Kamon and Melissa enjoyed the 1st-level stress-test well enough that we decided to kick things up to 5 and give it another shot. Kamon was adamant against playing a wizard this time, opting instead for the fighter seeing as he enjoyed the rogue (which was 4th-level) during our Isle of Dread playtest. Melissa dug the monk—which was nice since we all wanted to see how interesting/complex it got later on—so just leveled her up.
Since despite my dissatisfaction with the wizard overall I still wanted to see how well the wizard fared when it actually used spells that were not cantrips or recovered in a short time-frame, it was up to me.
One thing I noticed--and really like--is that except for the wizard (and presumably cleric) the complexity from 1 to 5 does not change much; the fighter got a few new maneuvers, more expertise dice (going from 1d4 to 2d6), and a feat, while the monk got those and another ki-powered feature. Everything else--hit points, attack bonuses, skill and ability score increases, etc--just gets rolled into the final modifier, and does not require constant referencing.
Compare this to 4th Edition, where characters start with at least four different things--often more--without counting stuff that anyone can do, such as basic melee/ranged attacks, bull rush, etc. Then add in a new power at almost every level and feats every other level, and everything adds up pretty quickly (as well as leads to choice paralysis, especially with new players).
Initially I liked this approach because it provided ways for non-magical classes to remain viable throughout a campaign, as well as give them mechanical diversity (as well as reign in casters), but 5th Edition seems to be doing the same things, just with less space and a slower rate of feature/power accumulation.
First on the roster was a vrock. Fire and magic resistance made it difficult for the wizard to really do anything, and I was surprised to not see damage resistance against non-magical weapons on the menu, too. It was able to move around and use the terrain—a combination of pillars, pits, and rubble—to its advantage, but it ultimately went down without too much trouble. Maybe next time, spores.
After that was a pair of fire elementals. I included a couple of burning braziers out of habit more than anything else. The fighter, lacking a magical weapon, could only chip away as the monk and wizard rapidly whittled them down with their bare hands. I do not think I even hit anyone at all during this combat, as the slam's fire kicker seems like something I would have remembered. Though it did not matter, I do like their inability to cross large bodies of water. Had I planned these encounters out I might have included something like that.
The gargoyle's hide in plain sight ability is standard fare, even if it had no utility in this scenario. Damage resistance, again, made it a pain for the fighter. I imagine in a lot of games that the fighter would have a magical weapon by now, but it is good to know that they were able to finish the fight without one.
Hydras have often been tricky things to represent mechanically. In 2nd Edition dealing a set amount of damage automatically severed a head, and the body was virtually invulnerable to damage (which made no sense). In 3rd Edition you had to choose to hit either the head or the body, and after a short period of time two heads would grow unless the neck stump was hit with fire or acid. 4th Edition made it so that heads would roll whenever the hydra's hit points were reduced enough, but again, two heads would regrow—though hit points would not increase—if it did not take acid or fire damage before it started its turn again.
5th Edition hydras are a mix of 3rd and 4th Edition in that you have to elect to sever a head instead of dealing damage to the body, but instead of automatically growing new heads it has a recharging power. Besides having a recharge, it also only works if it has fewer than five heads, meaning that at most it can end up with six (instead of 2nd and 3rd Edition's twelve, and 4th Edition's seemingly lack-of-cap).
Envisioning it as a sort of magic laser, I decided that the wizard's scorching ray could feasibly be used to slice a head off, and since you can divvy up the damage as you like I put 5 points towards its body. Even with one head in the grave it still had four bite attacks to make, though at a +3 bonus its odds were not so hot. It got some lucky chomps in at first, but the fighter was able to keep it a few heads down the rest of the encounter (an average damage of 14.5 will do that).
This battle was somewhat difficult, which was to be expected given that it exceeded the average encounter difficulty budget by 160 points. I like this iteration of the hydra because players end up having to choose between killing it faster, or reducing the number of times it can make an attack. The head cap is nice for keeping things manageable on both sides of the screen, but I kind of like the idea of things being able to get out of control.
The problem is that if chopping off a head results in the temporary loss of an attack, can possibly result in a net gain for the hydra, and does not reduce overall hit points, then why would players even bother? It would be less risky and faster to just attack the body. So, currently having a temporary attack reduction with the slight risk of it having a small net gain seems to be working; my players went for the head in the rare instance that high-enough damage was rolled. Maybe if you gave the body fast healing and make it so that if all the heads get chopped off that it is dead dead?
I will confess to not actually rolling the last encounter. Mostly I thought that, hey, I have a Huge white dragon mini that I had yet to use in any edition, so...why not?
|Well...it is kind of unwieldy on the grid.|
It opened up with a breath attack, dealing 25 cold damage to Kamon's fighter and 12 to the rest thanks to good Dexterity saves. Everyone got a few good hits in, but its bite/claw/claw routine on the next round dropped the fighter. Melissa used her action to administer a potion of healing, while the wizard dropped a web on it. Though it made its save, the followup round involved a burning hands spell, which coupled with the fire damage from the web was more than enough to finish it off.
So a party of three was able to get through five encounters, two of them toughies, without a healer or long rest (and most of them without any magic items). I think that some monsters could have a slightly higher attack bonus: as written, a fire elemental—a level six monster—only has a 35% chance to hit the typical 1st-level fighter. The hydra—also level 6—only has a 30% chance (and, oddly a Strength of 17 despite being Huge).
The fighter was fun, but we had already seen that with the Isle of Dread playtest (the only real difference this time around being some more hit points). The only part that sucked was monsters with weapon resistance, but even so the group got along just fine.
The monk was a lot more fun now that its flurry of blows dealt standard unarmed damage sans ability score mod (though that might change if Mearls actually removes ability score mods from damage). The added dice made her a lot more flexible, as Melissa was able to use step of the wind to close the distance and still flurry something. Deflect missiles ended up not being used at all since nothing actually threw/shot anything. Oh well, at least it was more competent than the 3rd Edition monk.
The wizard got boring pretty quickly. Burning hands deals a piddling amount of damage once you graduate from giant centipedes, kobolds, and human commoners. Average of 3.5 damage if they fail their saving throw? Against 34 hit point gargoyles? They can take that heat without breaking a sweat (literally, because they are stone), and that is just gargoyles; owlbears have just over 40 hit points, and minotaurs over 50.
Shocking grasp fares a bit better, but you have to get into melee for that, and when the consequences could prove to be a 20+ damage love tap I do not think it is worth it. Wizards really need some manner of scaling and frankly, consistent magic that does not involve them preparing a specific group of spells; bring back the cantrips from previous playtest packets. Seriously, does WotC expect wizards to get by/care about their signature spell when a fighter (and possibly a monk and rogue) adds thunderwave-grade damage to their attack every round?