Friday, October 17, 2014

5e Check-In and the Hoard

I haven't written much lately about the latest edition.  That's because so much of my free time is spent playing 5e. I'm a player in one weekly game, a DM in another, I've been reacquainting myself with the Forgotten Realms material from 2nd, 3rd, and 4th edition, as well as reading the Sundering Books to try to understand recent changes to the setting.  And, my son and I are reading the Brimstone Angels Saga (now four books) from Erin M. Evans.  So yeah . . . busy. :)

So far, I am very, very happy with what WOTC has been doing - the 5e mechanics are superb and a joy to run or play with.  And I'm really enjoying the renovation and restoration of the Forgotten Realms.  It's like watching an 80's episode of This Old House. It almost - almost - makes me happy 4e happened, because we'd have never gotten this level of grognard fan-service from WOTC otherwise.

However . . .

Hoard of the Dragon Queen.

I'm running HDQ at my FLGS for the Adventures League.  This adventure - strike that - campaign - has me hitting my head against the wall at times.  It has a lot of really cool stuff - fun situations, interesting NPCs, epic story arc - but all of this is glued together with something resembling runny cheese.  Why should the characters jump on this railroad?  Does this monk's reasons for doing things make any sense?  Why the hell are the characters railroaded to a city where absolutely nothing happens except a big bag of exposition?  Why try to get the characters to do everything for free?

The players are accustomed to open sandbox craziness from me, and are well trained to have their hackles rise up when something nonsensical, non-sequitur, stupid, or shady, happens, because they KNOW that I'm about to hit them with a giant hammer.  And this adventure - no matter how I try to connect the dots in a way that the PCs can be comfortable with - raises hackles all over the place.

Why - why is the ruby waiting for the in Waterdeep.  WHY?  WHY??  The players REALLY wanted to know. :)

And some the vision of the Forgotten Realms in HDQ seems to run contrary to other sources.  Like - no wagons, horses, or dogs allowed in Baldur's Gate?  And the bizarre statement that if a half-dragon were to be seen anywhere in public in Baldur's Gate it would be beat to death within seconds by an angry mob?  Okay, maybe I'm just filling in the details here - but it's a logical conclusion to come to.  A were-wolf - okay - that I can see.  But a half-dragon?  What about a dragonborn who walks in.  Stoned to death?  The guy who plays a dragonborn on Wednesdays is going to be in for a rude awakening when the peasants kill him with pitchforks for looking like a half-dragon.  Maybe I've read something wrong here or didn't understand something, but the whole Baldur's Gate thing is odd.

Anyway, it's one goofy thing after another.  An occasional logic issue, something to sew up once and again - that's fine.  This just gets tiresome.

The Lost Mines of Phandelver in the Starter Set is vastly superior.  It's a well paced episodic sandbox that makes sense and is easy for the DM, and the players themselves, to make of it what they will.

What I will say for the HDQ is that it is an awesome palette of colors from which you can paint your own adventure.  Courtney Campbell has done an excellent job at remixing HDQ here, tweaking a few things, totally twisting a few other things, and hammering out some logic to glue at least the first three episodes together.  I used a lot of his ideas in the Adventurers League game, to great success.

I find I'm beginning to just toss some things out wholesale and insert episodes or small stories within the arc to provide interest and cohesion.  And yes, tinkering and altering adventure modules is a time honored tradition - and expected from D&D Day One.  But HDQ is supposed to be the flagship adventure campaign for the start of the 5e Adventurers League.  Players are supposed to be able to take their PCs and jump them from table to table in an organized play fashion and at least have some semblance of an idea about what is going on in another DMs game.  And WOTC does encourage DMs to make the adventure their own.

But are they prepared for a brewing war between the pixies and sprites along the Sword Coast, as well as strange interdimensional mysteries involving the Elemental Plane of Water, to be somehow wrapped up in the Tyranny of Dragons?  Probably not. :)

I've come to see HDQ as a 'too many cooks' project - sure, good adventure designers from Kobold Press, probably some good ideas from WOTC too, but including a list of 'must have' elements demanded by some sort of merchandising committee.  And all that stuff got glued together with runny cheese and finally edited by . . . well . . . someone who wasn't paying enough attention.  Well, maybe that is unfair to the editor.  As a book, it's a fine book.  Maybe who I'm looking to thwack with a stick is the 'Adventure Logic Czar,' or however you'd translate that term into English.

But I'll definitely continue to play HDQ.  I'm not being held at gunpoint to stick with the script and everyone is having fun.  And that's what counts.

- Ark

Eye Axe