Last Saturday I walked out on my first time playing D&D Fifth Edition.
I handed my character sheet to the DM, shook his hand, and said: “Thank you.” Then I left.
I’m not angry or upset with the DM or the group. The DM was a good DM. The group was friendly. I’d like to game with them again (I don’t know if they think the same of me).
If there’s anybody to blame, it’s the Social Beast. The Social Beast had to remind me how much the RPG hobby can annoy and irritate.
A culmination of things tested my tolerance. In turn, I had to decide when to cut my loses and go home before Atlanta’s traffic snarled up.
First, came the cancellation of the Star Wars d6 game. I’d been really looking forward to it, but the game master couldn’t show that day. And that was that. I found out because some one checked social media at the last minute.
So I contented myself with visiting with people who did show up to play the various games offered. And I ate tasty Greek-style omelette with steak-fries, a fruit cup, and a biscuit. Very filling. (We were playing at local pub/restaurant).
One game master said he was going to run D&D 5e. We chatted and got acquainted before his game started. Nice guy. He had a number of pregenerated characters. I chose a fighter who was a gladiator. Cool. Things were looking up.
And then the waiter spilled a class of Coke on the table. The Coke soaked half my character sheet, and spritzed my 25-year-old copy of the Star Wars d6 Second Edition rulebook!
If you believe in signs and portents, then that should have been the time to leave.
I set aside the gladiator, however, and picked up another character sheet: this time an elven sorcerer, specializing in fire spells.
The downside: The DM had chosen Arcanis, by Paradigm Concepts. In this campaign setting, people view arcane spellcasters with distrust. When I’d first chosen the gladiator, he had told me this, along with “grand narrative” of the setting.
It was a lot to take in.
Somewhere along the way this important bit about arcane spellcasters hadn’t been quite forgotten, but certainly wasn’t at the forefront of my mind.
To learn the entire background of a campaign wasn’t why I was there. I wanted to learn D&D 5e.
And I certainly didn’t need to most it it all again from the other players when they started to show up.
They told me about gods eating other gods, some powerful lich or something living on a distant island, how there’s five or six tribes of the elves and they consider themselves superior to humans, but my character came from a more tolerant tribe. Yeah. Neat. Whatever.
In all honesty, it sounded like just another campaign setting with mediocre fantasy names and clichés. But I needed to know it all to play, because this wasn’t just a one-shot; it was part of the d20 Living Arcanis Campaign.
Oh mein gott im Himmel. Organized play.
Maybe it wouldn’t be as bad as previous experiences, I tought.
Then the campaign veterans brought their own characters and showed the DM their certificates for magic items and what not. For the beginning hook, the veterans were privy to special information which the rest of us were not.
For the adventure itself, the DM read a lot of boxed text.
The first part of the game consisted mainly of the PCs rolling dice and saying: “Does my character notice something?” And one point the DM looked at me and told me to make an Arcane check to remember something important, perhaps, to move the session along.
Alas, I rolled low.
The first combat encounter started because one player rolled really high on a Insight check, and then he attacked a lying nobleman and his guards.
Finally, something to do.
So I cast Acid Splash, the very first spell in I would invoke in an “official D&D” game in almost 5 years. But do you know what happens when you cast a spell in campaign setting where arcane casters are distrusted?
Combat pauses, and 2-3 fellow players ask the DM: “Do I notice him casting a spell? Is he trying to hide that he’s casting spell?”
Oh come’on, it’s Acid Splash. At most it would do 1d6 damage to a guard. But the guard made his dexterity save. No damage. No big deal. And nobody sensed I cast it anyway.
Burning Hands would have been my spell of choice, but the quarters seemed tight, and I didn’t want hit my allies with friendly fire. We weren’t using miniatures or a battlemat, just “theater of the mind.”
“Theater of the mind” got me in trouble in the next combat encounter.
After more investigating we ended up at a villain’s house. By this time I was glancing at the DM’s watch, wondering how much longer we had to play.
Then, just as I considered excusing myself, things got exciting.
We found a demon bound in a magic circle in the basement. The demon said if we destroyed the magic circle the villain’s power would be reduced, but it would be released.
Thus, an ethical debate ensued, as did intra-party threats. I readied a sleep spell in case things got out of hand.
Suddenly the villain appeared. I announced my character she was casting sleep. This triggered the start of the combat round and players (once again) saying, “Do I notice him casting a spell? Is he trying to hide that he’s casting a spell?”
The villain must have rolled high on his initiative, because he summoned two more minor demons before anybody else could act. One character hit him for a decent amount of damage, so I centered sleep on him.
My “theater of the mind” envisioned the room being much larger. Maybe I’d zoned out as the DM read the Boxed Text. We had a 7-8 characters, a demon in a magic circle, the villain, and two lesser demons, after all.
No. It was a 20’x20′ room, the DM said. So everybody was caught in the spell’s area of effect starting with the characters with the lowest hit points first.
Thus, my sorcerer and the rogue next to her, with 8 hit points each, passed out…
It felt good to leave.
Despite this, the aggravation hit while I drove home.
I’d spent part of my Saturday morning and most the afternoon, about 6 hours, not having much fun. On top of that I risked damage to my book. Fortunately, the book was okay.
Again, I blame the Social Beast. It was the wrong game to learn D&D 5e. Yet I insisted on giving it a shot.
I also rediscovered that I learn more from bad gaming experiences than the good.
I realized how much I dislike organized play, scenarios which rely on Intelligence and Wisdom checks to move the story forward, DMs reading boxed text ad verbatim to me; and any campaign setting where you have to know in-depth background history to play it “right.” It’d been a long time since I’d experienced all of this at once.
The worst thing, in my opinion, was not only did my origin game get cancelled, I didn’t get to really learn D&D 5e, aside from it being “3.5e lite” and one very crucial fact which, perhaps, I had to rediscover:
Don’t cast sleep in 20’x20′ room.