Sunday, July 6, 2014

You're in a tavern...

We gave the Lost Mine of Phandelver a try last night. Given that we're all veteran D&D players, it's not surprising that no one gave the pre-made characters a try; part of the excitement of a new version is learning how the character creation works, so the first couple of hours were about the birth of new heroes into Faerun.

Character creation

Since I was DM, and I haven't looked too closely at the character creation yet, I can't speak to a lot of details, but only to the discussion that went around the table as every one else rolled.

Given that we only have half of a Player's Handbook, in the form of the Basic Rules, I think it went pretty smoothly. With 5e's strong similarity to 3.5 (compared to 4e), I suppose it's not surprising... and the fact that we're limited in our choices until more material is released, the combinations of race and class aren't as out-of-control as they will eventually (and hopefully) become.

The Skills and Proficiencies were different enough that we had to discuss them a bit; the various forms that trained and untrained have taken over the last few versions have settled down to the idea that anyone can attempt something, but only those truly trained are going to have a decent chance of succeeding. Overall, I really like the Proficiency Bonus. It nicely sums up the idea of expertise and training into a single value that you need to track, and that value nicely increases with time (instead of, say, having to take another feat with which to further increase a focus on given spell or ability). Its use in multiple areas did lead to a little confusion as we read the Expertise section on the Rogue, but careful re-reading made clear what they did and did not want to allow Expertise in.

One other thing of note was the discussion of starting kits. Back in 3.5, and in 4e, the idea of the starting kit can be useful for newer players, but tended to lead to some confusion as to what you got if you didn't take it; add in the Backgrounds and you have more items that you might *also* get, or get instead, or don't get if you don't start with a starting kit, or... I believe somewhere they mentioned that the starting kits are of fair value, that were you to start with just starting gold, you could buy up the kits (and background equipment) -- that there wasn't a financial benefit of the starter kit + background kit over shopping yourself. I haven't verified this, but I hope that's the case.


The Phandelver module gives a nice simple hook to introduce the characters (dwarven fighter, wood elf rogue, high elf wizard and human cleric) to their life of adventure, which we took advantage of. The first encounter wasn't as dramatic as the module had intended, for two of the party were ex-military, and were rightfully suspicious of the scene they encountered (I'll try to avoid any spoilers until a week or two after the Starter is fully released).

I think we're all glad that we're now talking feet instead of squares for movement... not that we couldn't do the math in our heads, but I think most of us resented the strong influence that miniatures were having on the game in 4e. Some might say that's ironic, given that we generally have a table-sized grid out, and a pile of miniatures at hand (even though we went old-school and skipped them last night), but playing with miniatures should be a choice, an addition made to the game instead of being part of its core. Anyway...

Our first combat went well. Yep, there were a bunch of horribly low die rolls, one felled rogue and an almost-felled fighter; but for a DM, that means it went well. No characters died, in the end, and the party was victorious, so I think all parties (except for the NPCs) can judge it a success.

We got to see some early use of the various weapon properties, with some good discussion on whether the Versatility of the longsword would be used, and the rogue alternating weapons to take advantage of her sneak attack. All combat was straightforward, with no Attacks of Opportunity -- oh, sorry, Opportunity Attacks -- no grappling, no shoving (the new Trip), no disarm (which I don't think we have?), and it all made sense, being similar to previous versions. The one thing we did miss was flanking; having played with such a mechanic for so long, we tend to move towards flanking positions naturally. The closest we have now is to have one party member provide a Help action to another, but this is a one-sided benefit, unlike the older flanking bonus. We had a bit of a discussion on which better represents how a flanked NPC might be at a disadvantage, about whether an NPC could choose not to be affected by flanking, such that he or she ignored one threat in favour or remaining focused on defending against another.

We also got a taste for the new cantrips; the cleric took down half of the enemies on her own with her minor magic, and saved her downed comrade to boot. Definitely the MVP of that battle! Is it too powerful? It's hard to say... the randomness of the NPC's saving throw, plus the randomness of the Sacred Flame's damage, mean that it's not any better or worse than a melee weapon, apart from the range bonus; or a ranged weapon, apart from having no need for ammunition. Being able to accurately assess whether the target is more able to take a physical blow or to dodge a spell's effect will really decide whether the player behind the character uses their cantrips effectively.

While no rocks were thrown, no mooncalves were roped and no beholders were ridden, I think this first evening was a decent first go of fifth edition D&D, in that we certainly didn't walk away with a distaste in our mouths, or confusion, and, at least in my case, we *did* finish with a desire to continue forth. Hopefully everyone else at the table feels the same.

1 comment:

Hrimgrimnir said...

I found the background mechanic was nice. The result was a more authentic experience. I certainly got more into it, proclaiming Helm's glory, and our mage played her part well also.