I was delighted recently to be invited by my friend Aron Wolf to participate in a D&D one-shot he was putting together.   I’m a long-time RPG fan, but I haven’t really had a group of my own recently.  Our old regular weekly D&D group in Atlanta scattered across the country, and while we managed to get things going again for a while over Skype, life intervened and we never got it back up again.  So I was really excited to not only play, but play around a table in a room with a bunch of other people I already knew i liked and enjoyed spending time with!

Because this was intended as a shakedown cruise for the world Aron is building, he gave us all pre-rolled 3rd level characters with specific backstories, which let us drop into the “meeting the party” phase without a lot of time for chargen.  This was useful, because our group was pretty evenly divided between D&D veterans and folks who had never played before, and even among the vets, some of us hadn’t really played 5th edition yet, so our knowledge of the system was rather out of date.

(Author’s note: I am not the DM of this campaign, so all of my reports will necessarily be titled towards my own perspective as a player. I will do my best to report on the happenings fairly and accurately, but I won’t always have all the information to hand about what is important, and that may influence my account.)

Our setting is a land that is somewhat modelled on the Italian renaissance, and is set about 10 years after a very nasty war with a neighbouring nation-state devastated the region, and from which it is still recovering.  Our characters all had various connections back to that war. 

My own character’s story had a lot of interesting and tragic threads.  She was born into nobility, but her family’s house was betrayed by collaborators and  fell during the war, when she was a child.  Her parents were executed by the invaders, and she was held hostage for a time in the occupier’s court.  When the war ended, she found herself without land or title, and has been making a life on the streets in a variety of shady pursuits, with a speciality in spycraft and the acquisition and brokering of information to those willing to pay for it.  As a result, she’s had a hard life for one so young, but can still, thanks to her upbringing and early education, still move as easily through high society as she does the criminal underworld.  She’s still bitter about being cast out, and has ambitious to one day reclaim her birthright. 1

In addition to Kyrial, my rogue, we had the following PCs to round out the party:

A cleric, Jane (Julie),
A dwarven bard, Belle (Shawna)
A fighter, Gordon (Marcos)
A musketeer2, Lex (Jasmine/Leah)3
Another Rogue, Splendid (Paul)

(Shawna helpfully live-tweeted some of the better dialogue, which I will be including throughout this report. Thanks, Shawna!)

We had all been brought together to guard a caravan that was taking supplies up from the regional capitol to a mining town on the edge of the mountains, about two days travel away.  Our benefactor, Elmo Bartolo, was one of the scions of the frontier town, which was still rebuilding after the war. We had a fit of giggles over learning the name of our employer, which lead the the DM referring to him exclusively by his last name for the rest of the session.

In addition, we each had our own specific and secret reasons for wanting to travel to this town. But we did’t yet know that…

The first day of travel passed uneventfully. We set watches for the night, which also passed uneventfully. Well, one of us heard a noise and investigated, but it turned out to be nothing.

Midway through the second day, we were approaching the entrance to a narrow gulch in between two rises.  Off to one side, the wreck of an overturned wagon could be seen.  Though the first two wagons in our caravan had passed into the gulch without incident,  Splendid decided he would stealthily try to circle wide and scout it out from the higher ground.  The bard was already wary of the entire scenario.

Successfully sneaking up onto the ledge, Splendid spotted four goblins–one rather larger than the others–waiting in ambush behind the cart, which he signalled back to us via a message spell Belle had established.

Just as the wagon in front us had passed through the ravine, a rock slide fell down into the path.  Above the ridge on the opposite side from where the previously spotted goblins were hiding, there were four more goblins and an ogre.  All of whom came from hiding to engage the party.

With the trap sprung, we leapt into action.  Splendid pegged the goblin leader in the back with a arrow from his hiding spot, while the cleric sent a spiritual weapon spell forward to smack him in the face as well. Between the two of them, he was not having a very good ambush.

Lex went wide to the left and fired a shot off at the ogre, which hit but, thanks to poor die rolls (a theme of the evening), it did so little damage the ogre, not knowing what a rifle was, didn’t actually associate the loud far off noise with the damage.  Meanwhile, Belle and Gordon moved forward to engage the smaller goblins with their preferred weapons, respectively an enormous warhammer that was taller than she was and…a cast iron frying pan4

Kyrial, who had been brought up never to walk up to a strange group of goblins without a proper escort, kept to her perch on top of the wagon and took crossbow shots at whatever target appeared most favourable from that vantage point, declining to take a move action at all unless she was forced.

Belle’s first attack with the hammer left hes target on death’s doorstep, a mighty blow that nearly reduced the hapless goblin to pulp. 5

In the second round, the ogre and his retinue of goblins had scrambled down the hill.  Lex took a second shot at the ogre, and this time connected with a more substantial amount of damage.  The ogre, now aware that the human with the boom stick was creating the hurt, peeled off to make a beeline for the musketeer, and tagged him for half of his hitpoints. (Ouch!).  Belle, meanwhile, cast a shatter spell on the four goblins he’d just abandoned, obliterating two and badly hurting the others.  At one point, Gordon did a massive amount of damage to a goblin who didn’t have much health left, and Aron wrapped his knuckles on the edge of the table while reaching out to turn over the mini.

The goblins did manage to get some minor hits in against their melee targets, poking them with their rusty short swords, but it was clear the battle was not going the way they had planned.

Of course, this being our first combat (even for the D&D veterans in the group, this was the first time a lot of us had been playing 5th Edition, so a lot of what we knew about combat was no longer applicable. One person noted it was a lot like trying to figure out the controllers on a new video game, and not being sure which button was the one to attack with.

At one point, I was asking about attacks of opportunity, recalling that in 3.5 days the rules were so complicated that our friend Mary had written an entire song just to teach everyone how they worked. 6

Meanwhile, between spells, arrows, and melee, the goblins were in a world of hurt, and the Goblin Leader decided that the better part of valour was abandoning his cannon fodder and going to gather more, healthier cannon fodder.  He turned to flee, but in the process ran right past our hidden rogue, who managed to tag him for the last of his health.

Lex, on the other hand, took one more shot at the ogre before deciding also to abandon his now close-range target for the warm embrace of the cleric’s healing spells.  Unfortunately, leaving the ogre’s threat radius did provoke an opportunity attack, which was substantial enough to help him cover most of the distance between himself and the cleric in the air.  Luckily, the cleric was prepared with a healing touch.

The ogre closed the gap to where Lex, Belle, and Gordon were standing.  At this point, between Kyrial picking them off and Belle and Gordon smacking them with hammers and pans, the goblins were pretty much off the table, but the ogre still had a big mad on, and he was looking to take it out on someone.  Kyrial suggested this was not how the creature had expected his afternoon to go.

With three targets to choose from, the ogre picked randomly, but missed, but so did we trying to hit.  But that set up the moment in the next round that brought us victory. Splendid, having run out of targets, had moved around to the front of the ridge, and managed a critical sneak attack with his bow that brought the giant foe crashing down.

We looted the bodies, which didn’t net us much, and then surveyed the rest of the caravan.  The lead wagons had been fighting off a goblin band of their own, but had dispatched them.  Unfortunately, the path was no longer navigable, so we were told to take the longer way around through a nearby pass and meet up with them in town.

And thus ended the first combat.  I have to say I’m quite impressed with the way combat flows in 5e. They’ve managed to streamline it substantially, without taking away all of the strategy or skill synergy that makes putting different builds and styles  in a group to see how well they work together.

The session continued when we reached town, but this post is already long and full of tweets, so I’ll continue that story in another post.

  1. Much of this information is still largely unknown to the party, and in turn, I only have some glimpses into the backstory of the other characters myself. 

  2. Gunpowder is a relatively recent and rare invention, so this is a notable character 

  3. Jasmine was not feeling well, and had to leave partway through the game, so Leah took over her character for her. 

  4. Don’t judge.  It was super effective. 

  5. Put a pin in that thought.  We’ll be back for it later. 

  6. It’s true, and it’s a bop.  You should listen to it even if it isn’t necessarily useful for teaching D&D anymore, because it’s a bop. – https://marycrowell.bandcamp.com/track/opportunity-tango