Level Up (A5E) Playtest results using pregen characters

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Legendweaver

Explorer
Earlier tonight, I managed to rope some player into a playtest of Level Up. One of my biggest complaints about D&D combat is that by default it devolves into a static slugfest, so I was excited to see how "Press the Attack" and "Fall Back" might make combat more dynamic, but I was concerned "Press the Attack" would make sneak attacking trivial.

We selected five level 1 pregenerated characters (Gia, Gywven, Krarg, Maika, and Varskyle from Resources — Level Up: Advanced 5th Edition (A5E)) and ran them through a gauntlet of fights with which I'm quite familiar - they're key fights from a starter adventure of my own creation I've run many times over the years to introduce new players to D&D 5E. These scenarios include:

1. A solo bugbear
2. A solo ogre
3. goblins (4) and a goblin boss
4. A horde of goblins (8)


I used monster stats from the LU Monstrous Menagerie, and tried to use Level Up's rules as written. To my knowledge, the only relevant new rules were the monster stats, pregen character abilities, and the new actions "Press the Attack" and "Fall Back." We made attack rolls, but used average damage to reduce randomization. For scenarios 1 and 2, everyone "took 10" on initiative; for (3) and (4), everyone rolled dex-based initiative.

Here's what happened:

1. Solo Bugbear: Gywven went first, and made a regular ranged attack, which hit. The bugbear went next and didn't press the attack, but dealt a solid blow to Varskyle. Gia went next, closed, and pressed the attack. The bugbear fell back - but the attack still landed. Varskyle and Karaz went next; both pressed the attack and both hit. The bugbear was dead before Maika took her first turn.

In this scenario and this reading of the rule, "Fall Back" was an ineffective counter for "Press the Attack"; it cancelled one instance of advantage, but the action economy multiplied the effectiveness of "Press the Attack." Virtually every PC hit with advantage without any need to maneuver or think creatively. It was pretty bland, and the bugbear looked like a coward.

2. Solo Ogre: Similar setup, but rated as "hard" by the LU encounter table. Actions played out mostly the same (it's embarrassingly easy to hit AC when you get advantage on every hit!) but the ogre survived the first round, and repositioned to make a sweeping strike against four characters...only to miss two of the attacks thanks in part to the disadvantage imposed by falling back earlier in the fight. The next attack ended the ogre after just a round and a half of combat - and again made an uncharacteristic retreat.

1.b These disappointing experiences made us question our reading of "Fall Back" - was it supposed to negate all future "Press the Attack" bonuses for the entire round? We decided to run scenario 1 again with this alternate reading. This time, the bugbear survived to round two, but didn't land a second attack (it couldn't "press the attack" on its turn because it had "fallen back" its previous round) ...and was gone before it got another chance.

3: Goblins and a boss. I'll spare the details because this fight was complicated, but the new rules worked pretty well; "Press the attack" and "Fall back" created a couple interesting knots of movement on the flanks from characters who weren't as worried about counterattacks

4. Horde of Goblins: This was a total bloodbath for the players. I knew the action economy was going to be against them, but press the attack took this to another level. One goblin pressed the attack early, and a PC melee combatant made the mistake of "falling back" in response. More goblins pressed into the gap and ganged up on weaker PCs. The melee combatant who fell back were unable to land hits on the closest goblins (which hadn't pressed) and couldn't get to the other players. One player was unconscious from arrows before taking a single turn. Two more died before they took a second turn...and the others fell shortly thereafter. My players left feeling that "Fall Back" action was a mechanics trap to avoid.

Am I missing some big piece of the rules here that brings these back into balance? How did official playtests go when it came to solo and/or horde fights?

TLDR: It's anecdotal evidence, but "Press the Attack" seemed to be a potent multiplier of preexisting action economy imbalance. PCs vs. solo monsters became significantly easier, and PCs vs. hordes became much harder. Maybe this was a desired outcome (it's probably more realistic...?) but it's the opposite direction O5E has been going, and I certainly want both dangerous solo monsters and survivable (but challenging) hordes. While this rule does seem to make pitched battles between equally sized groups of combatants more dynamic, it imposed a high cost.

Also, "Fall Back" seems to be an ineffective counter. In the RAW case, when you're outnumbered, someone is going to get advantage even if you fall back, and you pay a high cost - it can easily cost a melee combatant's effectiveness for an entire round.

Now, having said all this, I know Morrus said the rules for "Press the Attack" are out-of-date, so I'd love to read the latest text (and even run a play test of that). Absent that, here's my suggestion for rewording these two actions:

Press the Attack:
As a bonus action, target one adjacent creature. If this creature reacts to this action with the "Fall Back" action, you may optionally advance forward 5 ft. into the space they vacated and attack normally; otherwise, you gain an expertise die when making melee attacks against the target creature until the start of your next turn. In either case, all attacks against you are made with advantage until the start of your next turn. You may only Press the Attack when you do not have disadvantage on attacks.

Fall back:
As a reaction when targeted by "Press the Attack," you yield ground and move backward 5 ft., but no creature can gain an expertise dice when making attacks on you as a result of the "Press the Attack" action until the start of your turn. However, your caution prevents you from landing critical hits or taking the "Press the Attack" action until the end of your next turn. A creature using the Rage class feature cannot choose to fall back.
 
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lichmaster

Adventurer
I'm also very curious about this. I'm still in the process of reading the classes, so it will take a bit more before I go into the more general (and important IMO) aspects of the game.
Reading the other posts regarding Press the Attack and Fall Back I also have some doubts they work as intended very often: I understand and applaud the goal of making combat more dynamic, but as many noticed the rules as written can be quite messy and may be off the mark. I know the rules we have are an older version, and hope the next iteration will be much more robust and polished.

I like your standard scenario approach. Having a relatively varied but standard set of combats scenarios seems a very good idea: you can test several synergies in many different situations and see where they work and where they don't in systematic approach.

I'm curious about what approach did the devs have for playtesting.
 

Stalker0

Legend
It was something I had considered too, and this sounds like a good highlight of it....that once players use their fall back they are at the mercy of however many monsters are left in the fight.

Doesn't even have to be a hoard, could be a 4 on 4 fight....but if its in open territory and all the creatures can swarm a single target, they all gain advantage which ramps up their offense. This in theory would also make combats shorter, the ambusher would do even more damage, but also take more damage in kind should the defenders get a chance to retailate.....resulting in increased damage across the board.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
So the actual final wording (IIRC, I don't have it in front of me) keeps the effects only to the two involved, not their allies etc. So the swarming won't have any special effects.
 

FitzTheRuke

Legend
So the actual final wording (IIRC, I don't have it in front of me) keeps the effects only to the two involved, not their allies etc. So the swarming won't have any special effects.

I don't think that's the issue raised. AFAICT the issue is with the action economy. If you have, say, 3 attackers on one target, they can ALL "Press the Attack" and yet you can only "Fall Back" against one of them, making the action economy very nasty. Shrewd Tacticians (common D&D Players) seem likely to always Press the Attack, effectively giving them advantage all the time. (The only exception being when you're outnumbered, and then the same thing occurs but in reverse).

I haven't seen any of this yet, myself, but I can imagine it.
 

Stalker0

Legend
So the actual final wording (IIRC, I don't have it in front of me) keeps the effects only to the two involved, not their allies etc. So the swarming won't have any special effects.
And you could argue this the problem. If "fall back" worked against all uses of "press the attack" for the round, then there would be no concern. But because fall back can only work against one instance.....all of the other attackers can press that same opponent, for large amounts of extra accuracy.
 

I think it would be slightly less bad, as the one target would still get advantage when retaliating against the others, but yeah, it's not solving the "why wouldn't everyone just press the attack to take the one guy out before he can retaliate against anyone" problem.

Actually, now that I'm thinking about it, if the revised working just applies to those two, then that would remove any reason to not just team up on press the attack on whoever looks like the most important target to take out even if you're against a big group of enemies. After all, you're no longer opening yourself up to attacks with advantage from the multiple opponents. Just the one attack from that one guy, and he can probably only target so many of you in his turn, anyway.
 

And you could argue this the problem. If "fall back" worked against all uses of "press the attack" for the round, then there would be no concern. But because fall back can only work against one instance.....all of the other attackers can press that same opponent, for large amounts of extra accuracy.
You know, I wonder if this would be solved if each target could only have the "press the attack" action done against them one per round or something.
 


Stalker0

Legend
You know, I wonder if this would be solved if each target could only have the "press the attack" action done against them one per round or something.
The other option, which I think is more in line with LU's "shake up the movement" aspect the designers wanted, is to allow fall back to keep going back in order to negate more attacks. I'll update the text with this concept:

This would be my personal version of the text as a whole if I was getting to redesign it:

Press the Attack (added to the end)
When you use this action, your target can use its reaction to Fall Back. If they do, you may move into the space they just vacated as a part of this action.

Fall Back
Whenever a creature within your reach takes the Press the Attack action, you can use your reaction to move backwards 5 feet. You gain the effects of the disengage action against that creature. The creature no longer has advantage against you, but you have disadvantage on your attacks against them. These effects last until the end of your next turn.

You may gain the effects of this reaction against multiple creatures, but must move back 5 feet each time a creature uses Press the Attack against you.

A creature using the Rage class feature cannot choose to Fall Back.


This version solves the OA and multiple attackers problem, and I think puts the "vacate the person's space" clause with press the attack, which makes more sense to me as that is the person who is gaining said benefit.. It also allows the defender to "wheezle" their way out of a swarm of pressed attackers. Effectively you push them back with a pressed attack, but if you don't take them out you then open the door to allow them to move around you and gain some tactical advantage. I think that's cool because again its encourages movement, you push in, force the enemy to move back. The enemy then can move around you to the other side if they are able.

Lastly, by using disengage, this might have synergy with manuevers that use disengage, allowing players with such manuevers to get extra benefits when falling back.
 
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Legendweaver

Explorer
I think there are a lot of great ideas floating around here. I'd be fine with most of these variants as long as they behave well for gang-up situations. I think I like @Stalker0's suggestions in particular, though maybe with a cap based on movement: e.g, maybe "against multiple creatures, up to your base speed / 5"?

I'll also note that I also think advantage is too strong a buff for "Press the Attack" - I think it should be expertise for several reasons:
  • Advantage is the biggest situational combat buff out there - it's what you get when you're completely invisible and the attack is unexpected! RAW, you can't add further situational bonuses based on tactics or terrain once you've gained advantage.
  • Flanking in LU grants expertise even though you're attacking a foe from "all" directions. PtA should follow this precedence, lest it make flanking irrelevant - which would be sad, since I think flanking is much more useable in LU given the reduced bonus and the "back-to-back rule (side note - should "back-to-back" have an effect on PtA?)
  • Advantage specifically enables certain mechanical options, like sneak attack.
@Morrus - I would love to see the wording of the new rules ahead of it landing in the printed books. I'd enthusiastically run the same playtests listed above once that's available!
 
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Anselm

Adventurer
So question about interactions here. Imagine a one-on-one fight. Character A uses press the attack, giving them advantage. Character B falls back, removing advantage from A. A makes their straight attacks. B now has disadvantage on attacks but characters attack attack A with advantage. If B attacks A, Adv and Disadv cancel out making straight attacks.

Assuming that is all correct. The situation, except for 5 feet of movement, is exactly the same.

If we expand this to a hypothetical 4v4, if nothing else changes, now character B's allies get attacks at Adv against A for free and all of character A's allies attacks are just regular old attacks. Now A's allies could also use press the attack, using up their bonus actions, against B at Adv and there's nothing B can do but get attacked at Adv. However, the B's team gets to attack everyone on A's team with Adv and still has their bonus action to do combat maneuvers, offhand attacks, or use other features. This sounds like a loss for A's team overall in a vacuum.

Things completely change in an in game situation where initiative would matter (if all of A's team went first, downing B with a slew of PtA before B had a turn that would be a huge win) or if one team could limit the Adv attacks via the terrain. However, those reading those situations sound exactly like the kind of strategic improvements we would want something like this to add.

Mostly I'm trying to spell out how I'm confused that using PtA would lead to a bigger advantage to the team using it due to action economy accentuation.
 

Legendweaver

Explorer
So question about interactions here. Imagine a one-on-one fight. Character A uses press the attack, giving them advantage. Character B falls back, removing advantage from A. A makes their straight attacks. B now has disadvantage on attacks but characters attack attack A with advantage. If B attacks A, Adv and Disadv cancel out making straight attacks.
RAW today, B cannot PtA on its turn because you can't PtA when you have disadvantage (which B has as a result of FB). But it's tricky to reason about this since we don't actually have the official wording yet....

However, I don't think the 4v4 case (or in my case, 5v5 case) is as problematic. It was different, but interesting -- because the action economy is mostly balanced between the two sides.

The problems were when once side had more actions than the other - in my case, 1v5 or 5v8. Here, each foe in the smaller team can get pinned down by one combatant from the larger group, and the remainder of the larger team's combatants are free to pile on one foe (as normal), and all do so at advantage (not as normal). It was similar to when I've tried the optional, overly-powerful flanking mechanics from o5e -- but without the need to maneuver around enemies and avoid opportunity attacks (partially because previous FBs moved enemies out of opportunity attack range).

And advantage is such a big buff that no one in my playtest bothered with more complicated maneuvering, such as flanking, anyway...
 
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Anselm

Adventurer
RAW today, B cannot PtA on its turn because you can't PtA when you have disadvantage (which B has as a result of FB). But it's tricky to reason about this since we don't actually have the official wording yet....
Agreed on the final wording that may clear everything up but theory crafting is fun :). RAW today, B would not need to use PtA to get advantage against A, because B would have it as a result of A using PtA ("If you do so, until the beginning of your next turn all attacks against you are made with advantage"), canceling out disadvantage of FB to a normal role.

The problems were when once side had more actions than the other - in my case, 1v5 or 5v8. Here, each foe in the smaller team can get pinned down by one combatant from the larger group, and the remainder of the larger team's combatants are free to pile on one foe (as normal), and all do so at advantage (not as normal).
That's definitely a scenario that I wasn't working through my head. 1vX seems rough in this case no matter what you do. Extra advantage there is always just going to make that battle go faster. Thought I wonder if the single creature would just be better suited to not fall back in that case, taking the hits (assuming its got enough HP to get itself a turn) but then getting advantage itself. Probably depends on initiative order. I'm imaging all my players taking PtA against the juvenile kraken fight they have coming up... The Kraken would for sure survive unless it was last in initiative and then have free advantage in return and on legendary actions. I think the players would be in real trouble very quickly...

5v8 I'd be curious about though and I would guess it would still come down to turn order (unless all the 8 were on the same initiative) because team 5 would still be able to pick off everyone who took PtA with advantage on them as well. In that case it would even accentuate the opposite direction, giving team 5 more advantage than they would have if they themselves each took PtA (being able to use bonus action for something combat-y, offhand attack, or extra damage rather than just using the BA to gain advantage).

The flip side of this is that you have played through it and I have not so my brain is just not fully wrapping around the problem just yet.
 

Legendweaver

Explorer
@Anselm - Ah, yes - I didn't read your scenario closely enough. I thought you were saying B would get advantage on A (full stop), rather than advantage + disadvantage would make a straight role. Your reading for 1v1 matches my reading, then!

In my playtest, initiative order actually didn't matter for 1vX, because a creature that takes PtA only starts granting advantage to their foes after they've made their attack with advantage, so they've always got a one-round lead on the defender. I touched on this in passing, but it probably deserves its own description. In the 1vX scenarios we play tested, my players quickly learned to avoid PtA until the solo monster had taken its first action - thus avoiding granting advantage to its first-round attack. Immediately after the monster took its attacks, though, all the players are always in a single block, and so they started PtA one right after the other - creating a block of five actions all making attacks with advantage. Even if the monster survived that first round, it takes a ton of punishment - and this is true on every subsequent round. In contrast, if the solo monster PtA, they don't actually get advantage because the one PC they attack can FB out of the fight -- and then the rest of the PCs get advantage for free.

5v8 played differently because the advantage doesn't usually stack up in a neat block, but like I noted, the only PC who took FB seriously regretted it - he opened up a hole in their line of battle that allowed the goblins to stream through and wail on the weaker PCs in the back - and he couldn't even counterattack the next round because all his attacks were at disadvantage!
 
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Rant

Explorer
I was hoping they would simply remove press the attack and fall back since these are neither balanced or easy to use. It adds headaches, and meta-game guessing games, not a layer of tactical consideration. The number of fixes to make them work suggests an easier option: Remove press the attack and fall back. These are not a good fit for the game.


I'm also very curious about this. I'm still in the process of reading the classes, so it will take a bit more before I go into the more general (and important IMO) aspects of the game.
Reading the other posts regarding Press the Attack and Fall Back I also have some doubts they work as intended very often: I understand and applaud the goal of making combat more dynamic, but as many noticed the rules as written can be quite messy and may be off the mark. I know the rules we have are an older version, and hope the next iteration will be much more robust and polished.

I like your standard scenario approach. Having a relatively varied but standard set of combats scenarios seems a very good idea: you can test several synergies in many different situations and see where they work and where they don't in systematic approach.

I'm curious about what approach did the devs have for playtesting.
I have a lot of questions myself on exactly how the playtesting worked but there seems to be a lot of resistance to that line of inquiry. We are supposed to be satisfied that everything was “thoroughly playtested” and leave it at that.
 

Anselm

Adventurer
5v8 played differently because the advantage doesn't usually stack up in a neat block, but like I noted, the only PC who took FB seriously regretted it - he opened up a hole in their line of battle that allowed the goblins to stream through and wail on the weaker PCs in the back - and he couldn't even counterattack the next round because all his attacks were at disadvantage!
Yeah that seems like a very important conversation. Don't just Fall Back because someone PtA. Again, I'm theory crafting but it seems like PtA needs consideration whether to use and the potential reaction of Fall Back isn't automatic either. Again, all that in theory sounds great. I'm very eager to see the final rules and actuality use them!
if the solo monster PtA, they don't actually get advantage because the one PC they attack can FB out of the fight -- and then the rest of the PCs get advantage for free.
That's an interesting scenario too though. If the first PC Falls Back, the solo monster can just go after another one instead of moving the 5 feet after them. hypothetically, they can do that to every PC, and then each PC has disadvantage on their turn and can't press the attack back. That at least makes things interesting and the solo monster can force the PCs to use up their reactions and freely position however they want.
 
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Anselm

Adventurer
hypothetically, they can do that to every PC, and then each PC has disadvantage on their turn and can't press the attack back
I guess rereading it, that's not how it works. "Whenever a creature within your reach takes the Press the Attack action, you can use your reaction to yield ground." They can only fall back if PtA was taken when within their reach. So if the attacker takes PtA out of their reach, moves into melee, and attacks, then no option to Fall Back and attacker gets advantage.
 

Stalker0

Legend
I guess rereading it, that's not how it works. "Whenever a creature within your reach takes the Press the Attack action, you can use your reaction to yield ground." They can only fall back if PtA was taken when within their reach. So if the attacker takes PtA out of their reach, moves into melee, and attacks, then no option to Fall Back and attacker gets advantage.
Technically true. I actually just found another issue with the text based on another conversion that was had earlier.

You cannot mix action and bonus actions by the book. That means that technically Press the Attack doesn't actually do anything, because the bonus action would occur after your attacks are over.

So Press the Attack should actually say: "You can take a bonus action to give advantage to all your attacks. Attacks against you are made with advantage. These effects last until the beginning of your next turn"

I will add it to the bug log.
 

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