Tag Archives: 5e

5E Adventures – A few thoughts

I picked up my copy of Curse of Strahd today and while I’m looking forward to it (a friend intends to run it soon) I have to say that I’m hoping it is better than the other 5E adventures released so far.

Not to put to fine a point on it, but the adventures released so far – the two Dragon Queen adventures, Princes of the Apocalypse, and Out of the Abyss – are… Not great. The Dragon Queen adventures had their moments but those moments were bogged down by some interesting editing choices and poor organization.

Princes of the Apocalypse – which our group recently ended our game with – was a mess. The adventure was a decent homage to its inspirational material but playing through it felt disjointed, slow, and awkward in its execution. There is this wide open map to play in but really, only a few areas actually mattered and the ‘side plots’ were worse than distractions. The adventures were designed with the appearance of a sandbox but really aren’t. The DM has to work hard to make sure that the players don’t wander into the wrong area and effectively end the campaign with a TPK. And no matter what else happens, the players are basically left wandering around with no ability to put the pieces together. It was infuriating.

Out of the Abyss is another adventure built on fancy rails that wants to pretend it’s an Underdark sandbox. When I first started reading this one I was stunned. The adventure directs the group to a village of crazy fish people that are worshiping demons and basically set the party up by having Demogorgon rise out of a lake and destroy a town like a tentacled Godzilla and saying, “hey, that’s enough to get the party interested, right?”

Yep, a party of characters that have only recently wandered into this town after being slaves to the drow and then wandering around the Underdark lost and potentially starving for what might be days or weeks. But yep, we’ll get right on that fighting Demogorgon thing… Or, we’ll run like hell and get to the surface as fast as possible and forget we ever saw Demogorgon. That seems like a better plan.

I’m still hopeful that Curse of Strahd will be better. I’m not reading it until after we’ve had a chance to try to play it but so far, D&D 5e adventures haven’t impressed me, which is too bad because I really like the game.

Monday Morning DM: Can Murder-Hobos Belong and Other Thoughts on My 5e Experiences.

I used the term “murder-hobo” in public the other day and I realized that to anyone who does not play D&D, they might seriously think I was endorsing lethal bum fights. I was on a college campus, so this seemed extra likely.

The context of my comment though, as it would make sense to gamers, concerned the idea that even though I – ostensibly – enjoy a sandbox, hex-crawling style of play – I wonder if sometimes I only think that I enjoy that. I worry about this because it doesn’t just inform my fun as a player but it affects my thinking when I’m planning and running a game.

If I may take a brief aside into video games, I really struggled to enjoy Fallout 3, but I very much enjoyed Fallout: New Vegas. The difference being, for me, that New Vegas included this whole layer of civilization which was lacking in F3. In New Vegas, I was able to connect with different factions, have recurring enemies, build a storyline around my exploration and I didn’t just feel isolated like I did in Fallout 3. I make no objective claims that one is better than the other – it’s just that New Vegas satisfied my need to be a part of something in a way that the purely open exploration of Fallout 3 could not.

This difference really affects my enjoyment of playing an RPG at the table too. I enjoy old-school play to the extent that I really enjoy fragile characters and having to make tough choices and the mystery of a wide-open map with a million stories to be told. But out of the OSR movement, I naturally gravitated right to Adventurer Conqueror King System because of its emphasis on civilization (especially in sharp contrast to the great wilderness). During the explosion of settings surrounding D&D, Second Edition, while everyone was raving about Planescape and Dark Sun, I was quietly sitting in my corner running Birthright (and I would love to see a Birthright revival in 5e). The domain rules appealed to me precisely because they inherently connected player characters to the setting. You were a regent (or if a non-regent, then connected in some way to survive the world of regents). When I was running Warhammer Fantasy, I unbundled the “blooded regent” rules from the domain system and used it in conjunction with my homebrew world. That was a seriously fun game.

Taking another example, out of all the Pathfinder Adventure Paths, the only one I was ever pulled toward was Kingmaker. The whole concept of getting a hex-crawl which was explicitly tied to the idea of building a domain was fascinating to me. It served both purposes and we had some very memorable roleplaying based around the council the team put together to run their budding kingdom.

Amber – my gaming crush from way back – is another example of finding this freedom. Characters created for Amber games are intricately and explicitly tied to forces larger than themselves which will demand their allegiance (or rebellion) and with which their interactions are vital. That said, during the course of any given session it is likely that the players will roam all over Hell and half of Georgia (as my Granny used to say) because they can literally go anywhere. But they still have important, inescapable social ties which are as much obligation as they are sanctuary.

So why is it – as I am running my second 5e game – that I find myself falling back on the habit of treating D&D like a set of disparate adventures thrown together in episodic fashion and not able to find my footing in building a sense of community and continuity? It’s a question that keeps me up at night.

There was an announcement that Green Ronin is going to bring back the Blue Rose RPG. I was excited about this for two reasons. First, I’m a huge fan of romantic fantasy. Second, I’m a fan of the AGE system and I am interested in seeing it supported outside of Dragon Age. That said, I was not enamored of the world/setting of the Blue Rose RPG which shares much more in common with Mercedes Lackey than Tamora Pierce (or new writers like Rae Carson). Don’t get me wrong, I can enjoy Mercedes Lackey’s Valdamar stories – and I certainly respect their longevity – but even for a civilization-loving gamer like myself I find everyone just a bit too reasonable for my tastes. Everything is just a bit too ideal. I mean, I wish the world worked like that. At the end of the day though, I appreciate the complexity of motivations which often seem to drive the characters from the later waves of Romantic Fantasy. That said, I am happy that Blue Rose is coming back if for no other reason than it had a beautiful aesthetic and presented a very different kind of fantasy – which is almost always a good thing.

To return to my problem which prompted this think aloud session… What is it about running D&D which shoves me back into module mode? Why do I find it so hard to create, in D&D, the same kind of free-floating wonder I am able to capture in Amber or other games? Why are there so few opportunities in the D&D realm to mix sandbox-style play with a world full of connections? Is it because the nature of sandbox style play (the freedom to roam) is conflicted by the need to have connections which, by their nature, tie your PCs down?

I struggle with this. As a DM/GM of over 30 years, with many successful campaigns at my back (at least, based on feedback from my players… I am often my own worst critic) why is it that I still struggle with a game I genuinely enjoy? It vexes me.

Let me close with this. I was reading some of the introductory material to Silent Legions and I found the discussion of sandbox play there refreshing. Specifically, the idea that “the stories it produces are all in retrospect – the tale of the choices the PCs made and the consequences that came of them.” This is a well-crafted thought and explains precisely what it is that makes me love the idea of sandbox-style gaming. It captures the spirit of what I have done in my best games – the ones I have run that even I love looking back on – which involves a give and take between the setting and the PCs such that sometimes they will have to accept consequences for choices not made; the road not taken and all that. If I can capture that again – if I can capture that sense of freedom and wonder compounded by a living, breathing world – I think I’ll be happy. Until then… I’m not sure what comes next.

Thoughts, feelings, reactions, stories? Feel free to share.

As always. Thanks for reading.

D&D 5e, Part Two

So this is part two of my observations about 5E started in my last post.

I’ve spent a little more time with the Starter Set box contents and the free D&D 5e PDF – which you should take a moment to download and read if you love RPGs and haven’t done so yet. Let’s not call what follows a review… let’s call it an exploration of my perceptions as I move through the material. I’m mainly going to focus on the Starter Set and occasionally reference the more complete PDF rules.

A disclaimer: I did not follow the playtest very closely. I kept it at the edge of my awareness but I did not play any games with rules, etc. I mention this only to say the new material was very new to me and not tempered by the playtest experience. Also, what follows is my own meandering ruminations and should be considered in that light…

The Short Version (again)
If you just want the really short version… I like it. I enjoyed reading it and think that some of what has been done here is amazing, some of it is derivative, and some is “meh.” But overall, I really like what I’m seeing so far.

Character Creation
Honestly, I don’t yet fully know how I feel about this. I like the new character sheet – it feels like an old school character sheet but with some notable differences (like prioritizing the stat bonus over the stat) which I find interesting and useful. Many d20 system-style games have simply done away with the base stat and gone to the bonus but I think keeping the 3-18 range is nice. 4d6 drop the lowest is probably the most common version of “roll your stats” and with a solid point buy option in the rules as well I think they covered everything.

The basic 4 races are covered well and each is pretty exciting. The use of subraces is awesome and really evoked 2e for me as I was reading, while still feeling like a new game. This makes me excited to see the full PHB and the treatment of some of the newcomers to D&D. One of the great innovations of 3e/4e was the fact that you could make effective characters (maybe not optimized, but effective) with almost any race/class combination. I’m a huge fan of this and happy they continued this trend.

Classes look solid. They all have something and the clever implementation of advantage/bonus actions seems like it will be a big part of 5e design. Obviously, with smaller design space it may become an issue at some point but if they are planning to keep the splat books to a minimum this may not be as much of a problem anyway… time will tell on this front. I like the idea of Backgrounds.They seem well-integrated into the system and to provide evocative, helpful choices without being all-important decision points. That’s a good thing. Yes, some of this stuff doesn’t need mechanics but these seem to be well considered and I think they are going to become a fun part of the new game.

We don’t know a lot about multi-classing or implementation of options like “feats” yet but from the little clues we have in the PDF, I’m happy with the direction I see this going in. It looks like a real trade-off and a genuine way to expand the design space without overwhelming the core choices. Again, we’ll see as it grows, but the initial implementation looks very well thought out.

Rules
Combat
I haven’t run a combat yet. I’m still trying to process how I’ll fit in time to play 5e around my Star Wars game and everything else I do during the week but… it says something that I actually want to do it. I’ll freely admit to being predisposed toward not wanting to play this edition. Now, I’m intrigued. Other than that, I’ll say that I like what I see about the combat chapter. It seems straightforward. I’m a fan of removing tactical/map & mini based combat as the core option (though I’m sure it will be supported as a play-style, which is good) and the focus on simple actions again feels like they learned real lessons from their previous iterations and really worked to keep the good stuff. I look forward to trying this out for the first time.

Magic and Spellcasting
I’ll start this by saying that I’m not really sure why the Fireball needed a base 8d6 damage (I get it, because they changed the scaling, etc.) but it feels really strong now at level. On the whole, I really like the “cast it in a higher slot” as an alternative to all the metamagic craziness of previous editions. Again, tough to say how it will grow and change across the life of the edition but just the basics we see now are very encouraging. Not sure yet if this will change but… I did love the discussion of “Spellcasting Services” in the equipment chapter and how no prices were attached. It was more about whether or not you could find someone willing to do it and what they’ll want in return.

One thing I’m still missing is the fact that spellcasting is still so simple. One action, no chance of failing for most spells. I get why, really I do, but after playing Adventurer Conqueror King with its system of asking you to declare spells in advance of initiative and then a chance that they get ruined before you go… that’s good stuff. This is fine, and probably “fun” but it seems too consequence free considering how overwhelming magic gets pretty quickly.

Something I’m wishing for…
So, this is just a little tidbit from me and my own wish list. I get why they are using Forgotten Realms as the default setting. I get that this makes sense for them from a product standpoint and a game standpoint. I do. But as they go forward with this edition, as they dive into the next incarnation of D&D I have to wonder… why not bring back Birthright? This incarnation feels like it would be perfect for Birthright (with the subrace rules and the focus on offering options through backgrounds) and its vaguely 2nd ed feeling. But more than that… we live in an era of geekdom practically ruled by Game of Thrones (btw, Birthright had a novel of kings and tragedy title, The Iron Throne, just sayin’). Birthright is the dark fantasy game of kings and armies with a vibrant, well-detailed world and history that D&D already has sitting right in front of it. Sure, it’s not really the best choice for the “core” setting experience but it seems a shame not to revisit this wonderful world perfect for the tastes and environment of the now. It’s always been a personal favorite and I’d love to see it come back.

In closing
Again, this is long enough. I can say without reservation that I’m heartened by what I’m seeing and I really think the new rules have a chance to be a great D&D, that feels like D&D and brings the community back together again to some extent. That said, we still know very little and we’ll have to see more when the full PHB comes out in August.

Thanks for reading.

D&D 5e, part one

Do I need anything else to the title of this post?

I’ve just had the chance to complete my first read through of the Starter Set box contents and the free D&D 5e PDF – which you should take a moment to download and read if you love RPGs and haven’t done so yet. Let’s not call what follows a review… let’s call it an exploration of my perceptions as I move through the material. I’m mainly going to focus on the Starter Set and occasionally reference the more complete PDF rules.

A disclaimer: I did not follow the playtest very closely. I kept it at the edge of my awareness but I did not play any games with rules, etc. I mention this only to say the new material was very new to me and not tempered by the playtest experience. Also, what follows is my own meandering ruminations and should be considered in that light…

The Short Version
If you just want the really short version… I like it. I enjoyed reading it and think that some of what has been done here is amazing, some of it is derivative, and some is “meh.” But overall, I really like what I’m seeing so far.

Continue reading →