The second playtest packet is out, complete with character creation rules for characters of 1st-5th level as well as an updated bestiary! The whole thing caught me by surprise - I felt like the packet was coming soon, but I thought I would at least be able to finish the Caves of Chaos from the first playtest, first. I'm pretty sure that my players would prefer to try their hand at character creation, though, so I will be converting the upcoming Sunday game to a chargen session instead.
I feel like I'm going into a more familiar zone, myself, as I feel like I thrive better as a DM when not following the general plot of a module. As the packet does not come with one (yet), I'll look into figuring out how encounter building works. I will also experiment with exploration and roleplay a little bit more.
One thing I will note is that I will likely deviate from the rules-as-written this time. I want to see how much I can bend the system with house rules without breaking it; over the course of the next few weeks, I will post things that I change in our gameplay.
To motivate the creation of these house rules, I want to start with the things that I initially like and dislike about the second round.
- The fighter. Combat Superiority is awesome. I particularly like how the number of expertise dice increase with level, while some combat maneuvers require only one die. So a more experienced fighter can conceivably perform two minor tricks in a round, given that he has enough actions. I can also see B9S-style "optional" maneuvers for some of the more wire-fu fighter stuff that I like from time to time. (Supplementary: Pointyman's thoughts)
- Monster Statblock design. The presentation of the statblocks are cleaner now, evoking 4E sensibilities without resorting to its "green and grey" table format. I wish they'd move alignment and languages (noncombat abilities) after actions and before encounter building, but it's a minor gripe that I can live with either way.
- Normalization of monster hp. Looking at the medusa (a tactical level 4 elite) and the owlbear (a bruiser level 4 elite), their hp's are now within an acceptable deviation. The owlbear can still absorb more damage, but it's no longer outrageously large in comparison unlike last time.
- Reduction of level up xp tresholds. In the first round of playtesting, we've had a total of six play sessions. We were supposed to get to our seventh session on Sunday, and I felt like that session was their first real chance of advancing to third level. The tresholds are noticeably smaller now, although 650, 1825 and so on seem to be odd choices that can't be easily remembered by players.
- Stonecunning has been nerfed. Now I know that they're listening. It's amazing how the phrase, "reasonable guess" can change the racial trait from OP to cool and flavorful.
- Hero hp. The hp system is almost* exactly as it was back in 3.5, and I see that as a bad thing. There's a reason many 3.5 games start at level 3 or higher, and that's because getting gimped by a housecat or an orc's falchion at 1st level is no fun at all. On the other hand, spamming constitution becomes too important again, as adding con mod to every level increase can cause a very severe disparity in numbers when you get to high levels. Now I understand the desire to have PCs and monsters get similar hp, but players are expected to survive at level 1 but still be "mortal" at level 20. I prefer the first iteration of player hp.
- Skills married ability scores again. Let's take Intimidate as an example. The half-orc fighter|thug with charisma 8 smashes the table to intimidate the mysterious stranger in the tavern. Shouldn't it make more sense to use his strength 16 to complement his intimidate training? They divorced for good reason. Let's keep them separated, please. (As a side note: I feel like skills were rewritten, badly, I should add, to accommodate the rogue's "spot" problem. Shouldn't it be a fix to the rogue instead of the entire skill system instead?)
- The semantic change from theme to specialty. This one's a minor gripe, but theme is so much easier to say than specialty. Why change it?
- The return of the opportunity attack. I don't have a counter-suggestion here, yet. But I'm afraid of seeing longer combats because of this. I will likely start with it in the game, and see how things go in a game or three.
* - Yeah, I know hit dice on top of hp makes it significantly different, but 4hp for a starting con 10 wizard? A d4 won't help much.