Dec 1st Playtest Feedback

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Hello all, I'm sort of new here in a posting sense.  I've been reading the Magic and D&D forums for a while, but never really felt compelled to post anything.

My play group is super excited about D&D Next being as close to an all-inclusive edition as possible, so we decided to give it a whirl.  After several failed attempts to get together to play due to Real Life interference we got together on Saturday to play for a few hours, and here is my feedback/thoughts.

Our play group didn't use any of the PreGens, characters or campaign.   One of players in the session and I had discussed the week prior on fun ideas for a test campaign given who was coming, and how much time we had available.

We settled on a borderland frontier type of campaign where Cultists from the Evil Elemental Eye had set up shop just outside of a particular borderland keep in the wilds.   And of course, like all good Evil Cultists, were harassing the local denizens of the borderland keep.

The borderland keep, in response, hosted a Medieval Tournament to try and pull in adventurers, Lords, Ladies, etc.  This was to bring up morale at the keep, and to also try to entice volunteers to stay and help.  The Tournament idea was mainly due to the fact that all attempts by the small band of military/law enforcement at the boderland keep to squash the aspiring cult was met with dead-ends.  These Evil Cultists have a particular affinity for poisonous fake teeth to prevent interrogation when captured, and also generally don't plan on making it out alive.

I had the characters meet along the wagon trials leading to the keep, and gave them a slight DM 'test' encounter with some local bandits raiding a wagon full of locals.  I wanted to feel out and gauge the new combat dynamics, as well as the amount of damage being dished out to mobs, and also dished in to the PC's.

I used the DM'ing PDF instructions on experience total encounter building and went for a 'Tough' first level encounter.  It recommended using a budget of 40 EXP at three players, which gave me a total of 120 to budget the mobs with.  I used some simple humans as the bandits, with one berzerker, one warrior, and the rest of the budget in commoners.  So I had one zerker, one warrior, and five commoners total against the PC's.  These being a Halfling rogue, Human Cleric (War build), and Human Fighter (Protector build).

I was surprised to see my players simply walk all over these guys, their rolls were not spectacular and neither were mine.  And yet this was not by any definition a 'Tough' fight, when the PC's didn't miss their attack rolls the mob was just dead.  I realized fairly quickly that the specified Hit points for mobs in the Bestiary have a value listed and then next to it a suggested Die Roll.  I started using the MAX total hitpoints that the suggested die roll would incur in order to balance out the fights so the mobs were not minion level squishy.

When a mob has 4 hit points and all the players can reasonably do 5 dmg with a successful attack.  Those 4 hit point mobs are now the equivalent of 4th edition minions.  Giving them 6-8 hit points would make them last on average two rounds of combat before death and made the encounter stabilize for me.

I really intended for the Zerker or Warrior to be the bandit leader and give the PC's some trouble before dying.  The zerker got to use the automatic 2 crush damage ability for rolling an attack that was greater than 5 twice before dying.  In both instances our protector soaked up the 2 points using parry I believe.  The mob warrior got surprise attacked by the halfling rogue before he could even get any hits in on the Cleric or Fighter.  

All in all the combat went smoothly and we had all the mechanical dynamics of the characters figured out.  But as the DM my first impression was to make the bestiary mobs all inflated in the HP department to make sure the fights were not a complete PC slaughterfest.

After this encounter we Role Played for a while to build character relation, the keep backstory, the upcoming tournament, etc.  This by far was what I missed out of 4th edition, with the 4ed fight centric mechanics, our play group mainly wanted to get into some action to start flipping cards (by the way we all play MtG as well).

So we sat, and got into some investigations about the Cultists doing Skill type checks.  The characters got involved in the tournament proper and did some jousting and duel type fights.

I completely made up the dueling mechanics, each person had to be able to wear complete plate (avoiding serious injury) and a successful attack was deemed by points.  A win was the first person to get to 15 points, a hit to the head was worth three points, a body shot two, and a limb/weapon disarm was one point.

Our protection build fighter loved the melee duel, each round of fighting we both rolled initiative to see who swung first.  Depending on who rolled higher on the d20, that person got a chance to 'connect' the swing to the other person. 

Then whomever won the 'swing' roll got to make a melee attack against the AC of the other.  If it was one or two under the AC I would let them roll percentage dice if it was 50 or above, I allowed an Appendage hit for one point.  49 or below would be a weapon disarm for one point.

If the AC was spot on or above I would have them roll percentage as well.  50 and above was a head hit for three points, 49 and below was a body shot for two points.  I would also vary the percentage for how high above AC they were.  One of the NPC's I was running had an AC of 21, the fighter PC rolled a 24 at one point and I allowed 25 and above to be a head hit, etc.

If the attack was a miss, the opponent whom scored lower on initiative would then get to do the same thing.  If both missed, the initiative was rolled again to start it all over.

Our Cleric had fun doing jousting where I made them make a sort of Animal Handling proficiency check (Dex in this case, to see whom got their horse under control and running better).  Then they could make a melee attack with a similar percentage based hit point system like above.  Where each portion of the opponents body was a score, limbs worth one point, body shot worth two, and three points for a head shot.  Much like in Knight's Tale if the roll was super high, and super accurate I would declare a knock-off blow and the horse would be given over to the person whom de-horsed them.

Our Halfling simply enjoyed moving amongst the crowd 'fattening' his coin purse.  Acquiring tastey nibbles and choice brews, just having an all around good Halfling time.

Sadly we had to end our session right as the Tournament was dying down, and the Cultists were picking up!

But I will post any more feedback from our gaming sessions I can here.  All in all good stuff, I'm going to sit down and really try to iron out the build-an-encounter system that will work for Easy, Medium, and Tough scaling that works for my group.  Any help in this area would also be great.

A little background information if wanted/needed, I only started DM'ing D&D a little while ago when 4th Edition came about.   I have been playing D&D steadily for about 7 or 8 years soley with 2nd edition under another DM until 4th came out.  Then I switched to being a player in 2nd, and DM'ing 4th for some of playgroup open to trying the newer Powers-Based edition.

Some members of my 2nd edition playgroup go all the way back to almost the chainmail era of D&D and that is their comfort zone.  So some of them wanting to playtest D&D Next was a HUGE sign to me that we needed to try and play it so we could give some constructive feedback.

Hi Ithuin, welcome to the boards.  Thanks for sharing your experience with the playtest.   It seems like you and your players enjoyed the ability to improvise.  I like that about this game as well.

At this point, I generally give all monsters at least +2 "to hit" bonuses.   I also give more hit points (about 50% more hit points) to elite monsters of a particular type (leaders, warriors, special bad guys, etc.)   This seems to work well for our group.   We like having a variety of monsters to kill (including the minion types).

How did you feel about using the rules/monsters to create your adventure?   I'm finding it very easy to create adventures, even spontaineously.   If this holds for the rest of D&DNext, I'll be really happy.

Keep posting and enjoy the playtest.  Cheers.     

A Brave Knight of WTF

Thanks Rhenny!

I appreciate the Monster advice, as we only played once I'm trying to get my arms around combat encounter balance quickly.

My players are all D&D veterans so they know what they are doing, with the exception of D&D Next being new to us of course.  So anything I can do to make the encounter feel correct at the given time is much appreciated indeed.

Sometimes I want to throw some very low key 'speedbump' fights in my PC's way to just keep on building up to bigger and tougher fights progressively.  That is how I did the epic 'end-boss' type fights in 4th edition and most of the players responded fondly of it.  So trying to recapture that feel is what my current priority.

I liked the EXP budget fight building, I first got to play around with it in 4th edition and it makes it SO easy to build encounters I want.  I just pick what mob(s) are appropriate and pick some variety within that group much like the bandits mentioned above.  I don't really care about striker, leader, controller type classifications.  I want a diverse range of monster abilities so the fight doesn't stagnate.

I did try the Solo monsters in 4th edition and they seemed very much like an elite class, I'll try your recommendations on our next playtest and give them an elite Cultist (high ranking member) to see how it goes. 

Kudos and thanks!

Glad your group had fun! That tourney sounds like a rad idea. The duel is a really cool idea. I dig it.

As for the monsters... I've found them lacking in accuracy and health. But, if they do connect, it tends to pack a wallop. Granted, the protector fighter has parry, which helps him. I've started giving monsters +3 or +4 to hit, but lowering their d size or reducing damage mods. It's helped some. But any enemy needed to be tough or last a few rounds absolutely needs an hp buff. (I've ad hoc decided an enemy's hp midfight based on what the pcs were throwing down).
"What's stupid is when people decide that X is true - even when it is demonstrable untrue or 100% against what we've said - and run around complaining about that. That's just a breakdown of basic human reasoning." -Mike Mearls