D&D Next: 1st-Level Stress Test

We decided to run a kind of gauntlet-grindhouse-endurance stress test using three first level characters; halfling fighter, dwarf monk, and human wizard (battle mage tradition). I wanted to see if a halfling could still make for a functional fighter, and everyone wanted to see if the monk was as fun/interesting as it was in 4th Edition (or, at least more so than in 3rd), as well as just how good the wizard was with basically unlimited magic all around.

I drew up a simple dungeon map with all the traditional trimmings: large rooms, wide (and lengthy) hallways, secret doors, etc. The way it worked was that when they entered a room I would roll for encounter difficulty; easy, average, or tough. Each difficulty had its own table with six encounters and chance of treasure (mostly potions of healing to extend their lifespan). The idea was for the players to see how long they could go without taking a long rest.

The first encounter involved a pair of human commoners and a human berserker. No problem. They beat it with the halfling fighter taking like, a point or two of damage. They were fortunate enough to even nab a potion of healing for their troubles. The second room was where we ran into a lethal hiccup: zombies. In our Isle of Dread playtest they ran into a quartet of shamblers, and were able to take them down without too much difficulty, but this time they ran into six. At first level. Hooray for randomness.

Combat went on forever. No amount of shocking grasps, Expertise-stacked sword-swings, or flurries could take them down. Their whole "make a Con save to avoid death" mechanic was, ironically, murder. After about 15 minutes of failing to fail DC 1-10 saves we eventually ret-conned the entire encounter (and I scratched it off the table for good measure). The next encounter against a pair of carrion crawlers went a lot smootherdespite being a bit more XPin no small part to the dwarf's poison resistance/advantage on saves against poison effects.

After that it was five giant centipedes, a ghost, even more human commoners (and berserker), and finally a dark adept with a pair of skeleton sentries. The ghost was fairly durable, but it failed to hit anyone with anything for the one round it was alive (though to be fair I did not use horrifying visage or possession, which if successful could have complicated things quite a bit). On a similar note, every encounter was easier than the aforementioned zombies, including the 250 XP adept/skeleton combo (even though the adept's inflict light wounds fully killed the wizard in one action).

The halfling fighter did great, even with a short sword thanks to its racial kicker to weapon damage. The dwarf monk was not as flexible as it was in 4th Edition, but was more effective than in 3rd given that its flurry attacks were not penalized. Speed of the wind was kind of beh, but to again be fair there was really no opportunity for a small speed boost to be useful. Situationally it was pretty amazing when pitted against carrion crawlers and skeletons, thanks to poison resistance and bludgeoning vulnerability respectively.

The wizard ranged from competent to awesome depending on how many monsters and hit points were involved. Shocking grasp was pretty potent, though Kamon learned the hard way that going into melee when there are still monsters about come their initiative count (hooray for potions of healing, except when the attack deal 18 damage in one shot). When a lot of monsters were involved burning hands and thunderwave predictably were exceedingly handy at taking them out.

Kamon still thinks that the wizard needs a bit more hit points, and I still think that it is fine where it is; shocking grasp is pretty nice (especially against a single target or as a fallback), but should not be your primary form of attack. In other words, I think being able to reliably deal about as much damage as a fighter without needing a weapon is a fine concession for having a glass jaw.

I liked that a party of three was able to take on plenty of groups of monsters, even when 2-3 levels higher than their own, without reducing things to a prolonged grindfest (as would happen all too often in 4th Edition). I was even fine with the dark adept being able to one-shot the wizard; had she been two levels higher, she would have survived even a max-damage bad touch. Of course, the wizard probably should not have been on the front line in the first pace.

Unanimously we hate the zombie's zombie fortitude. Being able to freely make saves surpassed the difficult threshold, shooting well into frustration. I think that making it a reaction, or somehow limiting it as in 4th Edition will help convey their durability without things getting too ridiculous.

Next up will be 5th-level, with an even more random assortment of mid-range monsters.

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