D&D Games Day – Vault of the Dracolich – D&D Next

Yesterday saw our FLGS (Tabletop Tyrants in Leicester) hosting our game of the D&D Games Day event – Vault of the Dracolich – which was the first event to be run solely using the D&D Next public playtest rules. Despite having taken part in several playtest sessions myself, this would be my first time DMing it, anyhere!

Our group ended up with 7 players, most having only played 4e but a couple that still play 3.5. All played pregens aside from Matt and David who created their own characters using the playtest documents. We ended up as follows:-

  • Tilly – Elf Ranger (no surprises there, she usually plays a hunter in our Encounters sessions)
  • Rachel – Halfling Rogue (usually plays the dragonborn Paladin in our Shadowfell campaign)
  • Daniel – Dwarf Fighter (plays the Genasi warlord in the Shadowfell campaign)
  • Rhys – Elf Wizard (plays in Encounters and the Shadowfell campaign)
  • Liam – Dwarf Paladin (plays Encounters, the Shadowfell campaign and DM’s our 3.5 game)
  • David – Halfling Barbarian (plays the cleric in our Shadowfell campaign)
  • Matt – Human Druid (plays in Encounters and the Shadowfell campaign)

 

The Leicester team prepare to face the Vault of the Dracolich

The Leicester team prepare to face the Vault of the Dracolich

 

As per previous discussions with Adam (who was going to DM at Mondo Comico) on the bloated monster numbers I adapted the encounters as we went. We had set up a link via twitter using the hashtag #UKVotD and each party nominated a team captain to tweet updates.

The party entered via #25 the Guard huts, and faced 5 Trogs (3 with cultist axes) and a pair of lizards. Interestingly the druid chose to befriend one of the lizards and with the way he described it I gave him advantage (he then rolled double 20′s!) the lizard became very friendly and followed him afterwards. The fight itself took longer than expected and more than a few players struggled to visualise the scene having been used to 4e battlegrids. After a few examples from myself they began describing their actions more though. Even with the reduced enemies the party took a fair few hits before dropping the guards and moving on to the village.
 
#24 The heroes chose to boldly enter the village openly showing the trio of cultist axes, I described the trog families as barely showing an interest in them (assuming them with the cult) apart from a curious little trogling that ran up and around the dwarf fighter until he pulled an intimidating pose and the little yipper ran back to his mommy. The adventure listed 20 warriors here but made no mention of any female/family trogs anyhere – unless they reproduce asexually it made little sense to me and seemed an unecessary fight.
 
#23 the heroes continued amidst a few stares from the group of trogs watching the pit fights, which consisted of more trogs in “practice” fights. Their RP choice of a non-aggressive stance worked to their advantage here.
 
#22 The met Urbone the chief, and thanks to him deliberately misunderstanding the paladins trade offer almost resulted in them giving the trogs the halfling barbarian in return for some grubby clothing. The chief then offered them the chance to prove themselves in the challenge pit – which the barbarian, fighter and druid (in polar bear form) took. They faced an owlbear. NOTE – none of the challenge pit animals were in the event bestiary. Also the owlbear in standard bestiary no longer has a screech attack, just claws and beak. Despite it having 3 attacks a round it lasted about 2 rounds.
 
Hailed as mighty warriors the chief gifted them the bhaalite idol on their promise of getting rid of the “pinkskins” and not hurting the “great one”, when the simulacrum appeared the trogs all kowtowed and the heroes attacked it as well as the chief and half dozen warriors there. The trogs didnt pose a major threat apart from their numbers but the dracolich dealt a pounding – I genuinely think its overpowered for a 4th level adventure but understand its prescence story wise. Luckily it got summoned away by the Nott’s team but not before taking the druid to single figures!
 
The heroes moved to the Chamber of Guardians #29, easily dealing with the traps in the connecting tunnel. At this point they received a call for aid via the tweet feed and tried to rush directly through towards the Lab area, however the 4 gargoyles chose to pursure (with fly 60 and easy feat). I allowed a spot check to realise they were being chased which then allowed the druid and fighter to lay ambush where the cavern narrowed into the Summoning chamber (which one of the Notts teams had already dealt with). The fight with the gargoyles was harder due to their resistance to all but magical attacks and the party’s total lack of magic weapons. The barbarian was dropped, thankfully healed back to life by the druid.
 
At this point we realised we didnt have long till store closing time so after a quick check on Nottinghams progress we found that they were already in the final chamber. It was decided that our group would tackle the wards. The dark priests proved fairly poor once they had used their one spell each (though I think I used Silence wrong targeting the wizard directly) – This was probably the hardest fight to visualise as we were having to take in to account the actions of the Nott’s game too. However the heroes managed to defeat the 7 Dark Priests (one per pc as given in the book) and disable the sigils. Our druid also used his moonbeam to aid those fighting the dracolich but due to time constraints we didnt hear how that made any (if any) effect.
 
If I had kept the trog numbers as written we would have had 2-3 tpk’s before even reaching the central area, harsher than the lair assaults, and knowing my players they wouldnt have enjoyed that (even with the death mechanic within the adventure). The tweet link was good but obviously in the midst of game it became a waiting process for answers to be passed back and forth. The battle interactive as an idea is good but unless you have room and particpants to use multi-group/table at a single venue it proves too unwieldy for my liking.
 
Overall the players seemd to enjoy the game but struggled with the “Theatre of the Mind” style gaming, several having repeated problems visualising the flow of combat. Asisde from the interactions with the trogs prior to the apperance of the dracolich there were little opportunities for role playing (not including inter party character banter, which I must admit was fun).
 
Fighters charge maneuvour – why does charge have to be a maneuvour now? surely anyone change charge, if not this as written doesnt feel “special” enough to warrent being a class maneuvour.
 
Silence spell – I think I did it wrong anyay, but even then, not having any way to save against it seems overpowered for an in-combat spell, as a ritual I could understand it, otherwise all the Dark Priests needed to do was coat the area in silence and screw any spellcaster into uselessness.
 
Player characters – the character creation documents and the pregens for higher level starts dont seem to reflect the possible magic items pc’s would have acquired especially as at least one of the encounters had monsters that resisted all but magical attacks.
 
Feedback so far from my players:-
 

Daniel  - overall, game is fun. charge needs an actual bonus other then WHOA SECOND MOVE?!?!?

Matt  -    

  • Minis – frustrating lack of tactical combat, best part about 4th blah blah blah, you know how I feel =)
  • Spells – the cheating silence spell the priests got was way OP.  Faerie Fire is pretty uncastable as a lvl 1, Moonbeam is strong, and forces me to make decisions about my actions (which is good), Cure Wounds is probably too variable in strength.
  • Monsters – everything except the Dracolich felt ok, it took a reasonable amount of rounds and we took a reasonable amount of punishement from them.
  • Difficulty – Dracolich was a silly inclusion, the rest was good, although it sounds like the other parties were playing a much harder game…
  • Roleplaying – Will always depend on the group, but 5th does seem to encourage descriptions of attacks etc.
  • I really rather enjoyed the process of making the druid character, there was a steep learning curve (although the later character sheet would have helped!) but mostly it was a good experience.  It did take me about 2 hours! but I feel attached to my character and I’m looking forward to playing him weekly =) Need more experimentation with the spells, no idea what is good or not.

Rhys  -

  • Would have loved to play with models on a battle map as I thought the combat was a bit lacking in tactics without it.
  • I did like the spells especially the ones that rely on a dex save instead of an attack roll.
  • Silence was taking the piss though.
  • The Gargoyles were too difficult by a long way without magic weapons/more casters. It didn’t seem to progress the story so for that much difficulty on a random encounter seems harsh.
  • Role playing levels seemed good.

David  -

  • Found the encounter fun to play especially with the multi table design,  
  • The damage resistant mobs seems to powerful as we had no magic weapons to counter the damage reduction.
  • The feat charge seems under powered, but maybe if the game was played on a battle map things might be different.
  • I would definitely play it again maybe in place of 3.5 when the rules are finalized. . Character creation seems very straight forward, for a barbarian anyway, but that be because its still in beta and doesn’t have 20 different rule books and supplements.

Liam -

On the whole, it was quite good. It was a nice opportunity to get to grips with Next. While it’s clear that the product is mostly unfinished still, made even clearer by the fact they changed stuff for the adventure the night before, it feels like it plays well though that may have been because of our playing via theatre of the mind, which I think it is ideal for.

 
Would it have been better with battle maps and measuring distances? I can’t say though I think I would have enjoyed it either way. I will say that D&D is finally once again not a tactical combat game and not having minis or a map put the emphasis on the roleplay element of a roleplaying game. I can see the benefits for having them though and like I said, I’d play gladly either way. That emphasis however, is severely limited in the adventure. I think we managed to speak to one NPC at the most? We still roleplayed combat somewhat and some bits between us but there was very little interaction with the adventure itself. Could have been down to the group maybe, but there just didn’t seem like many opportunities to affect the outcome/progress with roleplay and not combat, then again, it was the opener for the next season of Encounters.
 
Other than our hiccup with the disengage rule, everything seemed to flow relatively well.
 
Given that the only real spells I cast were Shield of Faith and Lay on Hands, I can’t really say if the Paladin was OP or not, but it felt well balanced even with my terrible dice rolls. Though the Silence spell with no save against it that was cast on Rhys was ridiculous. 10 rounds is just too much for it if there is no save and there was no save to end either!
 
Loved the Advantage/Disadvantage mechanic, but maybe it should stack in some way like ability/difficulty die in Edge of the Empire? Not sure about the lack of opportunity attacks though, but this could have been due to a lack of rules for it at the moment or the fact we were playing theatre. 
 
Charging seemed a little unclear too but maybe that’s because I didn’t actually do it. From what I could tell, it doesn’t actually seem to grant any real benefit other than some extra movement. On top of this, there didn’t seem to be any flanking bonuses, again maybe down to theatre of the mind though.
 
While it was also the game day that will lead into the next season of encounters and there was a lot of fighting, while we were playing it just didn’t feel overly combat heavy either. I think this was because of the greater amounts of roleplay than we usually get with encounters, this again I think was down to not having a map and minis, and for most of us running with pregens, because of this, it felt or at least I did, that my character wasn’t just another throwaway encounters character.
 
The only major downside I can see to the system overall at this stage is that a lot of 4e players that want to make the move to Next will potentially run a lot of house rules to bring in things from 4e that aren’t in Next yet/at all. While I applaud Wizards for trying to get the game back to 1e/2e/3e/3.5e times in a way, they need to bridge a gap between 4e and Next themselves to encourage 4e-only players to take on Next, otherwise most of them will either house rule it to death or just stick with 4e.
 
I think that we would have benefited from having another table at our store though.
 
In short:
  • System still feels like it has a way to go overall but could be down to it being my first D&D Next game. I’d like to play more of it before I can say for sure.
  • No minis/battlemaps is a good thing in general – combat seemed faster, even on the battles that dragged out. Though I can also see the benefits in the argument for having them, which is my next point.
  • Not having the aforementioned minis/battlemaps does make the listing of specific ranges in spells, speed, etc pointless. It’d be better if it were words for spell range and such like short, medium, long, etc if they want to encourage the roleplay element.
  • Silence is way too overpowered. There should definitely be some form of saving throw the caster can make for that if it’s going to be that strong.
  • Roleplaying on the whole was pretty good given our usual levels in the group. 
  • Overall reference map was a good thing.
  • Gargoyle fight was silly long. Just felt like it dragged on much too long when the party’s time could have been better spent.
  • The whole idol and inscribing part of the adventure, where it made the end fight easier depending on your success was good fun.
  • Dracolich provided an ever present sense of danger rather than “oh look, another fight.”
  • I need better dice.
As a side note, the kind of setup this adventure had with the multiple tables would be suited really well to UKDND Tweetup.

3 Responses to “D&D Games Day – Vault of the Dracolich – D&D Next”

  1. richgreen01 Says:

    Excellent write up!

  2. […] of the Dragon. The people they had “retrieved” the Staff of Chomylla from previously (see the Games Day event), unfortunately the mage leading the Cultists also recognised the heroes and was quick to order his […]

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