I'm out of state for work for the next few months, so unfortunately I don't have access to my regular gaming groups. I was visiting some non-gamer friends for Memorial Day weekend, however, and decided to give this first playtest iteration a test drive with them. I'm trying to organize a google+ game with my gamer friends, so that'll be an interesting basis for comparison.
Players: Players were brand new to D&D, and RPGs in general. Pre-gens used were the Halfling Rogue and the Cleric of Pelor. I ran the Dwarven Fighter as an NPC because our 3rd player wasn't feeling good.
Rules Version: May 24th Playtest Packet
Adventure Scenario: Caves of Chaos
Session Summary: I began the session with the necessary overview of what a tabletop roleplaying game is and specifically what everything on the character sheets meant. After the players named their characters (the Rogue ended up being called Stealthy, the Cleric was Mark, and I named the Fighter Tordek) I informed them that they'd been summoned by a wealthy noble (Lord Harris Atherton) just outside of their small border town. The new player "what exactly am I supposed to do?" awkwardness didn't last very long at all; the encounter with the door guard at Lord Atherton's mansion was a little stilted, but as soon as they saw their employer I called for a Wisdom check, which both players passed. I revealed that the normally-masculine man looked as if he'd been recently crying, and he soon informed them that his son was missing. He was due to arrive a week ago, and since then the border patrol had reported that the merchant caravan which he was a part of was raided. Both PCs immediately agreed to investigate even before payment was discussed.
Lord Atherton provided the party with a rough map of the caravan route and an estimate of where they would have been during the raid. The two day journey down the road was uneventful, and the marching order included Stealthy scouting ahead relatively well-hidden just off the road. Stealthy rounded a curve in the road just as he was hit with a terrible rotten stench, and saw several wagons ahead with horse carcasses littering the ground. He retrieved his companions and snooped around the raid site while Mark used Detect Magic on the wagons and the dead horses. Both PCs noticed that the carcasses appeared to have been crudely butchered and large chunks of meat carried away. Stealthy found a beaten path through the forest, and Mark led the way as the tracker (I ruled that Wilderness Lore would apply to the Wisdom check to track, though I also had Tordek tracking with Survival behind-the-scenes in case Mark missed anything). The party attempted to go onwards after dark, but seeing as Tordek was the only one with Low Light Vision I hinted that it would be in their best interests to camp (after Tordek fumbled around in the dark for an hour or so). I rolled a D% to determine whether or not anything approached the camp, but there was no random encounter).
The next morning they followed the trail out to the ravine where the Caves of Chaos lie. Stealthy scouted down the ridge a bit until coming across a tributary of the main stream that runs through the ravine. He found a muddy ford pockmarked with all manner of tracks; some roughly humanoid, others much smaller, and some much longer. Clearly this area saw a lot of travel. Stealthy fetched the group, forded the tributary, and followed the main path along the ravine's stream. While walking along Mark heard some whispered voices about 50 feet ahead of them. They were raspy and high pitched, and nobody in the party understood the language they were speaking. Stealthy scouted ahead and saw six kobolds hiding in ambush behind a log, backs facing the direction that the party was coming from. He reported back to the group, none of which were too eager to get into a fight without need. They decided to hang back to wait and see what would happen, and as they were ending their discussions of the matter the clear sounds of battle erupted in front of them. Playing it safe once again, Stealthy snuck ahead alone to observe what was happening. The six kobolds had ambushed a pair of orcs, and when Stealthy arrived on scene three of the kobolds were driving one of the orcs back with their spears, until all of the sudden the orc backed into a trip wire and a spear was launched toward it, piercing its skull. The other orc had slain 2 of the kobolds, but the 3 that had used the trap rejoined their lone comrade and they dispatched the other orc. The PCs still wanted to play the waiting game. The kobolds drug the orc bodies off the trail, reset the trap, and then headed off down the trail a little ways before veering off down a side path.
The party elected to follow the main path instead of pursuing the kobolds, citing that whatever fued was going on wasn't their concern. They were dead set on finding Atherton's son and getting the heck out of there. Many side paths branched out, heading for either wall of the ravine, and the PCs soon noticed that there were caves dotting the walls. Eventually the main trail petered out, with the majority of the humanoid tracks going off on side trails. Large, scary-looking tracks were pretty much all that were encountered going forward, so the party finally decided to head toward the north wall (in the same direction that the kobolds initially went).
Resigned to the fact that they'd have to enter these caves, the PCs head for the "most hidden" of the caves, which I ruled was Kobold Lair (being the lowest one down, the opening would be well below tree-level. However, as they approached the entrance Mark heard stealthy movements in the forest on either side of them. Stealthy dove into some underbrush while Torden and Mark prepared for an attack, backs facing each other. The 8 kobold guards won initiative, and 4 spears came raining down on the human and the dwarf, with 4 more kobolds charging forward with their daggers. Mark took 2 spear hits, while Tordek took 1. The spear-throwers came into melee during the second round. I rolled all of Tordek's attacks and damage despite the fact that even a miss would auto-kill these weak kobolds. Mark killed several with Radiant Lance, and after Stealthy shot one to death from hiding he charged forward with his dagger into melee. Most of the kobolds went down quickly, and with only 3 left I had 2 break off and run toward the caves. They shouted a warning, but were easily dispatched before they reached the entrance with Mark's Radiant Lance and Stealthy's sling.
At this point it was pretty late, and so we called the session here. We tossed around the notion of finishing up in the morning, but unfortunately there just wasn't time and it didn't happen. The session ran over an hour (but not by much), which is pretty good considering a lot had to be explained due to players' lack of experience.
- The streamlined rules were very user-friendly, as these new players had very little trouble picking it up. Reducing the vast majority of checks to attribute checks is intuitive.
- Combat ran quickly, and was easy to track without a grid.
- It was extremely easy to DM (thanks to the simple, intuitive core rules and simple stat blocks).
- The skill system is exactly what I was looking for. I had the Cleric of Pelor and the NPC Fighter both tracking; the Cleric using Wilderness Lore and the Fighter using Survival. Loving the flexibility, and it reminds me of The One Ring's trait system (in a very general way), which is a very good thing.
- I think I like the advantage/disadvantage system, though I did forget about applying it at first (understandable, as I was trying to teach new players the game so I had a lot running through my brain).
- Monsters are pretty bland. The kobolds just felt like generic monsters. My next encounter (had I had time to run it) would have been a better test of the streamlined system's tactical depth; after encountering the pit trap in Kobold Lair I was going to have a shield wall of Kobold Dragonshields march down the hall protecting regular kobolds that would rain death from behind the front line. A few other simple traps were also going to be thrown in. I suppose there's still time; next time I run a game I'm going to use the same storyline, and hopefully the PCs will head toward Kobold Lair (for comparison more than anything; I like the sandbox style of the adventure and I certainly won't railroad it).
- Without specific flanking rules (I was hesitant to houserule anything for this first playtest) trying to get sneak attack during combat was pretty much pointless for the Rogue after the first turn (assuming he starts hidden). Sacrificing a turn is too steep a price for a measly 1D6 extra damage on the next attack, not to mention the fact that hiding opens up your allies to more focus fire. That said, I think that Stealthy's player enjoyed being able to contribute a lot to the Exploration pillar, and it actually served this cautious group pretty well.
- Humans need a language besides Common. Having someone in the party that understands goblin or draconic would really help to facilitate use of the Interaction pillar in this specific adventure. My idea was that it wasn't the kobolds who captured Atherton's son, and if approached intelligently they could even aid the group against another faction. I'd planned on setting up a scene where the kobolds were meeting with some goblin allies (and would thus be using Common), but before that (which we obviously never got to) I didn't see any reason why the kobolds would speak anything besides Draconic amongst themselves.
- The trap DCs combined with the Rogue's Skill Mastery might potentially be problematic. It's fine for the pregen Rogue who dumped Wis, but I think concerns about Rogues being able to "Fonzie" open locks and such are valid. My plan was to use the Rogue's "passive perception" when he wasn't actively searching for traps, which would work out to be 12 (10 - 1 Wis +3 Find/Remove Traps). The pit trap DC was 13 which means that he could potentially trigger it (on a 10 or lower even if he actively searched for it), but any Rogue that doesn't dump Wis would not. Unless you inflate DCs artificially then low-level traps become pointless if there's a Rogue in the party. I guess the question is whether or not that's a deliberate design intent or not. Should Rogues simply not have to worry about most mundane traps? Clever DMing can of course get around it; if the party needs to rush through a trap-filled hall or room and is on a serious time limit, the Rogue may be able to give the party an accurate warning of what they're facing, but he can only disarm individual traps so fast...
- Not having to worry about OAs actually did make it easier to run combat gridless since I didn't have to be overly concerned with exact positioning, but I could definitely see squishy-bashing being a big problem. With a more experienced group I would have had all of the kobolds focus-fire the Cleric after seeing him hit by two spears in the opening volley. It's a problem that nobody would have been able to prevent that, but perhaps it comes down to a shift in mentality. While it's mechanically advantageous to focus-fire and walk past melee adversaries to do so, it's not realistically a good idea to leave capable warriors unengaged, thereby giving them the freedom to choose their own targets at will (and removing the fighting-for-your-life stress of battle, perhaps allowing them to get a really well-placed shot in). This could break down into a "simulationist vs ease of use" argument, but I still think that there should be some kind of mechanic in place. Perhaps something as simple as saying that if you voluntarily walk past a melee opponent in order to pound on a squishy, that melee guy gets free Advantage. That would work well in the simple rules even if OAs end up being reserved for an optional module.