Saturday, June 22, 2013

LFG: More Playtesting

Game Date: 6/22/2013
Campaign: Looking For A Group, Session 1
System: D&D Next / 5e Playtest
DM: Rusty

Golag Bonesmasher (Bryan) - Half-Orc Ranger
Halfbeard (Cliff) - Dwarf Fighter
Keyleth Siannodel (Matt) - Elf Druid

The Session: 
We're still trying to gather enough players to make a stable campaign.  Today we played a session of the D&D Next playtest, and plan to continue this story next week.  All three of us created our characters from scratch, there at the table.  It took a little while, but it was still faster than most editions.

We started in the village of Threshold, where we asked around for rumors and work.  We learned of several potential jobs.  The one we picked was an eviction.  There was a castle down the road that had been unoccupied for a few years.  The new owner wanted us to drive out some goblin squatters.

On the road there, we ran into a man who was suspiciously interested in our business.  Or he was just genuinely friendly.  It's hard to tell.  But being paranoid genre savvy players, we assume he'll be a major villain later in the campaign.

We reached the castle and went inside.  In the first room we found four goblins, and dispatched them quickly.  We left the last one alive to ask him questions, but he wasn't much help.  We tied him up and left him in the corner, revisiting him occasionally to ask him more questions.

When we interrupted the goblins, they had been sorting their treasure, so there were piles of silver and copper pieces in the middle of the room.  We were wary of filling our bags with heavy coins in the very first room, hoping for better treasure later.  So we covered up the coins in the hopes of gathering them on the way out.  We did pocket a valuable gem, though.

In some other rooms we encountered three humans.  They claimed to be tradesmen, resting on their way to town.  According to them, lots of traveling merchants use this abandoned castle to rest.  We found this a little hard to swallow considering the goblin infestation, but we gave them the benefit of the doubt.  We ordered them to leave in the morning, and we rested overnight.  True to their word, they left in the morning.

The traders had encountered a couple of wolves and locked them in the castle courtyard.  Golag used his animal empathy spell on one of them, and the other one came along as well.  We continued opening doors but didn't find much to write home about.  In one room we fought a few stirges, but took them out pretty quickly.  We ended the session there.  It looks like we've investigated maybe a third of the castle.  But character creation took up a significant portion of the session, so we could still finish out the castle next session.

I chose Druid on a whim.  I have a small amount of experience with Druids in 4e, but for the most part it was new to me.   I mostly stayed in animal form and fought melee.  In Elven form, I tried using my bow a couple of times, but I kept missing.  I've yet to cast a spell.  I'm still not a fan of Vancian magic, and it was difficult to choose which spells to prepare.  But overall I'm happy with my Druid; it seems like a pretty versatile class.

I really enjoyed the session, but I'm still torn on what I want out of D&D Next.  On one hand, I'd like it to be the "definitive" version of D&D.  On the other hand, some of the newfangled stuff they're throwing in is pretty cool.  For example, one of the first significant rules introduced in 5e was Advantage/Disadvantage system (roll two d20s and take the higher or lower depending on what's going on).  I really like this idea, and it works great in practice.  But I think I would have liked it better in 4e than in 5e. It just seems to fit 4e's flashy style.

So this is where I debate with myself.  Half of me wants 5e to be like one of the retroclones, with a half-page character sheet and simple characters that can be built in five minutes.  Something similar to first edition, but more balanced and no hint of THACO.  The kind of thing they tried to do with Dungeon Crawl Classics or Castles and Crusades, but with official "D&D" branding.

My other half wants them to throw in every neat idea they can think of, as long as most of it is optional.  I could even see making "basic" and "advanced" versions of the rules (gee, that sounds familiar).  You could get by with just the 40 page "Basic Rulebook" that doesn't even include backgrounds or specialties.  But to get the most out of the system, you'd pick up the "Deluxe/Advanced Rulebook" which has everything.  But I don't know if it would be in WOTC's best interests to divide their fans up even further.

I've heard some grumblings that the game is too easy.  I know they've spent a lot of time trying to configure hit points and healing.  The problem is, the amount of health needed really depends on whether your campaign is roleplay-heavy or mostly combat.  A single system isn't going to satisfy all D&D campaigns.  Some games are going to have one fight a day (or less), and the DMs are going to say, "These guys never get low on hit points!  There's no drama!"  Other games are going to have 10 fights a day as the characters work their way through dungeons room by room, and people are going to complain that the slow healing really bogs the game down.

So IMO, D&DNext's biggest failing might turn out to be the options they've promised.  They act like they want it to be the one and only, end all be all, all things to all people, ultimate universal gaming system.  The problem is there's no way to really do that.  They can give all kinds of optional healing systems, but it will take more than that to balance the game for different play styles.  This is something that affects all aspects of combat, from monster hit points to attack rolls and AC.  Even within the realm of high combat, there's tweaking to be done.  Do you want your session to consist of lots of short battles, or two or three really long fights?  Sooner or later they may have to pick a target audience and cater to them.  Otherwise they could end up with a product that nobody wants.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

D&D 4e: Kobold Hall

Game Date: 6/8/2013
System: D&D 4e
DM: Rusty   

Kris (Matt): Half-Elf Hexblade
Matilda (Cliff): Dwarf Paladin

Our potential GURPS campaign ended before it even began.  Two of our players (who were also our hosts) had to suddenly move out of state, leaving us with too small a group and no place to play.  So for now we're playing at the Game Keep, with the hopes of attracting a few more players.  Today we played the starter module Kobold Hall.  As a DM, I had run this module once before (2/21/09), but this was my first time playing it as a PC.

We only had two players, and the first encounter nearly killed us.  We rolled lots of 1s, and at one point each of us found ourselves at 0 hit points.  The final kobold fled (probably as a mercy) and the DM realized he would have to nerf the encounters from this point on. 

The second encounter was a little better, but the paralytic darts gave us some trouble.  Matilda went down again, and the encounter might have been lost if not for a lucky 20 on death save.  We came out okay, but Kris was low on healing surges, so we took an extended rest afterwards.

The third encounter started out rough because the enemies were out of reach.  Matilda had no ranged attacks whatsoever.  Kris managed to kill a kobold with Eldrich Blast, and used her teleport reaction to reach the rest of the enemies.  Meanwhile, Matilda opened some doors, where she found some stairs - and a drake to fight.  Once again, the final kobold fled.  Not having taken much damage, we chased the kobold rather than take a short rest.

In the fourth encounter we faced the kobold boss.  It wasn't easy, especially since one of the enemies could fly.  But we finally took them out.  One more time, the final kobold fled, back the way we'd come.  Instead of chasing him, we explored the room and found the key to the secret passage.  We had fulfilled our mission.  As players, we both knew that the fifth encounter was a dragon, and our chances of winning were iffy.  But we knew that our characters wouldn't know about the dragon, and would be anxious to find any treasure that might be below.

So we took a short rest and headed downstairs. We didn't stand a chance.  The dragon rolled a 20 on its stealth roll, and headed straight for us before we even knew he was there.  He used a fear power that paralyzed Matilda, then hit both of us with his breath weapon.  We both began heading for the door, but didn't make much progress because were slowed.  The dragon used its two claw attacks and tore Kris in half, taking her from barely bloodied to completely dead in one round.  Matilda managed to save against slow and fled the scene, surviving to fight another day.

"When danger reared its ugly head, he bravely turned his tail and fled..."
Stepping back into 4e was kind of nice.  It's still a flawed system, but my familiarity with it made for a comfortable session.  I wasn't really attached to this character, and she had a rather epic death, so I'm not that torn up about it.  Hexblades are interesting, but I don't think they're for me.  However, I have no idea what sort of character I do want to play.  We might resume the Adventures of Matilda in two weeks, though it's up in the air whether we'll be playing 4e or Next.