Playtest 2: Evil Shrines of Moradin!

Last time we played the first session of the D&D Next Open Playtest (and I liked it). Last night we ran the second session, and y’know what?

I still liked it. Hopefully, my players did too. As ever, there will be Spoilers.

At the start of the session the party are in a room (having just killed three cultists and left one near-catatonic in the corner) with three Zombies in the doorway. The Zombies had just been Turned and were standing there, moaning disappointedly in a way that only disappointed Zombies can.

We gained two more players for this session (putting the total up to seven) – a Dwarf Fighter (Valgard Stonyfist) and an Elven Wizard (Norendithas Woodsoul) who had decided to join in the fun. They came from the wedding retinue who had followed the adventurers to the mouth of the cave. Handy things, wedding retinues.

You might think that seven PCs against three zombies isn’t a fair fight, and you’re be right. They were down in one round, and didn’t even get to fight back. Poor zombies. High point of the fight (if you can call it such) was the Cleric of Pelor blasting a Zombie with Searing Light.

That is one seriously excessive spell which needs hitting with the nerf bat, but this is a playtest after all and it’s just darned fun to see what excesses can do sometimes.

“You know the guns in the Captain America movie that shoot purple light and vapourise their targets? That, only yellow. You’re covered in zombie dust and the robes of the zombie next to it catch fire.”

I feel that Searing Light needs rewording. The base damage output could stay at 4d6, but the caster could perhaps choose to split that between up to 4 opponents (4d6 against one, 2d6 to two, 4x1d6, etc).

As the damage is Radiant, creatures that are Vulnerable to Radiant would take double damage (something I feel certain types of Undead should be, such as Wights) while other creatures (constructs) would be Resistant. As this is a part of the core mechanics, the spell description would be much simpler.

As the wording currently stands, an undead creature that was Vulnerable to Radiant damage would take 4d12+WIZ damage, doubled. Ouch! That’s too much, twice.

This change would make it do ordinary levels of damage to “solid” undead such as Zombies and Skeletons, but you could blast several of them at a time, or use it as a powerful blast against more shadowy undead.

Meanwhile…..

The other two Zombies are mashed by the Fighters and Cleric of Moradin and zapped by the Wizard until they stop twitching. The last one has his head (messily) removed from his body as Dwarf Croquet is spontaneously invented.

XP is rewarded, and our heroes decide that a Cunning Plan would be for some of them to wear cultist robes (from the closet chest in the room) and the others pretend to be captives. Fully armed and friendly captives, granted, but it’s a good plan. While our Rogue takes the Surrendered Cultist outside for therapy questioning, the party press on.

The head up a slope to the West, then turn South where they can just make out a darkened room opening up before them. The Cleric of Pelor casts Detect Magic and senses ancient intense evil magic, and the Wizard casts Light onto a pebble and tosses it into a room, revealing an ebony and bloodred checkerboard  pattern on the floor.

There are few things players hate more than chess-based puzzle rooms. Thankfully, this isn’t one of them. It’s just a floor.

There’s a blood-soaked altar carved out of the same red-and-black stratified rock as the cave itself, and a tapestry depicting demons and other vile things holding a baby aloft. On the altar are numerous vessels (bowl, two goblets and a pitcher) that are glowing evilly. These are the source of the magic in the room.

Yes, they’re cursed. Yes, one of the PCs takes one and fails his saving throw. He now has a strange Gollum-like compulsion to keep it and an odd purple glowing backpack. Not ones to be outdone on the fashion stakes, the other party members take the  other items too, being careful not to touch them.

We now have a party where half of them are dressed as cultists in red and black robes, and some of them are wearing backpacks that glow purple.

Who said D&D wasn’t stylish?

The Cleric of Moradin decided to sanctify the altar to Moradin to purify it, so draws the holy symbol of Moradin on the top in wax.

I’m now giggling like a girl at the mental image of a future party finding a profane altar dedicated to Moradin, and left wondering WFT was going on in this place.

This is how the Duergar started, clearly.

Two other members of the party try to tear down the tapestry, but it’s held on far too well.

All in all, they are making a LOT of noise, and a cultist spots them, gasps and runs away to alert his crew. They give chase (DEX rolls) and barely catch him, only (failed STR roll) to end up with a torn part of his robes in their hands. He reaches the next door. and bolts inside.

What follows is a tough combat against four elder Cult members and the fleeing novice. With hindsight I should have doubled the number of elder Cultists (or added more as the battle continued), but the combat flowed pretty well and it was starting to get late.

I’m still trying to get a feel for the encounter balance in D&D Next, though until they work on the monsters themselves, I reckon all of that will be in the air for now.

One Dwarf Fighter took damage and one of them was affected by the Cultist’s Command spell, though thankfully he missed when he tried to hit dwarf next to him. My rolls as DM were extremely poor, and I’m sure a re-run of the combat would have gone very differently another time.

That combat took four rounds, and about 30 minutes in total. Overall we played for two hours, had two combats and exploration. There wasn’t a lot of interaction this time around,  unless you count the overconfident snarls of the elder Cultists.

In the first session, we played the game entirely in our heads. This time around we used a hand-drawn map with the players marking their positions as we played. It certainly slowed the game down, but it’s still a viable way to play, and it worked well enough. Using a map, for me as GM, means there’s less pressure to give accurate descriptions of the rooms and surroundings. I’m not sure whether that’s a good thing (for my style of play) or not.

Next time, we are going to use full a battlemat grid and tokens. It will be good to see how the combat options (especially for the Fighters) and spell effects work on a tactical grid.

In all, D&D Next is shaping up very nicely indeed.

Next session: Thursday!

UPDATE: Here’s Playtest 3 and Playtest 4.

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6 Responses

  1. Sounds cool. Tomorrow I’m running my second D&D Next playtest. It’s a hexcrawl sandbox. We’ll see how it’s gonna turn out.

  2. drow says:

    for my group’s second playtest game, our cast of players was slightly different and so i took the DM’s chair instead. and, where the first game had seen the party against the goblins in cave A, i chose to cast them directly into the deep end of the caves of chaos, the dark cultists and undead of cave K. thus, i shamelessly stole your “wedding caravan” hook, with a few localizations.

    that is, after a quick and very brutal encounter against a hungry owlbear which charged out of one of the other tunnels. the party beat it back and killed it in its cave, but at the expense of all the cleric’s healing spells.

    so the party was much more cautious as they entered the dark shrine, and while most of them were waiting in the hall, the rogue scouted ahead into the temple chamber. scouted and then set the curtains on fire before returning. and so the party found themselves beset all at once by the dark priest and three zombies, and all four adepts from room 56. fortunately, two other players joined and Marked in a second cleric and wizard, and thus they narrowly avoided a TPK.

    observations.

    what is it with rogues and setting things on fire?

    5e/next can be very brutal and unforgiving where appropriate. yay!

    AC 20 is really hard for a 1st level PC to hit. the wizard could’ve helped a lot by using magic missile more often, and not getting maced by the adepts.

    advantage/disadvantage is easier to work with than bonuses and penalties, and also rolling dice is fun.

    the group has been enjoying the 5e/next playtest experience quite a lot more than the AD&D 1e throwback i ran late last year. my take-home from this is that old-school play wins, old-school mechanics and reference tables do not.

  3. “This is how the Duergar started, clearly” – love it :)

    I’m very curious to see how the playtest works out on the battlemat, as that’s my preferred style and I still haven’t gotten my group together to try it out myself (scheduling sessions of our regular game during the summer is tough enough already).

  4. Yaksman says:

    When did Moradin go evil?

  5. Dr. Fish says:

    My group has run 3 sessions on the battlemat, and it works pretty well. We get through 2-3 combats in a 2.5 hour session, with lots of discussion, exploration, and dealing with small children thrown into the mix. We have been trying to quantify what particular elements make it go so much faster.

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