Monday, January 26, 2015

Kudos to D&D 5th edition

I wrote this post and then searched for some relevant pictures, so now I know the name of the adventure and such. At any rate, spoilers for "The Lost Mine of Phandelver", the D&D5e starter set adventure, are below.

My face to face group is currently going through the D&D 5th edition starter set. I haven't written much about it, because I'm fairly apathetic about the latest edition: strip away the nostalgia and big brand name, and it really doesn't feel that different from the D&D that I gave up during college in favor of more interesting systems like GURPS or Heavy Gear. I gather this is something of a minority opinion on the web these days, and that everyone is really excited about D&D5 because it doesn't have the problems of 3rd or 4th edition. To the extent that statement is true, it's because it has its own problems that are likely going to be just as crippling, but I don't feel invested enough to write about my concerns.

At any rate, we're playing through the starter set adventure: The Orc, Bugbear, and Bandit Show or whatever it's called. It's pretty much failed to keep my attention or spark my interest, but it's not actively bad so I can have a good time with my friends as long as they're willing to prompt me a bit about where we need to go next and why.

Actually, compared to the 4th edition adventures, and going by some comments from the DM, it's actually a fairly decent adventure. The dungeons haven't been huge, but they tend to branch and loop nicely, and there's a reasonable amount of informed decision making involved in getting through them. Aside from the completely awful skill, combat, and spell resolution systems, we have a reasonable amount of choices and game play is pretty balanced. Which is damning with faint praise, but like I said, I'm not a fan.

Seriously, spoilers below. 
The reason I'm writing this post, though, is that something happened yesterday that was actually pleasing. Our little adventuring band was infiltrating Cragmar Castle (I think? Not paying attention, see...) to rescue a dwarf or two from the evil humanoids. The evil humanoids drastically outnumbered us, and in anything resembling a straight up fight or even a
running battle against the full garrison was likely to end in our miserable deaths.  They had also captured a weakened owlbear in their pantry (or something: we couldn't interrogate anyone who knew about it). We had found the pantry, investigated its barred door, and fled, but were currently in a reasonably stout tower well away from any humanoids that were aware of us.

After some thought and giggling, we came up with a plan: clear the local larder of any food, drag some convenient dead bodies to the door to the rest of the castle, use telekinesis to unbar the door to the owlbear's room, and then hide in our redoubt while (hopefully) the owlbear killed a fair portion of the garrison and the garrison killed the owlbear. In practice, the plan got a little more complicated, with my cleric using a magic spell to try to lure the humanoids toward to the owlbear and then our bard sneaking over the roof tops to cast area effect spells on the goblin-owlbear brawl.

The important thing, and the thing I was really impressed by, was that not only did our plan mostly work, the developers had actually written that up as an option in the adventure. After the "no choices, fight every monster on unfavorable terrain, ten encounters to victory" railroad fests that were 90% of the 4th edition adventures, this little sequence was an amazing breath of fresh air. It was a hilariously fun and somewhat clever solution to two problems (wild monster we can't kill and goblin garrison we can't defeat) and the adventure writers allowed it and supported it. It was really great, and if the D&D 5th edition developers keep doing stuff like that, it might end up being a reasonably good edition.

I've heard rumors that the first adventure path for 5th edition, Tyranny of Dragons or whatever, is a complete no-fun no-choice railroad. So maybe I'm too hopeful about this one little scene in a single adventure. But it's a start, and kudos to the designers, developers, and playtesters for allowing it.

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