½-Jack has taken Thievery Style (he can now pick an Orc’s pocket while hiding and stabbing and fleeing); Banjo Carrick has a further L1 and two new L2 spells; likewise for Br Gaunt; and Guerra, having taken his Oath to Tyr, has been blessed with immunity from disease, an extra spell and two Oath spells. As his slots are severely limited this seems fairly academic. But he also gains more Channel Divinity options.
Carrick, ½-Jack, and Guerra all take the average hp gain but Gaunt decides to try his luck and rolls a 1. He regrets that later.
Domain and Oath spells seem to have very limited payoff at L3. The benefit is that you never need to prepare them, so they don’t count against the spells in your ‘ready’ list. But as the ‘ready’ list can be easily changed, that’s a very minor benefit.
With our powers renewed and extended we recruit a deep gnome named Burke at Jilless’ recommendation, and he is given instruction on how to handle the bullseye lantern. Guerra makes it clear that the lantern is as valuable as Burke’s life.
We head north-west again, slightly more spread out than usual, the cleric and paladin to the fore and Burke in the middle. Swinging through the southern wing of the first cavern after House Center, Br Gaunt warns us of the glint from a gelatinous cube in time! We retreat slowly, spamming it with Ray of Frost and Sacred Flame as before. [GM applies average damage modified by a fair assessment of chances to miss – 10 to 16 rounds.]
Having muttered in disappointment over the lack of loot, ½-Jack points the way again and we retrace our steps, finding signs that Orcs have frequented the area beyond the pool cavern. Both Guerra and Br Gaunt cry warning [Wis DC21 each] as Stirges swoop down! Carrick advances to Gaunt’s shoulder and throws four of the Stirges to ruin with Thunderwave. The remaining two attack him and one pierces through [2 damage]. Gaunt burns both the Stirge and Carrick with Sacred Flame [2 apiece] and Guerra protects the group while ½-Jack knifes the Stirge out of Carrick’s hide. Carrick kills the remaining one with Ray of Frost. Guerra heals Carrick [the 4 damage] with Lay on Hands.
The first barricade
Probing across the cavern as swiftly as we can, Carrick spots a barricade and an Orc’s head popping up to see where we are. Guerra outlines a plan to unnerve the defenses and we drop back to the shelter of a massive stone column as Carrick unlimbers his longbow.
He has ten arrows and spends them all, slowing down his rate of fire as he lets drive with his sixth. We advance outside the cone of light until we hear his whistle. That’s the sign we are nearly at Orc-sight range. The last four arrows flash across visibly – Carrick is casting light on them as he goes. One visibly slams through an Orc, the other three light the barricade.
Round 1: Burke and Carrick hurry forward 50’. The Orcs delay, awaiting targets. Gaunt and Guerra hustle forward and ½-Jack stays hidden in their footsteps. The Orcs open up on the very proximate paladin (he’s within spitting distance!) but his shield deflects their arrows [Protection plus some bad rolling]. Two seize axes.
Round 2: Burke finishes his advance and sets the lantern down. Carrick stops near but behind it, and blasts Magic Missiles  into a bow-armed Orc who staggers but shoots, missing Gaunt. The pair of ax-Orcs wait by gaps in the barricade. Seeing their reticence Gaunt advances to handy distance and Sacred Flames the wounded Orc . ½-Jack advances to the barrier and flings his dagger, missing, and hides. Guerra finishes his run by leaping atop the barricade [DC19 plus DC14 Dex check for balance] chops an Orc dead [Wrathful Smite] and leaps down to menace the Orc rear.
Round 3: Carrick moves to get better line of sight and chops Magic Missile bolts into the two wounded Orcs. Only one Orc commits against Guerra – which makes it easy for him to deflect the axe – and the other ax-Orc charges out at Gaunt, felling him [crit, 20] then falling dead himself. ½-Jack can see the other, unwounded bow-Orc now and casts his dagger with deadly accuracy [advantage, sneak attack, 13 damage] and the Orc falls! Guerra hews into the Orc he is facing [Divine Smite, 19 damage] but before it falls it hews into Guerra in return [11 damage]. Guerra heals Gaunt while ½-Jack and Carrick loot swiftly – finding a further Orc Carrick’s arrow had slain – and we retreat.
Short rest: Guerra and Gaunt are fully healed, Carrick renews a spell [Arcane Focus].
The second barricade
Although Guerra warns us he has no more divine spells or powers, we decide to keep pressing our advantage: the Orcs seem to be ready to flee. This time, using a more westerly approach we push north-west past the previous barricade, again spotting various abandoned Orc camps or ax-circles.
Carrick spots a sentry behind another barricade!
We jog forward while Carrick waits: then when it pops up again Carrick blasts it with Magic Missile [9 damage] then moves forward to catch up. But after some clever-at-the-time maneuvers we discover that the Orc or Orcs have legged it east!
Unwilling to risk running into an ambush, Guerra lights a torch and jogs south around the vast pillar separating caverns then north-east to intercept the fugitives. The others straggle out behind him (after a minor debate about who needs to light what). Guerra’s strategy works and he charges the straggler Orc, who is weighted down with gear and spare axes. The paladin cuts rather ineffectually at the Orc  and the battle is on as his two mates drop their gear and ready weapons, deciding not to abandon him. At least: not at first! When Guerra and ½-Jack continue stabbing that Orc and Carrick sears all three with Scorching Rays  one takes to its heels! As the heavily-wounded Orcs fall without harming us we advance further and Carrick drops the last fleeing Orc with his last Magic Missiles.
We loot, then ½-Jack proposes we retrace our steps. But this seems counter to the idea of checking where fleeing Orcs were fleeing to, and after checking that Gaunt still has most of his spells, Guerra proposes advancing then turning south through the pool cavern.
But as it happens, we run slap bang into the Boss – a massive Orc – with his last couple of hench-Orcs.
- Boss Ashkabbar*
*We did not know his name at the time but presume we learn it later.
Round 1: Carrick retreats and raises a pair of duplicates with Mirror Image. Ashkabbar advances on Gaunt and chops twice [7 and 15] felling him! [And once again Gaunt’s player regrets rolling hp.] Burke downs the lantern and retreats, leaving Gaunt well-lit a few feet from it. ½-Jack passes Burke his healing potion and retreats a short distance. Guerra retreats on the party, spreading his caltrops in an arc on the dark side of the lantern, and attempting to taunt the Orcs to such a fury they ignore Gaunt. [GM makes a secret check on this rather than a contest, and decides Ashkabbar is indeed incensed.] The remaining Orc pair close up a short distance from Gaunt and their leader and shoot, the arrows rattling off Guerra’s shield. Gaunt makes his 1st death roll.
Round 2: Carrick, now with short-bow, shoots Ashkabbar who roars and charges at Guerra [Protection] missing. ½-Jack misinterprets the situation and advances to boldly stab at Ashkabbar, missing and hiding [DC16] instead of retreating again. Burke shoots one of the hench-Orcs  and pulls back a little and over to the passage wall. Guerra slices Ashkabbar lightly and pulls back [opportunity misses] leaving ½-Jack feeling very isolated! A hench-Orc blunders into the caltrops while the other switches to Ax and chops ½-Jack . Gaunt makes his 2nd death roll.
Round 3: Carrick’s Ray of Frost misses Ashkabbar, who with a mighty battlecry [adds 5 damage to wounds inflicted by hench-Orcs for the round] steps past ½-Jack. The Halfling wastes no time and flees behind the “wall of Elves.” Burke pulls back – he’s now partly behind the curve of the stone versus the Orcs – and hides. Guerra hurls his javelin at Ashkabbar and retreats to the “wall of Elves.” The Orcs advance, one limping, and miss the illusory Elves.** Gaunt makes his 3rd death roll and is now stable.
Round 4: Carrick shoots and misses. Ashkabbar charges at the line and wipes out an illusory Elf.** Burke is hiding, waiting for the Orcs to get right past his position so he can head back over to Gaunt. ½-Jack’s sneak attack misses and he hurries about 20’ over to the cavern wall where Burke was, and hides too. Guerra misses his cut at Ashkabbar’s flank and he closes up with another Elf, possibly Carrick. The Orcs shoot and the remaining illusory Elf disappears. “Oh it is you Carrick! We need to pull back further!” Guerra exclaims.
**The GM considered the Orcs to be a little discouraged at seeing how hard Guerra was to hit, so attacking the scrawny Elves to clear them away made good sense.
Round 5: Carrick’s Ray of Frost hits this time  and he pulls well back [45, his max in a disengage+move] while still in front of Carrick. Ashkabbar chops Guerra a glancing blow  – his Protection style is saving him! “Pass me my potion back” ½-Jack whispers and receives it from Burke, hiding again. Guerra pulls back again. The hench-Orcs limp and advance again, missing Carrick.
Round 6: Carrick misses again and retreats again. Ashkabbar charges and catches Guerra, missing. Burke remains hidden, delaying. For ½-Jack the target is too good to resist and he sneak-attacks Ashkabbar[crit, 12] a vicious shot, then hides again. Guerra decides the line has pulled back enough and he deals a good blow to Ashkabbar and stands his ground. The Orcs advance plying their bows, one arrow nicking Guerra . Burke now advances towards the distant lantern-light.
Round 7: Carrick bravely advances back to square up to Ashkabbar who avoids the Elf’s Shocking Grasp. Ashkabbar delivers a heft blow to Carrick  then falls dead! “Surrender and ask for mercy!” Guerra thunders at the Orcs. Burke races to the lantern and swings it around to light up the two Orcs. ½-Jack promptly shoots the lead Orc . Guerra charges the same, slicing his head off [crit 13]. The remaining limping Orc flees as best he can with Guerra hard on his heels. ½-Jack revives Gaunt [natural 20 on Dex for administering potion] and the Cleric rises in time to intercept the Orc! Fleeing, the Orc runs into Gaunt’s spells and is Held fast.
“Time to butcher!” yells Gaunt vengefully, but the paladin holds up his hand in warning. “Or to question this Orc about what other Orcs remain and where his boss left the loot!”
The learning curve is again noted. With more options for Thievery it’s doubtful that 1/2-Jack made full use of his abilities and Guerra could – if not at the beginning of the Boss Fight then later – have imbued his sword as a Sacred Weapon. Gaunt got confused as to his ability to regain spells.
It was good to push ourselves to the wire, but it does suggest DDN is not “tough” enough on sloppy game-play. Bearing in mind that none of these playtest characters are in any way “optimized” it suggests that some groups of gamers will find the game un-challenging.
Some further more long-term points:
- Rogue abilities rely on hiding now, which can lead to some odd tactics. 1/2-Jack habitually relies on hiding more or less in plain sight in order to get his next advantage. A more traditional rogue/thief would lurk around the fringes of the fight, waiting to get a shot at an unwary target. This is probably still true in DDN for a larger rogue. But halflings do have quite an advantage as rogues so it is going to be quite a “thing” for the long term.
- Orc “relentless” attribute leads to some odd tactics as well. Hit them pretty solidly then move on regardless of whether they have fallen; or the same but defend until they drop.
- Average HD for each new level of hp is a very good option. Had Br Gaunt taken it, his hp would have been (I think) 24 and not 20, so in at least one of the two crit situations he would not have fallen over.
- The short rest perfectly illustrated the balance between keeping on top of the enemy, and being fully “charged up” with powers. A few powers will recharge but most spell-like abilities won’t. It would be a shame if magic items of the future erode this balance.