When the new D&D Starter Set and Basic Rules came out, my players asked me to run a few sessions of it before Gen Con. One was going to be playing several games and the other was going to be running several games. We were between Star Wars adventures at the time, so everyone agreed it would be a good time for a 2-shot game of D&D, using brand-spanking new rules!
I’m sure the adventure within the Starter Set is fine, but it looked like it would be too long for my group to finish in two four-hour sessions. We only meet every other week and most of us don’t interact much outside of the game, so those four hours are not four hours straight of gaming, it’s more like two-and-a-half hours of gaming and an hour-and-a-half of bullshit, and that’s IF everyone shows up on time. (That’s not a judgement of my players, it’s just the way things are; we’re all adults with families and lives and none of us consider gaming to be Serious Business™.)
So, I selected a shorter adventure, “Jammin'” by James Ward from Dungeon magazine #21 (January/February 1990). I heard 5E was really good with backwards compatibility and from the looks of things, all I needed to do was swap out the monster stats and Bob’s your uncle.
I don’t know why I became British just then.
“Jammin'” had another excellent thing going for it: it enabled me to use the giant sailing ship cardstock model my wife made for our Goblin Skulls & Shackles Pathfinder game. It seemed a shame to have it continue to collect dust in the closet when this would be a perfect opportunity to make use of it again.
And so, we embarked upon another edition of Dungeons & Dragons.
There were 4 characters
Naivara Laidon (Silverfrond), a wood elf rogue
Rurin Stoneforge, a hill dwarf cleric
Salazar Thrace, a human wizard
Ebenezer, a human fighter
It was pretty classic party. They went around the table and introduced themselves and talked a bit about their backgrounds, flaws, etc. Everyone seemed to enjoy the mechanics of backgrounds, personality traits, ideals, bonds, and flaws. I know some people will be thinking “I’m a role-player, I don’t need the game to tell me how my character is supposed to act. Warrrgggbarglllleeee WORST EDITION EVER.” There are many players, however, who enjoy the game who like to have such information suggested by the game so they have a better handle on how to create a unique and interesting character. Not everyone is a great improvisationist or can come up with original character traits like that on the fly (and remember to apply them consistently during the game). If it encourages role-play, I’m for it. If you don’t like it, don’t use it. It’s as simple as that.
The adventure started out in a classic fashion. The PCs were in the Happy Stein tavern (they already knew each other, however), and were enjoying a dinner provided by Ren of the Cloak, an adventurer of some renown. He had a proposition for the PCs; go to the valley of Shemar and see if the ship said to carry the fabled treasure of the great Kings of the Sky would appear by the light of tomorrow’s full moon. He found a scroll that told of the legend when the ship would appear (which conveniently destroyed itself right after he read it), and tomorrow night was the first occurrence of that particular kind of full moon in 500 years. He was unable to go himself because of an important meeting with a grumpy wizard, so he was offering this opportunity to the PCs in exchange for first pick of any magical treasure and a tenth share of the wealth. They agreed, a contract was drawn up, and the PCs set off!
It was a long journey, but they found the valley around dusk. The ship, as foretold, was there! It was battered, tattered, and covered in glowing moss, but it appeared to be intact. From the mizzenmast few a black flag depicting a skull & crossbones. They explored the ship and (the DM missed the opportunity to describe the myriad piles of goblin skeletons, including a nasty, ugly dog-like skeleton) discovered spherical piles of colored bones. The bones near the hatch to the main hold were golden. Ebenezer shoved one of the odd, roughly-spherical piles and it animated into a golden skeleton. He attempted to smash the thing, but it ignore him and started to patch holes in the deck. They agreed not to disturb any of the other piles of bones.
There were enough piles of bones on the Forecastle that they chose not to search it thoroughly, though they were able to climb up on the sterncastle. Attached to the mizzenmast, they found a large golden coin, pierced with an iron spike. They removed it and saw that it depicted a vaguely spider-like being on the reverse, and an insectoid ship on the obverse. They elected to explore the rooms under the sterncastle next. The first room contained a score of kegs of smoke powder. The next was a chart room that looked like some wild animal had taken it apart. The next was one of the officer’s quarters and as soon as they entered, an ogre’s skeleton leapt to the attack. They bashed the bony thing to bits and continued on to another room. It’s walls were reinforced, but once they broke though, they discovered five zombies were ready to eat them.
The battle was hard one, but eventually they defeated the zombies (they just Would. Not. Die!). They took the opportunity for a short rest, barricaded themselves in the room, and while Ebenezer recovered from holding off the zombies, Salazar and the rest examined the odd throne-like chair in the room. A large furnace was attached to the chair and after translating instruction on the wall, they learned they were on a spelljammer, complete with a furnace that would burn magical items to power the ship.
After they recovered and rested, they examined the final room under the sterncastle and found it was covered in a nasty mold (I had to handwave this since there aren’t rules for yellow & brown mold yet). They proceeded to the rooms under the forecastle. Ebenezer rammed open the left door and dislodged a pile of bones which caused a chain reaction, disturbing the nine other piles of bones in the room. Yellow skeletons animated and began firing their pistols at the intruders. Ebenezer blockaded the door with his body and defended the opening as they picked off the rattle of skeletons** one by one. Salazar, the rapping wizard*, incinerated quite a few with burning hands, but the skeletons kept coming. Eventually, they smashed all the bones to bits and gathered up the valuables from the room, and retreated back to the helm furnace for another short rest before tackling the right side of the forecastle and the main hold…
The zombies were great. 5th edition zombies get a save when they’re reduced to 0 HP. If they make the save, they drop to 1 HP instead and keep fighting. Radiant or critical damage will keep them down, though. Basically zombies are trolls for 1st level characters (particularly since 1st level clerics can’t turn undead). The first time the zombie stayed up, they got worried (particularly since it took so much damage before they thought it should have died). The second time the same one kept coming, they got scared. They experienced the Holy S*$%, WTF? reaction for the first time in a long time. It was great!
My players really liked the Advantage/Disadvantage mechanic. It was much easier than trying to figure out who was flanking who and which square was threatened by what. Combat moved much faster than in 3.X, Pathfinder, or D&D 4E, yet everyone still had a variety of actions they could do, at least, enough that they didn’t feel like their role was just to perform a basic attack over and over, like Basic D&D (BECMI/Rules Cyclopedia, as defined by this blog) could sometimes feel. They also like Inspiration.
In general, everyone really seemed to enjoy themselves and I heard a lot of praise for the system. The session sparked a lot of curiosity about what sort of options were going to be available once the core books are out. Personally, I like the way the mechanics are set up now, and when I run this edition at conventions, I am going to stick to the Basic Game for combat and encounter adjudication. It’s fast and fun. I like what I’ve seen of this edition so far. I like it a lot.
* I’m not sure which personality trait required him to sing his spells, but that’s what he did and he had a whole sheet of lyrics to use.
** We decided the proper way to refer to a group of skeletons was as a “rattle.”