Thursday, May 12, 2016

5e Play Report: Awesome & Unbalanced and 180 Temporary Hit Points!

Last night was the first session of our DM's 'end-game' wherein he is winding up everything he had prepared for his campaign, so, it was destined to be an epic battle. We'd been playing together as a group for 7-8 months now, ever since forming at the FLGS (Friendly, Local, Game Store) for weekly D&D Encounters, although now, we were so much more than that.

A 5th edition Campaign World is Born

I wasn't there for the first few sessions, but I joined up relatively early enough to be considered one of the "founding members", and that's a stretch, in my own mind anyhoo. It is a great group, and I am very happy to have been a part of it, and with luck will continue to be a part of it for as long as we can keep filling up the gas tank on this behemoth of a vehicle.

Originally, we were supposed to be playing D&D Encounters, but for one reason and another, the DM never got the material from WotC to carry out the campaign. After a few failed attempts to communicate with, and correct the situation with the store manager, we all gave up and just continued in the only direction we could - we kept playing completely off-the-cuff, making stuff up every week to keep our group entertained, if not a little bewildered and directionless.

I talked to the other players and the DM as soon as they'd enter the door to game, either barely in time to start, or just after the DM started, or if they stuck around for any amount of time after the session ended and the store closed it's doors and shut down the register. Talking to them all took a bit of effort. Eventually, another player got smart and started taking down names, email addresses, and phone numbers. I finally got the questions out that I wanted: 

"What kind of campaign are we playing?" "Where are we?" Since I already knew the when & where (Wednesday night at FLGS - otherwise known as "D&D Encounter Night"), I bulldozed right on through to the meat of the matter: "Do we have a campaign world?" When the DM told me that he did not have a camapign world in mind, but he did not want any campaigns previously associated with D&D - such as Forgotten Realms, Greyhawk, Nentir Vale, etc., so I asked the $ shot question: "Would you like to have a brand new one?"

After talking with the DM about what worlds he didn't want, I talked to the other players, and with all the input I received, I put together a world that everyone could claim as their own. It was only a framework, and all the borders were open for expansion, although the DM's initial political-world view was limiting (humanocentric, continental sized human controlled government, with more in common with Joel Rosenberg's "Guardians of the Flame" series than a free-wheeling D&D world...), but with room for expansion, at least I'd nailed down the topography and geo-political regions of where we were.

With more input from the DM & other players, we had a brief description of the movers & shakers of this new campaign world, and a rough proximity of where our characters originated from, but most of the non-human characters wound up coming from quite a ways away in this human controlled kingdom. 

The Blades of Mercia Campaign

After a few sessions, we realized that D&D Encounter material would not be coming forth from WotC or the FLGS manager*, the DM commenced with a campaign of his own, a leftover plot from his old D&D 3.5 edition campaign - and pitted us against a group of technologically advanced humans bent on taking over every world they landed on, and they were called "The Blades". 

Initially encountered in heavily armored and armed pairs - one knight and one mage, it took maximum effort of the entire group to fell these asshats, but we did it, and the DM was surprised we actually did. We also levelled an entire village doing it, so we had to go on the run. Levelling that particular village was okay, since the Blades had somehow convinced all the medieval minded & human only population to have cookies on their side, so they were all against us and yelped for help whenever our non-human PCs made their presence known. 

Due to the shifting and chaotic nature of game-store gaming, we had a fairly fluid, and often-times large group of players every week. However, once we determined who the regulars were always going to be (roughly - even I got called in to work on game night once in awhile...), and by large, I mean 10-12 players each night*. 

 (*Segue for a bit here...) As far as I understand D&D Encounters, each of the Encounters planned by WotC and implemented by associated game-stores is supposed to support a DM and up to 6 players in a session. If there are more players, an extra DM is supposed to be available to run more players through WotC approved Encounters material. Now, I'm not blaming the game store, manager, or the DM, but more than one person has admitted to not wanting to initiate a full-blown confrontation, so we left the store for greener pastures.

For months, we endured new players (who, coincidently always wanted to play Dragonborn characters...) who have never played D&D before, or were so rusty that they hadn't played since 2nd edition (1989) days, so getting them up to speed for the night was a challenge for all of us. In many cases, this was a pleasant experience, but there were a few players who just never got the concept, or didn't realize that D&D is always a cooperative gaming experience and one little Dragonborn sorcerer always tried to kill off the other players...

Eventually, we moved out of the game-store, and into the DM's house, and since there were only 7 regulars now, and we'd lost a couple of key characters (we had a cleric, two thieves, a monk, a ranger, a gnomish wizard, and a barbarian dwarf) - I talked the DM into letting everyone have two characters, since we needed tanks if we were going to continue fighting the Blades. He allowed it, with the caveat that we no longer had PC XP, but PLAYER XP - each players' XP determined the level of both of our characters, and we had to pick which character to play, singly, each session.

Party Make Up

Now, we had THREE clerics, a ranger, a gnomish wizard, two thieves, a paladin, a monk (ninja), two barbarians, a Hellgirl (female Tiefling Warlock - Infernal Weapon Pact), and finally a FIGHTER! Of course, we only played one character apiece, (one player still only controlled a single character), and I missed a lot of sessions in the last two months thanks to work, but here we all are now at the end of the DM's Blades campaign.

He's burned out and really wants to just be a player from here on out. So, we're allowed to bring both of our characters into play if we want to, and sometimes we do. Sometimes, it just gets too crowded, so we only play one or the other, so this varies.

Our group is incredibly strong, and I mean, Avengers + Deadpool & Negasonic Teenage Warhead strong. And its all "by-the-book". The Paladin gets several extra dice of damage. The Ranger, after he hits his target, does extra dice of damage. The Monk (Ninja) can instantly move by jumping through his shadow - every round. The Thieves cause extra dice of damage via their Sneak Attacks. Hellgirl...

...requires her own paragraph (...and because she's my character, correction: one of my favorite characters I've evar played in any edition of D&D). Not only does she do an insane amount of damage every round with her Eldritch Blast cantrips, the Warlock rules allow her to augment them with Infernal Evocations, so they cause extra damage, and at higher levels, she can fire off more than one every round. She can attack twice per round with her pact weapon (now a +1 longsword), and, thanks to being a Warlock, every time she reduces a hostile creature down to 0 hit points, she "swallows souls" and gains temporary hit points based on her level and Charisma modifier. He Charisma is 20 (+5) and she's 7th level, for a total of 12 temporary hit points that last until she is hit for damage, or a long rest. This comes from any source of damage that she can cause, i.e., a spell that can cause 8d6 damage, (like a fireball) could possibly net her hundreds of temporary hit points!

...and this is exactly what happened in last night's session. 

The End Game

We received word that the Blades were amassing an army of just over one thousand non-Blades, with a squad of Blade knights and mages in overall command on the march to attack our friend/benefactor/my thief's uncle Baron "Bear" DeSilva's little keep in the mountains, affectionately called "The Rookery". Bear DeSilva, played by none other than Brian Blessed in my mind, had a few hundred troops, and thanks to our efforts to rid the Realm of the Blades' human-only racism, we'd amassed an army of our own. 

In the last few months, our group sought out and recruited some NPCs that had also become very big PITA for the Blades. One of the most powerful of them is "Kevin", a young boy who also happens to be a very powerful werewolf. 

We prepared ambushes and deadfalls throughout the hills on the trail to the Rookery, and along with a successful assassination (ninja'd!) of the leader of the army (non-Blade noble poof), we were only faced with a demoralized army, not a fully competent one.

We had the army bottle-necked and ambushed them with only a portion of our total forces. In retrospect, if we had our entire army there to do battle in that pass, we could have wiped them all out, but the logistics of getting (maybe) 500 troops in place to ambush 1,000 was a little dicey, so we chose to use only 50 to assault the vanguard. 

Once the Blade army came to the wall of thorns blockade in the pass, we sprung our trap, with Kevin & Hellgirl attacking the "rear" (not the true rear, where the siege engines were, unfortunately...) along with many archers, spearmen & light cavalry.

Hellgirl cast a fireball spell into the midst of the army and killed 15 troops immediately. At 12 temporary hit points per, that's 180 hit points gained. Flush with the souls of the dead, she waded into battle with Thurston Howl (her +1 longsword pact weapon), taking on and killing a Blade knight in 3-4 rounds. Kevin, meanwhile, took out a LOT of troops and a couple of Blades on his own. 

The paladin, barbarian, human cleric, and one of the dwarven clerics were at the front, directing the full-frontal ambush. (We had the choice of devoting some, all or none of our heroes to this fight, and so these are the characters we chose to run; the player controlling the gnomish wizard and the party's only fighter couldn't make it...) 

The player with the dwarven barbarian chose not to devote his character to this fight at all, saving him for the main fight at the Rookery, so he was chosen to roll all the dice for our army forces. 

I have to back up to the start of the session where the DM announced that due to the complexities of D&D rules, he'd be using Warhammer 40k rules to run the battle. I am vaguely familiar with Warhammer rules, and since the mass combat rules are the same for the WFRP (Warhammer Fantasy Role Play) and 40k (futuristic sci-fantasy/horror) settings, everything went smoothly, and our DM was quite capable of translating our D&D character's abilities to WFRP/40k rules on the battlefield on the fly. No one else was familiar with the rules at all, but suffice to say that all we had to roll for an attack is roll 4+ on 1d6, and roll again for damage - and hope not to roll any 1's. D&D hit points translated to W40k Wounds at a rate of 20 to 1. Hellgirl, before temporary hit points had 3 Wounds. Plus temporary = 9!

Although we lost some men (army), by the end of the engagement, we'd managed to obtain our objective, which was to kill or demoralize the enemy forces, make them retreat, and kill some Blades while we were at it. The army retreated, (I won't even go into detail about the avalanche that buried hundreds or Bahamut's avatar showing up to disintegrate a large portion of the Blade's army...) and we beat feet back to the Rookery to prepare for the main engagement. This was the fortified position, and we had a lot of battlement defenses set up here. 

The Blades lost about half of their forces. We lost about 40 men. Them's good odds in WFRP/40k rules, or D&D rules. However, the DM also said that he would put a house rule into effect limiting the Warlock from gaining temporary hit points from damage caused by spells, which was the only sour note for me.

Granted, we hashed out the Monk (ninja!) ability to shadow-step by ruling that a shadow must be in dimly lit environments - ruling out any shadow-stepping during the daytime, indoor or outdoor, unless in a dungeon with no light at all, or a building with no windows, etc. 

By rule-parsing, we also determined that the Ranger was NOT doing enough damage per round, but the Paladin was doing too much. The thieves could use their Sneak Attack ability (and extra damage) simply by being within 5 feet of a friendly combatant fighting the same opponent - they weren't required to Flank an enemy to cause Sneak Attack damage! These were all handled "by-the-book", or IOW, carefully reading the rules, so I will be a bit sore if this is handled with a straight-up houserule that nerfs this Warlock ability. 

By-the-book, Warlock's get the fewest amount of spells to cast. Far fewer than the wizard, and, even though the Sorcerer only gets half as many as the wizard does, the Sorcerer still gets at least twice as many spells per day than the Warlock. The Warlock's "swallow your soul!" power is only available to warlocks taking the Infernal Pact (one of three pacts available), and is not contingent on the warlock choosing another pact feature - weapon, chain or tome. 

I could understand if the soul-sucking ability could be contingent on the weapon pact, but it is not; the soul-sucking ability is granted at 1st level, the pact weapon comes in at 2nd or 3rd. So, the only way the warlock could gain temporary hit points at 1st level is only by casting cantrips, or fighting with a weapon in melee combat, which at lower levels is pretty risky, even for a warlock...

On the positive side, when Hellgirl cast Fireball, I had the (NSFW) verbal component ready, and when the Blade knight climbed up the hill to attack Hellgirl face-to-face, she told him the (NSFSJW (not safe for Social Justice Warriors)) three biggest lies in the world. ;)