Put the players up against a tribe of five trolls. Running the loathsome limbs rule; only time it hits, an arm gets cut off.
One of my players is a 9 Int dwarf fighter. He picks up the arm, attempts to cauterize it by singeing it on a fire that the trolls were using for cooking, and then sticks his arm into it.
The troll flesh starts slowly creeping up his arm and around his body. The players are divided in what to think about this. The rogue lights his crossbow bolt on fire and shoots it at him. A new player who just joined, a cleric of a Warbringer deity, steps in the way and takes the bolt, because he thinks being able to turn soldiers into trolls would be an immense tactical advantage.
One of the monks puts a torch on the growing mass of troll flesh to stop it from growing, but after a while gets tired. One of the party's other fighters tries to rip it off of him. Strength check says he only rips off a small portion, and the other cleric of the Reaper decides to Chill Touch that mass into oblivion. The troll flesh continues to grow.
Argument. Some want to see it happen, some want to end it now. The troll flesh has now grown all the way down the dwarf's legs and is starting to lift him off the ground as it grows into a full troll. More infighting. No one stops it.
The player discovers that the troll flesh is moving on its own, and that it's a major struggle to control it. A full troll is growing AROUND him.
The flesh finally grows a head around the dwarf's. It is a complete troll, with a dwarf inside of it who's completely powerless to control it.
The dwarf rolls Escape Artist to burst free with strength, succeeds. Exploded troll. The dwarf is now known as GoooooOOOOOOOOORG (You have to pronounce the latter half louder and more enthusiastically) Trollguts.
I've always wondered about the limitations of improvisation in this edition, but until this campaign started, no one ever really tested them.
My play group:
Human Reaper Cleric. Gouged his eyes out for his deity and is completely blind, but has a familiar in order to use its senses to see around him. I allow him to use an action to pinpoint a target with his familiar to negate disadvantage on attacks the next turn if the target doesn't move. Very experienced in RPGs and DnD in general; just wants to hard mode. Played with me last semester.
Human Assassin Rogue. Very experienced with DnD, knows all the game systems perfectly. Kind of addicted to rolling dice, but we're working on it. He'll probably see this because he too browses forums.
Human Fighter: Completely new to DnD in general. Getting the hang of it, but tends to be conservative, unsure about what to roll when. If he had any reservations about improvising, after yesterday's session they should be thoroughly smashed.
GooooooooOOOOOORG, Dwarf Fighter: Everything you need to know about him is contained in the prior story. He played 4th edition with me a few years ago, but being freed from the entire powers idea, he feels a LOT more room to improvise, and I feel compelled to DM adjudicate letting him do what he does best: Utterly badass insanity.
Other Dwarf Fighter: The player has played one DnD session in his entire life. He's played some Iron Kingdoms role-playing, but he's about as crazy as Gorg when it comes to improvising.
Randy Orton Monk: Chaotic neutral and with some schizophrenia issues, this monk only cares for fighting. Illegal pit fighter, cast out from his order for being too violent. I was a bit sketchy on allowing a CN monk, but what the hell ever, we're here for fun. The player is rather experienced in DnD and played with us last semester.
Two new players were added in yesterday's session. We've played two sessions prior, with one player dropping out last week.
Human Warbringer Cleric: His background is 'deposed dictator.' You also know everything you need to know about him from the prior story.
Human Pheonix Monk: A hermit who was living in the forest that the players encountered the trolls in. Lawful evil, wants to be the strongest. Already challenged the other monk to a fight to the death to see who's kung fu is best. Putting off the fight until later.
So, actual sessionomics. I'll stick with last night's session because it showcases what's great and what seems to be falling short. Everyone is level 5, for your information.
The players encountered a clan of elves in the forest who were hiding from a greeen dragon who's been plaguing it for a month. The players went into the forest to discover an herb that will help them determine the cause of the plague affecting their home base city, but after the elves took them in for a night to hide them from the dragon, the beasty showed up anyway and did a strafing run. The players asked about where the dragon lairs, but all the elves could tell them was that the trolls of the forest had taken to worshipping the dragon as a god. The players get directions to the trolls because... why not? This session opened up with them discovering the troll's camp.
Just prior to the encounter, the two dwarf fighters got utterly drunk because it's the morning and they were sober, so now they have the Intoxicated condition all fight long.
Other Dwarf Fighter approaches the troll that's roasting deer on a spit and offers it beer. He doesn't speak giant, so the troll just assumes that he's insulting him and charges, starting the fight.
After all this exposition, I'll just give a few quick highlights of what I learned from that fight:
-Intoxicated takes too much game time. It's awesome how it affects everything, but with the players having disadvantage on everything, and the trolls having advantage against them, things took a bit longer than I would have liked to run. With their multiattack I had to manage up to six attack rolls per troll, and then every time a troll hit, the players had to roll for drunk to reduce damage. I'm all in favor of the 'roll more dice because it's awesome' aspect of this edition, but with a three-hit multiattack, it turns what might normally be a three roll deal into a nine roll deal. There were of course even more rolls when the players parried, but that's normal.
-Parry is awesome: The players didn't use much of it in the last session, but in this encounter the fighters regularly saved one or two of their three dice for parry. Having it also use the skill die means that even if they use all their dice for damage or maneuvers they can still reduce incoming damage, which is pretty cool. It made the fighters feel beefy as hell, often turning big hits into complete misses with the power of 5d6 damage reduction (3 martial, 1 skill, 1 drunk).
-Composed Attack is Fun: Other Dwarf Fighter used the maneuver judiciously to offset being drunk and did a pretty good job at it at the cost of damage. It felt balanced and an interesting decision whether he wanted to invest one to get the offset or two to completely negate disadvantage.
-Bless could use better wording: I ruled it as the initial area was what chose the targets and that they could move out of it and still get the effect, but the reaper cleric was very used to 4th edition and thought that it only functioned as long as they stayed within the zone. I want the words 'blast,' 'burst,' and 'zone' to be stricken from the lexicon because they're too gamey, but that's a personal gripe. (For the record I mostly like 4th edition and have run several successful campaigns in it).
-The turns of everyone who was not one of the two dwarf fighters flew by. It got kind of hectic having five trolls with triple multiattacks when their turn came around and I tried my best to speed through it, but as I said, if three of them attacked the dwarves, that was up to 18 attack rolls.
Now, onto improvisations! This was what made the night.
Other Dwarf Fighter splashes one of the trolls with 400 proof mystery ale. Randy Orton Monk lights the troll on fire with a torch (I ruled it as 1d6 fire per turn, they knew their foe!). GooooooOOOOORG does something that I did not expect and that the squeamish should not read. You have been warned.
GooooOOOOORG smashes a mug of ale up the troll's but because the troll turned around to attack the human fighter. Strength check succeeds, I let it fly. Ale ignites, dealing minor fire damage. Gorg had previously taken a big drink of this ale on the previous turn, and I rule his next trick as an inconsequential action: He sprays the ale with his mouth towards another troll, making sure it comes in contact with the first troll that was lit on fire, and also catching Other Dwarf Fighter in the attempt.
Dex saves fail all around. Gorg, Other Dwarf Fighter, Troll 1, and Troll 2 are now all ON FIRE.
Thankfully, the '1d6 per turn' fire damage was offset by ROLL FOR DRUNK. This doesn't seem balanced, but I'm okay with it because it was super fun.
Gorg also tackled one of the trolls that was not on fire later in the fight, grabbing onto it and using his own on fire status to shut down its health regeneration.
I can't think of anything else of note right now, but I'm sure there were three or four more gems. It's just that there were so many I forgot to keep track.
It's fantastic seeing this edition played by people who don't limit themselves by what the rules say, but just tell me what they want to do and let me worry about the rules for it. The ability check system makes it so god damned easy for me to make rules up on the fly. I want every session I play in this game to go like that; the players aren't trying to game the system, they're maximizing their imagination. Other than multiattacks and advantage/disadvantage taking up a lot of time, I call it more or less a success.
I will say that with about a half an hour break the entire combat encounter took two hours. The players are still easing in to the new rules they have to work with, but I'm confident that things will get a bit faster paced when I don't have to remind people how their maneuvers and spells and feats work and what not.
Great fun, just some elements muddy the otherwise perfect combat speed the edition was maintaining.