Despite the relatively slim pickings for Free RPG Day, I had a hell of a time on Saturday.
I only picked up a couple of the Free RPG products, as there was very little that caught my eye. The one offering I could muster any real excitement for was the new DCC Lankhmar product, which I hope I can convince my DM to run for our DCC characters. I grabbed “The Dark Eye” because the art was pretty, but I haven’t had a chance to really read it. I also grabbed a copy of “Faith”: a comic is a bad way to try to present quick-start rules, especially if you’re going to leave out character creation – somehow Burning Games released a rules-lite RPG in a format that took up around 20 pages and didn’t have enough rules or present them well enough to pick up and play; great job, there. The art was neat, though. Notably, there were no copies of Slugs out, so either everyone snatched them all up before I got there (which seems unlikely, considering how many copies of everything else they had) or my FLGS doesn’t put out any Lamentations of the Flame Princess material. One of the other disappointments regarding Free RPG Day and its offerings was that there were no groups devoted to actually running any of it or even the products they were promoting; I would’ve loved to show up and get to actually play the Lankhmar game, but this year the FLGS had not even organized any games with signup sheets as they had last year, much less actively tried to promote the FRPGD games. Luckily, there was a gargantuan game (18 players and 3 DMs) being run and I managed to make the sign-up and get in on it.
Saturday was my second time playing 5e, and I still remain unimpressed and thoroughly convinced that everyone who proclaims that it recaptures an oldschool feel and style of play is either lying or doesn’t know what the hell they’re talking about. Because we live in bizarro universe, someone actually thought that my issue with the system might have been that it didn’t have enough crunch and complexity!
-I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – 5e feels like a Supers game. Everyone does ridiculously high damage (by most D&D standards), but everything has obscenely high HP; 5e is for people who like rolling lots of dice and seeing big numbers come up; it feels inflationary. Like, Superman crits an alien monster and throws him through 3 sky scrapers; the alien brushes off the rubble and renews the attack because he’s only down 20%.
-It’s not the Thief’s (the player’s) fault, and I know he was just playing how you’re supposed to play Thieves, but I kind of wanted to punch him; it was all, ‘I try to sneak, I try to hide in shadows, I run up, I attack, I use (some thing that lets him not take an attack of opportunity), I run away’ every freaking round. It’s like “Dude, we’re in a well lit 15’ x 45’ room with nothing in it; what the hell are you trying to hide behind!?” Even the DM was eventually like “Look, there are no shadows for you to hide behind.” This was exactly like the Thief played in the other 5e game I was in; it was like bringing all the unfun tedium of cover-based shooters to your game table. This is also why B/X’s melee rules are important and good; if a monster is engaged with a fighter, the thief doesn’t have to go through the motions of half a dozen idiotic mechanics to attack without worrying about being hit.
-Rounds took a really long time for those of us playing non-fighty man characters, as everyone had to describe a lengthy sequence of movements spells, abilities, and actions every time their initiative came up. I’m glad that there was still a Barbarian pre-gen left for me to use at the table I was seated at; my turn was usually “I am still raging; here are my 3 attacks ::rolls::; 15 damage, miss, 12 damage.”
-The bard class is frustratingly stupid. How a musical taunt can damage undead is beyond me. I’m glad that our bard was just some guy who got stuck with it because it was the last pre-gen and not someone who really likes bards; I don’t think I could’ve dealt with that.
I made a point of not expressing dissatisfaction with the system beyond my initial moment of deflation when I learned that 5e was the only thing that would be at the table on Saturday, and even though I still hate the system and would rather be playing dang near anything else (even 3e is less fiddly in the parts where you’re not twinking your character), I had a great time and was glad I played.
As much as I’m prepared to slag on 5e as a system, I would not dare insult what these guys pulled off.
The setup was a pretty basic one-off situation; evil necromancer has created a plague, turning people into corrupted undead, each of the three races (humans, elves, dwarves), and we were the champions of each race who’d been sent to his trans-dimensional magic fortress to kill him, find the macguffins and stop the plague.
Each table was running simultaneously in one dimensional layer of the dungeon. Certain checkpoints would result in a dimensional shift of one of the characters (a player would be dumped into another party and switch tables). This first part had some hack and slash and was mostly to find clues as to what the end-game would entail; the human party didn’t spend any time doing thorough searching and just made a bee-line for the heart of the dungeon. Luckily, our players who had been in the elf and dwarf parties told us all of the stuff we missed.
The session ended in a HUGE battle – each of the three parties was squared up against an undead squadron, with two reserve undead squadrons raining arrows on us, and as the battle progressed, three more squadrons, an undead war mammoth and a 150 HP necromancer showed up. For the first few rounds, each table would run through the round, fighting the squadron they were facing; dead were marked off the giant white-board, troop positions were updated, and the master DM called out who was being hit by ranged fire. After a few rounds and a few undead squadrons routed, things were getting too mixed up to do it by table (and by this time, the first two waves of undead reinforcements had shown up), so we ended up all gathering around the big table and did stuff war-game style, running through all 18 players and all hostile NPCs.
It’s the sort of tabletop experience that one doesn’t get a chance to have very often, in no small part because it takes a lot of people to pull it off and make the execution work. I can’t imagine running a battle this size with this many people without multiple DMs, so the organization and time-commitment required to do something like this is tremendous. Even using a clunker of a system like 5e, I’d leap at the chance to participate in anything like this again.
Later, I will maybe try to muster the courage to talk about Black God’s Kiss. I need to write up my impressions of Panzer Leader, post pictures of issue 2 with Jabari Weathers’ cover, rattle the coins in my change jar to remind folks that the Kickstarter is half over, and if I am not completely drained write an article for an SFF magazine from scratch because my initial premise was rejected. Geez, I almost forgot that I need to talk about how prophetic The Zanti Misfits was (alien criminals dumped into the US with a complicit Federal government acquiescing to threats of “do what we ask or suffer the consequences”)!
Good work is being done by Misha Burnett and the other writers in his Eldritch Earth Society group. If you think you can write a good Burroughsian adventure story in a pre-historic Lovecraftian setting without resorting to Cthululz, you should ask to join and maybe you’ll end up in issue 5 of Cirsova.