Monday, October 5, 2015

D&D 5th - game on

After reading a few reviews and a friend of mine insisted in this being the best edition ever (in despite of the page count--I'm used to the OSR mindset of barebones rules) I've decided to buy the three core books of D&D 5th Edition.

Well, I'm surprised.

There are too many good things there. The basic rules are simple, the advantage mechanic works better than I've thought after reading, the character creation is just a bit longer than I've expected (yet it's quickier than AD&D 2nd ed.)... The list goes on and on.

If there's one thing I really need to make my mind is the idea of balanced encounters. Let me explain this.

I prepared an adventure for my wife (Elf Wizard) and my in-laws (Human Fighter and Elf Druid). That meant a less than optimum number of players (5th ed. expects 4 players) and that added another math step. Ok, there are a few websites around that helps here (this one is invaluable), but that's a step I usually eyeballed on my game-prep before. At least now I know exactly what the mechanics expect of an easy encounter and a deadly one. I believe this will be quickier and quickier to me after a few sessions, but so far it's almost a chore. A good one (I keep telling me this is just another way to learn the system), but a chore.

I used an old hexmap (31x21 hexes) as basis for this new campaign. Major cities and villages, a conflict with human and elves, another conflict with old druidic religion and new monotheistic religion, a few goblinoids... And yes, that would be an hex crawl (even if I'm not sure D&D 5th would be a good system for hex crawls).

Every hexcrawl needs a starting point to keep the ball rolling. So the players were travelling back to a city by boat, the ship's captain invites everyone on board to attend a human-elf wedding, a few separatists start a fight, a NPC wizard hurls a fireball that misses, the boat sinks and the players (and most of the people aboard) are recued by fishing boats of a small village. Of course, that was not your regular village, but a reskinned Pommerville (stage of the AD&D adventure Cleric's Challenge, an one-on-one module that I've selected for the first major conflict--and changed the lamia for a wererat considering the expected CR for the group).

"Translating" the adventure to D&D 5th was not an effortless task. Yet, after the twice amount of hours I usually spend on my game-prep, everything was ready. Of course the players never saw that, and the game went as smooth as it could be.

The key to victory in that old module was: recruit your NPCs. That was true in my game too. Without turning undead the adventure was harder than I've thought, but everyone was having a blast--even my sister-in-law that was playing for the first time ever (sadly her Druid was killed mid-session and we took a quick break to create a Barbarian for her).

Long story short, on their way to find the magical rod that could trap the undead entity that was causing the "night of the living dead" on the village (and losing their way and three days), the Fighter saw a large pearl on the bottom of a crystal clear wheel and decided to grab it, only to having his hand "glued" to it and, unable to free himself, he cut his right hand. The fight against the wererat was harder after that, but they managed to survive...

...but in the nick of the time they rushed to the village (and I've ruled that I would only grant XP when they took a long rest, so they were ready to level up at any moment, but didn't managed to do so) to confront the undead "boss". The Barbarian went down (and was not able to make her survival rolls), the Wizard went down (but managed to do most of the damage, and also survived), and the one-handed Fighter delivered the killing blow. Village was saved. Eveyone was happy. Life was good again.

The very next day (real time) my sister-in-law asked me to create another hero (Human Cleric this time) and wanted to play again. That was a sign of D&D 5th working well (DM ability helps, I know, but I following the rules by the book, so there's merit in the rules). But now I was in the true hex crawl mode, and they were fishing for the adventure for themselves.

And it worked really good: an assassin's guild is after the Wizard and the Cleric, the group managed to defeat a demon-loving monk group, invoked the demon (re-skinned White Dragon Wyrmling) by themselves and sent it back to the lower planes, and reached level 3 (except the Cleric that is now level 2). Rumors abound, adventure waits.

And they want to keep playing. :-)
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