Monday, June 11, 2012

D&D Next - First Encounter, First Impressions

I participated in my first play test of D&D Next last weekend.  I let my someone else have the DM duties as I was especially interested in seeing the player side.  As might be expected from folks who had played other editions previously, some folks immediately began dissecting the character sheets to understand how all the bonuses were generated.  I stressed we should just play it, after all it is a play test.  I will admit I will be there dissecting every rule with microscope and tweezers when the time comes.  However these first play tests should just be run as is, with an open mind, to get the feeling of how these rules would work in practice.

Let me set the scene.  There ended up being four of us, DM and three players.  I was the only long time player, the other folks were in their twenties.  I was also the only one who had every played/run the original Keep On The Borderland/Caves of Chaos.  (please note: there will be some spoilers below - that is if anyone interested in reading this could possibly not know what is in the Cave of Chaos)

First we set out as three characters: Dwarf Fighter, Human Cleric & Halfling Rogue.  After checking through some of the stands of trees in the center of the valley, we selected the goblin cave to explore (of course we did not know it was the goblin cave when we selected it).  The combining of the listen & spot skills into stealth was quicker, and it worked nicely without feeling like something was missing.  Skill mastery was powerful (minimum die result of 10 for skills where the rogue has training) and gave my rogue a minimum 16 for any stealth check.  I can see how the DM might preroll some opposed wisdom checks against stealth or just set some DCs and not bother with some rolls against the rogue to keep the game moving quickly.

Sneaking up on the cave month my rogue discovered 6 goblins just inside the opening.  He signaled to his companions (6 fingers), retreated to cover, and let fly with a sling stone from hiding; thanks to advantage and sneak attack damage there now were 5.  (Of course at this point I remembered about the ogre from the original running of the caves.  Since my character would not know, I played him blissfully unaware and careless: 8 wisdom).  We hoped they would come out and chase us.  It turns out they were smart and got the ogre to come out while they chased us.  We downed a few goblins.  Most from the rogue's sling and the cleric's radiant lance orison.  The fighter rolled abysmally and his crossbow did almost nothing.  As the goblins moved to cut us off from the mouth of the valley, we heard a large creature crashing through the trees behind us.  The others looked at me for confirmation we could take them (because all encounters are balanced, right?) and in response I did my best King Arthur imitation and yelled, "Run away!"  The goblins chased us into the forest where we managed to turn and pick off a few weak ones before the goblin archers went into hiding and we bolted before they could cut us down.  Hurt and embarrassed, we limped back to town.

I found it funny the other players looked to me to see if it was acceptable to run away.  I suppose the rules in third and fourth edition do not encourage that thinking.  I rather believe DMs need to encourage that thinking and spend less time blaming the rule set.

In this first encounter most of the combat was ranged, so the movement rule in melee did not get exercised much.  Combat did play pretty quick, and it was fun.  We learned quickly just how much disadvantage affects success in our long range missile attacks.  The crossbow should have been an effective weapon in the encounter but the dice would have none of that.  So far we have a favorable opinion of the advantage/disadvantage rule but we'll see if that holds up.

We went back to town to heal up and there was no time pressure, so we did not consider whether or not the long term rest rule was effective or lacked verisimilitude. 

I will share the last half of the evening and some overall thoughts in the next blog post but end this one with an observation from the ENworld boards.  Lots of folks there are already talking house rules for D&D Next, some were even talking house rules to be used in their first play test.  How in bloody Hades can you play test the rules if you do not use the rules?  I will gladly admit to using a generous amount of house rules in my games, however we did attempt to play them as written first and only after some reasonable amount of time not being able to get the game as we liked from them dove into house rules.  I guess my point is I feel that thinking is misguided and those folks are missing an opportunity to see the world from another side, and maybe get a better game from it.

The dice never lie.

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