D&D 5e and The Sunday Crew in “Assault on the Seclusium of Istus”

Yesterday, I played D&D 5e for the first time. MadJay Brown was the DM, Jenn Martin played an elf rogue (thief), Julianna Aldredge an elf rogue (assassin), Dave Michalak a dragonborn monk, Geoff Raye a human warlock, and I was a human paladin. Jay started us all at 3rd level.

Jay began the session by choosing cards from some sort of Deck of Many Things set (where did those come from, Jay?) and laying them out on the table like a Tarot reading. He asked us to choose from three fortunes: a death foretold, greed leading to ruin, and power usurped (or something similar). I believe that the fortune we each chose determined where we would start and what situations would be in play. Very cool!

The setting was the “Seclusium of Istus” (Istus being the monk’s and paladin’s patron deity), a holy palace carved into the face of a volcano. It was the eve of the new moon, new year celebration in the palace, in which the Luminary of Istus would reveal her prophecies for the coming year. The choice of fortunes put Jenn’s thief in the catacombs pulling a heist with a small crew from the Thieves’ Guild, Dave’s monk and Geoff’s warlock in the library admiring a scared scroll of “Tenser’s Disseration on Fate,” Juli’s assassin in disguise amongst the celebration crowd in the main hall, and my paladin patrolling said hall with a small force of guards.

The action quickly escalated: a team of assassins (not including Juli’s) made attempts on the three archons of Istus in main hall, Jenn’s crew encountered some kind of one-eyed humanoid with necrotic powers in the catacombs trying to steal the same stuff as Jenn’s crew, and Dave and Geoff battled thieves making a play for the Dissertation. All the while there are serious tremors shaking the palace, and a planar gate (!) opened somewhere within. Eventually we wrapped up our individual threats and joined forces to help evacuate the palace, battling a platoon of gnolls(!) who’re preventing guests from crossing the mountain bridge back to safety; looks like a cambion(?) brought them in through the gate.

Obviously, someone has it in for the cult of Istus.

One of my favorite moments from my slice of the game was when, having captured one of the would-be assassins, I asked my paladin-commander to cast Zone of Truth so that we could question them (it’s 2nd level, which I can’t cast yet). The assassin makes their save (Jay rolls everything in the open, thank heavens), but Jay makes it clear that the commander is acting like they failed. Aha! An inside job! But of course my character doesn’t know that and would follow his commander to the ends of the earth. Hot! (This is how you handle lies in RPGs, folks.)

I really liked that we did not start the game as a “party”, but rather as individuals who all had our own jobs. Circumstance brought us together eventually, but it never felt contrived. Jay did a great job of running concurrent encounters, so that all of the action was happening at once, even though we were in separate groups.

In all, I had a great time, and this session hit all of my preferences for D&D-style play: we all got to be competent without feeling like it was a cakewalk, were badass without it being just a show-off-your-awesomeness stroke-fest, our decisions mattered, we engaged the system, and the game moved at a good pace.

Personally, it also felt really good to be gaming again, especially with this group of people. Other than Chicago Gameday back in March, I haven’t gamed at all since GenCon ’14, and I haven’t seen this group since before that. We’re drama-free, have great communication, and even when a game goes south, we all seem to be on the same page about what caused the southward journey and can talk freely about correcting course. The whole ride home I kept thinking how lucky I am to have all of them to game with.

It was also nice to just show up and be a player. My only prep was taking some time Saturday to print up a cool 1e-looking sheet from Dyson Logos and roll my PC by hand (i.e., with a pencil and paper instead of software), something I haven’t done in years. I came home feeling like my batteries had been recharged.

The session also got me excited about 5e again. It’s hard to judge based on one session — NTM one in which Jay wasn’t pushing us too hard, I think — but the system feels very clean and polished, like it’s taking ideas form 3e (and a little 4e) and implementing them in easier-to-use ways. I really like that a crit is a crit and not a crit threat, that you determine whether a foe is dead or subdued at 0hp, and that pretty much everything is an ability check. We got a little exposure to how Inspiration and backgrounds/bonds/etc. work, and they feel like just enough “indie” spice to improve the game without changing it’s fundamental “D&D” nature. And, man, advantage/disadvantage is a great idea; so simple. I came away from the game feeling some of the giddiness I had when I got back into gaming with 3e; this is a D&D I can get behind, I think. (Heck, I’ve been thinking up campaign ideas ever since I left Jay’s hotel.)

Jay handled combat “theater of the mind” style, and it worked really well. I’m not sure I’m 100% sold on it, though. I became a die-hard minis user during my tenure with 3e, so in hindsight I am a little conflicted about having to ask Jay things like, “Get I get to the gnoll with one move?” and “Is the assassin within 60 feet?” I totally had fun the whole time, no doubt, but there are mixed feels.

It looks like Jay will be in town three more times before the year’s end, so hopefully we’ll be able to continue this mini-campaign when he’s here, or else play some via Hangouts.

Thanks to Jay for running and everyone for playing. You guys totally made my Sunday.

#TheSundayCrew   #dnd   #5e   #rpg

0 thoughts on “D&D 5e and The Sunday Crew in “Assault on the Seclusium of Istus”

  1. I love that character sheet! It’s very reminiscent of those green and orange sheets from the 80s.

    Come to think of it, I might be tempted to print something like that on green paper.

  2. The cards are from Mansions of Madness, an official Deck of Many Things. Thanks for writing this up Mark! I’m watching a PowerPoint presentation at the moment, but I’ll post my thoughts later

  3. Addendum: apparently, one cannot cast both a Bonus Action spell and a 1 Action spell on the same turn unless the latter is a cantrip. I violated that one, I think.

    Way to suck out all the fun, WotC!

  4. What an awesome write-up! I’m in awe of DMs that can make stories like this. Glad to hear you got to kick the tires on 5e and enjoyed. I’m running two games right now and enjoying the heck out of it (though my storytelling is crap)

  5. Jason Ambrose I think what Jay did was have some situations in place that built off ideas we provided, and then let us run with them as we chose. One of my favorite styles of running games!