I played a game and I liked it
Last night, I DM’ed my first session of the D&D Next Open Playtest. I had five players (two Clerics, two Fighters and the Rogue – no Wizards, yet!) and took them through a part of the Caves of Chaos I haven’t used before, not even back in my Classic D&D days of yore.
Good words, “days of yore”.
I had a checklist of the game elements I wanted to test, but didn’t share the list with my group. One of the items was “does the game flow smoothly” and the players running through items on a checklist with me wouldn’t exactly make that possible :)
The full list for this session was:
- Does the game flow smoothly, especially entering and exiting combat
- Do the classes feel like the iconic D&D classes – does the Cleric play like a Cleric, the Fighter like a Fighter and the Rogue like the Rogue? Testing the Wizard will have to come later :)
- Do the rules cover all situations that arise in the session?
- Test Turn Undead
- See how the new movement rules affect combat. Characters (and monsters) can split their movement before and after attacking (or taking any other action). I wanted to see how that worked in play.
- The Advantage/Disadvantage mechanic. Does it work?
- Can you play the game entirely in the mind using only the character sheets and a set of dice?
- How fast does the game play? Could you really run a session in an hour?
- Is there room for player and DM creativity?
- Just what could the PCs do with a 10′ pole anyway?
That’s quite a list for just one session, and didn’t expect to get an answer to many of them.
But first, the session itself. Here’s the opening text.
You are all en route to the Keep on The Borderlands to witness a wedding between two minor noble houses. It is a scorchingly hot day so you are resting outside the Bare Owl Inn (so called because of the image of the naked owl on the tavern sign) with a crowd of other wedding guests eating, resting your feet, and drinking.
The wedding is between Lady Clarissa Esgarion (from a half-elf noble house) to the north & Lord Ludwig von Hendricks (a human Baron) to the south. The Keep is a good central, if isolated, location for the nuptials to take place.
From out of the haze walks a strange sight: four figures – a kobold, an orc, a hobgoblin and a goblin approach, all of them squinting in the harsh sunlight.
They stop about 30 feet away from you, and carefully lay their weapons on the ground before coming closer, all the time watching you.
“You pinkskins,” growls the hobgoblin, “elders say we must find heroes. You come with us.”
There’s some discussion and one of the Clerics’ adherents interposes himself between the humanoids and his leader. The party ask for more details before the commit to going with the creatures.
“Pinkskins come to Caves, make evil things. Pinkskin problem, you sort. If you do not, tribes unite and bring war.”
The goblin pulls torn strips of cloth from his belt. Several of them are clearly bloodstained. “Wear these. Cover eyes. The path to the Caves is not for you to see.”
As extra incentive, the Kobold offers this:
“Here.” The kobold hands over a parchment which looks worryingly like it was made of skin. Written in crude common are the words.
“Cave Tribes will stay out of human, elf and dwarf lands for ten and two months. We will not take your shepes n cows. We will not attack less we get tacked first.
So say us.”
It appears to be signed (or rather, scrawled) by the elders of the four tribes.
The goblin sneers with sparkling eyes, “Make good wedding present, yes?”
The heroes aren’t happy with wearing blindfolds, but a good Diplomacy roll offers a solution from the sly goblin: the elders said they have to wear blindfolds, but didn’t say where they had to be worn. So long as the messengers can report back and say “yes, they wore blindfolds”, they cared more about getting the heroes to come with them.
The players wrap them around their arms, wrists or neck (except the honourable Cleric of Moradin, who dutifully covers his eyes), and the party proceed along with several others from the wedding retinue (read: backup PCs). They follow a winding path which disappears in places, entering deeper into the dense forest and the goblin & orc carefully cover their tracks at the back. After about an hour, they arrive at the fabled Caves of Chaos!
I describe the cave mouth and surroundings that is the object of their quest, and maybe I laid it on thick because they really did not want to enter! This is the first time I have ever frightened players with a cave mouth! :) Only the plucky Halfling Rogue dare enter, so she takes point and scouts ahead from the shadows (brandishing her 10′ pole. Yes, in the shadows. What?). It’s all clear, and others enter.
(Warning: SPOILERS FROM HERE)
The cave entrance opens up to a north/south corridor. Groaning appears to echo all around and a strange piping sound is coming from the north.
They decide to head north.
At the end of the corridor there is a bend which slopes upward to the West, a small door in the East wall and a door in the North wall through which they can hear voices…. talking about demons.
After some debate, they opt to use cunning tactics, and charge in! I ask them to roll initiative, they burst open the door and combat is on.
As they have surprise, and the four cultists in the room as deep in conversation, I grant all of our heroes Advantage in the first round of combat. In effect, the cultists are not just surprised (at -20 to initiative), but also totally unprepared for combat. Poor cultists.
One cultist is badly injured from a sword blow then finished off with the Cleric of Pelor’s Radiant Lance targeted directly at the unholy emblem on the Cultist’s robes. The blast burns a sun-shaped hole through the robes and into his chest before he falls back, dead. Another cultist drops when his arm is neatly removed from his body. The third goes a little (more) insane and begins to cry out in an unknown tongue. His mace coats in shadow formed of writhing black worms, and he swings….. and misses. The fourth cleric whimpers, drops his mace and cries about wanting to go back to the farm.
In all, combat lasts three to four rounds (I wasn’t counting), and less than 20 minutes in total. Wonderful stuff.
Meantime, the clever little Rogue is outside the door, on lookout duty. He rolls, and I say the groaning sound is coming closer, accompanied by a worrying shuffling sound. Does he recognise what could make that noise? (rolls)
“zombies zombies zombies ZOMBIES!” cries the Rogue as he runs through the door (closely followed by the Cleric of Pelor who had been blasting the cultists at range), and he then barricades the door with his 10′ pole.
The party question the surrendered cultist. Perhaps it’s because he is only a new recruit to the cult’s cause and knows almost nothing. Maybe it’s because he has just seen the party slaughter his friends. Or it could be because they are talking about using him as Zombie bait. Whatever it is, he’s just a little bit terrified and near-catatonic, and fails to answer their questions.
There’s a thump on the door.
Followed by another.
The Halfling Rogue is trying to hold close the door with the pole, with little success. Three zombie hands curl around the door edge.
The party is agreed. The Rogue pulls back the pole leaps to hide behind the door (“I hide in my own shadow!”). Three Zombies enter, and the Clerics casts Turn Undead.
The Zombies halt in the doorway. Moaning disappointedly.
To recap: The Rogue is behind the door. The rest of the party is in the room with no other way out, There are three cultists’ bodies on the floor, and a fourth one very much alive but scared out of his mind.
We leave it there, until next time.
So. About those questions.
1. Does the game flow smoothly, especially entering and exiting combat
Much as I love Fourth Edition D&D (and I do), one thing which jars is the bump in the game when you enter combat. The session shifts gear as players (and the GM) focus on their Powers and abilities in combat rather than just being their character.
D&D Next had none of this. I asked the players to roll initiative, and the game carried on just as it had before. The only difference was that I was counting down initiative (badly – I kept missing players, my apologies) so everyone took a turn. Aside from that, the role-playing continued and combat was smooth.
2. Do the classes feel like the iconic D&D classes – does the Cleric play like a Cleric, the Fighter like a Fighter and the Rogue like the Rogue? Testing the Wizard will have to come later :)
From this side of the table at least, the Clerics felts like two different Clerics, the Fighters were Fighters and the Rogue was a Rogue. Mission accomplished.
3. Do the rules cover all situations that arise in the session?
I improvised giving the heroes Advantage in the first round of combat (improvising is in the rules, right?) and the heroes used Perception, Diplomacy and Lore checks. The Diplomatic check against the Goblin was a Contest against his Will, as was them questioning the surrendered cultist. Works as advertised.
4. Test Turn Undead
NOT FULLY TESTED
We ended the session there, and I would like to see how it plays out. I suspect the Turn Undead needs beefing up – it doesn’t damage the Undead, only holds or pushes them back – but we’ll see how that goes.
5. See how the new movement rules affect combat. Characters (and monsters) can split their movement before and after attacking (or taking any other action). I wanted to see how that worked in play.
YEP. THEY WORK
The close combatants moved into combat but made sure they had enough movement remaining to move back after their attacks. This one rules change opens up a whole range of tactical opportunities (charge full speed, move then step back to draw out the foes, move around foes, sniping from range, etc) that I’m keep to explore using a full combat grid another time. For pure in-your-head gaming, it provides just what you need too. Which is nice.
As this was an enclosed space, I didn’t have enough room to try manoeuvring as well. Plus I forgot. Then they died. Something for me to remember next time.
6. The Advantage/Disadvantage mechanic. Does it work?
OH GAWDS YES
Single favourite new game mechanic. Quick, simple to use and great fun to use at the table. I have a few concerns in corner cases (what happens if you have Disadvantage in combat an roll a natural 20? Or Advantage and roll a 1? What happens if you roll both??!) but they didn’t arise in this session.
I did forget that the Fighter had used his Guardian’s Defender benefit which should have granted Disadvantage to the Cultist’s attack on the Cleric of Moradin though.
I suck as DM.
7. Can you play the game entirely in the mind using only the character sheets and a set of dice?
Heck, I didn’t even want the players to draw a map. I didn’t want the players to do anything other than play. I described the locations and hopefully they got the rough idea of where everything was. This is far from the only (or even necessarily ideal, for your group) way to play, but it’s great that it can be done with little fuss and no house rules. I’m looking forward to future sessions where we scrawl maps then use full battlemats. Let’s see just how far we can push this puppy!
8. How fast does the game play? Could you really run a session in an hour?
1. DAMNED FAST
We played for about 90 minutes in total. In that time we ran a social encounter with the monster messengers, arrived at the cave, explored, fought some cultists, held back zombies and learned a whole new set of rules with unfamiliar character sheets
I definitely think that D&D Next, in it’s current form, could be a great game to play over a lunch hour, as well as suitable for longer sessions and campaigns. While modules could likely add to the complexity and be unsuitable for short play sessions, as it stands it makes a great pick-up and play game. Love it.
9. Is there room for player and DM creativity?
I made up a rule about giving the heroes advantage in the first round of combat. The players (I hope!) felt they had the freedom to do what they wanted. The game really does feel like a blend of the best of all editions: the structure, themes and healing of 4e, the skills and classes of 3e and the freedom of AD&D all mixed together with unique game mechanics of its own to create something truly special.
Ignore the naysayers online. This game rocks!
10. Just what could the PCs do with a 10′ pole anyway?
Session #1: Hold back a zombie horde.
Session #2: ???
That’s my thoughts. I look forward to hearing my players’ opinios.
Roll on Thursday!
UPDATE: Here’s Playtest 2.