I played some D&D 5e on Sunday with MadJay Brown, Tamora Kimmitt, Julianna Aldredge, Dave Michalak, and Geoff Raye in our continuing, every-few-months “The Isutusian Prophecy” campaign. It was fun! It was mostly one big fight with a gnoll patrol* and a lot of planning, but also much-needed socializing with great people I don’t see nearly enough.
I learned and/or was reminded of two things:
Whenever it’s been too long since I’ve played D&D, I mistakenly assume that — even as a player — I can just wing it.
And I am always wrong.
The gnoll fight tapped my paladin’s spell slots pretty quickly, making me hungry for a long rest despite our having only been adventuring for about ten minutes. Afterwards, we totally changed gears and were way more cautious. Like, scout a few feet at a time and use a ten-foot-pole cautious.
For me, WotC-era D&D is best when everyone is prepared and well-versed in their PC’s rules bits. (Thankfully, Tamora was this well-prepared person, and she helped us figure out how to proceed.) Because, I think, that’s where the fun lay; we pit our rules mastery against the DM’s and see how long we can go before we need to tap out. (And that’s why hand-wavey 3/4/5e is not much fun for me, because once you’re just talking and occasionally rolling a d20, I start to question why we’re not playing something else.)
This is why, back in the day, I was a 3e rules lawyer. I studied that shit hard.
Next, I was reminded that D&D is full of mechanics that, while I’m sure they make design sense, don’t make world-sim sense to me. For example:
Jay used “success with a cost” to hit my and Tamora’s PCs with two levels of exhaustion after a failed check. Mundane healing of exhaustion is one level healed per long rest (i.e., per day). I figured that we’d take one long rest and then I could — obviously — use some healing magic to cure the other levels.
Nope. You need Greater Restoration to heal exhaustion, and that’s at least a 9th-level caster. My 5th-level paladin can heal blindness, but is of no use for people who are pooped. We did a quick Google and apparently it’s easier to kill your character and then cast Revivify on them, which erases all conditions, than it is to cure exhaustion with anything other than time.
Or take the Dash action. Man, I think we have it figured out, but it’s been two sessions of conversation.
Or the Healer’s Kit. You’d think it was one of the kits with which you need a proficiency, but no, it’s actually not — you’re thinking of the Herbalist’s Kit — it’s just a piece of gear that anyone can buy and use.
These things always break my brain a little. Latter-day D&D is an exceptions-based ruleset, and man the exceptions are really, really exceptions. So often when I think I can intuit how something works, 3/4/5e throws me a curve ball.
Contrast this to HERO, in which, at least IME, I can think about how a thing would work in “real life” and my expectations seem to hold up. E.g., instead of drawing lines to see how many sides of a square are crossed, I can just see that an opponent is being ganged up and be all, “Yeah, okay, you’re flanked.”
It’s almost like, with D&D, I feel like I have to reason from the rules first and then see how the fiction looks, but in some other trad-y games I can just picture a situation and then apply rules to it. (I mean, how many times have people had to interpret what hit points reflect in the fiction, or somatic gestures, or Vancian spell memorization, i.e., things we know exist for game resource reasons but now we have to justify in the fiction.)
Or maybe it’s just me.
Regardless, I still had fun! I love, love, love this group of people.
*My kid’s favorite show on NIckelodeon! (Parents will get this.)