Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Thoughts on 5e

 As an old school player finally giving D&D 5e a solid go I have quite a few opinions.

The Good

I have to say that I really like how D&D has evolved into a solid ruleset that is 5e. The 5e rules pretty much cover just about anything that may come up in the game.  Earlier versions relied upon the DM and players to customize and build upon the somewhat vague rules. This left the game open for tons of home-brewed customizations.  Having had to add quite a bit of customization to my Swords & Wizardy campaign of a few years back, I have to say that I like not having to have to do the heavy lifting on finessing the rules and balance of the game. I was able to do back in the day but I was no expert. It involved quite a bit of time that I no longer have.  I want to sit down and run a game and 5e has all the rules covered.

I also like that 5e has a lot of flexibility on how you might want to play the game. There is a greater emphasis on role-playing make than the good ol' hack-n-slash.  I'm actually having fun as a DM exploring that aspect of the game a bit more. Character backgrounds are a great idea to help players focus on role-playing their character more. I think the races and classes have been well thought out.

The Bad

Getting brand new players into the game is an outrageously heavy lift. For people that have never played RPGs before, all the nuances of the modifiers and rules and if-thens and the level-ups is just way too much to ask of people to enter the game. I'm having that very experience with some new RPGers. I spend the first 20 minutes of a session going over the next layer of rules and ideas and modifiers. Players are slowly getting pieces of it but when the sessions are spaced weeks apart, they don't recall all the various modifiers needed for various situations.  I've had to create quick-starts and notes for them.  It's a long way from notecards.

Session zero. What adults who have never played the game before have the time to sit though a session zero? I don't and I'm the DM. Time is precious for everyone and spending the first three hours going over rules and how to play is not a very friendly entry point for people that want to just get a flavor of the game. Plus, this is the session where you roll up characters? As a group? New players will most likely WTF the game and move on. Sure, pre-gens could help with that but there is still the issue of trying to go over all the minutia of just whats on the character sheet. 

The Ugly

The organization of the Player's Handbook and DM Guide are completely for shit. Faction information is split across multiple books including the starter set rules.  Does WOTC expect you to purchase every single product so you can have all the information to run a Forgotten Realms campaign it's fullest?  Yeah, I don't want to spend a ton of money on this stuff and then have to store it. I'm a quick and dirty player / DM. Give me everything I need where it is expected to be and I'm good to go. Lets face it, there is a shit-ton of fluff and color in the paragraphs of these books to sift through to get to the important information that you need. 

Creating a character is such a bizarre complicated process of back and forth in the PHB that it takes all the fun out of what should be a very fun process. I end up relying on 5e character generators online or at D&D Beyond. As a DM I'm still going to kill off PCs if they do something stupid (or try to anyway) but having a player quickly roll-up a new character during the session is going to be pretty sad. 

This should be all about keeping players in the session having fun, not having to have players and DM look 101 things up per game session.

The adventure books follow that same pattern.  The organization is not for actual gameplay but to casually sit back and read.  Again, as with the PHB and DMG there is way to much flipping back and forth for content that is buried somewhere within the pages. 

Okay, this is going to be an "get off my lawn" moment but the old classic modules were utilitarian.  Printed on cheap paper, you were able to make notes, scratch-out monster HPs, tear out handouts and artwork, encounter charts right up front.  Those modules were made to be used and abused. These new adventure books are designed to sit on your bookshelf and be 'collected'.  To make any of these adventure books even remotely usable, I have to rewrite most of it into accessible notes for the DM. It's sad because I do think that some of these adventures are great fun but the time I have to dedicate to be able to run one of these is not practical for a casual campaign.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not a hater of 5e, I do like it as a matter of course. I thought I'd be saving some time and energy with a more polished rule-set than my ol' cobbled together S&W game. 

On a side note, I've also been a player in a 5e campaign and have really enjoyed that quite a bit. But I'm an experienced gamer and didn't have to struggle with the rules too much. 

We have gotten back to our 5e campaign with some noobs and I will be posting a session summary of that shortly.

Thursday, November 3, 2022

5e Session III: A Goblin Hideout, Finally!

The next morning it was decided that the party should finally seek out the whereabouts of Gundren and Sildar. Not sure where to begin, they ask the Stonehill Innkeeper and he pointed them to speak with Halia in the Miner's exchange.

Speaking with Halia, they didn't learn much about any goblin hideout but she tells them that she heard a rumor that there was a goblin hanging out with the Red Brands and they it might know where the hideout was.

The party decided to head out on their own back to where they were attacked by the goblins on their way to Phandalin. 

Heading back to the Tribor Trail, they rediscovered the half-eaten bodies of the dead goblins and horses. Chuck was able to pick-up the goblin trial and lead the party into the woods. It's not long, however, that Chuck triggers a snare and is pulled up into the trees. Purina, with the help from Aurora gently lowered the ranger back to the ground.

Proceeding on with more caution, Chuck is able to avoid another trap that that goblins had set.

As dusk approached, they came across a small clearing with a dead body. It was the dead and mutilated body of a naked half-ogre pierced by the same black feathered arrows that fell Gundren and Sildar's horses.

They headed off trail and camped for the night in the wilderness each taking a turn as a night watch.

In the morning they continued to head down the trail but Chuck found that now there were dog prints with the goblins.

It's not long before the forests breaks and they stood before a cave opening in a hillside. Chuck, snuck quietly over to the opening and discovered two goblins poking and torturing a wounded dog. The Ranger signaled his companions and Purina snuck over to assist Chuck as Aurora and Your Majesty ready themselves. Purina transformed into a bear and her and her and Chuck attack and slay the goblins.  Aurora came over and healed the wounded dog and now had a new companion.

The party finally entered the cave and discovered three wolves chained up in a side passage but they continued forward. With Aurora and Your Majesty blind in the dark, they climb on the back of Purina in bear form and Chuck lead the way deeper into the cave.

It's good he did as he spied a goblin on a bridge spanning across the passage.  The Goblin tossed a spear which stuck into the bear but Chuck was quick and fired an arrow which killed the goblin.

Following the winding cave, the party discovered a room with a waterfall and two pools of water  guarded by a couple of goblins. Your Majesty and Chuck attacked the goblins but one escaped to bring reinforcements. 

The leader of the gang, Klarg the Bugbear arrives with more goblins and a fierce wolf. A battle to the death ensued and left Aurora very near death and the bear defeated but with some luck and magic, the party prevailed and defeated Klarg and his minions.

Thursday, October 27, 2022

5e Session II: Putting the Red in Red Brand

Aurora Boree Alice - Human Cleric
Chuck Norris - Elf Ranger
Purina - Half-elf Druid
Your Majesty - Human Wizard

The party continued their conversation with Sister Garale and she pointed out two Red Brands that were watching. She told them that Farmer Alderleaf’s son had a run in with the Red Brands. It was decided to chat with Farmer Alderleaf and his son Carp.

Finding the farm on the edge of town they meet Qunlin Alderleaf and his son. Carp told them that he had found a cave in the forest and saw a couple of Red Brand talking with an ugly furry creature.  He was scared that they might catch him so Chip hid until he had a chance to escape.

The party asked Carp to lead them to the cave which he did.  Exploring the cave opening they didn't find anything of interest so decided that they would explore the cave themselves. Chuck and Aurora, wanting to protect the boy from any dangers walked him back to the edge of the forest and back to his farm, but, peering out from the cover of the trees, they spied the two Red Brands that were spying on the party earlier.  The Red Brands climbed over the wall and head towards the woods.  

The party headed back to the cave entrance and took cover as the Red Brands arrived.  After looking around for the party, the Red Brands surmised that they must have entered the cave. The Brands drew their swords and entered the cave.

The party waited to see if the Red Brands came back out but they never did.

It was decided to head up to Tresendar Manor and take a look around for the Red Brands. From the ruins they found stairs leading down to the cellar door.

Descending into the cellar they discovered crates and barrels full of stored food and supplies. Filling most of the cellar was a large cistern full of water.  Within the pool of water, Chuck found a waterproof bag with clothes, gold and some potions.  While the party argued about which door to go through they were discovered by the slumbering Red Brands in a room next door.  A fight broke out and two of the Red Brands are killed and one surrendered. 

Your Majesty interrogated the prisoner and they learned that the Red Brands had only arrived in Phandalin a couple of months ago and that they are being lead by Glasstaff who is taking orders from someone going by the name of the Black Spider.

Your Majesty murdered the prisoner and they dumped all the bodies into the cistern.

Continuing through the one of the doors Chuck discovered that there was a false floor in the hallway.  As they traversed, around the trap, Aurora fell into the pit. After pulling her back up on the other side, they opened a set of double brass doors and found a crypt with skeletons lying on the floor on the other side.

Deciding it best to avoid any more dangers, they turned around to leave but had quite a bit of trouble getting back to the other side of the pit.  Purina fell into the pit and is knocked unconscious.  Chuck, tried to help her but also fell in.  Eventually Aurora and Your Majesty were able to pull them up and they leave the cellars the the ruins of the manor.

Heading back to town and passing the Sleeping Giant Tap Room, they were accosted by a gang of four Red Brands.  Purina and Aurora approached them try to seduce them with the cleric attempting to preach to them but the Red Brands harassed the ladies and dismissed their gentlemen companions.  

Your Majesty had enough and cast Fog Cloud to engulf the Red Brands which also engulfed their compatriots.  Your Majesty and Chuck reached in and pulled out Aurora but also a Red Brand.  Purina ran out of the cloud on the other side along with a couple of Brands. A fight ensued and Chuck went down before the rest of the Red Brands were defeated and dead.  

The Grista of Sleeping Giant Tap Room along with some townsfolk witnessed this confrontation. Grista is shocked and dismayed at the Red Brand's defeat, however, the townsfolk celebrate the party as heroes for standing up to the Red Brands and they all head to the Stonehill Inn. 

Friday, October 21, 2022

Rookie Mistakes

 Yes, I have plenty of years of DMing experience as you probably already know if you've followed or poked around this classic blog.

You would think that would be enough to avoid a couple of DMing rookie mistakes.  After years being absent working behind the screen I guess even mad skills can get a bit rusty.

Now, my DMing experience has always been running Old School games. I've been wanting to run a 5e game for quite a long time and, in fact, have just recently been a player in a couple of sessions that my friend Brian started running.  On the surface, 5e is not much different than any other classic version of the game with some rules even being very large improvements.  This was enough to loosen that arrow and get a session going.

Taking my baby steps into running the world of 5e, it was obvious that I would run the Lost Mines of Phandelver. 

Now, I was going to give the game rules a good try and play it as it was intended. Of course, I'm going to try to push the boundaries of the sandbox concept of this adventure and blend it with the Dragon of Ice Spire Peak to keep the campaign going

I had some rookie players and thought I'd start with a brief role playing encounter with a boy and his lost dog. Meeting the boy the party attempts to find the trail of the lost dog and the Ranger attempts to find the trail. Skill test rolled and...... failure.  Now this is me setting up encounters as the game intended.  Well, what the fuck is supposed to happen when the skill check fails when it was really needed to be made to keep the adventure going? True, I never planned for that because it was never intended for the player to 'fail'.

As I processed this adjustment in real time, the game continued with the players somewhat mystified by this lost dog.

Next came the infamous goblin encounter which went fine. As the characters did exactly what they were supposed to do and look for the goblin trail, the skill check was rolled and..... failure! Another failure on a significant plot point.  Again, I let the roll stand and pondered what the hell else to do to keep the game going. 

At this point, in my mind, the game kind of derailed and I had to scramble to keep things going in a sensible manner. Thank the gods I was able to wing it and they had some 'unplanned' adventures around the town (which involved yet another failed roll which I ended up fudging because.... seriously).

The game wrapped up and I was slightly disheartened as I expected batter of myself behind the screen.

Why did I let skill check die rolling derail the game I intended?

Why are players rolling dice for checks that they shouldn't know if they failed or succeed?

By default, I always try to play a game or cook a recipe as intended and the game seemed to intended for players to roll dice for checks they shouldn't know the results on major plot points.  Sure you can play it that way but there will be some bad game play as players know they failed a check yet keep rolling to until they make the success that they and the DM need them to make.

I had to make some adjustments and pretty much got rid of dice rolling things that the players obviously would or should succeed in. I also had to 'hide' some of those rolls from the players.  In other words, I needed to run this modern version of the game just like I would any old school sandbox game. I let go of the ridged grip on the rules as, I think, WOTC intended and work and mold 5e into something that made much more sense with how I prefer or think the experience of the game should go.

I made those adjustments and session two was much more magical.

Monday, October 17, 2022

5e Session I: The Road to Phandalin

Aurora Boree Alice - Human Cleric
Chuck Norris - Elf Ranger
Purina - Half-elf Druid
Your Majesty - Human Wizard

Leaving their homes and temples to seek out a name and fortune for themselves in the land of Faerun within the Forgotten Realms, our various party members have journeyed to the largest city in the northern region along the Sword Coast; the city of Neverwinter.  But their naïveté played a disservice as the growing city of merchants, thieves and worse greedily preyed upon their innocence and ignorance and has left them penniless.  

The past few days living in squalor in the bowels and back alley ruins of Neverwinter has made them desperate to rise above their current state.  An opportunity came in the shape of a posted ad that asked for “...competent souls needed for a 5 day wilderness journey! Earn gold!  Skill with a blade a must!  Magic a plus! Inquire Gundren Rockseaker at the Cock & Bull!"

Hoping it’s not too late the party members had made their way over to the Cock & Bull and after asking around were introduced to a bearded warrior by the name of Sildar Hallwinter. He, in turn, introduced them to a weathered dwarf… who introduces himself as Gundren Rockseaker.

Gundren hired the party to carry some supplies for him to the frontier town of Phandalin and drop the cart and supplies off at Barthen’s Provisions.  Before Gundren and Sildar left that evening on horses, Gundren paid for the party’s lodging in the barn and paid for their morning breakfast.

The party traveled down the coast road and on the second day came across an elvish boy, Haldir, searching for his lost dog Naquoo. The party tried to assist the boy and look for the any sign of the dog but no trace was found.

They continued on to the Wayfarer Inn for the night at the crossroads of the Triboar Trail and the Coast Road.

The next morning they set out down the Tribor Trail and ran into the slain horses of Gundar and Sildar and found an empty map case. There they were beset by goblins which they quickly slew.  Trying to find signs of the fate of their employers they found no trace.

They continued on to Phandalin arriving in the evening and there they met up with Barthen and handed off their delivery for an additional fee and stayed at the Stonehill Inn.

The next day they traveled to Umbrige hill to purchase some healing potions from the midwife but found her windmill under siege by a wild Manticore.  After Purina entangled the beast the party attacked it from a distance.  The wounded creature broke free and flew off.

Adabra the midwife rewarded the party with 1 healing potion each.  

Returning to Phandalin, they stopped at the Shrine of Luck and met Sister Garale who informed them about the troubles with a gang of bullies and thugs calling themselves the Red Brands who were taking it upon themselves to 'guard' the town. As she spoke, two Red Brands were watching her conversation with the party from a distance...

Session notes: This was our first session of 5e. All the players are fairly inexperienced with D&D and one had never played role playing games at all. I figured I would skip the "Session 0" idea and just get into the game figuring we'd teach and learn as we go. Also, we're all adults and busy and who wants to spend that whole first session doing the 'homework' of building characters that new players really don't understand?  We're all adults and busy with real life things so spending hours just building characters seemed somewhat ridiculous to me and my quick, down and dirty old school ways. I asked most of the players what character race and class they would like to play and then built them as pre-rolled characters for them just to get them into the game play.

Session 0 probably would have been a bit more helpful as all the elements of the the character sheets and rules to go along with them are a bit challenging for new players to understand and grasp.  In fact, I'll get more into that in a future post. 

More thoughts on the first session coming soon...

Monday, October 10, 2022

Yet, Another Rekindling...

 As you can see from the previous posts, my D&D gaming experience has been quite.... sparse.

During the pandemic, I ran a Swords & Wizardry sandbox campaign on Roll20 for my wife and friends, most of whom never really played D&D. It was an actually pretty fun campaign and I had every intention of recording their exploits here as I had done with my previous S&W campaign. These adventures existed in the same campaign world that I've been running in my previous years long sandbox setting.

This "COVID Campaign" was also my longest Roll20 campaign as well. Roll20 served nicely for all of us to get together and play for a few hours each week during the world's apocalyptic pandemic.

Swords & Wizardry was a great ruleset for getting noobs into a fantasy RPG. Simple rules and mechanics got everyone up and running pretty quick. Everyone enjoyed the game, we all had lots of laughs and it was a great way to kill long hours at home. With characters like Karona Viress the cleric, George Michael the wizard and BuFoo the assassin, you can imagine the good times that we had as I ran them through everything from the Keep on the Borderland's Caves of Chaos to Rahasia and the Endless Tunnels of Enladin to all manner of one-shots and home made dungeon crawl adventures. 

Running the sessions on Roll20 evolved into me having to prepare a lot more assets for game play. We ended up relying quite a bit on the maps, tokens and interfaces to 'enhance' gameplay. This meant I spent more and more time preparing maps and tokens. This took a bit of a toll on me especially when my job was becoming more and more demanding.

We wrapped up the campaign with everyone's characters hitting about 5th level or so. I really do wish I recored the campaign because it was quite wild and fun.

So, let us flash forward to 2022.

Friends from my old group were looking to get together for at least a one-shot and maybe more if things went well.  Well, we're all a bit older and have more responsibilities and, after weeks of scheduling conflicts, we finally go together to play some D&D. This time it would be D&D 5e.

Yes, the cool-aid has been sipped.

I stepped back as a DM and slipped in as a player.  

Brian (Teabag and Arg form our old S&W campaign), our 5e DM ran the classic Sinister Secret of Salt Marsh.  It was a fun romp through the infamous 'haunted house' scenario and beyond. And 5e wasn't so bad either.  Brian played very loose with it so it pretty much ran like a classic D&D game.  

Annnd, of course, this piqued my interest in running a 5e game myself.  There are some mechanics I really liked, and, I will soon fine, some I will need to tweak.

So, yes, here we are again. I'm diving into 5e and seeing where that takes me....