Dragon Heresy: Group1, Session 2 – Bandit Camp

Just ran “Group 1” through the second session of the Dragon Heresy playtest campaign. 

After defeating the ogre last turn, they tried to track and find what seemed to be its partner or mate, along with 2-3 (they couldn’t be sure) other, smaller creatures. The party looked, but could not find the appropriate tracks. They did take the ogre’s head as proof, and wondered if they could sell ogre meat. 
No. No they could not.
How about taking the thing’s scrotum as a unique curio pouch. With two goldstone (a type of high-value granite local to the area) spheres in it? Um. Sure. There’s always someone willing to pay for almost anything. 
A final search revealed evidence of the remains of dwarven goods, which again they took as proof that the dwarven cleric that was wondering what had befallen her supply caravan had been waylaid by one or more ogres.
They decided to double back and try and retrace the steps of the large group of humanoids that they had though were bandits that were the likely culprits of the missing merchant caravan that they’d been paid to find. 
They found them, too. The scouting was good enough to not be surprised, but not good enough to surprise them in return. So combat started as the party approached the clearning where about eight bandits – a leader and seven lower-level guys – were warming themselves near a fire.
The first round saw the fighter, who was wearing chain mail and carrying a glaive, rush up to within two squares of the southernmost guard, who was armed with a crossbow. A massive blow killed him instantly, bypassing his defenses and striking right to wounds.
Another bandit was waylaid and hurt when he tried to run past the fighter and got tagged by an opportunity attack at maximum reach (entering the threatened range when you don’t have a weapon with equal reach provokes such an attack; Patrick tells me that’s a 3.5-ism, which I didn’t know, but it makes sense to me in either case).
And wow, Yuri’s empowered Eldritch Blast has a range of 240′. 
I won’t give a blow-by-blow on this one. My bandits rolled simply terribly until the end of the combat, missing and missing and missing even the low target value required to cause a threat.
Highlights of the combat?
  • The glaive with reach was decisive. The fighter was able to keep several foes at bay or engaged by using his opportunity attacks and reach effectively. 
  • Shields were much, much better balanced than last time. No one “took a blow on their shield” like they did in the last game, but the increased hit difficulty made archers seek softer targets, but when the people with shields were shot at, there was an intermediate whittling of defensive resources that mattered. I feel very good about shields, with likely only a few tweaks.
  • The players flanked the bandit captain, but he was wearing chain mail, and mostly soaked the damage. Still, a few blows were given that were important.
  • The bandit captain (3 HD, STR 16) hit the ranger with a natural 20 that also bypassed his defenses, and rolled very well on damage. 2d10+3 with his versatile battleaxe took the ranger to instant KO status in one blow. Ouch.
  • The telling moment was when a strong PC rushed the captain, rolled ridiculously well on both the attack and grapple damage, and instantly restrained the target. This allowed the cleric to order the captain to yield – he failed a morale check and did!
  • Total casualties: three bandits dead, four more injured or unconscious, including the Bandit Captain and one bowman who surrendered when ordered by his captain. The players suffered one unconscious, and one or two very minor wounds, which were healed up afterwards.
  • They recovered a horse and cart from the merchant caravan, and will return either to Midgard or Northpoint with the prisoners. This will serve their reputations well!

+Brian Renninger has already emailed me his report:

I thought a lot of interesting variety happened:

  • The reach weapon opportunity attacks
  • The shield rules influenced who archers chose as targets
  • Grappling was interesting. I rolled well but, if I had not it might well have been dangerous for me so, that added a nice uncertainty to making the choice to try to grapple.
  • The difference between decently armored people versus lightly armored people was apparent.
  • Morale effects resulting in more than just fight to the death
  • Characters took wounds and serious wounds felt serious.
This was the first game I’ve run under the influence of the last two sessions, both of which had some rules and balance issues that seem to be addressed.
I had a long talk afterwards with the player of the ranger that got squished to KO status, +Tim P . He was not complaining, but we chatted about character robustness. I noted that one of my design aesthetics was that first level characters should feel fragile, and I also liked the GURPS death spiral. We agreed mission accomplished on both fronts.
More feedback from players, and some pictures, tomorrow, I hope.

More Feedback

+Vic LaPira writes

  • Fun!
  • I think a three hit dice bandit captain appropriately knocked someone unconscious with a crit, especially where that person is a 1st level character not wearing heavy armor. It seems like we could, and to some extent did, the same thing to them.
  • The grappling mechanic works well.
  • I think the armor’s damage reduction is pretty good, but might need a little bit of tweaking. I think we need to see more combat to know.
  • Shields seem to work fine so far, and influence tactics (presumably like real life). We didn’t get to see any instances, though, where shields took major hits.  Since I don’t think we have anyone using the shield in the group (maybe the cleric?), we are less likely to see it, since PCs will take many more shield hits than NPCs over the course of time. Hopefully one of the other play test groups has shield users.
  • I know it’s on the to do list, but we’ll need to really think about spells–is damage = vigor, straight wounds? Does armor resist or not? Certain spells? I think it *probably* works if you balance them with missile weapons, but we’ll need to see.
  • Reach was effective and good–pole arms should influence the battlefield as they did.
  • I like the injured/morale check mechanic–simple to resolve, has definite benefits. I’m not sure if a die roll for duration (instead of fixed) is too swingy or not, but it will be interesting to find out.

The first one says mission accomplished, even if the rest were slams and critique.

I think he’s about right on the first point, though I wouldn’t play up the 3HD thing. First through fourth level is more or less going to be the same, maybe +1 hit and damage due to a single ability score increase. The increased vigor (think of ’em as hit points, though that’s not exactly right) that you get with more levels can help, though. But the captain rolled a natural 20 (doubling damage dice) and also exceeded the hit threshold of the target, which means that it would have been 2d10+3 to armor and wounds if you couldn’t soak it by taking (effectively) 4d10+6 to vigor. This blow could have been delivered by a 1st level hero easily, and could threaten to one-shot a foe of even significantly more power.

The bonus that the new shield rules give to the Threat DC and Hit DC would have made a difference, though!

I agree on spells, especially cantrips. We will need a translation chart.

I liked the injury and morale check system too, and it very much helped not every battle be “fight to the last man.” I think the DCs of the injury checks need to be revised downward a bit.

From +Peter V. Dell’Orto 

  • Reach Weapons: Okay, I get the “free attack when he closes” thing, but it seems like you can basically a) swing at foes at your own discretion and b) control an area as if you were waiting for a foe to close with you. So reach is very powerful – so much so I felt like it was too powerful. Had our Glaive wielder done a held action or not attacked, it would have felt better to me.
  • Armor: I like it, but there was a moment when I got a bit lost with it. Like, if I pass your Threat DC, I do Vit, and armor doesn’t matter. If I pass your Hit DC, I do wounds, but you might just bounce my attack altogether. It’s almost better to have a lower Hit DC but a high armor number, so you can bounce more attacks. Am I misunderstanding? I don’t have any armor on my guy, so it’s all the same to me so far on my end.
  • Disengage: I need to understand what counts as a disengage. I jump-kicked the ogre last session and then ran away with the rest of my move, but this session I couldn’t run up, attack, and then step away on another guy because he’d get a free shot at me. I wasn’t sure what made the cases different. That’s probably just me, but it did feel like it’s impossible to do drive-by or fly-by attacks on foes even if they aren’t holding their actions because they’ll knife you on the way out.
Reach weapons get that effect as an attack of opportunity, so the key for the bad guys was that they kept approaching Graves one at a time, and getting spitted for it. Two-on-one, with an armored guy taking the opportunity attack, and the second guy darting in as a freebie, was good. But y’all also had a line where doing that would flank the person coming in – I don’t think you planned it that way, but you had areas of “denied squares” because of that setup, and you maintained it well.
Armor is supposed to be what happens when everything is said and done in Dragon Heresy, a barrier between you and harm. There is a rule in there, called “tuck your chin,” named after a line from the Rhapsody (Symphony of Ages) series by Elizabeth Hadydon, where if you want you can just take the blow on the armor without risking vigor loss.
Some of what happened between last game and this one might have been edits. Disengage is triggered when you leave a foe’s threat range and he hasn’t already used his reaction. If he’d already done an opportunity attack, you can come and go as you like. At first level, getting in and out is definitely a challenge – the rogue class has the ability to disengage, hide, or something else as a bonus action at higher levels.
Parting Shot

Overall, I am very, very pleased where things stand. I am finishing up character classes and subclasses, though there’s still lots to do. After that, I simply must make the long slog of editing all of the spells to cohere with the new rules, and the team and I will need to work out the method by which this will happen.

There were a couple of rules tweaks that came out of today’s game, too. One very nice concept on magical weapons and armor. Another on finding a way to bypass high threshold armor, because a guy in heavy armor with a two-handed weapon was a tetch invulnerable. And yet, he was beaten by grappling, which is historically spot-on. So yay rules.

The game is recognizable from its SRD-derived roots. But it does not play like a straight-up version of any of the games it might be compared to.

  • It is not a straight-up SRD5.1 game. But it is approachable as one and a lot of info carries over. Not all, but enough. Going to have to look up particular effects for spells, though, and write ’em down. And a few other things.
  • It is not a straight-up retroclone feel like Swords and Wizardry or to a lesser extent B/X or DCC, where you get a few HP and one blow can kill you – in fact, you almost expect it. Dragon Heresy does not play that way, but one blow can and did kill one NPC, and knocked out one PC. So at least at first level, it can be brutal and fast. Even as high as fourth or fifth level characters can be one-shotted by a lucky blow from a 1st level character (natural 20 and the right other circumstances). So it’s always risky.
  • It is not GURPS, with one-second combat resolution and endless tactical options. But it’s also not “Hit Him with my Mace,” either. The tactical intricacies of the game could clearly be adjusted with optional switches. Hexes or squares, strict facing or abstract/no facing? Roll for armor or straight armor values? Each would have made a difference.
If I can keep my nose to the grindstone, this game will play well.

One thought on “Dragon Heresy: Group1, Session 2 – Bandit Camp

  1. Man, that one-shot really hurt my ego. I know I made some bad tactical decisions and rolls lined up just right, but yikes! I think, going forward, I'll probably dial back the "I waste him with my crossbow!" aspect and try other means of conflict resolution…like slitting their throats while they sleep. Or, if I have to, giving that crazy Charisma score a test drive. It was still a blast to play, and I look forward to the next chance I get to join the party!

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