Post-Session Feedback

Feedback on the latest Playtest Packet after a run in Caves of Chaos with three players, including one 4e veteran and two who have not played since 2nd edition, twenty five years ago.

Combat Feedback

Combat is repetitive at low level. Characters have very few options and usually do the same thing every round. Players used to 4th edition missed the options from that game. Fortunately, combat moved very quickly without a map, and this helped keep things exciting, but several fights in a row against the same creatures (goblins, in this case) were repetitive.


What Knowledge skill covers the Monstrosity creature type? In this case, players wanted to know about the Owlbear. I did not know if it would be Arcana or Nature or Forbidden Lore.

Magic Items

Can a wizard who has a magic scroll use that scroll to add the spell to his spellbook?

Spell Feedback

Remove Curse: This spell does not appear on the table of spells at the beginning of the spells document, but is listed as a third level spell in its description.

Rope Trick: The duration of this spell is not given. I am using the duration, "The spell lasts until everyone leaves the extra dimensional space, leaving it empty."

Ritual Spells:

  • It is important for spell preparation that a player know what spells have Ritual versions and which do not. Therefore, spells that have a ritual version need a visual marker in the table of spells.  For example: (R) after the spell's name.

  • There are no Wizard rituals over level 1, and only two ritual wizard spells at all. This is especially frustrating as wizard spell slots get capped at 2. I suggest adding ritual versions for several spells already on the books: Knock, Rope Trick, Dispel Magic and Water Breathing.

  • For the first three of these, there are clear advantages to having the spell prepared, making it useful either as a quick getaway or a combat option.

  • Dispel Magic is such an archetypal spell that virtually every Wizard needs to have it. Adding a ritual version preserves the ability to dispel magic without forcing the wizard to save one of his two spell slots for it, effectively turning it into a class feature that can be done in combat if the wizard is willing to devote a slot to it.

  • A wizard with Water Breathing or Knock in his book is going to be able to open a door or descend into the depths eventually; why not give him the ability to do it in ten minutes rather than wait a day until he prepares spells again, slowing down the narrative?

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My group met for their second session of actual play last night. The campaign website can be found here: The events of the sessions, with notes by me in brackets, are included here.

Session One

Prospero [human academic wizard 1], Lavinia [halfling thief rogue 1] and Isabella [human monk 1] arrived at the Vale of Vipers [my take on the Caves of Chaos] at about noon and formed a camp near the valley mouth concealed by some trees. They began by observing the Valley for the rest of the day, spotting an owlbear as it emerged from trees on the far side of the vale. That evening they continued their watch, spotting goblins at a nearby cave and an Orc messenger who moved from one cave to another.

[Of my three players, two had not played D&D in over twenty years, so they were very reluctant to actually get into any action, afraid they would die. This accounted for an especially long session of preparation as they tried to get every possible supply and advantage, including some healing potions out of the Earl who was sending them on this mission. Since the player for the cleric had not shown up this evening, I had no qualms about giving them these supplies, but it did take a lot of time. Some gentle encouragement to try their luck at fighting, to see how it worked if for no other reason, eventually got them to venture forth.]

The next morning began their second day at the Vale. They decided to investigate the goblin cave, nearby and on the "floor" of the steep ravine. Lavinia scouted ahead, with Isabella and Prospero remaining about thirty feet behind.

A pair of goblins were quickly spotted patrolling the tunnel. After waiting for them to pass, the three explorers slipped into the tunnel and bore left, quickly coming upon a small guard room hosting seven goblins, who drew javelins from a large bucket and attacked, shouting the war cry "Bree-Yark!" In the initial hail of javelins, Prospero was hit twice, seriously wounded but still fighting. Lavinia used the furniture of the room as cover, knife fighting with the goblins, while Isabella used her staff. Lavinia took a wound; Prospero mostly stayed behind cover. All the goblins were killed. Some silver and copper coins were looted from their bodies and the three took a short rest, during which Lavinia and Prospero largely recovered from their wounds.

[All encounters have been played without a map. While this is not without its own challenges, I wanted to emphasize the speed of play and dramatic storytelling, and the micromanagement that comes from moving figs on a map is a huge drag on pacing.]

The trio moved on, exploring the tunnel up some stairs until they lost all light, at which point they retreated, returned to the cave mouth, and turned right to explore that passage. They caught a patrol of four goblins flat-footed, killing three before the last fled back down the hall to a second guard room with seven more goblins. This time, Prospero was able to run up to the table and, before the goblins has risen, burn them all to death with a well placed burning hands. This also set the table on fire, but a keg of water was conveniently nearby; emptying it revealed a bag filled with 250 silver pieces, the first real treasure of the exploration. Some more silver and copper coins were looted off the dead goblins.

Prospero and Isabella found a hidden door concealed to look like the stone wall. Lavinia listened at it and heard a deep grumbling voice. The three decided not to open the door and moved on.

Further exploration was made difficult by a lack of light; the goblins could see in the dark so their tunnels were unlit. Prospero cast red light on one of Lavinia's buttons; she then covered this button with her cloak to mask the light from observers.

Lavinia was scouting deeper into the tunnel when she came upon the central living quarters of the goblins, with roughly fifteen warriors and a half dozen adolescent goblins eating and talking. She was spotted and the entire room rose up in pursuit. With twenty goblins chasing them, the three heroes fled the cave and the Vale.

They each collected 60 XP and evenly divided the silver and copper pieces they had found. The final score: eighteen dead goblins and three victorious heroes!

[With the heroes alive and having killed so many goblins, there was a general feeling of triumph which I wanted to encourage. After all, this was only the first session and I wanted to have a second!]

Session Two

As Lavinia, Prospero and Isabella fled the Valley pursued by goblins, they were met by their colleague Finrod Felagund [elf lightbringer cleric 1] and three allies he had brought with him from nearby Stormwatch Keep. Finrod had been sick with the dungeon flu when the expedition set out for the Valley, but was now feeling much better and introduced Sir Leto [dwarf veteran fighter 1] (a doughty dwarven knight in the service of Lord Drysdale), Ascalon [human lifegiver cleric 1] (a female human cleric of the Goddess of Nature) and Zandolf, a halfling illusionist [halfling illusion wizard 1]. Bolstered by allies, the group of seven decided to make camp for the day and then return to the goblin cave in the morning.

Overnight the activity in the Vale increased. Many different sorts of humanoid creatures -- hobgoblins, even bugbears -- were seen leaving and re-entering the valley to raid, scout, or plunder. The camp, a wooded hill chosen by Sir Leto, went unmolested, and after briefly considering an ambush on one of the returning humanoid groups, Finrod decided instead to let discretion be the better part of valor.

[I had not described the increased level of activity in the valley after nightfall, but corrected this the second time around.]

In the morning the seven explorers returned to the goblin cave and found that the little creatures were waiting for them. No sooner had they turned the corner in the tunnel when goblins opened fire on them. Although a couple of goblin arrows struck, the adventurers charged down the hall and -- between a combination of strong blows and potent magic spells -- swiftly routed nine goblins. Indeed, the biggest hurdle seemed to be the narrow confines of the corridor, which forced much of the party to linger in the back and attack at range.

[Overnight, the goblins had abandoned guard room 17, restored a patrol of 2 goblins with exclusive orders to watch the cave entrance, and restaffed guard room 18 with 7 goblins. They expected three intruders and were ready with short bows, but seven heroes meant a LOT of attack and damage rolls. Even with a corridor that permitted only two abreast, the heroes swiftly slaughtered the goblins with minimal damage. Numbers really count, the goblins have very bad attack modifiers, and most of the heroes have AC 17.]

Two of the goblins fled and the heroes pursued, led by Finrod. But the goblins had a plan: throwing open the previously-discovered secret door, they threw a large pot of treasure inside to bribe the ogre who dwelt within. The ogre emerged and took a swing at Finrod, a blow that should have killed him outright, but the attack roll was a 1 and the Lightbringer was looking out for her disciple. Finrod dodged the blow and the rest of the adventurers charged into the room. The ogre never got a second swing: Leto's axe, Vinnie's shiv to the back, more blows from Isabella and Ascalon, and a final magic missile killed the monster before it could strike again. One of the goblins survived long enough to flee, but the heroes chose not to pursue. Lured by the knowledge of treasure in the ogre cave, they halted their charge through the tunnels long enough to collect the loot.

[I was dissapointed in the ogre's showing. I suppose I could have given him more goblin allies, but honestly I don't think it would have mattered much. He might have hit one player, but the amount of damage they could inflict on him in a single round of initiatives meant his 32hp just would not go far.]

The ogre cave was investigated without incident. Roughly sixty pounds of coin -- mostly copper, but including much silver, some electrum and even gold -- was collected. Lavinia was assigned to watch the secret door for goblin activity, and soon she heard a group of goblins approaching very quickly. Before most of the heroes could even act, Lavinia saw the remaining goblins in the complex flee, emerging from the deeper tunnel, running straight through the guard room and exiting on the opposite side, with the goblin chieftain and his four bodyguards providing cover.

[By my count, 20 goblins escaped, including the chieftain, his four bodyguards, his three mates, six adolescents, and six warriors originally in room 19.]

At the sight of goblin women and children, the adventurers decided not to attack or pursue. Finrod emerged from the ogre cave long enough to try to question the chief and his men, asking where they were going, but his only reply was a barked threat by one of the guards as the chieftain looked on warily. As soon as the goblin civilians were safely down the hall, the chief and his guards retreated behind them, and the goblin tunnels were yielded to the heroes. Isabella watched the entrance to the goblin cave from the safe vantage of the ogre dwelling, and when she saw that the goblins had not emerged into the valley proper, the only conclusion could be that the goblins had retreated up the stairs and behind an oak door which, presumably, led to a tribe of something fiercer and stronger than goblins.

[The goblins have retreated to the hobgoblin cave, where they will remain until the players intrude.]

Although they had engaged in battle already, most of the heroes were unwounded and so they decided to move on to the next cave in the valley, which they knew to be occupied by kobolds. Most of the adventurers hid in the trees around the ogre cave while Lavinia and Isabella investigated. Unfortunately, nine kobolds lie in ambush waiting for anyone to enter the cave, and they pounced! Lavinia quickly killed the first, but both scouts took dagger thrusts as they were piled on by little lizard people. The rest of the party burst from the trees, but it was 120' to the melee. Prospero and Finrod used magic to attack as they ran; everyone else charged, and by the time they reached the kobolds the fight was over, but Lavinia and Isabella were seriously wounded. One more dagger blow would have felled either of them. The group rested and consumed some healing potions before returning to their exploration of the cave.

[Once again, numbers really mattered, with four kobolds per player inflicting serious harm on both ambushed PCs. I was glad for the encounter though, as it gave the players with ranged attacks a chance to show off a little.]

Scouting ahead, Lavinia found a pit trap thirty feet down the corridor. Taking her time, she was able to jam the trap so that it could not open.

[I realized belatedly that there were four guards stationed nearby, but if they had fought they would have died, so I presumed they ran instead as Lavinia was searching for traps, to bring word to the Traplord of seven well armed intruders who had killed the guards in ambush.]

Bearing left, the group smelled and then saw that they had discovered the kobold garbage heap, two massive piles of rubbish atop which was a "king rat". The adventurers were about to leave when the silver chain around the rat's throat attracted Finrod, who climbed up the pile of rubbish [I gave him disadvantage on attack rolls] to crush the rat with his mace. At this point, a swarm of cave rats -- smaller than a dire rat but still some 18" in length -- emerged from the garbage and the entire party was attacked. Although small, the rats were fierce and virtually everyone took some harm from them. Prospero fell with a cave rat eating his face. Everyone counterattacked, killing the rats nearest themselves, and Isabella came to Prospero's rescue with a healing potion. The rats had done more harm than anything they had faced so far.

[Again, numbers mattered more than any other factor. With 15 enemies, everyone got attacked, and the fragile heroes -- like Prospero, whose Dex 6 gives him an AC of 10 even WITH mage armor applied -- really took it on the chin.]

A brief debate arose over searching the garbage heaps; since the heroes were wounded, Lavinia and Isabella were in favor of retreating. But the lure of loot was enough that Finrod and others began to search the place. They were still searching when the keen ears of the scouts reported an oncoming mob of kobolds... and there was no way out of the chamber! The heroes were trapped!

[We had been playing for four hours, counting a hasted character creation session for the three new people. I was looking for a good spot to end for the night when the players conveniently chose to loiter for half an hour in a cave alerted to their presence. The heroes have no hit dice left for resting, but they have two cure light wounds spells and a few potions. They also have area spells like burning hands (at will for Prospero) and color spray (signature for Zandolf), so an attack by a mob of kobolds is a toss up. I don't think it is unreasonably for 20 kobolds to be pulled from the main hall, plus the dragonshields and the traplord and his guard. Against seven heroes, it becomes a replay of the Chamber of Mazarbul, except with garbage heaps instead of dwarven ruins.]
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If they want to find out the information about the owlbear have them make an intellegence check. The game calls for ability checks not skill checks. If they have a relevant skill they simply add that in as a bonus, but the relevant skill is not required to make the roll, so you as a DM would call for an intellegence check.
ALso mage armor sets your armor at a specific level as I recall, it doesn't add to your AC, so a magician who uses mage armor should always have an AC of 12 I believe. 

With seven PCs there isn't much that the ogre could have done, it is assumed he will only be fighting 4 PCs. Granted monsters still have trouble hitting only 4 guys, but it is a bit unfair to criticize him when the odds were never in his favor. I'd say he should have had an ogre buddy to help fight with him. 
Sounds like a fun couple of sessions.  Were people running two PCs, or did you actually gain four PCs in session 2?

I'm running a game with 4 right now, and even that can be tough when the PCs win the initiative.  Especially when they crit.  But it's part of the fun, I think.

Personally, I've been a huge fan of the speed of combat.  I've been able to get through five major combats in one four-hour session, with two minor skirmishes and some roleplay added in.  I simply couldn't get that sort of mileage out of 3rd or 4th.