Playing the Playtest

I’ve run the Playest game twice since last Monday.  Once with a random group of strangers at the Mage’s Ralm game store, and again at home with some of my regular players.  In both games the playtest went very well, and the game ran smoothly, more or less.  The characters presented worked quite well together, and the Caves of Chaos proved to be an intriguing and fun challenge to run.  So, I am presenting my initial thoughts, feelings, and opinions.

The Good:

Advantage and Disadvantage worked amazingly well in my playtests.  The new rule was easily applied, and intuitive.  I use it every time I’d give a character a +3 bonus or a -3 penalty (or so) in other d20 games.  The statistical math comes out closer to a +5 or -5 adjustment, by the nature of the mechanic, but that doesn’t matter so much with regards to game play.

Wizards’ spell casting strikes a nice balance between classic “Vancian” Memorize-and-expend casting, and at-will spellcasting.  The Wizard character now feels like when presented with a problem, they would come up with a magical solution.  The ritual rules, give the wizard even more flexibility, while remaining balanced.

The most “no brainer” choice that worked has been maintaining the d20 mechanic throughout the game.  I mention this because I’ve read a lot of criticism revolving around how this playtest is “just like 1st or 2nd edition”, and having grown up gaming on 1st edition, I can say that the d20 mechanic is much superior to those sets of rules.

I really like the way skills are divorced from ability scores and wedded to circumstance.   This allows both the players and DM a great deal of flexibility around how to engage a challenge.  Players are encouraged to be creative in solving challenges during the game.

I like how Saves are keyed to ability scores now.  Again, this gives more general, flexible options to the DM on how to challenge Players.  It helps to eliminate the “dump stat” as well as the “must have” stat.  Not completely, Constitution remains an ability that really cannot be lower than 12 (it ties into too many survival-based checks and calculations to go any lower.  Unhealthy people shouldn’t be adventurers I suppose.)

The Bad

Reactions are poorly defined in the rules as written.  It becomes unclear what happens if a character has already taken their  action, or when a character chooses to use an optional ability as a reaction.  The rules lean towards keeping characters towards taking one and only one action per round, but reactions throw a wrench in that machine.

So far, my solution that I’m using is that a character can use a reaction if she has not taken an action during the round.  If the character has a Readied Action that has not triggered yet, then she may still use a reaction, forfeiting the Readied Action for that round.

This leads to Readied Actions, which I am really disappointed with.  readied actions rely on defining a trigger and an action.  Like “I shoot the first Orc that comes around the corner with my Crossbow!”.  Thus, when the Orc comes around the corner, the character gets a Crossbow attack before the Orc gets any further actions.  This becomes a problem, when the trigger doesn’t occur.  The character effectively loses their round.  Which is logical and fair, but takes away from fun and discourages the use of readied actions.  After all, it is more fun for players to do something with their characters than risk the possibility of their character doing nothing for a round.

My solution is that when a character readies an action, the player defines a trigger and an action, as the rules prescribe.  Until the readied action triggers, the character enjoys a +4 AC Bonus, as if they had chosen to dodge during the turn.  Once the readied action is complete, the dodge bonus goes away.  Furthermore, if the readied action does not trigger, the character can take an action at the end of the round.  In the case where two or more characters have readied actions that fail to trigger, they take their end-of-round actions in initiative order.

I have a minor issue with Surprise Initiative.  I don’t like having huge bonuses and penalties in game anyway, and I see an opportunity here for an application of the Advantage/ Disadvantage mechanic.  Instead of inflicting the surprised party with a -20 penalty, the surprised party suffers Disadvantage on their initiative check, and the surprising party enjoys Advantage on their initiative check.  This works very elegantly in situations where there is more than two sides in a surprise situation.  Because Advantage and Disadvantage cancel each other out, any party who are both surprising one party and are surprised by another gets no bonus or penalty to their initiative.

For example:  A party of adventurers is laying an ambush for a band of Orcs coming up the trail.  Unknown to the adventurers, they are setting their ambush in the territory of an Owlbear.  The Owlbear arrives about the same time the Orcs do.  The Owlbear surprises the Adventurers and the Adventurers surprise the Orcs.  Initiative would work as follows:

The Owlbear has advantage on Initiative, because it surprised the Adventurers.

The Adventurers has no advantage or disadvantage on Initiative because they have surprised the Orcs and are surprised by the Owlbear.

The Orcs are at disadvantage on Initiative because they are surprised by the Adventurers.

If I have a similar group of players tonight, I’ll apply another house-rule to Heavy Armor, awarding Damage Reduction in addition to the high AC bonus.  1 point for Chainmail, 2 for Banded, 3 for Plate, and 4 for Adamantite.

I’ll let you all know how these adjustments work in my next post 😀


One thought on “Playing the Playtest

  1. They gotta define Reactions better. Using your houserules, readied actions became the norm, rather than the exception. Only because the Moradin cleric had a useful ready action to take, but still.

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