D&D Encounters playtest feedback

Having given up on trying to run a D&D Next playtest myself, I tried again as a player this time at D&D Encounters.  

The DM was very well known to me personally and an excellent DM with many years of experience running every edition of D&D and many other games besides. The other players included one that played in my D&D Next playtest, twoI know from a regular campaign I 'co-DM,' and two newer players, for a total of 6. We were evenly devided between older (over 40) and younger (under 30) players, skewed towards men (5 including the DM). Our D&D experience also varied, 2 going back to 1e, myself going back to 2e, 1 starting with 3e and 3 with 4e.

Week 0 character creation and I was late. Several players had build characters ahead of time, one had spent 5 hous building her rogue, and the rest had settled on characters by the time I arrived.

Fighter (Archer) 
Rogue (Noble)
Rogue (Assassin/Bounty Hunter)

I was left with the Cleric. No problem, I played clerics almost exclusively in 2e & 3e. Actuallysome porblems first was deities I wanted a Cleric of Moradin but the deities were generic, I settled on a War deity to get martial proficieny since Dwarves are better with axes and it seemed to fit. Next was slots. A glance at the spell table was familiar enough, but it turned out there was a distinction between peparation slots and use slots, it took a while to figure that out. I prepared Cure and Cause Light Wounds, cause causes a lot more damage than cure cures for some reason. Deity also gave me a free spell prepared but not a slot, that didn't make sense to me until it was explained several times. It had already been a long day and I do have trouble hearing in crowds and there were 30 people at Encounters, our playtest table in the front and 4 regular encounters tables in the back, but still creating lots of background noise.

My character was almost as tough as the barbarian.  Hit points were low, 15 for the barbarian, 13 for me, 8 and 7 for the two rogues and 8 for the wizard.  The fighter never got hit or at least never dropped or asked for healing, standing well back and shooting the next two weeks, and never mentioned his hps.

Week 1: We started with an encounter, a weird one, we were given an ally who was then possessed and attacked us. Combat was run "Theatre of the Mind" which really sucks, jmho, but which didn't seem to bother our DM who rattled off how far everybody was from everybody else and who was engaged with whom in answer to our questions with complete confidence. Anyway, the possessed knight wins initiative and critically hits the elf noble rogue, who is dropped to negative CON, she went next, failed a death save, took d6 damage and died. Nothing I could do if she had rolled really low initiative I could have healed her or if I had rolled really high and she had rolled a little lower. rogues are supposed to go first though I suppose. Yes that was the 5 hour character that was dropped before anyone could do anything. She was a very good sport about sitting out the rest of the session. The combat went quickly from there, the fighter backpeddled in one direction plinking at the knight and the wizard backpeddled in the other shooting off spells at the squires while the barbarian and rogue go for the knight. The wizard gets hit by the squires and I heal him. Next round the rogue gets dropped by the knight and I heal him. The barbarian beats down the knight and the wizard's spells take out the squires. We then spend the rest of the session in Hummel lane, which doesn't sell porcelain figurines, but does have some pretty good beer, so the dwarves are happy. We find out the Abbess who asked the knight to come disapeared in the Caves of Chaos so that's our next stop. Feedback? Feels a lot like 2e, 1st level characters and the things they fight die fast and I just cast Cure Light Wound until I'm out.

Week 2:  I'm late this week and miss a battle with a ghost, 3 characters dropped before the barbarian beats it down, HD used to get everyone mostly back up, and we enter the caves. The ghost dropped the same rogue the first round, again, so in the caves we have the barbarian enter first. He sets off an alarm and monsters attack us from behind and from a side passage. Fortunately they're only kobolds and one sleep spell later the fights over. Nope, not really, next round it starts again. There are multiple waves, goblins, orcs an ogre, more kobolds, I can't keep track of who's where or what we're fighting. The monsters drop almost as fast as they run in and they keep alternating the directions they're coming from so the 'front' is whoknowswhere, but the barbarian keeps trying to go there. The the wizard gets dropped and I heal him, he erases more monsters, gets dropped again and I heal him again. The Barbarian and one rogue kill some orcs and nearly get killed by their dying strikes, but I'm out of healing. The ogre throws goblins at us! I trash-talk the ogre and crit him with a cause light wounds - 24 damage! The rogues and archer mop up the remaining wave and we retrieve the Sword of Chaos, claimed by the less death-prone of the Rogues. On the way out, the ghost comes back, apologizes for mistaking us for monsters, and explains that he's Halfron Hummel and needs the Chaos Blade and two other items to free himself. For some reason, that sounds like a good idea to us. maybe I missed something.

Post session I chat with the DM and he mentions that the first battle woudlve been a tpk if he'd used the ghost's possession power, but the ghost would have stopped at any time and talked if the players had just talked to him. ALso though I had Cause Light Wounds memorized, I'd already cast my two spell SLOTS when I used it. Oops. He noticed but let it slide becaue it was my one mement of glory and he didn't want to kill the party.

Week 3:  I'm really late this week and don't play, But I do hear about it from the DM afterwards. Another experienced (back to 2e) player picks up the Cleric and finds out that Cure Light Wounds is actually  a "Word of Power" and thus lets you take an action as well as casting! You mean it's a minor action. No it's a world of power. OK,Well, that would have been nice to know.   Anyway, second-hand report on Week 3. The party tracks one of these missing artifacts to a "mote house" somehow and fights giant toads, archers and a stabtastic halfling rogue with multiple attacks. By virtue of stealth neither rogue is dropped on round 1 this time. It seems like it must have been an easier fight than the first two. One of the rogue players is frustrated by Theater of the Mind, taking more than 5 minutes to get through one of his turn because of how confusing the description of the mote house interior aparently was, otoh he's deligted with the chaos blade which is some kind of stormbringer thing that does extra damage and heals him as he kills, though he only kills one enemy with it, while the barbarian saw to both toads and the wizard got half the rest of the monsters. The fighter once again avoided even being attacked, which is a funny way to play a fighter, jmho, but it's his character, not mine.

Last week I just missed, I was going to be late again and was finding the whole thing more frustrating than fun, though there were fun moments mostly RP thanks to the talented DM. besides, they had a replacement cleric.

So, final thoughts on feedback:  

Theater of the Mind sucks. This is really a personal opinion, but its the worst possible way to run a game. Half the DMs time is spent explaining and re-explaining the same things. Monsters just seem to walk up and hit whoever they want. Even the simplest combats become confusing. I have to admit, the feelings were mixed, the DM didn't mind at all, he was happilly chattering away describing rooms and corridors and distances and who was next to whom and why you couldn't shoot or get to the monster you wanted to or how many enemies you could catch in a spell or whatver. The player of the archer and barbarian also had no trouble. The players with the rogues did mind, one in particular was ground to a halt by it. I noticed that the ones who asked about the whole scene and then tried to decide what to do got more confused, well those who asked "what can I reach?" or even just said "I shoot whichever goblin doesn't have cover" had it easier. 

The Word of Power thing would have made a difference if I'd noticed it. It seems like a good idea. Healing Word, not counting against the rest of your spells, still seems like a better idea.

Combat is simultaneously way too deadly and way too easy at first level.  

Magic items seem out of whack, the chaos blade was uber, there were no other items for anyone to find, and no treasure to speak of.

HD are not enough healing, we took an extended rest after every session because everyone would be hurt by then. At least that let us have both spell slots in every fight.

The barbarian seems a little too bad ass. He had the most hps, highest AC, biggest damage by far, and always had advantage. 

The Wizard had maximize spell and could exclude allies from his area spells, that seemed like quite a lot at 1st level.  Maximize spell I remember couldn't be used at first level in 3e, and excluding allies from area spells is something an Epic leve feat does in 4e.

I had a third spell prepared but never got to use it, all my spells went to standing up dropped allies, I don't even remember what that third spell was. The one time I did get to use cause light wounds was by mistake, I was already out of spells. Either the cleric needs more spells or healing needs to not come out of cleric spells.

The rogues fought in melee but had the same hps as the wizard and dropped all the time. Even Cure Light Wounds was overkill bringing them back, too.
Our DM decided that people don't have to worry about dying in combat, and though nobody has ever gotten really close. It seems pretty difficult for characters to die especially if there is a cleric "cure minor wounds" which basically lets you restore a fallen companion for free each turn. 

Rogues don't have the same HP as wizards... its the other way around. Wizards used to have less but they died too easily. Rogues are generally just as effective with ranged weapons as melee, so you have the option to stay out of the fight.

Most of the HP problems go away at level 2 since damage for monsters doesn't scale until you get to high levels. It is nice that combat is deadly since that makes it interesting... though it is really hard to find a balance between not killing the party and making it challenging.

Not all wizards can exclude an ally from area spells, and you give up some useful stuff to gain that ability. 

The rage mechanic is very powerful if you allow your party to rest between battles, same with wizards. If you force players to go 3-4 battles between rests, then it has less of an impact. In general though, I don't see a huge difference in damage potential. I kept careful note of my barbarian as compared to a fighter and it wouldn't have made a difference which I had chosen most of the time based on my die rolls. I think the nature of how D&D Encounters works though makes it so that the barbarian is a better pick. The extra HP is very powerful though, having resistance to physical damage is too strong. 

Its nice to see feedback from people because everyone has a different experience.

Regarding the Word of Power: the extra action can't be used to cast a spell.  This is really only useful if you're playing a melee cleric.  it allows you to cast your Cure spell and attack in the same round.  If you're a laser cleric, it's not as useful to you.  This system does seem to be somewhat lopsided to favor the melee people.

Theater of the Mind can be good.  I like to use it for combats that are fairly straightforward: adventurers enter a room, there are a few monsters in there, and everyone goes to town.  I am a very visual person, though.  And, yes, I have been known to constantly ask where something is, what's in range and so on, because what's going on in my head doesn't match what's going on in the DM's head.  So, I prefer using miniatures for anything more complex.

The one thing I'm seeing is that the Barbarian is ridiculously powerful.  Rage is insane.  It's not just the damage, though; it's the DR he gets when raging.

I routinely drop to the single digits in combat.  I'm playing a Guardian Fighter.  My AC of 17 is nothing compared to the DM's rolls of 20+.  I've already made up a second character to play in case my Fighter buys it.

Part of me thinks that maybe the Fighter Styles need a little something extra.  Like the Guardian Fighters gets +1 AC for shields.  And the Slayer gets a +1 damage bonus or something.  Of course, we leveled up this week, and I rolled a 10 on my hit points, so I'll be going in with 40 next time, and I won't be IMMEDIATELY COMPELLED TO RUN AWAY from anything anymore.  Command is crap, by the way.  The hit point threshold for an immediate success needs to be lowered some.

I skipped a week or two then came back intending to go to one of the 4e games. Unfortunately for me there were a bunch of new players and all the 4e tables were packed to capacity.  So when my favorite DM asks me to fill out his Next table (due to the easter holiday he was down to two players), how can I refuse? 

I wasn't the only one who missed the previous week, either. the DM did, so we had two encounters to get through in one night. It wasn't a problem. What was a problem for me was the volume of 3 other tables playing. It's hard for me to hear when there's a lot of background noise, and theater of the mind, giving me nothing for a visual reference makes it that much harder. I expected it this time and just concentrated on getting through my own turns.  

I needn't have worried. The combats were over very fast. So fast I could hardly tell what we were fighting. There was a snake kind of thing and I did think to use Sanctuary to protect one of the prisoners from it. It turns out the "Reptile God" might have attacked her, if she'd tried to help us, but, unlike the 4e version she had no way to help us. That was the second combat. The first one I must have blinked because it just don't remember it. We were done in an hour and half.

Last week we did the final battle. There was an evil priest, several of them, one of them even hit me with a flaming mace before our Wizard killed all three of them. The Wizard got jumped by zombies. I used Cure Moderate to get him back up, but they didn't last long enough for me to try Turn Undead. I made a check to destroy an evil altar, I think. There were even MORE people playing at the other tables this week and I couldn't really follow the ending. 

It took about an hour, afterwards we talked over what to do next time.  All the playtesters, given the choice of what to use for next seasons, we all unanimously chose to go back to 4th for Neverwinter. I'll get to play my sorceress at 4th level.

D&D Next is too much like prior editions, there's nothing in it yet that makes me want to buy it. The combats were boring, either a monster crits somebody and drops them instantly, or the monsters drop in a round, before some of us even get to do anything. There was no sense of scale to the monsters' abilities, either, I never got a sense a monster was 'higher level' than another.

I really think their next playtest should give some serious thought to game balance, because there just isn't any right not.

I don't know if they're trying to be more like Pathfinder and trying to compete with them. If so, they're failing, because Next doesn't feel anything like 3.5 to me.

I loved 3.0/5 and I love 4th. Next, at best, is really rough. I feel like I was wasting my time playing it. It should have been better done before going to a playtest than this. At least there should have been some balance between the hps & damage of players vs monsters.


And I still hate Theater of the Mind. I can't tell what's supposed to be going on. With minis, I can, easily. Bring back the minis, I like minis, I like painting them. Minis are cool. Bring them back.

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