Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Thoughts on My First Fifth Edition DnD Campaign

Last night I wrapped the twelfth session of my summer-long Fifth Edition Dungeons & Dragons campaign. Since one of the players goes back to working nights during the school year, and the rest of us have fairly busy weekend schedules, this game is going to go from almost-weekly to probably one weekend day every six to eight weeks, if it doesn't peter out entirely. Sad, but I'm glad we got in twelve sessions in about fourteen weeks, and I was able to take a four-player party from first to fifth level.

With the regular sessions of the campaign behind me, I wanted to compile some thoughts, in no particular order.

  • 5E is my favorite edition/flavor of D&D thus far. It has now beaten out Castles & Crusades as my favorite "flavor" of D&D, mostly due to the flexibility and depth of the character options, and the very loose, yet well-structured way in which pretty much everything is handled (more on the system below). This edition was easy to pick up for old hands and new players alike (one player had essentially never played a pen-and-paper role-playing game before, while another last played 8+ years ago in college). All seemed to enjoy the system, and had no major complaints as to how the mechanics operated.
  • We had four players who took their characters up through fourth level (the end of the twelfth session saw enough XP to get the party to 5th). The party consisted of a Half-Elven Rogue who took the Assassin path, a Half-Elven Wild Magic Sorcerer, a Human Paladin who took the Oath of Vengeance, and a Human Monk who took Way of the Empty Hand. Upon reaching fourth level and ending one adventure arc, the Monk's player switched characters and began playing a Human Warlock with a pact to a Great Old One. The mix of magic and muscle served us very well, especially in the last four sessions where we had two spell-casters and two melee experts (the Paladin mostly used her limited spell-casting ability to power various "Smites" in melee).
  • I'm glad 5th edition seems to largely set aside the need for multi-classing by allowing variant class paths that enable the use of magic, and has enough race/class combos that you can create a wide blend of magic and non-magical abilities. IIRC, the Barbarian class is the only one that does not have some option or path for casting spells, which makes sense based on the class concept. Everyone else has some way of getting spells if they want.
  • I like the power level of Cantrips in this edition. While the Old-Schoolers might balk at a Magic-User that has unlimited access to a few minor magical abilities, I think it does a good job of letting a spell-caster continue to cast minor spells which still have an effect in the game once their big bombs have all been used. And really, a spell like Light or Fire Bolt isn't breaking the magical bank here. There are probably players who'll find ways of "breaking" cantrips, but so far, I am happy with how they work.
  • I think the decisions made to eliminate a lot of circumstantial modifiers in favor of Advantage and Disadvantage was the right one. I was leery of the idea at first, but after playing for several months, I found it to be pretty straightforward, and it helped eliminate a lot of that "modifier math" that bogs things down right when you want them moving fast and loose. And, I appreciate that such thinking was really applied system wide, keeping the number of "plusses / minuses" to a minimum. From the way skills work to the mechanics of two-weapon fighting, the mechanics become more of a very fast yes/no logic tree, rather than multiple modifiers all stacking on top of one another to arrive at a modifier that might change by +/-1 every round of a combat.
  • I liked how the first two character levels are priced very cheaply, XP-wise. Some DMs might not like it, but I think it lets you put the brakes on throwing first-level characters into the meat grinder too quickly, allowing you to pit them against some very low-powered creatures, of which there are plenty of options. And, if you *do* toss them in the deep end fast, the survivors earn the reward of fast leveling. The biggest complaint I've always heard of D&D is that PCs spend way too much time in the minor leagues, and campaigns end too often before "the good stuff". I think the leveling curve right now works to address this better. I'll note that while it took 12 sessions to get to 5th level for my party, our after-work games were pretty short, maybe only 2 1/2 hours a session, and didn't always have a "big battle", so if those sessions had been longer and more involved, I could easily see the PCs at 6th or 7th at this point.
  • I really appreciated the current system's focus on character - the discussion of and variety of races and sub-races, the many and varied classes, as well as the background options available, and even the "trinket roll" made upon character creation. Every player rolled up a unique trinket, and a couple of them took those trinkets and incorporated them into their backgrounds pretty deeply. For example, the Paladin got a small cage with a dead sprite inside it, and built her Oath of Vengeance around a story which came out of this item. Yes, veteran or more creative players don't necessarily need such things written into the rules, but for more novice players (like we had), it was a great springboard for character development.
  • Also, in general, I was impressed with the quality of the three core rule books, both in terms of production values as well as content. I think they were really well done, especially in comparison to the 4th edition books, which I'm not all that impressed with, at least content-wise. I also like that WotC is taking their time and not spamming us with "splat books" every month. There's already forty years of material out there, and it's better to put out small numbers of great quality resources than flood the market with garbage "option" books. If we want all those things, there's always...THE INTERNET!
In conclusion, this was a fun campaign, and I hope to keep gaming with this group, at least on an irregular basis. One of my players is already prepping to run her debut campaign as a DM with another group of our friends, so I'm eager to try out the rules from the other side of the DM's screen. Also, there's a lot of good compare-and-contrast with the 4th edition campaign I'm currently playing in, which I hope to write about in the not-too-distant future.