Thoughts after running my first D&D 5E Game

I recently ran the first session of my 3Brothers D&D Campaign, you can check out the video of the first session here if you wish:

This was only my second experience of Dungeons & Dragons’ latest version, having played in a short game run by Rob Davis previously (a sort of deathtrap dungeon style setup where I played a Tiefling rogue), I enjoyed the one-shot game but it was a long while ago.

When my Star Wars campaign had wrapped up (you can see the TPK laden details of that by clicking here) I decided that I was going to run something that was more traditional fantasy; a lot of the settings I had run recently (particularly with Fate) were whacky or bizarre settings that required a lot of interpretation and expansion to make work. You can’t really get more old-school fantasy than D&D so I blew the dust off my 5th Edition books and decided to give that ago, I’m sure wading into running a game with such minimal experience of a system isn’t the best way to go, but I figured that I’d revise the rules as much as possible, create a setting and that it’s probably be okay on the day as long as I had my prep notes.

So how did it go?

I think that mostly the game was a success, I had some great players (including Thashif and Rob who were very familiar with the D&D 5E rules and happy to help out with those, which was very helpful to me during the session) which helped, I did make a few rules flubs in the session including:

  • Mis-reading an enemies stats at one point leading to an attack missing when it should have hit.
  • Not being entirely versed in the effects of different spells.
  • I used tests with static difficulties to the exclusion of opposed checks.

My thoughts after the first session

Following the initial session I’ve had a bit of time to reflect on what I think about the D&D 5E edition rules and it can be basically be boiled down like this.

The System is Strong and Streamlined

It seemed to me whilst running the game that it has a very strong core mechanic, I’ve always thought the roll D20 and add modifiers to beat a difficulty rating is a good solid way to work things, but in some other editions there has always been a lot more to remember or additional mechanics that I found a little counter-intuitive, this seems to have been smoothed out in fifth edition.

Basically anything in the game (pretty much) can be handled by a test or a save both of which work in very similar ways, not having the greatest memory in the world I find it very useful, since once I’ve mastered the core mechanics I’m pretty much good to go aside from the odd exception.

I enjoyed the diversity of characters that we had

One of the things I’ve always liked about D&D is the notion of a disparate group of people coming together and forming an adventuring party, in most of the campaigns I’ve run recently we’ve had a session 0 where connections between the players were formed in advance and I went into the first actual session knowing how they’d come together as a party, confident in the fact that they’d have a reason for working together. Since we’re trying to go for more of a traditional fantasy theme with the 3Brothers Campaign and because my players were keen to get started with minimal delays (a very positive sign IMO) we jumped straight in, no session 0 or pre-defined reasons for working together; this of course meant I had to contrive a reason for them meeting, in this case I simply stated that they were all travelling on a traders wagon train towards the town of Battlebridge.

I left the reasons for their travels up to them and the circumstances of their meeting with the wagon train vague, but having the leader of the trade caravan gave me an NPC to spur them to chat about backgrounds and their characters in game. Throwing them together seemed to work quite well, although I think some of this was down to the player’s willingness to band together as a party and pursue the plot threads that intrigued individual members, I don’t think this would work well with all groups of players.

Combat was very quick

Compared to some RPGs that I have played where combat can really chew up your session time, the combat in 5E seemed very quick and fluid with me only really using a couple of screen-shared MSPaint maps to show the relative positioning of combatants. As we all get more used to the rules I’m sure that the combat will become even quicker, this was nice because, while I enjoy combat, I don’t like it to entirely dominate a session.

Directly referencing monster stats from the MM wasn’t ideal

During this game there was only really a single combat encounter (with some goblins who attacked the wagon train at the start of the session) so I just looked up the stats from the MM, however this wasn’t ideal, made my desk more cluttered and lead to me misreading a stat at one point of the game. Handly Mathew has sent me a copy of a monster encounter sheet where you can add the stats and have to hand during the game session, I’ve used such things before in Star Wars games so I definitely think something like this will be handy. I’m also thinking that these sheets could be used to store the stats of associated groups of creatures/NPCs (all the employees of Common Sword tavern for example).

It was nice to run some traditional fantasy again

Right from the get go of the campaign I decided to try and keep things as close to the material present in the corebooks as possible, just applying a campaign world to support this; after running various odd supplements and games over the past few years it felt like a bit of a homecoming to run a D&D fantasy game again. The campaign world created seemed to work reasonably well and I’m hoping that 3brothers can be a long-running campaign.

I’d forgotten how much work was involved in building a campaign world

Building a campaign world is a lot of work, even if (like me) you cheat, using stuff like pre-created pantheons (I used a few of the classic ones listed in the corebooks) and all the standard options from the corebooks, you still have to create a history a believable cast of NPCs, locations and all manner of other stuff and then you have to run it with some sense of structure and internal consistency.

I’ve recently been looking at a lot of the Raging Swan supplements which, although not specifically designed for 5th Edition, are full of random tables/idea generators, whilst I don’t think making a campaign based entirely on random choices would work I’ve decided to use as many of these idea generator products as possible to inspire me, give my ideas and generally make the work of creating and running the campaign as easy as possible.

I need to brush up on spell-effects more

There were a few moments during the game where I had to stop the action and ask PCs what their spells were doing, or just push ahead and risk mistakenly applying incorrect effects, I think that this can be partially solved by encouraging my players to state the effects of their spells as a matter of course when casting them.

For Example: I cast X spell and a ball of fire shoots from my hand doing Y hp of damage to a single target as it singes their flesh.

I also intend to write myself a cheatsheet containing commonly used spells that the PCs have, this is more easy to do with the character that have a more set spell-list but I’m sure that I’ll work something out.

I may need to retire my beloved index cards

I’m a massive fan of using index cards, they’re portable, easy to scribble on, they can be clipped together and are normally very easy to look at during a session, however, with the increased amount of information that I was attempting to reference during my D&D game (since I don’t have a commercially made setting to fall back on) I found myself with them spread all over my table, frantically at points trying to locate the correct card.

I could of course buy a massive index box and file them alphabetically, however, once the simplicity of the cards stops being a major benefit I think that I may be better to fall back on electronic methods of storage.

My notes need to be more well organised and cross-referenced

If I’m going to have my notes stored in electronic format then I need to be able to reference them and locate the appropriate text at a moment’s notice, currently my electronic notes consist of a Tiddlywiki stored in my dropbox that contains the basics of the my campaign world along with some GM only notes, I also have a copy of Johnn Four’s Campaign Logger on my computer.

Over the next few days I’m planning to have a look at these pieces of software and see which one I think will work best for storing my session notes.

I need to make materials more easily accessible for players

We have a small gazeteer that I produced and a couple of Google Docs that are currently all stored on my Google Drive and accessible via the Facebook group that I set up for the group, however, this is a bit of a make-do/scrappy solution, it works but it definitely lacks elegance. I was watching TheRogueDM’s second session of her homebrewed steampunk D&D campaign recently and had a look through the material on their campaign stored on Obsidian Portal, a campaign management website that I registered on years ago but have barely looked at in the intervening time. It might be worth giving it another look to see if this is another possible way of getting material out to my player characters, especially since I what to make the work of Talamh my default fantasy setting for numerous campaigns in the future.