I played a game and I liked it

Last night, I DM’ed my first session of the D&D Next Open Playtest. I had five players (two Clerics, two Fighters and the Rogue – no Wizards, yet!) and took them through a part of the Caves of Chaos I haven’t used before, not even back in my Classic D&D days of yore.

Good words, “days of yore”.

I had a checklist of the game elements I wanted to test, but didn’t share the list with my group. One of the items was “does the game flow smoothly” and the players running through items on a checklist with me wouldn’t exactly make that possible :)

The full list for this session was:

  1. Does the game flow smoothly, especially entering and exiting combat
  2. Do the classes feel like the iconic D&D classes – does the Cleric play like a Cleric, the Fighter like a Fighter and the Rogue like the Rogue? Testing the Wizard will have to come later :)
  3. Do the rules cover all situations that arise in the session?
  4. Test Turn Undead
  5. See how the new movement rules affect combat. Characters (and monsters) can split their movement before and after attacking (or taking any other action). I wanted to see how that worked in play.
  6. The Advantage/Disadvantage mechanic. Does it work?
  7. Can you play the game entirely in the mind using only the character sheets and a set of dice?
  8. How fast does the game play? Could you really run a session in an hour?
  9. Is there room for player and DM creativity?
  10. Just what could the PCs do with a 10′ pole anyway?

That’s quite a list for just one session, and didn’t expect to get an answer to many of them.

But first, the session itself. Here’s the opening text.

You are all en route to the Keep on The Borderlands to witness a wedding between two minor noble houses. It is a scorchingly hot day so you are resting outside the Bare Owl Inn (so called because of the image of the naked owl on the tavern sign) with a crowd of other wedding guests eating, resting your feet, and drinking.

The wedding is between Lady Clarissa Esgarion (from a half-elf noble house) to the north & Lord Ludwig von Hendricks (a human Baron) to the south. The Keep is a good central, if isolated, location for the nuptials to take place.

From out of the haze walks a strange sight: four figures – a kobold, an orc, a hobgoblin and a goblin approach, all of them squinting in the harsh sunlight.

They stop about 30 feet away from you, and carefully lay their weapons on the ground before coming closer, all the time watching you.

“You pinkskins,” growls the hobgoblin, “elders say we must find heroes. You come with us.”

There’s some discussion and one of the Clerics’ adherents interposes himself between the humanoids and his leader. The party ask for more details before the commit to going with the creatures.

“Pinkskins come to Caves, make evil things. Pinkskin problem, you sort. If you do not, tribes unite and bring war.”

The goblin pulls torn strips of cloth from his belt. Several of them are clearly bloodstained. “Wear these. Cover eyes. The path to the Caves is not for you to see.”

As extra incentive, the Kobold offers this:

“Here.” The kobold hands over a parchment which looks worryingly like it was made of skin. Written in crude common are the words.

“Cave Tribes will stay out of human, elf and dwarf lands for ten and two months. We will not take your shepes n cows. We will not attack less we get tacked first.

So say us.”

It appears to be signed (or rather, scrawled) by the elders of the four tribes.

The goblin sneers with sparkling eyes, “Make good wedding present, yes?”

The heroes aren’t happy with wearing blindfolds, but a good Diplomacy roll offers a solution from the sly goblin: the elders said they have to wear blindfolds, but didn’t say where they had to be worn. So long as the messengers can report back and say “yes, they wore blindfolds”, they cared more about getting the heroes to come with them.

The players wrap them around their arms, wrists or neck (except the honourable Cleric of Moradin, who dutifully covers his eyes), and the party proceed along with several others from the wedding retinue (read: backup PCs). They follow a winding path which disappears in places, entering deeper into the dense forest and the goblin & orc carefully cover their tracks at the back. After about an hour, they arrive at the fabled Caves of Chaos!

I describe the cave mouth and surroundings that is the object of their quest, and maybe I laid it on thick because they really did not want to enter! This is the first time I have ever frightened players with a cave mouth! :) Only the plucky Halfling Rogue dare enter, so she takes point and scouts ahead from the shadows (brandishing her 10′ pole. Yes, in the shadows. What?). It’s all clear, and others enter.


The cave entrance opens up to a north/south corridor. Groaning appears to echo all around and a strange piping sound is coming from the north.

They decide to head north.

At the end of the corridor there is a bend which slopes upward to the West, a small door in the East wall and a door in the North wall through which they can hear voices…. talking about demons.

After some debate, they opt to use cunning tactics, and charge in! I ask them to roll initiative, they burst open the door and combat is on.

As they have surprise, and the four cultists in the room as deep in conversation, I grant all of our heroes Advantage in the first round of combat. In effect, the cultists are not just surprised (at -20 to initiative), but also totally unprepared for combat. Poor cultists.

One cultist is badly injured from a sword blow then finished off with the Cleric of Pelor’s Radiant Lance targeted directly at the unholy emblem on the Cultist’s robes. The blast burns a sun-shaped hole through the robes and into his chest before he falls back, dead. Another cultist drops when his arm is neatly removed from his body. The third goes a little (more) insane and begins to cry out in an unknown tongue. His mace coats in shadow formed of writhing black worms, and he swings….. and misses. The fourth cleric whimpers, drops his mace and cries about wanting to go back to the farm.

In all, combat lasts three to four rounds (I wasn’t counting), and less than 20 minutes in total. Wonderful stuff.

Meantime, the clever little Rogue is outside the door, on lookout duty. He rolls, and I say the groaning sound is coming closer, accompanied by a worrying shuffling sound. Does he recognise what could make that noise? (rolls)



“zombies zombies zombies ZOMBIES!” cries the Rogue as he runs through the door (closely followed by the Cleric of Pelor who had been blasting the cultists at range), and he then barricades the door with his 10′ pole.

The party question the surrendered cultist. Perhaps it’s because he is only a new recruit to the cult’s cause and knows almost nothing. Maybe it’s because he has just seen the party slaughter his friends. Or it could be because they are talking about using him as Zombie bait. Whatever it is, he’s just a little bit terrified and near-catatonic, and fails to answer their questions.

There’s a thump on the door.

Followed by another.

And another.

The Halfling Rogue is trying to hold close the door with the pole, with little success. Three zombie hands curl around the door edge.

The party is agreed. The Rogue pulls back the pole leaps to hide behind the door (“I hide in my own shadow!”). Three Zombies enter, and the Clerics casts Turn Undead.

The Zombies halt in the doorway. Moaning disappointedly.

To recap: The Rogue is behind the door. The rest of the party is in the room with no other way out, There are three cultists’ bodies on the floor, and a fourth one very much alive but scared out of his mind.

We leave it there, until next time.

So. About those questions.

1. Does the game flow smoothly, especially entering and exiting combat


 Much as I love Fourth Edition D&D (and I do), one thing which jars is the bump in the game when you enter combat. The session shifts gear as players (and the GM) focus on their Powers and abilities in combat rather than just being their character.

D&D Next had none of this. I asked the players to roll initiative, and the game carried on just as it had before. The only difference was that I was counting down initiative (badly – I kept missing players, my apologies) so everyone took a turn. Aside from that, the role-playing continued and combat was smooth.

2. Do the classes feel like the iconic D&D classes – does the Cleric play like a Cleric, the Fighter like a Fighter and the Rogue like the Rogue? Testing the Wizard will have to come later :)


From this side of the table at least, the Clerics felts like two different Clerics, the Fighters were Fighters and the Rogue was a Rogue. Mission accomplished.

3. Do the rules cover all situations that arise in the session?


I improvised giving the heroes Advantage in the first round of combat (improvising is in the rules, right?) and the heroes used Perception, Diplomacy and Lore checks. The Diplomatic check against the Goblin was a Contest against his Will, as  was them questioning the surrendered cultist. Works as advertised.

4. Test Turn Undead


We ended the  session there, and I would like to see how it plays out. I suspect the Turn Undead needs beefing up – it doesn’t damage the Undead, only holds or pushes them back – but we’ll see how that goes.

5. See how the new movement rules affect combat. Characters (and monsters) can split their movement before and after attacking (or taking any other action). I wanted to see how that worked in play.


The close combatants moved into combat but made sure they had enough movement remaining to move back after their attacks. This one rules change opens up a whole range of tactical opportunities (charge full speed, move then step back to draw out the foes, move around foes, sniping from range, etc) that I’m keep to explore using a full combat grid another time. For pure in-your-head gaming, it provides just what you need too. Which is nice.

As this was an enclosed space, I didn’t have enough room to try manoeuvring as well. Plus I forgot. Then they died.  Something for me to remember next time.

6. The Advantage/Disadvantage mechanic. Does it work?


Single favourite new game mechanic. Quick, simple to use and great fun to use at the table. I have a few concerns in corner cases (what happens if you have Disadvantage in combat an roll a natural 20? Or Advantage and roll a 1? What happens if you roll both??!) but they didn’t arise in this session.

I did forget that the Fighter had used his Guardian’s Defender benefit which should have granted Disadvantage to the Cultist’s attack on the Cleric of Moradin though.

I suck as DM.

7. Can you play the game entirely in the mind using only the character sheets and a set of dice?


Heck, I didn’t even want the players to draw a map. I didn’t want the players to do anything other than play. I described the locations and hopefully they got the rough idea of where everything was. This is far from the only (or even necessarily ideal, for your group) way to play, but it’s great that it can be done with little fuss and no house rules. I’m looking forward to future sessions where we scrawl maps then use full battlemats. Let’s see just how far we can push this puppy!

8. How fast does the game play? Could you really run a session in an hour?

2. YES

We played for about 90 minutes in total. In that time we ran a social encounter with the monster messengers, arrived at the cave, explored, fought some cultists, held back zombies and learned a whole new set of rules with unfamiliar character sheets

I definitely think that D&D Next, in it’s current form, could be a great game to play over a lunch hour, as well as suitable for longer sessions and campaigns. While modules could likely add to the complexity and be unsuitable for short play sessions, as it stands it makes a great pick-up and play game. Love it.

9. Is there room for player and DM creativity?


I made up a rule about giving the heroes advantage in the first round of combat. The players (I hope!) felt they had the freedom to do what they wanted. The game really does feel like a blend of the best of all editions: the structure, themes and healing of 4e, the skills and classes of 3e and the freedom of AD&D all mixed together with unique game mechanics of its own to create something truly special.

Ignore the naysayers online. This game rocks!

10. Just what could the PCs do with a 10′ pole anyway?

Session #1: Hold back a zombie horde.
Session #2: ???

That’s my thoughts. I look forward to hearing my players’ opinios.

Roll on Thursday!

UPDATE: Here’s Playtest 2.


18 Comments on “I played a game and I liked it”

  1. As the one playing the Cleric of Pelor, here’s my thoughts…

    1. I’d invested some time and drawn up a backstory for my pre-gens, culminating in the following things: he’s claustrophobic, he’s a religious nut and plays on a messianic complex, and he’s accompanied by retainers with secrets to hide. Robin, let all those aspects come through.

    2. I’ve been running Friends and Family playtests of Next, but this is my first time on the other side of the the screen. Robins comments about DM’ing match up with my experience, especially the parts about improvising things like advantage.

    3. I playing a cleric, partly because its something I’ve done in all editions, partly because it’s not my favourite class (ranger!). This one certainly feels like one, I’ve got radiant spells and healing.

    4. The other cleric definitely felt different with his wading into combat, and he wasn’t hitting as hard as the fighters, so yeah, I think that balance worked. Symatt once again played through a fight without actually fighting anything, which seems to be his trademark, but in doing so, he felt like the sneaky, hide in shadows and pop up when needed kind of character that I was expecting from the rogue.

    5. Cultists fight. 5 pc’s versus 4 cultists. I reckoned we’d be fine here unless they summoned a demon or something, so opted to just stand back, let the melee guys get stuck in, and blast the cultists with radiant light. The fight took 2.2 rounds (I didn’t get a 3rd go and I was second in initiative), I hit on the first round, but only because I had Advantage, and on my second turn, aimed to blind the cultist with the black worms by blasting his eyes with my radiant lance, and missed.

    6. Turn Undead. Currently, I’m stood just by the doorway, brandishing my holy symbol and keeping 3 zombies enthralled. My intention is to move forward and force them to back away… I actually don’t think Turn Undead needs to deal damage, because Searing Light is so powerful against undead.

    7. I only started using minis and maps when I got some free for running the Monster Manual 2 games day for 4e. So I actually ran 4e for a year not using minis… This style of play isn’t knew to me, but I think it was a different experience for some of the players. Even using my at-will, I tried to mix up how I used it to make it feel unique, while a couple of players opted for the “I hit it”. I think more emphasis needs to be put on the Improvise action, so rather than charging and hitting, you might describe it as charging to swipe at their legs to knock them to the ground.

  2. you couldn’t ask for more. this first play test didn’t feel like a play test at all. it felt like a a game. a a game that lets you do what needs doing and have fun doing it .
    I played the Rogue. she is quick and has excellent hiding skills. makes good use of 10′ pole and a door. didn’t use any attacks yes as the thought of getting hurt in this game scares me. damage means pain. steer clear of that as best i can . but will try attack next time . if i get out from behind that door in one piece . not the best place to hide .

    1. Got to agree, I feel fragile as a PC, I’m aware that I might survive two good hits and go down bleeding with a third. And i’m the healer… I can’t afford to go down. It’s the reason I legged it into that small room when the zombies appeared and now i’m sweating, and I want to get out of here, but theres those undead things on the other side, and where is that fool Adolethen, he always said he’d save me…

      The rules as they are better than the kind of things I pay 5 or 6 quid for on RPGNow, so getting them for free to test is cool. Next’s beauty should come in the modules, so I can’t wait to see them.

  3. Thanks for the feedback, both. I’m honoured to play with you, and glad you enjoyed it. It’s great to see Adam on the opposite side of the table at last.

    I do like the different feel to the two Clerics, and look forward to seeing the variety that will be possible with the other classes too, especially the Rogue with the different Schemes. Adam’s Cleric of Pelor played very differently to the “built like a tank” Dwarven Cleric of Moradin, yet they both felt suitably Clerical. Good stuff.

    You might be right about the Turn Undead not actually needing a damage component. I’ll enjoy seeing how that “turns” out next session.

    I’ll admit, you were lucky the Cultist’s didn’t land any of their attacks, especially with that Unholy Mace attack. Next time, my friends. Next time.

    We really should put the Rogue’s Skill Mastery to the test next time around. You have Naturally Stealthy so can hide behind creatures too. Possibly even the Zombies themselves…….

    Now I’m picturing the Halfling Rogue behind a Zombie, mimic its movements to stay in concealed before attacking. Hahahahahahaha! Brilliant.

    1. And thus, you’ve just pointed out what Next is about… That hiding behind a zombie was possible in 4e, but you’d have had to really think outside the box, and had a DM who had ‘vision’ to make it work. In Next, doing that kind of stuff is written into the heart of the system.

  4. I should say that I was one of the haters when I first saw the playtest materials, but I changed my attitude very much. I’m preparing my own D&DNext adventure now for this weekend. Will see if it works for my favorite style – hexcrawl sandbox.

    1. Yeah, I’m quite eager to test it on Tales of Enchanment, which I think is one of the better examples of a hexcrawl.

  5. Great feedback Grey, loved to hear the comments and as usual the fun came out of the interaction not just being able to do cool stuff, as per a players powers or something.

    Love that comment about the rogue, hiding in their own shadow. I’m play testing tonight with my regular group, hoping for good things and my own skills match up. I’ve not played without a grid in years, so am also hoping I can keep everything straight in my mind.

  6. “I have a few concerns in corner cases (what happens if you have Disadvantage in combat an roll a natural 20? Or Advantage and roll a 1? What happens if you roll both??!) but they didn’t arise in this session.”

    when you have advantage, you roll two dice and use the highest. to be consistent with this, it can’t matter if you roll a natural 1, unless both dice are a natural 1. similarly for disadvantage and rolling a natural 20.

    1. Part of me agrees, and part of me refers to the rule about natural 1s and 20s on Page 11 of the How to Play pdf. Both dice are rolled, and can get Natural 1s or 20s. so which rule has precedence? This rule, or the rule about only taking the highest or lowest dice?

      While common sense dictates the Advantage/Disadvantage rule has precedence, it’s not entirely clear in the current playtest rules, and that should be clarified.

      Personally, I like the idea that rolling a 20 (on the high dice) when you have Disadvantage means you were oh so close to making an epic hit, but failed at the last second, or that a 1 (on the low dice) when you have Advantage means you managed to turn disaster into success..

      And if you roll both a 20 and a 1, it means the gods are just laughing at you.

      1. I know how it’s supposed to work, takr the highest and take the lowest, but i think a 20 or a 1 should possibly override advantage or disadvantage. I mean rolling a 20 while disadvantaged ahould be one of those things… maybe.

        1. I think the reverse implication that you would fumble when you have advantage ends up making it a net loss. Not getting that hail mary while disadvantaged isn’t so bad, but getting a fumble while you’ve got advantage can really rip you out of the fantasy.

      2. But doing what you are suggesting just adds unnecessary complication into the game. Advantage, you take the high roll, Disadvantage, take the low roll – why make it any more complicated then that? Straight forward and simple is the better way to go in this case, less confusion.

        I think the idea was, make two rolls, choose the one, and treat the other roll as if it never happened.

  7. I enjoyed reading your descriptions and comments about how you ran the game–very cool. I, too, ran a short session this weekend, but just used one of the provided story hooks (Under Evil’s Thumb). Unlike you, I didn’t use any prior legwork or planning beyond reading the rules and picking a hook. I wish I had! My game didn’t start off as smoothly as yours and felt a little forced, like I was just giving the PCs an excuse to go to the caves. Anyway, once they got there and started exploring the kobold’s lair it definitely got better. The PCs easily and quickly fought off a kobold ambush at the cave mouth, taking only a few hits from the initial surprise attack. They then entered the cave mouth and lit up a torch. Stepping forward, they saw another group of kobold’s cowering around the corner in an alcove waiting for them in another obvious attempt to ambush them again. This time, only a few PCs were surprised. Those that weren’t charged toward them only to be stopped by a pit trap the kobolds had set in the passage. One fell in and the other made his save, precariously noticing the pit at the last second, teetering at the edge.

    The PCs then had a flurry of daggers thrown at them from over the pit as one of them held up the lid of the pit trap to let their comrade climb out. The wizard and rogue took down two kobolds with distance attacks.That was when they first a squeaking, swarming horde of rats spilling out of the left-hand tunnel, obviously attracted to the sounds of battle and the trap being activated. Two of the PCs then jumped across the pit and engaged the kobolds in melee. Between their attacks and the wizards magic missiles and the rogue’s attacks they quickly dispatched the remaining kobolds in one round. The rats were then halfway down the tunnel and likely to reach them the next round. Luckily, the PCs had won initiative.

    That’s when my 10-year-old son came up with a brilliant plan of picking up a kobold body and throwing it to the rats! Rewarding his creativity, I told him the ravenous rats stopped to consume the body, but would likely eat through it in five minutes. He then came up with the idea of placing the rest of the kobold bodies into the pit trap and waiting for the rats to go down into it to consume them while the lid of the trap was held open with a piece of planking they found in the kobold’s alcove (the kobolds had stored a bunch of planks there to use to safely cross the pit whenever they needed to). When the rats swarmed into the pit, they dropped the trap’s lid and placed all the planks on top to help keep it shut.

    That was the end of our session.

    In retrospect, I kind of wish WOC would have picked a module that was a bit more fleshed out / solidified for the first play test because I was in such a hurry to just try it out. Or I wish I would have taken the time, like you, to create a more creative entry point to the adventure (I love the wedding thing, by the way, and how you had the humanoids enlist the PC’s help). Other than that, though, I was pleased with the results as well. We had only a few uncertainties come up. One was the rats had a term mentioned in their damage as “piercing,” but I saw no rules for it, so I just decided to ignore the term. Another time I had an instance when it seemed like two abilities (strength and dexterity) should apply to a DC a PC was attempting, so I had the player blend both ability modifiers together and divide it by two (rounded down) to come up with an in between modifier for the attempt. That worked fine. Lastly, I was unclear how to apply advantage for the kobolds whenever they outnumbered the PCs (as outlined in their monster stats): is it as simple and basic as I should always give them advantage when they outnumber the PCs (whether in melee or at a distance, seen or unseen)? Or I should I only give it to them if they rush into melee? Or what if the PCs have as many people as the kobolds, but three kobolds manage to swarm a single PC? In the end, I made judgment calls for each situation as they arose.

    Pretty minor stuff, though! And it definitely brings back the feel of the older editions of D&D.

    1. It is as basic and simple as that – you give the kobolds the the advantage when they outnumber the PCs (whether in melee or at a distance, seen or unseen). Though if the PC is unseen, they cannot be targeted by a specific target attack. But the kobolds would get the advantage in trying to perception on the hidden character (as long as they out number the PCs).

      For the save, the impression given to me was that you use one ability score or the other, which ever might be best for the situation or if more then one could apply, have the PC decided which one by the description of his or her actions.

  8. Good to see some 4e people who like it. While reading through the comments online about this, mostly you find 3.5 and lower players either cautiously optimistic or genuinely ok with what they have presented, and most 4e players screaming bloody murder. Admittedly, you’re more rounded than simply saying your a 4e person, but as near as I can figure, you like what 4e has done, so it’s nice to see you don’t hate 5e. What’s interesting is a lot of old edition players say “this feels a lot like edition X” where X is whatever version they’re most pre-disposed to play, which I think means WotC is on the right path for giving a little bit of something for everyone. Do you think there is enough (or will be enough) for 4e fans to say the same thing? Or do you think without AwEDU powers, no 4e fan will ever feel this “feels like 4e”.

    I won’t get a chance to playtest this for a week or two, but what will be interesting is I’ve been running my Labyrinth Lord group through the old B2 module anyway, so all we need to do is drop in the new characters and have them keep playing the story they’re in now. Will be interesting to see how the editions compare.

  9. Some great comments. I thought the game flowed really well and I stayed engaged at all times, which is not something that comes naturally to me. I’m really enjoying playing the Dwarf Fighter and the advantage/disadvantage rule is almost better than sex, note I said almost ;) I can’t wait till this Thursday to see what happens with the zombies but if I have anything to do with it they will be more dead than the undead!

    1. I am really glad you enjoyed it. I always worry after a session that I hadn’t done a good job, so it’s heartening to hear players say nice things :D Thank you.

      It’s good to see gamers playing Fighters and proving they’re not limited simply because they currently have the simplest character sheets. Great character, well played!

      I suspect the zombies won’t stay undead for long, and will pretty quickly become properlydead instead. I agree about advantage/disadvantage and hope it stays in the game as a part of the core system. With all the positive feedback Wizards of The Coast have had for it, I suspect it just might be a keeper.

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