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.)

0 thoughts on “I played some D&D 5e on Sunday with MadJay Brown, Tamora Kimmitt, Julianna Aldredge, Dave Michalak, and Geoff Raye…

  1. ” (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.)”
    LOL I just literally had the same conversation with a friend about 10 minutes ago.

  2. Mark Delsing​, Eloy Cintron​ What is the something else you have in mind from this sentence? Genuinely curious since I’ve had the same thought, but haven’t succeeded at finding a suitable replacement system for dungeon crawling…

  3. Eden Brandeis Well, that’s the prize winning question right there… For me, if it’s story > dungeon crawling, then I tend to go with Burning Wheel, as it allows for character driven story play, but it’s not so good for dungeon crawling. Combat is dramatic, but is only tactical if engaging Fight!. Even so, I haven’t been able to make it handle PCs versus monster combat well. (That’s on me, I think. BW Monsters tend to be super hard to kill IMO, but again, that may be my inexperience with that aspect of the system)

    If it’s dungeon crawling, I’d rather use D&D , 5E or Moldvay, or maybe Black Hack, but I like then the resource management systems to be engaged. That means overland travel, encumbrance, random encounters.

    In full honesty though, we tend to default to hand wavey DnD, for monster killing. If I could make monster combat work better in BW, I’d probably defer to that…

  4. Eden Brandeis For me it would depend on what’s being hand-waved and what the group as a whole seems to be grooving on.

    Dungeon World feels like the go-to, “I want to play D&D, but I don’t want to track encumbrance and stuff” RPG to me. 🙂

  5. I would be down for more checklisty system mastery vs system mastery d&d if we were meeting more often than every quarter. As it is we could be playing 13th Age or DW just as easily and that would be fine with me.
    But, like you, I dig these folks and I like our game so far, so I have no significant complaints.

  6. Dave Michalak To be clear, I’m faulting myself, not the rest of the group. And, yeah, if we were playing more regularly — like Tamora does — I’d have more incentive to study and more actual practice.

    In my 3e days I was in two campaigns, so practically playing every week. And one campaign we played the same party for 20 levels, and thus saw a lot more of the system at work.

  7. Eden Brandeis The One Ring has some VERY good combat rules… my issue with the system is the corruption rules, of which I am not a fan. Check them out if you’ve the means.
    I’d probably love to play this more, but the Corruption keeps me away.

  8. This has been an ongoing thing about why I don’t think D&D is a “good starter RPG” for folks anymore than Dwarf Fortress is a “good starter videogame” (granted, it’s not old school D&D full of matrixes and THACO, but still).

    And, I don’t think that those “design sense” rules actually have a design sense to them – more like a “We had 13 people writing various rule bits and oops look at how these things work together in weird ways because things slipped through the cracks.”

  9. Mark Delsing I think it’s a death spiral. Inescapable retiring your character after a few sessions. If mismanaged, you may wind up retiring the character REAL fast… I don’t have enough experience with the system. Maybe I’m reading too much into it (not enough play to back it up), but merely walking through Mirkwood can spike those corruption levels.

    I get that it’s supposed to be a generational game, like Pendragon, with you retiring characters periodically and bringing up heirs (reinforced further by the 1 adventure per year suggested pacing).

    I don’t know if my home group would go for this. They enjoy their characters, and having to deal with madness periodically, plus having to deal with the inevitable retirement after a few sessions… I don’t know. The Hope economy of the game is also VERY tight. 1 point per character per session. If you don’t use Hope, your ability stats don’t really matter much, but that’s another issue…

    I get the thematic darkness of Mirkwood mirroring the dwarves journey through it, but again, I don’t know if my players will enjoy this dark, gloomy Middle Earth.

    Would love to have someone run it for me, though. Just to see what it’s like to play!

  10. Chris Chinn Some of the “design” bits I understand, as they’re part of the resource game or balancing one widget against another. Dash, iirc, is weird on paper but makes sense the way actions and some special abilities work.

    But, yeah, the exhaustion thing confuses me, though. I’m not sure why that’s intended to be such a huge hurdle. Its literally worse than death.

  11. My guess is that the exhaustion mechanic wasn’t finalized until late in the process – people had already made the majority of spells and abilities without it in mind*.

    As a mechanic, it would make sense if the other mechanics gave it a context that kept it in balance and sense. But that’s not the ruleset the team created, so ultimately, it’s not a real “design sense” anymore than randomly throwing things into a rules works as design.

    Much in the same way a lot of limitations were placed before gameplay – “D&D must have XYZ mechanics”. So, I see a lot of them less as “design choices” and more like choices aimed at finding things close enough for older D&D heads to not complain about it being too different.

    *Pretty much also why things like Healing Kit vs. Herbalism Kit and Paladins not being lined up is probably this addition of new rules last minute without updating other sections. Too many cooks, not enough central vision.

  12. You guys weren’t missing much with me gone, I’m really only there to provide flanking in combat. The damage I put up when I actually hit is a fraction of anyone else’s.

    I can sneak and perceive like the dickens, but my only strength in fighting is with sneak attack.

  13. We totally could have used all of that, really.

    I mean, we all got our bit of heroism in for the day. Julianna Aldredge​ was probably mvp, chasing down that last gnoll.
    I’m sure Kithri was up to some shenanigans elsewhere.
    I’m also sure I spell her name differently every time.