[D&D Next] Playtest Report

Posted: June 3, 2012 by Jay Steven Anyong in Actual Play, Articles, Dungeons & Dragons, Roleplaying Games

Last night, in lieu of our regular Mage: the Awakening campaign, our gaming group decided to take on the challenge of putting D&D Next Playtest Document through its paces. It was an interesting experience, and one that brought some interesting observations to light. Overall, it was a fun game, and the players and I had a lot of laughs.

The Players

  • Sheimaruen – Fellow GM and old hand at D&D, Sheimaruen has strong feelings of nostalgia whenever someone brings up 2nd Edition D&D. Sheimaruen has also played and run D&D 3.0, 3.5 and 4E, in addition to playing Pathfinder and Fantasy Craft. He enjoys crunch, thrives in conflict and decided to take on the Dwarf Fighter pregen, named it Giblet and set him on his way, with two-handed axe in tow.
  • Silver Countess – Introduced to the RPG scene in an anime convention, she has always been a player. Having had a chance to play D&D 3.0 and 4E, her preferences lie towards more rules-medium games, such as Legend of the Five Rings and World of Darkness games. Always a fan of magic users, she picked up the Elven Wizard pregen, decided that it was a low-EQ geeky sort named Kenzie, with a disturbing obsession for collecting monster parts for spell components.
  • Hikkikomori – Played under Sheimaruen’s D&D games before, and has had a chance to run a game or two of 4e. Hikkikomori is flexible in terms of rules tolerance, and can exert himself to come up with min-max builds, but prefers to play in a manner that makes games interesting via in-game complications. He decided to pick up the Human Cleric of Pelor and dubbed him, Philip Philips, and bestowed upon him the personality of a rock star.

The GM:

As for myself, I’ve been GMing I picked up a boxed set of Star Frontiers when I was nine. I’ve not had an opportunity to run the earlier editions of D&D but I have played 3.0, 3.X and 4E. My personal preferences go towards games such as Fantasy Craft, HERO, World of Darkness and Legend of the Five Rings. I’ll confess to not being a heavy mechanics GM.

Orientation:

We started off by going over the character sheets touching on each of the sections and how the rules are implemented with regards to each. The players caught on quickly, and it was interesting to hear their inputs:

  • “It’s like 2e. This is a GOOD thing.” – Sheimaruen, on pretty much everything
  • “Background Features are cool, they help new players get a handle on what they can do in a society” – Silver Countess

The entire orientation took only about thirty minutes or so. The players were pretty happy with the Advantage/Disadvantage mechanic when it was introduced, and were pretty much all fairly confident that they could play their characters with little to no problems.

The Game:

Being a playtest, I didn’t really have that much in terms of a large overarching plot, but I did have a series of caves with a bunch of monsters in it, and three heroes. So I decided to put something together instead. I started off the group as having arrived in a small and nameless town. The town was situated not far from the foot of a large mountain range, home to a series of cave tunnels that have been spewing out monsters as of late.

As such the town has been largely abandoned, with the few remaining brave farmers-turned-soldiers trying to keep their homes safe, having erected a 12-foot garrison wall made of salvaged wood, broken carts and whatever else they could put together for defense. The team then met with the Mayor, who offered them their share of any spoils they find in the caves, if only they could find a way to stop the monsters from overrunning the town.

The group then set off to do some minor investigation, checking the local tavern to interview the other adventuring parties that had come to check out the town. Philip Philips, the Cleric of Pelor struck up a conversation, winning the trust of the other adventurers with a successful Charisma Check. He also went upstairs to see to one of the adventurers who’d fallen into a pit trap that had been covered in spikes and filth. He eased the poor man’s suffering, and got information on the Kobold’s propensity to use traps in their lairs, and a warning not to underestimate them.

Giblet on the other hand, opted to start going over the empty houses, carrying a sack and filling it with old discarded tankards and candelabras, anything reasonably heavy that he could toss to trigger traps. He also found a discarded door and strapped it onto his back as a makeshift tower shield.  Finally, he found spare brooms and other lengthy objects and strung it together to make a flimsy 10-foot-pole of sorts. He was clanking around like a foundry, but he didn’t seem bothered in the least.

Philips decided that he would go out to start foraging for herbs to make healing potions with. Since it was around noon-ish at the time, they felt it was reasonably safe. The guards reluctantly let them outside the makeshift walls. The team trekked about the wilderness, with Philips and Kenzie working on finding the herbs that they needed, while Giblet made sure that they didn’t get lost. Giblet was also the one who noticed that there was a small patrol of six kobolds that had spotted them.

Giblet whirled around and charged towards the Kobolds (after winning initiative) giving out a vicious warcry. Unfortunately, Philips and Kenzie were considered to be surprised and took a -20 to their initiative at his point. Giblet’s intimidate action, which could be summed up as “Crazy looking dwarf shrieking and clanking through the woods right at you” forced the Kobolds to make a Contested Wisdom check against Giblet’s Strength Check or else be Frightened. Three of the kobolds turned tail and ran, while the remaining three took their actions. One Kobold braced himself to defend against the charge with his Spear (Ready an Action, essentially) while the other two threw their spears at the charging Dwarf. One spear missed, while the other found its mark, dealing 4 damage to the rampaging Dwarf.

When Philip Philips got to act, he blasted one of the spear-chucking Kobolds with the Searing Light spell killing it instantly. Kenzie followed up with a Magic Missile, knocking the other spear-throwing Kobold aside with sheer magical force, killing it as well.

Giblet finally reached his target, stopping a mere five feet away from the braced Kobold, and whipped out his crossbow and fired… only to miss.  Undaunted by the rather anti-climatic state turn of events, Giblet instead circled around the Kobold in hopes of cutting off its escape. Kenzie and Philips caught up, just in time as the Kobold tried to run away and join its friends. Giblet was able to catch up in time and tackle the Kobold, grappling it with a Contested Strength vs. Strength check resulting in a Kobold prisoner.

The team returned to the town with their captive. With Kenzie using Comprehend Languages while the other two took turns trying different things to get it to give up information. Sadly without two way communication, what they were able to draw out was that the Orcs, Goblins and Kobolds were now working together until later that evening.

They were still trying to get more information on it when they heard wardrums. They saw a raiding party of a dozen Orcs and Kobolds heading towards the town. The second battle was equally interesting, with Giblet tying up the kobold captive on his ten foot pole and setting it on fire as an example before jumping down from the wall and chopping away at the  Orcs. The rest of the creatures tried to climb up the wall, but Kenzi was able to deal with them with a burning hands spell pointed downwards, frying the ones on the wall, and forcing them to jump out of the way, and taking falling damage in the process.

Feedback:

We ended the game shortly after the raiding party, with the team not having had a chance to actually go dungeon delving in earnest before we ran out of time. The players were very happy with the mechanics involved in the D&D Next Playtest so far, and even without a map, the group was able to go through combat briskly and without a lot of confusion or boredom of things dragging on too long.

Sheimaruen pretty much tried to do as much as he could with a Dwarf Fighter. He was able to do all sorts of things, including Intimidate and Grappling maneuvers by just using the rules as presented in the playtest and a willingness of both of us to come up with a sensible improvised solutions that we both agreed was fun and quick. He said that a lot of the mechanics felt like they were from 2e, and he felt good about that. As a GM, he felt that he could use the rules to run all the old adventures that he had, and was looking forward to seeing the final version of the D&D Next rules if they could keep to this kind of quick play.

Hikkikomori was happy with the game, but did raise two particular problem spots:

  • Cleric of Pelor’s Spiritual Hammer spell is vaguely worded. It wasn’t clear if the act of directing the hammer to move and attack took the Cleric’s action for the turn, or if it could just form part of it. Also, it was unclear if the Cleric could summon two hammers in succession.
  • The Background Features were a good crutch to get players to learn how to play, but it tended to make things absolutes. Any priest of the faith could expect X, Y and Z benefits at all times as long as they were in a place that worshiped the same power. It felt artificial, and precluded the gray areas of human interaction, where two priests could actually dislike each other while worshiping the same faith. Legalistic reading would result in players demanding that all priest of their faction hold hands and sing kum-ba-ya all the time.

Silver Countess greatly enjoyed the game and felt that if D&D could somehow stick to this sort of unspoken understanding that you could trust people to play using imagination and common sense, she’d be able to actually enjoy playing D&D without stressing out over builds and power choices.

As a GM I greatly enjoyed running this, and while I was robbed of a chance to try running a real honest-to-goodness dungeon crawl this time, the game was easy to run and the monsters were also easy to run. I really appreciate the Habitat and Society notes for each monster entry, giving me ideas of how their societies work and how they get along (or don’t.)

The ability to improvise even monster actions in a fight was good and keeps the players guessing. The fights were reasonably easy at this point, and I somewhat regret not throwing the Ogre as a follow-up opponent to the group after they’d fended off the raiding party as a sort of boss fight to cap out the evening.

Ah well, there’s always next time.

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Comments
  1. It has been one of the more enjoyable D&D games I’ve had since Augs or Luis ran for us in College. I’ve played D&D on and off since then, but honestly gave up on it after 4th Edition.

    Recently, the only time I appreciated 4th Ed is when Paulo let us test run the D&D Wrath of Ashardalon the board game. It was fantastic! We could have unearthed our old 4th Ed. characters, bought our own minis and used it on the board game! It was challenging, and ran almost exactly like our last 4th Ed campaign.

    I personally feel this new one feels closer to what I had experienced in college. There are admittedly some flaws on how some spells are worded, and the Backgrounds do give massive (abusive) advantages to the players. Still I do like the effort D&D is taking to bring roleplay back into D&D which I felt was severely lacking in 4th Ed.

  2. sheimaruenn says:

    yes, 2e is a good thing. While it has its flaws, and it’s admittedly difficult to learn, i like it. But for me, the best part was the ability score table. I’m not too fond of the the set regid equation for bloating abilit scores. Curious about the packages thll come with NEXT… am wishing for an ability score table… or will probably dissect the rules and find a way to put it in next lol.

    the Save using ability scores are interesting; and the barebones breaking down of the skills system based of

    Well it needs saying that grappling rules need to ba a bit clearer.

    hrmm thats all i can think off the top of my head right now…

  3. Hikkikomori says:

    “Thank you for your assistance. All we can give you in return is whatever this town can offer, as well as fame and glory.” – Mayor of nameless town; GM
    “And that is all we ask for.” – Philipps, Cleric of Pelor; Me

    Flexible gameplay. Not much rules & abilities that dictate what your characters can or cannot do, which makes for a more interesting and open game.

    Per my concerns noted in the article above, the Backgrounds do give an unfair advantage to players (and this is coming from a Player) since more rules-oriented Players could easily demand that since their background says they can, they should be able to access what is essentially a wealth of downtime resources – namely, herbs & other components needed to produce healing kits & potions.

    And the casual descriptions, though welcomed, might need to be worded better, unless it was intended to be left to GM & Player interpretation.

    Overall, its shaping up well. Less focus on combat mechanics has been overdue.

  4. We tried the playtest as well, though we had five people so all the roles were filled, and it was quite fun. Our cleric of pelor started with a tent revival meeting to inspire (and fleece) the local populace.

    • Hikkikomori says:

      I tried the same thing, hoping to grant Advantage to the guards atop the wall. But the sight of a rampaging orc and kobold army against their hastily built defenses gave me a Disadvantage on my roll. Sad to say I rolled poorly – with both dice.

      But nevertheless, it was fun times. If we did proceed to the games, I’m not sure how we’d survive it without a Rogue though. We’ll probably be depending on the dwarf’s Stonecunning, the Priest’s Wilderness lore, as well as the Wizard’s various Lore & Intelligence bonuses to survive traps and ambushes.

      • First we get some live chickens..then we set them loose into the caves..then watch them trigger the traps. Good enough for the first part of the caves I guess.

        Personally, I’d rather capture a bunch of kobolds first, suggest to the cleric that we find herbs to create powerful hallucinogens and force feed it to them. Then let them loose back in their caves. :D

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