I hosted a playtesting event yesterday, with twenty invited. Three of us were set to game master, with groups up to seven players. Eleven people actually showed, but unfortunately, this did not include the other two gamemasters, one of whom had all of the miniatures for the game. Instead of running multiple groups, we ended up with one group of eleven. I have run huge groups before, so this wasn't a problem. As a bonus, it did give us a good chance to stress test the playability of the system. This was an all day event beginning at noon and ended up running for fourteen hours.
The group was remarkably diverse in most ways. We had a couple people playing who began in the late '70s, as well as a couple people who have never played a roleplaying game before. The youngest was 20, the oldest was 69. Many players were familiar with a wide array of pen and paper rpgs, so game mechanics both in D&D and other games were well understood. People who regularly play or have regularly played each edition of D&D and Pathfinder were represented.
A couple people prepared their characters ahead of time, but most generated them at the game. I left it up to each player to use either point buy or dice rolls, since we wanted to test both. We used the point buy straight out of the test packet and four dice, drop the lowest for dice rolls. My first surprise was that the overwhelming majority of the group preferred dice rolls, including people who have always used point buy. Out of nine people who rolled their stats, only one ended up "stacked" (there were witnesses to his rolls). Overall, the others were well-balanced. The character creation process took the entire group approximately one and a half hours, but with as many people as we had, some of them being new and a lot of set up and general conversation, this was actually not very long. Obviously, there were questions, but no one found it to be confusing or unwieldly.
It was amazing how much Next felt and played like first edition (I mean that in a good way). I had seen this to some degree when running smaller groups ( four to six people), but it really stood out when playing with this many. Especially with no miniatures, I seriously doubt I could have run this group in fourth edition and it would have been slow and awkward at best in third edition. For those who had never played first or second edition, the speed and smoothness with which the game flowed was surprising. Combat never bogged down and all the players were active and engaged during the entire combat. The only exception to this was when one of the clerics was seven hours into a long rest and the party insisted he sit in the corner and do nothing, while they fought off an ambush. This, however, was due to strategy, not game play. I was running Caves of Chaos (with much modification) and they cleared out areas J, D, F and the Ogre Cave at E.
Overall, character balance was good. I had read in some of the forums that Barbarians were overpowered, but the Fighter/Duelist actually ended up being more of a wrecking ball. This could just be the way the players played them.
The one mechanic for which there was a problem was regarding cantrips. Everyone agreed that it was good to give the spell casters a damage-dealing spell that they could use each turn, so they didn't sit useless during melee combat. However, everyone also agreed that the damage of the cantrips was ridiculously high for at-will spells. We had a cleric with Lance of Faith doing 2d6 every round and a wizard with ray of frost doing 1d10 every round, and these are ranged attacks. Yes, fighters get to add martial dice and and strength mods, but the weapons still only do 1d12 at the high end for melee weapons. Most of the low level creatures only had three to five hit points, so even if the cantrips only did 1d4 or 1d6, the wizard could still play a significant role in combat without blowing off their main spells. If I were running a long-term campaign instead of playtests, the cantrip damage would definitely be house-ruled to a more reasonable level.
There were mixed opinions over the skills. Some liked having skills be more specific, with skills like Spot, Listen and Search each being an independent skill. However, about an equal number thought some of the skills were redundant and could easily have been combined for simplicity. Bluff, Persuade and Intimidate aren't exactly the same, but they are based off the same check and, for game mechanics purposes, could easily have been combined into one skill. The same is true of Spot, Listen and Search. This isn't a big deal to game play, just a matter of personal preference.
The creatures seemed too low risk for first level. Yes, if you swarm them and use tactics, they can pose a serious threat to a party. However, individually, a goblin or gnoll poses essentially no risk whatsoever to a first level fighter in one-on-one combat. The fighter will win. The only question is whether or not they sustain damage that will cost them in the next fight. Because the creatures do so little damage at this level, a smart use of the parry ability and superior armor class makes a fighter virtually untouchable at these levels. Our Duelist didn't take a scratch for about half of a fourteen hour playing session. He did enough damage with his ability mod and weapon damage that he could save martial dice for parrying on every turn. This may be something that will balance out at higher levels, but should still be addressed at low levels.
According to the two rogues, the rogue schemes need to be better balanced. They both stated that they would always run the Trickster, because the extra skill tricks are just too much more of an advantage. I personally haven't looked at it, but this is what they report.
I will post more as I think of it. Everyone said they had a blast and look forward to doing it again soon.
I also felt like the trickster's extra skill tricks were a vastly superior option compared to the rest of the rogue scheme benefits. However, it didn't really feel unbalanced or overpowered compared to the other players.
From what the one rogue told me, it isn't that it is so unbalanced that it upsets game play, it just makes the other schemes seem less attractive. To quote him, "I would always choose the Trickster, every time."
Yea, I was that rogue. Bly, the complaint wasn't so much vs. other players. You're right, that wasn't really an issue. It's just that, the other schemes don't offer much compared to getting 3 addtional skills/augments. I just don't need Skill Focus (Sneak) or Improved Initiative all that badly. Especially not since I already had a decent Sneak and in combat was a ranged weapon user, and thus sat back and knocked'em down from a distance.
Potential Solution: Keep Trickster the way it is and add to the other Schemes (Improved Initiative + 1 additional skill trick, or Skill Focus (Sneak) + 1 bonus to Search, etc.) Something like that could work pretty well. Then I would have incentive to look at the other Schemes. But as it stands, Trickster is by far the best option, thus there really aren't "options".
Another issue that came up during the playtest is that the medium armors aren't really worth it. I'm not going to elaborate, because this has already been covered indepth elsewhere in the forums. It was, however, something that came up.
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