This weekend saw our second playtest session of the D&D Next rule set. If you missed the first report, you can find it here. It may be worthwhile to read that report if you have not yet since I will try not to repeat much of what I have already reported.
By and large this was the same group as last time. The only difference was that one of the more experienced players was unable to make the session so we only had 6 players this time. The player who missed the session had played the dwarven cleric last time so this time one of the fighters switched to the dwarf cleric, in part for the healing and in part for a change since he was the player that was not particularly impressed with the fighter after the first session. The group still ran with two rogues and one of each of the other characters.
Rad Longhammer Returns!
Having used the Noble Heir hook already and having to an extent finished that story by having Rad Longhammer rescued, I decided to drop the Eye of Gruumsh hook. Since the priest of Pelor had taken a liking to Rad Longhammer, I had Rad deliver the juicy hook to the party, telling of how he overheard some of his kobold captors talking about the mysterious and powerful shard that was believed to be hidden in one of th nearby caves. Like any good group of adventurers, the party was very intrigued by the idea of locating a powerful artifact, so they readily agreed to set off in search of the shard.
Back to the Caves
The party ventured back to the caves and scouted around the valley a bit before finally deciding on the Shunned Cavern. One of the rogues scouted out the mouth of the cavern and reported an overwhelming rotting stench coming from the cave. He urged the party to press on to a different cave, but was eventually out voted, so the party decided to enter en masse.
Upon entering, they heard the shrill screeching of a large number of rats and they soon saw a mass of them headed toward the mouth of the cave. The fighter, who was in front, attempted to get a visual on exactly how many rats there were, and on what it was that seemed to be scaring them into running toward the party. Unfortunately for the fighter, she was not able to get a particularly good look and all she could tell was that there were a lot of rats headed her way. Apparently, her inability to count them, or to see what was scaring them, was due in no small part to her apparent phobia of all things rat like, for as the rats came at her, she immediately set to climbing the wall of the cave.
The rogue who disliked the stench of the cave followed the fighter's lead and also began to climb the wall. The wizard would simply shake his head at the frightened fighter and walked up to the front to cast burning hands on the mass of rats -- killing most of them. It should be noted that for the first part of this fight, I chose not to mark the location of the rats with minis or anything, instead simply describing them and letting the party just attack them. This actually worked out very well and helped speed things along.
The rats were reeling at this point, but a few remained and were able to get a couple of bites in to literally nibble away at the party's hit points. It soon became obvious though that the rats were not the real threat here. A rogue was able to spot that which had spooked the rats, namely a gray ooze that was slowly sliding toward the party. The ooze would soon show its true threat value as the fighter and dwarven priest would bear the brunt of its corrosive abilities. The fighter was hit once by the ooze and the dwarven priest hit the ooze twice. Unfortunately for them, saving throws were not their strong suit, and their armor and weapon respectively began to corrode. This would become even more worrisome for the duo when they realized that the items would not automatically get better, or even get a saving throw, etc. to try to improve.
The ooze, while having powerful attacks and being very dangerous to the party in terms of its corrosive properties, was very easy to hit, and would soon be destroyed. Even the wall climbing rogue, who asked to use a sling while hanging onto the wall and was allowed to do so with disadvantage, had little trouble hitting. Given that the party was only second level (I had let them level up after last session) I think this was okay, but it is something that would soon be worth noting.
After destroying the ooze, the party pressed further into the cavern and was soon face to face with an owlbear. The owlbear was another critter that was full of hit points and packed a powerful punch, but was easy to hit. I decided during this encounter though to dial it up a notch. At the end of the second round, I had the other two oozes in this cavern approach the party from behind. I was really trying to see just how much I could push the party and to test the survivability of the party. This definitely got the party's attention and soon there were grumblings of a tpk. It didn't help when the bugbear finally connected with both claw attacks on the dwarven priest, thus triggering its hug, which combined would reduce the priest to negative hit points. Lucky for the priest though, the hug attack roll was minimum damage.
Sensing the danger the party was in, I allowed one of the rogues (who was deepest into the cavern at this point) to notice a strange formation of rocks on one of the walls, unfortunately though, her rolls were only good enough to notice it, and not to realize that it concealed a secret door. The plan at this point was to make this an alternate exit so that the party could run since they were mostly otherwise trapped in the cavern. The party kept a wary eye on the spot, though nobody else tried to get a good look at the formation. It would not matter though for the party's fortunes soon turned around thanks in large part to Frost Bolt and the lack of opportunity attacks. The oozes and owlbear would take turns becoming sitting ducks for the party, and as they were real easy to hit, the party was soon able to down them. Interestingly enough, the PCs with metal on their weapons or armor would retreat to the back lines of the party so the oozes' most powerful ability (the corrosion) would not come into play in this encounter.
As the party was able to get through that fight and there was still some time left in the night, I decided to change the secret exit into another room that contained several zombies. This was as much a mop up fight somewhat designed to reward the party for getting past the big fight as anything. However, I also hid a Staff of Curing in this room as well since even with two healers, it was becoming apparent that healing was at a premium. In any event, the fight proved easy, the party recovered a magic item (though not what they were looking for) and decided that they had taken enough licks for one day and so headed home to the Keep.
Once again combat proved to be fast. We covered three actual fights in about 2.5 hours though one of those fights was actually two encounters combined into one. I would note that running the first part of the first encounter without mapping the location of the rats proved easy as well. The party would occasionally ask where the rats were but that was easy enough to explain. The other advantage was that it let me make that an easier fight (by stating that the wizard caught most of the rats in his cone) than it would have been with minis. Given the way I had presented the encounter, I think this was pretty good. It certainly showed the ability to be flexible with encounters and that if you just want a story-based combat encounter, you can do it.
The death rules (i.e. you die when your hit points reach the negative value of your constitution + level) also proved good for this session. There was some tension as the dwarven priest was rolling his death saves. He made two but also failed one, resulting in another point of damage (yes, as the priest hit negative hit points between the owlbear's hug and a failed death save I rolled three consecutive 1s on d6 damage rolls). The interesting thing to note here is that if those three d6 rolls had simply been average, the priest would have been right on death's door.
I also found that I was able to quickly put together an impromptu encounter at the end of the night. The quick fights make it a lot easier to fill in that gap in time, particularly when you are in an area that is not exactly conducive to diplomatic relations and such. Sure, if I knew for sure that this would be an ongoing campaign, I would have simply let the party retreat to the Keep and engage in some roleplay there, but for purposes of playtesting, the ability to quickly whip up another encounter was nice.
The other thing I liked was the relatively uniform DC charts. This made it easy to adjudicate some of the improvised actions taken by the party. One example was the fighter who wanted to swing from her perch on the wall to vault over the rats and attack the ooze directly. Unfortunately for her, her strength check was a 4, so instead of vaulting forward, she swung backward and landed on the priest of Pelor. I gave the priest a dex saving throw which he made to allow him to slide backward and avoid the brunt of the "lunar eclipse".
Not too much to post here that wasn't already said in part one. The player who complained about lack of options still had the same complaints, even with the dwarven priest. He didn't like his at will, etc. To be honest, I think a lot of this just has to do with him liking all the options offered by powers in 4ed and even feats in 3.x. Even being able to swing with his hammer effectively didn't appease him much as he felt that this was a bit of a "cop out" for a cleric. In other words, if he were to ever play a cleric he would likely prefer the Pelor type cleric that is much more focused on spells. To be fair though, this is simply a matter of play style and the current playtest packet simply doesn't have that which he is looking for. It does sound as though the next packet will, so hopefully he'll start to like it better.
I would also note that in my mind, the monsters seemed a bit too easy to hit. To an extent this was fine in that it balanced out their offensive power when set against 2nd level characters, but I don't think these critters will have much staying power when they go up against higher level PCs. Its possible that upping the number of critters in the fight might help, but I am not certain since that might almost create too many hit poitns to get through. Will certainly be worth looking at through future sessions though.
Finally, the combination of Frost Bolt and the ability to move both before and after the attack proved to be a bit overpowered. As long as the wizard was able to hit, the party was able to take turns walking up to the frozen critter, smacking it, then retreating to a safe distance. Obviously this was much more powerful against these foes that were melee only, but it was note worthy. OA's are almost mandatory here in my opinion as the ability to move in and out would soon render the battle a trivial exercise in die rolling. Even the wizard who enjoyed using a clever tactic (he's also a bit of a tactical player) agreed that it was overpowered in the context of the encounters presented. Certainly as a DM I would be hesitant to have too many encounters where the monsters did not have ranged attacks when there is a wizard in the party.
Once again I tracked the success rate with Advantage and Disadvantage. This time the numbers on Advantage were more in line with what I expected. On the evening, there were 9 hits compared to three misses when attacking with advantage. Over the course of two sessions, that now puts it at 19 hits and 18 misses though most of those misses obviously came in the first session where the DM dice were frigid at best.
Disadvantage would prove a bit wonky this session. On the night, there were 5 hits versus 2 misses when attacking with disadvantage. Most of these attacks came from the fighter rapid firing her crossbow and still being able to hit. Over the two sessions, the tally is now 5 hits versus 7 misses. For the most part, I do think that the idea of Advantage/Disadvantage is working, there have just been some odd die rolls in there combined with low ACs in the last session for the monsters.
It was another fun session and the added hit die per character made for some better healing options for the party. The fighter liked the fighter surge mechanic and it certainly helped to distinguish the fighter from the rest of the party. I think this was the only example of a character really feeling different at level 2 compared to level 1 though. The other characters really didn't seem to offer much new. For me, this is a bit of an issue as I personally have always liked the idea of a level up providing some sort of "tangible" reward, be it a feat, a new ability, etc. That's just me of course and it still remains to be seen what the options over all the levels will offer. I continue to maintain my belief that this iteration currently feels the most like 2nd edition to me, but that of course is basing it off just one very compact set of rules. I am certainly looking forward to seeing some of the other rules modules as they are released to see if D&D Next will offer a feel of other editions.