Thursday, July 26, 2012

13th Age "Solitaire" Playtest

I ran my first playtest of 13th Age combat, using the characters that I generated here.  For this test I ran a standard 1st level fight pitting 3 kobold warriors and 5 archers (mooks) against the party.  The fight took place in an open cavern where the archers had overturned tables to hide behind for cover.  Tharis (Wood Elf Fighter) and Derndolfin (Dwarf Bard) emerged first into the room, with Beriogelir (Half Elf Ranger) just behind them and Brynna (Human Wizard) bringing up the rear.

General Comments
The most striking revelation was that accuracy in this game is pretty huge, which I'm not sure I like.  The baseline AC for a level 1 monster is 17 (though the kobold warriors had 18).  My characters either had a +4 or +5 attack bonus (depending on whether they started with 16 or 18 post-racial attack stat), which meant that in round 1 they needed a 12 or 13 to hit a baseline monster (and a 13 or 14 to hit the kobold warriors!).  That's...too much.  Even by round 4 when the Escalation Die has a pretty major affect (+3) they still needed a 9 or 10 (10 or 11 to hit the warrior), which is less accurate than the vast majority of current 4E characters without an escalation die.  I say current because accuracy was balanced around 50% when the game was first released, but various fixes (most famously the Expertise feats and Superior Implement Training) boosted that because players didn't like missing so much.  I'd make the same argument again; hitting is more fun than missing, so I'd personally prefer monster AC to be a point or two lower.  As it stands, I fear that maxing your prime stat might become a bit too important, even despite the fact that 3 different ability scores determine each of your defenses.

Of course to keep things challenging monster attack bonuses are higher, while AC for many classes is actually a bit on the low side (Bard, I'm looking at you!).  Baseline is +6 at level 1 according to the monster building table, but the kobolds were more accurate than most (the kobold archers were +7, while the warriors were +8).  This made combat feel really dangerous, especially at the beginning, since enemies were constantly chipping away at your HP while nobody on team PC could seem to land a hit.

Perhaps this is because it was first level, but damage was also a bit on the low side.  Maybe because level 1 HP is tripled?  As levels are gained HP increases by 1 HP factor while damage also increases by 1 die per level, so damage might just seem low at 1st level because of the HP cushion. 

Rounds go by fairly quickly, and this was with me drawing everything out on a paper map as it was happening so I could keep track of everyone.  In an actual game the players would track their own characters, who they're engaged with, etc.  Minis would probably be helpful (not necessarily on a grid, but just so enemies can be "based" with them to show who is engaged with whom). 

Poor Tharis spent so many rounds trying to intercept hits on Derndolfin, but he was often unable to pass the save to do so while engaged.  And of course a Fighter is going to be engaged!  Especially when the Fighter and his squishy ally are both engaged with the same enemy, there needs to be a stronger incentive for that enemy to NOT ignore the Fighter.  The tools for squishy-protection are there, but they aren't terribly effective from what I've seen in play.  I'd love it if Defensive Fighting could be applied to an ally instead, even at the price of an adventurer feat. 

The maneuvers were fun, and I managed to trigger each of them once.  It wasn't even immediately obvious which one I should use (well, that 18 made the choice of Precision Attack over Defensive Fighting pretty easy), especially given the difficulties of intercepting while engaged (which made Shield Bash really attractive).  Unfortunately I never got to use Cleave or Tough as Iron (silly Bard was taking all the hits, and silly Wizard was taking all of the kills).  

The Wood Elf racial ability is a really clever piece of game design.  Every round you roll a die, and try to roll under whatever the Escalation Die is at.  If you do, you get a free standard action.  Each time you get a standard action, the die size increases by 1 (so after your first standard, which you got from rolling a d6, you start to roll a d8, and so on).  Tharis managed to snag 1 free standard in 7 rounds of combat, which seems about right. 

Derndolfin was the only character to go down in this fight, and to be fair I was playing the kobolds really smart and having them "go after the leader."  I also figured that kobolds probably aren't too fond of Dwarves, so there was a bit of that at play as well.  What soon became immediately obvious is that Bards are NOT frontline fighters.  Engaged with 2 enemies for most of the fight, he was never really able to break free from both in order to launch a ranged spell, and I would have loved to use Soundburst or Befuddle.  And yet, since those are daily spells most of the time the Bard will in on the frontline using his battle cries.  With his below average HP and AC.  His attack and damage isn't too hot either, since he has to split points between Strength and Charisma pretty equally in order to be effective with both attacks and spells.

As the target of many attacks, it would be really nice if Pull it Together! could be used on yourself.  Derndolfin watched his HP steadily dwindle, and wasn't able to do much about it aside from using his standard action to rally.  Surprisingly, a few times I wished I'd brought a Cleric to the party instead since they seem to be much sturdier frontliners.  Maybe if the Bard had gotten an opportunity to bust out a daily spell I'd feel differently (they seem to be better than the Cleric's).

This was NOT Beriogelir's day.  He rolled about 5 natural 1's, which probably doesn't give me the best impression of the class's capabilities.   He spent the beginning of the fight taking potshots with his bow, attacking a different enemy each time to try and trigger a crit via First Strike.  Never happened, unfortunately.  I think I was also only applying double attack to even hits at the beginning, when it should have been all even rolls.  Or maybe I was just rolling a lot of odd numbers (coughonecough).  In any case, it wasn't until the later rounds that I was actually throwing 2 attacks around.

Early on Beriogelir teleported behind one of the tables to engage 2 archers at once.  This proved an effective strategy, as the archers lacked a melee attack and didn't risk taking OAs.  They tended to fail their disengagement checks.  It did draw the ire of the remaining archers, who all peppered him with arrows.  Speaking of which, a bunch of mooks is more dangerous than a single monster.  Taking mooks out early to reduce the sheer number of attacks they make is probably a good strategy.

Perhaps this is just because I didn't roll a 17+ the whole battle, but I'm considering replacing First Strike with Two-Weapon Mastery.  This would make melee vs ranged more competitive (Rangers that use Dex for melee attacks still use Str for the damage, making ranged weapons more damaging, but with TWM at least the melee attacks would be more accurate).  Then again, the odds are really stacked against PCs at the beginning of combat, and First Strike is a good way (albeit an unreliable one) of dishing out some alpha strike damage.  Maybe I will keep First Strike since it's a unique tool in Beriogelir's arsenal, and I built him for versatility.  Plus it fits with his geurilla commander background (striking first, fast, and hard). 

Brynna arguably saved the day in this fight, easily landing attacks most reliably.  Yay for Energy Bolt targeting PD!  At first level its damage is pretty impressive, too, although that'll get outstripped at 2nd (and become competitive again at 3rd, when it gets upgraded to a 3rd level spell).  From a visual perspective choosing energy types also made it feel like she had more spells.  That alone makes me favor this over Magic Missile. 

Brynna opened the fight with Blur, when it became pretty obvious that Derndolfin was getting focus-fired.  It prevented 2 or 3 attacks, which is ok I guess, but a 20% miss chance just isn't that much.  My Command spell missed afterwards, too.  I thought about blowing Sleep, but figured it would be unrealistic for a Wizard to blow 2 dailies in a baseline fight against some kobolds. 

Remember back when I talked about how Fighters have a tough time protecting squishies?  Yeah, Brynna got attacked near the end of the battle, after Derndolfin was down.  Tharis couldn't intercept.  She only took one attack before disengaging and hiding behind Tharis, but a Wizard engaged in melee that can't disengage will crumple like paper in just a round or two.  And Brynna has Toughness!!!  I think the key here will be to use free-form narrative to describe measures taken to set up a "safety net;" duck behind cover, climb a tree or a ledge, or use defensive spells on yourself.  Control spells like Sleep will also ensure that there aren't many "spare" monsters that can go after you.  Unlike 4E, Wizards can't scrounge up decent AC here, and perhaps that's as it should be.

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