D&DE: Cult of Chaos playtest wrap-up

So, yesterday was the last session of Against the Cult of Chaos using the 5e playtest.  I had (not very) high hopes for this one, because it's the one encounter in the season that didn't have to be designed to be survivable by a 1st level party.  The party is 3rd when they reach this encounter, and it's meant to be a legitimate encounter for their level.  At least, that's what I hoped.

The encounter opened with a Chaos Priestess and two accolytes around an altar.  Some banter was RP'd - I had as much fun with it as I could, because I'd looked at the stats and already had a sinking feeling about it.

For perspective, I had missed the week before last, so last week we 'rushed' through 2 encounters, one of them the Reptile God.  Both combats lasted about 2 rounds.  The Reptile God, itself, barely lasted into round 2 and the balance of round 2 was mop-up.  The Chaos Priestes has almost as many hps as the reptile god - but there was cause for hope, she had the highest AC of any monster in the module!

So, initiative is rolled.  A rogue wins, and shoots the priestess with an arrow, 11 points out of 27, not bloodied, though, so she still looks tough.  The Cleric steps up, wiffs, and the accolytes go after the cleric, one tagging her for more damage (thanks to +1d8 fire damage on top of weapon damage) than the party's seen in a while, but they're 3rd, so she can take it.  The Cleric is now in melee with all three of the enemies present at the start of the combat, one of whom, the Big Bad, has not acted yet.

The Wizard steps up, and pops an elevated, maximized Thunderwave, that excludes the Cleric and handilly tags all three evil priests.  32 damage, save for half.  The accolytes have 17 hps, they both fail their saves and die.  The Priestess has 16 hps left, she makes her save and dies.

Then 4 zombies shamble in.  Thanks to their funky save-vs-damage mechanic, they hang out, for a few rounds.  The other rogue discovers how the zombies work, leaving two of them at 1 hp.  The Barbarian demonstrates how to kill them:  just hit for 20+ damage.

Bottom of the round, the skelleton, which rolled '2' initiative finally shambles out, attacks the wizard, and drops him.

Round 2.  Now, the fight has really been over since the wizard dropped the priestess, but there are mindless undead to mop up.

The first Rogue does a little damage to the skelleton, the cleric CLWs the Wizard and bonks a skeleton which makes it save, the Wizard destroys the skelleton.  The Rogue and Barbarian mop up all but one of the skeletons.

Round 3:  The party beats down the remainings zombie, which finally fails its save vs the second rogues attack.


Now, that wasn't exactly the best climactic battle I've ever seen.  But it got worse.


To stop Miska, the party has to de-activate the 3 alters using the 3 items they've collected (virtually the only treasure in the entire adventure).  The adventure didn't say so, explicitly, but I decided that using an item to destroy an altar destroyed the item.  The wizard is carrying two of the items.  He fails to destroy one altar with the circlet, then the cleric tries and succeeds.  The wizard then uses the scroll to destroy another altar.  It's down to Rogue #2, who has had the Chaos Blade since week 2.

He won't do it.  The first two week, both rogues were dropped (rogue #1 was killed outright in week 1) in every combat, they felt extremely fragile.  In week 3, Rogue #2 discovered that the Chaos Blade healed him when he killed something, and he got very good about dropping enemies, never getting dropped again durring the season.  That item /made/ his character.  He refused to give it up.

The Wizard decides to emulate Haffron and jumps in the Chaos Mote, sealing it for a century or few.  

Semi-successful endgame.



Through most of the playtest, I did notice that 5e monsters were too low-AC and low-hp to last through anything like an interesting combat.  At 1st level, so were the PCs, they were dropping in every combat, and the Cleric, who hadn't figured out what "Word of Power" meant, was having PTSD flash-backs to AD&D (once we noticed "Word of Power" she was consoleable, though she did miss a few sessions, and only played last week because we needed a third player for the minimum to run an encounters table).  I felt that was all undesireable, of course, but I had forgotten something else.  So, I started playing D&D in 1980, and only a year or two in, I encountered variants that gave 1st level characters max hps, extra hps, started them at 2nd with 0 exp, gave them an extra d6 for '0 level' and so forth.  It was a given that 1st level characters needed more hps, and I got used to that.  Some of those became official in 2e, and 3e alos started with max hps plus more generous CON bonuses.  4e, obviously, had high starting hps.

5e has really gone all the way back to first principles, with 1st level hps, and a phenomenon has returned that I'd outright forgotten.  Disposeable 1st level characters ingrains in the players the reality that life is cheap.  Once you've internalize 'life is cheap,' you're not a hero anymore.  I'm shocked at how quickly this happened to players who had been playing 4e Encounters, for years.  In prior seasons, PCs routinely did the 'heroic' thing time and again (the Drow Season being an obvious exception!).

Not this time.  Week one and two, they subdued the possessed squires and brought Sir Moonbrook in, and saved Otis.  Cool.  Week three they went to the moat house and our chaos-blade-weilding rogue happilly dispatched enemies with it to get hps back and stay in the fight, they captured Enda and turned her in for a reward, they also brought in the two merchants.  After that, something snapped.  There were no survivors of the chaos cult.  The Golden Grain Inn saw only one survivor who was tortured for information and killed.  Likewise the Reptile God (though the Cleric did save the Abbess).  

By the final battle, we were lucky to have one player who went ahead and did the 'heroic' thing.


While I think the too-low hps of PCs and monsters is a mechanical, encounter-balance problem, I'm afraid it also wrecks the 'heroic' part of 'heroic fantasy' that D&D is supposed to be going for.  It's a little counter-intuitive, I suppose.  RL heroism means facing /real/ danger selflessly.  With the more durrable PCs - common, IMX, from 1e via variants through modern D&D - players can do the 'heroic' thing without being 'punished' by losing the character, or being unable to participate in swaths of the adventure while they languish at negative hps.  It's not /really/ heroic, since they know they're taking pretty-survivable risks, mechanically - but, then, it never is, because they're just imaginary character.  If those imaginary character have 'plot armor' like the genre characters they're modeled on, though, that imaginary heroism can be fun.  












5e really needs something like Wrecan's SARN-FU to support "Theatre of the Mind."

"You want The Tooth?  You can't handle The Tooth!"  - Dahlver-Nar.

"If magic is unrestrained in the campaign, D&D quickly degenerates into a weird wizard show where players get bored quickly"  - E. Gary Gygax

 

 

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According to the module, the acolytes, the priest and the skeleton all get a free Cure Minor at the beginning of their turn which would have dragged the fight out.


I think this fight lasted a long time for my group.  Having 4 of the enemies pop up every turn was a pain.  I had the Chaos Blade and Turn Undead destruction actually finish them off since the Chaos Blade was all "Stormbringer".


The pop out, attack and teleport back on the skeleton really prolonged things in our fight.


The priestess ran out of spells and the PCs were quite concerned when Chaos nailed the 2 heavy hitters.  The priestess started well away from the acolytes and they never grouped up.


The maximise nova would have been entirely cancelled by the Cure Minor at the beginning of the Priestesses turn.  I only have 4 PCs so I had to tone it down to keep them from grinding on the whack-a-mole for turn after turn.        
According to the module, the acolytes, the priest and the skeleton all get a free Cure Minor at the beginning of their turn which would have dragged the fight out.

Not in my conversion notes they didn't.  (I did use the original conversion notes for the full run, though.)  

The pop out, attack and teleport back on the skeleton really prolonged things in our fight.

Also not in the conversion notes.  

The effects of the altars and sphere were in the "Features of the area" section in the module - in the conversion notes, there was nothing but trivial DCs to disable the altars.  

I'm sure adapting stuff from the 4e "set piece" version of the encounter was a good call for your group and am glad it helped you salvage the combat.  Did you use the poster maps and counters to track who was next to what and so forth, as well, or do the 5e "TotM" thing?  

I went into this, though, with the intent of testing what I was given, not trying to "fix" it, so, at times, it did get pretty grim.  One or two players really hated TotM, for instance.  Leaving out the set-piece features of the combats that the notes omitted made them faster, which, I understand, is a major goal of 5e, but, sadly also a lot less interesting.  FWIW.


The maximise nova would have been entirely cancelled by the Cure Minor at the beginning of the Priestesses turn.

Well, not entirely:  the 3 would have been at 1 hp and easy targets for Sleep.  The skeleton could still have been turned.  With non-hp neutralization so much more prevalent in 5e, a simple tactical feature like needing to disable an altar to stop an enemy from popping back up isn't as directive as it is in 4e.  Part of getting away from the "MMO" feel, I suppose.

5e really needs something like Wrecan's SARN-FU to support "Theatre of the Mind."

"You want The Tooth?  You can't handle The Tooth!"  - Dahlver-Nar.

"If magic is unrestrained in the campaign, D&D quickly degenerates into a weird wizard show where players get bored quickly"  - E. Gary Gygax

 

 

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Conversion Document
The conversion information presented here allows you to substitute D&D Next ability checks and statistics blocks for the 4th Edition skill checks and statistics blocks in the adventure.

Use the original text of the adventure for all other information.





We played maps and minis the entire season. 

Looking forward to continuing with the same characters next season at 4th and up.  

Since we used the adventure the party also gained gold, some Long Bows, Slippers of Waterwalking, Banded Armor, and a +1 Dagger. 
Did you use the poster maps and counters to track who was next to what and so forth, as well, or do the 5e "TotM" thing?  

We played maps and minis the entire season.  

A couple of my players envy yours, then.  ;)

Most were OK with TotM, but one had a tough time with it all the way through, and another had moments where it ground things to a halt.  I look forward to the "tactical module."  

Our table voted to return to 4e for Encounters and I'm looking forward to it, but I'll still be playtesting 5e when I can outside that venue.  

5e really needs something like Wrecan's SARN-FU to support "Theatre of the Mind."

"You want The Tooth?  You can't handle The Tooth!"  - Dahlver-Nar.

"If magic is unrestrained in the campaign, D&D quickly degenerates into a weird wizard show where players get bored quickly"  - E. Gary Gygax

 

 

Oops, looks like this request tried to create an infinite loop. We do not allow such things here. We are a professional website!

I think you're using the conversion notes wrong if you treat it that if it's not in the conversion notes, its not there - there's plenty of stuff that isn't covered in the conversion notes that you have to refer to the original document fore - the free heals is one. On the other hand, it's a gimic - it's not something the enemies naturally have. So without the gimic, that's how combat normally runs.

In my game, not everyone had been in every session, so the three man party wasn't all level 3. The wizard dropped the priestess. I read the free healing as not invoking the magic healing rule - so she could lie there at negatives, slowly recovering.

Really it was the fire maces that did the party in the most. In the end the cleric desperately cure minors the wizard, who was downed, then he and the monk get dropped. The wizard stealths by pretending to be dead, but has all the items and is by the alters, attempting to apply them. He distracts the remaining acolyte and zombies with colour spray red, so they fight each other, then predigistation to make a sound further down the coridor that the zombies pursue and the acolyte follows, yelling at them and still enraged. I realise now I forgot about the damage from the alters, but anyway, during all these distractions the wizard finally deactivates all the alters.

Some of that was 'friendly GMing', I read events fairly favourably toward the player and asked for quite easy stealth rolls (DC below ten, but still failable - especially by a wizard).

When the mote was destroyed I ruled it accidentally healed the monk and cleric to 1 HP, so they could be back in on things.

Even with friendly GMing, it was a fairly tense ending and I was waiting for a sucky 1 or 2 to come up on a stealth check (or all enemies saving vs colour spray) for one to just waltz over and put the wizard out of their misery.

~~~

Anyway, I don't really agree with the heroic fantasy thing. I'm not interested in characters who always choose the same option time and time again, consistantly and safely predictably. Nor would more HP solve it, even if I found that mono choice interesting.

"In the game there is magic" - Orethalion

 

Only got words in my copy.

Interesting play report.  I haven't played any of the encounters recently (5th or 4th edition), but I've been curious how the conversions have gone.  So thanks for the write-up!

To stop Miska, the party has to de-activate the 3 alters using the 3 items they've collected (virtually the only treasure in the entire adventure).  The adventure didn't say so, explicitly, but I decided that using an item to destroy an altar destroyed the item.
...
It's down to Rogue #2, who has had the Chaos Blade since week 2.
...
He refused to give it up.



Can't say I blame him.  That's an unfortunate spot to be in, having to give up all the treasure you've collected over the course of several weeks.
Interesting play report.  I haven't played any of the encounters recently (5th or 4th edition), but I've been curious how the conversions have gone.  So thanks for the write-up!

To stop Miska, the party has to de-activate the 3 alters using the 3 items they've collected (virtually the only treasure in the entire adventure).  The adventure didn't say so, explicitly, but I decided that using an item to destroy an altar destroyed the item.
...
It's down to Rogue #2, who has had the Chaos Blade since week 2.
...
He refused to give it up.



Can't say I blame him.  That's an unfortunate spot to be in, having to give up all the treasure you've collected over the course of several weeks.



As a call of cthulhu GM also, I love this! Absolutely perfect ending -- it would be great to be able to follow this up and deal with the consequences of having the awakened Miska in the world spewing chaos (and madness) everywhere.
I think you're using the conversion notes wrong if you treat it that if it's not in the conversion notes, its not there - there's plenty of stuff that isn't covered in the conversion notes that you have to refer to the original document fore - the free heals is one. On the other hand, it's a gimic - it's not something the enemies naturally have. So without the gimic, that's how combat normally runs.

Well, that ship's sailed.  If there was something mechanical, I wanted to test the 5e version of it, not tack on something from 4e.  

Anyway, I don't really agree with the heroic fantasy thing. I'm not interested in characters who always choose the same option time and time again, consistantly and safely predictably. Nor would more HP solve it, even if I found that mono choice interesting.

It is ultimately a playstyle issue.  Does a system 'reward' or 'punish' or 'encourage' a playstyle.  It seemed that 5e discourged 'heroism,' in this instance.

5e really needs something like Wrecan's SARN-FU to support "Theatre of the Mind."

"You want The Tooth?  You can't handle The Tooth!"  - Dahlver-Nar.

"If magic is unrestrained in the campaign, D&D quickly degenerates into a weird wizard show where players get bored quickly"  - E. Gary Gygax

 

 

Oops, looks like this request tried to create an infinite loop. We do not allow such things here. We are a professional website!

To stop Miska, the party has to de-activate the 3 alters using the 3 items they've collected (virtually the only treasure in the entire adventure).  The adventure didn't say so, explicitly, but I decided that using an item to destroy an altar destroyed the item.
...
It's down to Rogue #2, who has had the Chaos Blade since week 2.
...
He refused to give it up.



Can't say I blame him.  That's an unfortunate spot to be in, having to give up all the treasure you've collected over the course of several weeks.

Honestly, I don't blame him for the decision, either.  It was hard to get accross the idea that Miska was such a terrible threat, and it was an item which made all the difference to his character...



5e really needs something like Wrecan's SARN-FU to support "Theatre of the Mind."

"You want The Tooth?  You can't handle The Tooth!"  - Dahlver-Nar.

"If magic is unrestrained in the campaign, D&D quickly degenerates into a weird wizard show where players get bored quickly"  - E. Gary Gygax

 

 

Oops, looks like this request tried to create an infinite loop. We do not allow such things here. We are a professional website!

To be fair Tony, I didn't jump in the portal because I wanted to do the right thing. I jumped in it because Miska made a good job offer, and it seemed like her cult had good loot. 

I'm sure the town thinks I'm a hero, and in the end I guess thats what matters.  
It seemed that 5e discourged 'heroism,' in this instance.


The required destruction of the blade was your decision, not 5e's.

"In the game there is magic" - Orethalion

 

Only got words in my copy.

It seemed that 5e discourged 'heroism,' in this instance.

The required destruction of the blade was your decision, not 5e's.

Not what I thought dicouraged the heroism:  it was the fragility of the PCs at low level.  

5e really needs something like Wrecan's SARN-FU to support "Theatre of the Mind."

"You want The Tooth?  You can't handle The Tooth!"  - Dahlver-Nar.

"If magic is unrestrained in the campaign, D&D quickly degenerates into a weird wizard show where players get bored quickly"  - E. Gary Gygax

 

 

Oops, looks like this request tried to create an infinite loop. We do not allow such things here. We are a professional website!

By the final battle, we were lucky to have one player who went ahead and did the 'heroic' thing.


If they didn't have to destroy the items, I suspect they'd all be fine with deactivating an alter.

If you want to say they should be given extra HP to make up for the equipment (that gives them the edge to survive) that you will, outside of any recommendation of the text or rules, decide will be destroyed, okay, pitch that as what you want.

But there isn't any fragility. Until the GM starts, without any recommendation from the text to do so, destroying equipment.

"In the game there is magic" - Orethalion

 

Only got words in my copy.


But there isn't any fragility. Until the GM starts, without any recommendation from the text to do so, destroying equipment.

Fragility was primarily a 1st level issue, but it set the tone for the season.  

5e really needs something like Wrecan's SARN-FU to support "Theatre of the Mind."

"You want The Tooth?  You can't handle The Tooth!"  - Dahlver-Nar.

"If magic is unrestrained in the campaign, D&D quickly degenerates into a weird wizard show where players get bored quickly"  - E. Gary Gygax

 

 

Oops, looks like this request tried to create an infinite loop. We do not allow such things here. We are a professional website!