Last night we had our first full session using the Dungeons & Dragons (5e) Player’s Handbook – in other words, we’ve properly converted our existing Tikhon campaign to the newest edition of D&D.
More momentous, at least from the DM’s chair, was my full return to dungeon building and making the game feel a lot more “old school” than we’ve been used to.
Last night saw me unleash encounters of varied challenge for the character group, but arguably the largest threats came from low-lighting and a steadily dwindling set of supplies.
And, oh, the tension became palpable…
Back to D&D
On Thursday, courtesy of Leisure Games, I received our first copy of the new Player’s Handbook. Although not officially released until later this month, Leisure Games have had an early batch released through them – awesome!
Of course, as regular readers know, we’ve been playing the new D&D for a few weeks – with a mish-mash of Basic D&D and the D&DNext playtest materials – and running some side-quests to get a feel for things. Those sessions convinced me that the new game was certainly appealing and, having such accommodating players, we agreed to switch over for our regular session played yesterday.
So… you’ll be wondering how it went? I’ll get to that shortly.
“Night Raid on Weisslicht”
Interestingly, as soon as we decided to embrace the new D&D, I was contacted by two old players who were wondering what we were up to. Both quickly decided to re-join our group… and it looks like a third is likely to follow at the next session (which would take us up to the dizzying heights of having six players). The inclusion of two new characters, however, and the fact that we were picking up the old campaign after many weeks break, made it clear that I was handling a “campaign reboot” situation.
Thus arrived the idea of last night’s scenario, “Night Raid on Weisslicht”. In short, the heroes would have to infiltrate a locked-down border castle-town… and then slip into the castle itself, hopefully undetected. Combining a slog through crocodile-infested sewers (what DM could resist that, eh?) with investigations within the town itself, the story would test the range of D&D’s systems while drawing the players back into the campaign.
Once into the castle, and having infiltrated the famous Great Tunnel under the mountains, the heroes were to be drawn into a search for an evil sage who has opened up the long-lost “Mines of Ungyrth”.
Prepping the Dungeon
One of my new-found joys in gaming has been drawing the dungeon maps for the Mines. Taking some very clear advice from Dyson Logos, and combining it with the excellent “Tome of Adventure Design“, I drew my first dungeon map in over 20 years (and you can see a peek of the map in the title photo above).
One of the best elements arising from the new D&D, however, was the ease with which I have been able to build encounters. Using the Basic D&D DM’s guide, I was able to significantly improve the feel of the encounters I originally intended to run.
Here’s an example: I had set two guards on duty outside of the entrance to the lost mine. Taken as originally written, this would have been a ludicrously easy and dull encounter: the 4th-level PCs were facing some very low-level mooks. Having taken a look at the Basic DMG, however, I was able to diagnose the risk of boredom and replace the guards with something more challenging: a personalised set of troops I called Uradel’s Soldiers (after Lord Uradel, the conspiring bad-guy of our tale).
Checking out the Basic DMG encounter-building guide, I was able to work out what would constitute a reasonable encounter. From the NPC section, I located a suitable “Knight” entry; this I customised. Gone was the full plate armour, greatsword, and crossbow… in came the more setting-appropriate longswords, shield, longbow, and half-plate armour. I also swapped around the Charisma and Dexterity scores, thus keeping things similar in terms of Armour Class and such. Et voila!
Two of these guys was a medium challenge for the party. In game, they found them beatable but not easy… and the encounter was rife with tension as the heroes initially trying to blag their way past, but were ultimately forced to spring an attack.
Oh, and lest you feel that taking guidance on challenge levels for encounters runs counter to the “old school” approach, let me assure you that the old 4e “balanced encounter” is purely left as a choice for the DM. As I abhor the idea, I’d point out that the DMG advice was useful not in “balancing” but rather in determining what would be of challenge to the PCs. A later encounter, cleverly dealt with by the heroes, was (on paper) deadly.
Highlights from the new D&D
Much has been written on the virtues of the Player’s Handbook, but I’ve not read much on how it plays. For me, the top three aspects of the new game include:
- Ease of play facilitated by the Advantage/Disadvantage mechanic
- Plenty of character options created by the combo of Race, Class, and Background
- A really useful index
Actually, there’s loads more to say. I’d add that being able to read the core rules bit of the PHB (chapters 7-10) inside around 30 minutes is a boon to the new DM: because you can grasp the game very easily from so doing.
On the night, I found it very simple to run. My players also seemed to find it very easy to play. Gone were the fiddley interpretations of esoteric powers we experienced in our long-ago abortive foray into 4e, replaced by very fluid and swift adventuring.
On combat, I’d comment that fights play much faster… even with our preference for a grid and miniatures. Three fights in the evening accounted for a mere 60 minutes of the 4 hours played. Much more time was spent on exploring, discussing plans, negotiating and interacting, and generally clever play. Most memorable was the placement of a silence spell on the outside of a castle tower wall to facilitate a swift scaling of the wall without being heard.
Would I recommend this edition of the classic game? Yes, unreservedly.
It’s so much easier to prep for the new Dungeons & Dragons and it plays very smoothly. It also accepts house rules readily, such as our own approach to experience point awards cobbled together from a Hargravian-inspired blend of OSR ideas and Jamison’s XP bonuses.