The L5R game one of my housemates runs every other weekend is on hiatus while she recharges her batteries and prepares for the next (modern day) generation of the game. To fill the time while we wait I volunteered to run a mini-campaign of D&D 5th edition. I've wanted to run D&D 5th for a while now, and this seemed a good opportunity. The only rule I had for my PCs? They had to play dwarves.
My reasoning for doing this? Simple. D&D is a style of game that I don't normally play. That means it focuses on muscles and skills I don't use often as a GM, and those are skills I want sharp to add to and enhance the longer term games I am running. So how did it go? Well, that's what I want to talk about today.
The Dwarven City of Khon Lodir is deep below the earth. The city stretches for miles and miles. It is so big that a man on foot can not cross the city with a week of travel. The city is huge and vast and grand and everything you would expect from a dwarven city state in an Epic/High Fantasy setting.
I used Khon Lodir because with the dwarf theme I wanted to play with some common Fantasy memes and tropes. The dwarves are cut off from the outside/surface world, and they like it that way. They are more or less uncontested in their dominion of the subterranean world, being in a unique position where they are deep enough most surface worlders can't find them, but not quite deep enough to be considered the Underdark yet. Finally, though not widely known, Khon Lodir is actually beneath a vast ocean on the surface.
This isn't meant to be a super long campaign, and I wanted simplicity. Because of that we started the game at level 1. It gives us a chance to look at where characters begin and grow them through some simple and easy adventures. For this game the premise was simple. For the first time in decades the miners who supply Khon Lodir with its stone, ore, and gems, lost a team of diggers. The diggers didn't die though, they vanished. This prompted the city to dispatch a small team to go and investigate the missing miners. It's not a huge deal, but it is a great setup for a beginning adventure.
So, What Happened?
Finding most of the dwarves wasn't hard. Ten of the twelve were in a cage held by some goblins. The PCs dispatched the goblins and learned that the goblins, under charm, worked for another group of strange looking people. The strangers had the other two dwarves, and the PCs now had the key to go after them. They followed and found elves with the last two dwarves in a cage for interrogation. Another fight broke out, and in the end the PCs stood triumphant with all twelve dwarves saved and enough XP to ding level 2 in exchange for their efforts.
I wanted to run D&D for a couple of reasons, and the biggest one is that D&D runs so differently from everything else I run right now. So much of D&D is based around the adventure and the crawl, in reputation if nothing else. In that regard, this was a really fun break.
Preparation is a great thing for any game, but D&D in particular seems to thrive on it. Or should I say, D&D when you are running a "classic" adventure involving exploration and monster killing. Knowing what monsters you want, and how many your group can handle and stuff like that. In this regard I failed because I didn't have enough time to prep. Luckily, for level 1 characters there isn't that much you need to really do. Also..
Improvisation is a skill you need to have to go along with the prep. If things aren't working, if dice are going weird, if one side is being favored by the RNG gods, you need to be able to shake things up. Being able to assess what my PCs could do from watching a fight and assess the threat in upcoming fights was more valuable that I can really measure.
In the end, the break from my normal systems was welcome. D&D 5th ed has done a lot to bring things back to having a Role Play focus, but it is still a very crunchy system. It feels moreso than my normals of L5R and Fantasy Flight's Star Wars systems. The change let me flex different muscles and get the rust and cobwebs off a set of skills I haven't used in almost thirteen years.
My end plan is to take these lessons, and what I learn with the next few sessions of the D&D game, and apply it back to my L5R game and my Edge of the Empire game. There is a certain joy and fun in letting the system's mechanical crunch add tension and drama that I'm eager to tap more fully into to add to the narratives I want to tell.