Saturday, August 4, 2012

D&D Next Annotations: Caves of Chaos

Okay, so here we are at the adventure. 29 total pages. IF YOU ARE GOING TO BE A PLAYER, YOU MAY WANT TO BE CAREFUL ABOUT READING ANY OF THIS.
* After a cover page with a couple lines about the origins of The Caves of Chaos and the Keep on the Borderlands, the first thing we see is "What Is This Adventure Testing?" Basically, they're testing rule system interaction, not hard arithmetic balance. They're also trying to encourage any and all play styles and situations thanks to the adventure's free-form nature.
* After the sidebar, we get Make This Your Adventure, or What Is A Sandbox Adventure & How Do I Make It Work? It has a section that starts pretty nice about finding the players' motivation. The first major one is Questions and Answers. It says to read through and ask yourself questions about why situations are happening, and then answer them. My counter is: don't answer them, ask the players. Seriously, deflecting stuff like that back onto the players is the best thing I've ever learned to do as GM. It then has sample motivations, none of which I will use whole cloth.
* Another sidebar, this one on Dynamic Dungeons. Yup, monsters have lives outside of waiting for your party etc. etc. I do all this.
* Killer Encounters is the next section, about how in a sandbox the players might put their foot in the deep end by accident and how to mitigate that possible TPK. Very Basic D&D, as makes sense for this classic adventure.
* Next up is a section about Running the Adventure. It talks about an overview map (god I hate and love these things at the same time), what Task Resolution is (I'm glad that they're coming out and saying "Yes this is task resolution not conflict resolution" using the standard terms and not pretending to be something it's not), how to read Monster stats, and info about the monster tribes (I kinda like this stuff).
* And here it starts to go into the description of everything! With read-aloud text. Ugh. I hate read-aloud text, it's always written with such flower-y words and such. Just tell me what's happening. That's what I like about stuff like Fiasco playsets' "The Score" section, or the whole text of Apocalypse World, it's interesting to say to the players and it's straight to the point. Maybe it's less that I hate read-aloud text and more that I think that D&D adventures write really LAME read-aloud text.
* First place is a kobold lair, a couple really abbreviated stats (AC, hp, attacks and damage). Of more interest is another blocked away section on Running The Kobolds. A couple super-simple tips on which rooms they tend to stay in, and a paragraph about the kobold tendency toward traps. Thankfully, THIS section tells us about the kobold special traits: darkvision, light sensitivity, and their amazing Strength in Numbers ability. I love that ability and they should be emphasizing that and the traps more than anything else.
* There's a pit trap, and some more kobolds, and my goodness "each kobold carries 1d6 sp" WE'RE GONNA BE RICH. Seriously guys, no one gives a shit about sp, I probably wouldn't even bother to write it down. Hell, our characters probably wouldn't even bother to pick up a dozen silver pieces.
* Oh look, cave rats and a dire rat. Disease is cool, though just extra damage isn't too interesting. Weird seeing DC11 and realizing that there's actually a legitimate chance of failing that, I'm used to thinking of DC11 as really easy.
* I would definitely emphasize that favored pet thing, it makes the creature much more story-driven rather than "hey there's monsters let's fight." Also NOW you just give away 15 gp. Man, those kobolds really should've gone and sold that chain, they could've afforded some way better traps with the extra cash.
* Alright, I admit, even if this stuff is really light on telling us what's actually going on, I really like the Light:/Noise:/Smell: descriptors, they're giving me ideas.
* Wow, if they fight in room 4 they're gonna get swarmed by the guys in the other room. But man, 2d10 sp each. They really should've sold that rat's bling. I mean, it's worth more than most of them own collectively so far.
* Ah, the chief is rich. Oh my god, seriously, "203 cp, 61 sp, and 22 ep." Come on. Just give us the numbers in gold. I still can't believe you guys put electrum pieces in, like we needed another subunit of gold that we'll never see beyond second level.
* "During the day, up to forty adult kobolds" HOLY SHIT. I know this is the go-where-you-want adventure and getting in over your head can happen, but cave complex A shouldn't be THAT crazy! Any GM who does all forty on their players is just a dick.
* Cave complex B is the orc lair. The Watcher thing is pretty neat, but it says that the watcher is worth 125 XP; how do you get it? The  orc leaves and alerts the others, it doesn't look like you're supposed to fight it. Is the XP indicator just in case?
* Oh hey a Running the Orcs section. Oh man, having them flee with all of their stuff is cheap as hell - not giving them a solid reward for killing the leader and forcing a retreat isn't very nice.
* Unfortunately, while furious charge is kinda neat (though boring rules-wise; not bad statistically, just uninteresting), it just isn't as cool as Strength in Numbers.
* Oh boy, 1d4 ep. My lucky day.
* Another swarm room. You really just wanted to make it so the reinforcements came from somewhere, didn't you? Because I don't care, and I don't think anyone does. 30 orcs at once is crazy. Maybe this is how it was back then, but I say that I think that's stupid.
* You couldn't even just give us 1d6 sp per orc? It needs to be 1d6-3? If I fight all 30 orcs in this room, that's, on average, 30 sp (that's 5 of each possible outcome of the dice). That's 3 gold pieces. I killed 30 11 hp orcs and I got five times that many gold pieces from killing one 5 hp rat. Either that rat was a king of all rats, or these are the most dirt-poor orcs in the universe.
* Seriously, I'm gonna keep bitching about this split gp thing. What the hell? Are people actually clamoring for the specifics of "205 cp, 286 sp, 81 ep, and 13 gp"? "Various coins worth 84 gp" is WAY easier, and doesn't require me to open the How to Play again so I can remember how much a fucking electrum piece is worth. Is this what you think people meant by "old-school"? When you update an adventure like this, you make changes to make it more convenient. Simplicity and play speed are things you're promoting about these rules, and doing it like this is not how you do it. If I'm wrong and we have raving hordes of fans saying "NO we want you to tell us EXACTLY how much money we get from these creatures" then I'll resign myself to it, but it just seems unbelievably stupid. HOWEVER, if this is simply a case of trying to stay faithful to the original B2 and you plan to condense it in new adventures in the future, disregard me (and remove that crazy chart from the HtP book).
* Anyway, on to cave complex C. This seems to essentially be a sequel cave to B. Another sidebar (I'd be happy if these continued all the way for each cave complex btw).
* There is...nothing interesting in this complex except for "Hacking Frenzy" which is a pretty clever use of the mechanics.
* Cave complex D is goblins! I like goblins. I'm not sure why they'd yell "Bree-yark!" if you're not going to explain what that means (They sound the alarm and attack is simpler and easier to understand). Anyway, the idea of them buying off the Ogres next door to help out is a nice way of making the Caves a more coherent whole. Same with their intentions to join the hobgobs if their asses are getting kicked (I don't know if this is a thing in the Caves already, but my Hobgobs would HATE the ogres, and the actions of the PCs would likely trigger a war for them to get embroiled in).
* Dirty Tricks is strong and pretty cool. Not as cool as the Kobolds', but their powers together would be ridiculous.
* ...these goblins are poorer than the freaking orcs.
* These ogre only has one cave that makes up complex E, but he's fucking terrifying (88 hp, +6 to attack with 2d4+6 damage, 15 AC). Geez, that's scary. Also if he drinks the Potion of Invisibility he's keeping. Why is there no "Running the Ogre" sidebar? He's the most interesting thng to happen to this adventure so far!
* As for his bribe, he's willing to let you leave for 8 gp per person. God, at the rate you're giving money people are going to be broke after getting away with this guy. He's also loaded. Killing him is the way to go, but doing it is gonna be hard. I like this guy a lot.
* F is the hobgobs, who entirely lack for "Special Traits"! As such, combined with the fact that hobgobs don't really do anything besides "we're like the goblins but we're all fighters instead of tricky rogues", they're pretty much the most boring enemies yet.
* Thankfully, among the boring as hell enemies (have you caught on that I don't like hobgobs? Don't take it to heart guys, that's just me. Give 'em a special trait to make them fight special though!), we have a Prison. This prison has three people, a named orc, and a nutjob gnoll. The gnoll is kinda lame (he just attacks if freed), but the rest are nice and interesting. The orc in particular makes the Caves come to life, while the humans make good things happen to the party.
* Huh. Just now noticing a +1 dagger there. Looking back, this is not the first +1 thing. I'm aware of the classicness of this concept (despite disliking it as boring as hell), but what I'm amazed at is that you don't seem to have explained what exactly "+1" DOES!  I mean, 'I' know (probably), but you've gone and spelled out everything else so it's kinda astounding. EDIT: Oh, it's at the end! Not super-convenient, especially since everything else had a description attached right onto it, but no matter, at least it's here.
* Armory! Full of tons of stuff with no monetary values attached. More cross-referencing to figure out how much I get if I sell it all... "1 suit of plate mail (worth x gp), 5 suits of chainmail (worth y gp each)..." would really help. I know it's extra ink, but it cuts down on flipping back and forth, which is nice (and 3.x players will thank you).
* The boss explicitly doesn't kill the PCs? YES. That's way cooler, for everyone involved.
* Anyway, on to G, the shunned cavern. I pity the party that winds up with a gray ooze and an owlbear at the same time. Corrosion is horrifying. The ogre is still a bit of a cooler thing than this complex, but it's a close second. Again, a lack of a "Running the Monsters" on an interesting place.
* I giggle at the idea of bugbears intentionally not helping each other when they hear combat noises. I also giggle (in delight) at the concept of a whole cave of bugbears addicted to catnip, which is amazing, and sorely underplayed in the rest of the complex.
* The leader appears to fight in a neat way (actually doing leader stuff) and can go get help, which is great.
* Okay, reading through, I enjoy this Bugbear cave. Slave pen, Prison with people, creatures with cool mechanical abilities and cool flavor traits (the catnip thing), and a leader who can bring back a goddamn minotaur all lead to a fun time.
* I've overridden myself - this Minotaur Caves (complex I) is the best. A cool environment, a magical curse, Stirges with special cool things, Fire beetles (wish there was something else instead of a second chamber of them, but meh) and then a freaking minotaur who is even scarier than the ogre, though his actual fight appears less interesting. His charging gore is a cool move though. Also, locked stuff full of cool other stuff. My favorite overall cave, but favorite single character is still the ogre.
SPECIAL NOTE: I played two sessions, my first times playing Next, between these two points. Now, since we didn't straight play the Caves of Chaos my reviewing should mostly be unaffected, but if I come across similar monsters I may react to them. If you'd like to see summaries of those two sessions, look for D&D Next Actual Play posts.
* So, the Gnoll Lair is next. Playing them...hmm, I guess Kris wasn't just making up the gnoll-orc alliance, that's actually written...
* Haha, the Dwarven Ale being super-strong is hilarious. I would allow Dwarf characters to suffer no ill effects though. You know, with the prevalence of Lord of the Rings inspiration in classic D&D, I surprised Dwarves were the ones who got poison resistence when Legolas could drink Gimli under the table. Then again, I suppose LotR Elves are pretty much superhuman in every way and needed to give SOMEwhere to balance it out.
* Oh my goodness that Demonic Frenzy move and the Feed On The Weak moves make him a special someone, don't they! Got a question though: It says "...or demonic frenzy or feed on the week [sic] (1/day)." Aside from the typo, the issue comes from the fact that FotW says that it triggers Each Time something dies. So do you turn it on and then every time in the encounter? More specifically I'd guess that the 1/day is supposed to be attached to just Demonic Frenzy  and FotW isn't an action at all, just a quality.
* By the way, the chimney and secret door and such are very cool things. You're definitely intending this as a centerpiece encounter to all the other somewhat bland combat rooms. This room has some of everything!
* The Shrine! I like evil cultists. Unfortunately, a lot of this is boring fights with boring undead.
* But relics are cool! I'm not too fond of the execution though. As it is, it operates as a Save or Die, or as a Save or Become An NPC more specifically. Not having the countdown start requires a DC15 Cha save, except it turns out one pre-gen has a +2, one has a +1, and the others have nothing, so failure is pretty likely. Removing it requires Remove Curse, a spell that, surprise suprise, DOESN'T EXIST. The other way to get rid of it is an esoteric combination of Dispel Magic and Bless, NEITHER OF WHICH EXIST. What the hell, Wizards. Even if you had both of those somehow, using pre-gens it requires the right combo of PCs to be in play, and even then it's only a 60%. That brings me to my main point. Referencing spells that don't exist yet and punishing us hugely for something we're not equipped for, fine. That's an incomplete game. These percentages are something I want to see GONE. Busting out the percentage die just sucks, especially when you could handle this very easily as a d20 check that we're all instantly prepared to make. Instead of 60%, say that on the first day it's a DC8 unmodified check.On each subsequent day the DC rises by 2 until it reaches DC20, at which point your character falls from your control and into the DM's.
See? Same language as the core mechanic, no dice shuffling or "How do we do percentage dice again?"
* Temple thing is neat. I think Kris started setting up to use these on us.
* And a boss battle! This looks like another cool centerpiece encounter.
*Aaand on the last page of the dungeon we have a Gelatinous Cube and a Medusa! Cool creatures, but sort of out of the way. I would make a bigger deal out of the Medusa - if you haven't caught on, I like monsters a lot more than savage people as enemies. Maybe you say they're not as intriguing villains, but they're FAR more interesting boss battles most of the time.
* And on the last page we have an appendix with the Magic Items. I like 'em in general, aside from basic +x stuff, which bores me.

So that's it! That's every document in the D&D Next Playtest package, finally, after literally 2 and a third months of work. Next up will be a Rapid-Fire viewing and annotating of the clarifications made through Legends & Lore and such on the website. That's like 10 articles I guess - not too bad. Got several things that all deserve a couple days of airtime before the next posts, but hey, maybe I'll do a daily thing for a week or something.
So I hope that if you're:
* Someone who doesn't play D&D you don't mind tolerating some more of this, or less likely I hope I've interested you in checking out some D&D a bit.
* Someone who plays D&D you got some clarification or understanding out of this.
* Wizards you'll listen to some feedback and make changes to turn Next into a finely tuned D&D machine.
Cheers folks.

End Recording,

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