Sunday, January 30, 2022

Undermountain Game Reports: The Upper Levels

One thing becomes apparent as you read through Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage.  It's a big dungeon.  The overwhelming majority of the content consists of the dungeon levels themselves - maps and keys - 23 levels in all.  There are a few pages up front about dungeon history and attributes of the dungeon, and a small appendix with several new monsters and magic stuff.  Everything else is dungeon content.

There's not a lot of space devoted to storyline, plot hooks, and how to run an engaging campaign in Undermountain - the referee is mostly on their own.  Hopefully that's a skill you picked up from earlier editions, or from your friendly neighborhood OSR blogger.  Probably the most useful thing readers can glean from my game reports is how I've woven exploration of the dungeon into the themes of the campaign.  I've been effective at presenting storylines that encourage the players to explore deeper.  I'll focus special attention in the game reports on our use of plot hooks and rumors to integrate Undermountain into campaign play so you get ideas for your own games.

The idea behind the first campaign arc was focused on finding the headquarters for the Xanathar's Guild.  Several important Waterdeep citizens had been replaced by Intellect Devourers, including a high ranking member of Force Grey.  Several of the player characters were working their way through the ranks of Force Grey and were personally involved in uncovering the intellect devourer plot.  The Black Staff, the arch-wizard that commands Force Grey, invited them to a special briefing at Black Staff Tower.

"We need to find a furtive way into Xanathar's Guild headquarters.  It's located beneath the underground pirate city of Skullport.  There are entrances to Skullport from within the sprawling dungeon called Undermountain located beneath the Yawning Portal Tavern.  I'd like you to scout the first several levels of Undermountain to find the best way to Skullport; from there, spend enough time in Skullport to discover how Xanathar's agents come and go.  Once you have that well-mapped, return for further instructions."

All of the players were already interested in exploring Undermountain, although only two of them were aspiring members of Force Grey.  But everyone thought scouting several levels of Undermountain, making their way to Skullport, and locating the entrance to the crime boss lair, was fairly interesting and the whole party got behind the mission.  I think many of the typical Forgotten Realms factions could provide alternative motivation to get started with Undermountain; I liked the urgency the "invasion of the body snatching intellect devourers" created.

The first dungeon level is rather generic, with the ubiquitous "dungeon bandit hideout", some typical scavengers like trolls and carrion crawlers, and several hideouts for humanoids working for Xanathar's guild.  Many of the bugbears on this level are host to intellect devourers, which greatly reinforced our theme about the grave threat posed by Xanathar's alliance with the Mind Flayer(s).  Whenever combat would start with a group of humanoids, I'd ensure the correct bugbears would maneuver towards the characters with low Intelligences.  The bugbears would eventually be dropped to zero hit points, and the Intellect Devourer would materialize next to the dead host body, ready to brain zap another big dumb galook and jump into a new cranium.  Several player deaths were delivered this way!  Great fun for the DM, and a way to spike the tension at the table.  Intellect Devourers are terrifying.

The other bit I greatly enjoyed on the first level was the "revenant".  There's a dead cleric named Garke trapped in a well where his murderous companions dropped his corpse before looting his stuff; Garke has returned as a revenant to exact vengeance, just as soon as someone helps him out of the hole.  He has an unerring sense of location to hunt his betrayers.  Garke became an interesting ally for the players, because they could take advantage of his help for as long as they pushed forwards after his tormentors (which drove the players down to level 2 quicker than they may have liked).  It's balanced by the fact the revenant is a powerful ally, a nigh unstoppable force of destruction.

The party at this time consisted of Ace, an elven blade dancer wizard; Bosko, a goliath barbarian; Alfred, a rapier-wielding duelist (fighter); Teukros, a Drow assassin/rogue; and Virsk, a northman cleric.  Spoiler alert:  most of them died on level 3, but we'll get to that story eventually.  At this point in their career, they motored through level 1 with minimal casualties and accompanied Garke around areas of level 2 for a bit, at least until he had pounded enough of his murderous ex-companions (the Fine Fellows of Daggerford) into a bloody pulp that his spirit was able to travel onwards to his rest.

I've mentioned in a previous post that Undermountain is "balanced" for 4 players starting at 5th level.  For a larger group, I'm just counting up total levels.  So the first level is meant for 20 levels of characters (4 5th level characters); the second level is 24 levels (4 6th level characters) and so on.  There are various "arch gates" on each dungeon level that are tied to character level as well which I'm adjusting due to our larger group size.  In this way I've got a sense how well they'll handle the challenges.

Level 2 was fairly fun.  There's a goblin market and a problem with the goblin boss who wears a special magic item called a "circlet of human perfection" that changes his shape into an attractive (naked) human.  Goblins don't have the same modesty as people so the players got a little tired of seeing the goblin junk flapping around in front of them when Yek danced and gamboled around.

There was an area where most of the players fell into deep covered pit trap, without any light sources, and couldn't figure out how to get the pit open from the inside.  Meanwhile, Virsk, the cleric, was left outside one of the pits, and had to battle alone against an undead beholder zombie while the schmucks tried to free themselves from the pit traps.  Virsk still brags about single-handedly killing a beholder (and everyone chimes in "it was already dead…").

This campaign originally started with Waterdeep: Dragon Heist, and some of the potential outcomes of that adventure include the players owning their own Waterdeep tavern (Trollskull Manor) and winning a 50,000gp royal treasure.  Our players ended with both outcomes.  With the money, they tried to find a powerful magic item on auction (random magic item) and they were able to bid on and buy a Daern's Instant Fortress.  One of their first priorities when they explore a new level of Undermountain is to find a safe redoubt with a ceiling high enough to allow the instant fortress to deploy.  We've had entire games where they defended the fortress against a siege of dungeon monsters.

There was also a challenging treasure on level 2 that tied into their tavern ownership.  Much of level 2 is an old dwarven mine dating back in Undermountain history to the Melairkyn dwarves - dwarven mines, dwarven temples, breweries, and so on.  One of the distant chambers has a large trove of magically preserved Melairkyn ale in large barrels.  The upper levels of Undermountain are extremely light on treasure, and the Melairkyn ale is several thousand gold pieces (140 or so barrels at 40gp each, but each barrel is 400 pounds of weight).  One of the players was a Zhent agent and was able to secure a small mercenary force to secure the straightest path from the ale storage to the Yawning Portal.  They negotiated a cut with Durnan (the proprietor of the Yawning Portal) and then brought a healthy supply back to Trollskull Manor.  The players have maintained a side business as tavern owners, they run a Zhent black market out of the basement, and engage in some light politics in the city.

Level 3 of Undermountain is really good, and where this dungeon exploration campaign really took off.  We'll start our look at level 3 next time!

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Setting up Undermountain: Rules and Philosophy

 It started simply enough with a poll.  "What should we play next?"  I made a pitch to the players about several campaigns I wouldn't mind running after our Tomb of Annihilation game, hastily put together a survey, and clicked refresh refresh refresh to see how the results came in.  Fingers crossed for Curse of Strahd.  Nope, it was Undermountain - Waterdeep:  Dungeon of the Mad Mage!  I was ultimately fine with the decision because I really do want to see if 20th level player characters can be challenged by 5E.  Plus, we'll be at this one for a while - it's really big!

Last post about this new campaign (Prelude to Undermountain) I briefly covered the major events in Dragon Heist, the prequel of the campaign that took the players from levels 1 through 5.  Undermountain assumes you are starting with four 5th level characters.

I'll continue to explore what "old school" means to me under separate cover, but I made it clear to the players we'd be giving Undermountain some "old school treatment" to recapture the fun and challenges of dungeoneering.  The first thing we did was activate encumbrance as a rule.  It's in the Player's Handbook as an option.  Nothing makes an "optimized" 5E character give a sad face more than realizing they made strength their "dump stat" and now can't carry enough gear.  Or succeed at Open Doors checks.  Requiring encumbrance has been one of the biggest factors in pushing an element of resource management and planning onto the players.  Food is heavy.  Water is heavy.  Unbalanced "optimized" characters with poor stat distribution struggle with weight.  There are simple ways 5E characters can generate food and water by burning spell slots, but even that has altered their planning by forcing them to adjust their spell preparation., and how they deploy their spells in combat.  Usually the 3rd level slots are too precious to waste on food creation, but it's not uncommon for the Cleric to use a 1st level spell to give everyone water.

Encumbrance has affected their combat planning, too.  Earlier in Undermountain, several characters opted for the heaviest armor they could buy, and were overloaded with their backpacks.  "That's fine, we'll drop our packs every time combat starts so we can have a normal movement rate during combat, then load up again after the fight…"  Makes sense, it's how the infantry does it.  Except when a fight goes badly, and you're forced to retreat, and that means sacrificing potions, gear, and food because you can't recover your backpack - the monsters are now between you and your gear.  More sad faces.  By the time we got deep into level 3 and 4, several of those characters have reverted to lighter armors so they can keep their backpacks and still move well.  They’re adjusting.

Encumbrance is right in the Player's Handbook, so actually using a rule as written isn't any great leap of genius on my part.  The one mechanic I have altered for my run of Undermountain is experience points.  Default 5E awards players for fighting.  Most of the published adventure modules are trending towards "milestone experience", arbitrary grants of a level of experience in order to propel a preset narrative.  My disdain for milestoning is as deep as the ocean.  It's a major flaw of the 5E system.  I do understand and empathize why some DM's feel compelled to do it.  I blame WOTC.  But we'll save that particular diatribe for another day.  I'm using experience points.

As written, Undermountain assumes a party of 4 player characters is basically clearing every level through combat.  They are expected to grind it down to bare stone and leave behind a barren wasteland strewn with monster corpses.  That's how you level up.  But that's not how I wanted to run the game.  I wanted reasons for the players to push and delve deeper; each time they find a new dungeon level they'll get a significant XP bonus as an exploration award (10% of what they need for their next level).  No matter their motivation or party goals on any given level, the exploration bonus has given them a significant side goal to find the way down.  They've used Locate Object, they’ve parleyed with monsters, they've  made deals with dungeon denizens to learn about the egress points.  Nobody wants to miss the night when the party might find that stairway down and lose out on the XP bump.

The other thing I did was restore XP for Gold.  There's not a lot of gold in Undermountain as the treasure awards are calibrated down for 5E standards, but it amounts to 1-2 major encounter's worth of experience per level.  Between earning extra XP by recovering treasure, and getting exploration bumps when finding a new level, the players haven't felt the need to be "completionist" and slaughter all they survey.  I'm pretty happy with how the XP tweaks are encouraging a style of play that features treasure recovery and exploration.

I've also enforced the need to deal with light.  For the most part, that's been handled by Light cantrips, and one of the characters earned a "Drift Globe", a 5E magic item, but there have been times when torches and lanterns are still required.  Characters have been separated by traps, cutting the non-magical characters off from the cantrip wielders.  They've camped overnight while the cantrip casters have needed to sleep.  They've needed torches as fire sources.  Light is one of the easier resources for 5E characters to obviate, but light management has still played a role in the game, and so they've needed to keep a modicum of light sources among their gear and part of their encumbrance.

Earlier in the game the group had more humans; however, there was a near-TPK on level 3, and the replacement characters all came with Darkvision.  The players thought they were being cute, metagaming the megadungeon.  Now I have the joy of DMing a torchless party.  The darkvision prevalence in 5E is kind of dumb, but you'll see as we get to those game reports it's not hard to challenge a torchless party and deploy effective monster tactics.  I've taken it on as a personal challenge.

Geez, this note was going to get into the actual recaps of dungeon levels 1 and 2, but just setting up the campaign parameters has taken a lot of writing.  I'll start the recaps next time.  I will wrap here with one final piece of advice I gave to the players early, which they took it to heart - they should keep good notes!.  They are utilizing a shared Google Doc.  Undermountain is full of magic arches leading deep into the dungeon, and the players have notes written on their maps about how to activate the different arches and where they lead.  They have learned about side quests, bits of legends and lore, and dungeon secrets that will only bear fruit much later in the game.  So while I keep firm and accurate records of time passing (a voice echoes from the pages of the 1979 dungeon master's guide, YOU CAN NOT HAVE A MEANINGFUL CAMPAIGN IF STRICT TIME RECORDS ARE NOT KEPT), the players are keeping good notes about their discoveries.

Sunday, January 16, 2022

That Ineffable Quality of Old School Gaming

A couple of years ago, I said many 5E discussions observed online made me feel like Dungeons & Dragons was becoming a cargo cult.    This is never more evident than when considering how to play 5E in an old school way.  Here at the beginning of 2022, I've seen nothing to dissuade me from that position.  It's remarkable how popular 5th edition continues to be with the broader gaming world, and it's natural to want to try playing it in a way that recaptures the magic of earlier editions, too.

We just need the right combination of rules!

Here are some examples, culled from recent discussions I've observed, on what gamers say needs to happen to make 5E play like an old school game.  First, you need random character generation; characters should be generated via a 3d6 roll in order for stats.  Leveling needs to slow down.  Healing needs to slow down - 5E's daily "long rests" should be changed to once per week.  Another idea is to liberalize the use of the exhaustion rules - for instance apply a level of exhaustion each time a character drops to zero hit points in a combat.  (None of the older editions had similar exhaustion rules, but I appreciate the thoughts).

Maybe it's about changing spell preparation - let's get rid of cantrips and return to strict 1E AD&D spell preparation.  Wizards and Clerics need to strictly choose exactly what they're preparing instead of having flexible spell slots.  (We should rename Wizards to Magic Users, as well).  Or it's those missing 2d6 morale rolls for monsters that the BX system used, we must reinstate morale checks.  5E doesn't have permanent level drains or many save-or-die effects, which limits the instant death and permanent harm to players.  Gotta put those back.  Vampires drain two levels per successful attack!

Did you know there are no race/class limits in modern D&D?  Halfings aren't limited to 6th level in fighter, and elves can rise to unlimited levels in magic users.  Another commenter chimes in… 5E can never be old school until it embraces procedurally generated random content - random stocking, wandering monsters, all of it.  Another says you must abandon milestone experience and embrace GP = XP and load up the dungeons with treasure.  That is the way.

If we slow down level advancement and require training costs to level up, and spend the commensurate down-time, we will rediscover that old school feeling.  We also need to make sure the player characters have plenty of retainers, hirelings, and henchmen - those stories from the olden days always had lots of sidekicks and torchbearers, 10-person parties going into the dungeon. Finally, we need to speed up 5E character generation - there is a direct correlation between the speed of character creation and how old school the game feels.

My understanding is there are several intrepid game designers who have collated some or all of these old school tropes into a set of rules you can apply to your 5E.  I do wonder how that's working out for people who have tried them.

I hope my tone here has been mostly bemusement and not derision.  I only mean to poke some gentle fun.  Clearly I believe it's a worthy endeavor to play 5E in a way that captures the spirit of older editions, in fact it's been my project for several years.  In my experience it's about how you run the game at the table and the style of adventure.  You're not going to find any old school feeling hidden in a rule book.  I'm about to start posting actual play reports to get caught up on Undermountain (Waterdeep:  Dungeon of the Mad Mage) and then we'll surely revisit this topic.

Maybe we need to cosplay as 1st edition players?

*With apologies to The Nightmare Before Christmas.  It's still one of my favorite movies, after all these years, and I frequently ask my IT teams to consider whether they're delivering severed heads or gifts to their customers as CX becomes so important.  Similarly Jack Skellington's hunt for that elusive Christmas spirit seemed an apt metaphor here.

Friday, January 7, 2022

Let's Look at Dungeon of the Mad Mage

In the city of Waterdeep rests a tavern called the Yawning Portal, named after the gaping pit in its common room. At the bottom of this crumbling shaft is a labyrinthine dungeon shunned by all but the most daring adventurers. Known as Undermountain, this dungeon is the domain of the mad wizard Halaster Blackcloak. Long has the Mad Mage dwelt in these forlorn depths, seeding his lair with monsters, traps, and mysteries—to what end is a constant source of speculation and concern.  (From the back cover of Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage.)

Waterdeep:  Dungeon of the Mad Mage by Wizards of the Coast picks up at 5th level, slotting in as a nice follow up to Waterdeep: Dragon Heist or one of the introductory adventurers like Lost Mine of Phandelver, or Dragon of Icespire Peak.  It covers 23 dungeon levels, taking player characters from level 5 up through level 20, and it weighs in at 320 pages, one of the larger adventure books on the WOTC 5E shelf.  (On cursory glance, only Rime of the Frost Maiden also has 320 pages; most of the adventure books like Tomb of Annihilation, Curse of Strahd, Descent into Avernus, et al are 256).

Dungeon of the Mad Mage has an impressive room count as well - 535 encounter areas across its 23 levels, including over 1220+ rooms.  That hearkens back to the 1,000 room dungeons of the olden days (back when druids were true neutral and elven fighters maxed out at 7th level, the way Gary intended).

Most 5E adventure books start with level 1 characters and take the party up to level 10 or so; there are a few outliers like Avernus and Princes of the Apocalypse that cover a 15 level span ( 1-15).  Dungeon of the Mad Mage is the only official campaign designed to challenge 20th level characters.  We shall see if it proves a challenge, when we get there!

It's fine as far as printed megadungeons go.  The levels are interesting and varied, and each is preceded by 1-3 pages of narrative laying out factional conflicts and politics for that level.  I may complain about the Fifth but I generally enjoy Chris Perkins' work as the lead adventure designer, and he did a nice job adapting and updating Undermountain.  There's some history of Undermountain up front - it's a long abandoned elven dungeon, and then a dwarven dungeon, and then a mad wizard's dungeon and all of his apprentices, down through the years.  One of the deeper levels has a portal to an asteroid in outer space!  The room descriptions are brief and use effective bolding to highlight important information for usability.  The text is not hard to run at the table.

The maps are another issue.  The map quality is fine, but the maps themselves are strewn through the text and it's unwieldy to run at the table without a lot of flip-flip page flipping.  Back when I started Undermountain with an Adventurer's League group pre-pandemic, I used the optional "map pack" accessory that includes separated glossy map pages so you can reference the book text and have the correct map side by side behind your DM screen.  Selling an "optional" map pack accessory was some shrewd capitalism by the WOTC overlords.  Of course since the pandemic we've been 100% online anyway.

I am not enamored with the Forgotten Realms.  Years of running published 5E campaign hardbacks set in the Realms have done nothing to dim my smoldering apathy towards them.  (I have a Drizzt Do'Urden voodoo doll in my desk drawer).  But I have learned to appreciate the special charm of having a sprawling megadungeon right under the player's home base city.  It's cool that a raucous adventurer's tavern surrounds the entrance to the dungeon, and rowdy tavern patrons place wagers as adventurers get lowered out of sight into the underworld.  We've gotten some excellent mileage out of those scenes.  The Realms may be bland to me, but putting your giant dungeon under a tavern - ten out of ten, Ed Greenwood, ten out of ten.  (You can't see it, but I'm sending him telepathic heart emoji's.  With my mind).

The Yawning Portal dungeon entrance - doesn't that look fun?

There is a significant issue with experience points and pacing with this 5E version.  It's been optimized for a party of 4 players, and there's just enough combat experience, if the players complete every room, to allow this 4-person party to level at the requisite pace.  That's terrible.  It's terrible in so many ways.  As we work through how I've tweaked Dungeon of the Mad Mage for my play style, we'll address the experience point problem right away.

There are essentially no wandering monsters.  On the first two levels, there are a few text blurbs about monsters that wander the levels, but that guidance stops from the 3rd level onwards.  Did Chris Perkins get tired of writing or just run out of space?  We may never know.  What I do know is that you'll be making your own wandering monster tables if that part of the dungeoneering experience is important to you.

Don't let these quibbles dissuade you from checking out Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage.  There is no such thing as a perfect WOTC adventure module; if they published one, the world would stop.  Be thankful for their imperfect products with correctable flaws.  Mad Mage is one of the good ones.  In posts to come, I'll lay out tweaks I've made to operate the adventure more to my liking, striving even for an "old school feel" (whatever old school means), and then I'll do some recaps of our play through.  It will be fun.

Happy New Year and thanks for reading.

Monday, January 3, 2022

A Prelude to Undermountain

 How do you start a retrospective on a 16 month D&D campaign?  From the beginning?  I guess so, but death by explication is a serious threat to the readers.  I'll elide the minutiae and strive for broad brush strokes.

The campaign, Dorks with Bows Undermountain, started in Waterdeep with the published adventure, Dragon Heist.  I had run Dragon Heist for the Adventurer's League crowd before the pandemic and noticed it had many commendable qualities that I wanted to explore with my regular gamers.  Although several chapters are heavily plotted (like the cinematic roof top chase sequence) you can leverage the adventure to embed the characters into the political factions of the city, grant them a cool home base lair, and land them with a royal 50,000gp reward at the end of the adventure.  It's customizable with many opportunities to expand.  Politics, property, and fantastic wealth are all rife with complications, and complications are fun.  My players had agreed that playing Undermountain, the only official published WOTC campaign that goes all the way to level 20 characters, sounded like a worthy endeavor, and Dragon Heist is a fantastic way to start a campaign in Waterdeep.  So we did.

I'm not going to recapitulate my second Dragon Heist campaign; the retrospective I did after running it with the Adventurer's League crowd is fine.  As my home group ended this one, the Dorks with Bows (known around the city as "The DWB") had ties with a group called the Harpers, ties with Force Grey, and an alliance with a rogue faction of the Zhentarim.  They also made several powerful enemies.

I treat the Harpers like the Fellowship of the Ring and the Council of Elrod - a diverse group of (stereotypical) powerful fantasy do-gooders who try and keep a lid on the dark forces of the world, their ears to the tracks.  They are melodramatic, where every new threat is the single greatest threat to civilization.  Force Grey are mercenaries working for the Black Staff of Waterdeep, a powerful wizard enforcer who ruthlessly eliminates threats to the city.  They are part Suicide Squad, Dirty Dozen, and the Expendables.  The Black Network (the Zhentarim) are a continent-spanning network of criminals (I treat the zealots like the MCU's Hydra organization with different leaders portrayed like comic book villains such as Zemo or Red Skull).

Very early in Dragon Heist, one of the dungeons brings the characters into contact with a Mind Flayer and its intellect devourer pet.  It's a very dangerous encounter for 1st level characters!  The Mind Flayer isn't there to fight, it quickly melts away from the combat, but even a solitary intellect devourer is rough.  I'm not one to pull punches, and at least one PC died in that particular scene.  Much later in Dragon Heist, one of the Force Grey side quests involved the characters trying to discover why a high level fighter named Meloon, a Force Grey agent, was acting uncharacteristically.  That particularly side story ended for us with Meloon dead and an Intellect Devourer materializing outside of his empty cranium - it had been using his body like a puppet.  That set off "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" style paranoia and mayhem!  Who else among the Waterdeep elite have been replaced by Intellect Devourers?

The body snatcher problem became the catalyst for our Undermountain Campaign.  In a conference chamber high in Black Staff Tower, the Black Staff briefed the players.  The city faced a grave threat.  The Xanathar Guild has allied itself with a Mind Flayer and are using Intellect Devourers to replace prominent citizens with loyal puppets.  The Guild headquarters is known to be linked to the underground pirate city of Skullport, which has been closed off from the surface waterways for some time, but there are ways to reach Skullport from within Undermountain, the legendary dungeon beneath the city.  The player's quest, for the good of the city, is to scout and explore the first few levels of Undermountain, starting with the entrance beneath the Yawning Portal Tavern, and to report back when they've located Skullport and found the entrance to Xanathar's guild headquarters.

This is how we started our exploration of Undermountain.

Saturday, January 1, 2022

That Which is Dead May Not Die

Yesterday I mucked the stalls.  After 16 months of neglect, the old "Lich House" was completely inundated with rotting piles of spam and junk comments.  I suppose it's fine to have zero comment moderation enabled if you're going to weed the garden on a regular basis, but the Lich House had become a tomb overgrown with sketchy offers leading to the dark web.

I am putting a difficult year and a half behind me.  Beyond the obvious (we've all been living through a pandemic) I've had kids go off the rails, serious home damage, and a tough work environment - challenges in multiple dimensions that knocked me off the internet for an extended time.  We've all had those days, months, years, decades.  For me it's been this past year.  Things are turning around.  It's time to dig out of the crypt again and emerge, hesitantly, into the cool night air.

I've still been running some games!  I've had a kids and dad's group that's met regularly since about 2007, and while we skipped here and there, we mostly kept playing.  We finished WOTC's Tomb of Annihilation and moved on to 5E's official megadungeon, Undermountain (official title - Waterdeep:  Dungeon of the Mad Mage).  It's a much-maligned publication by the Gen Z crowd.  I'm determined to see for myself if 5E could be folded, shaped, and forced into behaving like a system fit for an old-school megadungeon campaign.

Oh, you've noticed 16 months away from the blogosphere hasn't dimmed my disdain for the Fifth?  It's true, the love-hate relationship with modern D&D is still in force.  My players adore this game system.  I like my players and am willing to indulge them.  I continue to see the Fifth as a personal challenge to prove that you can parrot more satisfying game styles from simpler times in the hobby.  I'm doing it for science.

Here's what's next for me.  First, I haven't been reading any blogs - I want to catch up with what people have been talking about the past year.  I'll continue to split time between what's happening in the OSR discussions versus a few of the 5E-centric bloggers out there I used to enjoy.  I'll also do some retrospectives on Undermountain to date and how I've managed to build a compelling dungeon exploration campaign for the Fifth around a 'big dumb hack and slash dungeon with no story'.