Those of you who know me know that I’ve been playing Dungeons & Dragons for a very long time. I started in 1982 and have played every edition along the way, though I was a little late to the party at times. I resisted 4e for a long time, though have a good time playing it fairly regularly with my usual gaming group. And I was very curious to see what 5e (D&D Next) would be like and jumped into the fray early with the playtest packets and quickly fell behind due to a serious lack of time.
That effort began again when the Starter Set was released a few months ago and I began playing the game with my daughters at home. We haven’t finished the adventure in Phandelver yet, but have had a good time playing in fits and starts. I’ve since picked up the Player’s Handbook and the Monster Manual (and have the Dungeon Master’s Guide coming soon).
So when my best friend Kevin brought up playing a D&D game over the Thanksgiving holiday as we’ve done the previous two years, I said sure – let’s try 5e! It would be one hell of a stress test considering we would be playing with kids as young as 9 (and we had one join who just turned 6) up to 18 and beyond. We had a crowded table of folks – a dozen in all. How would 5e fare?
To answer that question I’m going to break this down into a few pieces to keep it manageable.
We’ll start with character creation, work our way to the adventure itself (Fifth Edition Fantasy #2: The Fey Sisters’ Fate from designer Chris Doyle and Goodman Games), and then talk about how things went at the table.
Let’s start by saying that I’m a computer guy. I love having tools to do grunt work for me, so not having a computer program (web-based or standalone) that I could use to bang out characters quickly (like the 4e Character Generator at Wizards of the Coast’s site) proved to be an interesting process.
I waited until nearly the last minute to help my daughters create characters, so I was scrambling a bit. I found a great zip at the Wizards’ site that included some form-fillable sheets (check them out here) and we used those right away.
We began without cracking open the PHB at all. I had the girls roll 4d6 six times, dropping the lowest die and re-rolling ones each time. This is a traditional stat roll approach I’ve used since college and it works well. We ended up with some solid collections of stats for the wizard and cleric we rolled up (and later a fighter). They were able to place the numbers where they wanted them, making sure to put the highest values where they would do the most good.
Then, we cracked open the PHB. And boy was that an adventure. I flipped back and forth from races to classes and back and forth all over that dang book more than I thought I might. The girls wrote down different things from starting HP and speed values to class and racial features on the scratch paper we were working with.
After that was done, we moved to the computer to fill out the Acrobat files. The form-fillable sheets we could save off and keep the data for later, which was nice. Though I discovered quickly that Adobe Acrobat didn’t like having more than one of them open at a time and it crashed once or twice while we figured out logistics.
Many questions came up as I hadn’t really looked at the books before we began:
- There were no quick references in the PHB as to racial features such as stat bonuses, special skills and abilities, etc. So we were constantly flipping around to figure out the basics.
- Picking a class was pretty easy, but just like with races we were doing a lot of flipping around. Class features, proficiencies, etc. made things intriguing especially with spell casters.
- There was some confusion regarding starting HP with some of the players. It appears folks were adding their Constitution scores (not the modifier) to their starting Hit Die, so some characters had a ton more HP than others.
- And there was a lot of debate about skills, saving throws, and other generated stats. It was not very straightforward as to HOW to fill in some values. So we kind of figured it out as we went along.
Quite honestly the “Step by Step” process in the book (and in the free PDF) left a lot to be desired. It would have been much handier to have a character sheet on one side of the page and simple steps to figure out what goes where. Without a good set of steps I was left scratching my head in many places and I’ve played D&D of one form or another for more than three decades.
On the plus side, I have to say I do like some of the ways things have been streamlined. We have the traditional D&D races, but now there’s also sub-races, so you end up with some racial commonalities among gnomes and then get some cool specializations based on additional choices. And once we got over some of the humps, things made more sense.
What we ended up with was quite a motley crew…
- Gnomish tinker wizard Stitch Turen
- Halfling stout cleric Phillip T. Merrywether
- Drow rogue (Arcane Trickster) Emerald
- Human fighter D’avane
- Human druid Aine
- Halfing stout fighter Lyle Greenbottle
- Half-elf ranger Elrond
- Mountain dwarf fighter (Battlemaster) Darrak Fireforge
- Wood elf rogue Bellatrix
- Wood elf bard Thalia
- Half-elf wizard Iris
And one last thing… I knew spells were going to be a problem. Though we ended up with two copies of the PHB at the table, it was going to get crazy with two wizards, a bard, a druid, and a cleric needing to look up spells.
I had a horrible idea of taking a picture of each 1st level spell the characters had, printing it, cutting it out, and pasting it to a 3×5 card for players to have handy – but found the D&D Next spellbook card site which created some nice little playing-card sized descriptions for most of the spells.
We printed the wizard, cleric, druid, and bard decks up through 1st level (cantrips and 1st level spells only), cut them out, and had them at the table for folks to use. Though I don’t think the descriptions were quite right and there were spells that were missing, I think it saved us a little effort in the short term.
I’m hopeful that Wizards of the Coast releases some spell decks like I’ve seen from other companies for Pathfinder and other games. Just having a quick reference would be handy.
That leads us to the next phase of this series… the adventure itself.