John "The Gneech" Robey (the_gneech) wrote,
John "The Gneech" Robey

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D&D Starter Set... Started

We started my slightly-customized version of The Lost Mine of Phandelver tonight, using the rules included in the box and the Basic Rules downloadable from the WotC website. The party consists of:

  • Gimlet A dwarven mercenary cleric who took to adventuring after being disillusioned by corruption in his mercenary company.

  • Mei A human archer who seeks to live up to the glory of her once-prominent family.

  • Morgo the Magic Master A human wizard convinced of his own amazingness... and who rolled high enough stats to back it up.

  • Tylow A halfling rogue who's loyal to his friends.

The first couple of hours of the session were mostly character generation and discussion of the 5e ruleset; once that was done, we jumped straight into the adventure. The characters were hired by their mutual friend Brannar Diamondheart to escort a wagon of supplies from the city of Argent to Welltide, a town being rebuilt after it was destroyed by a volcanic eruption decades ago. Brannar had some kind of a scheme in the offing, which he planned to let the group in on once they got to town, and rode off ahead with his friend Lord Sildar, a noble of Argent, and Sildar's man-at-arms.

Spoilers for "Lost Mine of Phandelver" ahead.
Most of the trip was uneventful, but as they were just a few hours out from their destination they came upon the slaughtered horses of Brannar and Lord Sildar, which were being examined by a half-elf barbarian named Elskandi Hun-Ulfar ("But most people call me Elsa.") who had also been happening to travel the road ahead of them and came upon the ambush scene just a few minutes before the PCs did. Before they had decided what to do, Mei noticed movement in the thick brush just across the road, drew her bow, and demanded that whomever was in the wood show themselves.

Elsa, after a bit of confusion ("Uh, I'm right here!") realized that Mei was referring to someone sneaking in the thicket, so she drew her own sword (a ridiculously huge thing almost as long and broad as herself [1]) and started for the woods, which is when the goblins (who had been lurking nearby rather than attacking for reasons unknown) let fly with their own arrows. A short but intense battle ensued, and in short order all the goblins were slain.

The module recommended attempting to run this battle without a map, "theater of the mind" style, I suspect in order to establish right off the bat that 5e is not a battlemat-dependent system. The irony is that my players immediately started asking about ranges, and so I ended up drawing it out anyway. But we went mapless later when the rogue was scouting ahead.

Introductions made, the PCs decided that goblins had made off with Brannar and Lord Sildar, and decided to follow them, asking Elsa to come along, promising she would get a share of the reward. She happily agreed to this, being on the road specifically to look for work, and off they went. Along the route they found a few goblin traps, which were easily bypassed, and what appeared to be the body of Lord Sildar's man-at-arms, except for the curious detail that this body had obviously been where it was hidden for some time, at least weeks, while they had themselves seen Lord Sildar's man-at-arms themselves that morning.

Eventually the group came upon the end of the trail, a goblin cave at the back over another thicket. Tylow decided to scout ahead, discovering a pair of slacker goblin guards in a blind just outside the cave entrance. He decided to take one out immediately with his bow and a sneak attack; the other goblin squealed and ran for the cave, while Tylow ran for the rest of the party.

The PCs entered the now-alerted (but down one guard) cave, where they found a small pack of maddened wolves chained to the wall, with a goblin poised to release the wolves if the PCs attacked or tried to go further into the cave. Of course, the PCs attacked. Once again, the fight was short but intense; Morgo got a nasty bite from a wolfish attack of opportunity, but gave back just as good with a burning hands that emptied half the room. Gimlet got a bit chewed up acting as the tank to protect him. The party decided to retreat and take a short rest, where most of them spent their hit die for healing. This also had the effect of lulling the goblins into thinking their attackers had fled, and returning to their pre-alarm routine.

Coming back in, the party spotted a watch-goblin who had apparently spotted them, sneaking off to tell someone; Mei's bow made short work of it. From there they found a chamber containing Yeemik, one of the goblin sub-bosses, and several goblin warriors, guarding the badly-beaten Lord Sildar. Gimlet used a thaumaturgy spell to trick the goblins into fighting amongst themselves [2], and the party charged in during the confusion and made short work of them. Yeemik ran to the fallen Lord Sildar and said, "Surrender, or he dies!" Morgo responded by rolling nearly max damage with a magic missle, basically causing the goblin's head to explode– but not before Yeemik had shoved Lord Sildar off a platform, dropping him from 1 hp to 0 hp. Elsa ran to Lord Sildar and stabilized him while the rest of the party finished cleaning up the goblins.

They took another short rest here, running short on spells and healing options, waiting for Lord Sildar to heal up enough to be able to move and talk. Sildar explained that he and Brannar had been traveling as expected when suddenly his man-at-arms took off, and the goblins attacked. Sildar explained that Brannar had found what they believed was an entrance to the lost Phandelver Mines, and had drawn a map to it. The goblins were looking for Brannar specifically, and knew he had a map, which, given the care with which Brannar had kept it a secret, Sildar found suspicious. The PCs posited the theory that someone had replaced Sildar's man-at-arms some time back with a false one, and that the false one had led them into the ambush, an idea which perturbed Lord Sildar considerably.

We wrapped up the session there; although the PCs are practically tapped for resources, Tylow was adamantly against retreating for a full rest while Brannar was still a captive somewhere in the cave. (Loyalty is his Ideal, after all.)

How did 5e do? So far, I liked it. Combat was definitely fast and straightforward, although that's true of just about any edition at 1st level. I can see what various reviews have said about the PCs being squishy at 1st level; nobody got one-punched, or even fell to 0 hp, but it was iffy in spots. Being a "mapless-friendly" game worked nicely for the rogue's sneakery, but I still ended up drawing out most of the combats at least on the players' map. It's just easier than trying to remember where everyone else relative to everyone else. I like the way roleplaying is "baked in" to the game as a fundamental pillar, without being too forced down the throats of people who don't get into it as much. Nobody earned inspiration during the course of the session, but I plan to award it to Tylow at the beginning of the next one for pushing on rather than retreating because of his loyalty Ideal.

Advantage and disadvantage worked really well. I did a lot more handwavy "You have proficiency? You can do this."-type rulings than I normally would. I also decided to try rolling my dice in the open, instead of behind the screen where it could be fudged, and there was some added entertainment value when the players saw a particularly weak roll on the part of their foes.

There are some quirky artifacts that I'm trying to puzzle out. Everyone who received the cleric's bless spell promptly forgot to use it, but given that hits or misses were mostly by super-wide margins, it didn't matter. Climbing is done with Strength (Athletics), but the rogue has a Str mod of -1 and no proficiency. Whoever heard of a rogue who can't climb? Stuff like that.

Next week: we'll see if they survive "just one more room." ;)

-The Gneech

[1] Elsa is basically a cross between Amiri, Pathfinder's iconic barbarian, and Jormungandr from Zettai Boei Leviatan, who I added to the story to provide some tanky backup should the party need it, and as my "PC" in the game, so to speak. She's durable and entertaining, but definitely not a mental giant. My plan was, if the PCs didn't invite her along after the opening encounter, for her to become a recurring character in Welltide later. But apparently they decided they liked the cut of her gib, so to speak. Or just recognized a player-character type when they saw it. Is there such a thing as "play-dar"?

[2] Goblin insults are apparently things like, "You smell like a bunch of pretty flowers!" and "Your ears are small and cute!" Who knew?
Tags: dungeons & dragons, gaming, roleplaying games, silver coast
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