Heretical Playtest 1 – First Contact

Had the first full-contact playtest of the Heretical D&D project. Had four playtesters in attendance, and a lot of good back and forth. 

Let’s see what I can say without giving the game away.

Notes and observations in play

In no particular order, I found that there were some gaps in how I account for armor that will come up even at first level in some classes. It’s an easy fix, but needs to be there.

The settings for how hard it is to hit foes got a last-minute tweak yesterday and it worked out very well, or at least well enough that it wasn’t broken. 

When you hit, you hit, and you knew you hit. This drew zero comment, which means that the narrative and the mechanical were unified enough to, well, not draw comment. That’s a win.

Tactics were huge. When it only took a few blows – or even one – to injure or kill, how you faced the bad guys really mattered. Flanking was huge, and funneling the foes down into a narrow doorway (stupid kobolds! no biscuit!) turned it into a meat-grinder for the NPCs. We might even reinforce this, and consider facing as a mandatory thing. 

There are a few fiddly rules bits that require consideration, because there are plenty of times when taking a moment to do something other than the equivalent of “do moar hit points!” was important. So this needs to be clarified.

With armor as a reduction in damage, we need to think about putting multiple layers on. Leather underneath chain? Mail under plate? Stacking damage absorption works from a mental model, but doing so needs to be an issue, or have a cost, somehow. Disadvantage? Reduced move? Can’t Dodge?

So that was the in-play commentary. What about after the bodies had stopped twitching?

Post-play feedback

Everyone agreed that armor absorbing damage just worked, and was super important to the feel. Likewise, shields are a big deal, especially at low levels. Strapping on a shield was decided to be a full-turn action, and the setup of robustness vs injury was harsh enough that not taking that time cost an NPC his life. That being said, some NPC-vs-Boss/PC distinction in how that’s handled was suggested, and will be incorporated. It just makes sense.

Pre-game prep has a few more precalculated values, but once they’re there, the entire character’s guts can be written on a 3×5 card. We are not turning D&D into GURPS here.

There was grappling! And it was useful, but not an “I win” button. The rules for how much effect that a bad guy can deal (or a good guy, for that matter) did not cause an issue. I really liked how it played out: Patrick’s character grappled a hobgoblin and did enough control to make him Restrained (advantage on attacking him), which made short work of the hobgoblin. This seemed very monkish. Need to add the grapple and control maximum to the character sheet, though.

A tweak I made for bows in combat worked out well, and counterbalanced a design element which would have been problematic without it. Yeah, yeah, cryptic. I know.

MAD! – In post discussion, there was a strong vote in favor of DEX always adding to hit, and STR always adding to damage (multiple attribute dependency). Need to figure out what Finesse weapons mean in this context, though.

This was not GURPS, with all the skills and all the fiddle. It was also not 4th or straight-5th edition D&D where you whack away at a giant pile of hit points. Kobolds would go KO in one or two blows – usually one. Hobgoblins, in their armor, were a real threat, and they rolled pretty poorly. 

Overall, this did not seem broken to me. Emphasizing tactics through facing and flanking, and lethality through the importance of armor was all good stuff.

Two more playtest sessions schedule for this weekend, and we’ll see how that goes. Only about 1/3 of my tester pool has actually played the game with me yet, so there’s a lot of room for “this blows!” 

But the initial contact with the enemy shows both the strength of the foundation 5e system as well as the fairly compelling nature of the rules alterations. 

So . . . onward!

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