Monday, July 16, 2012

D&D Next Actual Play: Session 1

Missed me in that week of absence? Sorry, I just have been having a hard time writing, I'm trying to get on it again. At the very least, I'm very glad that I actually started feeling guilty about not posting anything after only a couple days (rather than a couple WEEKS like it used to be) despite decent view counts still, the guilt means that I really AM dedicated to this thing, which makes me happy. Oh, and Johnstone, I'm gonna be putting up some of those aliens in either the next post or the one following that, I swear. Anyway, on to D&D Next!

Hey, this wasn't on the schedule! That's because out of nowhere we decided to play it last week.
So we were chatting and there was a general wish to play D&D of some kind! We started to chat about our issue starting the game last time, and Kris brought up that he wanted to give running it a shot again, so we decided to just do it.

The Cast:
Kris as Dungeon Master!
Daniel as Boris Borisovich Berezovsky (I used the Story Games Names Project Android app to generate this, no kidding) the Hill Dwarf Fighter!
Kenny as Kovus the Human Cleric of Pelor!
and Me as Calder the High Elf Wizard!

So, a few notes about this game session and some oddities/growing pains.
1) This is the third or fourth time we're trying to start D&D Next. Some days we just weren't feeling it, and the closest time I'd had Kris and Kenny pick their characters and we got some compelling stuff but ended up just not knowing how to start. As such, there might have been a bit of apprehension, especially from me - I was worried that we couldn't get it off the ground. That's when Kris volunteered, said he had been thinking and might be able to start it.
2) This is Kris's first GMing with us in a while. In fact, his first GM role with us since we started doing story games (though he runs his own D&D game back at Gonzaga, so he's been doing that I suppose. Not since the middle of May for sure though).
3) Kris is unfamiliar with the rules - I primed him on it as "3.5, but no skills or feats, everything is done with an appropriate ability check. The grid is meant to be optional." I then handed him my computer with the monster file open. So if we goofed up a little, so be it. We decided to try it gridless, but with drawings of general locations. Note, this is also Kris's first time ever running gridless combat. Note that this also means that Kris is going in entirely unprepped (which he handled fine - he said that in his own game back at college he'd been doing with less prep and was much better at it, which I'm very glad for, since I recommended he'd asked some advice a while back and I basically advised him to try low-prep so I'm glad it worked. Plus, I'm a big believer in low-prep).
4) We did not run Caves of Chaos as written. Essentially, we took the basic core concept (region of caves riddled with gang-warfare between savage humanoids), took the map, and made up new stuff in it. Because of the limited monster supply, he mostly took his direction from there. This is probably for the best - I've read most of the Caves of Chaos already and am familiar with everything. Hell, his potential twist is a little spoiled for me since I've read the monster list.

Okay, to the game. We started off with character creation, as all good D&D games should. Wait... no, we didn't. We're stuck with these damn pre-gens. Now, Wizards, I absolutely understand what you're trying to do with the pre-gens for now, you just happen to be totally cramping our style. We did the best we could though: we started individually, filling in the blanks of Name, Alignment, Gender, Height, Weight, Eyes, and Hair, trying to get a feel for our character. My own Calder is Lawful Good, with sparkling golden eyes and long, flowing blonde hair. I'm also as gay as can be; I AM a high elf, after all. Kovus is Neutral Good, like Pelor, and is quite tall for a human at 6'5". Boris is Chaotic Neutral with a scraggly unkempt black beard.
Now, that was easy, but unfortunately, it's also boring. REALLY boring. We're playing class-race combos basically. And so we brought out the biggest thing we learned from Story Games in my opinion: questions. Lots of questions. Ask pointed question meant to refine and define a concept that are entirely unrelated to the mechanics. I'd done this last time and either Kris remembered it or he's integrated it into his own style now, because I went to ask Dan a question while we were reading off our guys to the group and Kris told me to hold on, that he was gonna let all the intros go and then he had some questions, so that excites me that the style is catching on.
So Kris had some cool questions! I'll talk about my dude first. Turns out Calder grew up in the tower of his master, and the tower was an Infinite Library - it spouted forth knowledge. However, eventually Calder decided that he wanted to go and get some truly powerful knowledge himself, so he left to go adventuring. Along the way, he picked up the trail of the Megatome (S:S&S EP ftw, but this is a different Megatome), a book containing powerful dark secrets that he wishes to obtain to discover the powers within and ensure that the magic doesn't fall into the wrong hands. His research shows that the book is in the Caves of Chaos, deep underground.
Daniel's Boris Borisovich Berezovsky the XVIII comes from a long line of Boris Borisovich Berezovskys - in fact, every single member of his family is named Boris Borisovich Berezovsky, women included. His greataxe is lovingly named Boris as well (leading to many jokes about Boris using Boris to Boris things and we rapidly lost track of whether Boris was a name, a noun, or a verb). His family all serve several years of military service out of honour (explaining his Soldier background), but unlike the rest of his family (who tend to go into upper-class professions like diplomats) he continues on as a fighter, hiring himself out as a mercenary in order to visit places and do new things and hopefully find himself and his purpose somewhere along the way. Calder obtained his services several months ago, soon after leaving the Tower. I unfortunately forgot about how amazing his inventory is, and as such didn't ask about his lucky charm or his souvenir.
Kenny's Kovus is a priest on a holy mission from Pelor to destroy the great evils of the world. His current quest has him seeking the great darkness that dwells deep inside the Caves of Chaos, and he met up with Calder and Boris to help him succeed in his mission. It doesn't bother him at all that they're going to have to slay all these savages to get there - it's very clear that Kovus is extremely goal oriented in that only the great evil matters. If it can be destroyed, it's worth it.

So I must say, I have no idea what we would have done without the questions. Seriously, this is the bare minimum of buy-in here. Maybe it was just us who didn't ask lots of cool questions pre-story-games, but does anyone else hae anything they do to try and invest themselves into a pre-gen they just don't care about or flesh out an otherwise dull PC? Seriously Wizards, maybe even just a little more range with the pre-gens would have helped.
Anyway, so we got to the game. This is where we stalled out last time.

Thankfully, Kris knew what he was doing and had a kicker in mind. If he'd only worded it slightly differently, this was it: "So you guys are at the inn enjoying a drink. A gnoll and an orc, who's clans are allied right now, are talking at the bar. Suddenly, a hobgoblin walks over to them and pciks a fight since the hobgoblins are a rival gang. Within moments, the orc is holding the hobgoblin and the gnoll is starting to tear him up. WHAT DO YOU DO?"
In other words, he Dungeon World'd all over us and I love it.
A circle had formed around them and we debated whether or not to actually attack. I broke the dilemma by standing up and magic missile-ing the orc in the back. I did my bit of damage and hurled us into initiative. Boris went first in the order and straight up decapitated the gnoll. The orc chucked the hobgoblin into the crowd, clearing a path to me, and I tried to stop him cold with a Ray of Frost and ended up freezing the bar. He was getting ready to charge me when Kovus Radiant Lanced right through him, slaying him. I clonked the groveling hobgoblin on the head and knocked him cold, but didn't kill him.
Unfortunately, we seem to have made a big ruckus and mess out of an everday scenario (gang scuffle) and got kicked out of the inn. We had a choice whether to go find somewhere to camp or to go straight for the caves. Who the hell goes and camps when there's CAVES to explore?

So we were travelling and we noticed some flashes off in the distance, near a cave. I used my keen elven senses to see that they were figures in black throwing magic at a bunch of orcs. They chased the orcs into a cave and left them alone after that and came over and talked to us. Turns out, these casters had a camp established in one of the nearby caves and we went with them to investigate. As we go along with them, they explain that they've been searching through the caves for ancient relics and such, and I bring up my search for the Megatome. They say they've heard of it but that it's sealed away, and that they need the Dark Stone to unlock the passages leading to it, but the Dark Stone lies within the orcs' caves. While we're talking we've come upon their entrance chamber and see that it's covered with tapestries and magic rune carvings and I tried a roll (with the help of my background's +3 to checks about Magical Lore) to find out absolutely nothing because I rolled really really bad.  In the end, they asked us if we could go and find the Dark Stone, us being the competent-looking adventurers we are. We accept!

So we get to the entrance to the cave. Looking in, this place is definitely well-barricaded and is likely to be well-guarded, so we look around for another way in. We find that another cave is connected to this little complex, and it seems to be entirely unguarded. We did absolutely zero checking for traps because we have no rogues and are apparently idiots. Kris is too nice to spring traps on a rogue-less party though, so we actually walked in okay. It didn't take long for us to hear an orc patrol coming, but we hid behind some rocks and stuff a bit apart from each other. MOST of us made our rolls to hide, but someone (I don't recall who) was poking out and called their attention. Kovus and Boris started fighting while I, still hidden behind a pillar, carefully chucked a Magic Missile while staying hidden. The orc, in gangster fashion (or what we thought sounded gangster - we're all nerds, we don't know) started looking for where the shots came from and fired blindly (by which I mean "threw a javelin") in the general direction of my Magic Missile. Now, I'm still behind the cover, and don't remember the cover rules and can't find them in the book. Kris gave me 9/10 cover and made his attack roll but failed the d% roll he made to do the cover (I'm fully aware this is not the most elegant way to do cover, but we just made it up because it came to us quickly and we couldn't be bothered to look). To compromise, we decided that he missed me, but only barely, and m being the wimp wizard I yelped and gave myself away. Now, all the combat is going on (three orcs) and we're most of the way through, two down, and the last one is running away. We give chase a bit, I Ray of Frost him to the spot and we kill him too, but we find ourselves halfway into the next chamber - and realize that we've been LOUD. Oh shit. Something's coming.


Yeah, a fucking OWLBEAR rushes out and pretty much one-shots Boris, putting him unconscious on the ground. We try taking a couple shots, but it grabs Boris and runs back into the next chamber. We heal real quick and give chase.

Turns out we've found a female owlbear. In heat. Using the unconscious Boris to, um, you get the picture. Yeah, I wasn't expecting that (none of us were) but I really should have been. Weird-ass shit like this happens all the time when Kris GMs. I don't know how we keep forgetting that. And apparently, he assures us, this doesn't really happen with the group he runs back at college. Oh well, we keep on going! Poor Daniel.
So the first thing I do is Ray of Frost the damn thing. That's not exactly comfortable for Boris either, but hey, he's gonna be the one to remember the least of this, being out cold (heh) and all. Until he wakes up covered in owlbear of course, 'cuz WE'RE sure not cleaning him off. Now this immobilized owlbear is just sitting there and Kenny lights it up with a Radiant Lance.
I'll time-skip a bit. We did that pretty much every turn for a long time, Ray of Frost, Owlbear is stuck out of combat range, Radiant Lance. My +6 to hit with that spell plus decent rolls made this fight pretty one-sided. A couple times I missed and and ran to maul us, actually getting to Kenny one time, though he amazingly survives. Kenny ends up throwing up a Spiritual Hammer as well, which distracts the thing while it gets hit. Unfortunately, owlbears have over 100, probably over 150 hp, and we dealt damage 7 or 8 per round. We killed it, but it was essentially a watered down version of a 4e Solo Monster fight - though it moved WAY faster than 4e. And there were risky moments, but we did all right. Boris is fine now, though grossed out, and we're patching ourselves up. That's where we called it a night.

Some real quick commentary about the game itself, in order to be a good playtester.
Dear Wizards of the Coast,
THE BASIC RULES WORK FINE. You said this is the point of this stage of the playtest and you're along the right tracks so far. Combat moved fast, we went gridless but not mapless and that was nice, fights were interesting and there's a LOT to be said for how well Roll+Ability works.
Side Note to Myself: Fiddle with replacing the d20 with the 2d6+Ability vs (10+/7-9/6-) for task resolution to allow a greater range for partials while leaving the d20 for attack rolls and opposed rolls or things that need very specific DCs.
Back to Wizards: You said this is NOT the point of this stage so I'm cutting you loads of slack, but here's some things to watch for.
* Advantage vs +x. The big competition came up between me the Elf's Keen Senses and the Fighter's Perception +3 from his background. The two can effectively be used in the exact same situations, and to balance the characters each should be approximately equal, or at least comparable in ability, one dude trained to sense stuff the other just born with it but entirely untrained. Unfortunately, the Keen Senses ALWAYS wins over Perception +3. That +x is gonna have to be a lot bigger to challenge the advantage. If you intend for this, sure thing. Just want to make sure this is apparent though. In fact, Advantage is often too strong to provide casually like I would toss around +2s. I think +2s need to still be here to fill that gap. However, I'm big fan of the concepts behind Advantage, it's a VERY cool innovation to implement all over the place.
* Synergy between some of the At-Wills. Ray of Frost specifically is extremely powerful when paired with a ranged attacker, pretty much locking down and murdering an enemy with no chance to fight back.
* Shocking Grasp needed to be cooler. I used it when the orc saw me and rushed for me, I popped out and grabbed him with lightning, and it was just not lightning-y enough. The metal thing is a great touch, but some sort of electrocution effect over it just being lightning damage would be great.
* Magic Missile did not have useful enough damage to compare with other stuff, even with the auto-hit. Between MM or comboing with Kovus usign Ray of Frost, the Ray always won. I know you want the damage low to compensate for auto-hitting, but consider 1d6+1, or 1d4+2 or 3 or something.
* Burning Hands DEFINITELY needed a strength boost. If they can half-damage save out of it, 2d4+Mag is NOT enough, I might as well just be shooting Magic Missiles.
* That said about balancing the spells, having both the couple (or slew in my case) of At-Wills along with the eventually-going-to-grow range of limited spells is very cool. I like it.
* It bothered me at first and still bothered Kris a bit since he considered it a staple term, but I'm finding myself more and more appreciative that you left flanking out, it definitely was a word and mechanic that left us firmly in the gridded realm and I feel pretty freed without it. Speaking of the removal of the grid for my game, it worked great.
* The High Elf Scholar Wizard may very well be the best character of the five for utility even, and I know he's helpful (and kinda cheap) in combat. Keen Senses gives him advantage just about every time you roll the equivalent of a Percpetion roll, probably the most common "skill" roll in the game, and the range of things covered by his Scholar bonuses means he's pretty much always able to grab the bonus for knowing thing. Now, perhaps my view is skewed - this first session just seemed to keep highlighting how well my Wizard kept fitting the situation.
*DESCRIBE THE SPELLS ON THE CHARACTER SHEET. You describe everything else to avoid page flipping, give us the spells, even on a separate but attached page. It's just way more convenient, and you've done an otherwise great job of keeping the need to page-flip to a minimum.
* The Fighter stuff really is quite good. It bothered me at first that he only had one page and it scared me that he was just really sparse on things, but it turns out his stuff is just shorter to describe than, well, spellcasting. It's pretty much ALL very interesting. If Daniel wasn't so dedicated to playing the Fighter-type most of the time, I totally would have, it is by far the coolest designed piece, both between interesting abilities, a cool and useful background, a great attack, and an extraordinarily flavorful inventory compared to everyone else.

...That's all I can think of right now. This has taken a fucking WEEK to write, and it's now 4:40 in the morning and I haven't gone to bed yet, so I'm done and posting this. Night all.
End Recording,

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