2nd playtest finished: rogues are gods, encounter building still needs help

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Had our final encounter for the 2nd playtest, and since the party had been demolishing everything this playtest I decided to give them a by-the-book "tough" encounter (using all the latest monsters and DM guide from the October update).  For 4 5th level characters, that's over 4000 XP's worth.  The issue is that this number just does not scale well with the monsters.  The DM guide warns about a single solo monster or hordes of easy monsters (which honestly isn't a worry) but just for example:  2 trolls, 5 minotaurs, and 1 drow constitute less than 4000 XP.  That's the sort of encounter that you can have about twice before a long rest?  I have to be honest:  that is very overwhelming.  There are only two reasons the party actually survived it:  the warlock's save or die, and the rogue critted 4 times.  (Also, technically a third reason that I added for story reasons:  I changed the minotaurs to undead which allowed the cleric to turn them a couple of times.  Even the now-ultra-crappy turn undead spell was a huge help against the 2d12+4 damage dealers.)

Save or dies are obviously their own point of contention and deserve their own thread, but it is certainly challenging as a DM when a single party member can charm every humanoid within range twice per encounter.  I had intentionally chosen mostly non-humanoid monsters because the warlock single-handedly took another "tough" encounter of about a dozen orcs and made it "easy."  Even still, removing the drow from the battle was a huge help.

The rogue, on the other hand, is the single most important damage dealer in the party.  With an 18 in Dex and a shortbow, 1d8+4+6d6 (which we nerfed to 5d6 since it was just so crazy, although that did little to stop it) every round is a MONSTER.  I say every round because if you have a rogue who can roll with advantage and do 6d6 extra damage, it changes your party's strategy:  everyone works to make the rogue kill everything.  In this case, when we first saw the "thug" theme, I knew sneak attack nearly every round would be the norm - and it was.  The rest of the party (we tried every class) was fairly average against each other in the damage they did, with the fighter slowly starting to eek out ahead by level 5:  but the rogue was the damage lead the entire game.  And when a rogue crits, that's 42 (or 48 using the normal rules).  Which of course he does more often with constant advantage - although we were quite glad, because without that 160+ damage the party would not have survived against the trolls and minotaurs.  I think if the rogue actually did use every other round to hide/aim/etc., that would have made his damage about equal to the others on average.  But "not actually doing something" is a horrible choice for a player, even to get advantage:  so no one does it.  Instead, they went for "advantage every round," which is where the issue comes in.

So you had a very powerful mechanic being used very effectively against an overwhelming encounter.  Which made for a great, tense experience:  the party was on a knife's edge the entire 2.5 hr battle, and a bad roll at any moment could have meant a TPK.  Overall, it was a fun, tense ending to the game.  But it was only disappointing from my perspective that the entire party basically had to work together to help the rouge power-damage everything to the ground.  Given the rogue's ability to dominate each battle, it seemed to show a little too much spotlight on that class.
Interesting, as a lot of focus seems to be on skill mastery being overpowered or not...perhaps since there isn't as many level 5 playtests as there are level 1 where 2d6 isn't as glaring (though it can be nice, I 1 shotted two Orcs...one with a dart due to insipid hand-crossbow load times).

I think, as you said, sneak attack is supposed to balance out with requiring a round or two to set it up. So if you can do it every round you're going to rock huge damage for sure.

I posted an idea for rogue's in another thread, but I was thinking some good trade-offs for SA would be "setting up vs frequency". Using Scheme's you can take a mediocre SA damage and make it either happen more often, or less often and hit harder. Perhaps the Thug can pull of the SA every round as above using tactics, but it's much lower damage compared to say an assassin scheme where it takes 2 or 3 rounds to set up a proper SA that does a huge amount of damage with high chance to crit?

Interesting ideas, all I know is I kinda like the direction of the 5e rogue...and by kinda I mean LOTS.

I posted an idea for rogue's in another thread, but I was thinking some good trade-offs for SA would be "setting up vs frequency". Using Scheme's you can take a mediocre SA damage and make it either happen more often, or less often and hit harder. Perhaps the Thug can pull of the SA every round as above using tactics, but it's much lower damage compared to say an assassin scheme where it takes 2 or 3 rounds to set up a proper SA that does a huge amount of damage with high chance to crit?

That's a very good idea, my first impulse would be to have the rogue's SA dice the same as the fighter's expertise dice, except he can save them up from round to round.  However there's a problem with this approach: the rogue would be missing out on his basic weapon damage die & his dex/str damage bonus on any round that he didn't actually attack, so you'd have to make up for that somehow.  Ideas?

So if Rogues get Expertise Dice now, give them more than the fighter, early, to represent his skill mastery and give him interesting things to do with it.

For instance you can use them all to add sneak attack damage to any attack made with advantage, or you can spend one to attempt to hide after you have moved and acted (end of turn: to keep you from just hiding and SAing every turn, unlock this option for a specfic scheme maybe?).

Otherwise you can spend them to boost a skill check in combat, nodding to the people who claim Skill Mastery is OP and say it only works out of combat like 3.5's "Take 10" rule, this would allow you to do stunts, rogue actions, and other cool stuff more reliably in the heat of combat.

There is also always the option of just expending a die for an advanced combat options like "mug" from FF games, you can attempt a pick-pocket action (with advantage?) while attacking in melee, maybe only if you have a free hand to do it?

What I was considering if they do addopt schemes fully, is that an assassin: instead of getting more/spending more dice on SA. Perhaps they would get +X damage per SA die spent (dexterity modifier seems a good choice) to better illustrate how deadly/precise they can be in combat.

Perhaps even the scheme's would be similar to fighter fighting styles, but more bonus-heavy that option heavy? Leave most/all options open to all rogues, but allow (as above for assassin scheme) for modifiers to actions you use the ED for:

Thief's get to hide as part of their move (so they can hide every turn and SA with 1d6 like I posted in an earlier idea for Thiefs...exact same idea but using this new mechanic to achieve it). Thug's can spend SA die like normal, so if you set up right they can get consistent SA's off, but with no bonus like a 'sin would get...but instead they might get "fighter-like" enhancments like spending an expertise die on SA allows you shift, or when you use a die for SA you can expend a die to add XYZ status to the attack to represent dirty fighting techniques, etc.

There is actually very few things I tried to do with scheme options that can't be modified to work with Expertise die AS our Sneak Attack die...this accomplishes everything WotC said they wanted: SA optional, give rogues more character, allow different types of rogues, etc.

I definitely think that EVERY class needs a "resource" to manage like the fighter.  Wizards and clerics already have spells, but rogues (and subsequent classes) need something to manage as well.  Not something complex, but something that gives you a little more combat options round-by-round that help spice things up and make things more interesting situationally.

One thing rogues can already manage is initiative:  or rather, when they go in a round.  Sometimes our rogue would delay until after allies so he could gain sneak attack again.  Maybe that could be expanded upon?

The one thing I believe WotC should move away from is a class' primary mechanic being based on spending 50% of their combat rounds not acting.  That's a terrible choice for any player.  If I had the choice between a class that spent every other round doing nothing but getting 6d6 sneak attack vs. a class that could do 2d6 every round, I'd still choose the more active class:  because when I play, I want to do things.  I don't want to not do things, because that is boring.

We actually spent a decent amount of time at max level (you level very quickly with the new XP guidelines) and I'm happy to share any other observations people want to know.  I will say that the warlock started out overpowered with a 3d6 at-will, but eventually became underpowered when at level 5 it was still just 4d6.  The duelist fighter we had did pitiful damage with 1d8 expertise, but somehow by the time he had 2d8 he was really hitting hard.  The "two swings for 1/2 damage" mechanic is an interesting one; it's sort of like "mini advantage" because you get two rolls but you don't get the full benefit unless you connect both times.  (Also with rounding down, your numbers tend to trend low).  However, getting two chances to land the expertise damage bonus (or whatever else you do with expertise) was pretty huge.  The wizard and sorcerer ended up being quite middle-of-the-pack when it came to combat effectiveness, which was surprising:  and quite disappointing in the case of the no-armor, 4-HP/level wizard.  What else does he get?  Honestly the sorcerer was probably one of the best balanced classes (although:  not a sorcerer!).  The war cleric ended up also being quite average, although his "tankiness" was easily his best quality (he also took "survivor" and had a zillion HP).  Sadly, "being tanky" is also quite disappointing as a play mechanic for some people.  In that case, you're still not actively "doing" something - you're just standing there and getting missed or absorbing damage.  Which is HUGE from a meta perspective, but difficult for a player to notice / appreciate sometimes.  I wish this were more active somehow - like maybe lower total HP but a free "shake it off" each round or something?  Another odd quality was that most of the party ended up with either about 25-ish HP or about 50-ish HP, meaning by level 5 the tanks were twice as tanky as the squishies.  It was weird not to have much middle ground (but then again, the survivor scheme was popular).  In the end, though, the rogue took the cake.  His damage could not be matched by any other player; he probably did twice the damage, round-per-round (which again makes me think it might have been tuned for an "attack every other round" scenario).  And this is on top of the "nah, don't even bother rolling" skill check stuff he did.  The real test for him was opposed checks against creatures - like hiding from the trolls - who can take ten and get bonuses to detect hidden things.  You have two very powerful forces against each other... while everyone else is simply easy to detect.  Rogues vs. trolls is on such a different level that other characters and monsters cannot compete.  Maybe it's supposed to be that way, but again, it was weird not to have a middle ground.  Then again, maybe "niche-based" roles are what they are going for?

Sneak attack only being one of many options at first level, and one that only does 1d4 damage to boot if the rogue qualifies for its use, has certainly changed the dynamics of the class.

As it is now, Sneak Attack is a poor-man's Deadly Strike - it's has more restrictions and will be used with weaker weapons.
Yes, given this thread's original purpose I can say that they certainly addressed the concerns, but perhaps with too heavy a hand.  Rouges are now mere shadows (HA) of their former selves...
It may just be me but I would like to see some sort of a more passive rouge. Not nessicarily doing nothing but say something like a trickster theme where you focus on getting in setting up traps to alter the battle in your teams favor. (Im personally thinking start off with simple things like rock fall traps and the like and build up to thin wire to restrict movement.) It wouldn't be too hard to do with the new system, it would give rouges a resource to manage, and with the right mitigation of the imho god teir damage they do it would help make a more diverse playstyle and round them out a bit more.

But I guess I have always viewed their plethora of skills as a support role rather than a striker. SA being an opener befor dodging out of the way to cherry tap in some extra damage or stop the spiked celing from crushing the group.