It’s that time of year again here in New England. Back to School! Even I’m getting in on the fun as I ran 5th edition D&D on back-to-back nights at my local game store.
The first night was “Lost Mine of Phandelver” and 6 players. First impressions do mean a lot and D&D hit all the right buttons for me. The balance of power is back where it belongs, the DM’s chair. 4E left me feeling like more of a stewardess than a captain and that feeling was gone. I opted for using a map, mainly because I have so many minis and I also have one player that has vocalized his preference for it. It slowed down things slightly but all in all, I had no problem with it. I issued a warning at the night’s beginning for both sessions about the fragility of the 1st level character and proceeded to ask each player to state their character’s name, race, class and a bit of background information about their character. Much like 13th Age’s “One True Thing”, I find the Traits, Ideals and Flaws for 5th edition characters to be a welcome addition to the game. I find that a solid half of RPG players are not comfortable with the Role-Playing aspect of these games and this really is an aid for helping that.
Combat. Nasty, brutish and short. That basically sums it up for you. At least at first level. After 3 combats, one pit trap, and two waves of water worth of pain and agony, the group nearly opted to retreat from the Cragmaw Goblin’s hideout. The group had managed to rescue an NPC acquaintance of them and at his urging they continued on to finish the job and not give up the element of surprise. Always a balancing act for players and DM, when to rest. A short rest had been used earlier in the session and all healing was used up. At-Will Cantrips however are perfect. You still feel like a caster, not a really lousy fighter. The climactic battle with Klarg the Bugbear proved me right in how fragile 1st level characters are. The group were perfectly terrified of what he would be capable of after an evening of goblin assaults. On the bugbear’s first attack I opted to roll out in the open as opposed to using the dice tower I had been all night. It was perfectly played as I tossed the d20 and wouldn’t you know it, it landed on a 20. The ensuing damage vaporized the hapless PC’s fighter in one shot. There was no getting around it, he was gone.
This player is a young guy mainly experienced with 13th Age’s system. It was his first character death and he handled it well but he was fairly shocked at the finality of it all. It was quite a moment.
The group laid into the bugbear and took him down after that and at the night’s end all rejoiced. A great first run.
Night two was the first “Encounters” session;.”Hoard of the Dragon Queen”. Three relatively inexperienced players and three cagey veterans made for a nail-biting night, especially until the 6th player (the cleric arrived late). It was good timing too as one of the PCs had been dropped by some kobolds and the party had no means of reviving him. Players and DMs be warned, this is a really dangerous position to be in. Anyway, there was a good mix of sneaking around, bluffing and fighting for everyone. The last encounter with Langdredrosa the dragonborn warrior, before the keep was particularly fear-inducing. Thankfully, the player, while defeated and bleeding out, was rescued from his doom just in time.
My overall impression of the new system is positive. I handed out a total of 4 Inspiration tokens in two nights, so that didn’t feel too gimmicky. The halfling’s ability to rer-oll on natural 1s came into play about 3 times and it was the only feature that felt overpowered to me. I didn’t use a map the second night aside from one battle and that also allowed me to maintain pacing of the story. In the end, I give 5th Edition a gold star.