My First Experience as a Player of Dungeons & Dragons

As someone who primarily GMs RPGs, it’s always illuminating the first time I get to actually play a game. You would think that a game I enjoy running I’d enjoy playing, and vice versa, but that hasn’t always been the case in my experience.

For instance, I really enjoy running Numenera, but I’ve found I don’t like playing Numenera  as much. As a GM I enjoy the simplicity of the system because it’s so easy to run and prep for. However, as a player, I’ve found that same simplicity leads to me eventually getting a little bored with the game. Part of that may be that as someone who GMs almost exclusively, I’m used to having a host of things to juggle mentally. So when I play an RPG, I like there to be a little complexity there mechanically to stimulate my mind. I also am a tactile person and prefer games where I don’t roll just one die (and the same die) all the time.

Because of this, I was curious how I would feel about fifth edition D&D once I’d had a chance to play it. As a GM I love the game, and it has quickly supplanted Numenera as my favorite system to run. It’s still simple enough to have fast game play and easy adjudication, but there’s a little bit more there mechanically, so I can have something to sink my teeth into. I also like, as a GM, that there’s much more potential for campaign longevity in a game with twenty levels compared to one with six.

I finally got a chance to play the new D&D for the first time, and not only was it my first time on the players’ side of the screen, it was also my first experience with D&D’s organized play—the Adventurers League.

I think I’ll talk more about my limited experience with organized play in a future episode of my Game Master’s Journey podcast, but for now I’ll just say I haven’t had a lot of experience with it. I tried some organized play with Pathfinder (Pathfinder Society), and it was a dismal experience. It was more like playing Chainmail than D&D. All tactics and positioning, lots of munchkinism, min-maxing and powergaming, and almost no roleplaying.

I had both my first experience with D&D as a player, and my first experience with the Adventurers League last night, and I had a great time! I really tested the game hard core, as I played a fighter (the most boring class in previous editions; I usually play wizards). I’ve always wanted to try an archer character, and fifth edition seems like the first edition where you can be successful with that. I chose the Battle Master archetype, and I had loads of fun.

Not only was my character very effective (and I was playing a 3rd level character in a 5th level party), but there was more to it than making attack and damage rolls. I had multiple resources to manage and special abilities to choose from.  

I had my Action Surges to manage, which allow me to take another action. At 3rd level I only have one Action Surge, but it returns when I take a short (1 hour) rest.

I also have an ability called Second Wind that lets me roll a hit die to recover hit points during combat (or any time) as a bonus action (the 5e version of a free action). I can do that once, and that also recharges after a short rest.

Then I have my Battle Master ability—Superiority Dice and Maneuvers. After I hit with a weapon attack, I can spend one of my Superiorty Dice to add an additional d8 to the damage and apply one of three effects (my Maneuvers).

I can push the opponent back 15 feet if he fails  a strength saving throw, which is just awesome visually considering I’m usually doing this with a longbow.

Or I can make the opponent frightened of me if he fails a wisdom save. This gives him disadvantage on all attack rolls and checks until the end of my next turn as long as I’m in sight, and he can’t move any closer to me (great to keep people off an archer!).

Finally, I can distract the opponent, which gives him disadvantage on his next attack (no save).

Of course, I didn’t get to see those special effects much because we were focusing fire, and my 2d8+3 damage usually finished them off (although I did get to fling a few corpses around with my arrows, which was fun). I have four of these dice to spend, and they come back after a short rest as well.

Even though I was basically just shooting my bow a lot, it was a lot of fun because I had options for various de-buffs or positioning I could apply, which was a lot of fun. Now that my character is 5th level and I have two attacks, the action surge will be sick as I will get four attacks when I use it, and I could apply one of my superiority dice to each one. Hell yeah! I'm also looking forward to higher levels because I get more Maneuvers and more Superiority Dice, and the Superiority Dice upgrade to d10s and eventually d12s.

If the fighter is this much fun to play in fifth edition, I’m sure classes like the rogue, wizard, cleric and bard are just as fun, if not more so. Everyone seemed to be having a lot of fun. Our party consisted of myself, a beserker barbarian, a war cleric, a wizard (I didn't catch his school), a wizard-bard, and an assassin rogue. 

I also enjoyed the adventure and the flow of the game. There was a lot more RP and a lot less metagaming and munchkinism than I saw in my Pathfinder Society experiences.

Next week I’m going back and giving a life cleric a try. I’m even playing a dwarf (first time for me), but dwarves are awesome in 5e, and I have great idea for a Guild Artisan who’s trade and skill is brewing. Fun times! Not only is my dwarf life cleric a master brewer, vintner and distiller, but he’s a master chef as well. I imagine he’ll be well loved by the party for all the fine food and drink and healing he’ll provide.

Of all the games I’ve played, this is the most fun I’ve ever had on the players’ side of the table. A game that I love to play as much as I love to GM is a win-win for me, and I’m sure I’ll be enjoying D&D for a long time. I only wish I had more time to play!