I was planning to do quite a bit of painting last weekend, but discovered I had run out of a critical colour of paint. Hate it when that happens. New paint duly ordered this week and hopefully next week I will be able to show you all some painted Dwarfs (the 2,000 point army I have been planning just requires four war machines now), more Ancient Greeks and I will also be commencing proper work on a new secret army.
However, I did get some proper gaming in this week, in the form of trying out the new 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons.
We gave 4th edition a miss and have been doing a fair amount of 3.0/3.5 over the years, including a D20 Slaine campaign that we are now in the last phases of.
For 5th edition, I decided to run the recently released Horde of the Dragon Queen, part of the Tyranny of Dragons series. It has dungeons, it has dragons – what is not to like?
Paging through the new Player’s Handbook, I was struck by something of a revelation. Not only have Wizards got this edition ‘right’, this is possibly the best RPG on the market at the moment (a subjective comment, I realise). In terms of presentation, roleplaying hooks integrated into character design, and streamlined mechanics, it ticks all the right boxes and I would happily give this game a 10 out of 10 based on the initial read through.
If you are a player of 3.5, there is much here that you will find familiar. At the same time, however, you have to be careful as even some sacred cows that have been in place since 1st edition AD&D have been tweaked. Fireballs, for example. No longer a base 6D6 damage.
Here’s some other things I really like;
- Cantrips are effectively use at will. Wizards now can still contribute in a big way when they have run out of spells.
- You burn spell slots to cast prepared spells, not the spells themselves. Spellcasters are now much more versatile.
- Rests (long and short) are now properly defined, and you may well be able to get away without dedicated healers in a party (still very useful though).
- Something interesting happens at every level in every class.
- The three strikes and out rule for Death Saves is very attractive, and removes the ‘-9 Club’ factor.
- Weapons, armour and shields are all greatly simplified and there are a lot less of them. No bastard sword, for example. Simply not needed when the longsword has the Versatile rule.
I could go on. There really is much to like in this edition of D&D, and I can see it reclaiming its top spot for RPGs. Certainly got me thinking about how Traveller is approached and presented…
Anyway, we started rolling up characters last night and even with everyone trying to get to grips with the new rules, it flowed fairly quickly. We created the following;
Alan: A Human Fighter with the Noble background.
James: A Halfling rogue with the Urchin background.
Ed: An Elven Cleric (of Kelemvor) with the Acolyte background.
Amy: A Half-Orc Barbarian with the Outlander background.
The backgrounds really do work well in fleshing out a character, though my players took a perverse delight in rolling up Flaws, getting more excited about them than anything else. One observation I would make is that a party now can have an awful lot of languages between them. It may be a little too much, or it may simply facilitate ease of play during gameplay.
I also gave each of the players one of the Backgrounds detailed in Horde of the Dragon Queen.
Horde of the Dragon Queen
Character creation was done quickly enough that we had enough time to get a few hours of play time in, and we launched into Horde of the Dragon Queen, the first part of the Tyranny of Dragons campaign. I have seen some negative reviews of this online but, to be honest, I think they are mostly off-base. Yes, things can always be better, but I found enough ideas and tips in the book to start running the game fairly easily and my biggest complaint is the lack of an easy key for the maps. But, at least the maps accurately describe what is in the text, not always a strength of all RPGs (Dark Heresy, I am looking at you).
The players are on their way to a small town called Greenest, all for reasons laid out in their additional campaign backgrounds, with a big list of choices for the DM in the back of this book. They come across the town and find it under attack, by a big blue dragon, of all things!
Rushing in, they rescue a family from marauding kobolds (the wife of that family turned out to be a spear savant of some kind, as she nailed a fair few kobolds herself!). The players then escorted the family to the keep in the centre of the town, battling kobolds and cultists along the way.
Inside the keep, they meet the castellan (a dwarf called Escobert) and are introduced to the the town’s governor, Nighthill. The governor asks them to see if they can rescue more townsfolk and also if they can keep their eyes out for any potential enemy leaders that can be taken prisoner. They duly agree (being the heroes that they are) and are shown a secret tunnel out of the keep.
In the tunnel, they meet a couple of rat swarms – rat swarms are not as nasty as they were in 3.5, but still deserve respect (as the players discovered) – and then pop out into a stream where they ambush more kobolds and cultists. Wondering what to do next, they see a temple under siege and duly head in, knowing that while the cultists trying to batter down the front door are few in number, there are an awful lot more close by.
The battle goes almost smoothly and they capture the leader, but not before he managed to call for help. Ten kobolds come racing around the corner followed by a couple of Ambush Drakes, nasty draconic lizards. Remember, this is just a first level party, and they quickly realise they have bitten off more than they can chew.
In this fight, the Fighter and Halfling go down, though they are both stabilised and the Elven Cleric gets too close to the lizards for his liking. The day is ultimately saved by the Half-Orc Barbarian who cleaves through the kobolds and finishes off the drake. The session ends with the Elf carrying the unconscious Halfling, and the Half-Orc hefting the Fighter and prisoner over her shoulders (she has Strength 20…).
Next week, they will be thrown back into the embattled town…
The book says that by the end of chapter one, players will hit second level – no kidding, with this much fighting they did it in just this half session, and we are not too much into the first chapter. As 2nd level only requires 300 XP and eight kobolds are worth 200 XP between them, with this much fighting levelling up quickly is pretty much inevitable. It will get harder as more XP are needed to go up levels, but this was very, very quick, much faster than 3.5 (where there is perhaps a 50/50 chance of attaining second level in your first, full session). Something to keep an eye on.
However, for all that, the players greeted the new rules in a very positive manner. They like all the changes and we are looking forward to revisiting Greenest next week!