Sunday, January 10, 2016

about D&D and 7th Level

We've hit 7th level on a couple characters in our round robin 5th edition D&D game.  When the 5th edition books dropped, our group decided to switch to to playing a long campaign of D&D instead of playing short 7-8 session games of whatever the guy in the DM chair wanted to run .  We agreed to give it a good old 1-20 test run if possible but we still liked the idea of rotating DMs.  We settled on short adventures that run about 3-4 game sessions each and it has worked pretty well so far.  So we've played through the lower levels and gone around the table twice - and have hit about level 6-7.  This is playing every second week for about a year and a bit now.  The DM rotation works very well as no one gets too burnt out running things or waiting to run things.  Also as your PC sits out an adventure there is always a bit of a range of levels as PCs fall behind and catch up.  A side effect of this is that XP is split among fewer PCs and the downtime lets us paint in some narrative for the characters sitting it out.  We've had a number of PC deaths, which is always good (the most recent being a TPK ah-ha!), and when that happens we start new PCs at the lower end of the spread.  Based on this I'm going to give a short review of what I like and what I don't like about the system.

I still really like the advantage/disadvantage mechanic.  I was worried it might wind up to be a bit of a blunt stick, but it is really good.  Anytime you can get advantage or give disadvantage it really has an impact in a way that just getting a +x or -x would not.  Its fast too.  I can't say enough good things about this as an addition to d20 core mechanics.

I do like the death saves.  We've had a couple times where a player dies due to a critical failure on these to make it meaningful but on average they give enough buffer to function as that second chance.  It's a decent mechanic as well.

I think the combat is pretty well done.  I like the special class abilities that let you stun opponents or modify advantage as these do seem to let you get a bit tactical.  We have generally used theater of the mind with some on table aids for combats, but I have found that the 5e combats are a bit more visual than the same combats in older d20 or something like gumshoe.  Things I've noticed is that the game encourages positioning or using bonus actions to modify advantage, which is as intended I expect.  the HP levels of the monsters so far seems to be keeping the fights long enough but not a grind.  I have noticed that groups of monsters do work better than a single larger baddie mostly - that's not really surprising.  Around level 6 the PCs are getting in some serious hits and it's not unusual for them to destroy something before it gets in a second round.  The CR system is way out I think, we've had to go way into deadly to break a sweat many times however some minor abilities can throw that out and make things too dangerous.  I have no big problem with this as I don't fret too much about a 'balanced encounter' as the players usually adapt or can retreat if things are going badly.  I wouldn't want to be beholden to the system however because I think if you follow the guidelines (say in organized play or if the players got huffy about it) the fights are way too easy.

The magic system is a bit, well, twee.  I have some real problems with the lack of consequence/gravity of some of the spells and magic abilities.  Light as a cantrip bugs the crap out of me as no one is ever going to buy a torch and I think it would have been better as a level 1 spell that could be ritually cast.  Ritual casting is great as it lets spell casters use those utility spells again and so is the way they deal with spell slots and subsitituting spells.  I have no problem with increasing magic use up from the old X slots per day of old D&D - but I did not like the effortless spell casting in 4e and think that 5e still takes it too far.   I would go so far as to say that having at-will cantrips and ritual casting is overkill.  I would much rather just ditch the at-will cantrips altogether.  I think that the at-will stuff devalues the 'feel' of magic while at the same time turning spell casters into 'laser beam archers'.  I'm also not too fond of the disposable familiar or the paladin warhorse, i.e. the rule that lets them respawn like a video game sidekick.  The joke has come up a couple times in game that you could use a familiar or warhorse as a trap detector or as food.  Some of the wording is obviously there to ensure that the spell gets used a specific way or guarantees its utility.  The hedge betting nature of these spell rules has always grated on me and seem like a hold over from the 'dm is trying to cheat me' school.  What this kind of rule does is take away all those good stories and situations where something doesn't go as planned or there is hesitation to use a resource because it might be damaged or lost.  I guess that's the crux of it - interesting situations come from resource management so baking in resources takes that away.  I would say the same about games that hand-wave money.  Anyway I still prefer the Beacon spell system - having to pay for spells makes them a bit more dear and therefore a bit more interesting.

I've only had a bit of a chance to play with some of the DMG rules, like chases or downtime stuff in the DMG (chapter 6).  I do like that they included this in the game because it adds a lot to a campaign.  I know you can bolt on this stuff, but having it in the DMG adds to its legitimacy when you get pushback from players who don't necessarily see how complications add to the game.  I like that there is a carousing table in there, also simple building upkeep.  The Players Handbook has a expenses chart for players and it works with the charts in these sections pretty good.  I like how the running a business chart adjusts for how much time a character spends running their business - having a PC weigh the cost of escorting a caravan against the cost of lost revenue to their inn is interesting in my opinion.  I would have liked to see a bit more in this section, like how to repair equipment maybe.

So between this game and the Ashen Stars game I'm running on roll 20 I've not had a lot of time to work on things for Beacon, but that's OK.  I consider this time as a research phase.  I'm also pretty interested in the work going on for the Blades in the Dark RPG.  I missed the kickstarter on that but from what I've heard there is a ton of great stuff int here for task resolution, managing group dynamics, and having character development run on an economy.  I missed the kickstarter for Blades but I'm hoping they will release a PDF soon so I can read it.


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