Your stalwart old lady grognard finished her first fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons campaign last night! And my character survived!
First, a little backstory. A little more than a year ago, I read about Nerdarchy on Facebook and watched some of their videos. I learned they were right across the river in New Jersey! At the time, I hadn’t played (as a player) a D&D game in decades, and I’d never played 5E D&D. However, the popularity (it seemed everyone was playing it) and my desire to play D&D again caused me to reach out to the Nerdarchy guys. But how to make myself stand out from the thousands of emails, comments and fan mail they received each day? Hmmm. I know! I’ll rattle off my gaming resume! (TSR, GW, etc.) And they responded!
Campaign perspective from previous editions of D&D
After some initial texts and such I was invited to a game forming that would be played once a month. I’d never met any of these people, and for all I knew Nerdarchist Ted (who was hosting) was actually a serial killer who had chained Nerdarchist Dave in his basement to make the videos. (Is Nerdarchist Dave blinking “T-O-R-T-U-R-E” in Morse code in that video?) In any case, I drove from the Philly ‘burbs to meet the guys and sit in on a game in an edition that was far different than the one I knew. Damn millennials. Get off my lawn.
Fortunately, the other players as well as Ted (henceforth DM) were very patient with me as I fumbled through character creation, etc., and humored me when I insisted in *gasp!* actually rolling my character stats instead of taking the standard frame thing. *clutches pearls!* The rest of the group looked on bemused as I rolled the 4d6 method from ages past, with the condition that I get one shot at this and must accept the character as rolled…
7 11 16 13 18 16 (not in that order)
Holy crab! Best character I’d ever rolled! I, of course, played it cool, extolling the virtues of the Old Ways while, inside, celebrating like crazy. As it stood, I had the best stats in the party. So of course I decided to play…
I was going to play a human cleric (WTF is a “warforged” anyway?) but Dave suggested an aasimar. A what??? That’s a human with divine blood who gets really powerful boosts and stuff to start, and progressively gets more powerful. Hmm… cleric with angel, I mean “celestial” blood? I could work that. I’d heard 5E D&D had wildly overpowered characters but… wow. The DM allowed us use of D&D Beyond, which was an immense help to this novice. I found a suitable picture online that fit the character description.
So was born unto the table, Emerald of the Light. She was a Light Domain cleric (duh) as this fit the idea I had for her. She was going to be young, drop dead gorgeous and very good at ministering to the flock and converting others to the Light. The DM even allowed me to design her deity, whom I named Selah, commonly the known as “the Light.” I designed the priesthood, the paladins (the Service of the Light,) the temples, relics, etc. In addition, I designed a beggar deity in the pantheon: NohWhey.
The rest of the group were a motley crew (cue ’80s music) and we spent the first session deciding on our group backstory (we started at 3rd level), and between the DM’s two campaign ideas. We even were able to name the big bad — a generic wizard name from my old campaigns: Zoltar. Our group named itself the Seven Who Stayed (as we were the only seven desperate enough for a job to stay for that first quest, which was to rescue a family from a cult of goblins who worshiped an owlbear. It got far more complicated, but that’s the basics). It bears mentioning I was the only female character, and the only woman at the table.
In March 2019 we began the campaign. Over time we fought giant stirges, settled a town dispute without bloodshed (thanks to my… Charisma and Wisdom) encountered Ipskig Fizzletop, genasi, an invincible undead dwarf, a booger flying across the table and landing on my character sheet (really!), various monsters made from pieces of multiple beasts (that was Zoltar’s bag — making combination monsters that steadily became more Lovecraftian and bizarre) including a tentacled two headed T-Rex, got gold teeth for a shriveled goblin shrunken head, discussed scaly lizard nutsacks, traveled through multiple planes and, in the end, saved the city-state. During that time, Emerald healed the party while dispensing Holy Justice. Oh, and she never died. Her stats at the end?
7 STR, 11 INT, 16 CON, 13 INT, 20 WIS, 18 CHA
The players (I’m not naming them as I don’t have permission) were wonderful roleplayers, much to my character’s chagrin. They did so many frustratingly stupid things that were so in character I was fascinated. Emerald was often the straight woman to their jokes. I don’t think we had a true party leader but the group often did what I suggested. Not always. Sometimes.
Okay, I loved the campaign itself. Now… I’m removing my emotion hat and am now looking at the system objectively from the point of view of a person who’s been playing D&D for over 40 years.
Pass the Geritol.
I’d heard from many Players of Experience that the new edition was very simplified, didn’t resemble the original game in most ways and had overpowered characters.
They are correct. Aside from the monsters and the class names, there really isn’t much of the original game left. Character generation is oversimplified to the point of being generic, as are character hit points and experience (your characters gain a level every two sessions — no experience points). Also, occasionally when levelling, a player could add two points to an ability score (or a feat). (Max: 20.)
Math has been completely eliminated from the game. The other players were again shocked I always insisted on rolling my hit points when we leveled instead of taking the average. Usually it worked out in my favor (praise the Light!) but not always. In the end, Emerald’s hit points were 10 points higher than if I’d taken the average (plus Constitution bonus).
Okay, even with the generic stats the characters are far more powerful than back in the day. They start with feats, which give them incredible abilities. The races also have jaw dropping abilities to start as well. I can’t speak for the other classes but the cleric spells and abilities were also incredible. By the end my 10th level cleric was throwing fireballs (previously a wizard only spell) while flying over the battlefield with wings of light created by divine power, and had a 10% chance of calling for Divine Intervention once a week! And I was far from the strongest character in the party! (Best spellcaster though. Hee hee.)
The DM compensated by throwing monsters (like the aforementioned T.T. T-Rex) that we really had no business defeating. Zoltar ended up as a lich with two beholder eye stalks (damn clever if you ask me, and yes, the DM converted the model!), which was immune to fire. Also to compensate, magic items were exceedingly rare for the players, but not for the monsters who, when defeated, often had their weapons vanish or such.
Combat with the large group sometimes dragged, as it will with a large group, but… I felt it lacked the flavor of previous editions. Weapons did damage, but were really interchangeable. Emerald’s mace may as well have been a broad sword. Or a wooden club. While slightly more complex, the old versions’ damage by weapon type and bonus/penalties vs. certain armors really added to the flavor of the game. Oh, and forced the player to *lightning and thunder crash* do math!
In the new edition’s favor is that with all the computer programs, companies churning out amazing play aids (like Nerdarchy’s Out of the Box Encounters) and YouTube videos helping people learn the game, as well as just videos of people… just …playing… zzzzzz… Oh, sorry… really helps.
D&D was definitely a niche thing back in the day: nerds and outcasts only, even during the heyday of the early ’80s. Now it’s chic and all the cool kids are playing it. Is this because it’s so streamlined? Probably. It plays like an online video game, which I’m sure helps with recruitment.
Older editions were more complex, required math and deductive reasoning (due to the books being poorly organized in the original edition — yes, I’m looking at you, first edition DM’s Guide!), but had an air of wonder. Everything was new then and as a player one felt like part of something special. I felt that way working for TSR in the ’90s, even though the company was becoming very corporate. Fifth edition is falling into the trap that second edition did — there’s so much material and rules out there that things are becoming convoluted and hard to follow, even with computer assistance.
Or maybe that’s just me. Maybe part of my memories of first and second editions are tinted with the golden light of memory and nostalgia — of old friends, great adventures played in unfinished basements or cramped cinder block dorm rooms.
I DMed a second edition campaign briefly last spring, which ended when one of the players (a Gen Z) said the game was boring, and two of the players went back to fifth edition gaming. The scenario wasn’t boring, she said (Keep on the Borderlands, if you’re curious) but the system was. I was deflated. And hurt. Took it personally.
I’m not here to piss in anyone’s corn flakes — if you enjoy fifth edition then play it! Enjoy the camaraderie, enjoy the settings and making the DM curse when your unexpected action completely derails their plans (that hasn’t changed in any edition!). I’ll play if offered a seat (which as a transgender woman is rare — but that’s another column for later) sure. But to DM?
My heart will always be in the early editions.
Get off my lawn! I would’ve gotten away with it if it weren’t for you meddling kids! *passes out Werther’s Original candies.*