We had our first night with the new Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition rules last night, and overall things went well. You can expect a write-up over at West Karana in the near future, but I’d like to numerate the perspective from the DM side here.
Note: This post may contains spoilers for those who haven’t played the Hoard of the Dragon Queen module. I’m only doing recaps to the points we reach during our sessions, so if your party is ahead of ours, read on. If not, then proceed at your own risk.
As I wrote earlier, I concocted a story on how the players met up. The HotDQ opened with the caravan cresting the rise outside of Greenest, only to find it on fire, under assault, and under aerial surveillance by a large blue dragon. The caravan opted to beat cheeks in the opposite direction, but the players — in true heroic fashion — opted to run towards danger.
The module is very keen on ensuring that the players understand that the town is pretty much intact, but chock full of kobold and human invaders. The result is supposed to be that the players should exercise caution when moving through the town, as the invaders are everywhere, and the chances of running into an enemy party are pretty high. If players opt to just walk in to town, there’s a higher chance of getting into a fight than there is if they opt to sneak into town.
These players went right down the middle: they didn’t walk down the street, but they didn’t bother to hide. Instead, they crept through the forest. Although using stealth would have made them less likely to be seen, I partly opted to acquiesce to the idea that at night, it’s difficult to see into a heavily wooded area. Even kobolds with darkvision would have problems, since the woods are on the periphery of the town, and the town is alight with burning buildings. The result were fewer chance encounter rolls that were required for the “strolling down Main Street” approach.
While in the forest, the party bard — in what can only be described as the weirdest episode of precognition ever — remembered that she had a “kobold costume” in her pack. Being an entertainer means never having to explain your weird inventory, so she donned the costume and flagged down some passing kobolds while the rest of the party hung back in the woods. This diversion allowed the party ranger to put an arrow through the face of one of the kobolds, and although still far off, the party managed to take out two other kobolds and a human mercenary without issue.
This was a totally ad-hoc encounter, and had a few issues (all my fault). First, the kobold costume should not have worked. Had the encounter been with a group of humans, it would have been excused. But kobolds A) have darkvision, so up-close they could probably have seen something was weird, and B) kobolds are dragon-dog-creature-things; they should have been able to catch the scent of this “kobold” and been on immediate defense. Second, the encounter was way too easy. 3/5 of the party never really made it into the fray: two kobolds were killed at range, the human was cleaved in two with a battleaxe, and the last kobold…he was charmed, and was subsequently gutted without a fight. The problem here was that A) I didn’t play “the situation” properly, because with so many invaders, the kobolds should have detected the ruse, gone defensive, and flagged down more kobolds to reinforce them, and B) the kobolds and their human mercenary flubbed all of their rolls, and went down like a balsa-wood houses in a wind storm. I’m going to chalk this one up to hindsight, but I’m putting myself on notice: think more about reactions of the NPCs, and less about coming to grips with the wacky solutions players are coming up with.
One of the pivotal encounters the players run into early is a family that’s fleeing a party of eight kobolds. There are three kids, a wounded father, and a mother with a spear. The module says that the mother will stand her ground in sight of the players, as the kobolds close in.
This didn’t go according to any decent plan. The module states that it’s entirely possible (actually, probable) that the kobolds will see the players and assume they’re mercenaries on their side, hence ignoring them. The players can totally bluff the kobolds that this is true, allowing them to close the distance and gain Surprise for their attack. What happened, however, was that the players got trigger-happy and wanted to immediately open fire on the kobold party without taking the opportunity to realize the situation as an opportunity to position themselves for a significantly quicker take-down. I made matters worse by having the kobolds attempt to interact with the players by telling them to get lost. The kobolds were covetous of their potential victory, and didn’t want these mercenaries to interfere. The players shot back with a story about how this woman killed one of their comrades, which gave them the right to the kill. And the kobolds bought that…for some reason.
The problem is that this went off totally without verification, and without ramification. No dice were rolled to see if the kobolds believed the players; it made total sense — in some off-the-cuff kobold sociology terms — that there’s some kind of hierarchy in who gets to engage, based on grudges or something. I don’t know if that’s in-line with kobold societal lore, but I guess it is now. In hindsight, the kobolds should have just waved to the players, and then encircled the woman and her family, blatantly ignoring the players in a show of “we think you’re on our side”, allowing players to gain Surprise when they attack.
The result is that the woman and her family now thought the players were actually in league with the kobolds. Since the players didn’t make any actual threatening moves, the family bolted across the field towards the keep. The players followed at a respectable distance, but the “hook” that should have logically allowed them all to travel into the keep under the protection of a known villager turned into an awkward situation where the family ran inside, and the players crept closer, waiting to see if they’d get attacked by the archers on the walls. Because they needed to get into the keep, the archers (silently) made the assessment that this party didn’t look anything like any of the other marauders, so “what could possibly go wrong” by letting them into the keep. Ugh.
What Went Wrong
A few things could have gone better.
- It was our initial session, so we spent a lot of time getting a feel for the game, it’s rules, and our decisions. We opted to go with a more “cinematic” combat style over the tactical style, which turned out to be pretty good and well received. But it also resulted in some stumbling as we had to do look-ups and verification for items, spells, and activities. Standard stuff, and we’ll all get better at it
- We had a lot of fun playing, but I think we had too much fun. There was a lot of joking and fooling around, and while the point of playing is to have fun, I think the level of comedy was too high to allow the game to move at a pace that would have allowed for more gameplay opportunity.
- I made several bad decisions. The kobold costume shouldn’t have worked, and the attack on the family should have presented the players with an opportunity to take out the kobolds quickly, earn the trust of the family, and get them into the keep without the uneasy fudge that was applied.
What Went Well
- The 5e rules are a lot more streamlined than the 4e rules. Having a move and an action makes things happen quicker, giving everyone an opportunity to get their turn in before they get to bored.
- The party composition seems pretty solid. There haven’t been any opportunities for individuals to really use their characters to their full potential yet, but hopefully once folks settle in a get comfortable with their characters, they’ll find creative ways to express their classes for the good of the party.
- I did a little bit of pre-loading — maps into Roll20, index cards for creatures so I didn’t have to flip to pages with stats, notes on certain rolls and situations — which helped a lot, but I realize I’ll need to step up the organization for the next session to help with those on-the-fly situations that I’m not really that good at.