10th Level Game session from experienced "other game system" players + Suggestions for Devs

No edition warring please!  This is about DnDNext.

I converted part of a game module at 10th level for some DnDNext fun.  We are former D&D, 2e/3e/3.5e/SWSaga/4e players that, um, moved on to, um, what is now the best selling bla bla blah.  I do not want any edition warring here, just stating our decades of gaming experience in fantasy RP games.  We are thirty somethings and forty-somethings.

I created characters for the party as such:

Goblin Alchemist (10th):  I created a system to power a crazy goblin alchemist that used a makeshift rifle with various attachments for flamethrowers, mortar and such, and even a goblin jet pack.  I can post this if you or the devs are interested in how I made the alchemist.  It was ferociously fun and still quite balanced.  For playtest purposes, he was effectively a halfling Wizard evoker, and a halfling Wizard evoker could have had access to everything he could do.

Human Druid (10th):  To simulate a Totemic Shark druid, I merely changed the behemoth into a giant shark.  Otherwise, was pretty much the druid class, although I did give her a dancing scimitar.

Dwarven cleric (7th):  This was the party cleric that was really a cohort.

Tiefling Magus Kensei Blackblade (10th):  This was by far the hardest character to build, but although I renamed EVERYTHING to match the Magus abilities, I essentially made a high elven rogue with a custom kit, and made the sneak attack damage be all electrical to simulate using spellstrike and casting shocking grasp and delivering it through a keen scimitar.  So instead of having a shield spell, etc., that was the canny defense or evasion ability--I just renamed and gave an RP flavor to each of the abilities that matched up for the Magus.  It actually came out really well except for he didn't have 1st - 4th level spell slots for utility spells (which was kind of subsumed into his rogue abilities)

The last party member declined due to participate, in all honestly, because he was still being mad about 4th edition.

We progressed through content very quickly.  When we started playing yesterday at I had not prepared any maps or creatures in d20pro, nor had I done any conversion to 5e for any of the encounters, and I felt like we progressed through content much faster than if I had prepared content for our normal game ahead of time.


Combats were pretty violent.  The monsters hit hard (and well they were big monsters) and even though the big monsters had like a buck fifty hp each, the guys seemed to hit pretty hard as well.  They had the Cyclopes running and on their heels pretty quickly once they grouped up.  Spells seemed more iconic, intuitive, and more powerful.  Rolling a nat 20 seemed like a BIG BADA boom, and I won’t forget the druid’s flame blade crit for some time.  What was that, 45 points of damage?


Every character felt powerful in their own way. 

  1. Druid.  The druid showed at the end that she was just holding out and pretty much tore that giant lurker ray a new one in like 3 seconds.  I can only imagine the pounding that a huge dire tiger would have wrecked over a number of rounds with a dancing scimitar and only taking half damage from all magic and all weapon sources (by virtue of advanced shapeshifting and the stoneskin spell).  I thought it was interesting that the mechanics were already there for the druid to be a giant bag of HP with the ability to recover those HP at a pace quite exceeding everyone else.  She was a stronger spellcaster and a stronger melee presence in DnDNext.

  2. Alchemist.  The goblin was an evoker wizard skinned as a pulse-rifle, goblin rocket-launcher-style alchemist.  He seemed to have a power band that could be brought on a dime, and was quite effective.  His cantrips were occasionally significant.  He was a lot weaker in melee, but that could have also been because the Great Mother pounced on him and also crit with a claw.  No 27 AC for a wizard at these levels it seems.  The goblin alchemist was about the same power for me, just different.  He probably had more long-term stamina over an adventuring day, and more options.

  3. Magus.   The magus was the hardest to get right, but by making him a skinned custom rogue kit, it seemed to play pretty well.  He was a lot more skirmisher (almost brokenly so!) and in some situations, did I felt a correspondingly atrocious amount of burst damage.  Some of the finer things were missing such as his few utility spells, so it certainly wasn’t perfect.  He never cast a single standard spell in the game session other than the ability that mimicked his spellstrike and electrical attacks.  He seemed like a pretty ferocious fighter against Cyclopes even though he was built as a dex rogue.  The magus probably lost a little power but could keep up his ferocity basically all day long instead of being able to pull off his massive damage trick a few times a day.

  4. Cleric.  Believe it or not, she was just a 7th level cleric but she seemed to hold her own and felt like she was twice as powerful as her other game counterpart.  The player said he had a lot of fun playing her.  It seems that even though she was a healbot cleric, the changes to the cleric class means that you are also make strategic decisions and can do other useful things while you heal.  I think that class could be interesting with some magic items, scrolls, and/or potions.  Scribe scroll, anyone?


DMing was refreshingly easy.  Even though we had limited exposure to the rules, we only performed rules lookups I think twice, and those were for minor things that we could have probably skipped.  The monsters were exceptionally easy to run, which made the next thing possible.


It felt like it was always about to be ‘your’ turn.  I don’t know about you, but the subtle change to the “what happens in a round” mechanic seemed to about quadruple the speed between your turn and the next time you went.  The druid’s character was the only one caught in the net trap when the first Cyclops hunter engaged, and I think maybe only 60 seconds went by when I asked what he was doing to try to get out of it because it was the druid’s turn again.  I think this change by itself could really help immersion so that players don’t check out because they know it will be 10-15 minutes before they get to make a choice again.  BRAVO.


“It’s not simpler, it is streamlined” I think that was the quote last night by someone describing their interpretation of these rules.  When the devs put out some early versions, they received a lot of feedback that the game was too simple at its core, and they worked to bring in lots of options without putting too much strain on the time taken to complete activities.  These are still very early rules, and only the first working draft for some classes, so I’m sure that things will get much more developed over time.


The stuff that needs help:


Skills need a little work.  I like generally where they are going in that you can do anything, just describe it and see how well you can do it, but I think they need to increase the amount that a character progresses in skill from 1st to X level.  Although these heroic 10th level characters were good at a lot of things, they were not considerably more talented skill wise than they were at first level, so that part needs some help.


Need far more magic items.  I am sure it is because it is a demo, but there aren’t nearly enough magic items.  I know they are working on crafting, but I have no idea what it looks like.  I suspect it will not be the Fingerhut catalog-style crafting that is 3rd edition, but I don’t think it will be like 2nd edition either, where you had to adjust the planet’s orbit to enchant a +1 dagger over a 5 year-span.


Too easy to master routines?   This isn’t a gripe or even something I directly observed, but I noticed that in our game session both the "rogue" and the druid players started pretty puny and finished the game session like terrors after tinkering with options and really looking at their character sheets.  I am only guessing—in its current state if the guys had actually played these characters through the levels, would they have developed some strategies that could be nigh unstoppable?  “Execute attack formation delta V!”  Seems like with a certain mix of classes, spells cast, and special abilities (dual rogues functioning as the front line force) things could get very deadly for the enemies with an improved invisibility rogue, a stoneskinned druid wildshaped into something huge, and artillery support from behind.  I suppose this is true in any game system where the players actually plan and work together.  Maybe tactical choices are more important in this game, such as the rogue dancing in and choosing to deny the enemies opportunity attacks and the evoker/alchemist excluding people from his Fire  Mortar (fireball) effects or the fact that the rogue (Magus) could take half damage from that massive blow at the cost of not taking an action the next turn…


All in all, I thought it was a resounding third base hit.  The rules have changed in this game system significantly over the months, and I believe they are really heading in the right direction because they are listening to the (massive) feedback on the boards.  I get sent a survey a couple weeks after every release, and they are making sweeping changes to each class. 


To me it seems like the finished product will have a strong Star Wars Saga Edition feel to it, where the game seems like third edition, but everything is just a little bit different, more flexible, and…well, it feels like there is a better user interface to it.  There were only like half of the statuses from 3e/that other game system, a MUCH more streamlined set of spells (of course, that’s also probably because it is an early draft), and the speed of the game made me excited.


There are some core class features still yet to be developed—I really don’t like the ranger as it isn’t different enough and the bard has yet to be released into play.  I haven't tested the barbarian but I feel like there is still something missing, maybe archetypes.  There’s no Warlord or leader type class (I think the bard should to be a party leader type class now instead of a jolly tinkerbell-wearing oaf), and the first sorcerer which was W-I-L-D crazy-weird has yet to resurface, but I am sure that a sorcerer will never again be a wizard that gets fewer spells and can cast more of them.  I’m pretty stoked to see the next revision.


OH, and I am really excited about the prospect where you may never play a 1st or 2nd level or maybe a 3rd level character again.  “Apprentice Tier,” something similar to D&D basic I suppose, where that is where your character comes into its own and becomes and adventurer.  At 3rd or 4th level, that’s where most campaigns will start.  It will probably also tweak multi-classing by not front-loading all the power into 1st level for a class as well.  Again, this is starting to feel like Star Wars Saga Edition for D&D.  Remember Jedi & soldiers starting off with 25hp?  That's because they are basically third level.  This is a good thing for all of us.  The 4hp 1st level mage from 2nd edition died off in 1992 while waiting for the promise of being more powerful than others at high levels.  Let's keep it dead.

My uncle got the D&D Basic set at Christmas in 1981 and when I started playing in 1982, I was hooked.  I was that kid who had an entire wall of my bedroom covered in graph paper that mapped out (to scale) a signicant part of the D&D world.  I am now that guy who GMs with long-time friends, over long distance, using a virtual tabletop game engine (D20Pro), and ventrilo for our twice/week game sessions.

We are the people that travel to Gencon with backpacks and ample computing equipment and laugh at other people in good spirits and pretend we aren't as geeky as the next group of people showing up with backpacks and ample computing equipment.  We are the guys that buy every single book from a game company because we can afford it and want to support a good idea.

Please make this a fun game for us as a group and the user community at large and return D&D to where it belongs--as the ultimate Pen & Paper gaming experience.

Some suggestions:

  1. Learn from the technical and marketing innovations of your competitors. Subscription model at discount for certain themes of books (core books, crunchy splat books, campaign guides, adventure modules etc.)  I'm not going to buy at a hobby store (are any still in business?) We're going to buy them off your website at best.  Amazon at worst.  Never at B&N or other premium retailer.

  2. If it is free, we will try it, and if it is good, we will buy multiple copies.

  3. PDF. E.V.E.R.Y.T.H.I.N.G.  If I buy a book, I expect to have a searchable PDF of it too and a license to keep it on my tablet and my PC at home.  You can brand every page with my name and email address if you like.  My last couple hundred PDF gaming books are like that, and I do not care because I do not cheat and neither does anyone I know.

  4. Web reference of all rules.  Seriously.  I keep a Firefox web browser up for every game session on Google with the following typed in "Concept I'm seaching for" site:d20xxsrd.com   (where that xx is that other game)

  5. We will be using Herolab to manage characters and D20Pro to manage virtual tabletop.

Best of luck and best wishes!
I really enjoyed reading your comments.    When I ran 10th level game, I had similar observations.  I loved how I could use lower and higher level monsters in different encounters and still threaten the PCs.   It is interesting to see you note that even the 7th level Cleric could fit into the 10th level group.   Both of these aspects are possible because D&DNext is built using Bounded Accuracy.   I like it.

I totally agree that running games was refreshingly easy.   To me, the story and flow of the game never really broke because ability checks and even combat seemed fluid, natural and quick.   Like you said, everyone felt like it was almost his or her turn, and everyone kept more attention throughout the game even when it wasn't his or her turn.   Abilities like Interposing Shield, Parry, etc that give players off turn actions (reactions) are great for keeping player focus.

Let us know about more of the games you run and how everyone responds.   Cheers.  

A Brave Knight of WTF - "Wielder of the Sword of Balance"


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



I think its ok to say pathfinder on these boards, afterall it IS a D&D bastard
I liked your post a lot, was ram packed with good observations and I do hope the devs take some of this on board. Especially getting the format right with loads of online support, and handy PDFs scattered with links within them selves.
Nice comments.  I enjoy reading well thought critiques which present both the positives and negatives of the current release.  

I couldn't agree more with your final suggestions.  I am a long time 1e/2e player and the aspect most enticing to me about a new system (4e isn't my thing) is online support and tools to make character and DM management easier.

Cheers and I hope your 4th player will join the playtest due to positive reviews from your other players. 
Very good post, concures with a lot of my thoughts on the edition. I started playing d&d recently (2010 with 4e). I didn't really like it, so switched to Pathfinder. That didn't seem right either. Finally, I checked out the playtest and haven't looked back yet! It's definitely my favorite edition I have played (DMed technically)! I am looking forward to the final release!
I am very much interested in the specifics of that alchemist conversion.
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