Monday, September 28, 2015

Weekend with Dad, Nightblade Playtest Notes

It was good to see him, and there was much gaming and playing with my cat (who, we discovered, rather likes shredded coconut).

Taught him (dad, not the cat) Race for the Galaxy friday night, and played quite a bit on saturday too.  I learned that I really like trade-focused strategies, but neither of us are at the level of quickly reading our opponent's intentions for the upcoming turn yet.

We also played one game of Carcassone, which I had not played before.  Interesting, would play again, still not really clear on all the rules.

Saturday evening was a Pathfinder Society event.  Dad plays a lot of PFS and I decided to come along.  A very different style from my usual; lots of boxed text, skill checks, and name-drops of NPCs and places with which I was unfamiliar.  I wonder if there's something in the nature of large-scale company-backed organized play that leads to settings which are both highly detailed and kitchen-sink in their approach to new material - perhaps the players demand kitchen-sink and the business demands volume of setting book sales?  Notable counterexample - the Legend of the Five Rings large-scale play organization seems to have done a decent job of maintaining thematic consistency.

Anyway, we brought a party full of diplomats and ended up accomplishing our objectives without killing anything!  Probably a first in my gaming.  The space they were running the game in (a church basement) was really nice, and my fellow players were fine folks, but there was a lot of organizational / administrative paperwork and general powergaming (both of the game rules and the organization's rules).  Not my cup of tea at this point I think.

Today, there was more Midnight-esque (Midlite?) ACKS!  Dad playtested my nightblade mods and the Bear God's Rebellion engaged the two biggest, scariest threats in the first level of the mountaintop monastery they've been working on for the last couple of weeks - a group of four mummies, and a young dragon.  Their original plan for dealing with the mummies involved a ward scroll against undead, a pair of bearsarkers (who, being immune to fear, are not "paralyzed with dread" when confronted by mummies), and a blindfolded wizard who knows burning hands.  This plan did not survive contact with the mummies, who acted more offensively than expected (I'm still not really sure why the party didn't use the ward scroll, though).  There were many failed paralysis saves and webs and fire and shape strength and in the end nobody died, though the nightblade and the vaultguard PCs both contracted mummy rot, which the witch circumvented with Delay Disease.  There was much loot (including two magic shields) and rejoicing, and after sending the nightblade on a gaseous, infravision scouting spree (during which they learned that the rumors of a dragon in the tower were true, of a secret door in the abbot's quarters, and that the monastery's well leads into a caverous lake), they hauled the holy relics of a forgotten sun god down the mountain to Bearholm, there to level up their henchmen.

While in the nearby market village of Ostergot trading gems for alcohol, the PCs learned that yetis and ghouls are eating the local farmers.  The PCs feel somewhat responsible for this, since they did recently kill the local constabulary.  The PCs were coming down the mountain and met the constables coming up to check on a burning building at the dungeon site.  When the constables caught one of the bearsarkers in a lie, they demanded the party's weapons and (gods forbid) taxes!  This did not end well for them, and now the village lies more-or-less defenseless save for its wooden palisade walls.  The PCs resolved to look into these unintended consequences next session.

After three days in the market and levelling, back up the mountain they went to fight the dragon.  They gathered outside its tower, and sent the wizard up the tower alone with a vial of yellow mold spores to throw down into the tower.  Unfortunately, the dragon heard his climbing, and was perched on top waiting for him on his arrival.  He stalled with diplomacy long enough for the nightblade to come check on him invisibly, and the rest of the party rushed into the tower to distract the dragon.  One of the berserkers hit it with a yellow mold vial, but it made its save and replied with a breath weapon.  Shortly it was laid low by well-placed arrows from the two explorer henchmen and a barrel of lamp oil thrown with shape strength by one of the berserkers, while the wizard fled back down the side of the tower during the chaos.  There was more loot, and nobody died (again...  I need to step up my game.  On the other hand, pretty much everybody has levelled since that dragon was placed in that tower, and they were playing a man up, so...  I'm going to need to make the mushroom-men in the second level tougher).

Notes and feedback on nightblade performance:
  •  Jumping into the enemy rearline is very tempting, and there is probably a right time for that maneuver.  Fighting mummies is not that time.
  • Today I learned that ACKS' infravision has a 24-hour duration.  I'm not sure how I feel about giving it as a power to the nightblade.  On the one hand, infravision encouraged PCs to split the party for scouting.  On the other hand, giving the thief infravision+gaseous form at 5th level could just operate as a hard phase-shift away from dungeon exploration towards wilderness play.
  • It was remarked that one use of invisibility per day is enough to get to the target or away from the target, but not both.
  • Acrobatics+Jump generates a lot of pretty reliable backstab, such that the nightblade was trying to stand in front with the fighters.  The primary incentive to not do that was that her AC was not front-line material.  This session's structure of "two monster hunts against things that paralyze you and things that breath fire" was not really conducive to having the nightblade out front in the zone of shadowy illumination, so being in melee range entailed being in a dangerously well-lit position.
  • Did not have enough combats in any single day of adventuring this time for resource constraint on number of 1st-level spells to come into play.  Part of this is the structure of this dungeon, part of it is just the place this party is in the exploration process for this level.  Happens.
  • ACKS' stealth system continues to be tricky for me to use in practice, and I think this trickiness is part of why we have "thieves are bad" as a meme.
    • The dragon made its Hear Noises throw to hear the wizard climbing the tower.  All well and good.
    • I don't remember if it made a surprise roll to see if the wizard got a round to act before it did, but it was fast enough flying to beat a climbing wizard to the top of a 40' cobblestone face handily.
    • When the nightblade snuck up on it invisibly, she failed her Move Silently roll by 1 and in play was detected immediately upon reaching the top of the tower.
    • However!  The dragon should've made another Hear Noises throw to see if it detected her moving less-silently than intended.  In practice, it probably would've failed this (it's an 18+ roll, maybe 14+ if dragons have super-senses like my players expected this one to).  Which I guess might be canon now for dragons in this setting, because man this one was pretty good at detecting sneaking characters.
    • Even if the dragon had made the Hear Noises roll, the nightblade should've gotten a surprise roll against it, which had a 33% chance of giving her a surprise round to either freeze (which, being invisible, would've taken her off the radar) or close and backstab.
    • So what we see here is the interaction of several mechanics (thief skills like Move Silently, everyone skills like Hear Noises, combat mechanics like Surprise, and their attendant class features and proficiencies like Naturally Stealthy) put together is a way that is not necessarily intuitive.  It's not a bad system, just very different from the 3.x stealth systems of our youths, where rolling a 4 on a Move Silently to sneak up on a dragon meant you were toast.  Instead of an opposed roll, we have several boolean rolls whose results are interpreted together.
  • We did do multiplied-damage in the correct way this time at least, and at one point the nightblade rolled a 6 on a d6, multiplied by 3 for backstab against a mummy.  Under our previous crit interpretation, that would've been a 1 in 216 event; this time it was a 1 in 6 event.  And it was good.


Koewn said...

The whole move silently/hear noise/surprise action tree is a bit cumbersome in the heat of the moment, I concur.

There was discussion this time last year on the boards about thieves; I worked up the following:

which helped me wrap my head around the process and how it resolves a bit better. Assuming, of course, I didn't hugely mess up my tables there.

John said...

Excellent post, thanks! The only thing I could think to add would be numbers for monsters with -2 and -3 penalties to enemy surprise, like shadows and bugbears.