Texas Playtest DM thoughts

Howdy,
My name is TheAficianado and this is the DM portion of the playtest started in the Players Thread: community.wizards.com/go/thread/view/758...

We built a 1st lvl party according to the latest playtest rules of 6, and went into Blingdenstone.

I like the mod, but it is huge if role played with even minor gusto.  We started easily into chap. 1, went and introduced ourselves all over town and then decided we needed to barely begin ch.1, start and finish ch. 3, which was one gaming session of 3.5 hours.  While this did not include any character creation, it did include load-in inventory purchasing by the group for the mod-> 30 minutes right there to load in, begin basic discussion of the mod, and we went in with a 3 hour time limit.

This allowed us to meet everybody in town, communicate with the pechs, realize they are close to the ending quest (because you gotta walk through orcs), and so players decided to clear the house in 17 and make it back to camp at 13.

So that alone took 3.5 hours.  It did work well in terms of finding a stopping point, and resting a long period for the morrow's adventuring.  The highlight was the five orc party which appears at the end of ch. 3 follwed them back to the barricade and a big melee with 9 orcs total and the sentries ensued to work with mineratures.

That less then 15 were killed was fortuitous for the party, such that the could attack back into G and H the next day fresh, without the orcs on high security.

The only critique I would give on ch. 3 is the spot check for the secret door SHOULD BE a Spot check first, THEN an INTelligence check for the capability to see how the door works.  Also, the bars at the guardhouse should be described in the section and not left for later, because it affects how the skeleton guards can even come at the party.

I think this was an excellent difficulty for a level 1 party of 5+ members.  Conversely, the orcs in ch. 5 seemed to continually drop even hardy party members who had wisely kept the main forces seperated into less than 10 orcs per melees.  1d12+2 battleaxe is serious busines.

I like the new dying rules (if they are new), and these were used to serious effect in many battles which looked like at least the rogue would die (several times), but they pulled through.

When we look at combat, we still have the classic: 1) who is suprised; 2) roll for initative; and 3) combat.

Many folks state that 3.0/3.5 combat takes forever, but this seems to basically still seem to be the same mechanic without the subtlety of explicit ranged rules, exotic weapon rules, or feat rich combat.  Now we seem to have 'advantage"/"disadvantage" but what is this?  we still used basic free action/movement/attack actions and the waiting mechanic still works right.

If a real party of real people is gonna play D&D, the two main time killers are discussion/argument and die rolling for initiative and combat.

Even an experienced group after a brief warming up to the familiar process, still took a rather long time in rolling initiative because though six players goes fast, 32 orcs doesn't.  

In tourneies and cons, experienced DM's that I respect would often ask for players to roll off 20 rolls of each die on a piece of paper with the player name on it, then in many cases the DMs would work from those sheets for iniative/surprise/etc. Randomness could still be found using dice to decide which roll was used across all players, and then it was marked off so it would not be used a second time.

I have seen this clarity of purpose which takes fifteen minutes before start-up save nearly two hours of serious non-confrontational game play. So once it became clear how big the map was of G and H according to scale, we broke out the game mats, and used the coveted mineratures.

For me as a player and DM, one of the great balance fixes of D&D is the making of orcs into something to be respected.  They are to Great Axe what a elf is to a bow.  For a first level party with no access to magic other than a +1 hand axe, limited health potions, one cleric, one non-cleric healer but 12 health kits, ch. 5 is a very tough but extremely fun crawl.  For the difficulty, it is rather financially unrewarding.

Even with pre-rolled sheets, it took a 3.5 hour session to clear the orcs.

***Thus my first suggestion is this from playtesting: If we're testing the NEW version D&D Next, and we've seen the success of computer assisted gaming in the records keeping of DCI and RPGA, why not have the equivalent of a QR Code sticker sytem on our character sheets at the beginning of the session, some type of propriety WotC device scans and reads the QR codes, the DM scans the place in the mod, Area 17, and the device automatically rolls initiative and orders the party and foes into a list, the first npc or pc pops up and away we go--->

A couple of positives: A) proprietary device which has to be bought from WotC, perhaps this would delay the next Next rules editions by at least two years;
B) major time saver and character checker using pre-existant cell phone tech [ I really ought to patent this rather than run my big mouth and just go write the app] at the beginning of a gaming session. this would be similar to Living Greyhawk judges examining PC's for playability before sessions, yet be faster and more accurate because the QR code would have access to the gaming system- the DM would not have to catch the mistakes.
C) you finally have the final tie-in between D&D and computer games, but with an assistant for the DM. Also, this already streamlines the genericism and quality of gameplay both at home and at conventions because the style is more accurate by using the QR Code system before starting every session and at the ending of the session.  The system could be both online via WWW or plug the assistant into the computer via usb.  

We are trying to run the final session this evening so people can get back to their lives for a week or two. 

What I have found is this: the experience of a live quality D&D session is different than even a live, voice-overed dungeon crawl via D&D Online because a computer game shows you with extreme immediacy and celerity what is going on and you react in a totally different way to your friends than with the same people in the same game mechanic but in a different less extremely evident form. In traditional D&D, your imagination still has to conjur, just like reading, so the individual still creates the world in their mind rather than simply watching interactive t.v.

Finally, we aren't trying to take away anybody's die rolling, and I have played with groups where this was extremely important aspect of the game.  Certainly, where a pc places on initiative can be worth life or death.  So it is an important roll.  

We just found that often the game narrative, which is the actual exciting part, is less hampered if rolls can be efficient.  

We also found this system keeps down the shouting and boredom because it isn't a ten minute pause at the beginning of every encounter OR oh, your surprised, roll for iniative.  It is a let down to suddenly wait as the order is calculated and presented, especially in large battles of forty creatures (happens more often than we think, especially if movement and attacks of opportunity (not really existing in this sytem completely yet), but with mineratures is really where some good fun happens.

But most of all, the stress of surviving the orc great axe that has just felled you as others continue to fight and you can do nothing, this is an elegant part of the game that the QR Code device would not impact at all.
Anyway, more thoughts will be placed here.  One big consideration on the playtest rules: leveling up is not well described in the current download materials.  We used the 1000 xp mark for our party.  Due to great play, after the clearing of the orcs, everyone survived and got to lvl 2.  But do we only get 4 skills forever? They seem completely lacking in terms of a continuing leveling system.  Why have tumble or spot if some other DC is used instead. It seemed that even players used to using skills were not really readily able to with the current system.  

Coin seems to be tight in this mod, which is fine given that it is in a war zone. Further, the party made some expensive decisions via roleplay: the purchase of a 75 gp tome, and spell trading and spell book updating.  The decision however figured prominently in the defeat of the orcs, so it was well worth it, and a function of the decision to bump them to 2nd level.  Even so, there is a need to upgrade to at least a +1 weapon and this has become the priority for all party members.  So I would like some specific +1 creation/purchase/only find in mod info for the playtest.  
We just found Beyond First level and find the 250 mark very old school, but the players are super happy....
Thanks for the rather complete description of your experience. I'm also running two NEXT groups in Tejas (Austin area), and like the system I see a great deal. I just had a comment on skills:

I think with the stated design goal of the DC's being flat, adding too much skill ascension over levels would make the checks moot very quickly. I'm also a fan of PCs being able to try just about anything (exceptions: Lore), but that some PCs are constantly better than others, via the Skill Dice and advantage mechanics. What I think about this so far (and this is important to me, as the 4E skill system, more than anything else, really ruined the experience for us):

*Advantage and/or dSkill allows the trained PC to be MUCH better than anything else. I think the system can gain some traction in this regard through the Feat system. Rather than having all PCs gain skill points, a Feat that gives you advantage can be a way of giving the character additional skill, at cost, which doesn't automatically render the DC's moot.  I'd like to see a similar mechanic at creation in which characters get advantage on a specific type of save, as well. I find Advantage allows some traction vis-a-vis expertise, without forcing me to scale the DC's on the basis of PC levelling alone.

*Since abilities increase over time, small bonuses will, as well, which, in turn, improves skill rolls, so all characters will show some improvement as they go.

Small increases means a DC10 is always an acceptable check for the average character. Plus the GM can rule ad/disad at any time to account for environmental factors, smart player ideas, etc., without negating the validity of the check.  Since the selection of train skills a PC has is small (I think you end up with, what 6, by level 20?), then it also ensures a bit niche protection for what PCs are good at. If everyone is adept at the same skills, they lose a bit of cache, in my opinion, so I am in favor of the sundry list going unlisted, with the PC's "exceptional" skills being few in number, and that PC being much better than others are using them. Since classes skew toward certain abilities, this ensures that martial types remain the best at the physical stuff, while casters are the mental studs.

Unrelated question, but: Were you rolling INISH for every single Orc combatant?  Or did I read that wrong?
I was because we made an executive decision a long time ago that monsters should be rolled as individuals a long time ago in our group for "reality-based" reasons.

I just perused the new playtest "How To Play" chapter and the editing is palpable and appreciated especially the fleshing out of ability scores and languages.

My general take on skills is that of a lover of rogues.  I feel that there are about six or seven different rogue builds achievable for roll play if we have a robust skills table modified by intelligence.  Otherwise, characters get rather cookie-cutter.

It is here that I want to say my group was eaten by the Neverwinter playtest and we have have been binging and purging on that MMORPG and I ran my player up to lvl 46 since Memorial Day.

Neverwinter is a great video game.

But I feel that the necessity for genericism found by design in a video game is somewhat limiting.  At lvl 46, honestly I am sick of killing and fighting for my life.  In a way, by necessity, videogame-based D&D is the essence of "the monty haul," what 2nd edition DMs did their best to allow very, very rarely.

And yet in a video game, it is almost like anime in terms of intense ultra-violence.
 
Classic book and die based campaigns over years among a group of firends can be truely excellent and often, the narrative that is most rewarding is not combat based.  Some of the most rewarding campaign I played had rare but major combat at major narrativer points, not expiditionary orc killing of some type every adventure.

This is one reason I hope that classic "book-and-die" persists.  In a way, due to a lack of some hard and fast mechanics 2nd Edition was in many ways much like Star Trek: The Next Generation in that a lot of lore and roll play for experience was more narrative based rather than violent melee-based.

One example from the old days was a wood elf thief that worked various jobs and the ideal was to get in and out without any contact at all; with bonuses from the theive's guild.

Class-specific adventures in Neverwinter are kind of already in place, but really balance is there.  Class specific adventures would be cool.

So we have to get back into it, and our group has agreed to go forward with the new playtest rules just released. 
Agreed that rogue's focus as theskilled member of the party could use some work in the playtest. In some ways, I almost wish they were using the generic Warrior, Expert, Mystics sets from True20, then you tailor from there. And, of course, I always worry about skills being eclipsed by spells.  We haven't run into that yet, but the characters in the two parties are levels are approximately 3 and 7, respectively.  INT as a Rogue basel is definitely an aspect of the game I (also) find desirable, as I also like rogue types.  I see and agree with all your points on all that, for sure.

Never thought about 2E as akin to the "NextGen," but the lore was definitely there. I feel, though, that narrative role play is more stylistic then anything else, and I find the desire for that varies from group to group. Of the two aforementioned groups, the teen group loves the RP aspect more than my adult players (they're better at that, for some reason). I think my adults like problem solving and loot, with a smattering of everything else.  So, for them, I use a modified sandbox setting in which they can establish their desires for building power and influence, while running the various characters they prefer to experiment with.  The teen group seems to want the epic destinys fulfilled, and a final confrontation with our big bad. 
The DMG has warnings about the difficulty of large numbers of enemies not giving accurate difficulty measures. 20 enemies at once is too many for a first level party. That basically means that the monsters gets 20 chances to roll a 20 and get a critical hit on the first turn, and probably another critical hit in either turn two or three. That's some serious smackdown for a party whose combined level is 5. 

As for rolling initiative for 20, I think I would roll 5 times and have 4 orcs at each of those initiative numbers. It'll be like the orcs are charging in in combat squads.
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