Sep 24, 2007
I got four players together to try out the current playtest with Blingdenstone. Two of them played the very first playtest. The other two, and myself, hadn't yet tried out Next.
Character creation and classes:
This was pretty straightforward. One note I had is that when using point buy to generate ability scores, it's silly to get you base scores before choosing race/class. It makes sense to roll first, to see what you might have available, but when you're customizing fully, it's weird to have that as step 1.
We wanted to get a lot of diversity, so everyone picked a different race and class:
- Elven cleric (trickster, charlatan background, healing specialist)
- Halfling wizard (battlemage, sage background, investigation specialist)
- Human rogue (enforcer, guild thief background, skill specialist)
- Dwarven monk (guide background, endurance specialist).
The adventure module:
I'll try to keep spoilers to a minimum.
Reading over the avdenture beforehand, I felt that the chapters were arranged very counter-intuitively. Chapter 1 is fairly climactic, and benefits heavily from having done other quests, and being higher level. Chapters 2 and 3 seem designed for first level, but still good for second (especially chapter 3, since it involves a larger fight automatically, while 2 have random encoutners that only might be mroe difficult). Chapter 5 seems more appropriate for second level, as does 6 (it involves much less combat, but the main fight it describes would be very challenging at level 1). Chapter 4 doesn't have much in the way of level requirements, but it feels like it's designed to be the final event, after the players have been everywhere and met everyone.
With all that in mind, I made sure to introduce information in a way that made chapter 2 and 3 seem most pressing, with chapter 1 and 5 following that. However, chapter 1 requires dealing with chapter 5 at least partially if it hasn't been already, so I expected players to go deal with 5 before finishing up 1, even if they start it. I didn't introduce chapters 4 or 6 at all, planning to leave 6 until the four they had access to were finished and the gnomes trusted them more, and 4 for the climax of the story.
My assumed chapter order then was 2, 3, 5, 1, 6, 4, but besides the last two, I left the players to make their own decisions for order. They did however decide that kobolds (chapter 2) would be the best way to get aclimated to the dangerous life of adventure, and then proceeded to chapter 3 since it was simple and close, and the warden really wanted them to do it. We made it to the end of chapter 3 by the end of the session, and are planning to do another session sometime.
I drew out a map of the area that the gnomes knew about for the players, and handed it to the monk due to hus guide background. That helped a lot with explaining to the players where everything was. The map in the book is pretty poorly set up, and looks adapted from something else. Same with the House Center map, which has more doors leading outside than the text describes.
One other thing I noticed was the gnomes have little to no statistics presented. If the players ever ended up in conflict with them, or they needed to participate in a fight (for instance, defending the barracades, where gnomes guards are stationed), there isn't much to work with. Even the ones that do have some stats don't have movement speed, or ability scores for making saves. I decided to base the gnomes guards on Goblins (without any special abilities) if I needed them.
Playing the game:
I skimmed over areas 1-5, since they don't do anything (unless the players need to escape the entire area for some reason). The players first headed over to Phantasmal Glamours, and heard about the elementals. Then they went to talk to the warden, who told them about the orcs, kobolds, and House Center, suggesting they go to the House first. Without even rolling, they decided he was clearly a bit power hungry, but decided to help out anyways. They headed up to the infirmery, where they got some nasty oppinions of the warden, and were told that dealing with the kobolds would help out the msot, since the gnoems could then divert the resources they were using there to more improtant defenses.
So with two NPCs mentioning the kobolds, and some knowledge rolls to know kobolds tend to be weak, they headed in that direction. First stopping at the tavern at the suggestion of the healer, they got the mission to collect crystals (without even asking about a reward), then met Miglin who said he was supposed to guide them if they wanted to go into the Wormwrithings.
The rogue dealt with the first traps they encountered, and the battle mage roasted piles of kobolds at a time with burning hands. They forgot to craft healing items or prepare cure light wounds, so healing was tight, but with Miglin on their side, and wussy kobolds, it wasn't too tough a chapter. It helps that they got extremely lucky with the crystals. The first vein had 3, and the first random encoutner was more crystals, again 3 of them, so they had all 6 just like that. I decided to include a boss fight on the way back without rolling (the more common "big danger" result), which made for a bit more of a climactic encounter. Some mining picks and a thunderwave dealt with the tunnel, and they returned with the 6 crystals they needed, with jsut enough XP for level 2.
Without repoting to the warden yet, since word was going around anyways, they rested up, crafted some healing items (a potion each, an antitoxin, and a healer's kit), and headed over to the House Center. I forgot that the squares on the house map were supposed to be 10 feet until about half way through, but I decided to just go with it. Fighting in the cramped spaces was pretty interesting, and a nice change of pace from the much wider tunnels before. A lot of the map was pretty pointlessly complicated, however, and drawing it out on my battlemat took more time than I would have liked.
Most of the monsters were pretty easy now that the players were level 2, but they still presented enough of a threat to keep things interesting, especially since the rooms and hallways were so small, which made party positioning kind of difficult. The boss fight ended up extremely interesting though, as I included the optional drow character, but rather than just take pot shots from the shadows like the adventure suggests, she ran in to steal the crown, intending to immediately run away. She was instead thudnerwaved into a wall, and I had her make a Dex save or drop the crown, which she failed, so she had to spend her next turn picking it back up while the boss, also up agaisnt the wall, attacked her.
So instead of just running out, she used Darkness, which in my smaller map covered the entire room (sans corners and doorway alcoves), and signalled her minions to block the doors. After a lot of confusion, killing the original boss in the dark, bumping into unseen 'somethings' in the doorways, trying to Command the drow (which I ruled worked without line of sight, since the target is someone that can hear you) to surrender (which she did for one round, but no one could see her do it), eventually making it out of the room and seeing one of her minions, and running al around the building, they lost the drow, both her minions, and the crown. They had escaped into secret doors the players never found, which I decided included the other door to the building (since the provided map actually has 3 doors; I ignored the two besides the main entrance, and jsut included my own).
We didn't end up with a fighter, but the party worked pretty well together. The monk was very tough, and the cleric had high AC. I've heard reports of the rogue not standing up too well in combat, but he managed about as well as the monk, though a little squishier (same AC, but lower HP). I feel like the skill bonus from expertise is far too much. Most of the trap search DCs in the adventure are around 13, so it was close to automatic success for the rogue. Increasing the DCs would destroy parties lacking a rogue though.
In general, I liked all of the classes and abilities. Everyone had interesting things to do, but not an overwhelming number of weird abilities.
I'm really liking the "adventuring day" model, which allows for some easy fights every now and then, some harder combats, traps, social encounters, etc., without getting unbalanced. And combats are legitimately fast unless they're very important big fights, which is wonderful. Combats always took me forever in 4e, and the complexity of 3.x lead to a lot of very long rounds, especially as levels went up.
I also really like the way attack bonuses and AC work out. I definitely felt as the DM that the difference in AC between the characters, though only raning 3 points, really mattered for who was capable of taking attacks well, and even the powerful boss enemies didn't always land hits. As levels increase, I expect weaker enemies will still be able to do something, even if they don't do much damage and tend to die very easily. Essentially, it feels like jsut by using higher or lwoer level monsters, I can achieve what solo/elite/minion monsters did in 4e, without needing any different mechanics.