Playtest experience (Jan 28 packet) - kids play, dad DM

My background: Played Basic & Expert in early 80s, and AD&D 1e (actually, I think we just played a mashup of the two, thinking that Advanced was just the next stage after Expert). My parents were overly influenced by the controversies surrounding the game at the time, so when I moved away from the kid who ran the game I essentially dropped out of it. I did DM a couple of one-shot games in late-80s (high school), didn’t really know what I was doing but the players knew less, so we had fun. Played once in college, probably 1e but don’t know for sure – didn’t even know the concept of “editions” yet. Then went a couple of decades without playing at all.

Few months ago decided to introduce my kids to D&D (12 yr old boy with Aspergers, 10 yr old girl, 8 yr old boy). Could only find some of my old books so I had to go shopping. This is when I first learned about all the editions. 3rd and 4th seemed too far from what I knew, so eventually I settled on a 1e/2e mix for my kids. They enjoyed it a lot, but THAC0 was a bit harder to manage for the younger two. Not so hard they couldn’t do it, but distracting.

I was thinking about moving up to 3rd (4th sounds like it’d be fun, but way too much to keep track of), when I learned about the playtest. Saw in one of your posts that you see D&D Next (when complete) as being the edition that adult players could use to introduce D&D to their kids, so I figured we’d have something to contribute to the playtest process.

A few notes off the top – First, I guess most testers are coming with experience in 3rd or 4th, but I’m probably not the only one going straight from old school, and it’s clear you’re trying to bring all the edition-loyalists back into the fold. Given that, you might want to approach your “how to play” docs from the perspective of someone who doesn’t already have a concept of Feats, Maneuvers, Healing Surges, etc. If it doesn’t exist already, maybe work up a 1-2 page intro to Next for the Basic/Expert and AD&D crowd.

Second, you should consider the flow of the materials, and what information can be found in each sub-document. There have been several times when I’ve needed to find some info and had trouble figuring out which document it was in. Maybe include a table of contents, which would indicate both the document (e.g., Classes) and page number where key info could be found.

Finally, although I haven’t had a chance run a game with all of my kids yet, my youngest is already excited about being able to design a fighter with some thief-like skills. I’ve explained the background/specialties/skills to him, and he loves it. He plays the tank in our 2e game, but gets frustrated that his brother and sister get to do all the thief work.


As for my actual playtest experience:
The full test was this past weekend. I designed an LOTR-themed adventure for my 12 yr old’s birthday party. The system worked great for creating a low-magic environment that still worked within the rules, which I was having trouble doing with AD&D 2e.

My son had played some 2e with me, but none of the other six 12-yr olds had any experience with tabletop RPGs. They all grasped the concepts quickly, and had a great time.

[I should note that none of them saw any of the actual playtest materials – I generated all the characters (dwarf and elf fighters, plus one low-powered elf wizard) in advance, and put the info on simplified character sheets of a style similar to the AD&D Fast Play games. The boys were excited to be playing a “beta test”, but I doubt they could pick out the differences between Next and any other edition now, because I kept most of the mechanics other than their own dice-rolling behind the scenes.]

Things they definitely liked:

-Parrying – I forgot about it for the first battle, then added it in for later fights. They enjoyed both being able to reduce damage, and rolling for the reduction. At first it looked like parrying was going to be TOO good, since goblins were only doing 2 damage with every hit (I just went for the flat damage indicated, rather than rolling each time, for simplicity). But then when multiple attackers hit a single fighter, who could only parry once, it was more balanced.

-Advantage Rolls – I don’t know that I even used the terms advantage/disadvantage, but they were excited when they had advantage and appropriately frightened with disadvantage.

-Fighting Styles – I created a bunch of fighters, complete with fighting styles, backgrounds, specialties, etc. They don’t know which was which, but they liked being able to pick from a dwarven duelist holding a battle axe in each hand, a dwarven slayer with a greataxe, a dwarven protector with a warhammer and shield, an elven duelist with two long swords (obligatory, right?), an elven marksman, and a few other choices. They quickly got into their characters, at least in terms of fighting style.

-Overall Game – They just plain loved it. Several times I heard kids mention that they wanted to buy the game, which invariable sparked discussion of this being a playtest, and how cool it was to be beta-testing. I told them that they could always buy older editions now, of course.

-Death Saving Throws – Not sure if I managed this 100% within the rules (yeah, that seems to be a theme), but I did require the requisite number of successful death saving throws before the two dwarves were stabilized. They definitely liked this mechanic, both the rolling for life aspect and the sense of impending death.

Favorite moment of the night – One kid decided to shoot his crossbow at the “hill-troll” (I used ogre stats to simulate an LOTR olog-hai), despite the fact that it was surrounded by fellow players in melee. I recommended against it (as did they!) but he insisted. His roll was terrible, a 2 or something, but I couldn’t remember the rules for firing into melee and didn’t want to slow things down. So I decided that not hitting a friend after missing the enemy would be a DC 15, and he failed that. I rolled to see which guy got hit – the dwarven protector. That kid wasn’t happy of course, so since I was just making things up anyway I said we still needed to see if the shot got past his armor. I rolled for that… and got a 20.  Total damage for the critical hit was 23 points to a character with a total of 26 hp (this was toward the end of the night, after leveling up). The kid could have gotten mad but instead he role-played it decently well, and everyone thought it was hilarious. We were playing low-magic, so no healing potions, but he managed to back out of the fight and survive.


Problems – Actually, the only problems were with me trying to remember what happened when. I didn’t want to give the kids the playtest documentation because I didn’t want to ask them to sign a confidentiality statement or anything, which meant I was having to juggle all the info, even for their player’s feats etc. Which is to say, feats and maneuvers weren’t used a lot, it was mostly straight melee attacks. I know I forgot about things like provoking opportunity attacks and such, and I let them use the hit dice healing during battle, having forgotten that it required a short rest. But they didn’t notice or care, and enjoyed the whole adventure. We played from 11pm to 3am, and only lost two players to sleep before finishing. The others would have kept playing but we’d finished the adventure (successfully, of course) and I was beat.

It’s also possible the monsters were underpowered. I used the suggested XP*players by level (p12 of DM Guidelines) to create 1 “easy” and a few “average” encounters, but they actually all seemed easier than I thought they should be. This could have been my own inexperience – the characters had excellent stats, so maybe I should have mentally increased their levels by one when calculating an appropriate encounter.

For the final battle, I brought out a black dragon. I took the one from the bestiary, and modified it using 2e age categories. Based on the Bestiary version’s HP/HD, I figured that it roughly matched 2e’s “very old” black dragon. I adjusted it down to “young”, resulting in a dragon with 76 HP. I gave it a melee bonus of +6 to hit. I give this information because it was bad idea. My plan had been to have the entire party near death and then have Gandalf appear to save them, like with the trolls in The Hobbit. Instead, they were hitting and dealing substantive damage, quickly knocking the dragon toward 0. I realized my mistake, and cheated on behalf of the dragon long enough so that when they won (without Gandalf) they felt like they’d triumphed against a major challenge (see Death Saving Throws above). So lesson learned on that one.

But despite my own mistakes, the game itself was a huge success. Although I’ve bought up a bunch of 1e & 2e books in the past few months, I’m planning to switch our family game to the D&D Next rules. I know things will change as the game develops, but I like what I’ve seen so far.

Sounds like an awesome time! 

I love when I get to DM kids because it reminds me of what attracted me to the game way back in the early 80s myself - the sense of wonder and pure fun of adventure.  It's also refreshing to have players (young and older alike) who do not know all the monsters and rules so that it's just about the imagination of the moment, not the recollection of stat blocks and game mechanics.

Your observation on creature difficulty seems fairly in line with most peoples' experience - creatures go down too easily and the greater challenges right now come from high volume smaller creatures as opposed to the expectation that it would be from the legendary dragon or other fearful beast.   
Good to know, thanks. And yeah, I suspect I'm enjoying DMing for kids more than I would adults. Much fun.
In addition to playing with friends, I've been doing the same thing with my kids and it helps me practice for the bigger games.

I come from a similar background, not having played since 2E, and our experience has been great. The kids are really enjoying it a lot, and they're really getting into the RP aspect. They each have 2 sets of dice that they picked out, and when it gets close to the weekend they start asking when we can play again.

All in all, they've really been able to get a good grasp on the rules and on how to play (with some help from me), so I think the rules have been pretty easy for them to understand.

I do agree about the flow of the documentation. I actually created a topic a few weeks back about how I thought the documentation could use some better organization and cross-referencing to help clarify things, but since this is the playtesting stage, we kind of have to make due with it and count on WOTC to get the documentation organized better when Next is released.
You're right of course about making do during the playtest, but they risk losing some testers (or discounting those results) if basic info is hard to find. I had a surprisingly hard time finding the advancement chart mid-game. Not in Classes... maybe How To Play? No... DM Guidlines? No... Ah, the last page of Creating a Character. That location makes sense, but its not the only place that makes sense.  And in my case, that was a subdocument I hadn't printed because the kids weren't rolling their own characters, so I had to go back to my computer. Not that the designers should plan for all of my idiosyncrasies... Though the world would be easier (you know, for ME) if everyone would do that.
I, too, am a father teaching his children the game (they're only 5 & 6 and we're playing D&D Next).  The advantage of playing with children so young is that, as was previously stated, they are players more interested in the creative aspect as opposed to min/maxing.

Obviously, they don't know all the rules, but I use our play sessions and their creative solutions to better gauge my readiness to face older/more devious players.  They helped envision their characters (both fighters, one human that focuses on a bow, the other an elf that prefers to fight with two weapons) and I take care of the record keeping.  If there's something that isn't remembered, I remind them of some of the greater advantages/disadvantages of some potential actions, but leave it to them to decide what to do. 

I'm glad to see the list of positives as long as it is.  I'm confident that it will only grow further as both you as DM and the players become more familiar with the game.

If the only detriment you were seeing was on your side of the screen, certainly consider the experience a success!   
Holy crap man! That sounds awesome! My daughter isn't quite old enough to game yet (her 5 year old attention span just isn't there yet), but when she is I hope I can throw together something as cool as this.

Bringing D&D to kids is always an interesting thing, because you get to see roleplaying from a child's mind, not an adult's. Some of the best times I've had really.

Keep on keeping on! 
My two copper.
It was an awesome report BaronDmDad!  

Yan
Montréal, Canada
@Plaguescarred on twitter

Thanks!