Last night was the first evening of my home grown campaign in D&D 5E. It was a deadly start as I lay my trust in the hands of the people that wrote the Monster Manual and will go down in my memory as the game that had the player character with the shortest career I have ever seen. There was laughter and fun and also much negativity about the system that just seems to get brushed under the carpet because it has the D&D name attached to it.
I did not have a lot of prep time available to me for the game last night as I had spent all last week prepping for the Fantasy Grounds convention and then I took a couple of days off as I was very tired after it. I had around two hours (give or take) to come up with the nights adventuring. To assist with this I decided to take a leaf out of the Dungeon World playbook and drop the players straight in the action and ask a lot of questions. It worked well.
I designated that the players were travelling through a dense swamp in search of a ruined temple of Apollo (I am using Greek pantheon and architecture in the game). The players informed me that they were heading there to find out a secret from a guardian of the temple. Nice start to the game.
The player group at the start of the night started as a wood elf Warlock, a human Sorcerer and a halfling rogue. To join them later was a human druid. My daughter is away on a school trip so she is yet to make up a character and this group were all level one. Knowing this when I did my planning I pulled out the Monster Manual which I am yet to fully read (I am up to F) and lamented the absence of a Monster’s by CR index. I lamented so much that I found one online and started using it by finding some critters that should be not too hard to beat and get them some wins on the board early.
The first encounter was with some Bullywugs who were scouting out the temple as some of their kin were being held prisoner there. None of the players speak Bullywug and none of the Bullywugs speak common so this was always going to be amusing. The rogue found them and failed his stealth roll. The Bullywugs all turned to look at him, which he must have taken as an aggressive move because he drew his short sword.
The bullywugs took offense to that and the battle began. And then it ended. Really quickly. The sorcere and rogue were down and the wood elf was coaxed into giving up as they threatened to kill the Warlock (the druid was yet to arrive as his player was coming in late). On paper (and by CR this should have been moderately challenging. It wasn’t. It was a walkover.
Following this was some great roleplaying where through the use of wood carving and some mud and hastily drawn pictures the players realised that the Bullywugs were just trying to free their kin who were being held prisoner by lizardfolk in the temple of Apollo. They decided to join forces with that sorted out and found two lizardfolk guarding the opening to the temple.
The player of the druid arrived and in a rush of blood to the head he said I will handle this, cast shillelagh on his clubs and wandered up to the lizardfolk, basically taunting them. One of the bullywug’s headed in with him. Both he and the bullywug were dead in the first round. It was funny, and there was a lot of laughter as the druid had essentially lasted around 5 minutes of actual play time. He started to build a new character. But again, the party got trounced.
Lizardfolk are CR 1 and two of them make a CR 2 encounter which is a challenge but one that should deplete some resources for the group to handle adequately. In essence what really happened is the entire party was taken out. Had these creatures been defending territory rather than looking to take food the entire party would have been dead. Instead the three other characters (and the Dwarf Barbarian the druid characters player made up and got taken down in the same combat) woke up in a cage without their gear awaiting to be the next meal. In an effort to highlight this fact the lizardfolk outside the cage were eating a lovely meal of human druid that they had roasted up while the players were sleeping.
They attempted a breakout and almost made it but were beaten down again and we called it a night. It was a fun game with some great moments and a lot of laughter. What got to me though was the general discussion about the rules would go like this.
“Lets not abuse this rule in that way.”
“It is a poor rule, I agree.”
“Yes, let us sweep the flaws in this system under the carpet because it is D&D.”
I don’t think any of the players would be surprised to read that of me. I have been critical of these rules and honestly I don’t like them. I am in this game for the fact that it is my campaign that I will design in a way that I want to. I will play the system as that is the system that my players want at the moment. I just find it very odd that they are moving on to this system where these conversations keep coming up.
I saw that same conversation last night three times. I decided not to chime in to it, but I am just amazed at how much modification people are willing to take because it has that logo attached to it. Big deal, it is D&D. So? I ran Dungeon World. They all loved it but we only played two games. We were playing Pathfinder and despite a little bit of frustration at how long combat takes there were no real arguments about rules that were in place but we moved from that system.
I suppose I am saying, and this is really just my opinion, that I just do not get why people flock to a system that has issues – won’t admit to those issues immediately – and then when they do they just overrule them and keep playing because it is <insert brand name in here>. I kind of get that it is from nostalgia because that is what they played in the past but I find this to be an unusual choice. If I have a system that works, that I have fun with and requires no modification next to a system that does not work well without modification but is fun, I will take the working system every time.
Anyhow, the campaign is away and it was fun. The feel of the world is good to me so I will start to work on that a little more. I am turning it into a nice little campaign world where I get a lot of material developed and I will just follow along on the journey where the players take me and show them what they run into. I normally start a campaign with a goal of reaching x where x is a story or idea that I want to explore. I will insert x where x fits naturally. In this game I have no x it is just the world as it is and the players will involve themselves how they want.
We will have to see if the players, with the inclusion of my daughter’s character, is capable of freeing themselves from the lizardfolk larder next week! Keep rolling.