Adventures in 5e, The Actual Session

In the last two articles we’ve talked about character creation and module prep… now let’s get into how the actual play session went!

Quite honestly, I wasn’t sure how this adventure was going to go. In the last two years when we’ve done our holiday game with the kids we’ve done a more traditional dungeon crawl. This adventure has some roleplaying aspects to it and honestly as beginning gamers I was concerned that those elements would be a bit lost in the shuffle. We had players as young as 6 and 9, teenagers, and as old as, well, me… I’ve been gaming with my friend Kevin since college – 1988 was a long time ago and we’re now in our 40s with kids and wives.

fey-sisters-fate-coverFunny enough, there was a fair amount of roleplaying from some parts of the table – and it didn’t go quite as I expected – which made it entertaining.

First of all, know that my GMing style is a bit rough around the edges these days. I tend to keep the mood light as much as possible. Puns, silly voices, leading questions, etc. all come into play – especially with young kids. Don’t want to get TOO dark – so there was a lot of laughter from the beginning. I read some of the encounter text verbatim and paraphrased elsewhere.

Spoilers ahead, so don’t read if you’re planning on playing the adventure!

They quickly made it out of town and found their way to the first encounter. Amazingly there was a call for diplomacy, which made things go better. The party spoke with Lorelei the Hamadryad and were kind enough she actually gave them a few potions to help them help her. Shocking. Nobody was hurt – even the poor thralls Lorelei had in her power.

The next encounter involved six giant mosquitoes as written. I doubled it. A couple of characters were hurt in the melee, but they eventually squashed the bugs and moved on.

But after that, things got weird.

The encounter after the bugs involves a naiad drying out in a muddy riverbed. One of the characters approached and wanted to check to see if she was alive. She did this by picking up the naiad and shaking her in a misguided attempt to wake her up, then throwing her over her shoulder. At that point, the naiad was in a bad state of mind and stabbed the PC in the back with a dagger. The character then threw the naiad about 6 feet away in the mud to get her off…

To say the naiad wasn’t pleased is an understatement. She was unconscious at this point however and the party decided to tie a rope to her foot and drag her along the river bottom to the shore. You might imagine a river bottom as being covered in rocks and mud, so the poor creature was dragged, bouncing from rock to rock until she was finally on shore.

The cleric healed the poor creature, who immediately opened her eyes and leaped to hug the healer asking to be protected against the PC who had hurt her earlier…

After a brief exchange, the naiad told the party of the bear who was troubling the pond where her fellow naiads were staying hydrated. The bear was hungry, hurt, and they worried might decide that naiads were on the menu.

So part of the group went to check out the pond. The druid and the bard managed to not only calm the bear, but heal it, and convince it to move on to find food elsewhere.

The naiads might have given the party some treasure, but decided that the initial encounter had soured them on doing more than offering a “thank you”.

And we moved on to the third encounter of the evening. Of course, by this point the party had decided to take a long rest. They may have actually done this before the naiad encounter, but it was somewhere before the third encounter. They got hit points back and rested until it was dark.

Marching in the dark, they were eventually set upon by a group of giant frogs. The encounter is written for three giant frogs, but I decided that wasn’t enough and added two more for good measure. Except for the gnomish wizard being swallowed whole, nobody really took much damage and they dispatched the frogs pretty quickly.

They continued onward in the dark to the dam, which has been causing all the issues downstream… no water for the naiad or the hamadryad.

The lead characters manage to hit two snare traps, which alerts the frogfolk on top of the dam itself… We managed to get through one round of combat at the top of the dam with one group of enemies while another was on the way from the other side before we ran out of steam and called it good for the night.

So a few observations came to mind…

First, it’s been a long time since I have played with a drow anywhere near the party. Not sure why she decided to play one, but didn’t really bother me. I totally forgot about the whole “daytime” disadvantage of the race until the player reminded me. So from that point on I was happy to use the “Advantage/Disadvantage” mechanic in 5e to make it harder for her to hit anything. She was good with it and it added a bit of an inconvenience more than anything else.

Second, eleven PCs and twelve players is INSANE. :) That said, we got through more than 3 encounters pretty easily using what I’ve heard described as the “theatre of the mind” approach that we used to favor in old school D&D. I didn’t use big tactical maps. We did initiative and worked through things in order from top to bottom until each combat was resolved. And it worked great. We hardly got bogged down and when we did it was usually a spellcaster figuring out what their plan was going to be as we got used to certain spells.

But all in all, I was impressed by the fact that we really didn’t struggle without having a laptop or a map or any of the things we had used in the previous two years with 4e. I did it all on paper and just winged it.

Third, the mechanics of 5e are much simplified – to the point where I felt like our 6 year old player was just as with it as our 40+ year old players were. We rolled dice, mechanics were pretty streamlined and consistent all along the way, and we just chugged right through it all.

Were there some speed bumps? Sure. But I don’t think it could have gone much better.

Overall I think everybody had a good time, including me. And we may try and finish off the adventure over the Christmas break when everybody is in town again. If that happens, there will be more to the story to relate!

Dungeons & Dragons’ Legacy

The D&D system will always hold a fondness for me. It was my introduction to roll-playing and then (as I became more sophisticated) role-playing. It allowed me to play in worlds that were inspired by authors like J.R.R. Tolkien, Fritz Leiber, and Robert E. Howard (among many others). While I owe a great debt to the game system for all that it has influenced my own life, the system was never a perfect fit for me.

dnd-logoAll RPG systems, if left unchecked, can easily lend itself to Monty Haul and becoming a combat-fest with very light role-playing and story opportunities. D&D tends to make some of that easy though. To survive combat encounters at higher level, the PCs need to have gear that boosts their capabilities to handle them. If you aren’t careful the characters become known more for the items they have and how they use them, instead of people who have tools to make them work. This demands that a certain amount of treasure gets handed out to keep the game system in balance. If you give out too little treasure, the group struggles to deal with encounters that they should be able to handle. If you give out too much treasure, the characters end up being significantly harder to challenge. This balancing act even gets reflected in RPGs that have been made for computer games. It is very present in games like Baldur’s Gate, Diablo, Torchlight and others.

This directly lends itself to magic items becoming a commodity market all unto its own. D&D never makes any bones about this — the system supports a level of fantasy that magic weapons and armor are common enough that there is a base market for them. There are numerous posts out there on the web about trying to make magic items seem more than just another +1 longsword or +2 mithral chain shirt. The trick to that is to give every item a history and have the players learn them as they get to know their items. There is a downside to that though … the GM has to prep all those histories in addition to normal game prep. If you are pressed for time, like I perpetual seem to be, that is one of the first things that gets pitched when getting ready for a session.

In 3rd edition, item history took another body blow in the form of detailed instructions on what it takes to create magic items. Now the players have easy access to what is necessary for creating a magic item. Rather than searching for a particular item, a character (with the proper build) can construct the item with enough effort. Of course the party needs to have enough downtime to actually accomplish this. This creates the peculiar problem in that one character is consumed for days or weeks doing something while the rest of the party has to come up with what were they doing during their impromptu vacation from adventuring. If they are like Fitz’s character DC from one of my previous campaigns, they are likely getting into all sorts of trouble that actually should be role-played … but that would leave out one or more characters in the group.

One of the solutions that I’ve been toying with is to do away with a whole class of items in D&D. With the treasure that the characters acquire, the characters eventually go from mundane weapons to +1 weapons. After a time, they progress to +2 weapons, etc. Why not just make that growth part of the leveling up process? At level X, your melee and ranged weapon attacks gain +1 to hit and damage. At another level, your armor improves by 1 (or 2 if you factor in what were once rings (or cloaks) of protection). Having a character grow more powerful as they level up happens anyway, but doing this would reduce the amount of extraneous magic items that are out there. Instead you can focus on items of significance for treasure. For example, the bow the characters just found is the one used by an infamous woodland bandit that preyed on the rich and was never caught by the guard. It might be worth more to a certain type of collector of artifacts, but it is just a well used bow all the same.

For me, D&D’s legacy was it exposed me to the joy of role-playing and telling fictional stories with friends (and family). The downside of the legacy is that it also demonstrated you can spend a lot of time trying to work around a systems limitations to make the system work the way you envision it. What’s its legacy to you?

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Adventures in 5e, The Fey Sisters’ Fate

I started this series last week with Adventures in 5e, Overview and Character Generation… So let’s move on to the module I chose…

Spoilers ahead, so don’t read if you’re planning on diving into this adventure from Goodman Games.

fey-sisters-fate-coverFifth Edition Fantasy #2: The Fey Sisters’ Fate from designer Chris Doyle and Goodman Games was one of the 1st level adventures I found that I figured might work for such a diverse group of players and characters. And for the most part, I think it worked pretty well.

Doyle’s adventure takes place in a place very easily translatable for just about any traditional fantasy campaign world. You get a small town, a nearby forest, and a well-thought out plot with a good mix of role-playing and combat encounters.

Where I ran into issues was translating a game meant for 4-6 characters to one that worked for a small army of 11 characters. I adapted many of the combats to simply increase the number of combatants. And I think that worked ok for the most part.

If you saw this group coming down a forest trail, you’d likely run the other way. They weren’t carrying torches and wielding pitchforks, but it amounted to about the same thing.

I really needed a bit more detail about the town, since that was where we were starting out. We get the name of an inn (the Broken Axle), the name of the mayor, and the fact that there’s a trading post of some sort. So, while sitting watching an indoor soccer game, I came up with the following:

  • The Broken Axle Inn is run by Emma & Walter Rand. It has simple rooms and simple food with some ale and a little wine to offer guests.
  • Mayor Patric Cullen is introduced with a “trio of others,” so we get Gilly Freedam, his assistant; Jimman Kadoo, his secretary; and Billam Rausch, a local guild representative.
  • Instead of a trading post, I created the Gramble Store – owned by Gemma and Tomas Gramble. They mostly sell farm implements, food, seed, a few simple weapons, and a little armor. Basic stuff.
  • To supplement the store, I created “The Collector” – a strange gnomish fellow who can be found wandering in the area, buying junk. He travels with a small cart filled with odds and ends. Badon Dinga is his name and junk is his game. There’s a 25% chance he may have what you’re looking for, but a 50% chance he has what you need.
  • And just in case we got into town a little more, I came up with a list of random names for the townsfolk. Five farmers: Branch, Calas, Dimmor (Dwarf), Rancor (Half-orc), and Peete. Three ranchers: Adams, Trent, and Scratch (Half-orc).

The party met the mayor, who gave the skinny on what he needed them to do, and then they went to the general store to top off on items. They had a bit of a line of credit at the store, but they all seemed to forget that, so they used their own gold to buy a few water skins, crossbow bolts, and other odds-n-ends. The old couple was a bit paranoid so when the group left, they immediately started doing a store inventory to make sure they hadn’t stolen anything.

But other than those two interactions, that was it before they headed off on the adventure. So I really need not have worried about all the rest, at least initially…

Next time we’ll cover how the session actually went. :)

Lost in a Dragon’s Hoard

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So the other night, I had the pleasure of watching the extended edition of the Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug. The funniest thoughts occurred to me as I watched the scenes with Smaug. How exactly did Smaug manage to gather the hoard of coins together into one massive chamber? <spoiler>And after Smaug is slain in the . . . → Read More: Lost in a Dragon’s Hoard

Adventures in 5e, Overview and Character Generation

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Those of you who know me know that I’ve been playing Dungeons & Dragons for a very long time. I started in 1982 and have played every edition along the way, though I was a little late to the party at times. I resisted 4e for a long time, though have a good time playing . . . → Read More: Adventures in 5e, Overview and Character Generation

Rise of the Video Games

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Back when I was young, I dreamed of the day that computers would be used both as role-playing aids and provide a level of sophisticated games that would be a reasonable substitute for role-playing when a group couldn’t meet. As time marched on, this dream became more and more the reality. However, what I never . . . → Read More: Rise of the Video Games

Web of Ly’s

Hi. I wanted to take an out of cycle moment to send out a hearty congratulations to my friend Lawdon (check out his website here) for the self-publishing of his first science fiction novel, Web of Ly’s (check it out at Amazon here). It is the first book of the series. The series looks like . . . → Read More: Web of Ly’s

That *New Game* Smell

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They say the first step to resolving an addiction is to admit you have a problem. Well, here’s my problem: I’m addicted to new settings.

I look at new systems whether they are set in an existing RPG framework or a brand new one. I’ll look into systems and worlds whether I’m currently running and/or . . . → Read More: That *New Game* Smell

Starting with a Big Bang

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Last week, on the Forged Front, I discussed players thinking about party dynamics before the campaign even starts in attempt to really make it easier for everyone to ease into the long haul for the campaign without having to wonder why their character would put up with another character for any length of time at . . . → Read More: Starting with a Big Bang

The Ties That Bind

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A RPG campaign lives and dies with the PCs. A GM can create an interesting setting backdrop, start the campaign off with a bang, and provide compelling reasons to want to explore the campaign world. However, the GM cannot force the PCs to actually stay together. Despite the GM’s best efforts, sometimes the various PCs’ . . . → Read More: The Ties That Bind

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