DM Notes

(Public notes from the DM's side of the screen.)

PCs are all 3rd level. They've got a mix of skills that should be able to handle the island. All PCs are capable of stealth, but this means their ACs aren't great.

2012-11-12 — First session. Random weather rules threw me a tilt, giving very bad weather at sea two days in a row (5 on d6), then truly worst weather (6 on d6) on last day of voyage to island. I interpreted these to be rising winds, culminating in a gale or "mild" hurricane on their last day of sailing. Their ship was blown aground.

They fought four giant lizards (level 2, 50 xp each) which was a little below the XP budget for 3 PCs of 3rd level (210 xp for normal encounter), but the PCs couldn't use ranged weapons because of the wind, so the fight was difficult. The lizards bit hard! Everyone was bitten for at 10 hp of damage (almost max on 1d8+3) on their first round in combat. The Wizard used Thunderwave but 3/4 of the lizards saved, so only 1 was pushed back. The lizards were able to knock the Wizard down to -3 hp, but the Cleric got him back up, and thwacked a lizard in the same round thanks to Words of Power.

The lizards had 13 HP each, after the Thunderwave they had lost 4 or 8 hp each; the guy with Deadly Strike was dealing ~12 hp per hit, which ended up being overkill when he hit. But the players had no indication of this. I may bring back the Bloodied condition just to better communicate during combat — if they'd seen that 4 hp didn't bloody, but 8 hp did bloody, they might have used their resources differently.

2012-11-27 — Second session. Four players this time: two returning from previous session, plus M (an old hand at D&D but first time 5e playtester), and D who has never played a table-top RPG before (but has plenty of Bioware experience). M tried out the Monk from the latest packet, D played a Fighter.

I threw two fairly simple encounters at them: one wandering monster encounter (1d6 ghouls, rolled a 1), plus the "climactic" fight to gain access to the volcanic vent's mineral wealth, which was 2 hellhounds and 4 hobgoblins, reskinned to resemble elementals. The party knew they were approaching a dangerous location, so they used stealth, and even with their racial +5 to perception checks, the two flame-hounds were only able to scent one of the PCs… but of the PCs, only two were in a position to spot the ash-hobs, and only one did.

Surprise worked very well for the PCs! They were able to focus fire on the flame-hounds and drop them within two rounds, so only one got off its fire breath attack, and the recharge mechanic didn't matter. The ash-hobs tried to use ranged attacks (reskinned the shortbows to hurled obsidian shards), but they didn't feel very dangerous, and the PCs were able to hit them in spite of cover… but I might have messed up their AC towards the end of the fight. I'll try them again (under a different guise) with a Commander and see how much difference that makes.

The wandering encounter (ghoul) was 150 xp, the "climactic" fight was 400 xp, but it didn't feel hard at all for the party of 4 level 3 PCs. For both sessions we've been playing without a map, experimenting with descriptive combat, and that climactic fight where the bad guys were trying to use cover was the first time I really felt that we suffered from the lack of a tactical map. For example, the Monk's player wanted to know exact distances between enemies so he could plan his route of attack. With a tactical map that would have been easy and obvious information; without it, I had to fudge a bit.

Our new player was able to handle the Fighter's maneuver suite with minimal prompting.

2012-12-05 — Gave the PCs their first magical loot. The magic item property tables are very fun. Expand these lists in future products, give me more themes to roll!

We used some simple tactical maps, via some printed-out sheets of hexes with ink-drawn terrain, and this made combat a LOT easier to adjudicate, and much faster for players to declare their actions. The first battle took place at their camp site, which included jungle trees with limbs 10 ft. off the ground, and their assailants were carnivorous monkeys — so the battle extended into the trees, and even with that complication, was quite fast and fun. I ruled that tree-based movement was slightly slower (-10 ft.) for PCs than ground-based movement, and tree movement required a skill check (Climb or Balance, their choice). The monkeys tried their pull-down tactic on tree-based PCs, but failed miserably. Poor little monkeys, they never stood a chance.

The second encounter was in the lair of a pair of araneas who were trying to trick the PCs into cooking their next meal (cocooned tribesmen), and then jump the PCs while setting off a bunch of web traps. They failed to remain undetected thanks to good rolls by the players, so the trap stuff didn't happen, and the aranea were dispatched without doing too much harm. The smart PCs chugged anti-toxin before exploring the webbed area, so the extra poison damage didn't have a chance to do much.

2012-12-11 — Since this is probably our last game using these playtest rules, because we expect to either get a new playtest packet or switch back to our regular game, we decided to see how the PCs would fare at higher level. All PCs were advanced to 7th level, though they didn't get any extra magical loot (still just the +1 dagger and the mirror, but the mirror had no combat applications in these fights). The dagger was useful in taking down the water elementals in the first fight.

The first fight of the evening was 3 lizard men (30 xp each), two ogres dressed as big lizard men (240 xp each) and two water elementals (970 xp each), for a total of 2,430 xp. This was just below the XP budget for an "average" encounter (2,480 xp), and they beat the encounter pretty easily.

The second encounter was 12 lizard men, four ogres dressed as big lizard men, four water elementals, and the lizard king (210 xp), for a total of 5,250 xp, which was higher than the "difficult" encounter budget (4,920 xp). The Wizard's area effect spells were very effective in this fight. He slew 9 of the 12 regular lizard men with ice storm, taking a lot of heat off the Fighter. It turns out lowly lizardmen are actually kind of dangerous if you let them close in. Their poison dart attack was really weak — only once did a PC actually fail the DC 9 save, and their base dart damage is abysmal. However, when making three attacks (claw/claw/bite), they have a good chance of hitting at least once, so when five of them swarmed the Fighter, he took some significant damage.

The Cleric's spells were somewhat less effective. His bless contributed to several hits, but when he used dimension door to split the party, he and the Monk quickly found themselves surrounded and was unable to withdraw before being slammed by multiple water elementals — the Cleric provoked AoOs from all four of them. Three hit, one critted, and down he went. The next round the elementals had their way with the Monk, who also went down, and the two surviving party members (Wizard and Fighter) bravely ran away.

Some spell notes:

  • Scorching Ray as written promotes metagame thinking, if you require the player to allocate the damage before describing the effect. I dislike this, and ruled that he could tell me who he hits first, then I'll tell him if he had enough juice left to drop the critter, and how much he has left, for up to 5 critters. This way he's not encouraged to track each critter's HP total, and the spell will tend to be maximally effective.
  • The Wizard was bad at battlefield control, even at 7th level. Spells like grease and glitterdust could have filled this gap, but they're not in the playtest. (I think he neglected to prepare stinking cloud and wall of fire; having those could have helped.)
  • The Cleric basically ignored the rules for Concentration, and I totally forgot about them as well.
  • The "war wizard" ability to exclude allies from his spell's areas of effect came up several times in every fight. This ability is good, and should be available in the future, even if it's not a class ability any more.
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