Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Thoughts on the Sellswords and D&D Next Playtesting

We’re about two weeks into the new and improved “Revenge of the Sellswords of Luskan” campaign, a resurrected version of my formerly long-running Play-by-Post (PbP) campaign, The Sellswords of Luskan, which is/was hosted on the Myth-Weavers forum.  The original Sellswords ran for about four years using D&D’s 4th Edition ruleset, from 5th Level up to about 14thLevel. 

Sellswords was kind of a Stronghold campaign, heavy on high concept and Forgotten Realms divine mythology.  I’d like to re-use a lot of those same concepts for Revenge, but I've only just now had time to sit down and figure out what the immediate arc of the game is going to be.  Part of that was me wanting to see how my Players would react to the new ruleset and to the changes that it necessitated to their characters, but there was also a certain amount of inertia and flu-inspired laziness as well, so we’re not off to what I’d have termed a scintillating start.  Still, we've had one medium-difficulty encounter—my guys breezed through that—and then I ran a little Skills Challenge, and now that I’ve had a little time to plan, maybe business will begin to pick up.  At this point, all I need to do is find time to dig up a map that I can use for a woodland homestead, and we’ll be good to go.

For what it’s worth, my thoughts on the new Ruleset as it applies to my game are as follows.  As you read this, you might want to keep in mind that the party are 7th Level PCs, and my Players are all experienced gamers, if not super-experienced with the Next ruleset specifically.

     I cannot for the life of me figure out what the logic is behind the monster creation mathematics in D&D Next.  It’s not a huge problem, but I’m planning to run a version of Against the Giants in the very near future, and I know that I’ll need to make and/or customize several monsters for it.  Even if Wizards of the Coast (WotC) releases a brand new version of Against the Giants, some customization will still be necessary because our Giants are Fire Cultists, and I’m not sure how to even begin to do what has to be done.  There must be a logical way to level things up or down, but I’ve been looking at it and sure as Hell haven’t figured out what it is.

Against the Giants was an instant
classic when it was released.
     Our party is not tremendously well-balanced.  What’s nice, though, is that this hasn’t mattered yet—at all.  We have two Clerics, a Fighter (Barbarian, actually), a Monk, and a Wizard/Rogue.  And, oh by the way, one of the Clerics is actually a Shaman.  So we had to home-brew some rules to make all that happen.

o   To make the Barbarian, I took away my man’s heavy armor proficiency, giving him instead a number of Rages equal to the number of Daily rages he’d have had at the same level in 4th edition.  At 7th Level, that’s two.  When he rages, our Barbarian gets +2 to Strength and an additional damage bonus—I don’t remember how much off the top of my head.  I considered keeping some of the effects from the 4e Barbarian class’s rage powers (like knocking a target prone on a hit), but ultimately decided not to get too exotic while we’re in the middle of playtesting rules that are already experimental. 

o   To make the Shaman, I took away both heavy and medium armor proficiency, encouraged my Player to take the Hedge Wizard feat tree, and then augmented his familiar so that it has enhanced hit points and can make OAs.  This has worked great.  A Cleric who can make ranged Touch attacks really has very little reason ever to close to melee range, and he therefore has little need of heavy armor.  In fact, I would argue that one of the worst things in D&D Next right now is the basic assumption that all Clerics need heavy armor.  Reality is that most Clerics do not need heavy armor; heavy armor is only necessary if you build a specifically melee-attack based Cleric, and my experience is that most folks would rather use their Lance of Faith instead of closing the distance and going hand-to-hand.

o   To make our Wizard/Rogue, I simply let my Player take three levels of Wizard and two levels of Rogue.  This worked great, and it was balanced by the lower weapon and spell attack modifiers and by the fact that she has only a few spells and one maneuver.  The single home-brew change that I made here is that the PC only got the +1 to an ability score at 1st level.  So she got +1 to Intelligence for being a Wizard but not +1 to Dexterity for being a Rogue.

o   One final note on PCs: our Monk is a world-beater.  He’s a High Elf with Mage Armor as his Cantrip, and that gives him a total AC of 19—considerably better than our Fighter (Barbarian).  I considered disallowing this, but ultimately couldn't think of a reason why, so we’re just playtesting it.  But so far, he’s a better tank than our tank, and his Flurry of Blows does more damage more consistently than our Fighter’s regular two-handed Maul attacks do.

     After having run 4e in the Paragon Tier, our one combat was a breeze.  If you’re wondering, I use Google Drive’s Draw program for our maps, give everyone access, and it’s been terrific.  In the modern age, D&D is a great game to play remotely, and I find that I prefer playing PbP with Next to playing around the tabletop.  The role-play aspects tend to be more organic and literary, and the combat is fast as can be.  It’s a nice balance.  My one issue is that I’m having to think of more story now because I can’t rely on a long combat to occupy the party for a week to ten days while I figure out what’s gonna happen next in the campaign’s plot line.  In 4e, filibustering was easy.  With Next, combats last two or three days at most, meaning that whatever’s gonna happen after combat has to be ready before combat even begins.  That’s not a problem, exactly, but I’ve also not quite adjusted to the new workload yet, either.

That’s about all I’ve got, except to say that I’m looking forward to the official D&D Next Barbarian design in the next Playtest packet.  It’ll be interesting to see how they approached some of the issues. 

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