Session 0 Feedback: Ability Score Generation & Proficiency Bonus Formatting


General Discussion


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I ran my group thru our Session 0 last night (Aug 13), and since I'm concerned that we may not be able to complete Chapter 1 of Doomsday Dawn before the 26th, I at least want to give feedback on some pain points we encountered that should be relatively easy to remedy. These are chiefly in regards to rulebook layout for character creation (especially Ability Score generation), and to how existing fields on the Character Sheet can be tweaked to decrease complexity, and speed-up character creation/leveling...

For the sake of reference, I'll be spoilering how the actual session itself went in case you want to skip directly to our recommendations.

Pre-Game:
In preparation for the evening, I spent the better part of a week chopping up the rulebook with Acrobat Pro to make separate print-outs of each ancestry and class (photo), and to cobble together info packets for each player in the ABCDE format (Ancestry, Background, Class, Details, Equipment). This meant was to minimize rulebook contention (we had only 2 hardcopies), and to ensure we didn't end up with any duplicate ancestries or classes.

Packets were printed on 11x17 ledger paper in landscape format so players could see facing pages from the rulebook in one view, and I did my best to consolidate similar info onto the same sheets. This info included:

Sheet 1: Doomsday Dawn character creation rules & backgrounds, facing a consolidated Languages sheet. Reverse side were the facing pages for the rulebook backgrounds.
Sheet 2: Facing pages for the Deities. Reverse side was Armor, faced by Gear.
Sheet 3: Facing weapon tables. Reverse was weapon rules.

Lastly, there were plenty of character sheets and feedback/tracking sheets printed onto cardstock to endure the wear & tear yet to come. Naturally, snacks and drinks were also well-stocked.

Game Night:
We started off at 7:00pm by ordering carryout from the local Italian place. IME, good food guarantees a positive mindset. In total there were 5 players, plus myself as GM:
  1. Human Cleric: 5E DM who has played/DMed since D&D2E; character creation time: 2 hours
  2. Goblin Sorcerer: another 5E DM who has played/DMed since D&D2E; 3 hours
  3. Dwarf Alchemist: 5E player who has played since D&D2E; 3 hours
  4. Gnome Barbarian: 5E player who started with 4E; 2 hours
  5. Halfling Rogue: P1 player from my own P1 group who started with P1 in my group about 5 years ago; 4 hours
  6. P1 GM (me) who started with D&D2E, plays 5E with players #1-5, and runs a separate P1 game that includes player #5; "The Lost Star" Prep Time: 4 hours including VTT map preparation

Before heading out to retrieve dinner at 7:30pm, I gave the players a run-down on the fact that over the course of Doomsday Dawn, they would ultimately be making 5 sets of characters in total, and that the characters being made in Session 0 would star in chapters 1, 4, and 7. Likewise, I clued them in that the characters for subsequent chapters would have outdoors, clerical, crusader, and esoteric focuses respectively. This was to assure them that they needn't put all their character aspirations into a single PC, and that they'd be able to try out lots of different things. This really took the pressure off trying to agree on what ancestries & classes they should each pick since they knew they'd each get a turn to rotate thru various roles.

With the basics decided, and players understanding the contents of their packets, player #4 and I headed out to pickup dinner.

We returned by about 7:45pm to find that player #1 had finished just about everything but equipment, while the rest were still muddling thru ancestry and class feats. To be fair, this player had run thru most of the rules on their own on the drive back from GenCon. Sadly, all of the players got confused by the fact that I'd printed the rulebook backgrounds on the rear side of the Doomsday Dawn background/languages sheet. There maaay have been some calamity and consternation as they then had to redo the background portion of character creation. My bad! Thankfully, even with only 6 background to choose from, they were able to find new ones without too much trouble.

The biggest problems came when trying to generate ability scores. In hindsight, I should have made a worksheet (like the one I've linked below in our suggestions). However, it's still beneficial to the playtest that they had to evaluate this process based off the actual rulebook text rather than GM-prepared cliff-notes.

Simply put, the process was nigh well traumatic for those trying to figure it out on their own. After almost 2 hours, player #5 was on the verge of tears and I was at wits end trying to help them understand the process. I finally had to "tap-out" and let two other players assist. It took until almost 9:30pm before that player had their ability scores finished — which (IMO) is practically tragic.

Thankfully, the purchasing of equipment was a relative breeze thanks to the info packets, though a couple players were disappointed there were to pre-configured class kits they could purchase (something I myself was grateful for since I seldom use most of the stuff in said kits).

By 10:00pm, everyone but player #5 was done and ready to head home, so we never actually made it into the Ashen Ossuary. Player #5 was finished by 11:00pm and felt quite drained. Hugs were necessary before they headed home.

Ability Score Generation was Harrowing
Issue: Starting on page 11, the Character Creation Overview has partial info about how to create ability scores in far too many separate places. This actually confused my players more than if they'd simply leafed thru the book on their own. While I can understand the need to mention ability scores early on (since many steps influence these stats), it might be better to break out the "Ability Scores" subsection on page 12 into a sidebar rather than including them with the other fields to be filled-out under "orange bullet" #1. As it is now, since the "Character Sheet" instructions at the end of step #1 makes no mention of ability scores which leaves newbies scratching their heads rather than realizing your intended message of "plan ahead."

Suggestion 1: On pg 12, move "Ability Scores" out of Step #1 and into a sidebar.

Suggestion 2: On the reverse side of the 3rd page of the character sheet, include an ability score worksheet.
Example: Excel | PDF

Suggestion 3: Make Character Creation its own chapter, and revamp the Character Creation Overview from being a 6-page summary into 1-page outline.
Implementation:

  1. Format the Overview as a full-page sidebar similar to the optional rolled ability scores rules on page 21. This will help it stand out from the narrative portion of the chapter.
  2. Put a numbered list for the "orange-bullets" at the top, and the miniature annotated sheet at the bottom.
  3. In the outline, rather than having several paragraphs explaining each step, allow each "orange bullet" a 1-2 line entry along with the page number for the relevant rules.
Benefit: A 1-page overview with an annotated sheet would allow GMs to print copies of that page to hand-out at Session 0. Players would then have a more at-a-glance view of what to do with their character sheet and literally know where to turn. This sheet would also be a good time to reinforce the clever ABCDE theme you have going on (Ancestry, Background, Class, Details, Equipment).

Suggestion 4: The ability score walkthru on pages 19-20 really needs to be printed on facing pages in the final rules.
Benefit: A walk-thru should have its totality in-view at once for ease of reference without having to flip the page.

Calculating Proficiency Bonuses Can Be Streamlined
Issue: To a person, everyone got turned around on how to factor their proficiency bonuses on skills, attacks, etc.

Suggestion: The whole group was in agreement that each line should simply have a box where you write your level, and let the bonus confered by your degree of training be assumed by the TEML bubbles rather than needing to be written down.

Thankfully, this is more of a formatting change to the character sheets moreso than a rule change. Here's how to accomplish this without requiring any additional formatting space on the character sheet...

Implementation pt1: Split the proficiency bonus into its constituent parts: separate character level from the training bonus.
Benefit: Your level will change frequently, while your bonuses from training will be much more static. This will make leveling-up a character much faster and more intuitive as you will simply be incrementing your Level in the 30 places it appears on the sheet rather than having to re-calculate 30 Proficiency boxes. Similarly, since one's level of training doesn't change nearly as frequently as one's level, if the training bonus is tallied seperately, it's that much less often that you need to erase and change that value, and it will be a lot easier to spot where and when to update a modifier for that reason.

Implementation pt 2: Set Untrained a +0, Trained as +2, Expert +3, etc.
Benefit: While subtracting 2 from a number is childsplay in a classroom, doing so repeatedly during character creation just introduces needless work and makes the game more complicated than it needs to be. Subtracting 2 from something that you probably didn't invest in anyway isn't intuitive; if you have zero investment in a skill, then your modifier from your level of training should be 0, not -2. This small change would save quite a lot of confusion.

Implementation pt 3: Make the TEML bubbles more useful. Rather than simply having a blank bubble with the training letter above it, place the letter inside the bubble and have the corresponding bonus above it.[/b]
Example: PNG
Benefit: Players no longer need to remember what their training bonus should be for each skill, and that eliminates another potential source of mistakes. Instead of having to add Level plus Training Bonus into a single field 30 times, Level and Training Bonus now each have their own easy-to-read, easy-to-update fields, and we've significantly reduced the number of steps someone has to perform in-their-head.

Other Stuff™
Familiar Sheets: This gang really loves their casters, and at least 2 players ended up with a pet of some sort. While I suppose I can just print out their critters' stat blocks from the Bestiary, the players still need a place to write those stats down when it comes time to apply the additional buffs such creatures get for being a familiar or animal companion.

Spells Known: Player #2 stated that page 3 of the character sheet (spells) didn't make much sense to them. They were confused that it has areas for both preparation and spontaneous casting, yet he didn't see anywhere to denote how many spells known he has. Can't say I felt the same way when I made a bard during my own tests, but then I'm primarily a P1 guy and they're a 5E player. This should be clear for someone regardless of past experience guiding their hand.

Senses: On the front side of the character sheet, players need a line to denote what sort of vision they have and it's range.

Ability Scores: The players are unanimous in wanting the ability scores grouped by whether they are physical or mental. Since this is presented in two columns on the character sheet, one column should be Str, Dex, Con, the other Int, Wis, Cha. It just doesn't flow well when they are grouped across columns like they are right now.

Armor Class It's awkward having the armor proficiencies located so far away from the AC section. Also, while it's obvious to returning players, you should probably note that the lower of the two values for Dex mod or Dex cap should be the one that's tallied into AC and TAC.

Summary

By and large Session 0 was a success. The players are all excited, and we did have fun for the most part. There were complaints that character generation was even more complicated than P1, and especially so in comparison to 5E, but they did seem to like the greater variety of options than 5E offers.

That said, I'm somewhat alarmed that Doomsday Dawn will require so much character creation. If it took everyone in my group 2-4 hours, to make a level 1 character, how long it will take when they have to make new characters at level higher levels? Perhaps if some of the advice above is incorporated into hotfixes before Chapter 3 that will help, though I may just go ahead and design my own character sheet to incorporate things that are mostly formatting issues rather than game-design issues.

Anyway, hope this helps!

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