Playtest 3: Pole-Dancing Zombies!
Last session, our intrepid heroes killed cultists. This time, they killed already dead cultists. Lots of them.
We are playtesting D&D Next, and so far we’ve tried out pure in your head gaming and using a hand-drawn map. This time around, it was the turn of the battlemat. I wanted to see how ‘Next fares when compared to Fourth Edition D&D – does it offer the same tactical gameplay, and (more importantly) is it quicker to play?
We’re running one of the Caves of Chaos, and there will be spoilers. Just so you know.
As this was an online session (yay for the updated FAQ! Thank you, Wizards), the first order of business was to choose an app. I settled for Roll20, for several reasons; I’d not used it before and wanted an excuse to try it out, it (optionally) works in Google+ Hangouts, and it offered everything we needed for the session with no unnecessary bells and whistles.
We initially tried running the game directly from Roll20 itself with the built-in video & voice setup, but as that was unsuccessful (read: the voice & chat was awful) quickly switched to Google+. Hangouts have quickly become our online gaming tool of choice for the simple reason They Just Work. That said, we did have a few technical issues. A few of us (me included) kept losing connection, but at a least it was quick to rejoin. I’m not sure if that was an issue with Google+ or with using Roll20 as an addon inside it though.
It’s far to say we had mixed success with Roll20. From the GM side of things, setting the map up very simple, and it’s probably one of the best online RPG tools I have used when it comes to pre-game preparation. I could search the intertubes directly from the app for tokens, props and graphics, and I tagged each monster token with their Speed, Hit Points and AC to keep the screen-flipping to a minimum during the session.
The in-chat dice roller is particularly good, and even supports rolling Advantage too (thanks for finding that out, John) – /r 2d20d1+5 will roll d20+5 twice, and highlight the highest total. For Disadvantage, take the lowest instead. Nice.
What was a little frustrating (at least from this GM’s perspective) was that sometimes selecting a token didn’t work. I could click that damned token and nothing would happen. So I’d click again…. and again… and again. Maybe this was a bandwidth or connection problem, but either way it definitely made the game flowed less smoothly than it should have.
Enough of the mini-review. On to the game!
Our heroes follow the corridor North-East and spy a door in the East wall through which they can clearly make out the sound of clanking bones. Immediately (and correctly) expecting Undead, they get into position and Initiative is rolled.
The door begins to open and a rotted zombie hand appears, only to be immediately stabbed then severed by our Halfling Rogue. She pockets the hand as a trophy. Hey, you never know when a Zombie hand will come in useful, right?
One of our Fighters (we have seven players – three Fighters, two Clerics, an Elven Wizard and the Halfling Rogue) doesn’t believe in the indirect approach, and flings the door open only to come face-to-face with Ten Zombies.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that they are being naturally funnelled through a 10′ wide short corridor that leads into the room behind so only a limited number of them can attack at any one time.
On his turn, the doughty Cleric of Moradin casts Turn Undead, or as I prefer to call it “Disappoint Undead” as all it does is stop the poor zombies in their tracks, and only until they are next attacked – which invariably happens immediately on the next player’s go. Turn Undead seriously needs beefing up, imho.
The Guardian theme’s Defender feat had much use during this combat, and definitely saved the bacon of more than one PC in the game. Disadvantaged Zombies are not happy zombies!
I do have to hand it to the Dwarven Fighter for consistently bringing on the hurt. Awesome dice rolling skills (did she miss? ever? I don’t think so!) combined with her massive damage potential meant zombies fell where she walked.
“You know normally when you slice a creature in twain it’s from top to bottom? You just did in the other way around.”
“Well that’s the kind of gal I am!”
Our wizard provided excellent fire support from the back of the pack using Magic Missile to pick off the injured zombies (is there such a thing as an uninjured zombie?). I’m a bit disappointed we didn’t get chance to see Burning Hands making crispy fried zombies (they’re finger-linking good), but there will be other opportunities, other times.
The high point of the session has to be the Cleric of Pelor casting Radiant Lance against one zombie, which blasts a hole clean through its chest. Despite this impediment, the zombie is still moving and groaning in a way it just shouldn’t. The Rogue takes her 10′ pole and (with a successful DEX check) threads it right through the hole, and jams the end of the pole against the opposite wall. I gave the Rogue Disadvantage to the roll, but the other players Aided her to give Advantage, thus cancelling it out. Excellent teamwork, folks.
We have a Zombie pole dancer!
The combat presses on, but that poor skewered zombie just will not die, despite the party’s best attempts, until finally……
“The hit spins the zombie around and upside down. Its legs splay in the air as it’s hands grasp the pole. It slides down slowly, before ending in a heap on the floor at the end of the pole.”
Right. Moving on.
A loud bell begins clanging further up the corridor where another room is shrouded in unnatural darkness.
About three-quarters through the combat, I ask the players to make DC11 WIS rolls. Most of them make it.
“Now that the sound of combat is dying down, you realize that the bone-rattling noise you heard before opening the door is still present, and as loud as ever. It wasn’t the zombies making that noise…..”
One of the party heads further North into the room and spies the source of the noise – ten skeletons who are unnervingly immobile. The noise is cavern wind rattling through their bones.
As the final zombies are despatched, the Skeletons turn West, completely ignoring the party, and exit the room through a door in the North-West.
We end the session there.
Does D&D Next support battlemat play? Without a doubt. I found it more enjoyable than 4e because the freedom of action meant players were willing to improvise, and the lack (so far) of opportunity attacks gave PCs the freedom to move around the battlemat. I saw movement being used a lot more in this session (both before and after taking an action) than I have in many 4e sessions. It felt more like a battle with the monsters and PCs jockeying for position rather than (as all too often happen in 4e) the participants just standing there using Kewl Powers and only moving if forced to so do by a Power’s effect.
Personally, I would be quite happy for opportunity attacks to die a death and the rules advocate monsters and PCs using readied actions to interrupt the regular flow of the game. This will keep the game running quickly, and that (I feel) should be a core aim of this edition of the game. Make opportunity attacks a module for those who want them, or whatever.
So, just how fast did it play?
This was quite a big battle with seven PCs & ten zombies, and it lasted the whole of the session, about 90 minutes (taking into account technical issues) in total. That included a lot of jokes and rules discussion. Each individual turn passed quickly, and even with 7 players it didn’t take long for each PC’s turn to come around again. I would estimate that a similar combat in 4e would take easily over two hours to run through, maybe more.
If this wasn’t a playtest where we were talking about the rules and just playing the game, the combat time would doubtless have been less. As it stood, combat neither felt rushed nor overly long and drawn out. When modules come out to explicitly support battlemat play, I’ll look forward to trying them out.
In the meantime, D&D Next plays just fine, however you play.
And that’s good to know.
Just what could the PCs do with a 10′ pole anyway?
Session #1: hold back a zombie horde.
Session #2: thwack a cultist
Session #3: zombie pole dancer
UPDATE: Here’s Playtest 4.