Saturday, August 11, 2012

D&D Uber Playtest - pt. 5 (long)

I thought Megan and I were done with the D&D Uber-Playtest experiment after the fit she had last time when her PCs were overrun with orcs. And I certainly didn’t expect to “playtest” 1st ed. AD&D again, but that was before I bought the beautiful reprint books. Gorgeous, faux-leather, embossed covers. Beautiful gilt pages. Crisp, lightly-glossed pages. You may have read about them all over the D&D-related corners of the Internet already and I don’t plan on using this to review the reprints in-depth. No, this is about the fact that Megan was impressed enough with the look of the books that she wanted to play D&D again so we could use them.

The AD&D we had played before was post-Unearthed Arcana 1st ed., so there was yet more scaling back of power to be had this time. The dwarf cleric had to become a human cleric, but this made no difference because Megan never used the dwarf special abilities anyway. I crossed out her non-weapon proficiencies, but she had never used them either, so that was no big deal. Losing the Fighter’s weapon specialization was very hard for her, though, but she managed to bear the loss of that sweet +2 damage bonus. It helped that, by AD&D rules, Beau the Halfling Thief had enough XP to be 2nd level and went up to 10 hp. Megan was hoping for new special abilities at each level instead of a very slow improvement of her old special abilities, but – again – because she ignores most mechanics that don’t directly relate to combat, most thief skills didn’t really matter to her.

Though Megan and I had enjoyed using the battle maps and miniatures in the playtest before, we went back to playing without them this time. It did lead to a few issues of not envisioning the room set up the same way, but It also speeded play to go without.
Rather than try to figure out where we were in that big battle with the orcs and pick up where we left off, I declared that Megan’s PCs had lost the fight and been captured. Enough time had passed that their wounds had all healed. Now they had even been given back their arms and armor and allowed to rememorize their spells before they were taken before the orc chief.

What I thought was a clever idea was to have the wily chief of Orc Lair B impressed enough by the fighting prowess of the PCs that he would want them to attack the rival tribe in Orc Lair C for him. And, of course, if they failed, the orc chief had plausible deniability for his involvement. However, Megan wasn’t having any of that. The orc chief sitting right in front of her was a big, juicy pile of XP and she kept mocking him, in character, until he was goaded into a fight.

The orc chief had felt confident enough to let the PCs be armed because he had 9 orcs with him in his audience chamber. The orcs won initiative and swarmed the PCs and several PCs became moderately injured right off the bat. Their wounds would have been more serious had I played completely by the rules, but I was going easy on her and rolling each damage die twice, taking the lower result. I planned on having one orc show up per round as reinforcements too, so this might still have been a TPK had Megan and I not both made a mistake.

We both remembered Ernil the Elf Magic-User having a Sleep spell. Actually, that was in the Next edition rules she had sleep and, in AD&D Megan had chosen Magic Missile instead. Well, Magic Missile would not have won this fight, but a well-placed Sleep spell certainly turned the tide. Instead of centering it on the melee around them, Megan wisely chose to cast it on the chief who had hung back out of melee. With the chief’s HD, it only would have affected him anyway, but he went down asleep. Then Megan risked one of her clerics by having him disengage from melee (the back attack missed) and murder the sleeping chieftain. Just in time for my morale checks.

At this point I have to say how handy it is having bookmarks sewn into the reprints. Indeed, I’m still kicking myself that I never used bookmarks in these books before, particularly for the Dungeon Masters Guide. I should probably have three or four bookmarks in that book, but I kept the bookmark on the morale rules page since I was less familiar with the location of that page. I can open up the DMG to the to-hit table pages by memory after all these years. Likewise, I kept the orc page bookmarked in the Monster Manual so I could refer to the list of weapons orcs use (a handy feature all future Monster Manuals should have had). We did not refer to the Players Handbook as much and I did not need a page bookmarked in there.

So, perusing the list of modifiers to morale, I saw that losing your leader was a big penalty. If the orcs had not outnumbered the PCs two to one, the chance of their morale breaking was up to 80%. With them outnumbering the PCs, it was still 60%. And then I started making percentile rolls. It seemed like my average roll was 10. Orcs were suddenly fleeing in panic, disengaging to retreat, and falling back all over the place. Only a single orc wanted to stand his ground and fight where he was.

Megan’s PCs finished off that one fast and moved on to the orcs that were falling back, fighting. This would have been over quickly if not for the reinforcements, half of which fared much better on their morale checks and joined the fight. I let the battle go for seven rounds before I stopped having reinforcements show up. The PCs had clearly won the field. Amazingly, Ernil with her 10 AC had walked out of that battle without a scratch on her thanks to more bad dice rolls on my part (and I wasn’t even fudging to hit rolls!). What injuries there were now seemed so light that Megan did not bother having the clerics heal anyone.

The PCs looted the corpses, found some good treasure on the chief (Jack the Cleric got the Shield +1 – their first magic item!), and Megan considered having them leave the dungeon so they could get their XP, but it also seemed like the complex would be emptied by now and there were other caves to loot. Her assumption that the other caves would be empty was wrong, though. The chamber to the west was the communal chamber full of the women and children of the tribe and, because the only exits led to the chamber where the PCs had just been fighting, they were all trapped in here. There were 18 cowering female orcs in all. The module called them non-combatants, but Megan saw them as potential XP and asked if she would earn XP if she got them to fight. I agreed that they would, that if cornered the females would pick up improvised clubs and defend themselves. So Megan had her PCs charge in.

I balked at rolling 18 morale checks, so Megan volunteered to roll them. And this is what made this battle so much more dangerous than my previous battle. While my rolls had been pathetically low, her rolls were averaging around 70. A full 13 out of 18 females stood their ground to defend themselves and/or their young. To emphasize that these female orcs were also evil, I had one of them pick up a toddler and was using that as her improvised club.

Outnumbered now by more than two to one, the PCs had a difficult time of it. Mary the Perpetually Unlucky Dwarf Fighter went down (this was her third or fourth time unconscious). Ernil, who had escaped harm in the earlier fight, was almost killed. The clerics had wisely saved their Cure Light Wounds spells after all, for they needed every one to get Mary and Ernil back on their feet and out of the melee.

Instead of having reinforcements show up, I had the number of combatants drop each round, as some females at the back of the battle were slipping out of the cavern with the young. Despite this, and the fact that the orc women wore no armor and had lousy ACs, they were still doing very well for themselves. I stopped rolling morale checks for them because they were both cornered and seemingly winning and, indeed, kept hinting to Megan that her people could just back out and leave. But Megan stubbornly refused to give those women the satisfaction of making her run, even if it led to a TPK.

But it did not lead to a TPK. Even though, in the end, it was just Beau, Jack, and John (the other cleric) in the fight, their much better ACs kept them safe enough to let them win the day.

The loot was feeble in this room compared to the last and the PCs found little in the next few empty caves, so they pulled out of the dungeon and headed back for the Keep on the Borderlands. I had already made it clear that there was something special about the orc chief’s shield and I suggested a Detect Magic spell to verify they indeed had a magic shield. It was the gp value of the chief’s ring that really upped their XP haul, though – high enough that both of the clerics were now also 2nd level. Further, they now had enough money to upgrade both of the clerics to platemail armor. They both now had ACs of 1 and one of them had 15 hp – a formidable 2nd level PC indeed for A&D, and I told Megan so.

This, of course, made Megan eager to head back into battle and test out her newly improved, more formidable PCs. Rather than take her all the way back to the caves (it was getting late), I settled this by letting her have a quick wandering encounter on her way back to the caves. I initially rolled a gelatinous cube on the wandering encounter table, but that made little sense in the woods, so I changed it to a four-orc hunting party. These orcs went down so fast that there is little point in the telling of how it happened.

Despite how long this write-up has been, this was really just a half-session of two hours. Whether we will finish the session someday with AD&D, or continue on with the Uber Playtest with another edition remains to be seen.

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