Pleading with 5th is an opinion piece about my personal experiences with the Dungeons and Dragons: 5th Edition Roleplaying System and the events of my gaming group that I explore it with. The articles are not intended to describe actual events or people, or to suggest any sponsorship or association with any person or entity. No animals were harmed in the experience or writing of these articles, only feelings. Viewer discretion is advised.
There are times, especially when faced with players adept at beating physical and combative trials, that the most effective and challenging enemy is the very land they tread upon.
Magical Forests repelling intruders, Desert Wastelands where hydration and exposure are as critical as rolling to hit, or an Unstable Mountainside where mudslides and falling rocks could spell disaster in an instant; Any of these can provide just as much as challenge as any group of monsters. You may also find it provokes them into some creative problem solving, or a realization that they didn’t really properly pack for the trip. SHOVELS PEOPLE! BRING SHOVELS!
For my wayward Adventuring party, I wanted to spend a little more time letting Garrik Towerfall (as played by Josh) explore his relationship with the Orb. I’d show the rest of the party the changes that can take place with long term exposure to the kind of power the Warlock has tapped into, and hopefully get some good ol’ fashion roleplaying out of the lot. With all this in mind, I led them into The Lurking Mire.
It was once an enchanted forest that serves as place of confession and absolution to those who had affronted nature and its champions. However, dark and tainted waters crept into the soil from an underground cavern that had long served as a tomb to a Coven of Hags in service to Ghuanadaur. His influence has thus permeated and diseased the place and his servants grow stronger the deeper into it they wander. It is a dismal and corrupt swamp, with flora and fauna bloated with infection and sickness. Madness and maleficence is in the very fabric of this place, and it creeps across the landscape, swelling every year.
It has even been known to lure children and travellers from their beds of villages near and far, whispering to them with voices of their loved ones both living and dead. Most believe this is an attempt by that which lurks in the mire to birth new life to the Coven that was lost, but all who have come to cleanse the land, to push back the seeping corruption and halt its advance, have been overcome with insanity and an oppression of the soul that eats away at even the most resolute of wills. I told them to think Dagobah with less solid ground and more centipedes.
It also warrants saying that after realizing they were completely lost in this place, their initial attempts to find a way out went like this:
Josh: “Alright! Let’s get the &%$# out of here!”
Roll a one.
“Aww! First natural one of the day!”
Cole: *Satirical pompose laugh preceding epic foreshading* “Oh ho ho! Glad it wasn’t me.”
Roll a one.
HA! Classic Cole.
But enough fluff! It’s time to explain what I decided that stuff meant in game terms!
Now any of you familiar with the game Darkest Dungeon will see how obviously it inspired me here. Each rest spent in The Mire adds a point of stress to the party. They can also gain points if they fail a particularly important skill test, suffer a critical blow, or directly conflict with another member of the party. These points add to the DC’s and can lead to levels of exhaustion. The swamp also has opportunities, based on their stress level, to make certain party members suffer hallucinations or other illusory experiences. It’s all a race to get out of the place before they are driven insane, though the Bard has lowered their levels quite a bit without knowing it. Lyrical calming and talking out a tense situation seems to be her modus operandi, and was especially helpful when Garrik activated an alter, which summoned a child from god knows where right out of her home. Didgeri-Daina immediately shoved everyone else out of the way and calmed the kid down with remarkable efficiency. Hurrah for empathy!
Here are my simple napkin rules:
- 5 Stress = 1 Level of Exhaustion
- Increase DC by Stress where applicable in a 1:1 or 2:1
- Fail DC by at least 5 = 1 Stress per
- 1 Stress per rest period
- 1 Stress for each standing party member when one falls unconscious
- 1 Stress when taking a critical hit
- 1 Stress when Players conflict
- -1 Stress when dealing a critical hit
Before I wrap this up, allow me to share an excerpt that made me smile.
Josh: “So I hear what from the hut?”
Me: “Your fathers voice.”
Josh: “… Isn’t our Father dead, Cole?”
Cole: “Uh yup. Pretty sure.”
Me: “Berrik hears it too.”
Cole: “Oh… Oh, goody!”
Nicole: “Daina runs up to them to see what they’re talking about.”
Steve: “Regrin goes up too… but stays farther back behind something if he can.”
Me: “So courageous. Okay, so you both also hear your Father’s voices.”
Nicole: “Okay, what the actual &%$#.”
Steve: “Yeah… I Fireball the hut.”
Me: “You know you’ll hit them too, right?”
Steve: “Yeah… but seriously &%$# whatever is in there!”
When you’ve set up a situation for them that they would rather explode than face directly, you know you’ve built that tension.