Monday, February 28, 2022

Learning the New

In case anyone's been wondering: yes, I'm still alive. I've been traveling; taking a family vacation. I won't belabor folks with tales about how wonderful it is...not when so many people around the globe lack the opportunities with which I've been blessed. But it's been fun and relaxing and a much needed break from daily stress. Especially for my poor wife, who's been asking for this for some three years now.

Now, some gaming news (while the rest of the family sleeps and while I sip coffee on a sunny lanai): I'm currently "learning" 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons. I have reasons, which I will now explain.

Some time back...last year if I recall correctly...my son started a "D&D club" at his school. Interested children were many, and he began teaching them B/X and (later, this year) AD&D. He ran games for them, he did some stuff on-line. He would have the occasional boy or girl pal over to our home and have me run games for them. Many kids under the age of 12 have been introduced to the concept of Dungeons & Dragons through my family.

Unfortunately, we are living through the Plague Years, and running real campaigns with folks outside the family, with groups around a table, is a pretty tough proposition and what with "Zoom fatigue" has made such (mostly) a no-go. As playground recess is really too short to run sessions, my son has been stymied in his efforts to really get his game off the ground.

And yet kids (of course) want to play. And so they turn to their own parents. And their parents get them 5th edition. Because most parents aren't my son's parents. 

Diego's buddy, Kieran, is one such kid. Over last summer his parents acquired the 5E books for him, and Kieran has been learning the game...has, in fact, been playing in a 5E game outside of school, from what I understand. And he now wants to try his hand at running his own game at school with a group of younger (4th grade) students who are outside the 5th grade D&D club, but who (again, so I've been told) own the 5E books and play 5E. 

My son was, to say the least, annoyed. 

I, however, told him to look at this as an opportunity. What, I asked him, do you enjoy more: playing D&D or running D&D? "Playing." So here is your chance to PLAY D&D...with your own friends/peers...and none of the stresses or responsibilities of having to be the DM. Here is your chance to play MORE D&D...and at this age, ANY D&D can be better than NO D&D. Stretch your imagination. See what a different DM has to offer. Learn things you might like, and things you don't, and file it away for the next time you run your own game.

"But it's 5E!"

Sure it is. And you've never played it. Maybe you'll enjoy it if you try...maybe you'll find you like it even better than 1E. Maybe you'll discover it's just a different way of role-playing: there are LOTS of RPGs all with their own systems. I've played (and enjoyed) many different RPGs over the years, and while I've come to my own conclusions about what is best in such games, my conclusions have been informed by my experiences. Till now, you haven't had the chance to build such experiences...why not jump at this one?

And so, after some reasoned conversations, Diego decided to put aside his pride and ask Kieran if he might play in his 5E game (and, of course, the answer was 'sure!'). So my kid bought his very own 5E PHB (with his very own money) and has been diligently reading the thing...back-to-front...while we've been on our vacation. A couple/three choice quotes from the kid:
  • "There's, like, 107 pages of NOTHING here!" (referring to the excessive padding describing each race).
  • "Tieflings seem like they were meant for people who just want to play 'bad guys.'"
  • "I feel like this book is designed to make people lazier." (referring to how the text tells you what average hit points per level for each class is)
  • "Even my equipment is supposed to have a background!"
That last refers to the 4th paragraph on page 143 which I will quote here as just an astounding block of useless padded text:
You decide how your character came by this starting equipment. It might have been an inheritance, or goods that the character purchased during his or her upbringing. You might have been equipped...as part of military service. You might even have stolen your gear. A weapon could be a family heirloom, passed down from generation to generation until you character finally took up the mantle and followed in an ancestor adventurer's footsteps.
[or maybe I just bought the stuff in a shop?]

We've had a few loud guffaws at the inanities of the book, and I've done what I could to assuage his frustrations. He's only just finished the section on building a character and is FINALLY getting to the PLAYING THE GAME section of the book (Part 2, beginning on page 171), and he's excited to finally read some instruction on how the mechanics interact. I have a copy of the D&D Essentials rulebook with me (remember back when I purchased that?) but he doesn't want to read the abridged version of the rules...he wants the full monty. I'll be interested to his reaction.

Having read through the PHB5 a bit myself over the last few days, I will say this about it: it makes me excited to create a character. Which I'm sure is the point of the thing, but (to me) is a huge red flag. Because a D&D text should make you excited to play D&D, not just make characters.

Do folks understand that? I mean, the objective is to play D&D right? Shouldn't reading the books make me fired up to play? To go on (and experience) epic adventures? Or something?

The 5E PHB doesn't get me juiced up to play the game...hell, it doesn't even start explaining how to play the game until the second half of the book! But it does get me juiced to build a character: I see all sorts of potential with various fighter and rogue builds (battle masters? assassins? Right on!). Even a barbarian modeled on Frazetta's Death Dealer character would be pretty sweet. Yeah, I could happily tool around for hours making a whole host of various fantasy character types...that would be quite entertaining. I did a lot of that back in my 3E days as well. Hours of time wasting that had ZERO to do with actually playing the D&D game.

In addition to Essentials, the other D&D book I brought along on our vacation is my dog-eared copy of S4: The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth. I had this idea that I might convert the thing to 5E and try running it as a one-off, just to see how it works, and to help Diego learn the systems. But it's...mm. A bit difficult. 

S4 is a GREAT AD&D adventure...very well designed, especially for (or in spite of) being a module that started life as a tournament scenario. The treasure haul is spot on for the recommended (tournament) party: more than 296,000 g.p. worth of monetary treasure in the Caverns proper, plus another 90K in magic item XP (769K in monetary value of "sold" magic items). That gives a potential range for a band of six PCs to get from 64K to nearly 177K (assuming survival), ensuring at least a level or two raise for characters of levels 6th through 10th. That's very cool...and very appropriate considering the level of danger in S4.

But 5E doesn't run on treasure. I'm not even sure what it runs on really. My reading would seem to indicate that the game is designed to engage players by A) helping them create a cool character, and B) presenting them with the opportunity to perform heroic actions (i.e. allow their cool character to do cool stuff). 

So you get to play a starring role in some epic fantasy movie-ish game? Is that really it?

I suppose that's...um...neat, in it's own way. It's different from the way I play (or enjoy playing) this game called Dungeons & Dragons. It's a little off-beat even from 2nd edition's heavy railroads and 3rd edition's attention to mechanical proficiency. It really is a NEW iteration of the D&D game.

And a little weird. I was telling Diego the other day how one of the most boring things a person can be subjected to in ANY edition of D&D (since the beginning of the game's history) are stories of "how cool my character is." Nothing is more tedious, more nerdy, than being regaled with how "MY guy is UPTEENTH level and has a PLUS WHATEVER thing and was able to slay Orcus/Tiamat/Llolth/Etc. in such-and-such adventure(s)." No one wants to hear that. Mmm...slight correction: no one who's PLAYED the game extensively wants to hear that. We all have war stories, and it's fun rehashing events that happened in past game sessions...but the focus of such banter is (generally) about what happened or what was accomplished or how someone met their end or how someone else triumphed. NOT "how cool my guy is."

5E seems geared to giving you a really cool guy.

That wasn't the focus of the prior four(ish) editions of the game. Originally the focus was on adventuring. The second edition drifted into a game about playing out (the plot of) epic storylines. The third edition had a focus on system mastery, such that you could work the various game mechanics to your advantage; in this way, it shared similarities with the Magic card game of its new publishing company. 4th edition focused on combat mechanics to the exclusion of all else. 

This ain't ANY of that. Which is weird. BUT...I won't call it uninteresting.

Okay, I'm out of time for writing (people are waking up). That's the update. Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, and I am 99% sure that I'm going to be giving up all things "blog-related" for 40 days. Yeah, that's pretty wild...a blog fast. I will still be answering emails and whatnot. Hopefully, I'll get up one more post before I turn out the light.

Later people.

21 comments:

  1. Matt Colville has this great series on his channel called "The History of D&D, One Fighter at a Time!". It really highlights how the game has trended to more and more mechanical weight, and character complexity, through the editions.

    I highly recommend it. It's an interesting look through the ages of D&D, and Colville is a pretty cool dude whom I like to promote. :)

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    1. Interesting. Although “D&D through the Ages” is kind of the thing I do already.
      ; )

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    2. Fair, though your blog-roll suggests you do not shirk from competition. ;)

      In general you two have quite different (but equally great) content. In this case I think Colville's fighter videos show some rather specific things, like feature-creep, quite well.

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  2. I believe there's an early DMG or PHB where Gygax explains how making dungeons, rolling up characters, etc is also creating and participating in the game just as much as actual dungeoncrawling or what have you. So being excited about making characters is a good thing, and I think critical to D&D.

    Having it be fun to make characters also seems like a good way to make losing a character not as big a deal. Assuming you can create one fairly quickly, that is.

    5e has always struck me as some very, very neat ideas that still take D&D in a direction I don't want to go. But I'm very impressed with how they're getting there.

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  3. Ironically there is lots of people that want to get into D&D because they want the old game, and they just want to buy that, then, they get into a shop and there is 5e. Becaouse people is used that when you want something you can probably just buy it, instead of getting the interwebs and looking about the product contrived history. Its probably logical. Byt I feel that 5e is actually maintained by people who wanted to play 1e and got lost in the way.

    I dont even know if they sell Swords and Wizardry or Labyrinth Lord at shops nowadays. OSE might be nice and all that, but the problem is that you actually need to be a grognard to acknowledge its existance.

    I dont want to hate 5e or anything, its cool that every game exists for everyone who wants to play, but its annoying that it has taken the D&D lust from many people just by buying it and finding that the game they thought in their heads is actually an unplayable brick, designed to be read but not actually used.

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  4. I'm in a similar situation as your son. Its very difficult to sell Higher Path thinking to a freed circus elephant who has been shackled its whole life. But I am making the best of it and thinking of it as a missionary post.

    It really is all about the character. What can my character do, how cool is his backstory, what can he trick NPCs into doing for him.

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  5. I feel like 3e thru 5e all place character customization through mechanics at the forefront. And when folks talk about there characters it's what feat and what sub class gives them the ability to do what cool thing or provide what massive damage modifier ect.

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  6. Thanks for the heads up about the blog-fast. Hope it is fruitful (And we know we don't have to send the submarine to search the ruins of Seattle for survivors :-) )

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  7. "You want to adventure? Whoa there, hoss. Slow down. D&D is for character generation, not adventuring! Now, think up a heroic background for that 50' of rope."

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    1. “Now, this here rope has a long and storied history. See, it once belonged to the queen of the Maki-Maki folk, where it was used by the royal executioner for all public hangings…until one day a warlock accursed and sentenced for crimes unspeakable blistered its hide with the bursting veins from his neck, forever soiling the purity of its fibrous length. Fortunately, a passing merchant…Jamba by name…was willing to take the cursed thing, coiled, on his second-best camel…”

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  8. 5E isn't a bad game. It definitely does things differently than other versions of D&D, but it's got better mechanics than 3E, and closer to urD&D feel than 4E. But yes, the char gen mini game is a big draw of the system. And the play-by-post 5E game I'm in is quite the menagerie of characters that would have been very rare in games back in the 70s and 80s. But it still does adventure. The biggest flaw IMO isn't the char gen mini game, it's the focus on combat or skill checks as the only viable solutions to any problem.

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    1. The part I’m having the most difficulty with is the magic…specifically and especially the unlimited “cantrip” magic that provides 1st level mages with unlimited D10 damage ranged attacks.

      I’m afraid THAT (if nothing else) will end up being the deal-breaker for me.

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    2. Hit point inflation of monsters and common fire resistance make it decent but not OP. Plus, most classes with access to it can also shoot crossbows for similar damage. Of course, at level 5 it becomes 2d10! But still, firebolt damage pales in comparison to a Paladin's smites or Rogue sneak attacks.

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    3. good Lord in my last couple or three games I got so sick and tired of the wizard character constantly casting grease spells. It just often got to be all about that in combat. Things slipping in grease. high-larious…

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    4. Cantrips have never really been a massive problem for me - you have to keep in mind that fighters have had a damage boost too, so it's effectively the equivalent damage to if the mage just picked up a heavy crossbow (at first level, anyway - it goes up as levels go up, but cantrip damage is always firmly well behind a fighter or barbarian's round-to-round attacks)

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  9. I used to be of the same opinion that any dnd is better than no dnd. It took me a long time to realize that no game was better than a bad game(usually due to players/dm)

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  10. You're giving up blogging for lent?? Does that mean no writing or just no posting? If it's the latter, will your brain explode from the labor of storing unwritten posts? That's one way of amping up the enthusiasm for His resurrection.

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  11. I fought it for a good while. But After almost 10 years of a fairly steady first edition group, I moved pretty far from my hometown and could not get anything going in a fairly active community for first edition. adopting fifth edition has allowed me to do a couple of different decent campaigns with different people. and I’m kind of glad to be distanced a bit now from grognard culture. A fresh perspective. I have found that running for a crowd that skews a good bit younger than the people in my first edition experience has energized me a good bit. I’m still going old school style but as long as I’m using fifth edition rules the new crowd is happy just to play what they want.

    To maintain my fragile sanity I have restricted characters in classes to the players handbook only. I’m really not ready for a ninja mutant cyborg giant character yet.

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  12. As someone who has run and played in 5e for a good long while now:
    >5e emphasizes character creation in a way similar to late 2e. The subclass system works like the Kits you would find for 2e, modifying the basic class with additional abilities, like the Sun Soul monk’s power to attack at range with energy blasts. The intent is for you as the player to make Your Guy
    >This is also the reason 5e characters are so durable in comparison to previous editions, as the game wants you to make character death rarer so that Your Guy stays in the spotlight.
    >HP Bloat is a problem caused to prevent 3e Rocket Tag. I’m not sure it solves it because monster HP is calculated to challenge a generic party of four, and the system breaks quickly if you have a larger group then that as monsters that won’t fold in one round will drop a character in one round
    >Cantrips are, with the exception of Eldritch Blast for Warlocks, the spellcaster backup option. They tend to be slightly weaker then what a martial of similar level can do just by attacking. Once again, Eldritch Blast is the exception, because Warlocks are extremely limited on spell slots and thus have their main damaging cantrip buffed to be on par with a ranger shooting a non-magical longbow.

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  13. That part about tieflings got me clownin', yo.

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