Wednesday, November 19, 2014

On D&D 5E encounter variability

Some like to know how 'swingy' an edition of D&D can be.  That is to say, how encounters can swing back and forth in terms of who has the edge do to aspects of variability.

Last session our party of five 3rd level characters absolutely destroyed a group of four apparently normal orcs.  We played it well, gained surprise, never lost tempo, and took them apart with hardly a scratch to the party.

Later that game night, we encountered a pair of hobgoblins.  We misread the terrain, lost potential surprise, got ourselves tangled up in a narrow passage and one of the fighters nearly went to zero hit points before we put down the hobs.

I would rate it as satisfyingly 'swingy'.  I know that is not very objective, but I like the fact that good play has significant results and of course the reverse.

Funny moment after the hobgoblin battle: one of the fighters removes a bar from a door and opens it.  The resulting roar from the room has the fighter scurrying away from the door across the room to prepare for combat.  The rest of the players stare open mouthed at the fighter's player until someone finally says, "Why didn't you just close the door?"

The dice never lie.

Monday, November 10, 2014

After another 5E adventure night.

The adventure continues.  I am not going to recount everything that occurs, just highlight what I think are interesting learnings or experiences.

Nobody went to zero hit points this session, breaking our trend.  We all made successful saves against Mr. Nothic, which was just luck.  Beyond fighting Nothic and removing the skeletons, most of the session was role playing, sorting out treasure, hiring a pack bearer, and being a general nuisance. I have not hired a pack bearer in years! It was oddly satisfying.  I wonder how long he will last?

Do combats go faster?  A long time player said the following when it came around to his turn again, "Is it my turn already?"

Some confusion about the jumping rule which was quickly answered.  I like knowing how far I can jump without rolling.  Since no one has tried to jump farther than they can without rolling yet, I do not know the mechanism for resolving it.  I expect a simple DC vs. Athletic check.

Question came up about our wizard knowing another cantrip from the captured spell book.  I think this was a DM error, including the dead wizards cantrips in the spell book.  I wonder if a wizard can unlearn a cantrip and replace it with a new one if decides one of his original ones is not as useful as he thought it would be.  The basic rules seem silent on the matter, and unless it is covered by the PHB or DMG this seems like a DM call/house rule.

I am still wondering about the fighter's second wind ability.  The flavor of being able to have second winds all day by just sitting around having short rests seems off to me.  My gut reaction is to say they can only use the ability to shrug off damage taken in the most recent encounter during or at the end of the encounter.  Otherwise it seems to circumvent the spending hit dice mechanic.  Not a deal breaker for me, but I will continue to ponder it as we play.  Since I am not the DM, in this game it is not my call anyway.

The only other rule which continues to trouble me so far is shooting through apparently unlimited creatures to hit an enemy with only the cost of half cover.  I know this falls under the category of DM ruling, but I would lean towards a table standard of some amount of creatures (say two) gives half cover, additional creatures (say three more) give 3/4 cover, and after that it is full cover.  Perhaps even this is too lenient.  Another one to ponder.

We are reaching the point where we have more treasure than we can spend on small items, but not enough to buy more expensive items.  I am hoping the surfeit of gold will lead to role playing opportunities not simple hunts for magic items.

So far the general consensus is people are liking this edition.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

I have been bested by a fortune cookie

Chinese food, or at least what passes as Chinese feed here in New England, is a staple for eating out or 'take out' or 'take away' depending on from where you call home.  As ubiquitous as the faux Chinese cuisine is, so too is the fortune cookie.

Some just read and laugh at the pithy Confucius like sayings, others prefer to read them aloud with the suffix "in bed".  To me a bit of Chinese sounding advice is not a fortune.  To open an orange flavored cookie and read, "Wisdom comes from experience", is disappointing.  It may be wise, but it is no fortune.  "You will win the lottery" or "A dark stranger awaits outside" is a fortune.

So there I was, finished with my meal and ready to heap scorn upon my not-fortune cookie.  I carefully opened the plastic wrapper, which is strange since I am going to crush the cooking anyway to get at the paper inside.  I guess I am just obsessive like that.  Good news, the cookie is not stale and I can eat it.  So I pop half the cookie in my mouth and read what I expect to be my not-fortune, followed by shaking my head and clever witticisms of scorn.

Instead I laugh.  I laugh hard.  Hard enough that I am not able to read it immediately and pass it to my wife to read.

It says, "You will be successful someday."

Not only has this simple sentence taken me aback but it has disarmed my scorn by providing a real fortune. Further more, the clever bastards have in the guise of saying something clearly positive cut me off at the knees.  One simple sentence, and I can visualize the Asian gentleman smiling every so slightly at me, has devalued my accomplishments as a parent who has successfully raised four children, my achievements of thirty years as a business professional, my contributions to local civic organizations, my short stint as a musician in my younger days, you name it - they have all been stripped away by this good natured, I have faith in you, do not give up now, little piece of fortune.

Touche master fortune writer, for tonight you have bested me.  But be wary, for someday I will be successful and then, watch out!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

5E Lost Mine of Phandelver: 4th game night

Our  4th game night of this module, and we have managed to have a session about every week to ten days.  Just enough to remember what happened on the previous outing.  So far it remains fun and relatively quick paced, though sometimes the players wanted to discuss to death what we should do next which does at times slow us done.  Role playing my character as described in the pregens, the Halfling Rogue, I have no use for plans anyway so easily agree to any plan and do whatever I want when we actually encounter difficulty.  It does sometimes create humorous party tension.

We take a long rest in town.  While on my watch I hear a woman scream in the distance.  I decide my Rogue would only care if it was his aunt in danger.  Since it does not sound like a halfling woman, I do not bother to wake the party.  I tell them they needed the rest.

We managed to get a surprise round on a group of 5 opponents.  Between the Surprise round, and those of us who rolled high initiative for the first round, we took out three and wounded one more before they even got to act.  The DM gave us advantage on the surprise round, and I believe that to be a mistake.  I will take it up with him next session and find out if that is supposed to be that way.

Once again, we had a character go down to 0 hit points.  This is not unexpected except we have had exactly one character each session go to 0 hit points.  I figured it would be my rogue this time, but it was not - the Noble fighter went down.  That puts him in the lead in the party for being dropped.  Maybe we should have a contest.

Again we have an NPC encounter who gives us a 'quest'.  It really does make this module seem like a video game.  Maybe I am just old school in that regard and this is what has come to be expected.  Granted, this module is supposed to be accessible to beginners, but it seems we do not have to work very hard to get leads which take us elsewhere.

I think I have my head straight about my Rogue's Cunning Action and the Disengage, Dash & Hide options.  I used them pretty effectively in the combat, and it did not take me long to call out my turn- I was pretty quick in rattling off my attack, move and bonus action.  In several cases I was in 5' hall combat and was able to shoot through cover and dash in and out effectively.  Not sure how realistic it is, but it seems to work in the game.    ... and yes I know it is a fantasy game so I am not hung up on realism or simulationism but more concerned with verisimilitude.

We scored some pretty good treasure, which lead to a short discussion about what do you do with all your gold in 5E.  We will see how that turns out as we have not focused much on costs of living, partly because we have only been in Phandalin for a few days, and partly because that is like accounting and who wants to do accounting in D&D?

That is it for now.  The dice never lie.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Remembering Jack Bruce

I learned to today that Jack Bruce has passed away.  It was reported in the main news media and on his official web site.

Jack will be primarily remember for being one third of what was arguably the greatest power trio rock band ever, Cream.  As a bass player myself I was heavily influenced by this man.  Though while in Cream he was often overshadowed by Eric Claption, Jack's contributions are undenyable.

I was not old enough to have seen Cream live, but I did manage to see Jack on tour with one of his 'Friends' groups.  It was 1980 and I saw Jack Bruce and Friends at the Main Act in Lynne Massachusetts.  Friends on this tour were Billy CobhamClem ClempsonDavid Sancious.  I remember arriving early and getting a table (imagine that, a table to see these legends!) dead center a dozen feet from where the band would play.  And did they ever play.

As we waited we watched the roadies set up Cobhams drums.  I remember being amazed at this huge mound of percussion being arrayed on stage and every cymbal imaginable around the set, each gleaming brand new.

We were treated to a raucus spectable and some amazing music.  These four played songs from Cream, some Cobham jazz/fusion numbers, Humble Pie from Clemons, and E Street band songs from Sancious.  I was mezmorized watching Jack Bruce not so much play his bass, but attack it with fury and passion, and drive the music frenzy.  Sweating profusely, he pranced and played, sang and hollered, and if he was the pied piper I would have followed him anywhere.

So thanks Jack, for that one night, and for all the joy I get listening to Cream recordings and other recordings I have of yours over the years.  Rest in peace for a job well done.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

5E Lost Mine of Phandelver: our 3rd game night

This continues my thoughts and experiences with 5th Edition D&D started here.

We are right on track with having a character drop to 0 hit points each session.  He got to roll one death saving throw before my character was able to get to him with a potion.  Each of the three sessions it has been a different character.  Since my character has not gone to 0 hit points yet, this statistics would imply I have a 50% chance next session of going to 0 hit points.  Heh.

We setup an ambush, and performed it horribly.  Amazing that a bunch of experienced players would botch
an ambush, but we did.  We did manage to win the encounter, so we did not play it as bad as we could, but there was definitely a number of mis-steps.  A spell was cast from 'cover' which basically alerted the enemy there was something going on and then people just pored out of the hiding spot before the enemy reached the optimum and agreed spot.  I think this was a combination of not being familiar with the rules and no plan survives contact with the enemy.  There is no confusion about getting a surprise round of actions.

A player fell victim to a minor trap and was 'surprised' there was no saving throw.  Even though this player cut his teeth on 1E, the last 15 years was spent playing 3.5E and typically getting saving throw.  The damage was minor so I think this was a good reminder that if you do something risky (stupid) you will probably just pay and not get a lucky saving throw.

During this adventure it feels like whenever we talk to an NPC for information, we also get another clue/quest to follow.  Now, I know it is not every time, but it is happening alot.  I don't know whether this feels like a sand box, with lots of choices, or a video game where only NPCs who have another quest for us appear in the story.  We'll see how this develops further.

I personally had some confusion about the Disengage action.  Reading it again, it is quite simple, but at the table I thought the action gave me a sort of disengage/dash combo - which really makes no sense and would make dash superfluous.  Nothing wrong with the way it is written up in the rules, just me not fulling grokking it yet.

We had more fighting in 5 foot corridor experience.  It is clear we need some more practice to optimize our performance with the new rules.  Split your move around actions, different attacks of opportunity, and still sorting out the power of cunning action feels like we are leaving opportunities on the table.  I am committed to get better at this.

 Pacing remains good.  We had two combats, an additional encounter where we talked through it rather than fight, some role playing, and three extensive conversations with NPCs in about a 4 hour session.

At first the ability to make ranged attacks through other creatures as cover seems somehow off.  I have been comtemplating some sort of house rules about how many cover creatures and how much cover plus the chance to hit the creatures who are providing cover.  So far I have come to the conclusion that is much effort for little gain and will leave things be.

The potential for 'abuse' of the fighter's second wind ability has me thinking about potential house rules for limiting it to addressing damage taken in the most recent encounter and must be done during or right after the encounter.  However, it does cause more accounting.  Perhaps the harm for abuse, essentially letting the fighter use more short rests and completely avoid spending hit dice is not so bad.  Since I am not the DM in this module, I will be quiet about it and watch it in play.  It may or may not get a rule in games I DM.

That is all for now.  The dice never lie.

Friday, October 10, 2014

5E Lost Mine of Phandelver: our 2nd game night

This continues my thoughts and experiences with 5th Edition D&D started here.

Pacing seems good.  We played for about 3 1/2 hours which included role play of party bickering, several NPC discussions, some searching and three combats.  I feel like it will go even quicker once we are more comfortable with the rules, maybe even a couple of sessions from now.  Between the two sessions we have had around 6-7 combats and I really like the balance of simplicity and flexibility of the Action, Move, Bonus Action economy.   There was some delay as we bought some goods because we only have one copy of the rule set to share.  I will have to print out the basic rule set from the PDF so we can speed that part up a bit.

From WotC
As a Rogue I have not yet used my Cunning Action, but I can already see I will have to make good choices on how to spend my bonus action.  I managed to purchase some darts on the first night and I have been using my bonus action to throw one whenever I could squeeze it in between other actions.  I mean why not maximize my output?  Now I will have to choose between that, and using the Dash, Disengage or Hide.  Just enough choices to be interesting but not so many as to bog down in indecision.

When we leveled up, it was a quick and easy affair.  For my rogue it was hit points, hit die, and get the Cunning Action feature.  I am thinking Cunning Action is going to be huge and great fun.  One of the fighters assumed he was going to have to do all kinds of math to level up (as he was accustomed to 3E).  Learning he was not, I don't know if he was disappointed or relieved.  He seemed to be satisfied to get Action Surge.

I had an inspiration coin, which is how our DM is giving out inspiration, and had intended to use it against the bug bear who had nearly surprised us.  However, a couple of well rolled hits by the cleric and fighters negated the need for my rogue to attack the bug bear.  At that time I felt perhaps I was holding onto the inspiration too long.  After all, I cannot earn another one until I use this one up.

Hmmm.... maybe some spoilers in this paragraph:  It turns out I rather enjoyed the chance to use it back
in town.  I had been keeping a low profile so as not to be notice by Red Brands until I wanted to be noticed.  Our group left the inn and ran into a pack of four of them in the street who demanded we hand over our 'stuff' and get out of town.  My character hissed out from under his hooded cloak, "Get out of our way or die!" and furtively drew two darts.  The DM took the opportunity to have that Red Brand recognize me, "You have a lot of nerve to show you face around here."  To which I responded, "You won't be telling anyone." and threw the darts.  I did manage to critical with one of them and next round use my inspiration to shoot my bow with advantage at the same guy and take him down.  I liked how the rule mechanic allowed and encouraged me to use it in a way that tied to the role playing.

The wizard wanted to experiment with his spells so he ran right up to the Red Cloaks and cast Thunder Wave.  They were tougher than he thought, and although he did some damage and knocked one down they quickly brought him to zero hit points.  I don't think that is the scenario where that spell shines, and certainly seemed foolish to me but hey - chaotic folks gotta experiment.

The wizard did not even need to roll a death saving throw as the cleric had him back up with channel divinity that he split between the wizard and a beleaguered fighter.  So each night of play we have had one character go to zero hit points, or about once every three encounters.  No one has been close to dying yet but that may be in part because we are being a bit cautious.  We will see.

So far, the group concensus = fun.
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