means the person was playing their character.  A 5 would be extraordinary, and a 1 would be using player knowledge etc.
     3 for story means the player was working as part of a team or working to advance the fun and storyline.  Perhaps completing a part of a quest would be a 5.
With this, you are looking at about 10-12 encounters to level, and have a good mechanic for out of combat advancement.  Speaking with the lord and promising to rid the keep of goblins?  5 for story, 4 for roleplay, and 0 for combat... 9 XP for advancing the storyline.  Bar fight?  Possibly 0 for story, 3 for roleplay, and 2 for combat.  Not as rewarding, but fun and 5 XP still advances things.  I suggest this because there are so many factors that can influence the difficulty of a combat.  Why pretend to mechanize something that in the end is more art than science?

 Oh, and here is a kudos for the designers.  3 hours of game play.  In those three hours, 5 combats killing an ogre + 34 goblins, additional role playing, searching, exploring, and still room to have some banter.  Nice!
Nice report, Xtianstone.

I was wondering how you interpreted the skill advancement? Some believe you get a new skill when you hit an even level or +1 to an existing skill, others believe that you may only opt for the +1 and that we haven't seen levels which give new skills yet.

A also like the way you used tomes -- I've heard many others reference this as well. I have to get on that bandwagon and use them myself. 

And I really appreciate your perspective on off grid vs on grid use of the rules. Very helpful perspective as I am almost strictly on grid guy for dnd but play many other games off grid.

I think level 5 is a place where they plan to give many boosts (such as the fighter gaining an extra fighting style, rogue getting scheme benefit and cleric getting channel divinity), but right now many things (Sorcerer's Sorcerous power and others) fall into 4 as well. But my take is that although gaining +1 to two traits feels big to a player, it isn't really all that. But it gives you something at level 4 that makes the level pretty cool.

Yes, experience levels are Messed up right now. But the quick advancement to level 3 is there to make up for the low HP's. I think the ogre lost too many HP's, but that's just my opinion. Considering he can do 20 points in a single melee strike (only 16 on a ranged strike), he can devastate a party in short order if he gets a bit of luck in the hit department. So maybe his HP's aren't that far off. I'd still like him in the upper 40's I think, to keep the fear factor high. But then again, he is a cr 3 elite, so maybe it is about right. I think I'd be happy with it as is, if it were renamed to half ogre or ogreling or something to save ogres for cr 5.

And I like some of your ideas on eps, but I also like the crazy DND feel of the present charts. It does allow for faster and slower bands (at least in theory).


 
I really do not need to interpret the skills as much as use them exactly as specified on the Character Creation page 4 (advancement chart) and on Backgrounds page 1 (Skills > Improving Skills).  At 2nd level, and every even level thereafter, you can increase one of your skills by +1 (up to a max of +7).  It does not specify trained skills, so every other level the PCs can advance a single skill 1 point... but only up to a max of +7.

Thanks for the compliments, and I agree with all you say here.

The reason I like the alternate version of level advancement that I specify is that I ask people to pick 5 traits.  You know, everything from gruff, drunkard, to chaste and generous.  3 are supposed to support the character and their alignment, and 2 are supposed to be role playing challenges or flaws (such as honorable, gullable, coward...)  I award exp for role playing based on these traits, and since I started that role playing has been #1 at the table.

My whole group perfers on grid, but honestly there are a number of combats that go by very quickly off grid, and I have a lot of custom interpretations for area of effect spells.  For example, a wizard with a cone area of effect attack for 15' can target up to 6 creatures.  If the wizard can maneuver easily, he rolls d6 twice and takes the best (ie: advantage).  If the creatures suspect or see a pattern of area of effect spells, then roll but with disadvantage (2d6 taking the lower roll).  Otherwise d4+1 creatures are targeted where large groups of creatures are available...

May seem complicated, but instead of lots and lots of miniature movement, a quick roll by the wizard and I know how many he can attack.  Large combats move very quickly. Quick thinking and tactical combat leads to giving advantage on rolls, etc..

Thanks again! 
I think the quickened experience points was to allow people to level faster so that it would be easier to experience the whole breadth of the playtest packet in a shorter amount of time. By the way, I love what you just proposed for experience, and am considering using it for my upcoming 4e and my 3e games.
Thank you for that!  The progression is very simple for EXP -- 100 per level.  I have EXP calculation sheets and all if you wish.
First (standard) levels:  Every encounter, room in dungeon, dialog gets EXP... usually about 10-13 per level. People level every 2 sessions.  The focus is on each room as everything is a challenge.

Second (heroic) levels:  Every area (or level) in a dungeon, milestone, solved problem gets EXP.  Particularly tough monsters gets EXP too.  Otherwise killing an orc, etc. is just part of completing that milestone.  The focus in on exploration and solving plot twists.

Third (epic) levels:  Every adventure gets EPS.  So completing a dungeon, etc..  Completing milestones that advance the plot tend to grant EXP too. This way the focus is wholly on the story.

Each player has 5 traits (I allow them to change 1 each level).  Clerics domains or ethos must be listed as 1 or 2 of the traits (presuming multiple domains or angles).  Encounters are all evaluated by the DM.  0-5 for combat resolution, 0-5 for roleplay, 0-5 for story.  Basically, I look at the table as a collaborative effort on writing a story.  The roleplay category varies player to player, but with a few exceptions the combat resolution and story contributions are equal across the table.  EXP is really easy and the players feel more value comes from that then to evaluate ECL and assign experience.

If you do try this, my best advice is to evaluate the EXP right when it happens.  Total it all up at the end... and you can see how much of a difference roleplaying makes, and how this system of EXP encourages roleplay!  Players spend a lot more time in character and story development because they are just as likely (if not more) to get EXP from that as an encounter, puzzle, or trap.

Let me know and I will post the EXP sheet!