D&D Lost Mine of Phandelver Interlude – Some Musings, Part 2

Sigh… still no D&D game this week. Thankfully we’re back on track next week, so in the meantime I may as well finish off my musings on what I think about D&D 5th edition. In Part 1 I talked about the stuff I like, but 5th is not perfect, and here’s my reasons why…

Spellcasting : This is actually a mixed bag, because although there’s a lot about 5th’s spell system that I like – such as at-will cantrips and casting low-level spells using higher-level spell slots to increase their power -, there’s equally a lot I’m not keen about.

The first of these is that the ritual mechanic is a mess, a clumsy and rushed attempt to force the square-shaped peg of the ritual mechanic from 4th into the round-shaped hole of traditional 3rd edition Vancian casting. Some spells can be cast as rituals, but they take longer to cast without taking up a spell slot. Part of me wonders “why bother”? I can understand so that there’s the option so that wizards don’t have to expend precious spell slots on boring stuff like identify or comprehend languages, but part of me just thinks that these could’ve just been implemented as class features or feats or whatever. Regarding rituals, I would’ve preferred either a) not having the mechanic at all, or b) doing it like 4th, where every non-combat utility spell is a ritual. Rather one of those than the weird bastard hybrid we currently have. 

Components – aka that thing that everyone immediately houserules out – are still a thing. Aaaaargh. Expensive components for spells like raise dead or augury I can tolerate, but it’s the stupid stuff like bat guano for fireball or a bit of leather for mage armour I hate. I’d find it hard to take a wizard seriously if he’s fumbling around in his pockets for coal dust and iron filings and doll’s house furniture.

The other issue I have that’s becoming more and more pronounced as we play through Phandelver; the cleric/wizard spell system makes no goddamn sense to me. Not the Vancian style of casting, that’s alright, I guess (and I use the term “alright” *very* generously), but the actual means of acquiring and preparing spells. Like in 3rd, wizards have spellbooks that contain all the spells they know and can prepare – the idea being that a wizard can’t prepare everything he knows, and he can’t cast everything he prepares – , whereas clerics choose from a list every day when they prepare spells. So far, so good. Except it’s not.

As of right now, Liam’s elf wizard’s spellbook contains 10 spells, and he can’t learn anymore until he levels up or copies spells down from scrolls (and all the scrolls that have been found are spells of too-high a level, or are cleric spells). However, Trev’s dwarf cleric has free pick from all level 1 and level 2 cleric spells, which comes to 17. So a cleric has more choice of spells that a student of the arcane. Hrm.

Yes, you could argue that the wizard spell list is more varied, with zappy and utility spells alike, whereas the cleric spells are pretty much just healing and buffs, but it still rubs me the wrong way. I would’ve personally done away the “prepare” stage for a wizard and just give them free reign on whatever’s in their spellbook, while clerics would still prepare their spells in the traditional way.

And on the subject of traditional…

Old School for the sake of Old School : Not gonna lie, I utterly cringed when I saw electrum pieces mentioned in the Phandelver book. Why? Because they’re dumb. What’s the problem with just copper, silver and gold? The only reason electrum pieces were chucked in was to appeal to whiny AD&D grognards.

I picked up the Player’s Handbook yesterday and I’ve had a quick flick through, and while I think it’s overall very good, there’s still some stuff in this new edition that reeks of 80’s and 90’s D&D. Stonecunning on dwarfs. Gnomes speaking with badgers and moles. Spell components, as mentioned above. A whole load of goofy “classic” spells (the main offender being Leomund’s tiny hut, because nothing says “mastery of the arcane” like creating a bus shelter, right?). Alignment. FUCKING Alignment, and the disaster-scale shitstorm that entails. I don’t know, I just thought that D&D had moved on past some of this; I realise that the franchise has a lot of history and traditions that a lot of people are fond of, and don’t want to have quietly retconned out because hurrdurr change is bad, but there’s a limit people. Owlbears and modrons are just dumb, can we just admit that at least?

Thankfully a lot of old stupid stuff has gone the way of the dodo; paladins falling, fighters requiring 10 million feats to be useful, and so on, so there’s hope yet.

Saving Throws : So you may know that Fortitude, Reflex and Will are no longer are thing, which confuses me. Now saving throws are tied to ability scores, so instead of a Fortitude save, you’d take either a Strength or Constitution save, depending what the circumstances are… and as to what those circumstances actually *are* is quite vague. Just going through Lost Mine and looking at some stuff, I simply can’t see the “fluff” behind, say, a Strength saving throw, or an Intelligence saving throw. From what I can gather, Charisma saving throws seem to be to resist compulsion effects, but the same could be said for Wisdom saving throws. There just doesn’t seem to be much consistency to it.

I would’ve just gone ahead and kept Fortitude, Reflex and Will, and like in 4th, have the highest modifier from a pair of ability scores (Strength/Constitution for Fortitude for example) apply. So many times doing Lost Mine I’ve called for a Reflex save; maybe I’m a creature of habit, but asking for a “Dexterity saving throw” just doesn’t sound right, and nowhere near as evocative as “Reflex”.

Money for Nothing : This is really only a minor quibble really, but again it’s something that’s come up when playing Lost Mine; my players basically have nothing to spend their money on! The game casually tosses them 100 gold for doing a mission, but what do they do with that when they’ve already got good gear, and they’re in a frontier town where there’s no luxury goods? Lucky for them that they bought the pub, otherwise they would’ve just had cash sitting around gathering dust! The economy in D&D just feels a bit busted; a stay at an aristocratic inn with an equally aristocratic meal costs 6 gp per day. That’s chump change!

I know a lot of DMs like to run “grittier” games where silver is the main currency, with gold being their campaign setting’s platinum equivalent, and I might use that idea myself if I run another D&D game.

Best-Forgotten Realms : This is a really personal quibble, but I hate the fact that Forgotten Realms is the “default” setting. I’m one of those freaks who actually liked 4th edition’s “Points of Light” and Nentir Vale setting, because it seemed fresh and different, and was purposefully left with a lot of “blank areas” so a DM could, you know, come up with their own stuff. I hate Forgotten Realms. Hate it, hate it, hate it. It’s a boring cliched Tolkienesque rip-off of the worst type. Fuck Forgotten Realms and everything associated with it.

If you think Drizzt Do'Urden is cool, congratulations! You're a moron.
“HURRR maybe in the next book Drizzt can be half-demon because that would be SO COOL!” – RA Salvatore

Aside from these minor issues, I still think that 5th is really good, and I still think it’s a massive improvement over both 3rd and 4th. After Lost Mine is finished, I’m looking forward to running some more games with the system (suitably tweaked of course). I have Spellslinger staring at me from my bookshelf, and then there’s always that Far East campaign I’ve wanted to do…

Next week we’ll be back on track as our heroes take a trip to Thundertree!



6 thoughts on “D&D Lost Mine of Phandelver Interlude – Some Musings, Part 2

  1. Funny you mention “nothing to spend money on.” There is a new chart in the PHB for that very thing. It’s pretty basic, x amount of gold per day for y lifestyle, but it does set up a basic drain if a DM wants to use it.

    I’ve informed my players that we will be using it, and they didn’t seem to mind. Perhaps if they don’t have enough money to buy that shiny new toy, then they’ll start complaining.

    As for rituals, that’s another thing they need to spend money on. Phandelver is pretty rich, but with these two mechanics, so far the party’s haul hasn’t been out of whack.

    If you like backgrounds, you might want to take a peek at 13th Age. They have some nifty role-playing additives that give flavor to characters but don’t add any mechanics to the game. I’m going to be adding One Unique Things and Icons to my game, and will probably tweak skills to be more like backgrounds in 13th Age.

    • Ah, interesting, I shall have to have a more thorough read of the PHB! I can’t remember if 4th included a price list for stuff like living expenditure, but that game seemed quite content to encourage the “murderhobo” archetype. At least my group have their pub as a permanent home!
      I really like the backgrounds presented so far, and expect to see more in future expansions. Occupations were one of my favourite things in d20 Modern. I keep meaning to have a look at 13th Age as I hear nothing but good things, but I fear that it would just end up on my shelf of unplayed RPGs, next to Black Crusade, World of Darkness and Cthulhutech.

  2. Just stumbled upon your blog and reading up on your Phandelver adventures. VERY entertaining read so far – kudos sir!

    While I do understand the gripe you had with 4th Edition I have to say that at least in terms of non-magic users 5th Editionto me feels like a step backwards. While in DD4 warriors, rogues, rangers and the likes had a plethora of manouvers to chose from in DD5 we’re back to “I attack. I attack again. I am done.” I really liked the idea of at will, encounter and daily powers for all the classes, caster and non-caster alike and feel that some of the variety has been lost. I do understand, from a purely roleplaying point of view, that a warrior is by definition not as flashy as a wizard … but to me the rolePLAYING and the mechanics were part of the fun.

    However I do agree that DD5 has lots of good stuff too, making the genre more accessible to new players and less of a drag and mathfest (GOD how I dread the days of Rolemaster and its books upon books of tables). But some of the rules are just … weird. Like … heavy armor, for instance, now ONLY gives you a penalty (in form of disadvantage) on stealth checks … and that’s it. You wanna walk on a tightrope while wearing splint armor? Go for it, mate! Scale a wall in a chainshirt? Suuuuuure! Swim through that river while wearing a fudging set of full plate? BE MY FREAKING GUEST! God that grinds my gears 😛

    • Thanks for the kind words, glad you’re enjoying reading about my group’s adventures! 🙂 re; martial classes in 5e, I understand what you mean. However some players don’t mind an “attack, go” sort of character; for those that want something more complex, there’s things like the Battlemaster fighter archetype? [/shrug]. As for heavy armour, yeah, that’s a weird one which I hadn’t even picked up on to be honest; simplest solution seems to be use a house rule that means that Acrobatics and Athletics are disadvantaged as well.

      • See, I was thinking the same – but … “just” disadvantage for Acrobatics and Athletics seems not harsh enough in my opinion. We’re talking about a suit of armor that weighs like 50 pounds or something and reduces your mobility quite heftily. I can for the life of me not see how someone’d “JUST” get disadvantage on a swimming or balance skillcheck wearing one of those …

      • If that’s what you think, then I think you as the DM are well within your rights to flat-out say “dude, no way, it’s impossible, you would immediately sink/fall/lose balance while wearing that.” At least then that would force a difficult choice of a player having to choose between mobility and protection.

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