The 5e demonstrations I scheduled months ago went super-smooth. Last night might not have been my best DMing, but it was incredibly memorable and enjoyable.
Two back-to-back sessions, each two hours. I ran Lost Mine of Phandelver with the Starter Set. I'm not going to write down every little thing that happened but here are some noteworthy details...
- Even though I'm not a huge fan of boxed text, I found it easier to just read what was provided (most of the time) than paraphrasing. I think where I ran into trouble is this: why would the PC's patron and friend take the journey ahead of the PCs? Sure, he might want to take care of business a few hours earlier than when the party arrives in Phandalin but surely that's a stupid thing to do with so much at stake. As the words came out of my mouth I felt myself getting confused because what I was saying (or trying to say) didn't make much sense.
- Inspiration, in conjunction with all the background elements, is awesome... a godsend. It made roleplaying (wanting to speak in character and develop relationships, as well as, reasons for engaging in particular activities) easier. If you think about it, roleplaying a character in front of strangers can be awkward or even nerve-wracking for introverts (about 50% of the table). Inspiration as a game mechanic makes it less weird because now there's an in-game reason for mentioning your character's delusions of becoming king one day or asking socially inept questions around the campfire (So... how often do you masturbate?). I've roleplayed with enough strangers and noobs in my life to know that the roleplaying that took place last night just does not happen with prior editions of D&D, Pathfinder, or 90% of the tabletop RPGs out there. Even V:tM could do with something like inspiration!
- Acquiring and expending inspiration requires a token or marker of some kind. Honestly, there was so much god damn great roleplaying going on throughout the adventure that I couldn't keep track of who had just gotten inspiration, who was without, who had it but then used it or gave it away so they were eligible again, etc. For a 2 hour one-shot it was slightly annoying to keep it all in my head. If you plan on running a campaign, keeping track of inspiration would be an absolute nightmare without something physical in front of the player to remind the DM of who has what at any given time. Inspiration markers should have been in the Starter Set!
- One of the PCs looking for traps rolled a natural 20. I wanted to do something special for him because of his extraordinary roll. Not knowing exactly what to say, I told him that he deftly maneuvered out of the way, springing the trap as a badger was walking by. The badger got caught in the snare and could make a nice meal for the party. The wizard immediately salivated over the thought of badger meat. After talk of rations, provisions, etc. I made an off-hand suggestion that the badger might make a decent familiar. I had forgotten (or perhaps there are no coincidences?) that the dude playing the wizard had originally wanted to play a ranger before seeing the pre-gen choices. The idea of a badger familiar excited him and from then on the wizard included it in his persona. A lot of humor came out of throwing the badger at goblin archers.
- Speaking of goblin archers... why are they all doing 1d6+2? We didn't have a lot of playing time and I didn't want to start deconstructing monster stats, so I left the damage "as is". But I'm still wondering... WTF? Is it because short bows are considered light weapons and you can use your dexterity for to-hit and damage? No idea, but that's a lot of damage for 1st level characters to take. Especially if they crit! One or two PCs were somewhere between zero HP and dead in each group.
- On the flip side, the archer-based fighter had a flippin' +7 to hit with his long bow and I think a 1d8+3 on damage. At 1st level?!? With the cleric's bless, I think he was able to kill a goblin with only rolling a 6 on his to-hit roll. A six!!! I still think that a proficiency bonus of 1/2 their level works better but to each their own.
- "How do I charge? What's the modifier for that and do they get an attack of opportunity?" Without remembering the exact rules, I followed my memory and the spirit of 5e (as I see it). I told the player that charging was just running up to the enemy and attacking; no modifier, no attack of opportunity, just standard movement and rolling to hit. For a second, that player's mind was blown. But the fast and loose mechanics of 5e seem to demand those kind of no bullshit adjudications. Consequently, I felt somewhere between empowered and obligated to narrate the combat moves for both sides. Do they add anything to the game mechanically? Not really; the numbers didn't change. Nevertheless, a little more life was breathed into the battle.
- As long as we're talking about modifiers, I finally got to experience advantage/disadvantage in actual play. Yep, it works just as awesome as I imagined it would. Even if we're not consciously aware of it, I think we often wonder how things might have gone differently if only there had been a re-roll.
That's about it. No one complained about the rules. Everyone thought it "felt like D&D". A good time was had by all. In my opinion, Lost Mine of Phandelver is a superb introductory scenario, even if it does showcase a standardized, medium-low fantasy setting. Both sessions ended after exploring the goblin cave, about 1/5th of the total adventure. The players were amazing. Thanks to them and Madison Geekery meetup for making last night possible.
Now that I've run 5e rules as written (as much as possible given my limited recall of the new rules), I'm going to start tweaking little bits from here on out, playing around with various concepts (and borrowing from 13th Age and others) in order to make the pre-PHB/DMG 5e D&D wholly mine... because it must feel like D&D to me. Tabletop roleplaying is a subjective experience. The more subjective that experience is - tailored to individual aesthetics, sensibilities, and preferences - the better.
If you have a question, comment, suggestion, or feedback of any kind, please feel free to post it.