Monday, June 13, 2016

Observing the Power Growth of a Party

My long-running 5th Edition campaign that runs on Sunday nights reached an interesting crescendo last night. See, while I can talk all day about what I think about the balance of the edition, nothing actually matters until one sees it in play. As this campaign has walked a path of legitimate, in-campaign growth, adding and losing players, it's the only organic playthrough of the edition's tiers of power I've been involved in so far. It's been very enlightening.

So you know exactly what I've been dealing with throughout, the current party consists of the following:

  • Eiranil, Half-Elf Cleric of Selune (Moon domain, a homebrew spin that's pretty similar to the Light domain with less laser-cleric stuff)
  • Wren, Elf Ranger (Hunter archetype)
  • Eldingar Volk, Human Paladin/Sorcerer (Storm sorcerer; paladin levels are not yet high enough to choose an Oath)
  • Cyarra Farlong, Aasimar Fighter (Battlemaster, Protection style; I've house ruled Protection to increase its usefulness slightly, so that the shielded target has resistance to damage from the triggering attack even if they hit)
  • Leyla Katinmah, Human Monk (Shadow)

For several sessions, the players have been exploring a fair-sized dungeon that was once a dwarven keep, now overrun with frost giants and their slaves (bugbears, ogres, and a handful of young and wyrmling white dragons). When they entered, they were already 9th level; nothing to sneeze at. I've already been surprised by the firepower they can bring to bear when the chips are down. It's a fairly unorthodox party with surprising secret techniques and powerful synergy.

In particular, I rather enjoy the glass tank that is the paladin/sorcerer. With plate armor, shield, and a magic sword pilfered from the party's treasure heap, he rolls across the battlefield like a thunderhead, blasting enemies with lightning and using quickened blur to minimize incoming damage. He's fairly fragile, but forms excellent front-line synergy with the battlemaster fighter who uses Goading Attack to keep focus on herself and the monk that blips in to deliver a barrage of deadly blows before darting away.

I do have to change my mind a bit on the core ranger now that I've seen it in action at this level. She is extremely powerful, using cover and stealth to ensure maximum battlefield advantage (usually with actual, mechanical advantage) and riddling enemies with arrows powered by the Sharpshooter feat. That said though, I don't know that she'd be anywhere near as effective if she were forced into melee (perhaps rightfully, she didn't exactly build toward that), or if even a melee-built ranger of equivalent level would be as useful in the same situation with the same relative build (that is, a ranger with a two-handed weapon using the Great Weapon Master feat). It's hard to beat her mobility.

I also find myself monumentally impressed by the crowd-control options in 5th Edition. For all that 4E had its Controller classes and archetypes, the spread of spells available and the smoothness of their mechanics is appealing. In particular, accolades go to the banishment spell, which serves as a great equalizer when there are two nasty monsters in the same encounter.

Anyway, last night they ended up finding the big bad of the dungeon, a frost giant thane with a small clutch of white dragons in his company (four wyrmlings and one young). He had a few legendary actions which allowed him to order the dragons to make extra melee attacks and do retribution cleaves once he was below half health.

(I'm still sad to see the bloodied terminology from 4th Edition go the way of the dodo, since I always felt it was a neat trigger point for certain effects. But I digress.)

This combat was brutal; not the hardest they've yet faced at-level, as I think that honor still goes to the Red Wizard they fought back at 4th level, but pretty nasty. Still, they handled themselves admirably and I didn't quite get anyone to drop unconscious. They were already at about 60% of their resources after a battle the previous session and hadn't any time to rest. Banishment took care of the young dragon early on (at least for a while), after the fighter and monk absorbed the brunt of its initial breath weapon. I had a moment of cackling joy when the giant thane hurled a treasure chest full of coins at the battlemaster in place of his usual rock-throw.

("Can I Parry the treasure chest?" The answer is, sadly, no, since that maneuver requires it to be a melee attack.)

All in all it was very eye-opening about just how strong this particular party configuration happens to be in the right situations. They seem to be rubbish against large groups of low to mid CR enemies, but small groups of equivalent or higher CR? They easily hold their own and fling out a few new surprises for me each session. I enjoy challenging them and seeing them come out on top, and I never need to pull my punches.

I almost dread seeing what happens at the level 11 spike. I predict, but in no way can be sure, that the ranger will begin to fall a little behind the other damage dealers, and that 6th level cleric spells and 5th level sorcerer spells will change the face of the battlefield in significant ways. I look forward to it.

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