|Christopher Van Horn|
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My group has been running through almost an adventure a week since the play-test came out. We meet weekly and play for approx 8 hours each session. We have been testing the mechanics and rules mostly to see how well they played and if we enjoyed the experience. We dd not do much social encounter/role-playing as we decided to delve into the mechanics and how they played out/felt to the group as a whole. I am writing this now because our group has concluded that the basic rules just aren't realty fun, although there are a few system changes we like a lot of the combat and mechanics are frustrating, poorly written, and do not fix the problems at all. It really feels like it just shifts them around.
First, the good things. There are some really positive things this edition that I do feel the group appreciated and took to. They loved the action economy and the nuances that gave to the game. We liked the increase in skill points (although not enough in some cases) and felt like touch AC getting a boost was an important thing for the game to function better at higher levels. I also took to the monsters having more special and interesting abilities that were flavorful and interacted with the new action economy in interesting ways. Also shield block is really good and gives a real reason to have a shield even when it is not a huge boost to armor class. I think it really opens up a lot of interesting things. Also starting hit points boost from ancestry is really good, that extra cushion was invaluable at low levels for keeping people alive early on and feels better than before.
The neutral, these things weren't eally good or bad and we could take them or leave them. I felt adding your level to everything was really problematic and was really a lot of fancy math and was almost better served with a simple system of if a target is above or below your level just add x amount to it's stuff. where x is the difference in level. I think this would have been a cool way of showing progression and making bonusses feel much more special without the feeling of levels are numbers that you have to have. but either way is the same play effect. Magic was kind of a sore subject and in the end was kind of a wash. The limiting of spellcasting was not necessarily a good or bad thing, some spells felt really useless, especially things like mage armor where I would just want an item since to be effective as a buff spell I have to use one of my highest level slots, versus shield which is now a really clever buff that works really well. Magic comes out nuetral because there were some really good examples,like tenth level spells and cantrips that really were useful long term, versus some really bad ones I will get to later. The limited spells per day otherwise reduced some of the spam casting issues and makes spells with an effect that is not damage way more powerful than before.
And now, the bad. There are a lot of things to go over here unfortumately, and I will try to get all of them out as best I can.
Starting with specific spells that just aren't worth anything anymore. Mainly buff spells that either have a duration so short that you have to waste alot of time in combat better used to fight the enemy than butt, resist energy is a huge problem here, to spells like mage armor that you now have to use a high level spell slot to keep up with progression and in doing so may lose all of that to a dispel check and not hae ht eextra spells to recast the buff. Mage armor being 24 hours is nice so I only have to cast it once. But if I only have spells at that level and I need a damage spell, I may just be wasting my time. both of these spells feel really bad an will most like;y only be used for crafting the items that give the bonusses without the penalties.
Speaking of items, one of the biggest gripes we had was that the magic item christmas tree actually got worse. It didn't get removed it just got redecorated into even more necessary level based items that you have to have to be competetive and effective. The last adventure we got to was The heroes of Undarin. Firat of all this is horribly written and no PC of mine would ever want to walk into a no win situation they either did not cause or were unaware of so all of my players were informed before hand that this was designed to kill them and was stress testing survivability. Next we got to the first encounter and we spent upwards of 4 hours on the fight because a PC without there christmas tree is absolutely useless in this edition. The first fight involved demons that coud disarm you with an almost automatic chance of success. And they are 2 levels lower than the PC's, and it's a reaction to a miss. This meant that after 2 hits and taking one of the four from full to 1/3 it's hit points, the paladin missed his third attack, was disarmed because I rolled above a 5 and then the demons got to go and decided that sword was a problem so one of them took it and left. after that the PC's managed to win only because the POaladin's AC was high enough they could not regularly hit him, bu tthey killed everyone else. without a weapon a PC simply cannot hurt things at high level and that is a serious problem if Enemies can dirarm you that easily. My group was already fed up with the rules but was pushing forward to see if things got better and because we wanted to help improve this, but they are done with it now as this was just the most horrible combat we have had in a very long time.
This christmas tree effect is even worse now that the math in the system is so tightly wound to make all of the numbers nearly identical. If you do not have the neccessary/expeted items/bonusses, you will fail. Sure the bonusses are smaller, but so is the success chance. Throw in the fact that enemies have no ACP and always maxed skills in things they are goos at and any combat manuever they try is probably going to succeed. It is so close to automatic because of ACP and stat distribution that I can't see why the monsters are built like this. The expected numbers do not take into account ACP or average PC's and this means the one person who is supposed to be good at combat manuevers is either lower on AC to negate ACP or realistically behind the curve because of it. The STR based characters who should have the best athletics don't because of ACP and this is a problem.
We also really dislike the ancestries, they do not give enough to start with, the choices do not feel meaningfull, half of the feats are really bad or so situational they really don't make sense to us and everyone feels kind of like their ancestry is really boiled down to their ability boosts beoing chosen for them and maybe a vision mode. This felt limiting not like it was otions, and felt like everyone was kind of just a generic human with a couple minor things that didn't matter. Overall the only races anyone realy wanted to be were those with darkvision, because light radius's are realy bad now and dim light is not really a thing anymore. And now that darkvision is infinite range it is the only ability orth having for the most part from any race at first level. It also felt like a lot of ancestry feats were not a choice, every halfling I can think of playing would take the luck feat, and the weapon familiarity thing was ok, but almost all the lasses that really care about hitting something with a weapon already gain those abilities so they really wash out as useless in the end.
The dying rules are also really bad. I need to know how far negative you are. I really have a proble with no matter how far you are down or how much you are hit you don't need more than point to get back up. At least under the rules before errata the wake up easn't automatif but even then it felt like negative numbers were measuring something before and now that we just get healed and stand up it actually caused more player deaths. Because if the players start getting back up a lot the enemies eventually start putting them down and making sure they stay that way. I let it go tyhe fist couple of times but the third time the fighter miraculously got better the enemies started focussing fire to make sutre he would stay down.
Some spells are just bad, cloudkill is now just awful, it doesn't really do a meaningful amount of damage, will likely only hit once, maybe twice if you are lucky, now doesn't hurt things that don't breathe (don't know if you can hold your breathe but it seems like this is poorly worded either way, and it has no lasting effect on people, it's a poison that doesn't even poison people.
Ranged combat is also very bad for PC's. Monsters do theexpected ranged damage, often with bonuses PCs do not get, while PCs have no real way to focus on reliable repeatable ranged combat.
Monsterloot needs to match their stat blocks as well. Telling a fighter he needs a magic sword to do real damage means that Gnoll had better also have one to do that kind of damage back. I will give large monstrous creatures a pass on this since they could actually have weapons like that as natural attacks but Humanoid NPC's need real gear or the it is just plain unfair for the PCs in all respects and that really made my players feel underwhelmed and chafe even more at their christmas tree requirements.
Critical hits are more common for the DM than players,because a monster who manages to catch a player flat footed without its shield up is going to crush it. The combat advantage of monsters having higher initiatives and better attacks than players means this is alarmingly true throughout the levels. With the math being so tight a boss fight monster just destroys what it gets into combat with. My players have not had a good fight against anything over their CR by more than 1 level the entire time we have play-tested.
Raising a shield to get it's bonus is bad, it makes sense for maybe the first round of combat and would be fatiguing to do long term but needing an action each round or you just forget about it is really taxing and should not be a feat that only really high level fighters can get. it should just be a thing.
Overall I wil be giving this system a pass unless it is changed drastically, it's promise of more options has hashed out to be less with more fidly things that don't matter and didn't need to be feats. It's classes are restrictive not open, It's multiclassing while interesting, feels like a patch to fix the issue of classes beiong to restrictive. Magic is underwhelming in areas it soesn't need to be and still netter in things that the skill feats could have, but for the most part did not, correct. Skill feats are abysmal and no one in my group felt that any of them that didn't require master proficiency were really interesting at all. Leading low level play to turn into a slog fest to get to interesting abilities that actually do something worthwhile. Resonance points fix a problem we never had in my group. Crits are awful and enemies get them so much more often than PC's, checks for skills have way to high a failure rate and taking 10 is a feat so even a reasonably skilled player has a chance of failing checks it isn't investing it's feats into. Signature Skills are still just a horrible idea, and fighters still get shafted on skill pints for no good reason.
The biggest thing we see, andf the biggrst problem I have with the system, is the push to be like later editions of D&D, crying out for balance and equality and losing all of the interesting fun elements a cooperative game can have when things are not so tightly wound as to make everything routine. It is exactly why I did not convert to 4.0 and it is why I won't be converting to this system either.