[5e] – 23 players, 12 hours – The Lost Mine of Phandelver

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Five hours ago we finished up a 12-hour D&D 5e meet up event with 23 players during which we played through the Lost Mine of Phandelver. This has some details about 5e, the module, the events, and some AP “Let me tell you about my character” fun.

[5e]
After 12 hours of AP, I’m not yet sold on 5e. I don’t know if it’s specific to the rules in the Starter Set (I haven’t read the Basic PDF yet) or if something else is going on. I try REALLY hard not to fall in to Old Man Syndrome and be open to new things … I’m kind of hoping that I’m just not in to the new vibe yet. I like the Adv/Dis system a lot as a simple mechanic that doesn’t get in the way of the fun. The Clerical Turning stuff seems a bit wonky: once a day, only one creature(?) and one minute? Maybe I got the rules wrong. There was a little confusion when casting spells about bonuses … when to add in the proficiency bonus and when to add in the stat bonus, especially for the cleric. The thief Sneak Attack When Next to Someone thing seemed a little too “DPS” for me when I was reviewing the character sheets. In practice it kind of worked out ok, but I’d say that mostly because most of us at my table were not too clear about when things got sneak attack. Grappling, from the BASIC PDF, seemed really powerful. I panicked momentarily during the game when I thought the aristo-fighter was going to turn to using it over and over again. In the end they used it mostly to take a couple of prisoners of human bandits. The traditional thief ability of search, open, disable, climb, seemed a little confusing also. This may have been expectations perhaps? Maybe I was expecting them to work a certain way “roll your open locks check” and they don’t work that way anymore. Similarly, I think I was surprised by how many spells didn’t seem to allow a save. Sleep seemed to be a good example. I’m not sure how much of this 5e confusion is us misunderstanding the rules from the first play, wonkiness from the way the Starter Set presents things (with rules in the Rules, Character Sheets, and adventure) or expectations getting the way. I think the HD healing worked fine. Damage output from the monsters seemed high and yet only 1 of the 22 characters died. I’ve been playing 0e/BASIC for a couple of years now so the fast advancement of the first two levels seemed … weird? I get what they are trying to do but what happens, it seems, is that your “first level character” (at second to third level) has a shit ton of HP. I’m not sure if the murderhobo mood I’ve been in clashes with that more heroic high-HP style or what. It just still seems hard to kill someone. Maybe the adventure was bad with the CR’s and threw a bunch of lightweight stuff at the party? 1/4 CR goblins do not a challenge make! The lack of monster descriptions, in particular good, evocative ones, was, as I suspected, felt, by me as I ran the game. Further, a lot of what description there is focuses on attitude (they are cruel and cunning) rather than appearance. I have no idea what a Nothic is. The picture helped, but several didn’t have pictures OR descriptions. It should be obvious by now how I feel about a DM product that doesn’t actually help the DM run it …

You’ll note some of my thinking is around power levels. I think I’m still feeling the wounds of monstrously long 3e & 4e combats, and perhaps the mechanistic approach of the published 4e rules & scenarios. In the last few years this has pulled me back to the opposite extreme of 0e power levels in which things are fast & deadly and combat is no longer the entire focus of the adventure, explicitly or implicitly. Now that the power levels are ramping up again, with more HP and more fast early “apprentice” levels, and more damage, I’m getting a knee-jerk worry about the ramp up and visions of the 3e/4e arms race. I’m trying to keep this in perspective and give 5e a chance, but the previous wounds are deep. Yes, combat went fast. At first, second, third level. This is not an OSR game. This is a new, Something Else game, inspired by many sources, including the OSR. I’m trying to keep an open mind and may be just worrying too much.

As a transition between 5e and the adventure, I want to hit the Magic Item things I touched on in my review of Phandelver. Update: I fucking hate the wands & staves. “Anyone can use them” combined with “it recharges a bunch of charges each day” is fucking bullshit. I’m willing to take the “Get off my lawn” hit here … that they create a lame ass vibe. You’re getting something like 6-10 castings A DAY from the things because of the recharge, with a 5% chance of nuking the device? BS. This waters down the magical feeling that magic items should provide. They should be a thing of wonder, not the BS mechanical wonder that the staves and wands are. It’s totally fucking lame. If I had to change one thing about 5e that would be it. I know, it sounds petty, but it’s the kind of magical arms race and “taking magic for granted” shit that I LOATHE. I’ll forgive the “sip a potion” rules and the” think abut your item to ID it” shit, but not the infinite charge crap. The whole situation smells of the 4e magic item situation. Shit needs to change. Of the two staves (Defense & Spider) the Spider staff is FAR better. They both get a decent description from the Defense staff is purely mechanical: it lets you cast a shit-ton of Mage Armor and Shields. The Spider staff allows you to cast the Spider Climb spell and Web. Spider Climb is an EXCELLENT spell. It opens up all sorts of new opportunities for the characters to get in to the sorts of zany plans and stuff that I love D&D for. It FEELS like magic and opens up new opportunities for play. Web does so also, but to a much lesser degree. Shield & Mage Armor are just boring bullshit. Fuck you and your min/maxing! I love the augury statue as much in AP as I did when I read about it.

[Phandelver]
Almost nothing but good things to say about this adventure after 12 hours of actual play. I’ve covered the magic item and monster criticisms already. I wish the town was a little more ‘alive.’ I ended up running it like Deadwood, from the Tv series, with Sildar showing up turning things around, kind of like the Sheriff does when he finally takes up the badge in the series. Lots and lots of stuff to do in town. Two of tables did EVERYTHING in town. The final dungeon doesn’t quite communicate the “dividing line” between the undead and the invaders. The barricaded bugbear room does this, but the entire vibe is something that could have been better communicated; that’s the kind of thing that a good murderhobo exploits. I really like how some of the newer, and better, WOTC stuff is rewarding exploration. If you climb up the rubble pile, or look under it, or go down in to the crevasse then you find an extra bit of loot. Careful play is rewarded. The wandering monsters still seem like an afterthought, both in the wilderness and the dungeon. They don’t do anything productive. And no, they do not add realism and depth, at least not in a good way. They need more personality and/or need to be used to stop the wizards from doing a 5-minute day thing (which the two at my table were pushing for a lot after blowing their loads in the first combat of the day.) Anyway, the highest praise I can offer is that on of the players is a DM for a big Call of Cthulhu group that runs games at Origins & GenCon. He gave it high praise for having some depth to it. I agree. It manages to offer story without a railroad. Very nice. Also, as I suspected, NONE of the tables really ended up being heroic. Experienced D&D players, not forced to be heroic, pay lip service to the idea and then do whatever they want. This included one table taking over the red cloaks operation. Oh D&D, how I love thee!

I repeat my statements that the adventure needed a separate tear sheet for monsters. I ended up cutting out the last, monster, section of the adventure and stapling it together so I could refer to it during the game. I also found some .jpg images of all of the adventure maps and printed those out so I could have the appropriate one on my screen to refer to. Both of these help the adventure move a lot faster. The lack of this shows a real gap in how the adventure is published. While they’ve developed a fine adventure they have not provided the tools the DM needs to run it. And no, jackass, that’s not the DM’s job. That’s why the DM bought the adventure, so it wouldn’t be his job. This is almost a Usability type issue. By publishing the monsters, maps, and other important factoids in the back they could at least be cut out and then used as reference during the game. I ended up making my own town reference, with the name of each place, who was there, and the defining vibe of the place & person. I’ve the read the adventure, I just need cues from my reference sheet in order to run it now. I find it hard to believe that the play testers didn’t do the same thing. I suspect no one watched the plaiters to see how they were actually USING the product.

The pregens were excellent. They contain the leveling data right on the sheet, as I predicted they would, and their backgrounds and hooks fit each character quite well. Everyone found it very easy to slip in to their role after a brief read and I don’t THINK anyone felt phoned-in. Maybe the cleric seemed to have the weakest? The rogue, however, was clearly the best. His whole ‘revenge’ thing was a great hook.

I’m kind of happy that, after a long absence, I will be finally able to buy product from WOTC again to use with 5e, or an an older edition.

[Meetup]
This was the second half of our Welcome Back festivities for D&D. Last weekend we had a totally juvenile and wonderfully fun bonfire where we sent off the last edition. About 40 people showed up to drink, smoke, swap stories, shoot roman candles, and act like asshats. Yesterday was part 2. We hosted a meet up with 23 players and three tables and played through the 5e starter set adventure for 12 hours straight. We has about 26 players signed up and we’re prepared to run 5 tables. In the end about 23 people showed up. This is an AMAZING conversion rate for meet up. It’s been my experience that you can get A LOT more RSVP’s for an event that people who actually show. Having attended an event before seems to raise the probability that someone will show, as will charging for an event. This seems a little counter-intuitive, however I suspect that people either take clicking on the YES button more seriously when they see a cover charge or they take showing up more seriously. We charged $10/head and provided a bunch of soda, snacks, hot dogs for lunch, and pizza for dinner. Let me note that the hot dog roller and large popcorn maker are two of the best purchases we have made; trotting them out during large/long meet ups saves A LOT of hassle. We started up the industrial percolator at 8am and at 9am, the start time, already had about 20 people at the house. We started out with three tables of five and a table of four in the sunroom, dining room, living room and basement/hobby room. After a couple of hours one of the DM’s had to leave so we added one more person to two tables and put the others at one table in the basement. I think things worked out fairly well. The sunroom AC doesn’t kick on as often as it should, but other than that things went well. I tried to run the rules RAW because I assumed people wanted to get to know the new rules, and ran the adventure pretty loosely. All of the tables seemed to have great time. We had a good mix of older (40-ish/50-ish) players and younger (20-ish) players who all seemed to get along ok as far as I could tell. Time seemed to fly by, with my teen son saying “Gee dad, It seemed like only 2 hours has gone by.” More than one person expressed a sentiment to the effect of “I fucking love D&D!” When we were all hanging out after swapping stories everyone seemed to have a great time. I am now absolutely shredded, hoarse, bone tired from standing and keeping up high energy for 12 hours, and yet wired from the 2-liters of Mellow Yellow. Sunday is gonna be rough. My table ‘finished’ and the two other tables finished chapter 2 at the end of the 12 hours.

[Let Me Tell You About My Character]
At the end my group had developed Shock & Awe strategy. They would stack up at a door, cantrip it to slam it open, and then RUSH the room killing everything they saw. If there had been a pit/trap/etc they would have been totally screwed but it ended up working out for them. The free Surprise round they got was generally used to great effect. It was a nice Swat Team feel to entering rooms. And kept the pace up.

They ended up doing this to the Big Bad at the end. The wizard got init and dropped a fireball from scroll as soon as he heard the word “Drow.” Hilled him and 1 bodyguard, the party got init the next round, and finished off the other drow and the other bodyguard before any of them got to act.

The goblins at the ambush crit’d their stealth rolls. Two were hiding INSIDE the horse and burst out for surprise! And rolled 1’s. Covered in gore, they could not see who they were supposed to attack.

Then ended up killing the town master and chucked his dead body in the cell with the two red cloaks they captured. Oops. This was after the got a writ from Silgar appointing them Sheriff and the town master accused them of disrupting a peaceful group of red cloaks on the way to their morning Pinochle game.

The Sherif/aristo-fighter gave a rousing speech after to rally the townsfolk against the red cloaks. He got the brother in law and neighbor of one of the cloaks latest victims to join up with the party. The neighbor fell in the pit and died just as we got our sixth PC from the split up table. She ended up playing Hanzel, the brother. Who almost immediately found his sister-in-law, niece & nephew in the cloaks cells! [In retrospect, I should have given each player a DCC mob to play. That would have been a better reward and more fun.]

They left their inn in the morning to go to the manor and were jumped by four red cloaks, up late. They blew their spell loads and went back to bed after the Mayor incident. Shortest 5 minute work day ever. The red cloaks ended up setting the roadhouse on fire that night as revenge.

The guy who was the Sherif kept yelling “we have to take them alive and bring them back for justice!”, which would then inevitably be followed by copious mass murder.

They gave the beaten/captured dwarves pillowcases to wear, after they tore out head and armholes. It was funny at the time.

My table CONSISTENTLY went straight to the bad guys. Entered the back door Cragmaw and killed the king fast, made all the right turns in Wave Echo and went straight to the Big Bad room. Skipped through most of the town adventure and the chapter 3 stuff, only visiting Agatha. I pushed hard after Cragmaw to get them to Wave Echo, otherwise, they pretty much did complete the adventure in 12 hours without things feeling rushed or Fucking Around being sacrificed. There was much screwing around at my tie and a leisurely pace. They just made almost all the right decisions to zoom through.

They almost got TPK’d when the skull dropped a firewall on them in an enclosed space. The front bodies corked the passage and the rear folk pulled them out by their feet and got them after their second failed save. Our table finished up right after, as they went in to the smelter and the ghouls rushed in. The cleric didn’t recognize them as ghouls (I just described them) and we faded to black as he went down and the rogue was surrounded on the floor. 9pm had come and the DM was ready to DIE from exhaustion.

There were many many may more mementos of the kind of fun that only D&D can provide, and which always sound lame when told to someone who wasn’t there.

D&D is back! Hail to the king baby!

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3 Responses to [5e] – 23 players, 12 hours – The Lost Mine of Phandelver

  1. Gus L. says:

    This sounds like a lot of fun. I played a smidgen of 5e online last week, (Slave Lords A0?) and it felt pretty good with a good GM and solid OSR players. Our ten foot pole using ‘lard the stairs’ tactics were mostly unnecessary and it seemed like min-maxing was possible (one player resolved to test it with a dwarf wizard) but it was not dull, overly easy or terribly complex. The backgrounds became fun rather than the aggravating that I half expected.

  2. badmike says:

    Nice description, you made it sound like fun. Hope to get a look at it soon…

  3. Anon says:

    How many charges do wands get in B/X again? It’s 100 – (0-19) in AD&D. Usually so many that I’m afraid to give them “BtB” and gimp them down to 10 or 20 charges. I like 5E’s solution here, although I wish they had a chance to burn out more often… maybe another chance to burn out if you roll 7 on the recharge die?

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