As no-one else seems to have blogged about last night's D&D game, I might as well kick things off. I've been giving Andrew all manner of grief over the last month about the levels of expectation for this game and in true Watsonian fashion, Andrew delivered. As the first session of a campaign, it was wonderfully evocative and played to our groups strengths. Not everything was perfect - it never is - but I left the session feeling like a 'proper gamer', which is silly, I know, but it was true.
1. The rules tweaks - 'Wealth levels' instead of money makes coin counting obselete. 'Legacy items' - iconic magic items which scale with level and include the balancing properties of all the necessary items in the game are wonderful. Abstract levelling rather than XP grind allows us to pace the game and see the run of the system without 'grinding'. We discussed them before the game and they worked well.
2. Peripherals - we used a battleboard, minatures, dungeon tiles, power cards - hell, we even had an official D&D pen at the table. It all worked really well. The combats we played out were so very different from the ones we have done before. They were tactical. They required thought. Every single roll of the dice had a weight of meaning that, on reflection, I have rarely seen before. Not one of the fights had a bit of wiffle in it. The minatures were evocative and worked far better than I ever thought they would. Even something as petty as the power cards really cut down the amount of book flicking that was needed. Really really good for this game.
3. Reskinned monsters - I loved the fact that Andrew had taken the time to create his own monsters for the game, even if they were reskinned versions of Monster Manual creatures. Faced with the slavering savagery of a Carnage Demon, what were we to expect? Skeletal Flame Priests? Hounds of Shadow? The risen cadaver of the Sun God Azhura. Hardened gamers reduced to second-guessing noobs. Love it. Total and utter ignorance.
4. Structure and Pacing - the structure of the game was great. We were straight into the action at the start of our rebellion sanctioned tomb robbing, rather than playing out the arrival in the City of Kings or our meeting with the rebellion. It kicked the game off brilliantly.
5. Skill Challenges - Andrew's interpretation of the skills challenge system is inspired. Rather than wander a tomb checking for traps, we have to make two successes before we make two failures using a selection of skills. If we succeeded, we narrated a situation and how we got around it. If we failed, it triggered an encounter prepared by the DM. Why was this gold? Threefold. First off, it took what could have been a dire dungeon crawl and made it very quick and dynamic, cutting to the good stuff. Second, it made us use an array of skills in very different ways. So rather than the Ranger/Thief stealthing through the entire dungeon, the Mage and the Paladin narrated the unpicking of a runic bomb trap using magic and religious nouse. Thirdly, once again, every roll counts. Feel the tension.
6. Missio... sorry, I mean Quests - We all have group and personal Quests to fulfil in true MMO style and they work magnificently. It adds a focus to the game, reinforces situation, tweaks conflict, plans out our rewards and generally makes the game a lot of fun.
THE NOT SO GOOD
1. FOCUS - Whilst I readily accept that this was due to it being the first session of the game, it did feel a little stop/start at times, especially around food ordering and breaks etc. They were the right times to do them, but I was so 'in the zone' that I didn't want to stop!
2. CHARACTERISATION - We REALLY are going to have to keep an eye on our characterisation if we are going to stop the game descending into a glorified game of Warhammer Dungeon. We can't let our characters just become pieces on a board.
3. NO TALKY TALKY - We had very few chances to actually roleplay within the adventure. There were some, I admit, which we may not have grabbed. However, we're dead good at this roleplaying lark and less so at this tactical combat malarky, so we probably needed the practice!
4. THE BOW OF ILLUSIONISM - Artemis got his legacy item, a magical phoenix style bow (very cool, even if he is now forever Ranger from the D&D cartoon). We were told not to take things from the tomb or we would have to face the wrath of the dead Sun God. The Bow was in the tomb. Oh, so we're fighting the Sun God then, regardless, because well ... we're not leaving someone's Legacy item behind. Or are we? We could have and then Andrew could have been placed in a real pickle. Would he have had to reintroduce the item at a future point? Would he have let Artemis continue the entire campaign hamstrung without his item? No, whilst we appeared to have a choice, we had no choice at all. But really, like we wanted to avoid a fight like that - which was tooth and nail awesome!
It was a great game which really hammered home that (a) system matters, (b) we really do love fantasy, (c) Andrew is an excellent GM and (d) we've got a whole lot of gaming in the City of Kings to come.
Personally, its the first time in well over a decade that I have levelled a D&D character and I was thrilled. Morn, the 2nd level Paladin, is an absolute S.O.B. and I'm loving it!