On Saturday I ran the last session of my Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition mini-campaign. The game was started to fill time while our normal Saturday GM prepared for their next game. All in all it went well, and was a refreshing change of pace going back to some old school more dungeon-crawlie specific adventure based RPG goodness. I also learned a lot, or re-learned a lot, and wanted to share some of those things today.
Encounters Are Easy To Set Up
One of the things I loved about 5th edition is how easy it is to set up encounters. With the algorithm they have you basically figure out "about" how much XP in an encounter the group can handle, scale for number of opponents, and then go from there. Once you know that one CR3 and 2 CR1 creatures makes a hard encounter it is as simple as pulling names from a list. With that in mind your prep work for encounters can just be doing the math for 3 different ways to fulfill an Easy, Medium, Hard, and Deadly enconuter than have those on a cue card ready to go.
Don't have enough XP between where you are and where the PCs level up (i.e. they're early level) the same math just sets up pre-set encounters.
Advantage/Disadvantage is as good as I thought
Advantage/Disadvantage is a new mechanic in 5th edition. It works like this: if you have advantage you roll 2D20 when taking an action, and keep the higher result. if you have disadvantage you roll 2D20 when taking an action, and keep the lower result. It lets you handle all sorts of things quick and on the fly if you need representing challenges and boons tothe PCs in a quick fashion.
Trying to make a dex check on a greased board? Do it at disadvantage. Climbing a brick building with climbing claws? Roll it at Advantage. Sure, there are other more nuanced rules and difficulties to cover the same thing, but when looking up rules is going to get in the way of fun Advantage/Disadvantage settles the issue nice and fast.
Treasure Is Best Done Ahead of Time
I wanted to run the mini-campaign by the book, and on some of the weeks my prep time wasn't as robust as I wanted. On those issues, treasure actually became a real hassle. Not because it was hard to generate, the DMG has tables for that, but because it was hard to place/justify. Because of this, and from reading advice, treasure really is best done ahead of time.
By doing the treasure rolls ahead of time (this also would generally include having the monsters done ahead of time too :P ) you can cover for the fact that a wild animal shouldn't have gold coins on it, but those goblins could have extra treasure on them to make up for that encounter. It also means that when the hoard of treasure comes up with a "+1 Magical Weapon" you're not left there going "What weapon is it, and why didn't the boss use the magical axe he had?"
Changing The Weapon Changes The Threat Immensely
In the last session I had the party fight against a Wight. It is a CR 3 creature that comes equipped with a longbow and a longsword. Only, the party had fought one before and I wanted to make it stand out a bit more. So I swapped out the longsword with a maul. Now instead of doing 1D8+2 damage (averaging out to 6 damage a hit) the creature did 2D6+2 damage (averaging out to 8 damage a hit.) Not a huge swing, no, but when you factor in crits it gets pretty big.
I'm glad I made the change, it made the fight a lot more interesting, but it was also a bigger swing in threat than I really considered when I did it.
Making Time For Prep Is An Underrated Pleasure
The biggest take away I took from the game is how much I undervalued prep time. Most of my games I am comfortable enough with the setting, the NPCs, and the PCs that I can just run with some noodle time spent on it. I do prep work, but it isn't always dedicated prep work (i.e. 30-45 minutes or more where I am 100% commited to nothing but prep.) Making the time for D&D led to not just better sessions with an unfamiliar system, but also fun in the prep work itself. I've since made more time for my other game I'm running, which is also seeing more "joy" (on my part at least.)
Even if I can't prep beter for the game with the time, the focused time lets me have some extra nuanced stuff on hand to make it easier. Sometimes that is just a name list and some stat blocks. Other times, it is a whole side plot the PCs may never see.