Just ran “Group 1” through the second session of the Dragon Heresy playtest campaign.
- 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.
+Vic LaPira writes
- 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.
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.