Playtest Feedback: Crypt of the Dracolich D&D Day Module

It's great to really dive back into the playtest. We've moved and it's been difficult to find a venue to playtest 5e anymore--but with Worldwide D&D Day coming we downloaded the newest packet and went to go make characters. We were all very excited: I'm a 38 year old veteran gamer who fell in love with D&D when I first played Black Isle's Baldur's Gate--bought the books (2e at the time) within weeks. My wife is 30 and also very into gaming (I converted her fairly early in our relationship) with great love of the Forgotten Realms, more than any other setting. My daughter has played a fair bit of 4e and has made quite a few different characters but is experiencing Faerun for the first time in the playtest--she's 10, which I just found out is a few years shy of the cutoff for the playtest. Yeek. I ended up fudging the birthdate on the waiver. I hope that doesn't cause any kind of serious problems--she's going to be playing with both parents and it's only a one night thing.

So right away there were some new things: the skills are d6s now. I don't know what the thinking was behind this, but it seems like fun. Reminds me a lot (especially with the dicing up with levels) of the Savage Worlds system. Looking over the list, it's shorter by far than some of the more 3e flavored skill lists of late, without a lot of the overlappy skills that were always such a skill-point suck (search/spot, hide/move silently etc.) Honestly I wouldn't mind it being boiled down even further--4e had it about right: Athletics or Acrobatics for all the Tumbling, Swimming, Climbing and Balance type skills; Perception for all the Listening and Searching; Insight was nice too as it absorbed all of Sense Motive as well as other things that a savvy character might pick up on, but which weren't necessarily linked to "sensing motives". The older lists seemed to have much more in the way of colorful and interesting skills (like Commerce) whereas the new ones are pretty dry and dungeon-focuses (like Break an Object). That said, I like the idea that skills have been broken away from Backgrounds and can be bought a la carte, or some from the list and some not. I really wish there were more skills overall though, ideally taken from offerings given at every step of character creation: Race, Class, Background and Specialty with say 3 skills suggested for each, pick any 6. It also seems like skills don't go up nearly fast enough. The mechanic for it is nice (a bigger die type feels like big improvement, but doesn't shift the numbers nearly as much as a fixed plus to a score does) but I'd like to see skills improve much more often--maybe as much as every other level.

Specialties seem like they've lost some flavor from past incarnations, most of them coming down to what kind of weapon you're good with or whether you can guard other people or move around in combat. I miss Specialties like the Initiate, where the PC as a person of faith can draw on some limited clerical abilities --things that say something more about the character in the world or that let you blend elements of different classes into interesting combinations. Again though I really do like the feat list, a lot of the mechanics for the feats seem like they'd be fun to try out and statistically powerful enough to feel meaningful--and best of all they really satisfy my desire for verisimilitude. None of them I've seen so far seem feel gimmicky or bizzare, they all feel like they describe what they do in a nice elegant way.
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Making Characters:

First off I have to say, making characters in 5e is the first time character creation has really been the fun part of making a character. Usually it's coming up with the idea that's fun, followed by a bunch of rolling dice and crunching out boring numbers off tables or picking skills or feats or powers off lists that don't feel nearly meaningful enough and don't do anything to define or enhance that original character idea--in fact you're lucky if your concept doesn't end up forcing you to choose between what fits the character versus the "optimal" choice. D&D Next has very little of that. Picking Backgrounds is a blast--especially the little items and abilities you pick up with them: Temple Services gives you a whole bunch of fun NPCs and a home base, the Bounty Board and lock of hair from a first quarry are just fun. At every step from picking race and subrace to Backgrounds and Specialties give you all sorts of fun and meaningful choices. The Specialties are a little thin and too combat focused, but the mixing and matching feats still let's you make fun stuff with them.

So since this is Faerun, we all decided to make very lore intensive characters (we really love Faerun). I decided to make a Druid Bounty Hunter, and to make things interesting I decided to make him a hill dwarf. Pouring through my books and doing some online research I found out about Thard Harr, the jungle god of the tribal wild dwarves of Chult...or what's left of it. I loved that. I decided I wanted an Oak Circle druid, I liked the sort of martyr flavor of self sacrifice they seemed to have, standing between earth and heaven to take the lightning bolts like a weathered old oak tree--so that led to picking the Defender Specialty--Interposing Shield was great, but to make him a little more of a hunter I gave him Track instead of Hold the Line, which seemed a bit too martial. All in all he feels great, really Faerunian. He even has a mask (which I like to imagine as a big tribal warmask) he wears as he runs down his prey (usually yuan-ti and Shar worshippers).
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I helped my daughter make a character next. She liked the rock gnomes' ability to make little clockwork toys and I did too. I told her a little bit about Gond and the gnomes and she decided she wanted to be a gnomish rogue who hunts down treasures for the church and then reverse engineers them. The rogue subtypes are all so much fun by the way, if the Specialties were flavored like these they would be perfect! They all looked fun, but Treasure Hunter was the way to go. The whole time telling my daughter about all her cool abilities she could do I felt like a game show host telling her what she'd won. She got really excited by how much her character could do. We made her a priestess, which gave her a place to stay and a whole slew of Gondar priests to help her out with crazy schemes. She wasn't sure what to pick for a Specialty--none of them really fit who she was very well, but she eventually just kinda' shrugged and picked a Lurker because they're sneaky. She loves her clockwork frog Croak. It's a little weird that it breaks every day and she has to make a whole new one, I much prefer the idea that it needs daily maintenance or it sputters out. But basically yeah, she's this spunky Gondar treasure hunter from the colorful lands of Thesk happy to get her hands on whatever's in the Dracolich's horde.
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Terrific feedback. Like you, I love when mechanics and fluff/flavor work to make the experience richer. Also, I love when families can enjoy games together. Cheers, Grimcleaver.

A Brave Knight of WTF

 

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

 

 

My wife is almost all the way done with character creation. She wants to make a Rashemi witch--like Dinaheir from Baldur's Gate. She looked over the Wizard options, really wanted an evoker for their elemental flavor but the abilities (soaking a type of energy damage, rolled 1s are counted as 2s on damage rolls, and shaping blast spells to exclude allies) were just weird. Not only didn't they fit her character concept, they really don't really even feel much like an evoker so much as a weird spell-shaping elemental damage-soaking person. So we picked the Scholarly option, which worked fine...but it's a shame. The Priest reflected some of the dual religious/arcane nature of the Rashemi and we figured the Temple Services acoyltes could describe the barbarian companions and younger adepts who frequently accompany them on their excursions, so easy enough. Again Specialties was kind of sticky. Nothing really seemed to fit. We picked the Healing Initiate to emulate some of the clerical healing spells she would have access to and I guess that works pretty well. Now she's just got to pick spells and whatever gear she wants. The new magic system seems a little strange. From the looks of it Wizards and Druids essentially work just like 3e Sorcerers--you have a certain number of spells per day called "spell slots" which I think overcomplicates things. You can cast a certain number of spells per level and have another number of spells you can prepare, casting any prepared spell any number of times up to your maximum spells per day. I'll be interested to try it out. It doesn't seem to fit the flavor of how magic works particularly well, I'm not sure I could tell what these rules say about how magic works in setting or why it works that way. For good or bad, at least 3e Vancian magic had a really tight explanation of why it worked the way it did. I'm not sure any edition since has even tried to explain it.
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I really have to say this is the first edition of the game where you can build a gnomish Gondar treaure hunter, a jungle prowling wild dwarf Thard Har worshipping druid bounty hunter, and a cool and slightly menacing Rashemi witch undead hunter right out of the box. No weird prestige classes or kits or anything. Base rules only and you get PCs that feel like they can do everything they should be able to do with no weird extra stuff needed. That bodes very well for the edition. I'd still like to see both specialties and backgrounds offer both feats and skills as well as other kinds of benefits. I think the idea that backgrounds are married to skills and specialties to feats is too contrived. It'd be nice to see each one give a potential feat, pick from either list (sort of like how domain spells used to work) and have skills offered by both (as well as by race and class too) and then when you pick skills you can take one from each list and then maybe two more off the master list for a total of six skills.
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So today was the big playtest. The nature of the adventure was such that we really didn't have the opportunity to try out any of our Background features (like the Bounty Board or Temple Services) or the new Downtime actions, which was a shame because they're a lot of fun and it would have been nice to try them out. All we got was some quick read-aloud text--not even any NPC cards, which I had really been looking forward to. We were handed the handout maps and teleported into the dungeon. Seriously, my kingdom for a gameday plot that isn't "a cult doing an evil ritual that you have to stop" by the way.

So we pop into a spellcircle in a cavern and behind us appear--I kid you not--three vrock demons! Their AC is doable, but their attacks are murder--a claw and a bite each round, plus a screech that can cause everyone to miss a round. My guy tried to interpose himself next to whoever was hurt worst to inflice disadvantage, but soon I was the one that was hurt (as in dying) and the clerics were tied up trying to keep me alive each round just to see me get knocked back unconscious. Same with our dwarven fighter and Gondar treasure-hunter. An hour and a half later we finally managed to beat down the three vrocks while blowing about half of our resources. If the DM hadn't allowed us magic weapons and had been forced to use our normal 1st level equipment, none of our attacks would have even dinked them. Fortunately the DM opts not to use their ability to swarm us with lemures in addition to smearing us, but had he it would have gone from a near TPK in the first room to a sure thing. This was just a weird encounter. We never did figure out why vrocks just show up in our teleportation circle when there's no other signs of demonic activity for the rest of the module--it just comes out of nowhere.

So once things have settled down we try to figure out where we are on the map. I change into a lemur (rodent form) and, with the Gondar, sneak into the chamber to the north. From there and vats of alchemical goo cooking, I can tell exactly where we are. We go back and point out the spot on the map. While we're on the topic of wildshape--they're pretty bad. Not doing much damage I can see--for the fish and rodent at least, but the cripplingly low AC just makes them so disadvantageous to use that I quickly stopped bothering. Maybe in a less dungeony game. The hound and steed seem like they should be a little better in combat than they were. As it was, there was just nothing I could do as an animal that was at all worthwhile and plenty (like talking or manipulating objects or fighting) that I just couldn't. So from three vrocks we move to two human cultists with clubs. Our mage accidently clips the magic vat with a missed spell and it explodes, messing everyone up even more, but nearly dropping the cultists. It's been made abundantly clear we have very little time to stop the ritual and no time to explore or rest more than a breather, so we head for the room marked "dark altar" figuring that's the best spot to get the idol we need in order to drop the wards around the ritual room. First we find a bunkhouse. Despite the exploding vat of goo in the other room, all 12 guys and their two wolves are asleep, probably to avoid the inevitable TPK that would have resulted otherwise. The sneakiest of us go into the room and start stealthily dispatching wolves and guards. Just as the jig is up the mage casts web onto the bunks of sleeping cultists--the dwarven fighter uses a torch to light the webs on fire burning them all to death. The rest of us take out the two remaining guards.

We listen at the dark altar door. Praying. We've been able to scrounge cult robes for everyone by now and so go in disguised and gain advantage on our opening assault: thunderwave from our wizard--which kills nearly every cultist in the room. Out treasure hunter swipes the idol and the rest of us clean up the remaining two cultists. Again, lucky for us the sounds of a raging inferno and screams of the dying or the smoke pouring in the door behind us didn't tip them off. That would have made our attempted deception...awkward. So we come to two big doors with evil looking runes carved into them. The treasure hunter uses her ability to disarm magical traps to bring it down and scouts the room with her clockwork frog. Apparently there's a big humanoid inside. I give the treasure hunting Gondar a invisibility potion from the alchemy room and a flask of oil. She douces what turns out to be a flesh golem in oil and remains hidden behind him quietly readying her crossbow. Meanwhile I cook up a fireseed acorn, run in and peg it, lighting it on fire. Just then the rogue does a killer sneak attack, the fighter charges and chops the crud out of it and our wizard blasts it with a ray of frost. Just like that it drops--easily the most coordinated and glorious fight of the module. From there we find a door leading into what we call the "skull room". Our idol causes the glyphs on the door to wink out. We bust inside.

There's the crystal staff floating over a rift to presumably the Demonweb Pits. Cultist leaders in spell circles seem to be sucking energy from the staff (which is in a prismatic sphere apparently floating above the rift...an aggrivating bit of arm barring to prevent us from doing some really fun solutions to the problem). We hand out the rest of the potions. The fighter gets heroism and flying, because--flying dwarven hero! The healing potions go to badly injured adventurers and I chug the potion of speed. The speed mechanic (roll two initiatives and go on both was elegant and a lot of fun...though it was funny that when I got dropped it also apparently made me die faster, since I had two rounds I had to make death saves on). I use my speed to cast spike growth around the two clusters of cultists farthest from us, then on the next turn cast fog cloud to completely block their line of effect to us. We bring the hammer down hard on the two remaining cult leaders, who are barely able to drop me with Inflict spells before they die, which drops my fog cloud. The other cultists are mostly left with slings though and my shield defense is able to cause them disadvantage on some of those rolls, while our side has crossbows, longbows and spells. We cast pretty much every spell we have, but take the cultists down. Then Retchroyaster shows up, bursting through the wall like the Kool-Aid Man. We're hosed and the DM basically aborts the encounter before either side does anything, summerizing the encounter with: "and you kill him, because I really don't want to have to run this last encounter. For fun we all rolled a d20 roll, 50/50 to see who lived through it. Based on the roll, I got freakin' eaten! Probably what would have happened if we'd played it out.
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Most of my harshest critisisms are of the module, not the system. Three vrocks at level 4? Really? And why were they there? It didn't make any sense. Why have this huge fun dungeon and not let people take their time enjoying it? Freeing prisoners, exploring the lake thing, finding out who or what was camping out in the caves? It felt like we played the whole module and only saw maybe five rooms...that was a waste. It's also a bummer there wasn't any pregame downtime or ability to enjoy our background or roleplay much at all really. Then when we're all done we have to fight the invincible super dracolich we've been told to pray we never even have to fight his simulacra? Smooth.

The system itself is fair. There aren't nearly enough skills. The d6 skill mechanic, reroll mechanics, flat adds to rolls under certain circumstances, bonuses from spells and magic weapons, bonuses from spell bonuses or attack bonuses, combined with advantage and disadvantage all sort of smear together into a tangle of conflicting mechanics to the point where I'm really not sure I rolled anything the whole night without forgetting something. Plus unlike earlier editions where certain spell effects do predicable dice effects, in this version the numbers are all over the place. One spell does 2d8, another does a 1d8, others do a flat 2 or 5 while healing potions heal 2d4. It was really nice when a 0-level spell did a d4, a first level spell did a d8 or a d6 with an additional effect and it scaled from there. Just having a consistant rubric where you can eyeball potential damage values would clean things up a ton. Armor classes felt really low too, and what armor there is isn't nearly varied enough--it's pretty boring. Honestly armor is a big part of how you envision your character and having to wear armor that doesn't fit how you see your character just wrankles. You look at all the art for D&D iconics and unnamed adventurers and you see this huge swath of different armor styles, most of which aren't any particular kind of armor in the game (yet!). I don't really care too much how statistically different they are from existing armor...I just want character centered options for starting gear. I wouldn't even mind if there were just variant armor types listed in the descriptions of what the different kinds of armor are: for example splint mail is this kind of armor--other statistically similar kinds of armor would include this and this, while jungle cultures favor this other kind and desert cultures use this equivalent.

That all said, character creation was so much fun! I also really enjoyed some of the tactical challenges of trying to take on big groups of enemies (rather than the artificially small CR balanced enemy groups from earlier editions) or enemies in unusual environments (the tactics in the rift were fun). Gameday is sadly probably always going to be not much more than a dungeon crawl, which I'm mostly okay with. I had a good time with the module all things concidered. I just wish there could have been more roleplay, more Forgotten Realms flavor, and most of all, more showcasing of the narrative gamer friendly parts of D&D Next--because at it's best I'm hoping to see it as a storytelling system as much or more than a wargaming system.
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Oh one other bit of feedback on the racial traits. I noticed humans still get +1s to EVERYTHING. That just doesn't feel right to me. Maybe if other races got a +2 to two scores that would be one thing, but they get a single +1. Mechanically that is a really big deal. In setting it seems to suggest that humans aren't so much flexible or adaptable, so much as markedly superior to other races in every way. I wouldn't mind humans actually getting some real racial traits either. It's always been a little boring that humans are considered the tofu-vanilla flavored race of D&D.
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Friday there was a packet update to swap the Level 10 Vrocks out for Level 6 Vrocks, but I'm guessing a lot of Game Day DMs missed that.


Was your game shop running more than one table?  It sounds like it was just one table, which would have made this module much less engaging.

Our LGS ran three tables, and we had a ton of fun.  My group rowed into the underground lake on canoes, and breached the torture chamber by smashing through a grate, attacked some cultists, then wound up fighting for our lives against the flesh golem.  Meanwhile, another group befriended the troglodytes by winning an arena fight.  A third group wound up fighting more cultists in the prison next to the torture chamber, so we had some great 'through the portcullis' chatter.

Later, my group split up, and the half I had wound up sliding down a muddy slope (on the back of a cultist) to join another table fighting a hydra.  Later, we did a three-table assault on the final chamber, where each table was focused on a separate task!  It was a truly awesome experience.  There was plenty of roleplay, lots of combat, and exploration aplenty. 
That sounds awesome! We started with just four players with new folks joining through the night, but not enough to make a second group out of it (plus the second potential DM had already decided to hop in with a character due to the low turnout. Multiple tables certainly would have helped. Mostly though I wish the module wasn't set to be such a time critical thing. There's a lot of the map I would have liked to explore. We were under the gun though, so we pretty much beelined to our best guess to find the idol, then back the way we'd come to stop the ritual. It meant we only saw the Vrock room (still I wonder...why Vrocks in a temple full of cultists? Weird...) where we started, the alchemical vat room, the dorms, the dark altar, the treaure horde room with the flesh golem (who we toasted) and the skull room with the rift to the Demonweb Pits (maybe where the vrocks came from?) and the cult leaders. Seeing a hydra would have been cool like crazy. Or turning into fish form and exploring the lake would have been fun too. Saving the prisoners, at least feels like something we should have gotten to do. Feels like there's a lot of the gameday experience we missed out on.

That said, my daughter never had so much fun. This was her first game with other people outside the family. She just beamed. Her rogue treasure hunter of Gond has become a featured element of her imagination. She still talks about her and her clockwork frog Croak. Likewise we had a fairly new gamer who just caught fire because of this game. He ran us down after the even to talk about getting together a home game...and if we didn't live two hours drive away we might have taken him up on it. I have a soft spot for new gamer talent.
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Another great thread.

That sounds awesome! We started with just four players with new folks joining through the night, but not enough to make a second group out of it (plus the second potential DM had already decided to hop in with a character due to the low turnout. Multiple tables certainly would have helped. Mostly though I wish the module wasn't set to be such a time critical thing. There's a lot of the map I would have liked to explore. We were under the gun though, so we pretty much beelined to our best guess to find the idol, then back the way we'd come to stop the ritual. It meant we only saw the Vrock room (still I wonder...why Vrocks in a temple full of cultists? Weird...) where we started, the alchemical vat room, the dorms, the dark altar, the treaure horde room with the flesh golem (who we toasted) and the skull room with the rift to the Demonweb Pits (maybe where the vrocks came from?)  and the cult leaders. Seeing a hydra would have been cool like crazy. Or turning into fish form and exploring the lake would have been fun too. Saving the prisoners, at least feels like something we should have gotten to do. Feels like there's a lot of the gameday experience we missed out on.

That said, my daughter never had so much fun. This was her first game with other people outside the family. She just beamed. Her rogue treasure hunter of Gond has become a featured element of her imagination. She still talks about her and her clockwork frog Croak. Likewise we had a fairly new gamer who just caught fire because of this game. He ran us down after the even to talk about getting together a home game...and if we didn't live two hours drive away we might have taken him up on it. I have a soft spot for new gamer talent.

That sounds great. I haven't been able to play Draolich adventure, but in my last homebrew playtest, I had a new player who had never played D&D before play. He also enjoyed it and had a great time. His premade PC that he only had 15 minutes before the game to study and get tutored on inspired his imagination and he played like a pro.

This bodes well.

A Brave Knight of WTF

 

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

 

 

Apparently reading around jumping into the lake area, rather than being the fun rewarding exploration thing I'd imagined would have been rewarded by being swarmed by 11 water vipers in my fish form and super-murdered. Disappointing. Moral of the story: the road not taken--landmines everywhere!
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