This game was designed under the assumption that all players are dickheads. No other mode of play is conceivable under its framework.
There were Castles & Crusades books on the table, a section of the Next playtest in hardcopy, amd the rest of the rules on the DM’s laptop. We were mostly all new players dropping in to somebody else’s campaign. We’d all leveled up, so we were figuring out our new options and abilities for an hour or so before starting. Previous campaign activity indicated that we had to quickly travel to Town A in order to prevent a guy that could teleport to hell from stealing the next artifact .
Encounter 1: We saw birds in the distance circling over something. We chose to investigate because we suspected a battle had occurred there. Four birds came towards us… but they turned out to be pterodactyls! I cast Cause Fear on the lead bird… so he just attacked someone else in the party. The druid cast Animal Friend on another. I was expecting it to be a lot harder to take these things down, but it didn’t seem to take much ranged combat power to ground them. Then we saw more flying things coming… but they had arms, too. I was sure it was demons from hell… but it turned out to be harpies. They charmed a couple of the player characters, but we hacked and slashed them. Examining the area they were circling revealed a trail to their lair…. They had 2,200 copper pieces! Very heavy….
Encounter 2: Our pterodactyl scout warned us that the road was blocked, but we couldn’t understand him well enough to know by what. We decided to weave a basket, put the gnome in it, and have the pterodactyl carry it to the road block. Something crept up on us while we wove, but we couldn’t figure out what it was. Animal Handling rolls and very narrow strength check later and the gnome was aloft. He came back and told us the road was blocked by a gazillion spider webs. We were picturing thousands of spiders… so many, we were debating burning down the whole forest. We eventually decided to go around. (The DM broke in at this point to warn us that we’d just bypassed what would have been enough experience points to allow us to be at level three in time for a key encounter.)
Encounter 3: We find our pterodactyl friend… turned to stone! The ranger stumbles onto a dude in leaves. She tried to talk to him, but it was an unfriendly druid that sicced his cockatrice buddy on us. Just the scream of the thing put us on edge. Dude in leaves turned out to be a druid, so our druid talked to him in druid talk and they called off the fight. If our druid could beat their druid in single combat we could pass unmolested. They burned through their spells and it ended in with a D20 rolling contest that was identical to Ultima II and other simplified “old school” combats. Our guy won, so we moved on. (The DM again made a remark about passing up valuable experience points.)
Encounter 4: Something was following us through the woods, but the ranger couldn’t figure out what. We decided to move quickly because there didn’t seem to be anything else we could reasonably do– if they fought us, we’d just have to fight. Suddenly, half the party (including me) had taken a good chunk of damage. Wolves were coming right at us and gnolls were targeting us with ranged weapons! Our ranger and thief disappeared into the shadows, our druid Thunderstriked the wolves, and the illusionist Prismatic Sprayed the gnolls. The druid rolled max damage and the wolves were splattered. The gnolls were stunned for two turns while we pounded on them some more. The thief had a chance to back stab them all and did hideous damage due to some sort of two-weapon feat thing. They didn’t know what hit them.
This is not a review. This is an arbitrary reaction to how one dude ran his game. Your mileage may vary.
- Every character could roll up to two of their hit dice for free healing. This was called “catching your breath.” Given that we were only doing one encounter a day, this meant that the cleric never had to cast cure light wounds… and there was essentially no resource penalty for taking damage in combat.
- All of the spellcasters were reduced to being glorified Magic Missile tossers. Sure, the special effects were different, but it all boiled down to the same thing: an automatic hit with varying ranges, damage dice, and areas of effect. This was very disappointing to me– one of many ways in which the classes are only cosmetically different from each other.
- Instead of +/-1 to-hit for short/medium/long range, you just have short and long range here. For long range, you roll 2d20 and take the lower die. This is a cute mechanic, but as long as I could toss Cause Light Wounds or whatever every freaking round as a second level character for every freaking combat, there was no reason for me to ever depend on a long ranged sling attack.
- The skills! We made scads of percentile rolls for skill and attribute checks. These were all like 60% chances (I think) with minor bonuses due to attributes. There were Adventure Points that we could choose to spend to improve our odds and that were only lost if the roll was successful. The only thing worse than having to make so many of these #^&*$# rolls was spending a point when your roll was so good that you wouldn’t have needed to spend an Adventure Point anyway. These mechanics (to me) added nothing to the game experience, took a lot of time, slowed play to a crawl, and could be managed into irrelevance by the application of the Adventure Point thing. I usually hate the whole “everybody roll to see if something is noticed” deal anyway, but present day DM’s seem to all do it, so I’m in the minority here. A bog standard d6 roll would be better than all of this crap because it’d keep things moving and you’d only have to look for the odd one or two showing up. No calculations…! (Plus, there’s so many d6 checks in old school D&D, you wouldn’t always know what you were rolling for….)
- The thief’s backstab with two weapons was uber-powerful. This was roll 2d20 and take the higher number to-hit and double damage. The thief player complained about its silliness after the game and I had to agree, though in-game I was glad to just see bad guys getting dropped.
- Max damage is done on natural twenties and… DX bonuses are added to ranged damage?! What the heck?! I guess the designers just can’t bear to have people feel bad when they don’t get an equivalent to the fighter’s strength bonus for every freaking roll in the game?!
- We were rolling for initiative only when it mattered. It’d only be in cases were both combatants scored a hit, for example. I liked that the designers were trying to eliminate some useless rolls, but I still found it cumbersome and it seemed to break up the tempo of the combats. A DM friend of mine that was also playing disagreed with me on that. He likes individual initiative in general– probably because he started out on the Holmes edition. So meh.
- It’s been said repeatedly, but new school rules eliminate the need for any kind of resource tracking. And by resource, I mean hit points and spell slots, not torches and rations. You have so many ways to get hit points back and so many things you can do with your spell slots that no individual decision has any consequence beyond the right now. Couple this with “xp for monster killing” and you end up with My Precious Encounter™. The combats are the end all be all of the game, the overarching adventure narrative ceases to be the point because the metagame takes over, and common sense strategies for play become stupidly silly when applied in this context. This may be fun for somebody somewhere… but this is not D&D.