Saturday, January 20, 2018

Now Playing 5e (Storm King's Thunder)

Last March my Pathfinder group wrapped up our campaign and switched over to D&D 5th Edition. I'm pretty happy with 5e. The rules are a lot less finicky than Pathfinder; there doesn't seem to be a loot treadmill, nor a skill bonus treadmill; and characters are a lot easier to create and level up.

I especially like the background tables (motives, flaws, trinkets, etc). They're enough to hang a persona on without getting too intricate. I mean, I don't normally bother with backstories, yet I made a coherent one simply by drawing arrows from one result to another.

Bonus: I didn't have to make my own character sheet! The official ones even have room to annotate with character creation notes (which is near mandatory for rogues, who're likely to get overlapping skill picks from multiple sources).
Monk: "We all chose wood elves? What a neat coincidence."
Rogue (me): "It's not surprising. Wood elves are the optimal choice."
Monk: "Damn min-maxing. Okay, I'm a gnome now."
It's been a continuing challenge to keep our "elf forest first, other kingdoms can rot" party interested in the welfare of foreign peoples.

Now that I'm thinking to make a second character, I'm less enamored with 5e's chargen. It's designed for you to pick a class and then make a small number of branching choices; doing the process in reverse - having a suite of abilities in mind and then trying to figure out which class fits it best - means leafing through just as many feats and features as I had to in Pathfinder.

Storm King's Thunder is a weird module

Our PCs start as level one nobodies, with a who's who of Faerûn factions falling over themselves to help us on our way; we never stay in one place long enough for the party's personalities or backstories to matter; and we don't get a real reason to be on the quest until halfway in.

The set-piece encounters have been fun, but rarely require real effort; last week's session was the first time in almost a year and eight levels that I've taken damage. Granted, my character type isn't generally in the line of fire; and granted, we may be rushing the plot a bit. (We only play two hours a week on a weekday after work, and the GM only reads one session ahead.) But still: I think the module has been pulling punches. Is that fair for an introductory module to do? I don't know; I'd hope it has guidelines about weaving the plot into an existing campaign, modulating encounter difficulty, and - for groups who are starting at first level - hooking the PCs better, earlier. Haven't read the book to see.

More odd things:
  • We keep getting loot, but nary a way (nor need) to spend it. So, now that we've cleaned out the fire lord's fortune, the GM just told us to shop magic items out of the GM's manual. Ironically, this is one of the things we wanted to leave behind with Pathfinder. 
  • Apparently, some of the maps don't have scales marked. 
  • Our group has trouble communicating the geography/architecture of a space; the vertical layout of the fire lord's forge has been a particular source of confusion. 
  • Shouldn't there be multiple adventuring parties from each of our multifarious patrons, pursuing the same goals we are? Why haven't we run into any? There are some temporary PCs early in the book; it could be fun to run across them again near the end.