Sunday, 31 August 2014

The beginners choice – Adventures in D&D and Pathfinder


Six weeks back, I got both the Pathfinder and the D&D starter sets and got a group of beginners to take a look at what they thought of each.  The results, to say the least, caused a bit of a firestorm, which hadn’t been the intention at the time, and after checking with a bunch of people, I asked the beginners if they would (suitably bribed with milkshake and Oreo’s) consider playing through the adventures that were presented in the sets to see what they thought of them.

They finished last week, and while I’m not going to go through each set of adventures in massive detail, I will put the blow by blow account of the first adventures as they went through it.  In both cases, I sat on the sidelines while they played, making notes on what was going on while they made their own mistakes.

That wasn’t easy…

I’d forgotten in both games how much you just need to know the system before you can play it with anything resembling fluency, it’s been that long since I did anything as an absolute beginner that things like hit rolls and saving throws have been a part of my standard vocabulary for as long as I can remember.

Not so the beginners…

We started with the Pathfinder adventure, mainly because the D&D adventure is not so much a single adventure as a whole mini-campaign, and we did this because the thought had been that if they played one game for a month and then had to switch to a new rules system, they might find that more difficult than having a single week on one game and then switching to something else.

Pathfinder


It’s a dungeon crawl, there’s no other way around it, the paragraph that the GM read was enough to get them into the idea that they’re going down a dungeon, there to smack the dragon up and loot its treasure. 


So far so good…

The interesting thing here was that none of them had a moment of panic about the idea that there was a dragon down here in the dungeon, which I can only put down to them not really knowing just how dangerous dragons can be at this point.  That said, their previous experience of dragons was the talky bugger encountered in the last Hobbit film, which couldn’t fry a dwarf to save its own punctured ass and was easily outsmarted by coinsurfing hobbits, rather than the tank chewing psychotic in Reign of Fire…. 

First encounter, goblins, mown down like grass, much celebrating, through to find treasure and goodies in the next room, all is well and getting better. A fork in the road and the players went right to a room that had treasure at the back of the room.  A warning of “Approach with Humility and Live” had two of the older players (both Indiana Jones fans) on their knees and crawling to the edifice to retrieve the gems and then south to the area below. 


Filled with Spider webs, big spider webs…

As one, the players looked at each other, one of them asked if it looked like the lair of Shelob from lord of the rings, the GM nodded and as one, the players retreated without looking any further.  Next room was a room full of goblins, who pulled a mind scrambler by talking to the PC’s.  One PC made the charisma check and the goblins talked, telling them about the dragon and the weakness of it’s belly (many smaug comments ensued, but all of them were of the opinion that it couldn’t be much of a dragon if it fit in the small cave…), then through to the Deadly pool and the encounter with the Reefclaw, which dealt them a few nasty blows before they downed it.  The GM followed the instructions on the treasure section and got the players to find the Dragonbane longsword before they went on to the Dragons Den…


And it all went a bit Pete Tong…

They’d agreed beforehand to roll all dice where they could be seen, so there was no suggestion that any of them (including the GM) could fudge the dice rolls either way.  So the Dragon on turn one turning the magic user into a puddle of dissolved sludge wasn’t avoidable.  The others charged and the Dragon responded by causing serious damage to all three (there was no doubt from any of them they wouldn’t be making it through the next round).  It took a hit from the fighter with the dragonbane sword but no one else managed to hit it, but that was enough, per the encounter, to have the GM cause the dragon to run away.

And thus three of them lived to fight another day, tons of treasure, magic items everywhere, and only the scooping up of the magic user to consider the day a bad one, and with a new character rolled up by the time they’d got back to the town, they weren’t much dismayed by that.

Thoughts on Pathfinder

Thoughts on the adventure were varied, they liked the puzzles, they liked that there was loads of treasure, the Dragon neither sounding like Benedict Cumberbatch nor talking in the first place took them all by surprise, and melted mage on turn one really put their head in the game in a big way.  They agreed that overconfidence was a bad thing, and that their perception of things being coloured by films probably hadn’t helped.  When they found out that there was a specific clause in the dragons combat entry that indicated “Run Away If…”, they did feel a little cheated at the outcome and wanted another shot at it, only this time when they’d got a few more levels and a lot more goodies…

D&D Campaign

So thus week one down, it came to the turn of the D&D campaign.  Again using the Pregens from the starter set, they set out on the road to Phandalin.

First encounter, Goblins, four of them, and unlike the ones found in the first Pathfinder encounter, the party actually took a few hits from these, giving them pause for thought.  The comment issued at the time was “If the goblins are this tough, I’m not going near any dragons”.  But, passed the encounter with no fatalities and a few light wounds and set about searching the area for the Goblins trail, found it and set off with the fighter in the lead.  Noticed the first trap but fell down the second and passed again for a second, these new, not negotiating goblins were something that they weren’t happy about…


On and downwards to the Lair, where they found wolves waiting for them which they proceeded to shoot from a distance before the wolves broke out and attacked.  Not a difficult fight as the two wolves that made it to the party were both wounded and went down in the first round without managing to hit back.  The fissure at the back looked too narrow for their liking, so they came back out and up to the steep passage where it got dark and out came the torches.  Around to the Bridge, where they spotted the goblin at the same time as the goblin spotted them, wounded it but didn’t manage to kill it before it got the warning off and a few seconds later, the torrent of water came smashing down to sweep two of them to the bottom of the caves, then the second a moment later.

It was at this point that the players got really serious about the game, these weren’t just creatures waiting in a hole for them to come and loot, these were intelligent enemies and needed to be treated as such.  The PC’s went back up into the caves where the goblins had been forewarned.

I have to say that at this point, I’d have had the goblins lining the area above with bows ready, but the person in charge was doing it by the book, so the goblins were still waiting by the pools, ready, but not being proactive.  One goblin had gone to warn the boss in the back and they were lying in wait.  The two goblins outside didn’t last long, and the players moved through to the back room where the others were waiting for them.


It was at this point that the mage asked what point there was in the Sleep spell...

Burning hands and Magic Missile he understood (having had the same spells in the Pathfinder game) but what was the point of the Sleep spell, singular most useless spell ever...

Briefly to the rulebook...

Lightbulb....!

One ambush later, the enemy having got one hit off before the sleep spell wiped them out wholesale, the players looked over the bridge to areas unknown, possibly containing far more goblins and traps, then at each other and voted a short rest to get the slot for the sleep spell back...

An hour later, refreshed and reloaded, they went back up and made a spectacular run at the remaining goblins, the fact that the gobbo’s were all dead or sleeping by round two notwithstanding and excellent dice rolls for initiative cannot be discounted, but now armed with every first level mage’s ideal weapon, small level encounters suddenly ceased to have real meaning. 

Having managed this part of the campaign, they promptly looted the caves, expecting to find perhaps the same level of treasure that they’d found in the pathfinder adventure, only to be reasonably disappointed when they found that the amount of treasure was nowhere near what they’d found in the previous adventure.

Thoughts on D&D

This was week two, and I spoke to the players both individually and as a group at this point, seeing what they’d liked about both and what they’d disliked about the adventure.

They’d very much liked that it was a challenge, they liked that it was gritty and harsh, rather than the elaborate traps and complex dungeons of the previous adventure.  However, in the next breath, they also indicated that they’d very much liked the traps and layouts of the previous dungeon.  They’d taken this adventure much more seriously than the pathfinder one, a combination of the first fight causing them injuries and then the intelligent tactics of the creatures they were up against, whereas the other adventure had been a wipeout, a conversation, then a dragon and death…

Given that the D&D had a number of other stages to it, they elected to keep going with that adventure and are still playing it at this point in time, having now got to the stage where they’d got involved in the game and unlike the pathfinder, there was something else to run straight at.  When last we played (this is now week four of the D&D campaign), they were as far as the ruins of Thundertree and were in the process of running away when they encountered Venomfang, the general thought being that so far, none of the creatures they’d encountered had given them any sort of quarter, and the only reason they got out of the last Dragon encounter was because it had a run away clause built in...
 
Remember what happened the last time we came up against one of these?
Systemworks

They didn’t find much to discuss when it came to basic game play, they liked the choices of feats with Pathfinder and they liked Advantage/Disadvantage (but mostly Advantage) with D&D.  The big difference came in when it came to gaining levels and they checked the different amounts required, at which point D&D came in for a very large win with the 300 against Pathfinders 2000, but the thought on it was that the D&D encounters for the most part had been far more lethal (until they discovered Sleep...), so getting players off that first level death row was absolutely vital, whereas in Pathfinder, Dragons notwithstanding, players could get through without really craving those extra levels.

Conclusions

The interesting thing here is that from an experienced player and GM perspective, I know that modules, adventures, and campaigns vary wildly, and expectations from the starter sets can be something that colour perspective quite strongly, even if the follow up material is nothing like the material you were presented with in the first instance...

However, from an inexperienced point of view, the players liked the challenge of the D&D adventure but the rewards of the Pathfinder adventure, something combining the two would have been ideal.  They certainly didn’t mind having more difficult fights and things to puzzle over, but they wanted the rewards that went with those risks. 

From the inexperienced GM point of view, the notes and details on the pathfinder adventure were very useful, particularly when pointing out ways that the players could go about things and places in which GM intervention to prevent TPK (Total Party Kill) may be required.  However, the sheer mass of adventure presented in the D&D set still has them playing through at the moment, because after the first session, they got the idea that this might be a little lethal and have been playing cautiously (Even though they’re at third level now) since that point.

The groups thoughts were that they’ll probably return to pathfinder after finishing this campaign and see if they can get the same enjoyment out of taking characters up the levels more slowly than they have been doing in D&D, but they’re new to all of it and it’ll take time.  The main point that was made was that the D&D adventure may take a little more to get in to in the beginning, but with the sheer amount of it present, it forms a solid base for the first few months of play for absolute beginners (which it wouldn’t for experienced players), and that goes a long way when you’re just getting into something.

Of course, if D&D products start appearing at the speed that Pathfinder products normally make it out, then they may just stay with the game that they’ve got going with and that’ll be where the matter rests.

So to continue the Game of Thrones analogy from the first review...

In the matter of Pathfinder’s Viper against D&D’s Mountain, it looks like the Viper may have just got his teeth knocked out, but it remains to be seen whether or not the Mountain will come back as Strong...


But more on that in three months, and the good news is that I’m not having to bribe them anymore...

1 comment:

  1. Nice post here. I have the PF beginner box and from the looks of it it looked WAY more complete with the flip map, nicer books, pawns, etc. But you bring up an important point about the actual length of the pre-written adventures. That D&D box sounds much more appealing to me now that here that, especially if you are playing theater of the mind and don't care about maps and minis.

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