I began Isle of Dread last night using MapTool
and Skype with a fresh party of 3rd-level adventurers. Each used 27-pt buy, used average HP values, and only received 175gp for starting equipment. No house rules. Nearly everything was gridded, including battles and the overland map.The party:Dwarf barbarian:
relatively new to D&D Halfling wizard (illusionist):
experienced 4e playerElf cleric (trickster):
experienced 3e/4e playerHuman monk:
experienced 3e/4e player (made a character but couldn't arrive until the last battle) Character creation
No big problems. Nobody thoroughly read "How to Play" (at best, they skimmed it, or so I want to believe!) before making a character, so I answered questions the best I could while everyone muddled through. There was an issue with starting gold (is it 150gp or 175gp?) and lack of rules for starting at higher levels. However, I didn't want to give out any free magic items or special armor, so we just went with that.
The barbarian was slightly overwhelmed by the amount of options, but backgrounds/specialties pointed her in a decent direction.
The wizard wanted to focus on illusions/enchantments and leave damage to everyone else. His strength and dexterity were ~10 each, so a backup sling wouldn't do much damage either.
The cleric enjoyed that deity choice played a huge role and ended up grabbing a katana for his finesse cleric. He liked feats from 3e that were powered by Turn Undead charges, and so Channel Divinity seemed great. He had no idea if a trickster cleric would suck or not, but decided to roll with it. He ended up having about 9 skills total (elf 2, trickster 2, cleric 1, background 4).
The monk was initially put off that there were no feat trees, and very few feats seemed useful to monks. He also believed there were too many skills and wished the whole thing was streamlined.Introduction
Taking a cue from the Isle of Dread adventure, I decided to start off with the characters waking up on the beach after a shipwreck:A mouthful of sand and a bad headache. The sun blazes through your eye sockets and pierces your brain. You don't remember much: a weird mist, the turbulent waves, and the captain pinned beneath a shattered mast. Now here you are, on an endless beach that stretches on for miles, near a dense jungle that hoots with the howls of strange beasts. Shipwreck debris and dead bodies pollute the otherwise pristine sands around you.
I like that multiple hooks are provided, but I wish more meat was provided other than "the characters start at a point you choose." Quick-starting in the town didn't seem like a fun option. Anyway, so I borrowed a bit from each of the hooks to make my own introduction.
The party spent a little while figuring out how to scavenge the ship for supplies. I took the opportunity to teach them how to make ability checks: intelligence for searching, strength for manual labor. The barbarian tried to crack open a barrel with her bare hands and rolled under a 5. Amusingly enough, the wimpy wizard tried to help her out and rolled a 19. Salted pork rolled out onto the sand, and the hungry barbarian went fist-first into the mound. The monk player had some real-life business to attend to, so he wasn't present yet.
Little did they know, the bodies of the dead crew were soon to reanimate as zombies. Eventually, the players moved into the ship to scavenge. I asked the first one in--the cleric--to roll a Dexterity saving throw. He failed. As he lifted up a crate, a formerly pinned zombie arm made a free attack on him, which hit and did the full 6 damage. Basically, I treated it like a trap. Then I asked for initiative rolls.The zombie fight
The party of three were soon waylayed by six zombies, emerging from the sand and ship. I liked that zombies only rolled a d6 for initiative, so they went last.
Barbarian asked, "Are any of them going for the barrel of pork outside?" I said yes, one had risen from under the sand and wrapped its arms around the barrel. She did what any good barbarian would do: fly into a rage, abandon her friends, and go rescue the pork barrel. On her very first attack, she rolled a natural twenty: 12 max maul + 2 STR + 2 rage bonus + 12 max MDD + 2d6 maul crit damage = ~35 damage against a 9-hp zombie.
The barbarian had advantage on every attack, the Cleave feat, and a mountain of martial damage dice (MDD). Generally, she could kill a zombie and cleave into the next one but not fully kill the second one. Even though she only had 13 AC, the zombie attacks barely phased her resistance and massive hit point total. Zombies were made for barbarians to kill.
However, the other two players were left alone with about 3 zombies. Neither could kill a zombie the first turn, so the zombies got to go. I believe two had to Hustle to get up to the wizard, while the other one flailed away.
During the cleric's turn, he made an attack and reduced the zombie to negative HP. However, zombies have a special power: if they can make a CON save vs. the killing blow's damage, they survive with 1 hp. Generally, the cleric did only about 7-8 damage per hit (even with a katana), which gave the zombie nearly a 60-70% chance of surviving the killing blow. I totally agreed with the player here: "That's bullshit."
The wizard cast color spray and magic missile during the fight. Based on past editions, I assumed color spray wouldn't work on the undead, but I couldn't find any rule here to the contrary. Besides, they were hurting and needed something
to happen. He used a red color spray, which forced a few zombies to randomly attack each other for a round. That saved his butt for the time being. On the other hand, magic missile was nearly worthless: 2d4+4 damage was easily resisted by the zombie's CON save. I believe this is when he learned how to use the Disengage action to great effect.
Eventually, the barbarian soaked up a (missed) opportunity attack to go rescue her friends and finish off the remaining zombies.
In the end, the barbarian had a lot of fun while the other two players despised zombies. We all agreed that the "zombie fortitude" feature was too good. Against a character with MDD, the zombie rarely made the save, but other sources of damage (a katana's 1d10+3 or a magic missile's 2d4+4) the zombie more-often-than-not would survive.
I think making the DC higher might help, but the others thought the ability should just be removed. It was un-fun, because they had no way to increase their damage, other than wait for the barbarian to show up. Personally, I would prefer vulnerability (slashing) and resistance (bludgeoning), much like the skeleton.The pirate ship
The PCs were so exhausted from the fight that they decided to take a long rest to replenish spells and HPs. I made sure to prod them about their sleeping arrangements, and they decided to set up tents on the beach. The barbarian climbed a palm tree and slept up there.
I rolled for a random encounter, and sure enough: pirates. I decided that they would be approaching on a ship from a couple hundred feet away, sailing down the coast. I rolled randomly to see who was taking the watch shift, and the wizard fortunately made a Wisdom check to spot the pirates. He woke everyone up and they hid in the tree-line.
Of course, the shipwreck and tents were sitting out visible, clear as day. The wizard decided to cast an illusion spell to mask the shipwreck and tents. Minor illusion only altered a 10-ft cube, while phantasmal force (2nd level spell) was much larger. We read through the description and noticed a number of problems.
The fluff description reads "A phantasm is visible only to those creatures
affected by it" while the effect clearly states only one
living creature is affected. This was obviously a problem against a ship full of pirates, but I had him roll some kind of check (can't remember) to expand the effects of the spell to cover more targets. I had the pirate crew roll a single check against the DC, and they failed. The wizard successfully disguised the campsite as a giant boulder, and the pirates sailed off, none-the-wiser.
Obviously this wasn't the intention of the spell's design, but there aren't many other illusion spells now, and I wanted to reward clever play. As long as it's not game-breaking and easily repeatable, why not?The wight and the skeletons
After some scouting with the wizard's familiar (a hawk), I told the players about the terrain of nearby hexes. As of then, they lacked a map, but that was about to change. They also discovered another shipwreck a mile down the shore, so they headed off to go see it.
Thanks to a good Dex + Sneak roll, the cleric helped everyone sneak close to the ship. Inside, they could see skeletons and hear the mutterings of a crazed wight: something about a black pearl and cannibals. The barbarian wanted to go talk and see what they could learn about the island (she thought he was pitiful in a Gollum-like way), but the rest wanted to ambush the wight. The wizard cast minor illusion (ghost sound) to simulate the sound of meat cooking. The wight failed his save pretty dramatically and went out to investigate, diving prone to the ground to dig through the sand, looking for the meat.
The barbarian charged, rolled a natural 1, and face-planted right next to the wight and his cadre of animated skeletons. (Not in the rules, but seemed appropriate!). I believe the cleric blessed the party, got advantage from his Ambush feat, and charged the wight. The wizard used a blue color spray to grant disadvantage to the skeletons, which cancelled out the advantage they received from attacking the prone barbarian. A few rounds passed, and the fight ended without too much damage to the players. I also have to mention that the barbarian crit a skeleton with her maul, dealing a total of 54 damage in one hit, due to the skeleton's bludgeoning vulnerability. Jaws dropped. (Get it?)
From the wight, they recovered JB's journal and a map of the island, as well as a kopru idol. The wizard (who took literally 5 knowledge skills) ended up knowing quite a bit about the evil, cultish artifact and the history of the kopru race.Overland travel
Afterwards, they had a few choices: explore the surrounding wilderness, head to town, or seek out the "lost city of the gods." In fact, the players chose none of the above. Instead, they wanted to go hunt dinosaurs, since dinosaurs were promised (by me) when I recruited them to play. The best place to hunt dinosaurs, it stood to reason (because somebody saw Jurassic Park I think), was on the central plateau, so they found a river heading inland and decided to follow it.
Rolling all the checks and keeping track of time was difficult at first, but as soon as I got the hang of it, it became easier. In the future I will have to roll this out before the game to save time. We have a very stealthy party, so they completely avoided the next random encounter (a group of tribal spearmen hauling a sabre-toothed tiger carcass), because they were worried the spearmen might be cannibals. One player cleverly tried to analyze their bone jewelry from a distance, but failed his check to figure out whether the bones were human or animal.
During the next encounter (I kept rolling 6s), they ambushed a group of ghouls feasting on a paralyzed roc.Ghouls
During this fight, the monk joined the group during the surprise round. While the barbarian tossed a javelin and the cleric maneuvered to fire his shortbow from cover, the monk darted out of the trees and Hurricane Kick'd a ghoul halfway across the map. We forgot it was opposed by a Strength check.
The wizard cast another phantasmal force spell against one of the ghouls, this time creating a giant kopru fish-god illusion. However, the spell does specify you must target a "living" creature, but once again I overruled that. I don't know if I will change my mind in the future, but for the time being the wizard needed something interesting to do, so I let him do it. It was my fault that all three encounters so far had been against undead creatures, so I wanted to make sure he could be a proper illusionist before the end of the night.
After the surprise round, the ghouls rolled so poorly that they went last in the order, so the players got another round of actions. They managed to kill all but one of the ghouls, which was too pre-occupied with the illusion. In the last turn, they killed it too.
The cleric healed the paralyzed roc. He succeeded on a Charisma check to calm the giant bird. The roc beat its wings and flew off back towards its nest. Everyone was quite happy that they made a new friend. That's when the session ended.Afterwards
Everyone enjoyed the game a lot. One player even said, "Wow. That felt like the D&D I remember." I feared that the lousy zombie encounter would have ruined it, but afterwards things picked up quickly. In total, the game took about 4.5 hours, but before the game they each worked on characters and read the rules for 1-2 hours.
Combat was brisk and entertaining, but we did use a grid for each encounter. Unfortunately, a few of us missed shifting, flanking, terrain features, and additional complexity from previous editions. On the other hand, being free to move within a creature's reach was quite a nice change. It's difficult to avoid opportunity attacks short of killing the enemy, and I like that. I plan to house-rule flanking (+1 bonus or something), but shifting needs more thought.
Everyone, even the player, agreed the barbarian was completely overpowered. We would probably say a similar thing about the monk, but we didn't have a chance to play with him too much. Martial damage dice (MDD) need adjusting, and I hope that happens soon. I have no idea how to house-rule MDD without breaking other parts of the system.
The katana cleric seemed to play well. His main concern is that he didn't have a chance to cast Hold Person, and that was understandable. His damage was quite a step down from the barbarian, and I hope that gap shrinks in the future.
My main concern is the wizard illusionist: there aren't enough illusion spells to really gauge how strong he can be. Once again, compared to the martial classes, he didn't seem as effective in combat. He still had a great time, though.
Everyone is eager to play next week, and then we might have a new player!