Monday, December 22, 2014

Welcome to Steel Haven 5e

I had this past Saturday free, and you know what that means - roleplaying games!

Since my former gaming group was drastically reduced, I decided to publicly announce a one-shot using the new D&D through my local meetup.  A few veterans I've gamed with before, a couple total noobs that had never played D&D before, much less a tabletop RPG, and a couple people familiar with the hobby but either hadn't played D&D in years or only played sporadically.  The gamut, in other words.

I enjoy sessions where I'm playing with friends or, at least, gaming acquaintances, sessions where mine is their first exposure to RPGs, and everything in between.

Short on time, as usual, I decided to just pick out an adventure I had run before... but then an idea came to me a day before the game.  A kingdom called Steel Haven, ruled by an affable tyrant with a magic sword.  Think Sean Connery when he's being a dick, a charismatic dick but a dick all the same.  That idea churned around in my head until a list of 12 rumors, each with a piece of the puzzle manifested onto paper.

Since all three core books are out and in my hands, choosing 5th edition was a no-brainer.  Unfortunately, character creation still took an hour.  I need to sit down and come up with a Swords & Wizardry approach to rolling up a new character in 5e.  Something ridiculously simple where the emphasis is on background details, personality, and physical appearance without shortchanging players regarding options, abilities, and mechanical nuance.

Even though I spent the briefest of time writing up a scenario, I managed to cobble together a 1d100 list of past events over a period of two weeks.  I really, really wanted to finish my random table before the game and finally write the last couple Saturday morning.

Inspired by the 1d20 table in Crypts & Things, I spent many hours coming up with cool stuff that might have happened to PCs before they began their adventuring career.  And like the aforementioned S&W variant, each entry is tied to a little something special.  For instance, Chris, who ended up playing the cleric,, rolled a #51:  On his deathbed, a cleric devoted to the Dark Gods gave away all his worldly possessions.  By the time you arrived, all that was left was an ink-stained, multi-page letter the cleric had received years ago.  The letter was from a Master of the Fourth Way, detailing the arduous struggles involved in achieving higher consciousness.  [to the right buyer (perhaps a monk or NPC interested in esotericism), this brief manuscript would be worth something in the neighborhood of 500 gold pieces]

Here's the list of PCs...

Erdan, elf rogue played by Ethan.  Erdan, a former soldier, lived in a large colony of elves and struck out on his own trying to find meaning in life.

Lilah, a half-elf sorceress played by Alison.  Though her mother was born into a wealthy family, they were considered outcasts because of that elven business.  Alison wanted to keep going but came up short in description, even though I could tell there was more to Lilah than what had been said.  After a little prompting, Alison volunteered the following:  Lilah has body markings like tribal tattoos, platinum blonde hair, and purple eyes (hence her name).

Fergus, a gnome cleric.  He had been studying at the temple of life when the head cleric died.  Based on the previous life event Chris rolled, Fergus received a letter of esoteric value and his motivation for leaving the temple became the quest for clarity of this knowledge.  Also, Fergus has an incredibly deep voice (for a gnome).

Funk, a human monk played by another Chris.  Funk was well educated and wanted to hone his martial abilities out in the wild.
Iondan Elenvier, an elf wizard played by Mike.  Iondan puts a lot of emphasis on appearances but for some reason looks disheveled and sleep deprived.

Reed Tealeaf, a halfling rogue played by Daniel.  Reed loves people and an audience.  He plays a flute and enjoys adventuring long forgotten places, going places he's not supposed to, and taking things he can't resist.

Akmenos, a tiefling warlock played by West.  Self-described as Darth Maul, Akmenos has demonic horns, teeth, red eyes, and reddish skin.  He feels out of his element and carries a shortbow and light armor.

I won't go into too much detail about the adventure itself because (like the previous life events table), I intend to publish it some day.  But here are some session highlights...

  • Assembling all the PCs in one place.  The cleric really wanted to detect evil and tried to do it discretely but the tiefling would have none of it.  Akmenos saw it and interrupted Fergus' prayer.  I really think 5e has a good thing going with anti-hero PC races.  Tieflings and drow allow players to come alive with their "rebel without a cause" or "misanthropic and proud of it" portrayals.
  • So, the king wants another magic sword, eh?  Alison hatched a great plan just by thinking out loud.  While in town, she asked a couple women in the local tavern about where to buy things.  The women mentioned a general store and another to purchase antiques and such.  Why not buy an antique sword and pass it off as the magic blade we were paid to retrieve?  
  • Reed played his flute and sang at the tavern, a composition that looked unfavorably at the new king of Steel Haven.  Most patrons found it amusing which told him a lot about the kingdom.
  • Fergus did some digging at the town's church.  He found out a little more info about the adventurers who passed this way before the current party was hired.  And acquired a magic ring!
  • The first combat went well.  Goblins and a surprising NPC hiding in the shadows!  There were two uses of the new advantage and disadvantage rule in this battle.  For both, I gave each player the option to choose my O5R alternative, but both declined - which was interesting to me because it implied that rolling 2d20 and taking the best was preferable to +4 while rolling 2d20 and taking the worst was preferable to -4.  In any case, I was excited to use the mechanic in any form.
  • By the way, I used one of the maps at the back of the new DMG for the emerald mine caverns.  Added a rope-bridge across the chasm.  With goblins dispatched, it was an enjoyable trek.  There was a chance for the rumored amorphous, black, tentacled abominations to interfere with the party as they crossed the bridge but the dice had other plans.
  • A few zombies and some necromantic priest wearing a skull mask were no match for the adventurers.  So much, in fact, that I had to invent a ring of tentacles erupting out of the ground to protect the magic sword from being taken so easily.  The tentacles slowed them down but still wasn't much of a challenge.
  • I hastily searched for an interesting magic sword in the DMG but couldn't find anything that grabbed me... so, picked the flame tongue.  The tiefling was all over it.  I whispered as an aside that it's command word was "Penelope".  Though I was joking, West decided to run with it and shouted Penelope as he wielded flame tongue like a sith lord!
  • Agreeing that the king was truly a douche, the PCs put Lilah's plan into action.  With another cry of "Penelope", king Torvil Lionheart's decapitated head rolled around the throne room aflame.  

I was happy to read positive feedback after the session.  Not knowing if I'd be free and if Misty Mountain would be open 2 days after xmas, I didn't mention a follow-up game until yesterday.  Turns out, I was available and so was the game store, so we're continuing with a part 2, though a couple players won't be able to make it because of holiday commitments.  

Note to self: remember to mention (and explain) inspiration at the beginning of next session and to give everyone a point.  Since both Alison and West were the most pro-active and colorful characters of the game, I'm tempted to give both of them an extra point of inspiration.  However, I don't want that to take away from what the other players accomplished.  Since Akmenos has the sword, maybe I'll come up with a customized magic item or reward for Lilah.  Although, I want each player to have something awesome by the end of session #2.  Thoughts?

Will blog about part 2 after Saturday.  Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, everyone!


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