Monday, June 11, 2012

D&D Next Playtest, or A Goblin Bloodbath...

Hey! Three Little Brown Books!
Well, after one failed attempt, we finally organized a D&D Next playtest! Will, of course, needed booklets, and so not only hosted us, but set the tone with his old school rendition of the newest school. Awesome.

The Crew
From left to right: Chad, Will, Sean, and Susan. My awesome Brave Halfling gaming box is standing in for me...
The Characters
  • From left to right: Rhynar the dwarf Cleric of Moradin; 
  • Parsley, the elf Wizard; 
  • Darro, the halfling Rogue;  
  • Slayer the dwarf Fighter.
As usual, I couldn't keep names straight, and immediately starting referring to Rhynar as Rhino, and Darro as Pedro, but there you go.

The Adventure
In which goblins are taught the futility of their existence...

Our intrepid heroes enter the realm of the Caves of Chaos. While deciding which cave to approach, Rhynar feels a greater evil emanating from the caves at the far end of the ravine. Sensibly, they decide to enter a cave near the mouth of the ravine...

They immediately encounter a goblin patrol, and almost as immediately obliterate it. As the red fog clears, they hear the flat-footed approach of more goblins, and so duck down a dead-end corridor, hoping to find a secret door. Parsley comes up empty, and so as a clump of goblins at the far end of the corridor notice them, our heroes open fire with crossbow, sling, and magic missile. Goblins die. Slayer and Rhynar rush forward; Darro ducks and weaves through the fog of war. More goblins die. Some goblins run away. All is momentarily quiet.

Not for long. A door is heard crashing open. Heavy footsteps and basso-profundo rumblings approach. Our heroes ready themselves and behold a sight they'll not soon forget: A naked ogre, bilious yellow in color, with violet eyes and a great shock of lank black hair, shouldering a big chunk of wood. He sees Parsley and smiles hideously. "Ellllllllff..." he grumbles, and lumbers forward.

A furious battle ensues in which heroic tactics win the day: Parsley shows why it's so vital to master cantrips, and locks the brute in place with Cone of Frost. The dwarves wound and are wounded, and Darro stays out of the ogre's line of site and pelts him with sling bullets. He begins to break free of the ice, and is promptly frozen in place again. Rhynar ends things with a righteous warhammer bringing justice to ogre genitalia. The creature collapses, and Darro finds himself crushed beneath what is later termed "the flaccid ogre bulk." Thankfully he suffers little more than bruised dignity. The party takes a short rest to allow Rhynar to shake out his battered shield arm, and then push on.

Locating the ogre's aromatic den, they poke around and quickly leave with a large sack of coins and an unopened cask of fine brandy. A bit farther on they find a room which seems to be full of goblins. They confirm their suspicions by throwing a torch into the darkness, which is greeted by squeals of panic and flight of arrows. Our heroes charge in, the dwarves leading the way, and indeed find a roomful of foes. Battle is joined and many more goblins die. Quickly. Gruesomely. However, Parsley is knocked unconscious one moment, only to be reinvigorated by Rhynar's healing chant. He leaps up and brains a goblin with his staff, then starts melting off faces with Shocking Grasp. Rhynar plays the knightly defender to the hilt, interposing his shield between friends and foes, saving Parsley and Darro several times from potential injury. Slayer, well, slays. A lot. Then the Goblin King rushes into the room with his retinue.

Hurling a spear, it strikes the already wounded Slayer in the chest, knocking her unconscious. Parsley shouts out the runes of Sleep, and casts his glittering dust over the newly arrived foes. Darro ricochets a sling bullet off the the King's helmet. Four of them collapse in slumber, but the King, while shaking his head groggily, pushes forward. Parsley and Darro drag Slayer out of the room while Rhynar goes into pure defense mode, protecting his companions with a fighting withdrawal. The King presses his attack furiously, but simply can't break through Rhynar's defense. Out in the hallway, Slayer thrashes back to life, her enforced short rest bringing her back to groggy life. As Rhynar and the Goblin King back out into the corridor, Darro ends the fight with a well-aimed sling bullet.

Realizing that both the giant sack of coins and the cask of brandy are still in the room, our heroes show their true mettle and rush back in, suffer a few wounds, but secure their loot. With resources running low, they exit from the ogre's cave and head back to some semblance of civilization...

We take confidentiality very seriously. Pizza, too.
The Summary
We had a blast! Though in essence it wasn't anything more than a smash-and-grab killfest, it was really fun.


  • The Advantage/Disadvantage mechanic
    • Simple, elegant, and completely useful. In fact, we used it constantly. Even if I never played D&D Next again, I would steal this mechanic.
  • Backgrounds and Themes
    • Simple and colorful. They functioned as easy to grasp hooks for character personality. Slightly confusing was the fact that the Rogue had both a Scheme and a Theme, but I imagine that'll shake itself out. The potential for easily individualizing characters without needing to spend a half-hour poring over lists of feats and skills is huge.
  • Ability checks, saving throws, etc
    • Easy-peasy. I'm a huge fan of the fact that all checks are now tied to ability scores. I find it intuitive, and honestly, is something I've been house-ruling almost since I started playing with Moldvay Basic.
  • Skills 
    • Here's the cool thing: Though all the characters had skills tied to backgrounds and themes, none of the skills were described in the accompanying rules---and it didn't matter. There was no question of how or when to use them.
  • Characters
    • We all agreed that every character had cool stuff to do out of the gate. I think it's arguable the Wizard may be a bit over-powered to begin with (does he really need magic missile AND shocking grasp, for instance?), but that'll likely work itself out, too. I love that the Fighter with the Reaper theme does damage even when he misses. Awesome.
  • Hit points/dice
    • Though it took me a bit to overcome the gravitational pull of past-edition expectations, I have to say I really like how hit points are being handled. It seems to me a well-considered blend of AD&D and 4th Ed. healing surges. And even the rules as they stand describe the whole concept of hit points in the clearest language since the AD&D DM's Guide: They are an abstract measurement of overall ability and endurance. Down to half your HP's, and you show no physical damage. Less than half, some cuts, bruises, abrasions. Zero, you're knocked unconscious. Below zero, someone got through your defenses and you are dying. IMO, this makes the idea of characters taking a short rest to shake off the battle makes complete sense, especially since they can only recover a number of times equal to their HD (level), and they only recover a random amount based on that class HD. So, a Wizard can take a short rest to recover HP's, but will most likely always recover less than, say, a Cleric or Fighter.
  • Flow of play
    • This whole session really felt no different to me than playing ODD or AD&D. In fact, since characters had some more options, it was in ways more fun. It was fast, and encouraged DM rulings and player innovation. Works for me.
  • Experience
    • With the rules as they stand, I have no idea how experience is being generated, except that at this point, characters only get XP for overcoming foes. There's actually very little monetary treasure in the whole adventure. I don't necessarily have a problem with that, but it is confusing to me why, for instance, the Goblin King was worth 400 XP, and ogre only 350, when the ogre was definitely a more dangerous foe (with twice the HP's!) I'm willing to let that sit for now, but it was interesting that all the characters left with XP's putting them halfway to 2nd level.
If it isn't obvious, I think WotC is heading in the right direction. I'm pumped for our next session (though I'm also in the midst of moving, so it might be a few weeks...) I'm also really interested to see the next iteration of the rules, which will reportedly cover character creation.