My first D&D 5e experience

I’ve been playing pen and paper RPGs since I was 14 years old. Nearly every great and fun memory during my teenage years somehow revolves around RPGs or related forms of nerdery. After college, life took over and RPGs took a back seat for a long time. A really long time, about 15 years or so. I recently turned 40, and only about five years ago did I start seriously getting back into pen and paper gaming. Oddly enough, in all this time I’ve never played D&D.

Last fall I picked up the three main 5th edition books and started looking for games. It was pretty discouraging. No local groups were looking for new players. All of the online games that I tried to get in on fell apart before they even started. So I decided that the only way that I was going to get to play was if I ran a game myself. I’m no stranger to GMing but it had been a really long time and I had doubts about running a system that I’d never played before.

To simplify things, I went down and picked up the Starter Set. The idea being that it came with an adventure aimed at new players, as well as a simplified rulebook and pre-gen characters. I thought it would be a good, introductory path for D&D.

Most of my friends play RPGs so it wasn’t tough to track down a few people for a game. Our friends Erek and Laurie both played 3.5 but it had been a long time, and they were both chomping at the bit to get into a game. Our flatmate (Heather) and I played Earthdawn together a long time ago so she was a shoe-in, although she’d never played D&D before either. I’ve long suspected that my girlfriend Laure (no ‘i’) would really enjoy RPGs and as soon as we started building her character, she was hooked and excited to play.

Everyone opted to build their own characters, rather than use the pre-gens. We got together a few weeks ago to do that and then this last weekend we had our first session playing through “Lost Mine of Phandelver”. All three of the girls went with female characters and for the sake of consistency, Erek decided to play a female as well.

Here’s what we ended up with:

Erek – Shemael, a tiefling paladin.
Laurie – Sylthea, an elvish druid.
Laure – Verona, a half-elf ranger.
Heather – Tilly, a halfling rogue.

Three of us were complete D&D noobs and Erek and Laurie were new to 5e. So we were all pretty much on the same page going into this. Laurie texted me throughout the week prior, explaining some of the differences she was seeing from 3.5e to 5e, and seemed very pleased with the changes and excited to play.

We started on Sunday night at about 6pm, after I BBQ’d while they put the finishing touches on their characters and ironed out some back story. I’d spent a little time the previous week, reading up on the first section of the campaign, making notes so as to avoid reading straight from the book anymore than I had to, and making a few minor changes to the campaign. I’d also purchased a battle mat and wet erase markers, which showed up just in time for our game.

It went well. Everyone jumped right into character and right from the beginning, the game seemed to flow very well. The first battle with the goblins on the trail had a few hiccups while everyone got used to the combat system but by the third or fourth turn, combat was moving nicely. For this I employed an Android app called “D&D Health” to keep track of enemy health, and a small white board for initiative tracking. Although next time I think I’ll just use a google sheet for initiative tracking.

Erek found Shemael’s intimidation skill to be quite handy and used it numerous times to frighten away or temporarily startle enemies long enough for her companions to move in and do the dirty work. Also, her fire resistance was useful when she charged into the eating cave with a cask of lamp oil, taken from the wagon load of provisions, and threw it on the fire, burning and weakening most of the goblins enough to tilt the playing field in the groups favor.

Heather’s rogue proved quite deadly, easily sneaking up on more than a few enemies and dispatching them quite quickly, also doing considerable damage to the boss bugbear before the group moved into the last cave and finished him off.

Laure used Verona’s animal handling skills several times to get passed the initial wolf kennel and to deal with the boss’s pet wolf, as everyone was very reticent to kill any of the wolves needlessly.

Laurie, unfortunately, was plagued with absolutely terrible dice rolls all night long. She rolled mostly in the low single digits, even after switching dice and attempting several interesting rituals trying to improve her luck. Still, Sylthea did do well and her thunder spell, which I can’t remember the name of, was instrumental in defeating the boss.

All of the players fell right in step and worked very well as a team, coming up with some great plans.
I’ve never been big on using miniatures in RPGs. I’m a big fan of “theater of the mind” and I feel that too much miniature usage detracts from what’s going on in the players’ heads, and makes it feel more like a board game. I do employ it a little bit though, using drawings instead of tiles or detailed maps, so as to allow the players to still visualize all of the details on their own. Miniatures however, are expensive. I just happened to have a set of deluxe, female Munchkin game pieces in our Munchkin collection, and those worked perfectly for the players. We used other random items to denote enemies on the mat.

We left off with the players leaving the cave to rejoin Sildar Hallwinter at the wagon, several miles back along the trail.

My GM skills are pretty rusty so I did accidentally give away some minor details here and there. I also need to work on my exposition a bit, but over all I think I got through it pretty well. I’ll need to take more notes on the next part of the campaign, as I’d like to avoid reading from the book as much as possible. Everyone told me after the fact that they thought I did well and that they had a good time, so I’ll pronounce it a success.

The only bad point was the battle mat. I got if from Wiz Dice on amazon and if I’d bothered to read the reviews, I would have seen that everyone was having trouble removing their drawings from the mat. I even used the suggested wet erase markers and after considerable scrubbing, still didn’t manage to get some of the ink off of the mat, and in fact started to remove some of the grid instead. I tossed that map, gave it a shitty review on Amazon and instead ordered a replacement from Chessex that received high marks all around on Amazon and on Reddit. That should be here in plenty of time for next weekend’s game.

D&D 5e was very easy to pick up, for everyone, and we all had a great time and really enjoyed the game. Everyone is excited to resume the adventure next weekend.