A Letter to the Surviving Members of the M5 Travelling Circus

And Bohnaz lived happily ever after

The following is the text I posted on the ‘1d6+3 Kobolds’ Discord channel detailing thoughts on possible concepts and mechanics for our next campaign. Such was the length that I thought some might find it easier to read as a blog post.

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So guys, as the General noted, we are potentially drawing the Lost Mine of Phandelver to a close (though that’s what I thought back in June…) and my mind has peered over the horizon to consider what might happen next.

I spouted out one idea regarding magic at the end of the last session, but it’s one of many things I’ve been mentally trying out in my head, and these campaigns are two-way affairs so I would love to hear some feedback from you guys with regards to possible house rules and general setting / tone of the next campaign.

These are my thoughts about some aspects of the current campaign:

Combat

As Eldan can attest, there was a lot of whack-a-mole/PC going on. I suspect this was down to a combination of 5e’s magical healing mechanics and me adding more hostiles to challenge you guys (after some pretty easy first encounters in the campaign). I believe the game was designed for a lot of little encounters through an adventuring, but the fights I personally found to be more engaging were the ones in which you guys had to consider the worth of carrying on attacking versus retreating to regroup. I don’t want to kill you guys off so much as make your characters weigh up the consequences of going in weapons drawn. Combat should be dangerous, which I feel isn’t quite reflected in mechanics which allow someone to be healed to battle readiness from the brink of death several times in the space of a minute.

Possible solutions

I have a couple of thoughts on this, and they’re not all mutually exclusive:

a) Any healing magic takes at least a matter of minutes to take effect

b) Any character reduced to 0 hp would be out until the end of the fight, whereupon they would make a single death save to either live or die. If they receive magical healing or are stabilised they get advantage on the save.

c) Any time a character drops to 0 hp they gain a point of exhaustion and roll on an injuries table.

d) Tamper with healing magic – maybe make everything a ritual, or make them all touch-based.

Both a) and b) would essentially level the playing field between PCs and NPCs, instead of PCs having several de facto lives and NPCs being out of the fight as soon as they hit 0 hp. c) on its own still leaves the issue of nearly dying twice 6 seconds apart, but at least it would affect how well you can do things after taking that one foot from the grave.

Role-Play

I heartily enjoy your interactions with each other and the world, though I wonder what you guys thought of the balance of GM input – was there enough guidance for you guys to make decisions, or was there too much ushering down one path? I felt there were times when we veered between the two quite wildly. I realise not everyone might want to spend their whole gaming session debating fictional plans (though if everyone *is* happy doing so, then I’ve no complaints!).

Possible solutions

This isn’t really in need of a mechanics solution. I could keep a general timer in mind when it comes to role-playing scenes, depending on what you guys think the balance should be.

Puzzles and Problem-Solving

Particulary listening to your despair at the futility of your plans, I wonder if I’ve been a tad dice-happy with some of the rulings. I really enjoy the times when you guys think outside the ‘character sheet box’, namely problem-solving without resorting to “I’m good at Sleight of Hand, how can I roll a Sleight of Hand check for this problem?”. I’d much rather encourage this sort of play rather than having each plan fall by the wayside and you guys feeling you can only really deal with it by hitting things.

Possible solutions

I don’t really know. What do you guys think? Perhaps a greater dishing out of advantage if logic has been particularly well applied? Or maybe erring more to a system where you can fail a roll by degrees – something like failing the check by 10 or more is a bad failure, failing by less than 10 is a success with a twist?

Magic

I dunno, I just feel that standard 5e magic is too *safe*. It sometimes comes across like a remote car key – you point, press a button, and it does it’s stuff. Want it to do more? Get a better remote.

I’d like magic use comes across more like juggling on a windy day, a mechanic which reflects uncertainty and danger.

Possible solutions

a) When casting any spell the magic user must roll a DC2 Intelligence saving throw, the DC increasing over time depending on the power of the spells you cast until you fail the save. Upon failure you cast the spell and then roll on an Uncontrolled Magic table (think Wilder Magic Surge).

b) How radical are we feeling? I mentioned during last session the idea of randomly generating spells and working together to figure out their application. I’ve just tried rolling three spells:

  • Distortion Spray – maybe an area of effect spell which makes all affected harder to hit for [wizard level]d6 x rounds?
  • Animating Steed – make an inanimate object rideable (e.g. flying carpet) for [wizard leve]d6 x hours.
  • Soothing Fog – all creatures in an area must make Intelligence saving throws or be considered charmed for [wizard level]d6 minutes or until attacked.

c) A new spell list of 100 level-less spells – all can be taken by magic users of any level, but can be cast with greater power by more experience magicians.

d) A combination of all of the above! I quite like the thought of a wizard having the spells from c) in their spellbook and replacing their cantrips with the spells from b) – re-rolled after a long rest – to reflect the changing winds of magic presenting a magic user with different strands on a daily basis. Maybe a difficult Arcana check to record the spell and its effect down in the spell book for regular use in the future.

Other Options

What sort of things are we looking for in the next campaign? I’m inclined to avoid the high-magic, planaar-hitchhiking razzmatazz of the Forgotten Realms (not that we’ve really felt that in this campaign, but I wouldn’t want it to head in that direction). Here are some ideas I’ve jotted down. I’m not committed to any of them – they’re largely ‘Ooh, that might be fun to try’ thoughts.

Setting

I like the thought of venturing away from the standard fantasy fair of medieval Europe, though I’m pretty sure our globalised worldviews will render most settings fairly similar. I mentioned the possibility of a tropics-based world, liberally sprinkling it with inspiration from south-east Asia and Central and South America. Alternatively, I did see a blog post pondering the idea of a world where a day lasts a century, as does a night, and the subsequent implications (and opportunity for adventure) for societies living in such an environment.

I would quite like to get a sense of fantastical mystery in the world, where one might come across something utterly unknown and unrecorded. I’m not quite sure how one would go about achieving this. Perhaps PCs from a human-centric society (humans and halflings) in an unknown land? I feel that a mostly human group, at least to start with, would help with the theme of plucky everyday folk in a decidedly non-everyday world.

Depending on what people’s thoughts are with the magic system, I’d be up for trying a lower-fantasy type game. Not magic-less, but magic-rare. This could involve the radical spell ‘list’, or a selection of the spells in the PHB with the more in-your-face magic filtered out…

Or we could just use the standard spell list, but with each character starting off as a non-magic-user class, multi-classing into magic later but never into more levels than the non-magical classes.

Then again, the guys who’ve just brought out the new Warhammer RPG edition have also created a Lord of the Rings version of 5e with reworked classes, races and backgrounds. I think it would work perfectly well shorn of all the LotR decoration. It doesn’t have explicit spells so much as mystical class abilities, and it endeavours to place as much focus on the exploration of the wilderness as it does on the combat.

If nothing else, I want to change elves from the Tolkeinesque to the alien. Whatever route we go down, I really want to have elves closer to those from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books – more akin to the elves of folklore.

Character Generation

There’s a D&D-esque RPG which has the party all come from the same village with a character creation system which has the players essentially creating that village and populating it with PCs, as well as establishing links between the PCs and rolling up stats according to their childhoods and backgrounds. The players also create some of the world around that village. We could try that as an alternative to rolling for stats.

Or we could try a funnel start to the campaign, which is essentially each player getting four randomly generated commoners, taking them on an adventure, and ultimately picking any of their surviving level-0 characters to develop into their level 1 PC. This would create some links between party members, or at least some origin stories, and also potentially arm you with some back up characters should things go *wrong* further down the line.

Alternatively we could just roll stats.

XP-gain

I’d be inclined to go milestone over encounter calculation, but I appreciate that people like seeing the XP bar creep towards the next level (heck, *I’m* one of those people). What do you think of the idea of getting XP when you *fail* skill checks? I haven’t thought seriously about how much XP you’d get, but I like the idea of learning from your mistakes.

All of these things are on the table, and there may be more that haven’t sprung to mind as I’ve typed this. None of these are set in stone. Ultimately I want to hear what you guys think. Some of these are pretty non-mainstream and a departure from D&D 5e as I have seen it discussed online here and elsewhere. If you are keen to play in the next campaign but feel uncomfortable about any or all of these ideas, do say! This is an open forum and I’d love to chat things through. (If you would rather discuss things privately, then messaging me is fine too.) Is there anything you think I’ve missed? Is there another way you think might work better?

All things said and done, I have enjoyed this campaign and wouldn’t want to change things if it meant losing the light-hearted nature of the game. It has been fun to run, and we all get as much enjoyment out of the next one.

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