This play test happened on Sat Aug 9th, but just now getting around to finishing the play test. I’m going to keep the adventure details very vague since it’s a published adventure and I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who may be planning to play it. Additionally, I’ve only played 4e once so when I make comparisons I’ll be comparing to 3e.
I ran this for two people, using the characters that came with the Starter Set. The characters were Thoradin Rockseeker, Dwarf Cleric, and Eldon Greenbottle Halfling Rogue. The adventure was The Lost Mine of Phandelver (comes with the 5e Starter Set.) We got about half way through after 9 hours
We were all concerned with how combat would run with only two PCs, but went ahead and gave it a try. The adventure doesn’t specify anywhere, that I saw, what number of PCs it is expecting. The first combat was the first real test of the system. We had gone over the character sheets and had some exposure to the new rules, and were able to get through combat with only having to look up one thing. I think that’s a good sign, so far. The first combat was challenging for only two PCs. Afterward the adventure provides for two options, one which suggests more danger and one which suggests safety, and given that pursuing more danger is an expected outcome I don’t believe that first combat was meant to be challenging. The PCs did both survive, but needed a rest and so pursued the option of supposed safety.
They arrived in town safely, and made contact with some of the NPCs and gathered information around town. They elected to, after resting the night, attempt to recruit help with continuing their quests. I selected a fighter, who I named Hesiod, from the other character sheets included in the set and provided them with the assistance of an NPC. From here on combat went much more smoothly. It actually felt a little too easy to me, but the PCs both seemed happy with the pacing. I will try to get them to provide me with some input that I can share with you, gentle reader.
I noted a few things about the combat. First, it seems like a lot more damage is slung around in 5e. I don’t consider this to be a bad thing, and it seems to be well balanced, but it does feel like combat goes faster, with a lot less repeatedly bashing on the same monster. There would be even more damage if criticals don’t need to be confirmed. The rules in the starter set don’t address confirming criticals, but we continued to use that rule. I have not yet read the new PHB despite owning it for several days now and needing to before tomorrow when I’m going to be trying out the local Adventurers League group at the local game shop.
Something adjacent to combat is the perception check rules. I like that perception is one skill. Having both listen and spot always sat strangely with me. I also like the passive perception check because it means I as the DM don’t have to raise suspicions by making a bunch of rolls or asking for rolls and then saying nothing happened. There were times, however, when I wanted better chances of success with perception checks. I assumed that the intended way of running the adventure, should the PCs choose to be sneaky, is to use the monsters passive perception checks against their sneak checks, but the monsters almost universally failed using their passive perception checks. I could, of course, make the decision to roll those checks instead and I may do that, and see if it escalates the challenge level when we continue this adventure.
Another thing adjacent to combat is the short vs long rest mechanic, which I believe to be entirely new in 5e. I remember 4e contained mechanics for each class to suddenly heal themselves, I think they were called healing bursts. It felt very hokey to me, but I like the short rest mechanic. It allows for the same little boost without having to spend an entire day in game, but restricts it to non-combat situations, and has a better thematic explanation for it. That was useful for my small party.
By the next combat situation, I brought another NPC along who was part of the story and it seemed reasonable to include him. The adventure didn’t seem to expect the aforementioned NPC to go along with them, but it seemed reasonable for that point in the story. That next “dungeon” was more challenging than the last, so adding the fourth combatant seemed to mostly keep it at about the same level. The PCs and my NPCs all took hits, and needed to use that short rest about half way through, but it didn’t have the deadly edge I tend to like personally. My players seemed happy with it though, and that’s more important. That was the last combat scenario of that day.
Another thing I did that may have made the combat encounters easier was that I allowed them to level up immediately, rather than needing to rest or to rest in a safe place. I do not know what is intended to happen in 5e, but the difficult beginning lead me to try to ease things up a bit.
Overall, I enjoyed running the game and my players enjoyed playing it, the system was smooth and easy to use. In addition, while I would make my calls to keep the game going smoothly anyway, the new rules encourage doing that, and I like that. In addition to just being smooth and easy to use, everything has a good production quality in a lot of ways. The quality of editing is good, and there is a handy index on the back of the adventure telling you what page in the starter set rules to reference for each mechanic referenced in the adventure. I can’t quite get over how great that is. The quality of the materials is nice too. Quality paper, a nice texture on the new books. I’m generally very impressed with the thought, time, and effort that went in to all the 5e materials, rules, and the Phandelver adventure itself. It’s easy to follow, I haven’t ran in to any inconsistencies, the NPCs provided in the adventure have enough detail to portray easily, there are compelling side quests, and the adventure doesn’t feel like a railroad. It leads the PCs down a clear path, but doesn’t drag them, they have freedom of choice and will end up where they need to end up, most likely.
I don’t know when I’ll be able to finish the adventure, but when I do I intend to write another report with additional thoughts. If you’ve played this adventure, or done anything else with 5e, or even just looked at the rules, I’d love to hear your thoughts.