It’s been a ridiculously busy couple of weeks here: I’m teaching at a local college, taking classes for my teaching licensure (secondary), and have been wrestling with the rather intransigent The Queen of the Orient — which steadfastly refused all efforts to excise typos and other issues from it, and is now actively fighting my efforts to get the damned thing into print. I also had an old friend visit from Pennsylvania, extra kid duty, and….you get the picture.

Our game saw a bunch of the players skipping for various reasons, but we still played — with said old friend stepping in for the usual player of Carrus the Dwarf and doing an excellent job in the process for one session.

The first of the two sessions saw their expedition to the River Styx land for victuals and water in Dorius, a small coastal town against sharp mountains in Dalmatia. The weather had been crap for the entire trip, and their three triremes had been attacked by dozens of merrow, but successfully beaten back. In town, they were met by the mayor and populous who were happy to see them and directed them to the leader of a group of outsiders that attacked a few days ago — they call themselves Greuthung (a tribe of Goths) and their leader has set up in the town hall, while his army was lurking in the mountains beyond town.

After some haphazard reconnoitering and terrible stealth tests, they were met by a servant in the hall who told them the warlord awaited them. When they went in, they were faced with a combination of human and hobgoblin Goths who had been expecting them. At that time, they noted there were others on the balcony that ran around the outside of the central hall — Icio noted one was Aiton, the nephalim that had killed his mentor Haman, and who has been looking for the Shadow, the veil that separates the various planes of existence for Satan. He also had with him another of his kind, a sorcerer.

The fight was joined and the group showed that it’s finding its groove — now at 5th level, they have jumped substantially in power, and the bard and wizards frequently use their spells and abilities to protect themselves, and buff the bricks — Marcellus the centurion, Carrus the dwarf, and Icio the monk — to heroic levels while disadvantaging the villains. The fight between Icio and Aiton was very obviously one-sided, despite my having built the guy to be an equal.

One thing we saw this session was that the party is about as big as you want to get. There are five player characters and two main NPCs, and they were facing a bunch of mooks that they were generally going to take out in one or two blows. They split their efforts well, keeping the minions from interfering with handling the big bads, but it was time-consuming. Two of the players didn’t bother to hide they were bored; one was taking texts, the other playing a mobile game. Later, the texter informed me that the fight scenes tend to run long.

It’s a good point. The fight scenes have gotten longer, but not so much as a factor of the number of characters, as the number of actions the characters get. It is one of the new issues that Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition has presented. The PCs get more bad ass, and can do more in a round…but it also means the time it takes to get through five players is commensurately longer.

The next session was the game-player out for the night, as well as a last minute (like, we’re already playing) cancelation by another, and a late arrival by a third. One of those weeks. This time, we picked up with the group sorting themselves out after the fight. A few of the characters had been tashed up a bit, but magic and hit dice… They hear a strange chanting from the townspeople outside, led by the mayor and their priest. The language is Enochian, Anathema informed them — the language of the angels — but a corrupted version demons and devils use. They were summoning something.

The sight of the upside-down cross and this news set the monk into action before the others could react. He fired up his wings and struck at the priest, who seemed to welcome the assault. With a flurry of blows, he put the priest down for good…the final element in the spell. Lightning and thunder peeled, and Calvinus dropped a hypnotic bubble on the group of townsfolk. they were close enough together he was able to stupify and render them harmless. But above them, a winged, horned monstrosity, a barbed devil, dropped to meet them. It had its sights set on Icio, who had murdered his favorite, Aiton.

This fight moved fast and the characters were presented with a good villain that their fancy weapons were no good against. The devil mentioned to Carrus after an attack that the Fury he had taken it from would want it back… The characters were eventually able to take the creature down and the session ended a bit early than usual.

The two sessions exposed some of the issues that trying to run a less “high” fantasy game in 5th Edition. Much of the conceit of D&D is a small(ish) party of heroes involved in sequences of fights in a sandbox — a dungeon, castle, etc. This naturally focuses the game on fights and tactical choices, and as the characters progress, it is expected that they will encounter larger, meaner critters. This campaign has featured army-scale engagements where the players were necessary and important elements of the fight…but the success or failure of their battles could have been undone by the masses of NPCs around them. The stakes have been accelerating to keep pace with their abilities and the use of magic to “get out of death”, but are starting to present them with antagonists beyond their level, and which have necessitated the occasional deus ex machina to keep them alive.