Played tonight (TBC)

We played tonight, I had a huge post worked up on how it went and the forum just ate it due to some kind of random bump of an invisible 'back' button.

PAGES eaten.  Too sad to try again.  Will try tomorrow sometime.

Short version: Unsatisfactory for many reasons.  Skills as tasks is fail.  Character progression is fail.  Many assumptions about Next need re-examining in order to make it fun.

Going to try to jot a few notes down before I crawl off to bed.  The post-game rush is gone, no chance of recreating tonight.  TBC...





Back.  Copying as I go.  Get coffee now, its long.

We had an okay time playing last night, and a good discussion afterwards.

Relevant notes: We played 5th level characters.  Why?  We've usually done 1st level characters with the packets, and were tired of that.  Characters feel feeble at those levels to us.  Meat and potatoes lie ahead, so we skipped ahead.  Couldn't go too far though.  Upper level characters have zero interest after about 10th level ("they go nowhere, why play" was our feeling).  So 5th was our nice midpoint.

Two players repurposed old characters from the last packet, 3 of us tried new ones.  The rest of the details aren't much relevant to our expereince actually.

Rather than discuss the events of the adventure, I'm going to focus on our analysis of the experience and post-game thoughts.  It comes down to a serious challenge to the assumptions being made by Wizards about DnD Next. 

Firstly, overall, this challenge is aimed at the heart of the most enduring critique of this effort, consistent through the packets.  I'd like to address the criticism of "boring" in these packets, because I think we put our finger on a lot of where that comes from, and it's the core of giving feedback about what is working/feels right/is fun that Wizards is interested in at this stage (per MM on Twitter). 

We also found the characters boring, though the fun level was slightly up overall from last packet (new classes, new abilities, good concepts).  Here's what we identified about why that was so.  These are not isolated components, but rather inter-connected, systemic issues.

The system does not offer enough un terms of character development to sustain player interest

Character advancement and progression is fun, and the entire point of having a level based game is to have the levelling point feel like a meaningful achievement.  A level is a demarcation of power increase.  It should feel that way, and if possible in more than one way.  The majority of character advancement at present relates to damage output, and HP increase.  These are only two axes along which a character can potentially develop.  The HP go up every level, ok fine, that's standard.  With Deadly Strike and spell advancement though, these axes only improves every so often, which is also not unheard of either.  But that's where the story ends for the most part.  Base Attack doesn't go up but slightly, skills don't go up meaningfully enough.  Feats are constrained to the low end of the scale, and many relate to only a select few types of outcomes.  Spell quantity goes up next most frequently, but many are bereft of tactical interest, instead focusing mostly on only damage or mitigation.  Comments on spells usually centred around the perceived uselessness of many spells.  They rarely apply a status effect, or feel useful compared to the desire to take a spell that does outright damage.  Damage is always the better choice.  Combine all this and characters often feel like they are going nowhere, and what does improve is only on one or two axis of many possible ones.

Consider this.  In all previous editions:
Attack values went up, Skills went up in some way, HP went up, damage output went up, saves went up, class abilities were added, magic items were added.  In 3.5 and 4e you had feats added on top of that.   Each of these things provides a sense of progression of your character, and improves them in a worthwhile way.

In DnD Next so far:
*HP always go up.  Passive statistic, not part of your activity.
*Damage goes up (but does not need to, we found), but in clunky, artificial/arbitrary ways. 
*Spell Quantity and power go up.  Next to damage increases being so few and far between, casters are far more interesting and useful to play.  Each new spell is like a maneuver.
*Skills do not go up significantly, and with skill dice, the outcomes don't vary enough by increasing the dice to feel meaningful.  Potency does not increase measurably enough over time.  5th level skill use felt identical to 1st.  After 5 levels of climbing, I'm no better at it?  Seriously?  Guh.
*Feats are very limited in quantity and outcomes. 
*All classes except wizard get the full list of spells at each unlock, and many are entirely useless, making damage the superior choice for taking during most adventuring. 
*Magic item usefulness has been reduced dramatically.
*Magic items are presented as very very rare.

The characters are BORING.  You've taken away or dramatically reduced a great many points where development used to be able to occur.  Characters now don't advance much over their career, and when they do its only along a few select lines.  Having something to look forward to matters, and extra HP don't cut it as the primary outcome, and damage as the only real secondary doesn't cut it either.  Casters are probably happy, but martial classes get squat.  This is one way in which this edition is so far considered boring.  Here's more contributing factors.

Bounded Accuracy is killing the drama, and breaking a functional reality.

Due to Bounded Accuracy, the challenge of a trap at lower levels is not much different than the trap at a higher level.  Your skill level doesn't advance more than marginally, and the numerics don't allow a DM to do much more than increase the peril/deviousness inherent in the nature of the trap to give it a more interesting/challenging feel.  Removing the greater math removes a degree of drama and tension.  Traps and skill use becomes samey over time, no matter the peril, you are still making check after check to beat the same DCs over and over.

Added damage is also not necessary in the current state of things.  The characters would actually feel more challenged without it.  We dropped a troll in 4 rounds, came away with barely a scratch, the fact I was laying a Giant Killer Ranger had little to do with it.  The Rogue's flaming arrows did more for us.  Troll has Resistance to certain types of damage.  Given that my damage was doubled at 5th level as a ranger, this was more or less a wash.  Given that we breezed through this one, why have it at all?  4 rounds to drop a troll like it was butter and with only 3 of 5 characters even mildly perturbed by it afterwards (we heard 6 more were inbound, we were like "come at me, tro")?  That's a fail in any edition.

Bounded Accuracy constrains task DCs, but with damage going off the charts, it presents itself as a world in which your skill doesn't improve much, but your ability to destroy a Volkswagen sized creature in one hit becomes pre-eminent.  That doesn't make a lick of sense as a game world.  Scaling damage is not only not needed, but being the primary way you experience advancement over time, is (see above) VERY boring over time. 

So either BA goes away or damage mods do.  Pick one and work it from there.  BA is hampering the drama inherent in presenting more challenging scenarios, and success at one level feels identical to success at other levels.  Combined with the reduced advancement avenues for characters, the feeling we were developing at the end of the night in looking at the road ahead was "why play?"

You can find a middle ground, and unbind the accuracy by about 10 points, and that could help.  Right now, the scale is crunched down so far that advancement is constrained by necessity and the grind towards a higher level of capability is long and boring.  With all these minimizations, what is there to sustain a player's interest in continuing to play? 

XP curve adds to the boring factor too. We played a 5 hour session, and got about 1/4 of the way to the next level.  Our fights were boring, and skills were unrewarding to use, and hard to improvise with presented as "tasks" (total fail).  The prospect of 4-5 more nights of that, grinding towards only the prospect of more hp, and a feat that doesn't develop us much in terms of effectiveness or outcomes was positively, eye-rollingly universally rejected.

Lastly, lack of more tactical powers didn't aid our ability to improvise.  It actually left us without opportunities to be inspired by.  Yes, I can attempt anything under the sun with an ability check, but so what?  I'm still staring at empty space on a character sheet.  Yes, we lived in the moment, but the mechanics made that moment feel too identical in terms of what we were being encouraged by the system itself to do. 

Overall, I am now challenging the assumptions made by Wizards in this editions so far.

1) That fast fights are fun.  Swift, sure.  They shouldn't take all night.  Neither should trolls be a 4 round snuff film.  It adds to the boring factor.  We want a challenge.  Reducing us to peasants with pitchforks is the wrong answer every time for groups like ours. 
2) That damage increases are an adequate way to simulate improvement.  Given number 1 is true, dropping the damage boost seems the natural choice until you realize that it kills one of the only ways you can meaningfully advance.  Fix number 1, if going with number 2.
3) That bounded accuracy (as presented at the moment) is helpful to dealing with the game world.  It actually has the effect of constraining the DM, we found.  No sense of increased risk enforced through mechanics over the levels.   Challenge to players is too hard to attain.
4) That skills should be downplayed.  Our group enjoyed having training matter in other games.  Here it felt almost never useful, and only marginally so when it was applicable.  Skills in this packet were really a fail for us in practice.
5) That lack of detail somehow aids improvisation.  It hurt our table.  Our outcome options with powers and feats are mostly: Gain damage, gain minor AC temporarily, gain advantage, cause disadvantage, or mitigate damage.  Again, BORING BORING BORING when it is all you can do.  Damage only is not a viable enough cornerstone to hold interest with over 20 long, long levels of making the same rolls to do the same stuff over and over again. 
6) That natural language at the table is a worthy goal to pursue at this time.  It made skill/tasks into very specific ways to use dice that constrained our ability to be creative with skill use.  Skills as tasks was an epic fail at our table.  They came out being worse than the feats issues we saw.  Work on this after you have a functional game system.  Right now its causing problems rather than solving anything. 
7) That 3E skill base is worthy of being the default.  We have improvised more with the notion of Nature in 4e than we ever could when that same idea is reduced to "recall lore".  Same with "break object".  Where can you improvise with breaking something?  You are either engaged in the described task or you aren't.  General is better here, and broad beats specific, especially with the opportunities for development being very few, and presently a lot of dead levels.  Improvisation becomes key, and when you reduce a skill area to one type of task, you fail to engage players imaginations even further. 

The key here is that the opportunities provided systemically don't support outcomes beyond hack and slash and trap dodging, and the range of outcomes is too small.  Players feel under-challenged and uninspired by the system at all levels.  Further, instead of upping the monster challenge as was universally observed to be required, you reduced the character power level, which had the exact effect I predicted on seeing that announcement, we're still walking over them.  The XP is right for the degree of challenge, but only because the notion that it's a challenge is equally reduced.  Monsters need to be dangerous and unpredictable to keep players engaged and tense at the table.  These were just flailing bags of HP.  I've never had a troll be an annoyance in D&D.  That needs work.

In sum, our universal reaction was that we would not playtest this packet further, there would be no point. 

Thus I challenge the assumptions made by WOTC about this edition, and hope that pointing this out helps them push the development in a direction that ceases to ring the Boring Bell for many players.  Give us some sense of tangible improvement with each level in terms of capability.  There's loads of ways to do it, and it will stimulate engagement rather than degrade it. 

I'll post elsewhere about what worked in terms of specific mechanics for classes, etc, but that's all rather beside the points above. Arguing those points is a distraction when the above issues are still in play. 

EDIT: Spell check Embarassed

Interesting and I think quite useful analysis of a game session for the developers.

Just wondering if you have checked out this thread and what you think of My alternate modular approach:

community.wizards.com/go/thread/view/758...
Want continued support for 4e, check this out, 4e Lives and Breaths

Check out MY eZine, Random Encounters Seuss (lordseussmd on YM)
Good feedback.   Even though I am having fun with the playtest, I see where you are coming from, and I think that part of WotC's job will be to balance what they have with the expectations and desires of players that want PCs to feel more developed as they advance in levels.

Personally, I like how the numbers remain constrained to a point, and bounded accuracy works for me.   To make traps and encounters work in the bounded accuracy system, the DM has to realize that he does not have to make all traps and encounters more difficult for higher level parties.   The lock on the chest, or the trap in the room may still be moderate or difficult no matter what level PC encounters it; therefore, even a +2 to unlock, or disable, to me, will feel like I'm better at doing it.   The same goes for monsters.   If AC of monsters at higher levels stays roughly the same as AC of creatures at early levels, my +2 bonus from proficiency will seem like I'm better, especially if I'm doing more damage per hit.   I do, however, think that there are some fearsome monsters (from other planes or inherently magical) that should have higher AC values.   Perhaps bounded accuracy can be stretched a bit.  

From playing and DMing so far, I do know that bounded accuracy really helps the DM improvise and create encounters/adventures much more easily because the limits are really well known.   WoTC just needs to find the right balance to satisfy both DMs and players.

Cheers.  Keep playtesting and reporting.        

A Brave Knight of WTF

 

Rhenny's Blog:  http://community.wizards.com/user/1497701/blog

 

 

I am with OP on a lot of areas, but I think bounded accuracy as a concept is still worthy to pursue.

On the troll fight: Never ever, ever has D&D successfully pulled off "Party vs. Solo Boss." Disabling half the party (like a dragon's fear aura in 3E) is not fun. 4E tried really hard and went through multiple iterations, but you still need to give the boss extra actions or minions to make it challenging. That might be the reason you had such a lame time with the troll.

That said, I'm surprised the troll lasted 4 rounds. Last packet, my group of 3 killed an allosaurus in 2 rounds, and it won initiative.

I agree with the assessment of feats. I would like to see more choices, more often. Having more feats means having a less boring character sheet.

I also think magic items are too rare. I don't want every magic item to have a +1 bonus, but +3 against demons, that can also turn water into wine, and make wisecracks when you unsheath it. Sometimes I just want more, smaller magic items that give me a +2 Strength bonus, or +3 AC against bludgeoning attacks, or potions that give stoneskin. Also, money and jewels don't mean nothing if you can't buy magic items with them.

Also, the skill list is garbage. I like skill dice, but you're right about the lack of improvisation available for a person with "break an object" as one of their skills. Too many skills, too specific, not well thought-out.

That all said, bounded accuracy can still work. I HAVE FAITH! *sobs*
Just by comparing the DCs to skill dice and ability score bonuses, the skills look broken. I mean, a magic lock is DC 30. With 20 DEX (+5) and the largest possible skill die (d12 avg +6.5), it's still only a 1/20 chance in succeeding if we assume an average roll on the skill die. Even with a bonus skill die from rogue abilities it's like 1/4 or 1/5. Overall, I feel like they're too limiting.

EDIT: Actually, DC 30 with 20 INT and d12 in the skill = .09375 or 3/32

EDIT to the EDIT: That's WAY off, nevermind. Lol.

DC 30 with 20 INT and d12 in the skill = .1405

DC 25 with 20 INT and d12 in the skill = .3654 (almost 65% chance of falling trying to walk a tightrope)

DC 20 with 20 INT and d12 in the skill = .6144 (almost a 40% chance to fall off a swaying rope bridge)

DC 15 with 20 INT and d12 in the skill = .8434

DC 10 with 20 INT and d12 in the skill = .9719

Even some real-life people do this at far greater consistency. Moreover, who in GOD's name is going to try this in-game knowing the chance of death is so high?
So the OP is saying that the system should make a hard bond between character and progression. That the absence of that is something they dislike about "Next" and that it makes the system a poor RPG.

Of course, when we have done this it's been through the PC's class.  Which has added a lot of complexity to play, which not all of us liked. That complexity is, of course, one of the reasons why 4e combat is so slow at the table.

I'm guessing the OP never played much OD&D, BECMI or any of the "lite clones". Back in the day the system advanced your hp, damage, spells, etc. The rest of "advancement" was primarily built by the players and DM togethor. It's something I dearly loved and have missed... And which "Next" brings back to me!

So one person's "weakness" is another person's "strength"?!?

Want to understand D&D 5e monsters?  ♦  @surfarcher  ♦  +Surf Archer  ♦  /u/surfarcher

Chewing this over some more...

One of the nice things about Next is that you can make all kinds of quirky characters. Principally because character progression has been somewhat decoupled from the class.

The class has a role in character level progression. Hp, damage output, spells, class features, etc all have an impacted. But they aren't the only thing defining a character's progress.

Mechanisms like Backgrounds and Specialties shoulder the remainder of the progression/change load. So you can make a "healy-fighter". Or a "melee mage".

I think that folks with a later edition background, 4e, 3.x and 2e in particular, are going to see the lowered role of the class aspect and feel that the system has weak character progression. Those of us who's first love was eariler edition might do what I did and go "Wow! It's BECMI with the math fixed and optional extras!". Then dance in happiness :D

Anyway. The current packaet isn't the be-all and end-all and they aren't spelling out the modularity yet. Likely the various components will be able to be plugged into the core in all kinds of ways... Or at least that's my hope.

Welp peace and good gaming to you all...

Want to understand D&D 5e monsters?  ♦  @surfarcher  ♦  +Surf Archer  ♦  /u/surfarcher

Could you elaborate on what you mean by "Skills as Tasks"?  (Sorry...coming back from a 30 year D&D hiatus.)

Bounded Accuracy may have other problems, but in its defense I have long complained about WoW's inverse problem: if you content of your level is too easy you can't just tackle higher level content because you will miss with every swing.  It's telling that they use different mechanics in PvP: a few players of level X can in fact kill another player of level X + 10.
"Therefore, you are the crapper, I'm merely the vessel through which you crap." -- akaddk
I agree with the OP that bounded accuracy could stand another 5-8 points in the range, and be fine.

On the troll/allosaurs dying too quick problem. This is something you can fix yourself as DM (and which i had to do in our last session). If your party feels very strong, dont give them one allosaurus - make it 2 or 3. In my group's case for instance, a random encounter, rolled up 4 lizard men. I bumped it up to 10 and gave 3 of them big clubs, and doubled the HD of the club guys. Turned out a good fight, and just 4 ordinary lizardmen would have been a cakewalk (not necessarily a problem, but in terms of pacing i wanted a substantial battle, not a quick skirmish).

It doesnt take long for the DM to work out how much challenge a party tends to need, then winging it to make it so. Every group is going to be different, some minmax more than others, etc, but the DM can adjust to keep it challenging... as long as the players themselves are roughly balanced against each other.
Great post. The tangible improvement per level you're talking about would do more than just the game feel more rewarding. It would also lessen the difference in combat performance between people who knew what they were doing at character creation and people who made choices they'll later realize were mistakes.

Bounded Accuracy may have other problems, but in its defense I have long complained about WoW's inverse problem: if you content of your level is too easy you can't just tackle higher level content because you will miss with every swing.

Take a look at what made D&D content easy. When a melee character was overpowered, it typically had the attack bonuses it needed to hit anything its level-limited HP pool gave it a reasonable chance of survival against. The WoW problem you're complaining about isn't a point in BA's favor because it never existed in D&D.

What the current BA system does is give overpowered characters the power to turn every monster into a pinata. Oh, your character is landing hits? Enjoy that for the rest of the game. Your gear and your equipment will only get better, but the system itself will stay the same. This is why damage is king and melee is a absolute joke.

Weapon speeds are gone. Facing is gone. All the support and debuffs you needed from your party to reliably land hits on tough targets are gone too. In their place is a single stack of advantage/disadvantage and maybe a +2 modifier because anything else would be "too complex." Try to move around the battlefield and you either lose your action or subject yourself to AOs. The result is a system where melee characters stand and bang and the boy with the biggest toy wins. It's a DPS race to the bottom, with the participants occasionally considering whether or not something in the encounter is weak enough to fail a save against hard CC.

tl;dr: Damage needs to be toned down, BA removed, utility skills brought back into combat, and character progression needs to make a comeback.
I agree with the OP that bounded accuracy could stand another 5-8 points in the range, and be fine.

On the troll/allosaurs dying too quick problem. This is something you can fix yourself as DM (and which i had to do in our last session). If your party feels very strong, dont give them one allosaurus - make it 2 or 3. In my group's case for instance, a random encounter, rolled up 4 lizard men. I bumped it up to 10 and gave 3 of them big clubs, and doubled the HD of the club guys. Turned out a good fight, and just 4 ordinary lizardmen would have been a cakewalk (not necessarily a problem, but in terms of pacing i wanted a substantial battle, not a quick skirmish).

It doesnt take long for the DM to work out how much challenge a party tends to need, then winging it to make it so. Every group is going to be different, some minmax more than others, etc, but the DM can adjust to keep it challenging... as long as the players themselves are roughly balanced against each other.



I agree with you completely.   After playtesting a number of times, it is very easy for me to reskin or add hit points, a little extra armor and judge more easily how difficult any encounter will be for the party.   I like that monster design is basically simple and easy to augment by individual DMs.   One thing I really like is that even in a cakewalk against underpowered opponents, there is still a chance that the PCs will take damage.  This is especially true when fighting anything that has spellcasting ability or area effect attacks.  Sometimes I like to add spells to a monster to make it a mage or priest, or add a special ability to make it unique.  It is very easy to do. 

A Brave Knight of WTF

 

Rhenny's Blog:  http://community.wizards.com/user/1497701/blog

 

 

Just by comparing the DCs to skill dice and ability score bonuses, the skills look broken. I mean, a magic lock is DC 30. With 20 DEX (+5) and the largest possible skill die (d12 avg +6.5), it's still only a 1/20 chance in succeeding if we assume an average roll on the skill die. Even with a bonus skill die from rogue abilities it's like 1/4 or 1/5. Overall, I feel like they're too limiting.

EDIT: Actually, DC 30 with 20 INT and d12 in the skill = .09375 or 3/32

EDIT to the EDIT: That's WAY off, nevermind. Lol.

DC 30 with 20 INT and d12 in the skill = .1405

DC 25 with 20 INT and d12 in the skill = .3654 (almost 65% chance of falling trying to walk a tightrope)

DC 20 with 20 INT and d12 in the skill = .6144 (almost a 40% chance to fall off a swaying rope bridge)

DC 15 with 20 INT and d12 in the skill = .8434

DC 10 with 20 INT and d12 in the skill = .9719

Even some real-life people do this at far greater consistency. Moreover, who in GOD's name is going to try this in-game knowing the chance of death is so high?



That's the point isn't it?  It's dangerous stuff adventuring.  If it wasn't everyone would be doing it and there wouldn't be anybody in town to serve you and ale at the tavern when you're successful.
Okay.  So having read the post here I have to say that Bounded Accuracy is probably the best thing I've seen in DnD in a long time.  As a DM I have had so many players walk in to town thinking they could do whatever they wanted to do because there wasn't anyone in town who could stop them.  Because of the every previous editions power ups at each level in regards to the ability to hit an opponent PC's became unstoppable juggernauts that could do what ever they wanted with no regards for civil authority.  Bounded Accuracy fixes that.  Just as a whole town can bring down a dragon they can bring down a bunch of pc's who have become diva's.  I like it.  Keep it in the game.