For everyone arriving through reddit, here is a more up to date playtest report.
We started late while waiting for Randy so I did not do much to inject any kind of plot, and we treated it like a delve night: they arrived at the ravine, I described the area, drew out the cave entrances that they could see, and told them to do whatever they wanted to.
They initially investigated the area for signs of the local fauna, but due to universally low rolls—except Randy and his character’s skill mastery—could only deduce that the region saw heavy traffic, and settled on the cave with goblins.
Randy’s halfling decided to scout out the area. Since it was getting dark and he lacked low-light vision, I told him that he could not see much of anything beyond the first 10 or so feet. Despite a lack of sight he still tried to venture in, using the wall to guide him. He got about 30 feet before he heard a goblin patrol approaching (thank you adventure notes). Though he could not see anything I let him roll to hide anyway (in retrospect I should have used disadvantage), but he was able to avoid detection and make it back out okay.
Knowing that there were goblins inside they figured that this was probably going to be the “ newbie easy” cave, so Kiara lit up a light cantrip and they started exploring. They went right, hoping to avoid the goblins that went the other way, and quickly heard goblins talking in a nearby room. Then backtracked and took the tunnel going forward from the entrance. It only ran 30 feet and seemed to be a nice place for goblins to crap and leave bones.
So of course they decided to light it on fire, for...reasons?
Their juvenile prank in progress, I think that they were hoping to see a geriatric goblin barking in his native tongue about "darned adventures in his cave" as it tried to stomp out the fire, but when they tried to leave they instead ran into a goblin patrol (again, thank you adventure notes). The combat did not take long, like...maybe a round or two. I do not think I even hit anyone except Kamon, whose cleric was on the frontline with Josh’s dwarf.
A pair of surviving goblins fled to area 17, grabbed some more goblins off camera, and came rushing back just as the party finished looting coins and 21 “bags of food”. We rolled initiative again, I went last (again), and by the time the goblins got a chance to do anything their numbers had been cut down (again) and they fled (AGAIN).
Things continued like this until they had cleaned out three or four rooms and ran into a second goblin patrol with a quartet of hobgoblins (I recall that there were hobgoblins in area 23). Wise to the goblin’s ancient tactics of legging it when things go south, they managed to kill them faster than they could flee. At this point Josh was pretty beat up and they decided to take a long rest, having spend about a half hour on the murder-hobo clock.
When they tried to go back in the entrance was blocked by the ogre. I determined that the goblins, not wanting to keep throwing their numbers into a psychotic meat-grinder, bribed the ogre to put a stop to whoever was invading their home and massacring them. The party picked a fight with it using ranged attacks, and despite its low Intelligence I figured that it was smart enough to not just towards people that could shoot and outrun it, so it just went to go tell the goblins what was up.
Rather than follow it into the cave, they went into the other cave that was also the ogre’s home, took its bag full of treasure (and cheese), and lit fire to the dried leaves that amounted to a bed. After adding arson to their laundry list of crimes (does using a goblin as a puppet to intimidate other goblins count?) they figured that they would go harass other indigenous humanoids, possibly still with the goblin subtype.
At this point I was kind of curious about how well they would hold up against a group of 20 or so goblins, a goblin king, and an ogre, so before they began their ascent told them that 20 or so goblins, their king, and the ogre had mobilized against them. They used the cave to funnel their numbers, but Randy ran off to go steal treasure instead, and in the end they got sandwiched between goblins, a rock, and the ogre when it came in through the back door.
They say that in D&D there are no winners, but I think Randy proved that addage wrong seeing as he got away with 20d10 cp, 20d6 sp, and I do not even know how many bags of goblin food.
Despite having really only one thing to do in combat, Josh enjoyed that he could basically grab anything handy—including a dead goblin—and use it as a weapon. His damage bonus alone meant that he would instantly kill a goblin, and he only relied on his axe when up against hobgoblins and the ogre, because damage actually mattered then. Otherwise it was chairs, crossbow, headbutts, etc. Reaper synergized quite well with the wizard; if he missed a target then she would be guaranteed to kill it on her next turn, and vice versa.
Despite it being only twice a day, I like Fighter Surge. It is a simple way to give a fighter (or anyone else that has multiclassed into fighter) extra attacks at no penalty, though I wonder if anyone will complain about the fighter still having "dailies". I also like the scaling damage.
Randy disliked having to be able to setup sneak attack by having to hide, effectively making him attack every other turn. I pointed out that the monsters only had 5 hit points each, so even with a dagger his odds of downing a goblin in one hit were pretty good. The only thing that it would have really helped on were the hobgoblins, which at 11 hit points he could still kill in one shot if he got lucky.
I think that the issues here were with expectations. Rogues in 3rd Edition had a fairly easy time qualifying for Sneak Attack. Really the hard part was making sure that the target was not immune to Sneak Attack (constructs, elementals, plants, undead, etc) or flanking (beholders). 4th Edition made it even easier, to the point where a rogue could gain combat advantage from basically any point with the right exploits.
Here? Since there is no rule for flanking, the rogue has to rely on getting advantage through other means, which is basically limited to hiding, and it is ridiculously easy to hide thanks to Thief Hiding and Naturally Stealthy.
Personally I prefer the rogue not being up in melee all the time, but having to skulk about and prepare for a massive damage spike. While not much at 1st-level it rapidly scales, and a rogue could reasonably hang back and pepper monsters with sling bullets for a hefty amount of damage every other round. Given that it would also have advantage on these attacks, it more than makes up for having to wait a turn.
Josh did not like the rogue's "skill insurance". I forget why, exactly. Not being able to roll less than a 10 on skill checks, but still being able to make two re-rolls a day certainly helped ensure that Randy was able to keep out of sight. I did not have any problems with it, and if the goal here was to make the classes do different things well then I think they are on the right track.
High Elf Wizard
None of us are fans of, as Randy puts it, "magical Alzheimer's". I have mentioned plenty of times why, and still hope that they give us a better system, even as an option (even if it is the option).
In the first adventuring day Kiara used two spells, burning hands and sleep, to varying degrees of effect (roughly half the goblins saving each time). Both times she tried cleaning out a bunch of goblins with fire a lot of them made the save, which was still nice because it made it easier for everyone to clean up (especially since her and the dwarf could deal damage no matter what). Nice, but certainly not the spiking effect that I was expecting.
Was her wizard “as good” as the fighter or rogue in combat? I’m not sure. Magic missile helped polish off goblins that Josh missed (or prep them for clean up), and detect magic allowed her to identify the handful of magic items that they picked up before dying. She was definitely useful, but not more so than anyone else, which I find to be a good thing.
Kamon did not like having to spend his entire turn healing, especially because on the following round the monsters could knock off most if not all of the hit points restored. He greatly preferred the old action economy of Standard, Move, Minor, and given that they are including actions that let you do other things, so do I.
The cleric was pretty durable, the lance of faith evocative, spells made more sense, but the healing low. On dungeon-crawls where players can largely control what they do, and when, I do not expect this to be an issue. I think it also makes it more difficult to run games where you want to have a faster pace or impose time constraints.
I hope that they expand divine spells to a larger list instead of prepping a smaller number from a list, and give the cleric benefits based on a god or domains. Both clerics work, so I hope that they do not limit the cleric to one type. In fact, I would like to see more for some more unusual gods.
Right now I would really, really like some kind of indicator as to what level a given monster is an “appropriate” challenge for. Even a vague idea would be fine.
I like that they are using 3rd Edition-style mechanics, in which a monster’s ability scores help inform other things. Normally I would not say this, but that was back in the day when the game also used 3rd Edition’s bonkers scaling.
I was pretty surprised to see that a 400-something XP dark cultist “only” has a +4 to hit. In 3rd Edition his attack bonus—as well as spell-casting capabilities—were based on Hit Dice and/or class levels, which supplied other things as well like saving throw modifiers, feats, skill points, spell save DC’s etc. Often this resulted in a monster that was too weak in some areas and/or too strong in others. Sometimes the monster would be a challenge for some characters, but could be steamrolled by others.
4th Edition helped manners by giving everything levels and using largely unified math. Some did not like it because they felt that monsters were too balanced, but I think that it helped make things even easier and let DMs generate swingy encounters when they wanted to instead of on accident.
The flaw in both methods is that it creates a redundant numbers game. Characters get numbers so that they can fight numbers, and so on and so forth. If characters get numbers by leveling, and the monsters get numbers to account for that, then why even have them in the first place?
I like the trend that I am seeing. Monsters have bonuses and ability scores that make sense for their size and skill, instead of what is "expected" due to their CR or level (though the hit points on some things like the goblin king seemed like a bit much). Combat was able to start and stop quickly, and there was no grind that I felt in early 4th Edition: goblins and hobgoblins went down in a couple hits, though the ogre could take quite a pounding (and they could have feasibly killed it by being smart and keeping their distance, which I liked).
I liked a lot of the flavor text and special abilities, especially the dark cultist's writhing darkness ability, which was contingent on an alter being around. I am also glad to see that otherwise samey monsters like goblins and gnolls retain features besides description that help differentiate them.
I am looking to Next to provide character archetypes that emulate what we see and read in fiction. Rogues waiting for an opportune moment and fighters hewing their foes apart are big steps in the right direction. Clerics with a more flexible spell-casting system better evoke divine intervention instead of dialing in their “miracles” ahead of time. Wizards are really the problem child here, and WotC has taken a big step back by largely moving back to a deprecated magic system grounded more in tradition than sense.
The difficulty is dialed up a bit more in that healing is less widely available, hit points are a bit lower, and in general there are more monsters all around. Though I personally never witnessed this trend, hopefully people who complained about 4th Edition characters being "invincible" will be pleased by this.
Having actually seen skills not tied to ability scores in action, I really liked it, though my players still tried shoehorning uses into scenarios when they could. I think they are still too used to scaling skill DCs and bonuses of +10 and up being the norm.
To me it is a good start, and I am waiting to see how the game is shaped over time.