Friday, January 16, 2015

D&D 5E: thoughts after a dozen sessions, the rogue and other stuff

Our experience continues to be very favorable, with people commenting on how much they like the new rule set.  I continue to be happy with the combat speed and pacing.  We are at 3rd level and none of our abilities have so far created the kind of 'calculating it out' delays during combat we experienced in 3rd edition.  We are in the mines of the LMoP module currently.  We are in the dungeon crawl part and the exploring/mapping is going slowly.  We need a better process than what we are doing with graph paper.  I do not see this as an edition problem - more of a logistics, module & experience of the DM challenge.

When we started with LMoP no one owned any of the hardcover books.  We were just using what came with the starter set, and the PDF basic rule set.  This is all that is required for this adventure.  Last night I counted two hardcover Player's Handbooks and someone ordered the Monster Manual and DM Guide online.  Starting to look like folks are in for the long haul.  Note: we have agreed to follow the starter set guidelines and are not using the additional/optional material from the PHB.

Everyone seems to be pleased with what they can do with their characters.  I am especially pleased with the versatility of the rogue.  My only disappointment with the pre-generated character is the background.  It was interesting at the beginning but has now gotten a little stale.  I am working through it, trying to make it more interesting without going too far away from the traits/ideals/bonds/flaws as provided.

Hiding and getting advantage from being hidden for the rogue seem to be one of the gray areas, and oft discussed on the boards.  We are working through it, with our DM being reasonable generous with his rulings on this regard.  He almost always requires that I am hidden prior to getting advantage on the attack, which means I almost always am rolling a hide check.  Here are a few examples of how my rogue was able to successfully get advantage via hide

  • Creatures were walking by arrow slits.  My rogue was not peering out but heard them go by.  I used stealth to sneak under the first arrow slit to get to better position, then popped up and shot out the second arrow slit with advantage/sneak attack.
  • During large combats (read lots of friends and foes and confusion) my lightfoot halfing rogue picks an opponent who I do not think is tracking me as a target.  At the end of my turn (or rarely at the beginning of my turn) he sneaks behind (read hide check) one of his companions and either shoots through them on his turn (giving +2 to the opponents AC) or pops out one 5' square to attack.
  • We hear a creature on the other side of a door.  My rogue quietly pops the door open (stealth check) and shoots with surprise and then runs to another spot with the potential to hide out of sight of the creatures in the room.  If I have a better initiative I can hide and ready my action to shoot one when it comes through the opening after me.

As a damage dealer, I was fortunate last night when on two different important attacks I rolled a 20 while I had advantage.  Both times I scored 25 damage, which is about 1 over average (short bow d6, sneak attack 2d6, +3 dex bonus).  Even without the critical, average sneak attack damage with my bow is 14.  Not too shabby.  The fact that I can get it every time one of my poor companions is face to face with a bad guy has been enormous.

Cunning action continues to be huge.  It really gives the rogue huge versatility.  My rogue can take risks, because he is easily able to get away from tough situations.  For example - if he gets surrounded by bad guys while exploring on his turn he can using his cunning action to disengage, move away 25', and then dash another 25' with his tale between his legs hoping his friends will save him.  As long as opponents are medium sized or larger, they are only difficult terrain for this halfing rogue.  Attack/move/hide, or attack/disengage/move turns give me loads of options.  The only caveat is you have to be stingy with your bonus actions to keep them available for your cunning action.

Speaking of readying an action - I have noticed that keeping the initiative order is quite a time saver during combat, which is not something I expected.  In 3rd edition when you held your action you moved to a different place in the initiative order.  This took someone's time to update the initiative tracker.  It also caused a bit of confusion with folks about who was going next when planning in their heads due to not everyone paying full attention during other folks turns.  The set it and keep it rule in 5E has added to combat efficiency.
LMOP spoiler

Random thought not tied to 5E rule set.

While searching using dark vision our elf discovered an ooze/jelly thing.  So far we thought it best to leave it alone while we address other areas.  This brought up the question - what does my character know?  There was a lot of player experience around the table with ochre jelly, gray ooze, green slime, and other nasty things over many different versions of the game.  What would our characters know, and how do we adjudicate it?  The DM chose a nature skill check and the player rolled high enough to know it is dangerous.  So we'll not poke that hornets nest just yet and wait until a convenient time to experiment with how to kill it (or use it to help with a nasty creature if we can 'introduce' the two?)

That is all for now.  Your comments welcome.  The dice never lie.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

On Thud and Blunder: Verisimilitude in our hobby

Poul Anderson was a widely known, celebrated and respected science fiction author.  He is less know for his work in what he called 'heroic fantasy'.  If two of those 'hf' novels (as Poul Anderson himself refers to the genre) were all he had ever done, he would still be a notable author.  I refer to 'The Broken Sword' and my personal favorite, 'Three Hearts and Three Lions'.  I have blogged about the latter here and here.  Poul Anderson also appears in Gary Gygax's famous Appendix N at the back of the DM Guide.

That is nice Barad, but what does this have to do with verisimilitude?  Read on, I am just setting the stage.

Somewhere around 1978 the esteemed Poul Anderson wrote an essay published in a swords and sorcery anthology edited by Andrew Offut: Swords Against Darkness III.  In that essay Poul Anderson goes on to chide and give advice to 'hf' writers about their lack of realism or verisimilitude, and how with improving these elements would provide more engaging stories, and be better for the industry.  That industry being heroic fantasy.

Since our hobby is so closely tied to heroic fantasy, our DMs good also use the advice to good use.  The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America thinks this advice is well met and keeps a copy of the essay here.  If you have never read it, do so.  If you want I will wait for you to come back.

Yes, it is a bit long by Internet attention standards these days - but save it as a favorite and refer back to it frequently.

  • Have long running wars in your world?  Think about who will grow or harvest the crops if you take the peasants away.  How reliable are those mercenaries and how will you pay them?  Swarms of evil humanoids attacking your towns, well their leaders know they have to win quickly in order to pay and feed the marauders else matters will disintegrate or implode.
  • When you describe those cities, is it filthy and dangerous?  If not, why and how does that change how the city dwellers live or behave.  If their city is that clean and safe would it not be overrun with immigrants trying to get in?
  • Travel is unreliable, and news is late in arriving.  Horses are expensive and destructible.  Roads are expensive to build, maintain and to police.  Where does that money come from?  Sailing was not necessarily better, safer or faster.
  • As a DM or player do you know anything about the martial arts?  (I know some of our fellow hobbyists are quite well versed in them)  We do not need to be experts in this matter but a little better understanding would go a long way to a better game
It goes on and on.  You do not have to adopt everything, but adopting some additional verisimilitude gives good color and consistency.  Additionally, when our heroes do something truly heroic, it makes a more stark comparison to the world around them.


Tuesday, December 23, 2014


The bloggers version with apologies to Clement Clarke Moore

'Twas the night before Christmas, on the 'net and in the house, Not a blogger was posting, motionless their mouse
The FRPG musings were posted on blogspot with care, In hopes that St. Nicholas would be reading there
The characters were nestled all snug in their beds, While visions of treasure hoards danced in their heads
And mamma with her handbook, and I with my map, Had just nodded off for a short gamer's nap
When from the game room there arose such a clatter, I fell from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away down the stairs I tumbled with fright, Tore open the door and threw on the lights.
The rays from tree lights on the hexgrid below Gave an erie lustre of magic to objects that glow,
When, what to my bloodshot eyes should appear, But miniatures, a sleigh, and eight pewter reindeer
With a little old driver, so red and waist thick, I knew it was painted to look like St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles on hastes spells they came, And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name; "Now, Bigby! now, Evard! now, Rary and Tenser! On, Heward! on Tasha! on, Drawmij and Nystul!
To the top of the castle! to the top of the wall! Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!"
As wizards, who at fifth level take the spell fly, those figures they flew just missing my eye.
So up to the Mantel-top the miniature reindeer they flew, the tiny sleigh full of games, and St. Nicholas too. And then, in a twinkling, I heard as they stood, prancing and pawing of metal on wood.
As I drew up my hand, and was uttering a sound, off the mantel St. Nicholas enlarged with a bound. He was dressed in fake fur, from his head to his foot, And his clothes looked tarnished with faux ashes and soot
A bundle of boxes fell on the floor with his growth, like at Gencon, a marketer just opening his booth.
His red eyes -- how they twinkled! it was really quite scary!
His lips were bright red, more like blood than a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a shortbow, his beard braided dwarf like was as white as the snow
In his teeth was a pipe the color of bones, the smoke it encircled his head like ioun stones
He had a broad face and a little round belly, that shook, when he laughed like gelatinous cube jelly.
He was chubby and plump, who though him an elf? He is more like a first edition gnome, I thought to myself
A wink of his eye, and my reactions had trailed, I was immobile, my save it had failed
He spoke not a word, but went straight to my snacks, and stuffed his mouth full and mumbled, 'relax'.
And laying his finger aside of his nose, getting quite small, up the mantel he rose
He sprang to his sleigh, said 'teleport' to his team, and vanished all like they were a dream.
But I heard him exclaim, from the ether out of sight, "Happy Christmas to all, back to posting 'morrow night."

Sunday, December 7, 2014

You kids get off my hex grid!

Ok, so maybe that does not resonate like You kids get off my lawn!  Again, the same article by a guest
poster over at Gnome Stew triggered this gnotion.

I have dice older than half of the people in the game I am in.  These twenties are long since retired.  The edges are so badly chipped and worn they do not roll true, and without corners take a while to stop rolling.  These are the dice where you used crayons to fill in the spaces so you could read the numbers.

Ah, the memories.

Much has changed in gaming.  We had no electronic support (my only computer at the time was a TRS Color 80), and had no body to learn from via message boards, and we did not know any other gamers.  We were blissfully alone and blazing our own trail.  I do not believe our fun suffered at all from it.  Our only connection to the outside gaming world was via Dragon Magazine.

I am not making any comment about where gaming is now as being bad or unfun - just different.  It is fun watching these 'youngsters' learn the role play ropes and make the same mistakes we used to make.  Heck, we still make the same mistakes we used to make.

Ultimately, we are still a bunch of folks sitting around a table, adventuring, rolling dice, conquering challenges, and laughing hysterically.  I am glad these kids invited me to their game, even though it is not a hex grid.

I have pretty new dice with nice sharp edges and they seem to roll true enough for us.  Sometimes I take out my old dice just to look at them and hold them in my hand.

The dice never lie.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Time for gaming?

An article by a guest poster over at Gnome Stew triggered this bit of a rant.  There is no connection between these sites except maybe for our fondness for gnomes maybe.  If you have not read anything over there, I suggest you check it out.

The article was mostly about getting back into gaming, and how to make gaming recruits that stick.  The author did make one point which triggered this rant.

We don't find time for gaming, we make time for gaming.

Insert what ever else you are passionate about in place of gaming if you prefer.  If you wait to find time for the things which are important, then you are letting life pass you by.  Make time for what is important, find time for things which are not.  Simple.

You have said it.  I have said it.  We have heard it over and over again.  I can't find the time for...

So - if gaming is your passion and you are not playing because you cannot find time for it, something is broken.  No excuses, get out there and make time for what is important.

The dice never lie.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Goose Island Oktoberfest

I know the Goose Island folks have been around a while, but they seem to be making a splash in the North East recently, and well, I just had to try some out.  Here we go with the Oktoberfest.

First off, I like there brand - "We don't need to be the only beer you drink, we just want to be the best beer you drink."  That resonates with me.

The label announces it as a traditional Marzen, IBU rating 17, 6.4% ABV.  It pours out slightly opaque coppery colored with a nice foamy head which dissipates fairly quickly to a thin lacing.  Seems very much a classic Octoberfest style beer.  I get some caramel/toffee kind of aroma.

There is a sweet butterscotch and toffee taste to it, with a little bit of stickiness in the mouth.  I generally do not like 'sweet' drinks but this seems nicely balanced with just enough bitterness to know you are drinking a beer, but having lots of roasted/toasted malt flavor.  Maybe a little honey flavor too.  A medium body beer, not something you would want on a hot day but this would go lovely with Germain comfort food.  The moderate carbonation is not overwhelming, and the after taste leaves your mouth watering a bit.

Very much in balance but featuring the toffee and roasted malt flavors.  The label also calls our dried apricot, which I can taste a little but is not strong for me.  It does not have the depth of flavor of a very expensive craft beer, but definitely is a nice autumn beer and it stands out at its price point.  If given the choice between a Sam's October and this, I would choose this.

Thumbs up!  Cheers.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

D&D 5E: unlearning old ways and more rulings not rules

Last post I mentioned how we were less than spectacular in our last two encounters.  Well it turns out that further led to us being overrun by the rest of the current inhabitants who were not pleased we broke into their stronghold.  The entire evening was combat and searching post combat (kill things & take their stuff).  A number of interesting rule related questions came up.

I noticed another player counting diagonal squares in the 1-2 method we used to use in our 3.5E game.  Turns out we never asked the DM how he wanted to run tactical grid movement.  Half of us were doing 1-2 diagonals and the other half were not.  Oops.  DM ruling - no extra cost for diagonals.

We were hit from two directions by opponents.  The wizard chose to place a flaming sphere in one of the doorways to hold them off while we focused on the other attackers.  Questions came up: is the sphere solid, what kind of cover does it provide, can creatures run through the sphere, does it do damage if they do?  On the spot DM ruling - no ruling on solid, provides half cover, creatures moving through the sphere itself would take damage, and we'll sort this out between games.

Due to the party not really working together here, we end up with a fighter surrounded by enemies in a nearby room.  We previously learned the hard way about having two or more hobgoblins next to one of our folks.  The wizard planned to rush in and blast away with burning hands but before his turn a hobgoblin places himself in the opening apparently foiling that plan.  Or so the DM thinks.  My rogue has an inspiration coin and this is a great time to use it.  I draw a dagger and throw - advantage roll gives me not only the hit I needed but a critical hit, which with sneak attack is enough to take him down.  The wizard executes his plan, which takes down enough opponents so the fighter survives and takes out the rest.

Feeling like we were about to be overrun (feeling was correct), we prepared to flee.  Fortunately, the team did think about holding a door closed against oncoming onslaught.  Sadly, the weaker of our two fighters who was already hurt and our wizard decided to take on the task.  Well, to make a long story short, they were overrun.  An opponent (no spoiler since we are playing Lost Mine of Phandelver) appears in the doorway and on shots the wizard, the DM says they used stealth to get to the spot which is how it got advantage.  We shake our heads on that one, unless we did not understand the terrain we did not see how that was likely.

Now the hurt fighter was surrounded and contemplating using disengage to move away when I asked if he considered using dodge.  Dodge?  Seems like he never understood this action was available and in the first time in about six sessions someone on our team took the dodge action.  So he decided dodge it is, and stayed in place to avoid opportunity attacks until (presumably) the rest of the party came to rescue him.  Man of faith this fighter must be.

My rogue comes around the corner and sees the new mess we are in.  When I last saw my group things were not so grim.  That is what I get for going into another room to get some treasure.  I decide to use my invisibility potion and figure I will wait for a chance to feed a healing potion to the wizard when the bad guys are focused elsewhere.  I move into position.  Our cleric remote cures the wizard, who feeling desperate pulls out a fireball scroll, makes his roll, rolls statistically improbably damage and toasts all the bad guys leaving only the most powerful one left standing.  Sadly for me, being invisible, the wizard does not know I am there and I enjoy a good toasting too.

Now we questions, what happens when an invisible character goes to zero hit points?  Look at the spell and it requires concentration.  I had not even considered that, and had not even considered a potion might require concentration from a non-spell casting.  DM ruling, I become visible.  Which turns out to be convenient for me because other wise they could not find me to fix me up.

But now this really begs the question: are potion spell concentration requirements the same as casting a spell?  And would that mean you could only have one potion active at a time which requires concentration?

Stay tuned - the dice never lie.
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