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D&D Next: Playtest Impressions

The other day I posted my early thoughts and opinions of the playtest rules for D&D Next and tonight we finally got a chance to play the rules.

First some background.  

Those of you who are close followers of my adventures will know that a just a year ago I GMed a Basic D&D campaign starting with the Keep on the Borderlands.  In that campaign, the players’ characters were hired to rescue the son of a noble who’d been captured by a group of monsters from the Caves of Chaos.  The players had reached the caves overland, passing the tower of one of their mentors, and then through the forest.  At the ravine of the Caves of Chaos, they explored the kobold lair (the first cave on the right), then the goblins’ cave on the left, which I think took them through to the next set of caves where I had the noble’s son held captive.  They rescued to boy and returned to the keep, then struck out for civilization rather than returning to the caves.  I mention this because our recent familiarity with some of the cave systems is a factor in how we approached the playtest.

In the year between playing Basic D&D and this D&D Next playtest, we’ve had a long campaign using my Heroes Against Darkness system.  We wrapped up that campaign just a couple of weeks ago to give D&D Next a go for a while.

So tonight five of us we met for our Monday night game, I played the cleric of Moradin, we had the cleric of Pelor, the wizard, and the fighter.  For this adventure we’d been sent to the Caves of Chaos to rescue a young dwarf (from my cleric’s tribe) who’d been captured by orcs.  With this set up, we found ourselves standing at the yawning entranceway of the infamous Caves of Chaos.

At this point I took a timeout and we agreed that because we’d recently played the caves, we wouldn’t go into the caves that we were familiar with (the goblin cave on the left and the kobold lair on the right).  This was also good because I’ve read about a hundred write-ups of people fighting the damned kobolds and rats (and killing 1/round), and frankly I’m sick of hearing about those little bastards.

We made our way down into the floor of the ravine, searching for tracks that would indicate which of the caves was the lair of the orcs that we were looking for.  Unfortunately, we rolled pretty poorly (and one of the players forgot to add his Nature Lore) for the tracking, and we weren’t able to discern anything informative from the multitide of footprints over the ravine floor.  Without any clear direction, we picked the second cave entrance along the left side of the ravine as our first one to explore.  

As we neared the cave we saw that this one had an actual door, as opposed to the others that were simply open cave mouths.  We thought that this would make the cave more secure, so we scrambled up the shale slope (Dex check DC 11) and approached the door.  The door was heavy and wooden, reinforced with solid metal plates.  A thorough investigation (Wis check) revealed that one of these metal plates swung open to reveal a latch for the door.  After some discussion about whether the latch was trapped, we opened the door to reveal a corridor that plunged into darkness.

Now three of our four characters have low-light vision (the two dwarves and the elf), but the human would have been blind in the dark of the cave, so we elected to have the wizard cast a couple of light catrips, one on his quarterstaff (which we only later realized that he doesn’t have in his inventory) and the other on the fighter’s shield.  The light revealed that the corridor ran about 30 feet to a four-way intersection.  Straight ahead it continued in stairs leading up.  The corridor to the right immediately turned again backwards towards the entrance.  And the corridor to the left soon turned right.  We headed right to investigate the corridor that headed back towards the entrance, and as we rounded the corner it immediately turned again forming a dogleg.  As we continued around the last turn of the dogleg, we saw that the corridor opened into a room some distance ahead.  Unfortunately, the inhabitants of the room noticed us and three figures sprang from their room towards us.  I immediately cast Crusader’s Strike (1d6 extra damage on a hit for 1 hour).  We quickly recognised them as hobgoblins, and realizing that this was not the orcs’ cave, we turned and Hustled our way out of the caves.  

When we reached the entrance we scrambled up the slope around to the precarious area above the cave mouth.  We waited there for the hobgoblins to emerge and hoped that they wouldn’t notice us.  Six hobgoblins emerged from the cave moments later.  Three immediately ran down the path towards the ravine floor (we bypassed this on the way up).  The other three stayed at the entrance, with us perched just above them, and looked around.  It didn’t take them long to look in our direction, so our wizard opened up with a Burning Hands (with advantage for surprise) at the three immediately beneath us, hitting two with its full effect and partially catching the other.  The wizard had let go of his handhold to cast his spell and almost tumbled over the edge and down to their ledge.  Having taken them by surprise, the fighter shot one with his crossbow, killing it, and the other cleric used his searing light to kill another.  Luckly for us, the hobgoblins had emerged with crossbows, and the four remaining beasts proceeded to pepper us with shots, hitting a couple of us, including my cleric for 5 HP.  For the next turn, I could do nothing (I didn’t have a ranged weapon or spell I wanted to use), the fighter was busy reloading his crossbow (taking a full turn so that he didn’t have to attack with disadvantage), so the wizard and the cleric of Pelor used their Magic Missile and Searing Light to kill the last of the hobgoblins that had been damaged in the first fiery attack.  The remaining three hobgoblins had thrown down their crossbows and run back towards the cave entrance below us, so the fighter tried to shoot his crossbow but lost his footing and slid down the slope into the middle of the monsters, who promptly wailed on his ass and did some damage.  I slid down after him and positioned myself next to him to use my character’s Defender theme to protect him (While you are using a shield, when a creature withing 5′ of you is attacked, as a reaction you can give the attacker disadvantage on the attack).  The next round we managed to cut down two of the hobgoblins, and the third chose to flee back into the cave.  I pursued him, but soon remembered that I didn’t actually have a ranged attack, so I immediately retreated back out of the cave.

We regrouped and gathered up the six heavy crossbows (50 GP each, but three of them slightly charred!), giving one to the fighter and I took his light crossbow.  We also used the opportunity to find some shelter to rest and use the other cleric’s healer’s kit to recover a bit (I got a 2 for my hit dice roll, boo).

The next two caves looked very different.  High up on the left slope was a small, natural-looking cave.  Further along the left slope at our current level was a large, imposing looking entrance.  We chose the small natural cave and scrambled up the slope to investigate.  We entered the cave in normal order (fighter, cleric of Moradin, wizard, cleric of Pelor).  As we shuffled along the tight cave, the cleric of Pelor identified the footprints and smells as animal-like, which we various interpreted as a bear or wolves.  While we discussed this, an arrow flew past us from deeper in the cave.  Another arrow followed in the time it took us to realize that this cave was the den of a pack of gnolls, so we quickly retreated and fled down the slope (luckily without anything in pursuit).

We decided to head for the large cave entrance, and on approaching it my dwarf cleric discerned that the entrance was carved and decorated by humans.  Sensing something interesting, we entered this large cave.  This cave had spluttering torches to provide illumination, so we switched off our light spells.  The entrance passage was carved and worked, unlike the earlier caves, and soon joined up with a 20′ wide corridor that stretched off to the left and right.  We cautiously made our way to the left along the wide coridoor, trying to keep to the shadowed areas between the weak torches.  We came to an Y intersection, and took to fork to the left.  Rounding a rubble-filled corner, we soon heard the sound of moaning, so we sent our most dexterous character ahead to investigate, and he returned with word of a large throne room, with a dozen skeletons standing guard.  Relishing the opportunity to smite some undead, we decided to strike the inert skeletons, then fall back into the corridor so that we could attempt to use Turn Undead as many of them as possible.  The plan worked perfectly, with the four of us crushing one skeleton with our first blow and damaging two others before retreating to the corridor.  The skeletons followed and walked straight into the my Turn Undead, which held all of them but three.  What followed was a slaughter as other characters ganged up on the skeletons one at a time (while I kept them turned), first attacking with advantage while they were ‘turned’ and following up with spells if the melee attacks weren’t successful (the wizard attacked last using Shocking Grasp to gain advantage from their metal armor).

After the last of the skeletons was reduced to shards and dust, we investigated the throne.  We detected nothing magical, and unsuccessfully searched it for secret compartments, so had to settle for just prising out the four garnets that were inlaid in it.

We returned to the Y intersection and followed the other path.  We heard the noise again, and this time we identified it as moaning.  After a few more steps, we found a large empty room filled with zombies.  This time the other cleric managed to ‘turn’ seven of the zombies, leaving only a few still mobile.  As with their skeletal cousins, we made short (but boring) work of the zombies.

We backtracked to the main 20′ wide corridor and followed it past the entrance tunnel and about another 100′ feet on, where it turned to the left and then headed up a slope.  The corner had two doors, one straight ahead and another in the right wall.  We heard voices and stopped to listen, eventually identifying three humans speaking common in the room behind the door straight ahead.  We did a quick stocktake and on finding that were were all in pretty good condition (I was on 14 HP, having only take 5 HP from the hobgoblins and recovered 2 HP from the rest), we decided to open the door and storm the room to surprise the humans.

The fighter approached the door and threw it open, but found that the humans (cultists in red and black robes) were sitting at a table about 20′ away down a connecting corridor.  He charged down the corridor and attacked, but failed miserably (rolled a 1 and without any advantage).  I followed and attacked the closest of the humans, missing, and then stepped next to the fighter to give him the benefit of my Guardian power.  The wizard and other cleric followed, and attacked too, with some success.  The enemies then attacked, striking the wizard a strong blow for 8 HP, and sending him running back down the corridor in fear of his life.  Another human who’d been lying on one of the beds in the room joined the fight, but the wizard made short work of them with his Shocking Grasp, which gains advantage against enemies in metal armor (as it also had with the skeletons earlier).  

With the four cultists dead, we stripped their robes and set their bodies in their beds, then paused to decide what to do.  Which is where the session ended.

Quick thoughts:

•  Advantage got a large look in, but we were never attacked by baddies with advantage.  We also never had disadvantage.  We found a couple of ways to gain advantage, such as when we surprised the hobgoblins with the Burning Hands
•  I used 1 spell Crusader’s Strike, and then forgot that I had it on!
•  The fights were quick, but not particularly interesting (especially the ones where we shut down the undead)
•  We managed 5 encounters in a 3-hour session
•  I like saving throws using your ability scores, because they really streamline all the different numbers
•  I’m intrigued by the flattened maths, but worry that it’s always going to feel like 1st level
•  In the current implementation, the clerics and wizards seem to get a lot more escalation at higher levels than the fighter
•  We avoided the rats and the kobolds, so we didn’t have any of the encounters with 15+ enemies each with 2 HP
•  The extra starting HP makes the game much more forgiving that Basic D&D (for example, that 8 HP hit from the cultist would have killed a Basic magic-user dead dead).
•  The only modularity apparent in the system (removing Backgrounds and Themes) makes your character suck more, (as I feared)


You could be playing Heroes Against Darkness instead: Heroes Against Darkness – Game Rules.

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