Last week I resurrected my old school D&D campaign from the dead, deciding to forge ahead with my Temple of Elemental Evil in lieu of shelving it in favor of starting something with another game system. Part of the reason for this is that the Temple of Elemental Evil has plagued me for most of my gaming career. I’ve started this adventure several times as a player and a dungeon master, and none of these games ever came to a satisfying conclusion. Another reason is that I’ve really enjoyed my time playing 5th edition, and I was eager for an opportunity to run a game with the new rules. Also, I’m very interested in how things will scale going from 1st edition to 5th edition, so why not just forge ahead in the temple with the new rules?
The last time we played in this campaign, we were using the Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea rules. This is a pretty good retro-clone set of rules, and everyone at the table, myself included, actually enjoyed playing these old modules with those rules. However, everyone was just as excited to move to 5th edition, so in the week leading up to the reboot everyone’s characters were updated. Due to some poor accounting and/or note taking and the long time between game sessions I felt like things in the hit points and spells used department weren’t synchronizing with what I remembered from our previous game session. This problem is compounded by the fact that there are now mechanics like short rests to consider, not to mention a significant difference in the way spell memorization and use is handled across the different editions.
Thankfully, the party had just left town and headed back to the moat house in our last session, where they managed to make a bee-line to the lower levels, activate a trap that cut off their possibility of retreating back the way they had came, and fight some gnolls. Since I knew that the party’s hit points and spells and what-have-you were full right before the gnoll encounter, I made the decision to just hit the reset button and fight the gnolls over again. This would give us a chance to move to the new rules without having to worry about combat damage and spell usage carrying over from the previous rules system, even if it did mean that we would be backtracking somewhat.
Aside from polishing up some last minute things with the character conversion and fighting the gnolls, we didn’t get anything else accomplished. I feel like this is fine though, and gives us a good foundation to move forward with the new rules. Since this was my first time running the 5th edition rules, it also gave me a chance to ease into things and get a feel for the new rules and how encounters would scale.
Here are my thoughts on that:
There is no doubt that the power level of characters has increased in the long jump from 1st edition to 5th. Each character class is more versatile and capable right out of the box. Monsters have clearly scaled up in terms of their threat levels too though, and it was clear that the same number of gnolls that were intended to challenge a first level party in 1st edition would grossly outclass a first level party of 5th edition characters. This is partly because the monsters are tougher, but also because these modules tend to assume a much larger party of adventurers than newer editions of the rules assume. I mean, if a first level party of 1st edition characters are reasonably expected to deal with the threats in the moat house then there should probably be at least ten of them, or they should have a lot of hirelings (or they should by Elmo that suit of chain mail and that battle axe he “needs” so he can join the group).
That being said, the characters in my group are already third level, having braved the Keep on the Borderlands before journeying to Hommlet, and they have some hirelings besides. Currently there are four PCs, (dwarven fighter, halfling thief, human cleric, human mage) a human fighter who is the retainer of the halfling, Spugnoir the wizard, and Zert the human mercenary. So that’s seven characters (kinda). Throw in the highly effective use of a web spell and these guys were more than a match for the gnolls.
I’m actually quite pleased with the way things seem to be balanced with a party of third level adventurers tackling the challenges presented in the module as is. The gnoll fight might have been a tad bit easier than it was intended to be, but I think things will scale just fine when a couple of these hirelings rotate out of the mix. For now I plan to forge ahead without any major changes to the number of monsters and see how it plays out. I think the lower power curve of this edition will really work in the favor of balancing things out in the long run. It looks like the number of monsters in these encounters will work to challenge my party of third (and soon 4th) level characters even though they were originally intended to challenge a party of lower level. I’m hoping that once the experience curve flattens out a bit at 4th level things will continue to scale just as nicely, and I am excited to find out if this will be the case.