I am currently involved in a 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons game on Thursday evenings. It is probably the best roleplaying game I’ve ever been in, and I’ve only been in one or two bad ones. It’s a prewritten (published) adventure with a few tweaks and add-ons by Matt (the long-suffering other half).
I usually enjoy Matt’s games, not because he’s my other half or because he runs particularly good games, but because he attracts good people to his games that make them good. And this group is really very enjoyable: it’s probably the best thing about the game. I’ve been in different games with just about everyone there and enjoyed those as well. The character mix is good (maybe not on paper) and there are more in-jokes than the average sixth-form common room.
The game system is very enjoyable too: 5th Edition is neither rules-light nor rules-heavy, it has just the right mix (for me) of freeform roleplaying and appropriately ruled combat. Notwithstanding that the adventure book was at least partly written without two of the core books being available and makes some very incorrect assumptions. Thankfully Matt usually has those in hand.
What Matt is not good at is the ad-hoc, off-the-cuff things, like making up names for random unnamed NPCs. We all know this and constantly ask awkward questions. It has led to the usual inspirationally-named NPCs we, Matt’s ‘regular’ players, know and love.
My character is an Elf Cleric, a Noble. I’ve played many Elf Clerics: it’s pretty much my go-to D&D character, which also makes it a good benchmark for testing a system. The ‘Noble’ part is a new mechanic for D&D: Backgrounds. I think it adds rules to a ‘flavour’ without being too prescriptive. it means that people who aren’t as good at the freeform background spiel-making because they’re not as familiar with the dungeon-master’s wishes and ideas or the setting (me, usually: I don’t like to tread on other people’s stories), or simply because they don’t care, have something to form more roleplaying ideas on, while those who are good at that sort of thing get an in-game reward, especially if playing under dungeon-masters who either don’t care for good background themselves, don’t have time to put the effort in or simply don’t want to be seen to favour the more imaginative players. My Noble background is that my uncle (by marriage) is the King of the Wood Elves. I can technically, therefore, call myself a princess.
The Elf (Race) part is pretty standard, nothing really new there, although there are variants with actual rules rather than just roleplaying guidelines, which is always nice to see. It’s the Cleric (Class) part that really stands out for me.
Clerics, for me, have always been a bit weird. None of the Clerics I’ve played have ever excelled in the ‘turn undead’ stakes, even the pretty charismatic ones (generally the Drow). Nor were most particularly good at hitting things, and when they were (that Dwarf one, for example), I didn’t really like it. Even being half-decent at ranged combat was rare. Casting healing spells was my Clerics’ usual strong point (even the evil ones), and often buffing other characters as well. I enjoy playing a character who isn’t the be-all and end-all, but without whom the party would crumble. A strong and necessary support.
I’d like to add an aside here that that’s often how I work in real life: for all my extroverted egotism, I much prefer to be a second-in-command. And I’m pretty damn good at it, if I do say so myself.
In 5th Edition, I have been very surprised. Not only is my healing particularly effective (although that is primarily through character tailoring), I can also turn undead rather well, cast offensive spells which actually make a difference and provide support with (rather toned-down) buffs.
I also seem to have made a character who is not only playable, but truly enjoyable to play. Alatielle’s a bit ditzy, but likeable, but then that’s how I expect a princess who’s spent lots of time with real people to be. She’s got family issues, but she doesn’t really care (or notice…). She’s a team player, but prone to irrational and reckless behaviour. She’s great, I really like her. But only as a character; I wouldn’t be her best friend: she’s too all-over-the-place!
Worst of all, she fulfils a stereotype. Girls want to be a princess. I’m a girl, and I’m playing a princess. Girls want to be a princess who falls in love with a handsome prince. Alatielle has formed an intimate relationship with a fellow adventurer, not a prince (probably…) but handsome and mysterious (so the teenage girls’ stereotype now), though I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s the romantic head-over-heels love portrayed in the literature. Having said that, it’s a been a much more conventional relationship than mine and Matt’s ever was, which is also slightly worrying…
Epidemiia fans will note the significance of my character’s name: worse, her lover’s also a half-elf! At least he’s not called Dezmond though…