I ran my first playtest session last night. And for that matter ran my first session in about seven years.
I began playing D&D in the AD&D days, and played up through 3.5. One of our players played the same editions as me, and the other has played 3rd and 4th. The two of us who didn’t play 4th didn’t do so as a combination of logistics (no players near where we lived) and generally being put off by the “feel” of 4th edition. I personally only played two sessions of 4th, and so never really gave it a fair chance. Nonetheless, one of the draws of 5th for the two of us that it looks more like 3.5 than 4th.
Anyway, we only had two players tonight due to schedules (and perhaps pure absentmindedness.) The guy who played 4th ed. played the pre-gen barbarian, and the guy who hadn’t played 4th played a thief-scheme rogue. We started at 1st level.
The thief mentioned during character creation that he felt the way skills are chosen, that is determined by your background and class, was “lame.” He seemed to not like the fact you don’t actually choose skills. I told him that the background was basically a formality and he could just choose whatever four skills he wanted. During the game, as he started to realize what skills he wanted to have but didn’t, he lamented that there doesn’t seem to be any rules at the moment for gaining skills later as the character advances. As others have mentioned, I thought that the number of skills could be reduced, and the activities included by individual skills increased.
I decided to run the Caves of Chaos. Some cultists and gnolls from the caves attacked a town and made off with hostages from a caravan that had stopped there. The heroes were hired by the caravan leader to get back the hostages, one of which is his son. He provided the party with winter supplies (it was snowing outside when I wrote my adventure notes, so now the game is set in cold, snowy mountains.) A cleric in the town (an NPC run by me) offered to join them, as he suspects that the cultists have desecrated an ancient shrine to his god located somewhere in the caves.
The caravan leader sent one of his men as a guide to take the party to the ravine and set up a camp some distance away while the adventures went into the ravine. They sent the rogue to sneak ahead first and as he happened upon the kobold cave entrance both he and the kobolds failed to spot each other. He signaled for the barbarian and cleric to come join him, at which point the cleric noticed the kobolds and yelled out a warning. I allowed the cleric’s warning to negate any surprise on both sides, and combat began.
The fight with the nine kobold guards was probably the best of the night. While the kobold sunlight sensitivity kept the kobolds from being too effective, they were still able to land enough blows to inconvenience the party and use one of the cleric’s Cure Lights. Once there were two kobolds left, they tried to flee but were cleaned up before they could get into the cave.
The party then proceeded into the cave, with the barbarian and cleric trailing about twenty feet behind the rogue as he went forward to look for traps. (He would have gone alone, but needed the torch-wielding cleric for light.) He found the pit trap immediately, but failed to disable it. The barbarian wanted to open the pit trap, then let the rogue down with a rope, have the rogue climb up the other side, then use ropes to get the party across the pit, but when the barbarian hit the pit trap with his axe to open it, it then closed immediately and the sound alerted the nearby guards to the party’s presence.
The next combat was short. The barbarian raged, made a running jump over the pit, then charged into the kobold guards. I couldn’t remember if there were rules for jumping distances, and didn’t want to make a long pause in combat to look them up, so I just gave him a DC 15 Strength check to vault the pit trap. I said the pit trap was 10 feet by 10 feet, and felt that a DC 10 might have been too easy, but now I think 10 might not have been so bad. Either way, he rolled a 22.
With no way to cross the pit without risking falling into it, the cleric and rogue stayed on the other side of the pit. The cleric healed the barbarian after a particularly good round for the kobolds (helped by their mob bonus and the Barbarian’s low AC.) If it hadn’t been for the Barbarian’s rage, he would have been downed. The rogue also fired a few shots, but for the most part left things up to the barbarian. When there was one kobold left it begged for mercy, so the barbarian picked it up and threw it in the pit, killing it. I didn’t do any rolls other than damage for this, as it would have just been a pain to do grapples and what-have-you, and I figured the barbarian probably could have just crushed him with his ax anyway.
The party then went left into the garbage room. I didn’t read the description well enough to realize that the rats should have come out during the combat, so they were enjoying garbage when the rogue peered around the corner and spotted the gem on the dire rat. When the rest of the party rolled up the rats saw them and then attacked the party.
We were playing Theater of the Mind, and I had been pretty cavalier with distances and placement, so I let the players make a bottleneck at the entrance, with the cleric and barbarian side by side and the rogue firing his crossbow from behind. I realize this should have given the rogue disadvantage to hit the rats, but I forgot about the rule.
Rules for size and spacing haven’t been introduced yet (or I haven’t read them) so I let two rats stand in each 5-foot square, but only let them get the mob bonus from the rat in their same square. I felt I was stretching the rules to let them stay in the same square, so I didn’t think it was fair to give them the mob bonus on top of that.
So the combat went on for a while, and since it was a bottleneck situation there was no movement or tactics. We were basically just rolling to see how much damage the party took before finishing the rats off. With the cleric’s cure minor cantrip, I figured the encounter didn’t actually present any chance of death (the rats only do 1HP of damage, and the dire rat got killed in the first round by the rogue) but it did wear down the players’ HP a bit.
Anyway, the cleric was mostly out of spells and the party was injured, so they decided to head back to camp and we stopped the session there. If the party had made use of a short rest and hit dice to heal up earlier and were able to save the cleric’s spells, I think they could have done another encounter. But they are still learning the new edition and we didn’t even look up the healing rules until the end of the rat encounter. That’s something learned, though.
So, thoughts: a lot of people have mentioned that the combats in the Cave of Chaos never present any real danger to the players. I thought this was not entirely true. The first combat was less threatening due to the kobold’s light sensitivity giving them disadvantage, but even then if the dice had not been friendly the party could have been in trouble. (As it was, the cleric had to move around to take pressure off the rogue during the first encounter.) Though, the party was only three characters, which might have made things a touch more threatening.
The barbarian was point in all of the combats, and did most of the work of fighting the five kobolds in the second encounter, but that seemed fine to me. The cleric was supporting the barbarian with healing, and the rogue was instrumental in scouting and trap-finding, so I think each member of the party had something to do (though the cleric was an NPC, so it’s difficult to say if healing alone would have satisfied a player.) The barbarian’s role in combat being much greater than the other two did not seem to detract from the game. In fact, it almost seemed natural that the fighting class would do most of the fighting. We kept combat quick, so we were able to spend more time adventuring, I think.
That being said, the barbarian player, who had played 4th, said that he wanted some sort of splash attack for the kobolds. The fact that the kobolds and rats had so little HP meant that no one rolled damage. If you hit, you got a kill. This made the barbarian feel that his combat prowess was a bit wasted. He could deal a lot of damage to one target, but taking care of a number of smaller targets seemed more like a chore for him. He mentioned multiple times how much he wished he had Cleave. Since he was using the pre-gen this week, I told him he could just make a barbarian character for next week and take Cleave instead of Charge. I think that will do a lot to make him feel more destructive.
The rogue did fine in combat, save that the loading rule for the light crossbow made him less effective. He was used to 3.5, where you could use your move to re-load a light crossbow, so he was a bit disappointed to not have that option. The player himself does not consider the rogue as a “DPS” class, I think, and he was running his character in such a way. He quite enjoyed the way he played his character (that is, for the adventuring abilities). As such, I wonder if the martial damage die was “wasted” on him. Put another way, I wonder if the martial damage die was even necessary for the class. Then again, there was only one time the whole game where the MDD even had a bearing on combat at all (the dire rat) so I can’t really give a good evaluation of MDD yet.
I was running the cleric as an NPC, so whether or not I had a fun and satisfying time “playing” him never really entered my mind. While I was originally opposed to the Words of Power rule for various reasons, in practice it is kind of sweet. Especially with the buffs, I think it really makes them more worth taking and using. Buffs are nice, but unless they are stupid good you don’t want to give up an attack to use them. I wonder if bard song buffs will work like WoP (but I’m not optimistic...) WoP healing was nice, too, though I think touch range on the healing spells would make combats more dramatic and tactical.
Combat was quick (in part because I ran it quick, and perhaps in part because the players didn’t have a good concept of all their options yet), and quick was good. The fight with the rats was kind of boring, given the large number of rolls, lack of maneuvering, and lack of danger to the party, though in this case it was a result of the player’s actions, not the system itself.
Overall, we all had fun and it “felt like D&D.” In some ways I liked the simplicity of the rules because it allowed me to make stuff up as I went along as the DM. In years past I may have been upset at such “vagueness”, but recently I appreciate simplicity in rules. My only fear is that as the product gets into its final stages and rules for more situations are clearly spelled out, the system will lose some of its pleasant simplicity. Some people might say “so just run the game how you want” but if rules for things exist, players tend to expect those rules to be used.
In closing, I was thrilled to play some D&D after so long, and while it took me some time to get back into the groove, I had fun using these rules, and am feeling positive about the edition.