“Roll initiative?” Vegas asked. “But we aren’t even fighting!”
“Yes, you are,” James corrected him. “You’re all in a tavern having a drink when a group of thugs bust down the door. ‘Give us all your gold,’ they sneer.”
James is big into voices. One time we played a game online through Google Hangout, which allows you to put silly effects on yourself that sync up to your face on your webcam. He also downloaded a program that alters the pitch of his voice. For every NPC we encountered, he put on a virtual mask he had drawn and used a different voice. It was both really cool and incredibly surreal.
“I draw my sword!” Vegas exclaimed. “Let’s fight!”
After the jump, fighting!
“Wait, where’s the battle map?” Alex said.
“A big thing Wizards of the Coast wants to do with D&D Next is give players options on how they can play.” James explained. “You can use a battle map if you want, but gameplay is supposed to be simple enough that you can just use your mind. Since we’ve almost always used a battle map, I figured it might be a nice change of pace to just imagine what’s happening.”
“Sounds like an excuse for broken or unfinished combat mechanics,” Alex muttered.
“No. It’s just to make things shorter, which is definitely a good thing.”
One battle in D&D 4th edition generally took a while… a long while. Monsters had a lot of hit points, but didn’t do a lot of damage, which turned most combats into whaling on big HP sacks until they went down. Focusing fire wasn’t just intelligent play; it was necessary if you wanted things to be over within an hour.
Of course, I’m not currently thinking intelligently, I’m thinking, Yeah, I’m going to kill the most guys and impress Audrey! (geez, what’s wrong with me?).
Vegas, apparently on the same wave length, also squared off against a single foe immediately.
“Focus fi-” Alex began.
“No meta-gaming!” James snapped at him.
“I say, noble adventurers in this tavern,” Alex proclaimed, not unlike a nobleman at a Renaissance Faire (and while staring daggers at James, his hatred of silly acting outdone only by his visceral revulsion to poor gameplay). “It would behoove those of us that wish to thwart these thuggish brutes if we worked together as a group to defeat each foe individually. Happy?”
“Thank you,” James replied.
With initiatives rolled, I found myself at the top of the list, going first. Wizards have never been much of a heavy damage class – at least not in the early game – but they do usually have several area of effect attacks. I looked at my prepared spells – magic has reverted to the old 3.5 system again, which means I only get one real big spell a day at level 1. Thankfully, there has been an addition of “level 0” spells, which, depending on your sub-class, grants you several permanent, weaker spells you’ll always have available. No more throwing down with a staff once you’ve spent your allotted magic for the day.
“I maneuver myself to hit both my opponent and Vegas’ with Burning Hands.”
“Okay, but that might hit Vegas, too.”
“Despite that possibility, my character’s unusual and sudden irrational fear of being robbed causes him no hesitation and the room becomes alight. Oh, also I angle it so it hits pig farmer Rudy as well.”
“So spells are back to pre-4th ed, where the person who is being targeted has to roll a Will save against the attack. Even if they do save, though, spells usually have some effect. Since Rudy’s Spell DC is 14, the thugs needs to roll a 14 to save which they… do! Both only take half damage, per the Burning Hands rules.”
“Half damage for me too,” Vegas mumbled. “What happens to my servant?”
“You and the thug you’re fighting are partially obscured from the fire by the body of Rudy the pig farmer, who is completely engulfed in the flames. He falls to the ground, with only seconds left in his life.
“‘Now eez up t’ you, ser,’ he wheezes, coughing up soot. ‘Look arfta’ the heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeerd… blargh.’ He’s dead.”
“Awesome accent!” Audrey laughed.
“I must kill something to avenge Rudy’s death!” Vegas snarled. “How… how do I fight in this? Do I just hit a guy with my sword?”
“Pretty much. But all martial classes now also have a special powers that aid their attacks called maneuvers that you can use once each turn. These act as sort of add-ons; you can use them for a variety of things, like doing extra damage, attacking multiple enemies, or even special movement abilities. For maneuvers that require a roll, you use additional dice that are called expertise dice. As you gain levels, so do expertise dice – they’ll start as only 1d4, but they’ll increase to 1d6, 2d6, and so on.”
“And I get new maneuvers as I level?” Vegas asked.
“Yep, and the maneuvers themselves can get better too. Take the monk, for example: one of his starting maneuvers lets him move additional spaces. As he gains levels, that will get better to the point where he can run off walls, then literally run on top of water, Jesus-style.”
“Do I get those too?” Audrey piped up.
“Yep, all non-magic classes get maneuvers. That may change in the future though… it’s still being worked out by the developers.”
“Cool! Look at us, maneuver buddies,” Vegas said, winking at Audrey. “Maybe we can do some private maneuvering together later, eh?”
Yes, I thought. That was terrible and awkward and slightly offensive.
“Ha, maybe,” Audrey said back. No!
Using spells and maneuvers, we made quick work of the four thugs. Really quick work – the fight was over within fifteen minutes, including the explanations of the new mechanics. Both Vegas and Audrey put down a thug each in one hit, and Alex finished off the two I had initially injured (not before I had been knocked out though – my wizard started with a whopping 8 HP).
“Combat is more lethal,” James summed up. “Everyone – PC or enemy – has less health and hits harder. You’re going to find yourself chugging potions pretty often, as Alex won’t be overflowing with heals either. Pick your battles wisely, and make sure you can take the opponent when you do decide to fight.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll protect you from now on, Rudy,” Vegas guffawed. It really was a guffaw too, like an awkward, halting giggle. He’s kind of a weird guy.
“As the bodies are cleared from the tavern, the town’s mayor – who had been drinking at the bar – approaches you,” James continued. “‘Oh thank goodness, adventurers!’ he exclaims. ‘Despite our professionally trained city guard and substantial militia, I have a task that I believe only you four strangers can perform!'”
Tomorrow: A Quest!
Rudy Basso, an accountant with an English degree, is living proof that your major really doesn’t matter that much. You can read his previous series, Farming Vader, starting here.