What Do I Know About Playtests? One D&D Playtest 11-3-2022
This week I put together my first 100% One D&D playtest. What that means is, I asked all of the players to create their characters using any of the rules in the current two playtest documents that applied to them. I wanted to put together an adventure that was relatively simple, but was going to interact with a number of the new rules.
All of the encounters I designed for this adventure ranged from Medium to Deadly, although the encounters they actually interacted with ended up being either Hard or Medium, according to the current encounter building guidelines.
The player characters we had for this playtest included the following:
|Ruhmvol||Human||Bard||Noble||College of Lore|
The Pit Fighter and the Guide were custom backgrounds created by the players. I appreciated that one of my players had a scientific control group character with the Half-Elf Draconic Sorcerer. We were definitely heavy on the Expert classes, since that was where most of the playtest focus has been at this point.
The Bard had a TON of trained skills, enough that I was already wondering about existing adventures and ability check DCs, but most of the DCs I used in this adventure were based on the “default” DC of 15, or by DCs that were set in different elements I was using, or that were demarcated in the new rules.
Everyone in the party was 3rd level.
The Antre of Soulweaving was created by the Archmage Calibros the Fulcrum, who, in his later years, was so obsessed with the concept of Balance that he believed he had to take equal and opposite actions in order to preserve the cosmos. When he realized that it was almost impossible for him to continually maintain balance in all things, he decided to create the Antre, which provided a constant source of temptation and redemption, guarding a powerful relic of good, and trapping a powerful demon. He referred to this as his “Karmic Offset,” something that would keep the balance so he could go about his life doing whatever he wanted, assuming the Antre would provide enough balance to keep the multiverse even.
This was, of course, a terrible, nonsensical idea, and the forces of good, as they do every generation, have hired adventurers to attempt to retrieve their relic. They are, of course, banking on their hired mercenaries to either die early before they can accidentally release the demon, or to bring them the relic.
You are those heroes!
I wanted to simulate some of the wider play experience of the game to touch on a wider range of rules, but I also wanted to simplify the rules elements that were going to be used for items that had fewer rules attached to them. To simulate the experience of traveling, and to play with the new exhaustion rules, I had the PCs do the following:
- Make a DC 15 Wisdom Wisdom (Survival) Check
- If this fails, make a DC 15 Constitution save
- Success equals no exhaustion
- Failure equals one level of exhaustion
- Failure by five or more equals two levels of exhaustion
I added in the option for two levels of exhaustion because I knew they could take a long rest before exploring the dungeon, and I wanted there to be the potential for a lasting consequence.
The Ardling Rogue and the Human Ranger both had Expertise in Wisdom (Survival). The Ardling failed her initial roll, but the Bard had provided everyone with inspiration with the Musician feat before they set out, and the Ardling made the check on the second roll. The Bard failed their Wisdom (Survival) check, then failed their save, and took one level of exhaustion.
The group took a long rest before entering the dungeon, and I had them roll for a random encounter. On a 15-20, they would have an encounter, and the die came up 20. I had a group of bandits sneak into camp, except they failed their DC 15 Stealth check. So everyone was up and aware when they were interacting with the bandits.
This was a Hard encounter, but I also wrote this so that if the PCs offered the Bandits anything of value, even if it was minimal, they would leave with a DC 10 check, and they would move on to other prey with a DC 20 check. I took these DCs from the Interaction rules in the playtest document. I also determined that there was a chance to use the Interaction action in combat with this group, even if they did manage to surprise the PCs.
Instead of leaning on anyone that had Persuasion or Intimidate trained, the Ardling Rogue attempted to use Thaumaturgy to sound more intimidating. I allowed advantage on the roll, but it didn’t intimidate the bandits to leave. When asked, I didn’t allow a second attempt to “Interact,” as it already feels pretty generous to allow it as an action, and to allow it as something you could do in combat.
The group was composed of a Bandit Captain, Bandits, an Apprentice Wizard, and Harrengon Snipers. The bandit captain isolated the Orc Ranger and did a lot of damage with her three attacks in multi-attack, and the Apprentice Wizard had a moment with Burning Hands. I designed the encounter with several large rocks and trees, and noted on the map what kind of cover each provided.
I noticed having this marked on the map encouraged people to use cover, and I wanted to include it in case anyone took any feats or class abilities that interacted with cover. The combat lasted four rounds. Once the Bandit Captain, Apprentice Wizard, and one of the Bandits went down, the rest retreated. The Orc Ranger used his ability to dash as a bonus action in combat, as well as dropping and then coming back up at 1 hit points.
The Bard burned spell slots to take out Bandits, and once the Bandit Captain was injured, the Ranger was on a roll, once he used Hunter’s Mark and the Hunter’s ability to do extra damage to an injured opponent. Between the Ranger and the Rogue, they locked down the Bandit Captain, which was the most dangerous NPC in the encounter.
Cover definitely made a difference when the Apprentice Wizard and the Harrengon’s were making ranged attacks. The PCs also definitely felt like they were in danger because most of the opponents could move around enough to eventually engage in Melee (or use a spell, in the case of the Apprentice Mage). Technically, the long rest was ruined, but nothing was keeping them from starting another one, so basically they took a 12 hour rest instead of an 8 hour rest before they entered the dungeon.
Welcome to the Dungeon
When the group came up to the dungeon, I had them all make a Wisdom (Perception) check, at a DC 15, to notice that there was a secondary entrance to the dungeon. The primary entrance had a Collapsing Roof trap, as per the DMG, while the secondary entrance just needed to be found and then forced open. The Ardling and the Ranger both managed to find the secret door.
Because the Orc Ranger forced the door open, he also used his darkvision to “scout” the location with his darkvision, before the Bard used Dancing Lights to light up the area. Every time they got to a hallway, the Orc Ranger took the lead looking for obvious things with his darkvision, then back away to let the Ardling do her searching for traps, etc.
The first room the PCs entered was a large circular room with two switches in the middle, and at the far end, there were two suits of armor, holding two swords. The rogue checked for traps, and because of how the Thief subclass is worded, I allowed her to use Sleight of Hand for this, with advantage for having relevant tools, using Thieves Tools. I’m not sure if this is the intended way the Thief subclass ability should work, but I think that’s how I read it.
Once everyone was in the room, the door slid shut behind the group, and a hissing noise, like gas being forced into a space, started. The Ardling Rogue tried to pull one level, and it didn’t move, so the Orc Ranger had the Half-Elf Sorcerer hold her action to pull the lever at the same time. They did this, and the hissing stopped, and the doors opened.
The armor and the swords animated. Even with a critical hit from one of the swords, this Moderate encounter definitely felt Moderate. The group was more conscious of not using limited resources for the fight, and got through it pretty well, although the Ardling was injured from the critical hit. This fight took three rounds.
The Second Room
The second room was very similar to the first, with two pocket doors that slid into the walls of the round room. There were two levers in the middle of the room, but unlike the previous room, there was a pool of green fluid (acid) in the middle of the room.
The Ardling Rogue and the Orc Ranger positioned themselves to pull the levers at the same time, at which point, they found out the levers were actually mimics. I was both proud and ashamed of myself to pull off a mimic fakeout. So both were adhered to the mimics.
I let the Mimics roll with advantage on initiative, and they rolled abysmally. The Half-Elf Sorcerer got a critical hit with Scorching Ray and did some serious damage to a Mimic. The Human Bard managed to use Dissonant Whispers on the Mimic. Without any further guidelines on how it would work, I assumed the Mimic would “run” with the adhered Orc Ranger, and the Mimic would have the Slowed condition while moving. Which means the Mimic squealed and moved a total of five feet.
So both Mimics were badly damaged by spells. Unfortunately, the Ardling Rogue was dropped to zero by the Mimic. The Orc Ranger used Thornwhip to snag the Mimic near the Ardling Rogue, and pulled it into acid, but unfortunately it was immune to the acid. It’s treasure was not, more on that later.
The Bard got closer to the Orc Ranger, which was probably a mistake. The Bard was dropped to zero hit points by the Mimic’s bite. The Ardling Rogue failed her third death save. The Orc Ranger finished off the second Mimic, but the Bard was hit by the Mimics bite before this could happen, and after failing one Death Save, picked up two more from the critical bite, and died. This fight took four rounds.
There was more to the dungeon, but with 50% of the party dead, and the night growing late, we called the playtest session at that point. Going into the dungeon, I had told the group that they could probably short rest once without consequences, but after that, I would roll random encounters.
After the second room, looking over resources, everyone really used up what they had, and a short rest would have let them get back hit points and more Heroic Inspiration from the Musician feat, but no spells lost, sorcery points, or Bardic inspiration dice. It may have been rough, especially since I wrote the final encounter to be Deadly.
The Hallway Not Traveled
Each of the Mimics had 10 Soul Coins in them. The acid in the vat was from Minauros, in the Nine Hells, and I ruled that it could destroy Soul Coins just like Hellfire. So the party lost 10 Soul Coins with the Mimic that died in the acid pit.
If they had made it to the next hallway, there was a Night Hag merchant that was willing to take Soul Coins in exchange for various magic items. She was tasked with collecting the coins, but could only take them if they were freely given in barter.
If the PCs weren’t willing to use the Soul Coins as currency, for each Soul Coin destroyed, they would get a bless spell and temporary hit point when entering the final chamber of the dungeon. Alas, none of this came to pass.
The Orc Ranger felt really competent at 3rd level. They didn’t have too much more going for them than a Hunter ranger with Colossus Slayer would have had at that level, but I do think that freeing up Two Weapon Fighting did mean it was easier to make sure that one of the weapons was going to connect and do the Hunter’s Mark and Hunter’s Prey dice damage.
For me, personally, it did feel a little weird that the Ranger was relying on things like Shillelagh and Thorn Whip in combat, rather than a sword or a bow. I’m not saying that’s wrong, but it almost reminded me more of the 4e Warden than a Ranger (although we also had a discussion after the session about how 5e doesn’t have the tanking tools that 4e had for a Defender style character). The Ranger may have been in trouble later in the dungeon, since he had to use a spell slot for every one of those Hunter’s Marks, which is weird given that it’s the Ranger’s “thing” in the same way the Rogue’s sneak attack is their “thing.”
The Rogue didn’t really feel that much different in combat. It’s hard to get a good handle on how much the proliferation of trained skills and Expertise might change expectations from one night of play that didn’t exclusively rely on skills used outside of combat.
The Sorcerer, obviously, was the constant, as she was only interacting with the Background rules from the Origins document. It is worth noting that the player wasn’t thrilled to not have half-elf options in the Origins document.
The Bard’s player was concerned that they didn’t take the right spells, but that’s an interesting point regarding the changes to the Bard. Previously, you would be choosing the spells you know, and would probably plan on a broader range of abilities, because those are all the spells you know. This introduces the challenge of knowing what subset of all Bard spells to take going into a given day of adventuring. Specifically, taking spells that did psychic damage didn’t help in the fight with the armor and swords.
The Bard helped the Orc hit once, and healed the Orc when he took damage once, but that was all the Bardic Inspiration he was going to have for the rest of the dungeon. Healing Word was helpful for getting characters back on their feet after they dropped to zero, but it didn’t do much in the way of giving the PCs healing options between encounters, since Cure Wounds was off the table.
This was probably the most I’ve seen Heroic Inspiration used in a game session. At least someone used it in every combat. Most of the time it was used multiple times. The Bard was human, so they started with it, and when they rested, the Bard could hand some out again. There weren’t a lot of 1s flying around, but the Orc picked one up in between what the Bard was handing out on a rest.
- The Ranger feels more competent, even if the changes by 3rd level are a bit minimal compared to a Hunter Ranger in the 2014 rules
- Two-weapon fighting without using a bonus action allowed the Ranger and the Rogue to both use their special class features more often–there was a moment where the Rogue almost cheated herself out of her cunning action until she remembered that she still had a bonus action
- I’m not sure what the Bard is supposed to do
- I, personally, not speaking for anyone else, don’t know if the Ranger feels like a Ranger when it leans into cantrip combat–I’m still digesting this