A friend of mine rolled up a couple of characters and ran through a few test encounters with me yesterday to try out some of the changes I've been making.

Previously, I've always run a v2 game with substantial changes and house rules. We've always rolled initiative per side instead of individually. In the past I'd finish my attacks and say "it's your turns", and be bombarded with information from various players at once. Our other DMs have always used the same system so it just seemed normal to do it that way. Having seen individual initiative described, I thought it just sounded unnecessarily complicated and really couldn't see that it gained you anything.

Boy was I wrong! I had seen individual initiative in action once a few weeks ago and was really impressed at how smoothly it ran. Testing it out, even with just one player running two characters, I could see that I was going to love it. First off, it should significantly reduce the chaos. Second, I think it will bring out more tactical thinking. Each player is "in the spotlight" on their turn instead of just anonymously going through the motions which should lead to more thought going into what they are doing. Lastly, no one can do anything during someone else's turn so instead of everyone focusing on their own actions they can assist the player whose turn it is with suggestions and help. For new or shy players, this should be a tremendous boon.

The process of creating characters went very well. There are a few things that I don't have finished up and those were the main hurdles. No surprise there. A couple of omissions on the character sheet became apparent so I'll have to make some modifications to account for them. Again, this was pretty much expected.

During play, I tried to pay particular attention to attacks of opportunity, combat advantage, and second wind. None of my group has ever formally used these things in our games. We've developed some common sense combat rules that we loosely use to cover the first two.

It was interesting to try out some hard and fast rules on opportunity attacks and combat advantage. I have to say though that I didn't care for either one. Our games have always tried to focus on the story and hurry through the combat. These rules, although adding realism, look to me to put more emphasis on the combat, and stretch out battles while not adding anything significant to the experience.

Second Wind also didn't impress me. Healing is the Cleric's domain. Supplementing that with potions and other magical items is one thing but giving each character the ability to simply heal themselves just doesn't fit into my view of the game. Beyond that, I can't rationalize giving characters an ability like that without also giving it to the monsters. Monsters being able to use a Second Wind would just be annoying and unnecessarily prolong combat.

All in all, I was very unimpressed with these three rules. I'm going to dump all three and try to formalize the rules I've used in the past to replace them.

Powers, feats, and skills, on the other hand, worked out nicely. Once we become more familiar with powers, I think they will become a favorite addition. Feats worked nicely but many aren't appropriate with some of the changes that I've made. I've been hesitant to alter them too much but I've changed my stance on that. I'm going to start with a clean slate. I'll add my own and then review what's in the books and add some of them as need be.

I've gone back and forth on the whole heroic/paragon/epic tier thing. It's felt wrong to me since the beginning and now I've made the decision to dump them. All feats will become just feats, no longer separated by tier. Some will have requirements that make them difficult to get until higher level. Instead of having feats that offer different benefits based on your tier, there will be two feats. One will have the initial benefits, the other will have the advanced benefits. The advanced one may have a level requirement, an ability requirement (that you shouldn't be able to meet till higher levels), or require the first feat as a prerequisite. In this last case, requiring two feats to gain the advanced benefits either means waiting till higher levels (when you have feats to spare) or to sacrifice another feat to make room for it. All in all, I'm much happier with feats now and confident in their role.

Similarly, some of the powers don't fit in with some of the changes that I'm making so I will need to go through and revamp some of them. Over all though, they look wonderful. As I said earlier, we just need to get more familiar with them.

I'm loving skills and the whole DC thing. We've been using a similar system since long before it was introduced but never on this scale. I never warmed to how skills were laid out in 3.0 but the new setup seems very well thought out. I did rename Heal to First Aid but that's pretty minor.

I added a new skill called Alchemy. Before I go into that perhaps I should digress a moment and discuss some of the reasoning that led to it.

I don't like the idea that when you find a magical item you immediately know what it is. Neither do my players. However, the alternative is that you have to expend time, money, and effort to determine what it is. Furthermore, and more importantly, unidentified items tend to get shoved into a bag and dealt with back in town at the end of the night when everyone's tired and busy wrapping things up.

So let's say that a character with a high Arcana skill is "in tune" with magic to the point that she can simply hold a magical item and sense its particular magical properties via an Arcana skill roll. Okay, I can accept that. Special items would then have a high DC which would lead to a need for identify, legend lore, or consultation with a sage.

But I have trouble extending that process to potions. First off, I've determined that magical items give off a subtle static charge when touched (in order to save time in detecting magic) but potion bottles do not since it is the potion, not the bottle, that is magic.

Following that reasoning, touching the bottle can't be enough to divine the properties of the potion. Tasting the potion has never seemed like a reasonable approach to me and what wizard would be willing to taste every vial you come across? Some will contain poison after all.

All this led me around to the Alchemy skill. By observing the color, density, opacity, reflectivity and consistency of a potion, a skilled alchemist can determine with some certainty what type of potion it is. I can buy that.

Further, a skilled alchemist will be familiar with what components are useful in the art of alchemy. When your party has killed a Bulette, an Alchemy roll may offer knowledge on whether or not any parts (such as the scales) may be desirable as well as particulars on removing them without damaging them.

I haven't decided yet if I want to expand this to the point where characters can actually produce alchemical potions and products but that is certainly a possibility.

Although we only ran through a few encounters, it was enough to show that, for the most part, the changes I have been making are all working together. More importantly, the time we spent forced me to look at things from a new perspective and finally make some decisions about rules that I've been on the fence about.

I'm anxious to finalize all the rules, print it all up and move on to database creation, writing some utilities, drawing maps and dungeons, and preparing a story.