Monday, January 19, 2015

Early Experience With 5E

Cannon on display at Fort Pitt Museum

It has been at least 6 or 7 years since I have played any D&D, although in that time I have purchased a number of old school RPGs. That half-decade hiatus was a very welcome break from modern implementations of D&D. My last experience had been playing in a 3.5 pirates game where it took an entire session to fire a loaded cannon and then reload it to fire again. I left the session after nearly three hours of waiting, when it was clear that second shot was not just going to happen.

But I've been interested to see where 5E would go. Since the summer of 2014, I have purchased the three core books, and the GM screen. About three months ago, a friend proposed an online game through Hangouts, and in the late fall, I created Enkidu, my Half Orc Ranger.

It took a couple of hours to create the character. That's too long in my book, but it was a new PC with a new system. There wasn't as much cruft (such as Feats) to deal with as in 3.5, and the skills list seemed more useful for a roleplaying game than the one in 4E. When my GM reviewed my character he found that I had underselected my proficiencies by one skill. It was only after some rereading and discussions that I also understood how saves and save proficiencies come together.

But we're there now!

Friday night we had our first game session by Hangout. It was an urban/wilderness adventure. Our task was to deliver a shipment to the nearest town. It was winter and the first day after a blizzard, so we made our delivery by sled. Along the way, players made skill checks for various things such as handling the sled and spotting potential hazards. I was surprised that the advantage/disadvantage system didn't get more use, but I think it's likely that players will probably need to be nudged to remind the GM when they are in a situation where advantage might apply to their actions. (And since this is a traditional RPG more or less, GMs will also need to decide about the situations in which disadvantage applies.)

The skills proved very appropriate for the kinds of things we were trying to do.My post-play assessment of the skill list is that it gets things about right. I also thought my character was pretty competent in the skills for which he had proficiency.

There was no combat in the session, so we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. Our GM is planning to take a more traditional approach to hit points and healing. I have no idea how that will affect the threat posed by monsters, and the efficacy of certain spells; we will just have to see.

So far, so good on the systems front. But boy did that session end with one hell of a PC-induced and completely preventable mess. The party collective decided to leave the sled and shipment of goods in someone else's hands while we went to dinner. I had advised against this course of action, but other voices prevailed. We returned from dinner to find our sled, shipment, and draft horse had been stolen.

This is no one's fault but our own.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

It Always Snows In Neverwinter

Fort Amsterdam Post Card

The last time I played D&D with my friend Boris, he was GMing AD&D 2e. A science lab on the Cornell campus was the scene for his medieval Russian campaign. (Back in the '90s, I also gamed quite a bit in classrooms at the University of Rochester. This was before our universities became as secure as prisons.)

But last night, Boris began a new 5e campaign for a mostly new group of players. One of the other guys had been in his medieval Russia campaign back in the day. Fun reuniting with a couple of folks for gaming some 20 years on!

The action started in the city of Neverwinter during winter. In fact, the action started with a snowstorm. When you read Neverwinter, think "New Amsterdam"; the place names in this campaign are going to have a very loose relationship to the geography of the Forgotten Realms.

The setting is similar to 17th C. North America. The racialization is humans, elves, dwarves, gnomes, and halflings are immigrants and colonists. There was a bloody war with indigenous peoples, mainly orcs and goblins, though there are other races such as gnolls (in the nearby town of Claymore, there is a gnoll street sweeper with a reverse coat color pattern: black fur, yellow spots; he's a quite abject fellow). My character, the Half-Orc Enkidu, is the only character with indigenous heritage.

Of course, this kind of set-up already gets us into very dangerous territory with respect to race in gaming and D&D specifically; there's no doubt about that. But read on.

The fur trade is everything here. There is a trading Company that controls the fur trade, which of course relies on the indigenous people to do the trapping. I read William Cronin's Changes in the Land a number of years ago, and more recently read Mary Lethert Wingerd's North Country: The Making of Minnesota so I know this conceptual territory very well.

I grew up in Western New York, which was central to the early fur trade, and now live in what was originally the Fort Snelling Military Reserve in the Minnesota Territory: a frontier fort and surrounding land reserve set up to regulate the fur trade, and deter rapid immigration into the territory.

Think about how lucrative that trade must have been that the U.S. government set up a fort to slow down the theft of land from Indians.

It should be interesting to see where this goes.