Gave the new playtest packet a quick go last week. A couple of the guys couldn’t make our usual game, so we were down to three players and myself. So we used the fighter, wizard and rogue and put the two clerics in the background. Had a feeling we might need their healing help at some point, and I was to be proved right.
I’ve been keeping up with other blogs and fora, so I had some idea of the potential pitfalls in the game. I’d considered making some changes based on that feedback, but in the end I wanted to playtest what we had, not what I thought we should have. So I went with the Caves of Chaos rather than doing my own thing.
We started with a run through of the character sheets. This turned out to be easy to explain. That’s my first take away, the game looks easy to teach at this point. I’m pretty sure complete novices would have managed after 5 mins. Most of the explanation went into what wasn’t held over from 4e (my group are 3/4e vets in the main, I’m the one with the multi edition experience)
The PCs introduced themselves to each other, and immediately the flavour started to come out. You could simply read out race, class, background and theme and you’d have a good picture of the character. I liked that. I also appreciated the equipment being part of the look of the character. I could ‘see’ the backpacks laden with gear.
I laid out the map of the caves for the players to see (why not? Let’s get to the play right?) and after a little discussion they chose…. Cave A. Uh oh. That’s the kobold cave. This is the one that caused so many online conniptions recently. At least I was aware of some potential issues in advance. Still, let’s see what our experiences are.
I sketched out the cave entrance and plonked down some kobold minis in little batches. Yes, this was on a grid, but I deliberately placed the kobolds ‘naturally’ rather than in their own distinct squares. We rolled initiative. I had to open up the bestiary to find the kobolds mods, so the short form stats in the adventure let me down there. Wizard wins init and opens up with a Sleep spell. Astonishingly poor rolling meant only 2 out of 8 kobolds hit the dirt! It could easily have gone the other way. The fighter asked about charging (flick, flick, err no! Nothing in the rules on that…) and the halfling rogue opened up with the sling. With the kobolds on 2hp each, they went down very easily. I made the decision to have one kobold run for help, which brought the encounter to a close.
The party cautiously entered the caves. With the fighter up front, he spotted the pit trap early. The rogue used his skills in natural lore to know about the kobolds hatred of bright light and unslung his bullseye lantern. The skill rolls were working really well here. It felt natural to go back to the raw abilities rather than a defined list. Strong characters tried to do strength based things, clever characters worked in their Int. I liked this. The auto success rule went down well too. The wizard just knows most basic stuff with no roll. The rogue can do basic acrobatics with no roll. The fighter can break basic stuff with no roll. It speeds up play and cements the roles nicely. Loved this.
Another running battle with kobolds turned into a quick chase. The dwarf was faster than the kobold, but wasn’t brave/stupid enough to solo his way into trouble. The rest of the party caught up before they tracked the runner to the chieftains lair. Some rounds later and we all noticed a lot of movement going around the map. The lack of opportunity attacks meant much freer movement, and I liked that. It meant they could rush the wizard very easily, but her Shocking Grasp made them think twice.
In fact, the wizards cantrips saw a lot of use. Ray of Frost was cool (sorry) and evocative. Magic Missile was effective, in a functional almost boring way. No rolling for attack or damage made for a dull turn.
The wizard had the most colourful abilities for sure, but also the least hp and the hit dice mechanic wasn’t going to have her back in the game very quickly. The rogue and fighter were three combats in and still ok, and could have pressed on. We summoned clerical help and that turned things well in the pcs favour during the chieftain battle.
Some exploration followed, along with a nice vignette where the fighter spared the kobold women and children his wrath.
All this took about 90 minutes, so we wrapped up and chatted about our likes and dislikes.
Everyone liked it, and has shown interest in playing again. We are all waiting to see what’s in the next packet as we could all do with a bit more in the way of complexity and options right now. The base packet is fast, and gets you a lot of game in a little time. Yes, you have to make plenty of judgement calls and flex your expectations, but that’s worth it for more game I reckon. The players did have to adjust to negotiating their actions. In 4e, it’s designed to remove all doubt, just read it, and it happens exactly like that. In Next, everything’s up in the air until the DM assents. I’m fine with that, and have the experience to make rulings. In the hands of an immature DM this could wreck games. It’s a balance for sure, and the game needs good advice to help on these calls.
The jury is still out on advantage/disadvantage right now. Lots to like about it (I twice rolled a 19 and a 20 while disadvantaged!) but it managed to catch us out a couple of times too. The interplay between kobold numbers, bright light, and ambushing had us all stop and think at times. Still, this is no worse than half remembered mods to rolls. We never had to hit the ‘turn back time’ button, as we could just add in an extra roll if we forgot. I think I’d like to see it remain overall.
As a DM I saw the rougher parts of the system. The monsters need loads of work. The scenario is showing its age. Both these things rely on experience to DM, and I would hope novices get a lot more help in the final cut.
Overall, we’re all looking forward to another go. This is a good start, a really good start, but there’s an awful lot more to do yet.