Sunday, January 10, 2016

5e My Paladin Experience Level 1-2

Hi all, Happy New Year.

I am lucky enough to get to play in a game in addition to the main campaign I run, and which I have posted irregularly on our conversion experience.  The other game is also 5e, and we are playing in Ptolus.  There are four players: a human wizard, a human warlock (who is covering our stealth requirements), a human cleric of light, and me playing a tiefling paladin (handling our tank duties).  We started at 1st level.

I chose the paladin more for roleplaying purposes than for effectiveness covering the party damage soaker, though I did want to see how the paladin class plays out to understand it better when I am on the other side of the DM screen.  I had no delusions the paladin is a top notch tank.

At first level the Lay on Hands feature came in handy, especially since the party is a bit like cockroaches when the light switch goes on - when combat starts everyone heads off to their own personal bit of excitement leaving the paladin to his own devices.  The Divine Sense feature might be a bit misplaced as a 1st level feature; unless your campaign dives right into undead thingies (and ours did not) it is not a feature which has much use.  (as of this writing at 2nd level approaching 3rd I have yet to use the feature).  The Thaumaturgy cantrip (gained from tiefling race features) has been fun for role playing but not particularly useful in most combats, but the darkvision is always useful.  Surprisingly enough the party has yet to 'accidentally' catch me in a fire spell so my resistance there is untested.

Given a suboptimal choice of race and the desire to split my best scores amongst strength, constitution and charisma, my character was not a combat power house.  I could bottle up the enemy for a round or two at an opening, but I usually needed to rely on dodge to survive until the party remembered to work together.  Paladin at 1st level feels a bit weak.

2nd level for paladin seems pretty big.  Since I plan on selecting the Oath of Vengeance for roleplay reasons, I chose the dueling fighting style as it fit the need for extra damage and the lack of interest in being a protection type character.  Spellcasting of course is huge but more because of burning the slots with Divine Smite.  With the exception of Shield of Faith, Divine Smite tends to be a sounder choice for using a spell slot at this level.  In most cases the guarantee of damage after a hit is a better choice than the potential damage, side effect and the risk of losing the spell which requires concentration of most of the spells.  Sure, if you have an opponent who is vulnerable to a specific damage type, or happens to be hanging around at the edge or a cliff or raging river to be pushed, or you are desperate to have an opponent be afraid for a round or two while you take care of other business, then Searing, Thunderous or Wrathful Smite can be useful.  But mostly, I am finding Divine Smite is the main item in the tool bag.  Since paladins have no spell recovery until a long rest - use those smites wisely oh noble (or not so noble) paladin.

With the 2nd level hit points, and the Divine Smites available, I thought I could control doorways and dish out damage.  So far, that has not been very effective for me.  All it takes is a little turn of the die rolling luck and I am in trouble.  Seems the better choice if one must control a bottleneck is Shield of Faith and the dodge action.  From there trust your party to recover from cockroach syndrome and get the job done, while you soak up attacks and get the occasional attack of opportunity.

Still just trying out the options and having fun.  Looking forward to 3rd level and both the mechanics and roleplay opportunities for Oath of Vengeance features.

The dice never lie.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

5e official retcon - our experience

My last post talked about the 5th edition retcon situation.  I will take a few paragraphs to share our experience since restarting the campaign with 5th edition.

The shield spell has been the most common retcon.  I have two characters who can cast it (wizard and multi-classed paladin-sorcerer).  My first concern was me remembering from game to game to behave differently when player characters are about to be hit.  This has not been so much a problem, I am learning.  Seems whenever those two PCs are about to be hit by something the shield can affect, I successfully pull of the "it looks like you will be hit" or some such phrase and then sit silent staring expectantly at the player for a few seconds.  As I had hoped my players did 'get' it fairly quickly.

No player has so far taken the Lucky or Defensive Duelist feats, so I don't have experience there.  Therefore I have not needed to change my rolling behind the screen preference.  Also, my players roll their own d20s in the Cone of Fate when they should not know the outcome.  For example, if I do not want them to know how stealthy they are... or are not.

The most challenging play so far has been the wizard, who is a diviner with the portent feature.  So now any attack roll, saving throw, or ability check is fair game for a retcon.  The first few sessions had some awkward moments.  I first erred by simply saying the outcome, only to be corrected by the diviner who said differently.  Next I spent way too much time staring expectantly and then have nothing happen.  I eventually settled in to staring expectantly only when something 'big' is happening.  I let the little things go by and they rarely get corrected, and mostly the corrections happen when a player makes a poor roll and the diviner sees it differently.  These small amount of retcons does not seem to be busting our immersion, especially since the wizard only gets two d20 pre-rolls with each long rest.

So far so good, retcon is not making our game less fun.  On the contrary, the shield spell is making them less risk averse, and the portent feature has been jolly good fun when worrisome moment gets quickly turned to a sigh of relief and cheers.

The dice never lie.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

5e official retcon - what you thought happened did not really happen

For some spells and other features D&D 5th edition employs a sort of retcon capability for creatures to be able to potentially undo, or make not happen something which has otherwise apparently happened.  This edition is not the first to make use of this as a capability. I am not really going to argue for or against having this in the game (that has been done quite adequately around the interwebs), but rather talk my struggle with making it flow smoothly.

Possibly the most familiar example of this to most D&D 5e players is the Shield spell.  As a reaction which you take when you are hit by an attack or targeted by the magic missile spell, an arcane spell caster can fire off this spell. In the case of an attack the result is your armor class goes up 5 points which might have the attack, which was just described as a hit, be a miss.

In the past as DM I may have described the following: "The ogre grunts as your spell burns his filthy hide.  He turns and hurls the crude spear he was clutching directly at you," rolls a d20 with appropriate damage die behind the screen, "although you turn aside to avoid the spear you are not fast enough, you take 8 points of damage."

With the retcon capability I should probably say instead, "although you are turning aside to avoid the spear it looks like you will not be fast enough....."

Then what?  OK, so D&D is a game and sometimes we have to metagame.  However I would prefer to stay in game as much as possible.  I could say, "Do you have a reaction to take, or does it hit?"  Ugh.  That sucks the life right out of the immersion faster than a vampire dining on a red shirt NPC.

How I am trying to handle it is to metagame the first few times with a player and after that not remind them they have that option and just assume they will jump in and use their ability when I give them the pause.  How long do I pause without wasting time an making the whole thing look silly?  I finish with "it looks like you will be hit" or some such phrase and then sit silent staring expectantly at the player.  I hope my players will 'get' it fairly quickly as I do not relish the stare expectantly DM action.

The next challenges are to remember to change my behavior and state the expected hit, and to come with lots of different language to use so I am not repeating the same tired phrases.  I suppose the latter is a variation of the same problem we DMs have when trying not to say, "it hits you for 5 hit points of damage".

I have not figured out all the possible retcon capabilities.  In addition to the Shield spell, I can think of the wizard divination school roll substitution reaction and the Defensive Duelist feat as two other examples.  I am certain there are many more.  So it is not just doing this with wizard, it is doing this on any roll - and with the divination feature as an example a clever player might use this feature in unexpected ways and not just when a monster attacks a player.

Then there is the Lucky feat which is just..... lucky.

Now I may have to reveal rolls I normally choose to keep hidden.  I suppose that could be a whole post on its own, whether to keep roles hidden.  I will summarize by saying I rarely if ever fudge rolls, so that is not why I keep my rolls private.  It is more to keep the metagaming to a minimum.  I do not want the players calculating monster to hit bonuses and figuring out possible max damage based on me showing dice.  And now in some of these retcon cases, a retcon is not automatic success.  In the example of Shield spell, I only want them to know they could put up a Shield but not to calculate in advance to know for certain if it will be beneficial.

Since we have limited experience with 5e, no player in my game has taken the feat yet.  So I have not crafted a strategy to handle that yet.

What others retcons are there out there in 5e?  How do you handle it? Any good suggestions for keeping things in game and fresh?

The dice never lie.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Converting My Campaign To D&D 5E: Detect Magic

One of the staple spells in D&D is detect magic.  When I first read the new spell for 5E I did not really dwell on the changes.  But, after seeing the players use it in action, I really like the updated version.

Way back in 1E, lower level wizards in our game rarely consumed a coveted spell slot
with detect magic when they were out adventuring.  With so few slots available, you loaded up on reliable party saving spells, or escape spells.  That means when gathering loot, you grabbed everything you could that might even remotely have the chance of being magical and sorted it all at in the safe confines of whatever you called safe confines. There, without the constant threat of annihilation you felt marginally safe using up spell slot on detect magic and hoped for the euphoric moment of discovering the party had indeed grabbed the right stuff.

With the addition of cantrips in 3E, detect magic could safely be used in the field.  Of course there were the complications as everything in 3E had complications.  You needed to build your spellcraft skill to keep a high success rate.  However, if you took a few rounds you would learn not just whether there were magic items, but how many, where, how strong and what school.  If you wanted to hide you magic items there was still the old stand by various thicknesses of various materials but barring that, you pretty much found all the magic items if you cast the spell.

I never gave the changes between 1E and 3E too much thought until I saw the 5E detect magic spell in use.

For the duration, you sense the presence of magic within 30 feet of you. 

I take this as you just 'sense' that magic is within 30' of you in any direction.  You would not know the direction, just sense the existence/presence of magic within 30'.  You would not know the number of items, or even the relative strength.

If you sense magic in this way, you can use your action to see a faint aura around any visible creature or object in the area that bears magic, and you learn its school of magic, if any. 

Key word here is visible.  If you do not see it, you would not see the aura. I like this so much.  You would still have to search for the magic item which you sensed.  This brings the other players back into the game.  Sure, you might find clever ways of narrowing the search area using some geometry and such.  But just having the item obscured by a floor board, a closed cabinet, a locked draw, you name it - keeps the search in 'searching for treasure'.

The spell can penetrate most barriers, but it is blocked by 1 foot of stone, 1 inch of common metal, a thin sheet of lead, or 3 feet of wood or dirt.

This section refers back to the sense statement.  If there is a visible barrier of this sort, you certainly could not see the item anyway.  I like that they remain consistent with earlier editions in this way.

Low level 1E kept the search in by simply making spells rare.  I like that detect magic can be cast as a ritual, and like even more that simple change in language which keeps the search in the game.  It definitely gets my DM juices flowing with ideas.

One interesting point, as I tried to look up the school of magic for the potion they located, I did not find one.  Not sure if I am supposed to extrapolate that, or, as implied by the spell (if any) not every item/object will have a school.  Until I learn otherwise, I am going with the later.

The dice never lie.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Converting My Campaign To D&D 5E: Web Tools

Strictly speaking, the task of converting tools is more about restarting a campaign than it is about 5th Edition.  Let me tell you about our web tools.

Previously we had used Yahoo Groups as our primary web tool.  If communication was
the only thing we did on-line, we would be staying with Yahoo.  Alas, Yahoo has fallen behind the times.  They have made little to no investment in Groups, and what changes they did make I felt were detrimental.  

After research different options, wikis, gaming sites, etc. I decided to move to Google Sites.  Partly this was because I was already familiar with the Google tool set, and partly because it is all free.


Yahoo Groups was a friendly way to make sure that everyone was copied on messages, kept message history, allowed email responses once the topic was started so you did not have to go to the site to keep a conversation going.  All communication was kept in the same location whether it was game scheduling, out of character chatter, or in character talk.  It could be difficult to find what you sought.

Google Groups is a powerful communication tool, with many more options than we will need.  The main drawback to changing to Google is Groups is a separate tool from Google Sites, where Yahoo Groups was integrated.  Yes, I can create links in our Google Site to the Google Group, it is not the same.  Yes Google Groups allow you to respond to posts via email just like Yahoo.  Trouble is, if you want to start a new post in Groups you go to a different URL than the Site.  For some of my group, this is confusing and complicated.

Like Yahoo, Google requires you have one of their email accounts to log into the site. Use Chrome, and stay logged in there, and you will never see a login screen.  I find it works rather nice.  For the tech savvy - I created the Google Group first and then used the Google Group for permissions in Google Sites, Google Drive, and Google Calendar to minimize administration.  Add someone to the Google Group, and they get access to all the web tools.

The intention is to use Google Groups for game scheduling and meta type communication. Other type of communication should be handled elsewhere.

Also under communication, when a new file was added to the Yahoo Site you were presented with the option to notify the Group (within the bounds of what individuals had setup in their Yahoo Group accounts).  Google Site relies on individual group members to setup their own notification preferences by site or by page.  If folks have not setup to be notified, they do not get notified.

Game scheduling

Yahoo Groups used an integrated calendar, and all was well until they 'streamlined' their site and move calendar to a place where people could not see it easily.

Google Calendar is a separate tool from Google Sites.  After creating a calendar for the gaming group it was easy enough to display it in a window on the site.  However, to update the calendar you must follow a link and update what looks like your own Google Calendar, except you select the game group calendar from a drop-down menu.  So far this is confusing the heck out of my group.  Part of our first get back together session will need to be a lesson on this.  If we cannot schedule a game, we cannot play.

Adventure logs

After all the disappointment above, you might be wondering why did I move to Google? Because Google Sites is awesome.  We have a story oriented campaign and the adventure logs are a tremendous help in keeping things straight, knowing where we left off, and for looking up old information to insure consistency.  Except when you have 80 adventure logs in MS Word.  Yahoo only allowed us to store files, not create web pages.  Searching for information because time consuming and frustrating.  I tried to combine logs into larger cumulative files, create HTML documents instead, and some other things I do not even remember but nothing worked well.

In Google Sites you can make adventure log posts which are web pages and easily search-able.  Searching is now easy, quick and effective; and not limited to the logs.  I cannot tell you for me how HUGE this really is.

If you have a dungeon crawl game and the history is really unimportant, then this will not mean much.  But, if like me, when during a session the players ask, "What was the name of that healer we met in the capital?", instead of responding, "Uh, um, let me look, ah, hmm......  Well, will just call him Bill for now", with a few clicks I can respond instead, "Raynoldus, Priest of Balben".

Campaign information

The only option for campaign information in Yahoo was to save it in files.  To search for information you browsed through a folder structure and read the titles of documents.

In Google Sites I have turned all those documents into web pages, in a hierarchical structure, with some links to make life a bit easier.  There are pages history and description of places, the gods, the coinage, various lore, supporting characters, house rules including divine domains, and so on.  The key here is now it is all search-able.  Want to see what you might know about Raynoldus?  If he shows up in any adventure logs, campaign history, supporting cast list, DM handouts, or in any in or out of character chats you know immediately.

Notice I just mentioned in and out of character chats?  My intention is instead of having in/out of character chats mixed in the scheduling and logistics communications in Groups, they will each have their own separate location within the Site.  This has the benefit of quickly and easily segregating the two types of conversations which I hope will help players find them easily (searchable) and keep focus.  The down side is you must go to the site to post them, no respond via email.

I have some spreadsheets I had built to organize information which I can now serve up in the site.  For example, there are some customer armors available.  I built an armor table of PHB and customer armor available, stored it in Google Drive and shared up a read only version on the site.

Maps, pictures, and files

Electronic copies of maps and various pictures are stored in a folder like structure area. Additionally, these can be embedded in a web page.  For example, one character had a portrait drawn, that file is in the folder structure.  The city map of Penchawn is located with the city description, so players can read the map and map key together.

At this time I think character sheets will remain a pencil and paper affair, with a scanned copy kept on the site for backup.  It appears 5th edition is simple enough that players will not all be driven to electronic tools for character building.  Since there are no robust tools yet, paper works fine.

We have not started the game yet.  I hope to finish the character conversions soon, but I am currently waiting on the players.  Then the main act - the campaign restarts!

Next up - Table Tools

The dice never lie.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Converting My Campaign To D&D 5E: Character Conversion

Character conversion is the part my players were most concerned.  I only played in the Lost Mine of Phandelver, and had no other 5th edition experience.  I read through at least once the Player's Handbook, Monster Manual, and the Dungeon Master's Guide.  I did not take me long to come to the conclusion there was no pragmatic way to convert characters.  Instead, we would rebuild characters.

Rebuilding has the added benefit of the players reading through the rules enough to make decisions about their character.  Based on feedback so far, this is working as intended.  There are lots of questions.  Not just rules questions, but questions about how it matches up with how their characters were meant to be played.

Characters will be based on the default array - 15, 14, 13, 12, 20, 8.  This is primarily due to my limited experience with 5th edition and my suspicion that taking the original rolls from the other game (4d6 drop lowest, arrange as desired - reroll if you get a loser) would be over powered and make it challenging for me to design encounters.  Also this has the benefit of making the players think hard on the decision to up ability scores versus taking a feat.

The basic instructions was this: Rebuild your character from first level attempting as best you can to model it after your character, as initially intended, from the earlier game.  Therefore, I am not worried if they were a multiclass and whether or not the class split was the same.  Does you character feel similar enough to make you happy?  Let us avoid having to retcon how you managed to do all sorts of things previously that you cannot seem to do now.

If backgrounds in the Player's Handbook do not fit the character concept, I have told them it is easy enough for us to create another back ground.  As I read them, they are fairly easy to develop and keep within the limits of fairness.

There are a few places where the rebuild is a little more challenging.

  • Clerics: previously they had two domains, and now they will have only one.  We are just going to have to suck this one up.  The single domains are too powerful for me to be handing out additional domain powers.  Most NPC clerics really focused on one domain over the other - so the feel should not suffer much.  I only had one player character cleric, and she may not be coming back, so the character impact may be low/none.
  • Paladin/Sorcerer multi-class character: one player used this build focusing on the Sorcerer buffs to his Paladin.  With the concentration mechanic, that is significantly different.  I think it still will be a viable character, however I gave the player the out to have an 'accident' happend to his character.  He has decided to stick with the character so we will see how it works out.
  • Sorcerer blood line fluff:  neither I nor the player liked the sorcerer dragon blood line bit about scales, or the AC with no armor feature.  It was easy enough to house rule some variation.  I replaced AC feature with draconic senses - proficiency in perception, or expertise in perception if proficiency already existed.
  • Some spells are missing: I will be creating some new 5th edition spells to give them the same capability.  That should not be too hard.
  • Magic & Masterwork item inventory:  There are just too many items in their possession to work as the 5th edition game is designed.  Masterwork items become 'nice' items worth money but having no mechanical benefit in combat.  I am going over each magic item in their possession and making rulings.  They are 8th level, so they will have some items.  All weapons with a plus greater than 1 are now +1 weapons.  Same for armor.  Other items where I feel they are overpowered will be turned into items with charges that do something similar, but not the same.  This will include every item which gives an ability bonus.  If there is interest, I would post about the magic items conversions.
Whatever money they had, they can have.  I don't see too little or too much money giving me a headache in the new edition.  I had some custom armors in the game that I will have to dial back.  I see it as important to not get carried away with high AC values or the bounded accuracy will break.  They can have their custom armor, it will just have some other benefits related to small amount of damage reduction or other useful properties.

Lastly, even those these are experienced characters with lots of role playing behind them (they are 8th level), I have asked them to fill out the character description section: traits, ideals, bonds, flaws.  I think it is good to get in the spirit of 5th edition, plus summarizing those points will help them get back into role player as we have had a several year hiatus on this game.

That is it.  I have made it sound way more simple that it was to get to this point.  So far I have one player completed his character rebuild, and others in various places in the process.  I hope to have a rebuild & restart session to get everyone up to speed soon.

The dice never lie.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Converting My Campaign To D&D 5E: What Happens To Previous House Rules?

Addressing old house rules is an area where my conversion priorities could have come into conflict.  To recap they are:
  1. Keep the game fun, do not overwhelm with rules or required details.
  2. World over rules. There will be no retcon to force the world to conform to the rules.
  3. History over rules. See above. If necessary, there will be a minimally invasive explanation regarding anything in the rules which makes history inconsistent.
  4. Minimize house rules vs 5E RAW.
  5. The guiding principles are in order of priority.
My intent would be to make as many of the house rules go away as possible, and start our 5E experience as RAW as possible.  Fortunately, I am finding the conversion to 5E is making many of our house rules obsolete because the spirit of the rule, if not the rule itself, is in 5E.  

Below is a listing of house rules with comments on how I am going to address the rule in conversion.  Green indicates a 5E covers it well and there is no need.  Yellow indicates I am not certain but will go with 5E RAW.  Red means we still need a house rule to play the way we want to play.
  • Arcane Spell Failure for Armor: If you were proficient in armor, you could cast in armor.  Now standard in 5E.
  • Area of Effect Attack: Player attacker rolls dice instead of defending monsters.  This is a variation of players roll all the dice.  We may reconsider this again in the future, but its nice it is discussed in the DM guide.
  • Building NPCs Building Characters, Monsters & NPCs: Build these as the DM needs for encounters, not holding to the standard character generating rules.
  • Cleric Energy Blast turning replacement: Instead of the swingy turn table, and undead who stood around and took range damage until they were destroyed, clerics did damage to undead in the blast.  I am not sure we will stay with the new 5E way on this but adding they stay back until attacked at least solves part of the problem.  I am too new to the game to know if the turn results are as swingy as before.
  • Creating Magic Items: Was a revised formula for creating magic items cost vs. time options which did NOT include XP costs.  I am fine to try the RAW in 5E because there are no XP costs.
  • Critical Hits: Removed the broad exemption on undead and constructs being immune to critical hits.  Some creatures, like oozes, would be immune, but it was fewer, and if you could make a case for a critical, your 20 would give you one.
  • Death Dying and Negative HPs: Instead of dying at -10, you died if your negative was 1/3 your total original hit points, reducing the chance for higher level characters to die on one hit when they were in single digit hit points.  Also had death saving throws each turn when below 0 hit points with three failures meaning death, and a 20 meaning you stabilize.  Healing brought you to 0 hit points and then added healing to that number.  I like the 5E system as is so far.
  • Defensive Disengage: Codified what was already in the rules, but made the language more clear for our game.  Like that 5E has disengage action.
  • Effective Caster Level: Multi class characters could add levels in other classes to their overall caster level.  Other caster classes as a full level, none caster classes as a half level.
  • Flanking Rules: Made flanking easier to calculate and expanded what counted as flanking slightly.  We will play without flanking for now and see how it balances out.  We may find we do not miss it.
  • Massive Damage: We put this in place to make falling more dangerous, and to offset the fact we instituted a higher starting hit point rule.  We will play RAW for now and see if we want to use the optional massive damage rule as time goes on.
  • Paladin Smite Enemy: Ruled that Paladins could smite more than just 'evil' creatures.  Allowed that Paladins were wise enough to use their smite power against enemies appropriately.  5E seems to have this covered nicely.  
  • Shrug Off Damage: Fighters could take a standard action once per encounter and get a hit point benefit very close to Second Wind.
  • Sorcerer Character Changes: Changed Sorcerer hit dice from d4 to d6, and gave them some other unique abilities to further differentiate them from wizards, including a metamagic feat at first level.
  • Spell Acquisition Arcane & Divine: I'll skip the long complicated rule text and just say we used spell slots.
  • Spell Limits Zero Level: Casters could cast unlimited cantrips.
  • Starting HPs: Added constitution total to starting hit points.  With the change to bounded accuracy, I am much happier with how starting and later hit points balance against challenge.
  • Unified DC for Spellcasters: All spells for all levels used the same DC based on character ability score and level.  I am fine with how the proficiency bonus works with this instead of using pure level.
Notice there is no Red?  I had not reviewed each house rule in this context prior to writing up the list and assume I would have at least one thing red.  What surprised me most is how many of our house rules are now just rules, either exactly or in spirit.  This is why we are finding 5E very comfortable for us.

The dice never lie.
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