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DMing #Dndnext

Last night I ran my first session of D&D Next (although I’ve played a few sessions of the current and previous playtest rules beforehand). I went for a “theatre of the mind” approach, although I did draw a sketch map of the ravine and some of the interior of the cave. We had minis for the PCs which we lined up to show party order but that’s all we did with them. That was pretty much all we did with them back in my 1e days too!

Three of the five players play in my regular Monday night 4e campaign, one was an old friend who used to play 3.x with us and the other hadn’t played any version of D&D much at all.  We started off the game with each of them picking one of the pregen PCs. I explained that the group had left the city of Parsantium far behind and headed west to the Keep on the Borderlands in search of adventure. Our party of bold adventurers consisted of:

    •    Rado, male halfling thief
    •    Friedrich, male high elf wizard
    •    Thorin, male dwarf fighter
    •    Ulf, male dwarf cleric of Moradin
    •    Fidoodle, female human cleric of Ra (because there was no way lucybrant was going to play a cleric of Pelor)

The PCs arrived at the KEEP (as it is always referred to in B2!), talked to the gate guards and met with Stark the Sheriff. I have a copy of B2 but for the purpose of this session, I just used Sly Flourish’s excellent crib sheet of NPCs & rumours for the personalities in the KEEP.  After listening to Stark’s warnings about venturing too deeply into the Caves of Chaos, the party made their way to the Green Gem Tavern where they chatted to the seemingly cowardly paladin, Sir Ector Trueheart, the one-eyed female dwarf Valgard Stonyfist, and the barkeep Torin, picking up some rumours about what might await them in the caves. Despite Ulf’s attempts to add extra muscle to the party, none of these NPCs were interested in accompanying him. I asked for a few ability checks during this roleplaying – to recognize the Trueheart family crest and so on – and this led to a discussion about not having a proper skill list as in 4e or 3.x, something at least two of the group weren’t keen on.

The next morning, the intrepid adventures set off for the Caves of Chaos, arriving in the ravine as the sun started getting low in the sky. Rado the thief sneaked up on the first cave entrance they came to and peered in to see if they were any traps. Rado has a low Wisdom (8, -1 modifier), giving him just +2 on his find traps roll, compared to +4 for Fidoodle the cleric. Everyone thought this was a bit odd.

After Rado gave the all-clear, Thorin and Friedrich moved up to the entrance fairly quietly, but the noisy Ulf drew the attention of the goblins inside the cave. With a shout of “Bree-Yark!”, they ran outside, only for five of the six to fall down to Friedrich’s sleep spell. We got to test out the coup de grace rules as Thorin went round killing the helpless sleeping humanoids while the other PCs took down the one left standing.

After looting the bodies, the PCs entered the caves, heading left into a guard chamber where another six goblins armed with spears attacked the party. Fidoodle used her searing light to blow a massive hole in one of them, before realising radiant lance did enough damage to kill them. Friedrich used his magic missile while Ulf and Thorin went into melee. Ulf used his Defender feat to give the goblin attacking Thorin disadvantage – a pretty cool ability. This combat went pretty fast, with Thorin and Friedrich wounded at the end of it. Fidoodle used her healer’s kit to patch the two of them up, with both PCs spending their one and only hit dice. I liked this mechanic – we used to roll 1d6 (IIRC) for binding wounds in our 1e & 2e games and this reminded me of that, as well as the 4e short rest.

From here it all went tragically wrong for our heroes. The two dwarves ignored Friedrich’s wise words about not going upstairs and charged down the barred door leading to the hobgoblin quarters where 13 hoboblins and three non-combatants were resting. Our heroes surprised the humanoids, allowing Friedrich to cast burning hands  on a few of them, but the PCs were soon in big trouble. Fidoodle was hit by three arrows, taking her down to 1 hp, and the wizard went down to 3 hp. With four hobgoblins killed (plus one poor little hobgoblin kid), the PCs decided it was time to make a run for it. There are no opportunity attacks in D&D Next so they made an attack each and then broke off from the fight, retreating back outside to the ravine.

We managed to fit some roleplaying in the KEEP, three combats and a fair amount of discussion of the rules vs previous D&D incarnations into a relatively short session of approximately 2.5 hours. It was fun in an old skool, 1e way (as the other playtests have been) but I think there is a lot that still needs to happen to turn the game into something I would be happy to play in preference to 4e or 3.x/Pathfinder. The fast combats, advantage/disadvantage and backgrounds and themes are all very cool, but there are not enough interesting options for the fighter, and my players really didn't like the change to skills. I am worried about how monsters are going to work. Will they be as easy to run and build as they are in 4e?

Looking forward to seeing more in the next iteration. I think having character creation rules will help.

Comments from the players

“I quite enjoyed it. Simple and fairly straightforward. The old-school dungeon crawl adventure wasn't really interesting, but I guess that's not what we were playtesting anyway.

There are a lot of unknowns as far as character creation and level progression goes.

With low skill scores it luck comes into play a lot more since the variation of the result on a D20 is a lot higher than the skill score. This obviously depends on if the skill modifiers go up as you level up or not, but as it is now it feels very random.

I think the way you used actions in 4e was clearer and better. Every power clearly states what kind of action is required to use it and the rules for "exchanging" actions are clear. I was thinking about Ulf’s shield where he could protect someone else as a reaction and my ability to hide and then attack from hiding to gain advantage. If any of those require a full action they are pretty crap (since you need to spend your whole round doing it), but if they are free they can be too powerful (at least the rogue’s hiding thing). Currently there's nothing in the rules that can make it somewhere in between.

I think the-non spellcasters need a bit more variety to what they can do. The fighter had one option in combat "attack", I had two options "hide or attack", but as I said before the hide isn't really worth it if it takes a whole round for me. Again, not sure if that changes as you level up.”

“ It was fine, but there are far too many unanswered questions about character progression. However, as a combat – I like the simplicity.  Although I foresee 3.5 levels of bookkeeping for spell casters.”

“I thought hard about this on the way home and actually I think I liked it more than I thought I did!”

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