- a Dwarf warrior/mage
- a human Paladin
- a human Rogue
- a human Gun Mage
Last Sunday we completed the first "book" of the adventure. This post is sort of a summary of my impression of D&D so far, as well as the adventure.
First, D&D. I've found that this isn't a very enjoyable game to GM. D&D is honestly just an elaborate tactical combat game (I'm not going to call it a simulator) with the veneer of a skill system on top. Probably further inhibiting my enjoyment is that I'm running a pre-published module and thus I'm not really stretching creatively. This is on-purpose of course; as part of the reason I'm doing this game is to have the "out of the box" D&D experience.
So here are my impressions:
- D&D's a tactical combat game and it's still pretty boring. The main reason is that so far the party has mostly fought undead. The "Thralls" of the Iron Kingdoms have high armor class (18) and are thus hard to hit. They also have a very low attack bonus (+1, maybe +2) so they don't hit the PCs very often. They also don't tend to do much damage (1d8 or thereabouts) and in the Iron Kingdoms the PCs get greatcoats that have DR5. The upshot? Combat is a lot of whiffing; most of the players need to roll a 13+ to hit the undead and the undead need to roll 15+ and huge damage just to wound the players. The only time the players were ever in serious danger was when I managed to crit on one of the lower health characters.
- Being a low level character sucks. You basically have no tactical options; it's just swing and miss swing and miss swing and hit. The only tactic the party really developed was having the Rogue use his tumble skill to flank the enemies to get the flanking bonus.
- Sneak attacks are stupidly easy. Didn't you used to have to be stealthed or something to get them? Now you just have to be attacking a flanked enemy. At least you can't sneak attack the undead!
As far as the actual adventure goes? It's pretty awful. The first book centers around the characters investigating a series of grave robberies. The robberies lead them on the trail of a young sorceress who is plannin on raising an army of undead to attack the city in revenge for the killing of her mother ten years earlier (her mother was burned as a witch). In the process she's going to steal an evil magical artifact of immense power; the blade used to behead her mother and her mother's coven.
Anyway, the writing is terrible. I mean to start off with its every fantasy genre trope ever stuffed into one package. But to make things worse - the villians are never introduced in the adventure as written. Alexia (the sorceress) is briefly glimpsed early on in the game; from there the PCs are supposed to somehow trace the clues back to her (they don't know ahead of time that she lost her mother). I got around this by establishing Alexia and her backstory from the beginning; so it would be much easier for the PCs to go in that direction. The other villian is the evil wizard who arranged for the trial and killing of Alexia's mother. He did it because the sword used to kill her would "absorb her soul" (systemwise it gave her killer 2% of her XP total). He literally appears out of nowhere in the final showdown, where the PCs are supposed to decide who to give the evil artifact to - this wizard or Alexia. I established him earlier as well, as a concerned member of the Fraternal Order of Wizardry who knew about the blade and wanted to take it to a more secure location.
As written the climax of the first book is Alexia's invasion of the city with an army of undead. She breaks open her mother's tomb where the sword is also hidden. Vahn Oberen (the wizard) appears out of nowhere, the Witchfire falls at the PC's feet, and then Oberen and Alexia politlely explain to the PCs why they should be given the sword. LAME! Alexia is a powerful, insane sorceress and Vahn Oberen is a ruthless wizard of great power. I just had them take the sword from the PCs. Sucks that they basically steamrolled the PCs (reducing two of them to negative hit points in the process). As it was Alexia made away with the sword.
So yeah, as written the adventure is awful. The majority of the enemies you face are hard as hell to hit, the ending is lame and no matter what the PCs are relatively powerless. Fortunately it looks like book two and three pick up a bit - with more appropriate challenges and more opportunities for the players to choose direction.
Some other impressions: The Gun Mage class sucks. It's really underpowered unless you're rich enough to craft all the magic bullets you need.
The fighter decided at level 2 to multiclass into Wizard. This was a bizarre choice as he cast a total of like two spells from that point forward. He wants to play a "warcaster" but unfortunately D&D just doesn't support this style of character at low levels. I guess if he pumped his dex and int and took weapon finesse he'd be better off, but as a typical tank warrior he really is an ineffective spellslinger.
On Sunday we kick off the first "bridging" adventure, which should be fun. The enemies are human at least, so my PCs will be able to hit stuff!