D&D Next – First playtest report

I had the pleasure of having my gaming group over to the house on Sunday for our first playtest of D&D Next. We played for about 4 hours, with the first 30 minutes being about character selection and rules discussion and the last 30 minutes for talking about the session and providing feedback.

First, I want to give a big shout-out to the Weem, who provided a great map for the Caves of Chaos that I used in my MapTool + projector setup at the table. It’s so nice to not have to draw the maps myself! I’ll admit that I was a moron and that it took me a while to realize that each square represented 10 feet instead of 5, but that’s not Weem’s fault – the map says it quite clearly!

Preparation

Since I always run my games via MapTool, even in-person, I started by plopping the Weem’s map into a fresh campaign file, and then built some monsters. I began with my own 4e campaign framework, and then stripped things down to work for D&D Next. This was mostly easy, though it was a bit messy to write a macro that correctly handles advantage and disadvantage. I got there, though!

There are 34 monsters in the Bestiary for Next, and I prepped about 20 of them prior to the game. They’re pretty quick to put together, fortunately. I like that! Note that prepping them means that I’ve set up tokens in MapTool with an appropriate image, the right stats (hit points, AC, ability scores, speed, XP, etc.), buttons to track damage and buttons for each attack that the monster has.

The characters

Since we had six players and only five pre-generated characters, the party chose to double up on the dwarf fighter. Since it’s a hill dwarf, the first player to pick the character decided that it was a hillbilly dwarf. He named the character Bill to reflect this, which led the person playing the human cleric of Pelor to name his character Ted. The dwarf cleric of Moradin then became Rufus.

The party was rounded out with Gimli the dwarf fighter, Shazzam! the high elf wizzard (she likes the letter Z – and exclamation points), and Stealthy the halfling rogue (my wife likes Once Upon a Time, even though her character wasn’t a dwarf).

I’ll note here that one of my friends was interested in the rogue until he discovered that hiding takes an action. That was a bummer for him.

The adventure begins

My players tend to be more interested in killing bad guys and taking their stuff and less interested in plot. This worked fine with the Caves of Chaos, which does not come with a plot by default. I gave my players some choice among the potential plots listed in the adventure, and they liked the idea of seeking the piece of the Eye of Gruumsh that had ended up in the Caves of Chaos. Off we go!

The group decided to look for tracks near the first cave they saw (Cave A on the map), and a good Wisdom check from Ted revealed kobold tracks. When he went closer to the cave mouth to listen, some kobolds revealed themselves and combat began.

I decided to run this combat in the “theater of the mind”, so we rolled initiative and started killing kobolds. They only had two hit points each, which meant that both fighters and the wizard could reliably kill one kobold per turn (the fighters with the miss effect on their attack and the wizard with Magic Missile). The little lizard creatures went down pretty quickly. This entire combat took all of 10 minutes and 15 seconds. Not bad for fighting nine kobolds with six PCs!

The kobolds didn’t have any treasure or distinguishing markings, so the party left the bodies alone and moved into the cave. They saw a passage sloping down to the right, and to the left was a passage with a nasty smell. They decided to investigate the smell and found a garbage pit full of rats.

Rat stomping

Combat number two was another “theater of the mind” one, with the tiny rats swarming all over the PCs. I decided to throw 24 rats at them – four per PC. The rats started nibbling at PC ankles, and the characters started stomping on them.

When the wizard’s turn came around, she decided to use Burning Hands – our first Vancian spell! She waited until her friends got out of the way, then toasted a dozen rats.

Bill the dwarf fighter strode boldly into the garbage pit and took out the dire rat in one shot, and when the three surviving rats had a turn in round three, they fled. This combat took only 13 minutes; not too shabby.

Traps!

From here, the party started heading down the slope, only to trigger a pit trap. Three PCs fell in, and attracted the attention of four kobolds. Our rogue spent the first round of combat fiddling with the trap to get it open so that the fallen PCs could climb out.

We noticed here that the jumping and climbing rules make pit traps not very scary once they’ve triggered. Getting out of the trap is easy enough; unless the walls are particularly slick, you can climb right out at half speed. As for the people who didn’t fall in, they could jump a number of feet (edit: I originally said “squares” instead of “feet here – not what I meant!) equal to their Strength score, which was at least 8. Add in two feet for extending your arms, and even the wimpy wizard could jump, grab the far edge, and pull herself up. Maybe I was too easy on my PCs here, but that’s the way I ran things.

Anyway, the fight against these four kobolds was pretty easy for the party since they had bright light, giving the monsters disadvantage on their attacks. As I wrote about recently, disadvantage is a big deal, equating to about a -4 or -5 to attack. Still, with all of the shenanigans surrounding the pit trap, this combat took 19 minutes. It’s amazing that this feels like a long combat!

The little boss – a battle with a map

From here, the gang noticed that the passageway eventually ended at a large chamber filled with dozens of kobolds. I decided that this chamber would probably actually have a door, so I created one on the fly. They decided to explore a different passage instead, finding themselves at a locked door.

No problem – we have  a rogue in the party! The pregen rogue has a very cool ability that says she can’t roll below a 10 for any skill that she’s trained in. So she rolls, and if it’s less than 10 we treat it as a 10 on the die. This means that opening locks is no worse than a 16 for her, which popped the storage room right open.

The most interesting item in this room was a cask of wine, which one of our fighters created a hole in with his axe. He then replaced the water in his waterskin with wine.

From here, the next clear direction was down the hall to a chamber that had three tougher-looking kobolds standing around and talking. A frontal assault was declared, and we rolled initiative. I decided that, since there were two waves to this fight and the enemies had the potential to actually take a hit and keep fighting, we would use the map and minis.

All three of the “elite” kobolds were dead by the end of the first round. In the second round, six more regular kobolds came out of a far room, escorting their chieftain. The chief actually had some hit points, but it didn’t matter – he never landed a blow with his axe, even though he was getting two attacks per round. He always had disadvantage thanks to the bright light from the wizard. The whole battle took just under 20 minutes.

Getting a little bit of treasure in the chief’s room was a nice find for the party, although the wizard continued to be disappointed with the lack of hits from her Detect Magic. No magic loot here, guys – this isn’t 4th Edition any more!

Kobold genocide?

The only remaining chamber in this part of the Caves of Chaos was the one that had dozens of kobolds in it. Back down the hall the party went, checking for traps and then opening the door.

They saw a group of 36 adult kobolds in their living quarters, with eight kobold hatchlings in the back corner of the room. A debate ensued among the party members about what to do – kill them or leave? Bill the fighter won initiative and decided to step into the room, slaughter a kobold, and then step back.

At this point, the kobolds reached for their daggers and started throwing, mostly at Bill but some at Gimli who was next to him. Rufus, the cleric of Moradin, was standing right behind them, which meant that her Guardian ability kicked in – all of the kobolds would have disadvantage on their attacks.

Thankfully, I was using the computer to roll the dice. Having to roll twice for each of 35 kobolds would have been a major pain in the butt. When all was said and done after those 35 attacks, the kobolds had only dealt 5 damage – 5 dagger hits for 1 damage each. Disadvantage is POWERFUL! They only needed to hit AC 15, but you only have a 12% chance of doing that when you’re just +1 on your dagger attack and you have disadvantage.

The rogue, the wizard and the cleric of Pelor shot some bullets and magic at kobolds as they backed down the hallway. The cleric of Moradin stayed in place to provide her fighter allies with some protection, but she refused to slaughter the kobolds.

In round two, we had 33 kobolds attacking the fighters with disadvantage. A few more points of damage landed, but nothing too serious. At this point, the cleric of Pelor left her fighters alone with the kobold menace.

Now the kobolds could show what they could do. Since they were out of the bright light, the Guardian was gone and they outnumbered the fighters, this meant the kobolds now had advantage on their attacks. Spears and daggers started landing left and right, and before half of the surviving kobolds had acted, they had dropped both fighters to unconsciousness. The kobolds slammed the doors to their chamber.

The surviving party members came back, stabilized their fighters, and dragged them out of there. The aborted kobold massacre took about 18 minutes, including some time at the end that was just about the dragging of the fighters out of the kobold caves.

Opinions

I’ll put up another post later with our actual feedback from the playtest, but I’d say it was a successful test overall. There’s no way we would be switching from 4e to this game in its current state, but everyone seemed to feel like it has real potential. The one person in our group who’s been playing for 30 years especially enjoyed the game.

We’ll keep on testing, of course. There are plenty of things that we weren’t crazy about, but we feel like this game can be a good one. Definitely a promising start!

-Michael the OnlineDM

OnlineDM1 on Twitter

Advantage and Disadvantage in D&D Next: The Math

Everyone will be sharing opinions about D&D Next today and for the foreseeable future. I wanted to do something a little different and focus on just one thing: the math behind the Advantage and Disadvantage mechanic.

For those who haven’t read the playtest material yet, if you have Advantage for a die roll, you get to roll twice and take the better result (kind of like the Avenger in 4th Edition). If you have Disadvantage, you have to roll twice and take the worse result.

In reading through the rules, I noticed that being blinded gives you disadvantage for your attacks, while being prone gives you the same -2 to your attack that you would get in 4th Edition. So what’s the impact of disadvantage? Is it similar to a -2?

Averages

My first thought was, what’s the average of 2d20 keeping the highest (advantage), and what’s the average of 2d20 keeping the lowest (disadvantage)? I know that the average of a single d20 roll is 10.5, so knowing the average of advantage or disadvantage should tell me whether it’s equivalent to +/-2, +/-3 or what, right?

I decided to simulate this by having Excel roll a whole bunch of dice (over a million pairs of d20 rolls) and then taking some averages. For those fellow Excel geeks out there, my d20 roll formula is: =ROUNDUP(20*RAND(), 0). I generated two columns of these, then a column that was the maximum of the two results (=MAX(A2, B2)) for advantage and one that was the minimum (=MIN(A2, B2)) for disadvantage.

I got a result of about 13.83 for a roll with advantage and 7.18 with disadvantage. I later learned that the precise values are 13.825 and 7.175.  Comparing this to the 10.5 average you get for a single d20, advantage adds 3.325 to the average roll and disadvantage subtracts 3.325.

Done! Right?

It’s not all about the averages

However, as my fellow EN Worlders soon pointed out, this isn’t the most useful way to look at things. In D&D, what you care about is your chance of success or failure on a die roll. And when you change the distribution of results from a uniform d20 roll (equal 5% probability of every number from 1 to 20) to the maximum or minimum of 2d20, the impact is not the same as a straight plus or minus to a d20 roll.

The most useful way I’ve found to look at this is with the following table. The first column shows you the target number you need to roll on the die in order to succeed. (Note that if you need an 18 to hit but you have +6 to hit, then the target number on the die is a 12.) The second column shows the percentage of time you’ll get that result or better on a single d20 roll. The third column shows how often you’ll get your number with advantage, and the fourth shows the same for disadvantage.

What does it all mean?

Let’s take an example from the table. Assume you need to roll an 11 to succeed. With a straight d20, you have a 50% chance of success. With advantage, this goes up to 75%. That’s the equivalent of a +5 bonus to the roll, since you would also have a 75% chance of success if you only needed a 6 or better on a single d20. Pretty impressive!

On the flip side for the target of 11, disadvantage means you only have a 25% chance of success, equivalent to a -5 penalty to the roll (when you need a 16 or better on a d20, you also have a 25% chance of success).

So does that mean advantage/disadvantage is equivalent to +/- 5? Not all the time. In fact, it’s only that big when you need exactly an 11 on the die.

Let’s say you need a 15 on the die to succeed. With a single d20, you’ll only get this 30% of the time. With advantage, you’ll get it 51% of the time – about the same as you would get an 11 or better on a single d20. So advantage in this case is worth about a +4. Disadvantage, similarly, is about a -4: You only succeed 9% of the time with disadvantage, which is about the same as a single d20 with a target of 19.

At the extremes, advantage makes the least difference. If you need a natural 20 to hit, that’s only going to happen 5% of the time normally. Advantage ups your chance to 9.75% – equivalent to getting a +1. Disadvantage takes you chance down to 0.25%, or 1 in 400. That’s the chance of rolling back to back crits – not a common occurrence. But in terms of a modifier, it’s not much different from giving you a -1 to your roll when you need a 20 – it’s just about impossible.

In reality

Most of the time, D&D tends to set things up so that you need somewhere between a 7 and a 14 to succeed on a task unless it’s trivially easy or ridiculously hard. If you look at the percent success in the d20 column for those rows, then find the equivalent percent success in the Advantage column, you’ll see that this is usually similar to getting a +4 to +5 bonus to the roll. Disadvantage is exactly the same in the opposite direction.

So there you have it. For target die rolls that are reasonably close to the middle of the range, advantage or disadvantage is about the same as having a plus or minus 4 or 5 to your die roll. It’s pretty powerful – much more powerful than the +2 for combat advantage that you get in 4th Edition.

Note that I haven’t factored in the additional chance of a critical hit with advantage, since I don’t really care about damage per round or anything like that. Suffice it to say that your chance of critting with advantage is 9.75% instead of 5%, and you can do the rest from there.

- Michael the OnlineDM

@ClayCrucible on Twitter