5E Dungeons and Dragons: The Dissidents of Darland

fantasy-city-v2In our very first game of 5E Dungeons and Dragons, Sean tries GMing for the first time! Fortunately, this turned out less train-wreckish than the Haunting. After a long war, a formerly powerful nation struggles to rebuild. The switch from monarchy to a republic form of government has also raised tensions between the various political factions. In other words, this is the fantasy Weimar Republic. The new government has appointed a group of troubleshooters to find and capture a dissident leader. Can they find their man? Will he go quietly? The answer is no, we’re playing Dungeons and Dragons, not Dungeons and non-violent solutions to our problems. More background info on the game’s setting is available here.

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  1. I’d like to think just about any game is less train-wreckish than the Haunting. Looking forward to listening!

  2. What a coincidence, I’m about to start running a D&D 5th ed campaign next week. I’ll give this a listen ASAP!

  3. That setting description. Wow. Since the names of these fictional places are difficult to follow in audio form (gibberish), a map or small write up in the intro would make the backstory clearer.

  4. I’m about to get back into D&D soonish. I’m clearly behind with 3.5 but I had this playing while at work and it gave me many great ideas and I enjoyed this very much

  5. I dunno how to feel! I think Sean was very charming and ran the game just fine, so don’t take this as a discouraging internet stranger comment or anything, I’d love to hear him run more. and the setting conceit was instantly interesting, even if fantasy analogues of Nazis give me all of the eyeroll–and Bill’s guileless “oh so THOSE are the Jews” lines almost made it worth it. Bill always seems so in his element in D&D, fluent with the system but ready to mock it. I always love to hear it. and I’m relistening to Spared and the Spoiled now and I have to say that Ross uses his “Unseen Chupacabra reasoning through a really bad uranium choice” voice in here a few times.

    but I just dooon’t like D&D, particularly to listen to. so much samey combat, so little by way of personal stakes, and such a complete divorce of the characters as people from the characters as sets of numbers (I kept waiting for people to ask the centaur how she got up the stairs and in here). what A Dirty World and Better Angels do so well, really contextualizing what damage means to your character, where an incisive line can do as much damage as a thermonuclear potato gun, D&D doesn’t seem to do at all. there were a couple times in here where I thought maybe we were gonna get a bit of a police procedural in our fantasy Wymar, which excited me, but then it just turned into hallways full of beak brains–hilarious, for sure, but. I dunno. it doesn’t really make an impact, y’know? it’s just another hallway full of beak brains. I dunno if there’s any way around that–just kinda baked into the baggage of the system that you’re gonna have a lot of silly, colorful fantasy tropes and murder a lot of things.

    I did like the players lampshading that at the end, though! “we’ve only got two sets of manacles. you’re all going to die resisting arrest.”

  6. At around 2:19:00, Sean calls Ross’s character a monster, Bill says “catchphrase time”, and then…no…

  7. Matt, I think that’ll just be an easter egg for us fans who already know what Bill is referring to. πŸ™‚

  8. This is a great game. Sean has a great style of DMing, rolling with all the punches and doing what I consider proper use of the 0th rule (“I know the rules, but fuck it”) as opposed to some people I know who are more like “we have no idea what the rules are, so fuck it”. It’s an interesting setting and allegory, and I enjoy that the players got it as much as I got some of it (though lack of giving us the visual aids, for shame Ross). that being said, I kind of agree with crawlkill that DnD is DnD, and 5E is deliberately written to call back to it being DnD (at least as far as I know, I don’t get much enjoyment from DnD so I haven’t kept up on 5), but this scenario does well for it. I accept the fundamental conceit of the game that there will probably be dungeons filled with weird mobs and traps, and “secret tunnels used by an underground paramilitary group” is as good as an excuse as any. Better than the old “Evil lich used to live here until he got kicked out by another evil lich” or “kobolds and/or goblins are lazy and took over some mine humans don’t use anymore”. It also scratches my itch of using interesting nonstandard races, and also skips over the obvious problems of “where the fuck to all these intelligent races live?”, and I’d love to see some more.

  9. yeah, like, as D&D games go, it does its job well. up there with Ross’ Iron Heroes, which I think might be the apex of “a goofy fantasy game that isn’t just about murdering people for money,” in my experience.

    but I got this little tremor of excitement when the bossman said he’d prefer the PCs not use violence in the opening monologue, and then the first thing outside was essentially a random murder encounter. I think maybe my problem with fantasy games is the same as my fundamental problem with the superhero genre, that it treats murder (or just extreme violence, since no one can die from that in superhero fiction) as kind of inconsequential. it takes me out of it. I’m one of those people who can write twenty-page essays on how the slightest examination of the implications can expose the Harry Potter universe as being run by fascist wizards, how even the “nice” wizards are fundamentally and undeniably evil in their treatment of the normals, so when NPCs die in games, I tend to ask myself “wait, but shouldn’t that -mean- something?”

    I’d love to see a D&D game that starts out with an urban random encounter where when the PCs first down an NPC his buddies start going “shit! shit, shit, shit! he killed Aeofel! listen, man, we give up!” and then the rest of the game turns into a courtroom drama about the rights of upstanding orcs to defend themselves against mugger elves with lethal force in an alleyway. bonus points if NO SOCIAL COMMENTARY because that shit’s too raw right now, but. conceptually, calling the “default violence” of fantasy RPG settings into question is something I think could be interesting. kind of like the scum swarm thing in No Evil, where the PCs had to run a social media campaign to avoid punishment after behaving like PCs and murdering a bunch of people–sure, they were -bad people,- but most societies aren’t in favor of that kind of vigilantism?

  10. @crawlkill

    See, on the other hand, like I said, I tend to accept a lot of fundamental conceits of games and game settings, so with D&D’s general conceit seeming to be “kill things and take their stuff”, I don’t care so much about the killing and or taking of stuff. Though, in the usual D&D context, you tend to run into intelligent creatures either eking out a miserable and possibly hostile existence in some malevolent location, or you’re running into people who have some reason to want to murder your guts. The courtyard fight is a good example of this. It starts with intimidation and a restraining burst, and then when Ross actually shoots the racist dragonborn prick dead, the Nazi Lizardmen are pissed and out for blood. In our modern society, while you might feel alright getting into fisticuffs, most people in functional societies don’t see armed deputies of the law break up a crime in progress and pull out their Javelins or Shortswords or whatever some CR 1 mooks wield these days. But if you go to a shithole country like Somalia, I bet some of those guys would pull their AKs and shoot back. Though, given the way Sean seems to run things, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of these paramilitary mooks might make morale checks to avoid dropping their weapons and coming in quietly. It’s mechanically still pretty D&D but the players and DM try to remain flexible with it. (I’d also argue it’s hardly a random encounter. They’re deliberately setting up the conflict inherent in the scenario, the players chose to intervene by drawing steel, which isn’t unprecedented for deputies in a nation who has an otherwise weak police force).

    I actually have some experience running Supers (WT, actually, Inspired by HNA) and that was actually something kind of tackled in the first arc of the game we’ve done. PCs started out highly lethal through combinations of flaw balancing and just raw dice effectiveness, but as time went on and public opinion kept evolving (Police legitimately assumed PC action was gang warfare or terrorism for a long time, for example, because of all the fire and disintegration and buildings falling down), they actually made effort in character and out to find non-lethal solitions to disable and capture bad guys and start to learn about their stories and stuff. So much so that “Okay, so, are we okay with killing these people or not” was a common question at the beginning of every fight. (TO answer, they actually didn’t kill a lot of regular humans by the end of the arc, saving lethal force for committed and dangerous enemies or chinese zombines or thrall vampires and stuff). It was interesting to see a theme play out so clearly.

  11. After I got over all the rules mistakes(sorry, I’m OCD that way) -and waiting 24 hours to calm down before posting some insane sounding rules rant- I thought it was a pretty good game and not Haunting-ly train-wreck-ish at all.

  12. First off, Sean, great scenario and you did great first time running.

    I think I agree with a lot of people that I didn’t like DnD combat. Compared to other systems it’s just too long and cumbersome.

    Lastly, players, fantastic as always.

  13. My theory about D&D combat (and Pathfinder combat, even more so) is that because it’s tactically-oriented, it’s more fun to play than it is to listen to. For the players, there’s the fun of choosing tactics, making moves, and rolling dice . But since the outcomes are more mathematical than descriptive, we don’t get much vicarious entertainment from listening to it.

    But I do agree that Sean has constructed a really great scenario, and did a great job running it. My wife, who’s a German Studies grad student, would especially eat this up.

  14. About the murdering and the consequences I remember being similarly miffed when Calebs character blew up the gang in Nights Black Agents and had no emotional trauma or conflict from blowing a bunch of teenagers to bloody bits.

  15. @Ninjaguiden this is a strong point and not something I’d thought about, although NBA is also deliberately pulpy in its action sequences. I was just reading an interview with Hite about it today, and he talked about having these four ‘realism’ or ‘grit’ dials that are in the book that let you choose between Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Bourne films and Bond films, at the extremes. I think at its default NBA’s -intelligence gathering- is meant to be believable but NBA’s -action- is meant to be Hollywoodized.

    I dunno, though, @Ethan C.. so the first time I ever ran an RPG as an adult was for a fantastic group of friends who had all of the personality you’d need for a podcast…who wanted to play D&D. this was around the same time, I think, that I discovered actual plays? which were what started to expose me to games beyond D&D and World of Darkness old and new. I would never have heard of A Dirty World if not for RPPR. the problem isn’t so much that D&D combat -can’t- be fun as it is that the people who are most creative and spontaneous and joyful to play with often won’t be into D&D combat (which is what I found, running those couple games).

    the real problem with D&D is that it’s a default. the default RPG everyone starts out with should be something like Cthulhu Dark, where the gameplay is familiar enough that anyone who’s played Monopoly can get it and where the real meat is making shit up on the spot. that can really divide people into the two camps of ‘I think this is neat, I like that it’s all about what I bullshit up on the fly, I’d like to see that rewarded more’ that leads to Dirty World and Fate and Nobilis and all those other strongly narrativist games and the other camp of ‘I think I had a right to kill that zombie because I had a lantern to hit it in the head with’ who’ll more enjoy the D&D/Rollmaster/Phoenix Command-type game.

    it’s fine to -like- games with a lot of systems? but they’re not good ambassadors. every time I hear someone’s first association with roleplaying turn out D&D, I despair. because people who aren’t into roleplaying don’t even -realize- that there’s so much else out there. it’s this global cultural weight that it’s earned not through merit but through a cry of FIRST! that’s resounded through the decades.

  16. Author

    After playing Dishonored, I’m tempted to write a rules hack that mimics the chaos rules: http://dishonored.wikia.com/wiki/Chaos

    Kill a bunch of dudes? Everyone else is subsequently more heavily armed, the region around you is more unstable and things generally more grimdark.

  17. Ross–Love the picture you posted with this. It’s exactly how I envisioned Darlen. Where did you get that image from?

    Listeners–Thank you for the feedback and the excellent discussion thread! Much appreciated.

  18. Author

    I spent way too much google image searching for an appropriate image – fantasy german city finally got it I think. I don’t remember. Anyway, the point is I obsess over the images for each AP post way more than I probably should.

  19. Ross: I, for one, appreciate the OCD behavior. I should also note that I very much enjoyed your “tagline” on the photo. That’s a lovely little bit of dark humor for the historically savvy.

  20. Awesome. I’d love to play that campaign.

  21. Sean, are you’re notes and prep for this game in digital form? I would love to run this at a con.

  22. Loved the game, was wondering what the stats were for the different race characters you created like the centaur and the bird species?

  23. During the game Bill’s monk @ 1:35 somehow moves out of a threatened square without provoking an attack. He says “I punch it so it can’t make an opportunity attack”. I can’t find any such rule anywhere in 5e. He could have spent a ki point to disengage (Step of the Wind), but I don’t see anything about punching (even attempting to punch) preventing AoO. What am I missing?

  24. Ron, I believe Bill took the 5E feat called “Mobile”.

  25. Finished the episode. Great game world. I’d love to see it as fleshed out as a pdf like The New World campaign with details on all the factions and little things like “scale dye” for the fashion conscious and infiltrator Dragonborn on the go.

  26. Chados: Ah, of course. And since he is human he had the option to take a feat at first level.

    Really fun episode BTW! I wish I had a group like this to game with!

  27. For those who asked: The only components of this one-shot/world setting that have been digitized, I’ve already given to Ross and he’s posted them at the top (the background and the description of key groups and NPCs). Everything else relied on a flow-chart that I drew out and improvisation throughout gameplay. This one-shot can grow into an entire campaign, which I’ve made short handwritten notes on. For those who want to branch things out on their own building off of the history of Weimar Germany as a setting, there are innumerable possibilities if you know enough about the period and the key players. (Human history is one of the best GM resources there is.) If you are interested in reading more, here are a few book suggestions that handle the intricacies of the real history of Weimar Germany that you can use as source fodder for crafting your own adventures in the “Arkhosian Republic” that is loosely based on interwar-Germany:

    (All books are listed author first, title second, and a brief description)

    1. Detlev Peukert, The Weimar Republic. An oldie, but a goodie, this monograph on the Weimar Republic is a mainstay and outlines much of the sociological “baggage” the Weimar Republic faced.

    2. Eric D. Weitz, Weimar Germany: Promise and Tragedy. This is a more recent publication on the period that makes for a useful textbook. The author does a great job at summarizing the political, cultural, sociological, and economic history of the Weimar Republic.

    3. Dirk Schumann, Political Violence in the Weimar Republic, 1918-1933, Fight for the Streets and Fear of Civil War. This is an EXCELLENT book on the intricacies of the paramilitary groups and political violence endemic to the Weimar period.

    4. Pamela E. Swett, Neighbors and Enemies, The Culture of Radicalism in Berlin, 1929-1933. This monograph outlines the street violence and political wrangling of Weimar Germany’s capital, Berlin. It focusses primarily on the Nazis and the KPD (German Communist Party), their recruitment methods, and their encounters with each other on the neighborhood level.

    5. The Weimar Republic Sourcebook. This is a collection of primary sources (letters, diary entries, pamphlets, political tracts, newspaper clippings, etc.) from Weimar history. A great tool for educators, but also useful for those wanting to run any type of RPG set in or based upon the Weimar Republic.

    There are many, many, many more books to read, but for those of you who want to put the leg work into it, these should give you not only a huge amount of source material for games, but maybe, just maybe, a greater appreciation and understanding of the complexity of Germany’s interwar history. If any of you have specific questions about books on unique aspects of Weimar or interwar European history, post them here and I’ll do my best to make suggestions on additional readings.

  28. That’s phenomenal, Sean. Thanks for the sources!

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