Saturday, October 18, 2014

I'm Back In The Saddle Again (5e Setup and Play Report)

What's that old group Aerosmith sing about? Something about being Back In The Saddle Again?

That would be how I feel in my return to being a Dungeon Master after many moons. For years I've been pulling in overtime that's crazy. Or at least crazy for me. The last year and a half has calmed down tremendously but then I happen to discover my love for alcohol and spreading my time into BYOB resteraunts and hanging with a different crowd.

In that instance it wasn't that I didn't play, I just was honest enough to admit that if a couple of the work amigos called up and said, "Tequila at Garcia's?", I was probably not going to be at the game.

The guys I play with though, are a stable group and didn't mind. The former Game Master who was running the Thousand Thrones campaign though, needed a break and I decided, "Well, most of the people I drink with have left the company or been fired so might as well take a swing at it."

This happened around the time 5th edition had just come out with the Player's Handbook. I won't harp too much on how disappointing it is in terms of the amount of gaming material save to wag a finger at #GaleForce9 for failing to have a Dungeon Master screen out and WoTC inability to have a FEW starting adventurers out.

The good news though? I don't think it's that difficult to do on the fly conversions. Mind you, if there is an 'official' monster, I go with it. If there is a 'CR' appropriate monster, I'll reskin it and throw it in there.

But what to run? I didn't like Hoard of the Dragon Queen. It felt very incomplete and very much an adventure for Game Masters that wanted to do a lot of customization., Pathfinder on the other hand, has a ton of adventurers. I had found Thornkeep at Half Priced books a while ago, and as a backer of the Emerald Spire, thought that I might just mix and match between the two and have a bit of a dungeon crawl.

But here's the thing, I had heard good things about the starter adventure in the basic set. When I ordered it for like $12, it was an afterthought and I didn't pay much attention to it. I broke it out again and reading it over, there was a lot of stuff in there that I did like.

The Emerald Spire and Thornkeep are both in the Paizo setting, in the portion of the world known as the River Kingdoms. I have the full adventure path as well as Guide to the River Kingdoms and the more recent People of the River. So I decided I'd mix a few parts of the starter adventure, some of the introduction bits from Stolen Land, and see where it went.

My group consist of the following:

Kontos: A dragonborn fighter. If I was in 'prick' Game Master mode, I would have shot down the dragonborn right away. Maybe I'm old but I just don't like them. They're also not native to the Pathfinder setting. On the other hand, a handful of dragonborn could be native to the setting and with all of the other strangeness in the campaign, shouldn't be a big deal. For this player though, the dragonborn hit the spot. He's one of those whose tired to death of the dwarf, elf, halfling, human dynamic and was happy to see something that catered to him.

Amun Ramas: A human druid. The player did a lot of research into the setting and this character hails from the Egyptian style of the setting.

Gerak: Halfling thief that serves Amun Ramas. Apparently in the Egyptian style kingdom, halflings are good luck. The players are good friends so I didn't see this being a problem.

Erden Nail: An elf monk. Good luck to this guy. While his armor class isn't that terrible, the hit points are bad and while I love the concept of an unarmed fighter kicking ass and taking names, it's been my experience that monks get the beat down with the short end of the stick.

Damaia: A tiefling warlock. Has an academic background but hasn't decided where she's from.

The guy playing Amun Ramas decided the whole Pathfinder society bit was a nice touch in terms of forming a group and even put together a charter. That saved me the hassle of trying to come up with a reason of adventurers to gather together and allowed the group to gel fairly quickly.

I decided I'd set the Lost Mine of Phandelver in the River Kingdoms. It's a pretty lawless region and all sorts of keeps, villages, and towns rise and fall so a lost mine fits right in. They were on the road heading to an outpost to meet up with a fellow Pathfinder member who had some information for them.

When I ran the goblin ambush, I decided to pull out the old map from Keep on the Shadowfell. While that was the first adventure for 4th edition, I've used that roadside map that also includes an ambush, although in that one by kobolds, over and over again. It's really paid for itself in that aspect.

One of the things I love about Pathfinder? It's depiction of the goblins. The difference in physical appearance, the comical, yet dangerous nature of the creatures. Their unique weapons and little chants and slogans.

Now I own numerous metal miniatures that first came out from Crocodile Games and later by Reaper but since I was transporting these, I figured that the recent goblins from the 'feed' pack that Paizo put out would suffice.

I also knew I would be having some bandits at some point. I was very disappointed by the types of bandits out there. After asking around, I decided to go with some Games Workshop Empire Freebooters or Empire Militia. Say where you will about the evil empire of gaming, but those Empire figures in plastic have a ton of configurability and customization and being lightly armored? They make perfect bandits for any fantasy setting, including one with guns as these can be configured with them.

I had an old spree for eight figures. I used +vallejocolors vallejo color primers, leather brown and plate mail metal and then a few washes and some basing and they were good to go. Bonus that since they were plastic, they were unlikely to be damaged and would reduce the amount of weight I was carrying.

I hoped that the guy's house we were playing at would have whatever else we needed. While I don't have to have miniatures out on the field, I find that it helps things.

One of the things I hope to have ready for next week is a Dire Wolf I put together from Avatars of War. It's a fantastic looking figure but fits together terribly so I'll be throwing a lot of green stuff at it. The druid shape changes into it.

Combat was a little different for me. There were a few cases of flipping through the rules to look up things like disengage. We've all been playing for years so we're used to the last two editions of the five foot step rule but that appears gone. We were also looking for rules on a charge, but those werent' there. I also didn't take into account the advantage rule for the goblins who had surprise on most of the characters.

I went with the predetermined damage. Even so, when a gobo hits for five points a crack it's a telling blow. Especially since most of the characters have hit points ranging from 12-9.

The fight put a bit of a hurt on the group but they decided to follow the trail of the goblins back to their lair. More fighting and the characters got a hefty beat down and won because I ruled that some wolves that the party befriended earlier turned on the goblins who treated them poorly.

The characters then made their way to Oleg's Trading Post, from the Stolen Land Kingmaker adventure. Here they were asked for their help in dealing with the bandits.

I had wanted to pull out the Bandit Outpost, which is what the trading post looks like, but out of all the flip mats I have from Paizo, that was not one of them. I hand drew it out on a standard Cheesex map and the old wet erase markers.

Here's where I got to sit back for about a half hour. The players went into vast elaborate methods that they might use to get the drop on the bandits and different tactics they could engage in and different ways they could maximize their battle.

Way overkill on the players part, but that's part of the fun for them but then they didn't quite make it as easy as they could have as they changed some of the standard setup and this slightly tipped the bandits off but I allowed the players surprise anyway and they quickly killed three of the four and captured the last one who spilled his guts to the group.

And that's where we left it. The group is currently at second level, about half way to third, which I imagine they'll make pretty easily next week. I honestly don't see why WoTC didn't just default to 4th level with how easy they made it to bounce up in levels in those first few levels.

Overall it ran pretty well.

I gave the goblins a lot of the 'Pathfinder' charm. When I first introduced them, I didn't even call them goblins just described their oversized skulls and wide grinning maws filled with yellow stained curved teeth sitting below maddened red eyes and their rags and remanents of clothing as they carried weapons that appeared to be made from cast offs of other weapons and discarded bits of iron.

For the bandits, I described them as hard men, some old, with various problems ranging from missing teeth or a patch over an eye, to weathered skin and dirt covering everything. Not a glamorous life by far.

There were a few areas I could have handled things quicker. I hate looking in the rule book during game play but for somethings I'm just too used to the way the system used to work.

I also didn't hand out any Inspiration. I knew off the top of the game that would be a problem because I knew there was no way I was going to remember what to award it for. The players shrugged it off as none of them were sure what the best way to point out when they'd done something was either but I'm going to think about it this week and see what strikes.

For other Dungeon Master's out there, what do you do? Do you have a sheet with each character's traits that can award inspiration and then give them a point according to that?

I'm still looking for my blank Game Master Screen so I can put some notes in it. Maybe when the official one is supposed to come out the company which is reknown for being late will have it out on time. Maybe the properties of weapons and some other things that came up in combat a few times.

The players have a ton of options ahead of them. Their friend, I'm using the dwarf Gundren Rockseeker as a member of the Pathfinder society, hasn't been found yet, but the players will discover clues to where he's at.

They also have a lot of bandits they can kill. One of the things I like about the Kingmaker adventure path is that it's very open and there are several 'quests' that the players can take at Oleg's Trading post. I'll also throw a few hints that they can do the adventure path if they want to or after finding Gundren and clearing out the bandits, move on to the Emerald Spire region proper.

For other people playing, how much do you customize the adventure? Do you pull a lot of sources or with the dearth of official material, just wing it? Using older adventuers? I think that with the low scaling of skills and armor class, that it'd actually be fairly easy to run older adventuers in this edition.

For maps and miniatures, is anyone using them or going back to the abstract? I use minis and maps for a few reasons. One is I like them on the table. Two is that occassionally you get the problem scenario where its not clear where things and people are. Three is you get people who think that they can teleport from one area to another and having an actual map prevents that miscommunication from happening. Mind you, it can be difficult to do maps if you don't have the funds to buy them or the skill to draw them and it can potentially ruin the 'wonder' of a scene but I find I'd rather have them then not have them.

Anyone run into any snags in running or playing so far?