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.

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